Sunday, July 24, 2016

This week at the library...

WEDNESDAY
Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m.

EARLY WARNER BROS. STUDIOS:
An Illustrated Talk
Since 1928, Warner Bros. has produced thousands of beloved films and televion shows at the studio's magical 110-acre film factory in Burbank. Archivist and author E.J. Stephens will share the history of the four Warner brothers and how their studio arrived in Burbank.



FRIDAY
Buena Vista Branch, 10:00 a.m.

Computer 101 presents...
A GUIDE TO
Discover your family history, and learn how to research your family tree. Taught by Barb Randall from the Southern California Genealogical Society.
No sign-ups needed.


Central Library, 2:00 p.m.

Friday Matinees presents...
EDDIE THE EAGLE

Inspired by true events, Eddie the Eagle is a feel-good story about Michael "Eddie" Edwards (Taron Egerton), an unlikely but courageous British ski-jumper.
106 minutes / rated PG-13

 




 
SATURDAY
Buena Vista Branch, 11:00 a.m.


Saturday Family Films presents...
THE PIRATE FAIRY

Tinker Bell and her friends go in search of a wayward fairy who fled Pixie Hollow and joined up with a band of scheming pirates led by the future Captain Hook.


78 minutes / rated G





Thursday, July 21, 2016

Teen series that appeal to adults

So many librarians and adult patrons have expressed their love for a couple of teen series (most of them having discovered them either through a recommendation from a teen librarian or via their teenage son or daughter!) that I thought I would feature them here, so that those looking for a satisfying read for the end of summer might be tempted to look them up.

The first series is The Naturals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. There are three books so far, and a fourth is expected out in November.

The Naturals is about an FBI division that uses gifted teenagers to profile and catch serial killers. Each of the teens in the program has some kind of "power," but it's not paranormal or supernatural; these teens are just super-sensitive and perceptive beyond the norm, mostly as a result of childhood trauma. The main character, Cassie, is a natural at profiling: When she meets and interacts with people, she picks up on the small details that help her understand their personalities and predict how they might behave. The other teens have their own gifts--one is a genius with statistics and numbers, another can read people's emotions by minutely observing their facial expressions, and one can infallibly tell if someone is lying. All these gifts are put to use by a couple of FBI agents keen to solve some cold cases; but inevitably (you knew it was coming) the cases go live, the teens are in a volatile situation, and they're working together against time to catch a killer.

The series has more depth than you would expect, because in addition to the current cases on which the teens are working, each of them has an interesting back story that is revealed gradually throughout the three books. The relationships among them are likewise engaging, and while there is some romantic involvement, there's none of the dreaded "insta-love" that can ruin a teen novel!

The three books are: The Naturals, Killer Instinct, and All In. The fourth book will be called Bad Blood. Be aware that there is graphic imagery, as there is in any book involving serial killers, so if you're squeamish about that, this may not be the series for you! But if you like murder mysteries, profilers, and FBI stories, check it out.



In a complete departure from this series for mature teens about gritty real-life issues, the other series I'd like to feature is the Lockwood & Co. novels by British author Jonathan Stroud. This series is a delightful fantasy based on the premise that ghosts have risen from the grave to haunt the citizens of England. They call it "the Problem," and it has caused a radical change in lifestyle for subjects of the British crown--no going out at night, extreme caution around graveyards, and surprise visitations in unlike places by otherworldly denizens. The key to solving "the Problem" is the abilities manifested by children and teens; only those under a certain age are able to see, hear, or somehow sense the "Visitors." So while all the adults are locked up snug in their beds, roving Psychic Investigation teams of children and teenagers armed with salt bombs, lavender, and iron filings (all things anathema to ghosts, shades, spirits, poltergeists, and other miscellaneous specters) are out cleansing the city of danger.

Lucy Carlyle, fresh from a ghost-hunting debacle (not her fault) in the country, arrives in London hoping for a job at one of the big agencies. Instead, she ends up accepting a position with Lockwood & Co., the company consisting of Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins, and now Lucy. They're small but ambitious, they think outside the box and, despite many mishaps, they all have confidence that someday they'll make it big and receive the recognition they deserve.

