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R. Darlington "Roger Darlington" (London, England)

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Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics
Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics
by Tim Marshall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkably clear, concise yet comprehensive primer to geo-politics, 18 Jan. 2016
The sub-title of this book makes a bold claim: “Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics”. While it is true that there are 10 double-page maps, there are another 10 smaller maps; the maps do not, of course, stand alone, but are supported by some 240 pages of text; and “everything” is inevitably a subjective judgement.

Having said all that, this is an exceptionally accomplished work with many admirable features: it covers every continent and major nation (except Oceania); it is immensely informative and bang up-to-date; it covers so much material in a commendably concise text; and the writing is clear while the judgements are insightful – all these attributes reflecting Marshall’s experience and skill as a British media reporter of international affairs and global conflicts.

The main theme of the book – reflected in the title – is that overwhelmingly geo-politics has been, and largely still is, shaped by the geographical characteristics of nations and their neighbours. As he puts it: "… the choices of those who lead the seven billion inhabitants of this planet will to some degree always be shaped by the rivers, mountains, deserts, lakes and seas that constrain us all”.

This central argument is illustrated in detail through 10 chapters looking at different nations or regions:

Russia: He explains the strategic thinking of the biggest country in the world that perceives two military weaknesses. First, the North European Plain that has been the route for successive invasions of the country since the Poles in 1605, leading the Russians to want a buffer of friendly nations to its west. Second, the lack of a warm-water port with direct access to the oceans that was one of the major factors behind the take-over of Crimea so that it retained clear control of the port of Sevastopol.

China: He sets out the importance to China, the most populous country in the world, of the province of Xinjiang conquered in the 18th century and the territory of Tibet annexed in 1951, so that it has secure borders on all sides. Now China is building a Blue Water navy to assert its power in the East China Sea and the South China Sea and it is investing throughtout Asia, Africa and South America to create strategic assets like ports and acquire strategic minerals, metals and sources of energy.

USA: He argues that this is the nation most blessed by geography: a huge expanse territory with no threatening neighbours, vast resources with plenty of navigable rivers and extensive infrastructure, and access to and protection by two massive oceans. He is not one of those commentators suggesting the imminent decline of America: ”The planet’s most successful country is about to become self-sufficient in energy, it remains the pre-eminent economic power and it spends more on research and development for its military than the overall military budget of all the other NATO countries combined”.

Western Europe: He spells out the geographical reasons for Europe becoming the ‘First World’: mild climate, the right soil, navigable rivers, natural harbours, and no deserts or frozen wastes. As for modern times, he sees the European Union as having "worked brilliantly" in locking France and Germany together and preventing further European wars.

Africa: He is not optimistic about the future of the continent. Geography is against it with lots of hostile climates, a lack of navigable rivers, and nation states artificially created by former colonial powers. He describes the Democratic Republic of the Congo as ”the great black hole” that has been home to the world’s most deadly conflict since the Second World War.

The Middle East: He explains the problems created by the drawing of artificial lines on the map by Britain and France after the First World War, the nature of the Arab/Israeli conflict, the failure of the so-called Arab Spring, the nature of the Sunni/Shia divide in the Muslim world, and the growth of jihadist movements which ”may be the Arab version of Europe’s Thirty Years’ War”.

India and Pakistan: He reminds us that these two nations – once a single British colony – have fought four major wars and many skirmishes with the Kashmir issue remaining the most serious area of conflict. He despairs of Pakistan which has been in a state of civil war for more than a decade but is hopeful about the continuing economic growth and political power of India.

Korea and Japan: He sets out the territorial disputes over control of various islands between Japan and Russia, China and South Korea respectively, but understandably sees the greatest risk of conflict between nuclear-armed North Korea and South Korea, although he is confident of the superior strength of South Korea and its ally America.

