The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another book note

I just finished The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871 by Geoffrey Wawro, 2005. This is another of those times when I discovered that I didn't know enough about something, and suddenly needed a book on the topic. I doubt very much that you need to know much about this, so I won't inflict the details -- enough to say that it's damned depressing, given the massive (I mean massive) incompetence and corruption exhibited by the poor French. It's hard to imagine a country more betrayed by its leadership. Napoleon III staged a coup in the middle of the nineteenth century, setting up the so-called Second Empire, with himself as Emperor. Then, by carefully placating the ignorant, illiterate peasantry, he could stay in power by holding a national election, which would return a majority from the countryside, overwhelming the urban republican types. The country people didn't know anything about what was going on except that the Army had won two wars (v.s. Russia and Austria, two even more unimpressive powers -- against Mexico, they didn't do so good,) and that the Emperor subsidized their continuing, almost feudal existence without their having to do much except pay low taxes.

When the emerging Prussian / North German confederation of states began to get uppity (they took a startlingly successful whack at Austria, themselves, in 1866,) Napoleon III got concerned, and his government allowed itself to be maneuvered into starting a short, bloody, horrifyingly mismanaged defeat at the hands of Moltke and the rest of Germany. When it was over, instead of an amalgam of small states, Germany was a unified empire with a tremendously professional army and the beginning of the national attitude that would lead to World War One.

The book is five years old, and I didn't catch any serious errors except one embarrassingly technical flub: if you can imagine it, the author actually confuses the Montigny mitrailleuse with the Reffye mitrailleuse! How is such inattention to detail possible?

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