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A Bit of Summer Reading

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

[by J. Scott Shipman]

dead wakestraight to hellGhost Fleet

The Fate of a ManBachCalvin Coolidge


Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Straight to Hell, True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion Dollar Deals, by John Lefevre

Ghost Fleet, A Novel of The Next Work War, by P.W. Singer & August Cole

The Fate of a Man, by Mikhail Sholokhov

BACH, Music in the Castle of Heaven, by Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, by John Derbyshire

The summer of 2015 for me is becoming memorable for the diversity of the books making it into my queue through unexpected circumstances. Larson’s Dead Wake was an surprise gift from a neighbor familiar with my professional pursuits. I read “Wake” in two sittings and it is superb. Larson puts faces on the victims, and highlights the politics from both sides of the Atlantic, to include the German U-boat commander responsible for the sinking. This tragedy reads like a novel and is wicked good.

Last year my son turned me on to the feed of @GSElevator on Twitter. I would have never read this book  had I not become a fan of Mr. Lefevre’s decidedly politically incorrect sense of humor. With over 700k followers on Twitter he created an instant potential market and I bit. Straight to Hell is an entertaining irreverent look at the top of the banking profession, and is not for the faint of heart—and very funny.

Ghost Fleet is one of the most anticipated techno-thrillers in recent memory. Singer and Cole have spun a good yarn of how a future world war between the USA and China/Russia. While the book is a page turner, the authors thankfully sourced their technology assertions in 22 pages of notes! A great resource for a very good book. One could quibble over lack of character development, but this book is driven more by technological wizardry and is a fun and instructive read.

Fate of Man was recommended either at a blog or in blog comments—I don’t remember. This tiny but poignant book (it is more a bound short story) provides the reader with a glimpse of the hardships and sacrifices in Russia post WWII. Torture and suffering on a scale foreign to 99.9% of those living in the modern Western world.

BACH was a birthday gift, and I would like to report I have finished Gardiner’s masterpiece, but that may take some time (I’m at page 330). Gardiner shares insights on JS Bach’s life and music, and while I have over forty Bach recordings in my iTunes account, this lovely book is introducing a massive body of Bach’s cantata work—over 200 and I’m unfamiliar with most. My method has been to read Gardiner’s description of the piece, then find a recording on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gardiner does not discuss one of my all-time favorite Bach Cantatas Ascension Oratorio BWV-11 (the last five minutes are simply divine).

Finally, the Calvin Coolidge book came to me via CDR Salamander in a Facebook thread. As a fan of Coolidge and Derbyshire, I grabbed a copy and I’m glad I did. Derbyshire has written a sweet and insightful story of love, betrayal, and redemption, all the while providing the reader a frightening description of China’s cultural revolution.

My China study continues, adding Edward Rice’s Mao’s Way, along with CAPT Peter Haynes’ Towards a New Maritime Strategy: American Naval Thinking on the Post-Cold War Era—-both are thus far very good. Also thanks to a friend, I recently spent some quality time with the late master naval strategist, Herbert Rosinski’s The Development of Naval Thought. This is my third or fourth pass through a very good little book.  If naval strategy holds any interest, this little book is not to be missed.

Are you reading any unusual titles?

Sunday surprise: a couple of apocalyptic footnotes

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — because they don’t deserve posts of their own, but I can’t resist posting them anyway ]

Krasheninnikov prophecies about antichrist and mark of the beast:

Russian Orthodox adolescent Vyatcheslav Krasheninnikov said the following.

  • Airplanes that go down are hit by demons because they need the airspace to fight Jesus.
  • Dinosaurs live under our level. They will get out through sinkholes and lakes.
  • There will be hole to the abyss in China with radiation.
  • With blood transfusion, sins transfer.
  • Boiled water is dead.
  • Scientists will make a device that will allow people to see demons in the dark.
  • Icons of Jesus will be on the nose of airplanes: similar in submarines.
  • So much for Russia. In the US, meanwhile…

    President Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner said:

    Michele Bachmann actually predicted that I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now, that’s a legacy. That’s big. I mean, Lincoln, Washington, they didn’t do that.


    There are plenty of serious things to be said about apocalypses secular and sacred — but the end of the world is also an endless source of the quirkiest imaginative leaps and punchlines.

    i though Scott in particular might enjoy the prediction about the noses of airplanes and submarines…

    New Books, On China and Neighbors

    Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    china books


    Imperial China, by F.W. Mote

    Mountains of Fame, John W. Wills (not pictured)

    Liao Architecture, by Nancy Steinhardt

    The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, by Ralph D. Sawyer

    Inner Asian Frontiers of China, by Owen Lattimore

    Empires of the Silk Road, Christopher I. Beckwith

    The Perilous Frontier, by Thomas Barfield

    The Horse, The Wheel, and Language, by David W. Anthony

    3,000 Years of Chinese Statecraft, by Dennis Bloodworth

    The Imjin War, by Samuel Hawley

    The Tyranny of History, by W.J.F Jenner

    The Wars for Asia 1911-1949, by S.C.M. Paine

    Hard Road Home, by Ye Fu (not pictured, and a specialty publisher with great customer service Ragged Banner Press)

    After the first of the year I commenced yet another “modern” assessment of China as a potential adversary, and had not gotten too far before the author attempted to channel ancient Chinese history to explain current Chinese policies. The author’s confidence and specious use of history made me aware of just how illiterate I am in that portion of the world. I don’t know about you, but when I’m faced with a known gap and seam in some area of knowledge, I do a (fill in the blank) study. (I’ve done studies on central Africa, cognition, neuroeconomics, strategy (which seems on-going), and naval tactics to name a few.) My normal process is to find a syllabus from someone I trust or admire, or ask my network to offer five or six must read books on the topic. T. Greer at Scholar’s Stage, is a well known to the readers here at Zenpundit as a commenter and very knowledgeable on Chinese history. He recommended most of the books in the list above.

