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Reviews Written by
Matthew Turner "loyalroyal" (Reading, UK)
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Thermopylae
Thermopylae
by Paul Cartledge
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a hit and miss, 18 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Thermopylae (Paperback)
I'm afraid that I, unfortunately, found this book a bit of a disapointment. I greatly enjoyed Cartledge's book on Alexander the Great, but this book on Thermopylae was not his best.

I'm not an expert in this field but I have no doubt as to the quality of the scholarship, the facts and sources used, but there is really little on the battle of Thermopylae itself. i think there about six pages at best. However, the focus of the book appears to be the ancient, and modern, perceptions of the battle, and its influence on the ancient, and modern world. To be fair this is done well, as is the analysis of the Achaemenid Empire, Greece, and the Spartan state before the Thermopylae campaign. As a 'military' history I would say this book fails, but for quick understanding of ancient Greece, its mores, culture, religion and views of death and duty, this is a recommended read. The exploration of the Persian Empire under Darius and Xerxes, both culturally and militarily, is also worthwhile.

Cautiously recommended.


The Fields of Death (Wellington and Napoleon 4) (The Wellington and Napoleon Quartet)
The Fields of Death (Wellington and Napoleon 4) (The Wellington and Napoleon Quartet)
by Simon Scarrow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

4.0 out of 5 stars A good finale, 18 Feb. 2012
I enjoyed this series finale of Simon Scarrow's 'Revolution' quartet. This book, thouugh, did take a while to get going, and ends rather abruptly after Waterloo. I would have liked at least a chapter or two focusing on Napoleon's second and final exile on St. Helena. Also, unlike the previous instalments, I felt there was less characterisation, especially of Wellington, who does come across as a bit 'too heroic', the 'good' as opposed to Napoleon's 'bad'.

Nevertheless, this is a highly enjoyable, easy to follow novel which, as always, brings home to the reader the full horrors of the battlefield. Scarrow remains one of the best at describing battles. Recommended.


Stalin: A Biography
Stalin: A Biography
by Robert Service
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.73

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable and informative, 26 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Stalin: A Biography (Paperback)
I found Robert Service's Stalin to be a very detailed and informative read. Although the writing is a little dry at times, it is very redable and service does manage to take the reader into the mind of Stalin - this is no mean feat given the mythologising surrounding him and state secrecy. The first half of the book, from Stalin's childhood in Georgia to his gradual rise to political supremacy is the driest section. Alot of it is taken up with political, Marxist or Leninist theory. Once Stalin reaches the summit the pace does quicken up annd the narrative flows. However, as another reviewer has stated, the Second World War is given relatively short treatment.

Stalin comes across as a murderous thug beset with political and personal paranoia about being overthrown in a coup, very much a psychopath. What struck me reading this book is how brutal the Soviet regime was, not just Stalin's in particular but Lenin and the post-Stalin eras also appeared bedevilled by political backstabbing and personal ambition. Numerous times I read of conspiracies (not all were imagined by Stalin's paranoia), show-trials, executions and whole groups of people being hauled off to the Gulag on little pretext. Service also tells us of Stalin's murderous treatment of his family, friends and colleagues.

Recommended.


Napoleon: Total War (PC DVD)
Napoleon: Total War (PC DVD)
Offered by Digitalville UK
Price: £6.59

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Steam really is crap, 19 Nov. 2011
Unfortunately I am not able to review the game as, thanks to Steam, I have been unable to play it. After installing this game the Steam authentication key did not work. Also, Steam has slowed down my computer and played havoc with my program files. Please, Creative Assembly and Sega, ditch Steam before it sinks what was once a great Total War series. Utter rubbish.


Zulu Rising: The Epic Story of iSandlwana and Rorke's Drift: The Battle of Isandlwana 1879
Zulu Rising: The Epic Story of iSandlwana and Rorke's Drift: The Battle of Isandlwana 1879
by Ian Knight
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply excellent, 30 Oct. 2011
I shall keep this review brief as I can merelt=y repeat the glowing reviews. This is the first book by Ian Knight that I have read, but judging this superb work, it won't be the last. I found this a wonderful account of the Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift campaign (complete with setting the political nd miltary scene before these battles. There are plenty of first-hand and eyewitness accounts, from both the British and Zulu side. The massacre at Isandlwana, of both humans and animals, is gripping yet harrowing reading.

Superb and highly recommended.


Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare ?
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare ?
by James Shapiro
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.79

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended, 10 Sept. 2011
This is not the kind of book I would normally read, but I was pleasantly suprprised by what turned out to be a fascinating look into the history of the Shakespeare Authorship Question, why people doubt Shakespeare's authorship, and a brief investigation into two of the main alternatives as author - Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The book ends with Shapiro's reasoning why he believes Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him.

Along with examining the claims of Bacon and de Vere, Shapiro looks into those who supported their candidacy - such as Delia Bacon and Mark Twain for Francis Bacon, and Sigmund Freud and JT Looney for de Vere, among others. Of the two, de Vere appears to have been the far more likely candidate, although some sections of Oxfordianism have since delved into such nonsensical theories that Elizabeth I and de Vere were lovers and produced the Earl of Southampton, or that de Vere himself was Elizabeth I's son (and consequently fathered his own half-brother!) Of course Baconianism also falls into similar traps with secret ciphers or codes enmbedded in Shakespeare's works.

