Monthly Archives: May 2015

Book Review — The Early Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Early Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Early Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald published by Dover Publications is the prequel to The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, and Tender is the Night. Fitzgerald was a renowned writer before his famous novels. His early works appeared in magazines and he made most of his money writing short stories. His early works allow the reader who is familiar with his later novels to see Fitzgerald’s development and evolution as a writer. For those who are not familiar with his novels, these short stories will introduce the reader to Fitzgerald in bite size pieces. The reader will also be introduced to the Jazz Age and the hip culture of the time.

Most of the stories were written in the early 1920s and reflected the age and post-war boom. The opening stories, however, were published during the war in Europe. Fitzgerald’s influences were mostly on the wilder side as he befriended many of the other American writers living in Paris popularly known as the Lost Generation. Writers moved to Paris for the lower cost of living, good bars, and relaxed “social” attitude. America seemed uptight and Paris allowed creativity.

Dover picks a wide selection of stories with various themes and presents them in chronological order. The short introduction by James Daley provides the reader with the background information and what to expect from the collection. The book, on the whole, gives the reader a great introduction to F Scott Fitzgerald and his work. It is well prepared and a great value for $4.50 paperback edition. This is not so much a review of Fitzgerald. It is already established that he is a great writer and, of course, some stories are better than others. This is more a review of the Dover publication. The selection, introduction, and, of course, the price makes this a great read for those interested in the period, the author, or literature in general. Like most Dover collections I have read in the past, I am hard pressed to find a fault in it. Highly recommended.

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Book Review — Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy

Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy

Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy by Frank McLynn is a detailed history of Asia’s most famous ruler. McLynn is a British author, biographer, historian and journalist. He is noted for critically acclaimed biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Jung, Richard Francis Burton and Henry Morton Stanley. He was Alistair Horne Research Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford (1987–88) and was visiting professor in the Department of Literature at the University of Strathclyde (1996–2001) and professorial fellow at Goldsmiths College London (2000–2002) before becoming a full-time writer

There is hardly a person who has not heard the name Genghis Khan. The Mongols have been a namesake to rock bands and biker gangs. They both invoke powerful images of violence, discipline, empire, and military conquest. He was a man that lived eight hundred years ago but has one of the most detailed histories of the period. This is the second biography and history of the Mongols I have read and at 704 pages, it was much shorter than the other biography I read. There is certainly not a lack of information on Genghis Khan.

Like Ivan IV of Russia and Machiavelli, their negative information in common culture far exceeds any positive information. The truth of the matter is different. Although the Mongols under Genghis Khan were responsible for many massacres, they had rules. For example, they highly valued diplomatic emissaries and to kill one was a great insult. They openly accepted and valued new religions in their lands. However, the killing of all the residents of the city over ten years old, except for select artisans and harem women is true. Genghis Khan did deploy a “surrender or die” ultimatum to cities. Those that did not surrender were destroyed. Those that did surrender and came to a tribute agreement were left alone. Gaining land without losing warriors was always preferred. Trade became important too with the agreement with the Venetians and bringing the Silk Road under Mongol control.

Genghis Khan cover the life of Temujin from his birth to his rise to Khan of all Khans. The road was not easy it is a story of alliances, friendships, and conquests in small steps. It is also a story of creating a society under laws and codes and balancing that with dictatorial rule. One of his first tasks as Khan was to set up a civil government and military. Genghis Khan used meritocracy to fill in the ranks. It was not uncommon for shepherds to become military leaders based on experience. Many rules of the society were practical for people living on the steppes. Rules around running water were interesting in what was considered polluting it. Water had an almost supernatural quality to it for the people of the steppes. A wide variety of “crimes” carried the death penalty on the steppes including polluting running water, slaughtering animals in an improper way, assisting an escaped slave, adultery, and horse thievery.

The author offers some interesting information on the way the westward expansion stopped. Having conquered the east to the Pacific Ocean, the westward expansion stopped in Europe. There are many theories discussed in the book on why the Mongols did not continue, but one strikes me as the most interesting. The Mongols were practical people. They lived and conquered on the steppes, it was their universe. The forests of Europe to them would be considered a wasteland to them. The land was not useful to their way of life and they saw no reason to fight for it. That, however, is only one of many theories.

McLynn gives a very detailed, but very readable history of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. The book contains information on troops, captured, treasures, military tactics, and information that seems to come from government records on the numbers of animals, economic, and even environmental information. The history cover Temujin life and the empire through Kublai Khan and the final conquest of China. Very well worth the read for the historical insight and an understanding of the people.

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Book Review — The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight

The Aviators by Winston Groom

The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight by Winston Groom is the intertwining stories of three of the greatest aviators in America and for that matter the world. Groom is an American novelist and non-fiction writer, best known for his book Forrest Gump, which was adapted into a film in 1994. He served in the Army from 1965 to 1969, including a tour in Vietnam. Groom devotes his time to writing history books about American wars.

This is another audiobook edition I have listened to over the last week. These are my thoughts and opinions in the audiobook and not a critical review because I am missing the bibliographical information and a list of source material used by the author.

If asked about these men before listening to the book I would have given fairly simple histories. Rickenbacker: Ohio native, Ace of Aces, and Hat in the Ring. Doolittle: Raid on Tokyo. Lindberg: Spirit of St. Louis, kidnapping, rumored Nazi sympathizer. The Aviators goes much deeper into their personal lives and histories. I never knew Doolittle made the first instrument only flight or Rickenbacker ironically sold Fokker planes after the war. I really surprised that Lindbergh flew unofficially with the Marines in the Pacific during WWII. He was a civilian advisor that volunteered to fly combat missions to “test” the handling of the planes. When told that as a civilian that if he was captured the Japanese would execute him. Lindbergh said he heard the Japanese would do that even if he was in uniform.

