Thursday, May 31, 2012

Raiding the Stacks: The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells

Ah yes, the long-awaited return of Kalpar's Raiding the Stacks feature, where this week we look at The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.  War of the Worlds is a landmark science-fiction book which pioneered some science fiction tropes while at the same time being very thoroughly a product of its era. And while the book itself is extremely dated, reflecting the prejudices of the late 19th century, it remains a timeless story that taps into our primal fears as a species. The War of the Worlds offers a tantalizing glimpse into the heart of the British Empire at its height, as well as showing that even after a century people are in some respects the same.

The War of the Worlds was originally published in 1898 and is actually part of a larger literary movement that was popular in Britain at the time. From the 1870's up until the First World War an entire genre of "invasion literature" existed in which the British Isles, heart of the greatest empire on earth at the time, were invaded by some malicious enemy. Traditionally these enemies would be Germans or French or some other rival empire, but Wells chose to make his invaders from Mars, adding a new dimension to the invasion narrative. Furthermore Wells created many science-fiction themes about Mars that would last for many years in the genre: the idea that Mars was an arid and dying world, inhabited by an ancient and technologically advanced culture. Fleeing an increasingly unsustainable home, the Martians launch an invasion fleet to prepare Earth for Martian colonization. From War of the Worlds to Independence Day the idea of aliens needing the resources of our planet remains a persistent science-fiction trope which will probably be used in future stories.

An interesting note is that War of the Worlds also tapped into a common belief that the world would end at midnight on 31 December, 1899, and apparently there were numerous stories written at the time about such an Armageddon. If current trends such as Y2K and Mayan Calendar panics are any indication, humanity's fascination with its own destruction is nothing new.

Now I do have on major complaint about War of the Worlds, specifically the fact that all of the Martian space capsules land in southern England and I think that really displays the provincial bias of the author. Was Britain a powerful empire in 1898? Well of course, but that's not to say that other nations such as France, Germany, Japan, and the United States wouldn't present a threat for Martian invaders. Also, you know what, let's look at the map.

Yeah, I use Gall-Peters Projection. What of it?
Now if you'll notice, the British Isles are a little itty bitty piece of land up there in the top of the map. If you were an invading army from space trying to safely land your soldiers where would you send them? I don't know about you, but my first choice is smack dab in the middle of the Sahara in Africa. Especially since the Martian plan hinges on not landing in water. I mean, maybe I'm being picky with geography, but even North America makes a more attractive target than trying to hit the south of England.

Complaints aside, The War of the Worlds actually offers some chilling insights into twentieth century warfare. For example, the Martians use a poisonous gas known only as Black Smoke to kill large numbers of humans, which weirdly predicts the use of poison gas in World War I. In addition the Martians' primary targets are stores of ammunition, telegraph lines, and railroad tracks, which severely hamstrings the humans' defense and disrupts their lines of communication, standard military strategies even today. The Martians also adopt a campaign of fear and intimidation to break human morale and gain a quick victory, tactics utilized by both sides during World War II. Finally, the chapters dedicated to the description of the plight of refugees fleeing the Martian advance seemed incredibly real to me and could easily be about refugees in any of the countless conflicts, both great and small, that have occurred over the past century. I don't know how Wells managed to predict many of the tactics and consequences of twentieth century warfare, but it's an interesting harbinger of industrial warfare.

Perhaps the most influential aspect of War of the Worlds is that it codified the alien invasion for countless science-fiction stories for over a hundred years. The aliens arrive, determined to conquer our planet (or simply use its resources), and initially all of humanity's military forces are powerless to stop them. All hope is lost and it appears the age of humanity has come to an end. However, through some small miracle, whether the common cold in The War of the Worlds, a computer virus in Independence Day, or the simple fact that 70% of the world is covered in something deadly to the aliens in Signs, humanity manages to exploit this small advantage and defeat the alien invaders. (Granted, in War of the Worlds human agency is entirely irrelevant.)

It may be dated, it may be verbose, and it may utilize outdated science, but The War of the Worlds is the alien invasion story, in many ways the literal grandfather of countless science-fiction tropes we know and love today. If you're interested in exploring the history of sci-fi, as well as an interesting view at the late nineteenth century. I'd definitely recommend this book for history nerds and hard-core sci-fi fans but casual readers might be less interested.

