Mike From Mesa

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-31-18

US Constitutional Convention

This book takes a close look at the reasons for and the actions of the US Constitutional Convention that changed the US from a loose confederation of independent states to a more Federal form of government. Those who have read the history of the US after it won its independence from Great Britain will not find much new here, but Mr Larson's writing is fresh and interesting and he spends considerable time discussing the various views on whether or not the US needed to change its form of government, how a consensus was formed and how the various political groups came to the decisions that they did. And, of course, there is the interesting story of how Rhode Island alone did not even bother to send representatives to the convention.

George Washinton is at the center of this book and it is clear that he was the indispensable man of this period. It was only his presence and the knowledge that he would be the first President and the one to establish the traditions of office that convinced many of those present that the change to Federalism was worth taking the chance. There is also the well known story of the need for a Bill of Rights, argued against by Madison and others as being unnecessary, and the story of how it was passed after ratification, this time with the help of Madison at the urging of Jefferson.

The one thing I found odd about this book was the author's contention that George Washington was generally viewed as not being involved in the effort to convene the Constitutional Convention while he was, in fact, very heavily involved with both the effort to convene the convention and the actions of the convention itself. I found this odd because every biography of Washington that I have ever read made a point of his efforts to change the US from the lose confederation it was to a more centralized form of government. No book on Washington I have ever read said that he was only an uninvolved planter in the years when the confederation was failing due to its inability to function as a normal central government, yet the author says that this was the general view.

Still, Edward Larson has written a book well worth reading, even by those who are familiar with the years after the US war of independence and before Washington's swearing in as its first President. The narration is very good and the story worth re-telling.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-18-18

Excellent biography

William Tecumseh Sherman has always struck me as being the most interesting and complex of those Civil War generals who fought for the Union. Highly intelligent, strong willed and sure of himself, yet not so conceited as to want a high command in the war. Completely apolitical, yet put in a position that would easily have ended up allowing him to gain high political office.

This biography covers all parts of his life thoroughly, but not in such detail as to become boring. Sherman, wanting military glory, was assigned to California during the Mexican war and so missed the opportunity he longed for to gain fame as a soldier. Born into a poor family, but raised by wealthy and influential friends he ended up never making enough money to satisfy his family's needs, yet also never stooped to dishonest or even unethical means to make a living. Constantly in need of money he also remained honest to the core, and in a world that was generally thoroughly corrupt.

While Sherman is mostly known for his generalship during the last years of the Civil War this book does not spend an inordinate time on those campaigns, but does cover all of his fighting before and after being assigned to Grant where his expertise, his ability to train and wield his soldiers and his logistics blossomed and made him one of the most effective generals of either side in the fighting. Yet this biography also covers his early Army career, his work as a banker, his family life, his failures early in the Civil War, the period in which he was considered to have lost his mind and his close friendship with Grant, the fighting during the Indian Wars after the end of the Civil War and his life after he retired.

At more than 28 hours this is a fairly long book, but never so long as to become boring. The narration is not inspired, but is adequate to the task and the writing is so good that it constantly kept my attention and kept me from concurrently reading another book, which I sometimes do when I become even a little bored with a book. With a better narrator this would be a truly outstanding book. As it is, I still recommend it for anyone interested in learning about the Civil War in the West and how the Union ended up winning the war in spite of all of the bad generalship in the East.

In the end the Union found 3 excellent generals - Grant, Sherman and Sheridan - and this book gave me great insight into one of those three.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-13-18

The lesser known stories of World War II

I originally made the assumption that this book described events that took place in the UK during World War II. While that is partially true, most of the events in this book took place in Europe and the title Last Hope Island seems to me to be misleading. What we really have are the lesser known tales of the European Theater of World War II involving the Europeans rather than the British. Some samples of the tales might help.

The importance of non-British pilots during the Battle of Britain.
The actions of those Europeans who saved and sheltered RAF pilots over Europe and returned them to Britain.
The importance of intelligence gathered from European resistance members.
The failures of the SOE in The Netherlands and France during World War II.
The importance of the French resistance during the D-Day Landings.
The importance of the Poles in cracking the German Enigma codes
The theft of the heavy water supplies from Norway.

and many other tales mostly involving events that took place outside of Britain and/or largely involved non-British participants. The book is interesting and for those who have not read much on World War II in Europe, many of the stories may be new, but there is not much here that a close reading of World War II will not have already made clear. The main thrust of this book is that the peoples of Europe were not passive observers of World War II, but were, in many cases, active participants, working against the Germans for a British and American victory. That story is not new, but is worth telling over and over again.

