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.

The Life of Hon. William F. Cody, Known as Buffalo Bill – #bookreview

The Life of Hon. William F. Cody, Known as Buffalo Bill
By William F. Cody, edited and with an introduction by Frank Christianson
(University of Nebraska Press, paperback, list price $27.95)

“Buffalo Bill” Cody was one hell of a frontiersman and self-promoter, at a time when Americans were hungry for Wild West heroes.

William F. Cody published his part-fiction, part-true illustrated autobiography in 1879, at age 33, recounting his adventures (to that point) as an explorer, Indian fighter, buffalo hunter, Pony Express rider, temporary Medal of Honor winner, and theatrical entertainer.

This new reprint of Buffalo Bill’s book (the original version; others followed) has been edited and provided with a well-written introduction and three appendices by Frank Christianson, an associate professor of English at Brigham Young University. Christianson is author of Philanthropy in British and American Fiction: Dickens, Hawthorne, Eliot, and Howells. Twenty-six additional images and photographs related to Buffalo Bill also have been added.

One helpful feature of Christianson’s book is a chronology of William F. Cody’s event-filled and promotion-filled life. He was born in an Iowa farmhouse in 1846 and lived long enough to become a movie producer four years before his death in 1917.

Interestingly, William F. Cody”s autobiography made it to print just as his frontier career was ending and his career as a stage entertainer and promoter was taking off. Within four years, his “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show would be on its way to becoming, in Christianson’s words, “one of the most popular traveling exhibitions in entertainment history.” 

Christianson notes: “William Cody’s seventy-one years were a time of accelerating change in America, and he found himself in the midst of many of the era’s most defining events. Like the ever-shifting boundary of the American frontier, Cody’s life was characterized by frenetic movement.”

Christianson points out that “Cody, like his father, was an indefatigable entrepreneur” who tried his hand at many things, including unsuccessfully attempting to manage an inn and create a town, but succeeding as a buffalo hunter and military scout, two occupations which “had the most direct bearing upon his future celebrity.”

William F. Cody’s book and Frank Christianson’s expanding materials add up to some very entertaining and informative reading. Yes, Buffalo Bill left behind a legacy often based on self-interest and inflated images of life and events in the American West. But the Honorable William F. Cody also made, Christianson contends, “a valuable contribution to the records of our Western frontier history.”

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.

Five Recent Works of Nonfiction and Fiction – #bookreview

These five recent good books deal with a wide spectrum of topics, from artificial reefs to the Wild West to urban search and rescue. 

The Ship That Would Not Die: USS Queens, SS Excambion, and USTS Texas Clipper
By Stephen Curley – with an afterword by J. Dale Shively
(Texas A&M Press, hardback, list price $29.95)

This intriguing, well-illustrated coffe-table book tells the story of a World War II attack transport that became a luxury passenger-cargo liner and then the first Texas Clipper training ship for Texas A&M’s Texas Maritime Academy.

From 1965 to until mothballed in 1994, the Texas Clipper hauled merchant marine cadets and Navy ROTC midshipmen to sea. In 2007, finally worn out, the ship was towed into the Gulf of Mexico and deliberately sunk to help create an artificial reef.

In his afterword, J. Dale Shively notes: “Her fourth existence is now full of marine life growing on her decks and fish swimming in and out of her openings.” The sunken vessel reportedly now generates up to $4 million annually in fishing and diving revenues for Texas businesses.

Texas Task Force 1: Urban Search & Rescue
By Bud Force
(Texas A&M Press, paperback, list price $24.95)

Fort Worth, Texas, writer-photographer Bud Force’s inspiring overview focuses on one of the nation’s finest emergency response teams: Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1).

Organized in 1997, TX-TF1 has been called to some of America’s worst disasters, including the World Trade Center terror attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia.

Texas Task Force 1’s 450-plus members include firefighters, medical personnel, canine handlers, heavy equipment operators and others with special skills. Proceeds from the sale of this book help support Texas Task Force 1.

Lone Star Law: A Legal History of Texas
By Michael Ariens
(Texas Tech Press, hardback, list price $49.95)

Give this author credit for (1) biting off a bigger topic than anyone can chew and (2) producing an excellent and important study in the process. The ponderous and massive Texas legal system is built upon a multinational heritage that has included Mexican and Spanish civil law and English common law, as well as laws from the state’s days as a republic, he notes.

