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Oksa Jaakko (Vantaa, Finland)
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Russia's Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall
Russia's Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall
by Jonathan Haslam
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Rich in detail but a bit carelessly written, 19 Feb. 2015
I did not purchase this book from Amazon - I got it from a friend.

Numerous typos and textual errors suggest that the text may not have been properly proof read before it was sent to print. For example, on page 290 a sentence appears twice within the same paragraph, with a slight difference in word order and wording, an error which would certainly have been spotted by a proof reader.

The writing style is not very fluent, at times it is hard to follow the author's trail of thought. The conclusions are reasonable and the text is free of bias. The book deserves, in my judgment, a three star rating.


Canaris
Canaris
by Andre Brissaud
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars An English translation of a 1970 biography of Wilhelm Canaris by a french historian, 23 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Canaris (Hardcover)
Canaris was a German admiral and Abwehr chief who secretly worked against Hitler and the National Socialist regime for many years until his clandestine activities were found out by Gestapo. He was hanged without a trial by the SS only a few weeks before the final collapse of Germany in spring of 1945. One of his merits was that, according to the author, he managed to frustrate Hitler's plans to force Franco's Spain to join the Axis, thus saving Spain from war. The book portrays Canaris as an impeccable gentleman of superior intelligence and great cunning, a master spy, and a hero who tried to save Germany and the world from an out-of-control madman. This is an old (withdrawn) copy from some London library and it cost only a few Euros in Amazon UK.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Third Reich, history of espionage, or the Second World War.


Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
by Erik M. Conway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A history of scientific fraud in the interest of political and economic gains, 23 Dec. 2014
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A very good book about how certain scientists with conflicting interests have deliberately obfuscated the truth about various issues, ranging from tobacco smoke to global warming.

The author is a Professor of the History of Science at Harvard. The co-author is is a historian at the California Institute of Technology.


The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
by Christopher Clark
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book about the etiology of the First World War, 23 Dec. 2014
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If you are interested in the idiosyncrasies of Austro-Hungarian parliamentarism or the socially awkward behavior of German kaiser Wilhelm II amongst European royalty, this book is for you.

Learn how Europe's leaders plunged their continent into a cataclysmic conflict which claimed tens of millions of lives and, as if that was not bad enough, years later helped precipitate the tumultuous situation in Weimar Germany which lead to Nazism and ultimately the Second World War.

A great work of historiography by a leading professional historian.


The Qur'an (Oxford World's Classics)
The Qur'an (Oxford World's Classics)
by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

11 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book which every rationalist should read, 23 Dec. 2014
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Learn everything you need to know about cosmology: stars are actually lamps on the surface of the lowest heaven. Lean about geology: mountains are needed to keep the Earth firmly in place and prevent it from shaking. Learn useful information about how to treat your slaves and when to hit your wives.

I chose to read this version because the translation is widely regarded a modern, fluent and accurate. The book itself is just a collection of myths and fallacious moral beliefs, written by an ignoramus. I cannot discern any literary value in it, but it should nonetheless be read because hundreds of millions actually believe this nonsense and it has a huge impact on the world we live in.


Heart of Darkness (Penguin Classics)
Heart of Darkness (Penguin Classics)
by Joseph Conrad
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great 1899 novel by Joseph Conrad, 23 Dec. 2014
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In my interpretation the novel explores the idea that civilization and cultivation are mere superficial attributes of the modern man. Deep down man is a primitive being, easily transformed from civility and sophistication into a brutal creature dominated by his latent, primeval urges and instincts. The movie Apocalypse Now is loosely based on this novel, albeit set into a different time and place.


Cancer Ward
Cancer Ward
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars "When you're born, you wriggle; when you grow up, you run wild; when you die, that's your lot.", 12 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: Cancer Ward (Paperback)
A brilliant semiautobiographical novel written by arguably the most important 20th century Russian novelist.

The author fell ill with cancer in 1953 and subsequently wrote a novel about a cancer hospital, its patients and doctors. It was never published in the Soviet Union because of its incendiary, dissentive content.

