S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the category “Book Reviews”

Book Review- Killing the Rising Sun

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Rating – Five Stars

Bill O’Reilly hits a home run with his compendium of the 1940s Pacific War. He writes in an easy, sparse, and empathetic style. He paints the big pictures of the major land and sea battles and tells the stories of the “grunts” that did the fighting and dying. We know these grunts. We identify with them, we are appalled at the horrendous casualties, we share the agony with the wounded, and we attend their burials at sea, in unmarked graves, and at Arlington.

O’Reilly sets the stage for the war in the Pacific with the Empire of Japan. We learn of the building animosity in the 1930s between America and the Empire of Japan. The animus began when Japan invaded the Chinese province Manchuria in September 1931. Japan was eager to implement its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to conqueror East Asia for its natural resources. The animus increased when Japan invaded China in July 1937. The Kwantung Army captured Peking, Shanghai, and other coastal cities in a few days. French Indo-China fell to Japan in July 1941.

Responding, President Roosevelt (with Great Britain and the Netherlands) imposed an embargo on petroleum products, steel, and other natural resources for Japan. At the time, the Imperial Japanese Navy had only three months of bunker oil. General Hideki Tojo ordered the implementation of Command Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plan for a surprise attack on our fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii—Tora! Tora! Tora!

In the early morning on Sunday December 7, 1941, Imperial Japanese aircraft, from three aircraft carriers, bombed and torpedoed our fleet in Pearl Harbor with devastating results: sunk were the battleships, USS Arizona, USS Utah, USS Oklahoma, USS West Virginia, and USS California. Five other battleships were heavily damaged. President Roosevelt declared war on the Empire of Japan with the phrase, “a date which will live in infamy.”

O’Reilly guides us our journey through the bloody campaigns throughout the South and Central Pacific, and to the Japan’s home island Okinawa—where Kamikaze pilots drove their aircraft directly into our ships—causing devastating casualties in sailors and ships.

He details the great sea battles with cogency, Java Sea, Bismarck Sea, Coral Sea, Midway, Espírito Santo (“The Slot”), Battle of the Philippine Sea, Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the Okinawa Campaign. We crawl through the islands with the grunts: Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Buna, New Georgia, Mankin, Tarawa, Leyte, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, and Okinawa.

Almost seventy percent of this book discusses the atomic bomb. We follow President Roosevelt’s approval, General Groves management of this titanic project, Doctor Oppenheimer assembling his team at Los Alamos, work, innovation, breakthrough, and testing. The bomb on board the B-29 dubbed Enola Gay, Hiroshima in flames; another bomb on the B-29 dubbed Box Car, Nagasaki in flames. We see General MacArthur on board the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay signing the instrument of surrender. The greatest, most deadly, and costly war has concluded.

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Book Review- Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last: Second Edition

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Rating – Three Stars

For the aficionado of the Amelia Earhart disappearance, Campbell’s book is a must-read. He has assiduously reviewed the relevant literature regarding her last flight and, with keen ingenuity, he has compiled a compelling account that purports to unmask the enduring enigma of that flight. From the pertinent publications, he has excerpted eyewitness accounts (and second- and third-hand narratives), relevant documents, and technical details, and has assembled this substantial information into a coherent chronology.

Background: On 21 May 1937, in Oakland, California, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, started an around-the-world flight in her customized Lockheed Electra model 10E. At 1030 hours on 2 June 1939, they departed Lae, New Guinea, bound on a nonstop flight to Howland Island—2,333 nautical miles distant. They vanished. And the mystery has endured.

With deductive reasoning, Campbell concludes that Amelia Earhart landed her Lockheed Electra model 10E on Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands. There is no credible data to explain Earhart’s decision to fly into the Marshall—a dangerous action. Under a 1920 League of Nations mandate, the Japanese controlled the Marshall Islands—the Carolines and the Marianas. Japan sealed off this vast area of the Central Pacific within the Bamboo Curtain. In secret, during the 1930s, the Imperial Japanese Navy began construction of airfields, fortifications, ports, and other military projects in preparation for the upcoming war with the Occidentals.

Members of the Japanese Navy captured Earhart and Noonan, and took them to Saipan, the Japanese Navy Headquarters in the Pacific. The pair were interrogated, and imprisoned as spies. Eventually, a Japanese officer beheaded Noonan, and Amelia Earhart was either killed or died of disease. Their bodies were buried in unmarked graves.

