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53 Responses

  1. NewDealer says:

    I took a book out of the library called July 1914 about the lead-up to the start of WWI. Unsurprisingly, a lot of books about WWI are coming out this year and next. I’m on a waitlist for a book about 1913 and the year before WWI.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to NewDealer says:

      Sounds interesting. What’s the title?

      Have you ever read Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman?Report

      • greginak in reply to BlaiseP says:

        FWIW Tuchman is a great writer and her books are well worth reading although GOA is a bit old at this point. I gather some of her conclusions don’t hold up quite as well now as they did when she wrote it. Europe’s Last Summer by David Froomkin is an excellent book with much new research.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        No historian’s conclusions hold up for very long, though that’s how historians think: Thucydides on his History of the Peloponnesian War “My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the needs of an immediate public, but was done to last for ever.”

        An officer I respected, damned near worshipped, my battalion commander, once said only the historians ever really understand wars, and only then at a great remove. The soldiers who fight the wars can never understand them.Report

      • greginak in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Oh i agree. History is a not a static field although some historians, or more likely people who don’t want to learn anything new, think it is. Guns of August is still a great book worth reading about the start of ww1 even if there is new info about many issues,especially diplomatic history, out there.

        My dad said something similar about ww2. He read all the histories of ww2 to find out what the hell had happened since he had new clue at the time.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I have a copy of the Guns of August but haven’t read it yet.

        WWI is a bit of an interest to me. I consider it to be one of the Great Mistakes of history. Yet it also made the world modern. Or helped destroy the old Victorian-Imperialist order.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I had a longish discussion this morning with JustMe about a post I’m thinking of writing about Failed States. Trouble is, it’s a theme I keep harping on, with no clear point to make. It’s clear enough what passes for Terrorism in our times isn’t much different than the Serbian nationalism which set WW1 in motion, though there were many forces at work.

        States fail. They outlive their purpose, become impediments to progress. Since Kenneth Waltz died, I’ve been going back to what he said about the causes of war, like a tongue neurotically probing at a chipped tooth. So much of my thinking was shaped by Waltz.Report

      • greginak in reply to BlaiseP says:

        That book is on my amazon wishlist. It looks interesting. WW1 is truly fascinating. So much of what we consider modern in art, attitude, views on religion, etc came about due to ww1. For many people in the west, god died in the trenches on the western front. The holocaust was the final straw, so to speak, for many others. It is a popular and common misconception for many of todays deeply religious people to think God went out of fashion with the rise of communism or hippies in the 60’s or something like that. Nuts to that. Faith, in the west at least, took a major hit when people who all believed in the same sporking god killed each other in such industrial scale numbers no one had ever considered possible.

        ND- You would probably find Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins interesting. It’s about art and culture and how they led to and were affected by ww1 and later ww2. I can’t really do a much better description of it since i’m heading out the door but if you are interested the reviews at the amazon link do it justice.

        Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Thanks, ND. I’ll have to hunt this one down. I’ve been to so many of the WW1 and WW2 battlefields and graveyards in Europe, in search of something I can’t quite define. It’s not a morbid fascination, at least I don’t think of it that way, but I keep telling myself those thousands of men had to die for something. I always come away from them, pensive and elegiac, horrified and amazed by the scope of it.

        The worst has to be Douaumont.

        A fellow coder created historical dioramas, painted hundreds of tin soldiers, Napoleonic era was his speciality. I once joked with him, saying we ought to do a diorama of Verdun. He’d build all the tidy little trenches and redoubts, then I’d follow after him with a sledgehammer and do a proper job of simulating an artillery barrage. He was grossly offended by this suggestion.Report

      • rexknobus in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Another strong recommendation for Tuchman’s “Guns of August.” And a good follow-up is Margaret MacMillan’s “Paris 1919,” concerning the amazing few months of trying to re-build the world after the war. And I’m one of those fan-boys who think that the ultimate plan of all creation was so that life could evolve into Erich Maria Remarque and he would write “All Quiet.”Report

      • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Paul Fussel’s The Great War and Modern Memory is almost a must have, and I’m intrigued at the thought of reading Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age.

