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The Byzantine Revival, 780-842
The Byzantine Revival, 780-842
by Warren T. Treadgold
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, eminently readable book, 10 Jun 2014
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Having just finished this book, I have gained a new respect for Warren Treadgold, and a new understanding of Byzantium. The book is written in a clear, interesting style that never becomes dull or tedious. This is serious history that does a tremendous job of gathering the evidence and setting it out clearly. The society, the personalities, the values of the time, and the events are all put across with great clarity and it makes for a compelling read. I want to stress the good writing style that Treadgold has brought to this topic. He is streets ahead of the competition and his work really contrasts with others I have read on Byzantium, both for the depth of his insights and the fresh, interesting and concise way he delivers it. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Byzantium. It would take a much longer review to do justice to the story, but essentially the book follows the reigns of Empress Irene, a brave and determined woman from Athens who ruled the Empire through a turbulent period; Nicephorus I, a man of great talents, efficiency and reforming zeal who deserves a lot of credit for setting the Empire and its tax collection system on a sound footing, yet whose untimely and dramatic death at Pliska in 811, after which his skull was turned into a drinking cup by the Bulgars, is the stuff of legend; and Theophilus, the great scholarly emperor who presided over a golden age of justice and wealth. By exploring Byzantium at the very moment of its revival and renewal, we get a real insight into what made the Byzantine Empire a success in its heyday. It's a very refreshing experience and sheds a lot of light onto what Byzantium really was.

In summary, if you like to read books and you are interested in history, buy this one - you will be pleased.

The Day of Jehovah's Witnesses
The Day of Jehovah's Witnesses
by Rachel Walsh
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.00

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was expecting, 29 Nov 2013
This book surprised me.

What would it mean if the Bible text came into law right now, here and today? What would it be like if the leadership of the Jehovah's Witnesses governing body was introduced across the whole world tomorrow?

This book helped me to think about some of the answers. Refreshingly, Walsh respects your space as a reader, and I never felt she was trying to force anyone to follow an agenda.

What you've got here is basically a series of chapters that explore the Bible, with lots of quotes that do match up exactly to the original text. Where this book comes in, is to ask the question "What does that mean?"

It's an approach that gives space to you, and that I think is what the author intended. Often, the results of asking even simple questions throw up a few surprises. The more I read, the more I started to see that people trying to follow an ideal, may not always reach it.

For example, I didn't realise how much the elite leaders at the very top of the organisation have changed policy and even changed important points of belief, in a way that seems dishonest towards ordinary Jehovah's Witnesses.

The other thing that jumped out at me was the way it's written. Having read quite a bit about Christianity, I am used to books that are a bit academic and follow the formula. This one is very different, in a good way. Each chapter opens with sections that are bursting with life, refreshing and full of implications. I particularly liked the short stories that touched with real people's experiences. These bring the whole thing down to earth and connect it with real people's lives, not just abstract ideas.

I do disagree (mildly) with the other review here by Ray Rational - I didn't think all other books were unreadable, and I think we shouldn't judge others too harshly, just because they have a different point of view. But I do agree that this one stands out from the others, in terms of writing style. I don't think I've seen such narrative passion, such beautiful use of the English language, in virtually any other serious text. Ever.

One mild criticism - I couldn't find much about the author Rachel Walsh. I don't know if she has written any other books, but it would have been nice to know a bit more about the author. She seems a slightly illusive figure, although I did find a series of blog posts, which carry some of the ideas in the book. Still, it's only a minor detail and the text itself was very helpful.

Personally I'd treasure this book, it's not often that you actually want to hold onto a book after you've read it so that you can go back for inspiration, but this is one of those. Recommended.

Total War Rome II (PC DVD)
Total War Rome II (PC DVD)
Price: 20.28

9 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unjustly maligned, 16 Sep 2013
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
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Many of the other reviews here on are very negative about Rome II. Personally, I think a lot of the complaints are unjustified, nit-picking, petty and miss the overall point: this is a superb game and a vast improvement on the original Rome, nine years ago.

Before you dismiss my point of view, some facts:

1). I have played Total War games since the original demo disk for Shogun TW, which was released with a copy of a magazine in 1999.

2). I became disillusioned with the series after Medieval II was released in 2006 - a game which I think was shoddy, rushed and drastically misrepresented the cultures of the period, with all the attention on western Europe. Other factions such as Byzantium and the Moors were portrayed as bland, weak, historically innacurate and uninteresting. Small factions such as Venice were drastically over-powered. Cavalry charges were broken (cavalry were supposed to charge with lances down, but charged with them up and the formations didn't work). The music was bland and repetitive. The video introductions were generic, rushed and embarassingly 'arcadey' and childish. Diplomacy didn't work. AI armies just stood there while being shot to pieces by arrow fire (the dreaded 'passive AI' bug). The game was a travesty, compared to the original Medieval which had been released in 2002 and which remains one of the best gaming experiences of all time.

