What I Read On My Holidays

26 Jun

Going back to Malaysia was a complicated process (ok, it was one I made complicated because I wanted to spend time in London before boarding the plane) but I spent most of it reading various books. I planned to write reviews of all of them, but I simply don’t have time. Instead, I thought I’d write a short overview <grin>.

A War Like No Other is focused on the war between Athens and Sparta. Unlike other books, it is an analysis rather than a narrative history, but a pretty good one. I wouldn’t recommend it as the introduction to that era of history, but it does serve to broaden one’s knowledge of the war.

Bonnie Prince Charlie is a biography of (you guessed it) Charles Edward Stuart, who attempted to overthrow the Hanoverian Monarchy in 1745. Sadly for someone brought up on stories of the Prince in the Heather, this book makes it clear that Charles Stuart was little more than an immature manchild, a perpetually-rebellious individual struggling for power and authority to the point where he even alienated the hard-boiled French Court. His resentment of anyone who attempted to ‘give him laws’ pervaded his dealings with anyone, leaving him unsatisfied unless he had complete authority.

Britain, I suspect, has good reason to be grateful that the Rising failed, although the aftermath was tragic for all concerned. Charles would have been a monarch in the line of James I or Charles I, not Elizabeth or even Charles II. This book, at least, argues that Charles did have a chance to win …

Which isn’t the feeling of 1745: A Military History. This author, focusing purely on the military aspects of the Rising, concludes that Charles simply didn’t have a chance. The expected support from England simply hadn’t materialised, King George had several more armies at his disposal and a vast preponderance of firepower (as well as maintaining control of several vital locations in Scotland). All the Rising really achieved was to spur the government to disarm the Highland Clans, ensuring that there would never be another Rising.

The Fall of the Roman Empire (Michael Grant) isn’t a narrative history, although it does provide an overview of the years past Marcus Aurelius to Romulus Augustus, the last formally-recognised Roman Emperor. Instead, it too concentrates on analysis, noting that the Roman Empire had so many structural problems that defeat and collapse was almost inevitable. The important point, and why this book is well worth a read, is that many of the flaws in Roman society are mirrored in our own society.

Pirate King: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty is an entry into an area of history I knew little about, beforehand. Coxinga was pretty much the last defender of the Ming Emperor in China, a lord who (at his height) commanded a large fleet, ravaged the coastline and even waged war on the Dutch. There is plenty of room for alternate history speculation in his story; if he’d captured the Philippines, as he had been planning to do in the aftermath of his defeat in China, the world would be a very different place.

Fires of October is a look at the US planning for an invasion of Cuba, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The author makes the point that the invasion might have been a US victory, but it certainly would not have been a walkover, as the Cubans were dug in, armed to the teeth and prepared (and experienced) to fight an insurgency after a formal US victory. Even without nukes, the war would have been bloody – and it was quite possible that nukes would be used, probably the one targeted on Gutanamo Bay. The US intelligence system simply didn’t realise just how many Russians were on the island or how many nukes they had.

This is not a counterfactual history – there’s an outline of what the war might have looked like in What If America – but a sober look at the war plans of all three powers involved in the crisis.

On similar lines, I read Operation Unthinkable: The Third World War: British Plans to Attack the Soviet Empire 1945. This book, despite its bold title, is more of a loose history of emergency planning as WW2 moved to a close, without the richness of detail that Fires of October showed. Interesting, but very small beer.

Finally, I found Leviathan: The Rise of Britain as a World Power. This is, in many ways, a very loose overview of the factors that helped Britain rise to power, as well as an introduction to vast sweeps of history. Interesting, it is; tight and focused, it is not. It’s a good overview, but those wanting more details will have to look elsewhere.

What can I say? I made good use of my time. <grin>

2 Responses to “What I Read On My Holidays”

  1. Walt Dunn June 26, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    One of the best things about reading on Holiday is that if you rummage around in new libraries you’ll always find something unrxpected and useful. ;;;Hmmm, maybe there’s a story idea in there somewhere???

  2. James Young June 26, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

    I suggest _When Angels Wept_ if you haven’t read it.

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