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Kuma (London)

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Napoleon (LIVES)
Napoleon (LIVES)
by Paul Johnson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing effort that falls short of its objectives, 28 April 2013
This review is from: Napoleon (LIVES) (Paperback)
Books like this one by Paul Johnson are important when it comes to the lives of "Great Men". Johnson is keen in the first instance to separate "greatness" from "goodness" and then in the second instance to question whether his subject Napoleon was great. Historiography is often bombarded by hagiographic accounts of men such as Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Julius Caesar etc, that works that provide a counter perspective are important. The Napoleon presented in Johnson's book is selfish, uncaring for his men, at times cowardly and in the long run the author of fascistic movements in the 20th century in the European countries he had invaded. Johnson goes on to suggest that Napoleon was in fact the author of a general French decline in the 19th & 20th Centuries.
Whilst conceptually interesting the work is limited in the first instance by its length (at around 200 pages it was always going to struggle with its subject matter) and secondly because of how Johnson writes; the book is not a military history and largely skirts around the major battles of Napoleon's career, it isn't a social or economic history looking at Napoleon's domestic policies and it really isn't a political/diplomatic history. The work touches these subjects but struggles to really engage any of the subjects in sufficient depth; this robs Johnson's polemic of real bite. The result is a loose focus on Napoleon on a personal level, the ineffectual nature of his personal relationships, character traits and communication skills, almost making Napoleon into a CEO of a failing business rather than a military leader and dictator. Beyond this issue of style and focus, there are also some inaccuracies in the details and historical fact.
As mentioned at the start, it is important that works that challenge the hagiography of Napoleon are important, it is also important that they are up to the task they have set themselves. This work whilst an enjoyable and easy read, falls somewhat short of this objective.


The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King
The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King
by Ian Mortimer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

4.0 out of 5 stars Why doth the Crown lie there upon his pillow?, 6 Jan. 2013
"The Fears of Henry IV" cements Ian Mortimer's position as a pre-eminent popular historian of the middle ages. Ian Mortimer deserves this recognition for two reasons; first he has been part of a superb revival of historical biography in a period that is not generally accessible to non-academics and secondly because he has been brave enough to tackle individuals (Sir Roger Mortimer and Henry IV) that are less well known and potentially less lucrative from a sales perspective.
The book itself is superbly structured, setting itself structurally in line with Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV part I and Henry IV part II, whilst taking great pains to differentiate itself from Shakespeare's narrative and actually try and get under the skin of who Henry IV was. The book perhaps has three distinct parts, Henry's childhood and early life up to where Shakespeare's Richard II starts, the period of his exile and overthrow of Richard and then his reign as king. The first part is immensely rewarding and Henry's early life, crusading and pilgrimage to Jerusalem are all very interesting. The second part of the book is also well handled actually looking into the complexities of overthrowing Richard and the legal basis that Henry established, whilst the third part actually helps those familiar with Shakespeare's plays understand Henry's relationship with his sons, the background to the Percy rebellion and also the general instability of the succession in the English monarchy.
The book is well written and very accessible. Mortimer certainly works hard to present a picture of Henry, reconciling his intense religiosity with the fact that he executed several prelates, his tremendous loyalty with the fact that he deposed (and may have ordered murdered?) an anointed king as well as commitment to mercy despite demonstrable ruthlessness. The picture is of a man that perhaps had less choice than people realise, who though immensely accomplished for his era also is deserving of significant sympathy. I would recommend this work to anyone interested in Plantagenet and Lancastrian history and for anyone interested in Henry V's background.
It should be used as an entry point to study of the period, as some people may see it as overly pro-Lancastrian, hopefully Mortimer will write a biography of Edward IV in the future and perhaps balance the books.


