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A History of Modern Britain
A History of Modern Britain
by Andrew Marr
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fun but it is history?, 20 Mar. 2012
Andrew Marr's book is based on a premise which is only half true. The first half, that the way of life in the UK had changed dramatically in the fifty years since the end of the Second World War, is something most people would agree with. The second half, that these changes are the result of the assiduous work of our political leaders, is mush less credible. What has changed our life is science and technology, exploited by business interests, not political tinkering. What science can build, politics can only demolish. Look at lifestyle of the different classes of people in the rest of Europe, the Americas, the cities of the far east - not so different from Britain or from each other, except maybe for the very poor. If UK politicians made our lifestyle, did those politicians rule the whole world, then?

But if politicians didn't build our modern lifestyle, what did they do? They provided raw material for our media, that's what. And this is what Mr Marr's book is: a review of fifty year's of political leaders and headlines in the UK media. Can we call this history? History suggests some analysis, a move to understanding what happened, why and what its effects were. Mr Marr doesn't quite get there. As a journalist, he provides the quick shallow analysis of the opinion columns or a BBC2 or Discovery channel programme. The county's ex-leaders are brought to cartoon-level life by throwing a few adjectives, chosen more or less at random, in front of their names, and the resulting caricatures act as they logically would, and with effects Mr Marr revels in over-exaggerating. A good story, but not much relevance to the search for truth.

Mr Marr ends his book with a hopeful appeal for us all to take more interest in politics. Let us hope he is ignored. The vast masses demonstrate a sense of wisdom in their belief that it matters little who runs the country, as long as it is not run drastically badly. Democracy is not a system for choosing good a government; it is a method to get rid of a really bad one. So unless a British Hitler rises from obscurity, the public will give our political milieu the scant attention it deserves. Long live indifference!

All the same, A History of Modern Britain is not a bad nook at all, given what it is. As someone who was born just when Mr Marr picks up the story, it was an indulgent nostalgia trip. Seen through tinted glasses, in this case slightly blue. To be consumed with a large dose of salt, but enjoyable all the same.

Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage
Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage
by Chapman Pincher
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How secure is our security?, 13 Feb. 2012
Reading "Treachery", I felt I was on the jury at the posthumous trial of Roger Hollis, the ex-head of MI5. Was he really a Russian agent? Chapman Pincher makes a convincing case for the prosecution.

According to the author, Hollis was recruited to the communist cause in China, where he had gone to make his fortune after being sent down from Oxford University. Instructed to join either the Times, MI6 or MI5, he inveigled his way eventually into MI5 just before the second world war, soon gaining responsibility for seeking and neutralising Russian agents operating in the UK, and eventually rising to be the director general. Pincher accuses him of protecting Russian agents, giving atomic secrets which help the USSR develop their nuclear capability, sullying relations between the UK and US secret agencies, and facilitating the escape of spies after they had been discovered. He backs up these claims with references to both Western and Russian official documents, with information gleaned from the memoirs of spies from both sides and with the personal confidences he has accumulated over a long career as the most famous and well respected spy journalist in the UK press. His argument is persuasive, but is it correct?

Putting myself in the role of a juror, the problem with the book is that it presents only the case for the prosecution. The case for the defence is mentioned only in as far as it can be refuted. We cannot see Mr. Pincher as an unbiased academic in the pursuit of truth. In several places he expresses his deep hatred of communism. This has so inflamed his anger at Hollis's actions that it influences his analysis of the facts. He dismisses the idea that Hollis's mistakes might have been due to incompetence, while at the same time emphasising the MI5 man's inadequacies. Mr Pincher's anti-communism makes him, I believe, too ready to make spurious deductions from recorded information that support his arguments. For example, when Hollis was in Shanghai and later in Oxford, he is quite happy to deduce that because the Russian courier 'Sonia' was living in the same area, they must have met, although he is unable to show any evidence of actual meetings. When to comes to the published sources, in the field of espionage, distinguishing truth from lies is almost impossible, but Mr. Pincher tends to accept the evidence which supports his case as true, while dismissing as lies some of those that could offer some support to the defence.