Latin America: Like Africa and for similar geographical reasons, he is not optimistic about the future of the 20 countries in this region. The rainforest, the mountain ranges, the lack of navigable rivers, the lack of cooperation between nations, together with the poverty and corruption, do not auger well for this southern section of the globe.

The Arctic: He explains how climate change has allowed easier access to the region and the discovery of large energy deposits leading to new interest in this part of the world, especially by an aggressively assertive Russia. But the Arctic region includes land in parts of eight countries and there are currently at least nine legal disputes and claims over sovereignty.

This is a work that should be read by every national and international politician (especially in the USA). If it is the only such book they read and they can take all the messages on board, they will have achieved a great deal of wisdom and insight.

Inevitably, one wonders whether geo-politics will continue to be as shaped and constrained as it has been by geographical features and, at the beginning and the end of his book, Marshall hints at some of the factors which may be loosening the bars of these 'prisons', such as air power, the Internet, climate change, and space. For now though, geography remains the most powerful influence on everything from national wealth to military strength and this book is a wonderful primer on geo-politics.

Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963-2011
Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963-2011
by Daniel Branch
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A depressing but essential read for those interested in Kenya, 20 Nov. 2015
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Between visits to Kenya by President Barack Obama and Pope Francis in the second half of 2015, I made my first trip to the country and was recommended to read this book to understand better this nation of some 45 million with no less than 42 different tribes, most notably Kikuyu 22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, and Meru 6%. This post-colonial history of nearly half a century is a tale of three presidencies: those of the Kikuyu Jomo Kenyatta (1963-1978), the Kalenjin Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002), and the Kikuyu Mwai Kibaki (2002-2013).

Daniel Branch is associate professor of African history at the University of Warwick in the UK and his meticulously researched work is sadly a depressing read because of the events he records and examines. The main theme of his work is that politics in Kenya has not been about the redistribution of resources between different social classes as in most democracies, but about the calculated assignment of power and influence to different ethnic groups - what is called the politics of recognition rather than redistribution.

He laments: "Elites have encouraged Kenyans to think and act politically in a manner informed first and foremost by ethnicity, in order to crush demands for the redistribution of scarce resources." The result - which Branch narrates in grim detail - has been continual ethnic conflict (often promoted by political elites and tolerated by police and security forces) which have frequently resulted in hundreds of deaths and considerable displacement, constant repression of any opposition to the controlling elites with regular political assasinations, corruption of a ubiquitious nature and on a massive scale, and for most of the populace deep-seated poverty and lack of education.

Branch describes Kenya as "a half-made place" with a public life of "amnesiac collusion" and " a schizophrenic political system". He explains: "On the one hand, it has a vibrant political society and a free press that routinely exposes corruption scandals and demonstrates the links between senior political figures and electoral violence. On the other hand, groups like Mungiki [a militia suppporting Kikuyu politicians and communities] thrive and its politicians are accused of crimes against humanity." Somewhere between hope and despair, he concludes: "Kenya may never be prosperous or be a nation; but armed with a government that it deserves, it can be a state whose citizens live side by side in peace and enjoy equal opportunities."

Since this book was published, Kenya has had another general election and chosen a new leadership: Uhuru Kenyatta (Kikuyu) as President and William Ruto (Kalenjin) as Vice-President. In 2010, both men were accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of crimes against humanity relating to the violence which followed the 2007 elections that killed more than 1,100 people and displaced 600,000.

by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.84

4.0 out of 5 stars Not great literature but terrific storytelling, 31 Oct. 2015
This review is from: Dominion (Paperback)
British writer Christopher John Sansom's 2011 novel "Dominion" can be compared to fellow British writer Robert Harris's 1992 work "Fatherland" and indeed, in an end note, Sansom describes "Fatherland" as "the best alternate history novel ever written". Both are set in a world in which the outcome of the Second World War is very different from real history with an undefeated Germany and a compliant Britain and both are thrillers involving a great mystery but, whereas "Fatherland" is set in Germany in April 1964, "Dominion is located in Britain in November-December 1952. Sansom makes constant reference to the weather and eventually we realise why he set his novel when he did: it is the time of the Great Smog when for almost a week London effectively came to a halt, making any search or rescue mission especially complicated.

