Friday, August 27, 2021

An Epic Tale about Comics

Wolk, Douglas.  AllThe Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told.  New 
         York: Penguin Press, 2021.  ISBN: 9780735222168 

Do you read comics?  Are you a DC fan, a Marvel Fan, both?  or do you lean more to the independent comics?  Well, if you are a Marvel fan, Douglas Wolk has a treat for you!  He read 27,000+ issues (540,000+ pages) of comics - from Alpha Flight to Omega the Unknown - so that he "can be a guide to help curious travelers...."  So if you are curious, go on the journey with him!

Douglas Wolk begins by discussing the formation of Marvel, the intersections of all the Marvel stories, and a FAQ of the weird questions many folks pose to him or online.  Wolk begins with the Fantastic Four posing Fantastic Four #51 (June 1966) as the wellspring of the Marvel universe. Spiderman gets his due with a chapter as does the Avengers, the X-Men, Thor and Loki, Black Panther, and Doctor Doom.  Interestingly, Shang-Chi and The Master of Kung Fu merits a whole chapter dissecting Marvel in regard to race and color in comics.  Some of those themes also show up in the chapter on crime fighters, Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl.  In a series of interlude chapters, Wolk discusses monsters, how the Vietnam War influenced Marvel comics, pop stars such as Dazzler, appearances of US presidents in Marvel comics, March 1965 which is when Marvel really began creating a complete universe for its characters to inhabit, and an revealing chapter on Linda Carter.  Then in the final chapter, Wolk reveals why he read all these comics, he was trying to create a systematic outline for his son to find the tales he enjoyed in the Marvel universe.  

Douglas Wolk takes the reader on a journey through All of the Marvels in 384+ pages.  In the limited space of the book, he provides a springboard for the reader to find their own path into the world of Marvel. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Heading West!

 Druy, Bob, & Tom Clavin.  Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America's First
         Frontier.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 2021.  ISBN: 9781250247131

Daniel Boone - now there is a name that is legendary!  What do you know about him?  How much of what you know is fact versus how much is fiction?  Born in Pennsylvania, trekked to North Carolina with his father,  he is known for trailblazing a path to Kentucky and settling that state while fighting Native Americans during the American Revolution.  But those facts do not tell the whole story.
Bob Drury and Tom Clavin provide an interesting biography of Daniel Boone in relation to the crossing the Appalachian Mountains, settling Kentucky, and the course of the American Revolution on the far western frontier.  They divide his life into four parts - The Frontier, The Explorers, The Settlers, and The Conquest.  The Frontier covers Boone's early life, his move to North  Carolina, his involvement with the Braddock disaster during the French and Indian War, his marriage, and his first ventures across the mountains.  The Explorers includes the Pontiac Indian War, the Royal Proclamation regarding settlers, Boone and party finding the Cumberland Gap, and early experiences trapping and exploring Kentucky.  The Settlers discusses Lord Dunmore's War, Logan's Lament, Boone and company moving across the mountains and the early settling of Kentucky with the kidnapping of his daughter, Jemina Boone, and two Callawy girls amidst rounds of assaults on white settlements.  The Conquest opens with the capture of Daniel Boone by the Shawnee, his escape to warn settlers of the British and Indians' forthcoming attack, his service as legislator in the Virginia House of Burgesses, his role in the Blue Lick disaster, and his later life.

In Blood and Treasure, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin provide the reader a life of Daniel Boone that is sympathetic without being a hero-worshiping hack job.  Boone is shown in context of events rather than being an isolated life.  The reader finishes Blood and Treasure more knowledgeable of the settling of the "West" and the surrounding events then in many other Boone biographies.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Chance and the Pirate!

 Johnson, Steven.  Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History's First 
          Global Manhunt.  New York: Riverhead Books, 2020.  ISBN: 9780735211605

Pirates!  Who does not like to read about pirates?  Tales of swashbuckling adventures, cutlasses gleaming, and treasure to be plundered!  In Enemy of All Mankind, Steven Johnson provides a look at Henry Every, one of the most successful pirates ever, who manages to loot a great treasure and escape into obscurity, never to be caught!

