Lot of excellent histories have been written of the Six Day
War, whereby Israel against seemingly overwhelming odds overcame the combined
forces of Jordan, Syria and Egypt. Steven Pressfield, author of one of my
all-time favorite combat novels, his classic "Gates of Fire" about the
Greeks at Thermopylae, has shown his ability to write about a specific war in
terms of its universality.Hetakes a different approach inThe Lion's Gate. It is what he calls a
"hybrid history," a narrative story drawing on hundreds of hours of
interviews with veterans of the war, documentary research and the author's
imagination. The whole book is composed of first-person accounts, most factual
but a few invented. And what an account it is.That account is not “balanced”. There are no Arab stories. The author
wrote it that way to tell about war as it meant to a people. We know that
beliefs come down to us from history which in the Middle East seems
particularly dark and confused. And so is “justice” over thousands of years.
Belief in their mission never wavers among the Israelis.
"If we lose, what our enemies will do to us will make Auschwitz look like
summer camp," says Danny Matt, a paratroop commander under Ariel Sharon.
A former U.S. Marine, Pressfield knows war and he knows the
men who fight wars. He admires the Israelis for their victory, but he does not
discount the grim losses on both sides.
one soldier’s conclusion which surely rings true for all wars
"We looked death in the eye but death did not look
away," he says. "He took as many of us as he wanted." I found this account most interesting.
If you ever had the idea that
history books (read textbooks & so on, thick tomes with lots of obtuse words
and tons of footnotes) are invariably dull.... think again. Many of today’s
great history writers be they professional historians or amateurs, write really
good stuff. That are erudite and yet fun to read. When they pack it into an exciting story like narrative,
you really can’t go wrong. In my view there are two versions of this trend.
Popular history and historical fiction.
Let’s start with straight history
and biography. This is nonfiction based on accurate and well researched
background material. The best ones tell a true story and bring it to life. Think
of authors like Steven Ambrose, David McCullough, William Manchester, Doris
Kearns Goodwin, Shelby Foote and many others.
The other equally exciting
development is the vast improvement in historical fiction writing. Here the
authors knowledge of the subject combined with excellent writing/storytelling
technique will surely get your attention. As long as the line between fiction
and nonfiction is clear, I really don’t believe it to be a bad thing if that
line narrows. That is IF the writing is honest and well done and IF it draws
more interest in history. Check out British author Hillary Mantel for a good
Book Review: A Kings Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman
.A good read I just finished was the final book A Kings
Ransomin Sharon Kay Penman’s
magnificent series on the Plantagenet’s, the Norman rulers of England in the 12th
to the 14th centuries. There were five books all ot them marvelous.
. When Christ And His Saints Slept (1995)
•Time And Chance (2002)
•Devil's Brood (2008)
• Lionheart (2011)
•A King's Ransom (2014)
Penman is one the
top writers of medieval historical fiction. In AKing’s Ransom she takes us to
the twelfth century and the reign of King Richard the Lionhearted. We first
meet Richard, one of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s four sons, in Time and
Chance.If you’re a movie buff this the
family of the classic Lion In Winter. In Lionheart, we follow the warrior King to
the Holy Lands on Crusade.
A King’s Ransom is the follow up to Lionheart and tells the
story of King Richard I’s imprisonment in Germany at the hands of Duke Leopold
of Austria and Emperor Heinrich VI and of his battle to win back his Kingdom from
his rapacious brother John of Magna Carta fame.
Penman is both rigorous and meticulous in her research. Most
importantly she brings her characters to life as few othes.You’ll meet the real King in this book and
not the historical cliché and stereotype.
It is November 1192
when returning home from Crusade, Richard and his crew are overcome by a sudden
storm, its fierce winds propelling the ship onto an unfriendly shore. Forced to
make a dangerous choice, Richard finds himself in enemy territory, where he is
captured—in violation of the papal decree protecting all crusaders—and handed
over to the Duke of Austria. Imprisoned in the notorious fortress at Trifels,
from which few ever leave alive, Richard, for the first time in his life, is helpless,
while his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, moves heaven and earth to secure his
release. Amid betrayals, intrigues, infidelities, wars, and illness, Richard’s
courage and intelligence will become legend. Indeed……
Perhaps one should start at the beginning in this
magnificent series but then again each one can stand alone. In any case, I
recommend them all.....