Terry Jones' Barbarians
Terry Jones' Barbarians
by Alan Ereira
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An exercise in historical "vandalism"?, 1 Jan. 2013
It doesn't take much to conjure an image of what barbarians represent in the modern psyche. The Huns, Vandals and Goths all paint lurid pictures in the modern mind and are synonymous with destruction, ignorance and violence. Much of this has already been countered in modern academia with historians and archaeologists working to present a more considered case for "barbarian" peoples, however there is a definite gap in modern accessible works for general readers to reconsider their views on barbarians. In that respect Terry Jones' work is a welcome addition to accessible works on the topic. There has been much change in general attitudes to the ancient world, Tom Holland has shown Rome as a gangster empire (Rubicon) and Ancient Greece as a rogue state (Persian Fire), whilst Richard Miles has made a strong case for Carthaginian credibility (Carthage Must be Destroyed). Against this revision of popular history, a work on barbarians is highly welcome.
It is therefore something of a shame that this work that promises much fails to deliver for a number of reasons. First is the literary style of the work, in making his case Jones perhaps overestimates the esteem Rome is held in (modern tastes are against empire, slavery and wars of aggression) and resorts to significant overstatement to make his points. This can be seen in the way in which he exaggerates the state of development of certain cultures (Dacia in particular) perhaps suggesting levels of sophistication that are beyond the reality of those cultures e.g. Dacia was certainly in the process of state formation perhaps similar to Archelaus' Macedon but was certainly unlikely to have been an outright kingdom. The way these statements are made are at best clumsy and inaccurate but also condescending.
Secondly there is an issue of what his argument actually is. There is an overriding argument that we are wrong to be dismissive of these "barbarian" cultures and that we have an overwhelmingly Roman view of history. In that he would be right, however it is hard to see what his other arguments are, other than a non-stop diatribe against Rome. The muddle of the work perhaps stems from his structure. Firstly he is very selective of which "barbarian" groupings he looks at - he largely ignores the Hellenistic successor states (Antigonid Macedon is mentioned in passing, but the Mithradatic kingdom, Seleukid Empire and Ptolemaic Egypt are ignored - the last being a puzzling exclusion given the Augustan propaganda against Cleopatra), whilst his inclusion of the "Greek East" is a rather artificial construct and his discussion of the Parthians and Sassanid Persians somewhat baffling. I make the last comment because it is through his discussions of the Sassanid Persians that his argument unravels, if his aim was to suggest that the Romans own conduct best conforms to what we actually think of as barbaric, then the Sassanid Empire is not the best advert for an alternative, whilst the discussion of the Huns is baffling; Attila will never be and can never be seen as an enlightened ruler. His righteous indignation stutters on the fact that what we can learn from the Sassanids and Huns is that the Romans actually found other cultures that could be as violent and aggressive as they were.
Third is the subject of religion. It is hard on reading this work to suggest that Terry Jones is entirely in line with modern scholarship on religion in history. Modern scholarship (Mary Beard/Jonathon North) has argued persuasively in favour of the vitality and belief of Roman religion. Jones seems to believe that all religion is pretext for cynical actions (which undoubtedly for some it can be), whilst his lack of comprehension of the issues around the Arian Heresy severely unbalance his work in the last 50 pages. Jones seems to be determined to attack the Catholic Church as every turn in the book, allying his views to Arians, Pelagists and Donatists. Whilst the Church does not have a spotless history, much of this attack is gratuitous and seems to make an organisation that was at this time loosely defined and decentralised, look like some dark centralised force. It is disappointing and a poor reflection on his scholarship that he writes in this way.
The book is still a reasonably interesting read; however its selectivity and confused/aggressive agenda perhaps make it an unreliable work. However it would make a useful introduction on to other works such as Jacobsen or Merills/Miles (A history of the Vandals or The Vandals, respectively), Heather (The Goths), Cunliffe (The Celts) or James (The Franks) to name a few.


Crimea: The Great Crimean War 1854-1856
Crimea: The Great Crimean War 1854-1856
by Trevor Royle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lively and engaging account of a largely overlooked war, 16 Nov. 2012
Trevor Royle has perhaps pigeon holed himself as a military historian with his works on the English Civil War and the Wars of the Roses, it is a shame because it denies him the recognition due as an excellent all round historian. His work on the Crimean War has a great deal to recommend it; it is in the first instance very accessible to all levels of reader. Secondly it works really hard to provide good access to primary source material whilst not letting this overwhelm the narrative. Third the book offers a much better contextualisation of the war then many other works, covering the war in the Baltic, in Asia Minor and the political manoeuvrings in Vienna, Washington and Berlin alongside the internal politics of Britain and France. Fourth Royle places the war chronologically between Waterloo and Ypres and really seeks to identify the "Janus-like" quality of the war that ended the era of Waterloo and heralded the warfare of the First World War.
Royle's style is very much a narrative and he works primarily through the individuals involved, this forms the basis for an engaging account. Whilst he does cover foreign developments, the work is very anglo-centric (which perhaps accounts for its accessibility). Royle is perhaps gentler than some historians working on the subject, avoiding the debate that surrounds the charge of the light brigade and in general provides a positive portrayal of Raglan as a man at least who in common with so many others hadn't caught up with the developments in warfare. Royle is more critical of the infrastructure of the army in the period than anything else. The inclusion of the other theatres of war also added significantly to the readability of the book.
I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the period and who has been put off by some of the drier histories of the period.