The first book, The Screaming Staircase, establishes the back story a bit, and then the series continues with the ghost-fighting adventures of the agency in The Whispering Skull and The Hollow Boy. I found all the characters whimsical and fun, the mysteries interesting, the haunting scenarios honestly a bit frightening, and the world-building believable. I think readers from sixth grade onward would enjoy these books, but while appealing to the young, they are sophisticated enough in their humor and emotional content to hook anyone.

  


The fourth book, The Creeping Shadow, is due out in September, so the library has it on order, and it's the perfect amount of time for you to read the other three in preparation!

Consider enjoying some teen fiction--not just for teens!



Sunday, July 17, 2016

This week at the library...

This week's summer reading programs for children...

FAMILY SHOW
For ages five and under.
This week: FANTASTIC PATRICK!

MONDAY: Buena Vista Branch, 10:00 a.m.--FINAL PARTY!
WEDNESDAY: Northwest Branch, 10:00 a.m.--FINAL PARTY!



FAMILY STORYTIME
Children five and under enjoy stories, songs, crafts, and films.

TUESDAY: Buena Vista Branch, 10:00 a.m.
WEDNESDAY: Buena Vista Branch, 10:00 a.m.
THURSDAY: Central Library, 10:00 a.m.
FRIDAY: Central Library, 10:00 a.m.






FINAL PARTY with ONE WORLD RHYTHM or TIC CLOWNS!
READ FOR THE WIN! Summer Reading Club for Grades 1-6

TUESDAY: Northwest Branch, 6:30 p.m.
WEDNESDAY: Central Library, 3:00 and 7:00 p.m.
THURSDAY: Northwest Branch, 10:00 a.m., and
        Buena Vista Branch, 3:00 and 7:00 p.m.

TUESDAY
Central Library, 12:00 noon

BROWN BAG BOOK CLUB
Please bring your lunch and join the discussion of Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese.


Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m. (story time room)

SCENE OF THE CRIME
MYSTERY BOOK CLUB
The club has read and will discuss The Rain King, by Paul Hartel.



Central Library, 7:00 p.m. (on the lawn)

Sounds of Summer Concerts presents...
MARIACHI DIVAS!

The Grammy Award-winning Mariachi Divas are a multicultural, all-female ensemble imbued with the unique musical flavor of Los Angeles. This group brings new meaning to the genre with their multi-cultural, eclectic and innovative sound. Bring your lawn chairs or a blanket!





Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m. (auditorium)

BPL Teen Services presents...
HARRY POTTER TRIVIAL PURSUIT TOURNAMENT!

Test your knowledge of HARRY POTTER! Put together a team of three, and compete for Potter-related PRIZES! Name and sign up your team by emailing melliott@burbankca.gov.
If you’re not a Potter FANatic, other board games will be available to play...although we think you will be too busy rooting for a team! For teens in grades 7-12 only.


THURSDAY
Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

GENRE-X BOOK CLUB
(not your mother's book club)
The book up for discussion is Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead.








SATURDAY
Buena Vista Branch, 11:00 a.m.

Saturday Family Films presents...
STUART LITTLE
Stuart is a mouse who is adopted into a human family. His new parents are sure thrilled with him, but everyone is not. Through a series of adventures he eventually gains the love of his big brother, acceptance by the extended Little family and even the grudging tolerance of the family cat.
84 minutes / rated PG








Buena Vista Branch, 5:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.
(after hours)

HALFTIME HORROR!
Teen Summer Reading Program Finale

You're at the big game, and it's halftime. You're enjoying the show, munching on some snacks, when suddenly, over the loudspeaker, you hear: "There has been FOUL PLAY at this event. The building is locked down. No one is leaving until the mystery is solved!" And it's up to YOU to figure out whodunnit!
For teens in grades 7-12 ONLY.
Questions? Email melliott@burbankca.gov.




