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White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World
White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World
by Geoff Dyer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Account Of Geoff Dyer., 23 July 2016
There is much that is unique in Dyer's writing. It is therefore difficult to categorize. He has written four novels and two collections of essays. In each there is a lot of writing about writing. Dyer can extract delight and laughter from disappointment. He can be a martyr to disappointment.

This book of essays, like 'Yoga for People', is about travelling. Dyer says it is a mixture of fiction and non- fiction. The narrator is either uplifted or disappointed by an anticipated experience. Frequently he is on a pilgrimage to artistic sites hoping to feel something. In the opening essay he goes to Polynesia in order to imagine he is in Gauguin's shoes. However, he is very disappointed. These travel pieces relate his experience of fear and boredom. Regarding the latter, he is never too sure what it is that makes him bored.

In this book he seeks out places like the Forbidden City in Beijing, and Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake. There is always an anticlimax. For example, he fails to see the northern nights after spending many days in the darkness of Svalbard.

The essay on Gauguin is called Where? What? Where?. Reading this and the final essay entitled ' Beginning' it is clear that travel is a metaphor for life in general. Dyer makes life very interesting despite his tendency to repeat things. This book lacks the humour of some of his earlier works but it is a beautifully written and intelligent collection of essays. It is also an easy read about exotic parts of the globe. 'Beginning' is an account of the stroke he suffered two years ago. It is a laid-back and matter-of-fact account of his recovery.

White Sands is a mixture of travel writing, essay, criticism and fiction. It is an ideal companion for travellers including the armchair variety. In places his wit is superb. Read with pleasure his description of Gauguin and Van Gogh who ' drove each other nuts'.

Dyer has a nimble brain. He is sceptical of academics. He mistrusts the po-faced. At times he breaks every rule of good English. Slang doesn't bother him, neither does repetition. If you enjoy this book read his ' Out of Sheer Rage'. It is extremely funny.


The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin
The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin
Price: £15.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Banditry In The Guise Of A State., 23 July 2016
Banditry In The Guise Of A State. This sums up the author's description of Russia under the dictatorship of Yeltsin and Putin. It is clear that Satter believes Putin ought to be in prison. Some 12 years ago, Satter wrote a book, 'Darkness at Dawn' in which he described the apartment bombings of September 1999. Many others who investigated the matter are dead. Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya, Nemtsov, Shchekochikhin and Yushenkov are all dead.

Most of the evidence quoted by the author is circumstantial but it is convincing. He claims that the FSB, the successor to the KGB, killed some 300 Russians on Putin's orders to give him an excuse to go to war in Chechnya and ensure his route to power.

Satter is not the first to argue that Putin is a tyrant with no legitimate claim to be the ruler of his country. He clearly believes Putin is a ruthless man. He is devoid of moral content. Satter argues that Putin's previous role as head of the KGB means he is willing to use lies and subterfuge to keep power. He is surrounded by ex spies and others from the security services. The authos says Russia is a spook state in which the spooks are also criminals.

Satter is a journalist who has worked for the Financial Times and other broadsheets. He has written a very worrying account of one of the world's superpowers. If his thesis is correct, it makes any forecasting of Putin's next move extremely difficult. His willingness to use selective terror allied with criminality poses serious problems for the west. Satter makes it clear that Russia is a country based on a completely different set of values to those in the west. You have, he says, to believe the unbelievable if you want to understand Russia. Putin has no hesitation in ordering the deaths of innocent Russians to further his own ends.

A frightening account of a dystopian nation.

There is a list of abbreviations, notes and a short bibliography.


Power and Pragmatism: The Memoirs of Malcolm Rifkind
Power and Pragmatism: The Memoirs of Malcolm Rifkind
by Sir Malcolm Rifkind
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Memoirs That Lack Detail And Excitement., 22 July 2016
Malcolm Rifkind is a highly intelligent and articulate man. Before entering politics he had taken a law degree at Edinburgh university, been a politics lecturer in Rhodesia and worked as a lawyer in Scotland where he was born in 1946. He practised at the Bar for four years. His family were Jewish and comfortably off. Malcolm also served on the EdinburghTown Council at the same time as Robin Cook. Aged 23 he became the youngest parliamentary candidate in Scotland. In 2005 he stood in the Tory leadership election without success. He has appeared on University Challenge and been a member of an overland expedition to India.

