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Christopher Snowdon

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Last Exit to Utopia
Last Exit to Utopia
by Jean Francois Revel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect swansong, 27 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia (Hardcover)
Last Exit to Utopia is a masterpiece of bile, wit and sarcasm. Revel spent the last thirty years of his life denouncing unreformed Marxists and gave them it with both barrels in this, his final book.


Demons: Our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs
Demons: Our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs
by Virginia Berridge
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scrupulously impartial, 27 Feb. 2015
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Virginia Berridge is easily Britain's best historian of public health, but she is rarely read by the general public because her books tend to be sold at university library prices. Demons should change that. She has taken the best of her previous work on alcohol, tobacco and drugs and brought them together in a single volume. Her central thesis is that different substances tend to be viewed more or less kindly at different stages in history. This is not a revolutionary thought, but her reputation doesn't hinge on radical interpretations. It rests on incredibly thorough research and there is plenty of it on display in this book. The other thing that sets her apart is her unwavering commitment to not taking sides. It is impossible to guess what her views are on tobacco control, temperance and drugs. Perhaps she has none. As a reader, there are times when you wish she would drop the pokerface and get off the fence, but we should be thankful that there is such an able historian coolly documenting stories that are so often distorted by those who play a role in them.


The Dark Net
The Dark Net
by Jamie Bartlett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.10

5.0 out of 5 stars A dark world, 27 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Dark Net (Hardcover)
In which Jamie Bartlett delves into the seedier side of the internet so you don't have to. Trolls, porn, online drug-dealing, fascists, suicide pacts, that sort of thing. Having read it, it's impossible not to conclude that there are a lot of weirdos out there. Bartlett's bizarre and sometimes grim examples are almost randomly selected and therefore only represent the tip of the iceberg. Which is worrying. NSFW, as they say.


Culture Wars and Moral Panic: The Story of Alcohol and Society
Culture Wars and Moral Panic: The Story of Alcohol and Society
by Paul Robin Chase
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.15

5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on modern temperance, 27 Feb. 2015
Paul Chase is a proud defender of drinking and the pub trade. His new book is a comprehensive history of the temperance lobby from its religious inception to its makeover as a 'public health' movement ('from clerics to medics' as he puts it). Although the story is told chronologically, Culture Wars and Moral Panic is much more than a historical account. Chase looks at the issue from various different academic perspectives and his analysis of, for example, the disease theory of alcoholism and minimum pricing, is incisive. I'm familiar with much of the territory covered in this book, but I still learned a lot. For my money, it's the best book on the topic that has yet been published.


Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, 30 July 2014
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It's sad to see this book misrepresented in so many reviews here. Goldhagen does not say that Germans are inherently racist or antisemitic. He does not say - indeed, he explicitly rejects the idea - that they share 'collective responsibility' for the Holocaust. He does not claim that the Jews were the Nazis' only victims, but he does say - backed up by ample evidence - that the Jews were persecuted with a frenzied and brutal zeal that was unmatched. He does not claim that every German was complicit, although he does show that opposition to anti-Jewish laws was expressed only by a minority, even in private. He does not claim that antisemitism did not exist elsewhere, nor that the Holocaust couldn't have happened in any other countries had a Hitlerian government got into power.

His basic thesis is repeated so often in the text that it is hard to see how any reader could miss it. It is that the Holocaust was not the work of a relatively small group of people who were either ideologically crazed or 'only following orders'. The evidence he provides for this is, in my view, incontrovertible. He does not study the actions of hardened SS thugs or longtime Nazi party members, but instead looks at massacres committed by groups whose members were drawn from a cross-section of German society. He looks at torture and murder carried out by people who gladly volunteered for these duties. He looks at the savagery of people who were not following orders and who, indeed, sometimes disobeyed orders to carry on killing.

If soldiers, camp guards and - in many cases - civilians were not being forced to engage in excessive violence against Jews then the obvious explanation is that they wanted to engage in excessive violence against Jews. Why? Because a combination of a longstanding antisemitic culture and a fanatically antisemitic government had convinced very large numbers of them that antisemitic fantasies were the truth.

The virtual extermination of the Jews in Europe was a massive enterprise of which most Germans were aware and huge numbers were actively involved. Goldhagen's thesis - that the perpetrators of the Holocaust believed in what they were doing - should not be controversial. It is Occam's Razor. Other explanations might be more forgiving, but they do not stand up against the facts.


