Undefeated – A well-written new WWII combat narrative by military historian Bill Sloan – #bookreview

Undefeated: America’s Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor
By Bill Sloan
(Simon & Schuster,
hardback, list price $28.00; Kindle edition, $14.99)

Japan wanted to attack the Philippines on the same day as Pearl Harbor. But bad weather kept its planes grounded on Formosa until December 8. Yet even with a day’s warning that war had begun, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the United States Army Forces, Far East, “committed two grave blunders,” according to this excellent combat narrative.

“First, he forfeited the opportunity for his B-17s [and bomber crews] to strike a decisive blow against the Japanese and save themselves from destruction on the ground in the process,” author Bill Sloan, a military historian, contends.

“And second, he ordered General [Jonathan M.] Wainwright’s raw, inept Philippine Army divisions to attack and destroy the Japanese landing force on the beaches of Luzon. He might as well have ordered them to fly to the moon.”

The American-led Filipino troops outnumbered the Japanese, but they had few weapons and very little military training.

There were others to blame, as well, for the devastating loss of the Philippines, Sloan adds. Throughout the 1930s, Congress had refused funding “to update a military still operating with World War I leftovers.” And, a few months prior to Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had agreed with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill “to a wartime grand strategy of ‘Europe First,’ giving top priority to halting the Nazi blitzkrieg on the other side of the Atlantic and relegating the Japanese Pacific threat to secondary status.”

Countless tales of heroics, sacrifice, cowardice, barbarism and desperation unfolded once Japanese troops landed in the Philippines, which was an American commonwealth from 1935 to 1946.

Sloan’s well-written and well-researched book highlights how the outgunned U.S. and Filipino troops tried to battle the invaders. And he deftly mingles their stories with accounts of military leaders struggling to hold out and then stage an orderly retreat to Bataan and Corregidor, two American fortresses that guarded Manila Bay.

As resistance collapsed, many soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen joined any military unit they could find. Some attempted individual escapes to Australia, and others melted into the hills and jungles to become guerilla fighters. Still, most American and Filipino troops became prisoners of war after May 7, 1942, when Gen. Wainwright was forced to surrender to avoid large-scale slaughter.

Sloan’s book pushes headlong into the brutal horrors that followed, including the long Bataan Death March that killed thousands and the sufferings of the Americans and Filipinos that were packed aboard transport ships bound for slave labor camps in Japan. Thousands died aboard those ships, either from appalling mistreatment or from air and sea attacks by American forces that were unaware of the human cargo.

The few who survived the Death March, the sea journey and slave labor’s brutalities faced yet one more challenge: Their captors had orders to execute them if America invaded Japan. What finally saved the POWs, with dramatic suddenness, Sloan makes clear, were the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He relates stories of incredible tenacity, courage and honor amid conditions that seeming utterly impossible to endure. He also offers shocking accounts of how some desperate American servicemen resorted to murder and cannibalism in their efforts to stay alive.

A prize-winning former investigative reporter, Sloan has drawn upon an extensive gathering of author interviews, oral history accounts, published historical materials, and first-person memoirs, both published and unpublished, to create Undefeated. His other combat narratives include Brotherhood of Heroes, The Ultimate Battle, and Given Up for Dead.

Balancing his criticisms of Gen. MacArthur’s leadership, particularly in the Philippines, Sloan emphasizes that the general later proved dramatically successful as post-war Japan’s “substitute emperor.” Indeed, “his success in transforming a tyrannical, rapacious, America-hating outlaw regime into a model democracy is unparalleled in political history.”

But Sloan never loses sight of those who gave the most to defend and eventually liberate the Philippines. “We were surrendered,” he quotes some of the soldiers as emphasizing, “but we were never defeated!”

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir. He is the author of an e-book detective novel, Erwin’s Law, now also available in paperback, plus a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

 

The New London explosion – Two views of America’s worst school disaster – #bookreview #texas #history

 My Boys and Girls Are in There: The 1937 New London School Explosion
By Ron Rozelle
(Texas A&M, hardback, list price $24.95; Kindle edition, list price $24.95)

 Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History
By David M. Brown and Michael Wereschagin
(Potomac Books, hardback, $29.95; Kindle edition, list price $29.95)

On March 18, 1937, in East Texas’ tiny New London community, a natural gas explosion killed some 300 students, teachers and others at London Junior-Senior High School.

Seventy-five years later, the exact death toll in America’s worst school disaster remains uncertain. But its grim lessons are relevant and timely again as school districts across the nation struggle to cut their operating expenses without endangering student safety. 

Briefly, at least, the New London catastrophe made world headlines. Even Adolph Hitler sent a message of condolence. One of the reporters who covered the explosion’s aftermath was a young Dallas newsman named Walter Cronkite.