In this book he examines: why he became a politician, and his role in government. For 18 years he was a minister in the administrations of Thatcher and Major. Together with Ken Clarke and three others he completed the longest uninterrupted ministerial service since Lord Palmerston in the mid 19th century.

For almost 9 years he worked in the Defence Ministry and the Foreign Office. For seven years he was in the Scottish Office. In this account, Rifkind also discusses the future of the UK and our relationship with Europe and the world.

In the first part he spends some time explaining for the general reader the difference between a pragmatist politician and a conviction politician. He is very much the former. Of course, in reality the two types overlap a great deal. In brief, the conviction politician is more concerned with strategy than with tactics, with doctrine and ideology or set of beliefs. The pragmatist also has beliefs and values but he/she must always consider the possible consequences of actions taken. In the real world of Whitehall it is much more complicated than this. Rifkind points out that Thatcher, a strong conviction politician, was contemptuous of pragmatism and any search for consensus. When once asked if she believed in consensus, she said yes,' there should be a consensus behind my convictions'. Rifkind says Tory Eurosceptics were adamant there could be no compromise with Brussels as this would be a betrayal of British national interests. The referendum proved this to the hilt.

Memoirs, says the author, 'tickle the vanity of the writer'. This one is no exception. Rifkind says be has strong principles and deep beliefs. They include a belief in democratic values, the rule of law, free enterprise, and personal responsibility towards one's family and the wider community. He attacks the Marxist-Leninist and Fascist despots of the past one hundred years. Isis he says are in the same category.

The author goes on to discuss the foreign policy of Disraeli, Gladstone, Thatcher, and Blair. Each is somewhat simplistic and his constant repetition of pragmatism begins to irritate. The word appears on every page, or so it seems. He is also very concerned to justify his views and answer his critics. For example, he goes to great lengths to explain why he sometimes disagreed with Margaret Thatcher. At times he states the obvious. For example, do we need to be told that dealing with foreign matters is different to dealing with domestic ones? He is a believer in the EU, describing himself as a moderate Eurosceptic.

Rifkind writes clearly but his syle is such that the book at times comes dangerously close to being boring. This is a pity for he has had some exciting times, particularly when foreign secretary. Plodding would not be an unfair description of this autobiography.

Surprisingly he says little about how the role of foreign secretary has altered since 1945. Today, almost every department of government is involved with foreign governments in one way or another. No department of state exists in a watertight domestic bubble. The duo appointed by PM May to oversee the very complex negotiations with Brussels will in effect be foreign ministers. They have even been told they have to share Chevening with Boris. Also the PM today is heavily involved in foreign affairs. This is no doubt why Theresa May felt able to risk the unguided missile Boris Johnson in the role of Foreign Secretary, at least for a while.

Rifkind is interesting when he describes talks with Argentina about the Falklands and he tells a few amusing anecdotes. Details of minutia abound such as the registration number of his first car but one looks in vain fo details about really substantial issues. This could have been so much more interesting and lively. It is noticeable he does not mention the scandal that led to him standing down as an MP.


Van Gogh's Ear: The True Story
Van Gogh's Ear: The True Story
Price: £9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why Did Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear? Murphy Says She Has The Answer., 21 July 2016
Numerous books have examined Van Gogh's life. A number have put forward theories as to why he severed his own ear and gave it to a prostitute. All have been deemed dubious. This new account claims to have the true reason. Many scholars have examined his life from every angle but, according to Murphy, all have missed the many discrepancies. Van Gogh never referred to the drama on the night of 23 December. Paul Gauguin, who was staying with Van Gogh, has left two differing accounts of what took place. Our main knowledge of the drama rests on two self-portraits and one newspaper article published on 30 December, 1888. Murphy decided to ' undertake a forensic investigation into what happened on 23 December,1888'

This is Bernadette Murphy's first book. In 22 chapters she relates how in December 1888 Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear. She aims to find out what actually took place in Arles. It is, to put it mildly, a rather drastic act to sever ones ear. Did he cut off the whole ear or only the lobe? Who was Rachel who received the odd gift of his ear? Was he mad? These are some of the questions Murphy tries to answer.

