Friday, 16 April 2010

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (book)

An absolutely fantastic book, my only regret is that I didn't read it sooner. Oh, and that I haven't yet managed to find the next one along at the library. But other than those slight handicaps, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Well written, enjoyable, far more depth and intrigue than in the film. I have a sneaking suspicion I'm going to be writing an essay on this book, about how classical things (in this case, classical mythology) are still popular in modern books/movies. Either this or Clash of the Titans, which looks really exciting. Any rate, the characterisation was part of what made this book so great, along with a fascinating plot. Much better than the movie, although I certainly enjoyed it. To be honest, I would recommend you watch the film first so that the book doesn't spoil the film--the book's too good to be spoilt :).

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Bloody April

Bloody April: Slaughter in the skies over Arras 1917 is an absolutely fantastic book. Gripping, well argued and with a great use of primary sources to build the arguements, it depicts how 'Bloody April' when the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) suffered huge percentage losses primarily due to using inadequate machinery while still pursuing an aggressive policy were not the result of 'lions led by donkeys', but rather the losses were acceptable in the face of what they achieved. He describes an aspect of the air war that I previously knew little about--that of the photographic reconaissance missions and how this was crucial to the ground planners. He argues that it is important while looking at the air war to never forget that it was largely dictated by conditions and necessities created by the ground war and does a great job of putting it into context. In fact, if you're interested primarily in the land war of WWI I would still highly recommend this book as it puts the whole of Allied strategy in early 1917 under scrutiny and does not just deal with the RFC but the linked issues of gunnery and ground offensives. The dogfights are covered within the larger picture, but I suppose if you're looking for a book primarily on the scout fighters, that's not the largest portion of the book. However, it does give a good explanation of the procurement of aircraft (they must have been so angry that striking workers delayed new aeroplanes significantly and meant that pilots had to go up with inferior aircraft), and dogfights are described in the words of those who flew in them, as well as the growing number of kills attained by the Red Baron, the problems with claims made by pilots (apparently, the Germans were far better at checking kills than the British and many British aces may have had somewhat inflated scores while the Red Baron's kills have almost all been matched up with losses from the RFC). In short, there's a very comprehensive coverage of just about every aspect of the RFC and the RNAS during early 1917 in the Arras sector.

Not only, however, is this a book with a good line of argument and a good use of supporting evidence, it's also utterly gripping as a reading book. I read it in (pretty much) one sitting on the ferry back from France, and apparently my mum tried to tell me that we were sailing past some battleships but I was so engrossed I wasn't even aware of this. It's not often that non-fiction is quite that unputdownable, and while I suspect the fact that I do have a greater than normal interest in this period played a part, it cannot be denied that this is a great book. Even if you're not particularly into aircraft. Balanced and enjoyable.

The Battle of the Atlantic

A well written and interesting account of the battle, it had one major flaw. Admittedly, it wasn't really the books fault--the information was only declassified after this book was published--but it does highlight the problems of using books published only a short time after the events they describe (I guess I count fifteen years after the end of WWII a short time in this case). In fact, if there's a more recent edition with an extra chapter or so and some modification to the rest of the text, I would highly recommend getting it. The classified information absent from this book was the cracking of the Enigma code, which had a huge impact upon the Battle of the Atlantic. In this account, the use of Enigma was hidden under that of High Frequency Direction Finding equipment or Huff-duff, which enabled u-boats using their radios to be detected. As radio was a key part of the wolf pack tactics, it was obviously of use, but the ship-based ones were difficult to use and not introduced until later in the war.

It describes in detail the tactics used by both sides, and illustrates with interesting examples of convoys sunk in convoy. A great book, with the exception that it's not quite complete. Read in conjunction with a book on the Enigma code (like Station X, more on that in a sec or two), it does give a useful account of the Battle of the Atlantic--one of the most vital campaigns in WWII. Without success in the Atlantic, Britain would be starved out of the war, without success in the Atlantic, Britain could not be turned into an oversized military camp prior to D-Day as there was no way troops could be sent across an insecure Atlantic. Thus, without the Allies winning the Battle of the Atlantic, Britain would have been completely unable to fight on. Interestingly at the start of the war, despite the success achieved by German u-boats in WWI, nobody seemed to grasp that the u-boats would be a threat once more. The British believed that the use of convoys (introduced this time right at the start of the war, rather than when shipping losses all but crippled the country) and Asdic would nullify the threat posed by the u-boat, and Hitler didn't really seem that fussed about the Navy at all and particularly not about the u-boat arm. It was only when he saw the spectacular success of the sinking of the Royal Oak in harbour that he allocated a greater amount of money to build more u-boats.