Twilight of the Gods, Ian Toll

Media has changed warfare. Thanks to Matthew Brady, photos of the brutality and hopelessness of war affected people in an entirely new way. At the time, the Civil War was the most documented war in history - yet it had nothing on World War II, just 75 years later. Movie film captured every last horror of that war, by both those who wanted to document the atrocities and those who wanted to bask in what they saw as glory. By Viet Nam, with Kodak Instamatics fitting in a soldier’s pocket, the grit was documented by everyone, not just official sources. In today’s internet era, conflicts are documented and uploaded to the world live, before officials even know they’ve happened. It will take decades to sort through available data and make viable conclusions on modern conflicts.

Media has changed warfare. Thanks to Matthew Brady, early photographer, photos of the brutality and hopelessness of war affected people in an entirely new way. At the time, the Civil War was the most documented war in history – yet it had nothing on World War II, just 75 years later. Now movie film captured every last horror of that war, by both those who wanted to document the atrocities and those who wanted to bask in what they saw as glory. By Viet Nam, with Kodak Instamatics fitting in a soldier’s pocket, the grit was documented by everyone, not just official sources. In today’s internet era, conflicts are documented and uploaded to the world live, before officials even know they’ve happened. It will take decades to sort through available data and make viable conclusions on modern conflicts.

German Sub U-755 is sunk by an RAF rocket, 1943

But World War II was no slouch. In doing a bit of research the other month on my grandmother’s little-known younger brother (they were 16 years apart), within 10 minutes, my sister and I were able to pull up information that stunned us. All anyone knew had been “Uncle Laurie was on a Coast Guard ship that was presumed lost at sea, possibly due to a German Sub, during World War II.”  Well, thanks to unfailing documentation, we found out that Laurie had been a radioman on the USS Muskeget, a weather ship, which was shot at 3 times by the German sub U-755 at 3:15 in the afternoon of September 9, 1942. Two torpedoes hit, killing all aboard. They even had the coordinates off Greenland. Not only that, but there’s a photo of U-755 being sunk by an RAF plane several months later!  No one in the family had ever known any of those facts.

With that type of minutiae now available, Ian Toll brings together his final tome on the history of the Asian Theater in WWII, Twilight of the Gods (I know, I just switched from the European front to the Asian one, but our family knows less about the Asian front: Uncle Art was a Marine at Iwo Jima, but not the famous flag raising, and my psychiatrist grandfather was stationed in California as a Navy Captain treating shell-shocked soldiers returning from the lines). In his third installment of the war, Toll covers the months between  June of 1944 and the Peace Treaty in 1945, after the dropping of the bomb. 

The Asian theater is an anomaly: this is the part of the war that actually attacked US territory, the act of aggression that finally drew us into the war despite the incomprehensible acts going on in Europe, and yet, we tend to teach only the European aspect of the war, beyond the two facts of 1) Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, and 2) we dropped the first (and only) nukes on them in retaliation. Is it because of the difference of a Navy war vs. an Army land war? It’s easy to follow Maginot lines on a map, but ships bouncing from island to island around a massive ocean isn’t as visual: We can understand where France is, but where exactly is 7.1315° N, 171.1845° E? (It’s the Marshall Islands. Can you picture them? Neither can I.) How can people fight over water, which has no country? Far more people had relatives affected somewhere in Europe, vs no one was taking up collections to send to Vanuatu. Yet the battles were the largest naval battles in history, and the cruelty and aspirations no less than that of Hitler. 

Toll spares no fact from his relentless research, and the brutality and heartbreak can inure the reader – much as it did those who lived through it. He covers the infighting among leaders – no one thought highly of Admiral Halsey – and the waste of young men literally being thrown at ships as kamikaze pilots – a tactic that eventually wore thin even among the Japanese. Good or bad, Toll covers it in a narrative style that will give you a far greater appreciation for the lesser-known side of a war that literally covered the world.  Whew.

If you don’t have time to sit and read a thousand pages, Twilight of the Gods is now available at CPL on audiobook, to make that commute just a little more interesting!

Twilight of the Gods

Audio book Print

The Conquering Tide

Audio book Print

Pacific Crucible

Finding Wonders

Finding Wonders by Jeannine Harris is a fictional children’s book based on three real girls, Maria Sibylla Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell, who made scientific contributions. Told with poems, each girl’s story begins with her childhood. Each girl learned to look beyond what other people took for granted or mistrusted. Each girl overcame the biases and challenges of her time for the sake of learning. These stories are an inspiration to anyone who has ever wanted to try something new despite the people around them. These girls were told they could not, should not, and would not, but they did anyway.

