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A Rainbow Of Blood: The Union in Peril_An Alternate History (Britannia's Fist Trilogy)
A Rainbow Of Blood: The Union in Peril_An Alternate History (Britannia's Fist Trilogy)
by Peter G. Tsouras
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable but flawed alternate history novel, 14 May 2011
Peter Tsouras's second volume in his "Britannia's Fist" trilogy picks up near where his last one, Britannia's Fist: From Civil War to World War - An Alternate History (Britannia's Fist Trilogy), left off. Having entered the war as a result of a naval incident off the coast of Ireland, the British have occupied parts of Maine and upstate New York. Portland lies under siege, and the Royal Navy has broken the blockade of the South, though at considerable cost. Now with new life breathed into the Confederate cause, a French army marches up from Mexico to aid in the recapture of New Orleans and Lee outmaneuvers Meade to strike at Washington itself. Yet with the Copperhead rebellion broken in the Midwest, the battle-hardened Union responds to the new threats with the aid of a host of new technologies. But will it be enough to save the United States from its horde of enemies?

The American Civil War is as well-trodden a subject for alternate history as it is for military history. Yet Tsouras's book stands out for two reasons. The first is his divergence point; his use of the controversy of the Laird Rams as the reason for the war's expansion, is original and it allows him to portray a more advanced conflict than is justifiably possible in similar novels. The second is his expertise. With a background in military intelligence, Tsouras brings considerable knowledge of martial affairs, which adds to the verisimilitude to his narrative. These two elements often combine to make for dramatic descriptions of battles in places like Kennebunk and Claverack, accounts that are among the high points of this book.

Yet the strengths of Tsouras's book are offset by some glaring flaws. Often his narrative is interrupted by long descriptions of regimental histories and uniforms that show off Tsouras's research but do little to advance the story. Some of that effort would have been better spent familiarizing himself with the broader historical background, as his plot exposes some disappointing gaps in his knowledge. His portrayal of Benjamin Disraeli as the Conservative Party leader in 1863 is a particularly large whopper given how he develops his plot (and one that gives added meaning to Angus Hawkins's choice of The Forgotten Prime Minister as his title of his biography of the man who was, in fact, the actual leader of the Tories at that time). Errors such as this can temper the enjoyment of the novel and raise doubts about the depth of his research in non-military affairs. Hopefully Tsouras will address these weaknesses while building upon his strengths in the final volume, which holds promise for a dramatic end to his alternate history series.


Last Liberal Governments: The Promised Land, 1905-1910: The Promised Land, 1905-10 v. 1
Last Liberal Governments: The Promised Land, 1905-1910: The Promised Land, 1905-10 v. 1
by Peter Rowland
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A detailed account of Liberal government in Edwardian Britain, 9 May 2011
The general election of 1906 ranks with those of 1931, 1945, and 1997 as among the great landslides of twentieth century British politics. After a decade in power the Unionists were turned out, replaced by a resurgent Liberal Party led by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Yet in many ways, as Peter Rowland makes clear in this book, their victory was in many ways illusory. Riding a wave of anti-Unionist sentiment and with their opposition fragmented on the issue of tariffs, the Liberals had little in the way of an agenda that measured up to the opportunity which they possessed. These years in office and the policies the government pursued are the subject of Rowland's book, which examines what was achieved and what was not in that time.

Rowland does this is a series of chapters that divide the issues into the natural categories of domestic, foreign, and imperial policy. In all the goals were modest, tempered to some degree by the knowledge that any radical legislation would face certain defeat at the hands of the Unionist-dominated House of Lords. Though initially Campbell-Bannerman's successor as prime minister, Herbert Asquith, demonstrated little interest in pursuing a more confrontational approach, the 'People's Budget' proposed by the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, set the two houses of Parliament on a collision course with one another. In the January 1910 general election triggered by the crisis, the Unionists made significant gains, though the Liberals were able to maintain office with the support of the Labour and Irish Nationalist Parties. After months of fruitless negotiations, a new general election confirmed the Liberals in office, clearing that way for a reform measure that would allow the Liberals the ability to overcome the longstanding obstruction of their agenda by reducing permanently the power of the upper house.

By detailing the twists and turns of policymaking in these years, Rowland exposes a profound conservatism in the attitudes of the Liberal administrations - not one of ideology but in its approach to issues. Rooted as it was in its traditional philosophy, the Liberal governments offered little in the way of fresh ideas as to how to address the problems of a changing society; indeed, even the Liberals' revival in 1906 was based not on anything new but on their reaffirmation of the nineteenth-century gospel of free trade. Yet the author's success in demonstrating this is tempered by an absence of any effort to explain why this was so, leaving it to others to provide a more fundamental understanding. Such an omission limits his achievement with this book, but does not detract from its overall usefulness. Clearly written and firmly rooted as it is in the primary sources of the time, Rowland's book endures as a valuable account of a pivotal period in British politics, one that can still be read today with profit.


