Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Books Reviewed, 2013-2019

At the beginning of this month, I not so subtly hinted at a significant decade in review post. This is that post.

Beginning with Book a Week in 2012, which was the impetus for starting this blog in the first place, I have reviewed almost 143 books on this blog. I read a book each week in 2012, but only started this blog on March 24, meaning not every book appeared on this blog. (For the truly archival experience, here's my RateYourMusic book list.) How do I know I have "almost 143 books on this blog", then?

From 2013-2019, I reviewed 91 books. Reviewing one book per month (with bonus books where appropriate), rather than one per week, allowed me to replace the old diary entry format with proper, longer-form reviews that still remained more or less close readings.

Here's a OneDrive spreadsheet (public, read-only) containing:
  • All my books reviewed on the blog from 2013-2019, in chronological order of review date;
  • Whether the book is fiction or non-fiction;
  • Whether the book was recommended to me; and
  • Whether the book was an e-book or in print.*

A quick overview of the results:
  • 38 non-fiction books, versus 53 fiction books
  • 29 recommendations, versus 62 I found on my own
  • 17 e-books, versus 74 print books
The typical book I reviewed from 2013-2019 was fiction (58.2%), found on my own (68.1%) and, most emphatically, a print book (81.3%).

To translate these to NFL standings: (all percentages approximated to the closest W/L record)
  1. Print Books               13 - 3
  2. Found on Own          11 - 5
  3. Fiction                        9 - 7
  4. Non-Fiction                7 - 9
  5. Recommendations     5 - 11
  6. E-Books                     3 - 13
Although recommendations look low here, I read 29 of them. If you recommend me a book, I'll probably get to it at some point! (Neil Gaiman's American Gods, recommended to me in 2004 and finally read earlier this month, is admittedly a low point there. On the plus side, the first book on that entire list, Mitch Albom's Time Keeper, I read in January after receiving it as a Christmas present. I hope you're looking down on this list proudly, Grandma Gordon.)

The longest fiction book I reviewed can only possibly be Patrick Rothfuss's epic fantasy The Name of the Wind. (No, really, it's so long Rothfuss had to write a blog entry explaining to fans why some publishers split it up.) The longest non-fiction is probably Morris Dickstein's Dancing in the Dark, a book so hulking I was incapable of reading it on public transit. For my sake, I'm glad these were both such great books. I own, but have not yet read, Rothfuss's follow-up, The Wise Man's Fear.

The shortest fiction book I reviewed is probably either Neil Gaiman's Coraline or Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. (Gaiman blogged about Coraline's shortness. Don't you love when Dickens is a contender for the shortest book?) Averaged out, are they A Christmas Coral? (Christmas in the tropics sounds nice.) Or Caroline? (A story about a girl who doesn't get her name confused by strangers.) The shortest non-fiction book I reviewed is Adam Kahane's Collaborating with the Enemy.

None of the above includes the many other great books I read, did not review, but mentioned elsewhere on this blog. These include such notable titles as Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, and Scott Smith's A Simple Plan. (Links to my mentions of them, not to the books themselves.)

Honourable mention in all these categories goes to Mervyn Peake's The Gormenghast Trilogy. I read it, and opined on it, all 953 pages.

Happy New Year 2020! The 2010s are almost behind us but we'll never forget them.

There isn't enough time,
There never was

Ease of Reading: Subterranean
Educational Content: Priceless

*Many of the e-books I read were classics that obviously predated the existence of e-books. The books listed here are the exact copies I read, not the original mode of publication. This stat is more to track my own reading habits than to suggest that I gravitate toward e-readers. I don't even own an e-reader, preferring to read e-books the old-fashioned way: as PDFs.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

MatthewGordonBooks.com - it exists!

MatthewGordonBooks.com is live in an alpha version!


Publications to follow. Everything you could possibly want, from a selected list of my publications, to a community link page, to original photos I've personally taken in Toronto.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Bonus Book! American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Fantasy (2001 - 588 pp.)

After last month, last month again, and last week got academic in a hurry, it's a return to light(er) reading. This time, as with The Handmaid's Tale in October 2017, I'm commenting on a book that has recently been the subject of a popular TV series. This time, however, I've actually watched the Amazon Prime American Gods series, so I'll refer to it frequently.

Neil Gaiman's American Gods begins with a fascinating premise: what if various pagan deities were all around us in modern-day America? The book's opening quotation from Richard Dorson's Theory of American Folklore (1971) explains that Irish-Americans remember the faeries, Norwegian-Americans remember the nisser, and Greek-Americans remember the vrykolakas, but these myths are confined to the Old World. What if there were gods in America? What if homegrown American gods, like television and the Internet sought to supplant them? As a general rule, the reader is led to see the old gods as good and the new gods as bad, but as frequently happens in Blue and Orange Morality* situations, it quickly becomes apparent that each god should simply be appraised on its own merits.

American Gods, despite the plethora of characters, closely follows the internal struggle of Shadow Moon, the protagonist. The opening fifteen pages dig into Shadow's mind as he finishes a three-year prison sentence for his role in an armed robbery. From there, Shadow finds himself isolated from his wife Laura (dead), best friend Robbie (also dead, and in a way that is relevant to Laura's death), and from any possible opportunity for employment. Enter Mr. Wednesday,** a mercurial businessman who employs Shadow as his personal assistant. Together, Mr. Wednesday and Shadow travel across America, focused in the Midwest, where Shadow takes up temporary residence in the town of Lakeside. Lakeside's dark secret is one of the many subplots I don't recall seeing anywhere in the TV series; in the book, it primarily gives readers a place to locate Shadow without having to learn a new setting every chapter.

After seeing the series first,^ I expected to see the gods featured prominently. However, compared to the series, in which there are entire scenes of inter-god interaction with no human (or Shadow) present, there are only a few all-god scenes in American GodsUnlike in the series, where Bilquis has frequent scenes at her shrine and interacting with Mr. Wednesday, in the book she barely factors in at all. She only appears in two scenes, on eleven total pages (27-31, 373-379), and outside of those pages, no character acknowledges that she exists. In the show, she is a compelling character. In the book, she could have been removed entirely. Mr. World is the show's antagonist; in the book, he could technically be considered that, but he does not appear enough to have a compelling backstory.^^

The largest difference between the book and the series is in the portrayal of Technical Boy. Bruce Langley does not look at all like the fat, pimply Technical Boy portrayed in the book. By making Technical Boy better looking, more socially adept, and updated to reflect social media (as a character based on 2001 technology would be hopelessly dated; imagine a character meant to personify technological advance using Windows XP?), Technical Boy is a far better character in the series. In the book, he is annoying, which was likely Gaiman's intention. In the series, he is so well-done he comes off as a good guy.

