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Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom)
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Ridge Too Far., 25 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Gallipoli (Kindle Edition)
This is the latest book about the botched Gallipoli campaign. There will be many more because of the centenary this year.
At the risk of upsetting .my Australian friends I have to say this is not one of the best accounts. That of Robert Rhodes James, for example, is far superior.

Four weeks after the initial landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 the expeditionary force of only 80,000 men had made little progress. It was still trapped with its back to the sea, with the defenders holding the high ground. General Sir Ian Hamilton, the commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, spelt out the problems facing him. His 20 May despatch said that the landing 'involved difficulties for which no precedent was forthcoming in military history'. Events were to prove him correct. He faced a situation of a kind not dissimilar to that of 1944. Unlike D Day however, Hamilton did not have the benefit of intelligence about the enemy preparations, their strengths, or the nature of the terrain. It was to prove disastrous. Many accounts of D Day omit to mention that the failings of 1915 were meticulously studied by planners of that campaign. In particular, the lack of a base for the rapid transit of stores, supplies and personnel was noted.

This book is based entirely on secondary sources which include accounts by some who took the bloodbath.These personal stories are used to show how expectations among the Anzacs were shattered once fighting began. Casualty statistics are well known and reveal again what has been known for many years, namely that New Zealanders, who the Turks had never heard of, lost more men proportionally than any other country. The British led by incompetent leaders lost almost twice as many as did Anzacs.

One of the many problems facing those who write about Gallipoli is the dubious quality of the sources, including German and Turkish. The accounts by Churchill and Sir Ian Hamilton, Charles Bean's Australian official history, the official British history, and the official report of the Dardnelles Special Commission which was not published until after the war and remained closed to researchers for decades, are all of doubtful value. The Commission Report which failed to attribute blame to individuals (Chilcot another?)did at least conclude that: 'from the outset the risks of failure of the expedition outweighed its chances of success'.

What did supporters of the venture claim it would achieve? In brief, it would result in the defeat of Turkey, provde a way to victory other than a long drawn out slogging match in the mud of Flanders, draw the neutral Balkan states into the war on our side, help the allies to defeat Austria-Hungary, and open a warm water sea route to Russia to allow us to supply it with munitions and material. Every one of these claims was over optimistic and deeply flawed given the distances involved, the lack of experience of amphibious operations and the inability of politicians and senior military to appreciate the pitfalls that confronted them. In addition, not for the first or last time, we underestimated the fighting ability of the enemy, an enemy trained and in some cases led by German officers. In particular, even if the expedition had succeeded, it is very unlikely it would have influenced the course of the war as a whole. The possibility of breaching the Straits (they are only between 0.75 to 3.7 miles wide) had been examined many years before in 1904. The cabinet rejected the idea as being far too risky. A great pity that those delberations were not taken seriously in 1915.

The author is a journalist whose books include the history of Ned Kelly. In this book he emphasises the symbolic importance of the campaign for Anzacs. He details the weeks of slaughter, the courage and tenacity of the Turks, the appalling weather, the terrain which favoured the Turks, and the ineptitude of those in command of the invaders. Amphibious operations are notoriously difficult as many such operations nearly 30 years later demonstrated. This one was a disaster owing to logistical problems and errors,the mining of the Straits, the use of clapped out battleships, poor communications, the weather, disease, bad decision-making by ineffectual leaders, the failure of the naval assault, the lack of coordination between the Army and Navy, and between the British and French, inadequate medical services that led to unnecessary deaths, and a political and miltary direction that was out of its depth. Generals Hunter-Weston, Godley, Stopford and Hammersley were in a situation that was way beyond their capabilities. General Sir Ian Hamilton, an intelligent officer, was sacked, somewhat unfairly for he had warned London that piecemeal tactics would result in failure, and never held a command again. His book about the expedition was, sadly, like many others self-serving. Kitchener and the cabinet failed to plan the campaign properly and provide sufficient men and munitions once land operations began.

The Ottoman-Turkish army had far better leaders, men like Mustafa Kemal who commanded 19 Division, and Liman von Sanders,the overall commander of Fifth Army. Morale was high, nationalism very strong.

