Friday, June 30, 2023

Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples Since 1500 (Peter H. Wilson)

History is often not as clean or easy as many who teach it or read about it want it to be. Peel away the outer layer of conventional wisdom and you often find conflicting views that challenge narratives and provide multiple perspectives. In regards to Germany’s history, the idea of a nation founded on militarism and military might is not as clean a narrative as once believed. Peter H. Wilson, an Oxford historian, offers a strong challenge to the conventional wisdom of Germany’s military past in Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples Since 1500.

It’s important to note that this history features more than the components of modern-day Germany, which was dominated by Prussia and Bavaria among a host of smaller kingdoms and feudal states. Before the German Empire was established in 1871, a series of confederations and the Holy Roman Empire preceded it. In Austria, The Habsburgs were in charge of a large multilingual empire that was dominated out of Vienna. Wilson talks about these smaller states, with Austria and Prussia vying to be the strongest voice within the German-speaking world, and how their own constituent armies varied in technology, strength, and military technique…and how they each helped innovate each other. Iron and Blood traces back to the Reformation and shows the slow, uneven evolution of Germany over centuries as these states gradually coalesced around the stronger Prussia as Austrian influence waned.

Wilson challenges some of the historical narratives of German military might, particularly around strategy and leadership. The author cites several examples of wasted resources in World War II by the German military and paramilitary within the Nazi regime as some very strong examples to this. However, one narrative Wilson hasn’t challenged has been modern-day Germany’s aversion to spending heavily on military in the wake of the country’s defeat in World War II.

Iron and Blood is a comprehensive and at times technical read. For military historians, it’s a great bit of research into one of Europe’s historical powers.


Saturday, June 24, 2023

My Darling Girl (Jennifer McMahon)

I belong to a "Spooky Book Club" group, and Jennifer McMahon is definitely an author who fits well in that group. McMahon's Island of Lost Girls was one of the very first books reviewed on this blog back in July 2009(!) -- she's an author I never miss. So I was really excited to get my hands on My Darling Girl, with a planned release in October (not surprising) of 2023.

I've read all of McMahon's books, and I "think" this is her first book about demonic possession. So if you're not into that, you may want to pass on this one! This is the story of Alison, who gets a call one day that her estranged mother is dying. Alison goes to see her, but her brother cannot forgive what their mother put them through as children. Her mother has one request -- to die in Alison's home. Admirably, (or stupidly?), she agrees. When her mother arrives, strange things start to occur - some even involving Alison's two children, who Alison will do anything to protect. 

I read this one before bed with the lights off, and it really scared me at times. While I didn't like it quite as much as her best (the aforementioned Island), this still has the classic slow-building creepiness that McMahon is known for. Can't wait for the next one!


Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Scythian Empire: Central Eurasia and the Birth of the Classical Age from Persia to China (Christopher I. Beckwith)

Central Asia has been the home to some of history’s largest empires. You’re likely familiar with the Mongols, who dominated in the 13th Century. You may remember the Huns, who migrated west from Central Asia and dominated parts of Eastern Europe in the 4th and 5th Centuries. One group that is not as well known to history buffs is the Scythians, who dominated and influenced large swaths of Eastern Europe and Asia in the centuries before Alexander the Great and the Romans.

Christopher I Beckwith’s book The Scythian Empire: Central Eurasia and the Birth of the Classical Age from Persia to China is a well-researched, highly detailed history of the Scythians and how they influenced philosophy, religion, politics, warfare, and culture. At the height of their power and influence, the Scythians influenced territory ranging from Mongolia and Manchuria in the East to the shores of the Black Sea in the West. Beckwith points out Scythian influence through the fact that three capital cities in very different parts of Asia all had the same name, Agamatana. Additionally, detailed research shows Scythian influence of language on Persian and Chinese.

The Scythian Empire is very detailed, perhaps at times too much so for those who aren’t experts in pre-Roman history. There was one chapter that I had to read at least a couple of times to understand better. However, Beckwith does a great job of highlighting the importance these early influencers had on world culture before the Romans or Alexander the Great came along…and the Scythians made their mark without a smartphone or an Instagram account to reach the masses.