- Kalpar

Monday, May 28, 2012

Carvan Plays Video Games; No One is Surprised

To whom it may concern;

Now that summer is upon us and I am somewhat freed of professional responsibilities of being a teachersman, I have a lot more time on my hands to do something I've been wanting to get off the ground for quite some time. A few years ago my brain had the brilliant idea to search YouTube for playthroughs of some of the video games that I enjoy, and YouTube delivered quite nicely. I subscribed to a few people who I particularly liked and have rather enjoyed watching and learning what I could from some really talented players online.

That being said, with more free time on my hands, I intend to start up my own Let's Play series focusing largely on the Total War series of video games. These videos will be uploaded to YouTube and also embedded on the blag-o-blag as well for your viewing delectation. I will be starting with Medieval II: Total War and progressing to other games as well. My theme, likely unsurprising if you've read any of my previous posts, will center on following England throughout its (soon to be very different) history.

Hopefully this will be enjoyable for all involved, both myself and whatever viewership I might pick up. I'm rather excited to get this project underway, and looking forward to doing it!

God Save the Queen


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Night Watch, by Sir Terry Pratchett

Today I want to talk about the Discworld novel Night Watch which features Sam Vimes and the Glorious Revolution of May 25th. I want to talk about it partly because it's one of my favorite Discworld novels in the series, and partly in memory of the anniversary of the Ankh-Morpork revolution and the short-lived Glorious People's Republic of Treacle Mine Road. I think it's in Night Watch  that we really get to understand Vimes as a character really well, and get to see a number of events in his youth that shaped him as a copper.

Even though his wife, Sibyl, is expecting their child any day now Sam Vimes simply cannot stop being a policeman. Especially when the Ankh-Morpork Watch gets close to capturing the notorious murder Carcer. Vimes himself manages to corner Carcer in the upper levels of Unseen University's library, but a bolt of lightning sends both men thirty years into the past. With only a mere couple of days before the revolution Vimes must step into the role of his mentor, John Keel, and teach a much younger version of himself how to be a good copper for the sake of Ankh-Morpork's future, and his own.

I think one of the things I really love about Night Watch is seeing how far the Watch has developed over the course of the Discworld novels. At the beginning of Night Watch we see Vimes as not only Commander of the Watch but also the wealthiest man in all of Ankh-Morpork, a far cry from the usually-drunk wreck we met in Guards! Guards!. Even the Watch has gone from being a handful of misfits who didn't belong anywhere else to a respected organization that has trained most of the policemen on the Sto Plains. Just the sheer scope of power available to Vimes in the future makes his lack of resources all the more frustrating of a challenge in the past. I just really liked seeing that Vimes still plenty of police skills he can use on his own, even though in the more recent novels he's been able to rely on capable subordinates like Captain Carrot, and Sergeants Angua, Detritus, and Littlebottom. He may be the leader of a talented and powerful organization, but when push comes to shove Vimes has still got it.

I will admit that this is probably the darkest Discworld book by far and some other reviewers have commented on the lack of obvious jokes. As a result Night Watch makes for a very different reading experience from most other Discworld novels, including some downright dark passages. But does this make Night Watch bad? I say very much no because despite the dark world we live in, Sir Pratchett says that there is ultimately hope. Police don't need to be paragons of virtue but as long as they remain mostly decent people, so long as they follow the proper rules and continue to serve the public trust and protect the innocent, then the system will continue to work.

Another important point Pratchett makes in Night Watch (and it's sort of used in Thud! as well) is that everyone has the potential within them to become a monster. Everyone can realize that the rules of society are completely arbitrary and don't apply to them. However, every day we choose not to give in to temptation. Sure, maybe it's because the punishments outweigh the benefits of doing so, but we can all consciously choose to use the law as a shield to protect us from our inner monster. Yes, even today there are plenty of people who decide the rules don't apply to them, but isn't it more comforting to think that the vast majority of people don't think that way? Maybe it's idealistic but I think it's a good message.

Overall I would definitely recommend you check Night Watch out if you haven't already. Even for people new to the Disc it might be a great introduction to the series. Just keep in mind that its tone is a lot darker than other books in the series. And to all my readers: you may not have much Truth, Justice, or Freedom tomorrow, but maybe, just maybe, you can get a hard-boiled egg.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kalpar Lectures: The Imperial Guard

Behold, the might and power of the Imperial Guard!

Don't fuck with Polish Lancers
Okay, okay, so this article isn't about the Imperial Guard of Napoleon I, even though they were pretty kick-ass. This article is part of my ongoing attempt to introduce people to the various factions of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I've already done articles about the heroic Space Marines and the crazy-awesome Orks so this week I'm going to talk about the Imperial Guard which makes up the bulk of humanity's military forces.

