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Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad
Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad
by David Haward Bain
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.31
168 used & new from $0.01

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Expansive tome not for occasional non-fiction reader, March 13, 2003
David Haward Bain's exhaustive work on the Transcontinental Railroad is probably the most complete novel on the subject with 711 pages of text but I would not recommend it to the casual non-fiction reader.
Bain does not have the talent to liven up his literature like other western authors (i.e. David Lavender or Evan S. Connell) but he makes up for it with a plethora of information on almost every aspect of the vast project.
Bain covers the initial dreams of Asa Whitney and Theodore Judah, the creation of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific, the acceptance of Congress with the project, the perils of laying tracks through a mountain range and on a vast and at times, a hostile plain, and continues his writing past the meeting at Promontory Summit with a 35-page Epilogue.
But Bain goes a step further than most authors on the subject by intricately detailing the boardroom battles that the Big Four and the U.P.'s Durant and Ames waged throughout the building of the RR lines. More of the book is spent in Washington, San Francisco and New York than it is out on the prairie or up in the Sierra Nevadas. Bain also writes ad nauseam about the Credit Mobilier scandal which rocked the nation during Grant's administration. I can only award four stars though as I wish that less text would've been spent on the corporate aspect and more writing would've covered the common track layer's plights, everyday life and work details.
It all makes for interesting reading for someone searching for the entire story (and getting even more) of the Transcontinental Railroad but Bain's book is not the right source for the casual reader looking to refresh one's History 101 knowledge of the subject before taking the family vacation out west to visit a few of the sites. There are other books that are half the length of this that will work just fine for that. Do be cautious with Ambrose's "Nothing Like it in the World" though as railroad experts accused him of plagiarism and inventing colorful stories in said work.
- One final note, the book has eight highly detailed maps (which include basic relief, rivers and RR tent towns) which I found sufficient enough to follow along both of the railroads� progress towards meeting in Utah.


The Romanovs: the Final Chapter
The Romanovs: the Final Chapter
by Robert K. Massie
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.57
213 used & new from $0.01

167 of 169 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Appropriate afterword for "Nicholas and Alexandra", January 29, 2003
I'm guessing that most people buying "The Romanovs: The Final Chapter" have already read Massie's "Nicholas and Alexandra" (first published in 1967) but if you haven't, I highly recommend it as "The Romanov's" is basically a final update to the family's tragic tale. Also, Massie's first book on Russia's last Tsar will make this book more personal to the reader as one gets a sentimental appreciation of who Nicholas and his family were from "Nicholas and Alexandra."
This book is far different than Massie's other historical epics as he takes on the role of an investigative journalist rather than a historian. Massie is on the front-lines, from DNA labs to court rooms, searching for a final answer as to whose skeletons were unearthed by an Ekaterinburg resident in the late 70's.
Massie leaves the reader with a plethora of factual information that all but ends one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century. Using DNA tests, Massie proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Russia's royal family and servants are the ones that were buried beneath the road outside Ekaterinburg. He also proves beyond a reasonable doubt, that Anna Anderson, who was the 20th century's greatest con artist, was not Anastasia, Tsarevna of Russia, but a mere Polish peasant.
With all the crime solving, the book at times gets bogged down into quotes, lengthy (but pertinent) explanations of scientific facts and petty arguments between scientists and lawyers, which limits Massie's masterful writing-style to a minimum. After reading all his books, the only sections that come close to capturing his colorful and accomplished style of prose are the first and last chapters.
That said, I'm very glad Massie was the one to tell the Tsar's final story and I highly recommend it to any reader of "Nicholas and Alexandra."
Here's a few items of note:
- A previous reviewer said that Massie does not explain what happened to the last two bodies, presumably of Alexei and either Anastasia or Marie, but in fact, Massie does with quotes of Yurovsky's writings on page 31 and again on page 68. By burning the two bodies and spreading the ashes and embers around, their remains were not preserved like the remaining nine bodies by being entombed in clay, so the final two missing family members in all likelihood will never be found. Another reviewer wished they had a family tree to keep the Romanovs straight. In my edition of "Nicholas and Alexandra", there is a family tree that shows all of Nicholas II's brothers and sister and one could make a photo copy from that book and add in all the nephews, nieces, cousins, etc.
- Also, since this book was published in 1995, a few things have happened in Russia regarding the Romanovs. On July 17, 1998, Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, three of their children and four family servants were buried in the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg. The Russian Orthodox Church still questions the legitimacy of the bones as being the Tsar but the church did partake in the funeral march and burial. In a poll taken at the time, only 47 percent of Russians believed they remains were of Nicholas II and his family. And in 2001, the Dowager Empress Marie Fedorovna, was exhumed in Denmark and reburied alongside her husband, Tsar Alexander III, in the same cathedral.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 11, 2009 9:43 AM PDT