        One odd truth about the Great War is that both during the war and in the aftermath, everyone blamed the generals for everything. Yet the generals were actually doing pretty well given what they had, and the inherent difficulties of executing any kind of infantry plan in knee deep mud that stretched for miles. Often the reason they’d keep trying the same failed attacks over and over, with little apparent change made based on experience, is that the attacks that developed rarely reflected their often innovative and well-thought battle orders, so the flaws were thought to be in poor execution, not the plans themselves.

        Given only rifles, machine guns, shovels, and artillery, along with enough men to fully man networks of trenches, supported by railroads to shuffle troops around, you get the Western Front.

        Oddly, if our progress on laser weapons continues, we could eventually strip away the effectiveness of modern air power, and even artillery (the US Army is developing anti-artillery lasers for use in North Korea). Combine that with systems like Israel’s Iron Dome, some of the new anti-mortar gun systems, and shoulder-fired hypervelocity anti-tank missiles, and we could well find ourselves faced with the same tactical dilemmas that defied good solutions in the Great War.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Thanks for the book rec Greg.

        I think the issue is tricky because a lot of the modern break started happening before WWI. WWI probably acted like a catalyst if anything. The Amory Show happened in 1913, Rite of Spring also debuted in 1913. It was also around the time that the Bloomsbury Set were formed.Report

      • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Given only rifles, machine guns, shovels, and artillery, along with enough men to fully man networks of trenches, supported by railroads to shuffle troops around, you get the Western Front.

        This is put to lie by the existence of the Eastern Front, which had all of those things, and looked very different from the Western Front.Report

      • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

        True about the Eastern Front, but there I think it’s a question of troop density and transport distances that allowed it to be a war of movement and position instead of a war of attrition. The miracle of the taxis that saved Paris and forced entrenchment couldn’t have happened if the population center and the front were separated by vast distances.

        Perhaps the reason the Western Front showed no movement and the Eastern front was a war of movement is, ironically, that troops could be easily and rapidly moved to support attack and defense on the Western Front, but not so much in the east. If you can mass, attack, and take an objective faster than your enemy can move troops to reinforce, then fixed positions cannot hold, and you get a war of movement. If not, then attacks will get bogged down and everyone will just dig in deeper.

        So my thought is that if our technological advances make it hard for long-range weapons to get through smart defenses, and fast, hardened vehicles can’t survive near the front, the the attack speed drops to that of infantry moving from cover to cover, while travel behind the front is relatively unimpeded, making reinforcement by car or truck fairly rapid.

        And of course one of the reasons I thought a lot about the problem is that I like both WW-I (I have a whole shelf of books on it) and hard science fiction or speculative military fiction, such as Hector C Bywater’s fabulous history of the War in the Pacific written long prior to WW-II, just by pursuing the math and logic, as they say.

        We like to think we designed our way out of the box of WW-I conditions, but a box is just the mix of weapons and capabilities that you can bring to bear. Depending on what counters and capabilities you develop, you can end up with essentially a highly modernized yet nearly identical box.

        Unlike a lot of military tech, high-power laser diodes rely more on refinements to modern consumer technologies, while the intelligent control software is just software, which spreads almost with the speed of the Internet. A decade or so after we have highly effective tactical battlefield lasers that can eliminate aircraft and artillery, all of Asia and Europe will have them too, perhaps setting the stage for an interesting repeat of a static war of attrition.Report

      • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Not to wade in too deep on his subject, but the Germans and, using the German infrastructure, the Austrians, were able to move troops and materiel both along the Eastern front and between the two major fronts with ease, because they had a superb rail system (better than the one behind either the French or Russian lines). The Russians, while not as well off as the Germans in terms of transportation, were able to move troops around on the Eastern front with a speed that often caught the Central Powers off guard (including in their initial invasion of Eastern Prussia, their invasion of Galicia, and the Brusilov Offensive). Mobility was not the problem on the Eastern Front. The difference was one of strategies, tactics, politics, participants (the Serbs were fighting for their lives, and mostly losing them, the Romanians were poorly trained and poorly equipped, the Austrians were a poor imitation of the Germans and were essentially fighting in every direction), and fate. The strategic situation in the West was such that once they had raced to the sea, there was nowhere either side could give ground without risking being outflanked on a massive scale or giving ground that, politically, couldn’t be given. In the East, because there was nothing analogous to the race to the sea, a single, continuous front never formed, and the fighting was able to be much more fluid.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        WW1 was fought with antique thinkers in charge of modern men armed with modern weapons. Since the siege of Vicksburg, every effective military thinker understood the trench system was a botch.