    Sawyer’s Seven Military Classics was already in my library, and often read as a reference. Also I’d read large chunks of Empires and Horse, Wheel, Language (these books were already in my library, too, and are very complementary in their approach). And while the Imjin War book is focused on Japan, someone on Facebook suggested the addition. The only books purchased new was the Imperial China volume by Mote and Imjin. The remainder were purchased used and cost less than $75 total on the secondary market (I use both Amazon and ABE.com).

    I’m a little more than a third through Imperial China, and while it is textbook, Mote’s writing style is engaging and exhaustive. Halfway through Mountains of Fame; it has been my go-to travel book—hence I forgot to include in the picture as the volume remains in an unpacked bag from a recent trip. I have read the introductions to all of these titles and by far the Paine book seems the most intriguing—I love the writing style. The only two likely to be relegated to the anti-library are the architecture book and the volume by Lattimore.

    So, along with Zen, what new books are you reading?

    Deadly PT Boat Patrols–a brief review/recommendation

    Thursday, January 15th, 2015

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    Deadly PT Boat Patrols

    Deadly PT Boat Patrols, A History of Task Group 50.1 New Guinea 1942-43, by Allan L. Lawrence, Jr.

    Late last fall a good friend suggested that I read Mr. Lawrence’s book. My friend made the connection, and Mr. Lawrence was kind enough to send an autographed copy. I read Deadly PT Boat Patrols over the Christmas break and wanted to share the title with our readers. The book is about his dad and namesake serving in the South Pacific on Motor Torpedo Boats during WWII, but really what Mr. Lawrence has crafted is a richly detailed day-by-day history of not only his father’s service, but the service of his colleagues. And when I say day by day, I mean Lawrence provides the reader with a running diary of Task Group 50.1—how they were formed and made their way to New Guinea.

    Mr. Lawrence didn’t set out to write a Task Group history, however. He writes

    Originally, this project was intended to be simply a photographic essay focused solely upon the Colt 1911A1 Automatic Pistol used by my father while assigned to Motor Torpedo Division SEVENTEEN in enemy waters off New Guinea. It was intended for submission to be a renowned historical pistol collectors association for inclusion, if found worthy, in their quarterly magazine. As the project unfolded, however, it became apparent that there was sufficient material of an historical nature to expand upon the original theme.

    And “expand” Mr. Lawrence has done! Filled with many never before published photographs (many provided by the participants or their families) of both the men and their machines , but also of native populations, Deadly PT Boats offers the reader real insight (often in the words of the participant’s war diaries) into the struggles, dangers, and deprivations suffered and endured by the men who crewed these small fast boats. The book also has some hilarious recollections of these Sailors on liberty and the fun they had together in the midst of a brutal war.

    The elder Mr. Lawrence is offered in his own words:

    I like to talk about these things to anybody that is interested but you don’t find people that are interested in that kind of stuff. They’re more interested in running around with veterans plates on their cars, ya know?…I never had a dogtag—never was issued a dogtag—they said we were moving too fast. (pages 180-181)

    Mr. Lawrence continued on the carnage of PT boat warfare:

    It was really a nasty business—a mess, really, but those bastards were vicious, really vicious. And you couldn’t take them as prisoners. [Significant pause] Invariably you’d wind up with two or three dead bodies with their leather harnesses, their knapsacks and canvas all in the screws so you’d screw yourself up because you’d stall your engines out…So you’d come back on one engine the next day cutting the body parts and harness and stuff out from up between the screws and struts, ya know—diving down.” (page 182)

    If there is a weakness in Deadly PT Boats it would be the sometimes painful level of detail and the need for a good editorial scrub, but the book is a labor of love, and if read with this in mind Mr. Lawrence takes the reader along side these young men and their lives of frustration and boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.

    Mr. Lawrence brings the reader full circle and provides a “where are they now” or how the main characters ended up after the war. All in all, a good read.

    Aficionados of WWII naval history should add Deadly PT Boats to their library as valuable contribution to the genre.

    Strongly recommended.

    Aircraft Carriers and Maritime Strategy – a debate

    Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    Last Friday night at the U.S. Naval Academy, retired Navy Captain Henry “Jerry” Hendrix and Commander Bryan McGrath debated the future of the aircraft carrier. My wife and I were fortunate to attend. Given the pressure placed on the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, the debate could not have been more timely. Commander McGrath argued the “nuclear aircraft carriers with air wings are the most cost effective and efficient platform to project power in the maritime and littoral realm to support U.S. national security interests in current and future security environments.” Captain Hendrix argued against this resolution. While both arguments hold much merit, I tend to side with Captain Hendrix.

    Lots of numbers and statistics were thrown around, but one issue did not enter the debate: it has been 70 years since an aircraft carrier was shot at. The lesson of the Falklands War underscores the potential power of modern precision munitions, and carriers are big targets.

    This video is highly recommended. C-SPAN also recorded the debate with a transcript here.

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