Nuggets to Neutrinos

I spent most of my school years living near, but not in, a company town: Lead, South Dakota.

The company was the Homestake Mining Company, and their prize possession was the Homestake Gold Mine.

I’ve walked through forests owned by the company. I’ve seen its buildings on back country roads and logging trucks on the way to the company’s sawmill.

We went on school field trips to see the mile-long, above-ground milling and processing of the gold ore.

I even made several visits to the house of one of the mine superintendents listed in the appendix. (His son was a friend of mine.)

The very landscape around Lead would change between trips home post-college as Homestake restarted surface mining and built large conveyer belts and tunnels to move ore about.

However, neither I nor any of my family actually worked for the company.

I wanted an historical context for all this, I wanted to know what all those Homestake buildings were for, and I wanted all the book’s pictures, so I picked this one up.

Review: Nuggets to Neutrinos: The Homestake Story, Steven T. Mitchell, 2009.Nuggets to Neutrinos

Mitchell’s book reminds me of one of those old James Michener novels with a place name for a title.

Like those novels, Mitchell starts his tale back in the Precambrian past with a look at the geology of the Black Hills of South Dakota where the Homestake Mine was located. He then talks about Indian settlement in the area and early white exploration of it. The various reconnaissance expeditions the U. S. Army mounted in the upper Great Plains from 1853 to 1874 get a chapter as do early explorations by white prospectors. The Black Hills gold rush has a chapter.

White expropriation of the Black Hills, granted to the Sioux Nation by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, is covered. Mitchell gives an even handed, yet concise, summary of white-Indian relations in the context of the Black Hills and the treaty violations on both sides and resulting wars.

It’s only after five chapters and 133 pages that Mitchell gets to the discovery of the Homestake lode. The outcropping of rock which provided the “lead” to the gold ore gave its name to Lead, South Dakota where the mine operated from 1876 to 2001. Continue reading

Somme: 1 July 1916

I read this one on the 100th anniversary of its title.

Yes, I’m catching up on some reviews.

This is an Osprey Publishing book. If you have spent any time in wargaming shops or reading military history, you’ve probably seen their work. They are chock-full of maps and color drawings for those painting wargame miniatures and models and offer concise yet detailed looks at their subjects. Scholarly monographs for popular audiences basically.

Before this one, I think I’ve only read one of their books. It was on Roman forts along the Saxon Shore of England – an interest I developed after accidentally wandering into one, Portchester Castle, on the way to Royal Armouries Museum at Fort Nelson. (Those familiar with Portchester’s geography may wonder how such an accident could possibly occur. It’s a long story.)

I’ve inherited a bunch of Osprey books on the English Civil War (not a particular interest of mine) from one of my companions on that expedition, and this book I got when a friend was purging his library.

Review: Somme: 1 July 1916: Tragedy and Triumph, Andrew Robertshaw, 2006.Somme

This book is the 169th entry in Osprey Publishing’s in Campaign series.

It lays out, in the first 41 pages, the context of the Somme campaign: the events in World War One that preceded it, the state of the opposing armies, strategic objectives of the opposing sides, and looks at the opposing commanders.

The rest of the 96 pages look at the first day of the Battle of the Somme including the experiences of soldiers on both sides. The concluding pages look at the battlefield today.

It’s hardly my first exposure to the Battle of the Somme, a battle that looms as large as any in the memory of Englishmen for its greatest single day slaughter of the British Army.

The book has a couple of points that stuck out for me.

First is the “triumph” of the title. There were Allied successes on the first day. The British XIII Corps took its objectives including Montauban. The French army also got as far as second-line German positions. Continue reading

The Crusade of Richard I

It’s been awhile since I read a full book on the Crusades.

I picked up an interest in the subject in college after studying the Knights Templar. This was before bookstore shelves sagged under the weight of dubious Templar histories in the wake of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. (Though it was after the publication of Brown’s inspiration: Holy Blood, Holy Grail from Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.)

So, when I saw that NetGalley was giving away review copies of this old history, I picked one up.

By the way, whenever King Richard’s name comes up, Steely Dan’s “Kings” comes to mind:

Now they lay his body down

Sad old men who run this town.

I still recall the way

He led the charge and saved the day.

Blue blood and rain

I can hear the bugle playin’.