The 8th Cadian 
The Space Marines represent the pinnacle of human genetic engineering and technological advancement. Stuffed with nearly twenty extra organs and armed with the best weapons and armor, the Space Marines are a potent military force and rightly feared by the enemies of humanity. However despite their centuries of military experience the total number of Space Marines across the galaxy-spanning Imperium numbers about a million. That means there is less than one Marine for every world in the Imperium and while a single Marine is a fearsome warrior he cannot defend an entire planet against the Imperium's enemies, much less take the fight to them. While the Space Marines remain a sort of special-response force for the Imperium, attacking specific targets or defending against extraordinary threats, the billions of men and women of the Imperial Guard shoulder the majority of the Imperium's military needs. Whether defending critical planets or reclaiming Chaos-held worlds in sector-wide crusades the Imperial Guard makes the Emperor's will known.

Before I get into the fluff of the Guard, I want to talk briefly about them on the tabletop. For many years the Imperial Guard has suffered as an army because guardsmen are good at dying and...that's about it. Guard armies come with fairly low points costs so while a large Space Marine army might reach forty men, Guard armies can easily reach the triple digits in models alone. Fortunately with great numbers comes an insane number of ranged attacks and while most enemies can shrug off a direct hit from a lasgun, shrugging off sixty hits from a lasgun might just kill you. Plus, while their infantry may be sub-par the latest Imperial Guard codex lets them field some of the best tanks in the game, and from my own personal experience you do not want to be on the receiving end of a plasma barrage from a Leman Russ Executioner. The Guard remains a popular army for its tanks, as well as the fact that it's an army made of ordinary people like you and me. While a Space Marine only vaguely remembers what it's like to be afraid or an Ork sees the world as a hilarious pub brawl, an Imperial Guardsman remains an ordinary human and gives us a familiar lens through which to see the world of the forty-first millennium.

Catachan Jungle Fighters 
The Imperial Guard, in one form or another, has served the Imperium of Man from the beginning. The Emperor may have created the peerless Space Marines, but he still needed ordinary people to help fight his wars as well. Uncounted numbers of people have served in the Guard, and even today no one knows how many people are in service. On any given day the losses from casualties and the gains from recruitment can number somewhere in the millions and Imperial records are sometimes centuries out of date so not even the Lord Commander Militant has any idea. However, having such a vast pool of manpower comes with plenty of benefits. The thousands of Guard regiments come with a wide range of specializations and allow the Guard to meet virtually every tactical situation. Need to secure a landing zone from orbit? Send in the Elysian Drop Troops. Need to reclaim a desert planet? Call on the Tallarn Rough Riders. Want to outmaneuver your enemy with an armored assault? Armageddon Steel Legion can do the job. With their sheer numbers of men, materiel, and combat experience the forces of the Imperial Guard can pound all but the toughest enemies into submission.

The basic building-block of the Imperial Guard is the regiment. Usually a regiment will consist of soldiers from a single world and will be commanded by a colonel (or colonel-equivalent). However the equipment, organization, and even the size of a regiment will vary from planet to planet. Generally a regiment will fall into a general category giving you a rough idea of their capabilities: light infantry are good at hit-and-run, scouting, and infiltration, heavy infantry are well-armed and armored and are best for shock attacks, and armored regiments contain the fighting vehicles of the Guard. While some regiments make use of transports and vehicle support, you can usually expect an infantry regiment to contain no tanks whatsoever while an armored regiment contains nothing but tanks. Imperial Guard commanders will then combine several different regiments into a combined-arms force to achieve military objectives. (Ostensibly what you field in a 40k game.) Sometimes the collaboration works extremely well and the Guard achieves great victories. Sometimes the many officers involved disagree intensely and get their regiments killed. But so long as the Imperium emerges triumphant the brass really can't be bothered to care too much.

Vostroyan Firstborn 
Over the years Games Workshop and Forge World have released a number of different Imperial Guard models based on historic armies. Sadly many of these models are fairly limited, and in some cases no longer available. While you can still find Valhallan Ice Warriors, Mordian Iron Guard, and members of the Armageddon Steel Legion, there are currently three armies produced by Games Workshop and another two armies produced by Forge World. (Well, if you have the money to get the models from Britain.) So while I could go over the hundreds of Imperial Guard regiments I'm going to stick with talking about four, the three available from Games Workshop and my favorite regiment, the Death Korps.

