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BOOK REVIEW: Augustus: The Golden Age of Rome

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 5, 2019

From the MagWeb vault...

BOOK REVIEW: Augustus: The Golden Age of Rome

by G.P. Baker

Cooper Square Press, 2000, $18.95, ISBN 0-8154-1089-1, 324 pages

This reprint of the 1937 edition reads pretty well after 63 years, and although scholars may have added archaeological evidence since then, the portrait of the first Roman Emperor--with apologies to Julius Caesar--remains an excellent source of information. Baker weaves a sympathetic portrait of this teenager thrust into the limelight after the assassination of Julius. How Octavian plays the political game makes for an incredible story and Baker tells it well.

Baker also outlines the reasoning behind the events, detailing the options and outcomes of political maneuverings and social reconstruction in the wake of becoming heir to Julius and emperor in his own right.

"The new attitude..., which Augustus helped to make fashionable where his influence penetrated...Not to worry, nor to attribute importance to trifles, to have faith in good sense, and to hold ourselves quiet; to follow our own genius and to enjoy what we really like best-and to accept the consequences, concerning which we most of us have shrewder ideas than we are willing to admit-this was the new attitude; perhaps a little puzzling at first until we have grasped its implications...To avoid extremes and take the middle road was the whole theory on which Augustus had worked." (page 277)

Battles and campaigns receive adequate coverage for a one-volume biography. Certainly the battle of Philippi is explained, as is the siege of Perusia, and the running campaign against Sextius Pompeius. But while important, the focus remains on Augustus' efforts to bring peace and usher in a golden age. How ironic that a man who began with a civil war against the aristocrats who had killed Julius, followed by an even larger civil war against Mark Anthony, as well as continual skirmishes and campaigns against external enemies, would also be known for his improved administration, revamped constitution, and transition from civil war to civil peace.

Late in life, he remarked that he had found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble. Baker's ode to Augustus is a favorable one.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: Guns at the Forks: Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 5, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Guns at the Forks: Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt

by Walter O'Meara

This 1965 book covers the construction of the various forts that sprung up on the American frontier in the 1700s, including Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt. Better yet, O'Meara provides a well-written account of events surrounding said forts, from frontier skirmishes to the French and Indian Wars as the British and French slugged it out with fickle Indian allies. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  French and Indian War 

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BOOK REVIEW: Great Battles of World War II: Military Encounters That Defined the Future

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 5, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Great Battles of World War II: Military Encounters That Defined the Future

edited by Chris Mann.

On the bottom of the cover: 'Includes full-color tactical maps of each battle.' This is one of those over-sized, picture-intensive books found in the discount bin of the Barnes & Nobles that I found at a library sale for $1. Those tactical maps, some of which are two-page spreads, are terrible -- Ospreys put them to shame -- but the Osprey-like uniform and vehicle illustrations are good and you always find the odd interesting photo. It's worth a buck. The Mapping the Civil War book should’ve been this size.

Tags:  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Mapping the Civil War: Featuring Rare Maps from the Library of Congress

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 5, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Mapping the Civil War: Featuring Rare Maps from the Library of Congress

by Christopher Nelson

The 12 chapters offered a quick overview of American Civil War campaigns and battles interspersed with photos and maps. The maps are the superstars of the book, and while quite a good selection, they need to be larger. This really needs to be one of those big folio-sized books.

Tags:  American Civil War 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Birth of the Republic: 1763-89

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, July 22, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Birth of the Republic: 1763-89

by Edmund S. Morgan. This is the third edition of 1956 original by a Yale professor and is as smooth a read as you'd ever get from academia. He examines the creation of the US in 156 pages, plus full text of Articles of Confederation, Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights in the 206-page book. He hits the high and low points and if you haven't thought about the politics of the late 1700s, this is a great little book to get reacquainted with how our country started.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  American Revolution 

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BOOK REVIEW: Congress at Princeton: Being the Letters of Charles Thomson to Hannah Thomson June-October 1783

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, July 22, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Congress at Princeton: Being the Letters of Charles Thomson to Hannah Thomson June-October 1783

Edited by Eugene R. Sheridan and John M. Murrin

Thin volume offers 94 pages of letters (with extensive footnotes) and 45 pages of background history that discuss Congressional events when the national capital moved to Princeton, NJ, for three months or so. Charles Thomson was secretary of Congress, Hannah was his wife, and the letters are filled with details of almost daily activity -- or inactivity -- of Congress.