It was the failure of the August offensive and its poor planning that proved to be the last throw of the dice. 50,000 British troops were engaged at Suvla and Anzac. In four days, 7 to 10 August, there were 18,500 casualties. By 31 August that figure had grown to 40,000. The Turks had also lost over 18,000 in the Anzac sector alone. A war correspondent wrote it was: 'the most ghastly and costly fiasco in our history since the battle of Bannockburn'. Over 1 million men from both sides had been involved in the campaign. Over 50% became casualties. It was not only on the Western Front that death rates became monstrous. Naval losses suffered by the Royal Navy were the worst since Trafalgar.

The Turkish forces included troops from Asia Minor, the Balkans, Syria and Arabia. French military included colonial troops from Algeria and Senegal. The British forces included troops from all parts of Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland. Indian troops were involved. They included Sikhs, Muslims, Gurkhas, and Ceylonese. Logistic help was enhanced by men from Malta, Greece, Egypt and Russian Jewish refugees fleeing the pograms. It was a truly multinational force.

Many books have made the point that the evacuation in December 1915 was by far the most efficient operation of the whole campaign. Churchill's attempt to solve the problems on the Western front-stalemate and attrition was already becoming the name of the game-proved disastrous. He led the 'Easterners' and his forceful personality won over the 'Westerners'.He was justifiably sacked, remaining in the political wilderness for ten years. It was the first of his many attempts during his political career to impose crackpot ideas on those responsible for strategic military planning. Fortunately, during the Second World War they were all rejected as unworkable by wiser counsel.

This book is an easy read. It is entertaining but readers will need to look elsewhere to discover a deeper analysis of an unmitigated failure, a failure that proved costly in many respects. The loss to British prestige was immense and widespread in the Empire. We were regarded as militarily inept. The 'sick man of Europe' had proved to be not so sick after all. It was to be the first of many instances where technological superiority does not translate automatically into military victory. As Iraq and Afghanistan have shown we are still having to learn this lesson.

Gallipoli was a campaign driven by wish-fulfilment rather than a professional assessment of the strategy and tactics required. It proved to be a costly distraction. Surprise, crucial to success, was squandered by naval attacks months prior to the main assault. The Turks took full advantage of this and prepared accordingly. Logical incoherence was manifest. The troops were only half-trained and inexperienced. None had ever taken part in amphibious operations. Gallipoli was a futile sideshow. The Western Front was where the war would be decided and the German army defeated.

Sony Xperia Z2 10.1 inch Tablet (Black) - (Qualcomm 2.3GHz, 3GB RAM, 16GB Memory, Google Android 4.4)
Sony Xperia Z2 10.1 inch Tablet (Black) - (Qualcomm 2.3GHz, 3GB RAM, 16GB Memory, Google Android 4.4)
Price: £349.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Tablet In All Respects., 21 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Only those who love to find fault with everything would criticise this superb tablet..We have four tablets/pads in the house, all high spec. This one is easily the best for weight, slimness, graphics, sound, build and ease of use. Set up takes minutes.
The processor is powerful and not many tablets have 3 RAM.
Charging is not difficult but is a bit fiddly. I would therefore recommend buying the cradle to do this. The battery is perfectly adequate for all routine use.
Would recommend without hesitation.

After Hitler: The Last Days of the Second World War in Europe
After Hitler: The Last Days of the Second World War in Europe
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Hot to Cold War., 17 Jan. 2015
This remarkable and captivating book is the latest by Michael Jones, the author of many books on battles, for example, Agincourt and Stalingrad. It deals with the final ten days after Hitler's suicide on 30 April 1945 to VE Day in Moscow on 9 May.

The book is organised thematically and focuses on the events of each day. Diplomatic, humanitarian, and military matters are covered. The author says his key aim is to explain why we celebrate two VE Days, one In the West on 8 May and one a day later in the East, how this came about and what is its significance.

