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Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom)

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In Nelson's Wake: The Navy and the Napoleonic Wars
In Nelson's Wake: The Navy and the Napoleonic Wars
by James Davey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Rule Britannia., 26 Nov. 2015
Between 1794 and 1815 the Royal Navy crushed her enemies at sea in a period of dominance that equals any in history. The original dispatches from seven major fleet battles were gathered together and presented to the nation. Bound in one huge volume they were admired as a jewel of British history.

For centuries Britain's mastery of the seas enabled her to strike wherever it wished. This meant that during the Napoleonic Wars she could threaten any part of Napoleon's European Empire. For example, she hit Copenhagen to prevent Bony getting the Dutch fleet. Wellington was resupplied with men and supplies in Spain, and the French fleet dare not leave harbour. As Davey points out 'the Mediterranean became a British lake'. In fact. So did the vast Indian Ocean.

Davey also examines the 1812-14 war with America. Britain blockaded American trade reducing its annual exports from $61m to $7m. This and other successes increased the affection for the navy, an affection not felt for the army.

The author discusses the harsh life at sea, the poor food, the floggings, the tyrannical captains the corruption and the mutinies. Rum, sodomy and the lash get a detailed treatment although he is a little more sympathetic to the navy than some writers. Mutiny was common. Davey reports that some 12,000 seamen deserted between June 1804 and June 1805. This was around ten per cent of the British navy's strength, an astonishing figure. Press gangs were essential if ships were to have their full complement of crew.

Davey's examines Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, how trade followed the flag and the navy's campaign against the slave trade across the navy. He could have given more details of the opposition to the latter by commercial and City interests.

Davey is a curator at the National Maritime Museum . He writes fluently and with verve. His knowledge of the navy is impressive. The book is a worthy successor to his Transformation of British Naval Strategy, and Nelson, Navy and Nation, published in 2012 and 2013.

This book is recommended for all interested in and fascinated by the British navy. The story of our navy is a story of Britain, our culture and our empire. Our naval history has shaped the British in many subtle and surprising ways, our language, culture, politics and character all owe a great debt to the conquest of the sea. This account is a fresh take on our national story.

Read also: Sam Willis: ' In the Hour of Victory'.

The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
Price: £9.49

2.0 out of 5 stars A Weak Account Of A Monstrous Body., 25 Nov. 2015
This is a run of the mill account of the origins of IS. The general reader will no doubt find it interesting. It adds to the avalanche of books about this barbarous organization but adds nothing new.

The book is full of unsubstantiated statements about , for example, the IS flag, the way in which IS differs from al-Qaeda, Baghdadi, and Ayman al-Zawahiri. It reads at times like a novel. The author gives the impression of an all-knowing inside informant. It is very misleading. Point after point has been heavily disputed by many scholars.

There are many better books available . Read this one with caution.

Napoleon's Other Wife: The Story of Marie-Louise, Duchess of Parma, the Lesser Known Wife of Napoleon Bona Parte
Napoleon's Other Wife: The Story of Marie-Louise, Duchess of Parma, the Lesser Known Wife of Napoleon Bona Parte
by Deborah Jay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Yes Tonight Marie-Louise., 22 Nov. 2015
Deborah Jay has written a fascinating account of a wife of Napoleon who has seldom appeared in the numerous books about the scourge of Europe. She is a barrister and has travelled extensively across Europe. In so doing she became engrossed with European history, particularly the 18th and 19th centuries. She has taught A level history at a local school.

Jay examines the life of Archduchess Marie-Louise. She was the great- grand-daughter of Marie Theresa and the daughter of Emperor Francis 11 of the vast Holy Roman Empire. Marie-louise was an accomplished musician, she played the harp, guitar and piano. It is said she had been schooled in the art of diplomacy. Jay paints a picture of a very confident, well educated, witty young woman. Clearly a very eligible bride.