Her detective tale covers trips to museums and obscure archives. She reconstructs the world Van Gogh inhabited. A world of harlots, patrons, and police. His brother Theo and house guest Paul Gauguin are also featured in her investigation. Murphy has come up with a new hypothesis about what happened

The book is also a portrait of a painter and his revolutionary work. Murphy claims her account is the true story. There are several black and white and colour illustrations of his work. The author tells an engrossing story written with clarity and verve . At times it reminded me of one of Marjorie Allingham's great detective stories.

Van Gogh created some of the best loved and most expensive works of art ever made. He had worked as an art dealer, a missionary and as a teacher in England. He was in his late twenties when he embarked on a life that would be crucial in shaping modern art. He died in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890 aged 37 still largely unknown. Widespread beliefs that he committed suicide still survive. For years Van Gogh struggled with poverty and mental health problems.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam describes what happened on the evening of 23 December,1888. It states that Van Gogh had an acute mental collapse and cut off part of his left ear. He then took it to a prostitute. Later he was taken to hospital. Murphy explains how she had always loved solving puzzles, so recuperating in Provence where she had lived and worked for many years she decided to try and unravel the mystery concerning Van Gogh. The more she learned, the more she questioned. Inconsistencies and discrepancies abounded. Facts, so called, became murky. The result is a fascinating account of one of the strangest events in the art world.

Many have blamed Irvine Stone's novel, 'A Lust for Life' published in 1934 for the focus on the infamous ear. The film of the novel only made things worse. Murphy is not an authority on Van Gogh or indeed art. In Provence she worked as a tourist guide. Nevertheless, she clearly knows the region inside out. She has gone to great lengths to discover details about Van Gogh's life. She studied rail timetables and found the exact time the,artist arrived in Provence on February 20, 1888. It was 4.49pm when he arrived from Paris. She tells us when snow fell and how long it lasted. Her research revealed that the true population of Arles was 13,300 not 30,000 . The latter figure occurs in many otheraccounts of Van Gogh. Why he came to a small, grubby village is another mystery. The only redeeming feature of Arles was that its female inhabitants were renowned to be the most beautiful in the whole of France.

Murphy would probably make a good detective for she displays the doggedness and tenacity that profession requires when trying to find answers to how, why, where and with what did Van Gogh mutilate himself. Her searches revealed that Irving Stone had kept a drawing of the severed ear. It had been drawn by the artist's doctor. It reveals how much of the ear was severed. It was the complete ear. Why he did it is discussed at great length until Murphy states she knows why. Whether readers will be convinced is another matter.

In the evening of 23 December, 1888 it is claimed that Van Gogh threatened Paul Gauguin with a razor. The story which has been repeated endlessly then claims he ran back to his Yellow House and cut off his ear. He wrapped it in a newspaper and took it to Rachel , a prostitute, who fainted. In 2005 Martin Bailey published was has until now been regarded as the most reliable account of what happened. Murphy's book adds very little to this save for what she says about Rachel.

Murphy claims she was a local woman named Gabrielle. She worked in a brothel not as a prostitute but as a cleaner. Because she had been bitten by a rabid dog she had a badly withered arm. She was given the ear, says Murphy, by Van Gogh because he had a Christ complex and believed his ear had mystical powers that would heal her arm . Murphy doesn't say why it had to be an ear. Why not a finger? Readers must judge for themselves whether or not this really solves the mystery of Van Gogh's ear.


