Non-Fiction: Read one, Jettison two.

This year I’ve bought or checked from the library three fat books. 

READ: Thomas Cromwell, Diamaid MacCulloch, presenting a detailed study of Henry VIII’s most competent and efficient advisor and Chancellor. From 1530-1540 Cromwell’s story as been hidden and marred behind the glow of persons who like Thomas More, chief proponent of the Church of Rome in England.  

Cromwell was an accomplished businessman whose excellent judgment and actions saved Britain from the upheavals centuries later which arrived in France and the remainder of Europe. He made Henry VIII the sole sovereign, and let institutions – Parliament, nobility, gentry, commerce, universities – begin whittling away the monarch’s power. Cromwell lost his head, but his family survived; 109 years later a relative, Oliver Cromwell, cut off the head of Charles II who wanted to restore Britain to an absolute monarchy and who conspired with foreign powers. 

This book is detailed to show that Cromwell was not only well-informed but also there not a person of significance whom Cromwell did not know, it seems. For literary persons there are passages in which Crowell recognizes the functionality and the efficiency of English as a language. He fostered learning in the language and its widespread use.

VALUE OF READING? Jefferson Davis, Felicity Allen, 570 pages, tells of the President of the Confederate States, 1861-1865, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of War and a soldier in the Mexican-American War. Except during the Civil War he was considered by peers as a competent manager of affairs.

Davis has all the deficits of a hate-spouting, fire-eating, slave-owning, ante-bellum Southerner, even after the South lost the war. (Grant took over one of his plantations around the Mississippi River in the middle of the War.) Davis could not compromise, he hated inferiors and intellectual superiors like Abraham Lincoln (also born in Kentucky), and he rode the crest of Southern Society until that was ended by the Civil War.

I gave the book, heavy lumber, and Jeff Davis 60 of 560 pages. Fortunately my cost was $1.00-2.00.

VALUE OF READING? None. The Day of Battle, Sicilian/Italian Campaigns, Rich Atkinson, Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy.

I read about the Sicilian campaign, about 170 pages. I had read a more detailed analyses of that Campaign. The only new fact I learned was Patton on two separate occasions, slapped two Americans in hospital tents. 

The Author, Rick Atkinson, gives a lot of gossipy facts that are not germane to the success of the American Army in Sicily. Attributed to Audie Murphy is the observation: “I’m a fugitive from the law of averages.” Those quotes are enjoyable and lend humanity to men fighting the battles.

Yet, many men were not quoted, or they did not survive. They were sacrificed. The Command structure was weak because Eisenhower was stupid and incompetent, along with Marshall and Eisenhower’s favorite inferiors. The plan for the Sicilian innovation was hastily made up; it was incomplete: Montgomery began fighting in the American sector without announcing what he was doing; he lengthened the fighting on Sicily two or three weeks, Atkinson admits. Note, from another source Montgomery always attacked the Germans with less than a division while the Americans were using complete divisions on the attack.

Sicily is an island, right? No one wondered how the Germans would leave Sicily. They all evacuated because Eisenhower and every advisor and lackey (British and American) in the planning never wondered what could happen to the Germans? Eisenhower did not want to use airpower to destroy port facilities or attack shipping. Those Germans were another 50,000 Germans to terrorize Italy and to contend with for the remaining two years of the War. 

Reading about the American performance in Italy is a waste. Everyone knows and knew, at the time, that the American Generalissimo Mark Clark, was one of the most inept Generals since George McClellan. But Clark was one of Eisenhower’s buddies. I refuse to read about one mistake after another. I note the Italian Campaign was the first time Japanese-Americans soldiers, once in American concentration camps, fought. Author-Atkinson does not mention Company 100 although heroism by those men was as professional and complete as in Division 442.

It is unlikely that Author-Atkinson will detail mistakes after mistakes by Marshall, Eisenhower, Bradley and Montgomery in his third volume, the campaign against Germany following D-Day.

A World To Be Won,  Murray/Millet, in fewer words, gives more insight into strategic and tactic mistakes and successful plans than Atkinson seems capable of presenting.



