Expert! From Ex-, Latin “former,” and spurt, “a drip under pressure.” So here we go to use just a few sentences to review a book. We didn’t get one of these in here last week, but we did keep reading books, so there is that. We put books into five categories:
- Read It Even if you Gotta Buy It;
- Get it at the Library;
- Read it if You’re a Specialist;
- Don’t Waste Your Time Reading It. And, last but not least:
- We read it, but we’re still not sure.
We also try to sneak in an online bonus reading suggestion or two. (This week, we link to a review of several great SOE in Greece books).
We link the titles to the book on Amazon; as a rule of thumb we link to the most economical option. We’re not yet an Amazon affiliate, though.
Read It Even if you Gotta Buy It
At the Klaxon’s Call by Philip Rowe. Rowe was a crew dog — a navigator and de facto flight engineer — on several US Air Force bomber types, including the B-58 Hustler, a beautiful but deadly strategic bomber that served a very brief career, from 1960 to 1970. Improved Soviet air defenses, especially, missilery, had made its survival strategy of high-and-fast strikes at Mach 2 untenable, and it wasn’t stressed to fly nap-of-the-earth missions
This book tells the story of a single crew in a Third World War that fortunately never happened. Ordered to launch because of an inbound missile strike launched without warning, the crew is not long into their flight before they’re overtaken by the flash of light and shockwave of their base — and their families — being erased by a thermonuclear warhead. They press on to their target, with many risks and adventures along the way. With the strike behind them, the next question is: where to recover (there was not enough fuel to fly a strike mission and return to CONUS)? Not great literature, but interesting in its discussion of the tactics, techniques and procedures of 50 years ago. Currently priced at $1.25!
CTRL-ALT-Revolt by Nick Cole. This novel is a ro llicking tale of that old Science Fiction standby, a war between the humans and the intelligent machines they created. Cole actually got fired by his publisher over this book — his editor didn’t read beyond the first few pages, because she’s a Unique and Special Snowflake® and the AI’s reasoning offended her — but they’d have fired him again if he’d read any further, because the books the antithesis of PC. Cole is particularly good at crafting characters: a programmer who is just arriving at the big time; a reclusive tech entrepreneur; a young woman who games, because in a virtual world she doesn’t have to live with Cerebral Palsy. Even the AIs develop distinct, if unhuman, personalities. We liked it (and it’s cheap, $2, providing good entertainment bang for the buck).
Online Bonus – CIA Book Reviews
This .pdf file contains a review by CIA officer JR Seeger of four books that relate to the Resistance in Crete during World War II. We’ve mentioned participant W. Stanley Moss’s Ill Met by Moonlight before; Seeger reviews four other books including The Ariadne Objective: The Underground War to Rescue Crete from the Nazis by Wes Davis; Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete, by participant Patrick Leigh Fermor; Kidnap in Crete, by Rick Stroud; and Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance, by Christopher McDougall. Each book has its own particular angle and strengths, and Seeger clearly loves the subject and understands it deeply. (The review also contains a short list of recent non-fiction on other Greek and Med operations, too).
Get it at the Library
Dark Wing by Richard Herman, Jr. If you liked Tom Clancy, and maybe if you enjoyed Douglas Reeman’s great novels of the Royal Navy, but thought, “All this Navy stuff is fine and good, but does anybody write like this about the Air Force?” you need to acquaint yourself with Herman, and rapidly; like, in afterburner. We’ve read another of his novels, that one about a C-130 outfit, and this one takes up the cudgel for everybody’s favorite airframe (well, except for Air Force generals and E-Ring suits). We refer, of course, to the A-10 Thunderbolt II. It says something of Herman’s perspective that that PR-executive-drafted name for what’s really called a Warthog does not seem to appear in Dark Wing.
In this book, Lt. Col. Matthew Z. Pontowski III leaves the Pentagon — and the Air Force — for a career-tag job as a full-time National Guard officer, trying to make something of a hangdog A-10 squadron, whose pilots and ground crews are going through the motions while budget-driven deactivation looms. But a world crisis is also looming — and, just as the Air Guard had to supply the obsolete B-26s for the Bay of Pigs, the Air Guard gets touched for volunteers to create a secret wing — a “dark wing” — who can fly air support for some unlikely allies.
