#amreading: HIS FINAL BATTLE, THE LAST MONTHS OF FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, by Joseph Lelyveld

Skimmed the last 50 or so pages of Submission. Fascinating, densely written. After the President of France is elected, there’s endless amounts of conjecture about Sharia Law. The last paragraph of the novel was brilliant.

And then she began the next book on her reading list, His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt. Self loves World War II history books.  A really good World War II history book can light up her life in a myriad ways. This one had her completely hooked, from page 1.

Self doesn’t know why, but she was completely ready for this book. Against the panoply of war is a sick man who just happens to be the President of the United States. The curtain came “down abruptly” on Franklin Roosevelt in the twelfth week of his fourth term, “on a balmy April afternoon in Warm Springs, Georgia.”

Roosevelt’s fourth term was “the third shortest presidential term” in U.S. history. Shortest was William Henry Harrison’s 32 days, and then the six weeks of Abraham Lincoln’s second term. Roosevelt was, to borrow a term from author Joseph Lelyveld, “plaintive” in his last months.

p. 12:

Mortality is the ultimate reason for feeling plaintive. In our waning hours, we get on with our tasks. Roosevelt was racing, as we all are, against time. If we want to take him in his full measure, we need to see him in his full context, in the round, not just as a dying man in what we may glibly call “denial,” but as an actor playing out his role, simply because he found no alternative; in that sense, a man touched by the heroic. Of all his responsibilities as the war headed into its climactic last year, calculating the date of his own terminus was not necessarily, in that clamorous time, the most pressing.

In other words, people, it’s not always about you. What a contrast to 45, who manages to make even hurricanes seem like personal affronts. 45 addressing the people of Puerto Rico: “Personally, I’m having a horrible day.” Not sure if he said this before or after he threw Brawny paper towels at a roomful of people. Self still doesn’t understand the significance of throwing paper towels to people who are recovering from what @RealRBHJr calls “Big Water”. (A joke, maybe?)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Houellebecq: SUBMISSION, p. 128

  • He was born in 1922, if you can believe it. Exactly a hundred years ago. He joined the Resistance early on, in late June 1940. Even in his day, French patriotism was an idea whose time had passed. You could say that it was born at the Battle of Valmy, in 1792, and that it began to die in 1917, in the trenches of Verdun. That’s hardly more than a century — not long, if you think about it. Today, who believes in French patriotism? The National Front claims to, but their belief is so insecure, so desperate.

Women Writers For the Reading List

It’s taken self over two years to get to an issue of The New Yorker, the issue of 27 July 2015. The Book Review section. Here are her picks to add to her reading list:

Independence Lost, by Kathleen DuVal: An “intrepid history of the American Revolution that shifts the focus from the rebellious thirteen colonies to the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi Valley, where Native Americans, African slaves, and Spanish, French, and British colonials were fighting very different battles.” (The New Yorker, 27 July 2015)

Life After Life and A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson: In Life After Life, “Ursula Todd, a young Englishwoman, repeatedly dies and starts her life again.” In the follow-up, Ursula’s younger brother, Teddy, lives “a life of quiet sadness: he is widowed early, has a selfish daughter, and struggles to connect with his grandchildren. Teddy, unlike his sister, lives only one life, but Atkinson’s deft handling of time . . . is impressive.” (The New Yorker, 27 July 2015)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Cavalry vs. Infantry: WATERLOO, pp. 238-239

It is really hard reading this section of Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles. It is 5 p.m. on the 18th of June 1815 (Kudos, BTW, to Bernard Cornwell and his publisher for structuring the book this way. Every time self loses her place, she only has to look at the top of the page and see what time and what day it is) and Napoleon is on his last charge of the day. He sends in his cavalry. What he didn’t expect to see was the British infantry waiting for the charge, formed into squares.

There were 20 squares of British infantry formed at the end of the day, which self thinks is a testament to Wellington’s impeccable sense of organization. That he was able to get his infantry into this formation, after a whole day of fighting — well, hats off to you, Sir.

The squares withstood the cavalry charge. The British infantry aimed at the horses and it was a terrible massacre. It was “steady, relentless, pitiless volleys.”

Reese Howell Gronow, an Ensign in the 1st Foot Guards, reported that “the musket fire . . . brought down a large number of horses, and created indescribable confusion.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

When the Least Qualified Are Related to You

Barreling through Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles. Now on pp. 208-209, which features the antics of one of Wellington’s most inexperienced commanders, Slender Billy. Of course Slender Billy is only a nickname. Slender Billy (also sometimes called the ‘Young Frog’), was the 23-year-old Crown Prince of the newly created Kingdom of the Netherlands. Though he had no battle experience, his father, King William I, told Wellington he would only commit the Dutch Army if Slender Billy was given “high command” in Wellington’s army. Which Wellington of course did.

(Earlier, self read about how Napoleon’s siblings were each given positions like King of Spain, King of Whatever even though, to borrow the words from Immortal Ygritte in Game of Thrones, they knew nothing.)

In the afternoon of 18 June 1815, some of Slender Billy’s troops were holding on to the Chateau Hougoumont, “a great house with a walled garden” and several adjacent stone buildings. The Dutch troops were assisted by the British, who were led by a 34-year-old Scotsman, Lieutenant Colonel James MacDonnell. Sometime on 18 June, while battle raged, “Slender Billy ordered the British Guards out of Hougoumont, which he certainly was stupid enough to do, but it is almost inconceivable that MacDonell would have obeyed.”

