Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Review: Blind Man's Bluff

Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, by Sherry Sonntag and Christopher Drew.
I was at the library the other day, and having just finished reading Master and Commander, by Patrick O'Brian, I was in a little bit of a naval mindset and was looking for info on sailing ships, and there sat this book. The title and subject grabbed my attention, as they were clearly designed to do, and since there is no cost involved in a library check-out, I brought it home with me.
Halfway through the first chapter, it started to seem very familiar to me, and then it donned on me that exactly the same thing happened about five years ago on a trip to the library when we lived in South Carolina. It turns out I've read the book before! Weird, huh? Anyway, I've read enough of it now to offer an intelligent opinion, and anyway, I want to try out the Amazon associates link.
This is one of those books which uncovers a previously hidden part of American history, which is the submarine aspect of the cold war. The chapters in fact focus mostly on the disasters and near disasters in the U.S. submarine service, starting from the early dare-devil days of the diesel subs up through the modern nuclear boats. I don't think most people realize that there were a lot of lives lost in the cat-and-mouse game that we played with the Soviets during the Cold War. At various times, destroyers rammed subs and damaged or sank them, subs accidentally bumped into each other, and both American and Soviet subs popped their periscopes up in the middle of busy enemy naval bases. In one high-profile case, the Soviets discovered a "property of US Govt."-labeled wire-tap on one of their undersea communications cables. Oops!
There were also technological feats as impressive (and nearly as expensive) as the Apollo space program that had to remain shrouded in secrecy. In fact, mere days before the Apollo 11 moon landing, the U.S. Navy was operating a deep-sea recovery vehicle in and around a submarine wreck which was under two miles of water. And they weren't allowed to tell anyone about it. How's that for a fine use of tax dollars?
While the stories are interesting and the tales are compelling, I've found a few too many style errors to be able to give this a whole-hearted endorsement. Several times, the authors switch from present voice to past mid-paragraph. At times the authors' opinions about mistakes by the Navy and various departments come through a little too clearly, and the tone starts to sound whiney. If you happen to be in the Tom Clancy fan-camp, these issues will not bother you in the least, and I can heartily recommend this book to you, since this has the added benefit of all being true. For the rest of you (my wife for instance), if you care overmuch about style and good writing, be forewarned: this is by no means the worst I've ever read, but this will not contend for space on the shelves of great literature.
Thanks for reading!

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