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Mr. T. Philipson (Oxford, Oxon United Kingdom)
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The Dead Hand: Reagan, Gorbachev and the Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race.
The Dead Hand: Reagan, Gorbachev and the Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race.
by David E. Hoffman
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelming and Unconvincing, 1 May 2014
This is a truly depressing book. Not so much due to the subject matter – though nuclear, chemical and biological warfare is pretty nightmarish – but rather in the way it constructs a narrative of a particular historical period which is unashamedly subjective yet shielded behind a thin veneer of objectivity. From the off we are primed for the ‘excellence’ within – the Pulitzer Prize reference and adulatory reviews which adorn the jacket – and from this overture we move into a 500 page odyssey which retells the cold war as essentially a 1950’s B-Movie Western, in which the noble and honourable Americans prevail over the ruthless and deceitful Soviets. The metaphor is rather apt, as the author’s hero (not too strong a word I think) is clearly Reagan – himself little more than a broken down actor who presided over an increasingly unequal society domestically whilst restoring the power of the military industrial complex and the hawkish elements of the American establishment which supported it. The maxim that how you see the past depends on where you stand could not be more apt, and so this parable of virtue winds on to its inevitable conclusions, where right conquers might and we can all sleep safe in our beds in the knowledge that Sheriff Uncle Sam protects and preserves all that (right minded) people hold dear. The result of this jaundiced and myopic historical approach is an unsurprising yet pedestrian litany of Soviet bogey men seeking no less than a global massacre of the innocents. So far so predictable, yet we get little or nothing on the ‘characters’ who played key roles in the ‘western’ cold war endeavour – men such as Curtis LeMay, James Jesus Angleton and Richard Pipes, who were at times deceitful, alarmingly shrill and bellicose in their attitudes towards the Soviets, with potentially appalling global consequences.
Although books such as this purport to be ‘histories’, they are in fact often little more than crude ‘lessons of history’ narratives where all roads inevitably lead to free-market liberal capitalism. In attempting to arrive at this predetermined conclusion we are inevitably subjected to a slavish cause and effect: a barbarous Soviet is little more than an inevitable product of the ‘Evil Empire’ which spawned him after all. In denigrating the ‘conformity [which] suffocated public discussion’ in the Soviet Union (p.204) Hoffman fails to acknowledge exactly the same ‘conformity’ that equally stifled much ‘public discussion’ in the west (Vietnam, Chile, Iran-Contra, Iraq etc), and which has increasingly led to the absurdity of the politics of patriotism and the flag pin-badge. There is much truth in Gorbachev’s pointed remark that he was dealing with ‘political dregs’ throughout much of his brief flirtation with the Americans (p.275), and the real victors of the era of the ‘Dead Hand’ proved to be the self-same political cowboys that had multiplied and prospered like bacilli during the period itself. If Hoffman genuinely believes that a country which will doggedly fight to preserve the right of the uninsured poor to die un-mourned whilst indulging in aggressive and ruinously expensive foreign policy adventures in order to assert American hegemony can produce the political will to engage in ‘liberal compromise’ over arms limitations then he is either a fool or a knave – neither of which makes him an appropriate authority to write an objective history of the Cold War arms race.


Fisher
Fisher
by David W. Wragg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

