Friday, July 15, 2011

Scurvy - Stephen R. Bown

Now and then the Geezer's Book Club discovers an unlikely winner. Scurvy is one of those.  Who, besides an overly curious doctor,  is interested in a book about disease?   Well, I began the thing with trepidation and a certainty that I wasn't going to like it. I was wrong once again!

Scurvy reads like a good mystery. It's researched and written very well, and it compels the reader to "turn the next page" to see what's going to happen.  I an sure that I'm not the only one that was unaware of the horrendous impact of this awful disease. I didn't know, for example, that in 1763, at the end of the British war with France, over 184,899 men were rounded up for the war, and 133,708 of them died from disease, primarily Scurvy, and only 1512 were killed in action.

                                               184,899     Soldiers and Sailors
                                               133,708     Died from disease, primarily Scurvy
                                                   1,512    Died from action in the war.
                                                 49,679    Survived
The book "Scurvy" is a fascinating rendition of naval activities from before 1700 to about 1850. It describes in detail the miserable conditions on board military and civilian ships of the day, the unsanitary and brutal and normal conditions. It also offers a detailed vision of the medical profession during that time.

This is, despite it's focus on scurvy, a brilliant and excellent read.


Monday, July 11, 2011

The Irregulars - Jennet Conant

This book let me down a notch. It's good but not great! It is reminiscent of a mythical soap opera that might have been written by Walter Winchell or Louella Parsons.  I was looking for substance and the book just didn't deliver. The prime character, Roald Dahl, seems to have been a rather shallow person. He was handsome and articulate and cruised easily in the political and social circles during World War II, but he was on all counts rather a lightweight.

I did learn more about Henry Wallace. He was more of a heavyweight than I remembered. He may have been the brightest and most inquisitive member of the government at the time. He wasn't a communist but he was interested in communism.

Wallace wrote a paper entitled "Our Job in the Pacific" that summarized his (as the Vice President) post war goals that included:
  • international control of the airways 
  • economic assistance to develop industry in Asia
  • the de-militarization of Japan
  • the emancipation of colonial subjects in the British Empire including  India, Burma, and Malaysia.
Raold Dahl was a low level spy with connections. He made the society news, played with the "in-crowd", boosted war time propaganda and, at the same time, he was a successful writer of (children's) books.

Now we know.


The Fear Within - Scott Martelle

Excellent study of a complicated period of American life. After World War II the fear of Soviet style communism caused our citizens to urge measures of extraordinary security to protect our nation. In doing so our Constitution's First Amendment was trampled by American politicians and court systems.

President Truman and his feud with J.Edgar Hoover contributed to the increasing concern. The Chief Justice, Fred Vinson, led the Supreme Court to erroneously override the First Amendment by reducing the freedom of individuals and increasing the power of government.

Sen. Joe McCarthy raised the level of discontent and increased public fear that communists had already invaded American businesses, universities, and union organizations. He claimed, without adequate substantiation, that they were aggressively working to overthrow the American government.

Eisenhower took over from Truman, Fred Vinson died, and Earl Warren became Chief Justice. Warren saw the danger of the assault on the First Amendment and led the Supreme Court in an effort to reverse the damage.

The author of this book, Scott Martelle, calls attention to the similarities between the post war legislation against the First Amendment and the more recent Patriot Act. They both reduced citizen freedoms and increase governments ability to fight the aggressive attacks on America by fanatic Muslim terrorists.

The author is clearly not a fan of the Patriot Act.