The book's greater number of gods, but lesser importance attached to each of them, leads to numerous vignettes that allow Gaiman to transport the reader into whichever world he pleases. Odin, Tyr and Thor discover America in 813AD. (66-69) Gods interact with America in more playful ways, such as when Ibis and Jacquel explain contrast their personalized service at their funeral parlour with more standardized shopping experiences like McDonald's or Walmart. (193)

American Gods features a battle between the Old Gods and the New Gods, but it is never a battle in the way high fantasy novels portray battles. The most impressive homicides of the battle involve an instruction in godhood (507) and an invocation of a god's name (528), both of which are extremely impressive (and are scrubbed for names to avoid spoilers), but neither occurs within an epic pitched battle. The battle between the gods is calculated. This makes the gods seem more cerebral, which plays into Gaiman's narrative that gods do many things humans don't understand.

The interview with Neil Gaiman at the end of my edition of the book notes that American Gods first came out of an idea Gaiman had in 1997, that Chapter One was written in December 1997, and Chapter Two was written in 1998. The book was published in 2001. As I always wonder with any book published near the beginning of its decade: to what extent is American Gods really a book of the '90s? To those who see enumerated decades as arbitrary and useless, this may not matter. However, when thinking of American Gods as a product of the decade that brought everything from the pop-cultural backlash against televangelists to more extreme events like the stave church burning in Norway, perhaps maybe Gaiman was looking out at the world thinking: will the gods ever come back?

Ease of Reading: 10
Educational Content: 2

NOTE: I posted this review while watching the Peach Bowl (Oklahoma/LSU playoff game) and sipping an Amager Bryghus RyeKing (yes, that's an enormous American flag on the bottle). Football and Beer weren't characters in American Gods, but they wouldn't have felt out of place.

*Although certain gods are represented as more sympathetic than others, the gods' conflicts aren't ones that lend themselves to a straight good/evil calculation for the human reader. Is an ancient Norse god the good guy when compared to Television? I have no idea, and neither do you.

**Why is he not Mr. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday? Gaiman is telling you something, that's why.

^My cousin Patrick recommended me American Gods in 2004. I have had a copy in my apartment since 2014. I was going to read it sooner, but since I reviewed Coraline in 2018, I would have run afoul of my "no reviewing the same author twice in the same calendar year" rule. So here we are: through a cosmic dereliction of reading American Gods, it becomes what will almost certainly be my final review of 2019, and of the 2010s, for that matter.

^^Like Mr. Wednesday, Mr. World has some identity bait-and-switch happening. However, the book doesn't spend enough ink on Mr. World to make the reveal as exciting.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

December's Book: The Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire: A Short History by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger
History (2006/2018* - 146 pp.)

Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger's The Holy Roman Empire: A Short History is exactly what it says on the tin: 146 pages, divided into ten chapters, covering the Holy Roman Empire from the inaugural Reichstag of 1495 until the Empire's dissolution in 1806. The first chapter, "What Was the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation?" is mirrored by the last chapter, "Once Again: What Was the Holy Roman Empire?" Answering that question is the book's mandate.

This mandate was notably unmet by 19th-century historians, who wished to differentiate their Grosdeutsch (Austrian-dominated) and Kleindeutsch (Prussian-dominated) German unification plans, or by 20th-century historians, who used the Empire's historical territories as a justification for the Anschluss in 1938. Stollberg-Rilinger takes a postmodernist, relativist approach to the Empire: realistically, this is the only viable approach when assessing such a "strange and alien" (8) polity. Stollberg-Rilinger's analogy of a head (the Emperor) and limbs (the noblemen) is apt. The head directs the body but cannot control every cell.

The Holy Roman Empire: A Short History is a book for specialists in early modern European history. Without my history degree and subsequent education, I would have been completely lost. This is neither a strength nor a weakness of the book, just something to keep in mind considering it is the perfect size to fit into a gift bag this Christmas. It is also perfect for a "book a week" early modern European survey seminar or for a German history survey seminar. So many of the book's events are so fascinating or so bizarre they would make good sparring material for eager undergraduate and master's students.

I have a Holy Roman Empire T-shirt. I bought it in 2012, having no idea I would read this book someday. The picture is from just now. Whether the average reader of this book has such a T-shirt, I have no idea. It can't hurt, though.
At the book's outset, the newly crowned Maximilian I (since 1493) inherited an empire that was still fundamentally medieval in character. The vassalage relationships between the Emperor and his subjects varied wildly, from princes to dukes to bishops. Maximilian I initiated a series of institutional reforms that transformed the Empire from its medieval origins into a body that was neither a medieval feud nor a modern nation-state. In 1495, Maximilian I instituted the Imperial Chamber Court "that would allow for the resolution of political conflicts without the use of violence". (50) In the sixteenth century, imperial diets became standardized, including a Mass to the Holy Spirit. Despite various parties' best efforts, the Empire was beset by disputes over minutiae, such as the seating arrangement at mealtimes; with so many different ranks and titles among the Empire's nobility, who had precedence over whom? (54) The question of who held the highest rank or authority was never resolved, and was a factor in the Empire's eventual decline.

The increasing tendency for electors to be monarchs of non-Imperial jurisdictions gave them strength far exceeding their Imperial holdings. When the Elector of Brandenburg became the King in Prussia in 1701, he presented himself to the Habsburgs and to foreign powers as their equal. (As Stollberg-Rilinger aptly notes, Emperor Leopold I was compensated generously for acknowledging this change in title.) The Habsburgs themselves held their highest non-Imperial title in Hungary. The Elector of Saxony became king of Poland in 1697, transforming him from an Imperial subject to a foreign dignitary. Increasingly, medieval-style vassalage seemed outright silly; why would the King in Prussia or the King of Poland prostrate himself before the mere archduke of Austria? 

