book review list,
our Cape Cod and New England library,
Cape Cod History home page
science and nature book reviews
A long gap from Dec 2010 -- Nov 2013, latest addition: Dec 2014
bare facts - books without full reviews yet (and probably never) - organized by author/organization
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. 1979. Douglas Adams
There are many amusing lines, and I'd have loved it as a teenager.
The Romantic Story of the Mayflower Pilgrims. And its place in the life of to-day. 1911. Albert C. Addison
The Romantic Story of the Puritan Fathers. And their founding of New Boston. 1912. Albert C. Addison
Detailed history and biography from the pietist camp, with separate books for the 2 Massachusetts colonies. The focus is unusual however, being more on their English Puritan roots than on what happened in America. There are many fairly good photos of the English sites (from nearly 100 years ago). The books themselves were nicely printed, with a large font text surrounded by a narrow art nouveau green frame. It would be of interest to know whether the histories are still considered accurate or complete. I scanned parts, and have posted the chapter on the fates of the Pilgrims.New England and the Sea. The American Maritime Library, volume V. 1972. Robert G Albion, William A Baker, and Benjamin Labaree. picture editor: Marion V Brewington. Middletown CT: Mystic Seaport and Wesleyan University Press.
Jack, Knave and Fool. 1998. Bruce Alexander, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons
A scholarly study of maritime New England, 1600-1970, with many black-and-white portraits and photos of ships, a few statistics, no maps, no time lines, plenty of nautical jargon but no glossary, a silly emphasis on the America's Cup, indictment of polluters and politicians...
An entertaining murder mystery set in London, circa 1770. This is the 5th in a series, featuring Sir John Fielding as an investigative magistrate, the blind cofounder of the Bow Street Runners, London's first police force. The detailed setting and language make this interesting. The language and action would be uninterpretable without the foil of Fielding's ward and assistant, Jeremy Proctor. We get to visit both the aristocracy and the poorest neighborhoods, and think about the changes and similarities in society and technology from 240 years ago. I liked it, and hope to read more. (Jun 2010)The Endurance. Shackelton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. 1999. Caroline Alexander. Knopf
Shackelton's 1914 expedition to Antarctica was intended to cross the continent on foot. Why? Well, just because. Anyway, the expedition never got there, the Endurance being trapped in ice for 10 months, then crushed. The crew drifted on ice floes for 5 months, then made a desperate small-boat crossing to uninhabited Elephant Island. Shackelton and 5 others then made an epic 800 mile crossing to the whaling stations at South Georgia to seek help. Amazingly, everyone survived.The Sailing-Ship. Six thousand years of history. 1963. Romola & R.C. Anderson. New York: W.W. Norton & Company
This story has had a lot of attention in the last few years, and it's easy to see why. The hardships, narrow escapes and fortitude of the men are nearly incredible. Several of the crew kept diaries, and these are used to present as broad an examination of crew interaction as possible. This book has the added virtue of being well illustrated with the expedition's photographs, some apparently never published previously. (2005)
Under Its Generous Dome. The Collections and Programs of the American Antiquarian Society. 1992. AAS staff
The American Antiquarian Society is a national treasure. It is a research library in Worcester MA, founded in 1812. It has millions of original documents - 2/3 of everything printed in what is now the US from 1640-1820, 3/4 of everything printed through 1876. That's books, pamphlets, broadsides, lithographs, music — everything. And anyone (with some identification) can use the materials, for free (on site.) (2002)
A Son of the Sea. Sara Ware Bassett. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1939.
Lightweight romance novel with a Cape Cod setting. This is the first novel by Bassett that I have read. She was no Joe Lincoln or James Cooper. Sure hope the others are better, because I've collected several. (June 2002)
A Head for Poisoning. 1999. Simon Beaufort. New York: St. Martin's Press
This is a murder mystery/historical novel, a poor one, set on the English-Welsh border in 1101. Sir Geoffrey Mappestone returns from the Crusades to his bickering family, to find his father dying, apparently being poisoned, and his siblings all scheming to inherit. The appendix explains the historical context, which is the most interesting part of the book. The story drowns in anachronisms, coincidences and just preposterous plot. An interesting consideration is the different possibilities when nearly everyone is illiterate. (Sept 2004)Folklore & the Sea. Horace Beck, 1973
The Encyclopedia of North American Trees. 2002. Sam Benvie. Firefly Books. isbn 1-55297-642-6
278 species of native trees are briefly described by habitat, geographic distribution, defining characteristics, commercial and historical importance and suitability for landscaping. There are photos: pretty art shots and uninformative specimen shots. They are alphabetized by their Latin names — the overlap and repetition of the "common" names is a small revelation. This is not a definitive tree identification handbook — it lacks the keys and detailed small-scale drawings of leaves, flowers and fruit for that, and deliberately ignores shrubs. (2003)An Account of the Captivity of Elizabeth Hanson, Now or Late of Kachecky, in New-England: Who, with Four of her Children and Servant-Maid, was taken captive by the Indians, and carried into Canada. Setting forth The various remarkable Occurrences, sore trials, and wonderful Deliverances which befel them after their Departure, to the Time of their Redemption. Taken in Substance from her own Mouth, By Samuel Bownas. The Second Edition. LONDON: Printed and Sold by Samuel Clark, in bread-Street, near Cheapside. MDCCLX.
The Structures of Everyday Life. The limits of the possible. Civilization & capitalism 15th-18th century, Volume 1. 1979. Fernand Braudel, translated by Sian Reynolds
My copy of this is printed from a PDF file, downloaded from a Canadiana web site, and there are also other sites with the pamphlet.
A Romance of Barnstable. 1909. Mary Matthews Bray. Boston:
Rosalie is a pretty and bright orphan, being raised by her aunt, the housekeeper to a wealthy retired sea captain with 2 sons. The time is the 1850s and 1860s. The elder son is work-obsessed, with a snobby wife, and son Robert, who is Rosalie's age. The younger son, Endicott, is Rosalie's tutor and father-figure. Rosalie married Endicott, he works as a physician during the Civil War, in which Robert is badly hurt. Rosalie and Endicott tour Europe, then he suddenly dies, leaving her pregnant. Rosalie is inconsolable until she finds a letter from Endicott, who knew he had a bad heart, telling her not to overdo the mourning. So she marries Robert.The Rule of Four. Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, 2004
The book is stiff and Victorian, with ridiculous dialog and overblown description. However, at least most of the characters survived, unlike those in Sarah Greene's books. Bray was certainly no Joseph C. Lincoln or James A. Cooper, who were writing Cape Cod novels in the same era. None of them wrote deep novels, but Lincoln and Cooper are fun to read, and Bray was a chore.
It seems to be Bray's only novel, but she also published some books of verse. She lived 1837-1918, but in 1920 her editor or daughter published A Sea Trip in Clipper Ship Days, which has recently been republished. It is a memoir of the experiences of her and her sisters when they were young ladies, on a voyage to India via Liverpool, aboard the father's ship, National Eagle. (Dec 2008)
Sacred Legacy. 2000. photographs by Edward S. Curtis, edited by Christopher Cardozo and Joseph D. Horse Capture. foreword by N. Scott Momaday, afterword Anne Makepeace. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Large format picture book with background on Curtis (1868-1952) and his decades-long project. Wonderful photos on array of western tribes from SW, California, Plains, NW, Canadian Woodlands, Eskimo. The project was financially unsuccessful, despite important backing, and Curtis died in obscurity. Twenty-volume sets going for $500 in 1960s are now selling for $1M. With appendixed info on image reproduction techniques. Not addressed: very different titles and dates for pictures pretty clearly taken in the same shoot, eg Kutenai rush collecting vs duck hunting in canoe. Text — inconsistent ideas on why Curtis chose subjects. (Sept 2004)Bones of the Moon.1987. Jonathan Carroll. London: Arrow Books
Cullen is an educated, sophisticated New York woman of the 1970s -1980s (no email or cell phones). She marries Danny, and she is usually very happy with him, and surprised at how happy she is with him. But she has a series of bizarre dreams, in which she, and the erstwhile child she aborted, are on a dangerous adventure. These concern her, and she seeks advice, and the advisers mostly reassure her. Meanwhile she occasionally exchanges mail with the teenage axe-murderer who lived in the same apartment building. The dreams and the real world come together at the denouement.
Fairly interesting. Not the sort of thing I usually buy or read — I think it was a freebie some years ago from an acquaintance who was a chain-store book buyer. (May 2007)
A Patriot Lad of Old Cape Cod. 1927. Russell Gordon Carter. Philadelphia: The Penn Publishing Company
Adolescent historical fiction, based on the skirmishes of the American militia with marauding British ships during the Revolution at Falmouth. John Eldred and Noah Lewis are both 12, typical farm boys. They discover a landing party of Tories and British sailors, and foil its attempt to steal livestock. There is the usual (to these stories) skillful, quiet, mysterious and helpful Indian (Tom Nauset). The boys and Tom help scout for the marauders, observe the militia repelling an attack on the village, are captured by Tories and escape to bring back a native medicine woman to a sister seriously ill. A particularly unrealistic aspect of the story is having 2 12-year-old boys sailing in early New England spring weather, past enemy ships, in difficult waters with which they are unfamiliar, in a jury-rigged and untested sailboat, and with parental permission. (May 2002)
Cap'n Jonah's Fortune. 1933. James Cooper. Cleveland OH and New York: The World Syndicate Publishing Co. ©1919 George Sully and Co, illustrated
Very similar to the books of Joseph C. Lincoln. Capt. Jonah Hand retires to an Cape Cod village, boarding with relatives. These relatives are quickly seen to be grasping, small-minded, and obnoxious. An array of characters interact, with the typical New England theme that too much taciturnity threatens to ruin lives. And a more universal theme contrasting the joys and problems of small-town life: eccentricities are just accepted, everyone knows your business and character, the community can be stifling or a supportive family. (June 2002)
"The Stratemeyer Syndicate issued four books for older readers under the pen name James A. Cooper. These stories were set in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and were intended to evoke the writing style of Joseph C. Lincoln. The stories were ghostwritten by W. Bert Foster from Edward Stratemeyer's outlines. The books were initially published by Sully." James Keeline
The Sea Fox. The adventures of Cape Cod's most colorful rum-runner. 1956. Scott Corbett with Captain Manuel Zora
Political Changes in Massachusetts, 1824-1848. 1925 by Yale Univ., reprinted 1968. Arthur B. Darling. Cos Cob CT: John E. Edwards
Anecdotes in the life of Manny Zora, from stowing away aboard his uncle's smuggling schooner as a child in Portugal, to the squalor and confusion of emigration, gradually getting into the rum-runner life, close calls with the Coast Guard and mobsters, battling a storm, Provincetown Portygees and swells. A light biography, from an interesting era. (May 2008)
Batavia's Graveyard. 2002. Mike Dash
note below on The Wreck of the Batavia. 2005. Simon Leys.
Roxana, the Fortunate Mistress. 1724. Daniel Defoe. Oxford University Press, 1964The Connecticut River. New England's Historic Waterway. Edmund Delaney. Chester CT: Globe Pequot Press. 1983. isbn 0-87106-980-6
Roxana is not as well known as Moll Flanders, and not quite as interesting. It's more a drama of manners than a picaresque novel, although both Protagonists go through many situations, men and years. Like Moll, Roxana is a woman trying to survive...
