So many books to read, so little time.

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David Hackett Fischer

with 6 comments

I just saw David Hackett Fischer speak at the University Club in Chicago, about his new book about Champlain. I got that one plus Albion’s Seed, Paul Revere’s Ride and Washington’s Crossing signed. I got to ask one question — whether he was going to ever finish American Plantations, and whether it would provoke the same PC outrage that Albion’s Seed had. He answered, in effect “yes” to the first one, and ducked the second one.

When he was signing my books I asked him if he had read Walter Russell Mead’s books, God and Gold and Special Providence. Fischer, remarkably, had never heard of him. I wrote the titles on the back of a business card. I asked him if he knew of the work of Alan Macfarlane, and he said yes but did not get the sense he knew Macfarlane’s work well. I said he really ought to look at the Modern World series, which really provides a lot of the background for Albion’s Seed. My time ran out then. My next two questions would have been about The Anglosphere Challenge and The Cousins’ Wars, but alas, no time.

DHF seems like a very decent chap.

His next book will be a comparative study of the USA and New Zealand. That could be good.


Written by lexingtongreen

November 7, 2008 at 9:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Question About Thomas Mann

with 4 comments

One way I have accumulated a large library is buying opportunistically at thrift stores, yard sales, bargain tables, library sales, etc. Some of this purchasing has been of books I know to be good and which I know I want. Other purchases have been more speculative.

One example is the novels of Thomas Mann. He is well-regarded, and based on things I have read, I think I will like his writing.

I own five of his novels, but I have not yet read any of them. Four of them I got when I saw a copy either for free or nearly so. These are sitting on my shelf: Buddenbrooks, The Holy Sinner, Doktor Faustus and The Magic Mountain. My brother in law gave us a copy of Felix Krull, Confidence Man.

Does anyone have an opinion about (1) the value of Thomas Mann generally, or (2) which of these five is the best one to read?

Written by lexingtongreen

November 1, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tory Historian on Evelyn Waugh

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My friend Tory Historian has a great post about Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. A very nice discussion of one of my favorite books. She focuses on the character of Anthony Blanche, and his warning to the protagonist, Charles Ryder, about the corrupting power of English charm, especially as it is embodied in the Flyte family. She takes these thread from the novel, and weaves a discussion of the television program made from the book. I have actually never seen the TV show, which various of my friends have liked.

(I previously had this (about Waugh’s definition of conservatism) and this (about somebody misreading and misunderstanding Waugh) on ChicagoBoyz.)

Are there any other Waugh devotees around here?

Written by lexingtongreen

October 28, 2008 at 4:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized


with 3 comments

Dr. Frank had a funny post about the recent movie “Troy.” Even for the unintentionally funny parts, I wouldn’t give a nickel for anything with Brad Pitt in it. I started to write a comment, but it turned into a rant. I decided I’d post it on the blog instead. One guy in the comments mentioned Jason and the Argonauts. Ray Harryhausen. The BEST. Now THAT is ancient Greece, man. The Gods stride amongst the mortals. Giant beings shake the Earth. Dynamite babes frolic about in togas. Heroes slay monsters. It remains to this day an utter masterpiece. I showed it to my kids a few years ago. One kid was so scared by the winged harpies she had an “accident” right there in my sister’s living room. The skeletons coming out of the ground. Oh man.

Another guy suggested that Mel Gibson should make the movie in literal, word-for-word ancient Greek. Funny, maybe, but … .

That could be the TRUE and perfect Iliad movie. Yes. I can see it, almost. A 60 hour long, all ancient-Greek version directed by Mel Gibson would DOMINATE. Grunts, shrieks, running men, sweat, blood, dirt. Fleeting glimpses of spears being flung or thrust, of huge stones whistling down and splintering skulls, of limbs crunching under chariot wheels. Disembowellments, lower jaws hewn off, spears piercing thighs, bladders, lungs, eye sockets — each and every one of the harsh clinical, medical details of Homeric butchery. And the resonant Greek (with subtitles) of a voice-over of all of Homer’s incredible capsule biographies of one doomed warrior after another as he steps up for his moment of truth, only to be immediately felled into the dust by Ajax, or Hector or one of the other Heroes. Only an instant before a son, a husband, a father, a proud, strong man in the flower of youth, and now only food for the birds of the air and the wild dogs which prowl the edges of the battlefield. Death is never anonymous in Homer. Each one is personal. Each one has a story and a name. Each one hurts.

Strictly speaking the movie would be unwatchable. And not only because it would be a pitiless, unremitting cacaphony of screaming, bloody horror. The movie would also be way too long to watch even in a marathon session. We’d have to watch it in three hour segments over several months.

It would be the film equivalent of the Iggy & the Stooges Complete Funhouse Sessions — way, way too much for anyone entirely sane to want to listen to, but far, far too good to not eventually listen to it all.

All we need is someone with Mel Gibson’s money and contacts to take leave of his senses, and in an act of abject commercial lunacy embark on this cinematic dream quest for the perfect movie version of the ur-document of Western civilization. It will always remain only a theoretical possibility, I fear.

But I’d buy the DVD set for sure.

(Originally posted on ChicagoBoyz.)