Since I've been invited to join the Book Review Club you're invited to stop in and take a look by clicking on the icon below....:)
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There is a genre of animal stories out there. Dogs, cats,
horses, you know the routine. For my spouse it’s often cats like “Sneaky Pie
Brown” from Rita Mae Browns, mystery series.I was grew up loving Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and later Marley from
Marley and Me. More recently, knowing nothing about horses, I was enthralled by
Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit.You know
where I’m coming from then.Hurt,
lonely, lost, and afraid. human and animal build trust, love and companionship and
help each other survive and prosper. I don’t look for these stories. They just
seem to find me like our rescue dog Lily did. She showed up hungry and abandoned
at our friend’s dairy farm on Easter Sunday a year ago. When our friend passed on we took Lily the GSD into our home.
Ray (Troutbirder) & Lily
Or Chance, another
dog in big trouble, who I found in One Good Dog by Susan Wilson, on the shelf of
our local library.Chance is a mixed-breed pit bull who was trained to fight
for the entertainment of cruel people.When Chance escapes this miserable life and meets up with Adam a
fascinating tale of struggle and redemption follows. Adam is an arrogant “high
roller" living the good life until he snaps, hits his secretary and loses it
all.Adams job, wife, house are all gone in a
flash. Adam is assigned “volunteer” work at a shelter for the indigent by a
judge who is bent on teaching him to become “a better person.” Adam meets
Chance and a homeless man with dementia at the shelter. The somewhat predictable
plot follows.Still you gotta cheer for the flawed man and
I was put off briefly by the dog narrating part of the
story.Mr. Ed, the talking horse of
sixties TV, never appealed to me. But then this book began to work as I and
Chance became better acquainted. Rescued animals, and rescued people can make
for a very compelling story of second chances and unqualified loyalty and love. I liked the book a lot...
And as a side note I've been invited to join "The Book Review Club." Sponsored by children's book author Barrie Summy the first Wednesday of each month sees book reviews in both young adult and adult fiction and non- fiction genre. Take a look......
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I left this place (St. Paul) “a provincial capital of the
middling sort” (in Gogol’s words), as a callow young teacher, never to return.
Left it for a small rural crossroads, in Bluff Country, married there, raised a
family and now live there in mostly contented retirement. Award winning author,
Patricia Hampl, has remained in St. Paul all her life, rooted to the city of
her birth in the “blameless middle” of America. Her latest memoir, TheFlorists
Daughter, tells the intriguing story of her relationship with her parents, the
city of her birth and her desire to escape it and them. It culminated with the
realization, sitting by the bedside of her dying mother, as to why she chose to
remain there all her life. The Florists Daughter was highly recommended to me by
two dear friends. Partly, I'm sure, because there are many allusions to places
I knew intimately, as a child growing up. For instance, as Hampl reflects on
her life and the influences of parent and place on that life, she was sitting
at the hospital beside her dying mother. It turns out to be the very hospital
in which I was born.
I'm not very familiar with the genre "memoirs."
So, perhaps, I was expecting a literary version of a "chick flick."
Not to be. Hampl, who is a Professor of English Literature at my alma mater,
the University of Minnesota, takes on far deeper issues. I suspect that is why
the critics love her writing which also includes poetry and essays. It's probably sacrilege to compare the fundamental premise
of this book to a trashy novel like The Bridges of Madison County but it comes
to mind. Francesca Johnson is a romantic stereotype of dreams and disillusionment.
Patricia Hampl seems torn between two incompatible and unfathomable choices. Yet both protagonists make the choice of what
now are identified as "traditional values." Still, the Hampls memoir is deeply rich into the self and human
surely the difference between literature
and trash. I liked this memoir a lot.
In the tranquil atmosphere of Daydream Cottage, on the Nature
Coast of Westcentral Florida, I got lots of reading done along with dog hiking
and birding. The first book was a most interesting, inspiring and yet troubling book
by Bing West on Americans longest war – Afghanistan……
Battalion 3/5 suffered the highest number of casualties in
the war in Afghanistan. This is the story of one platoon in that distinguished
Every day brought a
new skirmish. Each footfall might trigger an IED. Half the Marines in 3rd
Platoon didn’t make it intact to the end of the tour. One Million Steps is the
story of the fifty brave men who faced these grim odds and refused to back
down. Based on Bing West’s embeds with 3rd Platoon, as well as on their
handwritten log, this is a gripping grunt’s-eye view of life on the front lines
of America’s longest war.Each time a
leader was struck down, another rose up to take his place. How does one man
instill courage in another? What welded these men together as firmly as steel
West is at his best describing the tactical decisions of
small-unit leaders. The opening chapters give a heart-pounding portrayal of the
battalion’s brutal first month. . . . What makes these Marines so impressive is
not that they are superhumans for whom danger and exhaustion are their natural
habitat and killing a joy, but very young men for whom the prospect of walking
2.6 miles a day for six months over IED-riddled ground is no more appealing
than it would be for anyone
Yet "One Million Steps," even as it focuses on the
relentlessness of the Marines in Sangin, also offers a blistering assault on
America's senior military leadership for purportedly adopting a new
counterinsurgency approach that Mr. West depicts as a "quixotic strategy
of a benevolent war," one that "replaced war with social
evangelism" and is more "an exercise in civics" than a type of
Lambasting military leaders for turning American warriors
into "community organizers" is attention-grabbing, but it isn't
convincing. Neither the 2006 Counterinsurgency Field Manual, written by Gen.