Genre: Children’s historical fiction

Setting: 1600s Germany, Amsterdam, and Suriname, 1800s England, 1800s Massachusetts

Number of pages: 195

Objectionable content? Several characters die, both adults and children, and religion is portrayed in a negative manner in some parts of the book.

Can children read this? Yes. This book is well-suited for elementary school children and up.

Themes: Learning, independent women, science, curiosity, restrictions

Rating: Five stars

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough is a true children’s story about one of the first children’s librarians. Anne Moore grew up in a time where many libraries were not free, and they were certainly not meant for children. Usually, children were not even allowed inside, especially girls. But Miss Moore thought otherwise.

Anne Carroll Moore was an independent thinker ever since she was a child. While other girls stayed inside and sewed, Anne was outside sledding on the hills. When other girls got married, Anne was working in her father’s office, learning how to be a lawyer. When other women stayed home, Anne moved to New York City, went to college, and got a job in a library.

Anne Moore changed the ways in which libraries viewed children. Under her supervision, libraries no longer demanded silence from patrons, children were allowed to take books home, child-sized furniture was built, more children’s books were published, rooms became more colorful, and people were brought in to do children’s programming. Libraries all around the world followed her example, all because she always looked at things differently.

Genre: Children’s non-fiction

Setting: Maine and New York in the late 1800s-early 1900s

Number of pages: 40

Themes: History of children’s libraries, and independent women

Objectionable content? None.

Can children read this? Yes. This book is appropriate for all ages. There are interesting things for the older kids to read, and the younger kids will enjoy the beautiful pictures.

Who would like this? Anyone who is interested in how children’s libraries developed into their current focus on library users, and anyone who enjoys learning about strong women.

Rating: Five stars

Brief Histories of Everyday Objects

Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner is a hilarious non-fiction graphic novel that describes how many of the items that we take for granted have interesting, unusual, and sometimes downright silly origins. The author guessed when it came down to deciding what people looked like and what they said (unless they were quoted), but the facts are all true! Once you read this book, you will never look at the things you use on a daily basis in the same way again. The next time you go to a party, you’ll be able to tell people about the story behind the pull tabs on their soda cans.

Did you know that the woman who invented flat-bottomed paper grocery bags had to fight for her right to the patent when a man tried to steal it? She became the first woman to win a patent lawsuit.

Did you know that Earl Tupper invented Tupperware, but Brownie Wise made it sell? In fact, she was so successful that she became the face of the product. This greatly angered Mr. Tupper, so he fired her, sold the company, and purchased an island where he lived for the rest of his life.

Did you know that postcards were the results of an elaborate prank?

Did you know that roller skates were first invented in 1760 when John Joseph Merlin, a prolific inventor, built a pair so he could show off at a masquerade?

Genre: Non-fiction graphic novel

Setting: All over the world, throughout different times

Is this good for a book club? Only if the book club is interested in discussing previously unknown facts regarding everyday things.

How long is the book? 206 pages

Objectionable content? Barely. There are some references to bathing, bras, excrement, and violence, but there is nothing explicit. There are some illustrations of women wearing sports bras.

Can children read this? The humor and information are enjoyable for all ages, as long as they have a good vocabulary.

Who would like this? Anyone with a good sense of humor and a good appreciation for learning about how everyday objects were created.

Rating: Five stars

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Quick Read: Mozart: A Life

Mozart: A Life by Paul Johnson is a short and simple biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is only five chapters long! However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that it doesn’t provide a decent account of his life and music. It describes Mozart in a way that is easy to understand by all. The author also gives the reader new insights into information about his life, and a good understanding both of what his music is about and just how prolific a writer he was. I would have preferred it if this book had been longer and more detailed, but it works well with its simple approach.

Did you know that Mozart wrote over 600 pieces of music in his lifetime? This is especially impressive since he only lived for 35 years.

Did you know that Mozart had a brief a relationship with his wife’s sister?

Did you know that Mozart was literally kicked in the rear by one of his employers when he was fired?

Genre: Biography

Setting: Different parts of Europe from 1756-1791

Is this good for a book club? Yes, if the book club is interested in biographies, music, or just a quick read.

Objectionable content? Yes, but it is not detailed. Religion, sex, violence, incest, and death are referenced, but nothing is explicitly described.

Can children read this? Yes, if they have interest in Mozart and a good vocabulary regarding history and music. Teenagers would be the most likely to be interested.

Who would like this? Anyone who is interested in Mozart and his music. It is also good for people who like quick and interesting reads.

Number of pages: 164

Rating: Four stars

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