It seemed there was hardly ever a quorum and most of the time was used to discuss where to locate the capital after the war: Princeton, Trenton, or Annapolis. Thomson recorded all Congressional activity throughout the revolution and through the Articles of Confederation, about 50,000 long-hand pages' worth -- but only the motions that passed and never any of the speeches. He also wrote a 1,000-page history of Congress and burned it (?!) for fear that publishing the account would open old wounds and rivalries!

Letters are so-so, but enjoyed the background.

This post has not been tagged.

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The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, July 22, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army

by Paul Lockhart

This professor can research and write, which is comparatively rare among history books. Sympathetic bio of Steuben, who conned his way into drilling the ragtag Americans at Valley Forge, and then at times led them into battle. The Prussian officer was at the right place and time, albeit his abrupt manner ruffled some lace feathers at times and he became frustrated at other times when ignored.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  American Revolution 

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BOOK REVIEW: Shanghai 1842-1949: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, July 22, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Shanghai 1842-1949: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City

by Stella Dong

A broad overview of the city sheds considerable light on gangsters, corruption, repression, exploitation, affluenza, squalor, and all sorts of vice through the years covered. Of note, at one point, and for years, the leader of the largest criminal gang (the Green Gang) became the chief of police, where only gang members could become cops and detectives. If you thought Chicago in the 1920s was a gangland paradise, multiply it by 10 and you get Shanghai through the decades. Great setting for 1920s-30s pulp game.

Enjoyed all the colorful characters, from paupers to ultrarich.

Tags:  19th Century  20th Century  Asia-Pacific 

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BOOK REVIEW: German and Russian Tank Models: 1939-1945

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Friday, June 28, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: German and Russian Tank Models: 1939-1945

by Mario Eens

As a kid, I used to build plastic models, but nowhere near the capabilities of Eens, who transforms mere plastic into art forms that would put most museum dioramas to shame. He covers four tanks -- 1/35 Panzer IA of DAK in North Africa, 1/35 T-34/76 at Kursk, 1/72 Pz VII Maus, and 1/48 SU-152 in winter camouflage -- a Soviet tanker for the T-34, and a 1/35 Soviet infantryman in 1945.

All chapters offer complete, step-by-step, detailed instructions on building, painting, adapting, and otherwise kitbashing the tanks with all sorts of little touches to create impressive models. It's all documented with a plethora of photos and captions per model. How many? I counted 191 photos of the Pz IA, 154 photos of T-34 and crewman, 119 for the Maus, 204 for the SU-152, and 64 for the infantryman. That's 732 photos. I think I counted them all, but I might be off by one or two.

The only thing not explained is the 1/48 scale tool clamps used on the 1/35 scale Pz IA (page 32). I know, picky among all the jaw-dropping talent on display.

If you're painting 1/285 scale models, the book is overkill, but as you go up the scales, the tips and techniques become more and more useful. Enjoyed it, or more properly, awed by the end results.

Tags:  Eastern Front  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Hitler's Wave-Breaker Concept: An Analysis of the German End Game in the Baltic

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Friday, June 28, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Hitler's Wave-Breaker Concept: An Analysis of the German End Game in the Baltic

by Henrik O. Lunde.

The analysis starts with dissecting Hitler's strategic thinking as well as the planning and execution of Barbarossa. As the war continued and fortunes reversed, the 'Wave-Breaker Concept' as I understand it relates to never giving up an inch of ground and if no choice, leave forces behind in cities that were turned into 'fortresses.' The idea is that the Soviet forces needed to surround said cities would be many times that of the garrisons trapped behind enemy lines. Initial and successful efforts to resupply by air, followed by punching through a relief column, convinced Hitler that all of such fortresses could hold out, even though air superiority fell to parity and then inferiority through the four years.

When it came to the Baltic, retreating army units to the coast meant the Navy resupplied said pockets, much to the chagrin of the Navy. As the Soviets pushed westward, these 'fortresses' never quite lived up to the visions in Hitler's mind. Stalin once joked that the Courland pocket of 250,000 Germans was a POW camp where the Germans fed themselves.

Of particular note was Hitler's rationale that maintaining such forces on the Baltic coast, especially in Courland, kept Finland in the war. Although such pockets did have some effect, as 1943 turned into 1944, the Finns were negotiating for peace with the USSR. Interestingly enough, the USA hadn't declared war against Finland until late in the war and indeed, warned the Finns against launching any offensive against the Murmansk rail line. This also had the effect of dissuading Finland from pressing an offensive against Leningrad, too, much to German frustration.

Hitler's Wave-Breaker Concept covers more than the 'end game' and delivers interesting analysis throughout. Well written, too.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Eastern Front  WW2  WWII 

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