JULY BOOK REVIEWS
By Rick "The Professor" Norton
It's July! School's out, the fishing hole beckons. Families go on vacation. Colonial Gamers who can head to Historicon for several days of little sleep, heavy food, maximum game play with some of the giants of the hobby and huge holes blasted in credit cards and budgets as the glittering promise of the Dealer's Room is recognized. It's also a great time to wile away the sunny hours with a book or two.
The first selection is hard to find but well worth the search.
"The War in the Far East: 1904-1905," by the military correspondent of The Times, (New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1905), 656 pages, Cost: Unknown. (No ISBN.)
This is a pearl of great price. If you are a student of the Russo-Japanese war, you must get this book. If it's too expensive, put it on a birthday or appropriate holiday wish list. It's wonderful.
And it started out as a pure money-making device. The war had just ended, there was a fair amount of curiosity about it and whoever published fast and first was going to reap some tidy profits. The phenomenon exists today. If you recall the war in the Persian Gulf, new biographies of Saddam Hussein were on the street almost before the first air raids were back from Baghdad. Unfortunately those works won't stand the test of time. "The War in the Far East" will.
The idea was simple enough. Bind up all the columns the Times (The London times, of course.) had printed and sell the package as a book. Include a few photos, some beautiful maps and voila! Instant best seller.
And what a package. The maps are breath-taking and a major help to any who seriously wants to game this period. The reporting is first rate and every aspect of the war is covered. This alone would justify the price of admission. But wait, there's more.
In the day these columns were written, correspondents were not shy to draw lessons for their own country. As such this books is a fly in amber, trapping British military attitudes and debates for future generations to look at.
This is not a work to be consumed as if it were popcorn. It is meant to be savored and contemplated. It belongs on your shelf .
Here's another Oldie and Goodies:
"Outlines of the World's Military History," by Brigadier General William A. Mitchell of the United States Military Academy, West Point N.Y. (Harrisburg: Military Service Publishing Company, 1931) Cost: Unknown. (No ISBN).
Such a title for a one volume work can only mean one thing - a very shallow mass market offering, or a textbook. This is the latter. It's a thing of beauty, made during a time when publishers took as much care with text books as with any others. It's also written by a fairly well known military thinker. (Although I doubt very much if Mitchell did much, if any, of the actual writing. A great many Majors are acknowledged as having "helped" with the book.
It's an ambitious work, covering from The ancient wars of Assyria to World War One. As a result many conflicts are shorted. The Boer War, for example is dismissed as a minor civil conflict, easily handled by the British after some initial reverses and the die-hards dealt with in a single line. Of the Boxer Rebellion there is no mention. But then, this is an Army book. Of the United States Marines there is no mention.
But there are some descriptions of wars usually overlooked such as the Russo-Turkish war. There are also numerous illustrations of uniforms, alas not in color. These may be helpful as may some of the maps and the overviews of the various wars.
What truly sets this book apart is its U.S. flavor. Every historical tidbit if put through a U.S. filter, every lesson learned applied to the armed forces of the United States. And most interesting of all are the study questions in the end of each chapter. A fascinating work.
From a one volume work of all wars to a one volume of one small war:
The Spanish War: An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O'Toole, (New York: Norton, 1984) 447 pp,. Cost: $15.95 U.S. ISBN: 0-393-30304-7.
G.J.A. O'Toole used to be a high level official in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (the Chief of Problem Analysis Branch, if you must know). He is also a fairly prolific author with at least two novels under his belt. And he is not a bad historian.
But he isn't a great historian either. Or at least, not a ground-breaking one. There is nothing in here that is wrong, but nothing that is new. There are lots of quotes from key actors, a smattering of photographs and the Navy is not forgotten.
Unfortunately the Cubans are. Or rather as is too often the case, rebels leaders are identified and then never heard of again. This is not a failing unique to O'Toole.
There isn't much else to say. The diplomatic and naval aspects of the war are covered. At times the writing is dramatic and the battles are handled in a competent fashion.
The book is a good primer. You won't be going wrong if you buy it, but you could do a lot better.
"Japan Through American Eyes: The Journal of Frnacis Hall 1859-1866,"edited, annotated and abridged by F.G. Notehelfer (Boulder: Westview, 2001) $35.00 U.S., ISBN: 0-1833-3876-0.
Francis Hall has been called the leading U.S. business pioneer in the nineteenth century Japan and the title is not overblown. He was also a prolific writer and his view of Japan was the only one many Americans ever encountered. This is his diary. And it is fascinating.
There is much here for the gamer. Scenery descriptions, possible scenarios and much local color. The international community's position in Japan was often a precarious one and Hall reflects the problems, rumors and alarms that were commonly encountered.
He also reflects the attitude of many Americans of his day, warts and all. He both admires and is repelled by the Japanese. He refuses to bow before Japanese royalty, yet is profoundly rank conscious. He is attracted to the young women of the country, yet finds Japanese openness to sexuality offensive. In short he arrives a stranger in a strange land.
To a large degree he remains so. For although he learns much, it is debatable is ever pierces the Japanese heart. Not that he doesn't try.
Readers familiar with Japan will be pleased at the recognition of many activities and locales that are still familiar more than 100 years later.
And that about does it. Until next month.
Good reading and good gaming!