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Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom)
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Waterloo: Myth and Reality
Waterloo: Myth and Reality
by Gareth Glover
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A Coalition Won This Battle., 30 Oct 2014
The author has spent many years studying one of the most famous battles: Waterloo. He has published several books on the subject or on the period in which the battle took place. He is the editor of the impressive and invaluable six volume 'Waterloo Archive Series'.

Next year is the bicentenary of Waterloo an anniversary that already has led to dozens of books about the battle, many are re-publications. More are due out by Xmas. This book is a welcome addition because its main aim is to demolish the numerous myths that persist about this battle.

Glover's research leads him to criticise the way in which we, the Germans (Prussians) and others have claimed it was they who defeated Bonaparte. He also highlights a number of outright errors in many published accounts, for example, that Napoleon surrendered. He rightly emphasises the role that 'friction' played in the outcome, something that is so often overlooked when battles are analysed. In brief, his book is to a degree a new interpretation of the available evidence. He reminds us that, as in all battles, confusion reigned at Waterloo, and much of what took place is mere conjecture. Authors please take note.

All nations played an important part in the defeat of Napoleon. Primary sources indicate, for example, that it is very doubtful if Wellington would have engaged the French at all if Blucher had not told him he would join him in opposing Bonaparte. It was this assurance that persuaded Wellington to fight. Even then it was a very narrow victory.

The author's critical comments about Napoleon are at odds with Andrew Roberts's recent superb biography of Napoleon. Glover describes Napoleon as a warmonger and a despot. He goes so far as saying he was the 'Saddam Hussein' of his day', a somewhat bizarre statement. In so doing, Glover, ignores the massive domestic achievements of Napoleon, for example, the Civil Code and numerous examples of art and architecture styles that grace France to this day.

This apart, the book is easy to read and full of interesting information. Not everyone will agree the author's views but they are thought-provoking.


The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History
The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History
Price: £8.99

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Opening Move By Boris., 29 Oct 2014
Shelves are laden with books on Winston plus books written by him. He was in many ways a remarkable man and politician. He switched his political allegiance more than once. He was in the political wilderness, and intensely disliked by many in his own party in the inter war years. The disaster of the Gallipoli operation in the Great War was in large part his doing because of very poor political direction (this is dealt with very badly in the book). During the Second World War he drove his senior military advisers to distraction, as the Allanbrooke diaries show all too clearly, by a number of madcap schemes. When the war ended he was rejected by the electorate only to bounce back later.

On the credit side he was a magnificent writer, not always accurate but his syntax and style are superlative. I tell every undergraduate to read Churchill if they want to improve their English. He had served in the army and seen action in several theatres as well as being a war correspondent. Winston is frequently and wrongly hailed as the man who won the war. He didn't and in fact in 1954 admitted as much. The Americans and the Russians won the Second World War with admiral help from ourselves and the Dominions. Churchill's contribution to victory was essentially in the psychological realm. It was he who bolstered public morale and gave the nation hope when all seemed lost. And remember he only became PM because, as we now know, Halifax, the favourite refused the position. Also if the war had not broken out Churchill would have gone down in history as a maverick and political failure.

Churchill felt deeply about the Empire, he was adamant that India should not be granted independence. This, unfortunately, led him astray to the extent of describing Gandhi in what today would be regarded as outrageous racist terms. Recent papers have come to light to show that this incident was not an isolated one. He wanted British rule in India to be sacrosanct, come what may.

This book by Boris Johnson is another example of a politician writing a political biography. He joins Hague, Brown, Kennedy and many others. Why has he written it? It is said to mark the 50th anniversary of Winston's death which falls in January 2015. Of course, another explanation could be it is a statement of intent, for Boris is an ambitious man.
Is it in fact a battle cry? Is it a clarion call for national leadership? Many think so.

The author makes no claim that his book is based on original reasearch. He freely admits he has culled all the major secondary sources about his hero. To his credit he tells us to whom credit is due.

Written in typical Boris style the book admits that Churchill was regarded by many in the Commons as a : turncoat, an egotist, a rotter, a bounder, a cad, and at times a drunk. Some Tories, he says, viewed him as, 'a Goering, an adventurer, a half breed, a fat baby, and a disaster for the country'. It is 400 pages of funny, clever, at times, judgements. It is also very, very biased. On completion you feel exhausted. Some typical Johnson silliness doesn't help.

It is interesting to compare the author's chequered career with Winston's. The former was sacked by The Times for 'sand-papering', Winston by the age of 24 had been shot at by Dervishes, killed people, and published a book. Churchill also had a rather more stable married life. Whether Boris likes it or not he is in a lower league, he admits this. One cannot imagine Churchill getting into trouble on a zipwire! Neither can one envisage Johnson delivering speeches like those about fighting on the beaches or the Iron Curtain speech.

There is a somewhat surprising lack in this book of Churchill's actions in the war period 1940-45. One suspects this is because Johnson is not comfortable with military matters. Nevertheless, as this was the pinnacle of Churchill's career it is a strange ommission. On the other hand, there is much on him being the co-founder of the welfare state, and establishing labour exchanges, and creating unemployment insurance. He was also instrumental in reducing prison sentences.

Whereas many regard Churchill as one who advocated a united states of Europe, Boris disagrees. He believes Winston wanted only to be 'a sponsor' not an active participant.

Boris raises the old question what would have happened in 1940 if Churchill had not been around as PM. His answer that a deal would have been done with Hitler, and the country enslaved, has long been kicked into the long grass. FO papers show this would never have happened, there was in the cabinet no support for supping with the devil in 1940.

Boris describes Winston as ' a buccaneering Victorian Whig'. On another occasion, he says Churchill is ' the Imelda Marcos of hats'. Make of this what you will. It is pure Boris. The book is written with verve and such gusto that at times you fear the pages will catch fire.

A very entertaining account that may well help Boris on his journey to Parliament.

A History of War in 100 Battles
A History of War in 100 Battles
Price: £8.62

5.0 out of 5 stars Fighting Throughout The Ages., 28 Oct 2014
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Richard Overy is Professor of History at Exeter University. He has also taught at Cambridge and King's College, London. He is the acclaimed author of 25 books on, for example, Hitler's Germany and the Strategic Bombing Offensive in WW2. He is currently writing a new history of the Second World War.

