Book Review: Red War

“Red War” by Kyle MillsThis is the fourth novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. On the cover, Vince Flynn still gets top billing (he is now the “brand”, not the author), but Kyle Mills demonstrates here that he’s a worthy successor who is taking Rapp and the series in new directions.

In the previous novel, Enemy of the State, Rapp went totally off the radar, resigning from the CIA, recruiting a band of blackguards, many former adversaries, to mount an operation aimed at a nominal U.S. ally. This time, the circumstances are very different. Rapp is back at the CIA, working with his original team headed by Scott Coleman, who has now more or less recovered from the severe injuries he sustained in the earlier novel Order to Kill, with Claudia Gould, now sharing a house with Rapp, running logistics for their missions.

Vladimir Krupin, President/autocrat of Russia, is ailing. Having climbed to the top of the pyramid in that deeply corrupt country, he now fears his body is failing him, with bouts of incapacitating headaches, blurred vision, and disorientation coming more and more frequently. He and his physician have carefully kept the condition secret, as any hint of weakness at the top would likely invite one or more of his rivals to make a move to unseat him. Worse, under the screwed-down lid of the Russian pressure cooker, popular dissatisfaction with the dismal economy, lack of freedom, and dearth of opportunity is growing, with popular demonstrations reaching Red Square.

The CIA knows nothing of Krupin’s illness, but has been observing what seems to be increasingly erratic behaviour. In the past, Krupin has been ambitious and willing to commit outrages, but has always drawn his plans carefully and acted deliberately, but now he seemed to be doing things almost at random, sometimes against his own interests. Russian hackers launch an attack that takes down a large part of the power grid in Costa Rica. A Russian strike team launches an assault on Krupin’s retired assassin and Rapp’s former nemesis and recent ally, Grisha Azarov. Military maneuvers in the Ukraine seem to foreshadow open confrontation should that country move toward NATO membership.

Krupin, well aware of the fate of dictators who lose their grip on power, and knowing that nothing rallies support behind a leader like a bold move on the international stage, devises a grand plan to re-assert Russian greatness, right a wrong inflicted by the West, and drive a stake into the heart of NATO. Rapp and Azarov, continuing their uneasy alliance, driven by entirely different motives, undertake a desperate mission in the very belly of the bear to avert what could all too easily end in World War III.

There are a number of goofs, which I can’t discuss without risk of spoilers, so I’ll take them behind the curtain.

This is a well-crafted thriller which broadens the scope of the Rapp saga into Tom Clancy territory. Things happen, which will leave the world in a different place after they occur. It blends Rapp and Azarov’s barely restrained loose cannon operations with high-level diplomacy and intrigue, plus an interesting strategic approach to pledges of defence which the will and resources of those who made them may not be equal to the challenge when the balloon goes up and the tanks start to roll. And Grisha Azarov’s devotion to his girlfriend is truly visceral.

Mills, Kyle. Red War. New York: Atria Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5011-9059-9.

Here is an Author Stories interview (audio only) with the author about the novel and process of crafting a thriller.


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This Week’s Book Review – I’m Dr. Red Duke

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘I’m Dr. Red Duke’ a study in greatness

By MARK LARDAS

Oct 2, 2018

”I’m Dr. Red Duke,” by Bryant Boutwell, Texas A&M University Press, 2018, 284 pages, $30

“Red” Duke was known to millions for his televised broadcasts about medicine. He was one of those larger-than-life Texas characters who left people wondering if he was for real.

“I’m Dr. Red Duke,” a biography of Dr. James H. “Red” Duke, by Bryant Boutwell, provides the answer. Not only was he the real deal, but in many ways he was greater than his public persona.

Duke a native Texan, grew up in central Texas. He always took pride in being an Eagle Scout and an Aggie (he was a yell leader at Texas A&M). His Texas accent was authentic.

Although he planned to become an engineer, his career path changed many times. He studied to be a minister and then served as an armor officer in Germany. He finally settled on medicine after leaving the army. While finishing up his residency in Dallas, Duke was on duty at the trauma room when Kennedy was shot. Duke operated on Texas Gov. John Connolly that day, saving Connolly.

Duke went on to teaching medicine and did medical research on the East Coast before doing a two-year stint in a teaching hospital in Afghanistan. He came to Houston after his Afghanistan tour, joining the staff of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston in the late 1970s. He became one of their greatest teachers.

Among his other accomplishments, he helped start Houston’s Life Flight air ambulance service, pioneering rapid-reaction trauma surgery techniques. He became a television star, when UT used him as the spokesman for a series of medical advice programs. They became nationally syndicated and made him a household name.

Boutwell is well-positioned to write this book. He was a colleague of Duke, who worked with Duke for many years and knew him professionally and personally.

Boutwell presents Duke’s many strengths and virtues, but Boutwell also discusses Duke’s shortcomings, ones that led to two failed marriages and left Duke a prisoner of his celebrity.

“I’m Dr. Red Duke” is a focused and balanced look at one of the 20th century’s most extraordinary and talented surgeons. It is worth reading as a study in greatness.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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This Week’s Book Review – City Unseen

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘City Unseen’ shows world in new light

By MARK LARDAS

Sep 25, 2018

”City Unseen: New Visions of an Urban Planet,” by Karen C. Seto and Meredith Reba, Yale University Press, 2018, 268 pages, $35

Readers might remember the claim that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from the moon. It is not true.

“City Unseen: New Visions of an Urban Planet,” by Karen C. Seto and Meredith Reba reveals the cities of Earth as seen from space. There is plenty to see.

The book contains images of cities captured from Earth-observation satellites, primarily captured by Landsat and ASTER. The book presents images from 100 different cities, on every continent (including Antarctica), over a 40-year-plus period.

The authors open discussing the images. They explain how the images were made, the scale of images, and the electromagnetic spectrum captured by the image. This ranges from visible to far infrared. They also explain colors and their significance. In some infrared images, vegetation shows up bright red. Depending on the wavelength, built-up urban areas will be pink, turquoise, or blue.

