What books are you reading or have finished lately

Defiant by DJ Molles. Zombie apocalypse series, but the zombies aren’t really the main part of the story anymore, its more about rebuilding and the struggles between different factions. Also, I finished SPQR from Richard Blade. Historical fiction about the Roman Legion that went to conquer Britain but ended up in North America. Pretty good.

“Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States”. Adm Raphael Semmes.

They’ve just pulled his statue down in Mobile so I seemed to have timed it just right.

It’s free in the public domain.

It covers the author’s commands of the Confederate raiders CSS Sumter and CSS Alabama.

Even though Semmes was a career Navy man, he was also a lawyer (self taught?) so there is some constitutional law and defense of his character and actions scattered throughout the book. But it’s worth it, especially for someone with nautical knowledge and even more if you like factual, historical and exciting accounts. There is no way his tactics aren’t taught at naval warfare university. He is a very good writer and has a couple other books.

He was a dedicated confederate and has the views of one so don’t be shocked. This is a true window into history and the reader should use this to see the true thought, however bent, of highly educated and intelligent man. The Alabama alone took 65 prizes to be one of the most successful commerce raiders in history. He doesn’t go too deep in minute details about the ship but there are sites with info to show she was quite impressive. With the drive and tact of Semmes in command she was quite the terror in her mode of warfare. Also, you who would think a retractable drive is modern tech, think again, the Alabama was a bad bitch built by Laird in Liverpool England with a retractable screw so she could sail without dragging the prop.

There are several biographies of Semmes, the most popular being “Wolf of the Deep”. He should actually be put alongside R.E. Lee with his success but until the sinking of the Alabama he never lost one man, that includes the more than 2000 prize prisoners that went through his hands.

The Royal Naval ship HMS Orpheus built around the same time had the same retractable screw. She foundered on the Manukau Bar with the loss of 189 lives.
The screw was in a frame like a sash window on a short shaft. The propeller shaft had a slot on the end and was lined up with a mark on the shaft. When the propeller was lowered in position the short shaft engaged with the slot.
She only carried 300 tons of coal and the Admiralty expected that the vessel made passage under sail.

In the same vein is

Narrative Of a Blockade Runner

The diary kept by a Captain of a Confederate blockade runner. Also free in the public domain.

But she was still gaining on us. A happy inspiration occurred to me when the case seemed hopeless. Sending for the chief engineer I said “Mr. S., let us try cotton, saturated with spirits of turpentine.” There were on board, as part of the deck load, thirty or forty barrels of “spirits.” In a very few moments, a bale of cotton was ripped open, a barrel tapped, and buckets full of the saturated material passed down into the fire-room. The result exceeded our expectations. The chief engineer, an excitable little Frenchman from Charleston, very soon made his appearance on the bridge, his eyes sparkling with triumph, and reported a full head of steam. Curious to see the effect upon our speed, I directed him to wait a moment until the log was hove. I threw it myself, nine and a half knots. “Let her go now sir!” I said. Five minutes afterwards, I hove the log again, thirteen and a quarter . We now began to hold our own, and even to gain a little upon the chaser; but she was fearfully near, and I began to have visions of another residence at Fort Warren, as I saw the “big bone in the mouth” of our pertinacious friend, for she was near enough to us at one time for us to see distinctly the white curl of foam under her bows, called by that name among seamen.

“The Problem of Democracy” by Isenberg and Burstein. About the father and son Adams presidencies. I read it solely because “White Trash” a history of class in the USA was written by Isenberg and one of my all time favorite nonfiction books. I was not disappointed. John and John Q Adams were some very bright and outspoken fellows who worried about democracy being sustainable. Their worries are very applicable to the last 120 years of US history.

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I read White Trash last year. Just finished Dark Money and started Mathews Men a few days ago.

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Both are good. The funny thing is when I was reading White Trash I recalled some of the stories some older relatives told me about their life growing up. Rang a bell with what was in the book. On the other hand relatives on the other side of the family who owned a small plantation had an entirely different set of stories. There was scandal when the two classes married which took years to get over.

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Here’s book that’s hard to find, and which crosses all the T’s for merchant marine and WW2 enthusiasts, especially Catalina flying boat enthusiasts: Navigator in the South Sea, by Brett Hilder.

Captain Hilder was born in 1911 and became a skipper with the Australian Burns Phillips Line, after a long apprenticeship and posts as mate. Back then they started young. He spent much of his time carrying cargo among the islands of the South Seas and Indian Ocean, on small ships.

A highlight of the pre-war section is evacuating people from the island of Rabaul during a volcanic eruption, using lifeboats. After the eruption, they tried to tie-up at a dock but could get no closer than 15 feet, because of the floating pumice clogging the harbor. No problem: people just crossed the floating pumice as if it were dry land.