        The generals were to blame. With the advent of the machine gun, the massive over-the-top actions were understood to be suicide. Neither the British nor the Germans learned how to mount an effective combined arms assault. Even towards the end of the war, when tanks began to make some headway, the principles of combined arms were never applied, not once. Going back to the Romans and the testudo assault, the historical lessons of assault against a besieged/entrenched enemy force were well understood — and never once applied.

        The British generals were idiots, to a man. Haig was so stupid it’s a miracle the man could stand upright. No promotions from either experience or talent, those Public School Toffs put an entire generation of Englishmen through the meat grinder. They should have all been hanged for murder.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Often the reason they’d keep trying the same failed attacks over and over, with little apparent change made based on experience, is that the attacks that developed rarely reflected their often innovative and well-thought battle orders, so the flaws were thought to be in poor execution, not the plans themselves.

        Yeah, how can you blame the generals just because their battle plans didn’t take the terrain, materiel, and troops they had to work with into account?Report

      • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I think I’ve recommended them here before, but Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, along with her two latest books on the period, Life Class and Toby’s Room are really good books set in England before and during the war.Report

      • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Well, there’s the rub. The generals and their staffs continuously planned pretty good combined arms assaults, but almost nobody could manage to execute one. When they did pull one off, despite the terrain, enemy counterfire, barbed wire, and other hazards, they couldn’t keep the assault wave supplied because the ground was already too broken up and the area was all zeroed by enemy artillery, so the assaulting force would be forced to give up the enemy trench they just took. If the assault force was saddled with enough provisions to make an extended stand, they became too burdened to walk at faster than an elderly shuffle.

        All the bright junior officers, who led in WW-II, couldn’t make things work in that environment, either. The Germans had more luck by developing special storm troopers and taking things down to the squad level, but while this just let them economize on forces (perhaps a critical factor in an extended war of attrition), it didn’t bring them significant gains.

        And of course, if they did make any advances in tactics that didn’t result in a breakthrough, the other side would just adapt to it or adopt it, leaving the overall stalemate in place, because everybody had about the same mix of weapons. Given that, one could ask whether Eisenhower, Montgomery, Rommel, or Patton would’ve done anything significantly different, other than perhaps through the benefits of hindsight.

        The things that led the way out of the dilemma were accurate trench mortars that could drop rounds onto targeted, dug in positions, semi-automatic and automatic weapons that could let advancing infantry regain some offensive firepower advantages, and of course tanks, aircraft, and mechanization that would allow an advancing force to take a heavily defended position before the enemy could respond with sufficient reinforcements.

        If you posit the existence of some of these new weapons, you could imagine that almost any general of the period could’ve used them to great effectiveness, perhaps with an amphibious landing in Northern Europe and a run on German supply points, encircling enough of the northern line to cause complete collapse. The supply lines of the time were pretty rudimentary and fragile and could not stand up to anything remotely like WW-II tactical air or commando operations. But finding a winning method with the tools available in 1915 or 1916 is difficult. It is so difficult that it’s hard to tell a good WW-I general from a bad one, other than how far they stuck their neck out on a futile gamble, or how many casualties they managed to rack up, or interpersonal politics and pig headedness. But in WW-I, replacing a pig-headed general with a genius probably wouldn’t have made all that much of a difference except at a few key points.Report

      • Fish in reply to BlaiseP says:

        One of the purposes of “Blitzkrieg” was to specifically avoid getting bogged downReport

      • Fish in reply to BlaiseP says:


        …in trench warfare again, was it not?Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

      Also consider reading Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914, and of course All Quiet on the Western Front. The film of the latter is also excellent, especially considering how new-fangled sound films still were in 1930.And watch the fourth season, or at least the last episode thereof, of Blackadder:

      Captain Blackadder: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.

      Private Baldrick: But, this is a sort of a war, isn’t it, sir?

      Captain Blackadder: Yes, that’s right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.

      Private Baldrick: What was that, sir?

      Captain Blackadder: It was bollocks.Report

  2. Chris says:

    Burn Notice! Thank you Netflix. This almost makes up for the Fringe fish up.

