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Mr. Gtj Charmley "gerardtjcharmley" (Cardiff, Wales)
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The Welsh Liberals: The History of the Liberal and Liberal Democrat Parties in Wales
The Welsh Liberals: The History of the Liberal and Liberal Democrat Parties in Wales
by Russell Deacon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 48.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Light in the Evening, but thick fog patches in the morning, 7 Aug 2014
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This ambitious book chronicles the rise, decline and partial recovery of the Welsh Liberals and Welsh Liberal Democrats from their origins to the present day, attempting to do for the Welsh Party what Roy Douglas has done for the national party. Presented in simple and easy to digest sections, it takes a chronological approach to the subject, taking the reader from the days when Welsh politics was dominated by anglicised landowners to the modern age, taking in the heyday of the Welsh Liberals under T. E. Ellis and Lloyd George, as well as the decline of the party in the interwar years, and its brush with extinction, before moving on to efforts to revive the party's fortunes, looking at the men who kept the Liberal flame burning at the party's darkest moments. It is the story of how a radical party made a nation, but was unmade in turn, how a hegemonic political organisation became a fringe party, at times irrelevant, but nevertheless able to make a distinctive contribution. It is an engaging story, and for the most part well-told.

It is, however, a book of two very distinct halves. The second part is written with the knowledge of an insider, Russell Deacon having been an active participant in the revival of the Welsh Liberals in the mid-1990's. Here, his inside knowledge of the party and contacts make for an engaging, in depth look at the Welsh Liberals and their struggle for survival. Dr Deacon clearly knows his subject, and brings the fervour of a believer to the subject, without ever losing sight of the fact that he is writing for a general audience. The struggles of the party to recover in Wales, and the personalities involved, from elder statesmen such as Geraint Howells of Ceredigion to the disastrous egoism of Lembit Opik are captured well. The disappointment of the repeated National Assembly campaigns are well-described, although analysis is a little on the short side. Perhaps, we may say, it is too early to tell.

The first half of the book, however, leaves a great deal to be desired. Where the party's journey after the Second World War has been meticulously researched, the section dealing with the history of the Welsh Liberal Party up to the Great War gives every appearance of having been assembled from an array of only partially-digested secondary sources. Dr Deacon manages to confuse D. A. Thomas and Alfred Thomas on several occasions (an action for which he may be partially forgiven, as their contemporaries did the same), leading to the mis-attribution of a quotation on p.45, giving the impression that Sir Alfred had become deeply disillusioned with the Welsh Liberal Parliamentary party, when the book from which the quotation is drawn (K. O. Morgan's 'Wales in British Politics) correctly identifies the Thomas. To be fair to Deacon, this section seems to have been put together in a hurry, and not proof-read afterwards, as other politicians have their names altered (Herbert Edwards for Herbert Lewis on p.16), and an error of fact on p.49, which had Ellis Griffith replacing D. Brynmor Jones as Welsh party leader in 1913 is gainsaid on p.56 when Deacon gets the order correct (Brynmor Jones replaced Ellis Griffith). His chronology is a little sketchy at times, with Gladstone being identified as Prime Minister in 1867, a year before he actually assumed office, and D. A. Thomas seemingly entering the Lords before the Great War, when he was actually ennobled in 1916. The list could go on.

Throughout the work there are nasty proof-reading errors, and the prose is occasionally a little wooden, such as the statement that 'Liberal strength in Wales was strong...', and the identification of the Revd Roger Roberts (a Methodist minister) as a Churchman is a little confusing to those of us familiar with the church-chapel divide which marked Wales during the Liberal heyday.

