Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Killer Angels & Generals

I read Michael Shaara's great novel of the battle of Gettysburg. When I read a book like this I always wonder how I managed to put it off for so long. Even with the historical facts so familiar, it remains gripping, almost suspenseful, as if it might somehow venture into one of those "What If?" alternate histories that have popped up in recent years. What if Lee had listened to Longstreet's advice about withdrawing and finding better ground? What if they had heeded Hood's suggestion to try an attack on the Union rear instead of a frontal assault in clear view of Union artillery?

Shaara is brilliant with the portraits of Lee, Longstreet, and Chamberlain. It gets to the heart of those complex dualities of war that equally attract and repel: horror and beauty, baseness and nobility, loneliness and brotherhood.

I couldn't decide on a follow-up novel from the Shelf of Obligation so I started a book about Napoleon and Wellington by historian Andrew Roberts. I'm not cheating -- I couldn't actually fit all the unread books in this house in one bookcase! Roberts' focus is mostly on what the two famous generals said, thought, and wrote about each other before their first and only meeting at the Battle of Waterloo.

It's pretty entertaining and anecdotal, and apparently Roberts will go to great lengths to toss off some groaner puns. On Wellington burning his violin as a symbolic act before seriously taking up his military career: "Did he resolve to roam while his fiddle burned?" Dude! I have a feeling I'm going to find out more than I ever wanted to know about Napoleon's bout with hemorrhoids. But I bet he has a punny witticism lined up for that topic too.

Well, the weather has turned bright and crisp after a gloomy spell. Today I filled up my bird feeders after a summer of slackness. The birds usually let me know when it's time. All that chattering in the backyard takes on a distinctly nagging tone. Two chickadees came to the mostly empty finch feeder at the window and looked in as if to say, "Hey LADY! There's a nip in the air -- get it?" So I listened and bought the freakin' bird seed. Now I suppose the squirrels will start gnawing on my pumpkins, just to send the message home.