Wolfgang Clemens

It does not take long to consider and review this criticism. What is meant by imagery? Settings, characters’ expressions, characters’ psychology, story, etc. Imagery means an analysis of all the plays and the capabilities and capacities that the playwright inserted by use of the words. 

The next question is what would Bill Shakespeare think? Shakespeare would read and wonder:

“I did that? Huh?”  “The analysis on this point sounds pretty good, but I don’t remember writing it that way.” “I like what he says about Hamlet. I must be the smartest guy in the world.” “Too bad about Love Labor’s Lost. It sounds so prosaic, although I inserted many good one-liners about love. That chapter says more about the author than it does about the play or my abilities.” 


Herman Melville

Nobody thinks Moby Dick is a book about politics flowing from the economic and sociological forces of its times. But it is. Heretofore, the focus of the novel is directed to make it seem more daunting, embedded within the Nineteenth Century. WRONG! Its style is pure Nineteenth Century; characters, descriptions and advancement of the theme reek of that century’s style and is long – L-O-N-G – how many more words can be used to say what should be said in five words 

It is easier if the reader approaches the novel knowing what it is about. Read for that and sense all else, which is frequently covered in Cliff Notes.Those summaries and analyses overlook the significance of Melville’s story. And overall, Joseph Conrad puts forth better stories of the sea than Herman.

The nineteenth century is not a reason not to read Moby Dick. It is invaluable today because it is very current. Readers can determinate that if they know what metaphors and allegories are. Aids may be found. Copious amounts of liquor help the mind. Any native strong drink from sea-faring nations – Dutch, British, Japanese and American  – can produce the will and courage to get through the next chapter.

Without some comprehension, understanding and knowledge of this novel, every American writer experiences a hole, a gap, and something major missing. It was published a year before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which as a political sweep was also that author’s best book. Both authors wrote other books later but none was as good. Few reviewers look at the primary political theme of Moby Dick, but they ponder literary devices to interpret part of the gross writing. There is nothing metaphysical about this book, not abiding the predominant hodge-podge prized by Emerson, Hawthorne and others from New England, pursuing philosophies of reveries leading to nothing. Disregard all that. None of that is in Melville’s mind or writing.

In its Nineteenth Century style a bit of dialogue tells what the writing is about. In the last chapter (135), Captain Ahab says about his ship, having been rammed and sunk by the whale: “The ship! A hearse! – the second hearse!” cried Ahab from the boat, “it’s wood could only be American.” Truer words were never spoken (only to the reader because other characters in the story could not hear them). Most reviewers like Howard Mumford Jones, reportedly an American intellectual, did not notice this line. He asked wandering questions about Ahab’s personality traits, his psyche, his psychosis, his moods, behaviors and outrages. Arab did this; Ahab did that. Write a 20 page analysis. Or perhaps Harman Melville, himself, never wrote a novel.

Moby Dick is a novel, an allegory, about what? The United States of America. Melville was writing while observing what was happening within the country: Contentious, divisive times when men were trying to attract other men to their points of view by parsing ideas and demanding agreement: There were upcoming and different rules of civility. Next came the election which brought the Southern Whig, Zachary Taylor to the White House, the admission of California as a state with the Compromise of 1850, and a tougher Fugitive Slave Law. All unsettled and divided the nation. 

In the story of the novel, who is who? What is what? The ship is the American nation. The crew is the South – Ahab may as well be a high-strung, fire-eating, slave-owning Southerner like John C. Calhoun. Sperm whales including the white whale are the North.

Reading the novel from this viewpoint makes it accessible and understandable. It removes from the process much that Cliff Notes has to add. I am not wholly critical of Cliff Notes. They’ve done their best, considering it appears written by know-all academians, who don’t explain much. That’s how academians earn their money and demonstrate their value: Tell of obscure references to Greek mythology, unconnected passages from the Bible, but omit and overlook analyses to pertinent facts and sources and neglect structure, characters and setting.

