Most Secret War by R. V. Jones

Filed under:History — posted by Randolph on July 12, 2017 @ 3:23 pm


Most Secret War by R. V. Jones

Dr. Jones was a physicist who, when WWII began, was thrown into the role of scientific intelligence. The book chronicles his experiences during the war, detailing how he learned and analyzed the German capabilities and how he figured out how to counter them. There is some surprising guesswork and counterintelligence that made the book interesting.

It also delves into the relationship between him, Churchill, and various other organizations. These involved some politics and infighting, even during wartime.

After the war, Dr. Jones had the opportunity to interview some of the top Germans working with radar. He throws in their perspectives and ideas from time-to-time giving interesting new perspectives on the war.

The Great Courses: The World of Byzantium by Kenneth W. Harl

Filed under:History — posted by Randolph on November 10, 2016 @ 7:46 pm

The Great Courses: The World of Byzantium by Kenneth W. Harl

This lecture series provides incredible detail into the world of Byzantium and its relationships to other civilizations over the millennium of its existence. This is a time period during the middle ages that I, and many I know, lack much knowledge.

The only complaint I have is that the information comes too fast. It really is designed as a lecture, where you can sit and take notes. Not having that opportunity, I suspect I will not retain much, but the lecture would be worth a second hearing.

Sword Song: The Battle For London by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under:Fiction,History — posted by Randolph on October 13, 2016 @ 6:44 pm

Sword Song: The Battle For London by Bernard Cornwell

The book is set in the late 9th century England and involves several of the primary historical figures of Wessex and Mercia. The characters are well-done, they have depth and are interesting. I can’t speak to their historical accuracy, though.

The book gives a very good feel for the time period. The characters strong, their actions are immediate and often cruel by our standards. The culture really comes out.

The story hinges around the fight for London between Danish Vikings in the north and the Saxons in Wessex. King Alfred gives his daughter’s hand in an attempt to solidify his hold on London.

I found the fight scenes very detailed and convincing. Their descriptions reveal well-thought out tactics and formations. You can almost smell the sweat and gore.

I hadn’t realized it was part of a series. It makes a good stand-alone book, though. It helped to solidify my understanding of that period in English history.

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller

Filed under:History,Sports — posted by Randolph on June 1, 2016 @ 7:29 am

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh

In this book, a couple of baseball podcasters with just a little management experience between them get the opportunity to manage a baseball team by the numbers. They offer to manage the team using statistics, similar to those used in the major leagues. The get the opportunity in a very minor league in Sanoma, California, the Sanoma Stompers.

In the course of their adventures, they learn that statistics aren’t everything. They get resistance from players and other managers who don’t want rules from outsiders. They learn about the politics of baseball, and that some things are more important than the statistics.

At times the books is outright funny, it is insightful, and you can learn a lot about the inside activities of baseball. It is an enjoyable read for anyone interested in the sport.

Brotherhood of the Revolution: How America’s Founders Forged a New Nation… by Joseph J. Ellis

Filed under:History — posted by Randolph on August 25, 2015 @ 7:26 am

Brotherhood of the Revolution: How America's Founders Forged a New Nation… by Joseph J. Ellis

Professor Joseph Ellis tells the story of the founding of the US through the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. He details the political struggles and backstories of the events, explaining the turmoil and disagreements on many of the issues, including the issue of slavery.

This is a should-hear series of lectures for all adults in the US. It provides a good basis for understanding our constitution and the founding fathers.

1632 by Eric Flint

Filed under:History,Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on February 8, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

1632 by Eric Flint

This book tells the story of a West Virginia mining town being transported into the year 1632. The story is about the clash of cultures, mostly in how the locals react to the American philosophy and technology.

The Americans immediately decide to impose democratic and egalitarian philosophies on the locals, who take to it rapidly.

This should make for a great story. But there are many shortcomings.

