Book Review: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

 “It is thus a primary American tradition to consider history when our political order seems imperiled. If we worry today that the American experiment is threatened by tyranny, we can follow the example of the Founding Fathers and contemplate the history of other democracies and republics. The good news is that we can draw upon more recent and relevant examples than ancient Greece and Rome. The bad news is that the history of modern democracy is also one of decline and fall.”

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Among the opening passages in Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century is “History does not repeat, but it does instruct.” This book does just that, it instructs us on how to evaluate and navigate the political currents that we face in the United States today. Dr. Snyder, a professor of European and Political History, shows how the rise of Candidate and President Trump has similarities with the rise of modern tyrannical leaders. He takes the History of political movements and the falls of democratic governments in the periods after World War I and before World War II, after World War II, and after the end of the Cold War and uses them to show us how to identify and resist the rise of tyranny here at home. Written because of what the author observed happening around him, On Tyranny reminds me of the political pamphlets and treatises written around the American Revolution. Just as those writings were important in bringing the United States its freedom, this book can be important in keeping our freedom. On Tyranny, though short, is engaging and thought-provoking. Whether you believe that the United States could be slipping toward tyranny or not, it would be in your best interest to read it with an open mind, be vigilant of what it warns of, and heed the lessons it presents.

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I would also recommend Dan Snow’s History Hit Podcast episode about On Tyranny with Dr. Snyder, in which he and host Dan Snow discuss the book and current events. An important takeaway is Dr. Snyder’s advice not to panic.

Book Review: Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a WomanCatherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Russian History, so I’m not in a position to judge Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman on accuracy, but I read and thoroughly enjoyed his books on the World War I naval war, so I have no reason to doubt his accuracy when it comes to Catherine the Great. So much of what you see about Catherine the Great is about her sexuality, so it was wonderful to read about her ideas and how and why they changed throughout her reign and about her accomplishments. She’s such a fascinating subject and Massie did a great job describing what developed and formed her personality and how her experiences changed her thoughts from childhood to Empress then over her reign as Empress. Since Catherine was a Western European taking an Eastern European throne, Massie does a great job showing how it disadvantaged her and how she overcame her subject’s suspicions. He also does a wonderful job fitting in the complicated relationship between Russia and the rest of Europe and how the two influenced each other. If you’re a fan of History or Biography, this is definitely a book to put on your reading list.

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Book Review: Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-1948 by James Barr

A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-1948A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-1948 by James Barr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

James Barr’s A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-1948 is great book for those who are interested in how we came to where we are today in the Middle East. A Line in the Sand is a tale of the competition between Great Britain and France to control the Middle East, from World War I to the birth of Israel. It’s a story of deviousness, betrayal, and violence on all sides and one that neither Britain or France comes away from favorably. Barr’s writing is captivating and objective; while one could develop the idea that he’s sympathetic toward Britain, by the end I didn’t feel sympathy for either. Furthermore, after reading this book you understand why there is no trust in the Middle East; there’s no reason for trust. This is a must read book for understanding the current state of affairs all over the Middle East and the predicament that we in the West have gotten ourselves into.

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Book Review: The Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver

The Vikings: A New HistoryThe Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though I’m a History enthusiast, I didn’t know a lot about the Vikings before I decided to read Neil Oliver’s “The Vikings: A New History.” To be honest, World History classes in High School and European History classes in college just didn’t have much to say about them, but after reading this book, I came away with more knowledge of the Vikings and a desire to learn more. Oliver goes from the pre-History of the Vikings to the close of their age in the British Isles, exploring their origins, their development, and their movement across Europe, the Middle East, an Asia. He shows how they often adapted to the cultures of the areas they occupied instead of forcing their culture on the occupied. They have a fascinating History and Oliver tells it in an enthusiastic, conversational way. In my opinion the books has two shortcomings. First it has no maps; maps would better illustrate and represent the Vikings’ travels. Second, he is admittedly enthusiastic about the Vikings and while I don’t know enough to presume to call his objectivity into question, the thought did linger in the back of my head at times.

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Book Review: Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway: The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully

18663139A few years ago, I read Craig L. Symond’s The Battle of Midway (Pivotal Moments in American History) and saw Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway: The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully referenced in it. I took a look at the book on Amazon and it had a plain simple cover, giving it the feeling of an academic work, so I added it to my reading list but didn’t put it very high on the list. Recently, I finally got around to reading it.

Shattered Sword presents a new way of looking at the Battle of Midway. It is well researched and well documented with extensive endnotes and a lengthy bibliography. It is detailed yet captivating. Most of all, it presents strong arguments, backs up those arguments with documented sources, and effectively turns the traditional narrative of the Battle of Midway on its ear. The authors explore doctrine, strategy, planning, and tactics from the Japanese perspective; in doing so, they don’t just challenge the conventional wisdom about the battle and its after effects; to borrow from the title, it shatters them.

To put it mildly, this book is not what I thought it was. It is not a dry academic work, it is well written in a witty, conversational style. You’re not only getting a completely new understanding of the battle, you’re being entertained. It truly is hard to put this book down. Very seldom do you come across a book that presents an all-new way of looking at a historical event, but this book fits that bill. I’ve purposely not included any of Shattered Swords’ conclusions in order not to spoil the book. Buy it read it, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll come away with a whole new understanding of one of World War II’s important battles. I also think that those interested in military history can come away with important lessons, one of them being not to apply one side’s doctrine and operational practices to its opponent, analyze both sides’ actions in the light of their respective doctrines. It’s helpful to have about the Battle of Midway previously and have an understanding of how the US Navy fought the battle, but this truly is a five-star book and one that anyone interested in the Pacific Theater of World War II must read.