Solzhenitsyn is not renowned for happy endings, his narration is bleak and often anguished but deep and imposing. There is a certain sense of grandeur in his writing which is ubiquitous in all his novels.

This novel is well worth reading. It is much easier to tackle than the author's magnum opus, the Gulag Archipelago.


Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country  -  and Why They Can't Make Peace
Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country - and Why They Can't Make Peace
by Patrick Tyler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A lamentably one-sided treatise on the Arab-Israeli conflict, 7 Sept. 2014
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The author, Patrick Tyler, attempts to show that Israel is a thoroughly militarized society, a modern day Sparta, where the military frequently bypasses democratic processes to achieve their sinister, jingoistic objectives, and where Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular are always victims of Israeli aggression and chauvinism.

Intelligent and erudite authors who wish to impress their own subjective beliefs on their readers rarely, if ever, resort to outright lies, but rather choose use subtler techniques of misleading their readers. This includes systematically omitting facts which contradict their agenda, misrepresenting real events, using innuendo and euphemisms etc. Before reading Tyler's book I would have named famous amateur historian and Hitler apologist David Irving as the best example of such a duplicitous writer, now I consider Tyler as his equal in this respect.

I will explain how I arrived in the above conclusion by quoting some statements in Tyler's book which are, in my opinion, biased and deceptive.

On page 3 Tyler writes that Iran's nuclear program is meant "for the production of electricity, for medical research, and, if a decision is taken by the country's leadership, for the development of nuclear weapons". Only an utterly gullible person might accept such as claim as the truth, as it is fairly self-evident that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is in fact the only real reason for the said program.

On page 42 Tyler misleads the reader about the 1948 occupation of the West Bank by Jordan. He allows the reader to understand that the Hashemite Kingdom essentially saved the West Bank from Israel's occupation by itself annexing the area. In reality King Abdullah I saw the 1948 Palestinian-Israeli war as an opportunity to seize what was left of Palestine, namely the West Bank, to himself, thus extinguishing what little hope there remained for a Palestinian state, and he went to great and sometimes ridiculous lengths to suppress any idea of such a separate Palestinian state, for instance banning his subjects from ever using the word "Palestine". They were only alowed to refer to the area as "Jordan". To Palestinians the king was a quintessential traitor, and a few years later he met his end at the stairs of the Al-Aqsa mosque where he was gunned down by a Palestinian activist. For a detailed account of what happened, read Tessler: "A History of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict", pages 276-278. In my estimation Tyler chooses to mislead his reader on this particular issue because he wants to portray the the Arabs solely as Victims of Israeli aggression, and therefore tends to omit intra-Arab conflicts of interest from his narrative.

Ahmed Yassin, a religious leader and the notorious architect of numerous Palestinian suicide attacks was, according to Tyler "a gentle-looking man with a snowy beard and an elfin smile" and "a profoundly non-violent man for most of his life" who "exuded religious piety" (page 454). Yassin "had formulated several proposals for a long term peace - Hudna - with Israel if the Israelis agreed to end the occupation" (page 455). Tyler chooses not to mention that such proposals, if sincere, would in fact be a direct violation of the founding charter of Hamas, the organization which Yassin himself co-founded! About suicide bombers and their bomb vests Tyler writes euphemistically. "Ayyash [the Hamas bomb vest maker] had given them [Hamas] a primitive weapon that could be wielded by pious youth ready to trade life itself to show their intolerance for what fate had dealt them" (page 387).

While praising Palestinian leaders and suicide bombers, when it comes to leaders on the Israeli side of the conflict, his tone changes. About Benjamin Netanyahu Tyler writes that "there were rumors that N had made intemperate comments in private about employing Israel's nuclear arsenal against Syria". His source is specified (or, rather, not specified) in the notes section, where he writes "the rumors of N's remarks about Israel's possible use of its nuclear forces against Syria were reported to the author by an Israeli academic" whom Tyler does not even name. After the statement Tyler writes a rhetorical question: "Was he [Netanyahu] so reckless and desperate that he would drag the country to the brink of massive regional war to save his political skin?" (page 410). Seemingly no obscure claim is too dubious for Tyler to use as long as it seems to support his agenda.

