Expert! That’s us. Certified by the Weaponsman Board of Experts.
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 might not have one, but we’re heavy on gun books, so there is that). We also confess to a deep Czech tinge this week.
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
The Brown Bess; An Identification Guide and Illustrated Study of Britain’s Most Famous Musket by Erik Goldstein and Stuart Mowbray. This is that rare thing, a book about a specialty corner of collecting, that everybody ought to own even if they’re not specifically collectors of Brown Besses, English martial arms, or Revolutionary / 1812 arms.
That is because it is one of the most important arms ever fielded, for America, Britain, and scores of other countries. And because this colorful, lavishly decorated book is the next best thing to sitting amidst a priceless collection of antique British muskets, while each is disassembled before your eyes to give you an “inside tour” of what makes this arm of the Empire tick.
Mauser, Walther and Mannlicher Firearms by W.H.B. Smith. Three old gun books in one, this book mostly gets a “Buy it” because it’s available at a very reasonable price. It’s out of print right now at amazon, but try other online bookseller aggregators like ABEbooks and Alibris.
It’s a reprint of a 1971 reprint that unified three slimmer 1940s books; therefore the date of information is, functionally, the months after the end of World War II and nothing collectors have learned since is included.
Nonetheless, given Smith’s comprehensive knowledge and excellent access to evidence for the day, it’s worth reading or keeping around as a reference. Many of the collector-oriented books zero in on narrow subsets of knowledge and lack the overview found here.
Online Bonus – none this week
Get it at the Library
The Hitler Kiss: A Memoir of the Czech Resistance by Radomir Luža and Christina Vella. This is a Resistance memoir by the son of one of the Czech resistance’s unknown-west-of-Cheb martyrs. This is a very good book and full of insights into resistance. It and the next book are helping us grapple with a thorny question — why was the Czech Resistance so unsuccessful? Especially while their distant cousins to the north, the Poles, although also failing to liberate themselves so bedeviled the Germans that the Germans gave them surrender terms that included treatment as POWs, something they not only didn’t extend to resistance operators elsewhere, but didn’t even grant to Russian soldiers of any rank or branch, or Western commandos. (A number of German officers were hanged for these breaches of military law and custom, not to mention civilized behavior, but that was small consolation to the wartime victims). This book has a very well-curated bibliography, with Luza’s assessment of each work in a line or two.
The Czechs Under Nazi Rule: The Failure of National Resistance 1939-1942 by Vojtech Mastny is the fairly standard academic history of this period. The Nazis, far from their TV image as malicious cretins, used a canny combination of carrots and sticks to keep the Czechs docile — and working for das Herrenvolk. Heydrich, rather interestingly, put scant weight on winning hearts and minds; he considered what the citizens of the occupied territory thought insignificant. His only interest was in making what they did conform to his needs, and when it wasn’t happening via carrots he could swing a terrible stick.
Essential Tips & Tricks: A How-To Guide for the Gun Collector by Stuart C. Mowbray. This is a “Library” book if you’re thinking about collecting guns, or if you think you’re kind of collecting guns. If you’re actually collecting guns, it is, as the title says, “Essential.”
A better subtitle to this might have been 1000 ways people will try to cheat you, and how not to get taken because Mowbray, who has seen it all, describes just about every racket that there is.
Even if you’re not a collector, it’s an entertaining, informative read.
Read it if You’re a Specialist
Know Your Czechoslovakian Pistols by R.J. Berger. A slender paperback that covers a wide range of Czech and Czechoslovak pocket and martial pistols of the 20th Century. It has become a standard work for collectors and is still fairly solid despite its small size and 1989 date. However, it’s been bid up into the stratosphere by collectors and in our opinion it’s not worth some of the prices we’ve seen copies sell for — $150, and one is now on Amazon for nearly $250. This bubble will deflate if a better book is published, and in the next batch of reviews we’ll recommend a better book, within a couple of constraints.
(Disclaimer: We’re working on a book on Czech pistols, standing on the shoulders of Berger among others).
Secret Agent: The True Story of the Covert War against Hitler by David Stafford This is a series of anecdotes about SOE in Europe by one of the foremost British historians of the resistance war.
It is largely written from secondary sources, but well written, and Stafford’s interviews with then-surviving SOE vets — some of whom did not know the name of the outfit while they were in it — are worth the price of admission.
One tale we particularly enjoyed involved a bit of privateering that one SOE maritime got up to in the “neutral” port of Fernando Po — ending with an Italian and a German vessel, and their cargoes, which had been interned in the neutral harbor, finding new employment with the British war effort.
Camp X: OSS, “Intrepid.” and the Allies North American Training Camp for Secret Agents, 1941-1945 by David Stafford. This is another book by the same British historian and former diplomat as the previous. It tells the surprisingly complex story of the SOE/BSC/OSS training camp in Ontario, and some of the remarkable heroes of many nations who passed through, and what they learnt there.
There is also a parallel political story, which makes us wonder — has the Canadian race ever produced a bigger weasel than Mackenzie King?
In any event, these books tie together with some of Stafford’s other books to tell as complete a tale as anyone does of an agency that burned all its records but the historically important ones — and then lost those in a fire!
Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire by Michael T. Kaufman. An “authorized” biography, this was commissioned by Soros as a means of damage control after his disastrous 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft in which he confessed to collaboration in the Holocaust, and mentioned it completely didn’t bother him. The book is fascinating, and rather than excuse Soros, it makes him look like a man with such a bounding case of narcissism that his self-adoring body is wrapped around a shriveled, shrunken, sunken soul. A remarkable man in many ways, and an object of pity, despite the author’s book-length adoration.
Don’t Waste Your Time Reading It
Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Would Work Better for Everyone by Phillip Longman. A shallow, partisan tract from an armchair expert, who uses a variety of nerdy metrics to argue for socialized medicine because it’s working really good for VA. The beltway genius who wrote it has never served in the military (it’s beneath his kind, evidently), said a quick prayer before being rolled into a VA OR, or sat in a VA pharmacy waiting to see what random stuff they substitute for one’s meds. His fundamental source for his fable or VA excellence turns out to be, ultimately, VA management’s self-reporting.
Stop the presses: Beltway drones tell a beltway drone they’re awesome, he writes that they’re super awesome! And everyone should give them more money and power, because electronic medical records will get your identity stolen in half the time… oh, he didn’t cover VA’s bad stewardship of the records.
He does write of scandals, only to dismiss them: news agencies write about them because they’re so visible, while they ignore scandals in the Dreaded Private Sector. Say what? We swear, there’s something in the water in DC, that is to stupid what vibrio is to cholera, and this cat is living next to Pump Zero.
If you must read it for class, there are three editions published 2 years apart with absolutely trivial changes. We were able to buy all three editions for under $10 plus shipping; one of them set us back a whole penny (and we wish we hadn’t splurged). The front matter (prefaces, etc., and blurbs by other armchair experts) is where most of the substantive changes are. We presume he does a new edition to change the page numbers so when a professor assigns the book to a roomful of captive undergrads, they don’t buy used.
Having gone through all three editions, not one of them is worth a line on the Waitlist of Death at the Phoenix VA, even though the author’s been cashing in on it as if he was drawing a VA Bad Management Relocation Bonus.
We Read It, But We’re Still Not Sure
Nothing in this somewhat unwanted category this time around.
To the Readers:
We have adjusted our goal, and it is now to do two of these in an average month.