REVIEW: IRA Terror on Britain’s Streets 1939–1940 (2021)

A Book by Dick Kirby

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It is little known today that, in January 1939, the IRA launched a bombing campaign, codenamed The S – or Sabotage – Plan on mainland England. With cynical self-justification, they announced that it was not their intention to harm human life but in just over a year, more than 300 explosive devices resulted in 10 deaths, 96 injuries and widespread devastation. London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and many other towns and cities were targeted.

Description

It hasn’t been too long since I read another book by Pen & Sword Books on the so-called “Troubles” that scarred Northern Ireland for nearly a century. That book was more concentrated on the large flare-ups in terrorist tit-for-tat fighting in and around the 1960’s and 1970’s, so I jumped at the chance to read IRA Terror on Britain’s Streets 1939–1940 as it concerned a period that was briefly glossed over in that previous book. Technically not part of “The Troubles” as a whole, you can see the seeds being planted in this period that would later bloom into a full-blown war.

The narration of this book is very informative, although it doesn’t strive to be very neutral (if one can be in a situation like this). Being a former Detective that worked directly in Northern Ireland for a period, one can assume that Kirby wouldn’t be too excited to sing the virtues of men that would have wanted him dead. With his unique insight on the situation, and both an acerbic wit and self deprecating humor – this book is very addictive and sometimes humorous despite the dark topic.

I think my biggest takeaways from the book are some of the origins of The Troubles, even dating back into the nineteenth century. I had no idea that The IRA sprang from groups like the Fenian Brotherhood and the fact that it was originally an American organization that repatriated back into Ireland to instigate an uprising was interesting. I also had no idea that some versions of the IRA had ties to Hitler during the Second World War.

Just like with many books from this publisher that I have been reading lately, I quite enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in true crime books, Ireland, or World War II history. It covers a topic that not many of my American friends, with me being an American myself, would know about.

REVIEW: The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 (2021)

A book by by Colin Turbett

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NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Continuing my late winter history book dive, I’ve decided to get into a topic I know a bit about, but from an entirely different perspective than what I’ve come accustomed to. Being from the American school system, we all know that the USSR were part of the Allied Forces in WWII, however, there was always an explicit attempt by textbook writers to downplay their involvement and champion US-Centric takes on the war. It’s a shame since Russia carried that war largely on its own shoulders. I enjoy books by Pen and Sword because they are generally VERY in depth on a specific topic, and challenge y comfort zone on what I think I know; The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 is one such book.

This book can be seen, in some ways, as an analysis of the Communist Party of Great Britain – going from Nazi Sympathizers early on, due to Hitler’s initial alliance with the USSR, to being “neutral” seeing the war as a Capitalist charade, to finally being pro war, and seeing the war as a fight against Fascism. This secondary narrative is illustrated masterfully by the authors descriptions, and examples of official party literature in his own collection. Its not unheard of to see politics change at such a whiplash pace, but we always see COMMUNISM through the eyes of decades of State-led propaganda, even today. Its interesting to see just how fluid it was.

While the Anglo-Soviet Alliance was mostly born out of necessity, with both sides not being 100 percent on board at any given time, it was a testament of what good can come from a pragmatic alliance during wartime. Whether it be the UKs sandbagging and delay at opening a second front to pull pressure out of Belarus and Ukraine, or Stalin committing a political Genocide in Poland and covering it up, only to be found out then flat out lying about it, neither the USSR or UK were “the good guys” in many ways. neither side trusted each other politically, but all accounts from soldier level are that everyone got along for the most part. It’s a shame to see how everything ultimately fell apart, and in many ways we aligned ourselves with Fascists far too easily with fears of making everyday Germans too mad at us. This is a common thing that still happens today that always upsets me – being tolerant of intolerance ultimately leads to intolerance, but I digress. Who knows where we’d be without the Cold War, good or bad.

