Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Recommend Me Books, Part 347

This has always worked well in the past, and my 'to read' pile has shrunk from being about as tall as the Eiffel Tower to being only about the height of my house, so it's time to get some more books. Please therefore recommend to me some reading material, particularly, but not limited to:

  • Good 'minor' Jack Vance. I have read all his major works, by which I mean all of the series, except for Durdane, which is on my shelf and probably next in line to read. I would like to know which of the standalone novels and short story collections are good. (Bear in mind I've read Emphyrio and also have Nightlamp on the shelf.)
  • Histories of the French Revolution.
  • Biographies of Napoleon and Lenin (preferably in the Robert Caro vein).
  • Books about SF and Fantasy (literary criticism/theory).
  • Histories of Latin America, particularly Brazil, Argentina and Chile. 
  • Military history.
  • Political biographies.

I am also always in the market for good novels in general, of any genre, with a preference for anything written before the year 1990. If you just happen to have read something great lately, put it in the comments.

58 comments:

  1. French Revolution:
    Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke

    Military history:
    Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson
    On Desperate Ground, Hampton Sides

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    1. I read Battle Cry of Freedom over the Christmas holidays and really enjoyed it. Learned a lot from it, as well.

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    2. Edmund Burke is like George Orwell, a palette cleanser, a political mastermind. He is harder to read I think but well worth it. I have been building up to reading his 'reflections' though they are early days.

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  2. It's in none of those categories, but The Mighty Dead by Adam Nicolson is magnificent. It's about Homer and a great deal more. You may well have read it, but if you haven't, you're in for a treat.

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  3. I always enjoy when you do this, because I can mine the suggestions for my own use.
    Napoleon/Military history
    Swords around a throne - Etling

    I think I recommended this one last time:
    Empires of the Sea - Crowley

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  4. Wizardry and Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock. Criticism on fantasy fiction.

    We Were Soldiers Once And Young by Joe Galloway and Hal Moore. I read that when I was a young Marine and it scared the shit out me. It's about the Battle of Ia Drang in 1965 written by the US commander and a journalist who was at the battle. Also made into a film.

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  5. RE: Jack Vance, I highly recommend the short story collection, The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph. The Ridolph stories are a different continuity than his later stuff, but just packed with cool ideas. "The Kokod Warriors" has ended up in two different of my campaigns, with cosmetic changes to keep the players guessing.

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    1. I've read Vance's entire corpus, and never been disappointed. Obviously the quality varies, but you're never in for a bad read picking up a Vance book.

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    2. Huh. I have never heard of that one before, so will get it.

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  6. Waterborn, Blackgod and short stories set in the same world by Greg Keyes . Great blend of cultures. My favorite fantasy novels.

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    1. It's funny - I think I can remember reading a really bad review of Waterborn in an old SF magazine here in the UK. But it looks intriguing.

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  7. The Aubrey/Maturin novel series by Patrick O'Brian? I would be surprised if you had not read it, actually, cause it seems to slot into your interest areas listed.

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    1. I have read a couple of those and really like them, yes.

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  8. Hmm. I could offer you some Latin American histories, but they're all so depressing. I really don't know much about the French stuff.

    Jeez. I obviously need to read more in general.

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  9. Oh, yeah...sorry:

    - Open Veins of Latin America (Eduardo Galeano)
    - I, the Supreme (Augusto Roa Bastos)
    - Confessions of an Economic Hitman (John Perkins)

    I don't have a specific book on military history but this blog:

    https://acoup.blog/

    is fan-frigging-tastic, and the author always has pertinent book recommendations.
    ; )

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    1. I'll be in Paraguay in October and will read I, the Supreme before I go.

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    2. Right on. If you spend any time in Asuncion, I'd suggest 'Tierra Colorado' for (at least) one meal. Won't disappoint.

      Also, 'Siete Vacas' or...even better...'Lo de Osvaldo' for steak. La Cabrera (between the airport and the Sheraton) is good, too, but it's Argentine, not Paraguayan.

