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J. Grundy "Jim Grundy" (Hucknall, Nottinghamshire)
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'Sorry, Lads, But The Order Is To Go': The August Offensive, Gallipoli: 1915
'Sorry, Lads, But The Order Is To Go': The August Offensive, Gallipoli: 1915
by David W. Cameron
Edition: Paperback
Price: £27.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding Telling of a Tragic Story, 26 Aug. 2012
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This, one of three books on Gallipoli by David W. Cameron, focuses upon a period of five days when the fate of the whole campaign was sealed - from 6th to 10th August 1915 - primarily upon the fighting at Anzac. And I doubt whether the story has ever been better told than in this outstanding book.

Although the Peninsula was evacuated by January 1916 the `what ifs?', the `whys?' and the `whose faults?' have continued unabated ever since. This book spends little time with that kind of thing, rather it brings to the fore the words of those who endured - and that is surely the word - the fighting at Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair, The Nek, Hill 60 and the like.

In the hands of a lesser author, even one with such excellent source material to hand as is the case here, the often confused fighting could have been rendered yet more confusing to the reader. But there is no danger in failing to understand what was asked of men, be they Australians, New Zealanders, British, Indians, Gurkhas and, importantly, Turkish too.

No men, particularly men weakened by sickness or hampered by inexperience could have achieved what was asked of those given the task of capturing the heights surrounding Anzac. And this book makes it abundantly clear that the campaign failed, not simply because of incompetent commanders, appalling conditions or terrain that has to be seen to be believed, it was lost because brave men facing conditions every bit as bad fought very well to protect their homeland.

I doubt whether the memory of all those who fought in those August days will ever better served. Highly recommended.


El Alamein: The Battle that Turned the Tide of the Second World War (General Military)
El Alamein: The Battle that Turned the Tide of the Second World War (General Military)
by Bryn Hammond
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "All Against the Desert", 9 July 2012
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The Battle of El Alamein has unique place in British military history. As with practically every other action, it has been widely mythologised. But it marked a very real turning point: it was the last time that a major campaign was carried out (if you discount the Falklands) under exclusively British command; all future conflicts being fought as part of coalitions in which the British were junior partners to the United States.

In this new history of the battle, Bryn Hammond has gone beyond the lazy stereotypes and well-worn clichés that cloud many appreciations of the fighting: Rommel was the genius 'Desert Fox' (who neglected logistics so badly as to make a successful invasion of Egypt a practical impossibility); Monty saved a rag-tag Eight Army from inevitable defeat (but one under Auchinleck that had somehow defeated the Axis forces at the First Battle of El Alamein); and all Italians were cowards who threw down their weapons at the first opportunity (if you can ignore the fact that well-led, well-equipped Italian troops performed as well as any). He also gives due prominence to the role played by General Sir Alan Brooke in controlling the mood-swings of another whose strategic military competence is often unchallenged but one who might have ended the North African campaign in 1941 had he not diverted forces to the ill-fated Greek campaign, one Winston Churchill.

Skilful use of well selected quotations from those who endured the fighting illustrate a war that, despite Rommel's own description of it being a "war without hate", was very hateful at times. And, as the author points out, an SS Einsatzkommando was to be formed to `cleanse' Egypt and Palestine of their Jewish populations.

There was indeed much at stake at El Alamein, not least American confidence in the British as allies; allies they would support by prioritising the war against Nazi Germany above that against Japan. It was also an essential part of the learning curve or, in parts `re-learning curve', as lessons from the Great War, particularly in respect of the command and control of artillery, had to be learned all over again. And this is something that this new book makes very clear indeed.

The author acknowledges his debt to Correlli Barnett's classic, "The Desert Generals" (written back in 1960), but he has given us a new history that sits well alongside that work and deserves a place in any Second World War library. Highly recommended.


It's Morecambe and Wise (Vintage Beeb)
It's Morecambe and Wise (Vintage Beeb)
by Eric Morecambe
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £9.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Eric & Ern. Nothing More Need be Said., 24 Mar. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
There can be few, if any, rivals to Eric & Ern. Their warmth and the appeal they had to so many people in the U.K. will probably never be repeated, so when an old LP recording of some of their work from the early 1970s is reissued this is more than welcome.

Ok, no-one listening to this CD will find much that is unfamiliar but that's not the point. Just sit back and enjoy. If this cannot put a smile on your face, then little will (and don't let less than perfect sound reproduction put you off!).