Texas’ current homestead and bankruptcy laws, for example, have roots in the days when the Republic of Texas was a haven for people from across the United States fleeing debts. And, “[a] willingness to do justice on the cheap” led to the creation, in 1891, of two supreme courts in the state.

Jade: Outlaw
By Robert Flynn
(JoSara MeDia, paperback, list price $9.99 ; Kindle edition, list price $0.99)

Tension quivers throughout this tightly crafted, well-written Western novel. A hater of Indians who is now a tormented outlaw finds himself falling in love with a woman who was kidnapped as a child and raised as an Indian. The outlaw also is being pressured to become a desperate town’s lawman, and he realizes it is almost the only way to save his life.

Robert Flynn’s previous novel, Echoes of Glory, won a 2010 Western Writers of America Spur Award. His newly published sequel to Jade: Outlaw is titled Jade: The Law.

Details at 10: Behind the Headlines of Texas Television History
By Bert N. Shipp
(The History Press, paperback, list price $19.99)

Bert Shipp’s memoir is drawn from his long career as a Dallas TV newsman, and the book is an entertaining blend of recollections and “true stories about the birth and early childhood…of one of the most pervasive electronic forces in our lives and of the news people who created it.”

Shipp worked at the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth TV news for nearly 50 years, lugging heavy cameras and sound gear to cover local, national and international events before advancing to top editor positions.

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, all available on Kindle. He is a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA tester.

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

The Cult of LEGO – #bookreview #lego #afol

The Cult of LEGO®
By John Baichtal and Joe Meno
(No Starch Press, list price $39.95, hardback)

Looking for an inspiring and informative Christmas gift for the adult or teenage LEGO® fan in your life? Stack up some consideration for this colorful new coffee table book from No Starch Press.

The Cult of LEGO® is a well-illustrated, smoothly written and often eye-opening look at the Danish toy sets that have swept the world since their inception as a stackable plastic block in 1947.

Today, LEGO® products are in the hands and toy boxes of countless millions of children. And there are many thousands of adults using the interlocking little plastic “bricks” to build everything from life-size dinosaur statues to massive models of battleships, fanciful spacecraft, Yankee Stadium and Easter Island’s mysterious stone sculptures.

Many men and women, in fact, call themselves AFOL – Adult Fans of LEGO®.—and they sometimes speak of “the Dark Age,” the time in their lives when they stopped playing with LEGO sets, because puberty, high school, college, careers, marriage and other milestones and pressures of life got in the way.

Now that they have emerged from the Dark Age, they are once again able to design and build fanciful creations using the little blocks, plus the various product additions and enhancements introduced by the LEGO Group during the 1960s, 1970s, 1990s and early 21st century.

Numerous businesses also offer specialized LEGO-compatible products, such as tiny plastic weapons, “minifigures” of famous characters (Indiana Jones, Albert Einstein, etc.) and specialized “bricks” that light up. Meanwhile, the LEGO Group has added  hundreds of LEGO enhancement parts such as gears, wheels, microcontrollers and other devices to its product offerings.

Two important aspects of the basic LEGO building “bricks” are their quality and durability. One former LEGO Group employee notes in the book that “[t]he fact that 15- to 20-year-old parts are still compatible with current sets from the store is pretty amazing—and the old pieces just need a ride in the washing machine!”

The Cult of LEGO®’s authors definitely are not strangers to the world of LEGO. Joe Meno is founder of BrickJournal, a print and online LEGO® fan magazine. He also has helped design LEGO sets, acted as an advisor on LEGO projects, and organized and run LEGO fan events. John Baichtal is a contributor to MAKE magazine and Wired’s GeekDad blog. He also has written for tabletop gaming magazines.

A note in The Cult of LEGO® points out: “This unofficial book is not endorsed or authorized by the LEGO Group.”

Nonetheless, the book’s lively and intriguing contents likely will inspire many adults and serious young builders to launch new LEGO® projects or complete old ones. There are many lively photographs and illustrations, as well as interviews, anecdotes and descriptions of resources for the serious AFOL and younger enthusiast alike.

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