The ship is a small place. Few pages tell its size for 30 plus men. There is no hope, except that Ahab spews, mostly about greed, money to be made for finding and killing the white whale.

How is the society on the ship? A novelist who puts 30-35 men on  a ship does more than describe a little society, offer a few comments and show little interaction except as a gross group. So there is no crew eating dinner together, socializing, boasting, bantering, moping, complaining about the food, the weather or anything, There seems no camaraderie in a book of 300,000 words. Social and economic rules seem set, and those personages, despite their race (harpooners are men of color, irony anticipated because they are invaluable members of the crew). This is a strict feudal society where every person has his place and can not shift his status. Down, is the usual way toward death.

None of that is important to Melville. WHY? It is irrelevant to the story as it reflects American society in the South.

The crew is a mixed-raced society, a favorite plaything like Pip, to be protected by Ahab, and offensive – the death of Parsee by the whale. But why should Queequeg, Ismael’s best friend, disappear for chapters. And Ahab only realizes what is at stake in the last pages of the novel. 

Sperm whales are the most dangerous creatures in the ocean. (Chapters 32) Whale lore reenforces this impression (Chapter 41, 45) Yet sperm whales are intelligent, mystical (Chapter 80) and silent (Chapter 79).  

The whales are like the force and influence of the North, a fact that Starbuck cries to Ahab on the Third Day of the chase (for readers only, not character to character); “Oh Ahab,” cried Starbuck, “not too late is it, even now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou that madly seekest him.” (chapter 135)

Ahab is the captain with noone to challenge him, save Starbuck. (Chapter 36, 123) Ahab derives authority from the owners and their “practical world.” “This world pays dividends.” (Chapter 109) regardless of Ahab’s state of mind. (Chapter 41)

Ahab maneuvers and works the crew and officers (Chapter 41, 46: Ahab managing the men, “every minute atmospheric influence…for his crew to be subject to.”) Demanding an oath to hunt the White Whale (Chapter 119) Ahab eventually tells the crew the whale will return on the third day, like a resurrection when the whale will be killed. (Let us kill Jesus Christ): “Aye men he’ll rise once more – but only to spout his last.” (Chapter 134) Payment is promised early on in the novel with the doubloon (Chapter 36) and later for a larger prize for one man, and for all the men.(Chapter 134)  

What is Ahab’s mind? Ahab “never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that’s tingling enough for mortal man! to think’s audacity. …Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that.”(Chapter 135) Ahab believes himself acting for powers beyond himself: “What  is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing it is; what cozening, middle lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings; I so keep pushing, and crowding and jamming myself on all the time; reckless making me read to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who that lifts this arm? But it the great to move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single start can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does the beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I.”…”Where do murderers go man! Who’s to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?” (Chapter 132)  Indeed, Ahab knows he is demented and is leading the weak: “Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking in respect to the measureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as his measureless power of deceiving and bedeviling so man others.” (Chapter 71)

And who are the men? What is the crew? “…the meanest mariners, renegades and castaways” (Chapter 26). “The savage crew…all sailors…are…capricious and unreliable – they live in varying outer weather, and they inhale its fickleness.”(Chapter 46) “I stood at the helm…and I better saw the redness, the madness, the ghastliness of others. The continued sight of the fiend shapes before me…” (Chapter 96)

And who are the officers? “the incompetence of men unaired virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him [Ahab] to his monomaniac revenge.” (Chapter 41)

Madness does not stop Ahab from one precaution, leaving Starbuck on the ship during the final hunts (Chapters 130, 132) Indeed, having gone too far, Ahab is in a boat, and he realizes the ship is in jeopardy. He sings, “…I see: the ship! Dash on, my men! Will ye not save my ship?”

(Chapter 135; note reference to wood for a coffin being American, Chapter 117.) The crew looks – each has been described – and fears all is lost: “For an instant, the tranced boat’s crew stood still; then turned. “This ship? Great God, where is the ship?” (Chapter 135)

The ship is a small place. Few pages tell of it, but there is no hope except those fomenting from the spews of Ahab. The presence of charity is absent. Faith comes from Ahab.

