Non Civil War Books and Movies

Matt McKeon

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Diary of a Bookseller.
Owner of an independent bookstore in Wigstown, Scotland, Shaun Bythell describes the nuts and bolts and keeping a small business going, while the entire industry is being crushed by Amazon. He enlivens the diary with acidic comments of peculiar customers and his eccentric staff.
"Mr. Deacon came into the store and picked up the book he ordered. As usual he said very little, paid rightaway and left. After many years I still don't know his first name. In many ways the ideal customer."
 

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Operation Pedestal by Max Hastings
In August 1942, the British held island of Malta was under nearly continuous bombing from the German and Italian air forces, and on the verge of starvation. Stung by British defeats in the desert, the far east, and the infamous PQ 17 convoy fiasco, Churchill was determined that Malta should not fall.

A powerful Royal Navy taskforce escorted a mixed group of British and US cargo ships and attempted to blast their way to Malta bringing needed supplies. The convoy was attacked by torpedo boats, submarines and waves of Axis aircraft, suffered heavy losses but managed to get enough ships and supplies to Malta to sustain it for a few more months.
 

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Given the British advance from El Alamein, and the Allied landing in North Africa in November, those few months were all Malta needed.

Hastings asks some basic questions:

Why didn't the Axis attempt to land on Malta?

Was the convoy worth the heavy losses the British sustained?
Was Malta itself as important as Churchill seemed to think?

Which of the Allied tactics and plans worked, and what didn't work, what Axis tactics worked and what didn't.

If you're interested in the Mediterranean in WWII, or the Royal Navy, its definitely worth while.
 

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I read and reviewed two 21st century works about the Seminole Wars in Florida:

The Seminole Wars: America's Longest Indian Conflict
by John Missall & Mary Lou Missall
University Press of Florida (2004)

The same husband-and-wife authors wrote the The Seminole Struggle: A History of America's Longest Indian War (Pineapple Press, 2019) which as best I can tell is a essentially a substantially revised and expanded version of their 2004 book (280 pages vs 416 pages). However, I didn't read it because my local public library system didn't have it.

The Second Seminole War and the Limits of American Aggression
by C.S. Monaco (John Hopkins Press, 2018)
 

Joshism

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Picked this up from my public library new nonfiction shelf:

Modern Conspiracies in America: Separating Fact from Fiction
by Michael D. Gambone (Rowman & Littlefield, 2022)

A brisk read and a fine introduction.

I was interested in UFOs, cryptozoology, and some political conspiracy stuff growing up like JFK. Nothing anti-science or anti-semitic. That was before I took a Critical & Creative Thinking class in college, getting good grades (most of the class struggled). More significantly, the more I learned about history as an adult, the less interested I was in that stuff. Most of it falls apart when you realize just how bad or non-existent most of the citations are. Also, I read a memoir by someone who was active in the community that was a casual hoaxer. Vincent Bugliosi's mammoth tome on the JFK assassination absolutely bludgeoned my interest in the subject.
 

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The Birdman
This is a biography of Robert Stroud, the famed "Birdman of Alcatraz." Stroud was a murderer, who later murdered a guard in prison. He escaped the gallows, but was sentenced to "isolation." Basically he stayed in a one man cell with no contact with other inmates. In a herculan effort to retain his sanity and make something of his life, he began an extended study of birds, mostly species kept as pets. He wrote two books on the care of birds and their diseases, as well as an insiders' view of prison life. You made have read the book or seen the movie with Burt Lancaster playing Stroud.

The writer, the daughter of a prison official and who lived on Alcatraz as a child, is very much on the side of the prison authorites, and the guards' mindset. She considers Stroud an unrepentant killer and possibly sociopathic.

Anyway, interesting.
 

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The Odyssey of Echo Company
It isn't about Echo Company a unit of the 101st Airborne, or Tet really, its about a small group of aging guy who served in Vietnam and their memori

It isn't really a very good book, because the author, a guy named Staunton who wrote a popular book about special forces in Afghanistan, isn't all that good a writer. But the middle section is very memorable as one of the guys, named Stan, recalls his service. He distances himself from himself, so to speak, almost like he's observing the surreal carnage around him, but not accepting it as real.
 

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Call the Midwife
A PBS series I'm binge watching. Among the poverty stricken docks of the 1950s East End, a phalanx of midwives, both Anglican nuns and nursing sisters ride their bicycles to deliver babies in appalling slum conditions. In the midst of Britain's baby boom, the hardworking midwives deal with every kind of medical emergency associated with childbirth. The "civilian" nursing sisters have their lovelifes to conduct, a distraction for some of the younger nuns as well.