The stories of the lives of these men intertwine they had their ups and downs and political friction about the military and America’s aviation program. They were all famous in their own way, but Lindbergh was “The Beatles” of American aviation. I remember the moon landing and the celebration that entailed, but it was nothing compared to Lindbergh’s popularity and worldwide fame. Even after his “fall” people still respected him for his accomplishments, if not his opinions.

The men’s personal and business lives add depth to the story and all the men stayed involved in the aircraft business throughout their lives. They clashed with businesses and the military hierarchy. They put their lives at risk for the good of the nation even when they disagreed with the politics. Rickenbacker spent twenty-four days adrift in the Pacific when the plane he was on ditched into the ocean; he was on a tour of the Pacific visiting airbases. The men’s lives outside of what made them famous are just as exciting as their high points. Not one of them rested after becoming famous. Their stories are an inspiration to all.

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Book Review — Steaming into the North West: Tales of the Premier Line

Steaming into the North West by Michael Clutterbuck

Steaming into the North West: Tales of the Premier Line by Michael Clutterbuck is the newest addition to the Steamingseries of books. Previously Steaming has taken the reader through World War II and then into the final days of steam engines. Although the works are historical fiction they represent the time and subject well. Clutterbuck is the son of a Chester railway man and he, much like myself, spent many childhood hours spotting trains. He currently resides in Melbourne, Australia.

In Tales of the Premier Line, the reader is taken to the opening decade of the twentieth century before the First World War. Commercial trains are a commonplace for both personal transportation and cargo. The smaller lines have merged and a modern system is coming into form. The Crewe works Cheshire is the setting for the stories in this volume. The Crewe facility, itself was an amazing place producing not only locomotives but wrought iron, steel, and bricks. To help the reader, the book contains two appendixes. The first covers the different trains, their configurations, and notes on the particular engine. The second is a glossary with railroad terms from that era that are used throughout the book.

The stories revolve around the railyard and different aspects of the railways — From drivers to painting facilities. However, it is the people that make the stories and not the trains. The trains are ever present in the stories, but the workers have their own culture which is brought to the forefront. There are light stories and a few serious ones. One story even centers on the problems between England and Ireland and self-rule. On the lighter side, karma pays a visit to a lazy driver in the best possible way. The stories not only entertain, but teach the reader about the trains and the people of the time. There is a special sense of loyalty to the railway that puts it on par with military service — The teamwork, discipline, and integrity of the employees.

Steaming into the North West: Tales of the Premier Line is a welcome addition to the Steaming series of books. It is noticeably shorter than the other books, even in ebook format, but a welcome surprise after thinking the Last Days of Western Steam was to be the last book. This is a series for all the kids who used to sit by the tracks waiting for majestic trains to thunder by and wave to the drivers and the crew in the caboose.

Other books in the series by Michael Clutterbuck:

Steaming into the Firing Line: Tales of the Footplate in Wartime Britain (Volume 1)
ISBN: 978-1481024921

Steaming into History: Footplate Tales of the Last Days of Western Steam (Volume 2)
ISBN: 978-1495309861

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Book Review — Steaming into History: Footplate History of the Last Days of Western Steam

Steaming into History by Michael Clutterbuck

Steaming into History: Footplate History of the Last Days of Western Steam by Michael Clutterbuck is the sequel to Steaming into the Firing Line. Both are historical fiction novels on the final years of steam powered engines in Britain.

Although this book stands well alone, it does pick up the story of Driver George Denton and Fireman Lance Hargreaves. The first book takes the reader through World War II and Lance’s early experiences. Steaming into History covers the years from 1946 through 1965. George is retiring and had done his best to pass all he knew to Lance. There is a definite father-son relationship between the two. George does his best to “raise” Lance to be a driver (engineer) which is quite a task. Lance is a little more than rough around the edges and faces several challenges in growing up.

Each story can stand by itself but collectively they cover a twenty-year history. What I like about the stories on an individual level is there seems to be a moral or lesson to be learned from each one. Whether it’s safety, life lessons, or doing a good deed, there is something deeper than the fall of the steam engine era. The writing, like the first book, seems to be from a different era. The reader will feel drawn into an almost black and white era with the arrival of the diesel engines as the color era. There is a historical feeling to the book and a feeling of change. Not only is the change in engine types but society.

One theme driving the change was the nationalization of the railroads in 1948. Nationalization was part of the downfall of the system. Unprofitable lines were shut down almost immediately, still by the mid-1950s the railroads were heavily in debt. A new plan was drawn up in 1955 to totally replace all steam engines with diesels, modern marshaling yards, and new freight and passenger cars. This where Lance finds himself and his career.

Lance becomes the main character in the book. This is the generation that a driver is being moved by a system to replace his beloved steam engines with diesels. Lance becomes a driver and experiences training his fireman and learning to be responsible on the job, and in life. New responsibilities challenge Lance’s old ways.

I can’t seem to get enough good train books. Although Clutterbuck says in the introduction this is the end of the line, maybe we can hear more about George’s days before World War II. Trains have had a long and proud history in most of the world. Some countries have modernized others like America have stagnated. Trains helped build the modern world, kept the industrialized world moving, and in many places now keep people moving more efficiently than automobiles. Although the steam era closed on George and Lance, modernization can bring a new era of love for trains. Read Steaming into History, visit and ride an historic train, and you will wonder how we let this era pass. Thank you for helping us remember.

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In Flander’s Field


John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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May 22, 2015 · 14:21