To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain
To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain
by Adam Hochschild
Edition: Hardcover

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The First World War and its discontents, 8 May 2011
The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 was greeted in Great Britain with a massive show of unity. Men of fighting age rushed to enlist, while organizations and factions set aside their differences in order to face their new common enemy. Yet such support was not universal. As widespread as the demonstration of enthusiasm for the war was, a committed handful stood in stubborn defiance against the conflict. Adam Hochschild's book details their often lonely struggle against the backdrop of the war they so passionately opposed. In it, he attempts to provide an understanding of the choices they made, showing why they refused to subordinate their conscience to the war effort and the prices they paid for their stance.

The people Hochschild focuses on are a select group, men and women who are bound by family and personal ties to the British elite. He starts by charting the origin of the opposition of some of them to war by detailing their opposition to an earlier conflict, the Boer War. The fighting there led people such as Charlotte Despard, Emily Hobhouse, and the Pankhursts to campaign against the British war effort. For them, opposing the war was just one of many causes they undertook, as the activists Hochschild highlights were often at the forefront of radical reform in Edwardian Britain. Yet the outbreak of the war against Germany created deep divisions among their ranks, even to the point of tearing apart families such as the Pankhursts. Their stand provoked considerable public derision, and most of them were subjected to surveillance and obstruction by the authorities. Yet Hochschild sees their fight as all the more noble for its futility, ultimately granting them the larger moral victory despite the hopelessness of their cause.

All of this Hochschild describes in an engrossing narrative that conveys well the drama and tragedy of his subject. He is especially good at detailing the relationships between his characters, such as that between Despard and her brother John French, the first commander of the British Expeditionary Force. If there is a villain in his account it is Douglas Haig, whose obstinacy Hochschild savages for fueling the bloodshed. Yet for all of its strengths Hochschild's book suffers from a lack of focus. Often his subjects disappear for pages as he describes the more familiar tale of the overall course of the war; while this can illustrate what excited the passions of its opponents, the considerable amount of space the author devotes to it distracts more often than it enhances his story. While the strengths of Hochschild's narrative outweigh this deficiency, it does limit his achievement with this book, which offers an interesting look at an aspect of the First World War often ignored by other chroniclers.


The Shores of Kansas
The Shores of Kansas
by Rob Chilson
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Character study of a time traveler, 27 April 2011
This review is from: The Shores of Kansas (Hardcover)
Grant Ryals is a taciturn Missourian who possesses a rare gift: he is one of only a handful of people who possess the ability to travel through time. Even among this group, though, Ryals is unique, as he is the only one who can travel back to the pre-human past. Ryals uses this to establish an institute devoted to the study of the prehistoric flora and fauna, which flourishes with the publication of books, journals, and the release of movies, all of which are the product of his solo journeys to the past. Yet Ryals finds survival in the distant past easier than living in the present, as the unwanted fame his adventures have brought him and his struggles to deal with the efforts by the institute's manager to abandon Ryals's research efforts for more lucrative plans sends him back ever more frequently to the past - at the risk of his very life.

Robert Chilson's novel offers an interesting approach to the time travel tale. Here time travel is less the issue than a plot tool, an escape hatch for his central character. The details are usually left out to make room for Chilson to develop Ryals, an introvert whose gift makes him into a global celebrity,. Chilson's description of Ryals's trips to the past are the best parts of the book, as Ryals watches sauropods lay eggs and is tracked by a tyrannosaurus rex. By contrast the chapters in the present are less interesting, as Chilson does not spend as much effort to develop his characters and at times seems at a loss as to what to give them to do. Moreover, as a product of its time, the novel suffers from the now-outdated understandings about dinosaurs and how they lived, a problem that becomes acute as Ryals's interaction with them forms a key part of the book. These deficiencies detract significantly from the novel, making it one that only die hard fans of the premise will enjoy.