Against Elections: The Case for Democracy
Against Elections: The Case for Democracy
by David Van Reybrouck
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New Diagnosis and an Ancient Remedy Which Would Never Work., 21 July 2016
The author quotes the well known comment by Rousseau that the English are only free during a General election. Like many of Jean-Jacques' remarks it is nonsense. This book translated by Liz Waters is about democracy, apparently now according to a recent survey a very popular method of governing a country. It is also a much misused word almost devoid of meaning today. In 1945 there were only 12 fully fledged democracies. In 1972, 44 and in 1993 some 72. Today there are reckoned to be 117 electoral democracies out of 195 states. The survey by World Values shows democracy is on the decline in favour of strong leadership unfettered by an elected parliament. Trust in governments and politicians is said to be at an all time low. The author argues that we like the idea of democracy but not the reality of it.

Why is this? Reybrouck's answer is because of the new democracies. The so-called Arab Spring has turned out to be a rather bitter winter. People, it is argued, are very disappointed to find that in practice democracy is often a less than ideal system of government. Clearly they have not read Churchill.

Another reason is, says Reybrouck, that Europeans are losing faith with the institutions of democracy. Only 33% of Europeans have faith in the EU, a fall of 17% over 2004. He argues that this reflects a disenchantment with public services in general. Postal deliveries, healthcare, and the railways are examples.

Apathy is yet another reason put forward in this account. Consumerism has dulled our critical engagement. Politics has seldom been a popular topic of conversation but here we are told that concern about political issues has increased while faith in politics declines. In short, there is a gulf between what we think and what we see our elected politicians doing. Result, frustration. This naturally raises concern over stability. The author asks, ' How much derision can a system endure?' There is now passion plus distrust.

Every system of government has, among other things, to achieve a balance between efficiency and legitimacy. These concepts are examined by Reybrouck. He then examines governments in several countries. He says three symptoms indicate the crisis in legitimacy: fewer people are voting; there is a high voter turnover, and fewer and fewer people are members of a political party. In the EU less than five per cent of those eligible are members of a party.

The author discusses diagnoses like populism and technocracy; pathogenesis; and finally remedies, these may surprise you. He discusses the very relevant issue of the role of an MP by quoting Burke's famous and very important speech on the subject. Given the serious crisis in Britain's Labour party this is timely. The author argues that the idea that politics is best left to our elected representatives is defunct. We live, he argues, in an increasingly plebiscitary age. Remember when he says this that so did the German people after 1933. The recent totally unnecessary and potentially disastrous referendum over membership of the EU is, a prime example. This of course also made very clear the problem of voting on a very complex issue about which a great many voters had no or very accurate knowledge. The EU issue is in a quite different league to, say, foxhunting or capital punishment. In those cases the issues are crystal clear. The EU issue demanded not only a knowledge of the EU but also an understanding of economic matters. The majority of voters knew little of either as two massive polls showed. Hence, an enormously complex matter was reduced to a gut dislike of migrants by thousands of voters. The recession will follow will of course be blamed on the government particularly by those socialists like Corbyn whose feet are in cement.

The book is convincing but only in parts. It is heretical and timely. It is based on studies and trials around the world. Hence its thesis is only as sound as those studies are. accurate and valid. Surveys of a sociological bent can be notoriously unreliable as Professor Gordon Tomes has shown. The author is a pioneering advocate of participatory democracy. He is said to be highly regarded as a literary and political writer. His book ' Congo' was lauded by many critics. This book has several acute observations but his remedies are very dubious.

His main belief that we should choose our legislators by lot, what the Athenians and Venetians called 'sortition', is frankly balmy. Legislators are not jurors. Where is the evidence that people would want to participate in government? How many have the requisite education, knowledge and skills? His solution would cause chaos in government. I dread to think of the populace voting on defence or complex budgetary issues. The financial cost would be horrendous.

Unlike Athenian democracy, the western liberal version is not based on a half- slave society in which women can't not vote but it is still deeply flawed. Nevertheless, it remains the best of a bad lot. It would be so much better if the standard of our elected representatives was higher, and we got rid of the current electoral system. It wkuld also help if we had a functioning opposition instead of a cult led by a leader who is still living in the 1960's.


