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Reading Diary for 2012

  and earlier
"Battlefield Angels"
by Scott McGaugh
Battlefield AngelsA solid, sometimes moving history of combat medics and corpsmen and the warriors whose lives they have saved in American wars from our founding to the present. Scott McGaugh does a nice job of intertwining the advances in medical technology and techniques with the stories of the men, mostly very young, who defied the terrifying danger of combat to go under enemy fire and provide first aid to their wounded comrades. This book will give you a newfound appreciation for what our medics (Army and Air Force) and corpsmen (Navy) do in terribly dangerous situations.

by Felipe Fernández-Armesto
Battlefield AngelsA broad overview of the explorer whose name was attached to the Western hemisphere. Fernández-Armesto presents a historic record that points out that while Vespucci's accomplishments were nothing like he proclaimed in his own 16th writing, his record was more substantial than his legions of critics give him credit for.

"Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau"
by Guy Adams
Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. MoreauA remarkably solid revisiting of Holmes, again told by Watson. A bit steampunkish, but captures the feeling and atmosphere of A. Conan Doyle's own Sherlock Holmes tales. Best of all, it leaves Holmes and Watson in their own times, their own place – and conjures up a winning plotline consistent with both.

"Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II"
by Joseph A. Springer
InfernoA straightforward and sometimes too restrained history of the USS Franklin, a World War II aircraft carrier that was devastated by a kamikaze and then, after lengthy repairs, once again nearly sunk, this time by a single Japanese bomb. Given the inherent drama in the fact that the captain who took command after the first attack first criticized the crew he inherited and then tried to have men under his command court-martialed for jumping overboard during the second successful attack, the narrative could have been – should have been – more riveting. Still, it's a solid exploration of a mostly forgotten story from WWII.

"Hell in the Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Journey From Guadalcanal to Peleliu"
by Jim McEnery with Bill Sloan
Hell in the PacificAnother recent first-person recollection of World War II combat by a now-elderly veteran of the South Pacific campaigns. Adds to the history of World War II, while also casting some new light on the view of legendary Marine general "Chesty" Puller held among his men. If McEnery's recollections are accurate, then, as with Patton, Puller was far more adored by the press than by the men who served under him.

"Undefeated: America's Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor"
by Bill Sloan
UndefeatedThis recent history of a well-documented WWII campaign makes the story fresh anew by telling it from the point of view of those who experienced – based on new interviews with survivors. Breaks no new ground, but helps fill out the story before those men are all lost to time.

"The Revenge of Geography"
by Robert D. Kaplan
The Revenge of GeographyA fascinating exploration of the role geography still plays in international relations and conflicts. Former Bush aide Robert Kaplan makes a strong argument for the notion that it is the mountains and deserts of the Middle East that still make military operations there difficult – despite our high-tech weaponry – and that India and China are more likely to be power brokers in the future due to their central location on the globe than are nations like Brazil or South Africa which are far removed from other countries. Even if you don't agree with all of his arguments, it's an illuminating read that will make you think.

"By the Blood of Heroes"
by Joseph Nassise
By the Blood of HeroesAnother in the latest craze of zombie mashups, in which World War I is re-imagined with the Kaiser's forces having developed a gas that turns battlefield casualties into zombies – including the famed fighter pilot Baron Manfred von Richthofen. It's not even all that original a concept, as Kim Newman featured an undead vampire Red Baron in 1995's "The Bloody Red Baron." While Newman's novel was high camp of a literary sort, this is more akin to a video game or action movie. Things move along quickly, there's lots of action and high-tech science fiction toys, and not a lot of thinking is involved. It's a pretty quick read – not a complete waste of time, but hard to fully recommend with such a high silliness quotient.

"The Mojave: A Portrait of the Definitive American Desert"
by David Darlington
The MojaveThis counter-culture look at the Mojave starts off strong, with the author trying to define the extent of the Mojave by comparing its historic and popular reach to the actual territory of the Joshua tree – the plant that defines the Mojave Desert. But David Darlington loses focus and, apparently, interest in the book as it moves along, and it lurches from condemnation of the Reagan administration to angry attacks on any desert dwellers who don't embrace Darlington's fairly radical back-to-nature preservationist views. (Even Darlington seems uncomfortable at times with the notion that folks living in the desert should have no stronger a voice in government policy toward the desert than the big-city-dwelling author who comes out on weekends to do research.) Still, the book's charms outweigh its deficiencies: Darlington may not be a desert rat (or at least wasn't when he wrote this book in the mid-'90s; not sure where he lives now), but he'd clearly spent a fair amount of time out there and knows the desert as well as anyone who doesn't live there can. If he lets his politics intrude a little too overtly into his storytelling, he still has some great stories to tell – and there's yet to be a better book at combining both the science and human culture of Southern California's defining desert.