Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/June 2014/Book reviews

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Another Great Day at Sea - Geoff Dyer

Sailors participating in a step class in the hangar bay of USS George H.W. Bush during September 2011

4/5 stars

By Nick-D

Another Great Day at Sea is an account of the two weeks British writer Geoff Dyer spent on board the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in late 2011 as part of Alain de Botton's Writers in Residence program. While not a formal military history, it provides a detailed snapshot of life on board a modern super carrier.

When reading this book I was reminded of the introductory chapter of volume 7 of Samuel Eliot Morison's History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, which describes aircraft carrier operations of that era written for the benefit of readers far in the future. Another Great Day at Sea also succeeds in explaining how a modern aircraft carrier works, and provides a fascinating insight into the experiences of her crew. While Dyer is somewhat sceptical of the US Military and had little knowledge of the Navy before arriving on the George H.W. Bush, he has a genuine enthusiasm for his subject and reports on his experiences fairly. The book is also illustrated with excellent photographs taken by a Magnum photographer who accompanied Dyer for most of his posting, though in my e-book edition they lacked captions.

The strongest parts of the book are those in which he describes the working and living conditions on board the ship: the sailors live in uncomfortable conditions, work long hours, and are unable to escape from their workplace. Dyer notes that "except [for] the pilots and helicopter crews the carrier was a kind of prison ship", and observes that the crew live in what is essentially a giant machine. He is impressed by the dedication and good humour of most of the crew, but is openly critical of those who take a narrow view of their task or have fundamentalist religious beliefs. Dyer also notes what seem to be some pretty unhealthy workplace practices: the commander of flight deck operations admits to routinely working himself into a state of exhaustion and the sailors who man the ship's small prison have nothing at all to do, but are unable to work elsewhere.

The main weakness of Another Great Day at Sea is that Dyer never really gets a grip on the combat operations the ship was either conducting during his time on board her in the north Arabian sea, or had just completed. He speaks briefly with the pilots, but doesn't explain their experiences in any detail, and never considers the complex series of tasks needed to plan and conduct combat operations. The book would also have been stronger if Dyer had considered the carrier's relationship to the other ships in her battle group: he meets briefly with the admiral in charge of the group (Rear Admiral Nora W. Tyson), but doesn't discuss her task and how the relationships within the force.

Overall though, Another Great Day at Sea is a success and I'd recommend it strongly.

Publishing details: Dyer, Geoff (2014). Another Great Day at Sea : On Board the USS George Bush. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0307911586. 

The Taste of War- Lizzie Collingham

Poster for the "Dig for Victory" campaign, encouraging Britons to supplement their rations by cultivating gardens and allotments

4.0/5 stars

By Hawkeye7

Food is probably not the first thing that people think of when they think of the Second World War, but it played a major part in the conflict. Lizzie Collingham, the author of this work, points out that far more people died of hunger and hunger-related causes during the war than became casualties due to enemy action. She goes further though, pointing out the role that food played in starting the war in the first place.

Like most things about the Second World War, the story really goes back to the First, when Germany and the United Kingdom nearly starved each other into submission. Thus began a quest for what we would call food security. The United Kingdom relied on imports, especially from United States, Canada, Argentina and Australia. The problem was not the availability of food, but the ability to ship it across the ocean, especially when the U-boats began to bite.

It is also noted that a policy of free trade did not always ensure a proper diet. The science of nutrition was in its infancy at the time - vitamins had only recently been discovered - and the realisation that the resulting British diet was poor dawned slowly. The simple white loaf that was a staple was the first of the industrial foods. The process of turning hard North America wheat into flour removed most of its nutrients, and the resulting loaf, while very tasty, was quite inferior from a nutritional point of view to the coarse breads that Britons ate in pre-industrial times. Collingham points out that a large part of the calories in the British diet came from the sugar used to sweeten their tea.

Germany tried a different tack, of attempting between the wars to become self-sufficient in food production. This policy was a failure. Explicitly taking the United States as their model, Hitler and other Nazi theorists like Herbert Backe decided that the answer was to occupy a large territory and kill all the native inhabitants. Under Backe, food policy became one of genocide. Ironically, the Ukraine and Belorussia were not the food baskets that the Nazi food officials imagined them to be. Denmark, France and the Netherlands proved to be the major sources of food for Germany. Through policies of what Collingham calls "exporting hunger", both Germany and the United Kingdom managed to get through the war without experiencing real hunger. This came when the war ended, and the occupied lands could no longer supply Germany, while the abrupt termination of Lend-Lease pulled the rug out from under the British.

The book's main drawback is its breadth. In trying to cover all the war's combatants, the book is unable to treat all of them in much depth. Not all are treated in the same depth either, so Britain receives rather more space than the United States. The former, with its well-regulated rationing system, is naturally of greater interest to those who want to know about subjects like rationing, but the latter also provides cautionary tales about the dangers of insufficient regulation. For example, water melons were not rationed because of their low nutritional value, resulting in farmers producing a bumper crop of them in 1944, as they became a good source of cash for farmers. Most readers though, will learn far more than they ever wanted to know, and the treatment allows the reader to make comparisons between the different countries.

Publishing details: Collingham, Lizzie (2011). The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 9780713999648. 

Recent external reviews

Baime, A.J. (2014). The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0547719280. 

Rossiter, Mike (2014). The Spy Who Changed The World. London: Headline. ISBN 075536564X. 

Dyer, Geoff (2014). Another Great Day at Sea : On Board the USS George Bush. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0307911586. 

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Excellent reviews. Is there a page where all the previous reviews are collated? (Hohum @) 00:28, 14 July 2014 (UTC)

Not one page focussing purely on the reviews, but all back issues of the Bugle are collected in the Archives. The Book Review section started in June 2011 and I can't remember an issue that hasn't carried at least one review, and usually more. Cheers, Ian Rose (talk) 09:18, 14 July 2014 (UTC)