Critical praise and book excerpts:
Reviews, praise, and excerpted passages of and from selected titles, present and future.
Praise for When That Great Ship Went Down:
‘What sank the Titanic? Its builders’ belief that, when it came to building ships, “the Science Was Settled”. And, as this cool reassessment of the US and British Titanic enquiries shows, politicians and regulators in 1912 were just as bad as the current lot: they had a progressive political narrative to push, and their own secrets to hide. Sounds familiar.’
– James Delingpole, then Daily Telegraph columnist, 2010 winner of the Bastiat Prize for Online Journalism, 2013 Bloggie Blogger of the Year, Breitbart Online / Breitbart London executive editor, contributor to The Spectator, and author of Watermelons: The Green Movement’s True Colours
‘In this sharply and eruditely-drawn account of the Titanic Inquiries on either side of the Atlantic, the authors warn: “What lessons this may hold for Mr Cameron and Mr Salmond is beyond the scope of this work.” Fortunately, their vivid reconstruction and analysis enable us to draw plenty of damning parallels. This is a parliamentary procedural as well as the re-creation of a vanished pre-War world; its political and intellectual processes as well as a sociology ranging from Trollope to Joyce. This is far more than another clever “Titanic” book.’
– Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, Paris Contributing Columnist, The Sunday Telegraph
And, suddenly, in this welter of Irish affairs, personalities, and party politics, the fate of a future enquiry into the deaths of numerous Irish people was sealed. ‘Wee Joe’ Devlin, hon. member for Belfast West, setter-aside of bishops’ restraints, betrayer of William O’Brien, distiller, yellow journalist, Grandmaster for life of the Mollies, anti-Parnellite, deadly foe of Redmond, spoilsman and jobber, interjected what seemed a mere debating point.
‘Is the hon. gentleman aware that the head of one of the greatest industries in Belfast is a Home Ruler?’
‘I am quite well aware of Lord Pirrie’s history. I am also aware that in the demonstration that took place three days ago in Belfast, his workmen turned out almost to a man to hear the Leader of the Opposition.’
From that moment, the yard that built Titanic was politically untouchable by the Liberal government that had moved the Home Rule Bill.
The problem for the governmental enquiries that followed was less what to do, than how to do what might be done without condemning US immigration laws; exonerating the wicked Trusts in the midst of an election year in which Teddy Roosevelt was taking on the incumbent Taft for not busting enough Trusts; exposing the Marconi Company in which ministers of the Crown held illicit stakes; insulting Ulster workers in a Belfast shipyard owned by a Liberal supporter of Home Rule for Ireland, whose ship had just now drowned any number of emigrating Irish Catholics; wrecking the Home Rule Bill; queering the pitch for the Imperial Wireless Chain; and bringing down His Majesty’s Government.
Within those limits, not a few of which could not be so much as mentioned to the Congress, the House of Commons, and the Wreck Commissioner, Lord Mersey, the enquiries were perfectly free and above-board.
The loss of Titanic was a tragedy; for the American government as for the British, it was a potential political problem; and for not a few American and British politicians, it was a political opportunity.
Praise for Benevolent Designs:
‘Benevolent Designs examines three areas that are (generally speaking) woefully neglected. First, author Markham Shaw Pyle is concerned with the time frame between the defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1781 and the signing of the Constitution in 1789, when the United States of America was both a start-up and an upstart. Second, Pyle is (as George Washington himself was) interested in the settlement of what was then the western frontier, a phase in westward expansion that gets filed under the rubric of “Daniel Boone” and “Johnny Appleseed” and is then forgotten.
‘Third, and most prominently, Pyle examines the life and works of Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, who was a supporter of Wesley’s and an underwriter for the early phase of Methodism, and who is (by my own quick mental survey) one of three women who have founded a Christian denomination. (I am thinking of Aimee Semple McPherson and Mary Baker Eddy here, but there may be more.) I will confess that I had not heard of the Countess, or of her denomination (known, charmingly, as “Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion”) until reading this book, and it gave me the greatest pleasure to, as it were, fill in this particular blank in my historical knowledge.
‘... The Countess’s grand plan, as explicated in the book, was to plant settlements of her co-religionists in the American frontier, where they would be well-placed to instruct the local Indian tribes and civilize and Christianize them. In aid of this, she contacted her kinsman in America, a prominent man, a leader of his generation, and the Father of our Country. The correspondence between the Countess and General Washington is the anchor of the book, as well as its primary ornament.
‘Washington was, quite rightly, concerned that the American backwoods be settled by yeoman farmers and not exploited by land speculators. He was concerned with keeping good relations with the Indian tribes – as a participant in the French and Indian Wars, Washington was intimately familiar with what the tribes could do militarily if they were aroused. Washington’s interests did not exactly coincide with the Countess’s, but Pyle makes the case that they dovetailed nicely.
