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Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom)
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In My Own Time
In My Own Time
Price: £4.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A politician of the first rank brought down by a man and a dog., 21 Dec 2014
This review is from: In My Own Time (Kindle Edition)
It is useful to read this account of Thorpe's personal and political life alongside the recently published biography by Bloch.
Thorpe was a charismatic Liberal Leader, a barrister, fluent speaker and tv commentator. An affair with a stable boy led to criminal charges against him , a trial, acquittal and political disgrace.

The Liberal revival after Orpington swept the Tories off their feet. Macmillan wrote in his diary: 'it had made the world safe for Liberalism'. The General Election of 1964 however brought the Liberals back down to earth. Jeremy became party leader in 1967. In 1974 he refused Heath's offer to join him in coalition. It was the 1974 Election that demonstrated the gross unfairness of the FPTP voting system. Labour won with only 37% of the votes while six million. votes for the Liberals gave them only 14 MP's.

In this book Thorpe tells why he had to resign as leader in May 1976. In 1979 the Liberal vote fell badly and he was defeated in North Devon. He had brought to the party humour and much needed organisation. His leadership was flamboyant but inspired. This account is not so much an autobiography as an anthology of his life.

Unlike so many political autobiographies this one does not focus on constant references to achievements. Thorpe does not blow his own trumpet. Neither does he shirk details of his trial on the serious charge of conspiracy to murder.

He had a dark side, could be devious and at times Infuriating but his disgrace undoubtedly left politics the poorer.

Nothing like as revealing as Bloch's excellent biography but nevertheless a very engaging account.


Jeremy Thorpe
Jeremy Thorpe
Price: £12.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'You'll never get to the bottom of him', 20 Dec 2014
This review is from: Jeremy Thorpe (Kindle Edition)
Jeremy Thorpe was Leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976. He was member for North Devon. He was called to the bar in 1954. After Thorpe's trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder he was finished as a politician despite his acquittal. This excellent account analyses the bizarre events surrounding the case. Indeed, at times they are hardly credible.

He was akin to a Shakespearean character but which one, Hamlet, Richard 11 or Macbeth? There was also an element of romanticism in his personality as witness his wish to call the Thorpe barony out of abeyance in his favour. He was educated at a prep school that prepared for Eton, Eton and Oxford. He loathed boarding at the prep school and said his son Rupert would never go there. It was sparton regime run by a Major Pike. Jeremy often upset other pupils by saying he was going to be PM one day, and by claiming he was descended from a Lord Chancellor. Bloch tells us that Thorpe was very affected by the personality of Lloyd George whom he met several times when having tea at Churt when a child. Thorpe's love of mimicry probably came from Lloyd George's expertise in this regard. The former PM became his boyhood hero. Thorpe's first wife died in a car accident.

Bloch's book details how the former Liberal leader became involved with Norman Scott in 1961. The latter, a former model, was a very unstable stable boy. He blackmailed Thorpe for some 16 years. A scheme was put together with friends to silence Scott, by what means was never clear. The author explains why Thorpe was acquitted. Lack of reliable evidence was the main reason. But other aspects of the case are intriguing. The dog involved is only one.

This book details Thorpe's personal and political life. He was an extrovert, a fancy dresser and a superb mimic. There is no doubt that he shook up the party and dramatically improved its chances at the ballot box. However, he had a darker side. He was a liar-not that this is a rare thing among politicians-and rather shallow. In brief, something of a charismatic chancer.

Bloch relates the story about Thorpe's claim that he would marry Princess Margaret. On being told of her engagement to Armstrong-Jones he said he had intended 'to marry the one and seduce the other'. Bloch also says some of Thorpe's accounting procedures in respect of charity donations were rather suspect.

That Thorpe was an active homosexual is beyond doubt. Being such was a formidable hurdle to overcome for an ambitious politician given the law at the time. This is why it was so easy for Scott to blackmail him. It never seems to occur to intelligent people like Thorpe that his behaviour left him wide open to such threats. His actions were somewhat mad but he was not alone in this respect, then or now.

