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AK (London)

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How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region
How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region
Price: £6.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant summary of the benefits and of a proper application of industrial policy with Asian case studies, 8 Jan. 2015
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The book covers the economic development of both North-East and South-East Asian economies in the 20th and early 21st centuries in a compare and contrast fashion, in order to create a better understanding why some made giant leaps in development, while others made gains altogether far less impressive, largely irrespective of their starting levels.

The author is a staunch defender of state guided industrial policy - a view not particularly popular with neo-liberal economists, which nevertheless does a much better job of explaining the success of economic catching up to the developed world than any alternative explanation offered in the classical economics literature.

The main thrust is a three phase explanation model, namely agricultural land redistribution towards small scale yield intensive agriculture, an export driven manufacturing development, and finally a financial system geared towards supporting these two goals.

Covered examples, where these steps have been effectively followed followed and are presented in detail, are Japan (from the Meiji restoration onwards), South Korea, Taiwan and China. On the other hand, there are cases of South East Asian economies, which decided to liberalize their economies sooner - in the author's opinion prematurely - and were thereby not capable of following the three policies effectively. These include the outright dire example of the Philippines, the moderately better one of Thailand and the best of the lot - Malaysia - which still lags significantly behind the successes of the North-East model countries.

Before the author is labelled a big government supporter, or a 'statist' in the widest sense, he makes a clear distinction between the needs of the catching up / development phase (where even currently free market supporters such as the UK and the US used the same mechanisms in their early development phases) and the later phase, when the first world level has been achieved. In the latter case, many of the tools needed for success in the catch-up phase become hindrances to further development and further reforms become necessary, something that some countries managed better (South Korea) than others (Japan or Taiwan).

The analysis is brilliant, the case studies very compelling, and crucially, the framework does an excellent job of describing and predicting the developmental success. The comparison between different policy choices in both the successful and less successful groups give the reader further insight and provide a more differentiated picture of what is important for development and what not.

Furthermore, the framework also wonderfully explains why industrial policy worked in North-East Asia, and less well in other regions where it has been applied (such as SE Asia, the Soviet Union, or Latin America), showing which levers have a real positive impact, which are highly detrimental to development, and which are of no real consequence. This is not about creating protected state champions but much more about relentless pruning of the low performers, first through export discipline and subsequently also at home.

If you look at it from the perspective of a manager / owner of an individual company, you may well wish for governments not following the advice, since they may well force you to earn your money in a more difficult fashion than is strictly necessary. Especially export led growth, leading both to a knowledge build-up and a quality requirement through free competition on world markets (while being protected at home) will in the short run be much more laborious than investing in gambling, tourism or real estate but is a proven method of improving the well-being of the country as a whole, rather than the wealth of an individual or profitability of a single company. As long as the government leaves little leeway for circumventing its aims, while at the same time allowing the entrepreneurs to generate adequate profits while serving the developmental needs, a win-win can be produced.

Even if not all managers would like the lessons applied by the government of the country where they operate, there are excellent learnings for them, as there are for politicians. Many of the lessons can be applied in a business set-up, too - if you are looking at expansion into new markets or product areas, or trying to catch up with more dominant competitors.

The book is perhaps not something for the very casual reader, as it takes some effort, and is written from an expert's point of view (even if the writing is far from ponderous). If you are looking for an easier but less profound read, Kaplan's Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific is probably the better start. If the topic is of serious interest, not reading this book would be an unfortunate omission, though.

Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam (Dark Osprey)
Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam (Dark Osprey)
Price: £4.28

4.0 out of 5 stars Good fictional overview of the world's famous military units in a late 19th century Steampunk universe in typical Osprey format, 8 Jan. 2015
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The book is a combination of an Osprey overview of period military units that many readers will be familiar with, and a fictional Steampunk Victorian period to which the format is applied. The book is a combination of Steampunk lore, fantastic drawings of those fictional units and of a general description of a totally different alternative history scenario.

The book is supposedly a collection of drawings made by a traveller through the Victorian Steampunk world, recently handed over to Osprey offices, who then produced it in the current format. This also goes some way to explaining the coverage, which is good for the UK; france and Germany, and becomes relatively sparse for the Austo-Hungarian Empire, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, the US, Japan, etc. and does not cover any Iberic players for instance.

The book is a curious and interesting volume for people enamoured of the Steampunk alternative history movement, or fantasy / sci-fi more generally. It will probably be a useful idea generator for wargamers and the illustrations are definitely first rate.

As such you cannot go far wrong at the price if you have even a slight interest in alternative history modelling and in spite of all the other qualities, the book is just plain good fun.