In 1810 at the age of 18 she left Vienna to marry Napoleon Bonaparte. A surprising choice as Bony had been her father's enemy for several years. Several people hoped that the marriage would curb the Emperor's plan to rule Europe and, hopefully, lead to his demise. What was even more surprising was that since 1791 the French revolutionaries had abolished the monarchy-next year they guillotined their King and Queen, the great uncle and aunt of Marie-Louise, and caused the Austrians a great deal of anguish in general.,

In 1792 war began between Austria and France. It lasted until 1812. By then Napoleon had defeated Austria in battle and captured some seventy per cent of its lands. The Hamburg empire was close to collapse. Hence the marriage of Marie to the military genius on March 11, 1810. She was married by proxy at the church close to Vienna's Hofburg Palace. Her uncle stood in for Napoleon. On 20 March, 1811 a male heir was born. He was named the King of Rome. Napoleon was delighted particularly as it proved that rumours about his sterility were disproved. Marie found Napoleon to be a loving husband.

Jay argues that the birth of a son to his young bride distracted Napoleon to the extent that he embarked on the disastrous invasion of Russia in June, a folly that cost him around 890,000 men. This is very disputable. In addition, the Austrian-French alliance ended since the former had sided with Russia against Napoleon. Marie, however, declared her loyalty to her husband. In 1814, she was Regent of France and in a dilemma as to whether or not to oppose her father and other anti-Napoleon forces that were ready to March on Paris. In the end she decided to flee to Vienna.

In 1816 she went to Parma, the Duchy having been given her by the allies after her husband's defeat at Waterloo. . There she set up, for its time, a liberal government. Unfortunately for her, emerging nationalistic fervour, patriotism and the death of her son fathered by the hated enemy meant she had to flee from Parma. Europe was apparently scandalised by revelations regarding her association with Bony. The reactionary heads of Europe hated her. Shortly after her death the Italian landscape was disfigured by revolution. It was the beginning of the Risorgimento, the long fight for unification.

An easy to read book that is written with a sympathetic feel for Marie-Louise and even for Napoleon who I suspect she doesn't much like.

Hunting Season: The Execution of James Foley, Islamic State, and the Real Story of the Kidnapping Campaign that Started a War
Hunting Season: The Execution of James Foley, Islamic State, and the Real Story of the Kidnapping Campaign that Started a War
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Barbarians at Large., 21 Nov. 2015
The ancient Greeks believed Hades was guarded by Cerberus, a three-headed dog. Today we face a monster with three heads: rampant Jihadism, uncontrolled mass migration and a fifth column of homegrown extremists. Harkin's book concerns the first threat.

The details in this book ought not to surprise anyone who has any knowledge of the Isis barbarians. Of course, there are graphic passages. The author is not describing a tea party. Don't buy if you are going to be upset. If you do buy at least finish the book if you wish to understand what the West is facing.

Isis deliberately chooses to murder in various barbaric ways in order to provoke outrage and a response by force. It then tells the Muslim world that the West is intent on destroying it. Fools including certain politicians fall for it. Jeremy Corbyn who inhabits a world that exists through the back of a wardrobe has said we ought to negotiate with Isis. Such comments demonstrate an appalling lack of understanding about terrorists.

The current crisis has a clear cultural and ideological dimension. Radical Salifists are driven by a fanatical theology that jettisons mainstream Islam's canons of scriptural interpretation. Facing the West is an implacable fundamentalism that burns libraries, destroys ancient and precious monuments and murders without hesitation apostates, Jews and Christians as well as Muslims. In fact, more Muslims have been slaughtered than non Muslims, a fact little reported. At its heart also is a burning hatred for those Muslims who do not agree its perverted theology. The plague of Jihad extends across the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and all western societies. In the past four years 80,000 deaths can be attributed to Islamist groups.

The murderous pirates are financed by oil sales, hostage taking and massive funds from Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive regimes on earth. It is a disgrace that because of the need for oil and to sell arms we have any dealings with this state. It is particularly disgraceful that a senior member of the Royal family clearly enjoys trips to that country, and that the Queen has to act as host to those who keep women in a state of medieval subjection.

The author has written three previous books. He is an American journalist who has written for the Guardian, Harper's and Newsweek. He is also the director of a think-tank. In this book he details the barbaric execution by decapitation of Jim Foley an intrepid freelance journalist. Captured in November 2012 he was shunted around ten prisons in Syria, most of them underground and appallingly cruel. With 22 other hostages he eventually ended up in Raqqa. After decapitation by a British guard, Foley's head was posed neatly on his back. A video that lasted 208 seconds recorded the murder. It appeared on You Tube on 19 August, 2014. Two weeks later, another freelance journalist was murdered in the same way.

