JFK’s Forgotten Crisis by Bruce Riedel

March 11, 2016

[Bill Littlefield]

If you are like me you have a certain degree of snugness, admit it. And so when, be honest, the unexpected surprises you and you have that “uuunnnhh” moment, you are not so smug. Recently, in January this year, that was me with a new book by Bruce Riedel, about the Sino-India war of 1962.

This was as big a situation for about one half of humanity as was the Cuban missile crisis was for the other half. And it is as the title reminds us fifty-three years on, it is forgotten. Bruce Riedel is an excellent writer who in one slim volume takes us back in time to the fall of 1962. And in India, Pakistan, Peking, Moscow, Washington and London and reintroduces us to Nehru, Mao, Khrushchev and last but hardly least, that most excellent diplomat and Canadian born Harvard faculty member John Kenneth Galbraith who as American ambassador to India almost singlehandedly maneuvered to extricate the United States as well as India form an almost certainly fatal situation for the world’s most populous democracy.

Proving true the observation that French President Charles de Gaulle had made in a conversation to JFK in 1962, that it was not Soviet Russia which was the greatest threat to the West, it was Communist China. I believe that De Gaulle was [and still is] correct. The PCR, that paradoxically fascist / communist / state capitalist / single party state whose single minded obsession remains the wiping away of the stains of the “century of shame”, of its weakness in the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries and to return China as the great power of the world, that of “The Middle Kingdom”, as China once was. This obsession has brought the PRC to a within whisker of that dream, but at a fearful cost in pollution, overcapacity, and the equal danger of an unsustainable shrinking population.

These events are fifty years into the future, and in 1962 China could [and did] challenge India. But it could not challenge the USA. In 2016 I am not so sure. This is the story of how Mao sought to and succeeded in humiliating Nehru and India, by proving with this war, that it was China and thus communism which was superior and thus not India and thus not democracy. And he did just that.

1962, a mere six years after the Suez Crisis, the humiliation of Britain, France and Israel by the mere hint of the displeasure of the USA had changed the geopolitical calculus. Those countries were then far too weak to present an effective opposition to what was then thought to be a monolithic communist bloc. With fifty-four years of hindsight we now know better, this bloc was anything but monolithic. And the antipathy between Soviet and Chinese communism would soon result in a rapprochement between American and China against Soviet Russia in 1972, but not just yet.

This lack of appreciation of Asian power politics continues to have implication today. As the American misconception of a binary world order would today seem to be almost touchingly simplistic, bordering on naiveté, British and French diplomacy excepted.

This is an excellent book with a great deal of useful information and it is well written, I recommend it highly. And it is here at the WML for you to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout

March 4, 2016

lucy[Lesley] I enjoyed this book very much. The title character is striking in her honesty, self-awareness, and even her uncertainty. As another character in the book says, her story is a love story — about love in all of its complexity, beauty, loneliness, and pain.

I listened to this on audio and the reader was excellent — not an easy task. The language is very plain but evocative and I felt the reader balanced the understated emotional content very well.

The library has this book in print (F STROUT, E), on CD (CD BOOK STR), and for download (ebook and eaudio) through OverDrive.

The Ex by Alafair Burke

March 1, 2016

[Cindy]

A great courtroom thriller/mystery.  I read a review of this book and was intrigued and plunged in.  This book is inhabited by some very interesting characters and not many of them are that likable!  Even so,  the story is so well told and fast paced, you just can’t put it down.  This was the first novel I read by this author and will definitely be back for more.

The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins

February 8, 2016

[Lesley]  This book knocked my socks off! Not only was the story very original and creative, a couple of twists near the end really kept me surprised and engaged. The characters are both archetypal and unique and this is storytelling at its best.  A “family” of librarians (not exactly in the way the word is generally used), each an expert in his or her own subject area (war, death, healing, languages, animals, mathematics, etc.) is left without leadership when their adopted father (basically, none of the words you think you understand mean exactly what you think they mean!) cannot be found and they can’t reenter the library that is their home. Enemies are everywhere and anywhere, even in their midst, and some average (well, maybe not so average) folks are caught up in the unfolding story.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

January 26, 2016

[Lesley] There are some books that when I finish them I can’t believe it took me so long to read them — Wolf Hall is at the top of that list right now. It has been on my radar since it won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 but for some reason I never picked it up until December when I downloaded it on audio using OverDrive.

What a truly excellent book. It is masterfully written, mainly from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, whom I knew next to nothing about. It takes place during the reign of King Henry VIII as his marriage to Katherine is ending because of his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell is by nature a calm, even-headed, intelligent man who is not prone to drama, emotional reactions, or impulse all of which sets him apart from nearly everyone else who surrounds him including the King, Cardinal Wolsey, the Noblemen (and women), the Boleyns, and some of his own family. The way the story is told however gives us insight into all that is going on inside Cromwell and as a result there is painted a complex, layered portrait of a time and place that transcends the usual focus on all of the scandal. I feel like I learned much about the history of the time, but even more I feel like I came to understand some of what England felt like (though only a little from a commoner’s perspective, even though that was Cromwell’s background) and how the personalities and events (plague, threats of war, alliances, marriages, holidays, religion) impacted people’s decisions and lives.

The sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, was also excellent though a few of the (in my opinion, unwarranted) criticisms of the first book seem to have changed the way some things were written in the second, which was a little irritating. Still, a small thing in such an excellent story. I can’t wait to read the third book (when will it be published, when??) which will pick up after the King’s favor has turned to Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn has been taken to the Tower.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

November 14, 2015

[Tricia]

A novel based on the fascinating life of Beryl Markham. Gives an interesting glimpse into the world of early aviation, particularly for women. Set in Africa – fans of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa will find familiar characters. Also recommended for fans of Beryl Markham’s book West with the Night.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

November 14, 2015

[Tricia]

Smart and satisfying fantasy novel – strong and interesting female protagonist, wizards, a dragon of sorts, lots of spells. Very enjoyable.