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  10. Dancing with the Devil in the City of God by Juliana Barbassa is a good modern social history of Rio.

    Thomas Carlyle’s history of the French Revolution, written in the 1830’s, is a classic. The English is poetic and difficult compared to modern histories, but it’s a gripping read.

    Mark Twain famously wrote about it, “When I finished Carlyle’s French Revolution in 1871, I was a Girondin; every time I have read it since, I have read it differently — being influenced and changed, little by little, by life and environment … and now I lay the book down once more, and recognize that I am a Sansculotte! And not a pale, characterless Sansculotte, but a Marat.”

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  11. Blue Planet by Vance might be worth taking a look at. The language is less, well, Vancian than most of his books which makes it less interesting stylistically than his other books but it's not long and can easily be read in an afternoon.

    The characters and the plot aren't anything special so I don't think it'd make anyone's top ten list of Vance stories but its interesting for its worldbuilding and for its glimpses into Vance's ideology.

    It's set on a world completely covered in ocean so people live on what are basically gigantic oceanic lily pads. Vance's exploration of the nuts and bolts of how this works (and how people work around the resource limitations they are placed under) are interesting as is his exploration of the society of the world.

    As for the society, it's very different from what we get in most of Vance's works in that it's a relatively functional (if flawed) libertarian society. If you want a window into Vance's thinking about liberty and authority it might be interesting to see Vance's thoughts on how libertarian societies function.

    Also some of the backstory of the society created a lot of hilarious moments for the readers that the characters don't quite grasp.

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  12. Maybe you'll like Strange Forces by Leopoldo Lugones, the forerunner of Borges. It's a nice example of early science fiction.

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  13. If you're a Brit of a certain age, Martin Middlebrook's The Fight For The Malvinas is interesting; the Falklands War from the point of view of Argentine soldiers

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  14. On the French Revolution: Simon Schama's 'Citizens' is a good overview if you don't find his writing style too grating. Hillary Mantel's novel 'A Place of Greater Safety' is meticulously researched and brilliantly written, though you won't find it hard to work out who her favourite revolutionaries are. (Hint: not Saint Just.) If you're interested in Robespierre then I can recommend Ruth Scurr's biography, 'Fatal Purity', and Palmer's 'Twelve Who Ruled' is excellent on the Terror. Carlyle's 'French Revolution', already mentioned, is a classic, though very purple and histrionic - it was Dickens's main source for 'A Tale of Two Cities'. And if you're willing to go right back to the beginning, Helen Maria Williams's 'Letters From France' provide a fascinating day-by-day account of the Revolution from the perspective of a liberal Welsh woman caught right in the middle of it!

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    1. Thanks for that. I have A Place of Greater Safety on my bookcase - it's one of those intimidatingly long books I have to work myself up to read. It's funny you mentioned "Fatal Purity" - I have just finished reading it. I've long had an interest in Robespierre as a kind of archetype of modernity, but found the book very bland. I'll track down Twelve Who Ruled - thanks!

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  15. I am currently a third into Bernal Diaz's Conquest of New Spain: it's certainly interesting to get an account of what the Conquistadors thought of themselves.

    Found a second-hand copy of The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (2012). Not had much of a chance to dig in that deeply thus far; some of it is pure survey (not without use, but perhaps not terribly satisfying).

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  16. Second the recommendation of Empires of the Sea: a well-told history, and so much gameable material as well. Ottoman pirate who the Christians thought was a sorcerer, heroic and dastardly deeds on all sides, epic battles. Crowley's highly recommended all around.

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  17. It's not military history per se, but I heartily recommend Empires of the Silk Road, which is kind of a reorienting of all of Eurasian history with the focus shifted to the steppe. The book ends with a weird rant about modernity that I don't really understand (although I agree that Le Corbusier and his like were the real barbarians), but you will definitely come out of it determined to run a campaign set in the great grasslands rimmed by a hundred civilizations and inhabited by brave, resourceful, infinitely mobile adventurers.