2.0 out of 5 stars Dread Nought but Death by Anecdote, 12 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Fisher (Hardcover)
From the outset I will acknowledge that I am no expert on the history of the Royal Navy, and that the reading I have done has been mainly concerned with the period leading up to and during the Second World War. Given this, I thought it would be instructive to read a biography of Fisher - whose tenure of office spanned a period of marked change in the history of the service. This said, I have to say that this biography was a little disappointing. I am not really qualified to comment on the specifics of the narrative, but it has to be said that the narrative is a little pedestrian throughout. What is curious is the uneven tone, and the sometimes jarring preoccupations of the author. Throughout the body of the work for example, the author displays real affection for his subject, which contrasts somewhat with the more critical (and one may say realistic) tone of the conclusion. There are some quite glaring statements made that are unsupported on numerous occasions throughout the text itself. We are told for example that Fisher eschewed going over the heads of his superiors, yet are given several instances when he did exactly that. We are told that he frowned upon inherited wealth and influence (despite benefitting from such un-meritocratic networks himself), yet his fawning of Royalty is apparent throughout - except when they side against him. The book also displays a tendency that is particularly dispiriting in biographies - namely death by anecdote. I know the intention is to provide `human interest' and `colour', but do we really need to be repeatedly told that that Fisher enjoyed dancing the night away? This is another aspect of the book that is grating - namely the recourse to repetition throughout. Even good stories do not bear repeated telling, but I lost count of the number of times I was informed that the Russian Fleet sailing to do battle with the Japanese mistakenly engaged British fishing vessels. We are also told that Fisher was a talented designer of warships - yet again the text tells us that his obsession with Battlecruisers was flawed, and the shallow draught Battlecruiser abject folly. Indeed the Fisher drawing reproduced to illustrate this talent has all the hallmarks of a childish impression of a Battleship, ie a basic ship outline with guns superimposed on it. Sure, Fisher may have been the `right man at the right time' in terms of marshalling current ideas of Battleship design into a practicable vessel that stole a march on Britain's naval rivals, but as the text also makes clear, he cannot claim authorship of any of these ideas. This aside, the overriding impression one gets is that of a somewhat petulant and contradictory character - a man who was of his time but also curiously out of his depth when pressure was brought to bear - particularly during the war when he effectively deserted his post. There is clearly an interesting story to be told about Fisher and this momentous period for the Royal Navy, but the leaden prose, jarring contradictions and uneven and uncritical tone unfortunately mar this work.


The Commissar's Report
The Commissar's Report
by Martyn Burke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.28

1.0 out of 5 stars Utter Rubbish, 21 July 2012
This review is from: The Commissar's Report (Paperback)
I picked this up from second hand bookshop when seeking respite from the monsoonlike British weather when attending a wedding. I know one should never believe the hyperbole on bookjackets, but I thought that it may pass some time whilst I was drying off. Comparisons with Catch 22 did not sway me particularly however, as I have always thought that this was overated in the extreme - a sort of 'knowing' middle-class smugness encapsulated in a book. However, not disuaded, I read the book, and it is indeed a fine example of the lame anti-soviet 'literature' that was produced during the period of the cold war. Anyone who questions unbridled capitalism (which is portrayed as spectaculary benign at worst here), is condemned as a 'useful idiot'. Indeed, the author almost gives the impression that the Macarthyite witch-hunts were entirely justifiable, and their demmise much lamented. In essence this is just the sort of book that is written by those with little or no grasp of history, to be enjoyed by those who share the same limitations. For sure, the narrative trundles along at a reasonabl pace, and the writing style is passable, but the content! The most stark example of this is the conclusion of the book, namely the 'testimonies' (yes - extremely pretentious) - so much sentimental rubbish is rarely found packed into so few pages. It is hard to be positive about this book in any way, so I would heartily recommend avoiding it, even if you do need to take your mind off the weather and a wedding at the same time.


Millions [DVD] [2004]
Millions [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Alexander Nathan Etel
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £3.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging Modern Fable, 17 Dec. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Millions [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Well, as a grisly misanthrop myself, I saw this film for the first time on TV the other night and was pleasantly surprised. Sure, the film is a little 'weird' in places, especially with the younger brothers 'visions', but his sheer innocence redeems this potential pitfall. To cap it all there were a few scenes that were really well executed: those with the 'Donkey' on a lead were charming - not a word I use very often - though its best not to dwell on how he got it up on the top-deck of the bus; and those containing the community policeman - especially when dealing with the local Mormons and their penchant for foot spas! In short, the film had sufficient depth to balance the sentimentality - a true British hallmark thankfully - and I would certainly watch it again, and recommend it to others.


