Reading and Thinking Football

Football, including books thereon and idiosyncratic thinking thereabout

What I’ve Been Reading (Non-Football)

with 2 comments

After last year’s ending installment, I decided to do this quarterly. This first installment covers January through March 2013. This isn’t everything I read in that time span-much of my fiction reading is not memorable or intended to be, some books I don’t want to talk about here for one reason or another, and others, well, I’m going to keep this post under 1,000 words.

Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty is the fourth volume I’ve read in the Oxford History of the United States series. It’s definitely in the top three. Then again, the two it’s up against, James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought were both masterpieces I rated among the best books I read in that respective year. Everything I’ve read by Wood has been excellent, and his The American Revolution: A History is probably the best history book under 200 pages I’ve ever read. In that context, I would say Empire was probably 90% as great as I expected it to be, which is still really, really, really good. Some of the Amazon reviews note a pro-Jefferson bias; I thought Wood let the Sage of Monticello do a perfectly good job of hanging himself.

There may have been a time and a place in my life where I would have enjoyed Murakami Haruki’s Norwegian Wood, but I have yet to identify what and when that would be. Its apparent popularity reminds me of that of Catcher in the Rye, another book for which I have nothing but disdain. It was my first Murakami; I’ll probably be reading another, but will look in a very different direction to do it.

I dove into the American Civil War a couple times, first with McPherson’s War on the Waters and then concluding U.S. Grant’s Memoirs. McPherson’s volume is a modest one in length, with the inevitable tradeoff in depth for the benefit of brevity. It was the right book for my needs, but I intentionally dip into the Civil War only occasionally, avoiding the headlong dive. Grant’s Memoirs is a classic book, literary in what I think of as a classic American style of directness. It is perhaps most useful as a second or third or fifth book on the subject, as some knowledge of the scope and progress of the Civil War is essential. A dying Grant was almost shockingly forthright in his willingness to make judgments on pretty much anybody and everybody. That is a quality all too rare in political memoirs, which tend to the impersonal and turgid. I read it primarily at lunch over a series of several months, which I think was beneficial for my reading experience.

Before reading it, I thought I might do a review on here of Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper, but did not end up doing so for several reasons. Reading it was a useful exercise for me, as it is every time I read a book where somebody smart tries to figure out insightful things both obvious and non-obvious. On the whole, though, it says something about me and my interests that I enjoyed John Brewer’s Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783 much more. The effect of the South Sea Bubble on the characterization of English public debt (briefly, holders of high-interest short-term obligations traded their debt for stock in the South Sea Company, leaving a much greater percentage of lower-interest long-term obligations on the balance sheet, then got wiped out when the bubble collapsed) is the most mind-blowing thing I’ve read this year.

The title of Paul Kennedy’s Engineers of Victory might lead you to expect a technical book on important technological advancements in World War Two. That might be a very good book, but the book Kennedy wrote is not that book. The book he wrote might properly be subtitled “Applied Grand Strategy Tactics.” For what it is, it’s not bad, but if you’ve read enough on World War Two, you won’t find any deep insights.

In the classification of lumpers vs. splitters, I would characterize John Darwin as a splitter. After Tamerlane, which I read a few years ago, was interesting enough, but I found it conceptually unsatisfying. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain does not suffer from quite the same problem, plus the last chapter is the broad-scale summary he did not give in the rest of the book.  I liked it for what it was, and it’s very smart, but as one who tends more to the lumper side, it was not the perfect book for me. Still, a necessary read, as was Lauro Martines’s Furies: War in Europe, 1450-1700, another very smart book on just how much misery the act of warfare could bring. Suffice to say I am very grateful to be alive at a time when I will almost certainly never have to eat leather.

As a novel, Red Plenty by Francis Spufford is not my favorite. The protagonist is not an individual character but economic planning in the Soviet Union. For the right sort, of which I am one, it’s tremendously entertaining stuff. Others will likely find it a much tougher go. The most interesting question, from a literary perspective, is whether the non-fiction book Spufford apparently first planned would have worked better. I am not sure, but then again I do not really care either.

My football reads this quarter included Sid Gillman by Josh Katzowitz, The Pro Football Historical Abstract by Sean Lahman, and Football Physics by Timothy Gay. I have reviews of the first two up, and will have a review of Physics up in the next day or so. My only notable acquisition in the period was The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy by Peter Wilson.

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Written by Tom Gower

March 31, 2013 at 22:55

Posted in Non-Football Books

2 Responses

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  1. […] an unenjoyable experience with Norwegian Wood, I dipped my toe into the Murakami Haruki oeuvre again with The Wind-Up Bird […]

  2. […] I keep thinking about, always a good sign, but is better off as a complementary work. As I noted in my review, most of John Darwin’s Unfinished Empire is not strong enough conceptually for me. […]


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