The narration is adequate, if not great, and the writing is interesting. I found little new in this book in general, but many of the specifics were new to me and were worth listening to. In particular, the tales of the individuals involved, rather than the events themselves, were well worth listening to and were often moving. The most striking for me was the tale of the complete failure of the British in understanding that their SOE operatives in Amsterdam had been turned by the Germans in spite of all of the evidence pointing that way. The main failing I found with the book was its failure to follow up on what happened after the war to those involved in the events. The British SOE failure is described as almost criminal in nature, with the British not even obeying their own guidelines to insure that the information was being supplied by free agents, but there is no information about whether any of those involved were ever punished and, if not, why not.

I can not strongly recommend this book, but it is worth listening to if the reader is not familiar with much of the history of the European Theater in World War II.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-24-18

Not Jack Reacher, but still very, very good

I bought this book not knowing what to expect. The premise sounded interesting but I had never heard of the author and had no idea if buying it was a good idea or not. As it turned out, this was a great book.

The story involves an MI6 assassin who decides he has had enough to killing people and wants to spend some time helping them. It sounds like a bit of a cliche, and it probably is, but the book turned out to be very different from what I would have expected, given the plot. Milton befriends a woman whose life is full of trouble and tries to help her and her son, and most of the book is about the details of those people's lives, the lives of those around them and the gang the boy is tied up in. Milton quietly tries to help, tries to save her son's future and generally plays the part of the good samaritan. As you would expect he ends up having to use his skills as a man of violence to right some of the wrongs, but almost all of the book involves the quiet and desperate lives these people live.

There is so much character development in the story that it is easy for forget that the main character is an assassin. At least one of the reviews I read complained that this was a book about street gangs, and that is partly true, but it is well written, I ended up caring deeply about the people involved and the ending was, if anything, unexpected. Hanging around the edges of the story is Control, Milton's old boss, who is unwilling to allow one of his assets to peacefully retire, especially given the world he has suddenly taken up, and we know there is going to have to be a reckoning there as well.

If you are looking for an action book with a lot of violence you probably need to look elsewhere, but if you want a good story, a look at what life is probably like for some people and the feeling this this book reflects life as it often is, with less than satisfying endings, this may well be your book. I expect to continue to read about John Milton.

The narration is first class with just the right touch and I can not imagine anyone else having done as good a job as David Thorpe.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-14-18

The Wilson Administration and World War I

This is the third of My Meyer’s histories that I have read, and it serves as a sort of companion book to Mr Meyer’s other book on World War I, A World Undone. That book concerns itself with the lead up to World War I, the unsuccessful attempts to prevent the war from starting and the major events of the war. This book is almost entirely about the US actions during the period it called itself neutral and during the war itself, and so is a mostly political rather than military history, although there are sections describing how the US military worked with the British and French forces in France and some information about US led attacks. The book then covers actions by the US and the Allies (listed here as separate entities since the Wilson Administration always referred to the British and French as associates, and not as allies).

Mr Meyer’s books have been extremely interesting to me, both because they are well written and because his books always seem to contain chapters giving background information that makes the main events more understandable. Almost half of the chapters in A World Remade cover background events both before and during this period, and give information that I, and perhaps others, were not aware of since the World War I period has not received as much attention as that of World War II in the last 30 or 40 years. In the background chapters in this book we hear about how the US had become an economic colossus during the 19th century, almost without noticing, and how Europe and the UK viewed the US, given that power, information about some of those figures who were important in the Wilson Administration, even if not much is taught about them today, the mystery about why the British passenger ship, the Lusitania, was where it was when she was torpedoed rather than where she should have been to be safe, about the strains of isolationism that ran through the US at the time as well as much, much more. This was particularly helpful to me because, even though I was well read about the US during the period leading up to World War II, I was not particularly familiar with the US of the 1910s.

Most histories, especially those concerning the last several hundred years, have a point of view, and this book is no different, and what struck me the most was the author’s detailed explanation of the hubris of the Wilson Administration during these years. The Lusitania became an important event for the US because there were US passengers on board who died when it was sunk by a German submarine. The Lusitania was apparently carrying arms at the time she was sunk, and thus was a legitimate target for the Germans, but Wilson, against the advice of many of his advisors, insisted that US citizens had the right to safe passage on any ship, even warships sailing in declared war zones, and that Germany was to be held accountable for the loss of any US lives regardless of the rules of war as they existed in the years leading up to World War I.

