wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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Strangely dated

Hm. I see I reviewed almost all the movies I rented last week before saying anything about the books. Well, here goes some quick and dirty notes on some (mostly) pretty good books.

Post title refers to It Didn't Happen Here, a tome by Seymour Lipset and Gary Marks which purports to explain why socialism failed in the United States. (Stop laughing!) Published in 2000, this dull, repetitious, boring, redundant (did I mention boring?) waste of trees chases its tail through several chapters that trace the history of socialism up to the brink of the 1960s, but strangely enough completely omits the rise of the New Left and its takeover of the Democratic Party. Granted, that would completely obviate the point of their book, but at least it would be honest. Instead, the book acts as if Michael Harrington's formal dissolution of the Socialist Party marked the actual death of the movement in the United States, which strikes those of us living through the ObamaNation to be nothing short of ludicrous. Still, if you want to examine the minutiae of Socialist history from the early 19th century until its alleged death in the early 1960s, this is your book, especially if you are a dullard who likes everything stated and restated at least three times. There are some useful comparisons here between socialism in the US and in the UK and Europe, the basic nature of society in the US as compared to Europe, the labor movement in Europe, the UK and the US, and how the tactics of the Socialists with regard to World War I and Roosevelt's New Deal were utter and complete FAIL. Maybe someone more honest and less boring will use this book as a springboard to examine how the New Left started out as a bunch of filthy trustafarians in the 1960s and wound up trying to run this country into the ground in the early 21st century.

More pleasantly, Michael Flynn's The Wreck of the River of Stars is an outstanding book about the catastrophic last flight of a former passenger liner converted to a tramp freighter after the advent of fusion power has made solar-sail craft obsolete. Flynn is awesome at creating an ensemble of badly broken characters and showing you their interactions, and I can't recommend this book highly enough.

The same is true of Bernard Cornwell's Heretic , third book in the Grail Quest trilogy that starts with The Archer's Tale and its marvelous (albeit gory) retelling of the Battle of Crecy. Heretic, though, is not about that; rather, it brings the tale of Tom of Hookton to a (more or less) happy ending amidst the horror of the Black Plague. I'm tempted to say that Tom is Richard Sharpe, except with a longbow instead of the Baker Rifle, but that does the novel a disservice since I think Cornwell has gotten better as a historical novelist, which I didn't think was possible. Still brutal and unsparing, he is, but the Grail Quest novels will give you a feel for life in the early 14th century like no other book since William Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire. Highly recommended.

Which brings us to Agincourt, which is very different from Henry V and not merely because it's told from the POV of one of the archers instead of the King of England. In truth, at Cornwell's hands Henry comes off as somewhat of a religious madman, convinced that God wants him to be King of France no matter what privations and failure beset his tiny army. Still, one can see echoes of Branagh's production in Cornwell's novel, although Cornwell rams the brutality and filth of 15th century warfare right up your snout where Shakespeare and Branagh are more restrained. Go read this. It's awesome.
Tags: books, culture & politics, history

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