The savage killing ignited a furious debate about the merits of President Obama's decision to invade Iraq. There was now a clear wish by the public for air strikes against Isis in Syria. There was a new public hawkishness. Foley's death led to an open-ended war against the savages of Isis. That, unfortunately, is exactly what the medieval barbarians wanted. If David Cameron goes ahead with air strikes based on our precision Brimstone missile it will not end the plague or the war in Syria but it will please the Jihadists.

Harking briefly describes how Syria's Spring became a nightmare. Why its revolt spiralled out of control. One reason he could have explored in more detail was the sense of hatred among the very poor Sunni majority. Soon Syria became a magnet for Islamic extremism.

The atrocities in Madrid, Paris and Mali were not needed for us to realise that Isis is fuelled by Islamists who have a pathological hatred of Westerners. Harking fails to point out that what also drives this hatred is their loathing of modernity. This is why they targeted the groups they did in Paris. That is why they are quite happy to kill other Muslims as they did in Paris. And that is why they casually destroy ancient monuments. Anything post the seventh century is in their distorted view the work of infidels and has to be destroyed.

Notwithstanding this, Harking has written an excellent account of the depravity associated with hostage-taking. However, his criticisms of major newspapers for failing to get involved in Syria is not only misplaced it is wrong. The Telegraph and The New York Times, for example, have both reported from that torn and dangerous land.

Harking rightly raises the thorny question of negotiating and paying a ransom. He notes that German, French, Danish and Spanish hostages have been freed on payment of a ransom. Your survival, if captured, does seem to depend on whether or not your country is a ransom-payer or not. You can argue the case for and against with equal ease.

A useful book that does not reveal anything new about Isis but does rightly focus on its barbarity. The West and others is facing a fanatical foe that is now capable of urban terrorist attacks and conventional ones also. It has established a 'state' that has plenty of weapons, a vast amount of money and a growing infrastructure. It currently occupies territory larger than the state of Pennsylvania. It poses an existential threat whose dimensions are way beyond those of the various terrorist organisations that have opposed the West since 1945. Military force alone will not quell it let alone eradicate it. Outside of Iraq and Syria it has cells ( cancerous ones) in at least nine other countries. Modern communications enables them to plan and communicate with ease. Isis flourishes on propaganda. The alienated young fall prey to its distorted views. It desires publicity, hence the more than media reports its evil deeds the more it approves for publicity is its oxygen.

Let us also be aware without going overboard that the current wave of migrants, many of them young men, could contain the modern version of a Trojan Horse.

There is a useful, but short list of sources.

Read it. The problem is not going away.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2015 9:19 PM GMT

Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories
Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories
by Rob Brotherton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Age of Conspiracy., 20 Nov. 2015
This is an excellent book. It is absorbing and written with clarity and verve. There are few events that will not be doubted by conspiracy theorists Such theories have been with us since civilization began. Sometimes they have been ignored leading to disastrous results. Where trust in authorities is low they flourish. Today, conspiracy theories have found a new currency with websites and social networking ensuring a wider and more rapid spread than ever before.

The oddest ideas can now catch like wildfire. While believing every significant event is a conspiracy may indicate a psychosis, some of the theorising has proved helpful. Brotherton acknowledges as much. The problem is how to separate truth from imagination. Was Diana murdered? Did NASA really go to the moon? Was 9/11 a CIA plot? Did Oswald shoot Kennedy? Was Stalin murdered by his doctors? Is climate change a fiction? Is Elvis really dead ? Did David Kelly really commit suicide ? The list is endless.

The author makes clear that rational and intelligent people often believe in conspiracy theories. Not all are sad extremists. Unfortunately, there is a strong tendency to condemn all such theorists as odd. The media and authorities are rigidly dismissive of the notion of conspiracy theory. It is treated as myth and the result of wild imagination, fears and the refusal to believe evidence. In brief, conspiracy theory is regarded as evidence of lunatic paranoia running rife. Some of it may well be but not all, thinks Brotherton.

