Thursday, January 5, 2017

Books. Actually, Authors and Books...

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I did a list, Juvat did a list, Tuna did a list. So I was going to do another list. (Don't grimace at me like that, it won't be that bad.) I chose my subject and after a few moments realized that the task I had set for myself was impossible. I couldn't do it, it exceeded my capabilities.

Really Sarge? A top ten list of your favorite books? Might as well try to count the stars, number the grains of sand on all the beaches of the world, might as well try to...

Okay, I think you get it. There are just too many books that I truly enjoy and have read over and over to try and pick my ten favorites. It's like a three-hundred way tie for first. But while digging around for what might have been a list of favorites, I did come up with a list of books I really like and a number of authors who I really, really like. Folks who could write a phone book and I would buy it.

So here we go.

First off, there are two books I own which are dog-eared, worn out, pages coming loose, and generally exhibiting various signs of decrepitude. (Stop laughing you two in the back, while I am exhibiting a few signs of decrepitude, I ain't ready for "the cart." Not yet anyway.) Ahem, yes, the two "most read" books in my library.
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Shogun I have probably read a dozen times, Swords Around A Throne at least ten times. If I were to somehow produce a top ten list, these two would be vying for first place. Yes, I probably might just declare a tie and go home. While not everyone gets a trophy, these two books have given me hours of enjoyment.

Shogun tells the tale of an English pilot (of a ship, better described as a captain/navigator if you will) who has navigated his small, Portuguese owned vessel from Portugal, all the way to Japan. Which, trust me on this, is a long, long trip. Especially in a small sailing ship. The time period is the late 16th Century, just prior to the battle of Sekigahara (which you can, and probably should, read about at that link).

Of course, we all know that that battle led to the Tokugawa shogunate which lasted from 1603 to 1867. What we don't know that? Well, you can read more about that here, or read Shogun. While the book is a fictionalized account of that time, it's still interesting. And you might learn a few phrases in 日本語. Helpful if you travel to Japan.

Shogun was written by this fellow, James Clavell.

James Clavell (Source)
Who also wrote a number of excellent books, all of which I really enjoyed. All of which are along the lines of "white boy goes to Asia and makes good." Not that there's anything wrong with that. Remember the line from Kipling, "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet"? No? It's in this poem, The Ballad of East and West, which you can read in it's entirety here. Point is, most Westerners, while they might find Asia fascinating and interesting, don't really understand it. So if you drop a Westerner into the story (think The Last Samurai) you can tell the story from their point of view without having to know a lot about Asian culture. But if you pay attention, you might learn a thing or two. Mr. Clavell knew a thing or two about Asia.

Other Clavell books I have enjoyed. (Source)
I have mentioned Colonel Elting's work before, it's an excellent book about the army of Napoléon Bonaparte. I won't belabor the point here, if you chase that link above you can read about the book in more detail. Let's just say, it's a "must have" if you are an aficionado of the Napoleonic period. Which I am.

So those two books will make any top ten list of books of mine, were I able to actually narrow the list to ten. There are just so many books I enjoy that attempting to narrow the list of favorites to ten would be difficult, if not impossible.

Now authors, I have a number of favorite authors. If I see that one of these people has written a new book, the odds are that I will go out and buy it. Sight unseen (though I will read the blurb on the book itself before putting down cash for it, more of a formality with most authors).

The list of favorite authors is pretty big. So I'll cheat and put their pictures up. Buy a book written by one of these folks and you will not be disappointed. Well, if you have an interest in history and des affaires militaires you won't be disappointed. A partial list of my favorite authors (drum roll please) in no particular order -

Stephen Hunter (Source)
Want to learn something about snipers? Read Hunter. His characters are amazing. Bob Lee and Earl Swagger are two of the finest characters in fiction. Men of honor. Men of action.

Bernard Cornwell (Source)
Mr. Cornwell's tales of battle ring true. You'd almost think he stood in a shield wall at some time in his past. His take on the Arthurian legend is brilliant. His series on the Napoleonic Wars (think Sharpe) is worth your time. Right now I'm reading one of his books (part of The Grail Quest, yes, that Grail) and have three more of his Saxon Tales on the "to be read" stack.

His recent historical account of the Battle of Waterloo is superb. Well researched, brilliantly written. I own it, I read it, I will read it again.

Stephen Coonts (Source)
Flight of the Intruder introduced us to Jake Grafton. I have been following his adventures since then. Mr. Coonts writes it, I buy it. It's that simple. (Mr. Coonts is a great guy, I count him among my friends.)
Douglas Reeman, who also wrote under the name Alexander Kent (Source)
Most of Mr. Reeman's books that I own and have read were written under his Alexander Kent nom de plume. He specializes in naval historical fiction, both WWII, writing as himself, and the age of sail, writing as Kent.

