25.12.14

Book Review - De Gaulle: The Man Who Defied Six US Presidents

I cringed hard reading De Gaulle: The Man Who Defied Six US Presidents by Douglas Boyd. It's bizarre reading an anti-everything author write about one of the most fascinating characters in the 20th century. Being a francophile is one thing, being anti-US another - but to combine elements of francophilia, bitter US hatred, personal prejudice against FDR, anti-nuclear tirades, anti-communism and many more parochial hatreds in under 300 pages is remarkable - not in any good way.

tl;dr - ugh, 2 stars.

De Gaulle is undoubtedly one of the most interesting personalities of the WW2 leaders. As someone who was abandoned to the machinations of self-righteous allied leaders and who in any reasonable narrative should have folded right after Operation Torch, De Gaulle stands head and shoulders above (literally - giant of a man) the pygmies of European leadership of WW2. To knit the diverse elements of France into the fighting French in an atmosphere of surrender and defeat and to be able to face down diplomatic challenges when surrounded by defeatists is a somewhat remarkable achievement. To stay relevant post-war and lead France through the decolonization phase makes De Gaulle's life a remarkable read.

To dilute his leadership and simplify it to anti-US hatred and patronizing comments about FDR's health is just bizarre. The book also completely skips analysis of De Gaulle's losses in post-war France and his behavior during the Algiers affairs. If anything is examined, it is mostly through the lens of adoration, intense to the point of blindness, which leads to excuses or hand-waves in explaining missteps or questionable judgments. The book is structured well and starts off on a good note, but as you read further the book meanders on and off topic. The chronology starts to drift back and forth. The immediate post-war era is dismissed in a few pages and discusses the power struggles and the eventual power shift that cast De Gaulle into political exile in a few terse passages. There is hardly any discussion of the people around De Gaulle who influenced his wartime strategy or his post-war cabinet. One gets the impression that De Gaulle was a dictator and took all decisions as a supreme leader. While not far from the truth, it is a really limited lens from which to view De Gaulle

There is also the slight matter of the six US Presidents De Gaulle "defied". The only president who the author focuses exclusively on is FDR. There are a few lines describing diplomatic outbursts and tough conversations, but De Gaulle's relationship with the other 5 presidents are hardly discussed. If they are, there is an element of patronizing - an elder statesman speaking to the leader of the free world like a sage to a child. Not to mention the whole period of De Gaulle's political exile where he would hardly have been privy to France's political destiny or busy defying US presidents.

There are also the sad parts where personal attacks on FDR are used to speculate on bad choices, not analysis or counterpoints but comments on his personal health. A good biography contains speculation - mostly because personal papers or existing documentary evidence cannot provide enough insight into the thought process of people separated from the author by the passage of time. But to voice personal prejudice in the disguise of scholarly judgement without any proof is just bad scholarship. The author could have done better than that.

There is very little redeeming about reading this book. The WW2 parts are decently chronicled and the sources are easily accessible. But, in the end the invective and the lack of substantial analysis of De Gaulle's post-war actions just makes this a bad read. Just don't read this book if you want a well structured biography that tries to understand the motivations and actions of a brilliant world leader. Read it if you either want to read poorly written fanboi history. Read the wiki page entry instead.

1.1.14

2014

Reviewing a year is actually easy - hindsight 20/20 and all that. What is not easy is planning for the next one. Resolutions are bunkum. All the cool kids plan goals. So that's what I intend to do this year. Goals.

Family will take a higher priority again this year as it did last. I've so many activities planned to do with the boy this year, I cannot wait for time to get me there. I'll leave it at that.

Financial planning is probably going to take up the bulk of my free time this year. I want to get my finances in order, start using a better system to organize all my future planning and stuff and if I can understand things, probably even go beyond the basic investing of my 401K. Its less about second incomes and more about understanding how money works.

This is probably my toughest challenge this year - continuing to lose weight and exercise a lot more. I'm doing pretty good, but my workout schedule is both erratic and unplanned. I need to plan out what I want to do and stick to a schedule. That is probably the only way I will get to a more healthier me.

One of the things I don't do well is write consistently. This year I am going to challenge myself to write atleast 3 posts a week. I am going to mix tech walkthroughs with idle musings and try and get an even mix of writing. Its less for any practical purpose and more about making sure I can continue to write well. I see the recent stuff I've been writing - including this brief - and I've a long way to go to improving my writing. Hopefully, writing remains, like riding a bike, easy to remember when you actually get down to doing it.

I want to keep learning. That's a perpetual goal for me, but this year I want the learning to be a little outside of my comfort zone. One of the things I want to start doing is be a better handyman. I think I can get some minor carpentry skills and gardening skills under my belt. I want a summer of gardening activities with the boy and maybe some minor wood work. There will, of course, be the usual chores of a New England homeowner - staining the deck, yard work, mowing and such - and I want to learn some skills that make these chores less tedious.

Technology continues to be my bread and butter and inevitably most of my learning will be technology this year. I sat down and made a list of all the tools and frameworks I intend to learn before this year is out. Most of these tools will be forgotten and probably never used, but my interest is in learning how these are designed. This for me is the year I learn something more about software design. The Harvard Extensions SE certificate course looks really good and I will probably get started with that. Will a certificate be useful? I don't know. I'll probably look around some more to see what I can find before choosing a professional certificate course.

Learning technology is all very good, but what I need to do is build more stuff. This year I will publish an app to the android app store. I have a vague idea of what I want to build - a better alarm clock. Simple enough that I can break my teeth into the whole process without killing myself.

A lot of the stuff I want to learn is web technology and I barely share all the demos and code I have on my local machine. I want to start using github a lot more and start using heroku to deploy sample apps. This should be fun. I think I can make the time to do this without having to sacrifice a lot of my free time - the tools really are mature and ready for even someone like me with very limited time on hand

And as always, books games, and movies. I've a personal goal of reading 25 books this year - with a slightly less emphasis on sci-if, if I can manage that. No re-reads this year - which is what takes up most of my time. Gaming has been on a two month hiatus and my only plan is to finish all the PS3 games i have before the PS4 comes in. More movies also, once I walk through the Ghibli pantheon, I want to go to Kurosawa, sift through Bollywood and Hollywood movies of 2013 and redbox any new movies. I'm excited about this the most.

There. All of my broad reso...ahem...goals listed. They are actually less ambitions once I sift through them. There are some professional goals but mostly I just want to plan my leisure time better. More time with family and less time hand wringing. Isn't that the secret to a better life? 2015 will tell me I guess.