The Secret Life of France
The Secret Life of France
by Lucy Wadham
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If I Disliked a Place and People So, I'd Move, 24 Mar. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In writing a review, I try and focus on whether the book was written well, demonstrated the author's command of the medium and, in the context of a 'factual' work showcased their knowledge of the subject. In short, I look forward to being entertained and informed. However, my overwhelming reaction was one of pure wonder - wonder that they continued to reside in a nation that seems to, essentially, repel them.

This is certainly not a bland book and the author does not shirk from putting forward strong views on France and the French - not in itself a bad thing. But I was left wondering why she bothered, reminded of some childhood advice that 'if you've got nothing nice to say, then say nothing'.

Friends of mine live in France and some of what was written here was familiar from my own visits there and stories that my expat chums relate. Overall, though, I was left with a growing feeling that this book was not written with much warmth at its heart. Revealing, interesting but I was left wondering what a French person would make of it - a tired litany of English stereo-types relating to their nation? And what a similar book written by an equally uncharitable French author about England the English would look like.

Not the laugh-out-loud book of its blurb but if you're not afraid of trenchant opinions, this might be for you.


August Heat (Inspector Montalbano mysteries)
August Heat (Inspector Montalbano mysteries)
by Andrea Camilleri
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Flawed Detective - in Hotter Climes, 24 Mar. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This, the tenth in the serie, was the first of the Inspector Montalbano stories that I've read. As an avid reader of detective fiction - almost a guilty pleasure - I was looking forward to much that is familiar in the genre. Our hero is a flawed character with problematic relationships with women and not one to follow convention or to be over-burdened with respect for his superiors. In that, I was not disappointed, however, I did find the pace of the book a little slow paced. But was that just a reflection of the slower pace of life during a hot Sicilian summer? Probably.

The author conjurs up the atmosphere of Sicily beautifully. Whether reading Rebus in Edinburgh or Wallander in Sweden, the best detective fiction tells us much about the society in which the action takes place. That did not disappoint and the characters were well drawn. I did find the relationship between the young woman and the older inspector a little hard to believe but the ending explained all that! Ah, the many ways in which middle-aged men can delude themselves..., Italian or otherwise.

Recommended.


Gallipoli
Gallipoli
by Peter Hart
Edition: Hardcover

29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gallipoli - An Essential Read, 4 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Gallipoli (Hardcover)
The Gallipoli campaign cannot be said to have been poorly served by historians. Indeed, this is the author's second work on the subject, the first, "Defeat at Gallipoli", was co-authored with Nigel Steel. However, this book makes a strong claim to adding much that is new to our understanding of what it meant to be a participant in the ill-fated Dardanelles adventure. And one that I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone interested the subject.

The telling of history, particularly that concerning the Great War, has developed significantly in the past thirty years or so. The actions of great men and plans of campaign illustrated by broad arrows on a map have been largely overtaken by anecdotal accounts of the actual participants. Both approaches have their merits but weaknesses too. Detached accounts telling how this or that division or brigade moved an inch across a map pay little heed to the price paid by the men on the ground. Whilst the stories of the men themselves without the historical infrastructure on which to link the reality of war to how and why they came to be there in the first place leave the reader little the wiser. And Peter Hart again proves himself to be a master at combining the two traditions, complemented with his own informed and expertly articulated interpretation of events.

'Gallipoli' is written in the author's by now trademark style. The motivations and actions of those at the very top of the chain of command are outlined clearly and concisely, setting in context the experiences of those given the job of putting the lofty aims of the likes of Churchill into practice. But, and this was for me the stand out feature of this work, the author reminds us that the allied forces were not simply battling military incompetence, difficult terrain, a harsh climate and flies but well-led and very brave, professional Turkish soldiers. In addition, we are reminded of the French contribution to the campaign, one that has received little attention from English-speaking authors (and I suspect amongst French ones too). Indeed, Peter Hart goes so far as to argue that the French were the most effective military force on the allied side and given the hardest task, exposed as they were to fire from the Asiatic shore whilst tackling some of the toughest conditions found anywhere on the Peninsular.

The role of the French contingent might surprise many readers, as will, perhaps, the author's firm assertion at the very beginning of the book that the campaign was a forlorn hope from the start. Hart's contention is that politicians looking for a cheap alternative to taking on Germany on the Western Front did more than delude themselves, they wasted thousands of lives in the process. And the grand scheme to send aid to Russia via the Dardanelles is exposed as a complete fantasy. The irony that the British in 1915 lacked the very shells and artillery required to break the deadlock of trench warfare, either in France or Gallipoli, meaning there were none to spare for the Russians in the first place, is not lost.