From there they go on to present the 100 cities featured in the book. These are broken into three broad categories: Earth’s terrains (mountain, river, agricultural), urban imprints (featuring borders, man-made travel routes, and planned cities), and transforming the planet (showing resources, expansion, and vulnerability).

Sometimes multiple images of cities are shown. This might be done to show the effects of seasons on Montreal, Quebec. Or they show growth over time. There are stunning images of Lagos, Nigeria; Tokyo, Japan; Shenzheng, China, and Las Vegas showing these cities growth over a period of decades. Perhaps the most fascinating multiple imaging was that of Joplin, Missouri, showing it before it was hit by a massive tornado, immediately afterward, and four years later, after recovery.

The book has many delights and surprises. There is an image of the Korean peninsula at night, starkly contrasting the access to electricity of north and south. Houston’s road system is spectacularly displayed. Circular irrigation effects are prominent in an image of Garden City, Kansas.

“City Unseen” is a delightful book. It offers a different view of the world on which we live, from pole to equator. Read it, and you will view the world in a new light.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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This Week’s Book Review – Sports Makes You Type Faster

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

Jenkins shows he’s still in the game

By MARK LARDAS

Sep 18, 2018

”Sports Makes You Type Faster: The Entire World of Sports by One of America’s Most Famous Sportswriters,” by Dan Jenkins, Texas Christian University Press, 2018, 176 pages, $32

Dan Jenkins is a sports reporter. He writes in a way that has made him legendary. If you can name only one sports writer, it is probably Dan Jenkins.

“Sports Makes You Type Faster: The Entire World of Sports by One of America’s Most Famous Sportswriters,” by Dan Jenkins is his latest, which is a collection of original essays.

Jenkins has been a professional sports writer since the early 1950s. This book, demonstrates he is still in the game seven decades later. In many ways it is a retrospective of his career. He touches on all aspects of his experiences; a sportswriter, a child growing up in love with sports, as a student athlete and simply as a fan.

It includes personal reminiscences, pieces on sports history, profiles of famous athletes (many known personally by Jenkins), examinations of different sports, and a lot of short stories. All demonstrate Jenkin’s distinctive humor.

In many pieces, Jenkins may be writing, but others speak: college football recruiter Red Dog Hawkins, the professional football player convinced by his “woke” girlfriend to demonstrate patriotism by burning an American flag in a Texas stadium parking lot; baseball player Big Boo Childers, who cannot figure out how to be the man of the house; and race car groupie Maxine Hubbard making the book tour about her tell-all, among others. Jenkins uses these to skewer the sport’s absurdities. He is equal opportunity in his skewering. At least one piece will leave a reader cheering; at least one howling “no fair.” Jenkins obviously loves sports, yet is unafraid to expose its flaws.

Much of the book is devoted to Jenkins’ favorite sports: college and professional football, baseball and golf. Yet the breadth of the sports Jenkins covers is impressive. Jenkins spends a turn on about everything: basketball, tennis, track and field, winter sports, and car racing. He even has a chapter on air racing.

Those who are sports fans, especially readers who enjoy Dan Jenkins’s writing, will want to read “Sports Makes You Type Faster.” Those who dislike sports will likely still find it an entertaining reading. Jenkins has the knack for writing amusing and entertaining prose.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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Book Review: The Narrative

“The Narrative” by Deplora BouleWhen you regard the madness and serial hysterias possessing the United States: this week “bathroom equality”, the next tearing down statues, then Russians under every bed, segueing into the right of military-age unaccompanied male “refugees” to bring their cultural enrichment to communities across the land, to proper pronouns for otherkin, “ripping children” from the arms of their illegal immigrant parents, etc., etc., whacky etc., it all seems curiously co-ordinated: the legacy media, on-line outlets, and the mouths of politicians of the slaver persuasion all with the same “concerns” and identical words, turning on a dime from one to the next. It’s like there’s a narrative they’re being fed by somebody or -bodies unknown, which they parrot incessantly until being handed the next talking point to download into their birdbrains.

Could that really be what’s going on, or is it some kind of mass delusion which afflicts societies where an increasing fraction of the population, “educated” in government schools and Gramsci-converged higher education, knows nothing of history or the real world and believes things with the fierce passion of ignorance which are manifestly untrue? That’s the mystery explored in this savagely hilarious satirical novel.

Majedah Cantalupi-Abromavich-Flügel-Van Der Hoven-Taj Mahal (who prefers you use her full name, but who henceforth I shall refer to as “Majedah Etc.”) had become the very model of a modern media mouthpiece. After reporting on a Hate Crime at her exclusive women’s college while pursuing a journalism degree with practical studies in Social Change, she is recruited as a junior on-air reporter by WPDQ, the local affiliate of News 24/7, the preeminent news network for good-thinkers like herself. Considering herself ready for the challenge, if not over-qualified, she informs one of her co-workers on the first day on the job,

I have a journalism degree from the most prestigious woman’s [sic] college in the United States—in fact, in the whole world—and it is widely agreed upon that I have an uncommon natural talent for spotting news. … I am looking forward to teaming up with you to uncover the countless, previously unexposed Injustices in this town and get the truth out.

Her ambition had already aimed her sights higher than a small- to mid-market affiliate: “Someday I’ll work at News 24/7. I’ll be Lead Reporter with my own Desk. Maybe I’ll even anchor my own prime time show someday!” But that required the big break—covering a story that gets picked up by the network in New York and broadcast world-wide with her face on the screen and name on the Chyron below (perhaps scrolling, given its length). Unfortunately, the metro Wycksburg beat tended more toward stories such as the grand opening of a podiatry clinic than those which merit the “BREAKING NEWS” banner and urgent sound clip on the network.

The closest she could come to the Social Justice beat was covering the demonstrations of the People’s Organization for Perpetual Outrage, known to her boss as “those twelve kooks that run around town protesting everything”. One day, en route to cover another especially unpromising story, Majedah and her cameraman stumble onto a shocking case of police brutality: a white officer ordering a woman of colour to get down, then pushing her to the sidewalk and jumping on top with his gun drawn. So compelling are the images, she uploads the clip with her commentary directly to the network’s breaking news site for affiliates. Within minutes it was on the network and screens around the world with the coveted banner.