Being a mixed society brings forward playthings, a favorite like Pip who is killed; the death of Parsee, the weapon maker and a fawner over Ahab and his quest during the hunt for the white whale. But why does Queequeg disappear for chapters?

When he was young and at sea, Melville in his life led or joined a mutiny against the ship’s captain. He was well-versed in ship’s rules of discipline and the authority of the officers. He knew of the independence of sailors and their edginess. In Moby Dick, the allegory, Melville avoided freewheeling ways of New England sailors, many of whom had educations. In the novel the sailors are ignorant and followers; they came from somewhere else. It is unlike the Rachel (ship in the novel) whose Captain has taken two sons on his voyage; it is assumed sailors had  educations. Moby Dick describes the sorts of sailors, but they were unusual. In the allegory, it could be expected. Southern society was narrow and hierarchical. Every person, every job, each presented status and every man was set apart in relation to other employments, reputation and status. Rabble never mixed with yeomen, or higher ups, persons in professions or wealthy. Likewise aboard ship, the “crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him [Ahab] to his monomaniac revenge.” (Chapter 41)

It was a Northern view of Southern society and culture. Hierarchy of planation owners, the wealthy and well-positioned plus resort to any invention from history, fantasy or myth – medieval ways, customs and traditions. Accordingly, Melville freely employs words of status indicating medieval rules and actions: Knights and Squires (Chapters 26, 27) The special Captain’s Table (like Arthur’s) for preferred and valuable shipmates (Chapter 34) Glories of whaling “the knightly days of our professional” (Chapter 82) Noble harpooners. St. George. (Chapter 82) The final chapter against the white whale: noble, heroic, joust, tilting, run it through.

Southerners were looking to medieval times, accepting cues from past deeds and behaviors, It made living life easier with a predictable, structured society. Likewise, having a whale boat crew be compliant to the Captain is easily understood. The Captain’ status was knowledge and authority, not insanity: Follow and trust him! A generation later Mark Twain observed that Sir Walter Scott and his novels highlighting medieval traditions had caused the American Civil War. While not completely agreeing, Clement Eaton, The Old South. devoted an Appendix to analyze Twain’s comment: The influence of Scott’s writing about medieval times and tales on Southern society. Clement Eaton might also have also included Herman Melville and other northern authors.

The sense of looking at every aspect of the whale is a disassembling of the North, and that is not good for the crew [or the South]. In many ways Southerners disliked and were disgusted by Northern Culture and Society – they did not mind a Northerner writing Dixie in 1857. But Southerners clung to their ways and fantasies to the end. In February 1865 Abraham Lincoln met three Commissioners from the Confederacy. Having nearly won the Civil War militarily, Lincoln asked what they could all do to make peace immediately. No deal – the Southerner Commissioners  offered: Two countries, or let the South be as before the fighting, and preservation of slavery. Within the confines of Southern society Southerners had to make a way out of custom and tradition superimposed by medieval examples. Southerners never did. If hierarchy did not keep persons to their place and status, then violence would. Southerners knew no other way to live but to promote a fantastical world and pursue its life. 

So it was with Ahab and the whale. “Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with  him, not only his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations… Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them [devils}; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale; he pitted himself; all mutilated against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonizes of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified and made practically assailable in Moby Dick.” (Chapter 41)

Like Ahab who had transferred his focus from himself to the whale, the South lost its ability for self-reflection and analysis. It focused on the North in incomprehensible hatred. This stubbornness, an unwillingness to look at reality and go forward, the preference for the past, whatever it may be. Whales, Ahab, the South, Southerners – all had forsaken the lesson of Jonah (Chapter 9) “…on what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sea-line sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet!…” What was that  “bidding….To preach the Truth in the face of Falsehood! That was it!”