Enemy of All Mankind opens with the crime.  Three small English ships under the command of Henry Every come upon a Mughal treasure ship in the Indian Ocean.  Against all odds, the English succeed in taking and plundering the Mughal vessel. Little is known for sure about Henry Every, so Steven Johnson uses all the craft of a writer to bring him to life while providing context for his life, his crime, and the impact this crime had on the world.  Johnson breaks the story into five parts - The Expedition, The Mutiny, The Heist, The Chase, and The Trial.  "The Expedition" sets the scene with background on Henry Every, terrorism, piracy, the Mughals, the East India Company, and the Spanish Expedition Shipping enterprise which hired Henry Every.  "The Mutiny" covers the mutiny Henry Every lead that provided him a ship The Fancy along with a look at the pirate haven of Madagascar and their future opponent the Ganj-i-Sawai.  "The Heist" walks the reader through the details of the fight to take the Ganj-i-Sawai, the conflicting narratives of what happened after the English victory and the consequences of this act on the fortunes of the East India Company in India and Great Britain.  "The Chase" details The Fancy's travels from the Indian Ocean around Cape Horn and into the Caribbean where the pirate crew split up with some staying, some going on to the colonies in America while Henry Every and several others travel back to England.  "The Trial" looks at the fate of 8 crew members who where caught in England, put on trial, and then put on trial again because the jury had the nerve to side with the defendants in the first trial.

Steven Johnson provides a very readable account of the crimes committed by the pirate Henry Every, placing events in the context of British imperialism in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.  If the reader wants to explore the early history of pirates, Enemy of All Mankind  is a great place to start.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Cracking the Cases!

McOmie, Dave.  Safecracker: A Chronicle of the Coolest Job in the World.  Guilford, CN: Lyons 
            Press, 2021.  ISBN: 9781493058518

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Firefighter?  Cowboy?  Indian chief?  Or maybe a chef or a sports star?  But did you know that you could be a professional safecracker?  Well, that is what Dave McOmie became and this is his story!

Dave McOmie tells the story of his career over the course of a week.  Starting with a flight to Vegas on Monday to open a major bank's private currency center because the bankers has overwound the timelock.  And it needed to be done by midnight!  While taking the reader along on this thrill ride, Dave reveals how he got into this business.  Tuesday involved opening an ATM at a theater in full view of the public plus a discussion of professional ethics and the challenge of opening safes.  Wednesday involves a chartered flight to open two gun safes for a widow and the Department of Defense followed a return home for supper.  During the course of the day, he gets a couple of jobs for Thursday and a job for Sunday while discussing the merits of various gun safes.  Thursday involves opening the Portland Air National Guard armory vault with an interesting side-bit on government procurement in regard to safes and vaults.  Friday comes with a fully automatic bank vault to open in Salt Lake City with the need to return home for a daughter's dance recital.   Unlike Vegas, he has plenty of drill bits this time!  Saturday has Dave spending time at home and reminiscing about old jobs, the journal he writes,and the Penetration Parties he hosts.  Sunday involves a flight to Paisley Park, Minnesota to open a Mosler vault after the owner has died.  This opening has a big crowd of lawyers, bankers, and an archivist as well as DEA agents.  And of course this opening would be filmed.  Dave manages to get the safe open in the end only to have a smaller safe he needed to open inside the vault.  

When a reader cracks open a biography, you can never be sure what you will find in side.  In Safecracker, the reader gets a glimpse into a job most people will never experience in a lively, entertaining read!

Sunday, July 4, 2021

When Did Globalization Start?

 Hansen, Valerie.  The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World - and Globalization 
           Began.  New York: Scribner, 2020.  ISBN: 9781501194108

When you think of the year 1000 of the common era (whether you think CE or AD is up to you), what pops up in your mind?  Is it Vikings sailing west?  Cathedrals being built in France?  Trade in China?  For Valerie Hansen, she thought is connections, specifically trade, global trade!  In The Year 1000, Valerie Hansen takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the world beginning around year 1000 of the common era and up until about 1450.  She chose the year 1000 since that is around when the Vikings stopped by North America and trade could theoretically be made around the world - from Asia to America and back again.  

Valarie Hansen opens The Year 1000 with an overview of the world, briefly discussing Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas along with her argument for globalization beginning in 1000.  She then proceeds to discuss the Viking voyages to Newfoundland and elsewhere in the Americas and the impact this had on trade.  The third chapter of the book covers the trade routes that existed in the Americas among the local groups.  Hansen then returns to the Vikings, but in Europe this time with their search for slaves and treasure in the east, especial among the Rus while also covering trade on the continent and with outside countries.  The reader then travels south to Africa with its slave trade, its trade in gold, and in other commodities.   From Africa, the reader travels to Central Asia with the Silk Road that connected Europe and Africa with the Far East.  Religion and trade played a major role in Central Asia economies.  Next, Hansen explores the sea routes from the Middle East and Africa to India, then Indonesia,and ending at China.  In the last chapter, Hansen explores Chain and the role it played in global trade during this whole time frame.  