It can be argued that cynicism on a large scale ought to be unthinkable. But when new evidence comes to light that proves lies or partial lies have been told, the unthinkable cannot be ruled out. Would a UK government agency put deadly sarin nerve gas on to the skin of volunteers after telling them it was researching a cure for the common cold ? It would, it did. It took 50 years to admit it , and that one volunteer died as a result.

Brotherton says there is a conspiracy theory for everything. The rabbit hole runs deep. Women are, he says, just as conspiracy- minded as men. Education and wealth make little difference. Even Nobel Prize winners can succumb. Age doesn't matter either. Neither does it matter where you live on this globe. Russians, Germans, Indians are just as prone to conspiracy theories . Chances are you know some. Chances are you are one.

Brotherton says his book is not really about conspiracy theories at all. It's ' about conspiracy thinking'. In other words it's about what psychology can tell us about how we decide what to believe, what is reasonable and what is poppycock. It's about why some of us believe things that others completely disbelieve. It transpires we are not always the best judge of why we believe what we believe. He supports this with details of psychological experiments in Amsterdam. Details are also discussed of research on how our bodies work, in particular our brain. The work of David Eagleman and others is quoted with reference to the notion of consciousness. This has been likened to a rider on the back of an elephant-why is explained.

This book with its fresh approach tells an interesting story , one that has important implications for us all. Brotherton argues that the scientific evidence available indicates we are all at the mercy of a hundred billion neurons which he calls 'tiny conspirators'. These can shape how we think about conspiracy theories plus a whole lot else. We have it seems innately suspicious minds. In fact, we are all conspiracy theorists.

Fascinating book.

…amon de Valera: A Will to Power
…amon de Valera: A Will to Power
Price: £10.44

5.0 out of 5 stars He Bestrode Irish Politics Like A Colossus., 17 Nov. 2015
Dr Johnson said the Irish were an honest race because they seldom spoke well of one another. Although he didn't make it clear he was referring only to the living.

Eamon de Valera died in 1975 aged 92. He was the Irish nationalist leader and President of the Republic of Ireland from 1959 to 1973. He was a very remarkable man. In turn he had been a guerrilla commander, political prisoner, revolutionary, a civil war partisan, a founder and leader of a political party, an elder statesman and a head of state. As a result, there is no consensus about him as a person or statesman.

To some de Valera was a hero, to others an austere man of grave utterance, to others a danger to the state, a politician of tricks and turns who made some disastrous decisions. To still others he was regarded as a a power-seeker with an overpowering sense of his own righteousness. Such a complex character is extremely difficult to judge.

Ronan Fanning has, despite this, written a dispassionate biography . He describes how de Valera was incomparably the most eminent of Irish statesmen. He examines how: de Valera defined and directed the revolution, was in the political wilderness after 1923, repudiated anti-democratic politics in 1926, dictated the debate about independence from the opposition benches from 1927 to 1932, regained power in 1932, and in only five years rewrote his country's constitutional relationship with Britain. His 1937 constitution turned Ireland into a sovereign republic in all but name. He demonstrated this hard won independence by declaring Irish neutrality in the Second World War. Fanning admirably shows how this man was a teacher, revolutionary, taoiseach, and president of Ireland. He leaves you in no doubt that de Valera was the most ' significant figure in the political history of modern Ireland'.

Nonetheless, the author does not fail to show that this colossus was a very divisive figure. His rejection of the December 1921 Treaty and his responsibility for the civil war rankle with some to this day. Fanning shows that each of these decisions can be explained. Fanning's aim in this book is to reconcile the strong public condemnation de Valera incurred in 1921-2 that scars his reputation with his right to be remembered as a great statesman.

This book is more than a biography, it is also very much about power and its abuse. It is this that makes for an absorbing and fascinating book. De Valera was gentle and. courteous in private, withering and autocratic in public. He once said in order to know what the people wanted , he only had to 'examine my own heart'. Hence, it followed that democratic consultation was unnecessary. The dialectical refinement with which he justified the principles of his policies were also used to vindicate his evasive statements.

Fanning does not let these character blemishes detract from acknowledging de Valera's courage and determination. His patriotism was unalloyed and passionate. Some have said he had magic in his name. Without doubt, the most fateful event of his lfe was his repudiation of the treaty of December 1921.He hated it because it was ' neither this nor that'. Was he justified in his actions? The result was a dreadful civil war. The jury is still out.