Petraeus and Gen. James Amos, nor an assessment of the COIN campaigns in Iraq
and Afghanistan square with Mr. West's take. The two generals assert in the
manual's preface that a "counterinsurgency campaign is . . . a mix of
offensive, defensive, and stability operations," which hardly sounds like
"an exercise in civics." Moreover, Gen. Petraeus's September 2007
report to Congress on the Iraq surge doesn't focus on schools but on "significant
blows to Al Qaeda-Iraq.
In the end I’d rate the book A as a revelation of the what
the war was like for our young Marines. And a D for strategy analysis.Which seems about right considering how the
Iraq conflict was botched from unnecessary beginning to end and The Afghan one
wasn’t much better after it switched from rooting out the terrorists to “nation
building.” in tribal, ethnically and religiously divided place on the map. What a disaster….
It’s been more than twelve years now since I retired from
teaching and two years less for Mrs. T. from the same profession. The two years
difference came from her decision to go on a little longer than me to pay off
the mortgage on our new house in the woods. I took on the role of “house
husband” to her infinite satisfaction.I
had promised to take her to France on her retirement but that was delayed for
one year as she successfully fought off a bout with ovarian cancer. The delay
proved fortuitous in that our good friends Steve and Jewel could join us. It turned out Steve had taught high school French for a few years before turning to dairy farm. That allowed us more opportunities to venture further out on our own on "free" days from the tour group.
A direct flight from
the Twin Cities brought us to Paris where a quick city tour and a good night’s
sleep prepared us for the trip to Normandy and the D Day invasion beaches.
I had been urged by Mrs. T's cousin Joe to be sure and sample Normandies most famous adult beverage - Calvados. Sure enough the program included a visit to a place where the apples were converted into the famous beverage.It was all very interesting but the highlight for me was (given my perverted sense of humor) the "tasting" that followed the tour. It seems the majority of the elderly entourage had missed the part about Calvados being a rather strong applebrandy. Given the gasps and chokes that followed our group toast with the beverage, it seems the majority of people had expected to be imbibing an fruity apple cider!
Our first city stop was Rouen which had a long and exciting history. Here the French kings had been crowned and Joan of Arc burned as a heritic by the English. Naturally, we visited the famous cathedral.
Standing in the square, looking back at the cathedral, I
recalled that the French impressionist, Claude Monet, had
spent many hours here drawing it. His studies of light and
shadow fueled much of his later work.
We had lunch in the town center, visited a market
and walked in the garden surrounding the marker to the martyrdom of St. Joan
The next morning found us approaching the famous bridge crossing over the Orne River - Pegasus. The significance of the bridge on D-Day was simple but key. Allied deception had persuaded to leave their major Panzer formations near Caen to the north. The allied landings were to the south. Holding the left flank bridges across the Orne against German counter attacks would vastly increase the probablity of success for the Allied landing.
That task was assigned to the 6th British Airborne Divison. On the night of 5/6 June 1944, a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard, landed in six Horsa gliders to capture Pegasus Bridge, and also "Horsa Bridge", a few hundred yards to the east, over the Orne River.
It was given the permanent name of Pegasus Bridge in honour of the operation. This name derives from the shoulder emblem worn by the attacking British, which is the flying horse Pegasus.
The events around Pegasus Bridge are depicted in the movie The Longest Day. The role of Major Howard was played by Richard Todd, who actually participated in the real Allied defence of Pegasus Bridge, having been the 7th Parachute Battalion's Intelligence Officer on D-Day.
The original bridge was replaced in the 1990's. During our visit to France every day except one was sunny and warm. Our D Day visit, though, was dark and somber. The weather that day was actually perfect, setting the mood, as we visited the places where thousands died to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
The soldiers killed in these actions are mostly buried in the cemetery at nearby Ranville. There is a commemorative plaque that was installed by the family Gondrée, whose house near Pegasus Bridge was the first to be liberated during D-Day. It still exists and nowadays contains a café and a small museum shop that sells Pegasus Bridge related material. The lady who runs this café was a small child living in the home when it was liberated. Yes, we stopped in for some postcards.