But 1937 was a year full of troubling currents and undercurrents, including the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Germany, Italy and Japan as military powers, and the Roosevelt Administration’s continuing struggles to lift the American economy out of the Great Depression.

Across most of the world, the devastating event soon faded into the global swirl of tensions and distractions. 

But not in New London. The shock continued to run so deep, townspeople “refused to speak of the explosion or of its victims, to the press or even to each other,” Ron Rozelle notes in My Boys and Girls Are in There.

Indeed, four decades passed before the first commemoration could be organized. And, 75 years after the school tragedy, some people still shudder when the explosion is mentioned. Pains and fears it created continue to be carried forward by survivors, witnesses, family members, and friends of the dead and injured.

“Sorrow is ambulatory, and refuses to be left behind,” writes Rozelle, an author and educator who grew up 80 miles from New London. Rozelle’s father was one of many volunteers who helped search the destroyed school for survivors and victims.

Rozelle’s book is written to read like a novel, yet its chapters arise from historical records, extensive follow-up research, and interviews with people who lost loved ones, survived injuries or otherwise were scarred.

Meanwhile, one of the authors of  Gone at 3:17, David M. Brown, also grew up in East Texas and has spent more than two decades interviewing New London survivors, rescuers and others. His co-writer, Michael Wereschagin, is a veteran journalist who has covered several large disasters. Their factual account likewise reads like a story. And, benefitting from doubled manpower, it offers some additional details on survivors, witnesses, investigations, and where victims were buried.

Both works are well-researched and well-written, and they bring fresh perspectives to the New London school explosion and its aftermath.  They also can be emotionally wrenching to read.

A key lesson from New London remains valid today as states struggle to reduce their school budgets. New London’s school was part of the London Consolidated School District, which may have been America’s richest rural school district in 1937. Tax revenues from oil production and related industries were plentiful. Indeed, London Junior-Senior High was the first secondary school in Texas to get electric lights for its football field. Yet, the superintendent and at least some of the board members still bore down hard on costs, to the point that money finally was put above student safety.

Late in 1936, the superintendent, with quiet approval from four board members, decided to disconnect the school from commercial natural gas and tap into a free, unregulated and widely available byproduct of gasoline refining: waste natural gas. Their hope was to save $250 a month.

Refineries pumped the waste gas back to oil rigs through networks of bleed-off lines, and rig operators were required to dispose of it. Most released it into the air through tall pipes, and the gas was burned, lighting the sky night and day with flaring orange flames.

“The practice of tapping into waste gas lines was something of an open secret in the oil patch,” Brown and Wereschagin write. Homeowners and business owners welded valves to some of the bleed-off lines, and they installed regulators to try to control gas pressures that varied widely. “With no one monitoring it, it came with no bill,” they note.

One pipeline passed 200 feet from New London’s school, and in 1937: “The [connection] crew had gone out in early January—a janitor, two bus drivers, and a welder the school had contracted….”

Blame for the blast often has been placed on the superintendent and on some of the board members he reported to. However, both of these new books highlight bad choices made by others, as well.

For example, refiners failed to enforce policies barring gas line taps, Brown and Wereschagin point out. And no one could smell the odorless gas as it leaked and collected in the school’s big basement, Rozelle emphasizes.

A single electrical spark from a basement light switch apparently set off the explosion.

Afterward, Texas quickly passed laws that might have been enacted sooner, if politics had not stood in the way. One law added a malodorant, “a distinctive, faintly repulsive scent,” to natural gas to provide as leak warning. Another law required “anyone working with gas connections be trained and certified as an engineer by the state.” Other states soon followed Texas’ action.

Today, Brown and Wereschagin stress,  most Americans “have never heard of the New London, Texas, school explosion” and have no idea how or why natural gas got its noxious smell.

These two timely books provide painful but important reminders why the New London school explosion and its grim lessons should never be forgotten.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available now in paperback. He is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

 

Finish Forty and Home: The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific – #bookreview #in

Finish Forty and Home: The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific
By Phil Scearce
(University of North Texas, hardback, list price $29.95)

This excellent work of military history focuses on the B-24 Liberator’s role in the Pacific theater of World War II and on the combat experiences of the heavy bomber’s young crewmen, including the author’s father.

Unlike their counterparts flying B-24s and B-17s in Europe, B-24 crews in the Pacific had to survive 40 missions, not 30, to get rotated home.

And having targets in Japan or Japanese-held territories meant they had to fly over thousands of miles of ocean, with no place to bail out–and no fighter escorts for their four-engine bombers, which were built in massive numbers and difficult to fly even in normal circumstances.

The book includes a good selection of black-and-white photographs showing B-24s, airfields, air crews, and their primitive encampments on Pacific islands. 

