November 22nd, 2016



I'll return to my efforts to post fifty book reports by year's end by returning to a familiar topic. Book Review No. 20 is a recent academic history of the American Civil War, A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War, by Williamson Murray and Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh.

Collapse )I close with some observations about the conventions of chronicling wars.  For some reason, Genl Pierre Gustave Toutaint Beauregard often gets referred to as "the Creole."  I'm not sure why.  (One could refer to him as "the Underachiever," but that could equally well refer to Braxton Bragg or George McClellan.)  Now Messrs Murray and Hsieh add another appellation, Genl Sheridan becomes "the Irishman."  That strikes me as a more common ethnicity among the officer corps.

Finally, I'd like to see chronicles of war come up with a better locution for describing small encounters.  Consider this description of James Wilson's spring 1865 offensive into Mississippi and Alabama, which tore up much of the ironmaking capacity around Birmingham and would have been the news story of the week but for Lee's surrender and Lincoln's murder.  "At a cost of only ninety-nine men killed, 598 wounded, and twenty-eight missing, they had destroyed 'seven iron works, seven foundries, two rolling mills, seven collieries, 13 large factories ...'."  It's true, 99 dead doesn't rise to the level of a "demonstration" at Gettysburg, let alone to a Cold Harbor or Fredericksburg.

And yet war is cruelty, as Genl Sherman would have it, and you do not refine it by putting "only" in front of a body count.

By all means, though, if you want to get a good exposure to the military side of the Civil War, with efforts to place the events leading to it and the evolution of U.S. military practice since, buy the book.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #59: The X-Files: Ruins by Kevin J Anderson

Number of pages: 291

Kevin J Anderson's second X-Files novel features Mulder and Scully in search of a young archaeologist at the site of a former Mayan civilisation. It feels like a book that will involve aliens, but in this case the book also includes ancient Mayan Gods and feathered serpents, so that it feels like an original idea not directly connected to the usual extra-terrestrials that appear in the X-Files mythology.

The first two thirds of the story built up the tension to an exciting climax, which is as heavy on politics as on science fiction elements, as other parties including the military and illegal artefact smugglers start causing trouble.

I quite enjoyed this book upon rereading, and enjoyed all of the callbacks to episodes of the TV show as well as references to the show's own backstory (mostly involving Mulder's sister). As with Anderson's previous book, the characterisation of Mulder and Scully felt spot on.

While some of the climactic scenes make me think now of elements from the first movie spin off, "Fight the Future" (released after this book was written), there was a great moment near the end that I had forgotten about. This is definitely one of my favourite X-Files novels.

Next book: Pigeon Post (Arthur Ransome)