Behind Soviet Lines - Hitler's Brandenburgers capture the Maikop Oilfields 1942 (Raid)
Behind Soviet Lines - Hitler's Brandenburgers capture the Maikop Oilfields 1942 (Raid)
Price: £3.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise but very well balanced examination of the Brandenburger effect in the Caucasus in 1942, 8 Jan. 2015
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The book is a volume from the Raid series and is a combination of describing a special forces unit - in this case the German Brandenburgers - and a special operation in which they were employed, here the support of Wehrmacht's operations to capture the Caucasus in 1942, with the primary aims of ensuring a solid supply of crude oil for the rest of the war.

The book is relatively compact at 80 pages and actually has a lot of content to cover. Therefore it is really important that the balance is aptly chosen, which is definitely the case here. You learn of the unit history of the Brandenburgers (from the idea in WW1) to the execution in WW2 as a behind the enemy lines special forces unit. Operations prior to the main Maikop Oilfield - the focus of the book - are covered, as well as a general summary of the unit use subsequently. You will also learn of some significant leadership personalities involved, the type of soldier attracted and recruited to the unit, as well as the general modus operandi.

In addition to the unit specific information the general background of the situation and the perceived strategic rationale for the wider thrust towards the Caucasus is provided, and the general effect of the operation subsequently. So you will learn of the general petroleum / oil / lubricants need of the German armed forces and the sourcing strategy (lots from Romania), the oil production of the Soviet Union, the German engineering force created for reactivating the Soviet oil fields to be captured, etc.

While this perhaps sounds more like dry analysis, the writing is particularly good and it provides the appropriate background for the second, action focused part (this is not completely detached as a separate section). Here the specific actions are described in a 'page turning' action sequence manner, so you see how the Brandenburgers really operated, especially in the direct preparation for the main operation, and the main operation in question.

As usual for the series you will also get a good collection of period photographs, maps and colour drawings, bringing the text to life even further.

Overall, as said, the book is a very well balanced volume, giving the interested reader a good grasp of the Caucasus operations of the Brandenburgers. It also helps in understanding what the effect of their actions was and whether the whole operation could be considered sensible or not.

How Wars Begin
How Wars Begin
Price: £1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars More suited to a series of televised lectures than a book but a fun to read 'popular' history on war, 8 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: How Wars Begin (Kindle Edition)
AJP Taylor has done much to raise the popularity of history in decades past in the UK and for that alone he needs to be highly lauded. This book, like several others from his portfolio, is a translation of televised lectures into a book format (albeit quite short as a result). The basic premise is that wars often begin not as a product of purely rational analyses and that often the decisions get made in a haphazard way, that countries often declare wars they have little chance of deciding in their favour.

This is then described over a series of case studies, including the Crimean War, the WW1 etc. They are all packaged in a very readable format and will be great for coctail party soundbites and general trivia. The book lso succeeds in transporting the message that many of these decisions were partially arbitrary or driven by events or structures that almost by definition produced results not favourable to the war declaring party.

Where the book works much less well is for readers with a more serious interest in history. Those will probably find both the soundbite format and the depth of the presented analysis that this means to fall short of desired.

Irrespectively, there is still a large readership that would benefit from reading the book and which will not be deterred from havig a first dip into history by the presentation (which in the more serious historical research can be drier) and thereby I can generally recommend the book. If your interest is piqued, or if you generally want to dig deeper, there is a large body of literature to satisfy your thirst for knowledge afterwards anyway.

Mountain Home
Mountain Home
Price: £1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Under siege in a diner from a former USAF counter sniper - a good combination of an action thriller and PTSD, 19 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Mountain Home (Kindle Edition)
The book is a relatively short but also fairly action and suspense packed roller-coaster ride between a mountain diner under siege and the histories and motivations of the protagonists involved. You get everything from small town politics, dreams of making it big in the city, poor support / understanding for returning veterans and the odd race issue all packed into one.

Even though this sounds like a lot to pack into such a short volume, the author has pulled off a credible effort. The book reads well (and can be easily devoured in one sitting) and while probably not to be considered for the Nobel literature prize short-list, is much more than a simple and mindless fire-fight a minute pulp.

It all revolves around a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns trying to settle down peacefully and being prevented from doing so by a local 'great', who cannot take not being the winner in everything in life. A siege in the remote diner then develops, which forms the backdrop for both the action and the character studies.