The rebuttal to this scenario is that there are no artifacts, no photographs, and no written documents—we have nothing tangible. This lack of hard evidence is especially curious. The Japanese were obsessively driven to keep meticulous documentation and to keep Military Headquarters in Tokyo well informed of any out-of-ordinary activities. The capture of the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart would certainly have engendered a flurry of message traffic and entries into the diaries of senior officers. To date, no credible records exist. The Japanese were avid photographers, and many Saipan witnesses averred that they saw photographs of Earhart displayed by Japanese soldiers—yet no such photograph survives.

Notwithstanding the excellence with which Campbell has penned this exposé, I’m chagrined at his arrogant dismissal of all other scenarios that explain Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. In one instance, Campbell gives short shrift to Commander Warner K. Thompson’s 106-page report that was highly critical of Earhart’s piloting skills and decried her radio-technique ineptness. Forthrightly, Commander Thompson, captain of the USS Itasca, blames Amelia Earhart’s serial incompetence for her demise. Also, Campbell tends to reject evidence that counters his rock-solid dogma. Simply put, his singlemindedness in castigating the apostates with scandalous rhetoric and schoolboy name-calling denigrates in large measure his professional standing.

Campbell conducted only marginal original research. Rather, he has relied on secondary sources. He acknowledges missives and oral commentary from Bill Prymak, Thomas Devine, and Jim Golden. His three key publication sources were:

  • Fred Goerner, The Search for Amelia Earhart
  • Thomas E. Devine, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident
  • Vincent V. Loomis, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story

 As the thorough author Campbell is, he includes numerous photographs; Fred Goerner’s “Island Witness List”; a declassified COMNAVMARIANAS radio message to CNO, Subject: Amelia Earhart; a Selected Bibliography including reports and other documents, magazine, newspaper, and blog articles; and an Index.

Campbell writes with deft skills and unbridled passion in this seminal work. His narrative is infectious—a page-turner par excellence. His coherent assembly of the relevant material reflects incredible organizational skills and true dedication to his conviction.

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Book Review- King Tut and the Plagues of Egypt (The Adventures Through Time Series Book 1)

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Rating – Five Stars

Derrer sets the fantasy scenario for this manuscript in the 25th century. He weaves an intriguing and thoughtfully designed narrative that successfully integrates quantum physics, time travel, and family adventure. The patriarch of the family is Max Planck, who designed a quantum-physics time machine—controlled by the mastermind “Jeeves,” the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-intelligent android computer. Of note, the patriarch is a direct descendant of the Max Planck—German theoretical physicist, who developed the fundamentals of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century.

The Planck family’s goal is to visit Egypt during the 18th Dynasty in Thebes (about 1310 BC) during the co-regency of the ailing Amenhotep III and his young son Amenhotep IV, King Tutankhamun’s father. Historians aver that this time was one of the most turbulent and complex periods of ancient Egypt, exacerbated by holding the Israelites in slavery and their demands for freedom laced with horrific threats from their God.

At the time, the volcano Thera on the island Santorini was erupting violently. A monstrous Plinian column rose thousands of feet. Northwest winds battered Egypt with gale force tempests containing acid rain, toxic gasses, and tephra from the volcano. Subsonic eruptions periodically racked the kingdom. These calamities were the precursor of the 10 plagues that lacerated Egypt. The family wanted to observe (unseen) how the co-regency dealt with these vexing problems.

Using invisibility suits, they plant telecommunicative bugs in various temples and in the royal palace. They witnessed religious rites of human sacrifice, revelry, and drunken orgies to placate the god of war, Sekhmet, who was believed to be responsible for the plagues, but to no avail. The bugs transmitted images of the strikingly beautiful Nefertiti, wife of Amenhotep IV, and Moses and Arron demanding that Amenhotep IV release the Children of Israel from slavery. Moses delivered his ultimatum, “Let my people go. If you do not, the angel of death will strike down all the first-born of Egypt, man and animal, in a night.”

I was particularly impressed with Derrer’s scientific explanations of the cause of the plagues. No giveaway here.

They also witnessed the Israelis crossing the Sea of Reeds (usually and erroneously referred to as the Red Sea), and the pursuing Egyptian army destroyed by a tsunami wave.

I’m not an avid fan of science fiction. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this narrative, and I enthusiastically recommend it.

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Book Review- Prof: Alan Turing Decoded

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Rating – Two Stars

I’m sorely disappointed with this biography of Alan Turing, one of the 20th century’s greatest mathematicians. He was the lead cryptographer at Bletchley Park and helped break the German’s Enigma codes, significantly hastening the end of the War in Europe. To this end, his intellect led to the development of the digital computer.

Within this manuscript is a plethora of eminent persons, important places, and critical events. The failure to include an index is unforgivable. Accordingly, this dereliction negates this work as a reference book.

The author jumps about chronically, fails to complete scenes—leaving us hanging, wanders off on tangents, and stuffs the text with copies of notes, scribblings, letters, memos, and telegrams, documents (official and other). Except for a few, he could have summarized those of major import and placed others of significance in Addenda.

So much of Turing’s life could have been brought forth with this biography to make it soar and do honor to this extraordinary man. Rather, the book is unremarkable in all measures and minimizes the memory of Alan Turning to a faretheewell. There is a surfeit of information available about Turning that the author should have explored.

To this day, we do not know definitively why Alan Turing committed suicide at the young age of forty-two in 1954. Some suggest that his felo-de-se resulted from his conviction in an English court of homosexual behavior. Others postured that he was murdered—for reasons unknown.

Unfortunately, the author bogged the text in incoherence and squandered far too much of the manuscript on irrelevance. For example, the first seventy pages discuss Turing’s early life in agonizing detail. Three pages would do. Alternately, he gives little mention of Turing’s accomplishments at Bletchley Park. Here was a golden opportunity to highlight the details of Alan’s endeavor and discoveries in this super-secret, code-breaking operation.

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Book Review: The Wright Brothers

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Rating – Five Stars

The Wright Brothers is an outstanding book. McCullough narrates an insightful, compelling, and empathetic account of Wilbur and Orville Wright—brothers and the inventors of the airplane (a manned craft that under its own power could take off, make turns, and return to its starting point without any assistance from the ground or air).

The Wrights’s invention of the airplane was not a fluke. Rather, the brothers were studious and careful inventors who assiduously followed the engineering principles of research, development, testing, and evaluation. Starting in 1899 in a room above their bicycle shop, the brothers built their first aircraft—a flying kite with a five-foot wingspan and their ingenious wing warping design that could turn the aircraft. Following were a series of large kites, unmanned and manned gliders

In 1902, they moved their flight test operations from Dayton to the outer banks of North Carolina at Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk. After numerous glider test flights and meticulous engineering, the brothers crafted the Wright Flyer I—the first self-powered airplane.

Finally, at 1035 hours, Thursday, 17 December 1903, Orville flew the Wright Flyer I about 120 feet and was airborne for twelve seconds. Later that day, Wilbur flew the Flyer 175 feet. At day’s end, the record flight was 852 feet in 59 seconds—about 10 miles per hour.

Following was a veritable cascade of awards, accolades, and honors for the brothers. France and Germany were particularly interested in their airplane and invited the brothers to demonstrate manned flight in their countries. Wilbur sailed to France and during his eighteen-month stay flew his Wright Flyer III to the amazement of massive crowds and government officials.  The French awarded the Wrights a contract and Wilbur left the Flyer in Le Harve.

On September 1909, Orville was demonstrating a Wright Flyer to the United States Army at Fort Myer, Virginia.  Onboard was Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge—the Army’s aviation specialist. Cruising at 40 miles per hour and about 75 feet, Orville guided the Flyer in several “neat” turns. On the fourth turn, part of the propeller broke away. Uncontrolled, the Flyer crashed—killing Selfridge and seriously injuring Orville.

I highly recommend this remarkable biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

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Book Review: Particle Physics A Graphic Guide

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Rating – Three Stars

The authors make a valiant attempt to familiarize Quantum Field Theory to an educated public in 192 illustrated lesions in a small paperback book. Unfortunately, they fail. Their goal was unattainable. Such a manifold complicated subject is a serious challenge for doctoral candidates majoring in Quantum Mechanics Physics. Each page is presented clearly, has a picture of the physicist(s) who discovered or developed the quantum point discussed, and shows relevant graphics. That’s fine. The most educated of the general public would find this book an easy read but exceedingly difficult to understand. The problem is that the subject is just too complicated to be presented in such a miniature manner.

