The History of the Peloponnesian War

1593080913.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Two political-economic systems compete for influence and dominance after the greatest war that has ever happened, but peace could not last. The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides covers the first twenty years of the war between Athens and Sparta before it’s abrupt ending, but throughout his text the motives of the participants and the analysis of unintended consequences shows give the war it’s full context.

The first book—created by later editors not Thucydides—of the work focuses on early Greek history, political commentary, and seeks to explain how the war was caused and why it happened when it did. Over the course of Books 2 through 8, Thucydides covered not only the military action of the war but also the numerous political machinations that both sides encouraged in each other’s allied cities or in neutrals to bring them to their side. The war is presented in a chronological manner for nearly the entire work with only two or three diversions in either historical context or to record what happened elsewhere during the Sicilian Expedition that took up Books 6 & 7. The sudden ending of the text reveals that Thucydides was working hard on the work right up until he died, years after the conflict had ended.

The military narrative is top notch throughout the book which is not a surprise given Thucydides’ time as an Athenian general before his exile. Even though he was an Athenian, Thucydides was positively and negatively critical of both Athens and Sparta especially when it came to demagogues in Athenian democracy and severe conservatism that permeated Spartan society in all its facets. Though Thucydides’ created the prebattle and political speeches he relates, is straightforwardness about why he did it does not take away from the work. If there is one negative for the work is that Thucydides is somewhat dry which can make you not feel the urge to pick up the book if you’ve been forced to set it down even though you’ve been enjoying the flow of history it describes.

The History of the Peloponnesian War though unfinished due to Thucydides death was both a continuation of the historic genre that Herodotus began but also a pioneering work as it recorded history as it happened while also using sources that Thucydides was able to interview. If you enjoy reading history and haven’t read this classic in military history, then you need to.

The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan

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The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton 1775-1777 (The Revolution #1)

1627790438.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The American Revolution was both political and martial in scope, yet while the high dramatic points are often touched upon it’s the details that are missed where real history can be seen affecting and creating those high points. The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson is the first book in a trilogy chronicling the military history of American Revolutionary War from major battles to minor skirmishes to unknown campaigns left out of other general histories of the period.

The account of the Revolutionary War begins in 1773 with the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party put Massachusetts under martial law and the resulting insurgency throughout the entire colony that restricted the royal government’s control to Boston alone. This situation led to the British regulars’ expedition to Concord, via Lexington, thus beginning a colonial rebellion that would slow mushroom into a global conflict. From this beginning Atkinson chronicles the military events of the war over the next two years in as best chronological fashion he can provide with multiple theaters opening up from Boston to Virginia to Canada to the Carolinas to New York and New Jersey with multiple other little events happening around the colonies as well. Atkinson avoids venturing into the political aspects of the Revolution save for how it directly affected military affairs thus George Washington’s appointment and the Declaration of Independence shaping the American military cause are covered, on the flip side the politics on the British side especially George III’s view and how the British government’s instructions to it’s commanders and the logistics of a transatlantic war were covered in-depth to provide context to the how and why of various British strategies. And the slowly developing diplomatic “front” which would be important later in the war is given its groundwork beginning, centered around Benjamin Franklin.

The approach Atkinson takes in his chronicle of the American Revolutionary War is first and foremost a military history with political, diplomatic, and social influences of secondary importance and in context of their influence on the military situation. In previous histories of the period I’ve read, the civilian governments support, or lack thereof, of the Continental Army were focused on a lot but Atkinson flips the narrative and focuses more on the British side to emphasize the transatlantic nature of their war effort especially as their expectations of loyalist support in both manpower and supplies. Atkinson brings forth many minor engagements surrounding better known battles, first in the Canadian expedition and later in various Southern colonies/states in 1775-6 that general histories do not touch on. While Atkinson is good in providing biographical information to many important participants from both sides as well and how disease affected both sides, it is also where some of his biggest mistakes and oversights occurred that left one scratching their head but not bad enough to ruin the whole of the book.

The British Are Coming begins Rick Atkinson’s military history trilogy of the American Revolution in dynamic way while also giving the reader a new view of the period. The emphasis of the historical narrative on the martial conduct of the war from major battles and campaigns to minor engagements as well as giving a clearer focus on the British side of the conflict makes this different from other books of the period I have read and has me looking forward to the next book.

Women Warriors: An Unexpected History

0807064327.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Women Warriors: An Unexpected History by Pamela D. Toler
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review

The phrase warrior women evokes many images, most with “boob” armor as a prominent feature however history tells a different story. Women Warriors: An Unexpected History by Pamela D. Toler covers millennia of historical records and new archaeological discoveries from Shang China to modern day examining the women who went into battle in numerous ways.