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available soon in paperback. He also is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

Looking anew at the intense feud between leaders of the Texas Republic’s Navy & Army – #bookreview

To the People of Texas
An Appeal: In Vindication of His Conduct of the Navy

By Commodore Edwin W. Moore, T.N., edited with an introduction by Jonathan W. Jordan
(DeGolyer Library, hardback, list price $60.00 plus applicable sales tax and $5.00 shipping)

A friend who knows that I enjoy naval histories recently sent me a copy of this intriguing but somewhat expensive book.

It was published last summer, yet it is still new enough and important enough to view as a “new” book worthy of wide consideration. It is a 2011 reprint of Commodore Edwin W. Moore’s 1843 defense of his conduct and strategies as leader of the Texas Navy. Only a few copies of Moore’s original manifesto remain in existence, mostly in rare book collections. So this is a welcome event for those who relish works of history related to the Republic of Texas, before it became a state, or rely on them for academic and artistic research.

The first two sentences of editor Jonathan W. Jordan’s well-written introduction go right to the heart of reason why Commodore Moore felt compelled to defend himself for more than 200 pages in his original book:

“Within four years of assuming his post, the Texas Republic’s greatest naval commander became the mortal enemy of its greatest army commander. The hatred that burned between Commodore Edwin Ward Moore and President Sam Houston would fuel a fifteen-year war of charges, insults, and invitations to duel that would corrupt the reputations of both Texas patriots before the U.S. Senate, the Texas Congress, and the peoples of two republics.”

Indeed, Jordan notes, “Their bitterness would endure to the end of both men’s days, far beyond the life of the frontier republic, and would shape the historical legacies of Moore, Houston, and the Texas Navy.”

What created this intense hatred between two essential military leaders? According to Jordan: “Judged from the words and deeds of the antagonists, the acrimony appears to have been a hybrid flower born of three toxic seeds: a divergence over what Texas should become; differences in strategy; and the age-old reality that army generals do not always grasp the best uses of naval power.”

Along with being a “vindication,” letters from and to Commodore Moore within the book give a fascinating look at life and politics within the upper levels of the Texas Navy.

For example, in one letter written on May 7, 1842, to George W. Hockley, Texas’ Secretary of War and Marine, Commodore Moore reported that “nearly every officer in the Navy has tendered his resignation to-day—the reasons assigned, are, that they cannot get their pay, and as they owe a large amount, they must resort to other means of paying it.”

That same day, Commodore Moore wrote another letter to Secretary Hockley reporting that he had just purchased the steamer Patrick Henry, adding: “…she is represented to me to be in a good running condition, and if she can be of any service to the Government to the westward, or any where else, the Government is welcome to the use of her, free of any charge, until I want her, which will not be for some time.”

Secretary Hockley responded to the first letter by telling Commodore Moore that “[t]he resignations of all who wish to leave the service, you will accept forthwith…”

And Commodore Moore responded by reporting that he had “advanced all my means, and used all my credit to sustain the Navy on repeated occasions, but each successive of the last three sessions of Congress have cramped it more and more until the officers have nearly despaired.”

He added that, based on existing promises of future pay and his own pleadings to his officers, “nearly all of them have withdrawn their resignations…” and agreed to serve their country longer without pay, even though “many of them at this time are without a decent pair of shoes….”

This fascinating work contains several pages of illustrations from the era, plus notes to the introduction, notes to the text and a select bibliography. Libraries, scholars, historians, lovers of Texas history and others should give special consideration to this important book.

The new DeGolyer edition can be purchased by sending $60.00 plus applicable sales tax, along with $5.00 shipping and handling, to:

 The DeGolyer Library
 Southern Methodist University
 P.O. Box 750396
 Dallas, TX  75275-0396

Include shipping information and make checks payable to “The DeGolyer Library.” The book’s publisher is “unable to accept credit cards.”

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

Eight recent books of fiction, nonfiction & poetry – #bookreview

Here are eight recent books to consider, whether you prefer fiction, nonfiction or poetry.  

Midnight Movie
By Tobe Hooper, with Alan Goldsher
(Three Rivers, paperback, list price $14.00 ; Kindle edition $0.99) 

Fans of Tobe Hooper’s horror movies, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, likely will relish this experimental first novel. It is written in a fake documentary style that also blends in some fictional blog postings, fake tweets, fake news articles and fake testimonies.

In the book’s bizarre plot, a movie that Tobe Hooper made as a teenager and lost is somehow rediscovered and shown in Austin, Texas. That event unleashes a killer virus on the world that only the filmmaker himself can stop — if he can just figure out how. (This book is not recommended for readers who faint easily at the sight of blood, zombies…and over-the-top literary excess.)

