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Unreliable Sources: How the Twentieth Century Was Reported [Unabridged] [Hardcover]

John Simpson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

19 Mar 2010
One of the greatest reporters of his day writes a brilliant and typically opinionated account of how the British press has reported key moments in our history

Product details

  • Hardcover: 356 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; 1 edition (19 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405050055
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405050050
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 336,220 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

Book Description

Through many decades of groundbreaking journalism, John Simpson has become not only one of the most recognisable and trusted British personalities, but has transferred his skill to books with multiple bestselling success. With his new book he turns his eye to how Great Britain has been transformed by its free press down the years. He shows how, while the press likes to pretend it's independent, they have enjoyed the power they have over the events they report and have at times exercised it irresponsibly. He examines how it changed the world and changed itself over the course of the last hundred years, from the creation of the Daily Mail and the first stokings of anti-German sentiment in the years leading up to the First World War, to the Sun's propping up of the Thatcher government, and beyond. In this self-analysis from one of the pillars of modern journalism some searching questions are asked, including whether the press can ever be truly free and whether we would desire it to be so. Always incisive, brilliantly readable and never shy of controversy, Unreliable Sources sees John Simpson at the height of his game as one of Britain's foremost commentators.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars jounalism in the twentieth century 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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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journalism: the Best and the Worst 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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read 2 Nov 2010
By jeff
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simpson on top form 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars reporting on reporting itself 17 Aug 2011
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great fun
This is two stories melded together.First up is the events of 2001, starting with Simpson trying to get a visa from the Taliban government in Afghanistan and ending with him... Read more
Published 29 days ago by Franz Bieberkopf
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent insight into how the press operates.
Very interesting history of the British press and journalism. John Simpson has again delivered a very good and enjoyable read.
Published 3 months ago by Mr. W. N. Colquitt
5.0 out of 5 stars Unreliable Sources: How the Twentieth Century Was Reported ... John...
this is a great book.
john simpson has put together a fascinating insight into how reporting of (war in) the twentieth century was influenced by political and social pressure,... Read more
Published 4 months ago by mark trigg
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't believe all you read - but do believe some of it
John Simpson has undertaken a huge task in reviewing media treatment of major events from the Boer War to the Iraq wars, and has done so with eminent fairness and authority. Read more
Published 5 months ago by G. M. Sinstadt
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, particularly on wars and foreign policy
My high expectations of the renowned author and its topical subject were entirely justified.

Mr Simpson gives many of examples of how the news has been twisted to suite... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Midlander
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read between the lines of the Last 100 yrs.
"A century of reporting ended as it had begun, with some correspondents speaking out so loudly, others willing to close their eyes to anything that didn't fit the official version... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Ryan Gracey
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading
Find out how news can be misreported. Covers a wide range of reporting styles and news stories. Very informative and written by an experienced journo.
Published 12 months ago by tonupthomas
5.0 out of 5 stars A good solid read
A good confirmation of any suspicion about the use of press "spin" to follow a press or government agenda. Also shows the pursuit of popular prejudice to sell papars.
Published 16 months ago by Alan Houghton
4.0 out of 5 stars A Reliable Source
A great insight into the behind-the-scenes activities of governments and people in power of the period. It's well-written (as you would expect) and highly informative. Read more
Published on 15 Feb 2012 by Solo
5.0 out of 5 stars book review
Very interesting inside views on political characters; for example Harold Wilsons shop window, pipe toting calm image was a complete con. Read more
Published on 16 Jan 2012 by william
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