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Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom)
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Head of State
Head of State
Price: £6.64

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ludicrous Plot Even In Ludicrous Times., 30 Sep 2014
This review is from: Head of State (Kindle Edition)
First, Marr thinks he is an historian, he is not, second he now thinks he is a novelist, I don't.
He is a journalist, he should stick to what he knows.
The plot of this book is so absurd it lacks any kind of credibility. Rory Bremner can't be too.pleased even to be mentioned.
The novel smacks of desperation to publish. It should have been left in draft form and forgotten.
Marr should read Morpurgo's novels, he might then learn what a true novelist reads like.
At the moment his overblown prose reads like a newspaper article that he has been ordered by the editor to write in 20 minutes or less.


Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence
Price: £13.99

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Rather Unnecessary Journey Through Fields Of Blood., 28 Sep 2014
This is a very well written book that provokes thought. However, its main thesis is false. The author attempts to prove that it is wrong to claim there is something inherent in faith that fosters violence. Her case is, therefore, easy to prove for I seriously doubt that the majority of the world's population believe that religion is inherently violent or the sole cause of violent conflict. In brief, she overstates her case in order to make it easier to disprove.

She claims that in the West the 'idea that religion is inherently violent is now taken for granted'. Sorry Karen this is simply not true. It is a gross exaggeration without supporting evidence. I know of many people, academics in many disciplines, and others, who do not share this view. It is true that often faith is blamed for a particular war, for example the present conflct in Iraq, Syria and the everlasting one between Israel and Hamas. But this is not the same as saying that every war has been fought in religion's name. Many atheists, of course, do claim that religion is a major cause of war, for example,Richard Dawkins.

The author's assertion that warfare is not part of man's nature would be challenged by many anthropologists, historians, psychologists and political scientists. Warfare has been endemic in human affairs since the earliest times. To argue that an army is necessary to wage war is disingenuous. How big an army? The Comanches, for example, fought numerous wars against other tribes using only small bands of warriors. Many tribal wars among primitive peoples did not involve an 'army' as we understand that term today. The author says :'warfare requires large armies, sustained leadership and economlc resources'. I am afraid it does not.

Furthermore, her claim that systemic violence only began in the Agrarian age because prior to it hunters were too busy to fight is highly contentious. Archeological finds many years ago indicate that group fights between hunter-gatherers, were often bloody,and were commonplace. Protection of ones hunting grounds was vital for survival. Greed and envy were causes of conflict then as they are often important causes today.

The author argues that religion was used to:'support the structural violence ot the state'. True but this was often a convenient excuse for launching a war. Followers of a faith were frequently heavily involved in wars, for example popes, and preachers galore. This is well documented but we do not then say this proves religion was the only cause of the conflict.

The notion that the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that ended the thirty years war heralded the beginning of 'secular war' is also false. She goes too far. Many non-secular conflicts occured over the next 150 years. Some historians have indeed argued that there was a sharp decline of religion as a political factor after 1648. In the realist school it was once a prevalent view that 1648 marked a turning point, a watershed. The enlightened age of reason, they argued, had now replaced religious wars. This view is still dominant in some quarters. From around 1980 this view has been heavily critised by writers such as Holt and Davis. Cultural historians have attacked the very definition of religion. They argue it is a sociological phenomenon not a set of dogmatic beliefs. If you follow this line of argument then some secular wars become heavily permeated with faith. For example:the war of 1665-67 against the United Provinces; Switzerland's plague of religious wars during the 17th century, and the Seven Years War. These make Armstrong's thesis appear over simplistic.

Who would be so foolish as to blame religion for the Crimean War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Great War or the Second World War. Did the West topple an Iraq dictator for religious reasons? Far more important than faith were other factors and ideologies. Historians do not blame religion as the sole cause of the Crusades or the thirty years war, although faith played an important role in both. Economics, politics and adventure also played key roles.

All conflct is multifaceted. Political factors are as important as religion in insurgencies and terrorism. I know of no book, and there are hundreds, that mentions religion as the cause of the Vietnam or Korean wars. Armstrong also argues that faith has often been used for peaceful purposes. Only those ignorant of history would disagree. Faith has throughout history often been a force for good and peace.

This reviewer is very surprised that Armstrong quotes S.L.A.Marshall's book about US soldiers in WW2 as evidence that man will do everything possible to avoid killing his own. She clearly is unaware that this book has been heavily criticised and the evidence it is based on found wanting.

So we leave this book's main thesis where we started. Many very bloody wars have indeed been rooted in religious hatred, for example, the French wars of the 16th century, and Muslim conquests. Religion is indeed a significant generator of human conflict but the principal causes of warfare throughout the ages are two: culture, and greed for land, resources and power.

Armstrong has simply argued what we have always known to be the case. Religion has played a role, often a major role, in wars but it is not true that it is blamed for all wars, this would be nonsense no matter how religion is defined.

Readers may find the following book very useful: 'Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace', by Roland Bainton. There are many more.


Listen to the Moon
Listen to the Moon
Price: £4.35

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alfie and Lucy., 27 Sep 2014
Michael Morpurgo a former primary school teacher is a prolific novelist, playright, poet and librettist who is best known for his childrens novels. He has received many awards and prizes for his writings. He is a graduate in English of King's College, London. As a young man he was heavily influenced by the writings of Hemingway and Hughes. In 1976 he and his wife Clare set up the charity 'Farms for Children'. It has proved extremely successful in introducing children to the countryside. Both have been awarded honours. Michael also attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. A number of his books, this one included, contain a war theme,for example,the poignant:'Only Remembered', and 'War Horse'.

