Worth Reading

Reader Jim somehow makes it through my broken email software to ask:  “I’d never hear of Alistair MacLean before, but I see he wrote quite a few novels.  Can you recommend just one, to start with?”

Absolutely.  HMS Ulysses is one of the best naval war novels ever written (along with Nicholas Monsarrat’s The Cruel Sea, another tour de force ).

Both the above should be required reading in high school.


  1. I’ve got to vote for a couple more by Alistair MacLean – Ice Station Zebra (The book was a great tale of cold war intrigue. The movie was just silly. ) and The Guns of Navarone. A fun story and surprisingly the movie isn’t bad.

    I’ve loved the classic Horatio Hornblower stories by C.S. Forester. I first discovered them when I was in high school and read through the whole series about every ten years. The Good Shepherd by Forester is another good one and the movie adaptation wasn’t bad, despite some errors (the biggest was that almost all Fletcher class destroyers went to the Pacific because of their long range and heavy gun and torpedo armament. ) One more great movie is “In Which We Serve” – the thinly disguised story of Louis Mountbatten.
    All good stuff and a great way to spend a cold winter day learning about leadership and sacrifice

  2. I’ve got something like 30 of his books on a shelf, so I obviously enjoy his writing.

    But what the man did NOT know about firearms would fill a whole ‘nother book. Look at his description of the operation of a .45 SAA in “When Eight Bells Toll”, which is one of the most wildly inaccurate descriptions of what (next to a 1911) is one of the finest single-action triggers in the world. His description of the effect of a .45 LC round hitting it’s target (as opposed to a 9mm Luger) is a lot better (at least, for the ammo available then).

    Towards the end his novels all started to read about the same, so I suggest starting with his earlier stuff and working chronologically upwards in order of publication until you hit stuff from the middle ’70’s and stop, since the plots and characters become interchangeable.

    One of my favorite WW2 books about land combat is Bill Mauldin’s “Up Front”, which contains so many great classic cartoons that it’s worth it for that alone. His commentary is spot-on, and is sometimes hysterically funny and sometimes heart-wrenching.

    I just read for the first time this summer an interesting book on WW1 by Ernst Junger, “The Storm of Steel”, an autobiography by a German infantryman. More than a bit of a fanatic, his later life is also interesting to read about. I found a used copy of a newer edition with the ORIGINAL translation from the German by Basil Creighton; well worth reading.

    1. It’s interesting to note that a lot of British writers don’t have a clue about firearms. I would blame it on the lack of a British “gun culture”. Back in the day British subjects did national service but they were issued firearms which they turned in at the end of the day and never saw them as tools of personal liberty. I recall Ian Fleming (who smelled some powder smoke in his day and should have known better) describing James Bond’s .32 ACP Wather as a “brick thrown through a plate glass window”. I can break a glass window with a .177 air rifle but I’m not going to use that to shoot Cold War Russian bad guys.

      1. Fleming didn’t know shit about cocktails either. You NEVER shake a martini: it loses all its subtlety.

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