Throughout the book Tyler asserts that Israel is unwilling to negotiate for peace, but then, whilst explaining the Sadat-Begin talks in Camp David which lead to a successful peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, he casually contradicts himself by writing that more than 80% of the Israeli electorate supported the treaty. The discrepancy is never explained to the reader.

Tyler clearly knows his subject and is a fluent writer. It is unfortunate that he has chosen to try to prove a fallacious idea any cost, thus forfeiting objectivity. I am nonetheless giving his book a two star rating because of his fluency and erudition. If I judged it solely by its honesty, I would give only one star.

As an objective book with a slightly wider coverage of subjects I recommend the Tessler book which I mentioned earlier. The author is a bona fide professional historian and a university professor who has lived in Israel as well as in Arab countries and who, unlike Tyler, does not have a personal political agenda.

Pardon possible lingual idiosyncrasies in this review, I am a non-native English speaker.


Greenpeace: The Inside Story: How a Group of Ecologists, Jounalists and Visionaries Changed the World
Greenpeace: The Inside Story: How a Group of Ecologists, Jounalists and Visionaries Changed the World
by Rex Weyler
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A good book about the early history of Greenpeace and environmental activism., 6 Aug. 2014
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The author, Rex Weyler, belonged to the inner circle of Greenpeace during the 1970's, hence the book is based on his first hand observations.

The book is quite dopey at times, describing such events as how the founders' first boat sunk before it even left the harbor because the amateur mariners had not managed to check whether it holds water. It didn't. During one of their first actual sea voyages, where they attempted to foil a US nuke test in the Aleutians, one of their concerns was that the entire voyage would be brought to a premature end if the police conducted a drug raid on one of the ports of call which they visited. At one time they decided that their then president, Hamish Bruce, who had started behaving peculiarly, had to be hidden from the media so as to prevent the public impression that "they were all psychotics". They decided that Bruce was to be made harmless by drugging him without his consent, for which purpose they acquired two different sedatives, one of which was meant for sedating humans, the other for horses. The drug was mixed in beer and food, which were meant for the uninformed victim, but due to a misunderstanding the hapless activists themselves consumed them, thus incapacitating themselves. Reality truly can be stranger than any work of fiction.

On a serious note, the book shows us how Greenpeace activists made noble, unselfish, admirable and often dangerous work for the protection of whales and seals, which had been nearly decimated by hunting. It is possible that present day protection measures of marine mammals would not have been established without Greenpeace activism, or at least would have been delayed. Several species of whales, once abundant, had been hunted to extinction or near extinction by the 20th century, and whaling nations were slaughtering the remaining, quickly diminishing populations, with impunity. Greenpeace came to their rescue at the eleventh hour.

The books deals with events which occurred during the first ten or so years of the organization's history, when all of the people involved were volunteers, and their idealism was the driving force of Greenpeace. They were constantly short of funds and other resources, for example at one time they were unable to transport their activists home from the Pacific because their treasury did not contain enough money to buy a couple of plane tickets. For comparison, the present salary of the organization's Executive Director is a whopping €117,000 (source: GP annual report of 2013), a fact not easily reconciled with the idealism of the early days.

I recommend this good-natured and authentic book to all who are interested in environmental protection or activism.


Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A somewhat flawed treatise about the Holocaust, 18 Oct. 2013
Goldhagen's "monocausal explanation" of the Holocaust is inadequate and implausible. He argues that the Holocaust can be explained solely by the Germans' age-old "demonological" antisemitism and that therefore the Nazi regime merely made it possible for this antisemitism to express itself in real acts of murder and mayhem, whereas earlier it had remained at the level of an all-pervasive desire to commit such acts. Goldhagen's theory therefore shifts the blame from Nazism to the German culture and German people which isn't realistic even though there is undoubtedly some truth in it.

Much more balanced books have been written about the subject, for example Browning's excellent "Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland" which deals with one of the subjects that the Goldhagen book also investigates, but does it infinitely better.

I nonetheless give this book a two star rating (instead of just one) because it is quite comprehensive and not badly written, only seriously one-sided.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 14, 2014 10:24 PM BST


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