Home to Our Valleys!

Home to Our Valleys! (A Destiny Book, #161)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.

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Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth

Scars of Independence: America's Violent BirthScars 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.

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

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

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Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War

Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of WarRogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War by Ben Macintyre

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

During World War II many military strategies and tactics that are today standard around the world were first pioneer, including behind-the-lines special operation as done by the British Special Air Service (SAS). Ben Macintyre in Rogue Heroes relates the birth and evolution of the SAS from an ‘independent’ army in the North African theater to an integral part the Allied campaigns in Europe against Nazi Germany.

Macintyre’s history of the SAS begins with the man whose idea it was and who shaped it during its first years in existence, David Stirling who used his connections and his desire to actively participate in battling the Germans. Early on Stirling and his brigade went through several phases of evolution of tactics before fully becoming what Stirling had conceived in mid-1941. However, after Stirling’s capture in January 1943 and the change in theater, the SAS temporarily became a regular commando unit in the invasion of Italy before returning to their behind-the-line Special Forces status original purpose later in the Italian campaign and on the Western Front during and after D-Day.

The decision by Macintyre to not focus on all of the missions of the SAS, but only those that influenced and impacted the development of the Special Forces unit as well as to reduce repetitiveness in the book was a good one. The decision help keep the book at a readable length for the general reader, however other choices by the author didn’t make for a smooth read. While Macintyre did his best to cover the efforts of the various SAS squadrons across several theaters and locations within each once as well over the course of the war, at times the division and abrupt changing from one situation to the next made for stilted reading. Another important decision by Macintyre was who within the SAS to highlight and follow over the course of the brigade’s service in World War II. And for the most part, Macintyre did a good job on putting the focus on who needed it but some of the soldiers highlighted seemed to just add flavor for no real purpose than to seemingly check off a list of possible people this book could appeal to.

Overall, Ben Macintyre did a very good job in relating the history of the SAS. Unlike writing a biography or a specific event, a history of a military unit with its change of personnel and changing theaters of battle make it harder to write as the author has to decide who to follow in the unit’s development. Rogue Heroes if anything gives the reader at least a general history and career of the World War II-era SAS, for some it will be enough and for others it’ll be a wetting of the appetite. I would recommend this book to those interested in military history or in World War II over than just the general reader as a whole.

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

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Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book Two)

Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book TwoMarlborough: His Life and Times, Book Two by Winston S. Churchill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The political and military life of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, reached both its zenith and low in some of the most turbulent times of both Great Britain and Europe. Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book Two combines the third and fourth volumes of Sir Winston Churchill’s much heralded biography of his ancestor covering the last 17 years of his life, but focusing mostly on the decade between 1706-16.

From the beginning of the book, Marlborough’s approach to both his military and political zenith is fairly short, but the long slow decline towards political exile began to slowly eat away at his authority on the battlefield and gave encouragement to French court of Louis XIV. Churchill throughout the book, details the remaining six campaigns that Marlborough lead the Allies in Flanders during the War of the Spanish Succession with truly amazing detail to the battles of Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malpalquet and their aftermaths. However, Churchill does not keep his biography in a bubble around Marlborough during the war as other theaters as well as actors–Prince Eugene, other British generals, and the various French marshals.

While Marlborough fought to unparalleled success, his power was undone not by military defeat but by the political forces–including his wife Sarah–at home that first undermined his trust friend Godolphin and later his relationship with Queen Anne. Churchill gives the reader a detailed account of the political climate and intrigue in London during the 10 years saw Marlborough’s political clout slowly begin to ebb then fall precariously after the fall of the Whig Junto to Harley’s Tory administration that used Marlborough has a tool on the battlefield to short shift the rest of the Grand Alliance with secret negotiations with France that lead to the undoing of years of Marlborough’s military success after his dismissal as Commander-in-Chief. Yet, upon the ascension of the Hanoverian George I, Marlborough returned to high political position after traveling to the continent in political exile but let a younger generation deal with the day-to-day details and policies while he enjoyed a restful existence as an elder statesman.

Written during the time of his own political exile, Winston Churchill gives the reader a thorough education of the late-Stuart political upheavals in Britain while at the same time giving them the political landscape of Europe at the beginning of the very turbulent 18th Century, especially the influence of Louis XIV and the dynastic politics of the Hapsburgs and republican Dutch. While a length of 1040 pages of text, not counting 40 pages containing a bibliography and index, may seem daunting to the any reader I can tell you that by the end you’ll have enjoyed learning so much.

