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Books Worth Reading ... and One to Avoid

Each day of JAG’s life ends with reading in bed. I have been doing that as long as I can remember. As a little kid, one of my most appreciated belongings was a cool little lamp that hooked onto my headboard (wish I could find one like it again!). For me, it is the time of day where I don’t pursue research, take notes or compile lists (usually...a lot of the data for Standard Catalog of Civil War Firearms was actually compiled late at night in my big ol’ bed).

Several acquaintances know about my eclectic reading tastes. Through the course of the year, I am asked numerous times, “What good books are you reading, JAG?” While it is true that I receive dozens of books to review, there are very few that actually end up on the nightstand next to my bed.

Generally, I read compilations of letters, diaries or memoirs. The past few months, I have been really enjoying reading memoirs written by Americans who served in British Expeditionary Forces in WWI. Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey and A Yankee in the Trenches by R. Derby Holmes are two fun, very easy-to-read examples. Patrick Terrance McCoy’s 1918 memoir, Kiltie McCoy is the book currently with a bookmark between its pages.

One book that surprised me this year was written by my friend, Ron Werneth. When the review copy of The Untold Stories of Japan’s Naval Airmen arrived, I glanced at it and ear-marked it to send to one of the magazine’s regular reviewers. It sat for a few days on my copystand until I finally photographed the cover before sending it on to the reviewer. I found myself paging through Untold Stories on several occasions, reading excerpts. Finally, it made its way to my nightstand. I highly recommend this groundbreaking book to anyone interested in the Pacific Theater of operations during WWII.

In fact, for those in the Chicago area, Ron is having a book signing on Thursday evening, June 11 at the Pritzker Military Library (located in downtown Chicago). For those who cannot attend in person, this event will including a live interactive webcast. For more info, contact:

Pritzker Military Library
610 North Fairbanks Court, 2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312.587.0234 

Conversely, I encounter a lot of garbage each year masquerading as historical documentation. It is an interesting time period in publishing in which we live. Self-publishing has opened the doors to some good works and to a veritable landfill of garbage. I have said it often, and it bears repeating: “Just because I can buy a scalpel, does not make me a doctor.” Similarly, just because someone has figured out how to use “print-on-demand” or can type on a word processor does not mean that they can author scholarly works.

This year’s biggest waste of paper in military publishing has got to be, without a doubt, WORLD WAR II GHOSTS: Artifacts Can Talk by Richard J. Kimmel and published by Schiffer. When this book showed up in my mail, I laughed and laughed, assuming it was the most brilliant practical joke perpetrated in the hobby in a long time. It is filled with short stories revolving around “psychic readings” of rather mundane military artifacts.

The stories are beyond the normal imagination of the “I-wish-it-were- true” kind of collector hype—even the most raucous tale-teller at a show wouldn’t try to hang these whoppers on an artifact. For example, World War II Ghosts reveals a Hitler Youth armband that gave the sense of a GI taking it from a Pimpf at bayonet point. A piece of jewelry with a swastika transmitted a dark hint of heinous crimes and the letter “H” (a recurring theme in the book) must have been associated with Himmler or even Hitler. Coincidentally, it could also stand for Hard-to-swallow.

As I paged through the book, it became sadly apparent—it was no joke. The author is dead-serious (pun intended). He even has a web site dedicated to the notion that he can “sense the history” by holding artifacts. Passage after passage of the book is filled with “psychic readings” of drivel. The one that really crowned the glory of it all for me was the reading of a blatantly fraudulent Jewish prisoner armband. Even though the armband is a well-known fake in the collecting community, the psychic and the author recounted horrible tales of ovens and beatings and loss that they “felt” when they fondled it! Now that is some good psyching!

I learned very early on in my life (and passed on to my daughter, in fact), that “books are precious” and as such, you treat them with care and respect. I only mention this to demonstrate the level of anger I felt as I examined World War II Ghosts. I actually threw the book across the room, only to retrieve it later to toss on my trash pit where I left it to smolder.

I did not sense any spirits emerging from that trash’s ashes.

John Adams-Graf
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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