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The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest
The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest
by Nick Thorpe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.00

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but has many mistakes and typos, 18 Jan 2014
Although this book is a very good one, perhaps the best on the subject of traveling on the Danube these days, it contains ridiculous errors and it seems as if the publisher was in a great hurry to publish it. Thus we get the following sentence: "In 117, Trajan died and was replaced by Trajan...", while elsewhere we get many typos in naming correctly the names of cities in Romania, especially on its maps.
Yale University Press should be much more careful before issuing a book like this. All in all, this book is a good and enjoyable read!

Dead Drop: The True Story of Oleg Penkovsky and the Cold War's Most Dangerous Operation
Dead Drop: The True Story of Oleg Penkovsky and the Cold War's Most Dangerous Operation
by Jeremy Duns
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating and well-researched, 25 Nov 2013
Jeremy Duns has written a very good book on one of the best known spies who operated during the Cold War. Penkovsky's main contribution was to help the Americans understand what kind of missiles the Soviets had sent to Cuba during the missiles crisis in 1962.
The discovery of Penkovsky remains a mystery due to the fact that the Russians have not yet released any document which would clarify this point.
Although this book is extremely well researched, there are two main problems with it. The first one has to do with the footnotes. One has to find out which footnote belongs to what. The second one is about two episodes which are imaginary and are the product of Dun's imagination about some things that happened during the discovery of Penkovsky.
However, this book contains some new insights of the years 1960-1963, the period when Penkovsky was working for both the Americans and the British and nevertheles merits five stars, reservations included.

Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe
Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe
by Simon Winder
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.91

10 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring, confusing, and boring again, 8 Oct 2013
This book is one of the worst books I have ever read. Not only is it written in a very confusing and boring way, but it also does not have anything behind it. There are some very dry facts, which are supposed to give the reader some information about the Hapsburg dynasty. Even these tidbits are gossip, confusing, and there are no footnotes or any notes to verify the author's claims.
This is such a boring book and such a big shame that it may serve as a sleeping pill for those of you who cannot sleep. But after you have woken up, you will keep wandering why you had ever wanted to spend your hard-earned money on some worthless piece. Unfortunately I cannot give this book less than one star. O tempora, O mores! Cave canem!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2014 11:23 AM BST

Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot
Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot
by Giles Milton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.60

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent !, 18 Sep 2013
This is a very well written and researched book on one of the most unknown episodes in contemporary history, namely: the involvement of England and its efforts to prevent a Communist takeover in India. It was the idea of Lenin to act there because he thought that a Communist India would further his global revolution.
Giles Milton demonstrates with great skill in what way spies were responsible for subverting Lenin's plot. He does so with the help of newly declassified documents and explains in great detail the deeds of those English spies who risked their lives for England. Indeed, it was also Churchill who made use of chemical weapons against those whom he despised tremendously, the Bolsheviks. The book shows to what extent the early English spies of the twentieth century were productive in gaining and offering raw intelligence material about Russia to their masterspies, in particular to C, the so-called famous Mansfield Cumming. The role of intelligence in history is well known, and Mr. Milton has added another piece in this fascinating puzzle. As he writes, "one spy could produce information worth one year of diplomatic work".
This book is fascinating and is a very good read, covering the years 1909-1925.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 30, 2014 4:04 PM BST

Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture
Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture
by Ian Cobain
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Brutal Side of the British Psyche, 21 Mar 2013
Ian Cobain has written a masterly work on one of the most painful subjects, definitely ignored and suppressed and namely that of torture. In the annals of the British Empire and afterwards, torture has been an integral part of the various proceduers of investigation. Almost all of those belonging to the British establishment have intentionally ignored or dismissed torture because whenever you have to face the truth it is painful, in many cases.
Mr. Cobain has used a lot of sources in order to prove and document a horrific tale which includes beatings, deprivation of sleep, burning, blindfolding, the insertion of multiple instruments in the anal passage, intimidation, threats and many more disgusting techniques, waterboarding being one of them. This happened over a period of many years, and Mr. Cobain rightly points out that the British have "repeatedly resorted to torture as a consequence of our fears of enemies we barely understood and found incomprehensible, such as the Mau Mau detainees".
The history of Britain has, in this case, been one of lies and deception, but unfortunately for those English "gentlemen" who were hoping that these lies would never surface, it did not happen. On the contrary, the extent of those crimes, which may definitely be called crimes againt humanity has been revealed. And with it the bestial side of the British psyche. Anyone who examines the history of the Brtish Empire will find thousands of similar episodes and examples of crimes the British rules have perpetrated against others.
This book is a masterpiece and teaches you a lot about the various British Governments and the use and abuse that the Secret Services perform in the name of a false premise that torture will reveal anything. The name of the game was: lying and deception in the name of truth. This book, which is more than highly recommended, demoslishes once again the theory that the British Empire was a benevolent one. Indeed, it is about Cruel Britannia!

Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire
Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire
by Calder Walton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.75

16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The demise of the brutal British Empire, 16 Feb 2013
In one of the documents cited in this superb and compelling book, Eric Griffiths-Jones, the Attorney General of the British Administration in Kenya wrote that Mau Mau suspects must be beaten mainly on their upper body and it was important that 'those who administer violence...should remain collected, balanced and dispassionate', adding that "If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly".
Thus the secret sevices of the British Empire have been involved in a systematic policy of torturing suspects no matter where in order to extract information or instill fright, order and discipline. But their hopes of achieving this were dashed, since the British Empire, the biggest so far, has been disintegrating very quickly after WW2.
The British Empire was one of secrets because clandestine activities carried out by different intelligence branches were striving to maintain Britain's vital interests on the globe. It was also an empire of secrets because the records relating to British intelligence at the end of the empire have remained secret and locked away much longer than they need to have been.
Clader Walton's book is the first to explore declassified intelligence records, and despite the fact that so many of them are still secret, he has managed to tell a compelling yet tragic history of what had happened during the first stages of the decolonisation process. The book covers the period up the the mid-1960s, because other additional records are still regarded as too sensitive to be released or have intentionally been destroyed. And stiil, the author sheds light on everything from counter-insurgencies fought by the British forces in the jungles of Malaya and Kenya to urban warfare campaigns conducted in Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula. His main sources are documents declassified only in 2012 hidden in an archive at Hanslope Park. These contain embarrassing and shameful secrets which were meant to be hidden from the public. The book draws on the first tranch of these records.
To be honest, not everything was black and the intelligence chiefs who were then in charge have made an effort to establish and maintain close relationships and liaisons with the former colonies, thus enabling those ex-colonies to be at the front of the Cold War and successfully fight against the Communist adversaries. In fact, Britain's intelligence services, particularly MI5, trained large numbers of colonial intelligence officials in the last days of the empire. Without the intelligence effort and network developed by MI5, it is "likely that the Soviet Union would have been more successful in its Cold War efforts in the former British empire than it was".
However, the main problem was that the British intelligence services never learnt the lessons from the past and the result was that colonial administrations generally paid little attention to intelligence matters until it was too late and unrest and rebellions broke out in their colonies. One of the most shameful examples was that of he Suez Canal episode in 1956.
Another thing had to do with the use of torture in interrogations-a thing which could never produce reliable intelligence. This pattern of conduct was carried out in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Aden.
By using untapped sources so far, and by using secondary sources, Calder Walton has written a book which will surely become a classic of its own. This volume should be read by anyone who wants to know not only what had happened in the period covered here, but also what kind of lessons could be learnt from the past. Since the Cold War was mainly a war of shadows, this book is another more than essential and much needed addition to the literature of the role of the intelligence during the history of the Cold War- the "missing dimension" of history. Highly recommeded!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2013 2:37 PM BST

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
by Christopher Clark
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 95 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An attempt to whitewash Germany's guilt, 24 Nov 2012
Although this book makes many efforts to try and convince that the Austro-Hungarian and German culpability should be weighted against the other belligerents, it fails to deliver. The famous Fischer thesis is still as sound as possible. Clark's book brings only some examples to prove his thesis, however he is extremely selective in this respect and he proves again that he wants to exonerate Germany. This book is redundant in its effort to do so and serious historians should treat Clark's thesis as a poor joke.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 24, 2013 11:34 PM GMT

Bertie: A Life of Edward VII
Bertie: A Life of Edward VII
by Jane Ridley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.40

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lively and stimulating!, 26 Sep 2012
Professor Ridley has written a fascinating book about Bertie-one of the most besmirched kings of England. Contrary to popular belief, which regarded the king as an immature playboy Ridley makes it clear that Bertie, who was much disliked by his mother Queen Victoria, was a much better king than many others and played a very active role after he became king in 1901. True, as Ms. Ridley points out, Bertie was involved in many scandals which threatened the monarchy. However, Bertie matured in his thirties and this fact in itself led to a change in his Weltanschaaung.
The book is excellent because it has many and unknown facts about Bertie. This was possible due to the fact that the author had unlimited access to hitherto thousands of unpublished or censored documents and letters-a thing she explains in a long chapter at the very beginning of the book. Bertie is portrayed as a multi-dimensional character and so are the other personae that played a substantial part in his life, especially his neglected and much-suffering deaf wife Alix, who put up with her husband's eccentricities. How the various historians saw and depicted Bertie is the subject of yet another interesting chapter in this biography which should be regarded as one of the best books of 2012. Highly entertaining and highly recommended for professional historians and history buffs as well!

Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt
Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt
by Richard Gott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.83

39 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empire of blood, evil and crimes against humanity !, 5 Nov 2011
Many years ago, Tony Blair said-in a speech delivered in 1997- that he valued and honoured the British history enormously, and added that the British empire should not be the cause of apology.
After reading Richard Gott's book on the history of the British Empire, one must be a complete fool in order to agree with Blair's words.
To put it in other words, one can easily conclude that the British empire was one of evil, one which conducted a systematic policy of extermination, one which promoted the use of blood in subjugating and annihilating other peoples. Another claim made in one of his books by the eminent historian Neill Fergusson, in which he said that the British empite brought the benefits of democracy and free trade in Asia and Africa, can only sound preposterous.
Gott's book, which contains 66 chapters, is actually a tome which constitutes a catalogue of crimes. These include murder, famines, starvation, brutal policies, mutinies, extermination policies and many more alike-all courtesy of the Brtish empire perpetuated by its various figures both political and military. To quote from the author's Introduction: " Not a year went by without the inhabitants of the Empire being obliged to suffer involuntary participation in the colonial experience. The Empire was the fruit of military conquest and of brutal wars involving physical and cultural extermination. It is the belief that Britain's imperial experience ranks more closely with the exploits of Genghiz Khan ot Attila the Hun than with those of Alexander the Great. It is sugggested that the rulers of the British Empire will one day be perceived to rank with the dictators of the twentieth century as the authors of crimes against humanity on an infamous scale".
Take, for instance, the slaughter of the Aboriginal inhabitants on the island of Tasmania, which started almost on the first day of the settlement, in 1803, while the fierce repression of convicts held in the colony on New South Wales, mostly prisoners from the Irish revolt of 1798 provoked rebellion in 1802 and 1804. Or the harsh treatment of sepoy mutineers in the eighteenth century, who were executed by the method of cannonading, meaning they were to be shot by blowing off the bodies from cannons.
These crimes were committed in Australia, Asia, Africa and in the the Western Hemisphere from 1750 onwards. All thse places felt the British policy of wholesale slaughter of indigenous
peoples, repression and brutal destruction. The use of more advanced technological means was encouraged by the beginning of the twentieth century in order to continue the horrors of the past.
Unfortunately, the book's scope is limited only to the middle of the nineteenth century. Had Mr. Gott written some more chapters which would describe the wholesale extermination policies from 1870 to the final days of the demise of this evil empire, we could have had a broader spectrum of the British crimes. In any case, this book should stand on the shelf of each person who cares about humanity and who deplores the crimes described in this frightening yet essentially honest and courageous book.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 29, 2013 2:07 PM GMT

Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British
Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British
by Jeremy Paxman
Edition: Hardcover

27 of 57 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good opinion, bad history, 22 Oct 2011
If you decide to read this book, you should know that this is a book full of anecdotes but it is far from being a cohesive history. The central thesis behind it is simple: the British Empire was destined and actually was meant to humiliate and subjugate innocent nations wherever its tentacles reached the various geographical parts of the world.
I have no intention to argue with this statement, since, personally, I think Mr. Paxman is right. Those who still think that the British were angels who spread the humanistic gospel around the world in the way Kipling envisaged this, will learn how wrong they are. Suffice it to mention Churchill's words in the forties:" I hate Indians. They are beastly people with a beastly religion- the beastliest people in the world next to the Germans". All this was said after the horrible Bengal famine which was the responsibility of the "noble" British empire rulers.
Another example concerns the demented general Herbert Kitchener, who encouraged his men to regard the enemy as vermin-unfit to live, and who ordered the Mahdi's tomb to be destroyed. He then took the Mahdi's skull and planned to use it as an inkstand, but was told to return it because Queen Vitoria was disgusted when she had heard about this story. It was dispatched inside a kerosene tin for burial. Churchill was not convinced by the gesture: he thought the tin might have contained anything, maube even ham sandwiches.
The problem with this book, in my view, starts with the style of writing which is just a collection of generalizations and abstractions. True, the book is too short for such a subject and in order to explore and analyze it, my guess is that one needs many more hundreds of pages. That is the only reason why I cannot but give it one point. At least for the effort.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 25, 2011 12:09 AM GMT

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