The emperor, kings, princes, dukes, margraves and bishops frequently engaged in behaviour that would be considered outrageous by modern political standards. Protestant princes frequently secularized local churches in order to consolidate power and raise funds, similarly to Henry VIII in England. (78) During the Thirty Years' War, Imperial forces under Count Tilly burnt Magdeburg to the ground; when the Emperor decided to attack his traditional ally Saxony next, Saxony promptly switched sides to ally with the Swedish. (95) Angry noblemen responded to the Habsburgs' later attempts at centralization by again allying with foreign powers, such as Bavaria allying with France during the War of the Spanish Succession. (111) When the Electors conferred the Imperial title upon Charles Albert of Bavaria in 1742, the only non-Habsburg to be elected Emperor during the book's timeline, the Austrians responded by occupying Munich. (124) This is roughly the equivalent of the Government of Ontario protesting Justin Trudeau's re-election by ordering the Ontario Provincial Police to patrol the streets of Montreal.

Whether these examples are features or bugs of the Empire's unique decentralization is entirely subjective. Later commentators criticized the Empire's lack of nation-state status, which Stollberg-Rilinger discusses extensively in her notations that eighteenth-century pundits called the Empire "medieval" and "Gothic" in contrast to modern countries. (121) Joseph II appears to have agreed based on his doctrine of "enlightened absolutism" that placed his status as archduke of Austria and king of Hungary ahead of his traditional feudal obligations within Germany. The most flagrant example of this reversal of priorities occurred when Joseph II offered the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium) to the prince of Bavaria in return for Bavaria; although this was a roughly fair trade economically, the inhabitants of these territories were understandably mortified.** The proposal fell through when Joseph II, no doubt impatient, invaded Bavaria shortly thereafter. (130) Francis II dissolved the Empire nine years later amidst numerous German nobles seceding from the Empire to join "Napoleon's attempted conquest of Europe. "Having withstood Luther, Gustavus Adolphus and Louis XIV, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation ultimately fell victim to its inability to reform itself." (146)

What was the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, then? Stollberg-Rilinger's conclusion is an 11-point laundry list of various facets of the Empire. It was "a political association based on tradition and consensus", built upon the personal relationships between the Emperor and the noblemen. (140) It was a hierarchical place where politics mixed with religion and social customs, and where disenfranchised groups formed corporations or "estates"*** to advance their interests. It was subject to an uneasy balance of power between the Emperor and the noblemen. It adapted at some times (the Religious Peace of Augsburg of 1555, the Peace of Westphalia of 1648) better than others (the events leading up to the Thirty Years' War, the dissolution of 1806). All of these aspects held the Empire together, and they all tore it apart.

Ease of Reading: 2
Educational Content: 9

*Although the book was originally published in German in 2006, it was not translated into English until 2018.

**Land swaps of this type typically occurred in colonial settings, such as the infamous New York City for Suriname trade between England and the Netherlands in 1667. They also typically formed parts of peace treaties, as the NYC-Suriname trade did. For major European territories to be swapped during peacetime, with the added sting of awarding Bavaria's electoral vote to Joseph II, was unheard of.

***"Estates" in Imperial terms were "groups of people who enjoyed the same rights, shared the same obligations, and pursued their common interests in an organized manner, for example, through membership in the chambers of the Imperial diet, the territorial assemblies, and urban or knightly diets."(143)

Monday, December 9, 2019

Tassel Bookmarks

Over the years, I've repurposed almost anything flat for use as a bookmark. Old business cards work until they fall out on the train, leading whoever finds the card to think you work at a place where you no longer work.  I've even seen a tissue used as a bookmark.

Clothing tags - specifically, the sturdy cardboard tags with the brand name featured prominently - can be used as bookmarks too. They're the right size, they hold up better than paper, a lot of corporate logos have flair, and they play into society's obsession with using clothing brands as statements of identity. 

Nonetheless, clothing tags are frequently smaller than commercially sold bookmarks, and they have holes where they were originally connected to the clothing items.

Adding a tassel solves these problems.

Here is the finished product:

Fashionable reading!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Last Month of the 2010s

Over the course of this month, blustery December 2019, I'll be blogging largely about the decade in review.

An opening note, for those interested in blog post data: This is my 38th blog entry so far in 2019. In every other year since the start of this blog in 2012, I finished the year with a number of blog entries either in the 50s (50-59) or the 20s (20-29). Here are the results:

2012: 55
2013: 53
2014: 29
2015: 54
2016: 57
2017: 23
2018: 29

Unless I blog 12 more times this month, which would be my highest blogging month ever, I will finish 2019 with a total either in the 30s (30-39) or the 40s (40-49). Although a goal of 52 is admirable, as that represents one entry per week, a move away from the boom-bust nature of my blogging quantity is probably for the best.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Bonus Book! Invented Knowledge

Invented Knowledge by Ronald H. Fritze
History (2009 - 255 pp.)

Invented Knowledge is an ambitious, fun, hilarious project that to the best of my knowledge has never been attempted before or since: a history of, according to the book's cover, "False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions". The book has six chapters, each featuring a subset of pseudohistory, starting with Atlantis, the progenitor of all modern pseudohistory; progressing to a chapter on theories of who really discovered the Americas before Columbus; to chapters on the Christian Identity and Nation of Islam movements; to the intertwining insanities of Immanuel Velikovsky, Charles Hapgood and their ilk; and then finally to the Black Athena controversy of the '80s and '90s. Rarely has historiography been so entertaining. If I ever teach a course on historiography, Invented Knowledge will probably be on the syllabus.

Although some pseudohistorical theories are simply wrong history, such as Ignatius Donnelly's Atlantis: The Antediluvean World (1871) and Martin Bernal's first Black Athena book (1987), other theories are so outlandish they would not be seen as realistic enough if they were movie scripts. Gavin Menzies's 1421 postulated that Chinese explorers under Admiral Zheng He circumnavigated the globe, besting Ferdinand Magellan by a century. While Zheng He is a favourite of speculative fiction writers due to the wide-ranging nature of his travels, there is no evidence any of his voyages went anywhere near Antarctica. When critics rightfully pointed out that Menzies omitted Europe, and no other continent, from the Chinese explorers' travels, Menzies responded with a sequel entitled 1434. In 1434, Menzies stated not only that Chinese explorers kickstarted the Italian Renaissance, but also that they visited England:
He has also suggested that the Chinese sailed up the Thames and visited London! But for some unfathomable reason no contemporary chronicler bothered to record these events, which could not have been anything other than astonishing to those Europeans who experienced the alleged Chinese visits. (103)
Charles Hapgood, a professor at Keene State University, would butcher the global map in a similar way when he asserted that the Piri Reis map, (200) dating to 1513, actually showed Antarctica at its southernmost point. Such a claim, as Fritze notes, would convert the Straits of Magellan into a land bridge. That Hapgood and Menzies contradict each other on whether South America and Antarctica were either sailed by the Chinese or connected by land is likely trivial.