For all its length (almost 700 pages), "Dominion" is tightly focused in time (a few weeks), place (southern England) and main characters (a scientist with a secret, a few members of the Resistance, and a couple of SS and Special Branch pursuers). It is not great literature, some of the dialogue is leaden and expository, and it takes a while for the pace to pick up, but it is highly readable, indeed something of a page-turner.

What makes "Dominion" particularly interesting is the assumptions Sansom makes about how all sorts of real characters would have behaved had Britain signed a peace treaty with Germany in 1940 instead of continuing the war. So he places Lord Beaverbrook as head of a collaborationist British government with a Cabinet including Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell. Winston Churchill - for whom Sansom clearly has great admiration - is the aged leader of the Resistance supported by Labour leader Clement Attlee. Sansom. who was born in Scotland of a Scottish mother, is fiercely anti-nationalist and represents the Scottish National Party as supporters of the increasingly authoritarian British Government. At the end of the novel, the author devotes no less than 18 pages to an historical note justifying his characterisations of various politicians and parties.

If there is a moral to the book, it is expressed by a Slovak member of the British Resistance: " .. you thought fascism would never come to Britain, you had been a democracy so long, and you felt ... special. But you were wrong; given the right circumstances fascism can infest any country, feeding off the hatreds and and nationalisms that already exist. Nobody is safe."

The Martian
The Martian
by Andy Weir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars A good novel that could be an even better film, 29 April 2015
This review is from: The Martian (Paperback)
Like the hero of his novel, Weir has succeeded against the odds. Originally his work was self-published on his web site chapter by chapter before being picked up by a publisher and enjoying great success. The eponymous Martian is of course a human, Mark Watney, originally one of a crew of six visiting the red planet on NASA's Ares 3 mission. When he finds himself alone in immensely challenging circumstances, he shows amazing resilience and inventiveness and, in a regular and detailed log, considerable wry and dry humour "Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped".

The scientific detail of the writing is astonishing and Weir, the son of a physicist, has described himself as "a space nerd my whole life" and acknowledged that he did "a ton of research for the book as well as lots of thought-experiment science". At first, I wondered how much I could take of the single-person narrative and all the science - which, while making for a convincing tale, is rather heavy - but, after almost 50 pages, the style changes and the format opens out, so that it becomes a real page-turner and the 370 pages rush by.

This is not great literature, but it is grand storytelling. It is not character-driven - indeed we learn little about Watney or anyone else in the account - but it is action-driven. Things keep happenening to make Watney's survival seem hopeless, only for other developments to come along that make rescue a possibility once more. As I read the novel, I kept thinking what a terrific film it would make - especially with less of the science and more character development - and, once I finished the work and checked out the web, I learned that indeed it is to be a movie with Matt Damon in the lead role. It's going to be up there with "Apollo 13" and "Gravity".

An Officer and a Spy
An Officer and a Spy
by Robert Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Literally very hard to put down, 16 April 2015
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
Harris is one of Britain's bestselling thriller writers and this is his ninth novel. I read his first four - "Fatherland", "Enigma", Archangel" and "Pompeii" - but then left him alone. The reviews for "An Officer And A Spy" were so favourable that I returned to the fold and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed thw work.

Harris usually sets his stories in a specitifc historical period and Ancient Rome and the Second World War are his favourited epocs. This time, he has chosen late 19th century/early 20th century France to tell in fiction form the true infamous story of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army officer who was wrongly convicted of treason in 1894 and only finally exonerated in 1906 - what Harris calls in an Author's Note "perhaps the greatest political scandal and miscarriage of justice in history".

The novel is written in the present tense through the first person perspective of Colonel Georges Picquart, the chief of the army's Statistical Section who played a major part in the exposure of the scandal. It is a lengthy narrative of just over 600 pages, but it covers 12 years (Harris concentrates on the first five) with a host of characters (Harris has a list of almost 50 'dramatis personae' at the beginning). Yet it is a compelling read because Harris is a master storyteller.

It is such a fantastical tale that, if one did not know that it was history, one would find it literally incredible. But the author assures the reader: "None of the characters in the pages that follow, not even the most minor, is wholly fictional, and almost all of what occurs, at least in some form, actually happened in real life." Much of the milieu of the story is the byzantine universe of military intelligence and Picquart refsrs to "the cabalistic world of 'secret intelligence': two words that can make otherwise sane men abandon their reason and cavort like idiots".

Robert Harris was inspired to write this novel by the longtime interest in the Dreyfus affair of his close friend French film director Roman Polanski. The two men collaborated together to produce the film "The Ghost Writer" and now Harris has written a screenplay based on the Dreyfus novel which Polanski is set to direct. There are many dramatic courtroom encounters in the story which should make for powerful cinema.

Zone of Crisis: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq
Zone of Crisis: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq
by Amin Saikal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A concise but very informed examination of four of the most troubled nations in geo-politics, 28 Mar. 2015
Amin Saikal is an Afghan-born scholar of international affairs who is Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University. He has written a study of four West Asian countries that are adjacent to one another and rarely out of the headlines, what he calls "a volatile, uncertain and unpredictable zone, with serious implications for changing world order". He is an immensely knowledgeable observer with a balanced and insightful view of events and he writes clearly although a little academically in tone. Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, he has little original to say about how to sort out the chronic messes that he describes.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are predominately Sunni states, while Iraq and Iran have a Shia majority population (the only such countries in the world except for tiny Bahrain and secular Azerbaijan). Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered recent invasions by predominately American and British military forces, while Pakistan and Iran have 'only' faced drone attacks and economic sanctions respectively. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq have some of the veneers of a democracy, but their political institutions are massively flawed, while Iran - the most stable of the states examined - has its own version of elective power that is counterbalanced by a more powerful theocratic elite.

In his commendably short but nevertheless informative book, Saikal has four long chapters and, in the case of each nation, he sets out the complicated mosaic of ethnic groups and a brief account of the recent historical legacy, he examines the current governance and economic performance, he explores the country's position in international relationships, and finally he attempts a look at the way forward.

So, for Afghanistan, Saikal explains how the Taliban and their supporters largely come from the Ghilzai part of the Pashtun community, while former President Karzai and most of his cohort belong to the Durrani segment of the Pashtuns, so that "the conflict within Aghanistan since 2001 has been essentially an intra-Pashtun one". He is scathing of Karzai insisting: "His approach and policies gave rise to politics of patronage, corruption and inefficiency in both the civilian and military spheres at all levels." But he is equally critical of the Americans: "the Bush administration failed to draw up a comprehensive and coherent programme of reconstruction for Afghanistan. The approach that it adopted was piecemeal, poorly coordinated and badly implemented." In this chaotic state, opium cultivation has continued to expand, so that "Afghanistan has for all practical purposes become, once again, a narco-state."

Akthough Pakistan of course has its own chapter, Saikal notes that "Developments in the two countries have been so intertwined that some analysts and policymakers have opted to lump them together under the joint designation, 'Af-Pak'." But Pakistan has its own ethnic mix with the largest groups (in order) being the Punjabis (who back the Pakistan Muslim League political party), the Sindhis (who support the Pakistan People's Party), the Pathans as the Pashtuns are called here (responsible for a Taliban insurgency), and the Baluchis (supporting another insurgency). Political power has oscillated between the PML, the PPP, and the military with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) always massively influential. This is a nation that spends around one quarter of government revenue on defence (which includes a nuclear arsenal) but less than 2% on education and under 1% on health.