Thursday, July 14, 2016

What We're Reading: New American History


Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution,
by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Nathaniel Philbrick writes books on American History that end up on the New York Times Bestseller List. It’s not because his books are revisionist or because he is engaged in new or original research. He has a knack for picking historical stories--with their sidelines and subplots--that are of popular interest, and fashioning them into a fresh and compelling narrative. Another hallmark of his books is that the reader is not flummoxed by arcane military history. Philbrick is able to explain the facts in such a way that the military strategy of a battle can be understood by the general reader, and his books are always accompanied by specially commissioned maps that provide a visual guide to understanding the topography and tactical array. And without being heavy-handed about it, he allows his readers to discover for themselves the instructive lesson of the tale, the ways in which the historical account has something to say of relevance about the cultural and political topics of our day.



Surrender of General Burgoyne to General Gates at the Battle of Saratoga by John Trumbull.
Saratoga was one of the most critical battles of the American Revolution. The
American victory influenced France's decision to enter the war. Benedict Arnold
was one of the heroes of Saratoga, where he received a debilitating leg wound.

Key to his engaging narration is the care Philbrick takes to give us a sense of the character of each of his major protagonists, the way he can reach beyond the iconic and symbolic lineaments, and restore them to life as real people on the historical stage. In Valiant Ambition, the action and character of Benedict Arnold is the subject of extended research and rumination. Philbrick seldom, however, mentions any supporting figure in his cast without giving us a sense of his or her character as well. The British commanders--William Howe, Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne in America--are all deftly presented, as are the American generals Horatio Gates and Nathaniel Greene. The measure of Philbrick’s skill is reflected in the fact that he leaves the reader intrigued and wanting to know more about some of these people. Nathaniel Greene’s advice to Washington seems intelligent and circumspect, and one comes to appreciate more deeply his role as an important adviser regarding Washington’s tactical decisions. His was often a moderating and cautious voice that got Washington to reconsider his more impulsive plans. If your appetite is whetted to learn more about the enigmatic Howe, there is a fine portrait of him in another book reviewed previously for this blog: The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, The American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire, by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy.


Portrait of American General Nathaniel Greene
1783 by Charles Wilson Peale
The great character foil to Arnold in this book is George Washington himself. The exposition of Arnold’s flaws serves to highlight the leadership virtues that were needed to keep the fledgling revolt on course and to prosecute the war to victory. As in Robert Middlekauff’s fine recent book on Washington, Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader (also reviewed previously for this blog), we get a portrait of the pre-iconic Washington, the character of the person before the myth and apotheosis. Philbrick gives us the portrait of a flawed man who learned from his mistakes, one who, while jealous of his personal reputation and honor, always kept his ego in check in service of his commitment to his republican ideals and the military requirements of victory. In Valiant Ambition we get a perhaps unexpected portrait of the colonies in revolt: the general chaos that seemed to prevail, the problems of internal state rivalries, the lack of centralized and coordinated civilian leadership, the corruption and opportunism of so many colonists, the selfish personal agendas of both economic gain and reputation that so many pursued, and, above all, the lack of popular support for the dire needs of soldiers in the Continental Army.


Portrait of Washington, 1776 by Charles Wilson Peale.
Commissioned by the Continental Congress in
appreciation of Washington's successful siege that
drove British troops from Boston.
Washington had to deal with the practical problems of sustaining his army, manage the internal rivalries of his staff, and suffer the frequent disparagement of his competency and military leadership from both those he led in battle and from civilian leaders. But Washington suffered it all for the sake of his country when other men would have left their command in frustration with their wounded pride or, as Arnold did, offer their services to the enemy. As the war dragged on, most of that Continental Army was composed, not of native-born colonial citizens and militias that were central to the early years of the conflict, but of immigrants from England, Ireland, and Germany, and poorer native white men who were hired as “substitutes” by rich land owners and merchants. Philbrick makes the case that, in addition to his own vainglory and ego, the proximate grounds for Arnold’s disaffection related to his experience as a soldier, what his service cost him financially, his sense of how his service was not appreciated adequately in terms of rank and promotion, and the debilitating wounds he suffered in fighting for his country.

