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Unreliable Sources: How the Twentieth Century Was Reported Hardcover – Unabridged, 19 Mar 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; First Edition 2nd Impression edition (19 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405050055
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405050050
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.8 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 284,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'A fascinating history of the 20th century seen from the peculiar vantage point of the hassled hack, rushing to file his copy, hemmed in by censors, his own prejudices, and the demands of his proprietor and editor ... Simpson is alive to the absurdities of our calling, but this is a profoundly serious book, an attempt to work out why some [reporters] stand apart.' --The Times

`This grand panjandrum of BBC TV journalism has the personal authority and professional firepower to give credibility to a detailed inquiry into the state of British journalism...This powerful book, well researched, well structured and consistent does Simpson credit as a craftsman journalist who is prepared to expose the vices of his own arrogant and rogue-ridden trade - a trade that is always more ready to name and shame others than to report on its own shortcomings.' --Iain Finlayson, Saga Magazine

`Unreliable Sources is a lively and refreshing partisan account...what raises Simpson above his peers: a courage, a literacy and an intelligence that places him in the tradition of those he reveres, like Gellhorn herself. That's why his conclusion is especially gratifying. "Of all the newspapers in this study, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph probably come out of it best".'
--Nicholas Shakespeare, Daily Telegraph

`Simpson is not just admirably clear on the obligation to truth in journalism, which the public deserves; he is also clear on a side of it that's not often seen.' --Giles Foden, The Guardian

`Simpson has a newsman's forensic nose for the continuities amid the chaos of war, and his conviction is that those on the ground almost always know best.' --Anne McElvoy, New Statesman

`Unreliable Sources is an easy read, brimming with cogent and often caustic judgments.' --Christopher Silvester, Daily Express

`It is a massive undertaking...his knowledge and experience - he can spot the rogues and is not overly romantic about the good guys - provide an informed commentary.'
--Robert Chesshyre, The Literary Review

`Lively and intelligent analysis...but for Murdoch, a man as independent-minded as John Simpson could never have enjoyed such international renown or have written a book as authoritative as it is enjoyable...'
--Philip Ziegler, The Spectator

`A cri de Coeur by Simpson for the old, familiar world of the print media, "the star" reporter and the ability to move public opinion through language and force of despatch.'
--Keith Simpson, Total Politics

About the Author

John Simpson is the BBC's World Affairs Editor. He has twice been the Royal Television Society's Journalist of the Year. He has also won three BAFTAs, including the Richard Dimbleby award in 1991 and the News and Current Affairs award in 2000 for his coverage, with the BBC News team, of the Kosovo conflict. He has written four volumes of autobiography, Strange Places, Questionable People, A Mad World, My Masters, News from No Man’s Land and, most recently, Not Quite World's End, a childhood memoir, Days from a Different World and The Wars Against Saddam.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Leela Attfield on 14 May 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book enormously, and I'm very grateful to John Simpson for researching such a fascinating and comprehensive history of journalism from the Boer War till the present. I bought it as a birthday present for my son-in-law who lectures in media studies, and as usual with presents that I buy, I read it first. I learnt a lot about the early years of the century - newspapers and the early years of radio - and was particularly interested when it came to events that I remember as a child and young adult; it filled in a lot of gaps. I have read several volumes of Simpson's autobiographies, and always find him easy to read - interesting, at times amusing, at times moving.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Brian R. Martin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 4 April 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Journalism is one person's interpretation of events. The reporter may be open-minded and meticulous, but equally may be bigoted and lazy, just like the rest of us. Moreover, he or she may have to contend with pressure from newspaper proprietors and politicians to slant the news to suit their own agenda, or even to suppress it all together, as was the case during the abdication crisis. Only from the perspective of history can we tell which reports were accurate, which were not, and what was considered unsuitable for the public to know. This is the subject of John Simpson's book, which mines a rich source of stories to chart the fascinating history of journalism in 20th century Britain.

The book starts with the Boer War and concludes with the premiership of Tony Blair. Biased reporting and suppressed stories figure large in the narrative. Examples are the absence of reports on the deaths of Boer women and children in British concentration camps, but plenty about Boer nastiness; and in WWI, the failure to report the horrors of trench warfare, with many reporters content to accept whatever stories the military authorities gave them. But it was not all shameful. A few newspapers were more rational and the BBC always tried to maintain some sort of balance. Some critical reports also appeared, with effect. Reports in the Express on the behaviour of Nazi thugs in the streets, led that paper to support the plight of Germany's Jews before WWII. There were also remarkable, on-the-spot, reports, such as the first entry into the Nazi death camps and the aftermath of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan, of which journalists can rightly be proud.

The misreporting during WWI sowed the seeds for a widespread long-term distrust of the truthfulness of newspaper reports.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By enthusiast on 19 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a cracker; John Simpson has come up with a very clever way of writing a sort of history of the twentieth century from a British perspective through the way in which the press has reported events of various kinds. It could have been rather a cut and paste job but what is so delightful and therefore easy on the brain and eye is the seamless way in which quotes and headlines are incorporated into the text. They become integral rather than illustrations or footnotes.

It is a long book but it never flags and I read it with unflagging interest. I compare it with Steve Richards' new book about Gordon Brown; about the same length but really hard work. As ever John Simpson's prose style is elegant and rarely repetitive - neither would be true of Richards, sadly. Two excellent journalists but only one of them can write an excellent book; and that is John Simpson. Seriousness of purpose and deeply significant and sometimes horrific events can be tackled in a very readable way - and here they are. I'm not sure whether his approach is unique but I have never read anything like it. You can read it if you are interested in the evolution of journalism over the the past century - the great thing is that John Simpson does not write it from the point of a self-regarding journalist. This is a cunning way of linking historical snapshots. An excellent Christmas present to give or receive.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By jeff on 2 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Another great book from John Simpson,written in his usual informative and and indepth style.A great read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Les Fearns on 17 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
John Simpson is the BBC World Affairs editor, best known for his award-winning reporting of the Kosova conflict. Here he writes an account of how he sees the press reported on key stories from the Boer War to the Iraq invasion. As the focus is on the British press, so the themes are those that affected Britain and its press most strongly over the last 110 years. This probably means it will be of most direct interest to students of modern British history, but the story it tells of relationships between the press and its readers, of press owners and government as well as how far the press supports, questions and/or is restricted by government policy is more global in its significance.

Simpson devotes a chapter to a key period that affected how the press operated: clearly Britain's main wars and conflicts, but also issues such as the Abdication crisis, interwar attitudes to Hitler, Suez, Ireland, and the rise of the Murdoch press. I found the most useful chapters to be ones that examined the press response to government policy during the Boer and First World Wars (in the final chapters Simpson draws several parallels of approach between the Boer War and Iraq invasion). He shows clearly for example how loathe the press was to present the realism of the western front and how much his was resented by those at the front. Students (and teachers preparing courses on the impact of the media) will also find much of value on the interwar chapters which shows clearly which papers were most behind Hitler and the differing views on Appeasement and the actions of Chamberlain. Individual reporters are given mini pen portraits - many seem to be "gentle" and/or "generous......
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