Ahab and the crew are impervious to Truth. They cannot observe and see. If they hear, they do not listen. If they touch, they don’t feel. If they smell, they do not detect. Moby Dick  is a fantastical story based upon an actual whaling event. But as an author, Melville had observed, had listened, had felt and had sensed what was happening in the South: Use a whaling ship – whaling was primarily an American occupation (Chapter 101). Melville reported what was present and advanced all the facts, using the ship, crew, officers and whales as metaphors in a grand allegory. Moby Dick a story of sociology and politics. Melville’s conclusion is the general theme of the novel, the consummate power of hate, blind and unaware and irrationally inhuman. The situation of Moby Dick was not present on most whaling ships, but it was rampant in the Ante-bellum South. Melville concluded that hate would destroy the United States. 

Indeed, a final paragraph of the novel has the sinking of the ship, with a sea hawk [like an eagle] inadvertently nailed to the top mast: “…Ahab…like Satan, would not sink to hell till she [the ship] had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.” (Chapter 135)


Editors, Cox & Gilbert

The Introduction of this book is the most entertaining section. The authors swoon about Victorian writers putting together hundreds of Ghost Stories. In Victorian England Christmas was a good time for ghost stories, an expectation Charles Dickens capitalized on with A Christmas Carole. The authors say there were strict formats that demanded quality writing. However, a reader’s experience differs. Some stories are chronological. Hence, write about one character, repeat the same traits and activities about the next. But for the activities of the third character, the author uses, “Meanwhile, this or that…” The thread of the story is lost, and the reader can guess which character – one, two or three – has or deserves the floor.

I stopped reading in A. Y. Akerman, The Miniature, when I stumbled into the following paragraph:

‘At the breakfast table I was moody and thoughtful, which my friend perceiving,
attempted a joke; but I was in no humour to receive it, when Maria, in a
compassionating tone, remarked I looked unwell, and that I should take a walk
or a ride before breakfast, adding that she and George S— had walked for an hour
or more in the plantation near the house. Though this announcement was certainly
but ill calculated to ease my mind, it was yet made with such an artless air, that my
more gloomy surmises vanished; and I rallied;…’

Being in a disagreeable mood at the breakfast table without humor and appearing unwell, one might disregard comments, but to reveal anything about all the persons at the table, tell what the joke was. Perhaps friends looking sickly in Victorian England were invited to walk or ride interrupting breakfast and avoiding whatever substance they could consume. Go outdoors and get pneumonia!

However, the character has no mind of his own. He thought of none of those remedies. Note this character appears whimsical and supercilious with no will or fortitude of his own:

Through his announcement was certainly but ill calculated to afford perfect ease
to my mind, it was yet made with such an artless air, that my more gloomy
surmises vanished, and I rallied;…

As far as the reader can tell, the author of the suggestion came to the table with hand fulls of uppers and passed them around. This character popped a couple and was set for the morning. Suspending disbelief which this paragraph requires, all readers can see it is variable and nonsense: Note, the character describes himself as “moody and thoughtful;” it becomes “unwell” and next in the character’s mind he is “gloomy.” Why does the author of this piece drop in adverbs, “but ill calculated” and “yet made.”

This is not acceptable writing in middle school. Writing must make sense – communicate clearly – to be good, solid and worthy.


By Serge Bramly

This readable biography of Leonardo is revealing. It doesn’t completely endorse the fifteenth century genius. If the writing stumbles it is because the subject matter, Leonardo di Vinci is imperfect. It is remarkable how few finished productions Leonardo had and have survived; count the paintings on hands and toes. The product of one of the best of those, The Last Supper, can only be guessed at. It started to deteriorate almost immediately; no one paid much attention to it. It was neglected and abused for centuries and almost bombed out of existence during World War Two. And did Leonardo ever complete the face of Judas and the countenance of Jesus Christ? It is likely an enterprising student or artist stepped into to finish those portions of the work.