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    1. It has been a while since I read it, but this strikes me as a correct description of Empires of the Silk Road. There's a few chapters in it I should go back to one day.

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    2. Sounds a little bit like something James C Scott would have written.

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    3. It does have that same anarchist contrarian vim.

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  18. I'm in the middle of re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire, but as a break, I just read The Girls of the Abbey School, a girls' boarding school story written in 1921. The plot concerns a girls' school that is temporarily relocated to an old stately home (dating from the Tudor period) next to a ruined abbey. One enterprising character climbs walls, hides in shadows, discovers secret doors, almost finds hidden treasure (the location of which is indicated by mysterious graffiti) and falls into a 10' deep pit before being rescued by a "rival adventuring party". Equipment carried by children exploring secret passages include electric torches (there's no way of knowing when the battery will run out), chalk, rope, a penknife, a compass and biscuits.

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  19. SPINAL CATASTROPHISM SPINAL CATASTROPHISM SPINAL CATASTROPHISM
    it's partly like serious "critical theory," partly biological treatise, partly post-ironic conspiracy theory. anyway, your spine is an ossified form of time travel :)

    also still waiting on your NooFutura review !!

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    1. I'm going to order NooFutura, so will definitely do a review.

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  20. Mike Duncan (of a History of Rome) has a Revolutions podcast that covers the French and Russian revolutions in some detail. He's also published a book on Lafayette, but I haven't read it

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  21. I concur with Empires of the Sea. I've read and re-read War of Atonement, about the 1973 Yom Kippur war from the Israeli perspective.

    I can also recommend Ambush Alley by Tim Pritchard. It is a page turner about the Battle of Nasiriyah in the Iraq War. The battle takes place immediately after the capture of Jessica Lynch. Chaotic electrical wiring in the city disrupts radio communication, and then swampy terrain immobilizes the battalion's command section. The individual company commanders then use their initiative to make (sometimes terrible) decisions based on partial information. One fault I could give, is that the narrative could use the aid of even a single clear map indicating where in the city the various events took place. After reading, I went to Google Maps and was able to piece together where things happened and make a bit more sense of things.

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    1. I think I remember hearing Pritchard being interviewed about it. If it's the same guy, he said the Battle of Nasiriyah was as close as one could get to a battle between good and evil since WWII.

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    2. Actually no, I think I must have been thinking of one of the other Iraq War books.

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  22. I concur with Empires of the Sea. I've read and re-read War of Atonement, about the 1973 Yom Kippur war from the Israeli perspective.

    I can also recommend Ambush Alley by Tim Pritchard. It is a page turner about the Battle of Nasiriyah in the Iraq War. The battle takes place immediately after the capture of Jessica Lynch. Chaotic electrical wiring in the city disrupts radio communication, and then swampy terrain immobilizes the battalion's command section. The individual company commanders then use their initiative to make (sometimes terrible) decisions based on partial information. One fault I could give, is that the narrative could use the aid of even a single clear map indicating where in the city the various events took place. After reading, I went to Google Maps and was able to piece together where things happened and make a bit more sense of things.

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  23. Just finished "The Thirty Years War" by Peter Wilson. An exhaustive history of that conflict. I'd recommend it. Relatedly his editor on that book - Simon Winder - has written several travel/history books on Germany. "Germania", "Danubia", and "Lotharingia" are the ones I've read. He really focuses on the historical oddities of the region and interesting and eccentric characters. They were entertaining, and informative, to me.

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    1. I love exhaustive history books. It's funny reading the reviews on Amazon - seems this one is *very* exhaustive.

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  24. Napoleon and his Marshals, Macdonell, 1934: Excellent character studies presented through humorous anecdotes. Literary. A helicopter pass over Napoleons campaigns.

    The Campaigns of Napoleon, Chandler, 1966. This bible takes you on a foot journey through the wars. Perfect history, but you would first need to read several slim illustrated books on Napoleonic warfare to get a feel for movement, terrain effects, and interplay between horse, foot and artillery as the focus is on strategy not tactics, and use Clausewitz as a reference.