The book is an objective yet sympathetic account of a raffish gay man at work and play. It is an absorbing account of disgraceful behaviour, shoddy deals, dubious friendships in the celebrity jungle, plus a host of other activities that demonstrates some similarities with Westminster today; little has changed. On the other hand, Thorpe could be charming and excellent company. He was very intelligent and head and shoulders above his fellow Liberals in terms of ability. Unfortunately, he could be mercurial, once suggesting that we should bomb Rhodesia if it declared independence. Like so many he was gifted but deeply flawed.

Born in 1929 Thorpe died this month aged 85. He had suffered from Parkinson's Disease for many years. His flamboyant life has enabled Michael Bloch to write the political biography of the year based as it is on years of research which included hundreds of interviews with friends, acquaintances and lovers.

Thorpe's own book 'In My Own Time' is a useful read alongside this account.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 21, 2014 7:08 PM GMT


Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall
Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall
by Hester Vaizey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Human Consequences of Unification Day, 20 Dec 2014
This book is essential reading for all who wish to understand what life was like in the GDR.
It will undoubtedly cause a few surprises. For example, as the author shows, many former Easterners wish the wall had not been breached; they miss the low prices and job stability, among other things.

Vaizey's book is a mine of information about living in the shadow of the wall. Many consequences of 'Wende' are surprising and illuminating. The author does a valuable job by telling us that many of the West's beliefs about the reaction of those who lived in the GDR prior to unification were and are false. There was not wholesale delight. In some cases there was deep regret; the author gives details.

This account is another example of how we in the West so often see other regimes through conceited and distorted lenses. What to many of us, including this reviewer, is an abhorrent political system is to others one that while freedom is curtailed gives stability.

The author explains how some Germans regretted the loss of socialism; they felt their culture and identity had been destroyed. A book that may encourage those who no little about the GDR, save what they glean from films, and edited newsreels, to read and learn.

Recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 22, 2014 8:05 PM GMT


Victoria: A Life
Victoria: A Life
Price: £9.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Doyenne of Sovereigns., 13 Dec 2014
This review is from: Victoria: A Life (Kindle Edition)
Twelve years ago Wilson wrote a very good history of the Victorian years. This ought to be read prior to reading his latest book about Queen Victoria because it puts her life in historical context. Many biographies fail to do this.

This biography is far superior to those written by Longford or Hibbert. It adds to the mountain of books about Victoria but in so doing it reveals more detail on a number of key issues that in previous accounts have been given scant attention.

These include: her fear of the Chartist movement, a dread that led to her moving with Albert to the Isle of Wight; her at times uneasy relationship with Gladstone and 8 other prime ministers who she had to deal with; her many foibles; the dramatic effect on her of Albert's death; assassination attempts, so often overlooked, the way her power declined towards the end of her reign, and her love of gossip.
The book also makes clear how she delberately set out to revised the tattered and tawdry record of her disolute forebears.

Praise of Victoria came close to idolatry during her long reign. The Times paid tribute to her 'sweetness, gentle sagacity, the utter disinteredness, and the unassailable rectitude of the Queen'. Yet these were very variable qualities. She could also be wilful, selfish, foolish and exasperating. She admitted that she had a bad temper.

It is clear that the author has had a lifelong love-affair with this Queen who redifined the face and function of the monarchy. She was memorialised as a child in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. And an era bears her name. While there is not a great deal that is new in this book, how could there be, it is a very entertaining read about a long serving monarch whose life was full of contradictions.

Now read her many published letters. She was a prolific writer, on average 2,500 words every day. Altogether, some 60 million during her long reign.

An engaging read.


The Schlieffen Plan: International Perspectives on the German Strategy for World War I (Association of the United States Army Foreign Military Studies)
The Schlieffen Plan: International Perspectives on the German Strategy for World War I (Association of the United States Army Foreign Military Studies)
by Hans Gotthard Ehlert
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £56.78

5.0 out of 5 stars Planning for War, 10 Dec 2014
All nations dread the prospect of fighting a two-front war. This situation faced Germany at the end of the 19th century for a vengeful France was now allied to Russia, a state gradually improving its rail system and massive armed forces.

Hence, the German General Staff were tasked with finding a solution to this problem should war occur. Based on a conference in 2004, this stimulating book comprising a series of studies by well known authorities in the field examines the war plans of the major powers plus, perhaps surprisingly, those of Switzerland. The authors have been able to study newly released archives. The result is more clarification of the planning for war prior to 1914.