The inability to back up claims with data or primary sources is a recurring theme in Invented Knowledge. Immanuel Velikovsky's Ages in Chaos (1952) and Martin Bernal's Black Athena agree on the pointed lack of an otherwise universally acknowledged Greek Dark Ages spanning approximately 1100-700 BC. Velikovsky's theory is that all modern archaeologists have their dates wrong, meaning that the Greek Dark Ages never existed. Bernal is only slightly subtler in stating that Egyptian and Phoenician culture prevented Greece from ever slipping into a Dark Age. Both theories, of course, completely contradict later scholarship like Eric Cline's 1177BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed, which borrows heavily from the historical and anthropological evidence of the period.

Pseudohistorians are characters in and of themselves. Sinking into the minds of key historical figures is a technique I've commented on before, that is also used in journalism and in historical fiction, and that Fritze uses effectively. In some cases, such as Donnelly, Fritze leans toward sympathy with a pseudohistorian who simply lacked our modern knowledge that would disprove his theory. In the case of Rudolf Steiner, an early proponent of the occult theory of Atlantis, Fritze points out that pseudohistorians were often multifaceted hobbyists who were capable of clever inventions:
Steiner did not attract the sort of controversy and scandal that seemed to follow Madame Blavatsky. He also managed to accomplish some genuinely positive things with his system of Waldorf schools, his Campbell Villages for the education of mentally disabled children, his methods of organic gardening and his holistic approach to medicine. (46)
Whether gardening would even be possible in a submerged Atlantis is unaddressed, either by Steiner or by Fritze. Charles Cayce, an early 20th-century Atlantis supporter, only had a seventh-grade education, yet apparently gave medical advice in his sleep. Much of that advice was surprisingly accurate. (46) Richard Brothers, meanwhile, was a very early influence on later pseudohistorical white supremacist movements. He swore off his naval officer's pension, resulting in a self-induced poverty that complemented his dubious claims to have been visited by God but that did not at all impress his landlords. (112) While Brothers did not make the advancements Steiner did, Brothers's tendency to sleep at his friends' houses demonstrates that pseudohistorians were capable of being popular.

The twinning roles of prophet and pseudohistorian continued into the 20th century. In the same way that Christian Identity drastically strains the meaning of the word "Christian", Wallace D. Fard's explanation of the ideology underlying the Nation of Islam hardly seems like "Islam" as we know it. In describing Fard, Fritze ventures the farthest into biography, even farther than when discussing Nation of Islam co-founder Elijah (Poole) Muhammad's various dalliances with underaged followers. Only Fard can fit such an outrageous description:
If anyone deserves the sobriquet of international man of mystery it is Wallace D. Fard. According to the testimony of committed members of the Nation of Islam, Fard declared, ‘I am Wallace D. Fard and I came from the Holy City of Mecca. More about myself I will not tell you yet, for the time has not yet come. I am your brother. You have not yet seen me in my royal robes.’ …Through some prophetic sense, Alphonse [Wallace’s father] recognized Wallace as someone with a cosmic destiny. (143)
"Cosmic destiny" need not only apply to Fard's ideology of resistance against white Americans; other pseudohistorians are content to take that phrase literally. Science fiction and horror bear a striking resemblance to some of their influences on pseudohistory. That Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870) was published the year before Donnelly's Atlantis is no coincidence. (35) The interplanetary conspiracy theories go further. Regarding Wesley Swift and the Christian Identity writers he influenced, Fritze states:
They have developed a fusion of Paradise Lost and Star Wars. God’s angels and archangels patrolled the universe in spaceships but as the Adamic race was about to be created Satan started his civil war in the Heavens. He and the rebel angels used pre-Adamite blacks as their minions but to no avail. The Archangel Michael and a mighty armada of spaceships defeated them and the rebel survivors fled to the earth. (126)
Similarly, Velikovsky's ideas in Worlds in Collision (1950) appear at times to be little more than tosses at an interplanetary dartboard. Venus allegedly began life as a comet that almost struck Earth during Biblical times, which, while technically an explanation of how the Exodus occurred, was notably absent from my Bible studies growing up:
While the Earth and Venus almost colliding helped the Children of Israel to escape their Egyptian bondage, for the rest of the inhabitants of the Earth the event was a colossal disaster. (170)
Erich von Daniken's mid-20th-century theories of Heaven and Hell take a similar tack. In von Daniken's version of Old Testament events, "alien astronauts" paved the way for all human technology leading up to World War II:
But the ancient astronauts were not necessarily benevolent toward the improved humans either. Von Daniken claimed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah resulted from a nuclear blast unleashed by irate aliens. (206)
Zechariah Sitchin went farther (not as far?) in claiming the existence of a tenth planet, Marduk, that is simply lost to modern observers. (211) Fritze ties these theories into the Cold War era when they arose: a time of the Space Race, the moon landing, copious amounts of high-quality science fiction on bookstore shelves, and media like the Twilight Zone and movie posters blasting imaginations out of this world. The difference between Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Rod Serling and the pseudohistorians is that the first three wrote their tales as allegories, illustrations, or entertainment. According to the pseudohistorians, and they alone, these events actually occurred: “Clearly Velikovsky was not exaggerating when he said that his ideas, if proven correct, would force every history textbook to be rewritten.” (174)

Lastly, there is the ironic possibility that postmodernism in academia actually enables pseudohistory. When every opinion is equally valid, does pseudohistory suddenly become just as justifiable as actual history? According to Bernal, yes. That is exactly what happened, which, in turn, Fritze claims allowed pseudohistory to blossom. (253) The antidote is unclear: more academic barriers to entry would keep out the hobbyists like Donnelly, but recall, Bernal was a professor at Cornell* when he published Black Athena. The Ivies housed pseudohistorians 32 years ago. 

