Bling Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage (2000) by Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew and Annette Lawrence Dew tells some of the story of the remarkable role played by US submarines in the Cold War.
The book starts by describing the changes of submarines after WWII with diesel boats that would remain underwater most of the time to nuclear powered boats that could remain underwater for long periods of time.
The book then gets into some of the exploits of the nuclear powered spying vessels that managed to find downed Soviet boats, find lost US nuclear weapons and to tap Soviet military undersea cables. It’s all pretty remarkable.
The book is a bit over the top though, every second US captain is a swarthy confront superiors type. There is little real detail about how quiet the boats are, from non US submariners I’ve heard that diesel boats are often quieter than nuclear boats, but nowhere is this sort of discussion in the book. Also if you’re not an American the jingoism is a little wearing. It’s also suggested that the US was following most Soviet missile boats, this doesn’t seem to be accurate, the Soviets seemed to have a fairly potent second strike ballistic missile submarine capability. The book itself has a ‘record’ trail. Presumably if these trails were rarely that long there was a lot of time when Soviet boats did do the same thing as US boomers.
For anyone interested in entertaining historical military tales the book has a lot going for it, as reflective history it’s far weaker. Still, it’s enjoyable and surely does provide some accurate information about the remarkable tale of submarines in the Cold War.
Girt (2013) by David Hunt is a humorous look at early Australian history as far as the early 19th century.
Apparently the book is pretty well researched. It’s also quite amusing. The jokes tend to be a bit heavy handed though. It’s full of interesting anecdotes and facts as well. So it’s easy, amusing reading that has a lot of information on just how corrupt, drunk and disorganised it all was.
It’s a fun read and would be well worth giving to high school students who think Australian history is dull.
The Hunter Killers: The Extraordinary Story of the First Wild Weasels (2015) by Dan Hampton describes operations of the US anti-SAM aircraft, the Wild Weasels and their operations in Vietnam.
Ground fire and SAMs often result in the most aircraft losses. In WWII 65% of the allied aircraft lost were lost to ground fire. SAMs make it even more dangerous. Vietnam was the first war in which SAMs were used counter tactics were developed. The F-105 Thunderchief was altered with extra electronics and an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) was used to work out what sensors were reading.
The book mixes a description of what was added to the F-105s, mission reports and a narrative of the Vietnam war to good effect. It’s not a great book but if you’re interested in these sorts of things it’s worth a read. The mission reports are often a bit confusing, but really are quite gripping. The narrative about the Vietnam War is reasonably interesting and is needed to explain the tactics that were used.
It would have been great to have had more explanation of the sensors the Weasels flew with and a bit more of a description of their tactics, but it’s still an enjoyable read for anyone who wants to know more about the remarkable men who flew these missions and how they operated.
Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization (2009) by Lars Brownworth is a quick history of the Byzantine Empire. Brownworth made a series of podcasts about 12 Byzantine Emperors that he turned into this book.
The book isn’t as in depth as John Julius Norwich’s Trilogy, but the advantage is the book is much shorter. It’s fairly readable.
It’s a bit odd reading books like this, you wonder how many of the facts you retain. I enjoyed the book, it’s given me some idea of the history of Byzantium.
747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation (2007) Joe Sutter and Jay Spenser describes the 747 program and is also partly an autobiography of Sutter.
Sutter was born in 1921 in Seattle and grew up seeing Boeing test planes flying about. He got an aeronautical engineering degree, did a stint in the Navy in WWII and then returned and worked for Boeing. There he worked on the Stratocruiser, a late propellor driven aircraft and then became involved in the 367-80 or dash 80, which was the prototype for the 707 and subsequently the prototype for modern jet liners. Sutter then worked on the 737 and helped come up with the design where the engines are just below the wings to allow the plane to be low.
Sutter then got the job as head of the 747 program. The 747 was, interesting, not the most high profile work then at Boeing. The Supersonic Transport, or SST was the highest profile job and doing work on Apollo program items was the second. The 747 was seen as an interim aircraft that would sell for a short time before SSTs took over. Despite this, an internal Boeing report said that should the price of fuel rise 5% from 1960 levels the SSTs would be uneconomic to operate. The market failure of the Concorde and the Tupolev SST that combined sold less than 40 aircraft compared to over 2000 747 sized aircraft shows just how wrong people’s thoughts on the SST were.
The 747 was originally going to be a double decker aircraft but instead the wide body twin isle design was chosen because it enabled the plane to be a better cargo plane and also it made the plane easier to evacuate. It was, however, not what the lead customer, Pan Am, had requested. However they were pleased when shown the 747 and had the issues explained to them.
The high bypass turbofans that enabled the 747 to operate caused considerable problems. These engines were quieter, more fuel efficient and had more thrust than previous turbofans but actually building them with the specifications demanded by the 747 led to difficulties for all the engine manufacturers who would eventually deliver engines for the aircraft.
The book is really interesting for anyone interested in aircraft history. It’s well written and contains a lot of fascinating tales and information about the creation of a remarkable aircraft.
Wonderland : How Play Made the Modern World (2016) by Steven Johnson is an interesting read about the impact of how luxuries and amusements have had on history. Johnson wrote a superb book called ‘How we got to now’ that had a limited number of key inventions that he says lead to the modern world. Wonderland is similarly constructed.
The book looks at shopping, music, taste, illusion, games and public space. The chapter on shopping looks at how the development of shopping fed growth. When looking at music the fact that humans like music and the importance of automatic players is described. Taste concentrates on the importance of the spice trade. Illusion looks at spiritual shows and finally Disney. Games looks at Chess and early computer games. Public space describes pubs and other public spaces.
Johnson is a fine writer and a lot of the information in the book is fascinating. His descriptions of the mechanical works of Iranian engineers is amazing. However, the book is undermined in that the main thesis running through it is oversold. The book is worth reading for a well written and interesting diversion though.
Leibniz – A Very Short Introduction (2016) by Maria Rosa Antognazza looks at the life and thought of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who was co-discoverer of calculus and an important philosopher. The book goes very quickly over Leibniz’s life and his mathematical achievements and concentrates on his philosophy and his attempt to systematically redo all the sciences and his theories of monads. It’s interesting how the book concentrates on his philosophy where as it is his math work that has probably had greater impact.