We seen the last of Good King Richard.

Ring out the past his name lives on.

Roll out the bones and raise up your pitcher.

Raise up your glass to Good King John!

Review: The Crusade of Richard I, T. A. Archer, 1898, 2016.crusade-of-king-richard-i

A good book, an interesting and very readable compilation of primary sources about the Third Crusade, what we would now call a sourcebook, and I’d recommend it to anyone curious about the subject.

This was part of a 19th century publisher to put together learned but popular histories for the English public, and Archer went on to write several entries in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Archer’s footnotes are valuable in annotating the confusing similarities of names and titles, providing alternate names for places, correcting mistakes in dates, and even trying to locate where certain settlements in Outremer were.

The famous stories from the Third Crusade are all here. Saladin (or his brother Saphadin) really did send Richard a horse after the king lost his at the Crusader assault on Jaffa. Richard did have almost 3,000 Moslem captives beheaded though both English and Islam accounts support the conclusion it was not gratuitous cruelty but impatience over stalled negotiations between Saladin and Richard. (They didn’t call them hostages for nothing.) A few noble emirs were kept alive because both armies were always looking to cash in with aristocrat redemption. Continue reading

What If?

The alternate history continues with a collection of essays from various historians and popular writers, a modern sequel of sorts to If It Had Happened Otherwise.

There was a follow up volume I have not read.

Raw Feed (2004): What If?: The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, ed. Robert Cowley, 2000.what-if

“Introduction”, Robert Cowley — A cursory look at the current state of academic “counterfactual” writing, teasers for the essays in the collection, and a brief discussion of their genesis in the special tenth anniversary edition of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.

Infectious Alternatives: The Plague That Saved Jerusalem, 701 B.C.”, William H. McNeill — Not surprisingly McNeill, the historian who really first put forth the idea that disease epidemics affected many events in history, chooses a plague as his turning point. We don’t really know why the Assyrian king Sennacherib abandoned his investment of Jerusalem. We know his army suffered severe losses, and it is probable that it was due to disease. McNeill briefly sketches, in cultural and religious terms, the consequences of the Assyrians taking Jerusalem and, thereby, killing Judaism as a cultural force for good. (It really isn’t that much of a stretch. The splinter kingdom of Israel had abandoned Judaism and disappeared in 722 B.C. Several cities in Judah were taken, and the King of Judea ended up paying tribute to the Assyrians.) McNeill sees the main effect of Jerusalem being taken is that the Jewish faith looses further confidence. The unique universal monotheism of Judaism is weakened. When the Jews are taken off in the Babylonian captivity, they become just another locally centered, ethnically based faith and exert no influence on the following centuries.

A Good Night’s Sleep Can Do Wonders“, Barbara N. Porter — A very brief alternate history that imagines the possible consequences (actually, it spends most of its time recounting the historical record and not imagining alternative outcomes) of the Lydian King Gyges not getting a good night’s sleep and impatiently attacking the Cimmerians before he was ready. The Lydians don’t form an alliance with Assyria and, years later, nascent Greek culture is overwhelmed by the expanding Cimmerians. Continue reading

The Big Book of Jack the Ripper

No, I’m not a Ripperologist. I do not (often) go to Casebook.org.

But I don’t have to be a Ripperologist to know about Jack the Ripper, and neither do you. Never being caught and writing (maybe) those taunting letters to the police gave him a posthumous infamy not attained by those more vicious.

I’ve rarely gone out of my way to read about the Ripper – no nonfiction beyond some articles, a single novel and some short stories. All those, except for Robert Bloch’s The Night of the Ripper, were encountered by chance.

Ripper movies are another matter, but I don’t do movies at this blog. (For the record, my favorite Ripper films are Time After Time and Jack’s Back.)

So why did I ask Amazon to send me a review copy of an 864 page book on the subject?

Mostly because I didn’t have a copy of Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” in the house, and we were discussing it on the Deep Ones discussion group at LibraryThing. And I am mildly curious about the Ripper.

Review: The Big Book of Jack the Ripper, ed. Otto Penzler, 2016.big-book-of-jack-the-ripper

Yes, it’s a big book, 864 pages, 11 non-fiction pieces and 41 pieces of fiction, and there’s no way I’m going to mention every single entry. (And, while it’s just barely manageable in print form and nicely laid out in double columns, you may want to spare your wrists the effort and go for the kindle edition. There are no illustrations.)