Dark Eagles
Dark Eagles
by Curtis Peebles
Edition: Paperback
43 used & new from $0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reader-friendly for aviation novices, January 22, 2003
This review is from: Dark Eagles (Paperback)
As one who couldn't tell you the difference between a J57 engine and RJ-43-MA-11 ramjet, I'd still highly recommend this to any reader who wants to more about Black Projects but is leery about buying a book because they don't want to be confused by technical humdrum.
Peebles book is quite the contrary and it's very entertaining for both an aviation novice reader like myself as well as any aficionado of aircraft (a friend of mine who is currently getting his pilot's license also read it and enjoyed it). Granted, you must have a little understanding of military aircraft. If you would be unable to decipher between a P-51 Mustang and F-4 Phantom, it may be too much.
Peebles writes with colorful narrative on some of the US's most astonishing and mysterious aircraft in the last 50 years. Included in his book are chapters on the first US jet (XP-59A Airacomet), the spy plane Francis Gary Powers made famous (U-2 Aquatone), the birth of the stealth fighter (F-117A), 'borrowed' MiG's flying in the Nevada desert, reconnaissance drone vehicles, the Star Wars-like A-12 Oxcart, as well as the current Black Project plane - Aurora.
In each chapter, Pebbles writes on what precipitated the need for a new secret aircraft, how the craft took shape behind closed doors, its test flights, and how it performed in action. He includes a plethora of colorful stories on how the U-2 was named, how a US Navy aircraft carrier was 'captured' by the US Air force, and tales of gorillas smoking cigars and flying in the southwest desert.
Pebbles also goes into great detail about two controversial topics of today - Area 51 and the Aurora. Throughout the book, Peebles gives the history of Area 51, how it originated as a base at Groom Lake all the way up to the flying saucer tales of today. Conspiracy theorists will be disappointed as well as many Black Ops devotees looking for proof that the Aurora exists.
In conclusion, I thought Peebles book was a great, intriguing look into some of our nation's biggest secrets of the Cold War that's also a quick read (only 292 pages of text) and I highly recommend it.


Tet!: The Turning Point in the Vietnam War
Tet!: The Turning Point in the Vietnam War
by Don Oberdorfer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $30.00
47 used & new from $7.54

4.0 out of 5 stars Great explanation of a military victory/politcal defeat, January 8, 2003
Contrary to the previous reviewer, I think Oberdorfer tackled the Tet subject comprehensively and covered all bases in explaining the turning point of the Vietnam conflict.
Oberdorfer begins the book by fully explaining what really happened at the American Embassy that fateful January night in 1968. Although most Americans today believe the Embassy was 'overrun,' Oberdorfer explains the true story of a platoon of Viet Cong blasting a hole in the wall to enter the compound but never being able to enter the Chancery building. I believe the reason Oberdorfer starts his book off with the subject is to dispel the 'overrun' myth of VC running through the building capturing documents and, even though it was a minor military skirmish compared to the street-by-street fighting in Hue and siege at Khe Sanh, the American Embassy attack was the paramount event which woke America up to what was happening in SE Asia.
Also, the previous reviewer complains the book focuses too much on the politics and media coverage of Tet, not realizing Oberdorfer's main point of the book is that Tet might have been won on the battlefield, but it was an epic defeat on American televisions and in world newspapers. The Tet offensive's primary aim was to cause political upheaval in America to give the Communists a victory exactly like what defeated the French a decade earlier. In a 1947 tract by Hanoi called "The Resistance Will Win", it states "...as a result of the long war the enemy troops become weary and discouraged, and are tormented by home-sickness. The French economy and finances are exhausted; supplying the army is difficult, the French people do not want the war to go on any longer. The movement against the diehards in France goes stronger and more fierce. World opinion severely condemns France...world movement for peace and democracy scores great successes, etc. ...
Subtract France from the quote and insert the US and there is the political reasoning for starting the General Offensive. Also, Tet not only caused US and ARVN troop casualties, but it ended a presidential administration and forever changed how the news is presented to the American public by the media. A study of Tet not involving the White House, LBJ, McNamara, Clifford, or for that matter Cronkite, the Wall Street Journal and Time, would be like reading about the light bulb and failing to mention Edison.
Oberdorfer's does a great job balancing his information by devoting whole chapters to subjects like the history of Vietnam, pre-Tet America, the shockwave that hit the US after the attack, the 'shot seen around the world' of the Saigon police chief shooting a VC prisoner on the street, the military disaster of Tet to the Viet Cong ranks, the battle of Hue and a section on one of the most decisive months in US history - March 1968.
My only gripe is that the book was first written in 1971, which interestingly gives the reader an unusual perspective as the war was still going on, but is begging for a complete Afterword section to fill in the gaps as more information on the North is now available. BTW, there is a great Chronology at the end of the book which makes it easy to follow the play-by-play and would be a student's dream in helping research information.