There are many books on battles,some even with the same title, for example,there are several accounts of: decisive battles of the English civil wars, the US Civil War, WW1 and WW2. Edward Creasy's 1851 account of:'15 Decisive Battles' is, of course, justly famous, it set a model for several years after for books on battles. He believed that decisive battles were important because in ending wars they 'improved things'. Many historians, such as Michael Howard, do not share this view. Indeed battles often make things worse.

Churchill called battles 'punctuation marks in history'. They are also often major turning or pivotal points, for example, Stalingrad. Gettysburg, Waterloo, the Tet Offensive. Calling a battle 'decisive' has long been controversial, even the definition of 'battle'has been contentious.

Battles are much more than military affairs. They reflect political, economic and social developments. They cannot be separated from the technology that created the weapons used in them or the strategic framework into which they fitted. Overy touches on these aspects.

In this book he examines 100 battles, note he does not call them 'decisive', from recorded human history, a period of some 6000 years. His choice of battles includes as one would expect many famous encounters such as Thermopylae, Legnano, Agincourt, Plassy, Omdurman, the Battle of the Little Big Horn, ,Gettysburg, Cambrai, the Battle of France, and Desert Storm. He admits that not everyone will agree with his choice.

Instead of cataloguing the battles by historical time, or by size as others have done, Overy divides his battles under the headings: 'Against the Odds', 'Innovation', 'Deception', 'Courage in the Face of the Enemy', and 'In The Nick of Time'.

An opening chapter: 'The Truth of Battle' is illuminating about warfare through the ages. He demonstrates how violence occurred well before settled agricultural communities-this has sometimes been doubted. Nomadic cultures were also violent. Hence, as he and a few others have shown, warfare has strong historical explanations rather than purely evolutionary ones.

Out of 288 battles from the second millennium BCE to around 500 CE, 94% took place in the 'swathe of territory from Mediterranean Europe to Southern Europe'. China in contrast had only two battles in this period. The author explains the growing dependence on state or sub state forms of organisation for raising and feeding armies, and on taxation for funding them.

In Chapter 1, he examines leadership in battle. He dismisses the idea that anyone can become a leader if they do their homework. He argues that what defines leadership in battle is a willingness to be flexible, imaginative, courageous, and confident. Leadership is a notoriously emotive subject. It is a very difficult concept replete with exceptions. As he says, not all battle leaders are competent. Many are arrogant and very poor planners. He gives examples. He could with ease have given many more..

For this reviewer, Professor Overy's battle accounts are very acute and, given the limited space available, very accurate.
Particularly good are his accounts of : The Fall of Troy; The Six Day War, and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Unlike some accounts, he places the chosen battles in context. Books that fail to do this usually turn out to be little more than dictionaries.

Overall this is a thought provoking account of battles within warfare. Anyone not too familiar with the subject will learn a great deal from this book written in an easy, elegant and entertaining style that is typical of Professor Overy's writing.

The bibliography comprises mainly secondary sources and is reasonably extensive.

A book that will be very useful in particular for History undergraduates and postgraduates studying War /Strategic Studies.

Highly recommended

Price: £6.99

32 of 106 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Beware the New Messiah Cometh., 26 Oct 2014
This review is from: Revolution (Kindle Edition)
This book is a rambling incoherent rag bag of unsubstantiated advice about how to cure our social and economic ills. It should have been pulped at birth. The publisher's blurb says it all when it tells us this book will change the world. Clearly this is an advance notice that another 'Bible' has just been launched.

Brand has been aptly described as a 'prancing perm on a stick'. His recent interview on Newsnight said it all. An incoherent,ioi garbled, mediocre avalanche of nonsense, not remotely funny. In fact, just like this book. Brand's background ought to be enough to put anyone off. Disgraceful and cruel calls to Andrew Sachs, smashing a prostitute's phone because she displeased him, obscene behaviour on stage, the list of outrageous behaviour is endless. He has now decided to lead his people to a New Jerusalem on the back of childish utterances.

Capitalism, that has given him his riches, along with plutocrats, royals and oligarchs, are he claims to blame for all our current ills. He tells us that in order to appease his concerns about materialism he likes to go on holiday. Guess where he goes? Wrong. He goes to a very luxurious place in Mexico, where a tiny bit of research reveals a villa can be had from as little as $2,300 A NIGHT. It is a favourite resort for the very people he claims to despise.

To again appease more anguish at living the high life, he tells us he has now taken up yoga. We are told this:'reduces the torrent of egoic thinking'. Please don't laugh. Brand is typical of those who, despite very little ability, milk the capitalist system for all its worth and then, soaked in riches, condemn the very thing that fed them. Hypocrite is an understatement. He, like others of a similar ilk, nevertheless, is happy to stay in luxury in this 'evil capitalist state'. His kind never ever go and live in a socialist/marxist paradise like North Korea or Cuba or Russia. We know why; Hampstead is more appealing than the Gulag. A recent book whose author spent 16 years in Albania, Hungary and Cuba describes life in those grey concrete places as: 'like being in a coma with occasional breaks for a nightmare'. Also these havens of liberty don't have welfare benefits like ours. I can never understand how Brand and co. can resist the lures of these countries.

This latest tome is littered with gross errors of fact. I counted some 11. Brand knows, for example, nothing ar all about Greek myths, the planets and a host of other things that he sprinkles across the pages in an attempt to demonstrate learning that he clearly does not possess. The result is farcical and incredibly shallow and pretentious.

Intelligent readers do not need this brand of juvenile claptrap. His knowledge of politics is dire, his assertions ludicrous, his ramblings have no intellectual structure whatsoever. He clearly thinks we will not see through this dumb thicket of absurd conspiracy theories. The book is a charade from beginning to end. It proves you may not be able to fool all of the people but, as several reviews indicate all too clearly, you sure can fool many any time.

Brand admits he cannot get his 'head around economics'. I wonder why? However, this does not stop him pontificating about economic issues. His attacks on bankers are puerile. He knows nothing about banking except it include places that look after his vast sums of money. Since he hates the banking system so much why doesn't he keep his fortune under the mattress? His ignorance is profound but this doesn't stop the babbling brook for a second. I doubt he can get his head round any subject of substance.

