Category Archives: Book Reviews

The obvious, reviews of books I have read

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Book Review: No End Save Victory by David Kaiser

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War is one of

those books that at first glance looks like it is going to be one of those dry, difficult to read history books that is nothing more than a litany of dates and facts.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is an interesting and compelling account of the events in America during the 18 months prior to American entry into WWII.  Oddly, this period is mentioned in every history of the war but the actual events in the US are glossed over such that American entry into the war is painted as inevitable.  David Kaiser’s work puts that notion to rest as he details the methods and means whereby FDR led the country into war.

The review copy I received is 343 pages of text with 40 pages of notes and an index.  It is divided into 9 chronological chapters that cover the period from May, 1940 to December, 1941 and America’s entry into World War II.

The text is engaging and very well written.  What struck me most about the period was the amount of foresight by FDR in setting up and guiding the apparatus to get America ready for fighting a global war.  The strategic changes between planning for hemispheric defense and projecting American power into Europe and the pacific are dealt with extremely well.  He also makes clear the extent to which FDR had to overcome resistance from within the government and military to entry into the war while at the same time trying to hold back the more hawkish members of his Cabinet.

One of the episodes that he deals with is the development of what came to be known as the Victory Plan.  I found it refreshing that he puts to rest the myth of Major Albert C. Wedemeyer putting the Victory Plan together by himself.  He correctly identifies that the Victory Plan was a collaborative effort between the military, industry, and civilian planners.  This point is also not belabored.  Wedemeyer made his name post-war on the claims that he developed the Victory Plan almost single handedly and subsequent research has exposed that for the myth that it is.

Another thing covered very well in the book is the extent to which government had to both control and cajole industry and labor to get them behind the effort of switching from civilian to war production.  This is something that is presented as a matter of course in most histories and this book exposes that for the hard effort that it was.

Most of all, the role of FDR is highlighted as the guiding force behind American preparedness for war.  The period prior to America’s entry into World War II is very interesting because it was never a done deal that America would enter the war despite the feeling among most policy makers that war was inevitable.  All the preparation and planning would not have made a whit of difference if the American people had not committed themselves to war.  That commitment came in the wake of Pearl Harbor, but it was the planning done by FDR and the military in the months prior to Pearl Harbor that meant America was ready, or nearly ready when war did come.

I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in World War II, but especially to people who think they are familiar with America’s role in that war.  An outstanding book.

 

Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe

To say that the Polish-Soviet War was a continuation of The Great War would be a lie.

Certainly, the vacuum of power from the Vistula to the Dnieper had something to do with it, but it does not account for behaviors that Americans will always find opaque and odd when visiting Eastern European history.

The Polish side had brandished rifles at one another during the previous international conflict. They were now united for everything reactionary and terrible (in the eyes of the Bolsheviks): defense of their homeland against the international worker’s revolution (led by soft-handed bourgeois intellectuals).

One anachronism would be the idea of a champion swordsman challenging the other side to single-handed combat before the bivouacking belligerents: this seems like something out of The Iliad, but it happened in 1920.

Another anachronism would be the idea of living off the land, leaving nothing but smoke, ashes and corpses in their midst. This was the Russian side: it is even documented that when entering Roman Catholic churches they made it a point to defecate on the alters and pews.

The reason for the Polish victory had little to do with any kind of inspirational or military genius from that of Piłsudski.  Victory lied in the fact that Polish morale was higher due to the motivation of defense of their homes and the reinstatement of their nation, compared to an abstract idea of spreading a worker’s revolution from Japan to the pillars of Hercules.

The other reason, and I may take flack for saying this, was the absolute superiority of the Polish cipher-breaking team, who broke and read Moscow’s encrypted communications and knew exactly what their enemy was thinking.

The Russians had over 5,000,000 men at their disposal, and world victory seemed a certainty. The Polish side did not have reserves, and had a desertion rate that rivaled the Russians.  Polish victory had much to due with the morale of the officer class and breaking the communications, and little to due with superior equipment or organization.

Adam Zamoyski is a direct descendent of the Hetman Jan Zamoyski. Zamość, a city created after his namesake is an amazing town to visit, and if you ever get there, speak with the locals who will show you around and who will be able to tell you where battles occurred during the life of Zamoyski, and in both of the world wars.

The perpetual theme here is the idea of Poland as an irritating roadblock for Russia: the true purpose was to take over Germany, and use it as a launching pad for worldwide communist revolution. Things didn’t go their way this time around.

I could not recommend this book highly enough.

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Book Review: The Armored Fist: The 712th Tank Battalion in the Second World War by Aaron Elson

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

The Armored Fist: The 712th Tank Battalion in the Second World War is one of the best unit histories I have read from WWII.  It is not a traditional unit history in that it is not simply a list of engagements fought, enemy killed, and casualties suffered.  It is a compilation of the recollections of the unit’s members put into chronological order from their first combat to the end of the war.  This is not traditional battle history, instead it is the story of one unit’s participation in the war from the worm’s eye view of the average soldier.