News 24/7 sends a camera crew and live satellite uplink to Wycksburg to cover a follow-up protest by the Global Outrage Organization, and Majedah gets hours of precious live feed directly to the network. That very evening comes a job offer to join the network reporting pool in New York. Mission accomplished!—the road to the Big Apple and big time seems to have opened.

But all may not be as it seems. That evening, the detested Eagle Eye News, the jingoist network that climbed to the top of the ratings by pandering to inbred gap-toothed redneck bitter clingers and other quaint deplorables who inhabit flyover country and frequent Web sites named after rodentia and arthropoda, headlined a very different take on the events of the day, with an exclusive interview with the woman of colour from Majedah’s reportage. Majedah is devastated—she can see it all slipping away.

The next morning, hung-over, depressed, having a nightmare of what her future might hold, she is awakened by the dreaded call from New York. But to her astonishment, the offer still stands. The network producer reminds her that nobody who matters watches Eagle Eye, and that her reportage of police brutality and oppression of the marginalised remains compelling. He reminds her, “you know that the so-called truth can be quite subjective.”

The Associate Reporter Pool at News 24/7 might be better likened to an aquarium stocked with the many colourful and exotic species of millennials. There is Mara, who identifies as a female centaur, Scout, a transgender woman, Mysty, Candy, Ångström, and Mohammed Al Kaboom ( James Walker Lang in Mill Valley), each with their own pronouns (Ångström prefers adjutant37, and blue).

Every morning the pool drains as its inhabitants, diverse in identification and pronomenclature but of one mind (if that term can be stretched to apply to them) in their opinions, gather in the conference room for the daily briefing by the Democratic National Committee, with newsrooms, social media outlets, technology CEOs, bloggers, and the rest of the progressive echo chamber tuned in to receive the day’s narrative and talking points. On most days the top priority was the continuing effort to discredit, obstruct, and eventually defeat the detested Republican President Nelson, who only viewers of Eagle Eye took seriously.

Out of the blue, a wild card is dealt into the presidential race. Patty Clark, a black businesswoman from Wycksburg who has turned her Jamaica Patty’s restaurant into a booming nationwide franchise empire, launches a primary challenge to the incumbent president. Suddenly, the narrative shifts: by promoting Clark, the opposition can be split and Nelson weakened. Clark and Ms Etc have a history that goes back to the latter’s breakthrough story, and she is granted priority access to the candidate including an exclusive long-form interview immediately after her announcement that ran in five segments over a week. Suddenly Patty Clark’s face was everywhere, and with it, “Majedah Etc., reporting”.

What follows is a romp which would have seemed like the purest fantasy prior to the U.S. presidential campaign of 2016. As the campaign progresses and the madness builds upon itself, it’s as if Majedah’s tether to reality (or what remains of it in the United States) is stretching ever tighter. Is there a limit, and if so, what happens when it is reached?

The story is wickedly funny, filled with turns of phrase such as, “Ångström now wishes to go by the pronouns nut, 24, and gander” and “Maher’s Syndrome meant a lifetime of special needs: intense unlikeability, intractable bitterness, close-set beady eyes beneath an oversized forehead, and at best, laboring at menial work such as janitorial duties or hosting obscure talk shows on cable TV.”

The conclusion is as delicious as it is hopeful.

The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Boule, Deplora [pseud.]. The Narrative. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2018. ISBN 978-1-71716-065-2.

Special thanks to Ratburger member Civil Westman (@ateransere), whose review of this book here on 2018-07-05 brought it to my attention.

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Book Review: Spymaster

“Spymaster“ by Brad ThorThis is the eighteenth novel in the author’s Scot Harvath series, which began with The Lions of Lucerne. Scot Harvath, an operative for the shadowy Carlton Group, which undertakes tasks civil service commandos can’t do or their bosses need to deny, is on the trail of a Norwegian cell of a mysterious group calling itself the “People’s Revolutionary Front” (PRF), which has been perpetrating attacks against key NATO personnel across Western Europe, each followed by a propaganda blast, echoed across the Internet, denouncing NATO as an imperialist force backed by globalist corporations bent on war and the profits which flow from it. An operation intended to gather intelligence on the PRF and track it back to its masters goes horribly wrong, and Harvath and his colleague, a NATO intelligence officer from Poland named Monika Jasinski, come away with nothing but the bodies of their team.

Meanwhile, back in Jasinski’s home country, more trouble is brewing for NATO. A U.S. military shipment is stolen by thieves at a truck stop outside Warsaw and spirited off to parts unknown. The cargo is so sensitive its disclosure would be another body blow to NATO, threatening to destabilise its relationship to member countries in Europe and drive a wedge between the U.S. and its NATO allies. Harvath, Jasinski, and his Carlton Group team, including the diminutive Nicholas, once a datavore super-villain called the Troll but now working for the good guys, start to follow leads to trace the stolen material and unmask whoever is pulling the strings of the PRF.

There is little hard information, but Harvath has, based on previous exploits, a very strong hunch about what is unfolding. Russia, having successfully detached the Crimea from the Ukraine and annexed it, has now set its sights on the Baltic states: Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, which were part of the Soviet Union until its break-up in 1991. NATO, and its explicit guarantee of mutual defence for any member attacked, is the major obstacle to such a conquest, and the PRF’s terror and propaganda campaigns look like the perfect instruments to subvert support for NATO among member governments and their populations without an obvious connection to Moscow.

Further evidence suggests that the Russians may be taking direct, albeit covert, moves to prepare the battlefield for seizure of the Baltics. Harvath must follow the lead to an isolated location of surpassing strategic importance. Meanwhile back in Washington, Harvath’s boss, Lydia Ryan, who took over when Reed Carlton was felled by Alzheimer’s disease, is playing a high stakes game with a Polish intelligence asset to try to recover the stolen shipment and protect its secrets, a matter of great concern to the occupant of the Oval Office.