Rawhide Ranger, Ira Aten: Enforcing Law on the Texas Frontier
By Bob Alexander
(University of North Texas Press, list price $32.95)

After lawmen gunned down the notorious outlaw Sam Bass at Round Rock, Texas, a young man who lived nearby, Austin Ira Aten, decided to change his career aspirations, from cowboy to Texas Ranger.

Aten joined the Rangers in 1883, soon after he turned 20. He then became, over time, “a courageously competent lawman…favorably known statewide…a high-profile Ranger,” according to the author of this well-researched biography.

While performing his Ranger duties, Ira Aten also became “directly linked to several episodes of Texas’ colorful past that scholars and grassroots historians have penned thousands—maybe millions—of words about.” And Aten’s well-regarded law-enforcement career continued long after his Ranger years, Alexander’s excellent book shows. 

Ciento: 100 100-word Love Poems
By Lorna Dee Cervantes
(Wings Press, paperback, list price $16.00) 

This handsome, enjoyable volume from San Antonio, Texas-based Wings Press keeps its subtitle’s promise. A widely published poet has accepted a difficult challenge and penned a hundred 100-word poems focused on love.

The poems deal with love at direct levels. So you’ll find no easy hearts and flowers here. The images include “steamy matinees”, “sensuous leanings” and “exquisite private views,” to mention just a few. 

Battle Surface!: Lawson P. “Red” Ramage and the War Patrols of the USS Parche
By Stephen L. Moore
(Naval Institute Press, hardback, list price $34.95 ; Kindle edition, list price $34.95)

Stephen L. Moore has written several books on submarine warfare. Battle Surface! blends superb research with a writing style that rivals good fiction. Moore recounts the true story of a U.S. Navy commander who defiantly charged his submarine into the midst of a huge Japanese convoy and stayed on the surface, dodging enemy fire and sinking several ships with torpedoes.

One superior decried the action as “dangerous, foolhardy, and of too much risk.” Others higher up, however, thought differently, Moore notes. They awarded Cmdr. “Red” Ramage the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

Elmer Kelton: Essays and Memories
Edited by Judy Alter and James Ward Lee
(TCU Press, paperback, list price $19.95)

 “Walrus hunter.” That was one of the civilian jobs the U.S. Army recommended to Elmer Kelton when he was discharged as a “rifleman, infantry” following World War II. Kelton became a journalist, instead, and a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction books before his death in 2009.

This engaging, warm collection of essays and remembrances celebrates Kelton’s life, his personality, his love for the American West and his “straightforward and clean” writing style. In the words of one of his friends, Felton Cochran: “I tell people Elmer Kelton didn’t write ‘westerns’—he wrote western literature.”

Rudder: From Leader to Legend
By Thomas M. Hatfield
(Texas A&M Press, hardback, list price $30.00 ; Kindle edition, list price $30.00)

Earl Rudder could have kept working in a small-town Texas drugstore after high school. He exhibited little ambition and had no money for college. But this excellent biography shows how a chance encounter soon led him to college athletics, coaching and the Army Reserve, and then to D-day heroics, Texas state politics and, finally, the presidency of Texas A&M University’s statewide system.

This excellent biography shows how Gen. Rudder guided A&M through major upheavals that included desegregation, admitting women, and making the Corps of Cadets voluntary.

Working the Land: The Stories of Ranch and Farm Women in the Modern American West
By Sandra K. Schackel
(University Press of Kansas, hardback, list price $24.95)

Women do not just “keep house” on a ranch or farm in the modern American West. This well-written book shows that they have long been doing virtually anything they can to help keep their rural lifestyles viable and afloat in tough economic times.

Sandra K. Schackel interviewed more than 40 women in New Mexico, Texas and other states and found them actively wrangling animals, running machinery, creating summer camps and bed-and-breakfasts on their land, and even holding jobs in town to help support their spreads and their families.

The Road to Roma
By Dave Kuhne
(Ink Brush, paperback, list price $15.95)

This book’s seven well-written short stories are mostly set in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, Texas, and they reflect the writer’s strong sense of place and character. The stories previously have been published in a variety of literary journals, and their focus is on the deeper, sometimes transformative moments that occur in ordinary people’s lives.

 Si Dunn‘s latest book is a novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, all available on Kindle.

Treasure Hunter by W.C. Jameson – A memoir that’s a treasure itself – #nonfiction #bookreview

Treasure Hunter
By W.C. Jameson
(Seven Oaks Publishing, paperback, list price $14.95; Kindle, $2.99)

We’ve all had the great fantasy. We turn over a spade of dirt while doing some yard work and suddenly uncover Spanish doubloons or a rich cache of 19th-century silver dollars or some long-lost loot buried by a famous outlaw.