The story is one of rivalry, divisions, threatened crises as well as cooperation between the allies. Inevitably, given what had happened in the previous 28 years the outcome became known as the Cold War. Jones also addresses those issues that were not resolved when the war ended. Compromise became commonplace and necessary. during these ten days, days during which suspicion on all sides was manifest.

The book describes the death agonies of Germany, the suffering of millions of refugees,the mass rapes by the Red Army that forced Stalin to intervene for fear that discipline was breaking down, and the desire of released slave workers to get home. Much of this is not new but Jones deals with these events movingly and with a balanced understanding.

The horror of the death camps is discussed as is the fact that many of those who had worked in them were unrepentant. They said they were not ashamed because Hitler had a 'good reason for doing this'. Jones argues that unconditional surrender was essential-Churchill was anti-given the evils of Nazism. In fact it was the failure to insist on this in 1918 that was the real reason.

The book, perhaps surprisingly, demonstrates how, despite the rows going on at the top, allied soldiers got on very well. Each respected what had been achieved by the others. In Moscow, crowds danced and sang Tipperary in honour of British troops. Even Truman, who had little regard for Russians, had his name shouted out in praise.

In 1946 all changed. The Cold War began in earnest.

A recommended read alongside Buruma's magnificent book: 'Year Zero'.

If This Is A Woman: Inside Ravensbruck: Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women
If This Is A Woman: Inside Ravensbruck: Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women
Price: £8.96

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars German Camp Hell and Hitler's Female Furies., 15 Jan. 2015
There is still a great deal of ignorance about the Holocaust despite films, numerous books and tv programmes. Those who study modern history at school rarely get detailed insights into the true horrors that took place in the extermination camps. Few today seem to be aware of the extent to which so called ordinary Germans were involved in the barbaric activities that pervaded these camps. Holocaust deniers still exist, not all are sick or unhinged.

I advise those who still refuse to believe the extent of the involvement of ordinary civilian Germans in the mass slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and others labelled as 'undesirables' to study the locations of the many death camps and note how close they were to towns. The evidence that German civilians, male and female, were complicit in the Holocaust is overwhelming.

This new work by Sarah Helm is therefore very welcome focusing as it does on Ravensbruck camp, the only concentration camp that was built for women. It was named after the small nearby village. Like all camps it was isolated. It was built on the side of a lake and surrounded by forest. It was built on an estate belonging to Himmler. In this beautiful setting horrific crimes were committed daily by sadistic guards, many of whom were female. The camp opened in 1939 and I initially it housed communists, prostitutes, criminals and Gypsies. Inmates numbered around 2000 in the first year. They were all Germans. The title of her book is a play on Primo Levi's book:'If This Is A Man'.

The camp also was used as a training facility for women guards. The evil Irma Grese was one who learnt her ghastly trade there.

In the following years thousands of women from occupied countries were incarcerated in the camp, children also. The camp was not formally designated for Jews. By 1943-4 there were 45,000 in the camp. Between 1939 and 1945 some 130,000 women passed through the camp gates. They suffered starvation, torture, beatings, poison, and gassing. It is estimated around 30 to 90,000 died, including some 1000 children. Estimates are used because in its final days all documents were destroyed including every prisoner's personal file. These along with the dead were cremated and flung into the lake.

The atrocities committed included the injection of syphilis germs into the spine, enforced prostitution in a Dachau brothel, and mutilation. Children were sterilized. The camp hospital became a place of sheer hell. Among the female guards was one who had been a nanny in the UK. The prisoners included a niece of General de Gaulle who had joined the underground when only 19, and survived her 15 months in the camp, she later published her memoir, a former British women's golf champion and dozens of Polish countesses.

After the war the camp disappeared from view in the West. One reason was the difficulty of access as it was in the Soviet zone. Transcripts of the war crimes trials that began in 1946 in Hamburg were classified secret and closed for 30 years. Unlike Dachau, Belsen and Auschwitz, Ravensbruck was largely unknown in Britain and America.