The point is, there was a big battle fought here that raged all day. Afterwards, when Wellington was asked to identify an “MVP” to receive a special annuity for bravery at Waterloo, he chose Lieutenant-Colonel MacDonnell. And all MacDonnell did, apparently (aside from fight, of course) was close a gate.

Sometime in the afternoon of 18 June, MacDonnell realized that if he and his men did not shut the gate in the north side of the chateau, the attacking French would come pouring into the chateau’s courtyard. In fact, a couple were already IN the courtyard, having already passed through this precise gate.

So MacDonnell and an Irishman (who MacDonnell later insisted should share his annuity) closed the gate. That act turned out to be “the decisive act of the battle” — according, anyway, to Wellington.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

War, By the Numbers

First order of business: Self has been perusing Gendrya and found a really badass one-shot. An excerpt:

She wielded two swords when she reached the tower. The Red Priestess wasn’t alone.

The girl wielded her swords, blood swiping tracks on the floor.

And he came out of nowhere, wielding a hammer.

Her other reading of the night is of course Waterloo (never mind the subtitle, which goes on forever). The battle is at midday of 18 June 1815. Napoleon has finally ordered his artillery to let loose on Wellington’s forces.

Here are the numbers:

Napoleon has 246 cannon, Wellington 157.

The French had 12-pounder cannon, The British 9-pounders.

Napoleon used his Grand Battery “as an offensive, as against a defensive, weapon.” He had used them this way before, most spectacularly at Wagram in 1809, where 112 French cannon “tore the heart out of the Austrian army.”

Wellington, on the other hand, had scattered his artillery “along the whole of his line” and used them “defensively . . . they were absolutely forbidden to engage in counter-battery fire.” Wellington was serious. When Wellington saw one of his batteries attempting to counter the French  artillery fire by opening up, “he ordered the arrest of the battery commander.”

Here self would like to interject with an account of her first visit to the British Imperial War Museum, two months ago, in June. At the entrance are the biggest long-range guns self has ever seen. They are massive. About as massive as an Egyptian pyramid. She can only imagine a whole battery of these guns firing away. The sound would shatter eardrums.

You have to walk right beneath these guns to get into the museum. It gave self a chill.

Inside the museum is a gorgeous engine called the Merlin. Shined to a high polish. Looks like Geiger art. Manufactured by Rolls Royce. For use in British World War I fighter planes.

Stay tuned.

Readings of the Day: Waterloo/The Verge on GoTS7 Episode 6: “Beyond the Wall”

Self’s reading has been all over the map lately, from the Battle of Waterloo (Fantastic reading: Waterloo: the History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles) to reviews of the latest episode of Game of Thrones Season 7. Anyhoo, there’s only a few days left until the finale of the Game of Thrones 7th season, so the schizoid nature of self’s reading will soon cease.

First, the sentence from Waterloo. The narrative is now on 17 June 1815. A lot of men are dying or wounded, and Wellington gives the command to withdraw. This can only happen after the wounded are cleared from the battlefield. And since there are so many wounded, that operation takes some time.

p. 111: Wellington wanted the retreat done calmly and, as if to demonstrate his unconcern, he lay down in a pasture and put a newspaper over his face and pretended to sleep.


Self really enjoys the Game of Thrones Season 7 recaps on The Verge. Most of all, she likes Tasha’s breakdown of the first 18 minutes of Episode 6, Beyond the Wall:

I could have watched an entire episode that was just these Seven Samurai (give or take a few ablative redshirts, who the White Walkers and their pet dead-bear unerringly identified somehow as the ones to kill first) working out their grievances and expressing what’s important to them.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Waterloo: 16 June 1815

It was only 200 years ago that battle was joined by the French and Prussian armies in the picturesque Belgian village of Ligny.

The French sent the Prussians (led by Marshal Blucher) reeling back. Blucher, “despite his age, tried to restore the position by attacking with his own cavalry. He was unhorsed and ridden over by French heavy cavalry, but Blucher’s aide-de-camp, with great presence of mind, draped a cloak over the Marshal’s medals and braid, so obscuring his eminent status, and in the failing light the French cavalry did not recognize him, so that at last he could be rescued by his own men.”

Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles, p. 74

When someone writes a battle this well, the prose (to borrow a word from self’s favorite character in Game of Thrones, Gendry) sings.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

WATERLOO: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles, p. 70

French and Prussian armies engage while the Duke of Wellington attends a ball thrown by the Duchess of Richmond.

This is such an interesting book.

p. 70:

The French advance in columns, “roughly twice as wide as” they are deep. The front of the column could have as few as 30 and as much as 60 men in the front. “Only the sixty in the first two ranks . . . and the two men on the outside of each rank, can actually fire at the enemy.” Let’s say a column was made up of 510 men: “fewer than a quarter” of those men could actually “shoot their muskets.”

In contrast, the Prussians and their British allies favored the line, the advantage being that “every man in the line can fire.”

Thus, as Napoleon’s army approached the Prussian line, they found themselves “massively outgunned.” The intent of the French commanders was to have the columns form a line when they were close to engaging, and one eyewitness reported that the French columns deployed into a line fluidly. That is — they never stopped marching, even under heavy fire. Such was the quality of troops who fought for Napoleon.

Exciting stuff!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

WATERLOO Sentence of the Day: p. 46

(The Duke of) Wellington liked the company of women, except for his wife, whom he detested.

 

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