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General Savage, Easy Rider, and Game of Thrones

by bdietrich on April 21, 2016

As a historical novelist and historian, I believe the past is key to understanding the present. As a movie buff, I believe films are a time capsule of the era in which they are made.

The Peter Pan theme of never growing up would be an example from recent cinema, in which man-child 30-somethings with a habit of slobbery and instant gratification resist adult responsibilities. They postpone parenthood and mortgages in favor of party-on in ways both immature and enviable.

I’m thinking of actors like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, and Hugh Grant, and movies such as Wayne’s World, About a Boy, The Hangover trilogy, The 40-year-old Virgin, and Failure to Launch, to mention just a few. Often funny, sometime exasperating, their scripts reflect the difficulty some young people have of getting started in our era of tumultuous economies, uncertain role models, and student debt.

It was a contrast, then, to catch 1949’s World War II bomber classic, “Twelve-O’clock High,” on TCM. Gregory Peck plays Army Air Force General Frank Savage as the Eighth Air Force begins its daylight bombing campaign against Germany in 1942.

This was a bare bones black and white production, with a Florida airfield filling in […]


Ethan Gage Is Back!

by bdietrich on February 9, 2016

Ethan Gage thanks you for your patience.

My dogged rascal of a hero is back, with his wife Astiza and son Harry, in a daring and terrifying quest for “The Trojan Icon,” an object from the Trojan War that can control the fate of empires.

The book is available as a $15.99 trade paperback edition and $9.99 Kindle edition on Amazon.com as well as a $9.99 eBook on iBooks, Kobo, and (soon) Nook.

This is the eighth in the Ethan Gage series of Napoleonic-era adventures, this one set in 1806-1807 when the French emperor was at the height of his power. Publication was delayed when my original publisher dropped the series, I explored alternatives, and finally decided to publish independently.

“The Trojan Icon” is the best one yet, by the way. The paperback is 424 pages, similar in length to others in the series. Designer Victoria Colotta has given it a splendid, polished look.

Now my problem is getting the word out, a struggle for all independent authors. I hope you will read it, review it on-line, and alert your friends.

The action starts in St. Petersburg, the Russian capital, where the Gage family has gone from refugees to the favorites of the Tsarina and […]


Good News for the Holidays

Happy holidays! 2015 had its share of tragedy, absurdity, cable news pessimism and presidential candidate complaint, but compared to most of human history – or even just American history – it was a year with a lot of good news.

Given what now seems to be our habitual grumpiness and orchestrated outrage, I thought I’d pluck a few examples to buck up our spirits.

Speaking of spirits, when scientists at the University of Alberta announced that the health benefits of a glass of red wine are equal to an hour at the gym, how bad can 2015 be?

Beer, chocolate, and naps get similar health praise in a variety of studies. And a 2013 survey of 188 countries found global life expectancy up by six years just since 1990. What’s not to like?

Polio didn’t show up in Africa this year, meaning the only two countries that still have cases of the disease are Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Gates Foundation estimates global measles cases are down two thirds since 1988.

And the early use of an Ebola vaccine has had promising results.

Money? After the United States lost 8.7 million jobs from 2007 to early 2010, it has added 13.7 million since then, at a […]

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Ethan and ISIS

History’s heavy hand is evident in the parallels between the world of my Napoleonic-era hero Ethan Gage, circa 1807, and the Islamic tumult rattling the world today.

As I read about societies Ethan might explore, from Istanbul to India, similarities are plain. Just as research for “Napoleon’s Pyramids” in 1798 Egypt reminded me of American frustration in Iraq, the fragmenting and reactionary Muslim world of Napoleon’s day reminds me of today’s Islamic fundamentalists.

In both periods, economic hardship and military defeat led to messianic and apocalyptic Islamic cults that rose and fell alongside Muslim warlords and dictators. In Napoleon’s era, the unrest allowed European powers to begin colonizing part of the Islamic world and redraw the rest, with today’s disastrous results.

A brief overview: In the wake of devastating Mongol invasions in the 1200s and 1300s, three great Muslim empires emerged.

The Ottoman Empire occupied the Balkans, the Near East, and North Africa. The Persian (Iranian) Safavid Empire was to its east, and the Mughal Empire occupied much of present-day India and Pakistan.

By 1700, all three were beginning to weaken from problems such as war and plague, plus social strains caused by trade with Europe and an invasion of new ideas. Western powers […]

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A Book for Everything

Years of oddball book buying have turned my home library into a treasure hunt for titles I forget I ever had. It’s a reminder of the unsung passionate projects that authors tackle, often with little hope of fame or fortune.

Scattered on three floors and five different clusters of bookshelves are not just mainstream reference works for my novels but quirky books that might have informed a single paragraph. I’m wary of giving them away lest they prove useful once again.

Examples include “Scalping and Torture: Warfare Practices Among North American Indians,” or “The Sex Life of the American Indian” (not as racy as hoped), or, “Indian Use of Native Plants,” or, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Voodoo.”

The first three were consulted for The Dakota Cipher, and the fourth for The Emerald Storm.

Some are fairly obvious for my Ethan Gage series of Napoleonic thrillers, such as “Walks Through Napoleon & Josephine’s Paris,” or “Soldiers at War: Firsthand Accounts of warfare from the Age of Napoleon.”

But others are singular works, occasionally self-published, that illuminate corners of my novels in odd ways. Internet book searching has made it far easier to find such help.