By 1944 there were some 15,000 camps in Germany and Poland. They were a mix of camps where you were worked to death and those where you were exterminated. This book is important because it reveals that the Holocaust was not concerned with Jews alone. Ravensbruck was in the main the killing field of women who were not Jews. This camp, often described as a slave labour camp, had a Siemens electrical factory in it but it was in reality what a survivor called a 'place of slow extermination'.

The book tells in part the story of the chief female guard in the camp, Johanna Langefeld a blacksmith's daughter and a strict Lutheran. In 1933 she found a saviour for her many problems, one Adolf Hitler. Despite Hitler's toxic view of women, she admired his desire and promise to restore pride and order to the Reich. Like many women, particularly religious ones, she regarded Hitler as a Messiah. She now got a secure job in the prison service. After dismissal for theft, she was rehired by Himmler's office and given the post of guard at Lichtenburg, a prison mainly for prostitutes, communists and other outcasts.

Helm describes how the prisoners in Lichtenburg were transferred in 1939 to the newly built Ravensbruck camp. They were greeted by snarling dogs and whips. The majority of the guards were women. It was a deliberately arranged traumatic arrival in order to put fear in the prisoners. The head guard was Langefeld. The women , now naked, were shaved and all their possessions were removed. Initially, 867 suffered this humiliation. The author details the various punishments that were imposed for the slightest rule infringement. By 1940, Langefeld was the most important female in Himmler's empire. She like all the female guards and the SS lived in luxurious accommodation. They went boating on the lake and picknicked in the woods. The pay was also good. There was a staff canteen, and a cinema in the nearby town. They proudly took pictures of themselves with the dogs and sent them home to relatives and friends. This reviewer has been shown several. They portray smiling happy women with arms round a dog. It is a sobering experience to recall that the photograph would have been taken not far from a spot where children and women were being brutalised, tortured and murdered.

The author devotes most of her book to describing how by 1940/41 the German camp regime became more and more horrific. Barbaric experiments became commonplace as did flogging and other forms of sadistic punishment. The book leaves the reader with no doubt that sadism in these camps was not the sole prerogative of male SS guards-women were very much involved. Far too many books have given this impression.

An important and revealing book. My major criticism is it is far too long. 768 pages could with ease be pruned to at most 650. Long passages on Hitler coming to power, and the events in Germany in the post 1933 period are now so well known they could easily be dispensed with. I appreciate not everyone will agree this point. Also these parts of the book are at times rather simplistic and, therefore, they tend to detract a little from the rest of this excellent and disturbing book.

Nevertheless, the book is a well-researched, splendid constructed and stylishly written account of ten important days during the Holocaust.

There are one or two factual errors in this account. For example, Rudolf Hoss, who was in charge of the building of Ravensbruck's gas chambers, was head of the D Section of the Concentration Camp Inspectorate. This is why he got the job not because he was unemployed.

This latest work is a worthy successor to her earlier book on second world war agent Vera Atkins. It is also an important addition to Saidel's book on Ravensbruck, and many other accounts in English and French. Those by Agassi, and Kittel are highly recommended.

It is worth remembering that after meticulous research over some 45 years involving German and Soviet files the scope and range of German female a activity in the Holocaust and the barbaric events on the Eastern Front has now been published. It is astonishing. In 1939 there were almost 40 million women in Germany. A minimum of one-third, 13 million, were actively engaged in a Nazi Party organisation. Ordinary women witnessed, supported and participated in the Holocaust. They worked in offices that routinely determined the fates of thousands of young children, they took part in pursuing thousands of 'gypsy' children and other 'subhumans'. They worked as doctors and nurses in hospitals where the mentally and physically disabled were murdered. Those interviewed after the war showed no shame or remorse. Their stories reveal the darkest side of female activism. They acquiesced in genocide. The myth that they were 'simply doing women's work' has been comprehensively exposed. They came from diverse backgrounds, rural, urban, and from all parts of the country. They were teachers, welfare workers, wives, secretaries, and so on. They used the Nazi system to advance professionally and as a 'liberating experience'. In the East they set up refreshment tables for their men close to mass execution sites. Many were sadistic but very few were sociopaths.

