First, the science. I've just finished reading Bill Bryson's 2003 A Short History of Nearly Everything, a history of science and scientists aimed decidedly at the non-scientist. It's pretty much intended as an overview of scientific accomplishments in fields ranging from astronomy to quantum physics to molecular biology. It's written in a popular tone, no particular scientific foreknowledge needed (thankfully, otherwise I'd never get through it with my Grade 10 science (I only took Physics after that). A very enjoyable and informative read.
What does it have to do with Canadian military history? Absolutely nothing. I try to force myself on occasion to read material way outside my norm. I find it helps keep my interests a little more balanced, and helps me try to get some other perspectives on my own work. What does Bryson's book do for me as a military historian, other than confirm that Canada's military heritage is extremely recent in the big picture? Well, for one thing, it revealed a pattern of narrative which I'd love to see mimiced by a Canadian military historian. We hear and read lots about how Canadians don't know their own history, including their military history. If there were a Canadian military history text along the narrative patterns of Bryson's work, I think we'd see a few more heads turned. This isn't a shot at any of the existing work, just an observation.
Now for something completely different, as they say.
The July 2009 new books list is out on the Library and Archives Canada website and has, as usual, some interesting new titles to announce, including:
Bercuson, David J., The Fighting Canadians: Our Regimental History from New France to Afghanistan (Toronto, 2009);
Engen, Robert C., Canadians Under Fire: Infantry Effectiveness in the Second World War (Montreal, 2009);
Hillier, Rick, A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War (Toronto, 2009);
Inches, Cyrus F., Uncle Cy's War: The First World War Letters of Major Cyrus F. Inches (Fredericton, 2009); and
Vance, Jonathan F., Unlikely Soldiers: How two Canadians fought the Secret War against Nazi Occupation (Toronto, 2009).
From the titles alone, I'm quite interested in reading Engen's book on the infantry during the Second World War. I'll also be curious to see Hillier's memoirs, although as a civil servant I admit to cringing whenever I see "bureaucrat" and its usual negative connotations appear anywhere.