What makes this section more frustrating is the excellence of the second part. One is led to conclude that Deacon initially meant to write a history of the Welsh Liberals after the fall of the Lloyd George coalition, but someone changed the brief at the last minute, leaving Dr. Deacon with little choice but to hastily assemble a section covering the period 1859-1918 from the materials to hand in Swansea University Library. Thus we have an excellent account of the Liberal and Liberal Democrats of Wales and their struggle for survival preceded by a hurried account of the Welsh Liberals' rise to national hegemony. This reader was left ready to return the book with harsh words after reading through the first section, only to be absolutely delighted with what followed. It is worth buying and worth reading for the second and far more detailed half, in which Dr. Deacon's thorough research may be seen. The evening of Welsh Liberalism never cast a more enchanting light. It is a pity that the 'glad confident morning' is partly concealed by fog in this mixed book.


The Churches and the Working Classes: Leeds, 1870-1920
The Churches and the Working Classes: Leeds, 1870-1920
by Patricia Midgley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 44.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid, Scholarly and Interesting, 10 Jan 2014
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This book, a version of the author's doctoral thesis, is an entry in the continuing debate about the decline of the church, and especially the relation of the churches to the working classes. In common with many who have engaged with the question, Dr Midgley has chosen to concentrate on a particular town in studying how the churches attempted to attract working people, a demographic which seemed largely estranged from the churches. Midgley takes the fast-growing city of Leeds as her exemplar, drawing on her life's experience of the city, including her own experience of the churches and people.

Midgley's analysis of the historiography of church involvement with the working classes is able and readable, demonstrating a broad knowledge of the debate, while her description and analysis of the ways in which the churches of Leeds sought to reach out to working people shows an impressive familiarity with the archival sources available. Given the sheer size of the topic Midgley has chosen to write on, the fact that she has produced such a readable book must be considered testament to her literary, as well as scholarly abilities. Midgley is able to enter into the frustrations and triumphs of the men and women whose stories she tells, whether Nonconformist, Catholic or Anglican, telling of their struggles, triumphs and failures.

If the book seems to draw few conclusions in proportion to the space given to description, Midgley is able to justify this by reference to the simple fact that what seemed to work in some parts of the city did not work elsewhere, and on the whole is able to suggest reasons for this. Her chapter on the effects of the Great War on the Leeds Churches' outreach is a model of analysis, and suggestive without being heavy-handed.

There are a few issues with the book, which lead me to withhold the fifth star. Firstly, the jarring use of 'Evangelical' for 'Evangelistic' in places. This is, however, a minor issue. Her section on denomination schools is a little confusing, and I was unable to detect an awareness of the Nonconformists' adverse reaction to the 1902 Education Act, which helps explain the Church statement of 1905 quoted at the end of the section, given that it was written at a point when Liberals were campaigning to amend the Act, which they saw as giving state funding to 'sectarian education'. Similarly Sir Philip Magnus, as a Jew, was likely to possess a rather different perspective on the relation of the churches to education than the Church of England, an alternative explanation as to why the quotation given from his work on education does not mention the churches than their irrelevance. Once more, this is more because the subject tackled is really too complex for the space allowed, than an indictment of Midgley's scholarship. Such oversights are, however, inevitable with a work of this scope, and will, I trust, be addressed in Midgley's future work.

Despite these minor irritations, it is clear from reading that Dr Midgley has produced a study of real value to the historian; a book which is neither too long nor too convoluted. The readability of 'The Churches and the Working Classes: Leeds, 1870-1920' commends the work to the general reader, although the price tag hardly does the same. However, having purchased the book, I can happily say that it has more than justified the price tag.


Full Metal Panic: Complete Series [DVD] [2010] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Full Metal Panic: Complete Series [DVD] [2010] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Artist Not Provided
Offered by RAREWAVES USA
Price: 20.83

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Flawed Gem, 1 July 2013
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This show made me laugh out loud often, but it can't be descried as pure comedy, and at times it had me on the edge of my seat, but it isn't straight drama. 'Full Metal Panic!' follows the adventures and misadventures of Sousuke Sagara, a hard-bitten mercenary, member of the mysterious military organisation 'Mithril', guardians of right and good, assigned to watch over Japanese high school student Kaname Chidori, rumoured to possess the mysterious knowledge of 'the Whispered', people born with psychic abilities and the possession of mysterious knowledge which has enabled the world to advance in ways beyond imagination. Strange and powerful forces are gathering, their eyes fixed firmly on Kaname. But can Sousuke survive long enough to be there for her? And can he adapt to the life of a Japanese High School Student?

