Hi, guys, did you enjoy your weekend? Mine was kind of an up and down adventure; Saturday was a truly painful disappointment, in that some plans that I was really looking forward to fell apart in a very unpleasant and disappointing way. That sort of thing happens, of course. On the other hand, Sunday went much better; after church, Big Sis and I went to lunch and then saw the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, on the big screen at our local movie theater (courtesy of Fathom Events who also provides periodic Rifftrax fixes). There’s even a picture of me with a couple of my favorite objects: my Kindle and a big serving of G.D. Ritzy’s chili cheese fries! Check it out!
Yeah, I know, I look pretty bad. But you know I spent most of the winter extremely ill (hence all the missing blog posts, blah blahbity blah). I am starting to gain the weight back, though, and that gorgeous bowl of chili cheese fries definitely contributed to that effort. No, I didn’t finish the whole thing on my own; Big Sis and I split it between us. I had to leave room for the double bacon cheeseburger right beside me and my Kindle. Dean Winchester ain’t got a thing on old AJ! We even had ice cream afterwards! Nobody can say I’m not making a good faith effort to put back on the weight. I’m not complaining, mind you, but eating 4-5 meals a day, as recommended by my doctor, ain’t quite as easy or as fun as it sounds; after a while, it starts to feel like poking food in your face is all you ever do!
So anyway, on to business. As you may recall, I said I wanted to spend a few blog posts talking about World War II. Today I’m going to lay some heavy duty non-fiction on you, and lots of it. As a writer, I’m a big believer in reading a wide variety of writing, in genre and out of it, fiction, non fiction, poetry, plays, you name it. As my dad always asserted, reading is good, whether it’s War and Peace of a comic book. When I’m working on a new setting (particularly a well-known historical one like this), I like to cram on the subject, gorging on as many historical sources as I can find, as well as reading other writers in the same genre / subgenre.
What got me started on this one was when I was first planning the Richmond and Waite stories. Even before I started power-studying, I got into a long, fairly heated debate (heated as in intense, not angry) with fellow writers (Hi, guys at the AW Cantina! If you are a writer, I cannot recommend the Absolute Write forums enough ) about why Operation Sea Lion (the discussed but never executed Nazi plan to invade the UK) never happened and how might it have played out. It took a bit of doing, but I was finally convinced that there was no way a conventional invasion (conventional as in “not involving magic, space ships, and/or zombies”) would never have worked with the situation as it historically stood at the end of the Battle of Dunkirk. Obviously my fellow writers (special props to SLCBoston at AW; the man knows his history) knew a little more than I did. So I started reading.
Okay, boys and girls, first we’ll start with a name: Andrew Roberts. Write him down, ask for him by name. Andrew Roberts is a British historian, an expert on both the Napoleonic era and World War II. He is the author of three books that I cannot recommend enough, if WWII is your bent: Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership, Masters and Commanders: The Military Geniuses Who Led the West to Victory in World War II, and The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War.
Each of these books looks at the war from a slightly different perspective. Hitler and Churchill looks at the political aspects of the subject, focusing, obviously, on the two primary leaders. I must say that I agree with one of the reviewers on Goodreads; Roberts makes no secret of his admiration of Churchill, warts and all. I don’t know that it makes for an unfair comparison between him and Hitler, but it is something to hold in mind.
Masters and Commanders looks at both military and political angles and the interplay between them. He examines Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill again (told you he was a Churchill fan), American General George Marshall and British General Alan Brooke, and how these four complex men interacted with one another (clue: not always smoothly, particularly with Brooke, who comes off as a bit of an ass). I did not find this book as useful as the others. Neither Brooke nor Marshall served any significant time as field generals during the war, instead staying behind to liaise between the field generals and the political leaders. While I’m not knocking that, it’s an important job, I wish Roberts would do something similar with Eisenhower and Montgomery, and the rest of the ETO operational leaders.
The Storm of War is actually the one I read first. It’s probably the best known of the three, landing on the NYT bestsellers list in 2011. It’s a more generalized overview of the war, covering a much broader base than the other two books. I liked it very much, but found it uneven in places; it focused in tightly on some bits, and then glossing over stuff I wanted to know more about. But until somebody takes a Shelby-Foote-like approach to WWII (Shelby Foote is known in U.S. historical circles for writing the definitive multi-volume description of the American Civil War), this is going to be one of the best alternatives extant for a consolidated view of the war.
Want to see a little more of Andrew Roberts? Well, I heard about Storms of War on YouTube. After the conversation with SLCBoston, I went hunting and found a speech given by Andrew Roberts to the American Army War College (they do things like that; fascinating stuff). The speech is called, “Why Hitler Lost the War: German Strategic Mistakes in WWII” and is really gripping stuff. Roberts is a good speaker as well as a good writer. You can hear him here:
I’m not going to embed any more documentaries or speeches. But I’ll link you to some gooders.
- The Charisma of Adolf Hitler this speaker has a voice that would put a cokehead to sleep, but prop your eyes open and listen; it’s interesting stuff.
- “Fighting a Lost War: The German Army in 1943″
- How the Red Army Defeated Germany: The Three Alibis
- World War II Myths, Misconceptions and Surprises
Crap! Every time I think I’ve got a good, FINISHED list of WWII things I want to share with you, three more items pop up that fall under, “Oh, can’t forget that!” Sigh. I’ll have to add the new stuff to the list and hope I remember to stick it in. This time we talked about nonfiction; Wednesday, we’ll talk about fiction that tries to illustrate non-fiction (biographies, stuff like that). I don’t want to get into outright fiction (as in made up stories in that setting) because I deal with that sort of thing most of the time already.
In the meantime, I’m gone, getting back to compulsive eating and reading. Y’all have the usual marching orders: share, comment, tweet, email (email addy is still ajwriter-at-ajclarkson.net) and send along your ideas for Fun Friday. Until we see each other again, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!