“Napoleon and the Jews” was used for The Three Emperors, […]

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An Ethan Gage series summary

Recently, some readers have asked me about the order of the seven Ethan Gage books, with an eighth on the way.  While the books can be enjoyed as stand-alone reads, history progresses and Ethan ages and matures in the series, so it’s understandable that many prefer to read them in order.

For those unfamiliar with my Napoleonic hero, Ethan is an American adventurer and one-time protégé of the aging Benjamin Franklin who is caught up with Bonaparte and his tumultuous times. Gage is a sharpshooter, gambler, and “electrician” who has a self-deprecating sense of humor and a wry view of humanity. He struggles with his own very human faults. Circumstance sometimes puts him in league with Napoleon, and sometimes against.

Inspirations for this character would include Indiana Jones, Hans Solo, Victorian rascal Harry Flashman, lighter treatments of D’Artagnan and Robin Hood, and fictional historical observers such as Jack Crabb in Little Big Man.

The books are carefully researched, and readers can learn a great deal. A supplement to the series is my nonfiction book, Napoleon’s Rules: Life and Career Lessons from Bonaparte.

Here’s a quick summary, with a warning of mild spoilers if you read the book descriptions. Much more detail is available […]

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Gays, Flags, Race, and Rights

History moves in mysterious ways.

This none-too-original thought occurred after a supposedly conservative-dominated Supreme Court upheld Obamacare and gay marriage, much to my satisfaction.

As a Baby Boomer trying to name our place in history after following the Greatest Generation of the Depression and World War II, I’m struck less by the technological progress of my lifetime (space travel, computers, wireless) and more by the social progress. Ideas of equality and peace that started in the 1960s are still playing out in the 21st Century.

In little more than a week we’ve had reexamination of Confederate heritage because of its ugly white supremacist side, confirmation of a major expansion government in health care, and a huge step toward equal rights for the lesbian and gay community. Being on the liberal-progressive side, I approve, but I also marvel.

I grew up in a white working class culture of the 1950s and 1960s when casual racism and sexism among relatives and construction workers was taken for granted. You could hear some of the same jokes on national TV: Sinatra’s Rat Pack made unthinking mockery of Sammy Davis Jr. What seems mean-spirited now was ‘all-in-good-fun’ then.

Those attitudes haven’t gone away. Exhibit A is Donald Trump’s recent insults […]

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Napoleon’s Rules

First I was intrigued in Napoleon the conquering icon. Then I grew fascinated with Napoleon the flawed human being.

The result is a new nonfiction book, “Napoleon’s Rules: Life and Career Lessons from Bonaparte.”

The book grew out of my research for my Ethan Gage adventure novels. Ethan is an American embroiled in the Napoleonic period, and Napoleon is the blazing sun around which characters and plot revolve.

Unlike other Napoleon books, “Rules” is about YOU. Bonaparte’s dizzying ascent and plunging fall – and his many pronouncements about life – are mined for advice, or rather fifteen “rules,” each a chapter that explores an aspect of the emperor’s success or failure.

The book is deliberately provocative, brisk, and concise, about 150 pages. Included is a timeline of Bonaparte’s life and suggestions for further reading.

Napoleon had an amazing life that draws us in because he is so humanly recognizable. He was extraordinarily brilliant, frenetically ambitious, and emotionally dissatisfied.

The Corsican kid rose from nothing, always speaking French with an accent, and yet came close to mastering the world. He also didn’t know when to quit, overreached in Russia, and ultimately was crushed.

The Greeks would call it hubris and fate. Spectacular rise and fall always fascinates […]

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The Jungle of Good and Evil

My wife and I dipped our toe into the beauty and mystery of southeast Asia recently, and encountered such a mix of modern and ancient, of the serene and the horrific, that the region floats in the mind like the rafts of hyacinth floating down the Mekong River.

I was fortunate to miss the Vietnam War (high draft lottery number) and my personal images of that place and time had come from news broadcasts and Hollywood. Now, half a century after the first American combat troops landed, we found the region has transformed at a frenetic pace – but past conflicts cast a long shadow.

Museums in Singapore and Hong Kong had major exhibits on the unforgotten horrors of Japanese Occupation in World War II. Our Vietnam guides had typically lost fathers, uncles, or grandfathers in their war. And our Cambodian guide, Arun, was a survivor of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. His father was executed by the communists, his mother sent to work in the rice fields and he, as a baby, was put in the care of an old woman too weak to hoe rice. Of thirty babies put in her care, twenty-eight died. The […]

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Napoleon and the Seahawks

Napoleon Bonaparte has a lot to say about Sunday’s improbable NFC Seahawk victory over the Green Bay Packers that sent Seattle to its second consecutive Super Bowl.

As in, “If courage is the first characteristic of the soldier, perseverance is the second.” My home team offense stunk for 55 minutes of a 60-minute game, but gosh darn it, they did hang in there.

And, “Great men are rarely known to fail in their most perilous enterprises. Is it because they are lucky that they become great? No, being great, they have been able to master luck.”

Napoleon was not a member of the Twelfth Man but he did have a lot of experience with success and failure. He’s a recurring character in my Ethan Gage series of historical novels, and I’ve compiled many of his maxims for a book I’m preparing called Napoleon’s Rules: Life and Career Lessons from Bonaparte.

Think of the parallels. A surprising rise: the Corsican loner, and Seattle’s roster of unheralded draft picks. An average height quarterback: Napoleon was 5-6 in American inches, normal for his time, and Russell Wilson is 5-10. Numerous comebacks: Napoleon from disaster in the Holy Land and Russia, the Seahawks from that 3-3 […]

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