His Richard Bolitho character is a favorite of mine. We follow him from his days as a midshipman in the Royal Navy prior to the American Revolution and through the Napoleonic Wars. I won't explicitly tell you Admiral Bolitho's eventual fate, but I will say this, I've never had such an emotional reaction to a fictional character.

Jeff Shaara (Source)
Jeff Shaara is the son of Michael Shaara. I list him first simply because I have read more of his books than I have read of his father's. He essentially picked up where his Dad left off after his father's death. His Dad would be proud of his son, I'm sure. He's a brilliant author who has mastered the art of military historical fiction. His books on the Civil War are outstanding, but he's damned good with other periods in our country's history as well.

Michael Shaara (Source)
Three words: The Killer Angels. If you read one novel, no, one book, on the battle of Gettysburg. Read that one. Trust me.

Nelson DeMille (Source)
A Vietnam vet, like Mr. Coonts, Nelson DeMille is an amazing writer of suspense and action. He's another guy who if he writes it, I'll buy it. By the Rivers of Babylon is another of my books that is getting a bit worn out. One of my favorites for sure!

Stephen Ambrose (Source)
One of my favorite historians. Band of Brothers is brilliant, his other works are not far behind. I'm sure the academics don't care for his work, I mean, people actually read, and enjoy, his writing. He brings history to life.

Barbara Tuchman (Source)
My favorite historian. I wept when she died. No, seriously. She was brilliant. And prolific.

And for the record, Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, beats Solzhenitsyn's August 1914 hands down. (Though in fairness the former is history, superb history, and the latter is a novel. A Russian novel.) Still and all, I'll read Tuchman over Solzhenitsyn any day. Twice on Sunday. The lady was a brilliant historian, she is my favorite historian. (But that, perhaps, is a topic for another time. Maybe even a list?)

Oh yeah, these two would make my top ten list, that whole multi-book tie for first thing. My copy of The Killer Angels is nearly as dog eared as my copy of Shogun. The Guns of August is critical (I think) to understanding World War I. How it started and why. Absolutely brilliant history.

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So what (and who) do you like to read?



30 comments:

  1. Right now I'm really liking Nathan Lowell (former USCG) and his "Golden Age of the Solar Clipper" series. Also Jack Campbell (John Hemry, former USN, plank owner in the first Spru-can) and his "Lost Fleet" series. I'm anxiously awaiting new books from each due out in the spring. As for the rest? Not enough room on Blogger for even a brief overview. Lets just say that my Kindle has so many electrons in it that I need a porter to carry it around for me...

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    1. I will have to check those guys out, I haven't read any good science-fiction lately. On the gripping hand, I have to admit that I'm a fan of Niven and Pournelle.

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    2. I agree about Niven and Pournelle.

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  2. My all time favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. His novel, Slaughterhouse Five, is the one that most people were first exposed to. Not so in my case. I had never read anything by him before, but on my first day at work for Mobil Chemical Co. I was assigned a locker for storing my lab coats. A former occupant had left a copy of Ice Nine in there and being short on reading material at the time I decided to give it a go. I was entranced. It was such a wonderful blend of science fiction, dark humor and commentary on the human condition. I was now hooked. I ended up buying anything that I could find by him and loved almost every one. I just finished rereading Bluebeard again two days ago. I really can't say which of his novels is my favorite. The only thing that I can say is that Timequake, written in is later years is probably the worst that he had ever penned. I was extremely disappointed after the first reading, but I thought that maybe I was in a bad state of mind at the time, so years later I gave it another shot. Nope, pretty bad. It's one of the very few that I haven't gotten for the Kindle and never will. I did break down and buy a signed first edition of it to add to my collection, though...........

    Some other favorites are Tom Clancy, James Rollins and Brian Lumley. A nice, mixed bag of adventure, warcraft, espionage and horror...........

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    1. Vonnegut is good, to be honest though, I haven't read much of his stuff. (Other than the obligatory Schlachthof-fünf.)

      I feel terrible for having left Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, and Lee Child off my list of favorite authors. My copy of The Hunt for Red October is nearly as dog-eared as my copy of Shogun!

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  3. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I would list the same authors in my list. With one exception, I've read every book pictured in your post, most multiple times. Read Killer Angels as required reading at Army Command and Staff. Liked it. Tagged along on one of Little Juvat's Boy Scout trips to Gettysburg, and read it again on the way up there, finishing it by a lantern in my tent that night. Made that whole battlefield just a little more clear the following day. Most excellent. I've read most of his son's books also.

    Back in September '15, William commented about a book on the history of Fredericksburg titled Adelsverein - The Gathering. Bought it immediately, but didn't get around to reading it until this past week. Most excellent! (Thanks for the recommendation, William!) It's very well written historical fiction and ties together a lot of the bits and pieces of partial stories and legends one hears around here. Suffice it to say, settling here wasn't all cookies and cream. It was very interesting to read names and places and think, "I know that family name, or location." I recommend the book highly, Sarge, you historical fiction guy!
    Oh, the book I haven't read? Swords around the Throne. It was delivered to my Kindle between the start and finish of this comment.