The protagonists do not have much space in which to enfold fully but are sufficiently well characterized and the action (and motivation behind it) is not so far fetched to be utterly unbelievable. While not quite in line with the greatest literature to come out of the post-Vietnam period this is to be considered a credible effort for the newer post-Iraq / Afghanistan era.

So if you are looking for suspense, action and a good read that is not too tasking but also not likely to offend your cerebral side, you will do well here.

Modern British Armoured Fighting Vehicles
Modern British Armoured Fighting Vehicles
by Terry Gander
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Concise guide to British armoured vehicles - status of 1986, 16 Dec. 2014
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The book covers more or less all the armoured fighting (some unarmed, so fighting is perhaps a loose definition) vehicles that were in service in the UK armed forces in 1986. As such the book is somewhat dated from today's perspective but the status will definitely be adequate for those more interested in the late Cold War status.

It is a relatively slim volume and can be read fairly quickly. It includes a brief development history and the deployment details (by unit) for the various types and the types covered do not include only the flashy MBTs and IFVs (actually more like APCs - the Warrior is covered but only as a prototype) but everything from ARVs, ARRVs, armoured trucks... making it quite comprehensive in its scope.

Each entry also has a data sheet, as well as some pictures, which are also more 1986 than high definition 2014. A line drawing is also included for the entries, so that modellers are partially covered, too (of course without the colour schemes). As the book was written during the Cold War, the numbers produced / in use are kept vague for most types, so as to give nothing away.

While there are definitely books out there, that will better describe the current state, this slim volume does a credible job of covering the last years of the Cold War British armoured vehicles - so for those interested in the period it is a useful reference; and at the price you can hardly go very wrong in trying it out.

Soviet Rocket Powered Fighters (Red Star)
Soviet Rocket Powered Fighters (Red Star)
by Yefim Gordon
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Something for the real aviation buff - an exhaustive account of Soviet rocket fighter experimentation, 16 Dec. 2014
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As opposed to many books from the Red Star series, this one does not cover a single type that entered operational service but only prototypes, proofs of concept and research projects. As such it probably addresses a narrower audience than the other volumes but is no less thoroughly researched and no less well written because of that.

As usual for books from the author, you get a comprehensive treatment of the subject, introducing the personalities involved, the research establishments, design bureaus and the whole prototyping and test flight process. The main types - such as the BI and the MiG I-270 also get a complete type description, with the usual details (from construction, powerplant, etc.) and theoretical and flight tested performance figures are included, too.

In addition to the Soviet types, there is a section on the captured Me-163s, in both the single and two seat configurations, and one on the design bureaus established after WW2 with German staff (from Siebel, DFS...), with some interesting proofs of concept and postwar experimental supersonic aircraft (B-29 launched).

As such you will get lots of insight into the Soviet development processes and the findings that came out of the rocket experiments - such as advances in aerodynamics and rocketry. If your level of interest stretches this far, the book is excellent. If you are looking for common, or operational types, the book cannot deliver - since no pure rocket fighters ever entered Soviet air force service.

F-4 Phantom II vs MiG-21: USAF & VPAF in the Vietnam War: USAF and VPAF in the Vietnam War (Duel 12)
F-4 Phantom II vs MiG-21: USAF & VPAF in the Vietnam War: USAF and VPAF in the Vietnam War (Duel 12)
Price: £11.27

5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable puzzle piece in understanding the air combat over North Vietnam, with the F-4 and Mig-21 as protagonists, 10 Dec. 2014
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Even though the types focused on here were by far from the only ones serving the respective air forces during the war in Vietnam, they did form a sizeable component of them and were in some ways the most advanced air assets at disposal. As such the volume is an interesting addition to the series, and nicely complements the related books covering other types in use in Vietnam, such as F104 Starfighter Units in Combat (Combat Aircraft) or F-105 Thunderchief MiG Killers of the Vietnam War (Combat Aircraft).

The book is typical for the Duel format in that it gives brief development history of the two antagonist weapon systems - the McD F-4 Phantom II and the MiG-21 in the two case - followed by the engagements over the period (as usual with a slight slant to one side when it comes to relaying the first hand combat experience (easier to get from US than Vietnamese sources)), a couple of ace profiles, and a verdict and statistics section comparing the effectiveness of both types, the doctrines in use and further evolution of the types' use in later periods.

The book is richly illustrated with both period and current pictures (unlike the Phantom, the MiG-21 is still in use in the VPAF), including mostly ground shots but also some aerial ones, as well as the customary colour plates and additional artwork.

In addition to getting a good basic grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of the two types and the air forces operating them, you also understand the fundamentally different approaches used by the antagonists, partially dictated by their broader political and economic situation on the one hand and military needs on the other.

