Looking Back From Ninety



All book links are to Amazon's US store, but you can probably find the same titles on your home-country store. I direct you to the print edition, where you'll also find the ebook if one is available. This website earns a small commission if you buy through these links. -- DF

This wonderful book is half an autobiography and half a survey of Eastern Europe, a war-torn region that for most of its existence had aggressive Russia on one side and aggressive Germany on the other. And it was a fractured region, divided less by frontiers than by language, religion, and ideology. "It was the place where the Catholic Church met its Orthodox counterpart," explains Jacob Mikanowski. "It was the border between Rome and Constantinople, Latin and Greek, Gothic spires and wooden domes." There were Muslims in the south, left over from the Ottoman Empire. And Jews! "About 80 percent of the Jews alive today can trace their ancestry back to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth" that lasted until Prussia, Austria-Hungary, and Russia divided it up in 1795. They play a correspondingly large role in Goodby Eastern Europe, to the point where I found myself skipping through the endless Jewish folk tales. But overall I was enchanted. I even enjoyed the Epilog!

Serhii Plokhy was born in Russia, grew up in Ukraine, and divided his university years between them. With nice timing, he finished graduate studies in 1990, just as the Soviet Union was imploding. He made his way to Canada and then the US, where he now enjoys the mouth-filling title of Harvard's Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History. As you might expect, the first third of The Russo-Ukrainian War is a slog. Prof Plokhy starts with Moscow in December 1991, with Mihail Gorbachev stepping down as president of the USSR. When he's finished with his speech. the USSR no longer exists, and the reason is -- Ukraine, which votes overwhelmingly to free itself of Russian rule, with the weird result that it becomes a major nuclear power. And so it goes. I am halfway through the book before we I come to February 2022 and Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" to murder Ukraine'e president and incorporate the country into his Russian Federation. Though it's hard going at times, the detour is worth while, and I heartily recommend the book. I read the Kindle ebook, which is priced at a modest $9.66.

The Blitz 1940-41 a handsomely illustrated campaign history from Osprey Books, with some particularly fine paintings and handsome photographs, including some in color. The text by Julian Hale takes particular care to lay out Hitler's, Göring, and the Luftwaffe's hopes and plans for the raids on London and other English cities in the summer, fall, and winter of 1940-1941. Perhaps the greatest German failure was the cancellation of the long-range, four-engine "Uralbomber" program in 1937, forcing it to rely on lighter twin-engine aircraft and even, on one occasion, Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters carrying bombs. Despite its inadequacy, the Luftwaffe killed so many civilians in the Blirz that not 1942 did British military deaths exceed those suffered on the home front. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Daniel Ford's books:

Looking Back From Ninety: Depression, War, and the Good Life That Followed
Cowboy: Interpreter, Soldier, Warlord, and One More Casualty of Our War in Vietnam
The Only War We've Got: Early Days in South Vietnam
Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault & His American Volunteers, 1941-1942
Tales of the Flying Tigers (think of it as a lengthy appendix to the history)
The Lady and the Tigers (Olga Greenlaw)
Poland's Daughter: How I Learned About Love, War, and Exile
Glen Edwards: Diary of a Bomber Pilot
A Vision So Noble: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and America's War on Terror
The Country Northward: A Hiker's Journal
The Greater America: An Epic Journey Through a Vibrant New Country (Ralph Paine)
~ ~ ~ ~
Michael's War: A Story of the Irish Republican Army
Remains: A Story of the Flying Tigers
Incident at Muc Wa: A Story of the Vietnam War
The High Country Illuminator: A Tale of Light and Darkness and the Ski Bums of Avalon

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