The book itself is 256 pages of text divided into 41 mini chapters each detailing a specific incident from the unit’s history.  There is no index or bibliography.  in the middle of the book is a small section of photos taken by unit members during the war.

The writing style is engaging and you get a sense of what it was really like to fight a tank in the ETO of WWII.  while reading you get the impression that instead of reading the book you are actually sitting there listening to one of the veterans recount their experiences.  there is an immediacy to the stories that is missing from most accounts of warfare.  I thought that one of the best things about reading it is that the reader gets a very god impression of just how confusing combat is and how little each individual participant knows of what is going on in a firefight.  Each person focuses on their job in combat and only the leaders have a good overview of the situation and often they do not have even that.  that facet of combat comes out clearly in the stories of the tankers of the 712th.

This is an outstanding book and well worth reading.  I highly recommend this book.


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Book Review: Verdun – The Longest Battle of the Great War by Paul Jankowski

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War is one of the flood of new works coming out about World War I this year in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the world’s first truly mechanized war.  This book explores the ten month (or eleven, depending on how you count it) battle of Verdun between the Germans and French from February to November 1916.

It consists of eleven chapters arranged thematically that examine different aspects of the battle from the operational movements of the forces involved to the way the battle was described in the contemporary press to the role of the battle in modern memory.  There is an extensive appendix on sources, a 29 page list of endnotes and a 20 page bibliography.

Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War is not a battle history in the traditional sense of the word.  here is no bow by blow account of the opening days of the battle and the fall of the french forts at Vaux and Duouamont and the subsequent French recapture of much of the contested ground over the course of the battle.  The book is both more and less than battle history at the same time.  it examines the battle and the role it played in the course of the war from many angles both military and civilian.

I found the chapters discussing the views of the battle by the French and German commands especially revealing.  The standard account is that the Germans intended all along for Verdun to be a battle of attrition and that the French chose to fight so hard there as a matter of honor.  That myth is exploded in these two chapters and the way in which the battle became a matter of prestige and developed a logic of it’s own is explored in detail.  Given the level of casualties on both sides that the battle evolved into one of prestige makes sense.

Even more revealing is the discussion of the various ways in which the battle was portrayed by the media.  A good picture of the way in which the media can sway public opinion and force policy decisions is described in the media portrayals of the Battle at Verdun.  The last part of the book that examines the way the memory of the battle has been shaped and its amazing transformation from a symbol of french determination to a landmark of multiculturalism  and a monument to the futility of war is revealing in the extreme.

Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War is well-written and logically presented and while it is not traditional battle history it is rewarding to read nonetheless.  Verdun was one of the greatest blood-lettings of World War I, though not the greatest as it has been said, that was the opening months of the war.  It is time for an objective re-examination of this supposedly pivotal battle that in the end achieved nothing of strategic significance, unless you think killing off a large cohort of enemy troops is strategic results.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in World War I and even more to people who want to understand how the perceptions of wars and battles are shaped more by those who were not there than than by those who were.

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Book Review: Power Games by Richard Peters

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

I get 5-10 requests a month from publishers and authors to review their books here on B&BR and usually accept 3-4 of them because I don’t have as much time to read as I would like.  When Richard Peters, the author of Power Games: Operation Enduring Unity I contacted me and inquired about reviewing his book I had a stack of 5 other books I was working through and initially almost turned him down for lack of time.  Man, am I glad I did not.  Power Games is one of those rare fiction books, for me anyway, that grabs you from the start and won’t let go.  I read the whole book in a marathon overnight session because I could not put it down.

The premise of the book is the story of the opening months of the second Civil War in America.  The book starts with a botched assassination and tings spiral out of control from there.  The divided and fractured nature of current American politics is shown for the failure waiting to happen that it is.  as through a series of plausible steps the country swings from disaffection with the results of an election to open rebellion.

The action is non-stop and believable and the author’s experience as a combat vet is clearly evident by his realistic descriptions of combat itself.  Just as realistic is the description of politics and journalism.  Mr. Peters, grasps the essential corruption of current American society and shows how that corruption can lead to disunion when there are no leaders worthy of the name on the national stage.

The quality of the writing is outstanding, I was constantly kept in mind of the works of other writers such as Tom Kratman, John Ringo, and Michael Z. Williamson when reading this.  His book is easily as good and s well written as any major published military or sci-fi writer.  I have found another author to add to my list of people who I will eagerly await there next offering.

As an added bonus, Mr Peters is donating the profits from the book to the Landstuhl Hospital Care Project, a charity that supports wounded and il military members at the US Military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.  That is a cause I, as a veteran can support wholeheartedly.

I highly recommend this book.  It is available on Amazon.com as both a hardcopy and for Kindle.