Hence, one must not let a focus on, say, Ravensbruck Camp and its horrors cause us to overlook the wider involvement of German females in the Holocaust. It was massive and comprehensive.

Too often we bracket the Holocaust with other massacres such as that of Armenians by Turks, and the atrocities in Bosnia and Ruanda. This is wrong. What makes the Holcaust unique is: the scale of murders, the participation of women in those murders, the meticulous industrialisation of murder and the sadistic glee with which the victims were transported to the gas chambers and despatched.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 16, 2015 5:20 PM GMT

High Command: British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
High Command: British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
by Christopher L. Elliott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.25

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far Too Many Yes Men And Too Few Mavericks, 12 Jan. 2015
Christopher Elliott retired from the British Army in 2002 in the rank of Major General. He is a visiting professor of Cranfield University. His book, the result of three years research that included numerous interviews with military and civilian personnel, is another expose of internal rivalry and poor leadership in the Iraq and Afghhanistan wars. It is a necessary and very useful counter to those who have blamed Blair and Brown exclusively for the failures in both wars. He seeks to answer the key question: why, given the military expertise and experience available, did battlefield success prove so elusive?

The book addresses : the workings and culture of the Ministry of Defence, the motivation of the key actors, the civil servants involved, the differing views of the three Services, the various military doctrines that clouded decision-making, for example the Powell Doctrine, the 9/11 atrocity, all-Qaida, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, flawed strategies, the role and decision-making of the Chiefs of Staff and the CDS, and finally why it all went wrong. Annex 3 gives a useful summary of 'Eight Contradictions in UK strategy'. The notes are very useful and the bibliography is reasonably comprehensive. The maps are standard fare.
The index is excellent. Overall, the book is a damming indictment of the MOD 'system'.

The author pays generous tribute to his supervisor at Oxford, the renowned historian Professor Sir Hew Strachan. As he says Strachan's 'footprints are all over this book'. Elliott reports how retired US General Jack Keane told a senior audience at Sandhurst in May 2011 that the British Army's actions in the two wars had looked bad from the outside. This view has been amply confirmed by many other American and British writers.

The author scuppers the view held by many that soldiers only do what politicians tell them. Rubbish. As this, and other books, makes clear it was military hubris that led to the government being given bad advice on counter-insurgency. The hubris grew out of a misplaced and arrogant belief that our time in Northern Ireland had equipped us with knowledge and skills that could be transferred to Iraq and Afghanistan. How wrong they were. The truth is we made a mess of Basra, and proved that, given the resources available, Helmand was never going to be a success story.

Poor intelligence, no understanding of the culture or tribal system and a serious, lamentable and disgraceful lack of linguists led to inevitable failure. There was from the outset an air of 'it will all be over by Xmas'. Increasingly, the goalposts were moved. Each incoming Brigadier came with his own plan to defeat the enemy. After six months he departed and the merry go round continued. As a result, the poppy crop increased and the Taliban remained unbeaten. Meanwhile, we incurred the hatred of the local people by killing and wounding, not by design, numerous of them.

Elliott analyses ten years of military failure. He doubts if a coherent thinking brain exists in the MOD. Such outspoken criticism is very rare in this country (however,see the recent book 'Blair's Generals'). He warns that we will lose more wars unless senior military stop agreeing and accepting impossible missions.

In some ways this book foreshadows the long awaited Chilcot inquiry report, a report that in part has been deliberately delayed by the legal teams of Blair and co. Elliott exposes many flaws in decision-making inside the MOD. He,for example, criticises a deeply flawed promotion system that discourages frank speaking for fear of rocking the boat-many officers will wholeheartedly agree this. Too many officers of average ability are promoted because they are regarded as 'safe'. They rise by conforming not by openly saying to their superiors that things are wrong or could be improved. They avoid anything that might be construed as original thinking for this might rock the boat. The views of junior ranks are regarde often with derision. They have no say in the implementation of policy despite having done most of the work on it. Those who have experienced the system know that a bloated senior bureaucracy exists which works like a self-licking lollipop. Generals and their equivalents in the Navy and Air Force occupy desks in Whitehall generating routine work, often for the sake of it, and to justify their overpaid jobs, £181,570 for a General.