It is an insult to be harangued by someone who is an hypocrite, badly informed, and self-adoring. He is yet another celebrity trying to reform the world. He, like so many of his kind, is unable to understand that such a task is way beyond his mental capacity. The fawning attitude towards the writer of this rubbish is sick making. Not one interviewer (particularly on the BBC) has exposed Brand's bogus opinions. An intelligent teenager could do so. He is a sad and depressing example of how someone like him can make the ludicrous claim to represent ordinary British people. No Russell, thank goodness you do not, and you never will.

This so-called comedian has said, horror of horrors, he wants to stand as independent anti-politics candidate for the job of London Mayor in 2016. Given his inabilty to understand Economlcs, and his overall lack of any discernible intelligence, this would spell disaster for London. Of course, like this book, his real intention in making this announcement is to court more publicity, like his recent kissing of a soccer coach. On reflection, we should be amazed he doesn't plan to be PM or President of the Brand Republic.

I reluctantly read this book to see if it was as bad as colleagues said. It's worse, far, far worse! What is encouraging, however, is the reaction of some undergraduates. They have quickly seen through the thicket of absurd claims and the 'nutty ideas', and, as one said: 'When will he try walking on water'.

One Brandite reviewer here has accused those who are 'negative' about this book of not having read it. Unfortunately, as I have said, I have. My review is positive compared with what I could have written. As laughable and depressing as the book is the reviews that describe it as 'magnificent' and 'superb' give rise to even more concern. Clearly, these reviewers are not aware they are being conned. Meanwhile, Brand is laughing all the way to the bank, again. Does anyone really believe this man cares tuppence for 'ordinary people? You are being taken for a ride and here is the proof.

Here are some FACTS about this individual that may surprise you. Next year Brand is planning to inflict on the gullible public a film (maybe two) to promote his silly views. 'Brand the Film' charts the wideboy's life from Essex to the scourge of bankers. What is interesting, and kept very quiet from the public, is that Brand is a director of 'Mayfair Film Partnerships' who are producing the film. He happens to own 25 % of the company. Most of the 18 other share-holders work-guess where?-why in City Banks! They bought shares through a scheme that allows them to claim 30% tax relief. In short, we tax payers are subsidising the company.

So while Brand is willingly taking money from nasty 'evil bankers' he is at the same time indulging in an orgy of banker bashing in and on the media. He has recently called bankers 'criminals'. What does that make you Russell? Even more recently, he said banks. were guilty of 'gangster conduct'. Last year 'Mayfair' lost £200,000. As a result, many shareholders are becoming increasingly worried about their investment. Meanwhile the 'noise' continues to encourage investment from those he claims to despise. Hypocrite is an understatement and the politest description one can use to describe this individual. Fellow revolutionaries please take note. You are being led by the nose to a fantasy world of Brand's making. Wake up!

Cicero's enemies in Rome decided to cut off his head and hands so that he could no longer speak or write. Some might think his would be worth trying with the ridiculous Brand. Unfortunately, even this might not silence him since he tends to speak from another orifice.

This ridiculous book has the intellectual clout of a Primary School Year 1 basic reader. It is a torrent of ill digested information that is pure drivel. It is an Alladin's cave of priceless ignorance. Brand dislpays his ignorance of politics, government, history and economlcs (plus just about everything else) in encyclopedic proportions. He tells us for instance not to pay our taxes. How then do we fund hospitals, schools, defence, and other essential services? Understandably, we are not told by the seer. Anyone of moderate intelligence seeking something worthwhile within these dense pages will not even find a minute oasis in this barren desert.

Do not even think of buying this nonsense unless you wish to send it to your worst enemy as a Xmas present.

PS. The ubiquitous, ridiculous Brand just made a fool of himself again in an interview on BBC Radio 4. As usual, he struggled to form a single coherent sentence. Trust the BBC to give him air time, again.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 30, 2014 6:54 PM GMT

Stalin, Vol. I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928
Stalin, Vol. I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928
Price: £17.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The Making Of A Tyrant, 24 Oct 2014
The author has written many books on Russia, the Soviet Union and marxism. All have received acclaim. He is Professor of History at Princeton.

His latest work is the first of three massive volumes about Stalin. He has spent ten years on this venture. In this first volume which begins in 1878 and ends in 1928 Kitkin traces the many events and contingencies that made Stalin what he was, and how he acquired power after the death of Lenin. He shows how different Stalin was to others at the summit of soviet power at the time. Bukharin, Rykov, and Sokolnikov could not compete with Stalin who had strong support in the military and secret police.

Only a sadistic examiner would ask undergraduates to discuss who was the most evil, Hitler or Stalin. Both ordered the slaughter of millions. The former targeted Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Communists and the disabled in body or mind. In all, over 7.3million. Stalin ordered the killing of some 21 million by torture then execution, shooting, poison, and delberate starvation in the appalling case of the Ukraine. He instigated the Great Terror. There were several other key differences with regards to the targeted victims. Stalin had murdered close colleagues, anyone in fact who he believed threatened his position. Hence, he had murdered hundreds of very senior army officers, sent relatives, friends and others by the thousand to the Gulag for certain death. He also had killed hundreds of Jews. Those lackeys who supported Hitler to the bitter end would never have survived the war under Stalin.

One biographer has said that Stalin was so paranoid he would have shot his own shadow had that been possible. Hitler's ideology was based on race, Stalin's on class. Both had a ferocious will that enabled them to create an entire system comforming to their warped ideas.

Books on Joseb Jughashvili abound. He was born on the 18th of December 1878 to a poor cobbler and his wife. The family had had two other boys but both died in infancy. Small of stature with, a pock-marked face, one arm four inches shorter, and a deformity of his left foot he was regarded in later life as the devil incarnate or as the saviour of the Soviet State. Unlike the accounts by Conquest, Senior, Montefiore, Kun and many other writers, Kotkin argues that Stalin (the Man of Steel) was perfectly sane and not a monster. He decries the view that his upbringing turned him into a sadistic being. Indeed he says that the manner in which he was raised was no worse than that used to raise millions of other children in the world. His arguments in this respect are convincing to a degree. It is difficult however, given the enormity of his crimes, not to believe he had a deeply maladjusted personality. The problem, of course, is that if people like Stalin are described as animals, monsters or killing machines, we will never be able to discern their successors. At times Stalin behaved in a 'normal way'. He could be charming, attract admiration, be modest and kind. Yet he could order the death of a doctor for giving him a correct diagnosis that he didn't want to hear. He was an intellectual, an administrator, a statesman, a party leader, a writer and above all a killer.