The Games: A Global History of the Olympics
The Games: A Global History of the Olympics
by David Goldblatt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Show On Earth., 20 July 2016
Goldblatt has written an excellent sports book about the Olympic Games. From Athens in 1896 to London 2012 the Games are replete with triumph, grand spectacles, tragedy and scandals . They now face the biggest ever scandal given the recent report about Russian doping which the report says effects every Olympic sport. To put this in context, Jim Thorpe one of the greatest athletes ever was stripped of his gold medals in 1913, which he won in the 1912 Games, because he had earned a miserly few dollars playing minor league baseball. His name was erased from the record books. You can't help wondering if his mixed parentage influenced the officials.

The key focus of this book is the sharp contrast between two aspects of the Games: the preening governance and nationalism allied to megalomania, and the uplifting achievements by the athletes taking part.

Baron de Coubertin, a minor French nobleman, conceived the idea. Unfortunately, the Games from the outset were steeped in the values and culture of the Victorian age. The 1896 Athens Olympics was the culmination of Coubertin's dreaming. Aged 33 in 1896, he had campaigned for years for a multi-sport event. The inspiration came from the Wenlock Olympian Games of Much Wenlock. They had been held there since 1850. In the 1896 Olympics there were no golds. Each winner received a silver medal, an olive branch and a diploma. 241 competed from 14 nations. Coubertin said women's participation was simply 'incorrect'. This prohibition was lifted in the 1900 Games held in Paris.

Nevertheless, the IOC barred anyone guilty of professionalism, and for many years women could only participate in decorative sports such as archery and golf. The author discusses incidents such as: the Berlin Games of 1936, the murder of 250 protesters in Mexico City shortly before the 1968 Games began, and the Munich Olympics of 1972 where 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed.

Brundage, who had made a fortune building skyscrapers in Chicago, was made president of the IOC in 1952 . He held the post for twenty years. In that time, as Goldblatt says, his response to any untoward happenings was to wash his hands and press ahead. He also prevented television coverage for many years. In 1981, Antonio Samaranch became president.Hypocrisy replaced venality and sponsorship was given full reign. The new president acted like the president of a country.

Few Games have made a profit. Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996 did but Montreal and Athens in 1976 and 2004 respectively ended in huge debt. Quebec finally paid off $1.5bn in 2006. The Athens Games cost $16bn.

The London Olympics in 2012 were watched by some 3.6bn people, if only for a minute or two. They were broadcast to 200 states. The author believes the Rome Olympics of 1960 were the greatest. They were the first to be televised globally. Several of the greatest athletes of all time participated: Wilma Rudolph (one of 22 children), Cassius Clay ( the greatest boxer ever), Herb Elliott (the greatest middle-distance runner ever), and Abebe Bikila graced the Games. The latter, an Ethiopian bodyguard, won the marathon held at night. He ran the race barefoot.

This is an engrossing account wriiten with clarity. There are one or two errors but the analysis and the story flows. Doping scandals have undoubtedly seriously affected the image of the Olympics. They will continue to do so until those guilty athletes and their helpers are kicked out for good. One wonders, however, if the IOC has the steel to do this particularly when the latest scandal concerns a world superpower. Cheats have no place in any sport.


Paper: Paging Through History
Paper: Paging Through History
Price: £10.44

5.0 out of 5 stars A Paper Chase: The Role of Paper Throughout History., 19 July 2016
The author is a former foreign correspondent. He has written a very unusual book about something we now take for granted, paper. Kurlansky makes the point that throughout history the role of technology and the reaction to it has been very consistent. Before paper we had spoken language, drawing, pictogram, then alphabets, then phoneticism, then paper. This was followed b y printing, word processors and electronic printers. Every new idea spawns a need for another. He argues thar society develops technology not the other way round. He supports this with historical examples. Developments like paper come about because society needs them.