The author also rightly identifies the fierce Service infighting that goes on to the detriment of efficiency. Service loyalty still tends to be more important than the State's security when resources are scarce, as they always will be. Far too often tribal concerns are put beforethe needs of the Service. Such tribal loyalty is frequently carried to ludicrous extremes.

In a lacerating piece he says the emphasis within the MOD is on making plans rather than seeing if 'the plans themselves were workable'. Too many staff officers masquerade as leaders. These barbs will seriously upset several ex and serving senior officers including at least one ex CDS. His revelations about the Helmund venture and its many critics, one described it as madness, another compared it to the 1942 raid on Dieppe, are very pertinent and worrying. He quotes a senior naval officer confessing to being 'jealous' of the army's casualties in Afghanistan because they enhanced the army's public profile!

The book reveals the lack of accountability and ownership behind key operational decisions. The author tells how the heads of the army and navy often learnt about key decisions after they had been made. Joined up thinking was frequently absent. Given these and many other examples it is not surprising that Iraq, became a terrorist's haven, and Afghanistan a potential quagmire.

It is a book that should be required reading in our military academies. The contents clearly indicate that a drastic overhaul of decision-making in the MOD is urgent. The imortant major reforms carried out during Michael Heseltine's tenure as Defence Secretary in the 1980's have clearly failed to achieve their objective of centralizing defence decision-making and ending the bickering and rivalry between the Services. As Elliott demonstrates, people are still pursuing their own agendas within what he describes as the 'trading pit' of the Whitehall main building. I have heard many worse descriptions. Elliott quotes a senior officer describing the MOD as 'like a nuclear reactor running out of cooling water'. He adds that the system has a flair for 'generating complexity out of simplicity'. Initiative is stifled and the lowest common denominator rules the roost. Amateurs are given jobs beyond their ability and experience. Two years later off they go to another job for which then are often ill-equipped to do. Such a system stifles the acquisition of specialist skills. Specialist posts require at least four years in the job.

The book reveals another weakness that has needed addressing for many years, namely when is a highly intelligent, capable and vigorous person going to be appointed Defence Secretary? With the exception of Dennis Healey, we have not had one since 1945. Of course, a major problem today is no one who apparently fits the bill in Westminster has had any recent or relevant military battlefield experience. This has led to an inevitable and uneasy relationship between the Secretary the CDS, and the Chiefs, for many years now.

A highly recommended book particularly for readers who wonder why we have failed so badly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who have served in the MOD will recognise and agree many of the author's criticisms. Compelling and courageous. Delivers shock waves to the entrenched system. Some of the criticisms fired at British defence planning are so apt and serious it is surprising that the author is not residing in the Tower for this book has revolutionary implications, particularly for the army.

Read in conjunction with retired US Lt General Bolger's book:'Why We Lost', about how the American military lost the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, this account provides an excellent insight into why the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were badly planned, strategically flawed, and why they have left both countries unstable havens for terrorists. A must read for all who are concerned about our recent propensity to engage in unwinnable wars.

It is hoped the strictures and recommendations in this book will, in conjunction with Lord Levine's report on defence reforms, lead to a major seismic change in the way the Army and the MOD operates, and, in particular, to a far more professional army. Such reform is long, long overdue. It will undoubtedly be vigorously resisted by some of the 213 Generals and Brigadiers that are apparently needed to manage 94,090 personnel (to be cut to 82,000 by 2020). The US Army has 310 for 535,000 personnel.

The CGS will have a major fight on his hands to end a culture of conformism and tribalism among senior ranks. They will not be shifted out of complacency without a battle royal. General Carter must however get rid of a flabby out-of-date system and replace it with a professional one that permits frank speaking and a tolerance of mavericks. The truth is that at the moment the army is not match fit.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 15, 2015 7:49 PM GMT

Mr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance
Mr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance
Price: £8.03

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Eccentric Unconventional Marriage., 10 Jan. 2015
When the Disraelis were born, governnment in Britain was embedded in the aristocracy. When they died politics had become professional. In their lifetime they witnessed the red of Empire cover great swathes of the world map, an industrial revolution, railways and the telegraph revolutionise communications. This absorbing book by Daisy Hay tells the story of the romance and eccentric marriage of the Disraelis. In so doing the author has filled a gap in our knowledge tthat has long needed filling.