3). Now let's go back to the original Rome, which on many forum posts I have seen depicted as some kind of perfect game, which was somehow far superior to Rome II. This couldn't be further from the truth - even a cursory look at the facts will reveal this as utter nonsense. The original Rome wasn't perfect- far from it, it was littered with holes. I can only assume a lot of reviewers here and elsewhere either have a very short memory, or they are looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles. The original Rome had the following crushing flaws:

A). Battles were a joke. The lines clashed, and enemy armies would rout within 2 seconds. Battles were literally over in 2 seconds. They consisted of moving your troops to meet the enemy line, and then chasing them down 2 seconds later. There was no strategy, no tactics, no challenge. It was a broken game. Troops moved far too fast, cavalry could run as if they had jet engines strapped under their saddles, and troops were kitted out in bright pastel colours that looked utterly ridiculous. The voice acting was utterly childish and atrocious, and I felt obliged to turn the sound off whenever family members would come near as I was actually embarrassed to be playing what sounded like a child's game. Generals would just charge straight into the enemy line and get themselves killed. The towers in city defence battles appeared to be equipped with machine guns, and could just mow down entire enemy armies, which would stand there within range of the defences getting killed. It was possible to defeat vastly superior enemy forces, just sitting there and waiting for the machine gun towers to do their work.

B). The campaign map was better, but still by no means ideal. Rome was divided into three factions, and as the player you didn't actually even control Rome, which was owned by the AI. The first act of many mods such as Rome Total Realism was to get rid of these AI Rome factions and reunite Rome under one banner. Furthermore, the AI was annoying and would often send a fleet for no reason half way across the map to attack one of your ports, when it was in nobody's interests for this to happen. Diplomacy was irrelevant - as soon as you bordered another faction, you would be attacked no matter what, and there was no chance the AI would accept peace, even if you threatened their last town with utter extinction. Babarian factions such as the Gauls were shown as naked uncivilised savages, and there were ridiculous units such as German phalanxes and Egyptians that depicted a period 1,0000 years before the supposed start of the game.

I am sure there are many other failures that I could point out from the past Total War games, but you get the point. Now, to return to Rome II.

The developers have gone for a much darker, more gritty and realistic look and feel for the game. Units are much darker- the bright pastel colours are gone, the men are dirty and battle worn with grimy, ugly faces, battered armour and shields. The voice acting is vastly superior, and now adds nicely to the atmosphere of the game. Rome II returns much of the dark atmosphere that the original Medieval had, back in 2002, which modders have long looked back to nostalgically.

The barbarian factions are now much more interesting - my first campaign was as Gaul, and I enjoyed the heavier, better armoured units they now have and the respect they are given as a much more advanced culture than even I had previously realised. They weren't savages- they had trade, cities, coins, armour and were even ruled by elected magistrates, not kings.

I have been utterly engrossed by Rome II, and often found myself up until 4 in the morning playing. I didn't like Medieval II, and I didn't like the original Rome - I remember when it came out, I actually went back to the original Medieval for a while, and it took me some time to get used to it. Rome II is completely different - I have been transfixed! In fact, I don't think any of the other games in the series have had such an effect. Certainly not since 2002.

If this Rome II game is really as bad as all the other reviews make out, why am I enjoying my Roman campaign so much? Why am I so engrossed? Because it's a compelling, excellent game, that's why! I even enjoyed the prologue tutorial campaign - and normally I'm the type of person that hates being told what to do and wants to just jump straight in at the deep end. It's deeply entertaining, rescuing the besieged Roman city of Capua from the Samnites after a major defeat, and then taking the fight to the Etruscan league on the north of the Italian peninsula. None of that was in the original game, and it makes a strong addition to Rome II.

In fact, many of the best features of mods such as Rome Total Realism, now appear in the full game Rome II. Units such as Italian spearmen, socii hastati and auxiliary Italian cavalry. The broadened and deepened factions. The rebels from the original are gone - they are replaced by unique factions for every single city on the game. This makes a huge difference, and opens up enormous gameplay options and makes diplomacy far more interesting.

Diplomacy actually works in this game, for the first time ever in the series. In my Rome II Romans campaign, I invaded North Africa and conquered the coastal regions, but I then decided to march inland and capture the interior cities in the Sahara, such as Garamantia, to secure my rear before my planned invasion of Spain. I conquered several African factions, and turned them into client states who were then allied to me and support my efforts. Then I was able to march my freed-up armies elsewhere.