As the threads are followed back to their source, the only way to avert an unacceptable risk is an outrageously provocative mission into the belly of the beast. Scot Harvath, once the consummate loose cannon, “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” guy, must now face the reality that he’s getting too old and patched-up for this “stuff”, that running a team of people like his younger self can be as challenging as breaking things and killing people on his own, and that the importance of following orders to the letter looks a lot different when you’re sitting on the other side of the desk and World War III is among the possible outcomes if things go pear shaped.

This novel successfully mixes the genres of thriller and high-stakes international espionage and intrigue. Nothing is ever quite what you think it is, and you’re never sure what you may discover on the next page, especially in the final chapter.

Thor, Brad. Spymaster. New York: Atria Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-4767-8941-5.


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Book Review: With the Old Breed

“With the Old Breed” by E. B. SledgeWhen the United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the author was enrolled at the Marion Military Institute in Alabama preparing for an officer’s commission in the U.S. Army. Worried that the war might end before he was able to do his part, in December, 1942, still a freshman at Marion, he enrolled in a Marine Corps officer training program. The following May, after the end of his freshman year, he was ordered to report for Marine training at Georgia Tech on July 1, 1943. The 180 man detachment was scheduled to take courses year-round then, after two years, report to Quantico to complete their officers’ training prior to commission.

This still didn’t seem fast enough (and, indeed, had he stayed with the program as envisioned, he would have missed the war), so he and around half of his fellow trainees neglected their studies, flunked out, and immediately joined the Marine Corps as enlisted men. Following boot camp at a base near San Diego, he was assigned to infantry and sent to nearby Camp Elliott for advanced infantry training. Although all Marines are riflemen (Sledge had qualified at the sharpshooter level during basic training), newly-minted Marine infantrymen were, after introduction to all of the infantry weapons, allowed to choose the one in which they would specialise. In most cases, they’d get their first or second choice. Sledge got his first: the 60 mm M2 mortar which he, as part of a crew of three, would operate in combat in the Pacific. Mortarmen carried the M1 carbine, and this weapon, which fired a less powerful round than the M1 Garand main battle rifle used by riflemen, would be his personal weapon throughout the war.

With the Pacific island-hopping war raging, everything was accelerated, and on February 28th, 1944, Sledge’s 46th Replacement Battalion (the name didn’t inspire confidence—they would replace Marines killed or injured in combat, or the lucky few rotated back to the U.S. after surviving multiple campaigns) shipped out, landing first at New Caledonia, where they received additional training, including practice amphibious landings and instruction in Japanese weapons and tactics. At the start of June, Sledge’s battalion was sent to Pavuvu island, base of the 1st Marine Division, which had just concluded the bloody battle of Cape Gloucester.

On arrival, Sledge was assigned as a replacement to the 1st Marine Division, 5th Regiment, 3rd Battalion. This unit had a distinguished combat record dating back to the First World War, and would have been his first choice if he’d been given one, which he hadn’t. He says, “I felt as though I had rolled the dice and won.” This was his first contact with what he calls the “Old Breed”: Marines, some of whom had been in the Corps before Pearl Harbor, who had imbibed the traditions of the “Old Corps” and survived some of the most intense combat of the present conflict, including Guadalcanal. Many of these veterans had, in the argot of the time, “gone Asiatic”: developed the eccentricities of who had seen and lived things those just arriving in theatre never imagined, and become marinated in deep hatred for the enemy based upon personal experience. A glance was all it took to tell the veterans from the replacements.

After additional training, in late August the Marines embarked for the assault on the island of Peleliu in the Palau Islands. The tiny island, just 13 square kilometres, was held by a Japanese garrison of 10,900, and was home to an airfield. Capturing the island was considered essential to protect the right flank of MacArthur’s forces during the upcoming invasion of the Philippines, and to secure the airfield which could support the invasion. The attack on Peleliu was fixed for 15 September 1944, and it would be Sledge’s first combat experience.

From the moment of landing, resistance was fierce. Despite an extended naval bombardment, well-dug-in Japanese defenders engaged the Marines as they hit the beaches, and continued as they progressed into the interior. In previous engagements with the Japanese, they had adopted foolhardy and suicidal tactics such as mass frontal “banzai” charges into well-defended Marine positions. By Peleliu, however, they had learned that this did not work, and shifted their strategy to defence in depth, turning the entire island into a network of defensive positions, covering one another, and linked by tunnels for resupply and redeploying forces. They were prepared to defend every square metre of territory to the death, even after their supplies were cut off and there was no hope of relief. Further, Marines were impressed by the excellent fire discipline of the Japanese—they did not expend ammunition firing blindly but chose their shots carefully, and would expend scarce supplies such as mortar rounds only on concentrations of troops or high value targets such as tanks and artillery.

This, combined with the oppressive heat and humidity, lack of water and food, and terror from incessant shelling by artillery by day and attacks by Japanese infiltrators by night, made the life of the infantry a living Hell. Sledge chronicles this from the viewpoint of a Private First Class, not an officer or historian after the fact. He and his comrades rarely knew precisely where they were, where the enemy was located, how other U.S. forces on the island were faring, or what the overall objectives of the campaign were. There was simply a job to be done, day by day, with their best hope being to somehow survive it. Prior to the invasion, Marine commanders estimated the island could be taken in four days. Rarely in the Pacific war was a forecast so wrong. In fact, it was not until November 27th that the island was declared secured. The Japanese demonstrated their willingness to defend to the last man. Of the initial force of 10,900 defending the island, 10,695 were killed. Of the 220 taken prisoner, 183 were foreign labourers, and only 19 were Japanese soldiers and sailors. Of the Marine and Army attackers, 2,336 were killed and 8,450 wounded. The rate of U.S. casualties exceeded those of all other amphibious landings in the Pacific, and the Battle of Peleliu is considered among the most difficult ever fought by the Marine Corps.