Although this is the author's second visit to Gallipoli, the quotations from those involved are all new; their power will make an impact on the most avid reader of military history. As such, `Gallipoli' is another magnificent tribute by Peter Hart to the generation that fought the Great War. I am, as anyone might guess, an admirer of the author's work. But what is clear here and in his other works is that Peter Hart directs our admiration to those whose story he has so beautifully told. Highly recommended.


Poppies from the Heart of Strathspey
Poppies from the Heart of Strathspey
by Peter Anderson
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fitting Tribute, 18 July 2010
Peter Anderson is to be congratulated on producing a first class piece of work paying tribute to those men from Strathspey and the surrounding area who died during the Great War. The depth of research is evident as is the feeling the author has for his subject; no dry work this.

There have been many similar works produced in recent years, listing men on local war memorials. Sadly, too many of these books betray the authors' weak grip of the period they're supposed to be writing about at the same time as trotting out some rather tired cliches about the Great War - 'lions led by donkeys' being the most (in)famous. Peter Anderson's book doesn't fall into that trap and goes far beyond the simple listing of the respective names, ranks, numbers and dates of death. It sets the proper historical context of the men's participation in the conflict with what was going on, both at the war fronts as well as back at home.

All in all, an excellent book. Highly recommended.


The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica
The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica
by Ian Thomson
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What were we expecting, a hymn to slavery?, 23 July 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I find some of the reviews of this book a little hard to take seriously. They seem to say more about the sense of wounded pride, the pricked imperial pretentions of the British rather than the quality of the book itself. Ok, I can see how some might regard it as a little 'scourging' when it comes to the British role in the slave trade but what's the point in denying history? It happened. Acknowledge it. Learn from it. Move on!

My family has worked in Jamaica and there are stories aplently to confirm just what a troubled place it is. It is clearly nonsense to suggest that all of Jamaica's modern ills are solely a legacy of colonialism but it is surely equally facile to pretend that there has been no hang-over from that past.

I think the author provides a useful corrective to the rather simplistic and romanticised views of Jamaica - go to a bauxite mine if you want to see the reality of life for many of the locals - but does not go over the top in the 'aren't all Brits evil' stakes either.

A thought-provoking and informed read. Recommended.


Cooking Lessons
Cooking Lessons
by Daisy Garnett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cooking, Not Waving, 23 July 2009
This review is from: Cooking Lessons (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I opened this book thinking I was going to learn some new recipes. I discovered quite quickly that the easiest way to learn to cook was being thrown in at the proverbial deep-end by being told to prepare meals whilst in mid-ocean - as you do!

To be honest, it grated. I thought it was an entirely pretentious premise for a book, all life-style and gloss with little relevance to those of us with rather more limited horizons that the odd mid-Atlantic surge. But, I have to admit, that it grew on me. I almost felt a sense of empathy at the almost blind attempts at cooking reminded me of, oh, last week, when I still managed to screw up something that shouldn't be a problem. But, seriously, I wouldn't recommend this as a cookbook - any more than I think it was meant as such - but it was entertaining and was certainly well-written.

I'm not sure it's going to be something I'd go back to on a regular basis but it was a more than good attempt at finding a new angle by which to approach the cookbook/travel genre.


Stranger to History: A Sons Journey through Islamic Lands
Stranger to History: A Sons Journey through Islamic Lands
by Aatish Taseer
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Two Journeys, 29 May 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book takes the reader through the author's exploration of what it means, as a non-practising Muslim, to be Muslim and, as the son of a Pakistani man and Indian mother, to be Pakistani. Estranged from his father, faith and country, he set out across the Middle East on a journey that would lead him to meet his father after years apart and to experience the different faces of Islam presented in countries such as Turkey and Iran.

The story of a personal and physical journey is prone to cliche but the author avoids the pitfalls to present an enlightening (to such an unelightened Westerner as myself) and often moving account of the exploration of his identity. I'm not sure he discovered who his father was or gained a full appreciation of his father's faith but I think he better understood who he was at the end of it. Another cliche? In the hands of a worse writer, perhaps, but this is the work of a very accomplished author indeed.


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