Naked Presidents: An Alternate History
Naked Presidents: An Alternate History
by James Silver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.16

3.0 out of 5 stars An artifact of its time, 20 April 2011
On one level, James Silver's novel serves as an interesting conceptual exercise. It's premised on a reversal of historical fate, which allows him to show how differently historical reputations might have evolved for two men with similar problems. In it, John F. Kennedy does not face an assassination attempt in Dallas, but goes on to a successful reelection, only to face impeachment when his affair with Judith Campbell is revealed. By contrast Bill Clinton's presidency is cut short by his assassination on November 22, 1995, thus leaving him a martyred president with no extramarital dalliance to sully his historical reputation. This allows Silver to make his underlying argument for Clinton' achievements as a president, an implicit argument he makes explicit at the end in a passionate and rambling epilogue.

Other authors have made such an effort in nonfiction works, so Silver's novel is a change of pace in that regard. And as a novel it has his merits. In most respects, his speculation of a post-Dallas presidency is the more interesting of the two sections, particularly when postulating Frank Sinatra's renewed friendship with the Kennedy family. By contrast, his allohistorical path with Clinton is more tortured, as Silver makes him a general in the 1980s so that he can stop the Iran-Contra affair (which, as he points out in an interesting aside, would have been more scandalous without Watergate to compare it to) before entering electoral politics. It is easy to nitpick Silver's postulations, but they nonetheless offer an interesting commentary about the politics of the 1980s and 1990s.

As a novel, however, the book is less successful. Silver's focus is on recounting events in his alternate timeline; because of this, his development of his novel's characters is much weaker. To me this is why Frank Sinatra is in many ways the book's best-developed figure, as by taking him on a very different historical path Silver spends the time to explore his motivations. By contrast, his development of the rest of his cast is much weaker, leaving it to the reader's familiarity with their real-life personages in most respects. Also problematic is the disconnect between the two periods; apart from the different path onto which Kennedy's decisions send the young Bill Clinton, there is no real sense of how the events in the 1960s might have influenced those of two and three decades later (and Silver agues for some radical changes as a result of Kennedy's survival). Because of this, his book ends up being more an artifact of the Clinton years than an enduring work of alternate history that is valuable in its own right. It provides an interesting argument for the rehabilitation of Bill Clinton, but ultimately squanders the promise offered by the premise to create a fully realized alternate history.


The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union
The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union
by John Lockwood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The great Washington invasion scare of 1861, 19 April 2011
Most accounts of the crisis leading up to the start of the Civil War typically end with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, an event that is generally regarded as the first shots of the conflict. Yet this conclusion ignores the equally dramatic aftermath of the bombardment. With war now a certainty, the Lincoln administration scrambled to prepare by issuing a call for troops. Yet as they did so the very structure of government was crumbling around them, as Southerners in the military and the federal bureaucracy resigned. Indeed the capital itself was vulnerable to a possible Confederate attack. This extraordinary period is the subject of John and Charles Lockwood's book, which chronicles the twelve-day period from the fall of Fort Sumter on April 13 until the arrival of reinforcements on April 25, a span of time when the government's survival seemed in question

The authors begin with a broad portrait of the situation facing Lincoln and his cabinet in the wake of the fort's surrender. The attack on the fort had united the North, yet the start of hostilities also exposed Washington's vulnerability, one enhanced by the secessionist sympathies of many in the population. As the commanding general Winfield Scott planned for the city's defense, fears of a Confederate assault prompted many citizens to flee. The nearby states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts quickly dispatched militia units to Washington, yet secessionist mobs in Baltimore and sabotage of the rails hindered their deployment. The immediate crisis ended only with the arrival of the Seventh regiment of the New York militia, which both bolstered the defenses and symbolized the reestablishment of the city's links to the rest of the Union.

The Lockwoods have provided a readable account of the panic that gripped Washington in the aftermath of Fort Sumter's fall. While ultimately demonstrating the overblown nature of the fears of attack, they nonetheless convey well the uncertainty that existed and the anxieties it fueled. As historians of Washington, their description of the city is particularly strong, providing a vivid study of what was still in many ways a sleepy Southern town with grandiose aspirations. This book is highly recommended to anyone seeking a snapshot of the nation's capital as it dealt with many of the first challenges of the war that had come.


Eleanor Vs. Ike
Eleanor Vs. Ike
by Robin Gerber
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Elect Eleanor in '52!, 19 April 2011
This review is from: Eleanor Vs. Ike (Paperback)
Robin Gerber's alternate history novel is based on an intriguing premise: as he takes the stage to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952, Adlai Stevenson suffers a fatal heart attack. Facing a fractious convention and a politically formidable Republican nominee, the party's leaders turn to Eleanor Roosevelt and ask her to serve as their standard-bearer. After reluctantly accepting the offer, Roosevelt begins a spirited campaign with the help of a rising young campaign manager and the devotion of her many passionate supporters. Yet in addition to her long odds and a nationally popular opponent, she must also undertake an additional challenge that no nominee before her has ever had to address: that of convincing Americans that the nation is indeed ready for a female president.