I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics—admittedly many years old. Nonetheless, I try to maintain minimum currency in Quantum Mechanics. I could understand, more or less, the concepts presented on most pages. The problem is the way the book is structured in headline tidbits. There’s no chance for an in-depth understanding or to tie concepts into a coherent understanding

To the author’s credit, they do cover the field—albeit superficially. They start with definitions of the atom, electron, proton, neutron; and proceed forthwith with the standard model, quarks, and the Higgs Boson; and conclude with supersymmetry, negative energy, dark matter, string theory, and a discussion of the solar neutrino.

Book Review: The Decisive Campaigns of the Desert Air Force 1942 – 1945

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Rating  – Four Stars

Evans relates the large-scale accomplishments of the Royal Air Force in the Cyrenaica, Sicilian, and Italian campaigns in World War II. His matter-of-fact style, presents the Desert Air Force’s (DAF) campaigns in a chronological, military style order. I would suggest that this book is for the military aficionado—clearly not for the casual reader.  It’s a dry recitation, laced with a few personal tidbits. 

He offers several maps, however, not enough of them and not annotated in pertinent detail enough—making it nettlesome to follow his narrative. Such especially is the case in his narrative of the Eight Army’s campaign in southeastern Tunisia. For example, on page 73 he discusses the Army’s capture of the strategic Tebaga Gap in March 1943. Unfortunately, Tebaga Gap is not spotted on the relevant map.

The RAF’s command of the sky over Cyrenaica and its perfected close air support technique were the deciding factors in the Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s British Eight Army’s successful breakout at El’ Alamein in December in 1942. The key to victory was the DAF’s total quashing of supplies for Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps’ Panzeramee. In particular, it was the sinking of the two Italian supply ships in the harbor at Tobruk, Proserpina and the Tergestea that was the death knell for the retreating Afrika Korps. Allied air power had won the air war over El’ Alamein.

Following, it was the DAF’s supremacy of the air that enabled allied armies to crack the Nazi’s Gustav strategic defensive line at Monte Cassino in May 1943; and the Gothic Line in the Po Valley in April 1945.

Overall, I rate this book four stars and a fine addition to a military historian’s library.

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Book Review: Hell and Good Company by Richard Rhodes

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Rating – Three Stars

Rhodes writes an easy read, semi-informative book about the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) that pitted the Fascists forces of General Francisco Franco against Spain’s “Republican” government. The Spanish government was far from a democracy—it was a pseudo-communist government that was suffused with Comintern agents of the Soviet Union. In May 1937, Spanish Communists took over the government.

Fighting with Franco were German and Italian air, artillery, and ground forces. Supporting the government were the military forces of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republic. About two million soldiers were involved in the war—200,000 killed and many thousands more wounded and missing.

Unfortunately, this book has no central theme—it has minimal coherence. Occasionally, Rhodes offers a snippet of the war about and who is doing what to whom, but mostly he focuses his narrative on the volunteer British medical personnel tending to wounded Republican soldiers: their heroism, dedication, and professionalism. Mostly, I reckon he discusses the Western expatriates that pontificated about the horrors of the war and the awful Fascists. Actually, this book is not about the Civil War in Spain, it’s about the expatriates in Spain during the Civil War. Here are a few of these people:

  • Ernest Hemingway. An American novelist. Whilst drinking, womanizing, and sending dispatches to the North American Alliance, he worked with Joris Ivens (Dutch artist and Communist) producing the agitprop film titled, The Spanish Earth.
  • Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s wife. American novelist, poet, political activist, and war correspondent. Worked trying to get Basque children evacuated to safety.
  • George Orwell, British leftist, novelist, and journalist. Volunteered to fight with the people’s militias “The Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification.” Wounded in the throat, he was medically discharged and returned to England. In the following years he wrote the satirical novels Animal Farm and 1984.
  • Muriel Rukeyser, American poet, war correspondent for the Daily Worker, and other far-left publications.
  • J.B.S. Haldane, British scientist and war correspondent.
  • Norman Bethune, thoracic surgeon and firebrand Communist, performed hundreds of operations, some in dire conditions. He was nonchalant about danger and would work in the front lines.
  • Man Ray, American Dada and surrealist artist, photographer, and filmmaker, documented the War.
  • Patience Darton, British nurse with keen initiative, gritty survival, and mental fortitude in tending to the wounded. Fell in love with an ardent Communist soldier—killed in action.
  • The International Brigades composed of Western volunteers.