Color engraved portrait of Benedict Arnold.
This story builds to the moment of reckoning: Benedict Arnold’s attempt to betray, for a sizeable financial reward, the American fortress at West Point on the Hudson to the British. Philbrick has built his major themes well in the preceding chapters, and they come together in this fine account of the spying and intrigue, Arnold’s actions and flight, and the execution of Major André as a spy. Philbrick perhaps overstates the importance of Arnold’s treason in suggesting by his title that the fate of the revolution was at issue. The successful betrayal of West Point and the British control of a large segment of the Hudson that would have come as a result may have been decisive to the American cause, but others might argue that the outcome of the American Revolution had already become “fated” when France and Spain entered the war and the British government was forced to turn its attention to protecting its economically more valuable possessions in the West Indies. And while Benedict Arnold’s attempted treason certainly outraged Patriots, it is hard to know if they drew from it the instructive and reformative meaning that Philbrick ascribes--his notion that it created some kind of awakening in the country to the threats posed by radical dissension and disunity and the disaffection for the cause that they fostered. But we come away from this story understanding that in a national cause, personal valor and ambition (things we prize) are virtues that can exist in an individual without a vision of the common good and a commitment to serving it. They become vain-glory and egotism poised, dangerously, on the brink of dishonor.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What we're reading: A trilogy? A series?

Here's the story: I was poking around looking for something new to read, and I found the mystery Natchez Burning, by Greg Iles, on the New Books shelf at the library. I had read a previous book (Dead Sleep) by Iles, and given it five stars and a good review. It was a little graphic and a little frantic, but it was a smart and well-paced thriller, so I was already a fan. Natchez Burning sounded interesting and weirdly topical, given the current headlines about Black Lives Matter, and also a break from my usual mystery fare (which is mostly British-based for some reason), but when I looked it up on Goodreads, there was some confusion: Natchez Burning is listed as #4 in the Penn Cage series, but then when you read the introduction, it says "the first installment in an epic trilogy." But since the previous three books were indeed about the same protagonist, and since I am a stickler for reading series in order, I went ahead and read The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, and The Devil's Punchbowl before tackling Natchez.

Well! Those three books were good, and even though the events of each transpired either immediately or soon after the events of the previous, they all acted like stand-alone books, in that they each had a story arc that resolved at the end of that novel, which I liked.

In The Quiet Game, Texas prosecuting attorney Penn Cage's life has been forever altered by the death of his young wife. He packs up his little daughter and heads back to Natchez, Mississippi, his hometown and where his parents still live, to give himself a chance to heal, and to give his daughter an extended family to support her. Almost the minute he arrives, though, he gets caught up in solving a 30-year-old murder of a black man whose killers would just as soon keep the case a mystery.

This book is packed with content. Murder is the least of it--betrayal, graft, political maneuvering, multiple love interests to sweeten the deal--there's a little bit of everything. Sometimes I find that confusing or distracting, but this book also had a logical progression to its complexity that I enjoyed and was able to follow and appreciate. I liked the characterizations--they had some emotional depth. The unexpected twists and turns were surprising and engaging, and although he pulled a bit of a Hail Mary pass at the end, it worked with the rest of the plot.

Turning Angel was a segue into a completely different arena. Two teens are murdered, and the privileged white residents of Natchez get their eyes opened wide about the drug use and sexual maturity of their children.

There were some negative opinions on Goodreads about the way Iles treated the subject matter, but I thought it was dealt with in a thoughtful and even-handed manner. Yes, the themes were uncomfortable, and inappropriate, and in some cases also hard to believe. But I liked all the inner dialogue and tension around the conflicts and confusions of the people involved.