As I said two weeks ago, a history book is best served when it is apolitical. Fritze refers to Christian Identity as “extremely conservative” (130) and refers to “right-wing racist groups” numerous times in the Christian Identity chapter, including but not limited to the Silent Brotherhood and the Aryan Revolutionary Army, yet provides no source for the proposition that any of these groups are conservative or right-wing in any meaningful sense. Christian Identity rejects almost all core beliefs of Catholicism and mainline Protestantism, both of which are associated with conservatism, and which Fritze states on multiple occasions. (126-134) Conservatives are typically the opposite of revolutionaries, going all the way back to the 1790s when conservatives opposed the French Revolution, so how could the Phineas Priesthood’s “fantasy of resistance” (132) possibly apply to conservatives? I would similarly avoid any identification of the Nation of Islam with modern left-wing movements, which Fritze does only sparingly. For a book that is essentially a 255-page screed on writers needing to source their assertions more thoroughly, this is a gaping hole.

Invented Knowledge is a fun read about flawed yet often well-intentioned people crafting theories no one in the mainstream will choose over established academia. As Fritze states, though, sometimes people would rather set aside dry academic tomes in order to be entertained.

Ease of Reading: 5
Educational Content: 6

*Cornell University is, of course, my alma mater. I like to think I didn't learn any pseudohistory there...

Thursday, November 21, 2019

It's Alive at the ROM!

I recently took a friend to "It's Alive", the Royal Ontario Museum exhibition of science fiction and horror art from the collection of Kirk Hammett. In this case, "art" is mostly movie posters but also includes statues/sculptures and memorabilia. Hammett is best known for being the lead guitarist of Metallica, but like many artists from metal's golden era, is also heavily into science fiction and horror. Besides, science fiction and horror are so metal.

Hammett's movie-branded guitars:

I hope he's used the White Zombie (1932) guitar to play "Black Sunshine"!

Posters of classic silent movies The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921) and Metropolis (1927):

Poster of the 1953 edition of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds:

There are many more, but surely I can't show you the whole exhibit. Some have a dash of comedy - be sure to see the poster of 1935's The Invisible Ray so you can learn about the Luminous Man!

The collection spans from the 1920s to approximately 1980. Non-poster highlights include the suit Boris Karloff wore for Black Cat (1934) and a life-sized statute of a saucer man from Invasion of the Saucer-Men (1957). (Whether an outlandishly unrealistic saucer man can be truly "life-sized" is a debate you're welcome to have during your next board game night.)

According to the caption beside the Saucer-Man poster, film companies would pitch interesting-sounding titles to advertisers. If the advertisers liked a title, the company would write, film and distribute the movie as fast as they could, based only on the title. Yet the younger generation wonders why some of those old movies weren't that great... the modern equivalent is SyFy's Book of Blood or Rock Monster.

All photos taken by me, with implicit permission from the ROM (they never told me to stop), and all items property of Kirk Hammett. The exhibit is on until January, so go!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

My Photos on Google Maps Now Have over 300,000 Views!

Today, I reached over 300,000 views on my photos posted to Google Maps. As a result of my unpaid but enthusiastic submission of pictures to Google Maps, I was greeted with this cheerful screen this morning:

Here are some of my most celebrated photos from London, England this past summer (ignore the dates):

Here are a couple of my greatest hits, from Toronto, with location and (accurate) date:

This may be my one chance to simultaneously recommend a restaurant and a dog park, so yes, I recommend them both.

I assure you, many of my photos have more views than some of the meagre amounts posted here. I took a photo on Sunday in Hogg's Hollow that is now featured on Google Maps:

It's been fun. Google prompts me every chance it gets, which is often, because I enjoy taking photos. 

May we all discover a few more places than we would have before.

Monday, November 11, 2019

November's Book: The War That Ended Peace

The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan
History (2013 - 645 pp.)

The War That Ended Peace is Margaret MacMillan's fourth book I've read (Paris 1919, The Uses and Abuses of History, History's People). This is Margaret MacMillan's second appearance on this blog (History's People). Whereas Paris 1919 is understandably clumped within an approximately 18-month span, The Uses and Abuses of History is about historiography, and History's People is a set of interconnected biographies, The War That Ended Peace takes the veteran MacMillan reader to an unfamiliar place: the geopolitical strategy rooms of the two decades preceding World War I. In the setting, The War That Ended Peace brings James Joll's seminal Origins of the First World War to mind more than MacMillan's other works.

Like any holistic take on when, how and why World War I began, there can be no true thesis. Attempts to identify singular causes of World War I are sometimes extremely slanted: for example, following the French narrative of "German aggression", or following German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg's acidic remark that the British started the war through their neglect to rein in France and Russia. Similarly, narratives like "nationalism", "the alliance system" or "the cult of the offensive" are too vague to be accurate: as MacMillan reiterates over the course of the book, if these concepts were to blame, why did a general European war not erupt over Morocco or Bosnia? Stating that there were a multitude of factors is true, yet so unsatisfying and so uninsightful it scarcely needs to be said. The trigger events - the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand,* the responding Austro-Hungarian ultimatum toward Serbia, the Russian general mobilization order, Germany's violation of Belgian neutrality - are all well-known. What led to those trigger events, though, and why was it in the summer of 1914 that the guns, mortars and cannon were finally fired? That is the question MacMillan valiantly tries to answer.

Like Mary McAuliffe's Twilight of the Belle Epoque, which I reviewed back in June/July, The War That Ended Peace opens at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. MacMillan deals with some of McAuliffe's characters in her chapter "What Were They Thinking?" (247), but the Exposition Universelle portion showcases MacMillan's own characters perfectly: each nation has its own pavillion, replete with artifacts of national pride. (3-5) The year 1900 was twenty-nine years since the close of the last major European war (the Franco-Prussian War), but the Great Powers would become increasingly violent as the 20th century wore on.