That brings me to another major campaign map improvement. You are now limited to a preset number of armies you can have, depending on how powerful you are. That means at first you can only have 3 armies - and an army must have a general to command it. There can only be three - so gone are the massed AI stack after stack monotonous attacks of the previous games. Battles are fewer and more decisive - something we have all wanted for a long time. In time as you grow, you will be able to train 6 armies, then 9, and so on - but it's actually quite a challenge freeing up enough forces to expand at each stage of the game, which makes it far more strategic and much more realistic.

That brings me to another point - the battles. I actually lost several battles in my first two campaigns, and that is an astonishing experience for someone (like me) who had grown used to simply mopping up enemies in Rome original and Medieval II. The battles had become a mere formality, which were easily won. In Rome II though, you can actually lose! I found that enormously refreshing.

In fact, more than this I actually lost a campaign the first time I tried to play as Rome. This is completely unheard of - in all the years since Shogun in 2000, I don't think I have EVER lost a campaign before, but it happened in Rome II. I literally couldn't believe it. I was astounded - and I loved it. For the first time, the fact that you can actually lose introduces a challenge. Maybe that's why I've been so hooked ever since.

Reading the reviews on Amazon and looking on the forums, you'd think Rome II was some kind of disaster. I am frankly astonished at the amount of negative reviews, and think people are just jumping on the bandwagon, or enormously ungrateful for what they are getting. Perhaps people love to whine and moan, maybe they think it makes them look 'cool' - I have no idea. It's not like I won't say something negative myself if I think it's true - look at my scathingly harsh comments on Medeival II and the original Rome. But when a new game comes out like this and is just so much better than anything previous, and is so clearly an enormous improvement, I think it merits my time to write a positive review to correct all the nonsense.

Like I said, I am experienced Total War player who has been in since the original demo disk for Shogun in 1999 - and I love Rome II. It's a great game and in my honest opinion deserves far better press than it has been getting.

Two factors before I finish that might be useful to know why I enjoyed the game:

1). I do have a brand new, customised top spec PC, which I bought in February. If I didn't, it's possible performance eg frame rates etc might be lower, which might explain some of the complaints made by other people. But if you have a good new computer, you'll be fine. I also didn't really experience any bugs, possibly for the same reason.

2). Yes it's true the soldiers in Rome II charge a bit too fast - I would like that toned down. But the battles here are nowhere near as 'too fast' as the original Rome. I still find you can get stuck into a protracted struggle and can easily lose battles, or scrape a narrow victory by the slimmest of margins, and that makes them a worthwhile challenge.

The AI on the campaign map is far cleverer, and fleets play a far more useful, effective and challenging role. I found I lost a campaign when the Carthaginians sailed a fleet right past Sicily into Naples. My field army was engaged in Sicily at the time, and I had no defence. Naples was overrun. They then landed a huge army and adanced on Rome. Again, I had no defence and couldn't get any units near enough in time. The city was lost as well. With my armies on Corsica and Sicily beseiged from all sides by multiple enemies (which was my fault, because I had attacked them first, thinking I could win easily like in previous titles) I was forced to withdraw my forced from both to defend the homeland. But when the reinforcements were smashed in a further battle outside Rome, I was forced to concede utter defeat. It was mesmerising and possibly the best total war experience I've had in a long time!

In summary, the criticism of this game has been unfair. If you wanted Total War to become darker, cleverer, more sophisticated, more rewarding, more diplomatic and strategic and more convincing than ever, buy this game. You'll love it - I did.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 19, 2013 10:18 PM BST

Hornby R3092 LMS 6220 175th Anniversary 00 Gauge Train Pack
Hornby R3092 LMS 6220 175th Anniversary 00 Gauge Train Pack

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Always wanted, 8 Aug 2013
= Durability:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:5.0 out of 5 stars 
I've always wanted to own a set like this, ever since the original Hornby train pack in 1993. The locomotive runs superbly and is everything a modeller could dream of, and coming with three carriages which would normally be quite expensive on their own, this pack is good value for money. This set is gorgeous in coronation blue. Recommended!

The Empirotechnes - Our Sounds in the Neighborhood
The Empirotechnes - Our Sounds in the Neighborhood
Price: 7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Sounds of Anatolia, 26 July 2013
I bought this CD in Turkey in May 2013.

If you want to hear the true, authentic sounds of Anatolia, this album is a must-have. So far as I can tell, the songs are in a mixture of Greek and Turkish language, reflecting the mixed heritage of the Aegean and Anatolia.