Post Everything: Outsider Rock and Roll
Post Everything: Outsider Rock and Roll
by Luke Haines
Edition: Paperback

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beware of the underdog, 22 July 2011
Haines is back with his wonderful obsessions - Lord Lucan, Gary Glitter, Peter Sutcliffe, Jonathan King, Billie Piper et al. I didn't know that the great man spent two years working on a musical about Sussex-based dodgy landlord Nicholas van Hoogstraten but, in retrospect, it seems unimaginable that he would have done anything else.

Aside from (possibly) one hit single, the music discussed in this book was never whistled by your milkman. I happen to own all the LPs mentioned herein but that, apparently, makes me something of an outlier. And there are better places to get yer celebrity anecdotes; Haines briefly talking to Chrissie Hynde and nearly talking to Bono and Philip from Rising Damp are the nearest we get to insider gossip here. No matter. This, even more than Bad Vibes, is about the writing, and the writing is very sharp indeed. Witheringly funny from start to (rather abrupt) finish, this is a book about the last spasms of the music industry written by its most erudite snarling underdog. Bring on volume 3, if only to hear about how he came to release 50 albums in one day.


The Act You've Known For All These Years: A Year in the Life of Sgt. Pepper and Friends: The Life, and Afterlife, of Sgt. Pepper
The Act You've Known For All These Years: A Year in the Life of Sgt. Pepper and Friends: The Life, and Afterlife, of Sgt. Pepper
by Clinton Heylin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cheer up, this is a great book, 27 Jun. 2010
I got this book for Christmas and only picked it up today, assuming it contained a few familiar stories about the erstwhile greatest album of all time. My mistake. It's really a history of pop music between 1965-69 and a very good one at that (I read it in one sitting). Great Beatles stories plus Syd Barrett, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson and Bob Dylan. What's not to like? Contrary to what some reviewers have said, Heylin doesn't have it in for 'The Sergeant' (what's wrong with calling it that, then?). He neither worships nor hates it, and is equally dismissive of those who do. Towards the end, he considers Pepper's position of 33 in an all-time greatest LP list to be "about right". I would agree, but it's a tribute to his balanced approach that it is only then that you really find out how he views the record.

I've read more Beatles books than is probably healthy and for sheer enjoyment, this is way up there. After all these years, we can't expect any breath-taking new revelations about this period of musical history so books like this stand or fall on how well the tale is told and, for my money, Heylin tells it very well indeed. Sardonic but affectionate, highly knowledgeable and with some genuinely thought-provoking slivers of criticism. Things get particularly feisty when discussing other music journalists and what he sees as the missed trick of the Anthology albums, but it's all good fun and, more often than not, he has point. This is far from being a mean-spirited book. Rather it is passionate, well-informed and remarkably even-handed one. For example, he criticises Ian MacDonald for his nostalgia and scoffs at his 'scholarship' (his quote marks, which he uses far too frequently), but on the same page praises his "command of the milieu [and] grasp of musical finesse". Fair comment, no? And if no then it still doesn't hurt to hear it, does it?

Not that I agree with everything. For example, it seems odd to criticise George Martin for closing the album with what Heylin admits is an "obvious album closer" ('A Day in the Life'). And I'm not as sure that the 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'/LSD coincidence was as deliberate as the author seems to believe. Considering all the other things Lennon owned up to in the warts n all interviews he did in the 1970s, I can't see why he would be coy about admitting complicity here.

Nevertheless this is a hugely entertaining and frequently very funny read. Ideal for those who have read a few books about them four lads from Liverpool and didn't think they needed another.


White Heat: A  History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties 1964-1970
White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties 1964-1970
by Dominic Sandbrook
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.24

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable, 13 May 2010
This really is a very fine book. The breadth of knowledge and research required to write about such a broad subject cannot be underestimated. Politics, football, fashion, music and sex are blended together to create a thoroughly absorbing account of the era. It is to Sandbrook's great credit that he is equally comfortable describing World Cup matches as he is cabinet meetings.

Most pleasing, for this reader at least, is the absence of any political slant. Whether the issue is Wilson versus Heath or the start of the Irish Troubles, it is impossible to perceive any bias towards the participants. Sandbrook persuasively-and quite sensibly-portrays the Sixties as an era of evolution rather than revolution and is at his best when dismissing the self-serving myths about the decade in favour of showing how ordinary people lived outside of the metropolitan bubble.

White Heat has the edge over his earlier volume by virtue of the subject matter being inherently more gripping, but both are highly recommended.


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