This latest book by the author of over 100 books, including:'Half a Man', is a riveting novel that will hold your attention from the opening lines to the end. In 28 chapters Morpurgo describes in exemplary English an extraordinary tale of the sea against the backdrop of the Scilly Isles and the First World War.

It is about the author's Grandma, it is her story, a story that the author says has been a lifelong fascination for him, almost an obsession. He does not exaggerate when he writes: 'it happens to be the most unlikely and unbelievable story I have ever heard'. I am sure you will agree once having read this delightful novel.

If you relish fiction which is tender, exhilarating, delicately oblique in its narration, and exquisitely well written, then this is for you. It is replete with tension, mystery and unforgettable descriptions .Almost certainly, it will be made into a film in due course. It would also make a superb text fot study by GCSE pupils because this is fiction writing at its very best, a wonderful blend of History and Englsh prose.

Autumn is upon us. This is a rattling fireside yarn of the sea. A must as a Xmas present, perhaps for Grandpa or Grandpa?

Very highly recommended.


The Longest Afternoon: The 400 Men Who Decided the Battle of Waterloo
The Longest Afternoon: The 400 Men Who Decided the Battle of Waterloo
Price: £9.97

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Place of Skulls., 25 Sep 2014
'The Crowning Carnage' (Byron); 'that world earthquake, Waterloo!' (Tennyson).

This short book by Cambridge historian Brendan Simms deals with the defence of the farmhouse at La Haye Sainte during the battle of Waterloo. Books on this battle have recently been published that cover: the final four days, the 24 hours on the final day, and now this one that focuses minute by minute on the defence of the La Haye Sainte farmhouse on the afternoon of the 18th June 1815.

The author's recent work :'Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy' is a superb account of the period 1453 to the present. This book is on a much smaller scale altogether. Among his key points are: the importance of the battle for the whole of Europe, and the importance of the use of a 'united nations' force to overcome Napoleon. In 1945, Churchill used this in a conversation with the US President when discussing setting up a United Nations after the war. The author admits the story of the battle is well known. However, he argues that, while this may be so, the defence of the farmhouse has been neglected. This is debatable as I can think of a number of accounts that deal with this defence by 400 men of the 2nd Light Battalion King's German Legion, admittedly not in this detail. In fairness to the author he adds that this account includes unpublished material from the Hanoverian archives.

This book together with the previous two I have recently reviewed form the opening salvo of a bombardment that threatens to get much more intensive as we approach the anniversary of the battle. Whereas the others focus more on long narrative this concentrates more on what one unit did at an important stage of the battle.

Simms has written a gripping story of raw courage. His book is one of a few that discusses the political context of the battle. This is vital for a true understanding. The elimination of Napoleon was the political and military objective. Russia told Wellington he could: 'save the world' by doing this.

The author has decided to avoid counterfactuals, unlike some. Instead he concentrates on the experiences of the soldiers who fought at the farmhouse. This guarantees tension and high drama , and is fine but the micro event must be put into the context of the four days that preceded it.

The author tells of Ney's three attacks on the farmhouse and how the men of the King's German Legion were running out of ammunition before being driven out of their staunchly held position. Of the original 400 defenders , barely 42 were still on their feet and able to fight their way out. Crucially, they had won time for Wellington.

Any attempt to analyse the outcome of this battle has to look at the bigger picture. It is essential to differentiate between psychological and physical factors. ; morale and leadership, numerical strength, weapons, tactical doctrine and organisation. And never forgetting 'friction'. Hence, nonewithstanding the bravery of those who fought so gallantly at La Haye, they did not win the battle. No one cause resulted in victory. It was, like all major battles, the product of a combination of factors, tangible and intangible. National bias-British, French and German-has unfortunately served to cloud the issue.

Napoleon's 1815 strategic scheme was brilliant, Wellington admitted as much : 'the finest thing ever done', he said in 1920. However, his battle control was, for once, poorly exercised. There was a lethargy and indolence about Napoleon's performance that is impossible to explain. Rumoured illness was undoubtedly exaggerated to excuse defeat, although he may have suffered from a pituitary condition since the age of 40, and haemoroids at Waterloo. Nevertheless, he still proved to be a redoubtable opponent, and he very nearly won. A book will soon be published that rexamines how the battle ended-this has always been contentious.

Wellington, on the other hand, showed weak strategic thinking but superb tactical skills. Despite early errors, he proved to be a master of the defensive battle. He acknowledged the contribution of Blucher. The majority view today among military historians is that Waterloo would not have been won had not the Prussians arrived. Their contribution was vital. As in so many later wars it was cooperation that won the day.

Few campaigns in all history have been shorter in duration, more dramatic in conduct, more decisive in outcome, or more celebrated in fact and legend. In the words of Field-Marshal Blucher: ' Quelle Affaire'. The promise which the battle seemed to portend was, unfortunately, not borne out in practice, or not in forms that might have been anticipated. Yet it has left an indelible imprint on the popular mind. One enterprising Englshman even bought the famous elm tree which marked the spot on the ridge of Mont-Saint Jean, where Wellington spent part of the battle, had it cut into thousands of pieces and then sold these as souvenirs.

General Sir James Shaw Kennedy, who had fought in the campaign, wrote in his:'Notes on the Battle of Waterloo:'so long as the art of war is studied, its great features, and most important details, will form subjects of anxious enquiry and consideration by military men'. True, but he could have added:not only military men.

Recommended.


24 Hours at Waterloo: 18 June 1815
24 Hours at Waterloo: 18 June 1815
Price: £12.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Day To Remember., 25 Sep 2014
Most of the arguments and differences of opinion that precede a battle are delberately hidden because they touch political interests. Thay are like scaffolding to be demolished once the building is finished.

The battle of Waterloo is one of the most interesting events of modern times. 'The Duke entertains no hopes of ever seeing an account of all its details which shall be true'. Thus wrote the Duke of Wellington to a friend in 1821.