As the author shows, the two key objectives of his later political career, the end of partition and the restoration of the Irish language, were as far as ever from accomplishment when he became president in 1959. Nevertheless, there was a grandeur about his career and a dignity in his bearing. Austere in his habits and his dress, soft and dry in his speech he dominated his countrymen. Only Parnell had done something similar. There was something of the Charles de Gaulle about de Valera.

In 1966 he stood for re-election. He was returned by a bare 10,000 majority in contrast to his majority of 120,000 in 1959. The cities had rejected him in favour of T.F. O'Higgins, a much younger man. In 1962 he received from the Pope the Vatican's highest decoration, the Supreme Order of Christ. He and his wife retired in 1973 to a modest convalescent home at Blackrock, Co Dublin.

The illustrations are apt. There is a map of the de Valera's home in Blackrock, a select bibliography and photographs.

Hitler at Home
Hitler at Home
by Despina Stratigakos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.25

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Interior Design Was Used For Other Political Designs., 16 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Hitler at Home (Hardcover)
The book focuses on Hitler's three major homes, his Munich apartment, the old Reich Chancellery and the famous Berghof. The author is an American academic. She examines the attempts to improve Hitler's image during the 1930's. In brief there was a massive propaganda campaign by his closest supporters to present Hitler as a normal, regular German instead of a misfit.

Stratigakos spends a great deal of time examining the work of Paul Troost and his wife, interior designer Gerdy Troost. She was a close friend of Hitler and a Nazi sympathiser. Her influence increased after her husband's early death. The author argues that thanks to her, Hitler's image was transformed. He became seen as a serious politician. It was Troost who altered the interior of the Berghof so that it became a multipurpose residence. It was visited by Mussolini, and, of course, the Windsors. It was became, as intended, portrayed as the home of Hitler the country gent, keen gardner and dog lover. The intention was, and it succeeded, to portray the future Fuhrer as a kindly countryman whose home with its massive 74 feet Grand Hall overlooked the Untersberg mountain where the spirit of Frederick Barbarossa was said to live.

It is believed by some psychologists that our homes and possessions reveal our inner selves, and the more complex they are the greater the secrets. Hitler's life in the early thirties was carefully orchestrated for public consumption. Millions believed they knew him. In Alan Bullock's superb book about Hitler published in 1952 the idea that his private life was meaningful was dismissed as 'uninteresting'. This account while not a biography seeks to prove that Bullock was wrong, and that Hitler's homes were a projection of his political and ideological views and ambitions.

The author explains how in the mid-thirties images and stories about the domestic Hitler were covered by the world media. There was a thriving market for goods bearing images of the Fuhrer. For a time, his mountain home was the most famous house in the world. He duped the western world with very few exceptions.

In her book, Stratigakos emphasises the importance of Hitler's domestic spaces in the 'visual imagination of National Socialism'. As she says, few who visited the homes had very little to say about the settings despite Hitler's wish to use them as stage sets ' to perform his identity as a statesman and man of culture'. In a particularly vivid description she writes 'Hitler at home with his dogs and tea inspired empathy'. Politics and domesticity were deliberately intertwined.

After the war , Speer revealed that Hitler had devoted more time to the design of the Berghof than to any of his other building projects. He had planned battles from its living room. It became the embodiment of his world ambitions.

Troost is revealed as a tastemaker fo Hitler and others in his circle. Hitler had first worked with her on the refurbishment of the eighteenth - century palace known as the Old Chancellery. On becoming Chancellor on January 30, 1933 , he had refused to move in because it was too shabby. He said it was only fit for a sales executive of a tobacco company. He saw the renovation as an inherently political act. He believed the sick look of the building was a reflection of the general sickness in the Weimar Republic. Both were degenerate. Troost was a powerful female figure who made interior design represent the Nazi regime. This book demonstrates that it has been wrong to view Hitler's domestic spaces as existing outside the world of politics and ideology. She emphasises throughout that the carefully orchestrated representations of Hitlere home life in the thirties was crucial in combating the image of ' a screaming reactionary'.