Playing Indian. 1998. Philip Joseph Deloria. New Haven CT: Yale Univ. Press; isbn: 0300080670
This is basically a History of Connecticut, since the events in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire are hardly mentioned. But that's okay. As usual, the maps stink — there's just one general map, with microscopic print and details. There are plenty of other illustrations, in B&W — color would have been better, but they're well chosen. I did learn a modest amount of Connecticut history. There's an interesting appendix of historic sites. (Jan 2003)
Scotland. A Year of the Land. 1983. Ian Digby. New York: Colour Library Books/ Crescent Books
A photo picture book with several introductory pages. No map! for an introduction to a country! Confusing captions and quite a few repetitive pictures. (Jan 2008)To Lie with Lions. Dorothy Dunnett. New York: Knopf, 1996.
This seems to be volume 5 of a medieval soap opera. Nicholas de Fleury has risen from a dyer's apprentice to bank owner, mercenary and adventurer, collecting many enemies along the way, particularly among his own relations, and including his wife. The settings include Scotland, Iceland, Venice, Rome, France, the Low Countries and Cyprus. Brutality and triple-dealing are the standards. The main characters are tortured and beaten but pop right back up, over and over. There is annoying mysticism, where Nicholas keeps track of his friends and family long distance. A surprisingly good point to the book is that the end papers are helpful maps of the locales. (So this fiction, where the locales are actually unimportant, has good maps, while a history of the Laffite pirates, a semi-scholarly non-fiction, has no good maps, which is a major fault.)
The Mill on the Floss. 1885. George Eliot
I bought this cheap at a library sale, and will give it back to sell again. I don't plan to read the series. (March 2006)
Cleaning out my basement by reading books and finishing projects. This was a "Claxton Edition," printed on cheap paper, and poorly bound.
Maggie Tulliver is the precocious daughter of an irascible miller and his dull wife. She dotes on her brother Tom, who consistently belittles her. The larger society of St. Ogg worships Propriety, based on money, social hierarchy and conventional but shallow religion. When her father is bankrupted, Tom goes to work to redeem the family honor, and Maggie retreats to medieval theology and asceticism. Later, she is in love with Philip Witham, the artistic, sensitive, hunch-backed son of the family's arch-enemy, but the relationship cannot proceed over Tom's adamant objections and Maggie's social/religious constraints. Then she meets wealthy and charming Stephen Guest, near-fianceé of her favorite cousin Lucy. They fight their mutual attraction, for duty and honor, but finally Stephen tries to elope with her. Maggie almost agrees, but cannot escape her ties of convention and affection. She returns to St. Ogg, ostracized by Tom and most of the town. There is a major flood, Maggie rescues Tom with a boat, Tom realizes the error of his ways, and they are both drowned. (Jun 2014)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. 2001. Dave Eggers. New York: Vintage Books/Random House
Apparently this was intended as a darkly comical autobiography. As the arch title suggests, the author is full of himself. Which he realizes, and comes to realize further. It is too narcissistic and self-referential for my taste, and too recent and familiar to have historical or cultural interest. It held my interest as I read it, but I wouldn't recommend it. (July 2006)
Foucault's Pendulum. Umberto Eco.
Unreadable. Deliberately confusing and obscure. I imagine a covey of black-clad European students, drinking heavily and smoking, trying desperately to appear deep and detached as they try to one-up the others. After some hours trying to get interested, I left my copy in the laundry room of a Flagstaff motel. (June 2003)The Natural History of Nonsense. 1946. Bergen Evans. New York: Alfred A Knopf
whole text, 1.2 Mb PDF. I picked up this book as a library giveaway, expecting it might be some biological or scientific humor. Instead, I found an amazing book, debunking many old wives tales and pseudoscience frauds, extending into some more pernicious modern prejudices.The United States and China. 1971. Third edition. John King Fairbank
This is a modern classic of political history, focusing on the 20th century, but with plenty of background. The bureaucratic state has existed for 2000 years, with the social structure hardly disturbed by many invasions and rebellions, until the Maoist revolution. The late 19th and early 20th century saw reformers organizing and rebelling against the sclerotic Manchu dynasty and unequal treaties. The 1920s saw the rise of the Kuomintang and the Communists, both partly trained by the Soviets. They sometimes cooperated and sometimes fought. The KMT was relatively urban based, and the Communists rural based. Japan invaded Manchuria in the 1930s - the US continued to supply Japan with war materiel even as it supported the KMT. The KMT did most of the fighting against the Japanese, while the Communists continued land and social reform, each side holding off the other. After the Japanese surrender there were attempts to form a coalition government, which failed. Despite the initial superiority of the KMT troops in training, numbers and weaponry, they were defeated over the course of 4 years by the Communists, because KMT society was deeply corrupt and factionalized, the economy ruined by hyperinflation. The Maoists gained control of the people by lying about their goals, gradually squeezing out landlords, rich peasants, capitalists and shop owners. Meanwhile, social reform continued with intensive propaganda and self-reflection. Mao's attempts to follow orthodox Marxist-Leninist practice by building up heavy industry at the expense of agriculture in the late 1950s (the Great Leap Forward) was a disaster, forcing him to resign as head of state. His attempt to regain control in 1966-7 with the Red Guards (the Cultural Revolution) was another disaster for China, which left the military in control.The Sound and the Fury. 1929. William Faulkner
We have sets of the classics and semi-classics that one used to get for joining book clubs. I haven't read any Faulkner before, nor any descriptions and analyses of his work. This is a stream of consciousness book about the disintegration of a white, upper middle class Mississippi family. I'd hesitate to call it a novel, because there really isn't a plot or resolution. It was of some interest for its historical setting of Southern life and race relations. (Jun 2010)
The New England Farmer and Horticultural Journal. containing essays, original and selected, relating to agriculture and domestic economy; with engravings, and the prices of country produce. Thomas G. Fessenden. Boston: John B Russell. Volume 8, 1830Pioneers East. The early American experience in the Middle East. David. H. Finne. 1967. Cambridge Ma: Harvard Univ.
This is a bound weekly journal, which starts July 24, 1829, and ends July 16, 1830. Most of it is of no interest to me — there is a huge series on the breeds of horses, focused on Britain. Boring. But the particular obsessions of the editor or the era do interest me: silk production was being attempted widely in the US, and hemp was widely discussed (with no mention of smoking it). Temperance was advocated, but temperance meant temperance, not prohibition — cider, beer and wine were OK. Several pieces on coffee substitutes. Tobacco use was unhealthy, if not immoral. Private farmers did relatively careful scientific experiments with crops and crop treatments. The militia system was falling apart, and good riddance. (Nov 2002) excerpts
The United States began officially connecting with the Middle East in the early-mid 1800s, with a trickle of diplomats and missionaries. The American experience with the Barbary Coast is mentioned, but the focus is on the Ottoman Empire and Asia Minor. The long experience of Yankee merchants and shipping when under the British flag is ignored. The was already an old and much larger British presence in the area, and Americans at first relied on the Brits for protection. The major cargo received seems to have been opium, at Smyrna, on its way to China, exchanged for low-grade rum. American interest picked up when the missionary movement began, but the Sublime Porte had little interest in diplomatic relations until 1828 or so, when it wanted new ships. On 20 Oct 1827, during the Greek war of independence from the Ottomans, there was a naval battle at Navarino, in which the combined Ottoman and Egyptian fleets were annihilated by combined British, French and Russian squadrons. American ship architects, workers and supplies were imported, and built ships at Istanbul. The US Navy showed the flag, but the US was still trying to keep out of European entanglements back then. Meanwhile, missionaries were being sent here and there. Nearly all of them died, and fairly soon, of disease They made virtually no converts among their targeted non-Muslim groups, and their attention led to the massacre of most Nestorian Christians by jealous Muslim neighbors. (Even they realized the folly of trying to convert Muslims in a Muslim dominated empire, where apostasy meant death.) Finne included an interesting comment about the Ottomans being a military occupation of many countries, rather than a government. The era also saw the bare beginning of tourism, and John Lloyd Stevens wrote a good book about his travels there. John Ledyard was born in 1751 in Groton Ct, led a fascinating life it seems, and died at Cairo in 1788.
p. 244: "American trade with Mocha persisted at least into the 1830's. A merchant from Roxbury, Mass., was living there in 1834. The American consul at Cairo, George Gliddon, reported in 1837: 'The trade with the wild nations of the interior of Africa, and the whale fishery on the African and Arabian coasts, is carried on by American vessels to an extent but little appreciated, excepting by a few merchants of certain cities of the United States, who keep their profitable business a profound secret. To use the words of a highly scientific traveler and experiences British officer of the East India Company's mariner service, ... ' go where you will, on the wildest shores of Africa, from Madagascar to the Persian Gulf, there is hardly a petty harbor or sheltered bay large enough to admit a square-rigged craft, but you will find a Yankee boiling his oil, repairing his vessel, or in a tent planted on shore, driving a hard bargain with the natives.'." American vessels were apparently involved in the Zanzibar slave trade.in the 1820s.
As usual, no maps. Extensive bibliography but no glossary. The strong focus on the missionaries seems misplaced, since they were few in number and had minimal impact. An analysis of trade would be more useful, especially with regard to the taboo topics of slaves and opium. (Nov 2013)
Gloriana's Torch. Patricia Finney. 2003. NY: St. Martin's Griffith
An excellent historical novel of the Spanish Armada. An array of characters from both, or multiple, sides of the story are rather well characterized. (May 2010)
The Hammer of Eden. 1998. Ken Follett. NY: Crown
A pretty good thriller, with some annoying loose threads in character development. A California commune run as a cult is going to be drowned by a power project. The cult leader, Priest, is a psychopath who had channeled his talents in ways to benefit others, mostly, but when the threat emerges he reverts to old ways. He learns that earthquakes can be relatively simply triggered, and attempts to coerce the state into banning new energy plants. The heroine is an FBI agent, battling the cult leader and her bosses. Follett is sympathetic to the commune members' goals, but not to their methods. Even Priest is given some very humanizing aspects. (Apr 2010)Washington. The Indispensable Man.1969, 1973, 1974. James Thomas Flexner. New York and Scarborough Ontario: A Plume Book/New American Library. isbn 0-452-25542-2
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies. 1957, 1958. C.S. Forester. Boston: Little, Brown
I learned much from this book. It was condensed from a multi-volume biography, and many details and much evidence is simply omitted, so readers must simply accept the facts as presented, but I found the conclusions reasonable. Washington is described as having a genius for forging consensus, a man who rose to do his duty whenever necessary. There were the social class conflicts — mediocrely-educated land-rich provincial wanted acceptance into the British ruling caste, but couldn't break in. His mother was apparently a harpy. Slave-based tobacco farming was not profitable, and ruined soil quickly: Washington switched to wheat farming at some point, which is a completely different economy, making many slaves redundant.