This series is a fascinating example of genre mixing, trying to combine high school comedy with giant mecha action. Set in an alternate reality where the USSR never fell and the technology known to the Whispered has revolutionised warfare, 'Full Metal Panic' delivers serious warfare with hyperactive silliness. And, for the most part, it works, no tall order given the product. The animation is crisp, the characters attractively drawn and the dub very well done, with just the right blend of romance and antagonism between Sousuke and Kaname, who could carry the series on their own. The point is, Sousuke, a former child soldier, has no idea how the real world works, and his attempts to protect Kaname often go horribly wrong, as he points guns at innocent people, convincing Kaname that he's a dangerous lunatic, even if she kind of likes him. And so, what does Kaname do? Up to the point where she discovers that Sousuke is a mercenary, mostly beating him up and losing her rag. Kaname's rages are a sight to behold, and normally completely justified. When on the battlefield, things change, but not that much, and understandably so.

So, why only four stars? Well, the blending of comedy and drama is not always wholly successful. At times the comedy and drama are strictly separated, something carried through in the sequels, one of which is wholly comedic and the other much darker. There is also a dearth of exposition. It would be nice to find out a little more about the Whispered and so on, for example. But on the whole, Full Metal Panic! is a joy to watch. A little, life affirming gem.


Sakura Wars TV: Complete Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Sakura Wars TV: Complete Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Artist Not Provided
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: 11.56

4.0 out of 5 stars A Strange and Thrilling Tale, 20 Jun 2013
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'Sakura Wars' is one of the best examples of Steampunk anime. Set in a fictional 1920s Japan where Tokyo is recovering from a war with demonic forces, it sees Sakura, its young heroine, brought in from the country at the request of one of her father's old comrades, to join a special unit tasked with protecting the Imperial Capital from the demons who are once again on the move. Yet, arriving at her destination, Sakura finds not a barracks but a theatre, and her comrades seem to be actresses in light opera, rather than warriors. After this is revealed as a cover for the unit, who fight using steam-powered mecha known as Kobu, which rely on the spiritual energy of their pilots, Sakura still doesn't fit in. Can she gel with her new team and defeat the evil which threatens to destroy the Capital - and who is summoning the horrors which men believed were dead?

'Sakura Wars' is an unexpected gem, given that it's based on a video game. Although the OVAs served as lead-ins to the various games, this TV series sets out to tell a story from scratch, requiring no familiarity with the video games. As such, it may be judged on its own terms. Firstly, the show requires patience, as it seeks to draw the viewer into the 'normal' lives of the Imperial Flower Troop, giving the viewer an idea of who the characters are and how they interact. At first, it seems largely light-hearted and very character heavy. However, after the first five or so episodes, things take a turn towards the dark. The Flower Troop lose battles, as their lack of unity begins to show in their battles against a terrifying enemy whose leaders personify the most disturbing aspect of the hidden world. In addition, we begin to get glimpses of the first demon war, and clues that something which happened during that conflict has led to the outbreak of the new war - has a former hero turned to the dark side? The defences of the capital are gradually stripped away, as the show builds to its (literally) explosive conclusion.

'Sakura Wars' is an odd little gem, mixing well-written characters, personal conflict and a war against a terrifying enemy into a 25-episode show. The creators manage to create a believable world, and although the first part drags, the second part is non-stop action. The only beef I have is that some of the villain's motivations are unexplored, but to say more would be to give away what is probably the most challenging part of this series.