Toler covers not only the more famous warriors like Boudica, Joan of Arc, Lakshmi Bai, Hua Mulan, the Trung Sisters, and Tomoe Gozen among others but also spread her reach to lesser known historical figures of prominence as well as “every day” women. Toler brings to light many reasons why women went to war including adventure, defense of family and home, and surprising cultural as well. Also examined is how contemporary and modern-day historical accounts of these women use many of the same phrases like “she fought like a man” thus bring to the forefront the seemingly universal gender role that war is to many societies—though not all. Many of the women that Toler relates in her book, disguise themselves in men’s clothing and several continued using men’s clothing after their military service and one was “crossdressing” before she entered military service. Finally Toler covered the recent turn in archaeological findings that not all burials that contained weapons were men, but many women and the raging debate on if those women were actual warriors and if those weapons were ceremonial—though if men were buried with jewelry it showed they were rich.

The book’s text covered roughly 210 pages, but many of those pages having a considerable amount of footnotes that were both positive and negative in the overall quality of the book. Toler does focus on the famous few warriors, but spreads her eye to all parts of the globe and showed the diversity and commonality that all women warriors had. Her criticism of how women warriors were depicted over the millennia and across cultures showed many of the same trends with relatively few exceptions—China. However the book is far from perfect and while Toler packed a lot in 210 pages, she kept on repeating the same things over and over again including in her numerous footnotes. It was one thing to say something critically in a witty and sarcastically way once thus making an impression and making the reader aware to look for future instances of what Toler was criticizing, but to repeatedly make wisecracks over the same criticisms again and again just resulted in them losing their effect and become tiresome. Unfortunately the many repeated comments and footnotes makes one wonder if Toler had cut them out, if she could not have moved some of the interesting things she put in the footnotes because she “ran out of space” into the actual text if the book wouldn’t have come out better.

The overall Women Warriors: An Unexpected History is a nice primer and introduction to the many women who fought throughout history and the complex history surrounding them. While Pamela D. Toler does a wonderful job in bringing many women to the spotlight, her repeated phrases—including overdone wittiness—and almost overly expansive footnotes take away from the quality of the book.

Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day

1250134927.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day by Giles Milton
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I received Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for an honest review.

The story greatest seaborne invasion and one of the greatest airborne operations in history combining to break the Atlantic Wall is known from an overview perspective, but the story of D-Day from a personal perspective really brings home the events of the first 24-hours of D-Day. Giles Milton covers the first 24-hours of the invasion of Western Europe in Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day from both the Allied and German sides.

Milton sets the “scene” by describing how the Allies planned the invasion and how the German planned to stop them. Once the narrative turns to the invasion, Milton begins following a multitude individuals—some of whom he returns to a few times—over the course of those first pivotal 24 hours. From the Allied (mostly American) paratroopers landing all over the place confusing themselves as well as the Germans to the mistake by the Allied Supreme Command of not properly bombing the beaches and the struggle on Omaha, the things that could have undermined the Allied invasion are brought out and highlighted. However, the successes such as the total surprise of the invasion are also brought to life through many perspectives from the retelling by soldiers. Milton shifts the narrative from West to East in the landing zones to detail the Allied experiences on each as well as South as German defenders and French civilians experienced the firepower of massive invasion, as well chronologically (as well as can be expected) to really bring to the forefront how touch and go that day was.

While Milton certainly constructed a very intriguing historical narrative in covering a 24-hour period from the viewpoint of a multitude of eyewitnesses, this was also the book’s downfall. The use of so many eyewitnesses resulted in not really establishing familiarity with those that he returns to over the course of the book. If you are familiar with the film The Longest Day than some of these eyewitnesses will be familiar given the events that Milton chronicles, if not for that I would have gotten lost several times throughout the book.

Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day is an ambitious undertaking by Giles Milton that unfortunately does not really come together as a whole. While the use of a multitude of eyewitnesses can be applauded to create the narrative unfortunately it didn’t work out given the large number Milton used.

Home to Our Valleys!

41gzipswzql._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Home to Our Valleys! by Walter Utt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Vaudois were a little Christian group that throughout the Middle Ages were not considered “orthodox” by The Church resulting in persecution and attempts to wipe them out, however after the Protestant Reformation they were considered important to many prominent Protestant leaders throughout Europe especially after Louis XIV influenced the Duke of Savoy to attack them. Home to Our Valleys! is the retelling of the Vaudois’ return from exile during the onset of the War of the Grand Alliance by author Walter Utt using the official account of Vaudois leader Henri Arnaud as well as numerous primary sources from around Europe.

