The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Some Civil War Reading With Added Pulp

Posted on | July 4, 2021 | Comments Off on Some Civil War Reading With Added Pulp

— compiled by Wombat-socho

It’s been a while since the last book post, and there’s good news for Civil War history aficionados, so let’s get to it.
Ceterum autem censeo Silicon Valley esse delendam.

I’m so sorry.

For the past few years, it’s been difficult to get hold of Bruce Catton’s Civil War histories unless you wanted to shell out for used hardbacks or paperbacks. Apparently somebody at Random House has come to their senses and recognized there’s a market for these newfangled e-book thingies, for Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War, which starts with The Coming Fury (an excellent analysis of the political fuckery that sparked the war), is now available for the Kindle. Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy is also now available, and Mr. Lincoln’s Army (Book 1 of the trilogy) is available on Kindle Unlimited in case you aren’t familiar with Catton’s style and want to dip your toe in the water. As if that wasn’t enough, his account of General Grant’s war years (Grant Moves South and Grant Takes Command) is also available in a package deal

I am frankly unsure why Douglas Southall Freeman has the reputation he does. I tried reading Lee’s Lieutenants when I was younger, and compared to Bruce Catton, I found him turgid and prolix, on a par with the detail-obsessed official histories of the Army in WW2 that were nearly unreadable with their insistence on detailing what every single company of every single division was doing in (for example) the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. Still, he had quite a reputation back in the day, and you can stick this, too, on your Kindle, and not throw out your back trying to lift the 400+ pages of the original edition.

On to things less serious. I am not much on mysteries, but I do like the noir genre, and the granddaddy of all the trenchcoat-clad private eyes out there is Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op. Who is he? We never find out. The Continental Op is a nameless man working out of the Continental Detective Agency as an investigator. Murder is his business, and in San Francisco  in the 1920s, business is very good indeed. This collection of the fourteen stories involving the Continental Op is a good bargain, especially if you like this kind of thing. 

Then we have Sax Rohmer and his (in)famous Chinese super-villain, Fu Manchu. The Sax Rohmer collection by Halcyon Press includes 56 novels and short stories, but I had to struggle to make it through The Insidious Fu Manchu and when I was done had zero interest in reading more. Look, I cut my teeth on Don Pendleton’s Executioner novels,  so I don’t mind formulaic plots and cardboard characters, but the protagonists of the Fu Manchu novels are a couple of the biggest morons in adventure fiction. Granted, they are up against an extremely learned (and possibly quite ancient) SOOPER GENIUS, with an enormous army of criminals at his beck and call, but Nayland-Smith and his sidekick Dr. Petrie are constantly screwing up and carrying the Idiot Ball, falling into predicaments that would have left Mack Bolan or Frank Castle aghast at their stupidity. Frequently they are saved only through the intervention of Fu Manchu’s slave girl Karamaneh, who has inexplicably fallen in love with Dr. Petrie. You may like this kind of stuff, but it drove me nuts, and I plan on dumping it off my Kindle to make room for better stuff. Like War Against The Mafia

Returning to non-fiction, Ernst Junger’s The Storm Of Steel is not as well known as All Quiet on the Western Front, possibly because Junger’s book isn’t nearly as depressing as Remarque’s classic. Junger’s autobiographical account of his service on the Western Front in “The Great War” is horrifying, yes, and he spares you none of the horrors of trench warfare, but on the whole, he doesn’t regret having served and in fact considered it a transcendant experience. I’m not done with it yet, but it’s a good read. The link I’ve provided is to the original 1929 translation; there is a more recent “American English” translation, but in my honest opinion I think that’s a waste of money. 

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