Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Victory at Sea - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1921

The Victory at Sea
By: Admiral William Sowden Sims
Doubleday, 1920

Being rather averse to the history of war, I must admit that I quite dreaded reading a book solely about submarine warfare in World War I written by an admiral. I expected a long military diatribe full of technical terms that I didn't know and didn't care to know. But, with The Victory at Sea I was pleasantly surprised. Admiral Sims was assisted in his writing by Burton J. Hendrick for the specific purpose of keeping the language in layman's terms.

It was fascinating to read about a part of World War I that I don't remember learning too much about in my history classes. Sims writes that in the latter part of 1917 Germany was coming very close to defeating the Allies because they were making such effective use of the submarine to block British supply lines on the seas. Because Great Britain is an island it depends very heavily on imports for survival. When Admiral Sims was sent to England in 1917 to head up the American naval program in the war he brought multiple ideas for battling the German submarines to open British supply lines and, consequently, promote the Allied cause on the Western Front. These ideas, when implemented, proved very effective in destroying and deterring the German subs. In the end, shortly after the German submarines were stopped almost completely the Armistice was signed.

The most interesting thing to me about reading this book was the fact that is was written right after the Armistice was signed, before World War II. World War I was still "The War to End All Wars." It is often referred to in the book as THE World War. Sims had no idea what was in store in the coming years as terms of the Armistice brought Germany so low that they desperately searched for someone to bring them back up - and that someone was Adolf Hitler.

Of course, the claims in the book must be taken with a grain of salt because they were made almost immediately after the war was over. But, I do still think it is worth the read.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Americanization of Edward Bok - Winner, Biography, 1921

The Americanization of Edward Bok
By: Edward Bok
Scribner, 1920

If you have ever had to skip to the back of a magazine to finish reading an article...If you have ever enjoyed the floor plans for homes printed in Southern Living and other magazines...If you have ever looked at pictures of the interiors of homes in magazines in hopes of keeping your home up to date and fashionable...If you have ever read The Ladies Home Journal, you have experienced the creations of Edward Bok.

The Americanization of Edward Bok is a fascinating autobiography of a man who truly lived the "American Dream." His family moved from the Netherlands to the United States when he was a young child and he tells us his story of taking every available opportunity to become as "Americanized" as possible. I enjoyed this book so much that I am very tempted to give every detail of Edward Bok's life right here, but I will refrain. I do, though, recommend this book. It is well written and a very interesting read.

In my opinion, Edward Bok is one of the most important Americans that no one has heard of (at least I hadn't). He revolutionized the publishing business, especially regarding magazines. The Ladies Home Journal existed before Edward Bok, but it had a minute following. When he retired, the magazine reached circulation numbers of close to 2 million per year.

The thing that most fascinated me about Edward Bok was that he truly changed America in some very interesting ways. For example, he saw that many of the homes that the average person lived in were an eyesore - inside and out. He began by making a deal with an architect for the architect to draw up basic, functional house plans that Bok would in turn print in his magazine. This idea was such a hit that neighborhoods began popping up all over the country, and they were appropriately referred to as Ladies Home Journal neighborhoods. Next, Bok began printing landscaping plans in the magazine. Again, the idea took off. He single-handedly changed the face of America neighborhoods. Once the outside of the homes were dealt with, Bok moved to the inside, printing pictures of the interiors of stylish women's homes and even putting together mass produced portfolios of artwork that could be purchased and framed. As I was reading I felt chills as I realized that this was the beginning of the kinds of magazines I read today. I even (thanks to my mother-in-law) have my own subscription to Ladies Home Journal.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The War with Mexico - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1920

The War with Mexico, 2 Vols.
By: Justin H. Smith
Macmillan, 1919

Wow. What can I say about this book... I hate to be harsh, but I hated it. It was pure torture to me. Now, this probably says nothing about the quality of the book (it did win a Pulitzer) but probably more about my own immaturity. The history of wars is my least favorite part of history. Tell me about society during the war and I am all ears. This book, in 2 volumes, gives every single detail you could ever imagine about the 2 year Mexican-American War. I did read all of volume 1 and part of volume 2, and after that it was due at the library with no renewals (it was actually from interlibrary loan, so there was definitely no renewal option). So, I gave up.

I you happen to be writing a research paper on the Mexican-American War, this book would provide you with a ton of information. It is also interesting to read books written about war before the tendency to revisionist history. Smith does gift credit to the Mexicans for some of the good things they did, but he never misses a chance to point out how generally lazy and corrupt they all were. These were to times when there were no politically correct ways to say things, and one has to remember that when reading anything from this period. There is no modern filter. They say some highly offensive things that were normal then, so keep that in mind.