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Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One)

Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book OneMarlborough: His Life and Times, Book One by Winston S. Churchill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first Duke of Marlborough during his life and afterwards was a controversial figure that tended to be seen in a rather bad light by history until Winston S. Churchill set about to fully rehabilitate the English/British general and statesman. Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One) contains the first two volumes of Churchill’s four volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill that cover the first 55 years of the general’s life.

The first volume of Churchill’s biography of Marlborough covers the first half of the book from the Duke’s birth to the death of William III at the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession. Events and Marlborough’s actions throughout this period colored contemporaries views of him as well as later historian’s opinions of him. Yet this was a turbulent time in English history, as politics was first dominated by Roundheads and Cavaliers before becoming Protestant and Catholics along with Tory and Whig followed by Jacobite and Anti-Jacobite. Without the deep understand that Churchill gives the actions of Marlborough would make him look wish-washy. The second volume consists of the first four years of Marlborough’s time as commander-in-chief of the Grand Alliance as well as de facto co-Prime Minister of England. Throughout this second volume of Churchill’s biography, the life of the commander-in-chief of an alliance was not easy and many of Marlborough’s military plans were frustrated by the want of will by his allies, mainly the Dutch. But it wasn’t until Marlborough marched to the aid of the Holy Roman Empire that he was able to conduct the military operations that he wanted which gave him the first great English victory on the Continent since Agincourt, yet the next year his designs were once again frustrated leading to military and political unrest amongst the Great Alliance.

Given the author’s relationship to his subject and stated purpose to readjust the historical view of his ancestor, one could expect a true glorification of Marlborough but to Churchill’s credit he did not. While Churchill does take time give the reader an understanding of the changing political environment throughout Marlborough’s life and explained his actions in relation to them. When it came to Marlborough’s military operations, Churchill is actually balanced in his approach to his ancestor’s military decisions as well as “what if” scenarios when Marlborough was frustrated in his planning. Yet Churchill savages those who did frustrate Marlborough’s planning through either over caution or plain envy.

Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One) gives an in-depth look at the second half of the 17th century and the early part of the War of Spanish Succession through the life of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Winston Churchill writes engagingly and makes a full picture of events that leaves the reader in no doubt the facts surrounding an issue. After finished Book One, you’ll be wanting to start Book Two.

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The Art of War

The Art of WarThe Art of War by Sun Tzu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Within “The Art of War” are three distinct though similar treatise written across over 2000 years and three different cultures that instruct the reader not only how to succeed in war but also politics and business.

The opening treatise is the titular “Art of War”, Sun Tzu gives his readers a concise yet in-depth instruction into the how to achieve victory over one’s enemies. Though less than a hundred pages in length, it has to be read carefully to get the full meaning of what the author intends to convey. Yet when boiled down, the most important lesson is simply to be aware of one’s surroundings and other people’s intentions so as to continually be prepared for all situations.

The middle treatise is Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, a how-to course in how to gain and maintain power. The pragmatic program that councils that everything one does must be solely down to maintain one’s, if in the process you must victimize a small minority of your population, so be it, but if some of your actions improve the lives of the majority of your citizens so much the better. Yet, while Machiavelli’s thoughtful approach to studying power politics is the beginning of political theory, “The Prince” is also cutting satire on the Medici who had taken over Florence ending Machiavelli’s civil career. The astute reader realizes that “The Prince” is more than it appears while also achieving its apparent main aim.

The final treatise is Frederick the Great’s “Instructions to His Generals”, in which the celebrated Prussian monarch and military commander gave guidance to his general staff about how to fight war through his own failures and achievements. Unlike Machiavelli’s call for unity or Sun Tzu’s broad principles, Frederick main goal is for the betterment of Prussia and for detailed instructions on everything connected with a military campaign. This single-mindedness and painstaking approach is a lesson in and of itself to the reader to keep their focus on the here and now so as to achieve bigger things down the road, not dream of the far-off future while sacrificing the present.

While distinct, the three treatise in this book are in fact are three different life experiences on the same thing, achieving success at whatever one attempts.

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