Singularity Sky
Singularity Sky
by Charles Stross
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A different, intelligent and witty space opera, 18 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: Singularity Sky (Paperback)
Charles Stross is probably one of the most exciting writers in sci-fi, and perhaps one of the most exciting writers in fiction. Singularity Sky represents a lot of what makes him a great writer, the universe he creates is clever and well thought through with an interesting take on the traditional human-centric view of most space opera; this is combined with an ironic appreciation of the genre and well developed characters.
It is perhaps the element of irony and irreverence to the genre that makes the work such a delight. The story line focuses on a particular human empire's response to an attack on one of their colonies, Stross uses this to satirise the genre on a range of topics including the need for spaceships to look good, through to the place of authoritarian regimes in space.
The work also handles the subject of time travel and causality in an intelligent way, certainly far better than most novels in the genre. Whilst Stross certainly gives space opera a humorous and at sometime cheeky send up, what does shine through is his awareness, in depth working knowledge and appreciation of the genre. In this respect humour is used perhaps to help create things that are truly alien and never at the expense of the integrity of the story. Purists I'm sure will be offended however I can't believe that Stross irreverent tone is not born out of a sincere appreciation of the genre.
I'll avoid an in depth discussion of the plot to avoid spoiling the story for potential readers, however it is enough to say that it is thoroughly engaging and intelligent and will reward both new readers and experienced sci-fi fans. The sequel Iron Sunrise is also an excellent read!


Leviathan Wakes: Book 1 of the Expanse
Leviathan Wakes: Book 1 of the Expanse
by James S. A. Corey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid contribution to space opera, 18 Sept. 2012
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There has been an explosion in recent years of Space Opera, it's a welcome resurrection of a genre that seems to have struggled in relation to the relentless rose of fantasy literature. It seems appropriate therefore that an assistant of George R. R. Martin would be willing to make a contribution to the field of Space Opera.
Leviathan Wakes is perhaps everything that you would want from the sub-genre. It picks it's place in the future carefully, with humanity still contained within the solar system, allowing for the action to be contained and using a geography that should hopefully be familiar to most readers. It has space battles, assaults on space stations and a cleverly composed central storyline. The influence of Game of Thrones is evident with the alternating chapters between the two principal characters, which generally works though does slow the action somewhat when their stories overlap.
On the whole the book is a compelling read, though it probably doesn't quite rank up with the classics of the genre. My own personal reservations were really around one of the main characters (Jim Holden) who is a little too sanctimonious to be genuinely likeable and the fact that although the novel has some sinister content, it doesn't really capture the mood of a dystopic future of shady military-industrial complexes. It also suffers in comparison to the works of Iain M Banks or Peter Hamilton. This is perhaps more a question of personal taste.
I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys sci-fi - it is well worth reading!


Iron Sunrise
Iron Sunrise
by Charles Stross
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and well devised space opera, 17 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: Iron Sunrise (Paperback)
Charles Stross is a hugely impressive sci-fi writer, few current writers can perhaps really rival the sheer volume of ideas he generates or his engaging and well crafted prose. Iron Sunrise is the sequel to Singularity Sky, and it continues in the same tradition in providing an excellent read.
Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise (along with Children of Saturn - which isn't part of this series) represent Stross' foray into the world of Space Opera. Stross combines a suitably sense of irony toward the genre with superlative storytelling, in this respect I prefer Iron Sunrise to Singularity Sky which had a slightly more tongue in cheek feel to it than Iron Sunrise. That said Stross retains his trademark humour, the book opens with an amusing scene featuring an Idi Amin impersonator!
Stross builds on the first story with some well conceived villains, continues to develop the previous characters and manages to balance the addition of a couple of other strong characters. I don't really want to spoil the plot for any potential readers, but it well structured and the way that the themes of a galactic trade dispute and second strike capabilities in space are handled is both intelligent and well executed.
I'd really recommend this book to anyone who has read Stross' other material and in particular to anyone who has read Singularity Sky. Fingers crossed for more stories in this universe!