This book should satisfy everyone interested in the Ripper killings. The non-fiction pieces provide the context and introduction to the historical murders. Obsessive collectors on Ripper material will find new Ripper material here. (Though I note only one parenthetical mention of a suspect I find credible, American doctor Francis Tumblety.)

The first 136 pages are taken up with the historical details of the Ripper murders and the wake he left in criminology. Continue reading

Moment of Battle

You should get some new content shortly.

Until then, here’s a retro review from April 12, 2013.

Review: Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes That Changed the World, Jim Lacy and Williamson Murray, 2013.Moment of Battle

This is the latest updating of Edward Creasy’s The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: From Marathon to Waterloo.

The battles range from Marathon in 490 BC to Operation Peach of the Iraq War in 2003. The authors opt for a specific criteria – not battles that changed the course of a war but ones that fundamentally altered the future influence of nations and cultures. Most of the time that criteria is met even if it means we get four from WWII (the Battle of Britain, Midway, Kursk, and Normandy). The inclusion of the Iraq War is, as the authors acknowledge, somewhat questionable given that history is only beginning to work out its effects. It seems there to mainly lend novelty to the latest entry in this military history sub-genre and to take advantage of the authors’ own contributions to scholarship on the war – in this case a fascinating look at Saddam Hussein’s decisions in response to the invasion of his country.

Besides the Iraq War, there are other deviations from the stated formula. The “Annus Mirabilis” chapter actually covers two 1759 battles, one on land and one on sea, that determined the British, and not the French, Empire would dominate the world and lay the groundwork for modern globalization. We get Vicksburg and not Gettysburg for the American Civil War – thus running counter to the authors’ wry observation that historians looking for a quick payday can always whip out a book on Hastings, Waterloo, or Gettysburg. (Hastings is here, though.) Continue reading

Constantine the Emperor

As usual, old stuff gets dragged out when I’m working on new stuff.

This retro review is from November 7, 2012.  (Yes, I am rapidly running out of these.)

Review: Constantine the Emperor, David Potter, 2012.Constantine the Emperor

For an emperor so late in the saga of the Roman Empire, Constantine gets a surprising amount of attention and is up there with the early Julio-Claudian emperors in inhabiting, in however misunderstood, inaccurate, and mutated form, a place in the minds of the putatively educated western public. They know he saw a vision of the cross floating in the sky, heard the words “Conquer, in my name”, and went on to win a major battle and converted to Christianity as the result. And Potter’s claim that he is father of the imperial Roman utterance most widely known, the Nicene Creed, is certainly true.

Of course, Constantine is most simply known as the man who officially made the Roman Empire Christian, and, given that he moved the imperial capital to the newly consecrated Constantinople, it’s fitting many histories of Rome end with his death though the western part of the empire limped on for another 137 years and the last vestiges died in the east in 1453.

I’m of two minds about this book. Continue reading

The Great Mortality

Surprisingly, this is the first plague book review I’ve posted.

A retro review from September 10, 2012 …

Review: The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, John Kelly, 2005.Great Mortality

If you are interested in the Black Death and have never read a general history of it, Kelly is as good a place to start as any. It’s as well-written and full of anecdote as Norman F. Cantor’s shorter In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made and has not dated as much in its biological speculations. It ranges farther in space and time than Philip Ziegler’s mostly England-bound The Black Death. While it has almost has many stats as Robert Gottfried’s The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe, it thins them out with more prose.

If you fancy yourself a bit of an amateur plague enthusiast, this book is an enjoyable read. Kelly has an eye for interesting people affected by the plague. We not only hear about Boccaccio, but Joanna Queen of Naples and Sicily, beautiful defendant in a 1348 murder trial during the height of the plague in Avignon. We trace the final days of Joan Plantagenet, daughter of Edward III, who died of the plague while traveling to take marriage vows in Spain. We hear how the vermin “boiled over like water in a simmering cauldron” when the clothes were stripped off the body of the murdered Thomas Becket.

