July 12th, 2012

Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

At a slow point in the day, yesterday, I finished up reading Osprey New Vanguard #7: IS-2 Heavy Tank 1944 – 73, a book about a Soviet, WWII-era tank meant to go head-to-head with the German Tiger tanks. I found the book mildly interesting, especially when they discuss the attempts to keep the tank modernized for as long as possible.

Book 20

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 20
20 VANITY FAIR William Makepeace Thackeray (England 1847)

This is a large scope novel that reminded me of Dangerous Liaisons, A Tale of Two Cities and Gone with the Wind
The story is set in England during the Napoleonic wars and focuses on the lives of the opportunist Becky Sharp, her naive friend Amelia, and the men of their lives. 
What needs to be said about Vanity Fair is that while it is in many ways a quintessential 19th Century British novel, it is also very surprising, even for the reader who is already quite familiar with the literature of that time and place. Let me explain. Yes the dichotomy between good and evil is present. Thus we see that Becky Sharp is considered to be immoral while her kind and quiet (and boring!) friend Amelia seems to be upheld as the ideal of the time. A similar dichotomy exists between the careless George Osborne and his devoted but clumsy friend Captain Dobbin. However, the development of the story gradually makes the "good" characters more complex as the author himself also becomes more critical of them. This is not something that I expected.
Finally, the character of Becky Sharp, one of the most memorable characters among the 19th Century novel I have read makes the novel worth reading. Ultimately, what makes her story so compelling is that despite the fact that she is portrayed as being the most immoral character of the novel, her behavior mainly underlined the flaws of all the people she encountered throughout her adventures in a way that did not make me sorry for her foolish victims.
A must read! The best book I have read so far this year!
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A recent issue of World War II included a list of recommended books from investment screamer Jim Cramer.  One title, Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941-1945 got Mr Cramer's endorsement as "The best-researched book yet to come out about where the war was truly won."  It is well, and thoroughly, researched.  It is also well organised and relatively short, two features contributing to a favourable Book Review No. 23.  The Great Patriotic War, to use the Soviet term, or the Ostfront, as the Germans had it, involved millions of men and numerous skirmishes as part of or in preparation for or incidental to the major set-piece battles such as Stalingrad and Kursk that get much of the attention.  It's thus easy to produce excessively complicated histories with lots of maps and units and minutiae.  Author Evan Mawdsley resists that temptation: for example, the description of the opening phases of Operation Babarossa occupy 32 pages and it might be possible to read them in less time than the opening movement of the Shostakovich Leningrad Symphony requires.  The author also suggests that Stalingrad and Kursk are not necessarily the pivotal events of the 1942 and 1943 campaigns: the outcome might have actually been determined or avoided by command decisions earlier in the campaign seasons.  By the end of 1944, however, the Soviets had organized their forces in such a way that campaign season lasted all year.  What intrigues, though, is the possibility Professor Mawdsley suggests of the successful Soviet war effort confirming the Stalinist model of political organization as something to be continued after the war ended.  (The Germans, Italians, and Japanese had to develop new models.)  Stalinist rigidities, combined with Russian nationalism, ultimately undid the Soviet Union.  Whether the end of the Great Depression coming with the end of World War II for the United States similarly ossified the New Industrial State and the Vital Progressive Center remains as a topic for future research.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)