Iran is less socially fragmented than Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq, with a substantial majority of Iranians being of Persian ethnicity, which has enabled it - unlike the other countries - to have a clear national identity as opposed to the tribal, sectarian or religious identities to which the citizens of the other states adhere. Also, since the Ayatollah Khomeini seized contol of the revolution of 1978-79, the country has had a unique political system that Saikal characterises as an uneasy and fluctuating balance between the 'sovereignty of God' (as expressed through the fundamentalist Shia leaders with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as their shock troops) and the 'sovereignity of the people' (as represented by the elected president and parliament). Saikal sees some hopeful signs following the recent election of President Rouhani.

It is in the case of Iraq that Saikal is at his bitterest about American policy in the zone of crisis following the occupation of the country from 2003-2011. He opines that "Washington's misreading and underestimation of Iraq's complexity boggles the mind" and writes "The United States, as the leading occupying force, could neither fully grasp the complexity of the Iraqi situation, nor put in motion an appropriate and effective post-invasion strategy of political reform, governance and reconstruction for the country." But, of course, Iraqis do not escape his criticisms. We are all very familiar with the divisions and conflicts between the Shias in the south, the Sunnis in the centre, and the Kurds in the north, but Saikal highlights further cleavages between secularists/semi-secularists and Islamists and between centralists and regionalists. He is damning of the leadership of al-Maliki who he insists "has increasingly acted like a dictator, cementing patronage and nepotism as hallmarks of Iraqi governance."

So, what is to be done? Saikal points out that "Neutrality and openness are required of all parties if progress is to be made" (what are the chances of that?). He insists: "political systems must be created to allow for and promote plurality, compromise, moderation and the acceptance of dissent" (he is a fan of the Lebanese model). He suggests revisiting the possibility of a reformist Islamist model (he appears to have in mind Iran under Khatami). In a wider context, he points out the need for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the Indo-Pakistani contestation of Kashmir. A huge and complex agenda then ...

North Korea: State of Paranoia
North Korea: State of Paranoia
by Paul French
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.78

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful analysis but not as up-to-date as it should be, 25 Jan. 2015
In the global community, no nation is as closed and inscrutable and unpredictable as North Korea, often called 'the Hermit Kingdom' but officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). This is why I was keen to read French's book. It is a well-written and insightful work, but rather repetitive (it runs to over 400 pages). More seriously, much of the data - and French admits "essentially no reliable statistics have been published by the DPRK since 1965" - is a decade old (especially on the economy on which he writes at length) and the book has the feel of something written 10 years ago and up-dated only minimally.

What the book does tell us is deeply troublimg. Throughout its life-time, the DPRK has been ruled with utter totalitarianism by a succession of three dictators:

Kim Il-sung or Kim 1 or `the Great Leader'- the original dictator who ruled the country from 1948-1994
Kim Jong-il or Kim 2 or `the Dear Leader' - the eldest son of Kim Il-sung who ruled the country from 1994-2011
Kim Jong-un or Kim 3 or the `Great Successor'- the third son of Kim Jong-il and a grandson of Kim Il-sung who has ruled the country since 2011

All of them have followed a peculiar political philosophy called `Juche' said to be Kim Il-sung's "original, brilliant and revolutionary contribution to national and international thought". French describes it as "an indigenous revolutionary doctrine fusing the basic tenets of Marxist-Leninism with elements of Maoism and Confucianism and traditional Korean social systems". The theory is that popular masses are placed in the centre of everything and the leader is the centre of the masses. In practice, it is an attempt to make the nation self-reliant and self-sufficient and involves a policy of `military first' in terms of power and resources.

The reality is that North Korea is desperarely poor and massively dependent on international aid. While it seeks to develop nuclear arsenals, its populace is constantly on the edge of famine. Aid agencies have estimated that up to two million people have died since the mid-1990s because of acute food shortages caused by natural disasters and economic mismanagement. French is clear that no significant political or economic reform is possible within the strict terms of 'Juche' amd observes that "Juche has become, in effect, the state religion and thus major revisions are unlikely".

