Nicholas E. Barron

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Tag: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Stephen Ambrose’s “Upton and the Army” is a Matter-of-Fact Good Read

Upton and the Army by Stephen E. Ambrose came to us before we met the Band of Brothers or learned about Undaunted Courage.Quote from "Upton and the Army" that reads, "Men, your friends at home and your country expect every man to do his duty on this occasion. Some of us have got to die, but remember you are going to heaven."

Ambrose’s first book, Upton and the Army was published in 1963. This was before Watergate and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, assassination. And it was before the country knew it had in Ambrose one of its most talented historian-storytellers.

The book is about U.S. Army General Emory Upton’s impact on the U.S. military. An officer during the Civil War, Upton’s war experience led him to two conclusions that shaped the rest of his career.

First, he saw the role politics played in military promotions and decisions in the U.S. in the mid-19th century. Secondly, he realized the military tactics used were outdated and overmatched by advances in weaponry.

After the war, Upton focused on overhauling the U.S. military. He recommended changes that were implemented for how the military fought battles and conducted parades. But it was in the area of politics, military organization, and leadership that Upton set his sights on most.

For example, Upton advocated for a large, standing army trained to defend the United States. At the time, most of the nation’s defense fell to voluntary state militias.

Also, Upton believed professional officers make military decisions, as opposed to the Secretary of War. Upton was convinced the Civil War lasted four bloody years in large part due to the leadership of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Stanton was a lawyer who had never served in the military. As was custom for the Secretary of War at the time, Stanton frequently made strategic military decisions throughout the war.

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After surviving and succeeding in the Civil War, you might think changing military policy would be easier. But Upton found it to be anything but simple. The general learned how difficult changing bureaucracy can be.

It’s in his struggle to modernize the American military that Ambrose tells the story of Upton and the Army.

Upton and the Army Book Review

Some authors’ first books immediately announce their talent (i.e., Stephen King’s Carrie or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus).

This is not the case with Ambrose’s Upton and the Army. It is a book that achieves its objective, to educate the reader about General Emory Upton. But readers of Ambrose’s later and more popular works will wonder where the commanding storytelling is in Upton and the Army.

The book reads more matter-of-fact than as a fact-based story. It’s more of an academic paper written by the history professor Ambrose than it is a page turning non-fiction book.

Still, Upton and the Army is illuminating. Through the book, we learn a great deal about military history, especially changes that set the U.S. up for successes in World War I and World War II.

And Ambrose is superb in his grasp of military history. In some ways, Upton and the Army’s greatest weakness, its lack of emotion, is also its greatest asset. The book lays out in digestible and compelling fashion military tactics and history.

You may not feel a grasp for any character outside of Upton, but you won’t walk away from the book without having learned.

Upton and the Army is recommended most for those interested in military history, including battlefield tactics. But even broader students of history will find the book informative and worthy of reading.

Upton and the Army Book Cover Upton and the Army
Stephen E. Ambrose
History
LSU Press
August 1, 1993
216

Book Giveaway for May is Only Hours Away so Enter Today

The Book Giveaway May 2017 happens this week!Image of flowers blooming in a field below the words "Book Giveaway May 2017".

This month I’m giving away Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. All you need to do is subscribe to my newsletter by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, 2017, to be eligible. (Open only to U.S. residents.)

Actually, there’s something else you have to do if you win. You have to respond to my email notifying you that you’ve won. Last month no one ended up winning the giveaway. None of the winners responded to my email. It’s possible my email went into their spam folder.

So now would be a good time to make sure you whitelist my email, nicolas [at] nicolasbarron [dot] com. Below are links to instructions for whitelisting email addresses on four email services.

OK, subscribe to enter. Confirm your email address, then whitelist mine. That’s all it takes to enter the Book Giveaway May 2017. Good luck!

Book Giveaway May 2017

  • Prize: One copy of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  • Drawing: The winner will be selected at random on Thursday, May 18, 2017.
  • How to enter: Subscribe to my newsletter by Wednesday, May 17, 2017. All subscribers to the newsletter as of 11:59 p.m., May 17, 2017, will be eligible to win.
  • Who can enter: Anyone in the United States who’s at least 18 years of age. (I would love to open the giveaway to readers outside the U.S. Unfortunately the legal complications of offering sweepstakes internally preclude my doing so at this time.)
  • Winner selection: The winner of the book giveaway will be chosen at random using random.org.
  • Winner notification: The winner will be notified using the email address they used when subscribing to my newsletter. The winner has 48 hours to respond to the winner notification email. After 48 hours, if the first winner of the book giveaway does not respond to the winner notification email, a second winner will be selected at random using random.org. The first winner will be ineligible to win in the second drawing. However, the first winner will be eligible to win the next month’s book giveaway provided they are subscribed to my newsletter as of the deadline to enter the following month’s sweepstakes.
  • Prize delivery: The book will be delivered through Amazon. The winner can select between three formats in which to receive the book: Kindle e-book, hardcover, or paperback. Format selection must be made within 48 hours of receiving the winning notification email. If format selection is not made within 48 hours of receiving the winning notification email, a second winner will be selected at random using random.org. The first winner will be ineligible to win in the second drawing. However, the first winner will be eligible to win the next month’s book giveaway provided they are subscribed to my newsletter as of the deadline to enter the following month’s sweepstakes.

Here’s Why Americanah is the Book We Should All Read

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is an immigrant story. But it may not be the immigrant story you expect. Image of a quote from Americanah reading "In America, tribalism is alive and well. There are four kinds—class, ideology, region, and race."