    Reading Lewis’ The Monk.Report

    • Trumwill in reply to Chris says:

      Which season are you on, Chris?

      I’m holding back on the current season until its (and the series’) completion. But I’m looking forward to it.

      I’m hoping that Bruce Campbell keeps active on some new project. I’d also really like to see Coby Bell get some more jobs.Report

      • Chris in reply to Trumwill says:

        Netflix just started streaming Season 6, so I watched the last couple episodes of 5 and the first episode of 6 this weekend.

        I am almost always a year behind on cable series.

        And I’ll watch anything with Bruce Campbell or Gabrielle Anwar after this.Report

  3. Major Zed says:

    Hell On Wheels season 2 (Netflix streaming). But I put Oblivion into my DVD queue – available first thing next month.Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    Yet another shameless plug for House of Cards on Netflix. Crunchy, delicious, satisfying.Report

  5. Glyph says:

    Finished Maps & Legends. Up next is either Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Franzen’s Freedom, or Amis’ Money, haven’t decided yet. Probably RW.

    Breaking Bad tonight.

    Did anybody catch Clear History last night? Worth watching?Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    I’m reading about the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.Report

  7. Stillwater says:

    Just finished Gaiman’s new Book “The ocean at the end of the lane.” It’s book club material. Absolutely amazing.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Stillwater says:

      He read from it at the book signing I went to (a section from near the beginning, where the narrator meets the girl’s family for the first time.) He was terrific, which is unsurprising since he also narrates the audiobook version.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Ya know, I’ve heard him read from the book (the new book) on YouTube and when I read it, it was his voice in my head the whole time, just as if it were an audio book. It was really wonderful.

        It’s also is a sign that the guy is a practitioner of High Magic, the way he got into my head and all.Report

  8. Kazzy says:

    Still reading “Ender’s Game”. Spent past few days catching up with S5 of “Breaking Bad”. Watched “Mud” tonight.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Ender’s Game. (hint, hint.)

      I felt similarly mostly-but-not-uniformly positive about Ender’s Game and Hunger Games. My opinion of the latter plummeted the further I got away from it, though. My opinion of EG didn’t change much. (With the exception of Ender’s Shadow, though, the Bean subset of Ender books did not hold up well in my mind, though I do still like the Speaker subset of Ender books.)Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Will Truman says:

        I thought both EG and HG were masterpieces in their own way. Just goes to show how opinions are like … things everyone has.Report

      • The more I reflected on HG, the more I thought that it could have been made more interesting with a somewhat different trajectory. Especially the second book. I also felt it was exceedingly emotionally manipulative.

        But it was entertaining while reading/listening! And I’m glad she chose the suitor that she did.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

        Happy to write a review when done.

        I should note the last time I read a sci-fi children’s novel for the first time in adulthood (The Giver), I was very pessimistic on the ending, setting me apart from my graduate school classmates, who had all read it growing up. They reverted to the happy interpretation. I was the Debbie Downer of the class.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Will Truman says:

        The main two things that irritated me about The Hunger Games series was the idea that power comes from fashionable shoes and dresses, and that the author should have at least spent a week getting a basic familiarity with archery and archery terms. For example, you do not “fire” an arrow, you loose it, and bows aren’t kept “cocked.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        The three main things that irritated me about the Hunger Games series were the Hunger Games series.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

        Speaker for the Dead was a fine book, if a bit implausible [1], but Xenocide and Children of the Mind …, well, I’d be fine if it had been yet another series that Card abandoned partway through.

        1. Ab bar jub xarj gur jbzra svtherq bhg ubj fur unq xvqf rira gubhtu ure uhfonaq jnf fgrevyr?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Will Truman says:

        The main two things that irritated me about The Hunger Games series

        The two main things that irritated me about the series were the last to … oh … “books” I’ll call em. Speaking loosely.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Will Truman says:

        Well, there are some books I sort of enjoy, but then think “I couldn’t have written something like this – unless maybe I suffered a stroke.”

