Pride and Prejudice & The Great Gatsby: Books that someone else says you have to read, Part 3

Time always moves strangely to me.  You have an idea, you start it, you work on it, but it is a long term project and you allow it to sit and flow over time.

The last time I wrote about this was almost a year ago!  I promise I have since scratched some books off of the list, and there is more of this to come.

The premise here, again, is that like Denzel Washington’s character from The Equalizer, I am working my way through the list “100 books everyone has to read before they die.”  The list can be found here.

Today we examine Pride and Prejudice, and The Great Gatsby.  I am most likely going to make myself very unpopular here, but you do not have to read these.  Keep in mind all things said here are just my opinion, and I am heavily influenced by what I would consider the bigger historical issues.

That is right, I said it.  You do not have to read these, despite what the list says.

Let us tackle the Austen first.  This is an amazing story, but as a text, it is difficult to chew through.  I read the book.  I have listened to the book.  I have watched several versions of the movie, and an episode of ‘Wishbone.”  This book’s relevance is rapidly becoming lost, in my opinion.  Jane Austen wrote this during the Napoleonic Wars, and it is an excellent social commentary on the time.  However, we have since moved on.  We have moved far on.  I am not trying to just kill off classics that are outside of their time, but unless you are studying 19th Century English Literature, or maybe on a looser level just English history, then these social issues will not fall into place I feel.  As I said, I love the story, but I love it when it is acted out.  When I read it, I would have to take breaks, and by breaks I mean read other books, or the time it takes to move to other states.  People are going to hate me, and I will now watch my back for the members of the Austen Society, but I am scratching this off and replacing it with The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris.  Maybe the novel would have stayed on the list had it gone into the larger issues of the Napoleonic Wars, but again this is colored by my views on history, and how it effects the modern world.

When I say that I enjoy the story, just not the book, I cannot say that in any way for The Great Gatsby.  How this is considered “the great American novel,” I will never know.  The novel flopped hard, and Fitzgerald went to his grave feeling forgotten.  Later it was given to the soldiers who were going to WWII, and they connected with it, revitalizing the book.  (Wikipedia, The Great Gatsby)
There is the point.  The soldiers that connected with this novel, were the guys who had fathers and such who had been in WWI.  They understood the social issues this book represents, and the times in which it was set.  Just as soon as WWII was over, the depression era was dead and gone in America, we were in the post-war boom.  It was a new era.  The only thing stopping this book from being just as irrelevant as it began, was the brief moment it enjoyed.  Time does not make bad things better, sucked then, sucks now.  If this book was not as popular as it is, The Plaza would not have made a Fitzgerald Suite.  Let this die, I beg of you old sport, let this fade back to where it belongs.

In exchange I offer you something else.  Kids today need to understand how we got where we are, how the 20th Century culminated.  They need to understand the events that led us to the 1990s, the 2000s, the last election.  For your consideration, I give you, The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis.  It is not a novel, but it is relevant, entertaining, and coherent, all things that Gatsby is not.

Life is too short to read bad books.

Analog Savage

Brandon Bledsoe

 1976: Postage Stamps of the Soviet Union

When I started writing this guide to the postage of the Soviet Union, I was still a new collector, but I had a whole year catalogued already.  I had the idea to write a blog/guide later.  Really the two are linked, as there was no such guide when I started.  There still is not now.  There is a rather expensive book, which I should probably get around to buying, which tells the names and some basic collectors information, but still this is the age of the free internet.  This information should be readily available.  So that is what I am trying to do, to share knowledge and information with at least a dozen people.  

    I catalogued 1976 first, I will be going back to write about these while I do 1983.  It will get me all caught up and it will help to keep new content being produced by me.  

    1976 was a big  year, Cold War wise.  You can read the full Wikipedia entry here.  Here is my take on the themes and key events that I see:

    The world was held in a seemingly unending Cold War.  Large events had come and gone and yet not much had changed.  The United States involvement in Vietnam was over and the nation was fully communist at this point.  The world could be described as tired at this point by this unending ideological struggle.  Technology was ramping up more and more, gaining speed as more was developed and advanced, helping to cushion some of the dreariness of the unending Cold War.  There was also hints at what would become the 1980s, as terrorism was picking up, and while terrorism will be later seen as the theme of a post Cold War age, it was also a result of the tensions created during this time, but one persons terrorism is another’s political strife.  You will see punk music taking off as a sign of stagflation gripping the West, stagflation being one more symptom that this was never going to end and was kind of hopeless, as the Sex Pistols say a year later “no future for me.”

