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Reading Diary for 2021

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"Decision Over Schweinfurt"
by Thomas M. Coffey
Decision Over SchweinfurtProbably little-remembered in 2021, the Americans' daylight bombing raids to try to destroy the Nazis' ball-bearing factories were legendary in the first decades after World War II. As Thomas Coffey's engaging, well-researched history of that first raid illustrates, it was with good reason: U.S. military brass' assumption that the well-armed B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers could defend themselves from German fighters without American fighter escort was based on nothing more than theory: When put to test in the skies over Europe, it was proven badly miscalutated - with thousands of young American pilots, navigators, bombardiers and gunners paying the price with their lives or a long imprisonment. Coffey does a wonerful job of weaving in both the big picture and the personal, moving seamlessley from tales of the young crew members who flew those missions to the thinking and planning of the generals who were trying to win that very ncessary war with as little loss of life as possible.

"Voyagers: The Settlement of the Pacific"
by Nicholas Thomas
VoyagersA nice layman's introduction to the latest understanding and study into how the Pacific islands were settled in the centuries before the Europeans showed up. The author does a nice job of summarizing current academic thought, and in the final chapter also lays out what is known to be true, and what is mere conjecture. Anyone interested in exploration will find this an enjoyable read.

"Flying Fortress"
by Edward Jablonski
Flying FortressSubtitled, "The Illustrated Biography of the B-17s and the Men Who Flew Them," this 1965 title tries to be all things: An overview of the four-engine heavy bomber that captured the American public's imagination in World War II, as well as a detailed mission by mission analysis of how the planes were used. It doesn't really succeed at either, but given the access to veterans who flew the plane (it was published only 20 years after the war) it does add quite a bit of first-hand knowledge to the annals of that war.

"Tourist Season"
by Carl Hiaasen
Tourist SeasonA former newspaper reporter now toiling as a private eye in south Florida finds himself trying to track down a one-time colleague gone rogue. In an attempt to stop the rampant development in Florida, the rogue columnist and a band of misfits begin a campaign of terror that ultimately targets a football bowl game and a beauty queen. Hiaasen may not have invented the comic mystery, but he surely helped elevate it to an art form &$151; with a huge streak of cynicism running down the middle.

by Anne Hillerman
StargazerBernie is serving an arest warrant when she gets word that her old college roommate has confessed to killing her estranged husband, newly arrived back in the area. What looked like a suicide is now being investigated as a murder, only the confession doesn't add up. Bernie leans on the insights of her husband, Sgt. Jim Chee, and his mentor, retired Lt. Joe Leaphorn, as she works to find out why her friend is lying about committing murder. Another standout entry in the Leaphorn-Chee series her father, Tony Hillerman, started 50 years ago – still a delight to revisit these wonderful characters and the Navajo Nation they call home.

"The Splendid and the Vile"
by Erik Larson
The Splendid and the VileA one-year snapshot of Winston Churchill's leadership during World War II, Erik Larson's intimate portrait captures Churchill's first 12 months in offce as prime minister. During his first year, Hitler launched his Luftwaffe against England in an all-out air assault that came to be known as The Battle of Britain. Larson takes passages from Churchill's daughter's diary, official records, and other arhival materials to put us inside Churchill's inner circle as he strives to fend off the Nazis while also courting American President Franklin Roosevelt. The book is so well-written that reading it feels as if you are reliving that period of time.

"The Flying Tigers: The Untold Story of the American Pilots Who Waged a Secret War Against Japan"
by Sam Kleiner
The Flying TigersGiving this the subtitle of "The Untold Story" is a bit much; after all, the Flying Tigers – the American pilots who signed on to fight on behalf of republican China before the United States was in World War II – has been told numerous times; it's part of our national mythology, and for good reason. But it's fair to say it's probaby not been told like this before: A detailed, almost day-by-day view of the grind of waging war on behalf of another nation halfway around the world. Claire Chennault, the former Army Air Corps officer who was recruited by Madame Chiang and in turn recruited dozens of American pilots and mechanics, is presented with all his warts – and yet comes off even more admirable than the two-diensional caricature of popular culture. The courage of the pilots, and the Chinese nationalists who fought alongside them, is also illustrated – often sadly, as many of those men never came home to that milkshake and cheeseburger they fantasized about while riding out another tropical downpour in a leaky hut.

by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
IndianapolisDetailed history of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis, whose World War II sinking by a Japanese sub in the closing days of the war was not even noticed by the brass for two full days. The authors interweave stories of the survivors (only one-quarter of the crew was rescued – most perished in the days after the sinking, waiting in vain for rescue) and the official records. The book is subtitled "The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man," and the evidence presented makes a good case that the ship's captain was unfairly held responsible, with the admirals above him refusing to accept responsibility for their errors in judgment – and violations of their own standard procedures.

by Adam Makos
SpearheadThis is one of the finest histories I've ever read. Without exhausting my thesaurus, or going all fanboy on author Adam Makos, his ability to stitch together 70-year-old memories from aging World War II veternas, and create a living narrative that puts you in the moment on those long-ago battlefields is utterly remarkable. The men – both American tankers and infantrymen, and a German takner – are illuminitory in their ordinariness. And the unfinished business one of the veterans has carried into his 90s has a wonderful conclusion. Just a very special, wonderful book well worth reading.

"The Storm on Our Shores"
by Mark Obmascik
The Storm on Our ShoresTurning on a single encounter during the often-overlooked campaign in the Aleutian Islands west of Alaska, this isn't so much a World War II history as a story of memory and redemption. The two stories here revolve around an American GI who carries the emotional scars of being in combat, of killing, during the battle for the island of Attu, and a Japanese doctor who'd attended medical school in California and was a practicing Seventh-Day Adventist sucked up into the Imperial Army when he returned home to rescue a sister on the eve of the war. The book moves a little slowly at times, and the combat sequences, while harrowing, make up little of the overall narrative. Still, the book is well-organized, and offers a fitting, real-life conclusion.

"George Marshall: Defender of The Republic"
by David L. Roll
George Marshall: Defender of The RepublicA well-written, deep biography of one of America's greatest World War II military leaders, as well as one of the political leaders who most shaped our nation's postwar approach to Europe. Meticulously researched, drawing on private correspondence, public records, and media reports of the time, as well as other biographies, author David Roll still manages to write a book that seems, well, much thinner than its 694 pages. Roll is often guilty of the modern transgression of judging historic figures by contemporary moral conceits, and that happens often enough it may be responsible for chipping away at the book's own authority. Still, a worthwhile read for anyone wanting to learn more about the great general and postwar leader.