        The other day I wrote a few pages on a juvenile sci-fi book whose premise is that a billionaire is funding an Antarctic research expedition into a few blind valleys where the ice has been packed and stable for the past 60 or so million years. The vehicle is like a nuclear mini-sub with treads that melts its way through, and he discovers frozen dinosaur remains with cloneable DNA. So he does that, up on the safety of his orbiting space colony, and then the teams find that one particular species they cloned is associated with spears, farm implements, and writing. So he becomes a foster father to some secret kids who are somewhere between an oviraptor and a velociraptor, and who soon advance to hacking, credit card scams, and posting crazy things on the Internet. Then, as a teenage prank, they steal their father’s interplanetary space ship prototype, pretend to be invading aliens, and demand that Italian shoe designers make something stylish for raptor feet. They end up going to Harvard, brain mapping the frozen originals of themselves to learn to read their newly discovered archives of literature and music, enriching the entire world, argue their citizenship and inheritance before the US Supreme Court, etc. That kind of story just writes itself.

        What prompted the idea was skimming a list of the top selling authors in history. At the top is a mix of people like Shakespeare, Faulkner, and other luminaries, and people like J.K. Rowling and Beatrix Potter. So hop, you little fishing bunnies. Hop.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Will Truman says:

        The biggest problem with THG is that the whole thing is a ridiculously contrived framework for Collins to screw with her heroine in a way that produces interesting moral tension.

        I like Katniss just fine. Her character is very interesting. I like Hamish and the rest just fine. The sets and the props are all unbelievable, and what’s worse, they’re really unnecessary because you could create all those tensions and quandaries without having all the implausible pseudoscience parts.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Will Truman says:

        Well, I definitely see that. The weakness in the story is the implausibility or shallowness of the background actors, a poorly understood view of how people, governments, and movements work. Katniss (now a very popular baby name) and her choices were written pretty well. Economics, politics, strategy, and some other elements, not so well.

        I’m inclined to think the series was at one point a retelling of Watership Down, especially as the safe rebel stronghold turned out to be more oppressive than the evil that Katniss was originally fighting, just like the colony of rabbits that lived with the free food and hidden snares. That setting also shared the element of totalitarianism in less obvious but more insidious forms. You could probably compare the books and come up with a fascinating essay. So much is different and yet so much is the same.

        So, at heart, is Katniss really Hazel bunny, re-imagined and given a romance angle? This brings me back to my previous comment: Hop, you fishin bunnies, hop, and my conviction that all good stories are essentially about rabbits.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

        Unfortunately, there’s no Bunny Theater version of THG.Report

  9. Will Truman says:

    I somehow spent all week at a beach condo and yet didn’t actually make time to finish watching Hannibal. Nor did I finish Project Superpowers. For me, that’s strange, because I love reading and watching TV a few hundred feet from the ocean.

    I have about five hours left of Atlas Shrugged. I am in the middle of The Speech. It’s the only time I have been tempted to speed the thing up to 1.4x. I have thus far resisted the temptation. The speech is actually more interesting than I would have guessed. If extremely, extremely long. (No politics.)Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

      Maybe it would be even better in falsetto.Report

    • George Turner in reply to Will Truman says:

      Okay, the best I could make out, Atlas was holding up A by standing on B, and obviously A does not equal B or Atlas wouldn’t be able to stand on B and hold up A, or it would be the same as doing a headstand on A while B sits on top of his a**. But say A does equal B, and he’s head down on top of A and his shoulder starts itching (because A is inhabited by fleas). Just because he shrugs doesn’t mean B is going to roll off his butt or that he’s going to topple over and let B smack into A. So I never figured out her actual premise.Report

  10. Reformed Republican says:

    Still reading War and Peace. I will be on a plain some at the end of the month, so I will probably make some major headway on that trip. I will be flying to Houston for a training course.

    I had taken a break from Supernatural to watch Series 7 of Doctor Who, but now I have started back. I am still only on Season 1.

    My son wanted me to watch Beowulf with him, so I did. It was not a movie I really wanted to see, and I was not impressed. Holy Uncanny Valley Batman! I have never read Beowulf, though I was somewhat familiar with the premise. The idea that the movie showed the real story, while the version we got was a propaganda version was an interesting twist. That is the only positive thing I have to say about it. I was mostly indifferent.

    I thought Breaking Bad started at 10 Eastern, but it was actuall 9, so I missed that. I will have to watch it tonight. Can I make it through the day without spoilers? I hope so.Report

  11. Fish says:

    _Crossroads of Twilight_.

    And technical manuals related to my new job.Report