Wedding Peach Season 2 [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Wedding Peach Season 2 [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Artist Not Provided

5.0 out of 5 stars Violently Schizophrenic Anime, 20 Jun 2013
One of the most interesting things about fiction produced by non-Western cultures is that rules taken for granted in the West are not treated as binding. This is one of the best examples of that rule. 'Wedding Peach' volume two continues the adventures of Momoko, a clumsy and somewhat dizzy girl who discovers that her destiny is to become the Love Angel Wedding Peach, a warrior in the battle between devils and angels. Her friends, the elegant Yuri, and tomboyish Hinakigu are revealed also as Love Angels, and together they must do battle against the forces of evil, led by Lady Raindevilla, to save the world of Angels. As the battle continues, new enemies and allies are revealed, while Momoko's love for brash goalkeeper Yosuke blossoms. But tragedy lurks around the corner - is Momoko able to defeat Raindevilla, and at what price?

This second season of Wedding Peach ups the game, as events build to a climax. A new Love Angel, Salvia, is revealed, while Momoko has a powerful rival for Yosuke's love. The first season of this anime was largely comic, certainly towards its opening. This second season is not without its comic elements, most notably the she-devil Potamos, who is amusingly irritating (I defy anyone not to find her 'don't you know?' catchphrase hilarious). Yet there are also very dark moments in this series. Even Potamos isn't wholly comic, her actions leading to tragedy. Angel Salvia, a strong character who employs a sword where the other Angels use mystic weapons which look like make-up and costume jewelry, is a stark contrast to the peppy, lightheartedness of the three other Angels, determined to kill in order to defeat evil, where Momoko and her friends would purify the devils. Hearts are broken, and lovers parted, happiness snatched away at moments where it seems to be secured for good. By the final episode, what started as comedy stands on the brink of tragedy.

As I noted in the title, this Anime is in danger of being violently schizophrenic, very silly comedy alternating with some quite dark material. Unusually, given the concept of a war between good and evil, we do see some shades of grey enter into the story, Lady Raindevilla giving a very different account of the origins of the war between the angel and devil worlds to that given by Aphrodite, the leader of the Angels. After a first series which was so-so, this second season demonstrates that there's life in the concept, unfolding twists and turns before a horrifying final battle.

This set also includes the 4-episode 'Wedding Peach DX', four stand-alone episodes about which all that can be said is that they approach perfection for the genre.


The Last Hero
The Last Hero
by Leslie Charteris
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Immortal Swashbuckling Literature, 20 Jun 2013
This review is from: The Last Hero (Paperback)
'The Last Hero', also known as 'The Saint Closes the Case', is one of the best Saint novels ever written, and arguably the greatest adventure story written in the inter-war years. The second full-length novel featuring Simon Templar, alias the Saint, this epic adventure sees the Saint, his girlfriend Patricia Holm, and his associates, Roger Conway and Norman Kent, seeking to preserve the peace of Europe. Professor Vargan has created a diabolical super-weapon which will give to any country possessing it overwhelming strength. The wicked Professor Rayt Marius and his sinister organisation seek to obtain the weapon, in order to upset the balance of power. Is it simply so that Marius can make more money out of arms trading, or does a foreign despot stand behind the mystery millionaire? Templar and his allies must do battle with Marius, Chief Inspector Teal, and the military forces of two Governments, as they seek to suppress the secret of Vargan's weapon and keep the peace of the world. In the end, all the battlefields of the looming future war come together in a cottage in Maidenhead.

In 'The Last Hero', first published in 1930, Leslie Charteris approaches literary greatness. While the inter-war adventure genre has been frequently criticised for national chauvinism (Dornford Yates please step forward), Simon Templar, one of the most anarchic and appealing of the heroes created during this period, emerges here as an internationalist, the League of Nations Disarmament Committee personified, as he seeks to destroy a super-weapon of almost Satanic aspect. Templar here could almost be the patron Saint of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, fighting both the British Government, the evil minions of Rayt Marius and the unidentified nation of Crown Prince Rudolf. The Saint fights powers and Principalities to an extent not seen in his later adventures. The British emerge as misguided, only saved by the determination of a few honest men, portrayed as criminals when fate has cast them for the role of saviours.