Ironically, while none of that bothered me, I was somewhat disappointed by the way this book turned about halfway through. There's a long lead-in to the arrest and the trial, a prominent attorney is hired to defend the guy...but then we don't get to see any of the trial, the book takes a segue in another direction, and the character of the attorney might as well not have been included (except as a set-up for a future book). It also bothered me that much of the interaction between Penn and his new girlfriend, journalist Caitlin Masters (left over from the end of The Quiet Game) about where their relationship was going ended up happening mostly "off camera" and was simply summed up later in the book in a few short sentences. So, I didn't enjoy Turning Angel as much as the previous book, but it was still good enough to lead me to the next one...

In The Devil's Punchbowl, Penn Cage has successfully run for mayor of his hometown, and is now up against it to make good on his campaign promises. He gets distracted from the major issue of the Mississippi public education system, however, when disturbing evidence surfaces that criminals are using the tourism provided by the Magnolia Queen, a river boat casino parked on the mighty Mississippi below the Natchez bluff, to run a highly illegal and morally questionable enterprise (dog fighting) on the side.

This book was definitely up to Greg Iles's usual standards--intricately plotted and full of surprises. It also, however, featured some rather gruesomely graphic imagery that I could have lived without. Don't get me wrong--the story required it. I just wish I didn't know that there were people in the world who would do those kinds of things to dogs. I'm not naive, and I do support a couple of rescue organizations that deal with some of the horrific results of human cruelty to animals, but...if you're a dog-lover (or squeamish) (or both), you might not want to read this.

Having finished this marathon read of three books numbering their pages in the 500s and 600s in preparation for the book in which I was originally interested, in all innocence I then proceeded to check out Natchez Burning.

(For those interested in the author, this is his first book in five years because he was in a horrific car accident in which he lost a leg. Judging by this book and the next, the accident didn't mess with any other abilities in the least!)

Natchez is complicated, convoluted, multi-layered, and pretty grim, with multiple bad guys, multiple murders, multiple innocent and not-so-innocent victims, multiple police, federal, and independent agencies (the Texas Rangers, for crying out loud) on the multiple cases, and covering a span of history from the 1940s to the present, touching on some famous cases from the 1960s. And...791 pages later, I discovered that it ends on a cliffhanger. Yes, this trilogy, unlike its predecessors, is an actual three-part story, and Iles has so far taken five pages shy of 1600 pages (in this and the next book) to tell it!

When I got done with Natchez, I almost stopped there...but I had already checked its sequel, The Bone Tree, out of the library, and I was curious to see where the story would go next. By the middle of this one, though, I was done. Exhausted, wrung out, and, truth be told, a tiny bit bored. (It could have done with about 200 fewer pages.) But...I kept on going, things picked up, and yes, at the end of this book more than a few things have been resolved, thank goodness. Sighs of relief! Nonetheless, there's a whole subset of bad guys still out there, the crime that was possibly committed at the beginning of the novel by Penn Cage's father has still not been addressed, Tom Cage is in jail awaiting trial, and I'm sure there's another 800 pages to come!

Nearly one month after I started the first book...I'm so relieved that Iles isn't finished with that last book yet (it's called Unwritten Laws, and publishes next April), because I would have to read it now. Have to. And I'm really glad that I don't. I'm going to go read a YA romance novel. Seriously. And be happy about it.

Mr. Iles, I will see you later, because your books are smart, thoughtful, and gripping, and I have to know how everything turns out. But don't hurry to finish on my account--I can wait. Whew!



Monday, July 11, 2016

This week at the library...

This week's summer reading programs for children...

FAMILY SHOW
For ages five and under.
This week: FANTASTIC PATRICK!

THURSDAY: Central Library, 7:00 p.m.--FINALE!




FAMILY STORYTIME
Children five and under enjoy stories, songs, crafts, and films.

TUESDAY: Buena Vista Branch, 10:00 a.m.
WEDNESDAY: Buena Vista Branch, 10:00 a.m.
THURSDAY: Central Library, 10:00 a.m.
FRIDAY: Central Library, 10:00 a.m.






