Archive for the 'History' Category

Fools and Mortals. Bernard Cornwell

William Shakespeare by John Taylor

Fools and Mortals. Bernard Cornwell.  2017. ISBN  9780007504114.  Cornwell, a master of the historical fiction turns his hand to William Shakespeare. Told by his brother Richard we are led through the day to day life of playwright and player during the days of the fixed playhouses in the Elizabethan era. Mixed in is the power of the Puritans and town Councils ( Who both wanted to close the playhouses) . It was only due to the support of the monarchy and aristocracy that the theatres and playwrights grew to fame. The author does a very well in having the reader experience the daily grind of life at this time in a crowded, dirty London, replete with crime,  jealousies and feuds. As ever he is meticulous in his research so that you can expect the framework of his story to be rooted in fact. His historical notes are speak to that framework. Great read and holds your attention.

The Doomsday Machine. Daniel Ellsberg.


English: Daniel Ellsberg

The Doomsday Machine. Daniel Ellsberg. 2017. ISBN 9781608196746.  This may be the most terrifying non fiction book you may read.  Ellesberg ( He of the Pentagon Papers) was a long time RAND  nuclear war analyst. Along with the Pentagon papers, exposing the lying to the American public around the Vietnam War, he also retained  papers he worked on for many presidents about the lies and misrepresentations about the nuclear build up.  Japan was willing to surrender before Hiroshima due to the heavy firebombing the cities were being subjected to. Truman did not have to use the A bomb.  There was never a missile gap between US and Russia . The US had 100’s of missiles when the Russians had 4.  Once a missile, airplane or subs are sent out with a nuclear mission, it can not be recalled, as a deliberate military decision, since politicians may second guess.  Between Eisenhower and Kennedy the military industrial complex spent unneeded billions on nuclear buildups.  This continues today so that the overkill is still mind boggling. Worse yet is that in the unnecessarily manufactured race, both Russia and US have put in place Doomsday machines such that if one missile/bomb strikes Moscow or Washington it will trigger end of the world flash launches. Estimates of 500 million dead immediately, the Northern hemisphere is bombed and burning while the rest of the world dies off in 3- 6 months as nuclear winter kills all food and animal life. The smoke and ash from fires etc is driven high into the atmosphere and cuts off all sunlight rendering the earth uninhabitable for eons. So one madman can kill us all.  There can be no limited nuclear engagement.  It renders sleep difficult to consider this.

Stieg Larsson, My Friend. Kurdo Baksi


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson, My Friend. Kurdo Baksi  2010. ISBN 9780670065363.  A biography and reflection on Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy) by his friend for many years as well as the publisher of Stiegs magazine. Expo. Stieg was a tireless worker for human rights and toiled relentlessly against ultra rightwing groups espousing racism, Neo- Nazism and anti-immigration.  He shunned the spotlight as well as having his picture taken, preferring to be in the background. His success as a fiction writer came after he died suddenly from a heart attack.  It seems Larsson worked non stop to the detriment of his health and well being, living on endless coffee and cigarettes.He said that there were ten books in his head for the series on Lisbeth and her life. Apparently he was a writer who worked on the book series in parallel.  He was also tireless in “getting it right”, evidently  destroying numerous early novels once the trilogy was accepted.  One wonders what he would have written had he lived.

Enchantress of Numbers. A novel of Ada Lovelace. Jennifer Chiaverini.

Ada Lovelace, 19th century British mathematici...

Enchantress of Numbers. A novel of Ada Lovelace Jennifer Chiaverini.  2017.  ISBN 9781101985205. A historical fiction novel the author has tried to use as much historical records as possible.  Ada Lovelace is still considered the first computer programmer as she was aclose friend of Charles Babbage – who is credited with designing ( albeit not building) the first computer – his Analytical Engine.  Ada was the daughter of Lord Byron the libetine poet – who it seems was a pretty awful  husband and father.  Lady Annabella Byron ( nee Noel) is a well to do noble women who leaves Lord Byron and raises Ada Byron on her own. Ada’s childhood seems quite draconian as her mother is terrified that Ada will inherit her fathers bad Byron blood – so the child grows up quite alone, most often in the care of caring and uncaring nannies, guardians and governesses. She is denied many of the joys of childhood. She develops a very keen mind early on, especially with maths and sciences.  Her mother  believed  that women are capable of anything and let Ava develop her skills.  The novel follows Avas trials and growth through to her marriage to Lord Lovelace, her three children and her role in London society up until her death from cancer at 34.  She was living in a golden age in England and was friends with Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Mary Shelly and many notable lords and ladies of the time.  This was despite the misogamy endemic to the time and age.  The author writes a clear concise prose and it holds your interest.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes. The true story of love, spies, and the unlikely heroine who outwitted america’s enemies. Jason Fagone.


Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Woman Who Smashed Codes. The true story of love, spies, and the unlikely heroine who outwitted america’s enemies. Jason Fagone. 2017. ISBN 9780062430489. This is the story of Elizebeth Smith and William Friedman who married and together built the American tools and teams for  cryptography (code breaking)  prior to WW2 , which eventually became the NSA. There are many smaller stories  in the larger one. A wife who always let her husband shine ( yet history shows that she was the absolutely brilliant one) . How society (and the military)  ruthlessly and cavalierly ignored her true value in position and salary.  They worked on unscrambling puzzles from crooks, spies,  informants, and the enemy military.  They wrote the definitive earliest books on code breaking.  Their work was routinely used and seized by the always publicity seeking Hoover who always ignored their contributions. Toward the end, the US governments paranoia about secrecy ended up in the seizure of much of the Friedman’s personal papers and rare books collection.   They got their start through an eccentric millionaire,  George Fabyan ( who wanted to prove that Francis Bacon wrote all of Shakespeare’s work) on his estate called Riverbank.  It is highly readable, almost improbable (until you remember the context), and the authors text flows well along.  This would make an exceptional movie.

The Sky Below. A true story of summits, space, and speed. Scott Parazynski cw Susan Flory

English: STS-120 mission specialist Scott Para...

The Sky Below. Scott Parazynski cw Susan Flory.  2017.   The author is a medical doctor, mountaineer, astronaut and free diver.  He grew up living around the world and became very adaptable. His life story is thrilling, historic, and encouraging.  Its also an easy read. There are similarities to books written by other mountaineers, who are also driven black and white people.   A good four hour flight book.

Kitchen Confidential. Adventures in the culinary underbelly. Antony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain being interviewed in the WNYC...

Kitchen Confidential. Adventures in the culinary underbelly. Antony Bourdain. 2008.  Hilarious, cutting, pithy and all too true sounding this a book that rips the covers off kitchens and those who work there. The author makes no bones about his generations of obnoxious, dissolute, atrocious behavior. It seems to be all there.   You will come away with a new insight into the industry.

The Next Factory of the World. How Chinese Investment is Reshaping Africa. Irene Yuan Sun

The Next Factory of the World. How Chinese Investment is Reshaping Africa. Irene Yuan Sun. 2017.  ISBN 9781633692817.  A thoughtful analysis of the similarities of Africa and China in how Africa could replicate China’s jump from an agrarian to a manufacturing country in a very short order.  The author makes some very good , logical points as to how this could be achieved. IN many ways Africa is exactly like China was just one generation ago.  The same Chinese businessmen who made this jump in China are now doing the same in Africa.  And Africa does have the poverty level farmers who would see a low wage industrial job as a step up. Plus by working for these Chinese businesses the Africans can learn how to do run a factory and eventually have factories of their own. The Chinese have recent experience with corruption at home so they know how to deal with African corruption.  I was interested to read that the bulk of investment is from private Chinese firms, not the famous Chinese zombie state enterprises.   From a Western perspective we may be losing sight of how simple this could be as we are too far along the technology path. A delightful and useful read.

Prisoners of Geography. Ten maps that explain everything about the world. Tim Marshall

Greater Middle East

Prisoners of Geography. Ten maps that explain everything about the world. Tim Marshall.  2015.  I spotted this book on the shelf at Gatwick.  A quick perusal told me I should buy it.  The author does a terrific job in explaining the simplicity and complexity in understanding Russia, China, the US, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, Indian * Pakistan, Korea & Japan, Latin America, and the Arctic.  He starts with the geopolitics of each area, the gifts and lacks due to geography. Then you get a quick history of how meddling nations have drawn up political maps in contradiction to history  and geography.  Further explanation shows the present difficulties on helping/hindering these areas as well as their particular hot buttons . Every US president should read this book before saying anything about these areas.  Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

The Taste of Conquest. The rise and fall of the three great cities of spice. Michael Krondl.

Cover of "The Taste of Conquest: The Rise...

Cover via Amazon

The Taste of Conquest. The rise and fall of the three great cities of spice. Michael Krondl. 2007 ISBN 9780345509826.  While travelling in Portugal I read this book. Fascinating,  as it delves in the roles of Venice, Lisbon and then Amsterdam and their successive monopolies in the spice trade .  Each city had a different approach in gaining their monopolies and how they “ruled” their Indian/Indonesian sources/possessions.  So much of the gold and ornate buildings in these cities was based on spice trading ( Pepper, salt, chili, cinnamon, then coffee and sugar) . The source countries and people did not fare well under the dominion of these successive traders.  The pursuit of spice is what drove the Portuguese to sail around Africa and into the Indies.  The author does a good job of illustrating  their particular drives and business approaches. Clearly written