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Dr. R. Brandon (England)
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Scharoun (Taschen Basic Art Series)
Scharoun (Taschen Basic Art Series)
by Eberhard Syring
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Plates and Building Descriptions, 25 July 2014
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The book follows the normal Taschen layout with an introductory section and brief biographical details followed by black and white and colour plates, and notes on the key buildings that Hans Scharoun designed. Some designs where not realised as a result of the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933. The illustrations and floor plans are excellent as are the accompanying texts. The introduction by contrast is not well written and has suffered in translation and is frankly poor. However, this only represents a small section of the book and should not deter prospective buyers. A timeline is included at the end of the book.
Hans Scharoun (1893-1972) was one of the early pioneers of the Modern movement and in 1926 joined an organisation of architects called, ‘The Ring’, which included such luminaries as Peter Behrens, Erich Mendelsohn and Mies van der Rohe. His early work on apartments and houses in the 1920s and 30s incorporated the now familiar flat roofed white painted Modernist forms but differed in their unusual and often complicated floor plans and rounded elements. Many of the structures display great elegance but the interiors are very small and similar in amenities to the original Lawn Road flats of 1933 by Wells Coates. The Siemensstadt (1929-31) housing estate which contains some buildings by Scharoun has been designated a World Heritage site. The post war buildings of Scharoun are very different from the white Modernist style and include the Berlin Philharmonic (1956-63), the National Library (1964-78) and the Municipal Theatre in Klieverhagen (1965-73). In each case the trade make unusual floor plan is evident, and particularly so in the schools that Scharoun designed, being miniature towns for children.
Scharoun is generally overlooked in British texts but was clearly an architect of major importance who built a number of very interesting structures, many of which including his early work, surprisingly, still exist.


March Violets (Penguin Crime Monthly)
March Violets (Penguin Crime Monthly)
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping Nazi-era Story That Will Not Disappoint, 23 July 2014
A good well crafted detective thriller that never flags and always keeps your attention. This, the first in the Bernie Gunther series of detective stories, is set in Berlin in 1936. The author, Philip Kerr, works in lots of detail about Berlin, the Nazi regime, and the underworld of the day both civil and Nazi after three years of Hitler’s rule. For the most part this has an authentic feel although I may quibble that Kerr paints Goering and Heydrich as perhaps more approachable than history may suggest. Nevertheless, this is a splendid thriller and bowls along with a ‘noir’ style emulating Chandler’s Philip Marlow with numerous quips and wisecracks that work very well. You can easily conjure an image in your mind’s eye of a Bogart figure in a black and white movie film frame, although Kerr’s sex and violence are more graphic.
‘March Violets’ is the first in the ‘Berlin Noir’ trilogy and as a single volume is currently (2014) out of print but is available as a Penguin three novel compendium. This is an excellent read and for those who like some period detail worked in, particularly of the totalitarian regimes, this is a must. Kerr is rather more successful than Carlo Lucarelli and the Mussolini period ‘De Luca’ trilogy at setting the period scene and evokes very well the various locations in Berlin and the prevailing atmosphere. A very convincing and gripping story that will not disappoint.


The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century
The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century
by Tony Judt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Demanding But Highly Rewarding Read, 19 July 2014
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This is a highly intelligent and, at times, quite difficult book to read as it demands a lot from the reader in terms of concentration and understanding. Tony Judt employs his immense erudition to exam three fascinating cases of intellectual courage in modern France; the politician and leader of the 1936 Patriotic Front government in France, Leon Blum, the writer Albert Camus and the philosopher Raymond Aron. Far be it for me to be able to do justice to the closely argued theses put forward by Judt. Briefly, he examines the role Blum was to play in keeping the Socialist Party in France out of the hands of the popular Communist party of the day. Judt looks at the courage of Blum in recommending caution and defending Vichy against the howling mob in their headlong rush to exterminate those supposed to be collaborators with Hitler’s Germany.
Perhaps the least satisfactory part of the book is the section on Camus which is possibly too long for the content. Judt provides a defence of the disagreement Camus had with the fellow travellers of the Soviet Union, Sartre and de Beauvoir, and their hypercritical and vitriolic outpourings against Western values. The author also considers the ‘moralist’ stance adopted by Camus with regard to the 1954 to 1962 war in Algeria and the terrorist actions by both sides, for each of which he held some sympathy. Finally Judt looks at the magnificently gifted philosopher and columnist Raymond Aron. Aron went out of favour after his critical articles on the somewhat ‘vacuous’ French student riots of 1968. He also failed to support or agree with the predominantly left of centre philosopher community of 1960s and 70s Paris. Hindsight and a better understanding of the true nature of the Soviet Union has lead to a recent reappraisal of Aron’s work and he certainly finds favour with Tony Judt.
This is an invaluable work for those who want a much better understanding of these three important French figures without necessarily tackling full scale biographies, not all of which are available in English. It is a great pleasure simply to immerse yourself in this book and experience the great intellect and range of knowledge displayed by Judt in these three beautifully crafted essays. Judt is that rarity, a completely objective left of centre writer who is not afraid to state inconvenient truths associated with socialist movements. The loss of Judt to the academic community and his readership in 2010 was a tragedy.


