Sunday, September 25, 2022

Geography is Destiny: Britain and the World: A 10,000-Year History (Ian Morris)

From isolation from continental Europe to integration with it, whether it be by brute force, religious ties, or economic support, the British Isles have had a long, conflicted relationship with Europe. For those of us in America who watched Brexit take place from 3,000 miles away, the context of this struggle between England and Europe was new. However, as Ian Morris points out in his book Geography Is Destiny: Britain and the World: A 10,000-Year History, Britain’s relationship to Europe has been a continual ebb and flow between close ties and distance.

Morris’s book tackles England’s history to the broader world context, but the heaviest focus is on its European relationships. The author talks about the changing worldview and England’s relationship to it - from one where England was the literal edge of the known world (to Europeans), to one where they were the metaphorical center of it, to a geography where they are one of the outsized players on the world’s financial stage (albeit not *the* principal player like it once was). Morris, with brilliance and humor, explains how England evolved and its relationship to the world changed over the centuries.

In about 500 pages, Morris does a wonderful job explaining the major points of British history and its context to modern times. In many respects, what’s past is repetitive prologue in the sense that history has set the stage for the present and that it has, in some ways, repeated itself. Examples of this include England’s relationship to Scotland and Ireland or its relationship to Europe. For us in America, Geography Is Destiny is a great tool in helping us understand English history…and, as a bonus, how one historian perceives our independence in 1776.


Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Book Lover's Guide to London (Sarah Milne)

It's hard to think of a city with a more rich literary history than London. In Sarah Milne's The Book Lover's Guide to London, the author takes the reader to locations in each area of the city where London's writers (and even their famous characters) were known to frequent or live.

The book is divided nicely into specific areas for easy reference and features beautiful full-color photographs to go along with the text. Some authors are mentioned quite a lot, like Dickens, Woolf and Wilde -- perhaps a bit too much. It would have been nice to read about some lesser-known London authors too. Home addresses are mixed with pubs and other locations (of which quite a few still exist today). 

The one thing I felt lacking in this book was how inconsistently the sections were set up. Some sections had a lot of text that seemed unrelated to the heading. For example, there's a section titled A.A. Milne with additional unrelated information about other authors (like Bram Stoker) -- this was a bit jarring. The book could have used some careful editing. However, most of the stories are interesting, so lovers of London literary history (and just London) will probably enjoy it.


Friday, September 16, 2022

Going Downtown: The US Air Force Over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, 1961-75 (Thomas McKelvey Cleaver)

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver’s Going Downtown: The US Air Force Over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, 1961-75 recaps the United States Air Force’s battles in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Cleaver’s book is a successor to his book. The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, which covered the U.S. Navy during the same timeframe. 

This book is a historical account of the Vietnam War, starting with the context of France’s involvement and Vietnam’s independence movement, crossed with the U.S. Air Force’s campaigns in it. Those major campaigns included “Rolling Thunder”, conducted in the mid 1960’s, followed by “Linebacker I” and “Linebacker II” in 1972. The author talks about the logistical struggles the Air Force had in dealing with a robust air defense system, along with micromanagement of the war from Washington, DC. Also, the author stresses the larger geographic scope of the Air Force’s battles in Southeast Asia, encompassing Laos, Cambodia, and the staging of operations in Thailand. While we think of the Vietnam War for the battles fought in the country, battles were also fought in surrounding countries and there was war support, such as planes and air defense systems, provided for North Vietnam from China and Russia.

Like Cleaver’s book on the Naval battles in Vietnam, Going Downtown incorporates first-person accounts from a number of Air Force veterans and individuals from both North and South Vietnam who fought during this timeframe. Going Downtown is a highly technical, detailed account into the Vietnam War’s aerial battles and the evolving American strategy in the 1960’s regarding North Vietnam’s involvement in South Vietnam.