  • Gerald Ford was president, but Jimmy Carter was elected same year
  • The Cray 1 super computer was introduced
  • The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Soviet hockey team
  • The Red Army Faction Trial begins in West Germany
  • The United States Vetoed a U.N. Resolution to form an independent Palestine
  • Cuba’s current constitution enacted
  • Toronto Blue Jays are formed 
  • Videla dictatorship is started in Argentina
  • Argentinian dirt war starts
  • Apple Computer Company is formed
  • The Ramones release their first self titled album
  • The Phillipines open relations with the Soviet Union
  • The Soweto Uprising begins in South Africa 
  • Strikes against communists raising food prices begin in Poland 
  • Socialist Republic of Vietnam formed
  • The United States Bicentennial 
  • The first class of women are inducted at the United States Naval academy, Annapolis 
  • Family Feud debuts
  • The Viking I lands on Mars
  • The United Kingdom breaks ties with Uganda after the hijacking of Air France 139, which also saw Israeli Commandos involved later against the Palestinians 
  • The Seattle Seahawks begin playing 
  • The First (known) Ebola outbreak occurs 
  • Viktor Belenko lands his Mig-25 in Japan and requests asylum from the U.S. (this one is good, we took it apart and examined it, and the Japanese returned it in crates, billing the Soviets $40,000 for crating services)
  • The Muppet Show is first broadcast
  • The “Night of the Pencils” occurs
  • 100 Club Punk Festival goes on
  • U2 is formed
  • The Cultural Revolution in China concludes with 
  • Clarence Norris, last surviving “Scottsboro Boy,” is pardoned
  • Microsoft is registered
  • The Viet Cong is disbanded and folded into the Vietnam People’s army
  • Mao Zedong dies
  • California’s sodomy law is repealed 
  • Richard Dawkins publishes The Selfish Gene
  • IBM introduces the IBM 3800, the first laser printer

All of these can be found on the Wikipedia page for 1976, and more.  This list was cherry picked by me from the larger one.  It is to be your jumping off point or refresher for this year (and decade as I am starting here) so that you can put yourself into this decade and thinks critically about it.  Reading about these events, listening to the music, will begin to give you a grasp of the worlds state, if you want it, so that you will perhaps better understand the stamps the Soviet Union was producing.  

Analog Savage 

Brandon Bledsoe 

Transport and Telecommunications: Stamps of the Soviet Union, 1983

This stamp is most likely titled “Transport and Telecommunication.”  It was issued May 20th 1983.  There is not any text to translate, remembering that почта means is the word for “post” or “mail” and can be found on every stamp.  

    It is a part of the 12th definitive issue, which ran from 1976-1992.  Definitive issues are kind of an odd thing that should be addressed now.  They were supposed to be the pride of the Soviet Post, representing the proud symbols of the Soviet Union.  The part that makes them odd is that the stamps stretch across multiple years.   This stamp certainly fits the theme of globalization with these symbols, the passenger jet liner, the ship, and the bolt for electricity being over the globe.  

    It has a face value of 5 kopeks, and is part of the 1983 series despite the 1982 in the top corner, which I cannot explain.  It may be listed wrong on colnect.com, or it could have been delayed in being issued due to being part of a definitive issue.  

    The other notable feature is that the stamp is tiny.  I put it next to several objects, not having any coins handy, to give a scale.  

12th Definitive issue of The Soviet Union

Stamps of the Soviet Union: 1983: Part 2

We are back with some more postage stamps from the Soviet Union.  The year is still 1983 (and at the rate I work, will be for a while.)  Some stamps will be more interesting that others, some I will do in large groups just to get them out, others may be here by themselves.  The Savage has four stamps for you to read about today.  

Firstly, something less interesting, in terms of actual Soviet things.  A commemorative stamp plate for Rembrandt’s “Potrait of the Old Man in Red.”  