The new country was very fragile, requiring great delicacy in treating American politicians and issues, and a balancing act to keep the interested super-powers, Britain and France, out of American affairs. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are presented as being conniving, deceitful and dangerous.
See Washington's Crossing.
Wildest Alaska. Journeys of Great Peril in Lituya Bay. 2001. Philip L. Fradkin. Univ. California Press
The History of Cape Cod. Volume 1, 1858. Volume 2, 1862. Frederick Freeman. reprinted 1965 by Parnassus Imprints.
This is the bible of Cape Cod history — 1600 pages worth. Freeman was a good writer, with a sense of humor. He left out the "lascivious" stuff (unfortunately, but after all, he was a minister), but claimed to show our ancestors as they really were, warts and all. He was highly critical of the treatment of the natives, especially by the earliest Pilgrims (Myles Standish seems to have been a paranoid psychopath) and then again by the post-Revolutionary politicians. This will take years to read and digest slowly. There is also some highly detailed genealogy. (Sept 2003)
Night Soldiers. Alan Furst. 1988
Dark Star. Alan Furst. 1991
Furst is a master of richly detailed, historically correct spy novels.
Kristo Stoianev is a young Bulgarian fisherman in 1934. He is recruited by the NKVD when his younger brother is beaten to death by the local fascists. Trained in the Soviet Union, and then sent to Spain to help the Republicans fight the Spanish and German fascists, he sees his comrades being "recalled" to death sentences during the purges, and narrowly escapes his own recall by fleeing to France. The NKVD is implacable, assassinating all defectors, and he is known to both British and Soviet agents (but does not know that, himself, at first.) When the Germans take France, Kristo joins an American-led sabotage cell, then is dropped into Czechoslovakia to spy on German industrial production. He makes contact with his NKVD classmates, and makes an unauthorized, dangerous trip through German and Soviet lines to the mouth of the Danube to rescue a Gulag survivor whom they hope will be of value to the Americans or British. Meanwhile, there are several other characters and subplots. (Apr 2008)
I was impressed, and read several more. In order of publication:
André Szara is a Polish Jew, a correspondent for Pravda.
The Polish Officer. Alan Furst. 1995
The World at Night. Alan Furst. 1996
France expects the army's Maginot Line to readily defend the country, but it quickly falls to the German advance through Belgium. Film producer Jean Casson is called up to help document the battle, but is demobilized when his unit's equipment is destroyed. He makes love a lot, gets caught up in a fraudulent British-Spanish anti-fascist plot, protects his friends, the Germans try to co-opt him but he works with the Resistance until caught. He escapes, and is almost taken to Britain, but decides to stay in France. His story continues in Red Gold.
The background story is the day-to-day life of living in a defeated and occupied country, with shortages, collaborators and Jewish roundups. (May 2008)
Red Gold. Alan Furst. 1999
Jean Casson is hiding in Paris during the German occupation, a wanted man, cold and hungry. He is used by loyal Army officers within the Vichy regime, as being politically neutral, to contact the Communist resistance, then to help smuggle a truckload of weapons to them. The Communists are terrorists, Stalinists, fanatically secretive and organized, not always competent, and oblivious to savage reprisals. In the run-up to the war, when Hitler and Stalin were buddies, the French Left was vehemently anti-militarist, and sabotaged critical military weapon systems. Casson is later recruited by Free French/British intelligence to sabotage German gasoline shipments passing through the Franch canal system.
Later than the setting of The World at Night, the French are suffering but some collaborators are still doing well, the Germans are not as complacent as they had been, Jews are being widely deported, the British are bombing factories, and the Resistance is getting organized. The guilt of the Communists in the French debacle is new to me. (May 2008)
Kingdom of Shadows. Alan Furst. 2000
Blood of Victory. Alan Furst. 2002
Dark Voyage. Alan Furst. 2004
"On the eve of World War II, the captain of a freighter is recruited by Dutch naval intelligence to smuggle arms and supplies past the watchful eyes of the German Navy" in the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas.
I "read" this as my first audio book. I like his detailed contexts, but he crams too many unconnected tales into one book, with the thin veneer of the same characters. (Oct 2014)
Captain Cook. Voyager Between Worlds. 2007. John Gascoigne. London: Hambledon Continuum
Gascoigne seeks to put Capt. James Cook into his cultural perspective, and does a fairly good job of it. I think the Australian author assumes a basic knowledge by readers of Cook's explorations, which may not be true for non-British/Anzac readers. His prose could have used some serious editing, tending to redundancy and triteness, with some typos as well. He discusses middle-class British society as if was all of Britain, to compare it to the Pacific cultures, but then admits mariner/underclass society was something else entirely.
Cook was born in Yorkshire, apprenticed as a grocery clerk, and gained a reputation as a mariner in the Yorkshire-London coal trade, then joined the Navy. There was a strong Quaker context to his civilian milieu, though he was not a member. A thread throughout is the social networking involved in British society, of clients, patrons and sponsors. (Hawaii was called the Sandwich Islands in honor of his sponsor.) Gascoigne takes a rather benign view of the aristocracy vs meritocracy tension - that one still (usually) had to be competent to succeed, especially at sea. The relatively easy-going Cook of the first 2 voyages became a cranky tyrant on his last.
The actual explorations are not detailed here. The variety within Pacific island cultures is explored to a modest depth. The distinctions among classes in Polynesian society are mentioned but not explained. I still know next to nothing about the Maoris. The disruptions in the societies caused by European trade goods are fascinating. Gascoigne makes an effort to include islander perspectives on the Europeans, but still, there isn't much - perhaps there isn't much known, or it's too tainted by contemporary PC. (2007)
Disaster Illustrated. Two Hundred Years of American Misfortune. 1976. Woody Gelman and Barbara Jackson. New York: Harmony Books.An entertaining picture book about major fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, train wrecks, ship wrecks, plane crashes, mine deaths, epidemics, earthquakes and disappearances for the past nearly 400 years (despite the title). Profusely illustrated with photos, woodcuts and engravings. Disasters preventable, accidental, inescapable, criminal and/or natural. A by-product of industrial society is that lots of people can die suddenly when our machines and industries fail (explosions didn't kill people often before high explosives and steam engines were invented), but we have better control over natural disasters now. A gift, 20-odd years ago, that I hadn't actually set down with until now. (Feb 2003)Neuromancer. 1984. William Gibson
One of Gibson's dystopian Sprawl novels. Case is a web cowboy, one of the few who can jack in to the web and go where he will, stealing information and valuables for his masters. He is recruited to attack a large family corporation computer system, but it's not clear to him (or the reader) who has hired him, and who the good guys are (if any.) In the end, he seems to have been a pawn in a battle between 2 artificial intelligences.
The novels are complicated, detailed and scary. The age of the book shows up from time to time - info is sometimes carried on diskettes, and technologies such as cell phones and wireless connections are not used. An internal logic failure is that Case and crew steal a small device that stores the memories and logic of a dead web cowboy, and this is an ally, but the great bogeyman is a diffuse artificial intelligence that is just becoming sentient.
The Overcoat. And other tales of good and evil. Nicolai Gogol. translated by David Magarshack. 1957
Six stories, a combination of realism and fantasy/supernaturalism, sympathetic humor at the lives of non-descript farmers and clerks, satire of bureaucracy and upper-class stupidity
Interesting partly as historical record of early 19th-century Russian life - Cossacks, war, St Petersburg, bureaucrats, cold. (May 2008)
Yankee Drummer.1947. R.E. Gould. New York & London: Whittlesey House/McGraw-Hill
Ralph Ernest Gould was born in Maine in 1870. This is a light memoir of his life as a "drummer" (a traveling salesman) for farm machinery in the decades before the World War. His life as a farm boy was as rough as any in that era. The tales of Maine winters make me appreciate central heating and an indoor job. Surprising to me, SE Connecticut was the most technologically backward part of the NorthEast, still using mostly oxen, even for transportation, apparently because farming was easy enough there that they could. And upstate NY was the poorest, even more than the isolated homesteads of the French Canadians in the Maine back woods.The Way It Wasn't: Great Science Fiction Stories of Alternate History. 1996. compiled by Martin Greenberg. New York: Citadel Twilight
Gould also wrote books about his childhood and experiences as a general store owner. (Dec 2006)
Thirteen alternate history stories, including authors Robert Silverberg, Larry Niven, Harry Turtledove and Fritz Leiber. Moderately interesting. (Feb 2008)
Flood-Tide. 1901. Sarah P. McLean Greene. Harper & Bros.Evolution of the Wooden Ship. Basil Greenhill
This has been the second novel that I've read by Sarah (McLean) Greene. I didn't care for Cape Cod Folks - this is a little better. The setting here is obscure (probably deliberately) - some tiny coastal village in the US, apparently north of DC. There are no telephones, most travel is by boat, everyone "visits" all the time. The strong point is that there is some interesting provincial and maritime dialog. But, once again, there is a cloying Victorian religiosity, and an aggravating Victorian vision where all the nicest people just die. An interesting point is that a major character is a female physician, attractive and talented, but unable to satisfy her soul, unable to find a man who meets her impossible standards. There is a crusty old captain who avoids church-going but has more morals and sense than his neighbors.
The plot? Hmmm. To the extent that there is one or more: broken-hearted and gravely ill man returns to his home town, is nursed back to health by a native angel, and marries her. His rejector, the physician, herself collapses from stress and lack of Grace, and comes to the same sandspit to recover, and some other suitors follow. The natives are salt-of-the-earth, except for the blackguards. A local beauty rejects all her suitors, poor locals and rich city dudes, then it turns out she was a shipwreck foundling, who is reclaimed by her aristocratic mother and never marries. The doctor ends up with a rich sleaze, the angel dies, children die, heroic sailors die. (Sept 2003)
A Quayside Camera: 1845-1917. Basil Greenhill. Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1975.
An interesting picture book of British, American and Canadian boats and ships, shipyards, quays, waterfronts and maritime people. Mostly British, actually. However, many of the details described by the author cannot be made out in the book's dark and smallish reproductions. Greenhill recommends Conrad's Nigger of the Narcissus, and the writings of Stephen Reynolds to see how sailors and fisherman actually lived. [Reynolds wrote the very successful A Poor Man's House, from his experience living with a fishing family in Devon.] (Dec 2014)The Bird of Light. John Hay. New York: W W Norton, 1991.