Be Careful What You Wish For
Be Careful What You Wish For
by Simon Jordan
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and engaging account of what is everyone's dream!, 17 Sept. 2012
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A lot of people have an opinion about Simon Jordan largely driven by the high profile tenor of his reign as Palace chairman. However regardless of what people may think of him, this book is testament to the great quality of his character. First of all, if I had lost as much money as he did running the club, I doubt I could have written as entertaining, humorous and engaging book as Simon has. Secondly it must have taken quite a lot of character to write the book so soon after the events it describes.
As a Palace fan the book is a must read, and it certainly sheds a lot of light on what was a very busy time for the club, the insights on major events from the collapse of ITV Digital to the Francis/Kolinko incident through the court case with Dowie are excellent. Jordan is never short of an anecdote and the book is laced with a good mixture of humour and an acceptable level of vitriol for certain individuals.
For those of you who are more familiar with Jordan, there are some excellent commentaries on the subjects of agents, the FA, the Football League, rivalries with Charlton and Birmingham, and the difference between football and business, whilst the early chapters dealing with Simon's early career and business activities are really eye opening and engaging. Whilst Mr Jordan may never escape the accusations of arrogance that some level at him, the picture of the man that emerges is one of strong basic principles and values who really wanted to do the right thing, what will baffle you is how many other people didn't seem to share that objective.
All in all an excellent read, especially for Palace fans but also for football fans and sports fans in general.


The Great Upheaval: The Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800
The Great Upheaval: The Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800
by Jay Winik
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction, 29 Nov. 2011
The Great Upheaval, is an engaging, ambitious, energetic and frustrating work of history. Winik writes a book with several bold premises; first that ideas and people were more global in the late eighteenth century than previously considered. Secondly that the American Revolution was a major influence on the French Revolution and thirdly only America succeeded in the time period in preserving and promoting Liberty.
It is fair to Winik to start with the positives of the work. It is a very readable set of narrative (and loosely thematic) histories for America, France and Russia for the end of the 18th Century. Not many books dare to try and write good narratives that embrace such heavyweights of History as Washington, Jefferson, Catherine the Great, Napoleon, Potemkin, Louis XVI, Danton and Robespierre. That Winik creates such a compelling narrative that gives each of these individuals a chance to be discussed in context is a real achievement.
The book is also well underpinned with a good knowledge of source material of the period, and makes a real effort to get under the skin of the period, this is especially well evidenced in the discussion of America, where a real sense of the tensions in the young republic really comes to the fore.
However if the book is a good summary (an excellent introduction for undergraduates) it does suffer in the first instance from being over ambitious and secondly from the terms of the debate it sets for itself. In choosing only to look at Russia, America and France, Winik's argument comes under pressure - what was the impact of the English Civil War and the execution of Charles I on the French Revolution or even the American Revolution, and also what of Britain's parliamentary system as an influence on both revolutions. Another notable absence is that of German influences for the time period. It would be fair to say that Winik turns a blind eye to evidence that would diminish the case for American greatness. This is evidenced in two ways in the book, first, Winik stumbles clumsily around the issue of slavery in American in a crudely wrought apology for the founding fathers and secondly by not discussing American interactions with Native Americans, this is largely disappointing especially for a book that extols efforts to promote liberty and the rights of man.
Overall this is a good read, but it has obvious structural limitations, whilst the hagiographic tones for the early American republic may grate on some readers. However it is well worth reading.


Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England
Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England
by Thomas Penn
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A welcome biography for Henry VII, 17 Oct. 2011
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One of history's forgotten men, Henry VII has the misfortune to have his place in history overshadowed by a larger than life son, in the same way that there is a dearth of material on Phillip II as historians tend to focus on his son Alexander the Great. Thomas Penn's biography is therefore a highly welcome and accessible volume.
The work really focuses on Henry VIIs efforts to secure his kingdom following on from Bosworth, including rebellions of Yorkist pretenders to the more serious threats of the Duke of Suffolk, whilst also discussing Henry's efforts to create a dynasty and the creative skills needed to legitimise a Tudor claim to the throne.
The merit of the work is found in the way that it opens up a wealth of subject matter that is not normally available to a casual reader of history, the story of Catherine of Aragon under Henry VII is really well told, whilst the explanation of Henry's reputation as a miser is also successfully investigated. However there are some limitations to the work; first it is worked chronologically from start to finish, and would have benefited from some strategically placed thematic chapters, it is frustrating as the narrative for some part of the work are broken up by Penn's year by year approach. Secondly the book does suffer from the existence of Henry VIII. Given the drive for dynasty that engulfed the Tudors, it is near impossible to write a work on Henry VII without discussing Henry VIII, but that said at times he looms a little large in the text, which may annoy some readers. Penn's views on religion are really a matter of preference, though he seems to be part of the growing school of thought that is critical of Thomas More and pro-Cromwell.
All in all a worthy read, and certainly of interesting subject matter, Penn displays an excellent working knowledge of the evidence and possesses an enjoyable writing style.


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