Napoleon and Wellington were born in the same year. Prior to Waterloo,they had only ever fought each other by proxy, in the Peninsular War. On the eve of the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon had described Wellington as a bad general, and his soldiers as a rabble of little consequence.

Numerous historians are currently turning out accounts of the battle, spurred on by next year's celebrations of this important battle that ended Napoleon's domination of Europe. This book joins the flow. More are to follow before Xmas.

It is an account of one 24 hour period, namely the 18th of June 1815. It is about Wellington's final stand after suffering very heavy losses at Quatre-Bras some three months after the Allies declared war on the greatest general of the day, some argue of all time.

Kershaw tells us many human stories that were at the heart of this epic encounter. We are placed shoulder to shoulder with the foot soldiers. The author has used letters, diaries and eyewitness accounts in order to relay what the fighting felt like . The detail is vivid and enthralling.

The author is a former Para officer. Commissioned in 1973, he served in the first Gulf war and Bosnia. He retired in the rank of Colonel in 2006. This is his ninth book. It gives an excellent and detailed account of the final battle. It is very pleasing to see the attention given to the weapons used, the terrain, the weather, and the soldiery. So often many of these are left out. For example, few books bother to tell the reader that soldiers had to march carrying an average of 70 lbs in a leather knapsack. Or that its wooden frame proved very painful because it constricted the lungs. Add to this pouring rain, very cold wind, little sleep, hunger, and you wonder how they managed to fight at all. On the final day, for example, the 23rd regiment had marched in badly fitting boots over 24 miles in appalling weather. The. 4th Division had to march 65 miles to reach Waterloo.

Each of Kershaw's chapters deal with periods of time that vary between two and seven hours. Chapter 9, for example, relates the repulse of the Imperial Guard, while the final chapter discusses 'Beyond 24 hours'. The book tells the extraordinary story of how a army comprising soldiers from several countries changed the map of Europe. Kershaw brilliantly recaptures the courage, fear, chaos and sheer luck of battle.

The maps are very clear and accurate. The bibliography is sound and adequate as are the Endnotes.

A worthy addition to the growing number of books on this battle.

Recommended.


Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son
Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son
Price: £7.47

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Sanitized Harry., 21 Sep 2014
The author is an undistinguished journalist, perhaps this why she says she loathes the press.
Junor has in the past loved having a go at the Royal family, Diana was a prime target. Given her strident left-wing views this is to be expected. She clearly thrives on gossip, and, as this weak account demonstrates, unsupported stories about the Royals. She loves to give the impression that she, armed with a recorder, spends most of her time under a royal table lapping up the gossip. The truth is it is all guesswork, and it shows, as does her column in the paper she works for.

In this lightweight book about a very ordinary minor royal she has decided to go into gush overdrive. Why? Is she hoping to see her name in the next honours list? That would be too awful to contemplate even given some of those already given honours.

In the long history of our royals there has been trouble with second sons. Harry is no exception. Adultery and mistresses, numerous births out of wedlock cascade through the pages. They quickly realised that money was no object, and they have nothing to do save gamble, play, get drunk and go through a string of mistresses. All done behind a smokescreen so as to fool the public. They and many first sons not only sowed their wild oats before marriage they continued to sow them liberally while married.

Junor positively gushes about second son Harry, indeed now about all of the royals living. Everyone is lovely, brilliant (at what she doesn't say), and undeserving of malignant journalists-pot and kettle come to mind here. The book reminds one of the awful gush, gush of the recent Hillary Clinton tome.

The truth about Harry can be stated very simply. He is 30 but still immature for his age as witness recent behaviour that would have been pilloried in the media had anyone else been guilty of it. He is, like his brother, not very bright. His educational qualifications, like William's, were not good enough to get into Sandhurst yet both were given places. While a cadet he, illegally, got help to write essays (a very serious offence). Punished? Of course not! William committed the even deadlier sin of losing his rifle. This results, rightly, in an automatic RTU, returned to unit, and end of cadetship. Did this happen to William? Of course not! The two we are told repeatedly are treated just like us, but in fact are subject to quite different rules. Junor's comments about Sandhurst shows she is ignorant as to what goes on there.

In recent years Harry has behaved dreadfully. He and William were repeatedly filmed leaving a well known club in the early hours having consumed champagne costing over £100 per bottle, and this at the height of the recession. An appalling and insensitive example to youth in particular. Harry was disliked intensely at Eton by fellow pupils because of his attitude.

In academic terms he was hopeless. He has openly admitted to having smoked cannabis, disgracefully putting on Nazi gear at a party (what a jape), William was also present and apparently found it very funny (what does this tell you about their intelligence and historical knowledge?), and being involved with the usual crowd of gilded women, all, of course, of the right pedigree and with names like Cressida. The Times has reported that Harry and Bonas have recently been seen together midweek in a London cinema. The film was the wacky rom-com 'Sex Tape'. As the Times says:'have they no taste at all ?' Harry was driven, at tax payers expense, to and from the cinema by his police protection officers.

Cressida is another from a very rich but broken home. She is also of average intelligence. Leaving a Leeds University Law course after only six weeks she gave as her reason the cold weather in those parts. In universities we hear many reasons for dropping out but this is must be a first. When will the royals be allowed to marry a normal, well-balanced and well educated. commoner? Other countries have done this successfully, why not us?

Then we come to the nonsense about Harry and William being in the army. Unlike Junor, I know from unimpeachable sources that neither Harry in Afghanistan nor William in his rescue plane were EVER put in a situation that could have been dangerous. Reason, apart from the obvious one, because as the senior military know only too well if anything untoward had occurred the CO would have had his tour of duty and further promotion ended. Junor is ignorant about these matters as are most people. In private, senior ranks will admit they dislike royals on their patch. They are a distraction and scarce resources have to be used monitoring their every movement.