The commonly cited, and not entirely accurate, World War I alliance map commonly shown in high school history classrooms was far from a certainty, especially where the United Kingdom was concerned. Early in the twentieth century, Germany and the United Kingdom had frequent alliance discussions. Shocking as it might seem today, the largest obstacle to an Anglo-German alliance was frequently Germany's desire to build its strength while the United Kingdom went to war against Russia: "Much better for Germany, [German Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow] felt, to remain neutral between Britain and Russia in their continuing conflict." (86) In 1905, two radical peers in the British Parliament formed the Anglo-German Friendship Committee. (298) Over a decade later, when William II would step down at the end of World War I, he suggested becoming a British-style constitutional monarch. It is fitting, then, that so much of the first quarter of the book discusses the background behind the Entente Cordiale. Although the United Kingdom and France were allies during the Crimean War, British public opinion had backed Prussia in 1870, and the Fashoda Crisis in 1898 nearly put the United Kingdom and France at war. Although Fashoda was temporally detached from World War I,** MacMillan's account is hilarious, including Major Jean-Baptiste Marchand's futile trek across a substantial portion of Africa, map included. (144)

That the United Kingdom and France would sign the Entente Cordiale in 1904 was a miracle. Even then, British politicians (especially Edward Grey) waffled on how far they would honour it, right up until the start of the war, intent on maintaining a "free hand" in European affairs. The only scenario that seemed assured was that France and Germany would not end up on the same side of a general European war. Britain, cognizant of this, knew that in siding with France, it was rejecting Germany. The ongoing Anglo-German naval race, which bled into the political sphere as German Admiral von Tirpitz and British Admiral Jacky Fisher constantly lobbied for naval spending increases,^ further pushed the United Kingdom toward France. Austria-Hungary was a useful partner for the naval status quo in the Mediterranean, but the French navy easily inherited that role as World War I drew nearer.

So much of the pre-World War I world is locked in a time capsule, unable to ever be recovered, at once romantic and barbaric. The Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Empires have no clear modern equivalents, and what once was the German Empire is vastly different now. MacMillan's best comparison between the world of then and the world of today is in how major countries compared failed states: "Where today the international community sees failed or failing states as a problem, in the age of imperialism the powers saw them as an opportunity." (165) These were the days of Fotochrom, of Ruritanian romances and of the invention of Fry's Turkish delight.

Although the Ottoman Empire was targeted in Austria-Hungary's annexation of Bosnia in 1908, and again in the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), Austria-Hungary and Russia would fail sooner. During the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Navy accidentally set off the Dogger Bank incident, in which Russian ships sunk British merchant ships and the British almost declared war in response. France, by then Russia's ally and the United Kingdom's friend, had to mediate the dispute. (173) This was all the more embarrassing when considering the Russian ships' ultimate destination: they belonged to the fleet that would be massacred by the Japanese at Tsushima. For years afterward, the Russians would call any foreign policy blunder "a diplomatic Tsushima". Outmuscled by Japan in the Far East, and then outmaneuvered by Austria-Hungary over the Bosnian Crisis, Russia's foreign policy was in tatters. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which guaranteed nothing except peace in Persia and Afghanistan, was cold comfort. Russia's domestic politics were even worse: "Between 1905 and 1909 nearly 1,500 provincial governors and officials were assassinated." (177)

Austria-Hungary lacked such military or diplomatic defeats, and was nowhere near as politically violent, but its nationalist stirrings and lack of a succession pipeline would prove fatal during the war. MacMillan presents a thoughtful mini-biography of Franz Josef von Habsburg, the last great Austrian emperor (219-223), capped by her poetic summary of his life view: "Franz Joseph soldiered on, working methodically through his piles of papers as though, through sheer hard work and attention to detail, he could stave off chaos and hold his empire together." (223) As voting rights expanded and nationalist groups formed in what would become Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and (an expanded) Romania, the image of an emperor holding up his empire became less realistic. When Franz Josef died in 1916, an astonishing sixty-eight years into his reign, his most likely successors had all predeceased him.

Some of the landmark plans of the early 20th century were made by men who would not survive to see the outbreak of war. Alois von Aehrenthal, Austria-Hungary's foreign minister during the annexation of Bosnia in 1908, died in 1912. One of his more infamous legacies was a charged meeting at Buchlau castle, now in the Czech Republic, with Alexander Izvolsky, the Russian foreign minister. As has always been common in diplomatic meetings, each man walked away from the castle with a vastly different story to tell his respective emperor. (423) The Schlieffen plan's creator, Alfred von Schlieffen, died in 1913, although the German army insisted on relying on that plan to the exclusion of ever discussing its implications with civilian leaders: "Germany's war plan, the most controversial to this day, was locked in an iron safe to which the chief of staff held the key, and only a small circle knew its strategic goals." (336) Joseph Chamberlain, who held almost every major British political position except Prime Minister, died a month before the war began. Jean Jaures, the French socialist leader, was assassinated on July 30, 1914, less than a week before German troops set foot in his home country. (618) Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination takes up most of a chapter, was known before the war for being perhaps the one man who could have brokered long-term peace with Austria-Hungary's South Slav populations. Franz Ferdinand's train ride from Vienna to Trieste was so spooky, leading up to the inexplicably disregarded reports of terrorist activity in Sarajevo, that his death almost seemed foreordained. (550)

MacMillan's discussions of the declarations of war is the book's highlight. In those crucial weeks from the June 28 assassination until August Madness, the Great Powers were locked in tension. The Russian general mobilization order came after Nicholas II seriously considered a mobilization on only the Austrian border, which could have contained the war but would have opened the long German-Russian border to a German preemptive attack. Ironically, Sergei Sazonov was able to convince the Tsar that a general war might be the only way to save his throne.^^ After Nicholas II authorized Sazonov to enact the order, Sazonov phoned General Nicholas Yanushkevich; Sazonov then said, dramatically, "Smash your phone." (603) Germany declared war on Russia in response to this order. Friedrich von Pourtales, the German ambassador to Russia, pled with Sazonov to stop the Russian mobilization, but Sazonov refused, leading Pourtales to hand him Germany's declaration of war: "In that case, sir, I am instructed by my Government to hand you this note." (616) Finally, the United Kingdom's declaration of war on Germany in response to Germany's violation of Belgian neutrality shattered Karl von Lichnowsky, the German ambassador to the United Kingdom, who tirelessly worked to keep those two countries at peace. (624)

My only qualm with The War That Ended Peace is the use of modern political terms to refer to now-antiquated events and precepts, including erroneous comparisons to modern times. This is repeated, and I have to assume deliberate. To call certain factions "conservative" or "liberal" in now-defunct countries with political systems that make no sense to a 21st-century North American is heavily misleading. While the Conservative and Liberal parties in the United Kingdom can rightly be referred to by their party names, and the Social Democratic Party in Germany was quite obviously socialist, going much further falls into the dreaded trap of tunnel-visioning history. People in the Russian Empire or the Ottoman Empire saw their worlds so drastically differently from modern English-language readers, few words can describe peoples' political predilections in all those places.