W.C. Jameson’s name is now virtually synonymous with “buried treasure.” Of his 70-plus published books, more than 20 of them are focused on treasure hunting, lost treasures and lost mines in the United States and North America.

Jameson’s huge and diverse literary output includes books of poetry, plus books on outlaws, cooking and even writing itself. Yet many of his fans think of him as a master treasure hunter first.

His newest book, Treasure Hunter, is a treasure in itself: an adventure-packed memoir that recounts and reflects upon his five-plus decades of expeditions – sometimes successful, sometimes disastrous – to find and recover long-lost gold and silver artifacts.

In treasure hunting, Jameson points out, if the rattlesnakes, rock slides and cave-ins don’t get you, state and federal laws and private landowners likely will, especially if you don’t keep stay completely quiet about what you are doing and what you have found.

Indeed, he stresses, “Anonymity is a great ally for a professional treasure hunter.”

So, before you quit your office job, cash in your 401(K), dress up like Indiana Jones, and head off for the mountains or desert, Jameson urges you to plant some harsh realities very firmly in mind:

“It is important to understand that almost everything treasure recovery professionals do is illegal,” he warns. “Thus, the bizarre and unreasonable laws related to treasure recovery have turned honest, dedicated, and hard-working fortune hunters into outlaws. Announcing a discovery often leads to negative and unwanted developments, primarily the loss of any treasure that may have been found. As mentors explained to me years ago, the fewer people involved, the better. Silence is the byword.” 

Throughout most of his fortune hunting career, Jameson has worked only with a small group of partners, none of them identified in this book, except with names such as “Poet” and “Slade” and “Stanley.”

At one point in Treasure Hunter, after a complicated expedition ends in disaster and near-death experiences, “Poet” sums up the “glamour” of their many quests:

“This little trip reminds me of most of our expeditions. Lots of action, nothing goes as planned, we get shot at, and we come back empty-handed.”

But Jameson has had some successes in his long and often arduous career: “From a few of these excursions, my partners and I acquired enough wealth to pay off houses and purchase new vehicles. With some of the money, I paid college tuition for myself as well as for my children.”

And, despite his long career and advancing age, he remains “on the hunt” for more treasures, he says.

Not surprisingly, Jameson identifies library research as one of the toughest and most essential parts of treasure hunting. And the lands around certain “lost” treasures may be accessible only after paying bribes, dealing with unsavory characters, surviving potentially fatal double-crosses, dodging deadly snakes and being willing to risk cross-border smuggling.

If that sounds like exciting “adventure” to you, pay close attention to Jameson’s additional cautions:   

“The truth is,” he writes, “adventure was never an objective, merely a byproduct. Anyone who has ever been on a quest will tell you that adventure happens when plans go awry. The great explorer Roald Amundson once said, ‘An adventure is merely  an interruption of an explorer’s serious work and indicates bad planning.’ Our plans often turned out badly, which may give you some idea of our collective ability to arrange and organize a perfect expedition, to prepare for any and all contingencies.”

For some readers, the many quests described in Jameson’s book likely will fuel or refuel a passion to go out anyway and search and dig for riches. But, for many others of us, some of the armchair adventurers of the world, his book will provide entertaining hours of safe reading, absorbing escapism and comfortable daydreaming.

And that will be treasure enough.

Si Dunn

Revolution in the Valley: How the Mac Was Made (2nd Revised Edition) – #bookreview #macintosh

Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made
By Andy Hertzfeld
(O’Reilly Media, list price $24.99, paperback)

My wife swears by her Mac. I, however, just swear at it when I am forced to use it.

I have been using anything-but-Apple computers since the early 1980s, starting with a Sinclair ZX80 and moving up through a ragged assortment of Trash-80s, Osbornes,  Kaypros, PC-XTs, PC-ATs, and PCs that run Windows 7.

During a short semi-career in specialized hardware and software development, I tested programs that ran exclusively on machines running Windows. So I have that bias.

Nonetheless, Andy Hertzfeld’s book, Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made, is fascinating and entertaining reading, even for those of us who have avoided Apple computers and sometimes still bristle at the smug, superior attitudes exhibited by many Macintosh users. (Don’t tell my wife I said that.)

Hertzfeld was one of the main authors of the Macintosh system software, including the User Interface Toolbox and many of the Mac’s original desk accessories. He later joined Google and is one of the primary creators of Google +.

Originally published in 2004, Revolution in the Valley recently has been brought back into print again by O’Reilly Media as a second revised edition.

The book is drawn mainly from Hertzfeld’s adventures, misadventures, reflections and perspectives. But it is not All Hertzfeld All the Time. Refreshingly, it also includes stories written by “other key original Mac team members”—Steve Capps, Donn Denman, Bruce Horn and Susan Kare.