It seems that the Chinese invented paper. Some 500 years later, Buddhist monks in Korea developed a need for paper. The Arabs followed centuries later. Europeans began needing and using paper a thousand years after the Chinese invented it. Kurlansky refutes the idea that new technologies eliminates old. Papyrus, for example, survived for hundreds of years after paper was available. Parchment is still in use. Television has not killed radio and films have not killed theatre. Yet these things were predicted. Indeed, new technology increases choices. He reminds us that Luddites always lose. History demonstrates that it is futile to denounce new technology. Hence, the ubiquitous and irritating mobile phone is here to stay. However, new technology can seriously undermine existing skills. A recent report shows that the constant use of laptops, tablets and mobile phones has led to a serious decline in the ability of children to write.

You cannot warn about what a new technology will do to a society because that society has already made the shift. In short, technology is a facilitator. Heidegger said technology was a means to an end. It was a 'way of revealing'.

After examining what he calls the technological fallacy, Kurlansky goes on to discuss and analyse the discovery and development of paper and it's varied uses throughout the centuries. It is an absorbing and fascinating tale.

We learn that: 200 sheep had to be killed to make one Bible. Battlefields like Gettysburg were searched to find corpses so they could be stripped and their clothes used to make paper, rags then being the main means of so doing. The Egyptians sometimes used old mummy wrappings. In the 17th century it was common to ask people if they had spare urine because ammonia was needed to make paper. The first commercially produced toilet paper was made available in the late 19th century.

An engrossing book written with clarity and verve. The author makes clear how much we depend on paper. There is an appendix timeline and a short bibliography. There are other books about paper, for example, the recent book by Monro, but this one by the author of Salt, and Cod is a very revealing and incisive account. You will learn a great deal.


The Girl Who Beat ISIS: Farida's Story
The Girl Who Beat ISIS: Farida's Story
by Farida Khalaf
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Brave Young Girl's Story Of Enslavement By Isis Monsters., 19 July 2016
After the botched 2003 invasion of Iraq a few places were still peaceful in that land. One such was Kocho near to the Syrian border . This is where Farida Khalaf lived with her father and mother and four brothers. Like her parents and brothers she was a Yazidi. The Yazidi were hated by their Muslim neighbours. They regarded the Yazidi as devil worshippers and worse. Her father taught her to fire a Kalashnikov without telling her why save to say there was a feared emergency coming. The emergency materialised in the form of Isis a barbaric group who swept through northern Iraq in 2014.

Farida's story is told by Andrea Hoffman, a journalist, and is based on several interviews with Farida. That is not her real name. The interviews were conducted while Farida was in a refugee camp. The story relates what happened to Farida and thousands of other Yazidi girls. It is an all too familiar tale of sickening brutality including rape by Isis brutes who used the girls as sex slaves. What took place was a nightmare. The Yazidi had been betrayed by their Muslim neighbours and tricked into giving up their weapons. This act of infamy prefaced a catalogue of horrors that besmirch both Muslims and Isis monsters.

All males were shot. Unmarried girls were sold in a slave market in Syria. Farida was an innocent 18 year old. Many of the girls were only 10. Farida is sold to a an owner who passed her from one rapist to another. One actually prayed before raping her. He said it was a form of worship. In his corrupt beliefs it no doubt was and is. Because Isis men are not allowed to have sex with a pregnant girl they were given contraceptives. In addition to bestial rape, Farida and the other girls were savagely beaten . No one comes to the aid of these girls.

Eventually, Farida escapes and is reunited with her family. Now another form of torture begins. The family and close friends weep for our poor girls, defiled because no one will now marry them. Farida is given the opportunity to start a new life in Germany. Her mother who has also escaped from Isis tells her and others to go. Her own Yazidi community betray her. A defiled one is an outcast.

Today, the ruthless murders and rapists who inhabit Isis are no longer in possession of Kocho. However, many young girls are still enslaved by them. Farida meanwhile has built a new life in Germany.

Her story is one of bravery and resilience in the face of daily rape and brutality by men who are savages. Undoubtedly, her story could be repeated many, many times throughout the turmoil in the Middle East. The treatment of females by Isis and other terrorist groups in, for example, Nigeria is abhorrent and monstrous. Such vicious groups must be eradicated. They are a blot on the human race.