The music is deeply powerful and memorable - it can instantly transport you to another time and place. It evokes the exotic cultures of this ancient land, in a way that is refreshing and pure. If you are looking for 'real' Turkish music, devoid of the irritating western pop influences prevalent in much modern music, you will love this CD.

This is all done on authentic original instruments and carries with it the themes and styles of centuries of music. Personally, I am using it as the soundtrack to PC game Medieval II Total War, to provide a strong Turkish/Greek/medieval atmosphere. But I often find myself listing just for pleasure. It is a delight and true food for the soul.

Highly recommended.

Tourist History
Tourist History
Price: 8.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Better than the rest - spectacular album!, 2 Jun 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Tourist History (Audio CD)
This album is quite simply one of the best albums released in years. Bursting at the seems with energy, creativity, fantastic melodies and imaginative touches, it is a stunning tour de force. Rarely have I ever come across a collection of songs so enjoyable and impressive. It absolutely blasts everything else out of the water. The fact that singer Alex Trimble is pleasant to listen to is a true joy compared to so many other bands, while the beauty and nimbleness of Sam Halliday's guitar playing is often spectacular.

A few years ago, I used to be sceptical about the state of modern music. But with this album, I am sorry I had to wait so many years for Two Door Cinema Club to arrive. Tourist History simply demolishes modern classics such as OK Computer - and nearly everything else out there today.

It's easy to write a downbeat set of songs, but it's actually a lot harder to write upbeat, positive songs that genuinely punch their weight. That's why this album is such a stunning success. It's a real treat for your spirits. I really admire the way this band have managed to harness the power of a positive attitude, creating a life-affirming album. I truly hope they get the recognition they deserve.

I actually bought this album after hearing 'This is the life', so if you want to get a good idea of what you can enjoy here, it's a good place to start. Looking at Tourist History as a whole, I'm not sure if this is better described as an album, or a manifesto of how modern music should sound. Every song on here is a winner - they are not just good, they are each individually brilliant.

If you thought contemporary music was out of ideas - buy this album. The music is as good as it has ever been! Thank you Two Door Cinema Club.

Kursk: The Greatest Battle
Kursk: The Greatest Battle
by Lloyd Clark
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 19.36

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kursk - feels like you are there, 3 Oct 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book is brilliant. If you wanted to capture the essence of what it was like to be there in July 1943, in every sense this is the right book to read. Here you will find a book full of first-hand accounts, from both sides, on what it felt like to fight in one of the greatest battles of all time.

From the role of the Luftwaffe and its mighty stukas, sweeping down on the hapless Soviet infantry and tanks, to the effect of sleep deprivation on both sides, with exhausted Russian soldiers barely able to keep their eyes open after days of constant fighting, Lloyd Clark has really brought the story to life with details and experiences that added something to my understanding of the epic struggle.

He also does a great job of explaining the strategic background, the situation of both combatants and the reasons that brought them to the battlefield. I've read a lot about World War 2, and had been interested in Kursk for a long time - the great turning point of the entire war, together with the battle of Stalingrad. This book helped me place the battle of Kursk in a different perspective than I had ever seen it before. You see, for Hitler and the Germans, everything now depended on this great gamble. They may not have been able to decisively win the war in the east by July 1943, but they certainly had not lost it yet. Everything was poised on a knife edge - and that's what makes Kursk so endlessly fascinating. Lloyd Clark explains Stalin's frustration at the failure of the Western Allies to open up a second front, and the serious chance that, had the Germans been victorious at Kursk, peace negotiations would have ended the war in the East.

At this point, I must also digress slightly to strongly recommend reading 'Kursk: The Greatest Battle' in tandem with another highly excellent book, The Retreat: Hitler's First Defeat, by Michael Jones, which tells the story of the German advance on Moscow in 1941, and the desperate fighting in the winter snow. I mention this because between these two books, you really get a good picture of what was at stake - and they are both really, really good reads.

To return to Kursk, I'm really glad that I chose to buy Lloyd Clark's book - there are a lot to choose from on the topic, but none of them could have done a better job of bringing the battle to life. The personalities of the commanders come through - I was particularly shocked and enlightened to learn about Russian general Konstantin Rokossovsky, for example, who was tortured by the NKVD and spent time in a Siberian Gulag before a rapid rise that saw him commanding the central front in summer 1943. What kind of a society could produce such a man? It is sometimes astonishing to think that the events related in this book really took place - but then that is a big part of the purpose of history, to tell us what went before so that we might learn from it.

In summary, if you are interested in World War 2, and you want to know what decided the outcome - read this book. Highly recommended.

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