Despite this, the engagement is little-known. In retrospect, it was probably unnecessary. The garrison could have done little to threaten MacArthur’s forces and the airfield was not required to support the Philippine campaign. There were doubts about the necessity and wisdom of the attack before it was launched, but momentum carried it forward. None of these matters concerned Sledge and the other Marines in the line—they had their orders, and they did their job, at enormous cost. Sledge’s company K landed on Peleliu with 235 men. It left with only 85 unhurt—a 64% casualty rate. Only two of its original seven officers survived the campaign. Sledge was now a combat veteran. He may not have considered himself one of the “Old Breed”, but he was on the way to becoming one of them to the replacements who arrived to replace casualties in his unit.

But for the survivors of Peleliu, the war was far from over. While some old-timers for whom Peleliu was their third campaign were being rotated Stateside, for the rest it was recuperation, refitting, and preparation for the next amphibious assault: the Japanese island of Okinawa. Unlike Peleliu, which was a tiny dot on the map, Okinawa was a large island with an area of 1207 square kilometres and a pre-war population of around 300,000. The island was defended by 76,000 Japanese troops and 20,000 Okinawan conscripts fighting under their orders. The invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945 was the largest amphibious landing in the Pacific war.

As before, Sledge does not present the big picture, but an infantryman’s eye view. To the astonishment of all involved, including commanders who expected 80–85% casualties on the beaches, the landing was essentially unopposed. The Japanese were dug in awaiting the attack from prepared defensive positions inland, ready to repeat the strategy at Peleliu on a much grander scale.

After the tropical heat and horrors of Peleliu, temperate Okinawa at first seemed a pastoral paradise afflicted with the disease of war, but as combat was joined and the weather worsened, troops found themselves confronted with the infantryman’s implacable, unsleeping enemy: mud. Once again, the Japanese defended every position to the last man. Almost all of the Japanese defenders were killed, with the 7000 prisoners made up mostly of Okinawan conscripts. Estimates of U.S. casualties range from 14,000 to 20,000 killed and 38,000 to 55,000 wounded. Civilian casualties were heavy: of the original population of around 300,000 estimates of civilian deaths are from 40,000 to 150,000.

The Battle of Okinawa was declared won on June 22, 1945. What was envisioned as the jumping-off point for the conquest of the Japanese home islands became, in retrospect, almost an afterthought, as Japan surrendered less than two months after the conclusion of the battle. The impact of the Okinawa campaign on the war is debated to this day. Viewed as a preview of what an invasion of the home islands would have been, it strengthened the argument for using the atomic bomb against Japan (or, if it didn’t work, burning Japan to the ground with round the clock raids from Okinawa airbases by B-17s transferred from the European theatre). But none of these strategic considerations were on the mind of Sledge and his fellow Marines. They were glad to have survived Okinawa and elated when, not long thereafter, the war ended and they could look forward to going home.

This is a uniquely authentic first-hand narrative of World War II combat by somebody who lived it. After the war, E. B. Sledge pursued his education, eventually earning a doctorate in biology and becoming a professor at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, where he taught zoology, ornithology, and comparative anatomy until his retirement in 1990. He began the memoir which became this book in 1944. He continued to work on it after the war and, at the urging of family, finally prepared it for publication in 1981. The present edition includes an introduction by Victor Davis Hanson.

Sledge, E[ugene] B[ondurant]. With the Old Breed. New York: Presidio Press, [1981] 2007. ISBN 978-0-89141-906-8.

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This Week’s Book Review – The Secret World

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘The Secret World’ a history of spying

By MARK LARDAS

Sep 4, 2018

“The Secret World: A History of Intelligence,” by Christopher Andrew, Yale University Press, 2018, 960 pages, $40

It is sometimes said spying is the second oldest profession.

“The Secret World: A History of Intelligence,” by Christopher Andrew underscores the claim. It is a history of spying from the earliest days to the present.

Andrew starts with the first recorded accounts of spying, related in the Bible. He finished with the role of intelligence in the War on Terror. He attempts to cover all significant intelligence operations between those boundaries.

His goal was to create the first comprehensive history of espionage and intelligence gathering. He contends intelligence suffers from long-term historical amnesia because it fails to understand its own history. He shows how secrecy and compartmentalization forces intelligence gatherers to relearn the same historic lessons over and over again.

He shows repeated instances where disdain for intelligence lost wars and effective intelligence won wars that should have been lost. The examples he gives span history. He shows how the careful intelligence of the Israelites helped them gain their Promised Land. Roman reliance on augury and contempt for gathering information about German tribes cost Rome three legions — and Germania.

In more modern times, Queen Elizabeth I’s intelligence service allowed England to survive against Spain’s superior power. George Washington skilled use of intelligence helped the Continental Army avoid defeat and ultimately win over England. Intelligence failures cost Napoleon victory against Russia in 1812, leading to his ultimate defeat.

The technology of intelligence is also examined. Andrew reveals tools and techniques used by spies throughout history. He shows how codes and codebreaking emerged in ancient and medieval times, and evolved today. He shows how SIGINT (signal intelligence), HUMIT (human intelligence — eyes on the ground) and intelligence interpretation work together.

At nearly 1,000 pages, the book can serve as a doorstop. Despite its length, it is very readable. Those not ready to sit down with a book this length should treat it as three or four linked books: Ancient and Medieval World, Renaissance and Reformation, 18th and 19th centuries, and 20th century to Present. Reading it that way makes it digestible. “The Secret World” is far too good a book to miss.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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This Week’s Book Review – Battle of the Brazos

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Battle of the Brazos’ a fascinating sports and mystery story

By MARK LARDAS

Aug 29, 2018

“Battle of the Brazos: A Texas Football Rivalry, a Riot, and a Murder,” by T. G. Webb, Texas A&M University Press, 2018, 184 pages, $27

Football is often compared to war.

“Battle of the Brazos: A Texas Football Rivalry, a Riot, and a Murder,” by T. G. Webb shows what happens when fans overdo that analogy.

The book relates events from an October 30, 1926, football game between Baylor University and the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (today Texas A&M University). Interscholastic rivalry flared into a halftime riot. One A&M cadet died.

Astonishingly, the game resumed after the riot and was played to completion. More astonishingly, although the fatal assault occurred before thousands of spectators, the perpetrator was never caught. The crime was never officially solved.