Generally the tone is fairly optimistic and pragmatic, but shot through with sporadic tramua and brutal realities
 

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Nope
Jordan Peele, director of the intense Get Out and Us, has created a somewhat overstuffed, but madly entertaining horror/sci fi film involving aliens, Hollywood, horses and differing takes on processing reality. Full of callbacks to other movies and the greatest use of the inflated men found in front of car dealers ever seen on the silver screen.
 

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Krakatoa
by Simon Winchester

Outstanding account of the legendary 1883 eruption of the Indian Ocean volcano. Winchester describes the science of tectonic plates, the Dutch/Javanese population, the web of telegraph wires that flashed the news around the globe, the mass casualities and the traces of the eruption in modern day Java.
 

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Nanook of the North
Classic silent documentary about the harsh life of the Eskimos in 1922. The filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty, has been accused of staging some of the scenes and other crimes, but it remains very interesting.
 

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Class Action Park
This is a documentary about a water park in New Jersey open in the 1980s. Created and operated by a disgraced Wall Street stockbroker, it featured homemade incredibly dangerous rides, underage drinking and lots and lots of accidents and fatallities. and was wildly popular.

Its a fascinating look at a different time and the mixed feelings the teenage staff and customers had about anarchy on a waterslide. "Incredible," remembered one guest, "F-king New Jersey."
 

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Hidden Fortress
Akira Kurosawa's samurai adventure story was cribbed by George Lucas for the plot to Starwars.
A comedy pair of venal peasants are roped into an escape plot by a heroic samurai disguised as a smuggler, with a feisty princess and a bunch of gold in tow.
Great duel between tow highly skilled warriors armed with spears. And surprisingly a firm rejection of the death before dishonor ethos in favor of a more compassionate understanding of human worth.
 

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Wild Strawberries
Ingmar Bergman's 1959 mediation on aging and meaning.
An elderly professor jumps into a big Volvo and drives to receive an award in a distant town., accompanied by his troubled daughter in law Along the way he remembers his youth, and his increasing emotional distance from the world around him, as he interacts with hitchhikers, family and old acquaintances.

The award ceremony feels meaningless to him, although to be honest it involves a parade, symbolic top hats and an artillery salute and seems awesome to me. I could use a cannon salute.
 

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Seventeen and Oh: Miami, 1972, and the NFL's Only Perfect Season
by Marshall Jon Fisher
Abrams Press (2022)

I'm halfway through this book and I daresay it may be the greatest football history book I've ever read, and not just because I've been a Miami Dolphins fan for three decades. Yes, Fisher hits all the usual points you'd expect about how the games played out and the mini-biographies of colorful characters comprising the team in a very readable style. But what really elevates this book from good to great is how it weaves 1972 and Miami into the story of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The author shares his childhood memories of what the area was like and in listening to the games on the radio and even attending one in person. He puts the season in context of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions (both of which took place that year a few weeks apart in Miami Beach), the reelection campaign of President Nixon (who had a vacation home on Key Biscayne and famously called Coach Don Shula before the previous year's Super Bowl to offer advice), the Vietnam War, culture, and society. The players deal with the race and politics of the era.

I daresay the highlight is when the author recounts his father's frustrations trying to campaign for George McGovern. He called voters to try to sell them on McGovern and would fall back on "But Nixon's a crook!" To his exasperation, the common refrain was "Yeah, but the economy is good."
 

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Of Walking On Ice by Werner Herzog
This is an first person account of a walk Herzog took in 1974 from Munich to Paris in December. He was on this pilgrimage to a signficant figure in German cinema, Lotte Eiser. Eiser had been disagnosed with cancer, and Herzog had stubborn notion that he and other German filmmakers would not permit her to die, and that this three week journey would stave off her illness.

As he trudges across the freezing south German countryside, he describes rotten weather and the mundane details. Herzog often breaks into empty houses to sleep, or huddles in bus shelters. As the march continues he begins to have hallucinations.

Odd book, that ends with an effusive appreciation of Eiser, unusual for the matter of fact Herzog.
 

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A Guide to the Perplexed
A series of interviews given by Werner Herzog, as he recounts his career, and philosophy of film making and anarchy.
 

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My Work is Not Yet Done
Thomas Ligotti

A three part book, somewhat linked by a corporate setting, and the same nameless city, a stand in for a crumbling Detroit, I think, called sometimes, Murdertown, or the Golden City. The first describes the descent into madness of a junior supervisor, as he loses his grip, and finally resorts the most American option of all: going to the handy gunshop, buying an arsenal for his last day at work, and getting even with all the bastards who had been humiliating him, and plotting against him.

This is the most normal, the succeeding parts are much, much, more horrifying and disturbing. Ligotti's narrator glimpses the nature of realtiy itself, of dark energy calling forth and reveling in the wild thrashings and struggles of creatures who labor under the delusion of being individuals, having identities, or being somehow real.
 
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