MacMillan's epilogue is a blisteringly fast twelve-page outtake on World War I. After everything from Queen Victoria's jubilee to the tales of "Foxy" Ferdinand of Bulgaria, the war finally arrives just in time for the end. After the war, Harry Kessler, a German diplomat, revisits a house of his that he had not visited since 1913. Kessler's diary entry on the experience is among the most nostalgic passages I have ever read. (640)

Finally, as exciting as the diplomatic intrigue leading up to World War I was, there is so much more to commemorate. That is why this review is being posted on Remembrance Day (Armistice Day or Veterans Day). Last year, I visited the World War I monuments in Prospect Cemetery in Toronto, and then visited the Toronto Archives collection of newspapers from the date of the armistice in 1918 in anticipation of the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I. The more we read, the less we forget.

Ease of Reading: 4
Educational Content: 10

*In the interest of theming my experiences, as I often do in regard to this blog, I am listening to Franz Ferdinand (2004) while writing this review.

**The Fashoda Crisis happened sixteen years before World War I. A good comparison is considering the armistice in 1918 in assessing motives for the extremely ill-fated German-Polish non-aggression pact of 1934.

^MacMillan spends far more time with the Anglo-German naval race than I have here. The topic demands its own book, and is already the subject of many.

^^For all the book, and many other sources, mentions the eerily accurate predictions regarding World War I, this has to be the worst World War I prediction I have ever seen.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Strange NFL Stats, Factual and Fictional

One of the core mandates of Matthew Gordon Books is the analytical approach to fiction and non-fiction, which I try to read in roughly equal amounts, such as when I read 26 of each for the venerable Book a Week. One of the more peripheral mandates is my lifelong interest in the National Football League. Sometimes, that even devolves into statistics.

Here are two extraordinary NFL statistics, one from non-fiction, one NFL.com accidentally made up:

Fact: Andy Reid has the same NFL head coaching record as Marty Schottenheimer

Right before the 2019 season, I noted on Quora that if the Chiefs started the season 5-2, Andy Reid would have the same lifetime NFL head coaching record as Marty Schottenheimer (200-126-1). (Even the same number of ties!) Moreover, Reid would achieve that record as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, which Schottenheimer famously took to multiple first-round byes back in the 1990s.

Thanks to Thursday night's 30-6 victory over the hapless Broncos, the Reid/Schottenheimer prophecy is fulfilled.

Fiction: The Lions led the Vikings 7-1

When the Vikings scored their first touchdown of today's game, the NFL.com Gamecenter of the game recorded the extra point but, through some glitch or human error, failed to record the touchdown. The result was this:

Depending on who you listen to, it is either impossible for a team to have a score of 1 in an NFL game, or so unlikely it's never happened. Today was not an exception.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

High Shelf Press Issue XI: containing my satirical short story The Aviary

High Shelf Press has just released Issue XI today!

Available for sale in print for $15 from High Shelf Press (bundled discounts available) or from Amazon.

Cover art by Monica Wiesblott straight out of a classic horror movie. Image from the link to Issue XI above. Not my image, I just thought you'd like it.

Among other great artists, Issue XI features my short story "The Aviary", in which predators and scavengers engage in a war of words (war of birds?) over who gets to eat the big catch. The birds within are markedly more majestic than this guy I snapped, I assure you.

You can find a full table of contents here.

You can read the issue online in journal format here.

High Shelf Press is a Portland, Oregon-based independent literary publisher, featuring authors, poets and visual artists from the United States, Canada and more. High Shelf Press works in conjunction with Cathexis Northwest Press. In keeping with October, Issue XI is High Shelf Press's "spookiest issue yet".

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Panthers in Hotspur!

The NFL stadium in Tottenham Hotspur is the first NFL-designed stadium outside of North America, as per Melissa Stark. Today, it hosts the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which is the first division rivalry game in that stadium. (Last week's Chicago/Oakland tilt was a game between two vintage NFL franchises, but two that have never played in the same conference, let alone division.)

I went to London for the first time this past summer. I took over 900 pictures in eight days, including Westminster Abbey (just the outside!), the iconic statue of Richard I in front of the House of Lords, and the original 1854 dinosaur models at Crystal Palace.

I've been cheering on the Panthers since their inaugural season in 1995. Now I get to cheer them on in the shadow of this:

As someone who is such a big Panthers fan I wear my Panthers hoodie to a Guns 'N' Roses concert, I couldn't be happier.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

October's Book: Galveston

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
Thriller (2010 - 258 pp.)

A doctor took pictures of my lungs. They were full of snow flurries. (3)
From Nic Pizzolatto, the creator of HBO's True Detective comes his first novel Galveston. The story is told from the voice of Roy "Big Country"* Cady, a mercenary/assassin diagnosed with lung cancer in the book's first two sentences (referenced above). With what he thinks is a short time left to live, and with his old colleague Stan Ptitko determined to make that time even shorter, Roy embarks on a journey that is part-escape, part-revenge. He is accompanied by Rocky, a teenaged prostitute he rescues after the book's opening conflagration, and eventually Rocky's little sister Tiffany. Ironically, Galveston takes place in some of the hottest parts of the Continental United States, yet Roy compares his cancer to snow.