‘Benevolent Designs is a well thought-out, illuminating piece of history covering topics that are often sadly neglected. Pyle writes with integrity, authority, and an appealing energy (despite the occasional detour). But perhaps the most revealing aspect of the book is the long passages quoted from the letters of George Washington – both to the Countess and to other correspondents. Washington is not the best prose stylist among the Presidents; Lincoln was far more eloquent and TR was far more prolific. But Washington here exhibits both his own ingrained nobility and an admirable blunt directness. Pyle wisely steps back and lets the General speak, and the book is better for it.’
– American novelist Curtis D Edmonds, author of Wreathed, Rain On Your Wedding Day, and Lies I Have Told
The fact was, Bethesda, even before Whitefield left it to the Countess as his dying bequest, was used as a sort of apprentice training for Evangelicals destined for the clergy or missionary work or teaching; and most of those sent out to Georgia by Whitefield and the Countess couldn’t have managed to organize an orgy in a whorehouse.
The best thing that could have happened to the Countess would have been if the Georgians, at the outbreak of the American Revolution, had simply seized Bethesda, which they previously had declined to accept as the next thing to a gift. The best thing that did happen to the oily Mr. Piercy was the outbreak of the American Revolution, which allowed him innumerable excuses for his defalcations and so entangled the accounts as to make it nigh unto impossible to catch him out. It’s always a convenience to someone with his hand in the till to be able to claim that the missing assets vanished due to acts of war, force majeure, Indian raids, Spanish bandits from the Floridas, rebel militias, and Hessians. Especially Hessians.
George Washington was nobody’s fool.
Neither was Lady Huntingdon.
At its most reductive – which is a nice way of saying, “crudely put” – they were trying to broker a deal, and each, as tends to happen in deals, was trying to use the other for his or her own ends.
What Washington wanted was to settle the back-country with a hardy population who would not provoke another Indian war, and who would be well affected towards the new Republic. If they spoke English, so much the better. If they were Dissenters who, like the founders of Massachusetts, had reason not to like the king and his bishops, better still. If they were artisans and farmers, he’d be grateful. His interest was in populating the country sufficiently to support the necessary garrisons to keep the British from reneging on the peace treaty and the French and the Spanish from trying a land-grab; and to do that, he had to keep the Native Americans quiescent. He had no hopes that they’d be converted en masse to Christian meekness; he simply wanted them, first, not to be provoked, and, thereafter, to be tied to the interests of the United States by trade and “peaceful intercourse.” To effect these ends, he was even willing, in default of Congressional action, to sell the lands himself, out of his veteran’s bounties – although not, of course, at a discount. (There's a reason he's on our money.)
What Selina Huntingdon wanted, naturally, was to send sufficient numbers of her Connexion, whole villages of them if she could, to plant the banner of Calvinistic Methodism in the New World, to outpace, outnumber, and out-breed the Wesleyans, and to convert the “heathen savages” (Indians included, although some of the good old boys back in the hills certainly qualified at least as well for that description). She wasn’t particularly interested in the economics or the politics of populating the Western Lands so America could hold them, or in a merely secular “civilizing” of the Native Americans: she quite seriously intended that they be evangelized and converted, and their immortal souls saved, from which all other worldly benefits would follow.
Praise for “Fools, Drunks and the United States”: August 12, 1941:
Insightful character studies of 1941’s leaders:
Every day makes some history, but some days contribue more than others. This work focuses on what was, in many respects, an average day in the summer of 1941 – baseball games, radio programs, and an eventful vote in the House of Representatives that would prove later to be fateful indeed.
The author is primarily concerned with illuminating the characters in their historical context – and what characters they were, especially in comparison to the blow-dried common lot of today'’s Congressional leadership. Pyle does a commendable job in not only understanding and interpreting the long-lost culture of the early Forties but in encapsulating the personalities of the time into brief, majestic passages.
The chief drawback, however, is that the narrative flow is somewhat compromised. “Fools, Drunks and the United States” has, at times, the aspect of a cocktail party, complete with great swooping arcs of conversational flow that sometimes go in every which direction. A learned and erudite cocktail party, to be sure, but the aimless, meandering path the story takes can be frustrating.
Full Disclosure: MSP is an e-mail friend and a good sort, and I happily recommend this work to all. Its limitations are apparent but honorable, and the signature MSP style is evident on every page.
– American novelist Curtis D Edmonds, once more
On August 12, 1941, sunrise came to Washington DC at 6:19 AM. The sun set at 6:34 PM local time in Honolulu, Hawaiian Territory: 12:34 AM, August 13, in Washington.
