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21 books: Finale

This is the last in a series of posts about books that had a real impact on my life, in one way or another. Previous posts in this series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


Took me long enough - two and a half years since the last of these posts.

1. Ranma 1/2*, by Rumiko Takahashi. I started reading this while I was getting into anime and manga and the associated fandom, and despite the failure to wrap the series up with a happy ending I still think this is some of Takahashi's best work. Martial arts death machines tied up in love triangles, rhombuses and polygons, complicated by the title character's involuntary gender switching and his utter retard of a father...it's the soap opera to end all soap operas, and has spawned a million fanfics.

2. American Caesar, by William Manchester. Love him or hate him, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was one of America's great generals, and Manchester does this incredibly complicated man his due justice in a wonderful biography. American Caesar delves into MacArthur's ancestry and family ties, studies his suicidal bravery, and carefully unravels the complicated, incendiary issue of his relief by President Truman during the Korean War. There is no better book on the subject, period.

3. The Coming Fury by Bruce Catton is the first volume of Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War, and it's hard to believe that it's fallen out of print. Catton was a magnificent writer who made the Civil War his life's work, and it shows in this account of how well-meaning politicians stumbled their way into the bloodiest war ever fought by these United States. There are many books about the Civil War, but this one is mine, and it should be yours, too.

4. Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall is the account of Dien Bien Phu, the disastrous battle that cost France her empire in Indochina, and eventually (as Jean Larteguy's The Centurions showed) Algeria as well. Goes well with Street Without Joy, Fall's account of the battles that led up to the debacle at Dien Bien Phu. Both are really necessary if you want to understand the mistakes that we made in Vietnam a little more than a decade after the final bunkers fell in that miserable Laotian valley.

5. The 13th Valley by John Del Vecchio is more than just another novel about Vietnam; it's a close study of the men who fought that war in the airmobile battalions that avoids the facile cliches that so much Vietnam War fiction suffers from. I think this may be a better book than James Webb's Fields of Fire, which I'm also quite fond of and which can be found in an earlier post.

6. To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Sir Alistair Horne is the final volume in his superb trilogy covering the Franco-Prussian Wars from 1870 to 1940. I don't think it's possible to overstate what a shock the French campaign was to the world; certainly nobody expected the German Wehrmacht to rip through the largest army in Europe like a chainsaw through rotten cheese, drive England from the Continent, and bring France to its knees in a mere sixty days - but it happened, and Horne goes back to the Victory Parade in 1919 to expose all the reasons why.




*Link goes to the hardcover library edition's Volume 1.

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