Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jim Landau's Reviews

I am closing down the other WWI Book Club blog site. It makes no sense to have two of them. Accordingly, I am porting over the book reviews that Jim Landau posted on the "other" site:

Dare Call it Treason: The True Story of the French Army Mutinies of 1917 by Richard M. Watt
I cannot find my copy of this book, which is long out of print, so I am writing this note from memory.
Despite its title, this book covers in some detail French politics and political intrigue during World War I, with a good deal of earlier background that helps to understand what was going on in French politics during the War.  For example, it tries to figure out just what Joseph Caillaux was thinking, and traces the rise of Clemenceau.  I read this book in high school and was impressed by it enough to a term project based on it.

About the title: Mr. Watt may have been playing on the title "None Dare Call It Treason", which was a John Birch book widely available when Watt's book appeared in 1963.

I rate this book as Beacon: "great, but highly focussed".

C. S. Forester, author of the Hornblower series, wrote two novels about World War I, both of which I have read:

The General.  This is a character study of a fictional British officer who rose to an important command in the War.  I find the book disappointing because Forester chose an unflattering stereotype of the British army officer as someone of limited imagination and/or mental capacity.  Most likely Forester was trying to present an understanding of the high casualties and limited gains of trench warfare in France as being the result of shortsighted, mentally blinkered British officers.  Strachan certainly does not agree with this stereotype!  Like all Forester books, it is quite readable, but in my opinion it has an axe to grind. Therefore I rate this book as "Aunt Minnie" (too opinionated)
The African Queen.  This is the book the Humphrey Bogart-Katherine Hepburn movie was taken from.  It takes place during World War I, in Africa, but it an adventure story about the Hepburn character and has little to do with the war (there is only one battle sequence and that lasts for only a few pages).  So unless you would like to read about why the Hepburn character decides to go to war, it is not relevant to our book club.  Therefore I have to give this book a rating of Fortune Cookie: superficial.

David Kahn, The Code-breakers, first edition 1967, second edition 1996, but I don't believe the World War I section was updated in the secon edition.

Of interest to our group is chapters 9, 10, and 11, covering codes and cyphers used in World War I. Chapter 9 is about "Room 40" (the British Admiralty's code-breaking section) and includes pages 282-297 on the Zimmerman telegram.  Chapters 10 and 11 cover mostly crypography on the
Western front.

A "beacon" book, as it deals only with cryptography, but contains much of interest to explain where and when codebreaking influenced or even drove major events in World War I

Fletcher Pratt, Secret and Urgent

David Kahn, preface to The Codebreakers (see previous entry) page xii says:

"Narratives which make it appear as if every event in history turned upon the subject under dicussion are not history but jornalism.  They are espcially prevalent in spy stories, and cryptology is not immune.  The only other book-length attempt to survey the history of cryptology, the late Fletcher Pratt's _Secret and Urgent_, published in 1939, suffers from a severe case of this special pleading.  Pratt writes thrillingly--perhaps for that very reason---but his failure to consider the other factors, together with his errors and omissions, his false generalizations based on no evidence, and his unfortnate predilection for inventing facts vitiate his work as any kind of a history."

I agree with Kahn and therefore have to rate Secret and Urgent as "Snake Pit".

Barbara Tuchman, The Zimmerman Telegram  (first published 1958 by Viking, probably out of print)

I haven't read this book in years, so I am doing this review from memory.

An in-depth study of the politics and espionage that led up to the publication of the Zimmerman telegram.  The book goes into most detail on the political situation in Mexico, and somewhat less on German espionage in the United States.  To the best of my recollection, there is relatively little in the book about the political situation in the United States in 1916-17 leading up to Wilson's declaring war  on Germany.  Also there is one problem with the book.  Tuchman wrote before Friedman and Mendelsohn's study of the German codes was declassified and published in 1965, and therefore Tuchman's description of the German codes is seriously incomplete.

A "beacon book," mostly of interest to those studying the situation in Mexico circa 1917.

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