Their stories recount the chaotically creative and frequently high-pressured race to design and deliver “an easy-to-use, low-cost, consumer-oriented computer…featuring a revolutionary graphical user interface (GUI).”

Hertzfeld and his co-contributors focus on “the development of the original Macintosh computer, from its inception in the summer of 1979, through its triumphant introduction in January 1984, until May 31, 1985, when Steve Jobs was forced off the Macintosh team.

Revolution in the Valley is divided into five parts and follows a somewhat chronological path. However, it makes frequent and refreshing use of short anecdotes that are easy and enjoyable to read, no matter what your computer bias might be. It also has a nice assortment of photographs, drawings, screenshots and other illustrations from the development period.

Speaking (again) of smug attitudes, one amusing incident in the book involves the Macintosh team’s April 1981 encounter at a computer show with Adam Osborne, creator of the Osborne 1, “a low-cost, one-piece, portable computer complete with a suite of bundled applications.”

According to Hertzfeld: “As Macintosh elitists, we were suitably grossed out by the character-based CP/M applications, which seemed especially clumsy on the tiny, scrolling screen.” When Osborne realized he was talking to the Macintosh development team, he told them his Osborne 1 would outsell the Apple II “by a factor of 10” and added that they should “tell Steve Jobs that the Osborne 1 is going to outsell the Apple II and the Macintosh combined!”

When Steve Jobs heard what Adam Osborne had said, he called the founder of the Osborne Computer Company and left two messages. The first message was simple and basic, that Osborne was “an asshole.” Jobs’ second message was: “Tell him the Macintosh is so good that he’s probably going to buy a few for his children even though it put his company out of business.”

And the rest, of course, is computer history.

Revolution in the Valley has drawn strong praise from Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs in 1976.

“It’s chilling to recall how this cast of young and inexperienced people who cared more than anything about doing great things created what is perhaps the key technology of our lives,” he notes in the book’s foreword. “ Their own words and images take me back to those rare days when the rules of innovation were guided by internal rewards, and not by money.”

Si Dunn

The Silver Lotus – fine historical fiction by Thomas Steinbeck – #bookreview

The Silver Lotus
By Thomas Steinbeck
(Counterpoint, hardback, list price $25.00; Kindle, $9.99)

Written in the style and language of a 19th-century novel, The Silver Lotus is a grand, sweeping, absorbing tale of Pacific seafaring, romance, family, and business and cultural interactions that ultimately help spur the growth and development of the Northern California coast.

This elegant work of historical fiction has surprisingly little dialogue. Its author, Thomas Steinbeck, son of the great novelist John Steinbeck, relies, instead, on heavy doses of exposition. Yet The Silver Lotus remains an engrossing, well-written story throughout. And it is a refreshing change from books full of fast and furious action and characters who engage in taut exchanges of clever words, while revealing little about their feelings, emotions or sense of place.

Thomas Steinbeck’s novel begins in Canton, China, the late 1890s, in the home of Master Chu-Woo Yee, a man of “high moral principles.” He also is a successful grain merchant with profitable experience in “a great many [other] varieties of exported and imported goods.”

Master Yee allows very few foreigners into his home. But one of them fascinates and intrigues him: Captain Jeremiah Macy Hammond, “one of the last of a long line of the great Nantucket seamen.”

Steamships now have begun to dominate cross-ocean trade. Yet Captain Hammond continues to transport his cargoes under sail, for a very practical reason: profit. He has amassed a small fleet of schooners that can carry large cargoes while sailing inexpensively with only a few crewmen.

When political turmoil suddenly erupts in China, Captain Hammond uses two of his ships to help to move Master Yee, his family, and the Yee fortune to safety in Singapore. Soon, Captain Hammond and Master Yee’s beloved daughter, Silver Lotus, are in love, and Master Yee is in no position to refuse their marriage.

Lady Yee, as Silver Lotus is known, is a remarkable woman with many talents and interests, as well as uncommon beauty. Before their marriage, she informs Captain Hammond that if he chooses to go back to sea, she will “sail with him, and make her life and home by his side.”

In her honor, Captain Hammond repaints his newest ship his wife’s favorite colors, emerald green with yellow trim outlined in black, and rechristens it “The Silver Lotus.” And Lady Yee proves very adept at living at sea beside her husband. She takes “total interest in everything to do with her namesake, her crew, and her cargo.”

Despite its calm narrative and languid pace, Steinbeck’s book has plenty of action and tensions. There are encounters with pirates, sea storms, illnesses, racism, drug abuse, great wealth, and death. There also are dangerous rescues and glimpses into the intricacies and risks of seafaring commerce, as well as clashes over medical and immigration practices in early 20th-century California.