The contributions include a study of the alliance system, the growing international tensions in the late 19th century, and the plans that were drawn up to be used in the event of a European war.

Of particular importance, is the so-called Schlieffen Plan because this has been the subject of numerous studies and debates, particularly since the publication of Ritter's work and that of Zuber in 2002, who argued there was no plan as such.
A particular focus is on the claims after 1918 by some German military authorities that the war had been lost because of the plan's inherent weaknesses.

Schlieffen's ideas have gradually been examined in their own rights and, most importantly, in their proper historical context. As a result, a more nuanced view of his ideas has developed, this book is the latest example of this. We now know that Shlieffen's influence and impact was not as hitherto argued all pervasive. The nature and organisation of the Imperial German Army combined to make his influence more subtle and his impact more discreet than has been assumed.

The German General Staff was only one of the many actors in the government that has been described as an 'authoritarian polycracy'. Several centres jockeyed for influence and power. The General Staff also had to contend with rivalry from within the army. Schlieffen therefore had a lot to face when he became Chief in 1891. In addition, he was faced with a radical shift in German foreign policy under the new Chancellor, Leo von Caprivi. Russia was no longer tied to Germany. France stepped In and concluded a military convention with Russia. The strategic nightmare now came true.

It is clear now that the plan was in fact a series of studies based largely on staff rides. It is equally evident that the final version was only slightly like the one quoted in most books on the war.

Regards failure. The strategy adopted was very risky and based on severai assumptions,many of whiich proved to be false. It was in part a 'gambler's throw'. It was also inflexible to a dangerous degree. However, the key reason why it failed, given the size of the armies involved and the timetables that had to be adhered to, was logistics. The effort needed to move 1,750,000 troops plus provisions for them and hundreds of horses over long distances from the rail head was immense. To then defeat the French in six weeks before turning eastwards to fight the Russians was to ask for miracles. Fog and friction inevitably took their toll. Moltke's revisions in 1905 were not the reason for failure. The book brings out also the failure to coordinate Germany's plans and those of Austria-Hungary. Neither knew their ally's war plans.

Much in these pages is not new, nevertheless it is still a fine, absorbing account.


Girl Online
Girl Online
Price: £1.95

17 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Shameful Scam., 9 Dec 2014
This review is from: Girl Online (Kindle Edition)
The contents of this book by a very minor celebrity may possibly be of interest to those aged 10 to 12 years. Of course, it has not been written by her.

I will restrict my comments to stating that this book is a blatant attempt to sell a book on false premises. In countries I could name it would as a result be pulped and any money earned would have to be repayed. Others, of course, were involved in this deliberate attempt to dupe readers. They should be ashamed.

Many books are 'ghost-written', for example, virtually all accounts by soccer players and coaches, but the 'author' has the decency and honesty to name the real writer. In this case there has been a deliberate attempt to fool the public. Stating that others had: 'been with me every step of the way' is Sugg's pathetic attempt to hide the truth. In universities, plagiarism is punished very severely, and rightly so, what has taken place here is tantamount to that. It is an attempt to pass off someone else's work as your own. In other words, it is cheating, pure and simple.

Sugg tells us her: 'brain is clouding up' owing to the criticism of her on Twitter. A pity it is not her conscience, assuming it has not been switched off permanently. Her behaviour is shameful and disgraceful. That of Penguin leaves a nasty taste also.

Avoid this sham. It does not deserve a single star. A transparent attempt to con the public by a person of no consequence.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 10, 2014 1:23 PM GMT


Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc
Price: £1.39

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mythology and Fantasies Exposed., 6 Dec 2014
This review is from: Joan of Arc (Kindle Edition)
I fail to understand how anyone who has read this excellent book can find it disappointing, puzzling or unclear as to its purpose. Sadly, there is a growing tendency to write so called 'reviews' of books that all too obviously have not been read. Amazingly, some reviewers admit this! How could one criticise the book for not being a biography, if one had read it? The author explains very clearly what her intentions are.

The story of Joan is well known, or I should say the myths are well known, and endlessly repeated in print and on film. What Helen Castor has done is to dispel the myths and half-truths leaving us with a unique and extraordinary story. Based on meticulous research, she has done us a very valuable service by writing this enthralling account of a 17-year-old peasant girl, and what she did, and did not do, in 1429. The truth, as far as we can discern, is far more fascinating than fantasy and make-believe.