Written by lexingtongreen

October 26, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Books That Should Exist, But Don’t: The South African Military

with 11 comments

Millions and millions of books. Even in the history field, thousands and thousands. Usually monographs on pretty narrow topics. But amidst all that, despite the numbers, you sometimes find that a book you want just does not exist.

Books which should exist, but don’t, deserve a special place in the antilibrarium. I offer one example here.

I got thinking about South Africa recently, due to a perusal of Ralph Peters’ remarkable essay The Lion and the Snake. And it occurred to me that I knew less about the South African military than I’d like. It is a remote corner of the Anglosphere which I’d like to know more about, and being me, I wanted to start from the military angle. I went looking for something like Granatstein’s history of the Canadian Army, Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace , or this collection of essays on the military history of Ireland. I found remarkably little. There are unit histories, and a series of official (or semi-official) histories of South Africa in the Second World War, and some books about the South African Army from the 1980s, and a few other odds and ends, such as this short essay, and this interesting list of books (click on “literature”). So there is a fair amount of material out there, but nothing comprehensive. I want someone else to do the research, the heavy lifting, and put the whole thing together for me, with a nice annotated bibliography.

Despite substantial searching, I am forced to conclude with regret that there is no one volume history of the South African armed forces, or military history of South Africa. I think we are too close to the transition from the apartheid regime to the successor regime. Old wounds are still open.

Still, too bad. It would be a very fascinating story, told as a continuous narrative. Lots of military, political, cultural and racial drama. The Dutch settlement, the British capture of the Cape, the Zulu Wars, the Boer War, South African expeditionary forces in both world wars, the Cold War era struggles against guerillas in adjacent countries, The military’s involvement in sustaining the apartheid regime, the clandestine nuclear program, the current ambiguous situation, including the virtual privatization of important segments of the South African Army into mercenary bands for hire, and some predictions and guesses about what the future might hold. What a tale. Even if it covered only the 20th century, starting with independence, after the Boer War, it is a story which would certainly have a lot of interest and lessons. It belongs in one volume. I hope someone writes it.

I close by opening the floor to our readers: Do you have any book recommendations about South Africa, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, etc., not necessarily limited to the military angle.

More generally, it would be good to hear about other books that should exist but don’t. I can think of a bunch of them, but that will be for another day.

(Originally posted on ChicagoBoyz.)

Wow. I don’t think this Wikipedia article existed when I first wrote this post. Good to see it. Still, a book would be better … .

Written by lexingtongreen

October 24, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The history of ‘warriors for the working-day’

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As a teenager I cut my teeth reading military history. John Keegan’s The Face of Battle (1976) came as a revelation. Keegan wrote of three great battles (Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme) at the level of ordinary soldiers – Shakespeare’s ‘warriors for the working-day’ – rather than that of generals and staff officers, as had been the case. 

“I do not intend to write about generals or generalship….I do not intend to say anything of logistics or strategy and very little of tactics in the formal sense.”

More recently the pendulum has swung back, with historians writing very good books that balance the perspective of the ‘poor bloody infantry’ with the operational, strategic and political levels of war. Casting an eye across my book shelves (not my anti-library, I hasten to add), I spotted Adam Zamoyski’s 1812 and Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad, both of which exemplify this approach to military approach.

A few days ago I was dipping into Carl von Clausewitz’s On War and came across an interesting discussion about approaches to the study of military history (chapter 5, Book 2). Clausewitz considered whether military history (and by this he meant the actions of the great generals) should be studied from an omnipotent vantage point (the eye in the sky perspective that the gods enjoy in The Iliad). Or whether it should be studied “as nearly as possible” from the point of view of the general, watching the battle unfold through his eyes – with all the noise, confusion, uncertainty and danger that entailed. 

When you think about it, most military history is written as though we are Olympian gods. Beevor’s Stalingrad, for example, takes you from front line combat to the Russian and German formation headquarters and on to the war councils of Hitler and Stalin. This makes for great comprehensive coverage. But it strikes me that a variation on Clausewitz’s idea (and Keegan’s approach), of following a battle or campaign through the eyes of an individual or a group of men – ‘warriors for the working-day’ – would be something fascinating and different. 

This has been done in fiction, war memoirs, such as Guy Sajer’s The Forgotten Soldier, and film (‘Band of Brothers’ springs to mind). But I haven’t come across any military histories like this. Have you?

Cross-posted at Kotare: The Strategist

Written by kotare1718

October 21, 2008 at 9:26 am

Aren`t we forgetting something ?

with 5 comments

I have just done something which I do fairly often: I have dowloaded an interesting PDF with the intention of reading it later: in this instance a paper on int`l support for the FARC which I got via

Been at my laptop a lot today – work for next week, so I will not read any more now. Got a new DVD (No country for old men) to watch this evening.

Still, I have an uneasy feeling. How many docs of this type do I still have which are unread, just saved “in case” ? (Hint: 2 external HDs).

How about you ?

Addendum: !

In response to LexGreen in the comments section: I forgot to mention ZOTERO yesterday. H/T to Zenpundit

Z seems like a godsend to us content junkies. I have spent an hour on it last weekend and liked it though I am far from using systematically. Caveat – I just do not know wheter it`s great or just great-looking OK ? Try at yr own risk – I, for one, will give it a trial asap.

Written by fabiusmcunctator

October 18, 2008 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized