Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.

NY: Liveright, 2015.

Until recently, Beard wasn’t that well-known outside the world of academic classicists, her occasional appearances on BBC notwithstanding. Then this engaging and engrossing volume of her thoughts on the Roman republic and the early empire came out after (literally) fifty years in the making, and everyone’s reading it. She may have done more for popular interest in ancient Rome than any writer since Gibbon.

First, she makes it clear that this is not a complete history of the 1,500 years of Rome’s existence in various forms. She’s interested mostly in the city’s establishment and the slow, nearly mythical formation of the Republic from its period of what were essentially warlords and gangsters. And she ends with Caracalla’s extension of citizenship to all free people within the empire in 212 CE, because after that it was an entirely different game with different rules, and not really “Roman” any more.



Winkler, John F. Point Pleasant, 1774: Prelude to the American Revolution.

Oxford, UK: Osprey, 2014.

Because of my own family connections, I have a strong interest in the colonists who settled along the Ohio River and in western Virginia and southwest Pennsylvania generally during the mid-18th century. That includes involvement in the Battle of Point Pleasant, which set the stage for the fight between Britain and the new “Americans” in the west.


Published in: on 16 December 2016 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Heinlein, Robert. A. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

NY: Putnam, 1966.

From the late 1950s on, I always read Heinlein’s newest book within months of its publication, and this one was no exception. It got me to thinking for some time afterwards about political systems in general and the requirements of a revolution. And boy, does he have a lot to say.


Appel, Allen. Time After Time.

NY: Carroll & Graf, 1985.

Among science fiction sub-genres, I’m a great fan of time-travel stories — and yet I somehow missed this first volume of an outstanding trilogy for more than a decade after its publication. How did I never hear of it or read a review? Because it certainly received a good deal of well-deserved attention among the reviewers. God only knows. But I’ve read all three volumes more than once in the thirty years since.


Johnson, Marilyn. Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rabble.

NY: HarperCollins, 2014.

I’ve been an archaeology junkie all my life, starting with my reading of Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology in 5th Grade many years ago. The summer after my freshman year in college, I was an unpaid volunteer for the National Park Service’s Missouri Valley Basin Project on the upper Great Plains — which mostly meant holding a surveyor’s rod steady, but I loved being associated with the guys who were searching for Indian hunting sites.


Kent, Alexander. To Glory We Steer.

NY: Putnam, 1968.

By internal chronology, this book ended up being the fifth in the lengthy series featuring Richard Bolitho of the Royal Navy, but it was actually the first one written, so this is where the author (who was really Douglas Reeman) first delineated the major continuing characters. Kent/Reeman was already well known for his World War II naval thrillers, but this was his first venture into earlier history and he nailed it from the outset. (more…)

Published in: on 1 October 2015 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lardas, Mark. Ships of the American Revolutionary Navy. (New Vanguard, 161)

Botley, UK: Osprey, 2009.

Osprey practically holds the patent on nicely illustrated nuts-and-bolts military history, and this 48-page work (their standard size) is well up to standard. The American colonies went into the Revolution with a well-established shipbuilding industry but they still had to scramble to try to take on the Royal Navy.


Published in: on 25 February 2015 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Kent, Alexander. Sloop of War.

NY: Putnam, 1972.

Richard Bolitho is one of the more interesting successors to Horatio Hornblower. In fact, his invention was one of the earliest after the death of C. S. Forester, even before that of Dudley Pope’s novels about Nicholas Ramage.


Knight, Damon. A for Anything.

NY: Avon, 1980

Almost all science fiction novels are built, explicitly or implicitly, around the question, “What if.” What if we could fly to the Moon? What if there are other people out there? What if we could go back in time? Damon Knight, one of the most inventive authors of the second half of the 20th century, starts this one with “What if you could have any physical item you wanted just by flipping a switch?”


Cherryh, C. J. Hellburner.

NY: Warner, 1992.

At the conclusion of Heavy Time (which you must read before you pick this one up), Paul Dekker was drafted into Earth’s military, largely as a way of sequestering him to keep him out of the hands of the media.