The book is in two sections. The first focuses on the physical design and construction of the three residences. The second half deals with propaganda about the homes , how his mountain retreat became a site of pilgrimage, the whitewashing of Hitler's reputation for violence in the press in Germany and elsewhere, and how, once war began, the man you would be pleased to have as a neighbour became overnight a megalomaniacal house-painter and effeminate dilettante. The final chapter discusses the troublesome afterlife of Hitler's homes.

It is not true that historians have overlooked the importance of Troost. I heard, for example, the late and great Alan Taylor give a lecture on the Hitler and the war in which she was mentioned and summarily dismissed. Palmer and Gilbert also have examined her influence. It is true that until now no one has examined her influence in this depth.

There is a brief list of cited works and notes.

Footnote: This is a well written and beguiling book, hence the five stars. However, I am not entirely convinced by the author's thesis. There is little evidence that she is aware of or has consulted many major works in German and English which analyse the politics of Germany between 1919 and 1940. She places far too much emphasis on the importance of interior design to the detriment of several other key things that Hitler and his entourage did to bolster his image. She also underplays the important cultural and sociological milieu that pervaded German society in the aftermath of the Great War.

Sinatra: The Chairman
Sinatra: The Chairman
Price: £14.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kaplan Has Written About All of Him., 14 Nov. 2015
There are over sixty books about Sinatra. Many are stinkers being a mix of rumour, anecdotal evidence and sheer invention. It is good, therefore, that Kaplan has followed up his previous volume on Frank Sinatra with another massive tome that is as splendid as the first.

Music and its rendering is a very personal thing. Hence you either love Sinatra's choice of music and his voice or you hate it. This reviewer regards him as the best ever interpreter of a ballad . But he is also aware from numerous sources that Frank was an arrogant and at times obnoxious man who mingled with some very unsavoury characters. Kaplan believes his loutishness and artistry were intertwined. Kaplan has written a balanced account of the singer including his performances, love life, and behaviour. There is a wealth of entertaining detail about the singer's career, gnawing insecurity, lavish sexual indulgence and obsessive musical virtuosity. This is no hagiography.

Sinatra for all his bravado on stage and screen was a shy and lonely person who found personal relationships extremely difficult. His daughter Tina confirmed this. J Kaplan relates several well-known episodíes in Sinatra's life such as his time with the great bands of the fifties and later, he owed much to Nelson Riddle, and his marriage to Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow. The latter was thirty years younger than Frank and the great Jackie Mason told so many jokes about their relationship that were near the knuckle that he discovered bullet holes in his bed. Who did it was unknown but rumours abounded as to who had ordered it.

Sinatra's drop in popularity prior to his performance in ' From Here To Eternity' for which he got an Oscar is examined in some detail. It is, as the author says, easy to forget that he was a very fine actor. His performance in 'The Manchurian Candidate' made this abundantly clear. He had wanted to play the lead in: 'On the Waterfront', and was even considered to be America's Ambassador to Rome!

This is a warts and all account of a great singer. All Sinatra fans will find in it a mine of information, some well-known, much new. Kaplan writes with his usual verve and attention to detail. He evokes sense of period with great energy.

Together with his previous book on Sinatra that covered the years from 1915 to 1954 this is likely to be regarded as the definitive book on Frank. At last, Sinatra, the boy from Hoboken, has a biography he deserves.

One small caveat. In the past five years there has been a surfeit of books, including good ones, that are over 800 pages long ( this one is 979). Without exception, all could have been culled by some 50-100 pages. Kaplan's is an example. Much of the minutiae is unnecessary.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2015 6:38 AM GMT

Weather Live Free - Detailed Forecasts and Conditions (Local and Worldwide)
Weather Live Free - Detailed Forecasts and Conditions (Local and Worldwide)
Price: £0.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Weatherwise, 13 Nov. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
An excellent easy to use app. Works perfectly and is accurate.

On Stalin's Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics
On Stalin's Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics
by Sheila Fitzpatrick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.96

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stalin Was The Captain Of A Ruthless Team., 12 Nov. 2015
The Soviet state that was ushered in after the coup of 1917 had a more modern and ideologically infused authoritarian make-up than its tsarist predecessor, particularly after Stalin became leader in 1928. He was a zealous Marxist with sociopathic tendencies. He was cunning, resourceful and diligent. In Stalin's Soviet Union, his terror knew no limits.No one was safe. No institution, no town or village was immune. Between 1937 and 1938 alone 700,000 people were executed on the orders of Stalin.