Webb examines all aspects of this incident. He opens with a history of college football in Texas. This includes the increasingly bitter rivalry between two of the Texas schools on the Brazos River: Baylor and Texas A&M. The annual matchup soon became labeled “The Battle of the Brazos.” Webb shows how both student bodies took that title too seriously. In the 1920s, incidents of increasing violence accompanied games before the fatal 1926 riot.

Webb provides a detailed study of the 1926 game. He looks at the buildup to the game, taking readers through a step-by-step examination of its events, including the halftime riot. He follows this by relating the aftermath of the riot. He shows how the schools reacted and what both schools did afterward. (He also peels away some myths. Despite many stories there is no evidence the Aggies commandeered a train to take a cannon to Waco to avenge the death.)

Webb also examines the mystery of who killed the cadet, and why the culprit was never caught. He offers several reasons contributing to the crime’s going unsolved. It was suspected the assailant was related to a politically connected Waco family. State law enforcement was primitive. A hired private investigator lacked authority to compel witnesses to speak. He came close to identifying the assailant, but lacked sufficient proof to obtain an indictment.

“Battle of the Brazos” is a fascinating mix of sports history and true crime mystery. Webb’s book offers insight to a bygone era in Texas sports.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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Book Review: Ideal

“Ideal” (novella and play) by Ayn RandIn 1934, the 29 year old Ayn Rand was trying to establish herself in Hollywood. She had worked as a junior screenwriter and wardrobe person, but had not yet landed a major writing assignment. She wrote Ideal on speculation, completing the 32,000 word novella and then deciding it would work better as a stage play. She set the novella aside and finished the play version in 1936. The novella was never published nor was the play produced during her lifetime. After her death in 1982, the play was posthumously published in the anthology The Early Ayn Rand, but the novella remained largely unknown until this edition, which includes both it and the play, was published in 2015.

Ideal is the story of movie idol Kay Gonda, a beautiful and mysterious actress said to have been modeled on Greta Garbo. The night before the story begins, Gonda had dinner alone with oil baron Granton Sayers, whose company, it was rumoured, was on the brink of ruin in the depths of the Depression. Afterwards, Sayers was found in his mansion dead of a gunshot wound, and Gonda was nowhere to be found. Rumours swirled through the press that Gonda was wanted for murder, but there was a blackout of information which drove the press and her studio near madness. Her private secretary said that she had not seen Gonda since she left for the dinner, but that six pieces of her fan mail were missing from her office at the studio, so she assumed that Gonda must have returned and taken them.

The story then describes six episodes in which the fugitive Kay Gonda shows up, unannounced, at the homes of six of her fans, all of whom expressed their utter devotion to her in their letters. Five of the six—a henpecked manager of a canning company, an ageing retiree about to lose the house in which he raised his children, an artist who paints only canvases of Ms Gonda who has just won first prize in an important exhibition, an evangelist whose temple faces serious competition from the upstart Church of the Cheery Corner, and a dissipated playboy at the end of his financial rope—end up betraying the idol to whom they took pen to paper to express their devotion when confronted with the human being in the flesh and the constraints of the real world. The sixth fan, Johnnie Dawes, who has struggled to keep a job and roof over his head all his adult life, sees in Kay Gonda an opportunity to touch a perfection he had never hoped to experience in his life and devises a desperate plan to save Gonda from her fate.

A surprise ending reveals that much the reader has assumed is not what really happened, and that while Kay Gonda never once explicitly lied, neither did she prevent those to whom she spoke from jumping to the wrong conclusions.

This is very minor Ayn Rand. You can see some of the story telling skills which would characterise her later work beginning to develop, but the story has no plot: it is a morality tale presented in unconnected episodes, and the reader is left to draw the moral on his or her own. Given that the author was a struggling screenwriter in an intensely competitive Hollywood, the shallowness and phoniness of the film business is much on display here, although not so explicitly skewered as the later Ayn Rand might have done. The message is one of “skin in the game”—people can only be judged by what they do when confronted by difficult situations, not by what they say when words are cheap.

It is interesting to compare the play to the novella. The stories are clearly related, but Rand swaps out one of the fans, the elderly man, for a young, idealistic, impecunious, and totally phoney Communist activist. The play was written in 1936, the same year as We the Living, and perhaps the opportunity to mock pathetic Hollywood Bolsheviks was too great to pass by.

This book will mostly be of interest to those who have read Ayn Rand’s later work and are curious to read some of the first fiction she ever wrote. Frankly, it isn’t very good, and an indication of this is that Ayn Rand, whose reputation later in life would have made it easy to arrange publication for this work, chose to leave it in the trunk all her life. But she did not destroy the manuscript, so there must have been some affection for it.

Rand, Ayn. Ideal. New York: New American Library, 2015. ISBN 978-0-451-47317-2.


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This Week’s Book Review – The Woolly West

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘The Woolly West’ examines sheep industry in storied region

By MARK LARDAS

Aug 21, 2018

“The Woolly West: Colorado’s Hidden History of Sheepscapes,” by Andrew Gulliford, Texas A&M University Press, 2018, 420 pages, $40

Settling the West is often associated with cattle and cattlemen. Overlooked is a second, important stock-raising industry: sheepherding.

“The Woolly West: Colorado’s Hidden History of Sheepscapes,” by Andrew Gulliford, fixes that.

The book examines the sheep industry in the West, from its origins in Spanish America through the present. While Gulliford’s focus is Colorado (especially Western Colorado), he also examines other sheep-raising regions of the West: New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Cattle and the cowboy captured the American imagination. Sheep and shepherds usually fell outside Western legend. Gulliford explores the major reasons for that difference. He shows this was partly due to the nature of the two industries. Cattle were kept by men on horseback, who worked in teams to herd cattle. It was a social activity. Sheep were raised by individual shepherds, who used packs of dogs to herd sheep. It was a solitary activity.

Shepherds were generally those willing to undergo long isolation. They kept apart from society. While cowboys were Anglo, part of mainstream, sheep were herded by outsiders: Hispanics and Basque and Greek immigrants.

