How Iceland Changed the World, pp. 139 – 140

Self is going deliciously slowly with this book. She does not know how the author does it. He’s managed to inject surprise, page after page. Nothing is inevitable, as those quirky Icelanders keep demonstrating. Bravo for nimble literary work, Author Egill Bjarnason!

World War II:

The Allies — Britain and France — had been ousted from Europe, and the Nazis occupied the entire coastline from Spain to Norwway. The only thing standing in the way of a Nazi invasion of the UK were twenty-one nautical miles, the width of the English Channel at its narrowest point. Knowing the German Kriegsmarine could not get past the Royal Navy, Hitler decided to use his sea forces strategically. Instead of attacking Britain directly, the plan was to strangle its cargo routes, depriving the island nation of everything from food and clothing to oil and iron.

Control of Iceland would help. Hitler — a villain who spent his political career yelling so much that he needed polyps removed from his vocal cords, twice — ordered his generals to put together a plan to snatch the foreign port.

Favorite Reads, So Far 2021

The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal (science fiction)

High as the Waters Rise, by Anja Kampmann (first novel)

Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic, by James Raffan (environment)

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert (environment)

Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943, by Keith Lowe (WWII history)

The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (mystery)

SAVAGE CONTINENT: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, p. 16

  • Greece suffered about 410,000 war dead — a total that does not appear markedly worse than some of the countries already listed until one realizes that Greece had a prewar population of only about 7 million. The war therefore killed about 6 percent of all Greeks. Likewise Hungary’s 450,000 war deaths represented almost 5 per cent of the population. In Yugoslavia just over a million people were killed, or 6.3 per cent of the population. Deaths in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania probably amounted to between 8 and 9 per cent of all prewar Balts. As a nation, Poland suffered the most proportionally: more than one Pole in every six was killed — a total of over 6 million people in all.

Summer 2021: Favorite Reads

Self set a 2021 reading challenge of 35 books. So far, she’s read 30. She’s back, people. Self is back. She used to average 60 books a year. That sank to just 4 in 2014. But every year since 2014, her reading rate’s been inching back up.

Her favorite summer reads have been:

  • Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West, by Lauren Redniss
  • The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943, by Keith Lowe

She’s currently reading Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe. Hope it’s as good as Inferno.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Finished INFERNO

Right eye’s been flickering, on and off, all day. Tired.

Next, she’s going to be reading a couple of self-help/psychology books recommended, improbably, by The Economist.


Inferno was excellent * excellent * excellent. Finished it a few minutes ago. The last chapter was about assigning guilt or blame.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Sentence of the Day, p. 248

We are just a little past halfway, dear blog readers. So you will not be forever reading about WAR WAR WAR. Self’s next book is Rules of Estrangement, by Joshua Coleman, which is about “broken families.” The angst will be pure.

Without further ado:

  • Their plan of attack was significantly different from previous operations, and reflected their growing confidence in their destructive abilities.

The RAF prepares for a fourth wave of bombing raids on Hamburg (at this point, seems like overkill). Once again, the Brits send out a tiny little Mosquito to do recon. The Mosquito takes off at 6:45 p.m. and returns three hours later. Report: Skies “looked relatively clear” but there was “a huge cumulo-nimbus to the southwest . . . moving briskly . . . “

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Still Reading

Still July, 1943: 3rd round of RAF bombing raids on the city of Hamburg

A Hamburg family takes shelter from the firestorm in the entrance to a shop. A man hurrying past points out that the shop sells “firelighters,” points to the display in the front window. The family has to scramble to find a different shelter.

Inferno, p. 239

I had never heard of

the bombing of Hamburg, not until I read this book.

I knew about Dresden. I had read Victor Klemperer’s diaries, decades ago but that kind of thing tends to stay with you.

But why hadn’t I heard about Hamburg? It seems so awful. The attacks were concentrated and relentless: four separate raids. I was amazed the city managed to rebuild.

To be fair, as Lowe points out, the British were only returning the favor. They learned from the Blitz, when the Luftwaffe “rained incendiaries down on London and other British cities, causing huge damage.” The British learned from the Germans that fires did more damage than explosions “and began experimenting accordingly.” For instance, they perfected delayed reaction incendiaries and two-step bombs, the kind that would start a fire and then, when someone tried to shovel it out a window, would explode, killing or maiming whoever was nearby.

Mosquitos Over the Skies of Hamburg

This book is so entertaining! Who would have thought!

A chapter or so back, self was introduced to a fascinating British aircraft called the De Havilland Mosquito, made OF PLYWOOD. Can you imagine the chutzpah of putting such an aircraft into battle? The bloody cheek! It had no defensive armor at all, but could fly super-fast and attain great altitudes, which made them almost impervious to German flak. 11 Mosquitos accompanied the first RAF raid of Hamburg, and all 11 made it back to base the next morning, not a scratch on them.

Now, self is on Chapter 15: Concentrated Bombing.

Apparently, the RAF liked to send Mosquitos to Hamburg on “nuisance raids” — their only purpose was to keep the population of Hamburg, already jumpy from night raids, from sleeping. “The British knew from experience that sleep deprivation could be almost as damaging to the economy as bombardment . . . The damage their few bombs caused was miniscule compared to what had gone before, but it was enough to keep the whole city awake.”

They were also useful as “reconaissance planes.” For instance, on the morning of July 27, 1943, the British RAF Commander sent a Mosquito to fly over Hamburg and report on weather conditions. “Its pilot reported back that, apart from a light smoke haze from the fires that were still burning, the weather was perfectly clear.” On the basis of that report, a second massive night raid on Hamburg was ordered.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Hagenbeck Zoo

Self did not know that Hamburg had a zoo. A FAMOUS zoo.

“Four zookeepers died during the struggle to put out the many fires, and five others were killed when the zebra house received a direct hit.” (That’s a lot of people to be killed in one place!)

Inferno, p. 166:

  • But it was the animals that suffered most. One hundred and twenty large animals were lost during the night, along with countless smaller animals. When an 8,000-pound blast bomb landed near the big cat house, several of the cats escaped. Two jaguars and a Siberian tiger had to be shot the next morning. All the big cats that stayed inside burned to death in the fire.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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