Cadian Shock Troopers: The Cadians are actually not based on any historical army and instead have a sort of futuristic look to them like the soldiers from Starship Troopers or Aliens. Cadia itself is an important world for the Imperium because it sits on the only safe means of passage into the Eye of Terror, a galactic anomaly where many of the forces of Chaos hide. As a result Cadia has been declared a Guard Fortress World and the entire population of Cadia is conscripted when they come of age. At any given point somewhere around 70% of Cadia's population is serving in a military capacity of one form or another and all of their cities, called kasrs, are highly fortified. The Cadian regiments that leave their homeworld are considered some of the finest line infantry in the Imperium and many other regiments have copied their equipment and organizational methods.

Catachan Jungle Fighters: Raised from the jungle planet of Catachan where reaching adulthood is considered an achievement, Catachan Jungle Fighters are extremely tough but undisciplined. Catachan troops are extremely skilled at jungle warfare and adept at setting ambushes and traps for enemy troops. Catachan soldiers will even make use of a planet's venomous wildlife to add an extra sting to their knives. Despite their fighting abilities, Catachans do not respond well to authority and will frequently arrange "accidents" for commissars attached to their regiments. (Commissars are political officers attached to Guard regiment to ensure loyalty and enforce Imperial mandates.) Although excellent fighters, Catachans can be a constant headache for superior officers. The Catachan army is modeled on American soldiers in the Vietnam  War.

Vostroyan Firstborn: During the Horus Heresy the Vostroyans refused to supply soldiers to the Emperor of Mankind, instead preferring to keep their men for factory work. As punishment for their insubordination during the Heresy, the Vostroyans are required to send every firstborn son to the regiments. As a result the Vostroyan regiments have a constant supply of new recruits and many regiments have existed for thousands of years, creating a proud warrior brotherhood among the regiments. Vostroyan regiments are loosely based on Tsarist Russian soldiers and are experts at winter and urban combat.

Death Korps of Krieg
Death Korps of Krieg: Krieg was originally a populous Hive World, but when the planet's leaders tried to secede from the Imperium Colonel Jurten of the Krieg 83rd launched a thermo-nuclear holocaust that blasted most of Krieg into a wasteland. Over the next five centuries the loyalists gradually reclaimed their planet and have remained loyal to the Emperor. The Death Korps is based mostly off of the German armies of World War I and as a result they are experts at siege and trench warfare. Death Korps troopers are almost never seen without their gas-masks and are known for their unwavering discipline and loyalty to the Emperor. (As well as their overall grim outlook on life.)  Due to the large number of troops in the Death Korps and the fairly small population of Krieg it is suspected that many Krieg troops are actually clones. Despite their overall dark nature they remain my favorite Guard regiment.

Over the years the regiments of the Imperial Guard have remained an important baseline for us, the fans. We get a glimpse of what life would be like for ordinary people in the forty-first millennium and how an unremarkable man might hope to survive fighting Orks or Tyranids or the forces of Chaos. We've seen the range of personalities from the outright sociopathy of Lijah Cuu, to the honorable father figure of Colm Corbec, to the downright honesty and affability of Try-Again Bragg. In a way Guard characters serve as a mirror, reflecting humanity at its best and also at its worst in a space-opera setting.

I would definitely recommend my readers to check out a couple Imperial Guard novels because they serve as an excellent introduction to the 40k universe. Of the books that I've read I would definitely recommend either Rebel Winter by Steve Parker, or The Founding omnibus by Dan Abnett. Both are extremely well-written and remain among my favorites.

Also if you have any other questions about the Guard please feel free to leave them in the comments. I didn't want to make this article run longer than it already has.

- Kalpar

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith

As my long-term readers might remember, about a year ago I reviewed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith and I thought it was awesome. Sure, it was a silly fantasy where pretty much every aspect of Lincoln's life, including his election to the presidency and the American Civil War, somehow came back to vampires. Sure it took some liberties with history, but at the end of the day it was fun. So when I heard that Grahame-Smith had created another book I wasn't excited, but I was definitely intrigued. Upon finishing Unholy Night I actually of am mixed opinions about the book and I'll try to address those as best I can in my review.

