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Posts about books (old posts, page 58)

The Real Heroes Of Telemark

The Real Heroes Of Telemark

Ray Mears

1990


A great narrative history of a minor military exploit that was nonetheless of enormous historical importance: the on-going operation to prevent the Nazis acquiring a stock of heavy water that could be used in making an atomic bomb. But the efforts and hazards dared by the men who took part in the operations are equal to those of any polar explorers, as well as any special forces.

Mears is clearly a lot more comfortable explaining the backwoodsmanship of the participants than he is with the detailed military or scientific history, but that just makes this a unique take on a theatre of war that's been under-studied.

3/5. Finished 10 April 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Shortest History of Germany

The Shortest History of Germany

James Hawes

2017


Does exactly what the title suggests. As one might imagine it's a rapid race through a lot of history, but the key currents are clear to see: the nature of Germany changes from east to west, to the extent that the two areas remain religiously, politically, and intellectually distinct even to this day.

The effects of geography on history are made clear by the persistence of certain demarcations even when one might not imagine them. The Roman limes, the line of forts on the western edge, define a boundary based on the ease of campaigning in the countryside; there's then another Roman boundary at the Elbe, with the area between the two being the extent of Roman punitive expeditions. But these lines essentially track the borders of the future West Germany, as the Russian, American, and British armies met at the Elbe at the end of the Second World War, freezing what was a Roman boundary into 20th century geopolitics.

4/5. Finished 10 April 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Ethical Carnivore: My Year Killing to Eat

The Ethical Carnivore: My Year Killing to Eat

Louise Gray


A study of meat-eating that's somewhat wider than the title might suggest. Indeed, very few mammals (although rather more fish) are actually killed by the author in the course of this book. There are several tours of slaughterhouses, a trawler voyage, some fish farming, and plenty of farm visits to see how the animals are kept and killed.

This book is probably best seen as following in the general tradition of animal welfare, with extensive side journeys into climate change and the human population explosion. Its central message – eat less meat that's been better raised – is far more derived from these sources than from anything to do with killing the animals yourself.

2/5. Finished 08 March 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Strategy

Strategy

B.H. Liddell Hart

1941


A classic book on strategy. While its main message can be stated in one sentence – always approach your goal indirectly – it's a combination of historical military analysis and a distillation of key ideas that can be applied both militarily and beyond. The discussion of First World War strategy is especially strong; the discussion of Hitler's strategy is interesting because it was written while the issue was still in doubt, and so can be criticised for its unreality (making a rational argument to Hitler's henchmen against their achieving final victory), but at least was not shy of making definite and supported suggestions.

I can't recommend this edition of the book, however. The typography and quality of the layout are terrible.

3/5. Finished 20 February 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

John N. Gray

2002


Strawmen as much as straw dogs: weak portrayals of ideas that can then be more easily torn down.

I find it hard to see ow this book achieved so much praise. In part it's self-negating, a modern academic berating all the things that make his own activities possible. But many of the criticisms are also deliberate set-ups, for example telling me (a scientist) what "scientists" think (because we're all the same, you know), and using it to demolish and/or demonise our activities. I would just point out that reading commentaries about science by philosophers and historians isn't the same as practicing, and Gray might find that practitioners have a rather different outlook on their activities.

1/5. Finished 27 January 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)