Stalin, the author argues, was the product of marxist beliefs, resolve, hard work, a power complex, and sociopathetic tendencies. Like all individuals he was the product of 'larger forces at play'. These included: the nature of Russia's geography, her society, economy, her position in Eurasia, ideology, and the behaviour of others. As the author writes: 'Even dictators face a circumscribed menu of options'. Kotkin emphasises the continuity between Stalin and Lenin. He disagrees with those who argue that he betrayed the latter's legacy. Both, he says fervently believed that ideas mattered while human life was worthless (Stalin said the death of millions was mere statistics). Both believed in the need to use terror to achieve political objectives.

Kotkin also rightly points out that in life accidents and chance are rife. Perverse outcomes are the rule. Stalin was an excellent example of this.

In order to explain Stalin's rise to power, the author spends much of this weighty tome discussing the unification of Germany, Bismark's foreign policy, Lenin, the influence of Marx and Engels, the famous Georgian Affair, class war, the massive influence of Russian peasantry, plus a host of other key events in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In brief, the reader is given a general lecture tour of history covering these years during which Stalin is hardly mentioned.In so doing it should be noted that a sound knowledge of the period is assumed.

This volume concentrates on Stalin's formative years, his birth in Gori, a rough violent town, about which there is some controversy, his childhood, the influence of his mother, his love of books ( he read, for example, The Prince, Plato, books on Ivan the Terrible, and psychology), aborted plans for him to become a priest, and his early dabblings in anti government activities. For the latter he was exiled seven times to Siberia. He escaped on several occasions.

As an aside, it is particularly pleasing to note the author's emphasis on the vital importance of geopolitics in this extensive historical journey. All too often it is overlooked.

This book is a very fine and balanced account that puts forward a number of arguments that conflict with current orthodox views of Stalin-although he never flinches from exposing Stalin's murderous behaviour. The book is based on painstaking research that leaves the reader anxious to read volume two which is due out next year. The bibliography is very sound and extensive. The author has been able to use recently released primary sources from Russian archives.

This book despite its admirable qualities cannot be said to be the definitive work on the enigma of Stalin since very important archives are still locked away in Russian vaults. It is nevertheless well on the way to be deserving of that

Kotkin poses the question:What if Stalin had died in 1928 before he launched collectivisation? His act of social engineering was unique in world history. It affected over 100 million people. It led to famine, the longest man-made one in history, some 7 million died. The number of cattle fell by 42 million, sheep by 20 million. There was no rational justification for this excercise. It was a political decision that ignored economlc, demographic or human factors. Kotkin believes Stalin was saved by the Great Depression. It was this he says that 'legitimised Stalin's system'.

Only Hitler had the will to forge a similar evil system in Germany. The Nazi totalitarian state conformed also to a manic idea. If Stalin had died in 1928 the tyranny of the Soviet Union would never have come about. In June 1941 the two systems collided.

Highly recommended but not for Stalin deniers.

The Other First World War: The Blood-Soaked Russian Fronts 1914-1922
The Other First World War: The Blood-Soaked Russian Fronts 1914-1922
Price: £12.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Frequently Forgotten Front In The Great War., 15 Oct 2014
Military history that is not set in a geographical context is meaningless. Despite this, over 86% of the 43 books so far published this year on the Great War make lttle mention of the geographical context. Nowhere is this more important than when writing about the Eastern Front, a front that, while of the utmost importance, gets scant attention in comparison with the Western Front. Most people if asked to name three battles that took place on the latter would trot out the usual, Marne, Somme and Paschendale. If asked to name even one on the Eastern Front they would struggle, two or more would be beyond them. Hence, Stalluponen, Gumbinnen, Bolimov and Masurian Lakes are unknown battles. The author of this book aims to bring the Eastern Front more on to centre stage. Although he is not by any means the first to do so, his well written account is most welcome.

The relationship between Germany and Russia pre 1914 was a complex mixture of attraction and repulsion. Russian intelligentsia after 1825 turned to Germany for cultural and intellectual models. Hegel's philosophy was imitated, and students went to Germany for higher education. Russian secondary schools were based on German models. German scholars and artists were full of admiration of their Russian counterparts. German bankers funded Russia's economic enterprises.

By 1890 this was changing. Suspicions grew on both sides. Panslavism and German militarism exacerbated these. From the inception of the Empire the German general staff based their plans on a two-front war against France and Russia. Economic tension after 1885 worsened relations with Russia. On the other hand, Russian relations with France steadily improved in the financial and military spheres.

From the Swiss border to the North Sea was some 300 miles. From the eastern end of East Prussia down to Rumania was over 1000 miles long. The Eastern Front was in 1914 some four times as long as the western, it was never less than three times.The terrain consisted of mountains, tundra, vast steppes, gigantic swamps, bogs and marshes. Each posed enormous problems for transport, particularly given the state of the roads and the fact that waterways ran north-south. The German railways were also far superior. This allowed them to move troops from one sector to another with comparative ease. Temperatures on the Russian front frequently fell 40 degrees below zero. Force-to-space ratios in the east were half those in the west. In the west, Germany deployed 2.5 as many divisions to a sector compared with the same area on the eastern front. Geography, in short, played a vital role on this front just as it did from 1941.

We forget that Russia lost 1,735,000 dead in the war, a number very close to German losses. Hers was the greatest number killed on the allied side, as it was in the Second World War. Wounded and missing numbers were equally horrendous.

'In the west, the armies were too big for the land; in the east, the land was too big for the armies'. So wrote Churchill. The prevalent image of warfare in the Great War is familiar; it, therefore, requires no repetition here. Yet that image is highly misleading once we move away from the western front. There was major fighting in the Balkans, Italy, East Africa, the Dardenelles. Some 15 major offensives took place between Austria-Hungary and Italy across the Isonzo River although it hardly merits a word in most books. Land battles occurred in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, China, and sea battles took place in every major sea and ocean. The standard excuse for ignoring these sectors has always been they were all 'side shows' that did not determine the outcome of the war.