Added to this are the questions about how the war changed Wilson who insisted prior to US entry into the war that the only way to end the war was with a treaty that avoided harsh treatment of the loser, only to become a champion of one of the harshest peace treaties of the modern era. Added to this we have the Wilson administration passing the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918), and a variety of other laws intended to stop Americans from questioning US participation in World War I and his refusal after the war to accept even slight compromises to have the US Congress accept the League of Nations, and we have some idea of the hubris of his administration.

It seems too simplistic to suggest that Mr Meyer is more sympathetic to World War I Germany than to Great Britain and France, but he does make the point that World War I Germany was not World War II Germany and Kaiser Wilhelm II was not Adolph Hitler. The book details what we would today call war crimes on both sides, but debunks the idea that Germany committed the atrocities the British claimed they did in Holland during the invasion and occupation by showing that no Nuns were raped and no young boys had both of their hands cut off. He spends considerable time describing the British Blockade of Germany during the war and the effect that had on the civilian population, with the brunt of the resulting malnutrition and starvation falling on the elderly and the very young. While such actions, horrible as they may be, can be at least understood as the result of the excesses of war, it is more difficult to understand why the British continued the food blockage after Germany had asked for an armistice and demobilized its army.

The book is extremely well written, as have been all of Mr Meyer’s histories that I have read, and is well narrated. I found this to be an extremely interesting book, well worth the time and I recommend it highly to any who are interested in US actions from 1914 through 1917 when the US entered the war and on through 1919 when the peace Treaty of Versailles was finally signed.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-25-18

A mixed bag

This has been both an interesting and disappointing book for me, so I find myself torn in writing a review. On the positive side this book opened an area of World War II that I have not seen before in describing the difficulties for escaping Allied airmen in finding their way back to areas under Allied control and the workings of the French Resistance, but does so in a book that should have been much, much better.

This book contains the story of Arthur Meyerowitz, a flight engineer on a bombing mission over Southern France in 1943. His plane is shot down and he luckily finds himself rescued by the French Resistance, and the major part of this book details the what he went through trying to get out of France, through Spain and back to the Allied lines. The story is both amazing and disappointing. Amazing because of the pains and trials that he, a real person, went through in living in Nazi occupied France passing himself off as a deaf and mute Frenchman, and for the story of the brave French men and women who sheltered him, fed him and passed him along to the next person on the way out of France. Amazing because of the details of how the French Resistance worked, who some of the main leaders were, how they managed to survive and function when they were surrounded by the German Gestapo and Army. This book has all of the elements of a top-notch thriller, made even more compelling by the fact that it is all true, but fails badly due to both writing and narration that are not really up to the task.

In spite of the gripping story unfolding in this book the writing seems too detached from the events. We are told what was happening and how people felt, but this is real-life drama set against one of the most compelling backgrounds in recent history and the writing should have been as gripping as any well-written thriller novel, but instead felt so concentrated on Arthur Meyerowitz that it missed the opportunity to become a greater story of the bravery and cunning of those involved in helping him. Similarly the narration, which is adequate, should have been better. The narrator continually pauses far too long between sentences and, even though I listened at a higher speed to try to eliminate the excessive pauses, it was still annoying.

Never the less, this book made me realize that as much as I have read about the European Theater of World War II I know next to nothing about how the French Resistance worked, how it flourished and where it failed, and I find I know more about the anti-Nazi opposition in Germany than about that in France, so this book did open an area of interest to me which I will attempt to fill, provided I can find books to fill the information gap.

A mixed bag.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-09-18

A big disappointment

The question as to why the French Army collapsed as quickly as it did during World War II has always been a mystery to me. France had a very large army that was thought to be the best in Europe, if not the world, yet the German conquest of France took only about 3 weeks. The accepted argument that France was splintered from within and had lost the will to fight before the war even began never seemed to ring true to me as Germany was a long time enemy of France and had invaded multiple times over the previous 100 years and most people, aggressive or not, will fight if their homes are invaded. Given that I was interested in this book and hoped that it would answer this basic question for me.

The title of this book, Case Red, represents the German Army's plan for the second half of the invasion, Case Yellow representing the first part, but more than half of this book describes the initial German invasion and the actions of the German, French and British forces and the development of the actual Case Red fighting covers only the last 6 hours or so of the book. The descriptions of the initial battles are interesting, but suffers from a basic failing of the audio version of the book, at least for me. The book uses the native German and French names of the individual battle groups, companies, battalions, divisions, and so on, and thus the listener has to thread his or her way through German and French names for organizations and their associated abbreviations. Thus, in one 10 minute or so section we have the following abbreviations - DI, DRDI, BCC, RMVE, RI, DLI, DIA, RTA, REI, ADA, DIL, CA, DIC, RICMS and others - and it became impossible for me to follow who or what organization was doing what was being described. This would probably not be much of a problem in the print version of this book but I found it impossible to keep up with what was going on in the audio version. While I could cope with the German descriptions, having learned enough German to keep up during my university education, I found myself completely lost in the French descriptions and this issue made me lose sight of what was being described and spoiled what should have been a very informative book for me.