     Rembrandt’s work is often featured in commemoration on Soviet postage.  Why?  Was he Russian?  No, he was Dutch, and they so much as tell you so on this plate.  The reason for so much Rembrandt is told to you on this plate as well, in short.  Catherine the Great purchased a good few of them–twenty-three actually–and they live in the Hermitage museum to this day.  

     It was issued on 1983/11/10 (YMD) and comes individually numbered.  The top of the plate reads “State Hermitage Musuem: Leningrad.”  The top of the stamps also says “State Hermitage.”  The bottom of the gold border on the stamp says Rembrandt, and the tiny print below that is the name of the actual piece.  The middle of the plate reads (roughly) “An assembly paintings situated in The Hermitage by Rembrandt, 1606-1669, the greatest Dutch artist of the 17th Century.”  Below this is the seal of The Hermitage.  

   The Hermitage actually has a Rembrandt room for all of these pieces.  I suppose it is worth noting the city is no longer called Leningrad, today it is Saint Petersburg.  

Next, is the 60th Anniversary of Aeroflot.  

    Instituted in 1923, Aeroflot was the state airline of the Soviet Union, and today is the flag carrier of the Russian Federation and their largest airline.  The airliner featured is an Ilyushin-86, introduced in 1980 and retired from civilian service in 2011.  The Russian Air Force may still use a couple.  There were 106 of them produced and they were the first Soviet wide body, and the second four engine wide body in the world.  The plane was reliable, but the engines, in true Soviet fashion, came off the assembly line outdated by twenty years when they were new.  Still this model never saw a fatal incident.  

     The bottom of the commemorative plate says “The largest airline in the world.” Below that says “60 years.”  

    A lesson came with that translation.  A lesson about Russian.  The three words came out by my hand as a name, airlines, and peace.  I typed them into translation software individually and they each came out as I had translated them.  On a whim I typed the same three words, no more no less, in as a whole phrase, and it came out “the largest airline in the world.”  I have learned not only a new trick, but a lesson that some things will not be easy, and I may need a Russian…
Now, let’s get into the really good stuff!

The 113th Anniversary of the birth of V.I. Lenin


    This kind of thing is in now way special.  I have seen all the years, but it is not far fetched to think that the only years there were not stamps celebrating his birth were 1922-24, the years he was alive and that they had stamps, and the year he died.  However, what makes this one interesting, in my opinion, is the sketch on the bottom right of the plate.  It has Trotsky.  Trotsky!  Trotsky was a no-go.  Stalin hated this guy, had him assassinated even.  Animal Farm tells the tale.  There were even some assassinations arranged in house of people falling out of favor, and their murders were blamed on others as being members of supposed “Trotskyist Plots” against the state.  This was the start of the purges!  Color me red with surprise at finding Trotsky on a Lenin stamp less than thirty years after Khrushchev denounced the boss.  The Rest shows Lenin with peasants, and with a soldier.  The bottom left sketch I am unsure about.  The Stamp itself is not bad either.  I feel it shows Lenin the revolutionary, speaking to a crowd.  Note the banners on the top and bottom right, and Lenin’s cap crushed in his hand.  
  Lastly, a stamp to commemorate World Communication Year.  

    Aside from Leon making an appearance, this is my favorite of the day.  In 1981 the U.N. decreed that 1983 was to be World Communications Year, a year to develop communication infrastructure.  They were not simply talking about improving phone lines, what they were describing was globalization.  

     Globalization was a term that came into use in the 70s, and is embodied, I feel, by the 1980s.  World Communications Year was supposed to show that in this new age of technology and progress no person (in a U.N. member state) was not to be disconnected from his local, state, and global community.  To me this is globalization.  It calls forth images of movies like Jumping Jack Flash in which Whoopie Goldberg works on a computer in a bank, effecting transactions in seconds between far away nations.  It is the sattelites in the sky, the computer, world news services, it is again, the bank seen in Ghost featuring ultra modern money laundering via the wire.  It was the cell phone and finally some things that we today call collectively, the internet.  That’s what 1983 was supposed to be about, to me that was what the 80s represented, and it is what the symbols on this stamp show.  I am not unsure what to make of the horn surrounding the globe in the image, and I do love how they highlighted their nation on the globe (The U.S. would have done the same.) I feel the idea of this stamp, the year, globalization, a good bit of the Cold War, and the 80s can be summed up by the largest symbol on the stamp, the radio waves which emminate from the stamp and onto the plate.  