First, the writing is fairly weak. The author has no idea how to tell a backstory. I almost gave up on the book within the first 20 pages. For example, when he introduced one of the characters early in the book, he provides a decent description, then provides the backstory in a short paragraph:

"So, Doc. Did the judge give you a choice? Between the Army and the Marines, I mean."

Most of that was never explained in the book.

Often, when describing an action, he’ll switch between describing events in process and describing them after the fact. It is somewhat unsettling, and would be more interesting if he stuck with the present.

His segues often consist of a comment by one of the characters that is extremely out of place. A lot of the dialog feels awkward or forced.

The locals are far too accepting of the Americans and the Americans are far too ready to come to consensus in their decisions. There is almost no internal conflict. Their skill set is far too broad for a mining town and they seem to figure things out too quickly. Some of the characters are a bit over the top.

Generally, all conflicts in the book are resolved within a few pages, except for military conflicts which can carry out for a while. He misses numerous opportunities to have issues build tension and develop characters. He introduces major characters in the book who take on backstage roles. Some could have been major characters providing a lot of tension and interest.

The pacing of the book is fairly fast. It is more of an action book than science fiction. But the pacing doesn’t vary enough. Almost the entire book runs at this same pace.

On the positive side, the pacing is good, not too fast, and the story is interesting.

The history is good. This is an interesting and pivotal time in history, one we should know more about. With the inquisitions going across Europe and the thirty-years war, there is a lot to be involved in. These are some of the events that led people to cross the Atlantic for the Americas, now the Americas have come to Europe.

I did enjoy the book, but was sorely disappointed because it could easily have been so much more. If you enjoy alternate history and can put up with the weak writing style, you will probably enjoy this book.

The Modern Scholar: Wars That Made the Western World: The Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, and the Punic Wars by Timothy Shutt

Filed under:History — posted by Randolph on October 2, 2014 @ 8:36 am

The Modern Scholar: Wars That Made the Western World: The Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, and the Punic Wars by Timothy Shutt

This is a lecture series on three wars that shaped the world’s history. We are familiar with them, but few know much about them. These are the Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, and the Punic Wars.

Professor Shutt goes into the events leading to each war, motivations and politics, then discusses details of a few select battles. He covers the ongoing politics during the wars to give you a feeling of what was going on off the battlefields.

I can’t say that Prof. Shutt is the best of lectors, but the information is very interesting and I enjoyed the series.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human… by Neil Shubin

Filed under:History,Science — posted by Randolph on September 14, 2014 @ 8:35 pm

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human… by Neil Shubin

Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion by Professor Bill Messenger

Filed under:History,Technical — posted by Randolph on July 21, 2014 @ 8:34 pm

Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion by Professor Bill Messenger

This is one of the Great Courses CD sets covering the history of Jazz. It is a good history starting from Cakewalks, an early black form of music combining some African and some European elements. This grew to Ragtime, and ultimately to a variety of forms of Jazz.

One CD is devoted to each style. The discussion covers how it evolved, what elements are unique and what characterizes the style, and how it came to be replaced. There are many music samples and the speaker includes comments on music theory.

The series is full of information and very enjoyable. And it goes fast.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of… by Dr. Ed Catmull andAmy Wallace

Filed under:History — posted by Randolph on March 31, 2014 @ 8:53 pm

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of… by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

A lot of CEOs are writing books these days. They usually proclaim their brilliance at seizing opportunity, but don’t convey much useful information in their books. This one is different.

From the beginning, we can see Ed Catmull as a different person. With a Ph.D. in computer science, he has been a pioneer in computer graphics. Having a personal goal of creating a full-length animated movie, he founded Pixar. Although the book details the events of Pixar, Disney, and Ed’s interactions with Jobs, the book is really about how the successes occurred.

The authors focus on how the maintained a creative environment and even enhanced it. This is repeated throughout the book. When they arrived at Disney, they managed to enhance a team that had lost its creative abilities, this without throwing the group in turmoil and while maintaining morale.

The book includes a short synopsis of Steve Jobs and known by the workers in Pixar, then concludes with an afterword that includes ideas on managing creative teams.


next page


image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace