May 06, 2024

the italian job

Love and War in the Appenines by Erik Newby.

Inspired by the Colditz book I re-read this classic of escape literature.

Of course, this being Newby, it is also very funny.

Posted by gustaf at 03:13 PM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2024

behind the wire

Colditz: the Definitive History by Henry Chancellor.

An entertaining history of the famous WW2 POW camp.

The most interesting thing about this book is the fact that Colditz, despite being the "prison of last resort" for repeat escapers and Deutschfeindlich, was actually more humane than many other places in Nazi Germany. Compared to concentration, extermination, and slave labour camps, it was a "bad hotel".

Posted by gustaf at 11:54 PM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2024

secret war

Action This Day, Michael Smith and Ralph Erskine, editors. Bantam Press 2001. ISBN 0593 049101.

A collection of essays about Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

The most entertaining one is by the late John Chadwick.

This is how he describes his arrival in Heliopolis following the evacuation of Alexandria in 1942:

My arrival created administrative chaos, since I was a lone naval rating attached to an Army Intelligence Unit, itself attached to an RAF station.

He was later promoted "Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (Special Branch) RNVSR" because the material he handled was classed 'Officers Only'.

Later, after the Italian Armistice, he wanted to promote code discipline in the Aegean:

[...] I volunteered to go on the next mission to act as liaison with the Italian Navy in Leros, in the hope of preventing any further breaches of security. My suggestion was rejected, and I was told brutally that my superiors did not mind if I were killed, but they were unwilling to take the risk of my being taken prisoner.

Chadwick later deciphered Linear B along with Michael Ventris.

Posted by gustaf at 11:11 PM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2024

going down in a spiral

Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald.

An excellent history/reportage about Vietnam during the American War.

Posted by gustaf at 05:17 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2024

war is hell, and boring too

Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War by Paul Fussell.

A blend of personal memoir, history, and literary criticism centering around WW2.

"(...) what time seems to have shown out later selves is that perhaps there was less coherent meaning in the events of wartime than we had hoped. Deprived of a satisfying final focus by both the enormousness of the war and the unmanageable copiousness of its verbal and visual residue, all the revisitor of this imagery can do, turning now this way, now that, is to indicate a few components of the scene. And despite the preponderance of vileness, not all are vile."

Posted by gustaf at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2024

"precision bombing"

The Bomber War: Arthur Harris and the Allied Bomber Offensive 1939-1945 by Robin Niellands

A "fair and balanced" history of the Allied bombing campaigns during World War 2. A book similar to The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain by Stephen Bungay.

Niellands doesn't make any excuses for the Allied bombing. As he writes, there was a war on. And it is worth remembering that area bombing of civilians was initiated by the Germans, in Guernica, Warzaw, Coventry, and London. But the futility and horror of the bombing still remains. The point is not that area bombing was immoral. The war was immoral. But it still had to be fought.

Arthur Harris and his Command fought and died for the right of others to vilify their memory.

Posted by gustaf at 03:02 PM

March 11, 2024

wizard prang

Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson.

A brilliant book about fighter pilots in France and England in the beginning of World War 2.

Posted by gustaf at 04:59 PM | Comments (0)

the great war

The First World War by John Keegan

A history of WWI.

The opening and closing chapters are eloquent in their condemnation of this horrible conflict, the defining event of the twentieth century. But the intervening ones are dry history, failing to convey the horror of the fighting.

For a novelist's view of the war, read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.

Posted by gustaf at 04:59 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2024

McKinsey meets the CIA

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow.

20 years in the future, IRC pals from the same timezones help each other out to try to further their Tribes way of life -- easygoing PST, hard-hitting EST, and stodgy, state-loving GMT. Each Tribe has agents in the other's territory, working in management consultancies, trying to undermine the enemy's competitiveness with hare-brained theories.

When our hero comes up with a great P2P scheme his friend and lover conspire to put him away in a mental hospital so that they don't have to share the profits.

Not as far "out there" as Down and out in the Magic Kingdom by the same author, but still a great read. Especially since it's free.

Posted by gustaf at 09:17 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2024

RAF vs USAAF: two views of aerial combat in WWII

Damn Good Show by Derek Robinson
Goodbye Mickey Mouse by Len Deighton

Two very different books about the same period of time: the bomber war against Germany in World War 2.

In Damn Good Show, Derek Robinson writes about bombers, having written about fighters in Goshawk Squadron and A Good Clean Fight.. He brings to the story his trademark humour and nihilism. This time though, he doesn't kill off all his characters by the end, instead leaving a little ray of hope that some might come through the horrors of war and make a life on the other side.

Along the way, he debunks many myths about the wartime RAF, but doesn't subtract anything from the extraordinary courage that it took to bomb an enemy country in pitch-black, freezing planes.

Deighton's book is much more traditional view -- the cold, squalor, and fear experienced by the American pilots protecting the bombers in P-51:s is present, but somehow he doesn't convey as much realism as Robinson. The love story, although detailed, is banal. The characters are from central casting -- the brainy, handsome Eastener, the brash uncultured guy from New Mexico, the beautiful English girl who loves them both. Deighton fleshes them out, but they still look and feel like cardboard.

Posted by gustaf at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2024

the anti-Biggles

Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson.

This is Robinson's first book about war in the air. The dogfighting over France in 1918 is presented as just as bad as the fighting in the trenches. Powerful stuff.

Posted by gustaf at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2024

a modern classic

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

Re-reading this for the n-th time. The final episode of the film trilogy inspired me. I was pleased to find out that my internal movie was still the same. I was also impressed that Jackson was so faithful to the book.

Too bad the Swedish translation is so flawed. I would really like Leo to read this. He's old enough but his English's not good enough for the original. Viking will be old enough when the new translation is ready.

Posted by gustaf at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)