All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation
All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation
by Diarmaid MacCulloch
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Religious Arguments Of Today Are A Reflection Of Those Of The 16th Century., 18 July 2016
Having heard his Gifford Lectures I looked forward to reading and reviewing this book. I was not disappointed. MacCulloch makes it perfectly clear that his book is a reflection on the scholarship that has been published over the past 30 years in the field of Reformation history. His aim is to explain this scholarship and make it more accessible. to the general public. The title is taken from 2 Corinthians 5:12.

The book is divided into three sections of his essays which span his work over some 25 years. Some are book reviews, others are studies of particular topics. All he says have been published before. The author says he has amended the essays to avoid over-technical details. MacCulloch says his views on the myth-making of Anglican history 'remain fundamental to his presentation of the Reformation'.

MacCulloch is not an Anglican historian, he is first and foremost a historian who happens to be an Anglican. Central to his book is an exposure of prejudices. He writes that Anglicanism has often based its claims to be a special authority on skewed stories.

The author examines the unity possessed by medieval Western Christendom, a unity which is unique. Only the Wahhabi variety of Islam in Saudi Arabia comes close. Even the concept of the umma has not resulted in the unity possessed by the dominance of a Church which looked to Rome. This, he says, was a freak with profound conzsequences for today. He believes we cannot understand Christianity today without studying the Reformation, an explosion of many different discontents and concerns. He points out that there was a Roman Catholic Reformation as well as a Protestant one.

The Reformation was caused by a big idea about death, not by social and economic forces. It was death, salvation and the afterlife that caused it. Those who became Protestants were those like Luther who believed they had been cheated about the road to salvation. The author has some interesting things to say here about the importance of the Apostle Paul and Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. They believed that only God could save us. That is why Luther railed against indulgences. He scorned those who deceived people. He said it was a confidence trick.

MacCulloch also discusses the Renaissance the humanists like Erasmus and the Enlightenment.. He examines why the Reformation resembles great swathes of culture across the globe today. There is a fascinating discussion of the notion of Last Days and its importance. There are some fascinating vignettes. For example, how many know that statements about toleration had been made in Reformation Poland and Hungary before the Enlightenment?. Transylvania associated with Dracula who never existed was the very first Christian polity officially to daclare that everyone ought to be able to worship God in their own way without interference. This was declared in its Diet in 1568.

The author says the overarching issue in the Church today is one of authority. Do we find truth as a matter of individual judgment, or through deference to church leaders or to an infallible sacred text? He reminds us also that Western Christian expansion in central Africa in the 16th century was tangled up with 'one of the greatest crimes in Western history'. The slave trade was created by Good Christians and they sustained it for 300 years. Why? Because the Bible said they could. Until around1700, no Christians attacked slavery as an institution. Very, very few Christians thought it was evil. MacCulloch believes that as that stance has now altered dramatically it means 'all Christianity is now out of alignment with the Bible'. An interesting view. He is a man who believes that clear-sighted doubt is possibly the most healthy state of all. As an example of this, he argues that Christianity is in essence ' a personality cult'. He points out that Jesus Christ is not a name but a title. It means the Anointed One. The author's examination of the Passion narratives, now embedded in the four Gospels, which are also a set of stories, is balanced and considered.

This is a very serious book about a very serious subject. The author, an Oxford Professor, writes elegantly . He succeeds admirably in his aim to make his arguments accessible to non specialists. MacCulloch is critical of religion. It is, he says, a divider not a consoler. He argues that the Council of Chalcedon of 451 was a disaster. His linking of Anabaptist radicals and their totalitarian religious dictatorship in 1535 with certain groups in the Middle East today is apt.

For the author, Anglicanism is a trial and error form of Christianity. He believes that religion is not dogma and an unbending certainty. It is essentially about the unknowable, tolerance and curiosity. If only more in the world agreed.

MacCulloch believes that the secularization thesis , namely that religion would become less important as science, education and democracy developed and advanced , is wrong. The events in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria have amply proved that you can't parachute in democracy, and that religion has not lost its capacity to divide and foster hatred. Rational, tolerant secularism seems as far away as ever.

