Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The bookshelf

Been reading a good bit of Philip Kerr lately, especially his Bernie Gunther "Marlowe amongst the Nazis" novels. Obviously I like them enough to be on # 5 now, but I'm not sure how good they really are. The One from the Other had the best plot thus far, but Kerr is not as consistent as I'd like; Bernie gets all religious on us in A German Requiem but seems to've forgotten it in the next book. And particularly in the early ones, the Chandler wisecracks and similes seem to flow out of everyone's mouth, not just Bernie's, which gets a bit cute and misses the point of Marlowe's irony, which is part of what sets him against the rest of the world.

Also picked up his Hitler's Peace, which was well-plotted again but did not impress me with Kerr's research skills -- the first chapter has FDR making ultra-strong martinis. Uh, no: Roosevelt's 2:1 gin:vermouth recipe was notoriously nauseating.

... Robert Service, Trotsky: Not as good as his bio of Stalin, this book manages to be rather foggy about just what Trotsky did, and didn't. His collaboration in Lenin's use of terror is more assumed than discussed, and Service seems to have to strain a bit to let us know how bad a fellow Trotsky was. The book mainly left me wishing for a strong narrative account of the Soviet government's 1920s; how Stalin came out on top is a story worth telling well.

... Not sure how I forgot Peter Lyon, Eisenhower: Portrait of the Hero, a left-leaning bio covering both the Army and the White House, which makes it the only reliable full-length, full-dress Eisenhower bio now that Ambrose is more or less discredited. Lyon is more discursive than most biographers these days (the book's from 1974), but his judgment is good and he gives a fair-minded, bemused appreciation of Eisenhower's hits and misses.


  1. I'm going to let your comments resolve for me the open question of whether to read that Trotsky bio. Thanks... I guess.

    I want a bio that does what you say this one doesn't.

    And, today, I'm nauseated by seeing Gingrich cite Orwell, a guidestar for me, and Camus, both writers... Gingrich can't link their shoes.

  2. How a left-wing Brit became a patron saint of the Gingriches and Coulters is a mystery. This may be part of why.

    ... There's another Trotsky bio out (saw it at Lemuria), but I can't conjure it up on the internet. Again, Service was good on Stalin, and I'd like to read his Lenin bio, but the book reads like a perfunctory rounding-out suggested by the author's publisher.