A problem was Leonard did not know when a production of his was finished. There are general discussions of art in the book, but most artists know to finish, to complete, to rid the mind of effort and work. That vacancy in the mind is welcome and a relief. There are drawings of the Sforza Monument, a horseman in bronze to be placed in Milan. But Leonardo did not know how to cast a rearing horse with a rider; years passed and he never started the work. It was abandoned. Meeting Michelangelo in Florence Leonardo was confronted by his own inability to conceptualize and complete that horsey work [as well as drawings of many other incomplete works].

What Leonardo painted, he painted well, but he is one of many painters from 1480-1520 who painted well. The painting of Jesus Christ recently sold at auction is not as detailed, studied and finely finished as Albrecht Duerer’s 1500 self-portrait, the artist as Jesus Christ.

Leonardo’s work is mostly notebooks and fragments thereof, where there are drawings, sketches and imagines of things and thoughts about other things. The biographer notes there are other artists, engineers and diarists who imagined flying machines and armaments, but there is no grand discussion or comparison of those images from multiple sources. Some of Leonardo’s notations are alchemy; he visualizes plastics but does not start with petroleum. He makes scanty astronomical notations, but they may be more astrological in nature – the biography does not go into detail.

Leonardo was interested in dissecting bodies but not to produce a systematic study leading to medical advancement. He was aware of the process of human originality and creation to produce art, but imperfectly applied it to himself. He seemed unaware of human psychology.

Fellow artists saw his finished works, plus cartoons prepared for painted works and some drawings. Most artists were impressed with the drafts. But there is not a line of influence: Leonardo produced this, and ten years later Michelangelo and Raphael produced these. Too many persons influenced artists plus the egos and experiences of painters, sculptures and architects. Those individuals advanced concepts and presentations of art.

And what of Leonardo? His influence is historical. He did not share or publish many of his notebooks (codices) during his lifetime. During the 1570s visitors were invited to take what they wanted. His peers and contemporaries did not see the bulk of his work and inventiveness, and like today, as scattered as these works are, Leonardo’s influence is difficult to access.

The biography is favorable to the man, but his shortcomings are almost debilitating and incomprehensible. This biography attempts to be truthful and honest – describe the whole man and his creations without resort to much artistic mist and mystification.



Mark Dash

At best this is a book of anecdotes involving tulips, where they came from, prized possessions in the early Ottoman Empire, becoming known in Western Europe, etc. The last 120 pages deal with Holland. Chapter 14, Goddess of Whores, tells about the cultural effects in Holland of the flower. Separating that chapter, the book reveals it is arranged as a subject history of the years 1620-1640, while the tulip boom and bust occurred. Yet there is no mention of the Thirty Years War raging in Middle Europe, a war involving the Dutch and ended with them getting their independence in 1648.

It is never fully explained why tulips only had the boom and bust in Holland – not in Germany, not in France, not in England, not in the regions we know as Luxembourg and Belgium. Found in the middle of the book is text stating that the rules of order and regulation, then existing in Dutch markets, did not govern; most of the tulip traders were amateurs. Yet many of the people were wealthy or well-off. How was trading? Many deals were barter. There is no description of the barter economy in seventeenth century Holland. Where there advantages of bartering rather than using cash? E.g. there were no notifications, no license fees, no property exchange fees, no taxes. No one knows because the text is thin and supercilious.

Also undeveloped is the idea that tulip trading was not done by persons educated and trained in markets. There are suggestions about how the ignorant set up markets, but there is no market analysis. In Holland what were the social effects of someone winning with tulips? Was he or his family accepted as rich. A reviewer noted the book tells about greed, but only in a societal sense: Everyone was greedy – not this person was greedy. The mere fact that an individual speculates does not mean he is greedy. Finally, there is no satisfactory, coherent telling of the effect of tulip mania in Holland.


by Edwin Lefevre

This book came highly recommended, and for someone intensely interested in financial markets, it has value. It may be an Investment Classic. It is written in textbook fashion, meaning it is poorly written and prolix. It is a blue pencil special.