The Gamblers
The Gamblers
by John Pearson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A Highly Readable Story of The Clermont Set, 11 July 2014
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This is by no means a great work of literature but it is a good read and an interesting book. John Pearson, who has also written about the Krays, has taken a close look at The Clermont Set, a group of high stakes gamblers including Lord Lucan associated with the Clermont Club in Berkeley Square, in exciting 1960s London. The leader of the set was the eccentric John Aspinall who was perhaps better known as the man who allowed a tiger to roam free around his house and later formed a complete private zoo in which two keepers were killed and a young boy very badly injured. Later the financier Jimmy Goldsmith assumed a leading role in the group by virtue of the immense fortune he made asset stripping companies and playing the stock market. This set of West End celebrities and their associated group of rich aristocratic gambling friends dramatically came to the notice of the general public following the disappearance of Lord Lucan and the murder of his family’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, in November 1974. Pearson carefully reconstructs the events of that fateful night and speculates on the possible fate of Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan.
Pearson has a gift for keeping the forward momentum of the book and for supplying a constant flow of interesting titbits about the connections, family anecdotes and bizarre sexual practices of the various characters in the Clermont Set, so there is never a dull moment. This was a group of people amongst whom some achieved great success, and others succumbed to great tragedy, whilst all the time leading complicated personal lives.
An interesting, highly readable, true story of an unscrupulous group of entrepreneurs who briefly blazed in the firmament of swinging London in the 1960s and 70s.


Stalin and Togliatti: Italy and the Origins of the Cold War (Cold War International History Project)
Stalin and Togliatti: Italy and the Origins of the Cold War (Cold War International History Project)
by Elena Agarossi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £51.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Supremely Well Researched Treatise on the Policies of the Italian Communist Party, 3 July 2014
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This is a meticulously researched academic publication from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre, one of a series on aspects of the Cold War. Whilst academic in its approach, almost every paragraph is backed by references and notes, this is a very well written and very readable work. However, it does demand a fair level of concentration from the reader. There are no illustrations.
The authors consider the background to the Cold War, the international Communist movement under Stalin and the Soviet plans for the shape of post WWII Europe. The specific case of Italy (and to some extent France), which contained the largest Communist Party in those countries under “Western” influence and the Soviet trained leader of the Party, Palmiro Togliatti, is then made the subject of the rest of the book. In considering key questions such as whether the Italian Communist Party should follow an aggressive, revolutionary line, or play along with the democratic process the authors show that Togliatti took instructions, virtually on a daily basis through the Soviet embassy, and followed the line dictated personally by Stalin. Togliatti, to his immense credit, was able to persuade his often restless party to follow his instructions even when these seemed counter-intuitive and often not in their own national interest. The approach to the question of the sovereignty of Trieste, the treatment of returning Italian POWs from Russia and the rejection of the Marshall Plan were all instances in which the interests and attitudes of the Soviet Union were made paramount and without doubt damaged the interests of the Italian Communist Party. Yet Togliatti loyally towed the Party line and dragooned his followers into accepting the policy dictats from Moscow.
Much of the research utilises documentation briefly available after the overthrow of the Russian Communist party and the opening of Eastern European archives after 1989. Much to the surprise of western researchers who had expected to find only generalised and oblique documentation, the archives are immense and highly detailed, no less so than the self-incriminating Nazi documentation discovered after the end of WWII. The book is fascinating in that it also overturns the widely held theory by western media that the European Communist Parties of Italy and France were independent and often wayward players in the Soviet camp, nothing could be further from the truth.
A fascinating book for all interested in modern European history which should be made required reading for would-be TV history commentators.