I know all too well the problems of researching documents but, unlke the author's, my field does not include documents going back hundreds of years that are written in clerical Latin. Documents of all kinds are notoriously difficult to navigate as are oral testimonies. Distortion, contradictions and discrepancies abound. Those analysed by Castor must have seemed at times to be beyond coherent understanding. It is abundantly clear that some reviewers do not understand this. To carry out research into the 'evidence' available in the 15th century is to enter a minefield.

Castor makes it clear that a great deal of speculation surrounds the story of Joan.
She, therefore, does not force interpretations on us. Instead she gives us the historical context-this is crucial-that was so important for Joan. Castor reminds us, for example, that both warring sides needed to believe God was on their side.

Unfortunately, facts are often less interesting than fantasies and myths; the Great War is a prime and outstanding example of this as many books published recently have demonstrated. However, I know which I prefer.

At the end of this absorbing and refreshing account Joan's star shines brighter than ever. Read alongside Kathryn Harrison's recent account. She also exposes myths about the Maid.

Highly recommended. In the same class as the author's: 'The King, The Crown......'.


The Good War: Why We Couldn't Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan
The Good War: Why We Couldn't Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan
Price: £8.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Afghan War Disaster., 3 Dec 2014
The author is a foreign correspondent who works for the Washington Post and the Daily Telegraph. His previous book was about the British in Iraq. This is another lucid account of a botched war.

This account of the war in Afghanistan is solid and workmanlike. It is essentially a narrative account, hence description tends to outweigh analysis. Those familiar with the disastrous intervention in Afghanistan will learn little that is new but they will welcome being reminded of key events that have been played out over the past 13 years. The book covers the period from 2001 to 2014. It is based on interviews, archives, and the author's experience of living in Afghanistan for many months. It is an easy read, and it ought to be compulsory read for all British officers, particularly those of Brigadier and above rank.

The intervention in Afghanistan represents America's longest-war. It was NATO's first engagement outside Europe, and Britain's most expensive war since the Second World War. This book examines how the war failed to achieve any of its declared objectives.

The structure of Fairweather's book is briefly: an outline of the reasons why Bush decided to invade Afghanistan after the attacks on New York and Washington; the vascillations of Hamid Karzai; the friction between him and the NATO forces; the financial costs of the war; the realisation that the war was not winnable in any meaningful sense; corruption at every level; civilian casualties; in short, how the Good War went Badly. As the author writes, the book is about how: 'the world's most powerful leaders plotted to build a new kind of nation in Afghanistan that was pure fantasy'. He does not exaggerate. The neo-cons seemed to believe you could parachute in democracy and watch it take root in one of the poorest and corrupt countries in the world, a land where warlords wield the real power, where most of what the west regards as civilised behaviour is absent, and where the economy depends on growing a crop that poisons millions. Thousands of tons are harvested each year. Last year Afghanistan received $5 billion of international aid, more than two thirds of its total budget costs. It is known that much of this ends up in the pockets of corrupt officials. In recent years much of it has also lined the pockets of American contractors.

Force levels in Helmand were derisory thanks to a Defence Secretary who said we would not need to fire a shot in order to achieve the stated objective. Reid was a disaster. At the peak we had only 10,000 troops in an area four times the size of N Ireland where we deployed at peak 28,000! Then, of course, the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was a disaster for force levels.

Command structure was confused. Senior personnel were at times answerable to three
different commanders. It soon became clear that Reid's assessment of the scale of the task was ridiculously flawed. It gradually dawned on Whitehall that you could not eradicate poppy production while fighting an insurgency. No one seemed aware that the poppy was the mainstay of the local economy. The country supplies the world with 92% of heroin. The Taliban reap thousands of pounds from growers in protection money. Presumably, they were going to stand idly by while we destroyed the poppies!

Chapters cover, for example, the Twin Towers attack, warlords, drugs, the futility of force, and the reasons why the war went so badly. The move from hubris to nemesis is well documented. Why we failed to learn from the Soviet failure is a damning indictment of our politicians and senior military.