An unusually deep and challenging novel, 'The Last Hero' mixes adventure fiction and pacifism; the need for ordinary people to stand up against evil, wherever it is found, and the nature of love and sacrifice. Although the story is concluded in 'Knight Templar', this novel may be read without reference to its sequel, as a fascinating meditation on war and peace, its great message being 'Nothing is won without sacrifice'.


Constantine the Emperor
Constantine the Emperor
by David Potter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.00

4.0 out of 5 stars An Able and Fascinating Book, 4 May 2013
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The great head of Constantine preserved in Rome wears a mysterious aspect, serene and unknowable, yet so vast that the observer knows that it is there. So it is with Constantine the Great (282-337), the first Christian Roman Emperor. His inner life is a mystery, yet his presence is undeniable. Had he not converted to Christianity, giving the previously persecuted Christian Church political clout and respectability, the course of history might have been very different. As David Potter is quick to observe in the introduction to this new biography of Constantine, he casts a long shadow.

David Potter's primary concern in writing this new biography of a very famous man is to restore some of the complexity to Constantine's character. Potter is eager to point out that Constantine did not make the Empire Christian: that was the action of his successors, most notably Theodosius the Great. In what is surely one of the best assessments of a man who fought to displace all his rivals and colleagues in the rule of the Roman Empire, Potter observes 'Constantine's aim was first and foremost to wield more power than anyone else in the world' (p.3). It is with this reading of Constantine that Potter proceeds to tell the story of the young man who became the most powerful man in the world. A man at once tolerant and cruel, a Christian emperor who played patron to pagan temples and who accepted pagan prayers.

Potter skillfully draws an image of the world in which Constantine rose to power, a late Roman Empire where the dynamics of Imperial power were rendered fluid by defeat, plotting and massacre, and which we know only through histories written with a partisan slant. He assumes little prior knowledge of the Imperial administration, and, with the gifts of a storyteller, uses primary source material to draw a picture of the civil service around the Emperor. At the same time, he is refreshingly open about the things which we simply do not have enough information to be able to recover. His account of Constantine's handling of disputes within the christian community, and Constantine's growing recognition of the limits of Imperial power over belief is also fascinating.

In all, this book accomplishes its task of presenting a fresh account of this pivotal historical figure within a reasonable compass. It is both a work of scholarship and an accessible work for the general reader. David Potter 's work deserves to be widely read.


Catherine the Great: The story of the impoverished German princess who deposed her husband to become tzarina of the largest empire on earth
Catherine the Great: The story of the impoverished German princess who deposed her husband to become tzarina of the largest empire on earth
by Robert K. Massie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Monumental, 23 April 2013
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At almost six hundred pages, this vast tome is a little off-putting to the casual reader. However, like all of Massie's books, once picked up, it is difficult to put down. Massie, one of the most talented popular historians of the day, turns his pen to consider Catherine the Great, the German Princeling's daughter who, at the age of thirty-three, became empress of Russia.

The story is hardly unfamiliar; given the fascination Catherine the Great has exercised, it would perhaps have been more surprising if a popular historian with an interest in Russia had not decided to consider Catherine the Great. However, Massie brings the eye of a sober judge of character to a story which has given rise to many legends, not all of them complimentary. The Catherine who emerges from Massie's book is a very human figure, her legendary romantic conquests the result of a need to be loved arising from a childhood starved of love, and a loveless marriage. Far from being a monster, Catherine is depicted as a woman, yet a strong ruler, despite her doubts and weaknesses. Massie presents her as a worthy successor to Peter the Great, her expansion of the Russian empire to the south matching his expansion in the west.

The players in this historical drama are well drawn, one reason for the length of the book. Even Tsar Peter II, the husband Catherine deposed, is assessed in humane terms, even if Catherine is clearly a heroine in Massie's eyes. Legends, such as the 'Potemkin Villages' are assessed critically (Massie believes there is no solid evidence for such a deception), as are Catherine's liberal views, and their failure in Russia. The international context is shown, making this an excellent general read.