Plot-wise Unholy Night explores the question who were the three wise men who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus? As Grahame-Smith mentions in the book the Bible doesn't even mention their names (and in fact doesn't say how many wise men there were either) and much of what we "know" about them comes from religious myth and tradition accumulated over twenty centuries. In his typical fashion Grahame-Smith turns everything upside down and reveals that Balthazar, one of the so-called wise men, was actually a famous criminal known as the Antioch Ghost. After escaping from King Herod's prison in Jerusalem with fellow cons Gaspar and Melchyor, Balthazar stumbles upon Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in Bethlehem while looking for a place to hide. Initially Balthazar wants nothing to do with Mary and Joseph and their "Messiah" nonsense, but when Herod's men arrive in Bethlehem and begin killing every male child under two years old Balthazar decides that this just isn't right and agrees to escort Mary and Joseph to the relative safety of Egypt.

I have to admit that I did not initially care for Balthazar as a character. When we meet him he's an amoral thief who will use people to promote his own self-interest and throws them away when he's finished. As a protagonist that's not exactly someone I'm going to be interested in reading about. However what kept me reading was Balthazar's decision to go back and help Mary and Joseph when Herod's men attack Bethlehem. Balthazar himself admits that he could leave them to die and save himself, but letting Herod's men get away with murdering children simply will not do. As the book progresses we learn more about Balthazar's past and what made him become the man he is today, he becomes more fleshed out as a character and we can at least understand Balthazar as a person. Unfortunately I feel like Balthazar is the only well-developed character and as a result the book suffers.

Throughout Unholy Night we meet a small cast of supporting characters who are essential for the plot: Melchyor and Gaspar, the mad King Herod, a young Pontius Pilate, and the magus (more about him in a minute). All of these characters have their own roles to play in the story, but they feel flat compared to Balthazar. We get to see Melchyor as the best swordsman in the Roman Empire, but how did he develop his skills to that level? Especially when he is a small, unassuming man rather than a tall and imposing warrior. Furthermore, why did Gaspar decide to team up with Melchyor? Was it purely from the benefit of being on the side of the greatest swordsman? Or was there something deeper there? I feel like we got some hints to a greater story behind those characters but we get nothing in Unholy Night. As for the magus, he is apparently the last of an order of monks who controlled dark powers that allowed them to rule humanity through their miraculous powers. However the age of miracles has been supplanted by the age of man and caused the thousands-strong brotherhood of magi dwindle to one man, and while we're kind of given an explanation I'm still left wondering how this powerful brotherhood managed to be wiped out. Ultimately the book hints at a lot of stories that I wanted to know more about but I don't think we'll ever get to see. Mainly because the book is about Balthazar and it wraps up Balthazar's story pretty nicely so I don't think we'll be seeing more of these characters.

My final comment on Unholy Night is there's a lot of graphic violence: sword fights, beheadings, people getting tortured, that sort of thing. I didn't really like those parts because I'm not "into" that sort of thing, but I know some people like it. So if you're more squeamish like me, just be aware of that before you start reading.

Ultimately I found Unholy Night to be far more serious in tone than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which made for a very different reading experience. If you've liked Grahame-Smith's earlier books you'll probably enjoy this one, just don't expect it to be like his other books. Hopefully this won't be the last book from Grahame-Smith and maybe we'll see if Unholy Night marks a significant change in his overall writing style.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sacred Ties, by Tom Carhart

As my two readers probably know, I love history. As a result I occasionally like to read books about history and picked up Sacred Ties, by Tom Carhart, several months ago in a bargain book bin at my grocery store. More recently I got around to actually reading Sacred Ties and decided that I should share my opinions on it to my lovely readers. "But, Kalpar!" my readers are probably exclaiming at this point in time. "Isn't it most unusual for you to talk about history books on your blog?" Well....yes...but it's a thing I want to do so I hope you'll indulge me.

Sacred Ties follows the Civil War careers of six West Point graduates, George Armstrong Custer, Stephen Dodson Ramseur, Henry Algernon DuPont, John Pelham, Thomas Lafayette Rosser, and Wesley Merritt. According to Carhart all six were friends during their time at West Point, despite coming from all parts of the country, and were closer than brothers.  However as the Civil War broke out in 1861 these six West Point Brothers found themselves on opposite sides. Custer, DuPont, and Merritt all became Union officers while Ramseur, Pelham, and Rosser all resigned from the US military to join the Confederacy. All six ended up serving in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War and witnessed the constant battles in Virginia and Maryland between the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Overall I have a rather low opinion of this book and I'll try to explain it as well as I can. The first comment I want to make is that Tom Carhart gives General George McClellan a thorough lambasting in his book, with which I disagree. Carhart complains that McClellan is utilizing eighteenth century tactics on a nineteenth century battlefield and refused to ignore his own casualties to crush Lee early in the war. I find his hatred of McClellan unfounded on two main points. The first point is that throughout all of the nineteenth century generals continued to use mostly eighteenth century tactics because generals hadn't developed new strategies. In fact eighteenth century strategies, such as the mass bayonet charge, continued to be used into World War I despite the fact that military technology had made such strategies obsolete. To criticize McClellan for failing to adapt to the new battlefield produced by industrial war fails to ignore a larger problem in military thinking.

