Good morning bookies! Stand by for news and comment.
Your friendly neighborhood bookseller is stiff and sore and jet-lagged beyond belief, but dedicated to bringing you the best book blog possible, thus he finds himself clacking away on a hot, sunny morning in Memphis. Heat warnings are out again, 98 for a high, all is right with the world.
At least, it would be if I hadn’t dragged a cold back with me from Europe. Gack.
*** West Virginia University Library has a rare book room that would make bibliophiles of any caliber envious. Donated long ago by an alumnus, the collection includes Four Shakespeare First Folios. Wowser! It’s included here because, lets’ face it, bookies can’t get enough of reading about other people’s collections.
*** Who says books are for nerds and wimps? Certainly not Captain Nathan Harlan. Many moons ago the Indiana National Guard officer bought a copy of The Federalist, aka The Federalist Papers, at a flea market, without knowing exactly what he had bought. He found out last week, however, when the exceedingly rare book netted $80,000 just before he shipped out for another tour of duty in Iraq. Heritage Galleries even waived their 20% fee for his service to the country.
Captain sells a treasure to support his family while he is away
*** Being a southerner brings with it certain conflicting feelings regarding the US Civil War (aka The Second Revolution, The War of Northern Aggression and, what I feel is the most accurate, The War For Southern Independence). On the one hand, nobody in their right mind can think of slavery as anything other than a barbaric practice, an example of Man’s inhumanity to Man at its worst. On the other hand, however, many southerners inherently feel that the South had a right to govern itself if that’s what it wanted. After all, there is really very little difference between the feelings of southerners who fought for independence and Americans who fought against the British in 1776. Many Southerners believe the South had the right to do what it did, and yet are glad the south lost because it ended slavery. Quite a schism for the mind.
And now Auburn University has received one of the most poignant documents of that awful war, the letter that Robert E. Lee sent to US Grant requesting terms of surrender. Holy cow! It’s hard to imagine a more important document emerging from that war. And value? Cut signatures of Lee are worth thousands, so how much is a letter with unique historical content worth? At least 6 figures, I’m sure. Anyone in the Auburn area should try to see this letter once it goes on display.
*** It’s hard to imagine a more despicable person than a book vandal, but a book thief would qualify. The University of Kansas library has been afflicted with both recently. If you want to stop this from happening, let me deal with them. I can assure you that would end it.
And now some book reviews that have piled up since I’ve been gone.
*** One of the enduring mysteries of world history is Why did Adolf Hitler hate Jews so much? The answer would explain much about the history of the 20th century, and yet with Hitler himself long since dead (or, at least, locked away in a UFO circling Mercury and therefore unavailable) the answer to that question will forever be a matter of conjecture. A new book, Hitler’s Jewish Hatred: Cliche and Reality by Ralf-George Reuth, takes a different tack from most historians, who date Hitler’s bigotry to a number of different causes, most commonly his life on the streets of Vienna before World War One. Reuth takes a different approach, claiming that it was his experiences after the war that spawned his obsessive anti-semitism. It’s an interesting theory but hard for me to buy.
Now, maybe his feelings that the Jews betrayed Germany during WW1 solidified an existing hatred, that’s certainly possible if not probable, but I find it hard to buy that the post-war experiences alone caused the Holocaust to form in Hitler’s mind. Still, it’s good to have new scholarship on this ultra-important topic.
*** Speaking of atrocities committed during World War Two, one of the most brutal was the Bataan Death March. When the US forces in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese in April of 1942, no one suspected the horrors to come. Starving and sick, the Americans and their Philippine allies were forced to march 66 miles without food or water, those who fell out were shot or stabbed, the beginning of more than 3 years of hell and torture at the hands of the Japanese. A new book on the topic, Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath by Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman, brings a fresh perspective to this sometimes forgotten chapter of the war.
The brutalities of Nazi Germany have been well represented, but those of the Japanese are sometimes overlooked. They shouldn’t be. In some respects the Japanese were even worse than the Nazis, not only to the civilian populations they conquered but to the foreign soldiers they captured. Stories of beheaded Americans are not uncommon.
*** When America entered the Second World War, their British allies viewed American generals with nearly open contempt. They, the British, were considered the professionals, the Americans as little more than amateurs. For their part, the Americans considered the British as plodding dinosaurs. Both were right. Neither country supplied the fighting troops with the upper leadership it deserved. A good example for the British is Archibald Wavell, the commander in North Africa early in the war who could have swamped the Italians in Libya and forestalled the Germans from deploying Rommel and the Afrika Korps. Like Montgomery, however, Wavell suffered from an excess of caution and the chance was lost.
A new biography of this important general seems destined to fill a gap in the literature of the war. Wavell wasn’t the worst of generals, he had his good moments, but good or bad he played an pivotal role throughout the war and deserves to be studied. By all accounts The Empire’s Soldier by Adrian Fort is a pleasure to read, despite its length, and so is included here because Wavell really is a man who needs to be known.
*** It has long been my view that among the monsters of the 20th century, it’s really impossible to choose between either Stalin or Hitler as being the worst. Hitler has gotten the most press, but that’s mostly because German records and memoirs have been easier to access than those from the former Soviet Union. Even those not translated into English are somewhat accessible: for example, I read enough German to make out the gist of most things, especially when a dictionary or online translator is available. Language is a barrier, but not an insurmountable one. Russian, however, doesn’t even use the same alphabet, and opponents of Stalin weren’t exactly eager to chronicle their opposition.
But while countless millions of Soviet citizens were killed to satisfy Stalin’s rampant paranoia, there was one man that he feared that he should have feared: Leon Trotsky. Murdered in Mexico in 1940, Trotsky was a seminal figure in early Soviet history and deserves to be studied. Thus a new biography is a welcome addition to the history of the 20th century. Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky by Bertrand Patenaude, helps put this man’s life into context as the USSR teetered on the brink of the Second World War.
*** Given the almost ultra-left wing slant on today’s college campuses, it’s hard to think that prior to WW2 these same schools were a haven for American Nazis, but a new book makes it clear that this was, in fact, the case. The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses by Stephen H. Norwood. We forget now about how Nazism was viewed before its excesses were known; how many people are familiar with the American Bund? Crowds packed large auditoriums were the US flag flew side by side with the Nazi flag and this was seen as a legitimate political viewpoint. Examining how our schools of higher education responded is a fascinating counter-point to the revisionism that seeks to exonerate those same schools from ever having supported fascism.