Nevertheless, my verdict on Hollis would be guilty. While some of Mr. Pincher's arguments may not be 100% justified, they are all plausible. And while some of the counter arguments he dismisses may also be plausible, the sheer number of 'anomalies' identified in the book and listed in a useful appendix, carries the day for me. And his matching of events with the absences and presences of Hollis in his role I found compelling. But it is for each reader to draw his own verdict.

But maybe the main point of Mr. Pincher's book goes beyond the guilt or innocence of one man. What is exposed is how rampant 'cronyism' and self-protection in unregulated organisations like the secret service can threaten the safety of all of us. This is an important book and a five star read for anyone interested in how our national security is maintained.

Eye of the Needle: A London-based thriller. (Armageddon: London, Paris, New York Book 1)
Eye of the Needle: A London-based thriller. (Armageddon: London, Paris, New York Book 1)
Price: £1.19

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars simply a good read, 3 Feb. 2011
The policemen most of us get to know are pretty uninspiring. Personally, I've come across a few. I've been pick-pocketed in Prague, car-burgled in Barcelona, house-vandalised in Hounslow and petty-thieved from in Paris. The police experience is everywhere the same; a bored guardian of the law asks you some questions, fills in a form, wearily pushes it to you to sign, and then assures you that nothing will ever be done about it. To make an interesting and engrossing novel out of the mundane life of such a lowly law officer would seem a gargantuan task, but Simon Bever has managed it in Eye of the Needle.

It helps that the hero, Romeo, is a pretty unusual London bobby. There aren't too many very tall, Coptic Christian Egyptians in the Met. Also, while he suffers from the frustration of taking on tasks which come to nothing, it seems to get to him riled enough from time to time to undertake a little violent retribution on his own. And, finally, he seems to generate an interesting rapport with the victims and witnesses he runs into: they fall over themselves to impart confidences to him. As he points out, he's not an investigative policeman, but as a result of what he sees and what's he's told, he stumbles towards the solution of a pretty serious and sickening crime wave.

This is a novel that belts along at a fair pace, dropping some nice tasty morsels as it goes. There are some beautifully drawn characters among the victims and witnesses, some wry and mouth-curling asides at the state of the police-public interface, snips of erudition on the ancient history of Egypt, a useful guide to tourist London, and hints of the supernatural hovering around in the background. Something for everyone, really!

The whole book is built on a neat and excellently crafted plot. It goes off tantalisingly in all directions but at the end it all comes back together in a really clever and complete resolution. So if you hate those inconclusive novels where have the plot points are left in the air, this book is for you.

There's little in the book not to like. The author flits between first and third person narration, which is a bit disconcerting at first, but you get used to it, and the technique comes into its own as we rush towards a tense and suspenseful denouement.

So Eye of the Needle is, quite simply, a good read. Not pedantic, but a comment on life all the same. Not really a detective story, but the crimes get solved all the same. Not exactly a thriller, but plenty of suspense. A nice journey through London and its surrounding areas with a short excursion to Egypt thrown in. In total, a trip well worth the fare.

Pinnacle Studio 14 HD (PC DVD)
Pinnacle Studio 14 HD (PC DVD)

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars nearly brilliant video editing software, 9 Sept. 2010
I have been a user of Pinnacle Studio for years, but I was using version 8 on an old computer. I had to buy a new version for my new comouter so I went for version 14. It has a lot more functions, more transitions, video on video, slow and fast motion, etc... and handles more file types. That's the plus.

The minuses are that the program still falls over from time to time, which can be a pain if you've done a lot without saving your project. And the support service isn't that great - at first it was so slow it was impractical to use. The support service's suggestion was to buy a bigger computer, but in fact the problem, as I discovered by myself, was due to a driver for a 3-in-one HP printer, which was taking up immense resources and doing nothing. I deleted the program from the start-up list and all was fine.

I am still a fan, but I really wonder how a video enthusiast with little computer knoweldge would manage with it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 22, 2010 4:53 PM GMT

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