Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Great War: A Reading List

Tsar Nicholas and King George V
With the four year-long 100th anniversary of The Great War coming to end in November, now is a good time to brush up on the event that still leaves a mark on the world today.

Starting with how the world got to the event of June 28, 1914
1. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild

2. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark

3. The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman

4. The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillian

5. 1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies, Shaun Whiteside, and Jamie Lee Searle

6. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Battles and Soldiers
7. Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn J. Atwood

8. Forgotten Voices of the Great War by Max Arthur and the Imperial War Museum (UK)

9. The Harlem Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I by Stephen L. Harris and Rod Paschall

10. Voices From the Trenches: Letters to Home by Noel Carthew

11. The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War by Richard Rubin and Grover Gardener

12. Backs to the Wall: A Larrikin on the Western Front by G.D. Mitchell

13. Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front by Peter Hart

14. The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East by Eugene Rogan

The war might have ended, but there is no peace (1918 and beyond)
15. The Great Silence: Living in the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age by Juliet Nicholson

16. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry

17. 1918 The Year of Victory: The End of the Great War and the Shaping of History by Ashley Ekins

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tea Review: Twinings of London Christmas Tea


I picked a box of this tea at my base commissary every year around Christmas time. The cover art is full of holiday cheer without being overly fussy, so it can be used as holiday décor in most styles. When you open the box, you don't get a whiff of the tea due to each bag being individually wrapped, which I fill is a bit of a missed opportunity to sell the product.

This is a black tea, and therefore is at full caffeinated strength. Please be mindful if you are sensitive to caffeine. The strength of this tea is a little less than a full English Breakfast tea. There are also artificial flavorings, mostly of the spice variety. Check the box for an ingredients list.

First Impression: the color of the steeped tea is a reddish brown but the smell finally kicks in and is simply soothing and delicious. The scent more than the color is what is appealing about this tea.

First Sip Reaction: A beautifully balanced tea - neither too plain (such as normal breakfast teas) nor overpowering spicy. You can taste the holiday cheer on your tongue via the clove and cinnamon flavor.

Bottom of the Cup Reaction: Well, I wished I didn't put sugar in this tea. Maybe a little honey, but honestly this tea doesn't need milk or sugar - it stands on its own really well. The spice level is a bit lower than in the beginning of the drink.

Final Verdict: The caffeine in this tea didn't keep me awake, so it can be consumed at night if you aren't sensitive to caffeine (or I must have a high tolerance to caffeine....). I went without sugar for the remaining cups of tea and would recommend the reader do likewise. A really great tea to settle down with some cookies and watch a holiday movie.

If you would like to try some, check out Twinings USA.com; the tea is sold in boxes of 20 bags or 12 count K-Cup pods.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

One for my fellow Emergency Managers

My career field in the US Air Force was emergency management and I am a sucker for disaster books. Ted Koppel was a name I could trust to give me some really thought provoking long-form journalism.


Book Review
Lights Out: A Cyber Attack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath
Ted Koppel
Penguin Random House, 2015
Read December 2016
4/5 stars

A pretty easy, but sobering, read about how a cyber attack on the U.S. power grid could take place and how the country (government, civic organizations, and individual people) would respond/react to the situation. Answer: everyone's response will be piss poor, except for the Mormons and survivalists (aka "preppers"). The biggest loser is the DHS; they don't seem to know how to get themselves out of a paper bag much less planning and supplying for a major terrorist incident via the Internet. FEMA is at least thinking things through and planning accordingly, that is when the head of the department and his deputy can agree on anything (not likely). It seems if the individual is hoping to make any headway in discovering how to plan and respond to such an attack, s/he should look to local and state governments. Also, Koppel's advice in the epilogue is to get back into community-level preparedness as well as individual/family unit-level preparedness. Overall, a solid read I would recommend to anyone, but especially my fellow emergency managers.

Primer on Future Crisis Points

I picked up this book because I am living in Europe for another 18 months and wanted a bit of forewarning or basic knowledge of what I could expect to see in European politics and economics prior to my leaving. Since my second tour of living in England, I have seen the Scottish Independence referendum, the Brexit vote, numerous terrorist incidents, austerity measures, and the rise of hard right-wing parties gaining more political clout and votes across Europe.