You cannot say the same about the Eastern Front. Moltke in August 1914 was so concerned about the front that he took 5 key divisions from the forces involved in the so-called Schlieffen Plan and moved them east. He and others on his staff believed in the summer of 1915, after vastly outnumbered German forces had eradicated two Russian armies, that victory could be achieved by concentrating on this front. It did not, it led to the Brusilov Offensive in 1916 that lasted six months took 70,000 prisoners and which drew vital German troops away from, for example, Italy and Verdun. If these troops had not come to Austria's aid she would have been knocked out of the war. The offensive cost Russia around 840,000 casualties. The battle made revolution inevitable. We should remember that from early 1916 the growing anti-war movement in Russia was played on by the Bolsheviks. Anti-war riots by 25,000 wounded soldiers due to be sent back to the front broke out in Odessa. This was followed by strikes in naval bases, and dock yards throughout 1916. By this time Russia had 9 million men in her army, Germany 7 million.

The author rightly draws attention to the way that, again as in 1942, Russian forces occupied the attention of approximately 22% of the Kaiser's army between 1914 and 1917. Poison gas was first used on the Eastern Front at Bulimov and, the creeping barrage was largely developed on the same front. In all, 750,000 Germans died on the Eastern Front together with almost 1 million troops from the Habsburg armies.

Not until 1975 did the first scholarly analysis of this important front appear in English. Since then there has been nothing like the avalanche of books to match accounts of the Western Front. Tannenburg is about the only major battle that has been studied. One reason for this is that vast amounts of key German primary sources were destroyed during the Second World War. Many existing sources are notoriously unreliable or incomplete. Norman Stone has said that:' what is true is not new, and what is new is not true'. There is still no official Russian account of the war that has been translated into English.

Unlike the war in the west, that in the east never became stagnated. Trench warfare did exist but because the territory was so massive flanks could be turned, and cavalry used. Encirclements were frequent and breakthroughs did take place. Tactics as a result were more flexible, new ones were tried more often. Brusilov in particular drew on the experiences of the Russo-Japanese war and adapted his tactics to the terrain.

This book underlines the fact that you cannot begin to understand what was taking place on the Western Front without understanding events on the Eastern. It should be remembered that during the first two years of the war, when the British army was providing only peripheral help, it was the Russian and French forces that were battering away at the Germans.

The origins of the war lay in the East. The Germans shared a common frontier of over 400 miles with Russia, or Russian Poland. The Germans saw the main threat to their security coming from Russia. Bethmann-Hollweg said in July 1914 that: 'Russia grows and grows, and lies on us like a nightmare'. A 500 year-old Russian jingle expressed their side. It ended thus:'The German is coming, the univited guest'. Germany was very concerned at the improving Russian economy, her birth rate and the growing might of her military 'steamroller'. Her alliance with France, who financed much of Russia's railway development with short-term loans, fed German fears of encirclement, hence the Moltke-Schlieffen plan.

There was a view in this country that had Russia received proper help from the west, she could have ended Germany's plans for European domination by 1916. Lloyd George shared this view and spells it out in his memoirs. The jury is still out on this. The evidence available, however, indicates that the belief that Russia was defeated in 1917 owing to crippling material weaknesses is not true. Casualty figures, poor leadership, anti-war propaganda that sapped morale and economic incompetence were among the major reasons.

This book also discusses, somewhat oddly, the appalling civil war that broke out after the coup d'etat that toppled the government in 1917. The fighting took place inside a 12,000 mile loop from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Anarchy, famine, was widespread. For four years allied expeditionary forces that included Canadians, Japanese, Finns and Belgians fought Soviet forces. In the Ukraine and Siberia the Czech Legion comprising some 100,000 POW's from the Austrian-Hungarian army, and three other White armies joined in a 'rainbow of death' with the Blue army, the Green army and the Black army of anarchists fighting the Red. Disunity of command, and poor leadership on the White side plus corruption and sheer stupidity led to Trotsky's forces in the end winning.

I have two criticisms of the book. Firstly, the three opening chapters devoted to, among other things, the assassination, in detail, of the Archduke should have been exorcised. These events are so well known and so oft repeated that to include them here is unnecessary.
Secondly, the Russian military deaths are wildly wrong. All figures are only estimates but these are beyond any figures I have ever come across. Even if wounded are included, they are wrong. My figure above is the one most historians accept. One of the problems about casualties is that the British, German and Russian figures are calculated differently. The German and Russian often include deaths from disease, deaths that occurred months after hostilities ended, missing and even prisoners of war who died in captivity.

The war on this front should never be forgotten. As in the Second World War, it played a very valuable role in determining the outcome.


Taking Command
Taking Command
Price: £6.99

17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Very Outspoken Modern General., 11 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Taking Command (Kindle Edition)
The purpose of all memoirs is to defend or enhance the author's reputation and legacy. Tolstoy said it was to prepare for your maker. These memoirs are no exception.

General Richards, now Baron Richards of Herstmonceux, retired from being Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS ), the professional head of the British armed services, in 2013. He was made a life peer in 2004. He joined the army some 4O years ago as a gunner. He is a keen sailor, and since retirement has become involved with some 24 charities. In addition, he is an advisor to the International Institute For Strategic Studies based in London. His daughter works for the PM.

His memoirs begin with a rapid account of his early education, public school and his entry into the army. His revelation that he cheated in a crucial Common Entrance exam while at Ascham prep school with the aid of another pupil in order to enter Eastbourne College is somewhat displeasing; at least he admits he is ashamed that he did this. He always had a love of military history. His father had been in the Royal Artillery during WW11, in 1949 he was transferred to the RAPC.

The former general has a reputation for plain, frank speaking, and this shows in his book. He saw service in postings around the globe including : Germany, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, East Timor, Iraq (he was sent on a covert mission by Hoon to assess what could be done to avert a bloody civil war, His report was rejected because his senior officers had not known of the visit),and Afghanistan where he was head of ISAF (and nearly died of pneumonia) before becoming Chief of the General Staff ( CGS ). In Sierra Leone he chanced his arm by putting down a nasty 8 year civil war without orders to do so. It made his name but it could have ruined his career if it had gone wrong.