At one level, The Silver Lotus is simply old-fashioned, entertaining historical fiction, enjoyable to read. On another level, however, Thomas Steinbeck’s second novel is a modern, intelligent reflection on how the melding of cultures, talents, dreams and resources has been a driving force behind the growth and prosperity of Northern California, as well as the rest of the United States.

Si Dunn

Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story – #football #biography #bookreview

Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story
By Jim Dent
(Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99 hardback; $12.99 Kindle)

In my one and only fall semester as a student at the University of Texas at Austin, I went to a couple of football games and watched Freddie Steinmark play safety for the Longhorns. I sat high up in the cheap seats and gazed down upon players who appeared to be about two inches tall. Football has long been a big deal in the Lone Star State.

Steinmark was good, very good, and he had a great reputation for hustling, hitting and knocking down opponents’ passes.

However, several other members of the Longhorns team also were getting good press. And the Horns were striving to recapture a national title. So, like many other fans, I didn’t focus much on one player.  I was more into watching the overall X’s and O’s and trying, mentally, to help drive the pigskin down the field.

Unknown to us all, tragedy would strike down Freddie Steinmark in just a few weeks. And, over the next two years and beyond, he would become a nationwide symbol of personal courage and inspiration.

When Steinmark moved to Austin in 1967, he was fiercely determined to play football for the University of Texas Longhorns. He was fresh out of high school in Wheat Ridge, Colo., and he weighed just 150 pounds. Many observers and coaches initially considered him too small for big-time college football.

But, as author Jim Dent points out in his well-written and poignant new sports biography, Courage Beyond the Game, Steinmark’s small stature had not stopped him from being a standout in every major high school sport. Off the field, he had been an academic leader, as well.

At UT-Austin, his determination and drive quickly convinced many that he might succeed after all, both in the difficult field of chemical engineering and as a player for one of America’s top gridiron teams.

Steinmark was “the golden boy from the moment he walked onto the campus,” writes Dent, whose five previous books include a New York Times best-seller, The Junction Boys.

Dent quotes one of Steinmark’s teammates, wide receiver Cotton Spreyer, as stating: “No one was better than Freddie. He could run like a deer and he was quick.”

Darrell Royal, UT’s head football coach at the time, once praised Steinmark by calling him “as focused a young man as I’ve ever seen in my life.”

But a dark time soon — too soon — was coming, and Dent’s book smoothly moves beyond the traditional paeans of sports biography. It becomes a cautionary tale about placing too much trust and faith in the power of physical toughness.

Dent notes: “In the 1960s, a code existed that said players worth their salt did not complain about pain. You were expected to play through the bleeding, bumps, and bruises even if they did not subside in a reasonable time. Each afternoon, Darrell Royal and his assistants walked through the training room for the purpose of counting heads and identifying the players they considered ‘malingerers.’”

Steinmark had arrived at UT with a physical-toughness reputation that stretched back to early childhood. “In the midget leagues,” Dent reports, “he played an entire quarter with a broken arm. In high school, he played three quarters over two games with a broken leg. As a senior, he decided against seeking medical attention when he broke his right hand.”

The ethos of toughness was well embedded in Freddie Steinmark’s personality and values.

In his first season, Steinmark became a starting safety on UT’s freshman team. By the next fall, he was the Longhorns’ pass defense captain and co-leading the Southwest Conference in pass interceptions. He continued making top grades in his classes, and he continued dating his high school sweetheart, who now was attending UT, as well. 

He was “golden,” indeed. Prominent sportswriters now were labeling him one of America’s best and brightest football players.

His world suddenly spun a different way his junior year, while the 1969 Longhorns fought to regain college football’s top national ranking. He developed a pain that grew to feel “like a hot poker had been stuck into his left thighbone just above the knee.” Steinmark now limped in workouts and games but did his best to hide it. He also refused to tell his trainers and coaches for fear he would be pulled as a starter.

 Dent details how Steinmark continued the excruciating ruse all season until “the Game of the Century,” UT versus Arkansas, in Fayetteville, with President Nixon in the stands and the national championship on the line. The game also celebrated the 100th anniversary of college football.

In the great game’s last quarter, the worsening pain finally left Steinmark unable to cover pass receivers. Coach Darrell Royal sent in a substitute, and Texas held on to win 15-14.

 What happened next to Freddie Steinmark is movingly described in Jim Dent’s bittersweet and engaging book. Bone cancer — osteogenic sarcoma — was dicovered, and it took the young man’s leg but not his spirit. For the next year and a half, Freddie Steinmark was able to bounce around full of life on crutches, becoming Dent says, both an inspiration to other cancer patients and “a national symbol of courage” in the game of life.