Fanny by Gaslight
Fanny by Gaslight
by Michael Sadleir
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Victorian Love Story If a Little Slow, 23 Jun 2014
This review is from: Fanny by Gaslight (Paperback)
Although first published by Constable in 1940 this tale of Victorian social habits and locations, with one or two deliberate exceptions, utilises authentic detail. The story is told by the heroine, Fanny Hooper, in the 1930s but relates to her life in the 19th century and is a tale of Victorian life as lived on the edge of society. The author and Managing Director of Constable & Co., Michael Sadlier, was a bibliophile and expert on Victorian life and literature and took great pains to ensure accurate detail within this fictional narrative.
The story recounts the life of Fanny Hooper, born out of wedlock and brought up by her mother and step-father in a central London public house which also provides rather more murky services. A disaster befalls this existence and she is rescued by her father and provided with a place in service but eventually this too falls through and Fanny must then earn a living in one of the rather more disreputable establishments that thrived in Victorian times. There are more twists and turns in the narrative that I will not relate, but these provide the author with plenty of opportunity for convincing period description.
This love story, for that is what it is, is well written, very graphic and captures convincingly the feeling of a Victorian adventure. The characters are well drawn and memorable and behave in highly credible ways. My single criticism is that at times Sadlier lets his descriptive passages and discursions go on for too long and this tends to seriously slow the forward momentum of the tale. I might also comment that the demure cover of the paperback is completely unsuitable and gives an entirely wrong impression of the contents.
A good story, if a little slow at times, which will be attractive to those fond of well told Victorian tales.


Mitterrand: A Study in Ambiguity
Mitterrand: A Study in Ambiguity
by Philip Short
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Work of Prodigious Research But A Difficult Read, 12 Jun 2014
I find it difficult to reasonably rate this book. It is clearly well written and is obviously the result of prodigious research and scholarship, particularly of French sources. It is also a very comprehensive review of the life and political career of an important French statesman who was President of France for an unprecedented fourteen years and whose crowning achievements may be listed as abolition of the death penalty and the design and agreement of the Maastricht Treaty of 1991 which established the single currency and set Europe on the road to “ever closer union”. (Many of Mitterrand’s other changes such as nationalisation and alteration of the laws regarding methods of voting were ephemeral and quickly reversed.) The author, Philip Short, weighs up the evidence of Mitterrand’s involvement with the Vichy Government and his opportunistic subsequent association with repatriated POWs and the Resistance movement and, perhaps, gives a rather generous overall appraisal of Mitterrand’s wartime career. Again, the author does not flinch from examining the parallel family life lived by Mitterrand having a wife and children and a long term mistress and illegitimate daughter, and numerous other liaisons although these are generally passed over.
So far, so good, however, we have to plough through 312 pages of the 582 pages of text before we reach Mitterrand’s election as President in May 1981. This, despite the examination of the Vichy years, can make for very tedious reading at times as Mitterrand was essentially a “committee” man whose career seems to have been one of endless meetings and networking which does not make for very interesting reading unless you are a really diehard political analyst. On top of that, despite Short telling us that Mitterrand was a man of considerable charm, there seems to be little or no evidence of that but, duplicity, lying, and political opportunism seem to characterise the man. Many interesting books have been written about unpleasant people but in this case the central character has the unredeeming fault of a lack of charisma, not for nothing was he known as ‘The Sphinx’. The book does come to life at intervals when the author digresses to fill in the historical background. In particular his description of the vitriolic Algerian War (1954 to 1962) is excellent as are his explanations of the changes in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the genocidal Rwandan conflict and the role of French involvement. But in between tedium tends to be re-established with endless political jockeying for the various French municipal and national elections and the manoeuvring towards the Presidency.
I am also perhaps also out of line with other reviewers and the author in that I do not think Mitterrand was a very great statesman. His skills were in political craft not statesmanship and for a life spent in politics his lasting achievements mediocre.
Overall the, a very well written and well presented book (although a separate timeline would have been helpful) containing much information not easily available to an English reader, but hard work. This book should find its way on to the shelves of many academic institutions and, as regards the general reader, it would probably be for the best if it were left there.