General Richards gives the impression he is not enamoured of politicians or some senior officers. Anyone who has worked in the MOD will not be surprised to hear this. His relationship with Gordon Brown was uneasy. This is not surprising given Brown's ignorance of military matters. On the Andrew Marr programme he said: 'We could defeat the terrorists in Afghanistan if they would only stand and fight'!!

Richards tells us how he told David Cameron that once being in Eton's combined cadet force cut little ice with him, a professional soldier. It was, he said:'no qualification to run the Libyan war'. One suspects the PM was not amused. Defence Secretaries fare little better. He reveals he even had to lie in order to get a meeting with Hoon, another defence secretary out of his depth. Richards was highly and rightly critical of the lack of the right equipment for our troops, and the lack of a reserve, in Afghanistan. He reveals how he was even refused an helicopter to get around a country half the size of Europe!

This reviewer would have liked to see him take on Dennis Healey, the finest Defence Minister since 1918, a minister of outstanding intelligence, cultured and with active military service to boot. (In, for example, Italy during the Second World War). One of the major problems today is the lack of military experience in the cabinet and shadow cabinet. This makes communication and understanding between the chiefs of staff and politicians, always fraught, extra hard. However, he doesn't shirk from revealing the intense battles with other senior officers of all three services, all of whom have always been more concerned with protecting their interests rather than the national interest. Their infighting is renowned. Twice he was severely warned that criticisms of strategic decisions, if made public, would end his career.

Fascinating are the details not just of petty infighting between the Chiefs of Staff but how in order to 'win' he had to conduct business in secret meetings in dinner parties and the like. Of course, such things are also commonplace in the business world.

General Richards' severe criticisms of the Strategic Defence Review illustrates the problem very well. As he explains, he was, for example, unable to understand the logic behind the decision to build two aircraft carriers. He is not alone in this. He feared it would cripple the navy by devouring a huge share of its limited resources. It is very likely that Gordon Brown's decision was based on a desire to pump billions into the Scottish economy, thus preserving jobs. The more recent decision to reduce the army to 82,000 men, a decision based more on politics than mlitary strategy, was also criticised by Richards. His doubts were not welcomed by Whitehall. He will be even angrier when more cuts are announced soon.

Even ambassadors fail to escape the knife between the shoulder blades. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the former British ambassador to Kabul is damned with faint praise. The author's condescending tone towards some people is again manifest and at times a little grating.

Over Syria, the general argued for an operationally sound action rather than a media driven one. His caution was regarded by politicians as 'obstructionism', and 'too purist'. One would have thought that the lessons of Iraq would have been learned, apparently not. Currently, the author is one of those who believes that ISIS will not be defeated by bombing ( incidentally, this costs around one million pounds per mission from Cyprus by two 30 year-old planes).Boots on the ground he says are essential but he knows this is unpalatable to the public owing to the Iraq and Afghanistan ventures, the former based on Blair's lies. However, as he says, the troops don't have to be ours. Arab states should provide the majority of them. He has stated recently that a ground war could defeat ISIS in six months. I am not so sure.

At times, this entertaining account of the life of a military man who attained the heights of his profession smacks of arrogance and self-regard. There is a great focus on what he achieved while at the same time criticising others including senior army officers. For example, 42 pages are devoted to 'my set piece battle in Kandahar' but only a very few paragraphs discuss the dreadful and utter shambles in Helmand.

His criticism, for example, of Brigadier Butler, the ground commander, in Helmand is close to being reprehensible. The problem in Helmand was not so much individuals, although there was incompetence and ignorance on display at a high level, as it was the ludicrous six month tours. This meant that just as one was getting to grips with the complex situation you were going home to be replaced by the next Brigadier, intent on demonstrating his new approach, and new troops. A very inefficient revolving door that the Americans rightly and frequently criticised.

The author believes we were right to intervene in Afghanistan but that we have left too soon, in fact five years too soon, and that the black flag of the Taliban will return. Many will forget, and the general does not mention it, that very shortly after being appointed CDS he said on television that our forces 'could be in Afghanistan for 30 years'. There were rumours that he had his knuckles rapped for this indiscretion. What he fails to emphasise about our involvement in that poverty stricken land is that while the intentions were sound the outcome was and is poor.

He often called a spade a shovel but that took courage, and the author is clearly not lacking in this. What is remarkable is how such an outspoken officer ever rose to the position he did for I can assure readers it is very, very unusual. Luck clearly played a part, being in the right place at the right time (Sierra Leone) is and was crucial if one is to get promotion. Nevertheless, a profession that all too often rewards tha average because they toe the party line and don't rock the boat has seldom rewarded an officer so handsomely.

A fascinating book by an oustanding soldier. A maverick, a realist, someone who doesn't suffer fools gladly, a man not averse to self-promotion. The author is all of these things but his willingness to speak out and challenge orthodoxy is admirable. Very few future Chiefs of the Defence Staff I suspect will achieve that lofty position with a personality like Baron Richards.

Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 28, 2014 8:09 PM GMT

Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth
Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth
Price: £12.92

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Combating Dirt In Victorian London., 10 Oct 2014
This is the second book Lee Jackson has written about London in the nineteenth century. In thiis account he describes how the capital in mid century was at the heart of the British Empire. It was a financial hub for the world.but, at the same time, it was notoriously filthy. This despite the fact that the Victorians had invented 'sanitary science'.

Despite millions being invested in an enormous network of sewers, a massive project planned by the engineering genius Sir Joseph Bazalgette, London remained in the 1860's a very dirty town. One of the major reasons for this was its unprecedented growth. Its population grew six fold, from 1m in 1801 to 6.2m in 1901. Waste products multiplied as suburbia crushed up ' the country in its concrete grasp'. Nuisance and discomfort were all around. Some of the dirt posed a real danger to people. The worst types of filth were: mud, human and horse excrement, dust from coal fires, and ashes and cinders.