The war is a classic example of how good intentions result in unintended outcomes owing to: incompetence, both political and military; ignorance of the country's culture; the lack of linguists; aims and objectives that changed many times; a gross underestimation of the Taliban, and the weakness and unreliability of Afghan military and police. We viewed the enemy in the same way as the Americans viewed the Viet Cong, namely as illiterate peasants. Like the Americans we soon realised that the foe is intelligent, ruthless, has a superior intelligence service, knows the people, and is fully aware of our strategy and tactics. The Taliban also proved very adept at provoking action that led to hundreds of innocent civilians being killed by NATO forces. Unfortunately, the West, the US in particular, believe that firepower will always prevail. It will not, and it hasn't. As in Iraq, our intelligence services were less than effective because we failed to gain the trust of tribal chiefs. These people are of crucial importance in what is essentially a tribal society.

We have left Helmand now, and the wisdom of the operation needs questioning in the same way as the Iraq war has been-although the delay in publishing the Chilcot inquiry, thanks in part to Tony Blair, is disgraceful. We performed badly in Iraq because we failed to plan for the aftermath of an easy conventional war victory. We failed to learn anything from that venture, based as it was on a tissue of lies manufactured by Bush and Tony Blair. At the time of the Suez disaster a very senior British general said we can get to Cairo but:'what the hell do we do when we get there?'. Pity he wasn't around in 2001. Those that were proved to be grossly ineffective.

Those who send and lead its sons and daughters into battle should be subject to the same degree of accountability as bankers, perhaps even more so. There has clearly been yet another gross systemic failure. Lessons must be learnt, systems changed, and trust restored between the leaders of our armed forces, our people and the political class. The senior British miltary have already begun blaming their own kind (see for example General Richards recent book), and rightly so for they did not cover themselves in much glory. Not to have, for example, objected vigorously to the ineffective six month rota of brigades is amazing. As a result, each incoming new brigadier brought with him his tactical 'solutions' that took two months to implement before failing. Several senior British generals should hang their heads in shame. Instead they do their best to cover up their errors and ignorance. No wonder the American forces have a low opinion of them.

As this book points out the war has resulted in 453 British deaths plus thousands of wounded, at a cost of £36 billion, more than £1000 per household. For what? Very little. Poppy production has significantly increased, democracy is a thin veneer-women are still treated as second class citizens, civilian deaths are increasing, there is widespread infiltration of the Afghan forces and police by the Taliban, corruption is rife and the lot of the people is still dire. The Kabul banking scandal involved the embezzlement of hundreds of millions of pounds by senior government officials. As yet none have been arrested. Despite the West's help in money and blood, the Afghan people do not like foreigners on their soil, hence we will not be remembered with much, if any,affection. The Pashtuns view external interference as anathema. The notion of deferring to an outside, central authority is seen as a source of dishonour. Every soldier that is left in Afghanistan becomes a recruiting sergeant for the Taliban.

There is no victory to soften the pain for the relatives and friends of the dead and the many very seriously wounded. In addition, let us not forget the hundreds of civilian casualties. Furthermore, the world today is a far more dangerous place. The jury is still out on what will happen to the country now. This reviewer's opinion is that the Taliban and warlords, aided and abetted by Pakistan, where the terrorists seek and get shelter, recuperation and training, will be running this broken 13th century land again within six months. Afghan military and police simply cannot cope on their own. Already this year over 4,600 have been killed, a rise of 7% compared with last year. Afghan soldiers going AWOL is on the rise, and recruitment is down. Since January 2013, Afghan security forces have suffered almost 9,000 deaths. That compares with 2,346 US troops killed in Afghanistan in 13 years. In the past three weeks the Taliban has carried out 11 attacks in Kabul.

What ought to be clear by now even in Whitehall and the MOD is that insurgencies are very protracted types of warfare. There are no quick fixes, as history-if studied-reveals. One hears now the same errors being made again over IS. First, bombing would do it. Now a few weeks later we are told it could take many years to defeat IS. The latter is the only prophecy that makes any sense. Trying to defeat insurgents is like eating soup with a knife. We still have not learnt this fact despite Vietnam and Iraq. The campaigns in Malaya and N Ireland, which we arrogantly love to quote, are of very little use today. Any analogies with them are spurious.

Politicians give the military strategic direction which the latter have to translate into operational realities. In order to do this, the military face obstacles, resource shortages, bureaucratic delays and bungling, that are often more daunting than the enemy. This book again makes it clear that the war in Afghanistan is a good example of this.

