Bradley J. Birzer, scholar-at-large: Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been devouring as much “fun” reading as possible, as this week is the last week of summer break for me. As of today, all mental and emotional energies have to go into academic things. That written, I’ve had a great summer of reading, but none more so than in the last few weeks. Mike Maden satiated my love of all things Tom Clancy with his latest Ryanverse book, Line of Sight. Maden’s best when he’s attacking political correctness in subtle and, sometimes, not so subtle ways. He’s also excellent at capturing the Catholic culture that permeated so much of the original Jack Ryan books. This latest one explores Jack Ryan, Jr.’s adventures and misadventures in the Islamic parts of southern Europe. I also enjoyed Maden’s own series following the ex-government agent, Troy Pearce, called Drone.
Following the action theme, I also recommend Mark Greaney’s latest in the Grey Man series, Agent in Place. Greaney is certainly the spiritual successor to Clancy, and his Grey Man is the perfect hero/anti-hero in a post-Cold War world. Somewhat to my surprise, renowned Catholic novelist of Ignatius fame, Roger Thomas, has thrown his hat into the thriller ring with his latest work, Under Watchful Skies. This novel grabbed me from beginning to end and caused a couple of sleepless nights, and I aggravated over the plight of the heroes and their rather fascinating opponents, all fighting some twenty years in the future in the thumb of Michigan. The entire book is a complex mystery with each chapter revealing significant elements, so it’s a hard book to review. There could be way too many spoilers easily fumbled in the hands of a clumsy reviewer. Trust me, this is a must read. Certainly, this is the best Catholic page turner since Michael O’Brien published Father Elijah two decades ago. Thomas promises this is book one, and I’m already eager to get the second in the series.
Finally, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Harry Crocker’s latest, a satirical alternative history about Michigan’s own George Armstrong Custer, simply and cleverly entitled Armstrong. In Crocker’s world, Custer survived a butchering by Crazy Horse at the Battle of Little Bighorn and has become a Victorian paladin and celebrity, doing everything over the top and then some more beyond the top. Crocker knows his history, so his anti-history is knock-down, pain in the stomach, hilarious.
Addison Del Mastro, assistant editor:
This isn’t a textbook or history—it’s a book of photos, by nature photographer Jim Clark. The Eastern Shore—consisting of a big chunk of the Delmarva Peninsula—is the little piece of Delaware/Maryland/Virginia that sticks out from the mainland, with the Atlantic on its east and the Chesapeake Bay on its west. It’s this western half that’s known as the Eastern Shore, referring to the fact that it’s the land on the eastern side of the bay.
Full of wildlife and wildlife preserves, rural fishing towns, elements of maritime history, and a strong sense of loyalty to place and skepticism of outsiders, the Eastern Shore is like a microcosm of an older America, with the good and bad that comes with that. It was only reliably linked to the mainland in the middle of the 20th century, and retains a deep local character.
Between Ocean and Bay, however, is mostly about showcasing the region’s natural and geographic beauty. It’s nine counties include everything from beaches to forests to marshlands, a diversity that makes it one of the renowned areas in the nation for birdwatching. It is also home to rare animals, including a threatened species of large squirrel.
The book displays these and much more. You can’t experience this part of the country without really seeing it. But you won’t be able to make your own photo book—it’s clear from the notes that Jim Clark spent years putting the book together, and hours getting many of the shots. If you’re out in the field to catch a sunrise, imagine when you’re waking up. And there are lots of sunrises here.
As a book mostly of pictures, there’s not really a moral or a lesson here. But the point I take from it is that America’s stunning national beauty must be preserved, and also seen. The evangelists for the national parks more than a century ago had it right. Pride in one’s country, appreciation for its beauty, and protection of that beauty are all connected. You might want to pick up a copy of Between Ocean and Bay, but you should definitely check out the Eastern Shore.