Colin Turbett did a excellent job with this book, his insight and items from his personal collection regarding the CPGB and its relationship to wartime politics, was very interesting and paints of vivid picture of this period both internationally and domestically in the UK. I was most taken aback by the general feeling that Russia was this unsung hero of the war (until deemed otherwise), being the focal point of fundraising drives, and pro-USSR charity events. This was very thought provoking, and runs counter to my notions of where Russia sat within the media at the time. Perhaps people were willing to look the other way to a maniacal monster like Stalin, much like how we do now with many of our “allies”, but the whole thing comes across as if the UK somewhat used the USSR and perhaps they used the UK.

Another solid offering from Pen and Sword, highly recommended.

REVIEW: Titanic: ‘Iceberg Ahead’ The Story of the Disaster By Some of those Who Were There (2001)

A book by by James W Bancroft

Book Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

It’s been a long while since I read a book on the Titanic, as aside from a ton of whackadoo conspiracy stuff I was always of the mind that everything that could have been said had been said. Perhaps ignoring looking more into the material was a mistake because I quite enjoyed reading this book. I’m not surprised as I absolutely loved being able to visit a local museum exhibition around a decade or so ago that used props from the James Cameron film show what the ship was like, seeing that full-sized replicas were built (I believe the full museum is in Branson, Missouri now, this was a traveling thing). The reason I enjoyed it were the person stories, and the points of view from the handful of survivors.

That’s basically what this book is, it tells the story of the sinking of the Titanic, from early bad omens all the way up to the aftermath, but its sold through personal correspondence and accounts of the very people that were on the ship, organized in a linear way so that every bit of the trip is explained. Its an interesting way to piece a book like this together, and I appreciate the author doing it this way vs telling us the accepted “this is what happened” version of the story. It was particularly heartbreaking to read letters basically saying “The boats 100% unsinkable, I’ve never felt more safe in my life!” mailed from the last port before the boat went towards its water grave in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

I particularly enjoyed a section about a man who was apparently so drunk that he somehow survived the sinking by wandering out onto the ship as it was listing to the side and swam around until the Carpathia showed up. In actuality it was less ridiculous as he hung halfway onto a lifeboat, held by a friend, but the descriptions make it sound like Mr. Magoo obliviously avoiding certain doom. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the conspiracies that yellow newspapers started printing after the disaster – like ones involving Captain Smith sightings. to me, this shows that nothing ever changes and gullible people are eternal.

The book is a fairly quick read and is split into two halves. Part one is the chronology of the entire disaster, and the second half are short biographies of the people involved alive or dead. Throughout the “main” bit of the book names sometimes have asterisks next to them, meaning that the author has included historical information to look at. There are also photographs and references in the back. All-in-all its well researched and well put together.

My only gripe with this book is that information is sometimes duplicated when jumping between accounts, its somewhat jarring when it happens and made me think that I was tired and reading the same line multiple times. Its a small gripe, and I understand why it happened, but I wonder if that could have been addressed.

While I’m not going to jump headlong into Titanic Mania like some did a while back (The anniversary especially) I think I have a new appreciation or understanding for what these unfortunate folks went through. It makes me want to go and see that big museum down in Branson one of these days, just to see what else I can learn.

Sci-Fi Book Club 2 – Frankenstein Chapter Two

lightning-strikes-tree

This week we are continuing our read-through of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (originally 1818, 1831) as Written by Mary Shelley. I missed posting this last Saturday due to being tired after rocking Planet Comicon for three amazing days! If you want to follow along, I am using the 1831 edition of the text. The book is in the public domain as far as I know, so if you don’t have a tangible copy handy, there are many sites that host the work for free. Feel free to add to comments, ask questions, or suggest future books for this series!

During the last edition of “Sci-Fi Book Club” a great topic was brought up in the discussion section. A reader named benmc47 posted:

“One thing I am curious about – is lightning really involved in bringing the Creature to life? I thought I recalled that the novel didn’t give a description of the actual method that Frankenstein used, and that the lightning was a film invention. It’s been years though, so maybe I’m imagining that?”