Both Mary Anne and Benjamin were excellent storytellers. Both invented their ancestory. Benjamin claimed he came from an ancient family that fled Spain for Venice and then England. Mary Anne pretended she had worked as a milliner and in a factory when young. He wasn't and she didn't. Mary Anne was born in 1792, the daughter of a sailor who hailed from Devon. She escaped poverty by marrying the wife of a wealthy industrialist and MP. Later she married Disraeli and became Lady Beaconsfield. Both were outsiders. He was the author of 'silver fork' novels about aristocratic life. Anne was 12 years older than Benjamin. He described her as a 'pretty little woman, a flirt and a rattle'.

The author shows their marriage in 1839 was very unusual. She was poorly educated but smart. He preferred older women and, as is well known today, this Jewish writer's sexuality was somewhat ambiguous. It was, nevertheless, a very happy marriage. When Disraeli published his famous novel 'Sybil' in 1845 he dedicated it to his wife, describing her as 'a perfect wife'.

Disraeli's rise to become leader of the party of the shires has been well documented, his wife's hitherto far less so. Daisy Hay points out the similarities of their marriage with that of Victoria and Albert. Mary Anne, who loved wearing more jewels than the Queen, was throughout the marriage shunned by society hostesses for being from the wrong side of the tracks.

As his letters reveal, Disraeli developed several strong attachments to young men during his marriage. Anne said he 'married me for my money, but if he had the chance again, he would marry me for my love'. When she died Benjamin was bereft.

Hay's book description of an unusual marriage helps to illuminate an aspect of Disraeli's life that has escaped the attention of his many biographers. Historians, in particular, will be indebted to her for having extensively studied the 10,000 documents in the all too often cold reading room of the Bodleian Library relating to Mary Anne that have for far too long been ignored.

There is another very interesting aspect to this account. Hay writes of the vulnerability of those in Mary Anne's circle of acquaintances who were widowed, unmarried or trapped in unhappy marriages, given the law and conventions of the day. Hay shows how Mary Anne fully understood the lives of these less fortunate women. Their stories shadow the book's central romance.

Thanks to Hay's rigorous research, the book, unlike other accounts of Mary Anne, is not marred by mythology.

Highly recommended.

The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy
The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy
Price: £16.99

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Book About The Most Fundamental Subject Matter., 4 Jan. 2015
The first 347 pages of this superb book was written by Roberto Unger, a brilliant philosopher. The remaining pages were written by Lee Smolin an outstanding physicist. The result is a very important book. The book proposes a reinterpretation of some of the most important discoveries of twentieth-century cosmology and physics, the fact that the universe has history being among them. Crucially, the authors set out to distinguish what we know from the lens of assumptions through which we are used to see the larger significance of these factual findings. A major focus of this work is to try and answer the following key question: if the laws of nature change, how can we hope to establish scientific enquiry on a secure basis?

The book is not an easy read. The authors make clear they have not simplified in order to aid understanding. Its purpose is to shed light on what is known as the 'block universe', that is an invention of physicists which states there is no present, past or future. Our lives are simply 'lines in the block'. The two authors of this book attempt to rescue us from this 'block' where nothing really happens.

Unger and Smolin make three major statements that if true upset many of our views of current physics. They believe: there is only one universe, not trillions, that time is real, and that maths is, contrary to what many physicists believe, of very limited use in helping us to understand the universe. Regarding time, the authors argue time does not emerge from space, although space may emerge from time. Because time is inclusive as well as real means that nothing in nature can last for ever. Everything changes, including change itself. Time they argue is real not illusory. Smolin believes the denial of time, the view that the universe is governed by absolute timeless laws-a view held throughout history by philosophers and religious leaders-is holding back both physics and our understanding of the universe. E may equal mc squared today, but that wasn't always the case. Likewise, Newton's laws might not remain so fundamental.

