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Dr. R. Brandon (England)
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The Place to Spend a Happy Day: A History of Rosherville Gardens
The Place to Spend a Happy Day: A History of Rosherville Gardens
by Lynda Smith
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched, Vivid and Highly Entertaining, 30 July 2014
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A superb little booklet, well written and extensively researched, by Lynda Smith of the Gravesend Historical Society. The Rosherville Gardens were first brought to my attention when reading the ‘pseudo’ Victorian novel, ‘Fanny By Gaslight’ by Michael Sadleir (1940), in which the heroin, Fanny Hooper, is taken by her beaux a number of times to the said gardens. I wondered if they really existed and was delighted to find that they had and that this excellent booklet described them in detail. The gardens were founded in March 1837 by an entrepreneur George Jones and only finally closed, following a long period of decline, in 1924 after providing pleasure to many for over 70 years. They were built in a chalk pit close to the Thames near Gravesend. The author has researched many old newspapers, theatrical journals and old guide books to provide this fascinating and detailed history of the gardens, the wide range of entertainment provided and many first hand recollections of what it was like. The text provides a very vivid and entertaining description of the pleasure gardens and is adequately supplemented by a number of black and white illustrations. Sadly Rosherville Gardens, like the Cremorne Gardens and Vauxhall Gardens, is no more but we can have the great pleasure of reading about it thanks to this excellent publication. Highly recommended to all interested in Victorian endeavours.


Loos
Loos
by August Sarnitz
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not Easy to Comprehend But Good Plates, 28 July 2014
This review is from: Loos (Paperback)
This monograph in the Taschen series on architects follows the usual format of a short introduction followed by black and white and colour plates. These illustrate the important buildings and interiors designed by Adolf Loos. However, this particular volume reproduces two articles published by Loos, ‘The Poor Little Rich man’ (1900) and ‘Ornament and Crime’ (1908). These key articles layout in somewhat obtuse terms, rather like parables, his views on interior decoration and ornament, that is his dislike of ornament. The pieces are presented without elaboration and you have to read the introduction very carefully to understand what is going on.
Adolf Loos was a very early practitioner of what later became known as the Modern movement. In fact Loos bridges the gap between traditionalist Beidermeier interiors and the later ‘stripped-down’ buildings of the Bauhaus, Mendelsohn and many more. The villas of Loos often exhibit austere rectangular exteriors with minimal decoration and flat roofs but the interiors consist of wood panelling, heavy furniture and much drapery and, later, exotic facing materials such as expensive marble and rare woods. Later houses also exhibit the practice of ‘Raumplan’ expoused by Loos whereby rooms not only have different floor sizes depending upon their importance but also different ceiling heights. The Villa Muller (1928-30), Prague, being a particularly notable example of this practice. It was the exterior appearance of the gentleman’s outfitters built for Golman and Salatsch (1909-11) opposite the Hofburg on Michaelerplatz, Vienna, that first brought Loos to prominence. The recessed windows devoid of decoration were considered to be revolutionary at the time. Here again, the building has a pitched roof and heavy interiors that are by no means Modernist but the beginnings of the transition in style are there.
The plates and discussion of the buildings are very good but the book is a little difficult to navigate in terms of understanding the ideas of the man. I felt better illuminated after a short browse on Google. Adolf Loos had an interesting and rather sad personal life which, by the nature of the monograph, is ignored here except for a few notes in the timeline at the end of the book. This rather leaves you wanting to know more about the man and his circle.


Mendelsohn: Expressionist at Heart (Taschen Basic Architecture)
Mendelsohn: Expressionist at Heart (Taschen Basic Architecture)
by Arnt Cobbers
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.33

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Taschen Architectural Monographs, 26 July 2014
This Taschen monograph on the architect Erich Mendelsohn is possibly one of the best in the series. The standard of English and the writing style are excellent throughout which, unfortunately, is not always the case with all the books in the series. The book follows the normal Taschen format with an introductory section to place the work of Mendelsohn in context and provide a few biographical details. There then follows a series of notes with excellent black and white and colour plates on the key works of this architect.
Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953) is perhaps one of the most distinctive of the Modern movement group of architects. Virtually all of his work was for private clients, department store owners and industrialists and, therefore, the usual array of publicly financed municipal apartments common to the work of other Modernists architects of the 1920s and 30s is missing. Mendelsohn was a co-founder in 1924 of the influential, ‘The Ring’, group of architects which included Peter Behrens and Mies van der Rohe. He utilised linear elements on many of his buildings and his trademark circular corners are very distinctive. Most buildings display great lengths of fenestration interspersed with brickwork, stucco or cladding. The department stores for Herpich (1923-29) in Berlin, Schocken (1925-30) in Nuremburg, Stuttgart and Chemnitz, and for Petersdorff (1927-28) in Breslau, now Wroclaw in Poland, are fine examples of this style. Columbus House (1931-32) on Potsdamer Platz, Berlin (not to be confused with Columbia House, which was a prison in Templehof) is strikingly modern and utilised many features that are taken for granted today in modern office blocks, such as open column free floors that can be re-configured easily, and air conditioning. Sadly the building which survived the war was lost in the East German workers uprising of June 1953. All British readers must surely be aware of the De La Warr Pavilion (1933-35) designed with Serge Chermayeff when Mendelsohn was briefly in this country as a refugee. The later buildings in Israel and the USA are also reviewed, and a timeline included.
One of the best architectural monographs in the series by Taschen and highly recommended.


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: 36.50

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.


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