 

I had hastily mentioned “lightning” being the catalyst for the monster’s creation at one point in my ramblings, and realized that my mind had definitely made a few leaps of logic that I didn’t explain. The truth is that within the book itself, we are left to use our imagination as to the actual method of the monster’s creation. There are no scenes of a frantic Victor Frankenstein hoisting his patchwork corpse onto the roof adorned with lightning rods – that is purely movie license. But lightning, more specifically – electricity, is not completely absent from the work. Today we will look at Victor’s scientific upbringing, and how that probably leads him down the path of creating the monster in a way that isn’t too far from the method depicted in the films. It could even be said that the film depiction was simply a “modernized” version of what was in the book.

Most of the somewhat brief chapter two concentrates on Victor’s young life and how two thunderstorms made him the very man that he would later become. At a very young age, Victor was not what most would call a “normal boy” rather than playing and doing other childish things, he became obsessed with metaphysics and obtuse ideas like the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. He looked on at what Elizabeth and Henry were up to and somehow saw himself as superior. He states that his family did not really echo his yearning to answer all of life’s questions, so he went on a quest for all of the knowledge that he could attain.

 

“My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.”

 

While forced to stay inside during a horrible storm at age 13, Victor began reading old science textbooks in his house, to pass the time. As a result Victor became obsessed with the works of three men: Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus. Victor read these medieval scripts more-or-less secretly since he discovered that they were very much out-of-vogue in modern times (his father ridiculed his interest somewhat). All three authors were, in fact, noteworthy alchemists that were looking for a way to create eternal life. It was a wide held legend that Magnus was even able to create a fabled “philosopher’s stone” something supposedly able to transmute base metals into gold.

 

 

“When I returned home my first care was to procure the whole works of this author, and afterwards of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus. I read and studied the wild fancies of these writers with delight; they appeared to me treasures known to few besides myself. I have described myself as always having been imbued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature. In spite of the intense labour and wonderful discoveries of modern philosophers, I always came from my studies discontented and unsatisfied. Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth. Those of his successors in each branch of natural philosophy with whom I was acquainted appeared even to my boy’s apprehensions as tyros engaged in the same pursuit.”

 

At age 15, Victor witnessed something that basically changed his life forever – the destructive nature of electricity in the form of a second lightning storm:

 

“As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed.”

 

A_Galvanised_Corpse

During this thunderstorm, he learns of a new scientific theory, Galvanism. The book quickly glosses over this, assuming the reader knows every intricacy of this topic, but this inclusion is VERY important because this is most likely the sort of experiment performed later in the story. To summarize, Galvanism is named after the scientist Luigi Galvani, who investigated the effect of electricity on dissected animals in the 1780s and 1790s. His nephew Giovanni Aldini took this even further, believing that one could re-animate the dead using electricity made with chemical reactions – something called “electro-stimulation”. His most famous public demonstration of the electro-stimulation technique was when he made a recently hanged criminal twitch and writhe around, a feat so alarming that one man reportedly died of fright.

This is basically Frankenstein’s origin story – after an upbringing of reading alchemical texts and occultist medical books, Victor is obsessed with learning the meaning of life and how to go past the limits of what it means to be human and enter nature. The theme of “lightning” as the embodiment of nature comes up many times in this book. It can be said that controlling nature is a pursuit of science. How often do hear about scientist trying to create weather, or alter it, to benefit humanity? perhaps as a weapon? One could surmise that control over nature would lead to omnipotence, perhaps Godhood. This was even a hot topic at the time of Shelley, as we were ever so close to being able to harness electricity.

Frankenstein is forced to pursue what sees as more mundane pursuits such as mathematics and natural sciences, but he never gives up on what he learned the night nature utterly destroyed a tree right in front of him. Perhaps if nature can remove life, it can bring it back? So the question still stands – “Did Frankenstein use electricity in his experiment?” – I believe so. The book goes to such great lengths showing all of the lightning symbolism at every turn, I think it would be foolish to assume that he did anything other than a mixture of alchemy and galvanism. Perhaps we’ll revisit chapter two when we make it to the actual creation of the creature, just to see if my theory still holds up.

Join me again next week for the third Chapter Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus