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Watching War Films With My Dad
Watching War Films With My Dad
by Al Murray
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many stools, 8 April 2014
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this. The trouble is that now I’ve finished it, I still don’t really know what it was. Part memoir, part history, part comedy, part cultural commentary – the result is a bit of a ramble and it falls between too many stools. Historians will likely find the comedy diversions annoying, readers looking for comedy will likely find the history too in-depth. Fine for an easy read, but for me, it lacks cohesion: not funny enough for comedy, not rigorous enough for history, not engaging enough for a memoir.


A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
by Marc Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable biography, 11 Mar 2014
It’s all too easy for biographers to overlook some kings in favour of others who are likely to sell more – Henry VIII or Elizabeth I are examples that jump to mind. That certainly seems to be the case for Edward I as this is the first traditional biography of him for a generation. However, Marc Morris proves that Edward’s story is just as interesting and engrossing – wars against the Welsh, Scots, on the continent and civil war within in his own country; the expulsion of the Jews; the sweeping reform of administration within the country. Morris’ biography is extremely readable and doesn’t get bogged down in the minutiae of small details. It keeps the pace constant, always with an analytical eye on Edward and the success of his reign. A great and terrible king? That sums him up quite well, in my opinion.


Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914
Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914
by Max Hastings
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy addition to WW1 bookshelves, 4 Mar 2014
Max Hastings offers his addition to the historiography of the First World War in this work, which concentrates on 1914. Since the war did not start until the autumn, Hastings takes us through the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the longer-term causes of the war – he is clear in his counter-revisionist opinion that the bulk of the blame for the war must go to Germany and her “will to war”.

Once the war begins, Hastings describes the fortunes of the armies in the first months of conflict. Generals and soldiers alike expected a quick war of movement but they soon found themselves bogged down in trench warfare. Moltke was dismissed by the Kaiser, but Hastings also points out how Allied generals like Haig also struggled to come to terms with the new type of warfare. The development of the Western Front is covered, with Mons and Ypres getting their due mentions, but the Eastern Front is not missed out and the importance of Tannenberg is explored.

All in all, this is a worthy addition to the First World War bookshelf. Many books will coincide with the centenary of the conflict, this is likely to be one of the better ones.


The Pity of War (Allen Lane History)
The Pity of War (Allen Lane History)
by Niall Ferguson
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative contrary history of WW1, 25 Feb 2014
Niall Ferguson relishes an opportunity to revisit and revise accepted historical thought, and this book is no different. You might not agree with everything that he writes, but there is no doubt that his work is thought-provoking and makes the reader question what they think that they know. Ferguson's Pity of War looks at ten questions and myths about the First World War that he thinks are suspect. Broadly, they look at the causes of the war (was it inevitable? was it Germany's fault?) and the reasons why the Allies won (how far were economic and military factors at play?).

Ferguson's most controversial ideas are at the start and end - he begins by saying that the war was caused partly by the British leadership fudging their foreign policy, misleading the Germans who wanted a limited continental war. At the end of the book, he suggests that history would have been far better had Britain stayed out of the war, allowing Germany to win and create a proto-EU several decades before it actually happened. I'm certainly not convinced by this part of Ferguson's thesis, but I don't see that as a reason to mark down the book. I enjoyed reading and considering Ferguson's argument.

A great read on the First World War, although you would be advised to read it alongside other First World War historians - try Max Hastings or John Keegan as a contrast.


The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players
The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players
by Stephen Cooper
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War through rugby, 11 Feb 2014
This is definitely sits more comfortably on history shelves than sport shelves. It is a brilliant piece of historical research and a great way of personalising the history of the First World War. Once you get beyond Bill Beaumont’s extremely disappointing foreword (four sentences? Is that all you could be bothered to contribute Bill?), then you begin a history of the First World War through individual case studies of fifteen soldiers who were killed in action. All of the players were members of Rosslyn Park rugby club, but their wartime experiences were very different: among them are infantry in the trenches, flying corps pilots attacking Zeppelins and overflying the battlefields, sailors on battleships. We get a fairly well-rounded overview of the war through this approach – there are inevitably a few gaps not covered by these fifteen players, but nothing glaring.