    This is best introduction to the French Revolution I have read from the illustrious 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. You can find pdf scans on archive.org which I prefer to read. It is approximately 50 pages in length of a standard penguin.

    https://theodora.com/encyclopedia/f/french_revolution.html

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/apr/10/encyclopedia-britannica-11th-edition

    The Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Hogg, 1924: A literary fantasy novel with the power to disorientate before the manner of Kafka. Introduces a perverse religious stridency queasy to those unfamiliar such modes of thought. A book of two halves not to be understood before embarking on the second part.

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    1. Thanks for that introduction to The Confessions of a Justified Sinner. I'd never heard of it before and it sounds highly intriguing.

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    2. I've noticed a typo I meant 1824. There are two editions I can recommend. Edinburgh UP 2002 paperback has a comprehensive 100 page introduction while the Folio Society edition from 1978 is an attractive hardback.

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  25. "The Charterhouse of Parma" by Stendhal holds up well. Published 1839, concerns the exploits of the young Italian nobleman Fabrice Del Dongo, including (perhaps especially interesting to you) his attempts to run off to fight for Napoleon. Considered one of the great French novels, you should have no difficulty finding multiple translations to your taste, and I can speak well to the audiobook.

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    1. Been reading Charterhouse of Parma, and can readily second the recommendation. The humour in it is still fresh.

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  26. Might by a bit trite, but I recommend reading the Anabasis of Xenophon 100%. It's the actual words of the military commander of a mercenary warband, and it is awesome.

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  27. For books about F&SF, The Language of the Night by Ursula LeGuin is worth a read. Spinrad's Science Fiction in the Real World is also worth reading though they're both old, 1979 & 1990 respectively.

    Why the Allies Won by Richard Overy is a good big picture history of World War II, focusing on the title argument.

    Greek Warfare, Myths and Realities by Hans van Wees is an interesting take on ancient Greek military history. Van Wees is the respectful nemesis of Victor Davis Hanson if you're familiar with the latter author.

    The Patriarch by David Nasaw is a biography of Joe Kennedy Sr. Fascinating in part because Kennedy comes across as a relative conservative who was a Democrat because that was the most practical option for an Irish Catholic man of his generation.

    On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, an interesting though idiosyncratic attempt to analyze the title subject, particularly as it applied to the British Army.

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  28. Napoleon/Military: The Campaigns of Napoleon (Chandler). The one and only...

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  29. French Rev:"Citoyens" Simon Schama.
    Not History, but an Argentine worth reading, Jorge Luis Borges
    Political Bio:"Truman" and "John Adams" David McCullough, and "The Autobiography of General Ulysses S Grant: Memoirs of the Civil War" U.S. Grant

    Military History:
    "A Narrative History of the Civil War" Shelby Foote
    "Caesar's legion" Steven Dando-Collins
    "War in Human Civilization" Azar Gat
    "The Thing's They Carried" Tim O'Brien
    "Soldaten" Sonke Neitzel
    "Carnage and Culture" Victor Davis Hanson
    Pre-history military history, sort of... "Constant Battles" Steven LeBlanc and "War before Civilization" Lawrence Keeley

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    1. I like the idea of pre-history military history...

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    2. War in Human Civilization is a rock-solid read. highly recommended. Keeley's book is also an absolute classic.

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  30. Fiction: John Langan, The Fisherman (horror that is great if you like yelling "NOOOO!" at the protagonists; his stories are also very much worthwhile)
    Thomas Burnett Swann, Day of the Minotaur (Grecian fantasy that may have had a quiet influence on early gaming)
    Nonfiction: Underland by Robert McFarlane, poetically written journalism about subterranean places both constructed and natural
    Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz, likewise poetical and journalistic but about four notable abandoned cities of different places and era, why they flourished and declined

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  31. I feel pretty confident that you've read Vance's The Moon Moth before, it's deeply yoonsuiny.

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  32. Have you read Moorcock's Wizardry and Wild Romance? Liked it very much, though I was about 20 at the time.
    Mike

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