Glaciers, by Alexis Smith

October 8, 2015

[Lesley]

This is a gorgeous book. I loved the way it was structured (even down to the titles of each section/chapter and how the author offers no judgement of her characters. Mostly I just loved how absolutely beautiful and transporting it is. This book made me want to think about and make a list of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read — books that I lose myself in their language and storytelling completely aside from the content or plot. This book belongs on that list along with The Maytrees (Dillard). List in the works!

I downloaded this audiobook from OverDrive and listened to it on my phone.

Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (music CD)

September 23, 2015

[Bill]

The listening public, are famously fickle and the talk is all [too much] these days of a certain tall, talented blond female singer. And I will be the first to sing her praises. Yet there is a galaxy of talent in the world, and almost lost in this Borg like assimilation of everything by the Swifties is the at least as talented, if regrettably less famed English singer-song writer, Florence Welch and her band the Machine.

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is the third studio album by Florence and the Machine. Florence, not “Flo” please, has an instantly recognizable voice and writes and sings beautifully. And she is also a great show woman. But to compare her to the above artist is to compare apples to oranges.

This album is in my opinion Florence’s best one yet. Why? The lyrics are epic, as is the music, not Nightwish epic, but perhaps Muse epic, that is to say not outrageously overblown, but overblown just the same. Surely, this is not a bad thing. And I find it to be immensely entertaining as well as listenable.

Let us factor in the videos, oh, yes, videos, FATM, make videos which are noted for their somewhat avant-garde style and execution and which are entertaining and amusing. They are not for everybody, and mercifully they do not even try to be and refreshingly for us it is so.

Then there is Florence live, which happens rather a lot. These performances, to be found on YouTube, are noted for their high energy with Florence running barefoot about the stage whilst belting out her lyrics at the top of her lungs: BTW, “Lungs” being another great album of hers’ by the way.

Are there hits? Or, is it all obscure “Indie artsy stuff”. Hits abound, yes. Are they good ? Very. Will you recognize any? Maybe, or maybe not, depending what station[s] you listen to either online or over the increasingly pre-programmed airways. We live in the time of the tyranny of the play-list. Or, what I call the repeater radio station… with offices in NYC, Chicago, or San Fran… thus limiting “new music” to well, new music by presenters who can get away with a few tracks here and there. Too bad for you and me here in 2015…

Do I have Favs on this album? Indeed. What are they? The entire album is excellent, although I expect that “Ship to wreck” and “What kind of man” will be the ones to get a lot of airplay. I’d also suggest that you go to Youtube for Florence’s performances at Glastonbury and at the BBC’s Big Weekend[s].

So then, Florence and the Machine are not as big as Taylor, but then who is? So is Florence as good as is “TS”? Indeed. Indeed. Listen, and here for you at the WML.

 

bill littlefield

Autumnal equinox, 2015

Book review: Dreamliner the Boeing 787, by Claude G. Luisada, Steven D. Kimmell, 2014

August 20, 2015

[Bill]

To those of us of a certain age [60+…] “The Jet Age” is or rather, was a wonder. For it ushered in a new world of speed, comfort, safety and elegance. I wrote a short review of our copy of “The jet age” several years ago. It was about the battle for dominance between The Boeing 707 and the De Havilland Comet. I neglected to mention that the 707 also destroyed Britain’s aircraft industry, crippled Lockheed and ruined McDonnell Douglas. Was this plane that good? Yes. It was.

Indeed the 707 was the symbol of American industrial dominance. That manifested itself in the universally recognised Air Force One, the 707 and then the 747. They were or rather are none too subtle reminders, albeit a blatant ones, but justified ones. In 1960 no-one had a 707, But, JFK did. WOW! But in 2015, times are different. Taylor Swift has an Airbus. As do many others.

Was there competition? The Soviet / Russian Tupolevs and Ilyushins were pale copies of American designs, when they flew, or more likely crashed. These were wisely avoided by any airline that could avoid them. Read the non-Soviet bloc airlines. The French Aviation Sud Caravelle, although a sturdy aircraft was too small for intercontinental use, yet it was popular and had the advantage of being not American as well as earning lots of money for Aviation Sud.

And so fifty years later when I heard of the introduction of a new world beater by Boeing, the 787 Dreamliner, I was quite excited by the prospects of this design. And make no mistake this is an important aircraft. So I expected a resounding fanfare. Instead, there was silence. For the world of 2014 was not the world of 1954.

We now have the “duopoly” of Boeing and Airbus. And I was surprised that seemingly only I was surprised at the indifference at the introduction of this passenger plane. Advantages? Long distance, extreme quite, improved fuel economy and much higher cabin pressure for ease of breathing and even larger windows. All this resulted in a collective yawn from the press and public. And even worse within a year Airbus had a copy of the 787, or at least, a modern version of an Airbus long range two engine wide-body, or the same thing, the A350 XWB. This brought forth yet another great yawn.

So what has happened? Is this a good book to read? Yes, it is interesting, well-illustrated and topical. I enjoyed it. Just bear in mind that the world is a much more modern place in 2015 than some of us thought it would be in 1960. Perhaps that is a good thing. Perhaps this is a quiet thing. Perhaps the 787 will become ubiquitous as was the 707. That would be a victory indeed. Maybe that is as much as can be expected.

bill littlefield


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