As the authors say, their book is 'not an essay in popular science'. They do not hesitate to criticize much of current physics. Indeed, Smolin writes that today physics describes a unverse that: 'on rational or aesthetic grounds appears preposterous'. He is very dismissive of contemporary determinism, the view that everything that takes place is an inevitable result of the Big Bang and its consequences. Both authors come very close at times to arguing that much of todays physics is make believe. They are convinced that a theory of everything 'is impossible'. It is, they argue, just another meaningless assumption by physicists who depend too much on mathematics Smolin is highly sceptical of string theory and multiple universes. He questions many of the assumptions that lie behind the theory.

The two distinguished writers say science is not about: ' what might be the case', it is about : 'what can be conclusively established on the basis of rational argument from publc evidence'. They argue that among the greatest discoveries of science in recent years are discoveries about the universe and its history. They seek to find out what science has actually discovered.

An astonishing book that will repay careful reading. It is a very major alternative view of physics that downplays the role of maths in our understanding of the universe. The over reliance on maths is in fact distorting our understanding of the universe. In a brilliant chapter entitled: 'The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics' they examine this in depth. Mathematical inventions do not offer a shortcut to timeless truth. They have 'no prophetic role'. They can never replace the work of scientific discovery and of imagination. This book argues that science is corrupted when it abandons the discipline of empirical validation.

Unusually In books that are co-authored Unger and Smolin add a note explaining where their views differ. The book is the result of 8 years of collaboration. They do not hesitate to list those areas where they disagree, sometimes substantially.

Readers might like to know that Smolin has written several other books on time and string theory. The following are recommended: Time Reborn; The Trouble With Physics; and Three Roads To Quantum Gravity.

Highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 8, 2015 12:57 PM GMT

Pax Romana - The Story of the Roman People vol. VI
Pax Romana - The Story of the Roman People vol. VI
Price: £8.64

5.0 out of 5 stars Augustus, the Man Who Restored the Republic., 26 Dec. 2014
This is volume 6 of an outstanding series that previously has dealt with among others Sulla, and Julius Caesar. The book analyses the life of Augustus, Julius Caesar's adopted son and nominated successor. He ruled from 29 BC when he was 34 years old.

His defeat, with the help of Agrippa, of Antony at Actium in 31 BC marked the end of the long and bitter civil war. In 29 BC, Octavian as he was then known, had become the supreme and absolute ruler. Unlike Sulla, he showed clemency to those who had supported Antony. They were allowed, for example, to resume their Senate seats. Harmony became the new watchword of society.

Octavian had a formidable military force, some 500,000 men, many of whom had deserted Antony's army in order to avoid capture. For financial reasons, he had to reduce this figure. The author describes how he did achieved this politically charged task. Eventually, the army numbered a mere 168,000.

In this fascinating account by Nanami Shiono we learn how, for example, the new caesar built major mausoleums, carried ot a census, restructured the Senate, reformed the currency, established a National Revenue Office, became Augustus and dealt with problems in the Orient.

Of particular interest is how the increase in Rome's population from some 4 million in 28 BC to nearly 5 million in AD 14 made it essential to restructure the government of Rome. It was a similar problem to that which had confronted the Athenians.

This volume like others in the series is a mine of information for all interested in Ancient Rome. For A level students taking the subject: 'Classical Civilisation' it should be reauired reading, particularly as there is a dearth of readable books on this fascinating historical period.

In My Own Time
In My Own Time
Price: £4.19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Thorpe
Jeremy Thorpe
Price: £12.98

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'You'll never get to the bottom of him', 20 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Jeremy Thorpe (Kindle Edition)
Jeremy Thorpe was Leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976. He was member for North Devon. He was called to the bar in 1954. After Thorpe's trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder he was finished as a politician despite his acquittal. This excellent account analyses the bizarre events surrounding the case. Indeed, at times they are hardly credible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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