No character in Galveston is particularly lovable, although it's difficult to dislike toddler Tiffany. Roy earns the reader's sympathy through his sardonic humour, extreme levels of pragmatism, lack of regard toward any traditional obligations, and the fact that he isn't any of the other characters. Roy is a cross between the Punisher and someone engaged on a long road trip in the South with unlimited drinks, especially Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam and J&B. When Roy murders people, he always finds a way to paint it either as self-defence (19) or as something that happened so quickly it was the only logical course of action. (234) Roy cares about Rocky and especially Tiffany, and seems genuinely willing to help people in trouble, but is otherwise emotionless about his surroundings, including rejecting Rocky's sexual advances even before he learns Tiffany exists. (44)

The book's main events occur in the late '80s, with the future "present" when Roy tells the story being 2008.** Conveniently, the story occurring in the pre-smartphone era makes characters evade each other more easily. When a character is not physically in front of Roy, the reader has no idea where that character is, or whether he or she is even alive. This sense of disappearance adds to Galveston's mystery; much like in the original Warcraft computer game, when you haven't discovered a piece of land yet, it may as well not exist. Feeling that way in a fantasy world is understandable, but when the hidden place is somewhere as obviously existent^ as the Southern United States, a fog hangs over the entire setting. When Roy leaves his motel room after rejecting a prostitute's advances, continuing his tradition of apathy toward sex, he reflects on how literally in the dark he is about his future: "You steer down lightless highways, and you invent a destination because movement is key." (155) The future Roy finds is as a sixty-two-year-old ex-convict with one eye and a dog, who lives a quieter life than he could have imagined in the '80s.

My one qualm with Galveston is the use of the "knocked unconscious with no lasting damage" trope, which is disproven by science once every few seconds. Any unconsciousness lasting longer than a few seconds has disastrous effects on the neural system,^^ yet Roy's head is treated like a pinata, only for his brain to function normally a couple pages later. (226-228) 

Unlike many of the other books I discuss here, Galveston is a blisteringly fast read with a simple story Pizzolatto conveys well. There is very little subtext, obscurity, theorizing, or questioning of what reality means; what you read is what you get.

A personal note: when I lived in Houston briefly on a work assignment, my parents visited me for a weekend. During that weekend, we went to Galveston. It was 2011, the year after Galveston was published. When Roy drives Rocky and Tiffany to the Gulf Coast, lending the reader an idea of how Pizzolatto picked the book's title, he notes the wide-open possibilities envisioned by the drive down the I-45 to Galveston: "Clear of the cities, Texas turned into a green desert meant to hammer you with vastness, a mortar filled with sky. The girls treated it like a fireworks show." (79) While we certainly had a better time there than Roy did, Pizzolatto's descriptions of the Gulf and the beaches took me back there. I might not have picked this book to read if the title didn't bring back those memories.

Ease of Reading: 10
Educational Content: 1

*No resemblance to Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, retired centre for the (as they were then) Vancouver Grizzlies.

**Although I suppose this fact spoils that Roy survives the story, it's impossible to discuss the book's 2008 scenes otherwise.

^The word "existent" is used not nearly as often as its antonym "non-existent". Why, I've never learned. Perhaps things are assumed to be existent unless we hear otherwise.

^^A similar error is made in Richard Matheson's Somewhere in Time, also told from the perspective of someone with terminal cancer.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

September's Book: Days of Infamy

Days of Infamy by Harry Turtledove
Alternate History (2004 - 520 pp.)

Days of Infamy is the first book in Harry Turtledove's duology* about what could have happened if the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had turned into an all-out amphibious invasion. The book, therefore, alternates between various Japanese occupiers, American soldiers and American civilians. The events all occur on Hawaii except for the opening in Tokyo and the sections featuring Joe Crosetti, an Italian-American cadet living in San Francisco and training in Pensacola. As is commonplace on this blog, the Book One Effect is in full swing. However, there are only two books in the Days of Infamy series, so a quick follow-up read of End of the Beginning (2005) should be easy.

Days of Infamy starts the way history actually went: with Isoroku Yamamoto and Minoru Genda planning the Pearl Harbor attack. (1-5) Turtledove's combination of real-life figures and fictional-but-believable characters brings the reader right into the events, as if existing as a fly on the wall.** From there, the modified Pearl Harbor is 40-50 pages of action and suspense, sure to liven the heart of any Axis & Allies player. Then, of course, there's how people react to the sudden and unexpected Japanese occupation of Hawaii. One example is Oscar van der Kirk, an American transplant turned beach bum, who is a surfer who invents sailboarding in this timeline; his full story is too entertaining to be repeated.

Joe's world goes back and forth between the excitement he feels at training and the devastation he feels when his relatives die in a bombing raid. When he is bussed off to training as an aviator, he quickly meets his new roommate, Orson Sharp, a Mormon from Utah. Sharp is used to snow, but it's bizarre to Crosetti. (192)

Meanwhile, American military officers suffer, and anyone close to them suffers too. Fletcher Armitage is a high-ranking officer who becomes a POW, shortly after his separation from his wife Jane. Jane's fate is no better, as she ends up being coerced by the occupying Japanese authorities into mending a of turnips and potatoes. (234) Similarly, Lieutenant Jim Peterson ransfers from the Navy to the Army, which costs him epaulets. The book assumes Admiral Halsey dies during the initial raid, which leads to chaos.

The book's emotional high comes near the end, when the occupation is complete. Kenzo is a late-teenage-aged Japanese-American whose father is in favour of the occupation, but he and his brother are staunchly American. Kenzo dates Elsie Sundberg, an American. Kenzo can't make sense of the occupation, a sentiment that is surely echoed through many occupations past:
Then he looked west, toward Pearl Harbor. No, no fireworks tonight. The U.S. Navy was gone from these parts. Everything else that had to do with the United States seemed gone, too. So where was there a place for a person of Japanese blood who thought he had the right to be an American? Anywhere at all? (510-511)
Confusingly, there is another book called Days of Infamy that is, as well, an alternate history about the Empire of Japan conquering Hawaii in the time following Pearl Harbor. It is the second book in its series. It came out in 2008, well after Harry Turtledove's book hit the market. This is why you Google your proposed book titles before you write, folks.*** This second Days of Infamy was written in part by Newt Gingrich. I don't usually give Newt Gingrich unsolicited advice online, but when I do, it's apparently about searching book titles.

Ease of Reading: 7
Educational Content: 4

*So few book series are exactly two books that "duology" is an uncommon word. To wit: "trilogy" yields 168 million Google search results, whereas "duology" yields only 1.49 million.

**Turtledove has a tendency to use "as if" to introduce a simile, as in "he laughed, as if hearing a joke". He also has his characters frequently say clich├ęs in order to evoke the time and place. Whether these are faults is subjective.

***The musical equivalent is "Google your song titles before you write your choruses". Arguably the most notable example is British power metal band DragonForce releasing the song "Die by the Sword" in 2012, a full 29 years after the classic Slayer song of the same name. One would think the DragonForce song was a cover, but alas, it is not.