Like science fiction in general, alternate history is a genre dominated by the interests and attitudes of men. Because of this, many scenarios focus on wars or the decisions made by political leaders. This is what makes Gerber's book so refreshingly different. Her focus on Eleanor Roosevelt offers a nice change of pace, supplying an imaginative speculation of the type that distinguishes the best works of the genre. Having written a previous, nonfiction book on Roosevelt, Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, she has an easy familiarity with the particulars of her life, which allows Gerber to develop her into a well-defined character. Yet this book is about more than just Eleanor Roosevelt. Published in 2008, it advances a none-too-subtle argument that the time has come for a woman to be elected president - a point that Gerber makes explicit with a chance encounter between Roosevelt and a young Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Though such a detail may date the novel somewhat, Gerber's novel transcends this point to offer a dramatic narrative of a election that might have been. Based as much as possible on the words and actions of the people at the times, it does not sacrifice plausibility in speculating on what a Eleanor Roosevelt candidacy might have looked like, nor does it sacrifice readability to offer a dry recitation of details. Though some of her other characters are not as well defined as her central protagonist, Gerber has written an enjoyable book that is well worth the time of fans of political novels and alternate history tales.


Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession (Civil War America)
Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession (Civil War America)
by Russell McClintock
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How the North dealt with the secession crisis, 20 Mar. 2011
The period between the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 and the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861 is one of the most heavily covered in American history. Those five months represent a decisive turning point that led to the bloodiest war that the nation ever fought, followed by the abolition of slavery and Reconstruction. Yet as Russell McClintock notes in the introduction to this book, most of the attention on this period has focused on the attitudes and developments in the South. By contrast, the events and decisions made in the North have received little attention, with Kenneth M. Stampp's dated And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860-1861 dominating the short list of works focused on the secession crisis as it developed there. McClintock's book is an effort to redress this by showing how the North reacted to the secession movement and how the decisions they made ultimately led to war.

To do this McClintock focuses on politicians and public opinion in four geographic areas: Washington, D.C., and the states of Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts. These areas open up a range of reactions to Southern declarations, as well as proposals for how to respond. He finds that while determination to maintain the Union was widespread, opinions as to how to do this varied widely, with many people supporting some sort of compromise. These attitudes were strongest in the nation's capital, where Northern politicians had to address the concerns of Southern unionists working to maintain as many Southern states in the Union as they could. Yet there was a real vacuum of leadership in these months, with James Buchanan hobbled by a narrow view of his range of action as president and Abraham Lincoln endeavoring to keep his fragile political party together on the cusp of taking power. In the end, the range of options steadily narrowed, to the point that by April Lincoln faced the choice of resupplying the remaining outposts in federal hands or abandoning them in a further effort at conciliation. His decision to resupply the forts, and the Southern attack on them, helped to erase temporarily the divisions over secession, uniting the North against Southern disunion and bringing about war.

McClintock's book is a fine study of how the North reacted to secession. It is primarily a study of the political response, which is understandable given the extent to which secession in those months was predominantly a political issue. His depiction of the major political actors is often surprising, with the moderate Lincoln steadfastly opposed to key concessions and the supposedly hard-line William H. Seward at the forefront of compromise. Yet the book suffers somewhat from the author's focus on the controversy over Fort Sumter, which predominates here to the extent of overshadowing events elsewhere in the South that were contributing to the crisis. This is a minor issue, though, and one that does not detract from McClintock's overall achievement in providing readers with an examination of an often overlooked aspect of the secession crisis.


The Presidents We Imagine: Two Centuries of White House Fictions on the Page, on the Stage, Onscreen, and Online (Studies in American Thought and Culture)
The Presidents We Imagine: Two Centuries of White House Fictions on the Page, on the Stage, Onscreen, and Online (Studies in American Thought and Culture)
by Jeff Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.95

3.0 out of 5 stars American presidents in the national imagination, 16 Mar. 2011
Virtually from the moment of its creation the American presidency has loomed large in the public's consciousness. More than just the head of the executive branch, the president quickly became a reflection of what Americans thought of their nation and its values, and changed as those attitudes and views shifted over time. In this book Jeff Smith examines what he terms "presidential fictions" - the image of American presidents both historical and fictional in various media and cultural contexts - as a means of gaining insight into our ever-evolving understanding of both the presidency and the nation in general.