Gulliford relates the interaction between cattle raising and sheepherding. The two industries were like children on a teeter-totter. When one was up, the other was down. This often led to conflict, including range wars between cowboys and shepherds. Gulliford presents the compromises the two groups eventually reached.

Gulliford also looks at how sheepherding changed the West. It altered the vegetation of the lands grazed by sheep, and even the physical terrain. He also looks at the rise of the environmental movement and its effects on sheep-raising and the shepherds.

Gulliford intersperses each chapter with a “sheepscape” — an intermission in his history where he traces his personal interactions with sheep herders past and present. In them he documents his own research and musings. These include explorations of the traces left by past generations of herders and conversations with current sheep raisers or descendants from sheep-raising families.

“The Woolly West” is a fascinating study about a neglected part of American history. Gulliford captures something forgotten yet important to the heritage of the West.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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This Week’s Book Review – Monster Hunter Memoirs: Saints

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Monster Hunter’ trilogy comes to entertaining conclusion

By MARK LARDAS

Aug 15, 2018

“Monster Hunter Memoirs: Saints,” by Larry Correia and John Ringo, Baen Books, 2018, 288 pages, $25

Fanfic gets written when a fan of a writer writes their own story in that author’s world. It is especially popular in fantasy and science fiction. What happens when an established science fiction author gets so enthusiastic they create fanfic?

“Monster Hunter Memoirs: Saints,” by Larry Correia and John Ringo happens.

Ringo, well-established when Correia’s first novel, “Monster Hunter International,” appeared liked the series so much he wrote three novels set in Correia’s urban fantasy universe. He showed the novels to Correia. The two decided they were worth publishing. They rewrote the books together to make the plots fit better into Correia’s canon. The result was the “Monster Hunter Memoirs” trilogy. “Saints” is the final book. It was preceded by “Grunge” and “Sinners.”

The story involves Monster Hunter International, but is set in the 1980s and 1990s with a monster hunter who died before the events of “Monster Hunter International.”

The central character, Chad Gardenier, is literally on mission from God. A Marine, in the Beirut barracks when a suicide bomber attacked it in 1983, Chad was given a choice in the anteroom to heaven: go to heaven or return to earth to save the world. Chad was a Marine. Of course he accepted the mission to save the world.

He hooked up with Monster Hunter International shortly after his medical discharge from the Marines. Stumbling into an outbreak of zombies, he killed a bunch, saved folks and got a job offer from MHI. By the start of “Saints,” Chad is an experienced monster hunter leading the team in New Orleans. New Orleans is filled with all sorts of nasty monsters needing killing. After all, it is a voodoo kind of place.

It turns out there is a reason New Orleans attracts such creatures buried way under the city; and it threatens to destroy the world. Chad Gardinier finally confronts the mission for which he has been sent.

“Monster Hunter Memoirs: Saints” ends up a fusion of Correia’s and Ringo’s writing styles, blending both their humor and their fascination with firearms. Fans of either writer will find this entertaining.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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This Week’s Book Review – Turncoat

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Turncoat’ offers a fresh look at Benedict Arnold

By MARK LARDAS

Aug 7, 2018

“Turncoat: Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty,” by Stephen Brumwell, Yale University Press, 2018, 384 pages, $30

Benedict Arnold has become synonymous with treason. Yet few today know his story.

“Turncoat: Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty,” by Stephen Brumwell is a fresh look at the man and his times.

Arnold was a brilliant general, probably only second to George Washington in talent. Next to Washington, he may be most responsible for the survival of the patriot cause. His dogged defense on Lake Champlain in 1776, and his spirited attacks in the Saratoga campaign in 1777, defeated Britain’s northern offensive and led France to enter the revolution on the American side. Absent Arnold, Britain would likely have won by 1778. Three years later, he tried to give Britain the war by betraying West Point to them.

Brumwell traces what led Arnold to switch sides. It was more complicated than many believe.

Arnold was prickly and always protective of his honor. Washington and many of the other Revolutionary generals also were. Yet Arnold combined this with a personality that created jealous enemies.

Badly wounded at Saratoga, Arnold’s wound denied him the active battlefield command he desired. As a substitute, Washington appointed the injured Arnold military governor of freshly-recaptured Philadelphia in 1778. It proved a poisoned command.

Arnold quickly quarreled with Philadelphia’s civilian government. The ruling Philadelphia radicals attacked Arnold with a flurry of meaningless or trivial charges. They should have been dismissed. Instead, to placate this politically powerful faction led Arnold to be court martialed.

Additionally, the French alliance upset Arnold. The revolution began as a political party fight. This is why loyalists were called Tories. Many viewed the French alliance as inviting a stranger into a family quarrel.

This and disillusionment with the Colonial government led Arnold to switch sides. Viewing himself as a new General Monk (who dumped the Parliamentarians to restore Britain’s monarchy after the English Civil War) Arnold sought to end the war by reunifying colonies with Britain.

Arnold misjudged the moment. Instead his actions increased colonial resolve and made him a synonym for treason.

“Turncoat” is a book with surprising resonance today. It shows what happens when the political gets too personal.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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This Week’s Book Review – Seven at Santa Cruz

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

Biography offers intimate look at WWII fighter pilot

By MARK LARDAS

Aug 1, 2018

”Seven at Santa Cruz: The Life of Fighter Ace Stanley ‘Swede’ Vejtasa,” by Ted Edwards, Naval Institute Press, 2018, 304 pages, $29.95

Living World War II veterans are fewer each day. First person accounts or histories written using personal interviews of surviving veterans are shrinking.

“Seven at Santa Cruz: The Life of Fighter Ace Stanley ‘Swede’ Vejtasa,” by Ted Edwards is a new biography of Vejtasa that bucks this trend. Edwards used extended interviews with Vejtasa and other World War II veterans researching it.

Nicknamed “Swede” for reasons comprehensible to only mid-20th century naval aviators, Stanley Vejtasa was of Bohemian and Norwegian stock, the first generation born in the United States after his father came here from what today is the Czech Republic and mother from Norway.