Lyrical nonsense.The Way to the Salt Marsh. A John Hay Reader. edited and with an introduction by Christopher Merrill. Hanover NH & London: University Press of New England. 1998
"Day one is any day in the year. Leaves are born this minute: winter or summer, flowers never die. The fish circle on within the greater circles of the sea, and the birds in their migrations translate affinities from one hemisphere to another. This the law of coexistent life which carries with it vast expenditure and sacrifice and is all we depend on for continuance. It is that day in which I, neither optimistic nor pessimistic about human prospects, look out over land and sea for more enduring guides, those who have practiced earth's art for periods of time which may be calculated by the human mind but are really incalculable in their changes. This has led me to see what we put down as mere birds as carriers of light and wisdom." p.1
"In [the terns'] wild, formal, and repeated exercises, they also interact with the sandy land they came to. Their rituals are rhymically allied with the growing grasses now shaking and whipping in the wind, and with the waters trickling back and forth over the tidal flats, shivering, parting, coming together again under silken clouds." p. 79
Interesting apparent facts: gulls were uncommon in southern New England 100 years ago; terns are disappearing mostly due to human predation in their winter range. (Jan 2007)
I had high hopes for this book, based on the title and the general applause for John Hay, but mostly I find it to be mystical poetic drivel .... (Nov 2007)Gunboat Diplomacy in the Wilson Era. The U.S. Navy in Haiti, 1915-1916. David Healy. 1976. Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. A Comedy of Manners 1985. Robert A. Heinlein. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons
I haven't been reading science fiction lately, and this is not a jump start. It starts off well enough, as an extension of Heinlein's libertarian The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The scenarios are interesting, if dated.The hero is at a privately owned Moon-orbiting city, a couple of centuries in the future. A man is killed, the hero is accused, and flees with the heroine. But then it turns to mush, with sideways time travel, inter-generational plural marriage, and poly-dimensional space craft. Some of the technology is already primitive (computer file storage: "Sony Megawafers, each good for half a million words, each two centimeters wide, three millimeters thick"!), and our recent advances in biotech made his limb transplants from personal brainless clones, far in the future, seem absurd and barbaric. The book jacket was the most interesting part, as it so often is. (May 2007)
Hewlett-Packard 6500 OfficeJet software.
The software for HP 6500 OfficeJet all-in-one is crappy, crappy, crappy. It spews error messages for no obvious reason, requiring hours' worth of time and aggravation. Apparently it conflicts with other standard apps, like Adobe. All I'm trying to do is scan a line drawing. Some pages are not printed until a day later. It sux, sux, sux. But the included IRIS OCR software works well when tried. (Feb 2010)Blue Latitudes. Boldly going where Capt. Cook has gone before. 2002. Tony Horwitz
It tries to update, but that freezes the computer.
Manual updating may finally have worked, and solved some of the problems. (Jun 2010)
Sou'west and By West of Cape Cod. Llewellyn Howland. 1947. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ.
Namibia. Insight Guide. 2000. London: Insight Guides(May 2008)
Insight Guides has colorful, mapped guides to many, many places around the world. My elder daughterA Prayer for Owen Meaney. 1989. John Irving
will soon be
spent 2007 there, teaching, so I scoured the library for information on this new, poor country. There isn't much: large area, small population, mostly dry, nasty German and South African colonial past. Minerals (especially diamonds) and fish are its main exports. The main attractions are the wildlife and scenery in its national parks. (Nov 2006)
Some time ago, a friend suggested reading this, when he was troubled about my atheism. It didn't work. Novels about mystical people, however well textured and grounded in the real world, are still just novels. Mysticism does not impress me -- it can be entertaining, but it's never convincing. If one is supposed to be impressed by the concept that the gods are unknowable, but present and powerful, that they have a purpose for all -- I'm not. If the point was that one should just believe, and accept miracles, without proof; I think that's ridiculous. The story is not even inspirational -- Owen Meany dies as a minor hero, and John Wheelwright, the protagonist, becomes a wishy-washy theist with no family and few friends.
The anti-war, anti-jingoist bits are interesting. For me, the idea that the Vietnam protesters were just selfish, while the volunteers were nuts, is different, but that's the perspective of the elitist and detached John. (Mar 2008)
Georgina of the Rainbows. 1916. Annie Fellows Johnston. Grossett & DunlapThe Late Mrs. Fonsell. 1972. Velda Johnston. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.
An adolescent fiction, set in Provincetown. Georgina is a young girl, well-off, over-protected, a bit lonely because she's not a native, and her father is a Navy physician who rarely comes home. She makes friends, learns to look at the bright side, even associates occasionally with the boisterous, squabbling, poor Portuguese kids. Another of the early Cape novels with a woman author and non-native heroine. But there is some interest for me in the historical context, the landscape (sandscape) description, and the tourist industry. (Sept 2002)
Not sure why this was around the house, but I pulled it out when I needed a short book. It's a light suspense novel, set mostly in Sag Harbor, Long Island, in the 1870s. Irene Haverly is a proper young lady from an old family, who impetuously marries a young man from town, while at sea. The ship sinks with captain, husband and records after she disembarks, and she finds herself in a certain condition. To avoid scandal she quickly marries her husband's disreputable half-brother, Jason Fonsell. The Fonsell family is shunned, because Jason's step-mother was murdered viciously, with his father a suspect. Irene comes to love and respect her 2nd husband, and inadvertently discovers that the murderer was the trusted family physician.
N by E. Rockwell Kent. 1930. reprinted 1978 by Wesleyan University PressThe plot is thin, the characters undeveloped, and the logic has gaping holes, but the setting is of some interest. (Oct 2006)
Cod. A biography of the fish that changed the world. 1998. Mark Kerlansky. London: Jonathan Cape. isbn 0-224-05104-0 (UK edition, because that's what I found on eBay)
This is a curious and popular book, with its exaggerated thesis that the cod fishery is the reason for the exploration, settlement and prosperity of New England and Maritime Canada...
The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840. 1989. Jack Larkin. Harper Perennial; isbn: 0060916060
Unwilling Pirate. West Lathrop. New York: Random House,1951.
Adolescent boy-oriented nautical fiction, set in 1720. Steven Wheeler is about 12, a Cape Cod boy who's father is long overdue from a voyage to the Caribbean. He is captured by pirates while in-shore fishing, then goes through many adventures and unlikely coincidences before finding his father. It was described on eBay as being set on Cape Cod, so I bought it, but other than some background the Cape doesn't enter into the story. The description of the pirates fits with what I recently read in Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates, sanitized. The nautical jargon and 18th-century dialect are well done, for a modern, adolescent book. A ridiculous anachronism is mention of a Christmas tree!, and a likely one is Steven wearing a cotton smock. And an inaccuracy is talk of Cape Cod rocks (as a danger to ships.) (Sept 2002)
Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip's War. Douglas Edward Leach. W W Norton & Company. 1966. ISBN: 039300340XThe Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity. 1998. Jill Lepore. Random House; isbn: 0375702628
An interesting-enough history that got lots of press and hype, but the specialness of it eludes me. The last chapter, concerning the contemporary Indians of Massachusetts, seems particularly pointless.The Magicians Nephew. CS Lewis, illustrated in color by Pauline Baynes. © 1955. New York: HarperTrophy div. HarperCollins Publishers. isbn 0-06-440943-0 Book 1 of the Chronicles of Narnia (not the first published, but the first in the series' chronology)
I'd forgotten how didactic these are since I last read the set in junior high.The Wreck of the Batavia. 2005. Simon Leys. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press/Avalon Pub.
In 1629, the Dutch East India Company ship Batavia sailed with about 300 people aboard from the Netherlands for its namesake city in Java, but was wrecked in a coral archipelago off the west coast of Australia, now called the Houtman Abrolhos group. The supercargo, Pelsaert, and master, Jacobsz, left secretly with an overcrowded boatload of people to get help, more than 1000 miles away in uncharted seas. The assistant supercargo, Cornelisz, had already been organizing a mutiny before the wreck, and he and his fellows seized control of their 'government' and all the weapons. Groups of potential competitors were left on nearby islands, assuming they would starve, while the mutineers murdered most of the remainder over 2-3 months. One of the 'competitor' islands turned out to be relatively well-endowed with food and water, and when the mutineers saw this, they attacked, but were repeatedly driven off. At the last moment, a rescue ship arrived - Pelsaert, Jacobsz and all their companions had reached the Dutch colony safely. (Jacobsz was imprisoned and died there, being blamed for the wreck, but the supercargo led the rescue mission.) The Batavia's cargo was largely recovered and the murderers largely executed.Partners of the Tide. 1905. Joseph Crosby Lincoln
The stories by the survivors were "best-sellers" in the 17th century. Author Leys notes that he'd been working on a book sporadically for decades, but was scooped anyway by Mike Dash's Batavia's Graveyard, in 2002, and says that's an excellent book. This is a real life Lord of the Flies, with ignorance, lust, greed, fear, mass murder, rape and heroism in a sea tale.
The second part of this short book is taken from the author's notes of a fishing voyage in 1958, on Prosper, one of the last sailing tuna trawlers in France. He was a passenger, not a sailor, but a close, sympathetic observer of that rough life. (Oct 2006)
Cy Whittaker's Place. 1908 Joseph C. Lincoln
Joseph C. Lincoln and Freeman Lincoln. New York: Coward-McCann, 1929 This is the first of 3 novels written jointly by Joseph C. Lincoln and his son Freeman. They used an interesting method of dividing the writing, which was to have different aspects of a story told by different characters. It seems clear to me that Joseph wrote the stories of the old Cape Codders, and Freeman wrote the stories of the young visitors.
...to be continued, maybe
Rebound. 1936. J. Freeman Lincoln. New York: Coward McCannA poor novel that's just a product of its times. It's stiff and preachy, with upper crust sophisticates involved in romantic/social knots. (Jan 2005)
Nauset on Cape Cod. A History of Eastham. 1968. Alice A. Lowe. Eastham Historical SocietyMemories of a Catholic Girlhood. 1957. Mary McCarthy. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
The first part of the book is a concise history of the early town, with a minimum of ancestor worship. The Nauset tribe also has a good chapter. The rest is anecdotes of later times. The few photos are rather gray and grainy.