Junor seems to be very keen, yet again, to emphasise how Harry is looking more and more like Charles. Why is this raised again? More salacious gossip, of course.

The Invictus Games, a wonderful event for those brave servicemen maimed as a result of lies by Bush and Tony Blair, was in fact organised by a very large committee that included senior army personnel. You would never know this from this book or press reports. The reason being that since Harry's naked antics the Palace PR machine has gone into overdrive in order to present him in a favourable light. Junor seems to be part of this campaign as does India Knight in the Sunday Times.

On his 30th birthday, Harry inherited the vast sum of £10 million, plus interest, from a trust set up by his mother. This will no doubt rekindle some old affairs. He already gets paid £62,000 a year as an army officer. One would hope to hear that a large portion of the £10m, which he does not need, has been given to a military charity.

His army job, despite being only a Captain, is said to be looking after 'ceremonial events'in and around London. My sources tell me he has seldom been seen at his desk in the MOD since he was posted there months ago. Perhaps this is because there is already an army of military and civil servants looking after ceremonial events. A mere Captain, even a royal Captain, is very unlikely to be given responsibility for these matters. It never happened in the past and I am certain it doesn't happen now.

Of course, the post, even if temporary, is really a 'front'. The real reason for the London posting is to allow Harry to continue his night life with his louche buddies, including girl friends and celebrities. In short, to engage in anything other than genuine military duties.

I am a staunch Royalist. I have an enormous respect for our Queen, the Princess Royal and a few other royals who shirk the limelight and do wonderful things behind the scenes. For the rest I confess I have very little time because although they live in a privileged world without employment or financial worries, now or ever, they seemar incapable of doing a real job, a job that requires real effort on a daily basis. Instead we are subjected to tosh like Junor's, and the pretence that, for example, wearing an army uniform means being exposed to the same problems and dangers that most other officers face daily. Harry, like others before him, simply plays at being in the army, and the gullible public fall for it. It looks good on the cv, not that he will ever have to use one.

There is no mystery why many people, women in particular,claim to like Harry. In a survey of 350 people last year it emerged that many like him:'because unlike the other royals he is normal, he is like us'. The same survey also made clear that his drunken antics and other wayward behaviour was regarded by many as: 'quite acceptable'. Unwittingly, this reveals a great deal about the moral values of many in our society today.

Of course, one is genuinely sympathetic towards a man who lost his mother when very young in tragic and controversial circumstances. But that, given his privileged environment, does not excuse kindergarten behaviour in later years. If he wants respect he has to earn it not by taking part in well publicised events in which his actual participation is grossly and deliberately exaggerated by the media, but by doing a worthwhile job which is not specially tailored for him in order to trick the public into believing that he is doing what thousands of others do every day.

In brief, it is time to drop the pretence and either admit openly he will never have to shoulder worries and responsibilities like the rest of us, or get him to undertake a real job that requires effort and genuine dedication. He cannot continue to be a playboy for ever.

He, and others, need to remember that in return for being born into a life of luxury, with no employment, housing or financial problems it is necessary in return to behave as a role model for young people. This is surely not too much to ask.

What can Harry do? Climb Everest without Oxygen? Been done. Given his limited abilities it will not be easy to find a worthwhile job for him. The Governor-General of Australia has been suggested but he does not have the diplomatic, literary or oral skills the post demands. He would also need to be married. Present girl friends would hardly qualify.

It is also high time the media stopped propagating the image that the royals are no different to the rest of us while at the same time in every report demonstrating that they enjoy a unique lifestyle, by sheer accident of birth, that enables them to escape the trials and tribulations of every day life. Unless there is more honesty about this the demand for republicanism will grow.

You will learn nothing of value from this book, particularly as, despite the title, there is not a great deal about Harry in it, certainly not the real Harry. This book is in fact a thinly veiled account, yet again, of Charles and Diana's marriage. Junor says she has to do this in order for readers to understand Harry's problems. The story is so universally known, or to be more accurate, Diana's version of it, that this reason is transparently untrue. It is in order to sell another book. Despite the number of times we have been regaled with stories about the rocky marriage, Junor has still not grasped the real reason why the marriage of two utterly different people took place in the first place. It happened because Charles was pressurised by his mother to get married and produce an heir or two. This, as the Duchess of Cambridge has discovered, nonwithstanding morning sickness, is of paramount importance. It always has been.

This book belongs where it began, on the nursery slopes of writing.
Buy it and send it to your worst enemy as a Xmas present.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2014 5:00 PM BST


A Short History of the First World War (Short Histories)
A Short History of the First World War (Short Histories)
Price: £5.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The War Was No Accident., 16 Sep 2014
This short account is a reissue plus a new introduction. The author was previouly a Professor of Modern History at King's College, London, and then Professor of War Studies at Birmingham University. He is now Chair of War Studies at the University of Wolverhampton. He lives in Oxfordshire.

As Gary Sheffield, the author of many excellent books on the Great War, including a recent on on Haig, reminds us that the war was a series of events that destroyed four Empires, led to the 1917 Russian Revolution, and was a major factor in the rise of fascism. It set free many nationalities that then formed new states such as Yugoslavia. No less than eleven republics featured on the post 1918 map. The redistribution of former German colonies affected the map of Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific. The boundaries of the Middle East and in Palestine were redrawn, giving rise to many of todays problems in that region. The war also saw a dramatic reduction in Europe's world stature.

The war also led to the rise of the USA as a world power, and, among other things, Women's emancipation in many countries was given a boost. It killed many millions and left thousands crippled for life. The war was fought in almost every part of the globe, not as sometimes is implied only on the Western Front.