This reader read 100 pages and stopped. The first problem is the text is a narrative using I: Everything must be explained by I, and neither I nor the author do that. I does not explain well the stock market, stock picking or timing. It seems out of nowhere I is in a brokerage shop or a firm where he buys or sells. I happily tells when he’s made money, based upon what analysis of the market, a stock, conditions or being drunk or using drugs? (e.g. Union Pacific)

This reader tired of reading that I had talked to friends, brokerage people, or there was this stock or that, and all the while this reader knew he was reading too many words. There ought to be one-quarter or one-third fewer words in this book, because there is no explanation of analysis or the market or stocks. This reader did not need to read that many words about I’s social career. Hence, the text should be 200-225 pages instead of 300 pages.


By George C. Daughan

This book tells of sea and lake battles and other activities of the United States Navy through 1815. The best chapters are of navel efforts during the American Revolutionary War. The author mentions but lacks detail about the ships and the weaponry: American ships were better constructed, why? They carried more cannons, and had better cannons than the British, French or Spanish. He also mentioned that the American sailor was well treated, although that policy did not last. (See Two Years Before the Mast)

The book is woefully short when it enters the fields of finance and politics. The author’s reading of sources after 1789 is painfully incomplete. The United States had a huge debt which all the country wanted to pay or remove; Hamilton’s initial effort to make all debt obligations of the federal govcrnment – like what happened after 2008 – failed. The Great Compromise of 1790 is partially relayed.

The author overlooks Hamilton’s close relationship with a British espionage agent, Colonel Beckwith. He laments that Madison and Jefferson (Republicans) wanted to set and follow Constitutional rules and procedures. In 1795 Hamilton arranged for John Jay to negotiate the Jay Treaty (about trade) with Britain, yet Hamilton later called Jay “an old woman” for delivering such a lame treaty. The author also seems to approve of the Alien and Sedition Acts, despite the direct conflict with the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Much of what John Adams did as President is approved, although he was away from the seat of government for two years. Adams began building frigates, yet when war came 15 years later, those ships were bottled up in harbors or defeated on the seas, just as the Republicans said would happen during any war with the British. Adams did successfully negotiate a peace treaty with the French (1800).

In the meanwhile throughout Adam’s administration, Hamilton was a war monger. He wanted to lead American forces to remove French and Spanish rule from North America with British backing. No American wanted that: Too much debt; too much military and war; too British – no American wanted the British close to American borders. Americans did not want to resume a political relationship with the British. Hamilton failed in his military ventures by 1800, and later that year he accused Adams of incompetence. [ Note that Aaron Burr took the plans of his good friend, Hamilton, and tried to make them work. He was accused of treason and put on trial, 1807.]

The Republicans willingness to favor peace and not increase the Navy or to finance campaigns left the waters calm. Diplomacy worked during the peace. The United States seemed a pacific nation. Napolean likely believed he would sell Louisiana to America and in the future reconquer it. For the price of the military budget for less than 20 years, the Republicans bought Louisiana and doubled the size of the country. The author of If By Sea pooh-poohs this second greatest accomplishment by American diplomats. Even Hamilton approved, and American finances did withstand the increase of debt.

The author is entirely correct that the Embargo of 1807 was ineffective and likely the wrong policy. As happens embargos were used and threatened (1794), and they were widely and popularly supported before and during the American Revolution. (see histories by T.H. Breen) There is no mention of this historical context in If By Sea, and the applicability of the policy, earlier, and other effects later.

A primary fact which allowed Americans to prevail on America’s lakes during the War of 1812 was the British blockade. American shipping was at a standstill; no ships in, or out. Sailors went to the lakes. On the other hand the British were far from the ocean up a river frozen for half the year. They did not their Navy ships and sailors trapped, so the British were using trappers, farmers and fur traders as sailors. If the war had lasted into 1815, the British would have had a difficult time on the lakes.


Candice Millard

This involved tale of exploration succeeds remotely. When reading J.H. Parry’s two books about Renaissance exploration of the oceans, I was amused when Parry would correct the location (navigation) of the place because the ocean currents did not conform to the records stated in the original sources. River of Doubt does not make such corrections. I do not have a sense that the author has traveled along the river.

This tale presents Theodore Roosevelt as someone who is a reckless adventurer and somewhat of a flake. No one knew the type and quantity of goods for the exhibition until three weeks along the trail. Someone looks. They are carrying Rhine Water, along with lots of other useless stuff. Much of it is abandoned. Neither Roosevelt nor Rondon (Brazilian) inspected or determined the anything was wrong until underway too far into the exhibition – lives have been damaged or lost, and will be. Note also, on this long trip into the jungle, Roosevelt has a bum leg; his son, Kermit, malaria.

It seems completely improbable Roosevelt would have gone off without reading anything about exploring rivers. During his life time books were written by such explorers: Richard Burton (Tanzania, Nile, 1860); Richard Speek (Nile, Lake Victoria, @1860); Henry Stanley (Nile, Congo River 1880); John Wesley Powell (Grand Canyon 1870) Certainly, Roosevelt knew that quinine inhibited the transmission of malaria. River of Doubt finally mentions quinine (p. 250) but the standard medical practice for prescribing quinine in 1914 is not given in the text. Roosevelt, himself, only had to ask his good friend, Leonard Wood, for advice. [About that page in the tale Roosevelt is hot with a malarial condition.] I might conclude that Roosevelt recklessly neglected quinine, or the author dropped quinine into the story as an afterthought.

The author has told a tale of the Central Amazon. Because journals, diaries, specie collections and exhibition records are incomplete or missing, she tells about the geography, flora and fauna very well. These environmental chapters, extending almost as far as the Amazon River is broad, carry the book and make it readable. She cannot tell of the full horrors of the place, except if half of any exhibition party returns, it has been a successful venture. The environmental chapters allow for the calendar to proceed. It replaces what might be available if all the sources were available: March 3, 1914, the party stopped her; disagreement between X and Y. This is the outcome. My only question is about vicinage: Are the flora and fauna described unique to the River of Doubt or are they found everywhere else in the Amazon basin?

An issue issue of biography arises from the text. It is not fully explored. Roosevelt was 53 years old. He suffered personal/psychological set backs when he lost the elections of 1912. Until that year Roosevelt had no defining potentially defeating events since his Rough Rider Days, when he was 40 years old. He takes up this exploration in an effort “to forge his own happiness.” (276) Yet at 54 he is injured, old, fat and out of shape. He knows a year of hardship and disease await him. He should not go within 500 miles of the River of Doubt. No one tells him not to go. Yet, was Roosevelt incapable of “forging his own happiness” in anyway, other than the means he devised in youth?

The answer to this question is obvious. Roosevelt physically and mentally failed. He also created conditions which led to his early death.

DEAR MARK TWAIN – Letters from his Readers

Apparently everyone in the nineteenth century is like present-day readers. Readers wrote to Mark Twain,
1. To get autographs in return (usually unsuccessful);
2. For advice about careers and writing;
3. To praise or criticize a Twain writing;
4 To superimpose one of their recent experiences on an episode in one of Twain’s works.
5. To learn where to buy the best editions of Twain’s work. [There letters were always
passed onto appropriate persons or businesses.]
6. To announce a new charity, or ask Twain to support publicly an existing charity.

Twain himself does not handle contact with the public well. He takes everything head-on, matter-of-factly and briefly, the tenor of the correspondence. The letters hardly enter the literary world where Twain works – essays, short stories. articles, novels and notes to close friends (Rogers, Howells). Twain does not purposefully neglect the common crowds; there are only 200 letters in this volume which seem representative. Twain may have received 200 or more letters per week. He had to allocate his time.

I cannot thoroughly recommend this book; I cannot completely disregard this book. The text tells a successful author almost everything to expect from a reading public. I was surprised that nineteenth century readers were interested in further stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Twain tried many; published a few. But platform fiction was not his forte. [Imagine Huck and Tom in the 1850s in the antebellum South; Consider Hank and Tom participating in the Civil War from 1861-1865; Dream of Hank and Tom during the Guilted Age.]