"Combativeness was, I suppose, the dominant trait in my grandmother's nature. An aggressive churchgoer, she was quite without Christian feeling; the mercy of the Lord Jesus had never entered her heart. Her piety was an act of war against the Protestant ascendancy. The religious magazines on her table furnished her not with food for meditation but with fresh pretexts for anger; articles attacking birth control, divorce, mixed marriages, Darwin, and secular education were her favorite reading. The teachings of the Church did not interest her, except as they were a rebuke to others; "Honor thy father and thy mother," a commandment she was no longer called upon to practice, was the one most frequently on her lips. The extermination of Protestantism, rather than spiritual perfection, was the boon she prayed for. Her mind was preoccupied with conversion; the capture of a soul for God much diverted her fancy—it made one less Protestant in the world. Foreign missions, with their overtones of good will and social service, appealed to her less strongly; it was not a harvest of souls that my grandmother had in mind."A Charmed Life. 1954. Mary McCarthy. New York: Harcourt, Brace
McCarthy had a very unusual childhood. Orphaned at 6 by the 1918 flu pandemic, she was raised for some years by sadistic, Dickensian relatives, rescued by her wealthy Protestant/Jewish paternal grandparents but still educated by nuns, always learning to shade the truth to get her way or keep the peace. Here, she wrote chapters, then discussed what was absolute fact vs vague memory vs plot device. Her grandparents kept secrets that she couldn't penetrate, and seem to have never had honest or open exchanges of views with her. Mary was strong enough to overcome most of this, when most children would become zombies, alcoholics or nuts. (Sept 2005)
Mill. 1989. David McCauley. Houghton Mifflin
This is a roman à clef of McCarthy's life with Edmund Wilson in Wellfleet. Martha Sinnott is a young, bright, educated writer who comes back with her 2nd husband to New Leeds, despite the scandal of her having left her first husband, Miles Murphy. Miles still lives nearby, and he is a brilliant but overbearing force. Their circle consists of the artistic "foreigners", who are all eccentric and extraordinarily self-involved, while the locals are stereotypical rural retards, layabouts and drunks. I read that this book greatly offended some erstwhile friends, and pissed off the peasants. But it isn't much of a novel. (Sept 2005)
I had forgotten about McCauley's great series of books, and just ran across this again. This one is about the building of a series of textile mills by a company in Rhode Island. It features his wonderful drawings, with some explanatory text and excerpts from diaries. (Dec 2008)
Angela's Ashes. 1996. Frank McCourt. Scribner's
I can see why this was a best-seller. It's a horrifying memoir of a poverty-stricken, malnourished childhood that starts in Brooklyn but happens mostly in Limerick, Ireland, in the 1930s and 40s. Frank was the eldest of 3 who survived childhood. Angela was their mother, doing whatever was necessary to keep the children together, but losing 3 others to the diseases of poverty. Malachi was Frank's father, an alcoholic, usually unemployed, with inappropriate ideas on honor and work. Their Limerick was pestilent, priest-ridden, fanatically anti-English and anti-Protestant, desperately poor, class obsessed, stultifyingly small-minded. But even at that, they considered themselves better off than the poorest beggars and tinkers. Frank barely made it, but a combination of inner drive and a few role models led him to save up enough to sail back to America. (Dec 2005)'Tis. 1999. Frank McCourt. Scribner's
This is the sequel to Angela's Ashes, set mostly in New York. Frank made his passage to New York in the mid 1940s. He is treated as an Irish immigrant, not surprisingly. Ethnic prejudice is standard on everyone's part. Frank is drafted for the Korean War, but serves in Germany, with typical Army crap. He gradually gets a formal education, while working in warehouses with dim brutes, living in flop-houses. His brothers come over, are successful bar owners, and his brother Malachi is an actor, also. Heavy drinking is a way of life. He meets a New England Episcopal girl, eventually marries and eventually divorces her. He begins teaching at a voke school, and spends most of his career teaching at a high-achieving high school. His mother also comes over, but none of the sons are on close terms with her. His father reappears, claiming to be sober, but isn't, and that's the last Frank sees of him until his funeral.Young Man of Cape Cod. 1950. James Westaway McCue. Silver Lake, MA: New England Book Co.
McCourt is always resentful of all born to more comfort or more prestigious ethnic or religious groups, with a PC attitude to those from less popular groups. He sees the oppressive effects of the Catholic Church, with corrupt and greedy priests, yet can't break away from years of unconfessed guilt. It's unclear to me how much of his resentment and guilt is meant to be exposed — whether he's admitting it's there and it's a major character flaw, or whether he still thinks it's justified. I want to just whack him, and say, "Life isn't fair, but you're doing okay, so stop the whining." And Angela's Ashes was more interesting, with its more exotic story. (Dec 2005)
McCue was a minor author in the mid 20th century. This is an autobiography of sorts, mostly a series of anecdotes about his newspaper and advertising jobs from New York to Maine. The title is misleading, since we don't actually learn where or when (1920s) he was born and raised. He did work briefly for an unidentified Hyannis newspaper in the 1940s, and there is a mention of having attended school in Orleans. I read nearly the whole book while waiting for a doctor to finally come to an examination room. (Mar 2009)John Adams. 2001. David McCullough
He also wrote Joe Lincoln of Cape Cod, 1949, another poor book, and at least 6 others.
The Crucible. 1954. Arthur Miller
The classic Cold War fable based on the 1692 Salem witch hunts. John Proctor is the tragic hero -- he had a brief affair with 15-year-old Abigail Williams, for which his wife Elizabeth has not forgiven him. Abigail is still obsessed with Proctor, and is the focus of a group of teens who indulged in silly but forbidden conjuring, and were caught by the insecure new minister, Rev. Parris. The Putnams are wealthy and greedy, controlling a church faction, but distraught over multiple stillbirths. The girls' tales snowball as they try to deflect and diffuse punishment -- first they accuse the village outcasts, but soon start accusing respectable people, and Abigail deliberately accuses Elizabeth Proctor, to have her killed. Giles Corey is old, cantankerous, and accidentally implicates his wife in the growing witchcraft scandal. John Proctor is accused, when he tries to save his wife by exposing his sins with Abigail. Rev. Hale is the voice of conscience -- skeptical at first, then convinced of witchcraft, and finally convinced that innocents were being murdered by the greedy Putnam clique to uphold the dignity of Deputy Gov. Danforth's weak authority. At the end, Proctor is finally about to confess to witchcraft, to save his life and his family, knowing this means he must falsely and publicly inplicate his neighbors, and destroy his name, but the example of Rebecca Nurse [my relative], also condemned and refusing to confess, changes his mind.
Miller's notes state that he was combining characters for dramatic effect, not writing a strictly accurate history, but his interpretation seems to be a valid, if partial, one. (Apr 2008)
An excellent, detailed, scholarly explanation focusing on the unsettled times and Indian raids is In the Devil's Snare. The Salem witchcraft crisis of 1692. 2002. Mary Beth Norton
Four Masted Schooners of the East Coast. 1975. Paul C. Morris. Orleans MA: Lower Cape Press
This is a moderately interesting book about a very limited topic. It seems to be an expansion of the author's photo collection hobby rather than a thoroughly researched project. So there are some good pictures, with a pretty short explanatory test. There were about 400 ships that fell into this category, mostly built from about 1880-1920. It leaves out the many thousands of 2 and 3 masted schooners, the handful of 5, 6, and 7 masted ships, and those owned and operated in locations other than the East coasts of the US and Canada. Most were built in Maine, fewer in the rest of New England, and the rest scattered from New Brunswick to Florida. They were bulk carriers, presumably only useful at the largest and deepest ports, but the economies, cargoes and available ports are hardly mentioned. There are no diagrams of their lines, but there is a a labeled drawing of the rigging and surface paraphernalia. Their average life span was about 15 years, with many going aground on Cape Cod and the Nantucket shoals. What were the economies or navigation factors that led to keeping so close inshore? That is, why not give them a wide berth? (March 2005)The Grim Reaper's Book of Days. A Cautionary Record of Famous, Infamous and Unconventional Exits. 1992. Ed Morrow. Citadel Press; isbn: 0806513640
George Washington's Mount Vernon. Official Guidebook. 2001. The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Mount Vernon VA
A well done introduction to Mount Vernon and to the agricultural life of George Washington. There is some hero worship, not surprisingly, but it has a section on his ownership of slaves. He is portrayed as an enlightened, commercial farmer, able and eager to try new crops and techniques. He switched early on to wheat from tobacco farming, making his farms much less reliant on slaves; it is also much easier on the soil. Apparently he is responsible for introducing mules to America. There's much more to see than the main house, and we'll have to go back in a warm season. (Mar 2007)GENViewer, build 1.23. MudCreek Software. 2007
This is software that takes standard formatted genealogy data, and allows you to extract and rearrange some of it. I've been using it to extract birth and marriage records, town by town, from my Legacy database and put it into Excel files. The extraction is awkward--instead of File/Save as, one goes to Edit/Copy to Clipboard/Save as CSV/type. It should save my table formats such as "marriages" and "births with parents" instead of my having to regenerate them each time. It does a good job of arranging things chronologically, working with "circa", "est", and mixed date formats, but does not know what to do with dates such as "mid Jun 1721." I don't know how it handles pre-1751 double dates. (Excel, the gorilla of spreadsheet apps, is completely incapable of working with pre-1900 dates!). It botches Sources, merging my Legacy short indicators with the real titles. There are dozens of LDS-relevant sort criteria (that I of course think are ridiculous), but it can't look at the Legacy events for Intentions (many of my known marriages have Intention dates but not Marriage dates.) (Oct 2010)
Ahab's Wife. or the Star-Gazer. 1999. Sena Jeeter Naslund. Perennial/Harper-Collins
I read two-thirds of this, but finally had enough. It's well-written historical chick-lit - lyrical, if improbable. Una is a spirited and free-thinking girl in the mid-1800s, and Ahab is Melville's Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod. But there are too many historical and especially social inaccuracies for me to stomach. Naslund got some ideas on Nantucket and whaling from Nathaniel Philbrick's excellent In the Heart of the Sea (or used the same sources.) She thanks museums and historical societies, but clearly they didn't see the final drafts to comment on facts: For example, she repeatedly writes that whaleboats were 16-feet long (they were 28-30 feet long.) Even worse are the implausible social situations - married unconventionally (non-legally) at sea to a mad man, a quick second, bigamous, unconventional marriage to Capt. Ahab on Nantucket - without apparent negative social consequences. Then she meets the early Boston feminists ... and I got too annoyed with it to continue. (Oct 2008)Joseph Banks. A life. 1993. Patrick O'Brian. Boston: David R. Godine
Patrick O'Brian was also the author of the great Aubrey-Maturin series of Napoleonic War maritime novels. Joseph Banks was the botanst aboard Capt. James Cook's first Pacific expedition, 1768-1771. ( I was interested in reading about Banks after reading Horwitz's Blue Latitudes. Cook went on 2 more Pacific expeditions, and was killed at Hawaii.) The voyages were sponsored by the Royal Society and Royal Navy. Banks was very rich, and provided the funding for 7 others - 2 naturalists, 2 artists, a secretary, and 2 servants (and 2 dogs). The voyage was a scientific and exploratory success, leading to fame for Banks and Cook. Banks was gregarious and well-connected, as well as rich. He was elected president of the Royal Society for 42 years, was a member of many other scientific and quasi-governmental groups, and was founder of several more. For many years he was a close advisor to King George III.
O'Brian's style is stiff. Many of his terms, places and events are unfamiliar to non-British readers. As usual in history books, there are no maps! (May 2014)
Wooden Ships and Iron Men. The maritime art of Thomas Hoyne. 2005. Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. New York: Quantuck Lane Press
Hoyne (1923-1989) was a commercial artist who switched to strictly maritime paintings in the 1970s. His passion was the schooner fishing fleet of the 1880s-1930s. They are very well done, often action portraits rather than the traditional beauty shots of the ships. The Palleys are ga-ga over his detail and accuracy, and I can't comment on that. As usual in maritime books, there are dozens of unexplained terms, and it isn't obvious from the paintings how the ships differed from each other enough to matter. Hoyne commissioned large models of several of the ship types, and worked from them, posing them in seas of kitty litter, and posing human models in action. The photos of the incredible models do a much better job of showing the ship's differences than do the paintings. Hoyne's paintings are beautiful, and the book has excellent color reproductions of many. Looking online, I see that originals are going for $ tens of thousands, and even prints are going for several hundred. (Mar 2006)
John Quincy Adams. 1998. Lynn Hudson Parsons. Madison WI: Madison House
After reading the McCullough biography of John Adams, and several other books about the early Republic, I had to know more about JQA. This is a condensed biography of one of the era's most important politicians, whose life and career spanned the time from the Revolution to mid-century imperialism and the slavery question.
