Tag Archives: book review

Books!: Washington’s Spies

I finally cleared out my reading queue and refilled with Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. What most likely prompted this was the opportunity to meet the author, Alexander Rose, except I hadn’t read his book at the time of the opportunity, so I avoided him in shame.

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To belatedly remedy this egregious faux pas, I went to the library specifically for this book. Perhaps the next time I encounter Mr. Rose, I will be able to engage in witty and engaging discussion on his work, but for now I get to share my review of the book with you, Dear Reader(s).

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Books!: Hancock the Superb

Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite historical figures is General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Why? I’m not sure. It probably has something to do with his confidence and stunning competence. His dashing good looks are only a bonus.

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A Sunday afternoon well spent.

In fact, long ago he edged out Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain because he (Hancock) doesn’t seem to have this weird, idealistic, Victorian misogyny. It was either by the end of high school or the end of freshman year of college where I knew Hancock was my guy. During my freshman year of college, I took a brave stab at being an engineering major, but it turns out I was incredibly not good at physics, calculus, chemistry, programming, and engineering. To comfort myself, I spent a lot of time on the 10th floor of the Hesburgh Library, reading through the Civil War section (which should have told me immediately that engineering was not my calling…) and my favorite find of this time was Hancock the Superb.

Just about every time I went back to campus, I would visit the book – up to the 10th floor, around to the right, third shelf up from the bottom on the 4th stack back. It would usually be a drive-by: I would locate the book, take it out, pet it a couple of times, and put it back.

Anyway, I came across this book in my local public library and decided to read it again to see if all the nostalgia was warranted. Verdict: It was.

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Books!: Geo. Washington’s Secret Six

One of my recent areas of fascination, in addition to everything else, and inspired almost wholly by AMC’s (fantasmagorical) TURN: Washington’s Spies, has been the story of the Culper Spy Ring (link 2) (link 3). I wrote a thing a while ago about the cinematography of the show, which for me is a huge part of the attraction, but the storylines are pretty compelling as well.

Thus, imagine my excitement when, at the library, I came across this book titled George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution. It is not the book on which the show is based, but had a short line between this book and the basis for the show, with a lot of artistic license thrown in for cinematic reasons.

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To the best of my ability, I will refrain from doing a comparison with the show, because the show and this book aren’t really related outside of the fact that they occupy the same realms. It would be like me trying to evaluate you based on a run-in with one of your cousins, and that wouldn’t be fair to anybody.

Without further ado, the book:

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Gods and Generals

… or four and a half hours of my life I won’t get back.

The impetus for watching this film was actually inspired by St. Patrick’s Day. There’s a scene during the Battle of Fredericksburg where the Irish Brigade of fame, led by Gen. Thomas Meagher, attacks Marye’s Heights and meet the 24th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, or Georgia’s Irish Brigade. In the film, the Georgians are shocked and appalled both that their fellow Irishmen are fighting for the Union and that they are actively shooting their fellow Irishmen. When the Federals retreat, the Georgians send up a cry to honor their dead and retreating brethren. What a way to celebrate a day most everyone else takes as an excuse to drink excessively. The Irish love their misery, I guess, and my father, being 3rd generation Irish, made sure us kids knew the ways of his people.

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Southern Irish: Fighting against a tyrannical government, which only makes sense from the States Rights Cause perspective. Because the British had been ruling Ireland for centuries, was extremely discriminatory against them, and had just allowed millions to die during the Great Famine, a tragedy which the Crown could have prevented.

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Northern Irish: fighting against slavery and for a unified state, as generally the Irish were the lowest of the second-class citizenry in the UK, hardly better off than slaves. Also for the Union, and very American, ideals that what status you’re born at doesn’t mean you’ll die there, that you can bootstrap yourself up the societal chain.

I’m one of those people who can’t just cherrypick a clip of a film. I have to watch the whole thing. And I did. I did not actively take notes, so what follows will be general impressions of this rewatch. Also, please note that I saw the movie when it came out in 2003, and this might be the first time I’ve seen it since. On principle, I generally don’t watch it. (The soundtrack, on the other hand, is amazing.)

And so without further ado, Gods and Generals:

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Books!: The Forger’s Spell

One recurring theme of this blog and/or my interests is the looted art of World War 2. I’ve read books and watched movies and even trained my internet history to find me articles related to this subject. (I say that I trained my internet, which is a lot less creepy than saying the internet is stalking me.)

Thus, one day I was at the public library (tbh that’s how many of my life’s adventures begin) and I found this book on a Dutch art forger who swindled the Nazis and made a fortune. The book is called The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century (2009). Even better, the book predated The Monuments Men book (2013), thereby also predating the movie, which meant it existed before the Nazi Art Thing was a thing.

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Books!: Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

At this point, it was many moons and a few short posts ago that I saw Ric Burns’ new film on The Pilgrims, which was part of the Smithsonian’s History Film Forum. Write-up here. (If you haven’t seen The Pilgrims yet, go do it.) The summary of the film is that the founding of Plimoth Colony has but the most passing of relationships with the popular perceptions we celebrate every Thanksgiving holiday.

Shortly after that I was at the library when the colorful cover of Mayflower caught my eye. I saw the author was one Nathaniel Philbrick, who most recently is known for having written the book on which the recent Chris Hemsworth movie, In the Heart of the Sea, is based. I have neither seen the film nor read the book, but I had heard the book was positively reviewed by people who matter. That was enough for me, so Mayflower came home with me.

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Warhorse

I saw Warhorse in theaters a number of years ago with a friend. I can’t remember what exactly drew us to the film because I only had a vague notion of the plot and had no idea who the actors were. It was probably because it was a World War I film, and reasons like “It’s a movie” is usually enough to make me do a lot of things.

Walking out of the theater, I remember having enjoyed it greatly, although left with some questions about the underlying plot-that is, how factual is it. Because the movie is about a horse, which one should be able to infer from the title. And yet somehow Steven Spielberg managed to make a successfully realistic war movie with a horse as the main character. Better yet, there weren’t any gimmicks or schmaltzy bits like subtitles when the horses were clearly talking to each other. They were characters without being grossly anthropomorphized. My friend’s grandfather, who watched it with us, said it was one of the more realistic World War I movies out there, and I’ll have to take his word for it.

(My knowledge of war movies is fairly sparse, and my knowledge of the events they portray is even sparser. They say this movie has some of the most realistic depictions of trench warfare.)

Joey, freaked out, running through German trenches in panic.

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