Split
Split
Price: £60.31

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime, 8 July 2011
This review is from: Split (Audio CD)
Put simply, this is just absolutely gorgeous. From the opening `Light from a Dead Star', to the closer `When I Die', this album is an emotional and musical tour de force. I first listened to this album when it first came out, and have not ceased listening to it since, and have heard few songs in that long time to rival `Desire Lines' for sheer beauty. In short, I cannot recommend this highly enough.


The Battle of Normandy 1944: 1944 the Final Verdict (Cassell Military Paperbacks)
The Battle of Normandy 1944: 1944 the Final Verdict (Cassell Military Paperbacks)
by Robin Neillands
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Debunking the 'Myths' of Normandy, 15 Dec. 2010
Having read Max Hasting's `Overlord', Beevor's recent history of the Normandy campaign, as well as other more general histories of the European war such as Chester Wilmot's `The Struggle for Europe', Neilands take on the Normandy campaign was refreshingly honest, and remarkably unchauvinistic. The temptation - like Neilands himself acknowledges - is to redress the critiques of the British and Canadian contribution to the campaign by indulging in equally biased critiques of the American part of the campaign. Being objective is always difficult in the prevailing times which deem it fashionable to detract from the achievements of the entire allied campaign - particularly the British and Canadian - and the generalship which drove the campaign on to ultimate victory. In this however, Neilands is largely successful, and the real strength of the book lies in the sophisticated contextualisation which characterises the book. It is so very easy to condemn with the luxury of hindsight, but as Neilands demonstrates, at the time there was general consensus that the overall strategic plan envisaged by Montgomery was accepted by the ground commanders, and acknowledged to be the most `workable' solution to the problem of overcoming some of the most dogged defence by the some of the most battle hardened troops on the European continent. As Neilands comments, although fighting for a ghastly cause, the Germans nonetheless deserve credit for putting in such a determined defence against all the odds. Conversely, it is to Mongomery's credit that the overall strategic plan he engineered would ultimately prevail against these resolute defenders, and to the credit of the fighting men that they were able to carry out this difficult task in the (timely) manner they did. Revisionist history is not a helpful analytical tool, but this volume is far from revisionist in this sense. For sure, it revises prevailing historical orthodoxy, but this is by means of being firmly rooted in the sources, and as such raises important questions in respect of the often uneasy relationship between `orthodoxy' and military `reality' itself. In short, highly recommended.


Retromancer
Retromancer
by Robert Rankin
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slight return to form, 14 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Retromancer (Hardcover)
After the disappointment of his last two offerings, namely "Necrophenia" and "The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code", this was something of a return to form. The reappearance of Hugo Rune and his acolyte Rizla was welcome (although the ambiguity surrounding his status as either hero or villain is left unresolved yet again here - check out "The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived" for a malevolent Hugo), and the ensemble cast of characters was similarly comforting. The writing was also less jarring than in the previous books mentioned above, which mean that the book was more of a page turner. However, within these strengths lie weaknesses. The familiarity was a tad too familiar at times, and the plot, as others have indicated, was not too far divorced from that of "The Brightonomicon". The danger (if that is the right word) of using this `12 case' plot device is that the book is somewhat formulaic throughout, with little sense of a strong narrative imperative running throughout the text. If ever there was a case of the sum parts not quite matching up to the whole then this was it, which is a shame as Rankin can do the `case' plotline very well, as in "The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies". Despite these `issues', this was still an enjoyable romp, and although not one of his best, certainly indicates that Rankin may have pulled himself out of the rut he has been in of late.