He spent his adolescence in Europe, first with his father in France and the Netherlands, then as private secretary to our consul at Moscow, learning several languages fluently. He returned, graduated Harvard, studied law, and had a small practice in Boston....
Meetinghouse Bay. 1940, 1941. Henry W. Patterson, illustrated by John D. Whiting. NewYork: Coward-McCann
Adolescent fiction, set mostly on an imaginary Cape Cod in the 1930s. (April 2007)Patriot Pirates. The privateer war for freedom and fortune in the American Revolution. 2008. Robert H. Patton. New York: Pantheon
Patton has an interesting but limited story of the importance of privateering in the Revolution, in supplying the munitions for the Army and shocking the British merchants into demanding an end to the war. Privateering was not a "gentlemanly" pursuit, and many men who condemned it actually invested in it. Interesting foci are the activities of Silas Deane, American emissary to France; Nathanael Greene, Army quartermaster general; and the Brown brothers of Rhode Island. Deane supported privateering from France, investing in it himself, and using the profits to support American interests, while Congress dithered and wouldn't pay its bills. Gen. Greene was an excellent quartermaster, but his series of unfortunate privateering investments impoverished him. The Browns were Moses, John, Joseph and Nicholas: while Moses took the peaceable track, John made fortunes in war profiteering, privateering and later in slave dealing. The bad guys are the dithering Congress and especially Arthur Lee, part of the influential Virginia family, paranoid and power hungry, who did all he could to destroy the reputation of Silas Deane (successfully) and Benjamin Franklin (unsuccessfully). Congress's good-old-boy system ignored genuine heroes and persecuted others, refused to pay its debts and refused to honestly examine accounts. (It's always interesting how the heroes of one history are seen as the villains and trivial characters of another, not meaning to imply that Congress has ever been heroic.}
Few privateers' records and histories are known, since they were private, often short-lived, not-quite respectable businesses, run by a rough crowd. The US Navy deliberately omitted them from its histories of the War. Some historians have noted that if the US Navy had not existed, it would have made no difference to the War, while the privateers made critical contributions. A minor criticism is that the story is too focused on Rhode Islanders. pirate page
In the Heart of the Sea. The tragedy of the whaleship Essex. 2000. Nathaniel Philbrick. New York: Viking/Penguin
This was a best-selling history book, and I can understand why. It's very well written, with interesting stories, good maps and references... (March 2004)The Treasure of the San José. Death at sea in the War of the Spanish Succession. 2007. Carla Rahn Philips. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press
The San José was a Spanish galleon, the flagship of a small fleet bringing South American treasure from Cartegena back to Spain in 1706. The fleet was attacked by a British squadron just outside the harbor, and the San José apparently blew up, with the loss of nearly all hands. The treasure has not been recovered, and the numbers presented for its value vary by orders of magnitude.
Philips presents the background for the War, and for several of the officers of the fleet. There are many details of Spanish ship procurement and manning, and some explanation of the colonial situation in South America. Some parts are dense and boring, but I learned a moderate amount. Contrast with English, French, Dutch practices would have been helpful. The Spanish government was in financial straits, and didn't know how badly things were going in South America. Two of the English captains were court martialed for not aggressively pursuing the other galleon. The Spanish were even more status obsessed than the English.
There are maps, but they leave out many of the important places mentioned. The naval battle is described in moderate detail, but there is no mention of why the ships could not enter some miles-wide waterways near Cartegena. The Portobello fair was seen as a critical component of the colonial economy, but how it functioned is not described, nor why it was held in an unhealthy place. (Jul 2008)
Pinnock's Improved Edition of Dr. Goldsmith's History of Rome: to which is prefixed an introduction to the study of Roman history and a great variety of valuable information added throughout the work, on the manners, institutions, and antiquities of the Romans; with numerous biographical and historical notes; and questions for examination at the end of each section. 1854. Philadelphia: Cowperthwait, Desilver & Butler. 35th American, from 23rd English edition
What a title!
Ramage's Diamond. 2001. Dudley Pope. Ithaca, New York: McBooks Press (Sept 2006)
Mort. 1987. Terry Pratchett
Guards! Guards! 1989. Terry Pratchett
Good Omens. 1990. Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Hogfather. 1999. Terry Pratchett
Going Postal. 2004. Terry Pratchett
Making Money, 2007 Terry Pratchett
"Look at it this way, then," she said, and took a deep mental breath. "Wherever people are obtuse and absurd . . . and wherever they have, by even the most generous standards, the attention span of a small chicken in a hurricane and the investigative ability of a one-legged cockroach . . . and wherever people are inanely credulous, pathetically attached to the certainties of the nursery and, in general, have as much grasp of the realities of the physical universe as an oyster has of mountaineering . . . yes, Twyla: there is a Hogfather." — Terry Pratchett, Hogfather
Pratchett's Discworld is a fun place to read about, a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which are in turn standing on the back of the turtle, Great A'Tuin.
Going Postal, Mort and Hogfather are favorites. Making Money isn't special.
Good Omes, The nice and accurate prophesies of Agnes Nutter, witch, is a homorous look at the absurdity of apocalyptic religion.
The Coming of Industrial Order. Town and factory life in rural Massachusetts, 1810-1860. © 1983. Jonathan Prude. reprinted 1999 by University of Massachusetts Press.
A detailed and sometimes tedious look at the coming of textile mills to the towns of Oxford, Dudley and Webster, Massachusetts. The thesis is that there was strong tension between the older agricultural economy, where a "sufficiency" was enough, and the new industrial economy, where profit was king. Yes, times were changing, but his case is fairly circumstantial. Everything changed, a lot, and that is really interesting, but it wasn't violent, or even strident, from what is presented here. Samuel Slater was the dominant character of the time and place, the founder and owner of several of the mills. He was clearly an imperious control freak, and much of the tension between the mills and the farmers may have been rather personal. (March 2004)His Dark Materials. Philip Pullman. 2000
The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass together comprise His Dark Materials. These have become an issue for the ultra superstitious, because Pullman is an atheist, and The Golden Compass has been made into a movie, so somehow they are indoctrination (unlike their own book of fables with its supporting Magisterium.) However, I don't find them either clearly written or pro-rational. The concept of Dust, as particles of consciousness emanating from the stars, or pouring between multiverses, is not atheist. Multiple souls, and a world of the dead? Not Christian, but certainly not atheist, either. Pullman has a kitchen sink approach to characters and plots that seems unnecessary and distracting. His Lord Asriel, in The Golden Compass, is a rich explorer/scientist, and in The Amber Spyglass he's a Master of the Universes, battling Metatron for control of Everything - that's inconsistent. A polar bear kingdom on an otherwise normal Earth? The mulefa and gallivespians are interesting concept peoples by themselves, but Pullman should either have invented several more species or just used fairly normal humans.The Mutinous Wind. © 1951, reprinted 1985. Elizabeth Reynard. Parnassus Imprints
I can't recommend the books, but the movie is well done, except for an annoying, heavy handed musical score. (Dec 2007)
This is a really poor historical fiction, concerning Maria Hallett and the pirate Black Sam Bellamy, set in 1717 on some unrealistic version of Cape Cod. There are many ridiculous situations and anachronisms, and pointless and undeveloped "magical realism." Anachronisms: early 18th century boy usually wearing shoes, bell-bottom pants, referring to a cobbler as "Mr.," existence of schooners. Odd phrases: referring to the harbors as "Eastham Seagate" and "Dartmouth Seagate." Ridiculous: small Cape Cod schooner successfully attacking a Spanish galleon in the Caribbean; setting anchors in a storm, then immediately cutting the cables; using cutlasses to slash gaskets. (March 2004)The House on Nauset Marsh. Wyman Richardson. 1955. Norton
This is a classic of Cape Cod nature writing. Richardson was an M.D. in Boston, but an observant writer on birds, weather, fishing and hunting. I actually find his focus on hunting and fishing to be off-putting, but it's the culture he grew up in, and he writes about nature rather than the thrill of the hunt. His style is detailed and evocative, without straying into mystical drivel like John Hay. I have some knowledge of the area he writes about, but not enough to be sure of his locations. As usual, the end-paper maps are insufficient. (Jun 2010)
Captain Kidd and the War against the Pirates. Robert C. Ritchie. ©1986 by Harvard. 1998 edition by Barnes & Noble.
I moved this to a Pirates file.
Boon Island. 1956. Kenneth Roberts.
I hadn't read any Kenneth Roberts books since I was a teen. This is a short shipwreck survival tale, set in the 1720s. A small merchant ship is wrecked on Boon Island, just off Portsmouth, NH, in December. Virtually everything is lost, including most food, tools and clothing. The island is just a rock, covered by more rocks and ice. The weather is awful and the crew mutinous, but the captain imposes order. They make shelter, they gather food, they make a boat and raft, they eat one of their comrades, and finally are seen and rescued by the colonists. The theme is that desperate people will do absolutely anything to survive, but many need a leader with imagination and determination. Interesting but preachy. (Sep 2006)Kilo Class. 1998. Patrick Robinson
Action thriller in the vein of Tom Clancy, but consisting of wooden men with wooden dialog. The premise: Russia is selling 10 Kilo class submarines to China, and the United States is opposed, seeing this as a threat to Taiwan and freedom of the seas. So the US finds ways to destroy the subs. Interesting premise, cartoon characters, plot holes big enough for an aircraft carrier. (May 2008)Royce's Sailing Illustrated. 7th revised edition. 1976. Ventura CA: Western Marine Enterprises
Another book I've had since it was new, and never quite opened up until now. It's crammed with information on many aspects of recreational sailing and cruising in the US, so crammed that the type-writer-composed text omits paragraph indenting and spaces at the beginning of sentences. It's a quick once-over, with more reminders than explanations for technical topics. There is some historical background, but it is oriented toward the modern fiberglas sailboat owner who cruises or races. There is nothing on navigation, either traditional or modern (which would of course be wildly outdated now.) The footnotes have some interesting ideas for historical reading, especially Alan Villiers. (Oct 2007)
Indian New England Before the Mayflower. 1980. Howard S. Russell. University Press of New EnglandThe Isles of Shoals in Lore & Legend. 1965. Lyman V. Rutledge. Barre MA: Barre Publishing
I went thru this book taking many notes, because some parts are well done, and other parts are ridiculous. Clearly this book was not edited by any expert in anthropology. In trying to cover all of New England, he sometimes over simplifies, sometimes just confuses. He's trying to make a story out of a hodgepodge of scattered facts, histories, stories and speculations, and I don't think he did it very well.
There is some controversy about the pre-contact population of the Americas — Russell comes down toward the higher side, and seems to have good evidence. He has some absurd ideas about Indian health and diet.
There are several well drawn maps. The references are detailed. (Aug 2003)
The Isles of Shoals are a cluster of small rocky islands a few miles out from Portsmouth NH and Kittery ME. They were apparently settled before the Massachusetts colonies, but for some decades only men lived there. At a time before roads, when all transportation was by water, with rich fishing grounds nearby, the Isles were a good place to be. The population peaked at perhaps 600 in the 18th century, but the Isles have been nearly deserted at some later times (and completely so during the Revolution). In the mid-19th century hotels were built, and it was briefly fashionable with many political, literary and artistic people. Celia Thaxter (1835-1894) grew up there, and became its well-known poet and hostess. Since the early 1900s the Isles' hotels have been a conference center for the Unitarian and Congregational churches.With a Passion for Brush and Palette. Giddings H. Ballou and his Cape Cod portraits c. 1841-1861. 2003. Ellen St. Sure. Brewster, Mass.