Kelly bounces around a great deal in time and space to set the context for his plague tales. Thus, we don’t just hear about Mongol plague dead being catapulted over the walls of the Genoese colony at Caffa but also how there came to be such a settlement on the shores of the Black Sea. We don’t just hear of the murder of half of Strassbur’s Jews on Feb. 14, 1349 but how Europe’s anti-Semitism may have pushed into a deadlier form by an intra-faith dispute among Jews in the mid-13th century. We learn that the roving bands of Flagellants actually date back to a movement in 1260. Continue reading

Death Rays and the Popular Media, 1876-1939

I came across this book when researching the background behind Fröis Fröisland’s “The Man with the X-ray Eyes”, specifically the history of one Giulio Ulivi. So, when I saw this book offered later for review, I eagerly requested it.

I was not disappointed. Ulivi’s story is, in fact, a linchpin of the book, and I’ll be updating my entry for Fröisland’s story.

My inner pedant is also gratified to see that Fanning completely omits any mention of Fröisland.

Review: Death Rays and the Popular Media, 1876-1939: A Study of Directed Energy Weapons in Fact, Fiction and Film, William J. Fanning, Jr., 2015.Death Rays and the Popular Media

Let’s play a game.

Which of the three quotes below is from a piece of pulp science fiction?

… death ray that will bring down airplanes, halt tanks on the battlefields, ruin automobile motors and spread a curtain of death like the gas clouds of the recent war.

 

At one hundred kilometers, all the bullets of the soldiers, all the belts of the machine guns, all the shells loaded in the cannons, all the bombs, all the grenades, … all will explode. The blue rays will leave nothing, not even a gram of explosive …

 

Think of it as a death ray sweeping across an advancing army’s front – picture each gun sparkling like a superstatic machine, charring each soldier’s hand and arm

Not terribly obvious, is it? The answer is the last quote from Eando Binder’s “Static” published in the December 1936 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Continue reading

Faces of War

Faces of War

Something a bit different this time.

If you find yourself in Minneapolis before March 14, 2016 and have any interest in Russian history or World War One, I would highly recommend The Museum of Russian Art’s Faces of War exhibit.

It’s the third stop for the exhibit which premiered in Moscow and then went to Belgrade.

Looking at not only events on the battlefield, it also covers the home front, internal Russian politics — particularly the lives of the royal family during the war, and the war’s aftermath.

I’ve been to the Imperial War Museum (though I have not seen their revamped World War exhibit) and the National World War One Museum in Kansas City. You will see stuff here you have not seen before.

For me the high point was the actual telegrams and hand written letters exchanged by Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas as they begin to realize the apocalypse about to descend on Europe. They corresponded in English so you can see Nicholas’ agitation in his handwriting and underlinings.

Other high points:

  • Coverage of Russia’s heroic Brusilov Offensive in 1916 that vey well may have stopped a German victory at Verdun.
  • Bios and photos of individual generals.
  • Photo of a Russian submarine being launched.
  • News reel footage of Archduke Ferdinand’s visit to Sarajevo.
  • The turmoil in the Imperial Court including the Czar’s abdication speech.
  • The October 1917 suicide note of a Russian Army ensign who would not serve in the post-Revolutionary army.
  • Russian wartime bond drive and propaganda posters.

The exhibition book costs $35, and, to be honest, unless you are a hardcore World War One buff, it’s not worth it. It doesn’t capture much of the flavor of the exhibits though it does have some interesting material on United States aid to Russia before America entered the war, the growing hatred against the Czarina and Rasputin by not only regular Russians but some nobility, and the stalling of the new Russian government in making peace with the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires in 1918.

This exhibit was put together with the help of the Russian Federation and its archives. This is not the first time the Russian government released some of its archives on the war. The first, under the Soviet regime, was to embarrass capitalist countries.

This exhibit takes a fairly neutral tone on the Czar. You can perhaps dispute its claim that Russia bears no blame for the war — but you can dispute a lot of things about the beginning of the war.

Perhaps understandably, the exhibit book doesn’t even mention the word “Tannenburg” though it certainly acknowledges a military defeat at the time and also mentions Russian successes in Galicia.

Both the exhibit and accompanying book mention the Allied “Polar Bear Expedition” to Arkhangelsk. The last survivor of that expedition was Harold Gunnes who was born in Barnesville, Minnesota and died in 2003.