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    1. I have my eye set on acquiring Adelsverein: The Complete Trilogy, looks like an excellent tale. Especially as a fighter pilot of my acquaintance has recommended it.

      :)

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  4. Found nothing with which to quibble in your list.
    I would add Edward Rutherford.
    Also have found Ken Follett and John LeCarre (yeah made-up name) to be page turning authors.

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    1. Rutherford looks to be right up my alley. I've read (and enjoyed) both Follett and le Carré. The latter of whom has this great quote:

      Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.

      And about as nourishing I would think.

      Sigh, my list of things to read grows ever longer.

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    2. Another author along the lines of Follett's earliest novels is Frederick Forsythe. His "Day of the Jackal" and "The Odessa File" really moved along the genre of international thrillers. I have not read any of his later books, though, and I see here that he's giving up the thriller genre. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/14/frederick-forsyth-to-stop-writing-thrillers

      Follett's popularity in the U.S. started out with the spy thriller ("Eye of the Needle" and "Key to Rebecca"), but expanded into [non-thriller] historical fiction with "Pillars of the Earth," which was awfully good, I thought. I have not read the sequel to that, but I see that the third book of that trilogy is expected in 2017....

      Also in that same post-WW II crowd of authors were Helen MacInnes ("Above Suspicion," Assignment in Brittany"), Alistair MacLean ("The Guns of Navaronne," "HMS Ulysses"). I suppose they are quite dated now, but they were a big part of my reading list back in the day.

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    3. I read a lot of Alistair MacLean back in the day. A number of his books were made into movies. Where Eagles Dare springs immediately to mind. Forsythe is another favorite author of mine.

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  5. I should read more and watch TV less!

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  6. Science Fiction and alternative history are my favorite types of books/stories.

    You wrote: "...who could write a phone book and I would buy it." I feel the same way about Lois McMaster Bujold. She has some stand-alone books, but her Miles Vorkosigan series is tops in my list of reading material.

    I am currently on a re-reading jag, in the Belisarius series right now. I can go on about books until the cows come home, are milked, and let out to pasture the next day. But, as I am sure no one cares, I'll just shut up now.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. I think you can always safely talk about books here, regardless of what the cows are doing.

      :)

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    2. Thanks Chris.

      Paul

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  7. My favorite has always been Mr. Twain, Samuel Clemens. But I'm glad you mentioned Shogun. Great book. I've read it a couple of times. Magnificent detail. I especially love how Mr. Clavell gives his reader credit for brains, in that he introduces more and more Japanese as the book progresses and he assumes that his reader will grasp it and understand it during the times, later in the book, when he has stopped giving translations.

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    1. Wow, how could I forget Mr. Clemens? Great point on Shogun!

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    2. The Regulars: The American Army, 1898-1941 by Edward M. Coffman.

      Quoted from Barnes and Noble listing for the book:

      In 1898 the American Regular Army was a small frontier constabulary engaged in skirmishes with Indians and protesting workers. Forty-three years later, in 1941, it was a large modern army ready to wage global war against the Germans and the Japanese. In this definitive social history of America's standing army, military historian Edward Coffman tells how that critical transformation was accomplished.

      http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/regulars-edward-m-coffman/1101465271

      R Brown

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    3. Another book to add to the list!

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  8. I bought and read Swords Around The Throne, because someone told me to. I enjoyed it immensely. I liked the chapter head illustrations from a 19th century set of plates of the Napoleonic military especially.

    I have a great fondness for the works of Terry Pratchett, whose satire in the form of Fantasy are superlative. He is already deeply missed.

    The Tales of Redwall by Brian Jacques are always welcome with me. He also is missed.

    Osprey Publishing can keep me occupied for day.

    I love early 20th century kids books, back when kids would read a 250 page book, just for the fun of it. I am quite fond of The Radio Boys, The Motor Maids, several different Boy Scouts series. The Submarine Boys, the Girl Aviators, and of course, all the OZ books are reread every year.

    Norman Friedman is an author that I have done my best to see he does not die poor.

    There are so many books to read, and so little time.

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    1. I'm glad you liked it, now we'll see if Juvat gets hooked!

      Reading is as necessary to me as breathing.

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  9. .W. E. B. Griffin, The Corps series alone is worth the price of admission.

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  10. Patrick O'Brien, the Aubrey-Maturin novels. George MacDonald Fraser, the Flashman series. And everything by Jack Vance, science fiction and fantasy alike. Oh, and Neal Stephenson, the Baroque trilogy, and everything else.
    All the history I can find. Paul Johnson is very good. The Birth of The Modern...

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    1. George MacDonald Fraser is a favorite. Haven't read any O'Brien yet, I feel somehow remiss for not doing so.

      More history is always on my list.

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