A book to make you think. One of the author's key points and hopes is that the followers of the great religions come to recognize diversity as a virtue instead of a vice, an opportunity and not a threat. Wise words.

Read this superb book along with L. Roper's new book on Martin Luther.


Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s
Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s
by Anne Sebba
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some Joined The Resistance, While others Became The Mistresses Of Nazis., 17 July 2016
At the trial of Agnes Humbert in 1941 the German. prosecutor said if your army had been composed of women, we Germans would never have got to Paris. Agnes was on trial for Resistance activities.

This book is about how women from all sectors of French sociiety behaved during the Naxi occupation of their country. Before passing judgment on some of them we should ask how we would have behaved in similar circumstances. There can be no sound judgment unless you place events and behaviour in the context of a nation under the control of an enemy, an enemy with very few scruples.

The 'Dark Years' are seared deep in the soul of France. Women in particular , many of them mothers, had to make choices from a very murky range. The past still resonates in France because of the actions of Vichy and its active support of the Nazi deportation and gassing of thousands of Jews, including many children. It is doubtful if the scars will ever heal. What is history to most is the very sensitive present for many French people. The author faced a barrier in parts of what was Vichy when she requested information about the 1940's.

There exists ample evidence that during the occupation many women collaborated with the Germans. Often they were the only source of food. The author sets out to discover what factors were the most important which led women to collaborate. Women played many roles. Thet were staunch members of the resistance. Teenage girls demonstrated courage and devotion as couriers and safe-house keepers. Few escape lines were credible without the active engagement of women.

The choices open to women were few. They had to consider, while their menfolk were away, not only their lives but also their children's. In some cases the lives of ther elderly, infirm parents. The position of Jewish women was, of course, dire. Many people that Sebba interviewed said there was no choice. Those who put their lives on the line said it was a moral obligation to do what you could. Some admitted they enjoyed the danger.

Throughout this book Sebba is,at pains to emphasize that she is avoiding black and white, good and evil. Instead she attempts to reveal ' constant moral ambiguity'.As she says, those who did not suffer occupation have no right to judge.

The book is based on numerous interviews with women who experienced the occupation as children, diaries, letters, ration cards, and memoirs.. Dramatic films were watched, and denunciation letters read. Some women did betray their country hoping for a,German victory. It should be remembered that fot nearly 40 years the history of the Resistance had to be written from oral evidence and memoirs while the archives remained closed. This led to an outbreak of myths which need no historical record. This book would have been better had the author researched the historical archives. This would, for example, enable you to verify oral testimony. The latter is always suspect.

Prior to 1939, French women did not have the vote. They required their husband's permission to work or own property. During the occupation these same women were using weapons helping evaders as well as cooking, ironing and rearing children They were now in charge. Their activities have to be viewed in the context of daily life in occupied France. Curfews, lack of food, lack of heating, the ever present German military and bureaucracy, the controlled French radio and press were the order of the day. Ir was like living in a very large prison. The best account of life under German occupation is still Jean Guehenno's ' Journal des annees noires', first published in 1947. It is outstanding.

Sebba's book rightly admires the bravery of many French women . Her account is a very useful addition to the many books on the occupation of France and the Resistance which comprised many different factions. However, she does not mention something of great importance, namely that after 1945 the French reinvented themselves in order to deal with the trauma of defeat, occupation and virtual civil war. A central myth was developed about the Resistance. The myth was actively orchestrated by Charles de Gaulle on 25 August, 1944 when he addressed the crowds from the Hotel de Ville in Paris. Those wishing to place this book in context shoud read the speech and watch the film 'Le Chagrin et la Pitie' by Marcel Ophuls. It was banned in France for a decade.

Women's contributions consisted of countless .mundane, repetitive, everyday tasks. The author shows that between 1940 and 1945 these daily activities took on a new meaning and new dangers. All those who survived the war emerged changed. Many had difficulty expressing their inner tumult. Beckett's experiences in the Resistance are revealed in the imagery and the states of mind it represents in his brilliant play 'Waiting for Godot'.


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