Go watch and 80s movie and hunt some themes.  Better yet, do it while enjoying your stamps.  

Analog Savage

Brandon Bledsoe 

The Cold War: A New History,By John Lewis Gaddis

**REVIEW AFTER THIS LONG INTRO AND PICTURES**

This blog entry will be my first post in quite a while as I let all extra things drop off during a school semester.  As you can tell from my earlier posts, I enjoy book reviews, and since I had to do one for school this semester, I will post that here.  The book was The Cold War: A New History, By John Lewis Gaddis.  Gaddis is, in my opinion, the historian of the Cold War currently and this book should be required reading for anyone entering the modern American history or Cold War history fields.


My copy, as you will see has seen a little time in service.  I bought it for an assignment, we were told to pick a book dealing with the topics at hand; the class was U.S. history 1945 to present, and themes were plentiful, but the professor also had a list available for us.  I am a Cold War junkie, and at the top of the Cold War pile sat this gem.  Our second son was born during this semester, and the professors were all very understanding and accommodating, thank you Framingham State University.  However, you cannot stop all work for two weeks and still come out on top, so this book was my reading material while in the hospital.  Whether it is due to being an excellent work on my favorite topic, or because it is now sentimental, it will be found on my shelf.

 

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin Press, 2005.

 

In The Cold War: A New History, John Lewis Gaddis has created a concise history of the Cold War for a new generation of readers, synthesizing the already available work on the Cold War into a cohesive volume, incorporating updated and newly available information, arguing the need for the Cold War and the outcome of it, becoming an introduction to the subject, and expertly organized thematically to best cover the major events and themes of the Cold War.

John Lewis Gaddis intended for the title of this monograph to serve as the statement of purpose, in that it was a to be literal new work on the subject. He did not intend to reargue the entire history of the Cold War; he has already argued more than once over the course of his career; rather he was motivated to create a concise and updated account of the Cold War. His hope would be that this work could serve as an introduction to some, an overview of the subject of the Cold War at a basic level to new readers. This edition is what it should be, weighing in at 266 pages not including notes it is a detailed, but brief introduction to the cold war that will not intimidate the new reader. With many college students being people who have no memory of the Cold War an edition written with the new generation in mind was appropriate, even necessary. Gaddis is well informed as to the needs of students studying the Cold War as he is one of the professors who specialize in teaching it.

Gaddis does not intend for this work to replace any of the existing work on the Cold War, or to disagree even with any of these works. The author believes this monograph has a place at the front of the reading line about the Cold War, and could serve as the gateway to more challenging and in-depth texts once the reader has a grasp or interest in the topic. Gaddis himself being the author of several of the books that retain relevance in the academic classroom allows him to see the need for a brief and cohesive narrative. He openly informs the reader, and other historians, he has no intention of arguing against their works, in fact, he cites the established works of other historians often, as well as his own work.[1] This drives home the point that new readers should not look for this work to occupy a particular niche, and should feel open to using it as a basis for their Cold War knowledge at the beginning of their academic career, and can appeal to the casual reader for the same purpose of creating a firm foundation of knowledge on the general subject of the Cold War. Gaddis himself believes that the topic covers such a long timeline and took place in enough varied locations, with their own political arenas and motivations that a book could be written from any angle that you can imagine, even from the viewpoint of the smallest third world participant, and it would be relevant and occupy a prominent place within the narrative. This work represents the extraordinary challenge of creating a meaningful summary longer than an encyclopedia entry under the heading “Cold War.”

