The Guns Of August

I’ve probably read Barbara Tuchman’s book of the same name about half a dozen times, maybe more.  It’s a massive read, I think;  not for the faint-hearted and certainly a difficult one for the non-military-history reader.

TGOA is magnificent as a military textbook alone, but what Tuchman brings to the party is an exhaustive set of the biographies of the principal characters so that we can understand not just what they did, but in many cases why they did it.

And I know that Tuchman was a tired old New York Lefty, but not in this work.

Anyway, I happened on this EwwwChoob video which follows the book faithfully, albeit cutting a few parts out (because otherwise it would run for not 100 minutes, but for three days — about as long as it takes to read Tuchman’s volume).

And it has lots and lots of original footage, none of that tiresome reenactment nonsense.  Enjoy.

Afterthought:  Tuchman’s prequel to The Guns Of August, A Proud Tower, will change your ideas of history completely, and for the better.  It did mine, at any event.

Also:  link fixed.

Good Man Down

I see that novelist Wilbur Smith has died aged 88, and I have to mourn one of the world’s great storytellers.

Longtime Readers will recall that when anyone asks me to recommend books about South Africa, I recommend Wilbur Smith’s Courtney trilogy  (When The Lion Feeds, The Sound Of Thunder and A Sparrow Falls ) as the best of the bunch (along with Stuart Cloete’s Rags Of Glory, for the Boer War).

Having read almost all Smith’s Africa novels, I have to say that after a while the stories become somewhat formulaic — but that does not take away from their wonderful pacing, excellent settings and gripping conclusions.  In fact, it says quite a lot that I, knowing all that, still have read and continue to read his books as soon as they appear on the (digital) shelves.  In other words, even though I pretty much know what’s going to happen within the first few chapters, I still continue to read because at all times, I learn stuff about the location(s) of the stories and their characters.

Sooon there’ll be no more Wilbur Smith novels, and I have to say, a little joy has gone out of my reading world.


Snake-Pits and Tarbabies

Back when I was in the client service business, we had an expression for accounts in which things could never go right — where problems would occur on a frequent basis, systems would fail, communications get misinterpreted and attempts to fix problems would just make the original problem even worse.

We used to refer to them as “snake-pit” accounts:  where no matter what you did, you’d just step on another snake.  Others in the trade termed them “tarbaby” accounts, where no matter how you tried to shake the problems off, you’d just get stickier and stickier.

Which leads us to this:

A crew member winding down production of Rust faces losing his arm after being bitten by a venomous spider, just weeks after Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed the movie’s cinematographer.

While I think we all agree that it would be more fitting if Baldwin had been bitten by the spider, you have to feel a little sorry for not only this crew member, but the entire crew (including the dead one, of course) because after all, they were all just working stiffs trying to make a movie together, albeit for a loathsome reptile like Baldwin.

All in all, this production certainly qualifies as a snake-pit operation.

Fog Of Confusion

For you to understand the approaching train wreck that is my aging brain, you need only to look at this email exchange between me and a Reader:

Thanks for your post about Michael Caine this morning.
Thought I’d add my $0.02, if you don’t mind. One of my favorite movies that he made was “The Eagle Has Landed”.
I wondered if you like it, and if not, why not? I’m not much of a discerning literature or movie connoisseur as you are, but I like to learn. — Tim

Love it.  I have the movie AND the novel trilogy.  (Higgins is one of my favorite modern authors, ever since Eye Of The Needle.)

Well, you all know where this is going, right?  Hold on:

I haven’t read the novel, thanks for the heads up. I’ll put the trilogy on my reading list. — Tim

Then about ten minutes later, some pieces of Truth came upon me, and I hastily continued:

I’m losing my mind.  The author of Eye Of The Needle was Ken Follett, not Jack Higgins.  DOH!!!!
But Higgins did write the trilogy:  Eagle Has Landed, Eagle Has Flown, Night Of The Fox.
Although Follett also wrote a novel called The Fox.
All very confusing to an old man like me.

The latter is not to be confused with D.H. Lawrence’s novella of the same name, nor with the Peter Sellers / Vittorio De Sica movie After The Fox, which featured the luscious Maria Grazia Buccella:

The movie was derived from a play of the same name by Paul  Neil Simon.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  Anyway:  Jack Higgins wrote The Eagle Has Landed  and its two sequels (a.k.a. the Liam Devlin Trilogy ).

And Ken Follett wrote The Eye Of The Needle and other fine stories.

Everyone got that?  Good.

Now explain the middle bit to me.