Rev. Rutledge's book is moderately detailed, with a bibliography, index and illustrations. The later chapters, on the conference center, don't interest me much, but overall I was satisfied with it. The references to Celia Thaxter's books are intriguing, and I'll look into them. (Dec 2005)
GH Ballou (1820-1886) was part of a prominent Massachusetts family - his father was the first president of Tufts University. But Giddings was a semi-itinerant portrait painter, apparently self-taught, who spent a good part of his life in Brewster and Chatham, Massachusetts. This book is the catalog of the only exhibition of his known paintings, 2003 in Brewster. It includes the known details of Ballou's life and notes on those who were painted, with excellent pictures of the portraits. There is a continuing web site for Ballou, and the catalogs are still available. (Mar 2006)In Tasmania. 2006. Nicholas Shakespeare. New York: The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer
This was in the new book section of the library, and I took it out expecting a history & tour guide. I did learn a fair amount of Tasmanian history, but it's mostly an investigation of family & cultural links, sometimes tenuously connected. A major character is Anthony Fenn Kemp, an outrageous criminal and "patriot," the self-styled "George Washington of Tasmania." Shakespeare interviewed many descendants, who mostly didn't realize their interconnections, including several people who now think of themselves as Aboriginals. He seems bemused or frustrated with people who deny most of their heritage to focus on a part that is currently interesting or fashionable or maybe profitable. (I think that is done in the US with (conveniently remote and unverifiable) "native American" ancestry. And then there's the great Aussie pride in having convict ancestors.)The Private Adventure of Captain Shaw. 1945. Edith Shay and Katherine Smith. Philadelphia: Blakiston Press
Do thylacine tigers still exist? Maybe, but probably not.
The end-papers have a detailed 19th century map of Tasmania, but its size is so reduced that I can't read most of the labels, even with glasses. There are several b&w photos and illustrations.
So, it's not much of a travel book, but fairly interesting. It isn't at the top of my list, but I'd like to see Tasmania.
A fictionalized and romanticized version of Elijah Cobb's true experiences in revolutionary France. I preferred Capt. Cobb's autobiography.
Eastham and Orleans Vital Records. An authorized facsimile reproduction of records published serially 1901-1935 in The Mayflower Descendant. 1980. Col. Leonard H Smith, Jr.This is my primary source for early Eastham genealogy. I pretty much assume that the transcriptions are accurate and complete, as far as they go. However, there are large sections that MD did not transcribe. The original records do still exist, and are also available on microfilm, but are an organizational jumble and sometimes hard to decipher. Records from the earliest times are particularly incomplete, and the transcriptions end at about 1800. There are 2 problems with the book: 1.) a problem shared by all the VR books is that they only include births, marriages, marriage intentions, and deaths, thereby leaving out all other town matters such as elections and controversies that give life to the people and times. Transients, slaves and Indians were marginal inhabitants, and relatively neglected; 2.) a specific annoyance is that the index refers to the original volume and page numbers in the Mayflower Descendant (which published these records sporadically, among its other articles, over 25 years), instead of renumbering the pages consecutively, which makes finding a referred page into a chore. A revised edition did renumber the pages. (summer 2003)
August 1914. 1971. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, translated by Michael Glenny. Bantam Books edition, 1974.A volume with some records of Sandwich and Barnstable has the same problems..
This is a historical novel, set in the opening days of World War I. The main character is Col. Vorotyntsev, sent by the General Command to see how the various armies are doing in their advance into Prussia. He finds that all of the generals are seriously flawed — creatures of a sclerotic class system, looking to their own safety, eager to shift blame, unwilling or unable to overturn stupid orders, bureaucrats who rose to the top by connections and seniority. They commanded large armies of tough men, expert shots, and this would have been sufficient to prevail anyway over the much better trained and equipped Germans, if only the battle plan had made sense and if they had sufficient supplies of food and ammunition at hand, or better intelligence and communications. Vorotyntsev tries his best to coordinate the armies and direct the generals, but in the end he and a small group barely manage to escape the German encirclement as hundreds of thousands of Russians are taken prisoner. He reports back, but politics and inertia mean his report will be largely ignored, and his career ended.Kidnapped. Robert Louis Stevenson. 2004, abridged and illustrated. Scribner's Storybook Classics
Assuming the basic story of the war is true, I've learned a bit of Russian history. As it is a Russian novel, there is a cast too large to keep straight, but that's okay. And many characters just seem to be introduced and left hanging, Solzhenitsyn intended this to be part of a larger work, but I haven't looked into whether that was actually written. There are chapters on civilians, and they add a flavor to the book, but their stories don't seem to lead anywhere. My main criticism is that Vorotyntsev is too omniscient for an officer in the midst of major battles, who has no reliable communication with other units. (Nov 2005)
This was nearby as I worked at a middle school library. It's another book I hadn't read since I was about 12. I vaguely recalled it as being mostly a sea story, but that conflates it with Treasure Island. I think this edition explains the historical context pretty well, while the original doesn't at all.The Master of Ballantrae. Robert Louis Stevenson. 1889. New York: Sears
Mid-1700s Scotland — orphan David Balfour is sold by his evil uncle to slave dealers. He escapes when the ship is wrecked on the Hebridean coast, and, in company with a Jacobite soldier, makes his way back home, to confront his uncle and regain his patrimony. (Jan 2007)
1745 Scotland: when Bonnie Prince Charlie lands, the Durie family sits on the fence about its loyalties. Both sons want to join the Jacobite uprising, but a coin toss sends the elder to Culloden, to defeat and death, while the younger briefly joins the King's troops. John, the elder, is pampered, possessive, violent, charming, vindictive, amoral and scheming. Henry is conservative, competent and ignored. He marries his brother's fiancee, Alison, and repairs the family's precarious financial situation. Of course, John is not dead. He is a pirate, a murderer, a traitor to every cause, who returns to suck money from the estate and seduce his sister-in-law. Henry and Alison flee Scotland to her inherited estate in New York in the 1760s, but John follows, leading to the brothers' deaths in the wilderness.The Crimson Patch. 1936. Phoebe Atwood Taylor. reprinted in paperback 1986 by Woodstock VT:
These days we'd just have the lawyers fight John off, or send him to prison, and reluctantly accept the scandal, but the combination of family character and 18th century Scottish politics and traditions would not permit that. Moderately interesting, both for its story and setting. This Sears edition was a cheap reprint. (Apr 2008)
Foul Play Press/ The Countryman Press This is the first Atwood book I've read, and I'll read more. There are about 2 dozen murder mysteries, all set on Cape Cod or featuring her heroic sleuth, Asey Mayo. (Sept 2003)Storm and Conquest. The clash of empires in the eastern seas, 1809. Stephen Taylor. New York and London: WW Norton
An excellent history, exploring the personalities and issues involved in the battle by the British to take Ile de France (now Mauritius) and associated islands from the French in 1809-1810. The British have vast archives of their colonies and the East India Company, and of many people and ships, which Taylor seemed seems to have digested thoroughly.The Double Agent. 1945. Hildegarde Tolman Teilhet. Doubleday, Doran & Co.
The East India Company held substantial territories in India at this time (though much less than it held later.) The government needed saltpeter to make gunpowder for its war with Napoleon, and Bengal was a source of high-quality saltpeter. The transport by the company of the thousands of tons required was not a huge problem, except that the French held Ile de France and nearby Bourbon and Rodrigues, using them as a base to capture passing ships. Since the British took Capetown from the Dutch, and Pondicherry from the French in India, only these pesky islands remained as a threat to control of vital sea lanes and India itself. Additionally, hurricanes in 1809 sank most of the Indiamen carrying the saltpeter. Taylor fleshes out the story with details of the careers and personal lives of the heroes and villains, lovers and monsters, mariners and bureaucrats involved, real-life versions of Patrick O'Brian's characters (and he mentions that some of the history is rewritten as fiction in O'Brian's The Mauritius Command.)
The British did take the islands quickly in 1809 and 1810, giving back Bourbon (now Réunion) in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. (Sep 2008)
This is a light spy novel set in France in the aftermath of WWII. John Houten is an American painter, known as a Nazi collaborator, but he is actually a deep double agent for US military intelligence. His wife, Cally, has not heard from him since he left for France just before the war began, reluctantly believes that he is a collaborator, and plans to divorce him. But first, she has been sent to France to assist with cataloging a trove of war-time documents. The French Resistance (the FFI) is still unofficially active, as are Nazi cells plotting a come-back, and smuggling people and treasure. Houten remains under cover to flush out Nazis, but is in danger from the government and the FFI, since only his wounded handler knows the facts. Houten and Cally meet, of course. His cover is inadvertently blown by a British officer he had rescued, at party hosted by collaborators, so he goes on the run, in the same direction as Cally, include looted treasures, which the Nazis intend for her to bring to the US, then steal and sell to finance continued operations. All turns out well for Cally and Houten, of course.
There is too much coincidence in the plot, but the setting, devastated Paris and rural France, is interesting. There is even a map. (May 2014)
Cape Cod. Henry David Thoreau, introduction by Paul Theroux. New York: Penguin Books, Viking Penguin. (1865) 1987. isbn: 0 14 017 002 2
There Goes Flukes!. William Henry Tripp. 1938. New Bedford: Reynolds Printing
"The Story of New Bedford's Last Whaler, being the narrative of the voyage of Schooner John R. Manta on Hatteras Grounds 1925, and whalemen's true yarns of adventures in old deep-sea whaling days." with photographs by the authorThe Guns of the South. Harry Turtledove. New York: Ballentine. 1992
Tripp was a New Bedford writer fascinated by the old whaling days and whalers. The first half of the book is composed of whaling and sealing stories from the mid-19th to early 20th Centuries, told to him by the participants and contemporaries. The second half is the the story of the last American whaling voyage, in 1925, on which the author was an observer. Tripp does a good job of describing details of everyday life on a whaler that earlier writers ignored or took for granted. I wish he had gone into more depth on the crew and officer's histories, and their impressions of this voyage. Some of the crew were volunteers, looking for the rare experience; some were tricked into signing on by the typical unscrupulous agent; a few were experienced hands. The voyage about broke even for the backers, with 300 barrels of sperm. The crew had the traditional lay of 1/150, so earned the equivalent of 2 barrels, and Tripp says that was $30, at 50¢/gallon, but the men were all technically in debt to the captain for clothing, bedding and tobacco, and each received $5 for 3 months' work.
Some of the photos are interesting, and I wish there was a diagram of the ship's layout. (Oct 2010)
William Henry Tripp (1880-1959) was a bank manager at the time of the voyage, and later was the Curator of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society and the Bourne Whaling Musuem in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Mr. Tripp was also a recognized authority and lecturer on the American whaling industry, and gained prominence as an author, historian and amateur photographer.