VENTRILOQUIST JIM ADAMS!
READ FOR THE WIN! Summer Reading Club for Grades 1-6

TUESDAY: Northwest Branch, 6:30 p.m.
WEDNESDAY: Central Library, 3:00 and 7:00 p.m.
THURSDAY: Northwest Branch, 10:00 a.m., and
        Buena Vista Branch, 3:00 and 7:00 p.m.


TUESDAY
Buena Vista Branch, 6:30 p.m.

Twilight Cinema presents...
RACE

Jesse Owens's quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler's vision of Aryan supremacy.
134 minutes / Rated PG-13


WEDNESDAY
Central Library, 5:30 p.m.

MEETING, BOARD OF LIBRARY TRUSTEES


Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m.
BOOK CAFÉ!
This is the last Book Café of the Teen Summer Reading Program, so teens, don't miss it! Our guest author this week is Robyn Schneider, who has written two realistic fiction novels that have been compared to John Green and Rainbow Rowell! We will also have the usual activities--Six Word Plots, book-talking, prize drawings, and coffee house treats! And if you have attended three of the four Book Café sessions this summer (counting this final session), Wednesday night is when you get to pick the free book of your choice from our magnificent stash! This program is for TEENS in grades 7-12 ONLY.


SATURDAY
Central Library, 10:15 a.m.

MUSIC AND MOVEMENT
for preschoolers
A fun introduction to movement, coordination, rhythm, and dance!








Buena Vista Branch, 11:00 a.m.

Saturday Family Films presents...
MADAGASCAR

At New York's Central Park Zoo, a lion, a zebra, a giraffe, and a hippo are best friends and stars of the show. But when one of the animals goes missing from their cage, the other three break free to look for him, only to find themselves reunited ... on a ship en route to Africa. When their vessel is hijacked, however, the friends, who have all been raised in captivity, learn first-hand what life can be like in the wild.

98 minutes / rated PG


Thursday, July 07, 2016

What We're Reading: The Battle of the Atlantic


The Battle of the Atlantic:
How the Allies Won the War,
by Jonathan Dimbleby


The “Battle of the Atlantic” is the term used to describe the war at sea that took place during World War II between Germany and the Allies. Great Britain’s economy, and thus its ability to continue the fight, depended on its access to food and commercial supplies from throughout the British Empire. Its need for oil imports and a supply of military manufacturing materials was critical to its industry and the replacement of weapons in its arsenal. The objective of the German naval war was to sink as much enemy commercial shipping in the Atlantic as possible, ships bound to Great Britain from North and South America and to the Soviet Union through the North Atlantic and Arctic seas. After Germany declared war on the United States in late 1941, a further German objective was to hinder the transport of American troops and supplies across the Atlantic to the theaters of war, to make difficult the Allied landing of forces in North Africa, and to prevent a channel crossing and launch of an invasion in France, the so-called “Second Front.”

German Admiral Karl Donitz reviewing one of his U-Boats
at the French port of Saint Nazaire.
In recent years, the Battle of the Atlantic has received more attention from historians. In retrospect, its critical importance seems apparent. What happened in the cold, dark and remote reaches of the Atlantic--the sinking of merchant ships alone at sea or travelling in protective convoys--was something that happened out of the public eye. And the losses were so staggering that the governments of Great Britain and the United States were not eager for these German successes to become public knowledge, fearing their effect on civilian morale. Between 1939 and 1945, more than 3.500 merchant ships were sunk (14.5 million gross tons of shipping) and 175 Allied warships. More than 36,000 merchant seamen and 36,200 Allied sailors lost their lives. In the end, the Germans ended up losing 783 U-boats. Of 38,000 young German men who served on these boats, 30,000 lost their lives, the highest mortality rate of any branch of service that took part in the second world war. The Battle of the Atlantic was the most continuous action of the war against Germany. It took place largely out of sight, and while the Normandy Landings, the Soviet repulse of the German invasion at Stalingrad, and the Allied victories in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy are more well known, it is hard to argue against those that maintain that the Battle of the Atlantic was determinative. It can be argued that it did not guarantee an Allied victory, but losing it would have made an Allied victory impossible.