Casino Royale [DVD] [1967]
Casino Royale [DVD] [1967]
Dvd ~ David Niven
Offered by Compilationheaven
Price: £3.95

7 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful, 8 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Casino Royale [DVD] [1967] (DVD)
Quite simply this is one of the worst films I have had the misfortune to watch - and I want my two hours of wasted life back. I am happy to watch spoofs of particular genres, and the king remains Spinal Tap - which is also excellent as a film in its own right. But this is just awful, and time-dragging awfulness at that. Meandering script, lame jokes, and the appaling waste of considerable acting talent make this a cinematic travesty. I doubt that any of those involved will view this as the crowning glory of their career, and rightly so. If you really hanker after a 007 spoof, then I suggest that you watch pretty much any of the Bond films starring Roger Moore - hard to take seriously (but then I kind of think that all concerned never considered them to be taken seriously), but at least they were entertaining - something that this film was anything but.


xx (Digipack)
xx (Digipack)
Price: £11.94

18 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Shoegazing at its worst, 8 Sept. 2010
This review is from: xx (Digipack) (Audio CD)
We all know that the phrase 'next big thing' is something of a cliche, and hangs like a millstone around many an artists head. In the case of the 'XX' (bit pretentious in itself) this may well have been the case if there was any inherent musical core to their output. Yes it sounds 'atmospheric' (or ambient as the experts would have it), but it is also repetative and empty also. During the 90's there was so-called shoegazing - a sort of introspective yet melodic genre, which was much derided, and rightly so in many respects. However, every now and then a real gem would emerge from this morass which was both melodic and meaningful. The XX is none of these things - self-indulgence at its worst. Not that I blame the kids - just those who mislead them into thinking that their musical musings have any intrinsic merit. For those who laud this album I would suggest that they listen to 'Split' by the sadly gone but not forgotten Lush, which demonstrates that you can produce layered, moving introspective music without being either self-indulgent or, even worse, boring. If this is the zeitgeist then, as another cliche goes, I wish to reach for my metaphorical revolver and possibly shoot myself.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 9, 2011 12:05 AM GMT


Cleaning Up
Cleaning Up
by Gerry O'Brien
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Room for Improvement., 16 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Cleaning Up (Paperback)
There is much to like in this adventure, and O' Brien occasionally latches onto some eternal truth that has real comic potential. The character of Dot Coulson who is forever interfering to make the world (or rather `borough') a better place is a case in point. Sometimes the most salient and amusing observations are not exploited to their full comic potential - the ruminations on the nature of democracy were particularly good for example, although somewhat cursory. This is a shame, for despite some technical issues such as the poor copy-editing, there was real potential here to construct a landscape and the characters that dwell within which could be mined for comic effect - like Robert Rankin's Brentford for example. However, whereas Rankin has a real eye for detail, nuance, and characterisation - as well as an obvious love for Brentford, O' Brien's attempt seems a little superficial, and a little forced. Most of the characters seldom rise above the level of cliché - particularly the `criminals' - and there are few hooks through which we can develop either a liking or dislike for any of the cast of characters. The most obvious flaw within the novel however lies in the plot - if indeed there is one beyond the existence of a diamond (telepathic, mind), and the attempts of a retinue of individuals attempting to get at it. The narrative is confused, with little real focus, and it is here that the author's shortcomings when compared with Pratchett, Rankin or Holt are most evident. Whereas they can spin a complex yarn whilst keeping you aware of the permutations throughout, O' Brien lacks this ability. The existence of alternative dimensions, telepathy, consciousness within inanimate objects and beguiling corridors are all very well so long as you don't leave the reader beguiled as well. This is not about objecting to complexity, but rather making it comprehendible and credible. Too often, this book reads like a first draft after a fretful nights sleep when a vague storyline takes shape in the subconscious, and is scribbled down the next morning. The story has been hammered out certainly, but not fleshed out or refined. This is a shame, for as noted above, there were some good moments within this book. Indeed, I've ordered his next `borough' novel, "Planting Out", on the strength of the promise shown in "Cleaning Up". I sincerely hope that it lacks the awkward discursive tone of his first attempt, and gets back to basics, namely good solid characterisation, an engaging and comprehensible narrative, and, for want of a better word, some deeper meaning. Afterall, for all their comic talents, there is usually something quite profound in the writings of Rankin and Pratchett, and it is good to finish a book feeling both entertained and thoughtful.


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