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Dr. R. Brandon (England)
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A German Requiem
A German Requiem
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Detective Fiction of the Highest Order, 25 Aug 2014
This review is from: A German Requiem (Paperback)
This, the third in the ‘Berlin Noir’ trilogy of novels featuring the German private detective Bernie Gunther, continues the excellent storytelling of author Philip Kerr. This novel, set in 1947 in the aftermath of the war and the beginnings of the fallout between the occupying Four Powers, starts in Gunther’s homebase of Berlin but then moves to Austria where he attempts to unravel a charge of murder against a wartime SS colleague. I will not attempt to describe the plot, I could not do it justice, suffice to say that it is complicated and as in other Kerr novels it develops real life events in an ingenious way. Again we meet senior Nazi figures and the background details of Four Power intrigue and black-marketeering are handled very well.
Whilst all Kerr’s writing and storytelling are excellent, I think this third volume of the Berlin trilogy shows greater maturity and skill than the two earlier works. The “Marlowe” effects are toned down a little and the historical figures are more convincing, but I would have no hesitation in recommending all three books to those who have a penchant for historical detective fiction of the highest order. An excellent book.


John Penn and Sons of Greenwich
John Penn and Sons of Greenwich
by R. Hartree
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars An Unhappy Blend of Engineering and Family History, 19 Aug 2014
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This book provides an outline history of the marine engineering firm of John Penn & Sons that had works in both Deptford and Greenwich from 1799 until 1911. The Greenwich factory sited on the corner of Blackheath Road and Lewisham Road and in which marine engines were built is, sadly, no more. The site is now home to a ubiquitous superstore. The Deptford factory where marine boilers were fabricated has faired a little better in that the landmark arched front of the building facing the Thames is listed and together with a side wall and some workshops at the rear still exists. A rather nice block of apartments forms a square inside the old works with a pristine white tower block alongside.
As the book explains John Penn & Sons was started by the founder John Penn and during its boom years run by him and his son John Penn II and his son in law William Hartree. The firm were notable for supplying small, high quality, low pressure oscillating steam engines and trunk steam engines to Admiralty vessels including gunboats. The peak years of production were 1850 to 1869, aided by the outbreak of the Crimean War. They were large, and by all accounts good, employers of local labour.
The development of these engines and in broad terms the growth and subsequent decline of the main factory are explained together with some details of the make-up of the main engine factory. There are no details concerning the boilermaking unit in Deptford. Interlaced with the marine engineering narrative are snippets of the family history in terms of births, marriages and deaths.
Whilst the book is of interest the author (a family descendent) cannot really make up his mind whether it is a family history or industrial history and the two narratives do not sit well together. A rather clumsy epilogue of the later family members, unconnected with the marine engineering works, is attached to the end of the book and will be of little interest to those attracted by the book’s title. There are errors both in the line map and one of the family trees provided and the writing style is not good. Production data tables and a number of illustrations are provided.


The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland
The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland
by Shlomo Sand
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.39

5.0 out of 5 stars A Vitally Important Book, 15 Aug 2014
This is an extremely important book and should be required reading for all who choose to comment on the present problems in the Middle East. Having said that, this is not an easy book to read. Shlomo Sand, the author, realises only too well that his text will be closely scrutinised for errors. To that end Sand’s research into the Old Testament and related Rabbinical works, not to mention actual archaeological and ethnological evidence, is meticulous and can make reading quite demanding at times particularly in the early chapters.
Sand attempts no less than to examine, and find wanting, the fundamental propositions of the modern Zionist movement. The author demonstrates that the Testament does not mention the ‘Land of Israel’ nor is there any historical evidence for such a place. He also demonstrates that the Jews were not dispersed from the Middle East but that the Diaspora are descended from conversions that took place in various early Jewish kingdoms in Africa, India and eastern Europe. Hence there can be no return of Jews who never left, to a land that never existed, thus undermining the basic premise of modern Zionism and the original justification for the occupation of Palestine. Sand acknowledges the deep religious attachment of Jews to the Holy Land, and Jerusalem in particular, but this in no way can establish a right of ownership or return.
Sand, like a number of other modern Israeli scholars, acknowledges the forced expulsion of the indigenous Arab population during the creation of the state of Israel and the ongoing system of Apartheid for Israeli Arabs. He gives a very moving account of the history of the Arab village of al-Sheikh Muwannis on top of which has been built the University of Tel Aviv where the author works.
It is inevitable that anyone who undermines the political mythmaking of the Zionist movement, perpetrated by both the early Left settlers and the present nationalist Right, in Israel will attract the convenient epithet of being an anti-Semite. However, Sand is definitely not anti-Semitic but demonstrates a deep concern for the state of Israel and its future but refuses to acquiesce in lies in order to justify its existence. At no time does he advocate the dismemberment of Israel.
A vitally important book but one which I confidently predict will be ignored by Western leaders and media commentators. However, concerned individuals now have access to a totally convincing analysis of the mythmaking of the Zionist project. I commend this book to all concerned about the current problems of the Middle East.


The Pale Criminal[ THE PALE CRIMINAL ] By Kerr, Philip ( Author )Jul-01-2005 Paperback
The Pale Criminal[ THE PALE CRIMINAL ] By Kerr, Philip ( Author )Jul-01-2005 Paperback
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Berlin Thriller But With Some Flaws, 5 Aug 2014
Having greatly enjoyed Kerr’s first book in the ‘Berlin Noir’ trilogy, ‘March Violets’, I was looking forward to his second book, ‘The Pale Criminal’. This book is again set in Berlin, having now moved forward to 1938, and the hero Bernie Gunther is called upon by the authorities to investigate a series of murders of young blonde German girls.
The plot is complicated and ingenious and again the evocation of the Berlin street scene and atmosphere is good. As in his previous book Kerr has incorporated real events into his narrative, which, I suspect, is exactly what fans of Bernie Gunther novels are looking for. I do, however, have some criticisms of this particular work. The author rather over indulges in a section of the book in graphic descriptions of sexual abuse. These descriptions are distinctly modern and grate somewhat with the general tone of the book and would have been better alluded to rather than described. My second misgiving echoes that mentioned in my review of ‘March Violets’. I find, having read a fair amount of history, that the relationship between Himmler and Heydrich suggested in the book is jarringly inaccurate and that the tendency suggested by Kerr for Heydrich to confide personal views to junior police officers would be highly unlikely, particularly where this involved critical comments about other senior officials including Himmler himself. These factors tended to reduce my confidence in the research that has gone into the book and detracted from my enjoyment. If you are going to suggest veracity in the historic background then you should maintain that position. Inventing conversation is one thing, character distortion is quite another.
The book is very well written and constructed and generally very enjoyable but with the misgivings noted above.


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: 4.94

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: 6.34

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

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2014 12:59 PM BST


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