The Debacle: (1870-71) (Classics)
The Debacle: (1870-71) (Classics)
by Émile Zola
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Novel of the Franco-Prussian War, 30 May 2014
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‘The Debacle’ is the penultimate book in the twenty book saga of the life and times of the Rougon-Macquart family, published by Zola to great acclaim in 1892. One of the central characters of this story is Jean Macquart, thus continuing the saga. However, all the books are complete in themselves and readers should not feel deterred from reading this classic of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 out of sequence. Zola was able to talk to many who had been involved in the war and undertook research in the area of Sedan, the scene of the major battle sequences in the book. In addition Zola was himself caught up in the Paris Commune of 1871 which followed the investment of Paris by the Prussians after the war. He was in considerable danger during this turmoil but was an eye witness to the destruction and horrors of the short lived Commune that features in the final third of the novel. Thus the book is generally regarded as a classic of historical writing and reliable in its detail.
The book is a nineteenth century work and does rely upon somewhat incredible coincidence, but this device is simply used by Zola as a tool to be able to describe different aspects of the momentous actions taking place as the French and Prussian armies manoeuvred and then smashed into each other in the environs of Sedan. The first section of the book does contain some longueurs as Zola establishes the marching and counter-marching and dispiriting confusion of the French Army under incompetent leadership, but readers should not despair once action is joined the narrative races along in graphic detail to provide some of the very best battle scene writing in literature as we read of the destruction and capture of the French Army of Chalons. Zola introduces a number of the real leaders into the narrative including the Emperor, Napoleon III, to great effect.
As mentioned earlier the narrative moves to the siege of Paris and the establishment of the Commune. Again the writing of Zola is very graphic and his description of these tragic events provide a good corrective to some of the rather fanciful left-wing ‘glory’ surrounding these events. Whilst being in sympathy with the Left Zola had no time for the wanton destruction and violence of the Commune.
A classic work of its type and perhaps one of the best ways to understand the real nature of the Franco-Prussian War, and a very entertaining read.


An Officer and a Spy
An Officer and a Spy
by Robert Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Thriller, A Masterpiece of Historical Fiction, 19 May 2014
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
This is a superb book, referred to by a press review on the cover as a masterpiece, and this is no overstatement. Robert Harris has written the best book on the Dreyfus Affair that has been published in many years despite it being a work of fiction by virtue of its invented conversation and some small dramatical creations. If you want to effortlessly learn all about this famous miscarriage of French military justice in 1895 then dispense with the non-fiction works of the last twenty years and read this book. Harris has himself indicated the extensive research he undertook for this book and the attention to characterisation and detail, and his close tracking of the facts of the case, provide a marvellous reward for his readers.
The book is narrated by the key character Colonel Picquart who was assigned to the Statistical Section of the French Army General Staff, this section designation being a cover for what we would now call ‘Intelligence’. It is this posting that gives Picquart access to documents related to the recent ‘degradation’ of Major Dreyfus on a charge of treason, that Picquart has just recently witnessed on behalf of the Minister of War, General Mercier, and so the story begins. It is not my intention to relate the story in any way in this review, that is best left to Harris, but it must be said that the graphic style allows the reader to sit in the meetings that took place, to walk the corridors of the Ministry of War, the Palais Justice and all the other key Parisian locations of the action and to visualise and remember the dozen or so very strong characters central to this tragic plot. Harris is a master of his craft and this slowly unfolding story of official obfuscation and mendacity has all the attributes of any great thriller despite the fact that we know the outcome. (And we might say, some echoes of more recent official attempts to conceal unhelpful facts from the public.) Finally, Harris reveals that Alfred Dreyfus was not a particularly attractive person which just adds that piquancy to the story.


Carte Blanche (De Luca Trilogy 1)
Carte Blanche (De Luca Trilogy 1)
by Carlo Lucarelli
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fast Moving and Historically Interesting Read, 11 May 2014
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This very short 108 page novel makes interesting reading as it very competently describes the prevailing conditions in which the police had to work under the joint Italian/German administration of the Italian Socialist Republic of April 1945.
Commissario De Luca has recently been transferred from the notorious Black Brigade ‘Ettore Muti’, a political police unit, back to the civilian police. At this time in the northern Italian republic many units were active in preserving what they saw as the rule of law; the Black Brigades, the GNR or National Republican Guard, the reformed Decima Mas (a Fascist anti-partisan unit made up from the original marine force) and then the German and Italian SS units. The author, Carlo Lucarelli, illustrates wonderfully, with this the first of the De Luca trilogy, the difficulties of working in the chaotic circumstances of the dying days of the Fascist regime.
A murder case quickly reveals tensions among the power brokers in the local community as each fights to preserve their power and influence. The police meanwhile have to operate against a background of increasing tension as the Allies draw near and the partisan units become emboldened in their activities. De Luca himself is a fascinating hero a well developed sexual appetite and difficulties of his own. A fast moving, quite complex, detective story that is hard to put down. I cannot wait to read the next volume.


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