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Posted on Feb 17, 2008 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Armchair Readers – Book Review

By Jerry D. Morelock

Cover.jpgBook Reviews – Armchair Reader: Civil War – Untold Tales of the Blue and Gray (West Side Publishing/Publications International Ltd., armchairreader.com); PB; 468 pp.; $15.95 and Armchair Reader: World War II – Extraordinary Facts and Stories (West Side Publishing/Publications International Ltd., armchairreader.com); PB; 516 pp.; $15.95.

First of all, this review must begin with a major disclaimer – despite the “Armchair” in the book series’ titles, these Armchair Reader™ books are not connected in any way with Armchair General © magazine. That point established, however, there do seem to be similarities in the way the Armchair Reader books and Armchair General magazine approach the subject of military history – the stories and “Fast Facts” presented in the Armchair Reader books are crisp, varied, revealing, and, above all, interesting. At Armchair General magazine we believe that the history of the conflicts around the globe that have shaped our world today – when presented in an innovative, interesting way – makes fascinating reading. Apparently, that view is shared by the multiple authors Armchair Reader publishers assembled to prepare the two Armchair Reader books we recently received (Civil War lists 16 authors; World War II cites 10 contributing writers). One of the World War II book authors, Jonathan W. Jordan is already known to Armchair General magazine readers from his ACG articles, “Richard Sorge: Death in Tokyo” (Spy Wars, March 2007 ACG) and “How the Red Army Really Won” (History in Depth, May 2007 ACG). Jordan’s participation seems to indicate that Armchair Readers’ publisher assembled a quality team of authors for both books, and the crisply-written stories tend to confirm that assessment.

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Both the Armchair Reader Civil War book and World War II book are – quite literally – crammed with well-written, tightly-focused stories and interesting “Fast Facts,” and both books are supplemented with a detailed Time Line of their respective conflicts. In addition to multiple “Fast Facts” items and several sections devoted to extensive Time Line entries, each book has dozens of, typically, 1-to 4-page stories on just about every aspect of their respective wars (Civil War features 193 stories; World War II has 152 similar “mini-articles”). The stories cover a wide range of varied subjects, including the “big war” stories of the major battles, principal commanders, political leaders, and strategies, as well as the “small war” tales about individuals, weapons, and little-known incidents.

Publisher Allen Orso explains, “We wanted to present the greatest variety of topics possible … [and] we made a special point to focus on the personalities, reveal the intriguing and often overlooked details of the war, and bring to light some of the little-known human stories.” Orso achieves what he set out to do, and each book is packed with enough interesting material to keep readers busy for countless hours. Although some of the more serious students of the Civil War and World War II – and those who might be termed “buffs” regarding some aspects of both wars – may find some of the stories and “Fast Facts” familiar, there will remain stories in both books that even the most extensively-read among these readers will have to admit, “Wow, I didn’t know that.”

Another big plus feature of the Armchair Readers is that the format is what might be termed “random access” (to borrow a computer term). Each of the stories is essentially a “stand alone” mini-article, so readers can pick up the books, flip them open to any page at random and, bingo!, there’s an interesting story one can quickly read and enjoy. Publisher Orso says that this is a key part of the books’ design: “You need not start at the beginning, either – we designed the book to be enjoyed no matter where you open it.” Read as much or as little as you want during a sitting, then set it aside. When you return to it later, the “random access” format lets you pitch back into the book at any point you want without having to refresh your memory on any “narrative thread” found in single subject books.

When we noted that both books are “crammed” with interesting text, that observation might even be an understatement – both books are nearly all text with very few illustrations and nary a map in either one. Since many of the stories in both books, necessarily, refer to specific locations of battles and other actions described in the text, a few general maps would have helped to orient readers who aren’t already familiar enough with the geography of the Civil War and World War II to summon forth mental images of the locations mentioned in the text. Yet, the absence of maps isn’t a major drawback in either book, and the stories certainly can be enjoyed without them. In fact, the absence of maps might actually be considered a plus – since readers wishing to track down the locations cited in the book will be required to consult other sources, they will thereby be encouraged to read more about the subjects in other books (or even in magazines, like Armchair General – and that certainly works for us!). The stories in Armchair Reader Civil War and World War II books will likely “wet the whistles” of their readers, sparking their interest to read more about our favorite subject, military history.

I’ll close this review with a final quote from Allen Orso: “We believe we’ve created a treasury of interesting information that you’ll find as engrossing as we did, so kick back in your favorite armchair or other comfy reading spot, and enjoy. You’ll discover that once you get started, this book will be hard to put down.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

2 Comments

  1. As a contributor to AR:WWII (and onetime AG subscriber) I appreciate your kind comments about the book. I know I had a lot of fun researching the essays I wrote (thirty, of which twenty made print). On several topics fact-checkers came back to me asking for cites on specific statements I’d made, so I know they worked hard checking the sources we listed.

    Since then PIL has published several other AR series books (with more on the way after that) that might also appeal to you. Enjoy!

  2. Mr. Orso:
    I am intrigued reading your World War II book. Could you offer me answers to these questions?

    1. How could Germany amass such a great number of army divisions and sustain them during WWII?
    2. Why did the Allies not destroy the Atlantic Wall as it was being constructed?

    Thank you very much,
    David Ing
    WWII history buff

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