In this book, Sheila Fitzpatrick has examined Stalin's team of about twelve people although it could drop to only six or nine. They were formed in the 1920's, Veterans of the coup and the terrible civil war that followed they fought Trotsky and Zinoviev after Lenin died and remained together for thirty years. Amazingly they survived the Great Purges and Stalin's paranoia of his last five years. The team finally disbanded in 1957 when one of its members, Khrushchev, became the Soviet head and got rid of the rest.

The team was a collective entity which met regularly and it's members were united by loyalty to Stalin and, at first, to one another. Stalin captained the team. The author does not argue that Stalin's power was less than has been supposed. He took all the big policy initiatives. Nevertheless, unlike Hitler and Mussolini, he preferred to operate with a team of powerful people around him. They ran successfully, for example, railways and heavy industry. While Stalin made the final decision, he sought their agreement on major issues. He was always careful to spread responsibility for decisions among the team. Over the years the team's membership altered. Three died in the mid-thirties. One died in 1946. The Great Purges got rid of three marginal members working in the Ukraine. A core group which included Molotov, Kaganovich, Mikoyan, Khrushchev and Voroshilov remained constant. These formed the core of the team that took over upon Stalin's death in 1953.

Perhaps surprisingly the team managed very well after Stalin's death. The transition was successful with minimal loss of life. A remarkable radical reform programme was carried out. Fitzpatrick makes it clear that from the 1930's the team lived in constant fear, particularly during the war. After Stalin's death they got rid of one member, Beria who had become too ambitious.

The author began to write this absorbing account in the early 1990's when the Stalin archive opened revealing a large amount of new correspondence between Stalin and the team members. When other archives opened these, together with memoirs and the papers of Molotov, and other members of the team, made it clear there was a mine of information for a book. She has been able to prove that Stalin's political and social life were intertwined. He socialised with the team. A lonely man after his wife died they were his main company. The book also is a valuable corrective to Trotsky's very biased views of Stalin and Molotov. He regarded Stalin as a nonentity.

Fitzpatrick says her research has revealed a man of many layers. Stalin could be charming as well as cruel, he was better-read than many have claimed, he was feared but admired. He was bold as well as cunning. The latter often had a sadistic edge. As she points out, the historian has to try to make sense of things. The historian is not a prosecutor or defence attorney. Objectivity has to be sought even when writing about an evil monster. She has succeeded in doing this.

In this book she has written about Stalin from within the team. A quite different perspective from the usual one. She has handled very difficult sources admirably. She is rightly sceptical about some. She is very much aware of lobbyists all 'clamouring to make their pitch'. Her description of Stalin's personal archive is illuminating, describing it as ' a work of art, carefully pruned'. His correspondence with the team while on vacation is particularly revealing. They represent the most candid testament s he has left to posterity.

The team used to say that Stalin was the lynchpin of the whole thing, implying that couldn't have done it without him. But, as Fitzpatrick says, the corollary is also true, he couldn't have done it without them. The team certainly shared a great deal. They all lost family members. Stalin's brother-in-law was executed, and Molotov's wife imprisoned. In the period after 1945 Stalin's moods increased and the team spirit declined as a result. The team however remained as much as a social group as a political one.

The literature on Stalin is impossibly vast. Within this vastness there is much slapdash work. Books are pervaded by rumours, anecdotes and fabrications. This book is a scholarly account based on a painstaking study of sources. It is a thoughtful extrapolation. It is pleasing to note that the author does not support the popular apologia widely cultivated in Russia that Stalinism was an unavoidable means of modernising the Soviet Union and preparing for war. She does not believe that the individual is insignificant or that Stalin was the expression of an objective historical need. This is a paradigm which argues his methods were regrettable but necessary.

Fitzpatrick's book is an excellent account in keeping with the author's previous books on Russia, for example, 'Stalin's Peasants'. She explains why the bibliography contains only secondary works. For scholars she includes an excellent list of notes.

Highly recommended.

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