The last chapter - ironically number 13 - is titled "How will the story end?". French explores a few scenarios - such as mass exodus, economic collapse or military takeover - but concludes" 'It is anyone's guess, however, whether the demise of North Korea will be peaceful or violent, gradual or immediate." Meanwhile North Korea remains what the book's conclusion calls "the world's most dangerous tripwire" with the South Korean capital of Seoul a mere 37 miles away from the DPRK's formidable battery of artillery and missiles.

French repeatedly criticises American policy towards North Korea as being episodic and reactive and there is little sign of that changing. The country which most fears a collapse of the DRPK and is most likely - we hope - to reign in its military escapades and stimulate meaningful economic reform is China.

Gone Girl
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cracking read, 18 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Gone Girl (Paperback)
I love the title: short, punchy, alliterative. But I don't normally read crime fiction. Then I saw the film of the novel with the screenplay by the author and I knew that I had to read the book. Obviously I already knew the surprises - and there are some great surprises in this narrative - but the twists and turns and clues came so thick and fast in the movie that I really enjoyed spotting and savouring them in the novel.

To enjoy the film or the book - whichever you access first - the less you know about the storyline the better. Let's just say that the plot revolves around the fifth wedding anniversary of an American middle class couple: Nick (34) and Amy (38) Dunne, both writers who have lost their jobs in New York City and moved to Nick's hometown in North Carthage, Missouri. A great deal has changed in their marriage and neither is the person the other once loved so much

In analysing novels, one usually identifies the point of view or narrator and sometimes finds that one has an unreliable narrator. Here we have two narrators and both - in vey different ways - are exceptionally unreliable. At one point, one of them assures the reader: "Don't fret, we'll sort this out: the true and the not true and the might as well be true." This never really proves to be the case - I told you they were both unreliable.

The alternating voices of Nick and Amy are presented in different formats with different timescales but gradually convergence both time-wise and plot-wise to a dramatic finale that is far from being a traditional conclusion. Flynn has artfully constructed a really clever narrative with a richness of interlocking elements and the work is all the smarter for being part crime thriller, part examination of the modern marriage, part expose of the impact of austerity.

It is one of the best novels that I have read for sheer pulling power, as Flynn breaks the near 500-page text into bite-sized sections that one wishes to devour at pace, contriving to end many of the sections with a teasing line that urges you to press on.

War: What is it good for?: The role of conflict in civilisation, from primates to robots
War: What is it good for?: The role of conflict in civilisation, from primates to robots
by Ian Morris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.39

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sweeping view of history that offers much for contemplation, 19 Oct. 2014
I went to a meeting at the British House of Commons where Professor Ian Morris set out the main themes of his book and this encouraged me to buy and read it. Morris grew up in Britain and studied at Birmingham and Cambridge Universities before moving to the University of Chicago in 1987 and on to Stanford University in 1995. He is now Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor of Classics and a Fellow of the Archaeology Center at Stanford University.

The title of this, his third, book is taken from the opening words of a song from Edwin Starr in 1969. It is quite a long work: a main text of almost 400 pages with another 70 pages of notes, further reading, and bibliography. But the historical scope is enormous - the entire history of humankind with a speculative look forward as far as the 2050s - and Morris has a certain narrative flair, so it is a fascinating read.

For all its scope, the book can be summarised in four claims:

1. War has created larger and safer communities.
2. War seems to have been the only way to create such bigger societies.
3. War has been responsible for making more prosperous societies.
4. War is now in the process of putting itself out of business.