Tet!: The Turning Point in the Vietnam War
Tet!: The Turning Point in the Vietnam War
by Don Oberdorfer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $30.00
47 used & new from $7.54

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great explanation of a military victory/politcal defeat, January 8, 2003
Contrary to the previous reviewer, I think Oberdorfer tackled the Tet subject comprehensively and covered all bases in explaining the turning point of the Vietnam conflict.
Oberdorfer begins the book by fully explaining what really happened at the American Embassy that fateful January night in 1968. Although most Americans today believe the Embassy was 'overrun,' Oberdorfer explains the true story of a platoon of Viet Cong blasting a hole in the wall to enter the compound but never being able to enter the Chancery building. I believe the reason Oberdorfer starts his book off with the subject is to dispel the 'overrun' myth of VC running through the building capturing documents and, even though it was a minor military skirmish compared to the street-by-street fighting in Hue and siege at Khe Sanh, the American Embassy attack was the paramount event which woke America up to what was happening in SE Asia.
Also, the previous reviewer complains the book focuses too much on the politics and media coverage of Tet, not realizing Oberdorfer's main point of the book is that Tet might have been won on the battlefield, but it was an epic defeat on American televisions and in world newspapers. The Tet offensive's primary aim was to cause political upheaval in America to give the Communists a victory exactly like what defeated the French a decade earlier. In a 1947 tract by Hanoi called "The Resistance Will Win", it states "...as a result of the long war the enemy troops become weary and discouraged, and are tormented by home-sickness. The French economy and finances are exhausted; supplying the army is difficult, the French people do not want the war to go on any longer. The movement against the diehards in France goes stronger and more fierce. World opinion severely condemns France...world movement for peace and democracy scores great successes, etc. ...
Subtract France from the quote and insert the US and there is the political reasoning for starting the General Offensive. Also, Tet not only caused US and ARVN troop casualties, but it ended a presidential administration and forever changed how the news is presented to the American public by the media. A study of Tet not involving the White House, LBJ, McNamara, Clifford, or for that matter Cronkite, the Wall Street Journal and Time, would be like reading about the light bulb and failing to mention Edison.
Oberdorfer's does a great job balancing his information by devoting whole chapters to subjects like the history of Vietnam, pre-Tet America, the shockwave that hit the US after the attack, the 'shot seen around the world' of the Saigon police chief shooting a VC prisoner on the street, the military disaster of Tet to the Viet Cong ranks, the battle of Hue and a section on one of the most decisive months in US history - March 1968.
My only gripe is that the book was first written in 1971, which interestingly gives the reader an unusual perspective as the war was still going on, but is begging for a complete Afterword section to fill in the gaps as more information on the North is now available. BTW, there is a great Chronology at the end of the book which makes it easy to follow the play-by-play and would be a student's dream in helping research information.


Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
by Joseph J. Ellis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.93
1111 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hooked on Phonics-Collegiate style, November 27, 2002
What "Founding Brothers" is - an engrossing glimpse into selected incidents and topics during the early years of America with little rhyme or reason as to what Ellis chooses as his focus.
What "Founding Brothers" is not - a concise and complete tome on the early history of America in regards to its politics, diplomacy, military campaigns or economy.
Although Ellis tells the reader on the first page of his "Acknowledgments" section that he only wanted to write a "modest-sized account," on early American history, I feel he narrowed his focus too tightly. Although he covers the few subjects he opts for masterly, when I finished the book I found myself asking for more and considering it's only 250 pages long, it definitely could have been a bit longer to fill in the gaps.
A perfect analogy on this book is included in the beginning, where Ellis quotes Lytton Strachey about rowing over a great ocean of material and lowering down into it, here and there, a little bucket and bringing up a characteristic speciman to be examined with a careful curiousity.
What Ellis does examine (Burr-Hamilton feud, Adams-Jefferson relationship, the 18th century compromise on slavery, Madison as Jefferson's understudy, etc.) is written in such an unrivaled scholarly style that it still is well worth reading. And it's a pretty easy read for the average non-fiction reader, though I recommend to keep a dictionary handy as you're bound to stumble across a few intellectual words you won't know but can later drop in conversation to impress colleagues.
- For interested readers, there is a program based on this book (Ellis does some commentary work) that airs about twice a year on the History Channel so keep an eye out for it.