You meet a range of characters: a team of legendary scroungers; politicians in three countries; a captive NCO who’s in the right place at the right time to become a general; real generals, a clear contrast, one with a character of pure gold, and another of pure dross. And a remarkable girl who has the ability to cloud men’s minds, and the gift of telling fortunes — or at least, so the host nation people, from peasant to president, believe.
The book comes from the middle of a series, but is readable and entertaining on its own. It dates from 1994 and so it describes both geopolitical and technical states of affairs that are different from what now prevails, but it’s quite entertaining. We picked up the hardback at a library sale. We have another one for after this (one that’s earlier in the series). (Note that our link is to the $4 Kindle edition for those pursuing instant reading gratification. You can get a used paper or hardbound copy at Amazon for as little as 1¢, but that’s often plus $4 shipping…).
Handguns of the World, by Edward C. Ezell. This is a vital text within its limitations, which are: military handguns, from the cartridge era to the close of World War II. (That is, in fact, the full title of the book: Handguns of the World: Military Revolvers and Self-Loaders, 1870 to 1945. We have owned this book for over 30 years (ow) and took it down from the shelf again to make sure we were hitting the high points in the Czech and Czechoslovakian Fireams: Handguns book we’re working on. In reviewing the German section, we found a very minor error, but we were amazed because this is the first error we have ever found in any reference by Ezell. For the record, it was the nationality of the designer of various Mauser pistols and the Czech Vz 24 service pistol, Josef Nickl. Nickl was not Austrian, but German (specifically, Bavarian). The first 166 pages provide a history of revolver and pistol development, and the remainder of the book looks at the pistols of significant designers such as Borchardt & Luger and Browning, and of each producing nation in turn. A brief concluding chapter discusses the principles and technology of pistol manufacture during this period, with specific examples. Overall, a fine work and highly recommended. Old but not obsolete!
Read it if You’re a Specialist
Ars Mechanica: The Ultimate FN Book, by Auguste Francotte, Claude Geyer, and Robert Karlshausen. Looking for a different book, we came across this on eBay (or was it GunBroker? We’ve bought a bunch of books from each). Anything billed as the “ultimate” risks disappointing the reader, but this gigantic coffee-table tornado-anchor delivers on its promise.
It was published, it turns out, by Herstal Group (the parent of FN Herstal) and is a comprehensive business and technical history of the Belgian small arms powerhouse. It’s full of photos of rare and exotic FN prototypes, and color spreads of delectably engraved and inlaid FN arms.
Along with the guns, you also get a look at FN’s other product lines, like their once-thriving bicycle, motorcycle and automobile business. Indeed, early 20th Century FN magazine advertisments often showed a sportsman or -woman heading out to the country with FN shotgun on an FN motorbike, or a happy shooting party already delighting in one another’s company in an open FN touring car, off for a day of pheasantry among the peasantry.
There’s also fascinating factory images, including the classroom, photography rooms, and even a picture of a device like a polygraph that was used in assessing possible employees.
As it’s an official history, you won’t hear much about things that FN isn’t terribly proud of. The Nazi occupation is dismissed in a couple of pages, with some reference to resistance and sabotage, but they do admit producing hundreds of thousands of pistols and 1.6 million rifle barrels for the occupying Nazis. Likewise, FN’s foray into manufacturing Winchesters in New Haven — a new plant was built across the street from the historic old factor, but it folded in a few years — is dismissed with one page. But they do mention these less brilliant chapters in FN history, so it’s still quite interesting.
If you are deeply into FN, you want this, and even if you just want one book about FN, this is a good choice. (The authors are all respected historians, and the photographs are lovely and well-reproduced). The problem becomes: where do you put it? It’s a monster, at 575 pages and nearly 10 lb., and doesn’t fit in most of our shelves.
Don’t Waste Your Time Reading It
Nothing in this category this week.
We Read It, But We’re Still Not Sure
Nothing in this somewhat unwanted category this time around. Isn’t that good?
To the Readers:
We’re continuing our goal, not always met, to do one of these a week.