November 16th, 2005


When I grow up I want to write like Alistair Horne.

Except I'd have to learn French first. Damn.

Three of the books which I've read over and over since first encountering them in high school belong to Horne's classic trilogy on the Franco-Prussian Wars, the last two of which are better known by their official titles of World War I and World War II. I've spent most of my time with the latter two books, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 and To Lose A Battle: France 1940, because The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune was out of print and damned hard to find in libraries, but all three of them are absolutely excellent pieces of writing. Horne has the gift that so many fiction writers think they have, that ability to weave dozens of minor characters into the flow of a story so that they illuminate the point that the author is trying to make; to a certain extent, his task is made easier by the nature of the Franco-Prussian Wars, which saw children in the first book becoming field officers in the second, and politicians or leaders in the final volume. This normally only happens in bad fiction, but when one recalls that the original Franco-Prussian War was fought in a relatively brief span of months between 1870-71, the First World War broke out just forty-three years later in 1914, and after that ended it was barely more than two decades before the Wehrmacht plunged into Poland to set off World War II, it seems entirely reasonable that Petain, Churchill, Gamelin and others might make appearances in all three books, if only peripherally.

The writing flows marvellously, never getting bogged down in pointless detail but at the same time covering all the important events. At the same time, Horne clearly has an eye for the macabre and piquant details of military and civilian life both. I can't recommend his books highly enough.
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Like a camel, winter sticks its nose under the tent

So we had our first snow last night, pitiful and snarkworthy though it was. It made me think, despite my general enthusiasm for technology of all kinds, that we should take away the Doppler radars and other bleeding-edge toys from the meteorologists and compel them to undergo mandatory retraining in the arts of haruspication, employing the huge local pigeon population as the necessary sacrifices. It would be a lot cheaper, more entertaining, and do quite a bit to clean up the city besides - and no less accurate than the present panic-mongering system, which had the National Weather ServiceTM (a division of Admiral Bob's National Security, or perhaps the Central Intelligence Company) issuing a Winter Storm Watch for a lousy 4-6" of snow, which even in these sissified times isn't enough to even delay school openings for fifteen minutes. Of course by this morning, the streets were merely wet, even though the ambient temperature on the way to the Park & Ride was 19, and the snow wasn't even an inch deep on the grass.

Inside the new apartment, unlike the old apartment, I snoozed comfortably without having to endure drafts from defective windows and unsealed AC units. In fact, when I came home from work yesterday the building super had not only put covers on all the AC units, he'd fixed the toilet, whose flapper hadn't worked quite right since before my arrival. w00t!

As further proof that we're living in the best of all possible Americas (so far), frozen turkeys were on sale at the local Cub for $0.38/pound, with a $25 purchase. Talk about your loss leaders! I wound up dropping almost $50 on the bird and various other food items; once I pick up some more milk and bread, I might well be set through the end of the month.