Coast Guardsmen on the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spencer
watch the explosion of a depth charge, which drove the
German submarine U-175 to the surface on 17 April, 1943.


Rescued German crew members of U-175
This is one of the best contemporary books written on the conduct of the Battle of the Atlantic to date. A few years ago, a book was published that focused on the pivotal months of the battle in 1943 in which the Allies finally began to win the war against the U-boats: Turning the Tide: How A Small Band of Allied Sailors Defeated the U-Boats and Won the Battle of the Atlantic, by Edward Offley. The accounts in this book of the dramatic action at sea are well written and engaging, and Offley is good at explaining the intelligence, tactical, and technological changes that were responsible for defeating the U-boat assault. But  Jonathan Dimbleby’s book is a much more comprehensive overview of the Battle of the Atlantic. In this book, two interrelated narratives unfold, one about the military encounters at sea--and the tactical and technological changes that made the difference for the Allies--and another about the changing strategic context in which those engagements took place. The latter is the important achievement of The Battle of the Atlantic: its remarkable reconstruction of the internal strategic arguments that took place regarding conduct of that conflict within the German, British, and American commands as well as the tensions between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin over the war at sea. The personal and diplomatic notes between these principals over the Battle of the Atlantic (and related issues that impacted the conduct of that battle) provide some of the most interesting reading in this book.

Dimbleby also has an interesting analysis of the intelligence war, one that provides a somewhat different perspective on the relative value of breaking the German Enigma code to the Battle of the Atlantic (something readers may find at odds with contemporary book and movie accounts of the heroics of the wunderkinds at Bletchley Park). And readers may find surprising the revelations about how careless--indeed, irresponsible--the British were when it came to protecting their own codes. The Germans may arguably, given this lapse, have had better intelligence about the shipping they were trying to sink and the movement of British warships than the British had about U-boat movements.

The Pennsylvania Sun, torpedoed by U-571 125 miles
west of  Key West, 1942.
Perhaps what will be most shocking to American readers in this book is Dimbleby’s account of the German’s “Operation Drumbeat.” It was not a proud moment in American naval history, and it doesn’t receive a lot of historical attention. Most Americans know little or nothing about it. After the declaration of war on the United States, from January through August of 1942, German U-boats began a remarkable period of successful predation on American eastern seaboard merchant shipping and on shipping in the Caribbean. The U.S. Navy was unprepared and slow to respond. Blackouts were not ordered for American coastal cities, and merchant ships were silhouetted against the lights of the shore, making them easy targets for German U-boats. Six hundred and nine merchant vessels were sunk, thousands of lives lost, and 3.1 million tons of goods went to the bottom of the Atlantic. It was a remarkable lapse in American preparedness and defense. The loss took place over a number of months, but the destruction ranks with the spectacular catastrophe at Pearl Harbor.

Crew of U-boat 73. It was sunk by the Allies in 1943.

We tend to think that, in a situation of gravity and high stakes, the judgement of individual leaders and the wisdom of a collective circle of advisers will rise to the occasion, that there is better or more careful decision-making because so many lives are at stake. The Battle of the Atlantic will disabuse you of this notion. The author is careful to point out the strategic errors in judgement, both of the winners and the losers, as they made mistakes that lost lives pointlessly and with a shameful profligacy.

Allied sailors mark the sinking of their first U-boat.
More would follow as the Allies began to get the
upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic.
In World War II, so much happened on so many fronts in such a short period of time that it is impossible to write any single book that can be comprehensive. The amount of consequential and simultaneous activity defies our usual tools of distillation, summation, and comprehension. Even an account of a single theater of the war such as the Battle of the Atlantic poses challenges. This book is circumspect in what it includes, while remaining impressive in scope, and will likely become an enduring historical account.

The selection of historical photos included in this book is superb.