Sheffield admits that the debate over whether or not the war was futile continues unabated. Whether we should have got involved remains controversial. Haig and Petain remain highly controversial figures. He reminds us that opponents often argue their case with venom and demonstrate an intense dislike of having their preconceptions challenged even when these are based on 'emotion, limited knowledge and flawed understanding'. Comments and writings during this centenary year amply support this assertion. Far too many people are still influenced by carefully selected war poetry, 'Black Adder', and 'Oh What A Lovely War'. Myths therefore prevail in abundance.

The book considers three themes: the origins of the war; the conduct of the war, and finally the war as a total conflct. The author then considers the consequences of the war on the post-war years, a topic that has produced a spate of books recently. As far as possible in so short an account, Sheffield has tried to incorporate a little of the recent research on the war.

He makes the crucial polnt that all historical writings have to be judged in the context of the time in which they were produced. Hence, comments on the war made in the 1920's differ greatly from those in 1945, and 2014. We need to remember that people in 1914 did not view the war as we do today. A simple point but one frequently forgotten. Sheffield makes it clear, as he has in his other books, that he has little time for those historians who judge the war through today's lenses.

Sheffield says : 'The evidence is compelling that Germany and Austria-Hungary bear the primary responsibility for the war'. The Powers, he argues, did not stumble into the war, it was not an accident. And it was not due, as Clark argues in his 'Sleepwalkers', to errors of 'omission'. Instead it began as a result of deliberate commission. The problem, of course, is that if you wish to sell a new book on the war you have to produce a thesis that is provocative even if defies the evidence.

The end notes are useful.A short bibliography of secondary sorces is provided together with a timeline. The maps are adequate.

The Great War redefined what people would accept, endure or justify. It stands as a milepost in the human experience. It desensitized much of humanity to the inhumanity of modern warfare.

This brief account is as good an intrduction to the war as any.

Recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 28, 2014 8:03 PM BST


Gaza: A History
Gaza: A History
by Jean-Pierre Filiu
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unending Cycle Of Violence., 14 Sep 2014
This review is from: Gaza: A History (Hardcover)
The word masterpiece is often overused in book reviews. It merits use in respect of this magnificent account of the history of Gaza. It puts other accounts in the shade. Along with his previous books on the Middle East this cements his position as one of the foremost specialists on the turbulent region.

The author is a French professor of Middle East studies at the prestigious Sciences Po in Paris. He was previously a diplomat and a government advisor. His latest book is that very rare thing a balanced account of a tiny piece of land called Gaza. A land whose history embraces the Egyptians as well as Babylonians, Romans and Jews.

Around 1842/3 Jewish settlements were established by Jews fleeing the Holocaust. In 1947 the UN voted to partition Gaza. This led to some 205,000 refugees finding refuge in Gaza. The author analyses the many incidences of violence that have scarred this land ever since. It has been as he says: ' an unending cycle'. Every outbreak of violence has seen a ratcheting up of casualties. The roots of the conflct are over 2,000 years old. The author shows how the peace process is a political minefield.

It is a common misconception that Israel was created in resonse to the Holocaust. It was the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 that guaranteed the modern State of Israel.

The conflict between the PLO and Islamists like Hamas is clearly explained wiithout bias. The author believes that beliefs are so strong that in religious terms a settlement with Israel is not possible. Where he thinks Israel has erred, for example in enforcing an economic blockade, he says so. He believes also it is her emphasis on military action that has led to the use of suicide bombers against her people, and to the surge of Islamism in the region.

Approximately just under 2 million people live in Gaza. This account shows how neither Islamists nor Israelis have much if any regard for them. Hence the massive expenditure on tunnels instead of housing and the use of human shields to protect rocket batteries.

Many outside the region will be amazed at what these 'tunnels' comprise. They are concrete bunkers that extend for miles. Theyy have multiple exit points on the Israeli side so as to confuse the Israelis. Several exit near a kibbutz. Most are built into mosques, schools, and hospitals thereby ensuring civilian casualties should Israel attack them from the air. Some tunnels are a hundred metres deep. In some small trains can take kidnapped Israelis to Gaza. They have telephones, electricity and offshoot tunnels.

Vast sums of foreign aid are therefore being swallowed up in attacking Israel. Politically the Palestinians are divided by clan differences so a united diplomatic approach to Israel is impossible.

Over one million Palestinian Arabs live in Israel and even hold Knesset seats. The 2 million in Gaza occupy a piece of land not much bigger than Wales (16,000 square kms).

The message of this riveting book is depressing. Jean-Paul Filiu believes the chances of ever witnessing a democratic, united Palestine are extremely low. After reading his book one can only agree. Essentially, this is a territorial contest:two nations, one land. The Gordian knot is very tight. Every outbreak of violence tightens it further. What is clear is that the violence and deaths will continue until Israel's neighbours acknowledge her right to exist.

This book should be required reading by all concerned about the complicated Arab-Israeli conflct that is causing thousands of deaths and injuries. It ranks high among the finest accounts of this terrible conflict. Its emphasise, unlike so many other books, is on the facts instead of prejudice, propaganda and myth. This makes it almost unique.

One awaits his new book: 'Best of Enemies:1954-84' with eager anticipation.

Very highly recommended.


Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles
Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles
Price: £8.55

20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Novelist Enters The Fray., 12 Sep 2014
The epic and brutal battle of Waterloo was a pivotal moment in history. In the final 24 hours some 195,000 soldiers plus 60,000 horses and 537 artillery pieces were crammed into an area approximately 5 km wide by 4km deep. The mud was knee deep as a result of over 12 hours continuous rain. The terrain made manoeuvre by Wellington's army out of the question. The cavalry were unable to perform off the roads, roads that were very poor anyway.The soldiers who had marched for hours over long distances were tired, soaked and very hungry. The majority slept on the open sodden ground. Plunder of local homes for food and wood was commonnplace. Lt Eyre with the 2nd Battalion, 95th Rifles said: 'we were like so many half drowned and half starved rats'. Their sodden boots were standard issue, namely there was no such thing as a left or right boot. Blistered feet and foot rot were prevalent.

By the end of the battle, one in four would be dead or maimed. They fell at the rate of over 5,000 men per hour, over one per second. The two sides were never more than 1,100 yards apart, often only 250 yards.

Waterloo was the last mass battle of the pre-industrial age to be fought in Europe. There are numerous earthy stories about the battle from the ranks (see Waterloo Letters by Siborne). After two days of disaster for the Allies, Napoleon was close to another victory. His personal carriage was made ready to take him to Brussels for a victory celebration.

The forthcoming bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo is attracting authors like moths to a flame. By Xmas a bombardment of some 8 new books will have been published in this country alone. More are due out next year. It is doubtful if any will add to our existing knowledge. Any unused primary sources, many of them German, are very hard to obtain. When access is gained they in the main repeat what is already known. For example, a few years ago over 550 letters were discovered in this country, letters written by those few ordinary soldiers who were literate plus many by sergeants (being able to write was necessary to gain this rank). None of them revealed anything new, poignant yes, informative yes, but changing established knowledge no.

The battle was a 'turning point' but then so have been many other battles, the Marne for one, Midway and Stalingrad are other examples. Victor Hugo called the battle the:'hinge of the nineteenth century'. The avalanche of writings since 1815, however, has not always been welcomed. On a grand strategic level the battle signified the end of an era. More tan 100 years of conflict with France came to an end. Only 40 years later the two states fought side by side against the Russians.
In many ways the battle heralded warfare in late 1914. As flanking movements were impossible, Waterloo became a great slogging, bare-knuckle fight just like the battles of the Great War between 1915 and 1917.

Given all the books about the battle, it is worth recalling that as early as 1817 Wellington was complaining about the 'creatures' who after visiting the battle site 'feel compelled to write about it'. A few years later Sgt Major Cotton who fought in the battle, and later became a guide to visitors to Waterloo, also railed in a book against the growing number of accounts, many of which he said were 'deeply flawed'.
At the latest count there were over 27,000 books plus hundreds of scholarly articles.

Wellington is still revered by many today as one of our greatest generals. Witness, for example, the outcry when some while ago it was proposed to remove his statue in London, and Tony Blair's refusal to agree a French request to rename the Eurostar terminus Waterloo.

The battle over four days, the campaign was much longer, resulted in some 48,000 French casualties. The Prussians suffered 20,000 dead, and Wellington's army suffered some 14,000 casualties (all figures being estimates). In addition, we need to add the tragic loss of 40,000 horses-the key role played by horses in this battle, and even more so in the Great War, will be at last recognised in a major work due out next year. Musket, bayonet and cannon caused most of the casualties. A new Baker rifle, a little lighter than Brown Bess, was used by the British but its effectiveness has been much exaggerated as has the Congreve rocket. The former often jammed in poor weather while the latter had a nasty habit of going off course.

The continuing hold of the battle on the public is probably due to some or all of the following factors: it was the only time Napoleon and Wellington clashed on the battlefield; it ended Napoleon's reign as the military genius of the time; the outcome was in the balance until the final day; it is, as staff college students have been informed for over 100 years, a classic example of the importance of the weather ( the storm played havoc with movement, particularly artillery), communication, errors and judgement. And we British love a victory. All the'frictions' of warfare played a part.

It is also a superb example of the problems of handling a multinational force comprising Dutch, Belgium and Prussians. It should be remembered in this respect that Wellington's 68,000 men comprised less than 25% British troops. It is forgotten by many authors that this mixed force caused Wellington and his senior staff many serious problems over the four days. It caused major communication problems particularly given this, the size of the army,the relatively wide battlefront, and the 'gap' between Wellington and Blucher. A British officer likened the army to a 'French pack of hounds.....running in sad confusion'. Also, Waterloo, of course, altered the map of Europe and ushered in a new and reactionary era.

By choosing to write about Waterloo, Bernard Cornwall has entered the lion's den. I say this because, regrettably, I am aware that some fellow historians take exception to novelists treading on what they regard as their hallowed ground. This I find regrettable because novelists like Cornwall bring to historical events a different perspective. They do not spend years examinging primary documents in order to discover the 'truth' about what happened. Instead their aim is to provide a story, a narrative. Analysis and evaluation of evidence is not their major concern. The writings of,for example, Longford, Weir, Morpurgo (see his superb latest book 'Listen to the Moon' about the Lusitania disaster), and many others prove the value of the writings of novelists on historical events.

Also, unlike some professional historians, they tend to write lucidly and fluently. In this book, Cornwall again displays his usual love of anecdotes and humour. He uses a mix of present and past tense which can be irritating but it is, nevertheless, very effective. The author, it should be noted does not examine the political factors that affected the battle-this aspect is included in another book due out soon.

The author is a prolific writer. He has written some 51 novels, including the well-known Sharpe and Warrior series. One of his novels,'The Last Kingdom', is to be dramatised on tv later this year. Born in this country, aged 70, he now lives in America. For a time he was the BBC's head of current affairs in Northern Ireland. As such he was the boss of Gavin Esler and Paxman. He is also an accomplished amateur actor. He has appeared in drama and musical productions.