No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II
by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.30
641 used & new from $0.01

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not typical fare for history readers, November 20, 2002
Although I am an avid history reader, I'd recommend Goodwin's "No Ordinary Time," to most readers. Goodwin does not write in the typical non-fiction writing-style by not continually delivering fact after fact. She will dig into the story, isn't afraid to offer opinions from other historians, will often share a first-person quote from letters, interviews, etc.; and will not shy from surmising her own hypotheses on the subject matter.
Although the book solely focuses on the Roosevelts during World War II with only passing mention to the New Deal and the Depression, the main body of the text is on the relationship between FDR and Eleanor and their concerted effort to win the war while bettering the American way of life at the same time. With Franklin, Goodwin examines his determination to beat fascism, both before the United States' involvement and after Germany declared war on the US. Key players such as Harry Hopkins, Henry Stimson, George Marshall, Winston Churchill and others make continual appearances in the book.
Looking at Eleanor, Goodwin concentrates on her work with the OCD and her persistence at improving civil rights and women's issues. Goodwin does not shy from entering family business, and writes at length about FDR and Eleanor's unconventional relationship, their troubles with their parents, children and in-laws and FDR's early-marriage affair. Goodwin even tackles the controversial topic of Eleanor's alleged alternative lifestyle in very good taste by not gossiping but delivering factual information without jumping to conclusions.
Missing from the book is any military view of the war so it helps to know some of the background of the WWII military theaters but is not necessary to still enjoy "No Ordinary Time." (I'd recommend Robert Leckie's "Delivered From Evil" for that aspect). The diplomacy view is also lacking as, for example, Goodwin spends more time on the controversy of Eleanor not going to the Tehran Conference, than the actual issues at the conference itself.
That said, I still enjoyed this Pulitzer Prize-winning book and was quite impressed with the amount of information I learned on one of America's greatest president's and the effort this nation put forth on the home front to win the war.
- In case any readers of "No Ordinary Time," become interested in the colorful Winston Churchill, I highly recommend William Raymond Manchester's "The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940." Although it covers Churchill before the war, it is written in much the same fashion of Goodwin's book in that it covers both the daily life as well as the international issues. Sadly, Manchester passed on before finishing his third installment in this incredible series.


The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years
The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years
by Bernard Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.75
326 used & new from $0.01

127 of 134 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Howard Zinn approach to Levant a bit too brief, May 8, 2002
Contrary to previous reviewers, this book is NOT banal or dull. Bernard Lewis is the preeminent English-writing historian on the world's powderkeg region of today and has a wealth of knowledge on the area and its culture. For the average non-fiction reader, the text is not tough to read and has quite a bit of life to it, but if all you read is Oprah's Book of the Month, it may be a bit tedious.
However, I can only give it three stars because, although it's subtitled "A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years," it was a bit too brief for my literary palate. I anxiously devoured the work eager to learn about Suleyman the Magnificent and Ataturk; instead I learned that the eggplant comes from the Middle East and a peach, at one time, was known as a Persian apple.
And that's my biggest gripe with the book. Lewis titles it as an overview of the region giving prospective readers the idea it will cover famous Middle East leaders, its countries and their origins, and the timeless religious conflicts. Instead, the book takes a Howard Zinn approach to the region and covers in great detail the inhabitants and their religion, culture, economy, social castes, judicial systems, agriculture, etc. Over one-third of the book entitled "Cross-Sections" is on this subject matter, And although informative, it is impertinent to the political history of the Muslim world, which the title of the book implies it is about.
The only historical figure garnering a significant amount of ink in the book is, for obvious reasons, Muhammad. Lewis' basic explanation of the Muslim religion in his section "The Dawn and Noon of Islam," is an engrossing look into one of the major religions of the world and would be quite helpful to someone who is new to the subject matter. Lewis has a number of other books solely devoted to the subject matter but gives a good overview in this work.
With the large sections on culture and religion, there is little room left in the book on the political history itself. Lewis gives brief synopsis' on Iran's early history and the reign of the Ottoman Empire but little else. The 20th century info is contained in just 40 pages at the end of the last chapter.
Lewis does deserve extra credit for two helpful tools in the back with the reader-friendly chronology and informative maps.
In conclusion, ask yourself what most interests you as the reader about the Middle East? If one is interested in the culture and everyday life, this book is a great start. If one wants the political history about the rulers and military leaders, I'd look elsewhere.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 14, 2009 9:02 AM PDT