Against this nonsense Shapiro's work is a healthy dose of Stratfordian reality. Recommended.


William Rufus (The Yale English Monarchs Series)
William Rufus (The Yale English Monarchs Series)
by Frank Barlow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.59

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid scholarly history but a bit dry, 13 Aug. 2011
I found this to be an interesting read. The late Frank Barlow gives a full account of William Rufus - his character, personality, and his reign. This book is probably more than a strict biography of the king - it is also a good accont of post-Conquest England, how the country was run, its relations with the Papacy, the French kings, Welsh principalities (with the Norman incursions into the Marcher lands), and Scotland. Norman fiscal policy is also very minutely detailed (probably the driest section of the book - but esential for any serious study).

William II comes across as a highly competent king, overcoming two rebellions relatively easy and extending his power into Normandy at the expense of his elder brother. He managed to keep the baronage largely onside and loyal, and had the knack of appointing competent churchmen and henchmen as advisors and administrators. He has often seen as greedy in keeping the bishoprics and abbacies empty in order to draw their revenues, but although he in some cases did this, this was no different to other monarchs of the time.

In summary I would recommend this, even though it can be a bit dry and you can sometimes be reading a list of witnesses to charters issued by the king - a lot of which is rather repititious and unnecessary.


The Lucifer Code (Thomas Lourdes)
The Lucifer Code (Thomas Lourdes)
by Charles Brokaw
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Best forgotten, 10 July 2011
I'm afraid that I have to agree with all the negative reviews regarding this novel. This was a simple, straight-forward read, but the ending was a total let-down. As another reviewer said, this ending involves the supernatural, which is not only irrational but also rather insulting to the reader. I do enjoy the religious/historical thriller genre, so I expect to suspend some disbelief, but not so much as to go against all rationality.

This book is also full of typos, rather too many. In many cases words are left out of sentences due to poor editing or proof-reading. This is not the author's fault, but it is does not add to the potential enjoyment of the book. Very sloppy. In common with this genre, we have the usual treasure/scroll hunt, some secret millenia of years old, some dodgy and corrupt politicians, and sinister baddies who endlessly chase after the good guys.

The good guys in this case include Professor Thomas Lourds, a Harvard ancient languages expert; his erstwhile kidnapper Cleena McKenna, fellow Professor Olympia Adnan (both women are naturally stunningly attractive) and a shadowy Brotherhood. Lourds, McKenna and Adnan are not partucularly likeable, and not well fleshed-out. Lourds is meant to be the hero of the novel, but he comes across as a lecherous sex-maniac, seemingly equally smart and thick. Despite trying to solve a two-thousand year old riddle, being kidnapped, shot at and drugged, he still finds time to flirt with the ladies and bed both, including his kidnapper. Pathetic.

Finally, there are two plots in the book - Lords' quest to find and translate an ancient scroll in time to avert the end of the world, and Vice-President Elliott Webster's bid to stir up trouble in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding region. What was annoying was that Webster was clearly the 'bad guy' of the book, but the reader did not find out his motives until the end. This was a twist, albeit disappointing, but it meant that for most of the book the reader may be wondering what the relevance of Saudi Arabia and Webster is to Lourds and his quest.

Not recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 4, 2012 4:10 PM BST


The Paris Vendetta
The Paris Vendetta
by Steve Berry
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Back on form, 29 Jun. 2011
This review is from: The Paris Vendetta (Hardcover)
I'm glad to say that in this novel Steve Berry, one of my favourite authors, is back on form after the previous disappointing instalment in the Cotton Malone series. Berry can always be relied on to pack his books with suspense, thrills, violence, a high body count and plenty of action (some of it not always realistic or likely, but highly entertaining). I think, in this novel, that Berry's art of racheting up the suspense, layer by layer, chapter by chapter, comes to the forefront and culminates in a superb final third. I found it satisfyingly exhilarating, yet poignant, at the same time.

To me, the political and economical machinations, complete with treachery and terrorism, was the strongest point of the book. In fact the suspense (in effect the plot) totally overshadowed the "secret" usually found in this kind of thriller. The actual secret, Napoleon's secret treasure, played second fiddle to the plot and was probably a device with which to bring all the different elements together. However, I believe the novel could have worked perfectly well without it, after all I think it was pretty mundane and not history changing.

In conclusion a recommended read, especially for Berry fans.


Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-45
Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-45
by Max Hastings
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, 7 May 2011
On the whole I enjoyed ths book. Hastings tells the story of the collapse of the Third Reich, from the successful D-Day landings to the fall of Berlin. Hastings is to be commended for the many first-hand accounts and memories he has researched and dug up. As a result, this book is full of accounts from those who were there and witnessed (or took part in) the horrors of the struggle for Germany. We have accounts from the British and American soldiers, Russian trops and those of the Wehrmacht, complete with the bombers. What I found riveting, and completely horrifying, was the testimony of the civilians - from the Jews, the endless raping of German women (by many Allied soldiers, not just the Soviets), countless suicides, and the general misery of the human condition during the death throes of Hitler's empire.

By no means a palatable read (in the sense of the atrocities), I would recomend this as an essential read for those interested in World War Two.


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