He has long been fascinated by military events, hence the Sharpe books. One of his main aims in writing this book is to resurrect Wellington's reputation, a reputation that has been savaged by a small number of historians in recent years. He has been called a 'bastard', and accused of contemplating deserting the field of battle. Needless to say, the evidence provided is rather flimsy. Cornwall also challenges the view that the common soldier was badly treated and regarded by his officers as scum. In this regard, he is on far less solid ground. The majority of soldiers came from very deprived backgrounds, were unemployed agricultural or textile workers, alcoholics, petty criminals, of low educational attainment, and were very badly paid. Discpline had to be harsh; the lash was frequently used for even minor offences. Some were only 15/16 years of age. The behaviour of some after the battle was deplorable; many of the dead and dying were robbed.The background of their officers was starkly different. The majority of senior officers were aristocrats or upper middle class, and most, including Wellington, had purchased their commissions. Their technical skills were often very poor.

Wellington had been an ensign when aged 18, a Lt Colonel when 24. In six years, he had received 5 promotions (today it would take a minimum of 20 years, if it happened at all), all due to influential friends and in return for payment. In this time he had served in 7 different regiments. Yet he had not experienced a single day in battle!

Very few officers possessed military skills of a high order. What mattered on the battlefield was raw courage not technical kmowledge. After all, tactics had hardly altered over 100 years. Attrition rather than manoeuvre was still the order of the day despite Napoleon demonstrating the advantages of the latter in Italy and at Jena.

Wellington was born in Dublin in 1769 (there is dispute about the exact month of his birth). At Eton he was a very lazy and poor scholar. As an adult he was a rather unpleasant person. He was arrogant, aloof, and anti military innovation (and political change also in later years when prime minister, twice). He was an accomplished and notorious womaniser. He hated journalists. The dislike was reciprocated.

Once he became a senior officer he shone as a very good tactician, organiser, planner and administrator; as a very junior officer he had learned some of these skills in rudimentary form while in a French military academy. He planned meticulously, knew the crucial importance of up-to-date intelligence plus the need for sound communication at a time when this depended almost entirely on sending messages by horseback, with all the problems that entailed. In this battle, communications breakdown were manifest and very important.

Many have argued it was this that largely determined the outcome. Unlike our age, communication was very slow. It was often lost, or misinterpreted. In many cases, by the time messages had been received events had dramatically altered the situation-it was little better 100 years later. One French general at Waterloo remarked that:'the plans decided upon in the tent were often useless by the time we had assembled to fight. Once battle commenced we were on our own, plans became of no importance. Most of the time we had no idea what our other forces were doing. Chaos was the norm'. A rare and very honest account of what warfare was really like, and in many cases still is once battle has commenced. There is a romantic view of warfare, fostered by Hollywood. In reality, wars are not only hell they are
prime examples of bedlam.

This is why all detailed descriptions of battles are deeply flawed and, therefore, highly suspect. Even those written by historians who served with a particular regiment during a campaign are subjected to rigorous censorship and pruned to ensure reputation comes before facts. Hence, desertions (there was one notorious case at Waterloo), cowardice and errors resulting from bad decisions are out. One needs to be aware that many of the claims by senior commanders after a battle that decisions X and Y that proved decisive were deliberate are all too often the result of sheer blind luck, chance being a major'friction'.This is true of Waterloo, and, for example, the US Civil War, the Great War and the Second World War. A number of Montgomery's claims,for example his claim that the disaster of Arnhem was a near victory, have been shown to be somewhat exaggerated, if not plain false.

Wellington did not possess anything like Napoleon's intuitive genius, he lost battles in his early career but he learned from his mistakes. Fortunately, his very many influential connections prevented him being severely censured on more than one occasion, for example over the Cintra scandal in India.

The battle of Waterloo-named after the place where he spent the previous night-proved to be his crowning glory. His victory, helped by the other forces under his command, changed the political map of Europe. In so doing, he unwittingly allowed the forces of reaction in Europe, including this country, to creep back in. As prime minister in the 1820's his reactionary policies proved very unpopular with those wanting reforms, particularly electoral reform. Several historians have pointed out that he was not cut out to be PM. His military prowess got him the job as it did Eisenhower after the Second World War. The latter, however,turned out to be a very fine President.

Some military historians have attempted to compare Wellington with Napoleon. A fruitless task as they had very little in common. The best comparison, in my opinion, by far is with Hannibal. Both were excellent tacticians, tenacious individuals, masters of logistics, and both planned their campaigns meticulously. Both were effective leaders of men.They had a great deal in common.

The evidence available strongly suggests that even if Wellington had been defeated Napoleon would eventually have been overcome by far superior Austrian and Prussian forces. In every battlefield simulation in which I have been involved that has been the outcome. However, this counterfactual is of only passing interest as Wellington's forces did win the day, but only just. Wellington said to his brother on 19 June 1815 I'm:'never was so near being beat'. We should keep in mind that Napoleon at Waterloo was not the general of the Italian campaigns. He had to deal with a two front war, a weak position at home, and worries over finance. Stories about his many supposed illnesses stem mainly from rumours and are without foundation. His doctor was largely responsible for these stories in order to provide Napoleon with an excuse for losing the battle.

Cornwall has written an entertaining, simple and easy to read account about 'Nosey's', an Anglo-Irish General, most famous victory, a victory that led to Beethoven writing a superb piece of music in his honour, that deserves to be read. The book examines the period preceding the battle, the battle details in outline, and briefly the aftermath. He makes no claim to have carried out meticulous primary research. Given his lack of a miltary background, his coverage of tactical detail is excellent. While there are still strong disputes among historians about who won this battle, was it Wellington or was it Blucher, or did the French lose the battle because they made several crucial errors, Cornwall wisely does not get involved in the controversy.

