Saturday, July 3, 2010

Summer reading

As it does every summer, National Review has solicited summer reading recommendations from several authors and contributors. Among those recommended that I have read I enthusiastically second these [the covers are from my copies]. They are all historical novels of the sort that actually permit you to learn some history. From Hans Von Spakovsky's recommendations:
Flashman, by George MacDonald Fraser: This is the first book in the Flashman Papers, an absolutely wonderful ten-book series about Harry Flashman, history’s greatest adventurer, cad, and incorrigible scoundrel. The books follow Harry’s escapades as an English soldier, starting with his first foray to the Indian subcontinent in 1839, where, in Afghanistan, he survives one of the worst defeats of the English army in its history. In the other books, he goes to Europe, Africa, China, and even America, where he meets a congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln. Flashman has only three talents: an ear for languages, an eye for women, and the skill of an expert horseman. He constantly gets into death-defying scrapes and yet always manages to just get out of them. These novels are extremely funny as well as educational; the novels are all painstakingly footnoted.

Oliver Wiswell, by Kenneth Roberts: The best historical novels ever written about the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 are by Kenneth Roberts, a very popular author 70 years ago that most people today have never heard of. The quality and historical accuracy of his books make the John Jakes series look like pulp fiction. Oliver Wiswell is written from the viewpoint of a loyalist family, which makes it unique among books of this kind, as far as I know. His novel about the war from the American side is Rabble in Arms (1947), also excellent. His 1931 book The Lively Lady and its sequel, Captain Caution, tell the story of privateers (who were America’s substitute for a real navy during the War of 1812), including the brutal conditions imposed on American prisoners of war in England.

Captain Blood, by Rafael Sabatini: Kids today like Pirates of the Caribbean, but it does not compare to Captain Blood (1922). Peter Blood is wrongly charged with treason during the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England, and he’s sentenced to slavery in the West Indies, a virtual death sentence, given the harsh conditions. He escapes and becomes a pirate bent on revenge. The novel is terrific, and the 1935 movie starring Errol Flynn — his first movie role — is without doubt the best pirate movie ever made. (In law school, my wife’s legal-history professor once asked the class if they knew the name of the only movie ever made about the Bloody Assizes. She knew it was Captain Blood, because I’d made her watch it.) Whether you are on the beach or on a plane traveling, this book will take you to the Spanish Main and the days when buccaneering was the scourge of the Caribbean and beautiful women discovered that pirates with bloody reputations can sometimes turn out to be romantic gentlemen.
And John Yoo recommends:
The Richard Sharpe adventures, by Bernard Cornwell: Sometimes described as Patrick O’Brian novels, except on land, Cornwell’s 24 books describe the rise of Richard Sharpe: He starts as a private in Britain’s colonial army in India and becomes a lieutenant colonel by Waterloo. The focus of the books is on Wellington’s famous Peninsular Campaign, in which an outnumbered band of British troops, aided by vicious guerrillas (the first use of the word), pushed Napoleon’s armies out of Spain in hard, mountainous fighting.
Summer Reading Recommendations, Volume Two - NRO Symposium - National Review Online