Saturday, December 26, 2020

My Recent Reading List (December 2020)

Being that I'm a high-school teacher, I get a lot more time off than the average bear. This past week-ish, I've been using my free time to either catch up on reading or take notes from books I've read previously but had sitting around for weeks or months.

Here's a partial list of books I've read, books I'm reading, and books I've heard about and am trying to get hold of. If any of these sound interesting, please buy through Amazon because these are Associates links. :)

Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War-This is about how the South was far from united during the (American) Civil War. It makes the very strong case that if you combined the poor whites and the slaves, the majority of people in the South actually opposed secession, and many people who had supported it became disillusioned as the war went on owing to the mistreatment of the common people by the Confederate government, widespread poverty at home, draft-dodging by the rich and the plantation owners, etc. This is prime research material for the sequels to Battle for the Wastelands, since this world is roughly between the Civil War and WWI in terms of technology and social development (with the exception of slavery) and the late-war Confederacy provides a good example of how a society during this time period could collapse internally.

(The Confederacy also made some obvious mistakes that Grendel, the Wastelands series' Big Bad, can avoid. For example, the planters promised to grow food crops to feed the Confederate armies...but instead grew cotton and tobacco for the mountains of cash they could make. Although the cotton trade helped the Confederacy secure armaments and other useful materials from abroad--the book doesn't touch on that--it also contributed to starvation at home that prompted riots in the cities and desertion from the armies. Grendel, who's been a soldier since he was fifteen and is now in his mid fifties, will have the experience to know this is a bad idea and the dictatorial power and strength of will to make sure this doesn't happen.)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind-A condensed history of the human race I got as a birthday present but only now just got around to reading. Very simple and to the point, very detailed. Some interesting ideas about the nature of human thought processes versus that of our extinct kindred like the Neanderthals and how that extends to things like the establishment of communities beyond the tribe (i.e. a nation, a religion, an economic system, etc). I'd already read the author's book Homo Deus, but not this one.

Artemis-Another birthday book I've only just gotten started on. Crime and shenanigans in the first city on the Moon. :) This is by the author of The Martian, which I found in a free-book box but haven't read yet.

A People's History of the Civil War-This covers a lot of the same ground as Bitterly Divided (it is, after all, by the same author), but also includes the experiences of Native Americans out west and poor people, white and black, in the North. Basically there was a very strong anti-conscription movement in the North, which is typically only discussed in the context of the New York City draft riots. Given how I've noted the steampunk era was full of class conflict, I can mine this for information as well.

Stars In Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign-In Battle for the Wastelands and its companion novella "Son of Grendel," most of the action is centered on a platoon (30-40 men) or company (100 men). The largest combat sequences in Battle involve forces that are perhaps a brigade (3,000 to 5,000 men) in size. Things scale up in the sequels significantly. I've also requested author Shelby Foote's novel about the Battle of Shiloh from the library to similarly pillage, since a novel would go into more detail about the experiences of a man on the ground so to speak.

A Nest of Corsairs: The Fighting Karamanlis of Tripoli-This is an older book about a pirate dynasty that ruled Tripoli as the (nominal) subordinates of the Ottoman sultan, but it has some truly vivid descriptions of the environment of Ottoman Tripoli that I copied wholesale into my notes to use as inspiration for sequences in the Wastelands world involving the Iron Desert as well as a "flintlock fantasy" set in a fantasyland version of the early modern Mediterranean. Although it's old-fashioned in some of its language, it's a very interesting read.

Dominion: How The Christian Revolution Remade The World-The Cobb County library has it but the Atlanta-Fulton library doesn't, so I requested an interlibrary loan. Since those are closed down right now, who knows when I'll actually read it. This book discusses the Christianization of Rome and the resulting effects on both Roman and broader Western society. Based on the reviews, the author (although not a Christian and sometimes very critical of Christianity) makes the argument that this improvement has been broadly positive.

Sea Stories: My Life In Special Operations-This is an autobiography of Admiral William McRaven, a longtime Navy SEAL who ultimately planned the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. A lot of interesting stuff about the military in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, plus some of the Wastelands books involve dirigible raids with assassination in mind, so I can use this as a model.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic In History-I haven't read this yet, but I have put it on hold from the library. It's about the Spanish Flu, which spread like COVID-19 but killed far worse, and its effect on science, world politics, etc. There are a bunch of people ahead of me in the line for it at the library, so a lot of people are seeing the COVID-19 parallels.

Civil War Commando: William Cushing and the Daring Raid to Sink The Ironclad CSS Albemarle-I vaguely remember reading about this episode as a child in one of my grandparents' Civil War books, but I recently heard about this on the History Unplugged podcast. This sounds like a pretty cool episode in and of itself, plus it's more research material for Wastelands. The Atlanta-Fulton library doesn't have it and interlibrary loans are shut down, so I might have to bite the bullet and buy it.

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