Rhodes dedicates many pages to Pablo Picasso and his painting “Guernica.” Picasso was horrified by the German Condor Legion’s bombing and utter destruction of this Basque city on 26 April 1937. The commanding officer of the Condor Legion, Lieutenant Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, said, “Guernica must be destroyed if we are to strike a blow against the enemy personnel and material.” Joan Mirό, the Catalan surrealist, painted a large mural titled “Catalan Peasant in Revolt.”

Rhodes does not include pictures of these artworks, and his only overall map of Spain is inadequate. Nonetheless, Hell and Good Company would have an appeal for the literati.

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Book Review: Stonehenge Decoded by Gerald S. Hawkins

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Rating – Five Stars

 

Hawkins weaves a compelling narrative as he decodes the mysteries of the monument dubbed Stonehenge—an astronomical observatory lying on the Salisbury Plain in southwestern England. It’s a monumental temple with intricate celestial alignments concealed in apparent simplicity and symmetry of design. He posits that Stonehenge is the eighth wonder of the world.

His writing style is easy—clearly written for the layman. His explanations of technical details of the site are readily understandable. However, some his astronomical conclusions are beyond my skill level. Nonetheless, one can skip these details without losing the thread of his narrative. Outstanding graphics are exceptionally well annotated as are relevant photographs with cogent captions.

Archeologists estimate that the British began building Stonehenge about 2000 B.C. and finished around 1500 B.C. It was built in three eras—each about 150 years apart. The building of this temple to the sun and moon required its creators to have absolutely extraordinary theoretical and planning abilities and superb transportation and engineering skills—far beyond what we would have imagined of these people.

Significantly, the latitude of Stonehenge is sited at the almost perfect optimum for sun-moon rectangular alignments. There is only one latitude in the northern climes at which the extreme declinations of the azimuths of the sun and moon are separated by exactly ninety degrees. Stonehenge’s placement and orientation is within a few miles of this position—an error of only 0.2 degrees. The odds are astronomical that the builders chose this location by chance. They computed it.

The positioning of the large stones (some of the sarsen stones weigh as much as 40 tons) in precise astronomic alignment demanded critical astronomical and engineering skills. Such skills are beyond those possessed by most 20th century men.

Hawkins asks why so much energy, time, and physical and sociological resources were expended to build Stonehenge. We do not know. He suggests that they created this astronomical calendar for two reasons:

  1. It was an agricultural calendar used to compute the beginning of the seasons to plant crops and for other sociological purposes.
  2. It was for religious purposes—to create and maintain priestly power. For example, to predict the summer and winter solstices, many moon phenomena, and eclipses.

Hawkins concludes, “There are doubtless many remarkable things yet to be discovered about Stonehenge.”

I highly recommend this book for aficionados of this megalithic monument.

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Book Review: Air War Over Khalkhin Gol: The Nomonhan Incident

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Rating – Three Stars

From May to September, 1939, the Union of Socialists Soviet Republics and the Empire of Japan waged an undeclared war near the Khalkhin Gol (River) over the border between Soviet controlled Mongolia and the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo (formerly the Chinese Province Manchuria). In this little remembered war, casualties in men and equipment were exceedingly high in this vicarious conflict in the remotest and worthless real estate on the planet.

Kotelnikov presents a detailed account of the air war from the Soviet Union’s perspective.  In many ways, his account reminds one of the aerial “dog fights” over the Western Front in the Great War of 1914 to 1918. Unfortunately, his narrative fails to engender empathy in the audience. It’s a dry, statistical account, strung together in a continuous flow of text. The presentation would have been more comprehensible if he would have bulleted the data of the day-by-day air significant battles. His narrative has almost no personal details. We get some of the names of the Soviet and Japanese aviators but we do not get to know them—who they are, what they think, what they do in their off duty hours. The narrative is a dry telling of “just the facts.”

He fails to develop a broad perspective of this conflict. We do not understand very much about the war itself. He does not tell us what the war was really about (a continuation for control of the Pacific provinces—as in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905?). We need some details about the ground war to understand the implications of the air war.  We need information about the belligerent’s political thoughts and implications. At the time, the Second Sino-Japanese war was in full force, and war clouds were building aplenty over Europe.

I fault Kotelnikov severely for not providing comprehensive maps of the conflict. The few maps he offers are miniscule and unreadable. On the positive side, he presents an array of black and white photographs of Soviet aircraft and airmen, beautiful color drawings of the aircraft involved, and a supplement that details the background of the aircraft, their specifications, and performance.

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