You could say immigrants are having a bit of a moment right now. Seemingly a week cannot pass without the President of the United States saying something about immigrants. And then there’s that whole wall thing.

Of course, Adichie wrote Americanah before the current debate about immigration. The book published in 2013.

And the story is about immigrants from Nigeria, not Mexico or Central America. The story focuses on Ifemelu and Obinze. They began dating in high school. While in college, both try to come to the U.S.

One succeeds, moving to the U.S. This eventually ends Obinze’s and Ifemelu’s relationship. Much of the book is about what did, and what will happen between the two of them.

But as most good books go, there’s more to Americanah than the surface-level story.

The Real Story of Americanah

Americanah is an immigration story. Through Adichie’s sharp, descriptive storytelling we experience what it’s like immigrating to the United States and England.

It’s fascinating, if not infuriating, how citizens of the characters new countries treat the immigrants.

Upon first meeting one of the characters, an American says: “’What a beautiful name…Does it mean anything? I love multicultural names because they have such wonderful meanings, from wonderful rich cultures.'”

You read this and see the rudeness, the ignorance of the American’s words. But then you realize you’ve probably said something similar. Many of us do. We say things like this often out of good intent. We want the recipient of our words to know we’re accepting, open to different cultures.

But when we view our actions from the immigrant’s side, we see how even our best intentions fall short.

Which is why Americanah is a book we all should read. We need to see through an immigrant’s eyes. And not just any immigrant, but an immigrant offering observations on race in America.Image of a quote from Americanah reading "her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out."

These observations, scattered throughout the book and often expressed through blog posts Ifemelu publishes, help the book excel.

Americanah’s Resurgence

Americanah was a recent addition to my books to read in 2017 list. I added it after spending a snowy President’s Day Weekend with a friend who was reading the book every chance she got.

This friend is someone whose book recommendations I trust. We have similar book taste profiles. She reads books that matter, so when she spoke highly of Americanah, I knew I had to read it.

This happened shortly after the book was selected for the One Book, One New York program. Out of five books that were nominated, Americanah was the majority’s choice.

The program makes available a free audiobook of Americanah and numerous events are planned in New York City through May. A culminating, celebratory event will take place June 1. Here’s a list of One Book, One New York events.

It’s clear the book is having a resurgence. And for good reason. We should all read Americanah.

Americanah Book Cover Americanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fiction
Anchor
May 14, 2013
496

One of The New York Times's Ten Best Books of the Year Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction An NPR "Great Reads" Book, a Chicago Tribune Best Book, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best Book, an Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year pick. A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun. Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. From the Trade Paperback edition.

New additions to the books to read in 2017 list

At first, my books to read in 2017 list wasn’t for you. It was for me. But of course, a reading list is a great way to discover your next book."38 Books to Read in 2017" written above 38 book icons.

After all, we glom over Stephen King’s reading list. A popular book blog regularly publishes reading lists. Another blog, Brain Pickings, highlights notable folks’ reading recommendations. And many author interviews have the interviewer asking the writer, “What are you reading now?”

Seems like finding out what books others are reading may be the easiest, most effective way to decide what we should read. So it makes sense we readers love reading lists. And it makes sense that my 2017 reading list isn’t a list just for me. It’s a list for you as well.

As you may know, the first version of my 2017 reading list included 34 books. But I’ll read more than 34 books this year. You probably will, too. You see, the plan was always to add books to the list.

Maybe a new book gets released or I find a book I previously didn’t know about. Plus, an author or publisher may ask me to review their book. So I need to leave room on my annual reading list for additions.

Well, we’re three months into 2017. It’s now time to make some additions to my books to read in 2017 list.

This page contains affiliate links. This means I earn a small amount of money if you make a purchase using these links. Visit my Disclosures page for more info.

Updates to the Books to Read in 2017 List

There are four books I’m adding to my 2017 reading list. Each book is listed below with a short explanation of why I’m adding it to my 2017 reading list.Book cover of "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

  • “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • President’s Day weekend I watched a friend tear through “Americanah,” and listened to her praise the book. Then the book was chosen for the “One Book, One New York” campaign. OK, Universe, I will read “Americanah.”
  • “Main Street” by Sinclair Lewis
    • There’s a litany of previously published books I’ve never heard about, much less read. That’s why I have a lot of catching up to do. Then on Lewis’s birthday, The Writer’s Almanac highlighted “Main Street.” Being from the rural Midwest and someone who’s writing often reflects that background, I decided to give the book a shot. Here’s my review of “Main Street.”
  • “The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer
    • Here’s another book added to my reading list through the “playing catch-up” rule. Since I’ve never read Norman Mailer, I figure I should change that this year.
  • “Fatima’s Room” by Charlotte S. Gray
    • Arc Light Books will publish “Fatima’s Room.” It’s based on the diaries of a young Sudanese woman. I’m reading it now and will publish a review once I’m finished.

These additions bring my list of books to read in 2017 to 38. But there’s still room for more. After June, I’ll give you another update letting you know what books I’ve added to the list.

What books have you added to your annual reading list?

"38 Books to Read in 2017" written above 38 book icons.

 

The year I got serious about reading

There were classics and there were new books. There were two weeks in China in which books about China accompanied me. There were authors newly discovered and previously read authors revisited. More than anything, 2016 was the year in which I rededicated myself to reading.

Halfway through 2016, I realized my folly. Actually, Stephen King helped me realize it.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot,” King wrote in On Writing.

Read more