One of the reasons the author gives for having written this is the simple and justifiable release of new information from the archives of the former Soviet Union and the Chinese during the Cold War period. New data must be taken into account, to ignore such resources would be academically negligent. However, the sheer amount of new information available can be compared to money flooding a market and causing inflation. The volume made available is Akin to that which has been previously written in that it can be intimidating to attempt to digest. Gaddis has applied the seasoned judgment of an expert when selectively incorporating this information into his current and concise volume. This is clearly seen when he deftly includes official Soviet Missile counts during the Eisenhower years; not overwhelming the reader, but transforming the speculative argument that Khrushchev boasted about their power into a quantifiable piece of fact.[2]

This new evidence held in context with the work previously accomplished by historians, Gaddis included makes for a subtle, but compelling argument. Gaddis combines primary sources that are placed well within context. Rather than Reagan or Khrushchev being quoted on events that are similar to the instance being described, Gaddis has provided—when possible—the thoughts of the figure on events specifically. It is very convincing to have evidence pulled from a radio address Ronald Reagan gave, or even better Khrushchev’s thoughts on the bluster shown in regards to Soviet missile capabilities. Memoirs looking back—like those of Khrushchev and George Keenan—combined with evidence recorded at the time show the professional historian at work, giving insight into the minds of leaders during the Cold War, and where we are fortunate enough to have it, a look at what they thought of those same events looking back. It is wise to remember however that Gaddis wishes you to celebrate the United States victory in this conflict and will be using the words of Soviet memoirs to cast a light that makes it appear they accepted this outcome in the end.[3] Gaddis is fair when he quotes, as he balances his optimism with evidence against United States actions, such as pointing out (despite the argument) George Keenan’s regret in hindsight of the CIA black operations conducted during the Cold War.[4]

The reader should exercise a note of caution when reading this review. The idea of Gaddis not replacing or rearguing his work or the work of others may give the false impression that this work contains no argument at all. This is untrue, and if the reader is not careful, they may miss it entirely and absorb it as presupposed fact. The argument being made is the idea that the Cold War was inevitable and having occurred the world was made a better place. The world being better for the Cold War is contingent upon whom the author believes to have won it: the United States and her allies. Part of what makes this book such an easy read is that it is celebratory of the Cold War’s outcome, the argued victory of the United States. For many the idea of American victory is not an arguable point, the dissolution of the Soviet Union is a matter of historical fact. However, academics even beginning students understand the idea of objectivity, and Gaddis’s boldly un-objective argument may be perceived as biased by some studied readers, reducing the credibility of the entire work. It should not be the case that the work is impugned by this argument, but it is not unthinkable, and one could not blame anyone who described it as biased.[5]

Gaddis believes there is no way to create a single, simple chronological narrative of the Cold War, and has chosen to organize this work thematically. However, the work flows smoothly enough that the reader almost believes there is a chronological order at work. The author believes in attempting to only be thematic or chronological would fail to encompass the magnitude of the Cold War properly. With this in mind chapters are thematic, moving chronologically, but with some overlap between them. While this sounds like it is more complicated than needed, the idea came off well and made for a surprisingly easy read. Chapter one will set the stage for the Cold War, immediately following World War II, not merely the events, but why each side had fought the Second World War as well and how this contributed to their Cold War stance. Moving forward Gaddis will address conflicts between the first and second worlds while showing the factor everyone knows about the Cold War—the threat of atomic and nuclear war—and will explain not just how close we came, but why nuclear war never came. Having established the Soviet Union as a credible enemy, the reader must be shown when we feared them enough to be concerned, particularly in the context of such an optimistic outlook on America by the author. Superpowers having been explained Gaddis chooses chapter four to explain why these great powers had difficulties controlling their “allies” in the third world, which created some of the messiest conflicts of the age. This moves rather logically and quickly as each theme is explicitly addressed within the proper context and time frame.

Whether you are someone with mild curiosity, a seasoned Cold Warrior, or a student breaking ground on the subject for the first class, this book is a must have. Allow yourself to read it once easily and caught up in the celebratory tone it sets, and then look back a second time for a critical review. Whether you agree with Gaddis’s argument or not, this books should prove invaluable for the information it contains. The concise nature, updated information, and hindsight took in the fourteen years between the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the publication of this work, as well as it’s ability to be an entrance to weightier volumes on the Cold War make it indispensable.

[1] Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin Press, 2005, XI

[2] Gaddis, Cold War, 69.

[3] Gaddis, Cold War, 69.

[4] Gaddis, Cold War, 164.

[5] Greenstein, Fred I. “The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis.” Political Science Quarterly 121, no. 2 (2006): 321-322.

Brandon Bledsoe, “Hrolf The Ganger”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