A very useful, timely and well-written account about a war that has exposed many serious weaknesses in defence planning, political direction and military competence at the highest level. The very basics of war planning include: what is the aim? Is it feasible? Are there sufficient resources of all kinds to achieve the aim? What is the likely time-span? No strategy can be effective until the nature of the war is defined with clarity. Von Clausewitz emphasised this some 200 years ago in his great philosophical work: 'On War'. These basics were ignored or wrongly assessed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, hence failure. The crucial maxim of Thucydides:'Know Your Enemy' was ignored. It is clear that despite excellent defence academies our policy makers still suffer from historical illiteracy.

This book along with others demonstrates that the character of war has altered dramatically in the past decade. Old attitudes, structures and tactics, therefore, no longer make sense. The British army is a fine institution, one that has been badly served by politicians over the past 15 years, but like all armies it can be very conservative in its thinking. Institutional change is therefore of critical importance. We should also accept we are no longer a military power of the first rank. Talk of 'punching above our weight' needs to end. There are many important lessons in this book, let us hope politicians and the military learn from them.

One doctrine in particular needs urgent reexamination, namely liberal interventionism. This has raised its head again resulting in a key reason why we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. It may have been justified in the 19th century but it is fraught with problems today. Intervention in the so-called arab spring ( in fact a freezing winter ) demonstrates the folly of such action. The trouble also with this ethical doctrine is it tends to diminish the importance of the national interest.

The most important lesson of all has to be taken on board. The West needs to think long and hard before embarking on attempting to reshape states and societies to make them conform to our whims. We must be sure what the cost of an intervention is before deciding that we want to do it. We must also drop the absurd idea that every nation desires a social, political and economic life akin to that in the West. They do not. Also, we must learn that soldiers are not nation builders. For the latter we need soft power, not people in uniform.

When Blair was PM foreign polcy was conducted as a series of sound-bites with an admixture by his own admission of God, whom he firmly believed was on his side-not for nothing was he given the nickname around Administer of Tony of Arc. As this account shows the result was disastrous. The blame for this disaster however was not his alone.

Maps are adequate, notes and bibliography are sound and not excessive.

Read this account in conjunction with Tony Harnden's magnificent: 'Dead Men Risen', easily the finest and most accurate account of the war so far. His book tells you the truth, not the spin, about the conduct of this costly war, a war resulting from Bush's ludicrous 'war on terror' speech, and Blair's lies. Also recommend 'And Intimate War' by Mike Martin'. So accurate that the MOD tried to stop its publication.

Incidentally, I bet despite our withdrawal we will soon be using air power again to aid the Afghans for, I repeat, they simply are unable to cope. I would not rule out ground troops returning either. As a result, more millions will be wasted to achieve very, very little. Strategic vacuity and a dysfunctional strategy will be hard to replace after reigning supreme for 13 years.

Highly recommended.


The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu & The Rise of Chinaphobia
The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu & The Rise of Chinaphobia
Price: £14.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Thing Of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine., 29 Nov 2014
I could not disagree more with the two previous reviews. This is a superbly entertaining and illuminating account of Sinophobia and ignorance. There is a great deal of ignorance about China, a huge land of around 1.3 billion people, that is approximately 20% of the world population.

Non historians forget that in the 19th century the Chinese were regarded as the leaders in organised crime. Drugs and prostitution pervaded Wapping and Limehouse. Novels, like those of PG Wodehouse and T.Trilling were full of plots involving the Yellow-Peril. Then and even now Chinaphobia is in the air.

Frayling examines our attitude towards the Chinese over several hundred years, and concludes much of it was based on the idea we were racially superior-this is not new. The main focus of his book is Dr Fu Manchu, an evil fictional figure who organised criminal gangs to spread fear in the western world. He personified the Yellow-Peril for thousands of readers and film goers. There were films galore featuring this fearful figure with his thin drooping moustache and penetrating eyes. He and Chan dominated drug and crime thrillers.