The USAF also learned many lessons from the conflict and truly developed as a result - it never again fought an opponent as successful at frustrating its aims and so deadly in air defence (admittedly the fighter force being the smaller but by no means insignificant contributor in the Vietnamese case). In addition to the challenges and advantages of operating the respective types, I also find the commentary on the ground controlled intercept solutions quite interesting. Equally so was the section covering the revised training regimens of the USAF post Vietnam, with significantly more focus on dissimilar air combat training, air combat manoeuvring, etc.

All in all a very well balanced book given the somewhat restrictive page count of the format and a good additional puzzle piece to one's understanding of the air war over Vietnam.

Officers and Gentlemen (Penguin Modern Classics)
Officers and Gentlemen (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price: £4.68

5.0 out of 5 stars A seamless continuation from 'Men at Arms' and a superb book on WW2 soldiering from the non-action focused perspective, 10 Dec. 2014
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It has often been observed that soldiering consists of long periods of boredom and routine, interspersed by brief and frightening, violent episodes. This is, in a way, also the fashion in which Evelyn Waugh has weighted his Sword of Honour trilogy, and the second instalment (following on from Men at Arms (Penguin Modern Classics)) here is no different.

It continues, where Men at Arms (Penguin Modern Classics) ended, with Guy Crouchback - the protagonist - returns from his brief participation in Operation Menace and gets reassigned to the commando unit training on the isle of Mugg in the Hebrides. This forms a significant part of the book, to be followed by a time in Egypt, and finally with the action richer short interlude in the defence of Crete.

The book has the same qualities already apparent in the first volume from the trilogy, namely a superb command of language combined with an excellent power of observation of an end of an age in the British Empire. Many societal structures are no longer quite adequate to the Blitz, or to the mid 20th century in general but at the same time their defenders are unable to let go of traditions they grew up with, which were refined through times immemorial by their ancestors.

Like the trilogy generally it will provide excellent insight on both British society and military life of the WW2 era, just not from the action packed viewpoint. Even Crete is not a fire fight a minute, with the author much more interested in the inner life of the characters involved than in the adrenalin of the moment.

In the end this is a splendid example of mature, polished literature from one of the masters of British prose from the mid-20th century. It should appeal to everyone interested in psychological character development, introspection and a humorous and insightful portrayal of societal change, whether they have an interest in the military or not. As long as you do not expect universal heroism and incessant action, you will be very well served here.

Location is (Still) Everything: The Surprising Influence of the Real World on How We Search, Shop, and Sell in the Virtual One
Location is (Still) Everything: The Surprising Influence of the Real World on How We Search, Shop, and Sell in the Virtual One
Price: £4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A decent framework for analysing online business models and a readable - if at times flawed - book, 10 Dec. 2014
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The essence of the book is that on-line, as well as off-line business is driven or at least indelibly shaped by location issues, which the author tries to press into his GRAVITY framework. The basic idea is certainly sound and having a framework to discuss aspects of your potential on-line B2C strategy is definitely helpful.

The book introduces the author's GRAVITY framework at the beginning and then proceeds to go through the letters of the framework in subsequent chapters, which all cover the importance of location to the success of a business on-line in some way or other - from geography to topography and finishing with an abridged case study (the Y or you in the framework) on one of the on-line retailers studied.

The tone is very light and conversational throughout and you need no grounding in academic research to get through the book. It is also full of signposting so transitions are easy to follow; at the same time this may grate with some readers, as it appears excessively repetitive at times.

Another issue I personally found imperfectly resolved is the frequent use of the names - and in the Kindle version hyperlinks - of a handful of on-line retailers the author co-operates with / finds interesting, as it gives the book an advertorial twist, which the content does not necessarily deserve.

In addition I perceived some findings from the FMCG sector, as presented in the geography chapter, as highly misleading, or put in another way, not differentiated enough to be useful in guiding thinking and decisions (especially since this is a well researched sector, where more profound answers were easily at the grasp of the author). As such it struck me as more of a case of trying to confirm a theory than as one of 'impartial' presenting of results.

In spite of the criticisms I would still credit the book with four stars (just). It is easy to read and the framework - even if tacky in the eyes of some reviewers - is easy to explain and follow. Some of the findings are not new but most are useful for discussing possible on-line approaches for one's business, even if the book falls short of providing sufficient material for decision making on its own (without enriching it with other sources and own primary research).

As such it is of equal interest to both business students and to management, and it will provide a good first insight into the B2C world for those not yet fully committed to the topic.

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