When WW2 came around, Hilder decided he enjoyed being navigator on a Catalina flying boat more than on a Royal Australian Navy ship. The RAAF sent a lot of time dropping mines in Japanese occupied harbors, and trying to live to tell the tale. In one mining raid, the Japanese fired everything they had at his plane, including one Japanese sailor taking pot shots with a pistol. The Catalina escaped, but found one of their fuel tanks had been shot and was leaking fuel. They barely made it back to base. The bullet that hit them had been the pistol shot.

Merchant marine officers back then lived lives of adventure we can hardly imagine.


On my list: Alaska’s unforgiving weather and the near sinking of the cutter Jarvis.

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One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment

The movie Glory drew its source material from this book. Robert Gould Shaw was 25 years old when he was killed at Ft. Wagner. His superior Gen. Strong was 30 years old.

When Shaw was a private of the 7th NY he met Pres. Lincoln. The meeting is described in the book through letters he wrote.

Anyone with interest in the Civil War should read the book. Not as dramatic as the film but an interesting read.

Sarah Laverick: Through Ice & Fire

Discrimination and Disparities by Thomas Sowell (revised and enlarged edition)

A distinguished economist effectively challenges the prevailing dogmas regarding unequal outcomes in societies, particularly our own. Currently hard to find but worth the effort. (There may be a new printing soon.)

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Sowell is a libertarian and highly regarded by Rush Limbaugh and his crowd but distinguished economist? I read the "book"when first written but it is more like an essay…

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The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John Barry

A great read about the killer flu epidemic of 1918, and the scientists who tried to stop it. Cotton candy for history buffs. It’s also a painless textbook into the how’s and why’s of our present pandemic. He has a short chapter on virology that makes that complex subject crystal clear.

For example: it’s not a question if a coronavirus like C19 will mutate. They always mutate. They mutate thousands of times within the same human body. The vast majority of these mutation render mutated result inviable. But a few mutations may give the new version of the virus enhanced abilities to infect human hosts.

Which is why we see these baffling discrepancies in the behavior of C19. Some versions will have an incubation period of 5 days, others 10 days. Some versions will be asymptomatic. Others will be lethal. Because the virus you get is not the same version you give to someone else. The strain is always mutating.

The book was written in 1997 and updated in 2005. Despite that, the last part of the book reads like today’s headlines. The writer is a journalist. He makes no claims as to his own scientific expertise. He just quotes experts, 15 years ago, and gives your their predictions:

  • When will a major pandemic hit? Soon. Where will it begin? In a wet market in China. What will it be? Flu or coronavirus. How will China react? They’ll downplay it, because they always do. So when they say it’s not a big deal, assume it’s a big deal.

  • Have Congressional committees and presidents been told of the danger? Several times. Will the world be prepared? Nope.

  • There won’t be enough ventilators. There won’t be enough PPE. There won’t be enough testing capacity. If a safe vaccine can be made, how long will it take? A year, maybe. Two years more likely.

  • How may people will die in the U.S.? Best case scenario, 100K to 200k.

Every problem, every foible, we are dealing with now was accurately forecasted by epidemiologists decades ago.

In 1918, fearing negative press might hurt war efforts, President Willson instituted strict press censorship. When the epidemic began, the government kept saying everything was under control. Result: the epidemic became politicized, and it spread faster than if the truth had been told from Day 1.

Remember hydroxychloroquine? A hundred years ago it, as well as a dozen other medicines, were tried as a cure for the flu. They did nothing. The media was filled with crackpot notions and conspiracy theories. Some things never change.

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Just started this one.


The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism Blockquote By Katherine Stewart

The Power Worshippers

After reading “Dark Money” I heard of this book. If Dark Money was sickening, this book is utterly revolting…considering most of the same people Dark Money showcases are the same people in this book. doing all the same low life things…only using the Church
in their quest for money, political power, and to decimate the other political party as if it has no right to exist in the eyes of the Lord. Not to mention using brainwashing techniques (think Jim Jones) in this tax free and oh so lucrative endeavor.

You will be shocked to learn the agenda this movement has.

Maybe I am easily impressed but degrees from Harvard (BA), Columbia (MA), and University of Chicago (PhD) and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute Stanford University sounds pretty distinguished to me. I wouldn’t know if he was a favorite of Limbaugh, since I can’t stand to listen to that hypocritical windbag for more than five minutes. This is the first book I have read by Sowell and I have heard that he has been sometimes criticized for not citing sources. This might be why he published the revised and enlarged edition which has over 60 pages of notes in a 300 page book. I regard him as a kindred spirit of Walter Williams another economist, who like Sowell rebuts hot button social issues with empirical observations and economic data.


A new thriller with a Maritime setting is on the market:

Hmm, I will have to look for that one. . . a book that bears repeating is The Shipping Man.

Not a book or novel that I know of but the screen play was written by Lionel Houser… “Cargo to Capetown”

I used to visit the “Pulp Fest” (vintage paperbacks, novels, sifi, etc) in Columbus, Ohio. I’m sure they could be contacted to learn of any Maritime Novels from the past.

Cargo to Capetown

If anyone knows a book this may have been based on I’d like to know the title.

Pulp Fest 2020