Expanding on these themes, Morris acknowledged that war is one of the greatest human evils. It has ruined livelihoods, provoked unspeakable atrocities and left countless millions dead. It has caused economic chaos and widespread deprivation, and the misery it generates poisons foreign policy for future generations. Yet, in his view, there is a case to be made that it is thanks to war that we live longer and more comfortable lives than ever before.

Most of the book is a run through the history of humankind through the prism of war. He explains how humans migrated from east Africa to the Fertile Crescent in the Lucky Latitudes where agriculture could develop before sea transport around the Mediterraean enabled the first empires to be created. Progress went into reverse when the horsemen of the steppes devastated the Eurasian empires before later the sea nations of western Europe colonised much of the globe. He summarises the main step changes in warfare as respectively fortifications and seiges, metal arms and armour, discipline, chariots, massed iron-armed infantry, cavalry, guns, battleships, tanks, aircraft, and nuclear weapons.

He estimates that, in the Stone Age, between 10-20% of people died a violent death; that, at the time of ancient empires in the late first millennium BC, this figure was down to 2-5%; that, in what he calls the age of steepe migrations from 200-1400 AD, the rate of violent death rose to 5-10% in Eurasia; that, in the 20th century — despite its two world wars, atomic bombs, and multiple genocides — the rate plummeted to only 1-2%; and that, averaged over the world as a whole, today violence kills a mere 0.7%. Of course, these figures are only estimates since there are no reliable statistics before 1500 AD, but he is convinced that the orders of magnitude are broadly correct and demonstrate that overall the world has never been more peaceful. As he puts it: "the evidence of archaeology, anthropology. history, and evolutionary biology seems conclusive".

He acknowledges that, at the height of the Cold War, we had the capacity through nuclear weapons to destroy humankind but he points out that, since a peak number of nuclear warheads in 1986 of more than 70,000, the number has been cut back dramatically (one estimate is a current total of 16,300).

This analysis poses many questions. Is war then in fact a good thing? Without war, would we never have built the nation-states which now keep us relatively safe from random acts of violence, and which have given us previously unimaginable wealth? Is war perhaps the only human invention that has allowed us to construct peaceful societies? And yet, if we continue waging war with ever-more deadly weaponry, are we running a risk of destroying everything we have achieved?

Morris's conclusion is a controversial one. He supports the notion of the USA as a "globocop" and argues that the best option for the world over the coming decades is to support and bolster the strength of America so that it can continue effectively in this role, even as its economic decline continues remorselessly. He argues that "the next forty years promise to be the most dangerous in history" but believes that, if we can survive this uniquely challenging period, "the computerization of everything" will effectively render war obsolete. Optimistically he asserts: "We are beginning to play the endgame of death". If only ...

Unexpected Lessons in Love
Unexpected Lessons in Love
by Bernardine Bishop
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love comes in many forms and at different times, 13 Sept. 2014
Bishop wrote two novels in her early 20s but did not return to her first love fiction until 50 years later, after a career as a teacher and a psychotherapist, during which she married twice and had two chidlren from her first marriage. After her retirement in 2010 because of cancer, she went back to novel writing she day after she was told that her cancer was gone and subsequently penned three works - this being the first. She explained: "I remember the delight at being in control of my own story again". "Unexpected Lessons In Love" was published in January 2013 and Bishop died - the cancer had returned - in July 2013.

Unusually - but obviously shaped by the author's life experiences - two of the main characters in the novel are elderly women, one a former psychotherapist and the other a novelist, who have a colostomy (or stoma) and the work describes frankly the physical and psychological nature of this challenge. Both women find love but in unexpected places - hence the title - but other forms of love are explored as well. There is a telling line in the novel: "... love falls where it falls and, like other rare and precious commodities, it must be appreciated and cherished wherever it is found". As a grandparent of a young child, I especially related to the descriptions of the chief character with her grandchildren: "the most important ansd sustaining joy of her life"

Bishop writes well. Not all the characters are fully delineated, not everything is explained, and the conclusion is open-ended, but this is the nauture of the modern novel.

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