Based on impressive research, Lee Jackson details not only sewage problems but also the state of housing, burial problems, waste, and soot that was a feature of London life until the Clean Air Act of 1956 removed the causes. Of smog. It is easy to forget that, for example, as late as the winter of 1952 London was blanketed in foul smog that led to the wearing of masks. Smog in fact was said officially to have taken over from cholera as 'the scourge of the city'.

In Victorian England every stinking breath was dangerous. Miasma, bad air or mal aria, brought disease. Florence Nightingale knew this and designed her new hospitall, St Thomas's so that stinks could not poison her patients. The Thames stank so much that on occasions Parliament had to be suspended. A report in 1840 said that a horrible stench generating malaria and fever was only 100 yards from Buckingham Palace. Descriptions of pauper burial grounds are sickening. Slums, of course, were foul places. In Bermondsey the stink was almost unbearable owing to skins and hides being turned into leather. Not until around the 1850's did water closets become a normal part of a house but not of the poorest. By 1857 there were 200,000 in place.

In London's streets battles were being fought throughout thr century to combat disease, squalor, poor housing, dirty water, sewage, ignorance and germs. Among the most important men who were at the forefront of the campaign were four, the two Frenchmen Sir Joseph Bazalgette, and Sir John Simon together with Edwin Chadwick and John Snow. Other battles had to be fought by politicians, social reformers and philanthropists. At the heart of these battles was the dispute over the role of national and local government. Should they or not take responsibility for education, health and general welfare was the question. Should the state intervene or remain a night watchman? The author's analysis of the obstinacy and 'Bumbledom' encountered by reformers is quite excellent. Eventually, the decision to abandon laissez-faire ( this was never a hundred percent) proved to be the greatest legacy of Victoria's reign. Without this the massive improvements that had taken place by 1901 could never have come about.

Jackson rightly celebrates those who championed reform, people like Shaftesbury, Wilberforce and, Cochrane, an advocate of clean streets. He also details the villains, the slum landlords, dustmen and their managers. We learn also how some of the earliest public conveniences were designed to look like Swiss chalets to make them more acceptable. The capital despite great improvements still ended the century with the nickname of 'The Smoke' because of its most enduring pollutant. The world's financial centre and filthy at the same time.

In brief, anyone interested in the Victorian Age and London in particular will enjoy this excellent book full of fascinating facts and detail.

Talking of dirt, Bazelgette's great grandson is responsible for bringing us the show 'Big Brother'!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 31, 2014 1:22 AM GMT

Napoleon the Great
Napoleon the Great
Price: £10.04

45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Bad Man., 7 Oct 2014
The historian Andrew Roberts has written books on Lord Salsbury, Wellington, the Second World War plus several others. This book is his second one about Napoleon. His books tend to be stacked high with facts and statistics; they are, therefore, rather lengthy. This one is nearly 900 pages, including notes and bibliography both of which are extensive and excellent. His style, however makes for easy reading.

Born in Corsica in 1769, Napoleon was one of 8 children (5 others died soon after birth), his rise from a poor background was meteoric. Roberts plots this rise with meticulous detail. He acknowledges that where Napoleon is concerned there are worshipers and detractors. After 1815, opinions about Napoleon swung violently. He was 'a man of blood', or 'a Corsican ogre'. This changed later in the century to idolatry. After the horrors of the Great War his reputation again was sullied. To this day he remains an enigma. After all, this man was often used by mothers in Victorian England to chastise their children. Bad behaviour would be greeted with :'if you don't behave Boney will get you!'

As the title indicates, the author considers Napoleon to be Great ( he is not the first to do so ), many historians, however, would disagree. Roberts gives a very detailed analysis for his opinion of Napoleon. Readers must decide whether or not they agree.

Over 2500 books have been published about Napoleon, plus hundreds of articles in scholarly journals. He has been compared to Attila, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great. I liken him to a mixture of General de Gaulle and General Douglas MacArthur. His military exploits and victories have led to him being described as a battlefield genius.

Other writers have castigated him as a usurper, the creator of a regime based upon treachery and violence. His love of warfare and imperial splendour has been bitterly criticised. The author tackles such views as this head on.

Roberts recognises the paradox of a man who was a despot and ruthless military commander and yet, at the same time, was a law giver and upholder of the key principles of the French Revolution. Napoleon was, and is, seen either as a patriot who defended with blood what had been won in the Revolution of 1789, who gave the French glory, or as a tyrannical conqueror. Roberts is clearly in the first group.

The author has researched his book extensively. He has visited 53 of Napoleon's 60 battlefields, read 33,000 of his letters and paid a visit to St Helena. The outcome is a detailed and elegantly written book that, thankfully, includes an analysis of Napoleon's non military accomplishments; his military campaigns having been, like those of Wellington, covered in numerous books. The military side, nevertheless, is the main focus of this book. The horrendous casualties, the growth in the size of armies, and the new tactics that Napoleon used are all discussed in some detail.

What is refreshing is the detail given of Napoleon's administrative, legal and political reforms. These were carried out in Italy, Spain and Malta, and they were massive. Taxation was reformed, slavery abolished, the navy reformed along with the police. Monasteries were abolished, and restrictions on Jews lifted. In France, he ended the Terror, sorted out the Directory and fostered equality before the law, religious toleration and efficient administration. These achievements convince the author that Napoleon deserves to be called Great.

This does not blind Roberts to Napoleon's many faults: the 1.3 m French casualties, the horrendous defeat in Russia, which is decribed in vivid detail, and failure at Waterloo, his love of the trappings of power, his egotism, and his abandonment of his army in Egypt. These, however, have to be weighed in the balance of becoming a general at 24, winning 53 of his 60 battles, perfecting new uses for artillery, and instilling in his soldiers a very high morale based on honour and love of country. Very few commanders have been as sensitive to their soldiers' needs. He looked after the wounded, and even arranged for the relatives of the dead to get a pension. He converted a rabble of an army when he took command in Italy in 1796 by inspirational talks reminiscent of Montgomery's morale boosting talks in the desert. He was a fine orator, and an inspired leader with an inquisitive mind. The author describes his subject as:'the Enlightenment on horseback'. He adds:'there has never been another ruler in history to match him'.