The book was at least partially helpful as the author made clear his belief that it was the lack of proper armament and supplies that lost the war for the French rather than their fighting spirit, and he mades a good case that the French colonial troops, dismissed by the Germans as of little value, performed very well and were up to the fighting ability of the Germans.

The narration itself is fine and well done, but it has to deal with the print version and so I found myself constantly backing up to try to understand what had happened. In the end I gave up and may well buy the print (or Kindle) version of this book. I believe that there is an excellent book, but not in the audio version.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-08-18

Very good history of the Fall of Berlin

This is the 3rd of Antony Beevor's books that I have read, and it is the best. It is not the first book I have read on the Russian Army's capture of Berlin during World War II, but it is consistently interesting, avoids the trap of being overwhelmed by the details of the battles, and never loses sight of the people involved, both Germans and Soviet. While many of the actions taking place during the battle were also covered in the other books on this topic that I read, there was also a great deal of information which I had never seen in print before and explained some things that had always been a puzzle to me.

The Red Army suffered terrible casualty rates during the fighting, but the number of soldiers in the army never seemed to drop significantly and I never knew why until I read this book. The Soviets drafted prisoners from the Gulag, newly conquered Polish subjects and liberated POWs to keep their strength up. They instituted classes to insure that the Red Army soldiers hated the Germans, and that proved to be a problem when German territory was conquered. They freed German POWs to go back to their old commands and persuade other German soldiers to surrender. The book is full of interesting information about actions both the Soviet and German armies took that were unknown to me prior to reading this book as well as some incidents that beg even bigger questions - were there really women SS officers? Did the Russians really have any interest in invading Denmark? Why was Zhukov kept in the dark about the Russian Army finding Hitler's body? And much, much more.

The basic outlines of the story of the Russian effort during World War II has largely been of only secondary interest in the West since most of the writing about the war naturally tended to cover the battles in Western Europe where the British, French, American, Canadian and other western soldiers were involved, or the war in the Pacific. There have been a number of recent books about the battles in the East - Stalingrad, Kursk, Warsaw, Prussia and, of course, Berlin, and this book adds nicely to those books.

The narration of the book is excellent, although some might find the British accent of the narrator annoying. Personally the narrator's accent disappeared for me after about 10 minutes of listening when the immediacy of the events took over. I recommend this book to anyone interested in how the German state and Army slowly fell apart as the Russian approached Berlin, how the Red Army conquered Berlin and how the Red Army treated both the defeated German army and the civilians.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-31-18

Well, I did finish it

This was the 3rd Peter Clines book that I bought, the first two being "14" and "The Fold" and both of those were memorable. This book was not, at least not in a good way.

For me there were many problems with the book. The overall story line just seemed silly and the world the author constructed just did not hang together for me as a logical structure. I am more than willing to suspend belief in the cause of a good book, but this book just seemed unreasonable to me. Second I found I did not much care about most of the characters and was unable to feel any empathy for their plight. Most of them were in their predicament by their own conscious decision and seemed to enjoy what they were doing, so why should I feel sympathy for them?

I kept reading because I was sure that things would settle down and get better, but that turned out to be the triumph of hope over experience and my main feelings at the end of the book were relief that I had finished and the feeling that I wanted my 12 1/2 hours back. I thought the plot was juvenile and the characters one dimensional, but Ray Porter's narration was first class, as usual. I will be more careful about buying a Peter Clines book in the future.

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3 of 5 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-24-18

Lost me at the Illuminati

Usually I am all in for a good end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it novel as this generally provides a good field for an analysis of how people might react, given extraordinary circumstances. I do not read Zombie books as they are generally nothing but a sequence of violent episodes as people try to survive by killing the already dead, but I have been reading books like Lucifer's Hammer and When Worlds Collide all the way back to when I was a young teenager and have kept that up with newer books like One Second After.

What bothered me about this particular book is how paranoid everyone seemed. I was just not able to suspend belief enough to accept that someone would be arrested and thrown in jail for some of the things that happen at the start of this book, and the book completely lost me when people started blaming the Illuminati. I never made it past the first 1 or 2 hours, so perhaps it gets better, but I suspect I will never know.

On the positive side the narration is quite good.

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0 of 1 people found this review helpful