Throughout The Year 1000, Valarie Hansen seeks to persuade the reader that globalization started much earlier than the 1500's - the time when most scholars agree global trade began.  She provides ample evidence that trade, extensive trade was happening 500 years earlier.  Whether the reader agrees whit her argument or not,  The Year 1000 is an interesting and informative read.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Airpower Fallacy

 Gladwell, Malcom.  The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the 
          Second World War.  New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2021.  ISBN: 978-0-316-29661-8

After the Great War (also known as World War I), air enthusiasts around the world worked on how to make air power more relevant on the battlefield.  They dreamed that fleets of bombers could stream over static battle lines to strike targets in the rear, like cavalry of  old had done; furthermore, they believed this could be a war winning strategy.   They just needed the right machines, the right ordnance, and the right men to make their dream a reality.  In The Bomber Mafia, Malcom Gladwell indulges his interest in the bombers of World War II to lay out some of the stories of the people involved in this utopian ideal.

In the opening of the book, Malcom Gladwell cheerfully admits that The Bomber Mafia began as a series of podcasts that were retrofitted into print.  This origin explains the layout of the book.  Gladwell opens the book with a change in command for the Twenty-First Bomber Command at Tinian Atoll from General Haywood Hansell to General Curtis LeMay.  Gladwell then discusses the Dutch genius named Carl Norden with his "analog computer" bombsight that could accurately drop a bomb on the target.  Gladwell then transitions to the dream of the Army Air Corp as a separate service that could win a war all by itself.  This dream took shape at Maxwell Field in Montgomery (AL), the home of the Air Corp Tactical School.  The stratigic plan was to take out the resources and infrastructure (bridges, railroads, mines, factories, and ports) of a country so that the enemy could no longer wage war.   The creation of a bomber fleet made up of B-17 Fortresses and later B-29 Superfortresses for the Army Air Corp was the result. After the US entered World War II, the Army Air Corp based bombers in England to carry out their plan to bomb Germany into submission.  That did not happen as planned since the Norden bombsight could not deliver on its promise due to mechanical issues and pilot training problems.  Then there was the bombing war in the Pacific.  After bases were established on the Marianas Islands, the B-29s were in range of the Japanese homeland.  But weather, unknown obstacles (such as the heretofore undiscovered jet stream), and inaccurate attacks led to a change in tactics, from precision bombing to simply burning everything down.  The plan changed from precision bombing to just burn everything down. The change in command from General Hansell to General LeMay marked this change in attitudes and tactics.  General LeMay authorized the use of napalm and then the atomic bomb.

In The Bomber Mafia, Malcom Gladwell has provided a very readable, broad-strokes introduction to the utopian ideal of air power.  His notes provide sources to document his statements.  However, for a more detailed look at the utility of bombing in World War II, the reader might want to explore The Bombers and the Bombed by Richard Overy ( or other books on this topic. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

An Epic Trip into the Past and Back to the Present

 Wood, Michael.  The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom
            to Mao and the China Dream.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 2020.  ISBN: 978-1-4711-7601-2

China - a powerhouse now and in the past.  But how did it get to where it is today?  Who started this juggernaut rolling, who grew it to this size, and at what cost?  Join Michael Wood as he takes the reader on a epic exploration into The Story of China

Michael Wood opens The Story of China with the December 1899 winter solstice ceremony when the Emperor performed a ritual dating back to the Bronze Age at the Temple of Heaven for the last time.  Then, in nineteen chapters, Wood takes the reader back to the beginning of civilization in what became China and works his way forward to the present time.  Along the way the reader visits the major events that shaped China including stops at the Shang, the First Emperor, the Han, the Tang, the time of the Five Kingdoms, The Song (North and South), the Yuan/Mongols, the Ming, and returning to the time of the Qing, then into the age of the Republic, the time of Mao, and the current regime.  Along that journey are many side trips to understand the Mandate of Heaven, and discover what ordinary folks were doing, writing, and enjoying, and why societies fall apart and reform.

While the reader could rush through this title, The Story of China rewards the careful reader who takes the time read and ponder what he/she has read.  The story of China is cyclical - a kingdom/empire is founded, grows and then falls, only for a new kingdom/empire to rise from the ashes and build upon the earlier foundation.  The culture of China was formed early and is a thread that Michael Wood weaves through the whole book.  The thoughtful reader will see that certain attitudes regarding the role of the state and the importance of cultural stability underlies most of the empires despite what reformers tried to change.  Micheal Wood has written a very insightful history that so easily could have been a hagiography for the present oppressive regime. 

Thanks, St. Martin's Press, for inviting me to review this title.