There is always room for more than one opinion about great leaders be they military or not. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to contest the claim of Napoleon Bonaparte to a pre-eminent place in the pantheon of history. He possessed single-mindedness, ruthlessness, high intelligence (he was an excellent mathematician), an ability for sustained hard work, a magnetism akin to charisma, and a phenomenal memory. Wellington said:'his hat on the battlefield is worth 40,000 men'.

In this impressive account written with verve and packed with fascinating information, Andrew Roberts has reminded us that more than any man, Napoleon left an indelible mark on Europe, ushering in the modern nationalistic age. His contribution to the art of war remains to this day central and important. Nemesis followed hubris but here was no common mortal.As Hazlitt wrote:'He stood on the necks of kings'.

Superb. Highly recommended. Lord Roseberry wondered many years ago if there would ever be:'a sound biography of Napoleon'. This is likely to be it. It will be the definitive source for many years to come.

Reader who wish to immerse themselves in Napoleon's military campaigns should read David Chandler's brilliant: 'Campaigns of Napoleon'. Published in 1966 it is 1,350 pages of outstanding scholarship. The book received high praise from senior commanders in five countries. In addition. It also recently received high praise from President Putin!
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 24, 2014 1:06 PM BST

England, Arise: The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381
England, Arise: The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381
Price: £8.96

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Revolting Riot., 7 Oct 2014
Barker has written books on Agincourt, the Hundred Years War, and the Brontes.
Her latest book is another useful account of the so-called Peasants' Revolt of 1381 but it is not exceptional. There is very little in this book that has not been common knowledge for many, many years. The author tries, without succeeding, to introduce new material and information. For example about the young King Richard but her evidence for so doing is unconvincing. To say that she believes the king supported the rebels at Mile End is fanciful, if not plain silly. Where is the evidence? From whence would a young poorly educated king have aquired his views? His court of upper class nobles and cronies are hardly likely to have preached the virtues of the masses, and he certainly did not walk among them. Also, as parliament reminded the King after he granted the rebels a host of things, including the abolition of serfdom, he had no authority to grant anything without their approval. The King was a boy of 14. The author appears to know very little about adolescents.

Similarly, her belief that the preacher John Ball (he was not really a preacher at all in the true sense) did not utter at Blackheath the oft quoted lines:'When Adam delved and Eve span' is hardly new.

The author also fails to make clear at the outset something that is crucial wnen writing about this period of history, namely that the sources, even primary, are highly suspect, hence the raging controversy among historians. Resources are fragmentary, biased, and very contradictory. Grappling with them is like trying to nail a jelly to the wall. For example, the statistics quoted for the deaths in the 1347/8 pandemic are highly speculative, as are the deaths that occurred during the 1381 riots.The role of Richard 11 is anything but clear as is that of Tyler, who was anything but a peasant. Many key documents were destroyed by the rioters and by fires in later years, remaining ones are open to very wide interpretation.

The author seems to be unaware that the term:' Black Death' was not used until almost a hundred years after the event. At the time (1347/8) it was called the 'Great Death' or the pestilence or simply the plague. Despite her book focusing on England in 1381, she could have given more space to the global impact of the pestilence, and the fact that the riots in 1381 were replicated in many parts of Europe. In France, for example, in 1380-81 serious riots affected Paris and other large towns. The cause of these was the cost of war with England not taxes.

The term 'Peasants' Revolt' is, of course, a misnomer. The rioters were artisans covering numerous trades and occupations as well as agricultural labourers. Many were relatively well off. In Lincolnshire,for example, which does not get a mention, many such supported the King and government during the riots. In this county the anger was mainly directed at the widespread corruption in the clergy and growing resentment at villeinage, not the third poll tax, a tax imposed not because of wars but because of collapsing revenue from properties resulting from the burning of houses during the pestilence.

The riots were caused, like all riots, by a multitude of factors but, given the evidence so far available, not by a depressed poverty-stricken labour force (a false thesis beloved, of course, by marxists) but, as the author admits, by a growing affluence that had begun some 15 years before. This raised expectations which were ignored by many in the upper classes and by the King. When the supply of labour fell throughout Europe as a result of the pestilence, (it had been falling for many years before this) simple economics kicked in. However, it is wrong to say that the demand for higher wages was ignored in England. In fact, initially these demands were met by the government. This however changed, and the government passed the savage new Statute of Labourers in 1381.

The consequences of the 1381 riots need more research, difficult though that is. What is apparent so far is that they indicated a growing politicisation of the workers, an unwillingness to be treated as bonds of the lord. But this must not be exaggerated. The same sector of society was still demanding a fairer playing field in the 19th century. The riots ( they had been festering for years) came close to paralyzing the government but after the ringleaders had been dealt with they had little long term effect. To argue they were the beginnings of a middle class is an argument too far. In fact this thesis has been disproved in scholarly journals.

The long term consequences of the global 1347/8 lethal pandemic were far greater and more important than a short-lived outbreak of riots 34 years later, important as these were at the time.

It is worth noting that during the rioting in London the rioters deliberately targeted and murdered hundreds of Flemish merchants, other foreigners and Jews. These 'peasants' were not, as is sometimes implied, simple nice yokels driven by adverse conditions to rebel. If so, why did they destroy the superb Savoy Palace, the Knights HQ, the Archbishop of Canterbury's residence? Why did they murder the Archbishop and the Chancellor and cut off their heads (this is not a new thing)?Many behaved in the same way as did the rioters a few years ago in London. They used any excuse to plunder and create mayhem. They did so by rampaging through London, burning, raping and murdering those they had hated for years. And note, this 'revolt' only affected on area of England, East Anglia. Of course, the author's politics unfortunately do not permit facts like this to win over whimsy.

A marxist interpretation of the revolt, it exists, gives the impression that it was all about some evil, rich, uncaring Lords grinding down the depressed starving poor. In short, very like , but not so bad, as Stalin's rule of terror from 1928.

The author says that claims that London streets were awash with dirt and filth are exaggerated. Again she is wrong. Those streets were unbelievably filthy with human and animal waste, as were most homes, some 500 years later! Read the new book 'Dirty London', about 18th century London, as well as others on this subject.

A disappointing book that fails to be objective. There is a gross failure to put this event in context. There are far better accounts.

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