Mack Brown, the Texas Longhorns’ current head coach, was a high school football player the last year Steinmark played. He watched “the Game of the Century” and the scrappy junior safety on TV. He never met the junior safety, but he hasn’t forgotten that Steinmark had his leg amputated, then showed up on the UT sidelines just three weeks later, on crutches, to watch Texas play Notre Dame in the Coton Bowl.

“In recognition of that courage,” Brown states in the foreword to Dent’s book, “to this day we have the players touch a picture of Freddie with the Longhorn salute before they go down the ramp to the field. Armed with the pride of the All-Americans, and in honor of the courage of Freddie, we ask them to go out and play as hard as they can.”

Si Dunn

Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Apricot Jam and Other Stories’ – #bookreview #fiction #Russia – updated

Apricot Jam and Other Stories
By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
(Counterpoint, $28.00)

A major literary work is now available for readers who relish the works of modern Russian writers, particularly the ones who rebelled against communism’s restrictive censorship and social, legal and economic rigidities and achieved international acclaim during the final decades of the Soviet Union.

Apricot Jam and Other Stories,  an engrossing collection of eight short stories by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, has been published by Berkeley, Calif.-based Counterpoint.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, primarily on the strength of three novels, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, In The First Circle (better known as The First Circle), and Cancer Ward. These books shone glaring, shocking spotlights on the Gulag, a USSR government agency that operated a brutal, sprawling system of forced labor camps for political prisoners, criminals and others who ran afoul of  Soviet laws, officials, informants and secret police.

Significantly, the eight short stories in this 352-page collection are making their first appearance in English. They were initially published in Russia in 1994, after Solzhenitsyn ended years of exile in the West and returned to his native land. He died in 2008.

The title story provides an excellent example of the unusual “binary” writing style that Solzhenitsyn employed in these eight works of short fiction. In “Apricot Jam,” the son of a kulak (a relatively affluent peasant) has almost lost everything in his life except the memories of the apricot jam his mother used to make for him before communism and collective agriculture destroyed his family and his farm. He is now nearly starving to death while serving internal exile and doing hard labor in a distant town. In desperation, he writes a letter to a famous Russian writer who has published a book touting that the “meaning of life is labor in a communist society.”  He humbly begs the famous writer to send him a food parcel, because he is working hard to try to stay alive, yet now nearing death from lack of nourishment.

In the second part of the “Apricot Jam” story, the exile’s letter has arrived at the famous writer’s elegant dacha outside Moscow. There, the famous writer entertains a professor of cinema, as well as a neighbor, the head of the literary department in the State Publishing House, a man who “held the reins of the whole of literature in his hands….”

In the posh dacha, the men also enjoy some apricot jam, but it is just one minor trapping amid the surrounding opulence as they speak in praise of Comrade Stalin, socialist realism, and how “Creating an art of world significance–that is the task of the writer today.” The apricot jam briefly figures into their discussion as a symbol for a type of  “amber transparency” that “should be present in literary language, as well.” 

Soon, the famous writer mentions the unusual letter he has received from the exiled, starving worker. And, as they discuss its text, their final analysis of it is devastating.

In the story “The New Generation,” a principled and disciplined engineering professor finally gives in to pleadings by a failing student and hands him a passing grade. The professor is, after all, under orders to “make allowances” for the students now being sent to him from factories, some of whom would be “better off making pots and pans” rather than being forced to become engineers.

 Two years later, in the second part of the story’s binary structure, the engineering professor is arrested, and his interrogator from the GPU (the State Political Directorate) is none other than the failing student who had talked him into a passing grade. The ex-student cannot undo the professor’s arrest, yet he can and does, as a sort of return favor, offer him three grim choices of fates. 

Solzhenitsyn served with distinction as a captain in the Red Army during World War II, but was arrested after he wrote a letter that included disparaging remarks about Josef Stalin’s leadership of the war effort. The writer spent the next eight years in Soviet labor camps and another three years in internal exile.

Much of his fiction in Apricot Jam and Other Stories draws its creative spark from his grim wartime and Gulag experiences. Yet some of the stories also deal with post-Soviet issues in the times of Yeltsin and Gorbachev. For example, in the concluding story, “Fracture Points,” characters face the difficulty of trying to adapt to new freedoms and new economic structures at a time when “[t]he word ‘privatize’ was as frightening as a sea monster.”

If you have never before read any Solzhenitsyn, Apricot Jam and Other Stories can be a good introduction that may inspire you to also delve into his earlier works of fiction, particularly the ones that brought him the Nobel Prize for Literature 41 years ago.

This new book, translated by “TK” and published by Counterpoint, demonstrates once again why Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn continues to deserve his ranking as one of the world’s great writers.

 — Si Dunn

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