Frayling discusses attempts in GB in the Edwardian era to sanitise this face of China by opening shops that stocked Chinese food and clothes. Tea-Houses were opened towards the end of the Victorian era. Pekingese dogs became fashionable among the rich. However, the author points out this did not dilute our distrust of the Chinese. Today that lack of trust remains. If the Chinese invest in Africa it is seen as conspiratorial; we of course never did such a thing. If they develop nuclear weapons this is regarded as a threat to peace. The massive nuclear arsenals in the west apparently don't count. Sadly, racially based views of China still hold sway in many parts of the west. These views are compounded by gross ignorance of China's past, culture and people.

Frayling analyses how the media, film and theatre, have over the years established the norm about the Chinese. Everything else 'was deviant'. In America, the literary image of the Chinese was an 'alien other', a dragon lady or comic laundryman -exactly the same stereotyping applied to black Americans.

Today, China is a global power, soon she will be a superpower. This book reminds us that this has not dampened the image of the Yellow-Peril. Dr Fu still lingers in the popular mind. This reviewer was in Hong Kong in 1997 When it was handed over to China. When I got home a few weeks later I read press reports in this country about the ceremony, they wreaked of prejudice .and fear.

There is a gem of a chapter on Charles Dickens and the invention of the opium den in the East End of London. It became a literary cliche. Any scene involving deadent behaviour had to include such a den. I can recall three western films starring John Wayne that pictured a chinaman smoking a opium pipe. It added nothing to the plot. However, it left the image the Director wanted.

To summarise. The book aims to discover: the origins of Yellow-Peril thinking; how they came to be distilled into the character of Dr Fu Manchu; why the Peril has proved to be so resilient; and how and why the meaning of the Peril has altered over the years.

The key message however is the need to overcome racial stereotypes. This has never been more necessary.

A highly recommended book.


Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box: 50 Things You Need To Know About British Elections
Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box: 50 Things You Need To Know About British Elections
Price: £6.59

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How We Chose Our Goverment., 24 Nov 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This wonderful book of 51 chapters illuminates politics in the same way as ' Freakonomics' did for economics. Written by a bevy of 51 academics who teach politics here and in the US, it deals with today's political uncertainties.

Chapters, none exceeding 1000 words, are written in plain English, and cover topics like, for example : opinion polls, the effect of the internet on politics, why we vote for a particular party, why we lie about voting, the failure of Welsh conservatism, religion and electoral choice, and the importance of local candidates. Plus many, many more.

This book is the latest, very welcomed, book by academics who are beginning to realise that they are partly to blame for a great deal of public ignorance about our political system. They are now helping the public to better understand what makes it tick. A book like this based on a great deal of research into elections and voting habits ought to be welcomed by all concerned about our political system, and the current disillusionment with it.

One of the many interesting chapters by Cowley and Ford discusses why elections are important, the reality of elections and what determines how we vote. They polnt out that we can be 'swayed by the most trivial or superficial matters'. Examples of this include how attractive candidates are, and the order in which they appear on the ballot paper-those whose names appear lower down lose out because 'reading all the way to the bottom takes effort'. Research amply corroborates this.

One of the most fascinating chapters by Rob Johns focuses on polls and how they are measured. He points out they are 'slippery'. Questions are sometimes deliberately misleading, but the more important difficulty is their inconsistency. Another interesting chapter by Rosie Campbell looks at what determines how women vote, and which issues concern them most.

The research on which the book is based indicates that elections offer an insight 'into who we are and how we behave'. The insight is by no means always flattering. The ideal voter who gets lots of evidence, puts a wet towel round the head and then delivers a sound, considered rational decision on voting day is, as this book shows, pure myth. Ignorance, past habits, emotion and prejudice play a far more important role.

However, when voters are wrong, they are not stupid. Even ignorance can be rational. The book argues that 'individual-level eccentricity tends to cancel out. In the aggregate, as a mass, voters are often rational and responsive. There is wisdom in crowds,something politicians ignore at their peril'.

A thought-provoking book that is required reading given an impendinng General Election. This is not a textbook. It is as the editor says a series of thumbnail sketches, each introducing an aspect of elections and electoral behaviour. The book nevertheless covers a very wide variety of topics. This reviewer particularly welcomed the chapter that covered why 35% of the popular vote can, and it has, in recent years, give you a nice 66-seat majority in the Commons, but 36% of the vote can also leave you 20 seats short of a majority. And yet we call this democracy.

Read it.


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