The Road Less Traveled, by Philip Zelikow***

Is this going to be on the test?

My thanks go to Net Galley and Public Affairs for the review copy. This book is for sale now.

I am initially drawn to this title when I see the subtitle—an opportunity to make an early peace that went unanswered—and I also want to read more about World War I. I love military history, and am sick to death of World War II material, so this felt like it might be a breath of fresh air.

Or not.

There is no doubt that Zelikow knows his field, and his research is above reproach. Students and researchers may find this book useful, albeit with a careful eye toward a very conservative point of view that affects his analysis. However, for those of us just in it for the joy of learning, I must caution that this is a slog. I read the first half in the digital format I was given, and after publication, I also availed myself of the audio version available at Seattle Bibliocommons, and it’s difficult to focus on either for long at a time, because it’s just Zzzzzzzz

Oh, I’m sorry! Was that me? Let me try again. The research is splendid; the analysis is reactionary; the presentation is a little zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I might have spared myself some frustration had I researched the author. Once I was able to focus long enough to get a feel for his political leanings, I ran a brief Google search, and discovered he’d been with the U.S. State Department under the Reagan and Bush administrations.


At this point, you know enough to decide whether you want to read this thing. If you have a strong interest in the topic and aren’t squeamish about drawing information from the far right, then this is your book. Not mine, though.

Target Tobruk, by Robert Jackson****

targettolbrukMilitary history and World War II buffs will enjoy this well written third installment in Jackson’s  Sergeant George Yeoman series. I hadn’t read any of the others in the series, but it didn’t matter; it serves just fine as a stand-alone novel. Thanks go to Net Galley and Endeavour Press for the DRC, which I received free of charge in exchange for this review.

Yeoman is a pilot; Jackson served as a pilot himself in the Royal Air Force Reserve and flew many different types of planes, so he has personal experience with his topic. The story centers around the battle for Northern Africa before the USA has entered the war.

And did you know how hot the desert is? Those that are considering reading this need to know this one thing: have some water beside you as you commence. I don’t think any novel has ever made me this thirsty!

Those that are not native English speakers may find this too challenging, and so will high school students. The vocabulary, as well as the military and geographic references, calls for a solid literacy level, and those with some knowledge of World War II and the Mediterranean region will be happier reading it than those that don’t. The four star designation is for this demographic; for general audiences unfamiliar with the Africa campaign, I’d take it down to three stars.

The book would really benefit from a couple of maps and some photographs of the many different types of weapons and especially aircraft that are mentioned here.

I am slightly touchy about the racist term that was used during this time period for Japanese; I understand they were adversaries, and yet the ugly racial terms–which went so far further than anything that was said about European members of the Axis forces–turn my stomach. Because of this, I veer away from fiction that has to do with the Pacific theater of this war, because I just know it’s going to be there, probably in liberal doses. The “J” word pops up here just once. On the one hand, it really doesn’t add anything to the plot and could have been left out, but on the other, at least it is in quotation marks, reflecting a character’s mindset rather than the overall tone of the narrative. Given the nature of the story, I felt the author did pretty well in this regard.

Recommended for those with a strong interest in World War II history, this book is more of a novella in length; just 142 pages. It is available for sale digitally now.

Napoleon: On War, by Bruno Colson ****

napoleononwarWhat an ambitious project! This tome is not the kind of thing any writer puts together for money. It’s a labor of painstaking love and pride. Years were spent assembling Napoleon’s military ideas. Thank you once and thank you twice, to Oxford University Press and Net Galley for allowing me to preview the DRC. And of course, thank you to Mr. Colson for his effort. You can buy it this month.

The difficulty in publishing Napoleon’s ideas is that they were scattered. The man was not only a military genius but also an academic one, and every time he turned around he was having someone take something down. Assembling them into one place was another matter, particularly since he was captured, exiled, captured again, exiled again. In a fit of despondency he tossed the memoir he had begun into the flames at one point. So gathering everything together and then sorting the philosophical, which still has relevancy, from the technological part of Napoleon’s military work that is now outdated by more sophisticated weaponry, is another massive task. It’s no small wonder it took someone a long time to do the job and do it right. The reader will perhaps be surprised to learn how many quotations have been ascribed to Napoleon that he actually never said.

That said, I also have to acknowledge that the niche audience here is academic. This is nobody’s breezy popular biography. And whereas I could happily never see some media jerk throw together something and pretend it’s accurate based upon his own personal fame, at the same time, I just need to warn the reader that this is going to be tough going. I’m persistent; I love history. I was willing to wade through Neil Sheehan’s Pentagon Papers, and I was willing to fight my way through this book too. But for most readers, either a purpose, such as perhaps upper level or graduate level university course work or a thesis, or a really intense interest in French history and military strategy will be required to get through it.

Colson’s scholarship and research are beyond reproach. Read the introduction and you’ll get the point. He has done his homework many times over. In fact, unless one is a fluent reader of French, it would be impossible to duplicate his effort even if one were inclined to try. But why do that, when you can access this excellently researched and painstakingly organized volume?

Highly recommended for the serious scholar.