Book Review
Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe
George Friedman
Penguin Random House, 2015
Read December 2016
3.5/5 stars

The book is broken down into three sections: the Enlightenment Era and the beginnings of modern science; the thirty-one years from the start of World War I to the end of World War II; and a regional look at the current political and economic climate of today's Europe. I hope the reader likes a lot of European history, because 2/3rds of the book is just that, with an additional introduction that tells the story of how Friedman's family escaped Europe and came to America. Honestly, I wished I had skipped the introduction and first section of the book - it had nothing to do with the rest of the book. Section two's history focus related and influenced what you will read in the third section, so please start there. Section two's history lesson is very basic, but puts all readers (regardless of their depth in World War II and modern European history) on the same page and ready for the third section's content.

I like how the third section was organized and I found the multiple maps of the region very useful; my geography skills get weaker the farther east I go into Europe. Germany and Russia are the dominant players within a lot of the third section's content. Luckily, I found no Muslim bashing; when the conflicts arise between the Muslim and Christian world views, there was a balance to the writing and a depth of knowledge given. Friedman is definitely in the camp of viewing the EU and NATO as too weak to be of anything effective or significant. I found my knowledge growing of little talked about regions such as the Balkans and Baltic states as I read their respective chapters.

I was disappointed in the chapter on Britain - there wasn't much talk of the upcoming (as of the date published, Brexit was just in the beginnings of the campaign stages) EU referendum, the Scottish Independence referendum vote was swept under the rug, and there was no talk about the growing popularity of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) or the rise in both Islamphobia and anti-Semitism (the UK editions of the newspaper The Guardian has a few articles on the latter you should check out). There was also very little to no talk of the backlash to the austerity measures the Tories have enacted. The crisis point here may be internal, but no less flammable, as the riots and demonstrations have shown.

Overall, a good primer for Americans to learning more about European politics and economics today and what to look for in the near future. But it would also help to read newspaper and magazine articles from specific countries as well to keep your knowledge accurate and up to date.

Nuclear Disaster Re-visited

The disaster at Chernobyl is now 30 years in the past. I was perusing the non-fiction titles at the library and came across this translated work. Originally, the work was first published in 1996 in Russian and explored how people living in the Soviet Union, especially in the affected areas, thought and felt about the disaster (in 2005-2006 the work was translated into English).


Book Review
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
Author: Svetlana Alexievich; Translated by Keith Gessen Picador
Macmillan Publishers, 2005
Read December 2016
1.5 stars

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
New Yorker Best Books of the Year
The Guardian (UK) Best Books of the Year

This book was rough to read in the beginning; I couldn't sympathize with anyone who chose to stay in the affected area because they didn't see the harm in radiation. There was a lot of talk by the elderly about how life was far worse during the war (World War II) and they survived, so they could survive this too. Then there were the men who wanted to be heroes or climb the ladder of leadership within the Communist Party that they went willingly to clean up the affected area or the nuclear plant itself. People were very naïve or incompetent. The death toll mounted and yet people continued to believe party officials. With the crumbling Soviet Union, this was a symbolic end to an empire. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the internal conflicts that arose in the power vacuum created refugees that sought safety in the empty villages surrounding Chernobyl, radiation be damned. Experts in nuclear science were avoided, scorned, or ignored.

The writing was translated to make much of the reading make sense, but some of the people profiled talked about WWII or philosophy and it ended up reading more like a word salad. It was repetitive, especially from the elderly and party men/women, who never broke from the official Communist Party story of what happened and how the West was trying to create trouble for the Soviets. Not much insight was found reading this book, so it can be an addition to your reading about the Chernobyl disaster but can not stand on its own for knowledge base. A good book if you are looking to beef up your academic work with first-person accounts or quotes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Author Spotlight: Michael Lewis

I came to Michael Lewis' works via the 2015 movie adaption of The Big Short. I was a bit obsessed with that movie, watching it almost every night after my husband went off to work. So I was happy to see Lewis' books in my local base library. I read the following four books in 2016:

Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street - 5 stars
Read in November 2016
This was a real page turner. Lewis takes the reader back to the late 70s and all through the 80s and tells the story of one "rogue" investment bank, Salomon Brothers, Inc. There is a big section of this rather short (249 pages) book that is devoted all to Lewis Rainrie and his newly conceived mortgage backed securities (MBS) trading department - this is the beginning of what would lead to the global recession of 2008. This section really helped give the reader more understanding and insight into Lewis' other book about MBS, The Big Short. The other big section deals with Lewis' experience as a bond trader in London. Lewis is funny, honest (he often talks about how he was at times fearful or completely out of his depth), and observant of human behavior and interaction.
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine - 5 stars
Read in June 2016
ONE BIG CAVEAT to reading this book: You must have a firm knowledge of financial lingo and some concepts featured in this book (mortgage backed securities, credit debt obligations, credit default swaps, etc). This is not a textbook for the layperson - this is inside baseball style. This is a great addition to those other books about the financial crash of 2008, but can't serve as "the go-to guide".
This book is different enough from the movie (The Big Short starring Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling) to really be a separate thing; this works if you didn't care for the movie but still was interested in the story. For me, I loved the movie and I also really loved this book, but for different reasons; I will note that watching the movie before reading the book made the book easier to understand (also I got to picture Bale every time his character shows up in the book, which makes any reading much more enjoyable).
I had already liked and appreciated Lewis' style of writing from reading Flash Boys, and this book follows the same formula - follow the outsiders who mastered (and yes, profited from) the complicated web that is the US financial system. These are not just outsiders, these guys (yes they were all males featured in this book - Meredith Whitney was only mentioned in the introduction) were not the Wall Street type of guys, so very few insiders took them seriously. Lewis' writing does have a snarky bent at times, but it was in the more light-hearted moments, so he didn't come off as mocking. Due to the subject matter, this is a bit dark and cynical look at Wall Street. There are winners (our outsiders) but even they didn't feel like much of a winner after seeing the destruction caused by Wall Street greed. There is a section on the taxpayer bailout in the epilogue and my copy (library loan) was the updated version with a new afterword (describing the reaction the book and Lewis himself got after publication).

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World - 4.5 stars
Read December 2016
This book is a collection of articles written for Vanity Fair about the sovereign debt crisis that happened in the aftermath of the global recession in 2008. I didn't know about this book until I was perusing my library's non-fiction shelves and saw Lewis' name on another economic book. I had to read it, and so glad I did. The reader is taken to Iceland, Ireland, Germany, Greece, and finally Southern California (one of the biggest areas of the mortgage meltdown that triggered the recession). I learned a lot about the economic and culture of the countries from reading this and know understand a lot more about the undertones of the political strife now going on in Europe as a result of the sovereign debt crisis. Lewis keeps his entertaining and charming way of writing while getting to the heart of what led to the crises felt all over Europe. The book also goes into the bankruptcy of Vallejo, California and the public financial crisis of San Jose, which also helps understand the political climate in California. I read this just after finishing George Friedman's Flash Points: The Emerging Crisis in Europe and would recommend the two books together.
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt - 5 stars
Read June 2016
This was the first Lewis book I read. Great book detailing how High Frequency Trading (HFT) is scalping ordinary investors, penny by penny. What The Big Short did for the bond community, this books does to the stock/equity community. You do need a basic grasp of investing concepts and lingo to understand what Lewis is describing, but he does use easy to understand examples to illustrate how HFT works. Much of HFT happened during the time of the subprime mortgage bubble, but came more to light after the post-bubble burst consequences had subsided. HFT has caused short-term crashes and will probably continue to do so, so investor beware and be aware.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Living La Vida Local

No real reason for why I borrowed this book from the library; it just seemed to call me. I am glad I listened to the call.


Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
Bill McKibben
Henry Holt and Co, 2007
Read in December 2016
3.75/5 stars

This was my first book written by Bill McKibben, a journalist and environmentalist. I think I have been wanting to lighten my carbon footprint but needed a little guidance on how to go about doing it. Living in Europe has opened me to be more accepting of local suppliers and retailers; the fact that shopping at our base commissary is a chore could be another reason I am happy to buy and live the European way. So it should come as no surprise that the chapters dealing with American style of agriculture and the end of factory farming/industrial farms were the most impactful to me. I was also very interested in how politics were given the local is better treatment. Granted, the author lives in Vermont, a more liberal area of the U.S., so his ideas work because the state population is much more likely to want to live locally. The only area of the book I had to disagree with is the part where he talks about local currency; it seemed to be more of a throwback to the early days of the republic and was difficult for those living in border areas to live and work with differing currencies of the individual states. I think most of the ideas found in this book resonate with me because I read about them post 2008 global recession, so the ideas were not as radical (some were indeed necessary and some were probably implemented in 2009 and thereafter) as they were in 2007. Overall, I found this book to be useful in helping me start my journey to living less globally and more locally.