One Summer: America 1927
One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Bryson's best, 28 Jan 2014
Bill Bryson has a great style – witty and interesting, yet able to tell the facts about whatever he is writing about in a clear way, whether that particular subject is travel, history or science. This book is probably the best of his that I’ve read. Taking the summer of 1927 as his hook to describe the USA in the Roaring Twenties, we hear about American society and culture as it began to take over the world. Bryson uses a few key personalities as a focus and keeps referring back to them: Charles Lindburgh, Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge and Sacco and Vanzetti. However, it goes wider than that – we hear about Hollywood and the growth of movies, Mount Rushmore, prohibition and much more. Bryson allows himself to go off on tangents, but that’s part of the appeal of this book – we get a wide survey of the USA in 1927.


Great Britain's Great War
Great Britain's Great War
by Jeremy Paxman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.00

26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable popular history of WW1, 21 Jan 2014
Jeremy Paxman isn't well known as a First World War academic. In fact, Jeremy Paxman isn't a First World War academic at all. Nevertheless, he has turned his attention to the First World War, presumably to commemorate (or cash in) on the centenary of the conflict. As you might expect of a book by a journalist (no doubt heavily supported by a researcher), there isn't anything particularly new here. However, it is easy to sniff at a work by a 'celebrity' historian and damn it just because he dared to write it. This is actually a decent account - Paxman has collected many examples of British experiences during the war and synthesised them into a very readable account of the First World War from a British perspective. If you want new research or a bit more detail, go with one of the academic historians. But for a popular social history of the First World War, this is a good choice.


Mrs Robinson's Disgrace The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Summerscale, Kate ( Author ) ON Apr-30-2012, Hardback
Mrs Robinson's Disgrace The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Summerscale, Kate ( Author ) ON Apr-30-2012, Hardback
by Kate Summerscale
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The beginnings of modern divorce explained, 14 Jan 2014
Victorian society was very different to modern society in many ways, but the status of women was perhaps one of the biggest differences. In this very well-researched book, Kate Summerscale uses the divorce case between Isabella and Henry Robinson that she has rescued from the archives to highlight Victorian marriage, divorce and morals. The newly-established divorce court picked over the supposed relationship between Isabella and her alleged lover, Edward Lane, using her diary as evidence. The bigger issues over which the judges were troubled are explained very skilfully, showing how the questions they posed and answers they came up with could impact on society as a whole. Summerscale makes little judgement herself, the reader is left to cast their own about each of the protagonists.


Traitor's Blood (The Civil War Chronicles)
Traitor's Blood (The Civil War Chronicles)
by Michael Arnold
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Civil War Sharpe, 7 Jan 2014
It's pretty clear what Michael Arnold is trying to do here - he has found a period that historical fiction doesn't seem to have covered and is trying to lay claim to being the "Sharpe of the Civil War" (even the cover claims so). All the ingredients are there, but the recipe is not yet perfect. There is a story that cracks along at a good pace and a hero who finds himself on the fringes of a known war - the plot gives him enough freedom to not be constrained by the events history, but not so much that his actions become unbelievable. However, the characters are lacking, perhaps because the plot ticks along so rapidly. There's plenty of time to fill in the gaps in the coming books, but although the author fills in Captain Stryker's backstory, I don't feel he is a fully-rounded character just yet. Is Stryker the new Sharpe? No, but he's looks set to become a solid stand-in.


Driving Ambition - My Autobiography
Driving Ambition - My Autobiography
Price: 8.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and incisive yet a little understated, 31 Dec 2013
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No doubt one of the best captains and openers in modern times, Andrew Strauss helped to steer England to success in the 2005, 2009 and 2010-11 Ashes, becoming only the third England captain to win home and away Ashes series. His autobiography mirrors his captaincy - thoughtful and incisive yet a little understated. Strauss is happy to put the spotlight on his own career and his rise to the England ranks despite his early cricketing career being anything but remarkable. He also takes us through the stresses of being and England player and the losses of form he suffered a couple of times in his career. However, this book lacks any great revelations or behind-the-scenes gossip that wasn't already known. The controversies that Strauss had to deal with as captain are glossed over - in particular, he didn't have a great relationship with Kevin Pietersen, but Strauss avoids the temptation to put the boot in on his former teammate. That's an admirable reflection on Strauss as a person, but it leaves the reader with the impression that the full story hasn't been told yet.


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