"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Sunday, August 25, 2019

A GREAT CIVIL WAR: A MILITARY and POLITICAL HISTORY, 1861-1865 by Russell F. Weigley

Published by Indiana University Press in 2000.

Russell F. Weigley (1930-2004) was a professor of military history at Temple University for 36 years. He wrote a whole bookshelf full of military histories, but only one book that focused exclusively on the Civil War (however, he was working on a multi-volume study of Gettysburg when he passed away). 

This is an excellent single volume history of the Civil War saddled with an unfortunate piece of art done in American primitive style that makes it look like it was illustrated by the author's elementary school-aged great-grandchild. I know you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this cover makes the book look like a children's book.

This is far from a children's book. 
No more than a page or two is spent on the issues that brought on the war and no more than a page is spent of Reconstruction, but this is a Civil War history for people who have read a lot of Civil War histories. It tells the same story as many histories (this will be the 112th history that I have reviewed on this blog, so I am pretty familiar with the genre), but it takes a much more comprehensive look at the war than most histories.
Engineers of the 8th New York State Militia  
from the National Archives.

Weigley doesn't spend a lot of time on individual battles (usually, just a page or two per battle) and certainly doesn't cover all of them. But, he does a good job of highlighting the main generals, the bigger battles and the political problems faced by both the Union and Confederate governments. He also explores important but usually overlooked areas like how the war was financed on both sides. Yeah, that can be boring, but someone had to buy the bullets, the uniforms and feed the soldiers and, in the end, the Confederacy ran out of that capacity.

I am rating this history 5 stars out of 5 despite its writing style. For example, here is a particularly egregious sentence on page 209 as part of a discussion of how the Union financed the war and reformed the banking system: "A system of national banks under Federal supervision, issuing bank notes secured by U.S. bonds and guaranteed by the Federal government, might strike down at last the state bank notes of bewildering variety and uncertain security that had plagued the Jacksonian conscience ever since Andrew Jackson himself had destroyed the Bank of the United States only to spawn an inadequately regulated congeries of state banks in its place." Nearly 70 words that should have been split into two or maybe three sentences.

But, it is an excellent history if you are willing to wade through the writing every once in a while.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: A GREAT CIVIL WAR: A MILITARY and POLITICAL HISTORY, 1861-1865.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

WORTH DYING FOR (JACK REACHER #15) (audiobook) by Lee Child

Published in 2010 by Random House Audio.
Read by Dick Hill.
Duration: 13 hours, 45 minutes.

Fresh off of the action in 61 Hours, Jack Reacher is hitching his way to Virginia. He is nursing his injuries from that adventure and has made it from South Dakota to a lonely hotel in rural Nebraska. When he is drinking coffee at the hotel bar the local drunk gets a call at the bar. Turns out he's also the local doctor and Reacher shames him into going to treat the woman who called to ask him to treat a bloody nose that won't stop bleeding.

Reacher suspects she's a victim of spousal abuse and it turns out he's correct. The doctor has been told not to treat her by her husband's family. They rule the area with an iron fist and maintain a crew of 10 former Nebraska Cornhusker college football players to make sure no one steps out of line.

Reacher steps out of line, though. He tracks down the abused woman's husband, takes out his bodyguard, breaks the husband's nose and heads back to his hotel room.

Reacher is warned: "You started a war. They want to finish it."

Turns out, the warning was correct.

This is my 21st review of a Jack Reacher book or short story. They go up and down. Lately, I've been on a streak of mediocre Reacher stories. I am happy to say that this one was pretty good. It's been padded with too much discussion and extras from time to time, but it was a solid story.

New readers to the series could jump in with this one and not really miss much. In this story, Reacher once again takes on the classic Western role of the drifter that comes into town and helps the locals get deal with some bad guys. It's not a new story (even for this series it is the most common theme), but it is a good one.

The audiobook was read by Dick Hill. Hill has recently retired, but I think that he really nails the Jack Reacher novels.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: WORTH DYING FOR (JACK REACHER #15) (audiobook) by Lee Child.