The bibliography comprises secondary sources, mainly letters and diaries. These, while useful, are, unfortunately, very unreliable as evidence. This, therefore, weakens this book in terms of historical accuracy.

For example, I have read numerous diaries written by the few literate soldiers of various ranks who fought at Waterloo whose descriptions of the battle give the impression that they had been on different battlefields. Also,if the author had, for example, read some of the letters and diaries written by French soldiers of all ranks he would have seen how their version of events differ markedly from their British equivalents, and not simply because they lost. It was after all Wellington in 1920 who wrote to Lord Hatherton on the subject of the accuracy of his despatches. He wrote: 'I have never told a falsehood, but I have never told the whole truth'. Incidentally, this is why regimental histories are used with very great caution by historians.

The paintings, one wrongly identified, and illustrations are the familiar ones, very attractive but long ago dismissed as unreliable evidence as to what took place. The maps are only adequate, and the index is sound.

Bernard Cornwall has written a book replete with his usual pace and verve. It is another rollicking and lucid good story about a soldier-politician and his involvement in a very important event in our, and France's, history. In so doing, he has weakened the arguments of those historians who are sniffy about novelists who venture into our domain.

A number of errors should have been corrected at the proof reading stage. However, these do not reduce the attraction of the book.

Highly recommended. Buy it.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2014 9:38 PM BST


Waterloo: Four Days that Changed Europe’s Destiny
Waterloo: Four Days that Changed Europe’s Destiny
Price: £10.44

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bloody Solution Of A Crisis.,, 9 Sep 2014
The Cent Jours electrified Europe. Within three weeks of landing at Antibes on 1 March, Napoleon had forced Louis XV111 to flee, defeated the Prussians at Ligny and fought the battle of Waterloo. Yet Talleyrand described Napoleon's,death some years later on St Helena as : 'only a news item'.

There are numerous books on the Battle of Waterloo. At least 5 more are due out before Xmas.1815 is, of course,the bicentenary of the battle.This account is solid without adding anything new, how could it? Tim Clayton has written several books on military matters such as Trafalgar, and a book on Diana.

In some 77 chapters he covers all the major phases of the battle. The Epilogue is very good. The bibliography is sound although several key French sources are missing. I have tested the index, it seems accurate. The author's inclusion of a brief account of the historical, military and cultural background to the battle is most welcome. It will be very useful for those readers who lack this knowledge. Such information is crucial for an understanding of this and any military campaign.

No single battle has received more attention, or evoked greater public interest and recognition, than Waterloo. Only Zama (202 B.C.) has proved of equal importance, only Gettysburg has been written about as often. Why is this?

It is probably the result of several factors: it was 'decisive', it involved military giants, it marks the end of an era of European history, it led to the eclipse of France as a military power, and it led to an attempt through the Congress System for a way to avoid war as a means of settling international squabbles. Astonishingly, these outcomes were the fall-out of only 4 days-15 to 18 June, 1815. The greatest soldier of modern history was eclipsed in the space of one single Sunday afternoon. The outcome was in doubt until the end. After all, Wellington's career showed he was far from invincible. On more than one occasion his connections had saved him from severe censure after a poor performance on the battlefield.

Few historical subjects have been the focus of so much controversy and different interpretations, although a number have run it close. Fact and fiction, reality and myth, persist. The British, French, Belgium, Dutch and Hanoverian accounts and viewpolnts differ greatly, adding to the controversy. Many books continue to exaggerate the British role ommitting the fact that Belgiums, Dutch and Hanoverians accounted for almost two-thirds of the Allied forces. As Wellington said to John Croker in August 1815: 'a battle is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost; but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moments at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference to their value and importance'.

Wellington was he said 'ashamed of all I have seen of the battle.....it would lead the world to believe that the British Army had never fought a battle before'. Unfortunately, this has not deterred the authors of numerous accounts since these words were uttered in 1816 to Sir John Sinclair. It is also important to remember that Wellington's army of around 68,000 men was less than 25% British.

Wellington remarked that:'it was the most desparate business I ever was in. I never took so much trouble about any battle, and never was so near being beat'.

Despite the victory over Napoleon, the forces of inertia and economy soon took over. Most plans for army reform were blighted until after Wellington's death for he was no innovator in military matters. In 1816 the army's strength was reduced to 225,000; by 1821 it was 100,000, half of whom were in India and in other parts of the Empire.

There is little doubt that so long as history is read, this battle will be much discussed. As this book indicates controversy will continue over: the fight for Hougoumont, d'Erlon's attack, cavalry charges, the use of the Imperial Guard, the Prussian intervention, the non-appearance of Grouchy, Wellington's tactical errors, and Napoleon's health. Unfortunately, the only ones that can provide the true answers to these and other questions are dead.

A lucid account that is well worth purchasing for anyone coming to this battle for the first time. It is as good as any other general account.

Footnote: Despite this being a very important and interesting battle it surely is time for publishers to pull up the drawbridge once the bicentenary has passed.
Three books already out this year, and at least 5 more to come this year. This is overkill. All claim to be or imply a 'new account'. This is simply not true, a new way of putting together the evidence maybe but no new analysis based on new primary sources. The avalanche of Great War books is bad enough but that war lasted 4 years and involved most of the world. This was one battle over 4 days!

In the army I took part in many staff rides over the Waterloo battlefield. It is not very complex, neither were the tactics used. Only if new sources come to light, sources of major significance, and this is most unlikely, can new light be shone on this battle. General Thomas said many years ago that this battle would have received little attention if the opponents had 'not been celebrities'.

Even in 1849, Sgt Major Cotton, who had fought in the battle, doubted whether any more accounts were necessary.

Recommended for the general reader.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 22, 2014 1:34 AM BST


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