The Vaudois home valleys were in the Piedmont region of Italy, then known as the Duchy of Savoy, right next to the border with Louis XIV’s France. Their exile as the result of French influence on the Duke of Savoy just after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, made them refugees in Switzerland and German lands alongside the Huguenots. It was these combined refuges that came together in a 1000 man strong force that left Swiss territory into Savoy marching for home, a journey that included a sliver of France jutting into Savoy territory. Although this force avoided major battles, it continued to win minor skirmishes before reaching their home at which point their campaign turned into a guerrilla action against French forces operating in Savoy territory.

The overall subject of the book was very interesting, but was undermined by Utt’s decision of how to tell this story. At times the book read like nonfiction then as historical fiction, going back and forth throughout. This inconsistency is what really drove my rating of this book so low because while after thinking long and hard that for the most part this was a nonfictional account of the Vaudois with apparently reconstructed conversations between individuals as best guessed by Utt.

The fact that I had to debate what type of book this was while reading it and a while afterwards, took considerable attention away from content Utt was writing about. The subject matter in Home to Our Valleys! is very interesting, but was lost in the style of writing that Utt chose to write in making the overall book underwhelming.

Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth

0804137285.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth by Holger Hoock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

The quaint, romanticized version of the American Revolution that many have grown up with through popular history and school curriculum is not the real life story that those living during those years experienced. In Scars of Independence, Holger Hoock looks past the good versus bad and underdog narratives so prevalent today to reveal the multifaceted struggle and very violent history of the American Revolutionary War from all its participants.

Hoock frames the American Revolution as not just a colonial rebellion, but first and foremost a civil war in which the dividing line of loyalties split family. The Patriot-Loyalist violence, either physical or political, began long before and lasted long after the military conflict. Once the fighting actually began, both the Americans and the British debated amongst themselves on the appropriate use of the acceptable violence connected to 18th century warfare and on the treatment of prisoners. While both sides thought about their conduct to those in Europe, the Native Americans were another matter and the violence they were encouraged to inflict or was inflicted upon them was some of the most brutal of the war. But through all of these treads, Hoock emphasizes one point over and over, that the American Patriots continually won the “propaganda” war not only in the press on their side of the Atlantic but also in Europe and even Great Britain.

One of the first things a reader quickly realizes is that Hoock’s descriptions of some of the events of the American Revolution remind us of “modern-day” insurgencies and playbooks of modern terrorists, completely shattering the popular view of the nation’s birth. Hoock’s writing is gripping for those interested in popular history and his research is thought-provoking for scholars. Another point in Hoock’s favor is his birth outside the Anglo-American historical sphere in Germany, yet his background in British history and on-off research fellowships in the United States has given him a unique perspective to bring this piece of Anglo-American history out to be consumed, debated, and thought upon.

Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth is a fascinating, intriguing, thought-provoking book on the under-reported events of the American Revolutionary War in contrast to the view of the war from popular history. Holger Hoock gives his readers an easy, yet detailed filled book that will help change their perspective on the founding of the United States by stripping the varnish away to reveal the whole picture.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

0307382478.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The name Alexandre Dumas is well known, but before the author and his playwright son was the General. Tom Reiss brings the little known founder of the Dumas family into the spotlight in The Black Count, a born slave of noble blood turned Republican general in the service of France. This giant of a man both of stature in the view of his novelist son cast a long shadow since his death.

Born in modern Haiti as a slave to a French nobleman father, Alexandre life suddenly changed when he joined on his father’s return journey to France to take is family title. However after years of dealing with his father behavior, Alexandre joined the French army and with the coming of the French Revolution into Republican government. His daring feats in the field and dedication to the ideals of republicanism sent him quickly up the chain of command to General. Continuing his lead in front style, Alexandre was sent to lead men on every front that France needed him. But it was his feats during the Italian campaign that truly brought him his greatest fame and yet began his long cold relationship with another General, Napoleon. After more spectacular feats in Egypt and yet more conflict with Napoleon, Alexandre decided to return to France but was then captured in southern Italy only to emerge two year later into a new France in which his desire to service his country was rejected by its new leader. Five years after his release, Alexandre died leaving his young son bereaved. Yet, the legendary events of his life would inspire young Alexandre with a lot of material for his epic heroes including one Edmund Dantes.

The Black Count is a thrilling ride following a mixed raced former slave fighting for the republican ideals of his new homeland even as radical political events shift all around him, yet Alexandre Dumas quickly became a hero to the French until his capture and release into an entirely different France that didn’t appreciate him. Tom Reiss brought to life of a little known French Republican general that had a long lasting impact on history outside of the military and political sphere to the enjoyment of readers around the world.