He grew up in rural Montana when most children, including him, were fascinated by all things aircraft. He joined the Navy to learn to fly.

He flew a lot and in combat, graduating from flight school just before the United States entered World War II. He flew dive bombers from the aircraft carrier Yorktown as part of the Atlantic “Neutrality Patrol” before Pearl Harbor. After Dec. 7, 1941, he accompanied Yorktown into the Pacific. There, in the action leading up to and including the Battle of the Coral Sea, he hit a Japanese transport off Tulagi, helped sink the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho, and shot down three Japanese Zero fighters flying combat air patrol over Yorktown. He shot down the Zeros using a Dauntless dive bomber.

That earned him a Navy Cross and a transfer to fighters. Flying an F4F Wildcat from the carrier Enterprise at the battle of Santa Cruz, he shot down seven Japanese aircraft in one day. He saved the Enterprise and got a Navy Cross for that, too.

Edwards’ book follows these battles, but also looks at the totality of Vejtasa’s life, including life growing up in Montana, through Vejtasa’s later career in the Navy, which reached an apex with command of the aircraft carrier Constellation in 1962-63.

Vejtasa died in 2014, but Edwards interviewed him extensively before his death. “Seven at Santa Cruz” provides an intimate look at a man who played a small yet critical role in the Pacific War.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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Rave Review: James Michener’s “Hawaii”

One of the few benefits of the (so far) gentle intellectual decline I am experiencing at age 74 is that I can re-read books seemingly de novo. I read “Hawaii” many years ago; I don’t remember in what period of my life that was and recalled virtually nothing of the story as it unfolded this time.

I just came to the end a few minutes ago and am awash with ambivalent feelings consisting of nostalgia, longing, sadness, wonder and more. Michener had an almost “God’s-eye” view of humanity and the ability to set it forth in clear, eminently-readable and inviting prose. I am grieving the end of the story.

Since I was a kid studying history, I have wanted to understand any historical moment through the eyes of those living at the time. This abiding innocent impulse, I believe, has stood me in good stead to withstand today’s  reflex historical revisionism, which insists on judging all peoples from all times by todays “elevated” standards. While “Hawaii” is a novel, Michener is known for his thorough research. I have the strongest sense that his fictional characters are accurate exemplars of people who actually lived, thought, felt and acted in the times portrayed.

In “Hawaii,” those times really do begin at the beginning: Michener describes the birth and death of volcanic islands in the Pacific. He describes the geography of this small chain of islands which become Hawaii and especially the absence of flora and fauna which are absolutely necessary for human existence. Then told is how some Polynesians living on Bora Bora decide to leave as a result of religious strife (to attain power, one group demands fealty by all to a new god – a god which is a 5 inch diameter red rock). Although not emphasized in the story, it does seem that some human traits as to power over others by any means at hand are enduring.

Although these Polynesian adventurers do not know whether their hoped-for destination even exists, they wisely anticipate its barrenness and bring with them the requisite animals and plants. They brought only women capable of bearing children; leader’s wife is left behind because she is thought to be barren. In this fictional tale of a long journey north, the navigator sees a new fixed star come into view on the horizon. By it, he can now judge latitude; such important discoveries – driven by necessity – punctuate much of Michener’s work. This imagined 8th century voyage of a few dozen individuals in a double-hulled sailing canoe with animals and carefully-stored plants succeeds (barely). These, then are the native Hawaiians, whose numbers achieve about 400,000 by the time New England missionaries arrive in the mid 1800’s. By the early 20th century, as a result of disease and hardship, the number of Hawaiians of Polynesian ancestry fell to only about 40,000.

The remainder of this long, complex, yet very readable book describes the lives of the descendants of the Bora Borans, the missionaries and various subsequent immigrants. Described as well is the intentional importation of first Chinese and later Japanese workers needed to work the sugar and later pineapple industries. The history of each of these groups is laid out in depth, also going back many generations, so as to provide profound insight into each culture. Tales of intermarriage, alliances, conflicts, politics and war pervade the complex story. In other words, it describes life on the Hawaiian Islands over a period of about 1200 years. An appendix sets forth – over multiple pages – the genealogy of every family described in the book. Its extent is remarkable.

While the setting is particular to Hawaii, its peoples and history, in my estimation, the lessons of this novel and its well-sculpted characters can be construed more generally. The psychological, interpersonal, cultural, social and political interactions which occur in this fictional parallax view of actual history paint an accurate landscape of human ontology, applicable to most any thread of history, anywhere. Universal human nature, from its basest, through mundane, to its most noble attributes, is on vivid display in this truly epic work.

Having also read Michener’s “The Source,” I find the power of Michener’s writing unparalleled. In examining my own life, I long to both live it rightly in the moment and at the same time to understand the context, meaning and moral import of my thoughts words and actions. Both of these books allowed me to do that for the characters, whose inner and outer lives were made artfully visible. Because the author gave me knowledge of the ethnic, cultural and family histories of the characters, I was able to briefly and intimately “live” their lives through their consciousness and soon afterward (in the course of the book) observe the consequences, meaning and moral calculus of their choices. Would I might be able to do that with my own life!

To see the entire import of having lived from roots to descendants. That is what I mean by a “God’s-eye” view of life – something I deeply long for yet know I can never achieve. Vicariously, then, Michener offers this awesome simulacrum: upon his characters I can conform elements of my own life, my own humanity and try-fit them to the playing out of entire lives portrayed over historic time in this marvelous book.

Setting “Hawaii” down at the end imparts mainly a sense of loss, sadness, at leaving “beloved (though not always admirable) friends” whose lives I feel as though I intimately observed (In real life, I find it a privilege to merely know someone who is willing to honestly reveal his/her true self; this is rare, I find). The sadness also derives from returning to the less clear realm of knowledge of my own life and letting go of any hope that I can know its import over time  – as I could so clearly do for many of the characters in “Hawaii.” Only the greatest authors – like Michener – allow us to briefly imagine we can escape the limited, Earthbound, time bound, knowledge of our own human existence.

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