1066: The Year of the Conquest
1066: The Year of the Conquest
by David Armine Howarth
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.43
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81 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging book on precarious year in English history, April 25, 2002
To put it simply, Howarth's book "1066, The Year of the Conquest" is a biased, factually-based, historical account of the year 1066 in England, encompassing both the plights of the royals AND the common people of the island, along with the English's neighbors to the south and east. If you are looking for the play-by-play of the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror's reign in England, you've come to the wrong book, my friend.
Howarth examines just that profound year in English history, and does not go in full detail about what happened before or after 1066.
Like other reviewers, I did notice Howarth's unabashed bias to the English in this work, but his non-objective feelings don't overwhelm the text. A jovial example is that not once, is the Norman king referred to as "William the Conqueror;" in fact, he is introduced to the reader as "William the Bastard."
That aside, I had a splendid time reading this short work (only 200 pages). Howarth's writing style keeps the reader engrossed and he has a gift of turning the historical facts into a readable and impassioned story. One thing I really liked was the absence of footnotes. In the text, Howarth will cite the text he is using, what biases it may have, and how accurate it might be with regards to first-person accounts, years after 1066 it was written, etc. This citation style works extremely well in the text and I wish more authors would use it.
The best part of the book might be the first chapter where Howarth chooses a random village and takes a Howard Zinn approach at it by explaining what the common folk did at that time, what they ate, where they lived, etc. It really gives a reader a better understanding of the Middle Ages, after all, not everyone got to live in a castle. Another nice feature of the book is the friendly maps. Although there are only six maps, they are easy to read, they include all the places Howarth is writing about, and show the routes of the invasions.
I would recommend this to any casual history reader or to anyone who has viewed the Bayeux Tapestry. Instead of trying to decipher the pictures of the tapestry, by reading this book you will get the full story and it will make it easier in seeing what the tapestry is trying to depict.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2011 8:29 AM PST


Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766
Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766
by Fred Anderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.93
104 used & new from $2.69

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A layout that's every history reader's dream!, March 28, 2002
After reading "Crucible of War," my first question was "Why can't other history authors lay out books as reader-friendly as Fred Anderson?!"
Although Anderson's writing is not as interesting as Robert Massie and his information contains a few gaps in it, the beauty of this book is the layout. It has everything an avid history reader could ever want.
The first thing that will catch your eye is the maps in the first few pages. Anderson has included nine maps covering the areas he discusses in the 862-page book (746 pages of text) showing key cities, rivers, forts, easy-to-read topography, and indian tribal lands. Finally, a book where the reader doesn't have to scramble for an atlas every other page or use another book's maps to figure out where things are. Every key item Anderson hits on will be easily labeled in his maps. The only thing missing on the maps are troop movements, but with his descriptions in the text, it's easy to figure out where everybody is.
The second thing about the layout is the quick referencing tools. Anderson has divided the book into 10 parts and 74 chapters. Before each part, he gives a one paragraph summary as to what the major events are in the section. Before each chapter, he lists the month and date in which the chapter's topic takes place, giving the reader an easy chronology to follow throughout the book.
Another feature is the illustrations. Anderson has included over 50 illustrations of people and places spread throughout the book which gives the reader a view into what the towns looked like and the style of dress in the period. The pictures also help to put a face on the major players in the book.
The book can also be an outstanding reference tool for college students. Aside from the quick references within the chapters, in the back is an 85-page Notes section and a 25-page Index. The Notes section contains more information on the chapter footnotes and where Anderson got the information in case the reader would like to further delve into the topic. What more could a student ask for?
As for Anderson's writing, I found it to be generally easy reading (in comparison to other history works) that has a wealth of information. He's very complete in discussing his selected topics and I never found his work to be dragging. And although he skips back-and-forth between the colonies and the continent, it never was confusing.
If there was one thing missing, it was more coverage of the war in Europe. Anderson includes information on who was fighting whom and who won which battle, but he does not go into the depth of the battles like he does for the conflicts in the colonies.
The last section of the book covers the impending crisis that was brewing for the British in North America. It reminded me very much of Massie's "Dreadnought," where it covers the escalating tensions, but very appropriately stops short of getting into the actual armed conflict.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in colonial history, the founding of the United States, or military history. And if you're a college student, you will not find a better reference work!


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