In Citizen Soldiers – The U.S. Army From The Normandy
BeachesTo The Bulge To The Surrender Of Germany author Stephen Ambrose tells
the story of the American foot soldier's experience in Europe.Ambrose, one of my favorite military
historians also wrote my favorite history book. It was Undaunted Courage the
story of the Lewis and Clark expedition And what a story it is, all from the point of view of the men who did
the actual fighting.Down and dirty….
This point of view is somewhat new and fresh considering the
thousands of books published on this war by and about the leaders and politicians whose perspective
was from the top down.Mr. Hull’s review
in the New York Times gives us a hint of why this is so.
By Michael D. Hull
One chilly morning in November 1944, Lieutenant General
Brian Horrocks, commander of the British XXX Corps, climbed into a jeep and was
driven to the front to "smell this new American battlefield." The
untested U.S. 84th Infantry Division had been placed under his command for the
attack on Geilenkirchen, north of Aachen, on the Dutch-German border. When he
reached the division area, Horrocks was halted abruptly by an American sentry,
who leaped out from behind a tree, pointed his rifle menacingly at the
general's stomach and shouted, "Who the hell are you?"
Horrocks got out of the jeep gingerly and replied, "I
am a Britisher–and what's more, your division has just been placed under my
The GI looked at him incredulously and asked his rank.
"A three-star general," answered Horrocks.
"Holy Moses!" said the soldier. "We don't see
many of them up here."
Horrocks reported later that he was "able to meet and
chat to a number of these fine-looking young soldiers." And he soon
discovered a front-line problem that reminded him all too much of his grim
World War I experiences in the trenches.
"It soon became obvious that, with the exception of the
U.S. paratroop divisions, whose commanders literally lived with their forward
troops (and, of course, with the exception of Patton), the normal U.S. corps
and divisional commanders rarely, if ever, visited their forward troops,"
recalled Horrocks. "This was something I had to put right without delay,
because of the appalling wintry conditions which the 84th were likely to meet
in this their first experience of battle, opposed by experienced,
battle-hardened German troops."
Horrocks ordered the 43rd Wessex Division, the Sherwood
Rangers Yeomanry, and artillery and specialized tank units to support the
Americans. He also ensured that the U.S. troops received hot food and dry
socks, in order to boost morale.
The 84th Division secured its objectives in the Battle of Geilenkirchen,
one of the hardest fought actions at the battalion, company and platoon level
in the European theater. General Horrocks said he was "filled with
admiration for the extreme gallantry displayed by the raw GIs."
The problem of commanders being out of touch with their
troops was becoming endemic throughout the U.S. Army forces in the European
Theater of Operations (ETO), says Stephen Ambrose in Citizen Soldiers (Simon
& Schuster, New York, 1997), his compelling foxhole-level history of the
soldiers' war from Normandy to the German surrender. Not even battalion
commanders were going to the front. It was humiliating, Ambrose says, that a
British general had to order American staff officers and their commanding
officers to go check on their soldiers. The American officers' absence was
costly, for tens of thousands of young Americans and Germans died that November
in battles–most notably in the Hürtgen Forest–that did little to hasten the end
of the war and should have been avoided.
The hardships endured by American troops in the hedgerows
and foxholes of northwest Europe–and the courage, resilience and adaptability
with which they faced them–are chronicled vividly in this masterpiece of
historical narrative. It is a stunning account–affectionate, yet honest–of
ordinary men learning to beat a stubborn, well-trained foe at his own game.
From Omaha Beach to St. Lô, and from Bastogne to Cologne, they marched,
shivered, fought, groused, bled, died and triumphed magnificently.
One of the most articulate and informed historians writing
today, Stephen Ambrose has distilled in brilliant clarity the essence of the
American character that helped to preserve global freedom. Without doubt, his
book will enthrall every veteran, scholar and general reader.
When the GIs sailed for Europe, as the author points out,
they were going not as conquerors but as liberators. General Dwight D.
Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, told them their mission in his June 6,
1944, order of the day: "The destruction of the German war machine, the
elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security
for ourselves in a free world."
The U.S. troops accomplished their mission. And, in the
process, they helped to liberate the peoples of France, Belgium, Holland and
Luxembourg and the Germans living west of the Elbe River.
I am a not so recently retired social studies teacher and basketball coach. Still hunting birds though now with a camera instead of a gun.
Nature devotee, dog lover, birder, gardener and still all around outdoor adventure seeker.
Troutbirder II is my alter ego. He loves books and history and spent the Bush II years gradually converting to "yellow dog" Democrat.