My second main issue is that Carhart criticizes McClellan for adopting less aggressive strategies to help minimize casualties, while at the same time lauding General Winfield Scott's Anaconda Plan. For those of you unfamiliar with American Civil War history, the Anaconda Plan involved a blockade of Southern ports by the US Navy and military control of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers by the US Army. This blockade would cut the mainly cotton growing Deep South from the food-producing regions of the Midwest as well as keep the South from selling its cotton to European textile mills. Like an anaconda squeezing its prey to death, Scott's plan would gradually squeeze the South to starvation and force their surrender. Scott predicted that this plan could be carried out by a relatively small number of men at very low cost in term of human lives and other resources. What Scott is basically doing, albeit on a larger scale, is besieging the South and starving them into submission, which Carhart states in his book is an eighteenth century strategy. However, Scott's Anaconda Plan, although mocked by contemporaries, was critical for winning the war and is celebrated as an excellent example of military strategy, even by Carhart. It simply annoys me that while McClellan and Scott both utilized a similar school of military thinking and used tactics in an attempt to decrease their overall casualties, Scott is lauded for it while McClellan is lambasted.

The other main issue I had with Carhart's book was a tendency for him to incorporate overly descriptive purple prose into the book. To clarify further on this point, a friend asked me if Carhart was simply trying to make history more accessible to general readers rather than just academics. I explained that making history accessible is one thing, describing how the juice of peaches dripped down the cheeks and jowls of a Confederate officer in shiny rivulets is entirely another. These overly detailed and unnecessary descriptions took away from the overall historical quality of the book.

Finally, the last issue I have with this book is Carhart's decision to focus on the careers of six officers. This decision ultimately forced the book in two directions that made it not work as well as it could have. On the one hand the book is, by focusing on six officers, biographical in nature and to an extent the book follows the lives of the six officers. However, Carhart also follows the overall campaigns in and around Northern Virginia during the war and serves as a general history book. As a result I feel that the focus of the book swings too far between extremes and doesn't as a good of a job as it could have if it had focused on being either a biography or a general history instead of being both.

The one thing I liked about Sacred Ties was the chapter on Gettysburg, specifically his hypothesis about the third day of the battle. Let me clarify a little for people who are unfamiliar with the specifics of Gettysburg, which happened on July 1st-3rd in 1863. By July 3rd the Union Army had solidified defensive positions on the high ground to the south of Gettysburg. The union line was secured on Culp's and Cemetery Hill, takes a ninety degree turn to the south and ran along Cemetery Ridge before stopping at Big and Little Round Top hills to the south.

What has perplexed many historians is Lee's decision to send Pickett's division against the Union center, entrenched on Cemetery Ridge, in what proved to be a suicidal attack. Carhart provides perhaps the best hypothesis I have heard. He explains that General J.E.B. Stuart, leading the Confederate cavalry, attempted to flank the Union defenses and strike the Union rear in concert with Pickett's attack on the Union center as well as attacks from Ewell's corps on the Union right. This kind of strategy actually was fairly typical for Lee,  who divided his army into multiple units that would strike the enemy in concerted attacks. What was key in Gettysburg, however, was Stuart's force of several thousand cavalry was stymied by George Custer and his units of Michigan Cavalry. Carhart hypothesizes that because Stuart's flanking maneuver was stopped by Custer and his cavalry they were unable to provide the necessary support for Pickett's attack at the Union center. I think it's a very good hypothesis and definitely goes a long way towards explaining the otherwise disastrous attack of Pickett's division on July 3rd.

Ultimately I have to say you're better off just passing this book by. Other than the chapter on Gettysburg the book doesn't bring anything new to the field of Civil War history. As a biography of six men it's too short and nowhere near as exhaustive as it should be, and as an overall history of the Civil War it's too narrow in scope. I sadly can't recommend more books about the Civil War for you to read at this time but I'm sure there are plenty out there. If you're interested in the biographies I'd check to see if there are any about the officers before going with this one.

- Kalpar