Smith begins by analyzing one of the key models for the presidency: Bolingbroke's the "Patriot King", an executive who "would rule above party, revive the forgotten spirit of the constitution, and make `public virtue and real capacity' once again the basis of political power."(16) This ideal, along with those drawn from the history of the Roman Republic, served to inform the thinking of the delegates who drafted the Constitution that created the office. For the first century of the nation's existence, the image of the presidency was closely tied to the men who actually held the office - most notably George Washington, but also Andrew Jackson and later Abraham Lincoln. By the end of the 19th century, however, fictional presidents began appearing in print and on stage, allowing writers to define and redefine the presidency in very different ways. By the middle of the 20th century, the fictional depictions of the presidency had expanded to the screen as well, often serving as a Rorschach test of the issues and anxieties of the age. Smith concludes with a chapter that looks at how this dynamic between the presidency and our expectations of this played out on September 11, 2001, a reflection of how "the realities to be represented or fictively manipulated are, themselves, already permeated by fictions."(287)

Insightful and informative, Smith's book is an enlightening look at the evolving image of the American presidency in the national imagination. His analysis of the books, plays, films, and television shows is perceptive and nicely tied to the times in which they were created. His text is pockmarked with factual errors, however, which can raise doubts as to just how closely he examined the works he analyzes, while the inclusion of some works (such as Mr Smith Goes To Washington, which while a landmark film about American politics is one in which the presidency is absent) seem a poor use of limited space. Overall, though, the strengths of Smith's work outweigh its weaknesses; this is a good book for anyone interested in understanding how Americans have viewed the presidency and how these views have helped shape the institution.


Ronald Reagan and the Triumph of American Conservatism (Library of American Biography)
Ronald Reagan and the Triumph of American Conservatism (Library of American Biography)
by Jules Tygiel
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to Reagan's life and legacy, 14 Mar. 2011
Today the presidential election of 1980 is viewed as one of the most pivotal elections in American history, one in which the nation took a decisive turn away from the liberalism that had dominated American politics since the Great Depression and towards the conservative views espoused by the victor in that race, Ronald Reagan. As Jules Tygiel demonstrates in this short biographical study, this shift was in many respects an echo of a political transformation over the course of Reagan's own life. Just as the nation moved rightwards during his political career so too Reagan went from being a self-professed liberal and Franklin Roosevelt supporter in his youth to espousing conservative ideas as a spokesman and politician in his later years - an espousal which helped shape the ideological journey the nation itself was undergoing.

Tygiel argues that Reagan's political allegiances as a young man was to some degree the result of the influence of his father. A shoe salesman and staunch Democrat, Jack Reagan struggled to provide for his family, a consequence of his alcoholism and the depressed economic conditions of rural Illinois in the 1920s. Yet Reagan enjoyed considerable success from the start, first as a sports broadcaster, then as a Hollywood actor. Politically engaged from an early age, he began to move away from the liberalism of his youth while president of the Screen Actors Guild, a transformation facilitated by his friendship with other conservative actors. By the 1950s, with his film career winding down, Reagan embraced a job as a spokesman for General Electric. His exposure to the representatives of the company solidified his political transformation, while the job served as a bridge to a new career in politics.

Reagan's campaign for the governorship of California in 1966 came at an opportune time, as many voters turned to the Republicans in reaction to the student activism and inner city riots that were associated with the Democrats and their policies. As Tygiel demonstrates, Reagan's conservative rhetoric on the stump was not always matched by his policies as governor, as he demonstrated a flexible approach that led to the adoption of tax increases in an effort to rein in the state's budget deficit. Yet his popularity made him a leaving candidate for the Republican presidential nomination throughout the 1970s, and he ultimately succeeded with his victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980. Here again Tygiel makes the case that Reagan's presidency was less conservative than many people expected it to be, with many of his achievements not so much the result of his policies as with broader economic and political changes that were taking place. Nevertheless, the movement Reagan led outlasted his time in office, and Tygiel concludes by seeing the conservative policy triumphs of the 1990s and early 2000s as part of his legacy.

Compact and readable, Tygiel provides an accessible and informative account of Reagan's life and career. While he is more credulous about some of Reagan's accounts of his life than the evidence warrants, overall he is fair in his assessments, giving Reagan his due while at the same time avoiding the hyperbolic claims of his most ardent supporters. The result is a nicely balanced overview that is an excellent place to begin for anyone seeking to learn about Reagan or his legacy. Though some of his interpretations are likely to be superseded as new information becomes available, it will not be bettered anytime soon as an introduction to the life and times of America's 40th president.


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