Book Review — Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of a New World, 1917-1924

Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of a New World, 1917-1924 by Charles Emmerson is an extensive history about the close of World War I and its early aftermath.  Emmerson is a Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House working on resource security, foreign policy, and global geopolitics. He is the author of The Future History of the Arctic and 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War. He was formerly a writer for the Financial Times and continues to publish regularly on international affairs.

The First World War changed the entire world dynamic.  Empire waned as the British Empire began to lose control in India, leaving thousands dead.  Physics changed when a German-born scientist received the Nobel Prize for the photoelectric effect (not relativity).  Sigmund Freud changed the field of psychology with psychoanalysis.  A Russian exile living in Zurich would make an almost unbelievable train trip back to Russia and lead a revolution.  He would work with Leon Trotsky and meet with a Georgian bank robber who would become the General Secretary of the Communist Party and create a different revolution.  The US and Woodrow Wilson would rise and quickly fall from prominence in European matters.  The US had its own problems at home, including violent racism.  Democracy spread in some countries and retracted in others. In defeated Germany, the army fought communists in riots, and a young Austrian immigrant and WWI veteran began his to power. In Italy, another war veteran would lead 30,000 Blackshirts to the March on Rome.  With the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire, a young leader would become the namesake of his country. The map of Europe was redrawn moving borders and creating and destroying countries.  In the Middle East, England and France divided the land and spread their influence.  It was not the same world as it was in 1914.

In most basic histories, readers are led to believe that the Treaty of Versailles was the cause of the unsuccessful peace in Europe. In reality, it was much more than that.  It was the start of a different era in many aspects — Industrialization, mechanization, nationalism, science, and worker’s rights.  Even in art, modernism rose in literature and art. To many, this was as great of a shock as the political upheavals.

Emmerson explores the complexities of the tail end of WWI and the beginning of the Interwar years.  Dividing the book’s chapters by year, the reader will see a timeline that switches between countries and people in a coherent manner. This division is practical because it shows the flow of history on the whole instead of individual nations.  This is the beginning of the interconnectedness of all countries rather than just the influence of regional powers. It was the beginning of a new world, new ideas, modern science, and unfortunately the beginning of a darker side of the future.  A well done, extensive history, of a significant but little-studied period.

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Poetry Review — [Dis]Connected: Poems and Stories of Connection and Otherwise

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[Dis]Connected is an experiment in writing. Have a poet write a poem then have another poet read it and write a short fiction inspired in some way by that poem. That inspiration can be on a theme or even a single line of the poem. Then that poet starts another cycle for someone else. In the second Volume of [Dis]Connected Michelle Halket chooses ten young poets for the project. The “dis” and the “connected” come into play as poets base their prose on a poem. There can be a strong connection to the poem’s theme or a disconnection by going in another direction. Themes of love, loss, and dating run strong through the collection. Tyler Knott Gregson establishes the trend with the opening lines of the first poem:

Sometimes I can see the fibers between things,
The threads that connect us,
Tie us all together. I can see the light
As it passes over them, as it moves,
The fibers link the verse and prose throughout. The prose is excellent and Wilder’s “What The Wild Game Me” is superb and inspired by N. L. Shompole’s prose poem “Notes on How to Take Flight.” There is a wide range of emotions flowing through both the poems and the prose.  The emotions run deep in the collection from overwhelming loss in Alicia Cook’s “The Fourth Saturday”  to being found in “Stay With Me” by Courtney Peppernell.  Another excellent collection showing the magic poets can create.

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Poetry Review — Surrender to Night

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Austrian poet Georg Trakl was trained as a pharmacist in Vienna where his friends helped him get his first poetry published. His service as a medical officer on the Eastern Front during WWI led to depression and attempted suicide. Trakl did succeed in ending his life with a cocaine overdose in November of 1914. Will Stone provides the translation. Stone holds a degree in Literary Translation from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, and has produced prose and poetry translations of the works of several writers.

Trakl is an impressionist poet and captures the world in symbolism, shades expressed in words, and disconnection. Much like an impressionist painter captures the world in light and colors while blurring the boundaries reality, Trakl accomplishes the same with words:

Black skies of metal
Crossing in the red storms at evening Hunger crazed crows drift
Over the parks mournful and pale.

He carries several themes through his work, most notably, Fall, Winter, and silence.  In many poems, there is a youthful feeling balancing with the lateness of the year.  Although he only served in the opening months of the First World War, there is a noticeable darkness in many of his works from this period.  The horrors of the war are clearly evident.  The earlier works are meant to be read and examined in much the same way one would experience a painting by Monet.  A remarkable poetic experience.  This is also a collection of poetry where one cannot overlook the translator. Stone’s work is seamless and unnoticeable in the reading. He is able to preserve the poet’s original intent. Masterfully done.

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Book Review — When Reagan Sent In The Marines

If we are there to fight, we are far too few.  If we are there to die, we are far too many.
Congressman Sam Gibbons, D-Day veteran

I was a young Marine when the barracks in Lebanon was destroyed, and two hundred twenty Marines (241 American service personnel) died in a terrorist attack. I remember the outrage. I was still serving when Reagan went on national television and said that, yes, there was a plan to trade arms for hostages, after denying it. I remember the outrage as a fellow Marine got up and left the room, shaking his head. “Our president lied to us.” is all he said. Older now I know politicians lie, but then we felt that we were fighting the good fight and had a President who was one of us and held the values we held as Marines.