What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War? This is an interesting alt-history, the first in a series, it seems:Unlocker Assistant (software)
Okay, great premise, but the plot has the annoying deus ex machina of time travel. Afrikaner racists from 2014 bring massive amounts of late 20th century weaponry to the South to change history. Results: Lee takes Washington, DC, and he and Lincoln sign an armistice. Negotiations lead to some settlements, some plebecites and some open issues. Lincoln loses re-election, and the US invades Canada. Lee succeeds Davis as Confererate president, but the Afrikaners try to assassinate him when he considers gradual emancipation of the slaves, so the Confederates wipe them out, with difficulty.
Major characters are Robert E. Lee and a North Carolina sergeant/schoolteacher. Most of the historical characters are treated sympathetically, except Nathan Bedford Forrest (founder of the KKK).
Plot holes: the enlisted/drafted infantrymen would not have the broad overview of terrain they are credited with. Big problem: If the Afrikaners were changing history, it would already be reflected in the books they grew up with—this recursion is not addressed.
I would have preferred some more subtle plot device for changing the course of the war—British interference, disease incapacitating a key Union officer, weather bogs down a relief army, Lincoln's cabinet kills him early, etc. (Feb 2008)
I had some hundreds or even thousands of image, music, doc and pdf files that were frozen - they could not be opened, moved, renamed or deleted. After trying several products, and asking advice of friends and online for years, I finally found Unlocker Assistant, freeware that works. Image and music files just need to be renamed or moved within a hard drive, usually. Pdf files were more of a problem, but I finally discovered that what works is to move them to another drive. The only problem is that Unlocker Assistant does not remember which locations to move things to. The early version would only move one file at a time, but the latest can move many files at once, and sometimes whole folders. (Jan 2010)The Blue Flower. Henry Van Dyke. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1902
This must have arrived with a random group of recently bought old books, but the connections are a bit odd. The bookplate is that of William C. Atwater, and it was purchased new from "Robt. S. Gardner, Jeweler & Stationer, 241 Main St., Derby, Conn." One of the old biology buildings at Wesleyan University, where I studied, is Hall-Atwater Labs. Anyway — this book had never been read — there were about 20 unsliced pages. And I can see why. Van Dyke was a minister and Princeton English professor. The book is a collection of short stories, mostly written in a style whose name I don't know, but consists of antiquish phrasing and concerns, and the themes are moral parables. Boring. (Dec 2006)
His Days Off and Other Digressions is fairly interesting, though. Henry Van Dyke. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1907.
I scanned and posted Remarks on Gulls. I expected to skim this and recycle it quickly, since The Blue Flower was so poor, but there are several stories and "conversations" still of interest to the 21st century. (Jan 2007)Burr. A novel. 1973. Gore Vidal
This is a novel of the early Republic, written as historical fiction through the eyes of Aaron Burr and his young law clerk. What I learned here is about as much as I know about Burr, so I can't say how accurate it is, but the Wikipedia article on Burr supports this version of history.. Vidal's Burr has a pretty low opinion of George Washington (a fat-assed stiff who lost virtually all his battles), a very low opinion of Thomas Jefferson (completely hypocritical, deceitful and derivative), and a high opinion of Andrew Jackson (for his success and imagination). John Adams is only briefly mentioned. Alexander Hamilton is his New York competitor, but a more grasping politician, desperate for respectability and power. Martin Van Buren may have been Burr's son. Burr's trials for treason are presented as utterly political, perjured show trials organized by Jefferson to destroy a rival (Burr nearly won the presidential election of 1800). General James Wilkinson, the main witness against Burr, was both an incompetent general and Spanish spy.Consider the Lobster. and other essays. 2006. David Foster Wallace. New York, Boston, London: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Co.
I was entertained, and learned a fair amount of new history, as well. (Aug 2006)
Michelle Bachmann, the insane Rethuglican Congresswoman, claims this "snotty" novel caused her to switch parties, because it wasn't worshipful of the Founders. (Dec 2010)
Essays in the smug, ironic style of Dave Eggers, to show off how smart, literary, hip and self-aware the author is. I learned that the author was a socially clueless geek as a child, and some somewhat more interesting things about the porn industry, John McCain and talk radio. I have to agree with his assessment of the value of Standard Written English. Using footnotes on footnotes on footnotes is pretentious, and bad writing.
Alchemy, Medicine, Religion in the China of A.D. 320: the Nei P'ien of Ko Hung (Pao-p'u tzu). 1966. translated by James R. Ware. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press
This is a rather bizarre book, another one I've had for maybe 30 years but never opened. I had taken an excellent history class on Chinese and Japanese interactions with Europe, and this probably seemed like an interesting extension based on the title. However, it is a translation of a book (set of scrolls) written in the 300s by a Taoist scholar. It has sections detailing his views on Taoism vs Confucianism, and large sections of alchemy/medicine. The man point was to sort-of explain how to acheive immortality, to become a genie, by preparing and ingesting gold and mercury compounds. (May 2007)Pilgrim Trails. A Plymouth-to-Provincetown Sketchbook Frances Lester Warner, with drawings by E. Scott White, 1921.Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press
This is a very slender volume - just 47 pages- of illustrated essays. They are pleasantly written descriptions of Plymouth, Duxbury, Truro and Provincetown, focusing on old houses and the Pilgrim legacy. There are interesting descriptions, in passing, of the towns and scenery in 1921. The illustrations are pencil sketches, not particularly detailed or informative. (feb 2002)The Trees of North Park. Wawecus Road Elementary School. Worcester MA. 2006
I had the pleasure of helping the 5th & 6th grade classes of Wawecus put together this collection of drawings and poems about the trees in the park around their school. Principal Barbara Masley organized this project, bringing in local experts to show the students many things about the trees, and arranged its publication. Several hundred dollars were raised and donated to the Worcester parks.Ascending Peculiarity. Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey. Interviews selected and edited by Karen Wilkin. NY: Harcourt. 2001
Interviews 1973-1999. Gorey was an eccentric aesthete known for his satirically macabre graphic books. He was an only child born in Chicago in 1925, served as an Army clerk in WWII, attended Harvard on the GI Bill as a French major, worked in NYC as a writer/illustrator until 1969, then largely lived in Barnstable and Yarmouthport, Mass. until his death in 2000. He was a voracious cultural consumer, living with cousins on the Cape among stacks of books, with several cats, apparently a repressed gay, who hated Henry James, loved Jane Austen's books, Ballenchine's ballets, The Tale of Genji and obscure French and Japanese silent film directors. WikipediaMidnights. A year with the Wellfleet Police. 1982. Alec Wilkinson. Random House
A short book, quickly read. Wilkinson graduated college with a music degree, needed work, and took a short-term job as a Wellfleet cop in 1975. He was given no training except what came on the job. The other officers were about equally qualified, if not as educated, coming into their positions after working as 'specials' for a while, and some having second jobs to make ends meet. The small department seems to have gotten along internally, but the pay was poor and they felt ostracized by the community. Mostly, they stopped speeders and drunks, but there were domestic fights, suicides, and a major drug smuggling incident. Wilkinson arrested a selectman's son, which turned into a big deal when he screwed it up by not having back-up, eventually leading to the resignations of several cops when the pols retaliated. Wilkinson has chapters about the men he worked with most closely, some of it in their own words. He uses the real names for his fellows, and omits names, apparently, when unsure of the truth of stories and when it would be too indiscreet. In some books, small towns are close, supportive communities; and in others they are small-minded, corrupt strait-jackets. This is not a happy local-color book for the tourists. Wilkinson leans to the strait-jacket side, overall, but I see the theme to the book as the character studies and aggravation of the midnight shift.As Various As Their Land: The Everyday Lives of Eighteenth-Century Americans. 1993. Stephanie Grauman Wolf. Univ. of Arkansas Press; ISBN: 1557285993
I'm slightly acquainted with some of the people mentioned, so it's interesting to see them described, and I think Wilkinson was kind. (Nov 2005)
Revolutionary Characters. What made the founders different. Gordon S. Wood, 2006
Grand Canyon. A Visitor's Companion. 1998. George Wuerthner. Mechanicsburg PA: Stackpole Press.
This was a present, in anticipation of visiting the Grand Canyon later this year. There is a basic geological and historical survey, many nice pictures, and a mid-level nature guide to the plants and animals of the area. The author is a big fan of natural fires, and a big critic of the greedy ranchers and miners and corrupt politicians who did/do live there. (Feb 2003)
The Braintree Mission. A fictional narrative of London and Boston, 1770-1771. Nicholas E. Wycoff. New York: Macmillan. 1957
A what-if story set in the years just before the Revolution. What if the British government had clearly seen the problems and personalities in the American colonies? What if they had tried to co-opt John Adams by offering him (and others of his ilk) peerages, and genuine American representation in Parliament? It's stiffly written, and a short book as historical novels go, but of some interest. (May 2002)
Seasons on Harris. A year in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. 2006. David Yeadon. New York: HarperCollins
Yeadon is a travel writer, and he and his wife spent a recent year on and around Harris. Harris has been among the strongholds of Gaelic language, known as a sheep ranching, tweed weaving, fishing community. It seems to be changing quickly, as the young people move away to find jobs, and the old farms are bought up by outsiders as vacation homes. Yeadon likes the people, community and island, but I don't think I'd like to spend a whole year there. The scenery sounds great, there are nice beaches and thousands of ancient stone structures, but the weather is often miserable and midges a plague. The islanders are largely repressive Calvinists, who drink far too much. (A contrast is made with Barra, the largely Catholic island nearby — both islands seem to hold exaggerated stereotypes of the other.) Is there some requirement, in books on Scottish village life, to have a chapter on "second sight"? One place I would to visit is St. Kilda, a cluster of rocky islands 50 miles farther out in the Atlantic. It has tens of thousands of nesting seabirds, was settled by people for thousands of years, and now has no permanent residents. (Sept 2006)Early American Mills. 1973. Martha & Murray Zimiles. NY: Clarkson N. Potter
A large format, mediocre book on mills of the north-east US, mostly in New England. I think they were trying to cover too wide a topic, because some of the information is good, and detailed, and some is sloppy, generic and misleading. It seems to be another book that began with the authors' photo collection, and needed text to fill in between. "Mill" itself is such a broad term — even if you exclude hand-powered devices, it leaves machine powered by draft animals, water, wind, steam and electricity. Mills function to grind grain, pump water and air, saw wood, power the several functions need to produce textiles, for metal working... They could have decided to cover the technical details of wind and water mills — not that there would be much of a market for such a book — but instead show a few examples poorly. Their passion seems to have been the architecture of the buildings; this is a problem to cover in an interesting way, since most mills were in quite boring buildings. The social context is an important topic, from the community grist and saw mills of the early days, to the large but planned mill villages of the early 19th century, to the horrors of late 19th century factory life. Again, this is too broad a topic to cover here, given the inclusion of the architecture, mill design and array of mill types. There are some good new and old photos, while others are so dark and poorly described that they are useless. Some are unlabeled, others are duplicated. Reproductions of 18th/19th century diagrams, those semi-technical drawings with letter-coded parts, are (as usual) so poorly done that a reader can't find many of the letters referred to. (Jan 2007)