On the Eastern Front, in Poland and the Ukraine, and in Berlin, the advance of German arms remained swift enough to create annoyances for those engaged in “cleansing” the territories of Slavs and Jews and Roma. They were groping for a Final Solution already.
At daybreak, farmers were already rising and setting to their August tasks from sea to shining American sea. On Long Island, potato farmers and spinach farmers were hard at work. In Virginia, tobacco planters were walking the fields as dawn broke. In Georgia, cotton and peanuts were carefully examined by those whose fortunes would be made or broken by the year’s harvest.
The swing shift in the factories had given way to the early day shift. And in Washington DC, clerks and bureaucrats were shaving and having breakfast and preparing to head in to work.
Mr. Sam, the Speaker of the House, Representative Sam Rayburn of Bonham, Texas, was an early riser: a farming boyhood marks a man. Ham and eggs and biscuits with cotton-blossom honey, and coffee all but straight from the pot, set him up for the long day ahead. He left his rooms at the Anchorage Building on Q Street and headed for the Capitol.
The summer recess, in a Washington not yet generally air-conditioned, no longer lingered even in the capacious Congressional memory. The day looked to be hot and humid; inside the House of Representatives, and in the temper of the House, it looked to be hotter than the fires of Hell.
When Mr. Sam had been a boy, the Czar had ruled Russia by ukase. Now “Uncle Joe” Stalin ruled as an autocrat. Fifty years before, when Mr. Sam had been a boy, “Czar” Reed, as Speaker, had rewritten the Rules of the House and bent that institution to the Speaker’s will; twenty years after, just before Mr. Sam had entered the House as a freshman in the Woodrow Wilson years, “Uncle Joe” Cannon had fallen to a House revolt – led by TR’s son-in-law, Congressman Nicholas Longworth, who, when he became Speaker of the House, may have regretted his early success – that made the great baronial Committee Chairmen powers in the land, and reduced the Speaker’s influence to the limits of the Speaker’s personality, political prowess, and persuasiveness.
The Senate had passed the draft extension, the amendment to the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940: not by much, but they had managed to pass it, barely, a few days before. Now it was up to the House; which meant it was up to Mr. Sam.
… The Government he now served had done its best to break him, to drive him into the Wilderness, in years when his Friends were not his friends, and his friends were on the backbenches with him or seated opposite. He had been right about Hitler; the Government, wrong. And when the consequences of their folly, that he had prophesied, had come upon them, they had been forced to bring him in, to fill the office he had filled when the Great War had come upon them. He had gone to the Admiralty that day and thrown open a curtain, to reveal the map – its pins still in their places – that had shown the Fleet and the Kaiser’s navy as they had been disposed on his last day there, after the failure in the Dardanelles; and the signal had gone out to the Navy, even as he walked into the Admiralty, Winston’s back.
He had been a soldier, a military historian, a Naval expert, a war correspondent, a historian and a biographer. He had seen war and directed men in war – his old second in command, Sir Archie Sinclair, sat opposite, the Leader of the Liberal Party he had once adorned – and he had disposed the King’s Navy in war and peace. Yet most of all, it was his gift, one Marlborough nor Wellington had possessed, to marshal the English language for war, and to wage war with its words, sweeping ’round to take an enemy in flank, charging irresistibly in force, besieging a position, forming into squares to receive an assault.
As he stood to the Despatch Box, this was his task, to save his Friends from his friends, to erect a defence, to be the red-coated squares awaiting Ney’s charge and the onslaught of the Imperial Guard. On the day war had been declared, he had entered the House capable, had he said the words, of bringing down the Government, of vindicating the shade of Lord Randolph Churchill upon the son of Joseph Chamberlain: he might have torn the Prime Minister from his seat and taken his place. The first duke of Marlborough should have done, in any like hour; yet he did not, and, had he done, he should not have lasted. Implacable, masterful, baleful, indefatigable, the right hon. and gallant Member for Epping, the First Lord of the Admiralty, loomed and lowered above the Despatch Box and the Mace as St Paul’s loomed over London in this night: and the ghosts of the men who had been sent to win at Gallipoli and who had died betrayed by pusillanimous councils, the dead also of the Western Front who had been doomed to die when the Dardanelles Campaign had been strangled in its cradle, stood with him, shoulder to shoulder, files on parade, with the dead of the Norwegian Campaign that was so uncanny an echo of Gallipoli.
It was 10.11 of the clock, and in the still Chamber, the sudden thunder woke.
On 10 May, in the hour of dawn, the Phoney War ended. The forces of the Reich smashed without warning into the neutral Low Countries, and poured into France.
The right hon. Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill kissed hands and accepted the King’s commission to form a government.