However, there are a few weaknesses; occasionally Massie goes off on tangents related to his own areas of interest - is it really necessary to know that John Paul Jones, 'father of the US navy' was in Russia and accomplished very little, during Catherine's reign? Occasionally, descriptive passages are not well integrated into the text, so a quote from Kerensky's memoirs about a town which Catherine stopped in is introduced for no good reason, except to tell the casual reader that Massie has read the book.

The flaws, however, are minor, and glaring only because the main body of the book is so well written. All in all, an excellent read, and well-presented, to boot.


Memories of the Past: Records of Ministerial Life (Classic Reprint)
Memories of the Past: Records of Ministerial Life (Classic Reprint)
by James Griffin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Spiritual Gem, 4 Dec 2012
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This book comprises the reminiscences of Congregational Minister James Griffin of his ministerial labours at Rusholme Road Congregational Church, Manchester. Minister of the church from 1829 to 1854, he knew many of the leading men of the city. This book is not an autobiography; for a start it concentrates on a few years of his life, rather than the broad sweep of his career. In narrowing its scope to one ministry, Griffin has created a valuable book for anyone interested in the Congregational ministry or in Manchester. Although some of the pen portraits of eminent men are over-long, especially the final piece on James Hadfield, MP, the main thrust of the book is not of merely historical interest. Rusholme Road Church was was not a distinguished for its wealth. Much of the book concerns the attempts made by Griffin to reach the poorer classes, and are written with a charming simplicity. He did not realise that his efforts were in any way ground-breaking. Starting an afternoon service for servants in which he spoke from an armchair, rather than the pulpit, while slowly integrating them with the generality of church membership is one demonstration of his willingness to break with tradition in order to reach the masses. At the same time, Griffin in anxious to stress that the only way to draw and hold people is the preaching of the Gospel, rather than delivering elegant lectures.

The poor and uneducated rub shoulders with the wealthy, and pulpit stars such as R. Winter Hamilton share the stage with humble ministers in a book whose publication was prompted by Griffin's realisation that the world we had known was passing away.

At the same time, this book is more than just a historical account, but a record of the Christian ministry at a time when the certainties of the Eighteenth-century revival were still very much present. Griffin writes as a man conscious of the Divine presence, and as one who has indeed tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Forgotten Books are to be praised for having re-issued a book which ought never to have been forgotten.


The Candidate: What it Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House
The Candidate: What it Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House
by Samuel L. Popkin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.15

5.0 out of 5 stars Political Analysis at its Best., 7 Sep 2012
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As another American Presidential election year is upon us, so another slough of books about the candidates cannot be far behind. Looking back, it raises a wry smile of amusement to recall the books by and about John Kerry, John McCain, and Hilary Clinton which appeared on railway station bookstalls and at Waterstone's, trumpeting the virtues of the various American Presidential candidates. And that's before one calls to mind the whole bookcases which were filled with books denouncing George W. Bush. The vast majority of these, one suspects, made their inglorious way to the bargain bin in a few short months. This book by Samuel L. Popkin is unlikely to follow their trajectory in that, rather than following a candidate, or a Presidential election cycle, it seeks to use past campaigns - failures and successes - to shed light on the process and on the American system of government.

Most of the classic treatments of American government and politics were penned before the current system of choosing a President came into existence, or in the system's early years. With experience of over forty years of American politics under his belt, Popkin applies that to tracing how candidates fail and succeed. Wide reading over the theoretical field is added to this experience to create a book which is both reflective and narrative. The attention of the reader is captured on the first page with a reference to candidates whose nomination initially seemed certain but who ran out of steam before reaching the convention. This draws the reader into a description of the manner in which Presidents are made and unmade.

Popkin takes the bold step of controverting conventional wisdom about inevitability, a step which adds to the attractiveness of the book, using personal anecdote sparingly but well. Carter's inability to endure a mock presidential debate in 1980 is a revelation, for example. Ending with a description of the Reagan Presidency which is surprising in its insight, it may be said that he saved the best 'til last in this human, insightful and readable account of failure and success in seeking the most prestigious job on Earth. This book is invaluable reading for anyone interested in American politics.


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