Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The bookshelf (and a reckoning)

Joe Haldeman, The Forever War: One of those books I really should have read 20 years ago. Haldeman's account of interstellar war at relativistic speeds is the metaphor of all metaphors for a soldier's alienation from the home front, and from "his" own war. And his treatment of homosexuality would be remarkable today, let alone in 1974. God knows what the Ridley Scott adaptation will make of it.

Jean Edward Smith, Grant: Better thus far than Smith's bio of FDR. I'm into the beginnings of Congressional Reconstruction, and a little amazed at how much my previous reading was treading the track of the Lost Cause school of historians. (Tho for a biographer of John Marshall, Smith is thus far proving reticent about such issues as the constitutionality of the Tenure of Office Act.) Smith admires Grant's character, and rightly so, but I would like to see a bit more psychology -- for a man as simple and unassuming as Grant, he had a waspish pen in his Memoirs, hinting at something more complex under the surface.

Kurt W. Beyer, Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age: As I'd hoped, this little book goes beyond biography of Hopper to an account of the early days of computing, and the institutional/economic/governmental forces that shaped its development. A topic I knew nothing about, so Beyer is very informative, to me.

Daniel Farber, Lincoln's Constitution: Another little book, usefully and cogently recounting the debates, then and now, over the constitutionality of secession and of Lincoln's actions. Generally supportive of Lincoln while conceding that he overstepped sometimes, Farber concludes with a neat distinction that while Lincoln probably went beyond the law on occasion, but never held himself above the law -- he always was vulnerable to Congress's refusal to ratify his actions, which however never came up. Comparison and contrast with George W. Bush's violations of law, and Congress's effective ratification of them, would make another good book.

Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg: Reread this in anticipation of visiting the battlefield. It's a straightforward account, more accessible than Coddington's Gettysburg Campaign or Trudeau's Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage. Why Lee would not listen to Longstreet and either flank the Federals or dare them to come on, remains a mystery I suppose.

... And a reckoning: how many of these damn "Bookshelf" books have I actually finished? Not counting the present post, 31 of 37. Better than I feared. All too easy to flit from book to book. That biography of Lord Salisbury in particular, while interesting whenever I read it, is quite the incubus.

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