Friday, June 16, 2017

A Michigan Boy and the Great War

A Colleague in ShadowsA Colleague in Shadows by Jack Adler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Young Kirk was not a diplomat, but he found himself rubbing shoulders with some of the most influential statesmen during the years prior to the United States entering World War I. Fresh out of college, this neophyte from Michigan is the assistant to the unofficial spokesman for President Wilson. Based in Paris, Kirk is sent to gather intel in London, Petrograd, and Berlin. Perhaps it’s because he is such a callow youth that he is able to disarm some of the most prominent figures in the Great War. He also disarms some young ladies.

Jack Adler’s A Colleague in the Shadows tells the how and why of the run-up to America entering the war. It recounts Wilson’s stubborn push for ‘Peace Without Victory’ and the resistance his plan encountered in European courts. The United States dawdled for three years, enduring shipping loses at the hands of U-boats, and unrelenting pressure from allies to send American troops to France. Mr. Adler tells this story from an innocuous viewpoint. Kirk Johnson is a reluctant participant in global affairs, but he handles his tasks with aplomb. This story is remarkable in how it places an unremarkable character into such momentous events. It is well told, and the characters well developed. A Colleague in the Shadows is an entertaining way to revisit some history.

This book has some issues that I would be remiss not to mention. I have corresponded with the author, and he has told me that he has no control over the publisher who failed to correct numerous glaring errors. I make this disclaimer with Mr. Adler’s permission. It is a great book, sadly, it has been published by a poor publisher. I hope that you can enjoy it while overlooking the typos.

71500 words

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

If You're Tired of Hearing About Russians...

History of Russia in 100 Minutes by Tanel Vahisalu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Russians are an unfortunate melding of Vikings, Mongols, and Slavs. Their history is dominated by one recurrent theme—failed ideology. Repeatedly, one ruler takes control with the intention of instituting reforms, and the subsequent ruler reverses them. Ivan the Great broke the yoke of Mongol domination and expanded Russian influence. Ivan the Terrible succeeded him, subjugated the people, and nearly lost Russia to Sweden and Poland. Under the reign of Catherine the Great, the people enjoyed “freedom of speech, political stability, and great victories.” Along came Alexander I who reverted to “autocratic governing.” Nikita Khrushchev ended Stalin’s reign of terror and promoted agrarian reform. During Brezhnev’s “Era of Stagnation” the Soviet Union “became politically, economically, and socially backward.”

This student of history is unaware of any society that has exterminated as large a percentage of its own population as the Russians. Famines, pogroms, wars, and purges have decimated vast segments of the populous at numerous times throughout the history of the place we generally call Russia. Famine during the “Time of Trouble,” following the rule of Ivan the Terrible, decimated one third of the inhabitants. During World War I, Russia may have lost 1.7 million, during the Russian Civil War, after the Bolshevik Rebellion, total casualties have been estimated at 9.5 million. Then came Stalin. Stalin was surely the most murderous in terms of sheer numbers and probably also in percentage of the population. Mr. Vahisalu cites at least fifteen million dead. Other sources have dared to claim twenty-nine million.

Tanel Vahisalu is from Estonia, long part of the Soviet Union and liberated after the collapse of that body. He now resides in Finland. The reader can tell that he has written this delightful history from a front row seat. History of Russia in 100 Minutes covers every momentous event in clear, concise prose, giving the reader the essential facts of who, when, and what happened. The text is linear and chronological. It is followed by chronological lists of events, the rulers, historical figures and even a glossary, making this reader friendly history an excellent reference book for future study. Too many people avoid history. They don’t like it, and to their peril, they are responsible for its endless repetition. According to Mr. Vahisalu, Catherine the Great’s attempted reforms went nowhere. People of the twenty-first century need to look at their own situation in the context of history. History of Russia in 100 Minutes is a great place to start.

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