Sloyan digs deeper into the Middle East that was handed to Reagan and what he and his advisors did to complicated the problem. Haig, a Nixon holdover, has come to light as a power-hungry individual with his own agenda, served under Nixon, Ford, And Reagan. Nixon, who was betrayed by Haig, pushed Reagan to appoint him as Secretary of State. Reagan listened and later regretted. Later Schultz as Secretary of State and Wineberger as Defense Secretary could not agree on a Lebanon policy. Reagan, on the other hand, had visions of US airstrikes knocking out the Soviet-backed Palestinians and Syrians. For Reagan, it was always about the communists. The US also backed a puppet as Lebanese president who was an Israeli patsy. It seems no one had a clear idea of what was going on.

In the confusion, Reagan decided to send in the Marines as peacekeepers. The Marines fulfilled this role in 1958, entering the country as a far superior force. This time a small group numbering 1,200 entered the country and tried to separate the belligerents with little more than their reputation of being Marines. Weapons were not loaded, and the rules of engagement prevented any meaningful deterrent. The Marines were headquartered at the Beruit airport — flat terrain and an easy target from the surrounding hills. Marines also protected the barracks. In fact, the truck drove through the barbwire between two Lance Corporals on duty with empty magazines (as ordered). Properly armed, the Marines could have stopped the attack. The Marines effectively had their hands tied, and blame was unfairly laid at the feet of the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Larry Gerlach.

When Reagan Sent In The Marines is a history of the US in the Middle East and the story of how misguided and ineffective our policy in the region was in the 1980s. Sloyan examines the hows and whys of the US in Lebanon and shows what went wrong and how Reagan managed to turn disaster into political gain. The barracks bombing was the single greatest loss of Marines since Iwo Jima, and it is essential that all the details of the event are made public.

Available December 3, 2019

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Book Review — How to Think Politically Sages, Scholars, and Statesmen Whose Ideas Have Shaped the World

How to Think Politically is an excellent introduction to political philosophers and philosophy. The book is made up of many small chapters, each describing an influential thinker. Not only is the philosopher’s ideas discussed, but he is also put into historical context. The book runs chronologically and, with few exceptions covers Western thinkers. This gives the reader a sense of the evolution of political thought. The thinkers cover a wide range of beliefs from peaceful God based governments and rules for leaders to the much more practical thinkers like the often misunderstood, Machiavelli, whose thinking on government puts him with some unexpected allies. Revolutionary thinkers from Mill to Marx, to Mao and Gandhi, provide a mix of an ideology some excepted in the West and others rejected. This is an excellent starting place for the future political scientist or philosophy student.

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Poetry Review — Rumi: Unseen Poems

Out of love for you, every strand of my hair turned into lines of poetry
~Rumi

Rumi: Unseen Poems translated by Brad Gooch and Maryam Mortaz is a modern and more accurate translation of the thirteenth-century Persian mystic. Many previous collections relied on old translations and translations that appealed more directly to the Western reader. This collection preserves the Islamic side of the poet. The moon plays a central role in the religion and the poetry of Rumi. There are poems where the moon is jealous of one’s beauty, the splitting of the moon, and a rooftop observation signaling the beginning of Ramadan.

Didn’t I tell you last night, “Your beautiful face is beyond compare.”
The moon jealous of your beauty was torn in two

Wine, drinking, and drunkenness are repeated throughout the collection as a metaphor. Alcohol is to be avoided because of the way it influences people and their sensibility. Matching the strength of alcohol is love. Rumi compares the feeling of love to that of wine, something that lifts one well above the tediousness of the day. It is a powerful feeling.

My face is a hundred times brighter when I see your face.
My soul is a hundred times happier when your soul is near.

The direct translation of the original texts gives a definitive view of the poet. His other writing has been embraced, edited, and mistranslated to fit into the Western New Age movements.  Using unpublished poems, the translators attempt to preserve the real Rumi complete with his religious views.  The final result is simply fantastic poetry with an Islamic tone.  The poet, after all, was a life long scholar of Islam and the Koran.

This collection will be printed in the small easy to carry around Everyman’s Library Pocket Poet hardcover bindings that also look well on one’s bookshelf. The Pocket Poets series runs nearly 120 different collections of poetry organized by poet or subject.

 

Available September 10, 2019

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Book Review — The DNA of Democracy

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Richard C. Lyons’ The DNA of Democracy is an engaging discussion of the history of democracy. A large section of the book is devoted to American democracy and some of its failings like slavery and the treatment of Native Americans. Another large percentage of the book concerns the development of British democracy. The reader will also experience the familiar roots of democracy in Greece and Rome. Lyons’ also tries to fit the Old Testament in the mix with less success.

The discussion of democracy and tyranny presents an interesting comparison. One may believe that there is a vast separation between the two types of governments, but often they switch slowly and other times quickly.  Political philosopher, Jean Jaques Rousseau, is celebrated as the Father of Modern Democracy.  He is also known as the Father of Modern Tyranny by the same writings.  Many things do separate the two forms of government.  Art, universities, (freedom of) religion, and the press thrive in democracies and stagnate under tyranny.  Capitalism and open markets also thrive in democratic or free societies and are controlled or eliminated under tyranny.

Lyon’s presents and discusses twelve masterpieces and four amendments to the US Constitution.   Old world codes are represented by the Ten Commandments, the Constitutions of Athens and Rome, and The Twelve Tablets.  Codifying the laws and the foundations of civilizations ensured that they could not easily be changed.  Three amendments to the US Constitution required a civil war before they were passed.  The 19th Amendment essentially doubled the number of eligible voters and took nearly one hundred and fifty years to allow women to participate in our democracy.

The DNA of Democracy resembles living DNA.  It evolves.  It adapts.  At times it mutates into something that resembles democracy but is actually a cancer attacking freedom.  Democracy is an ideal that man is working to achieve.  It is not always easy, and there are failures.  It is, however, the history of mankind.

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