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Donaldo "Book lover" (Manchester, England)

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Colossal Cracks: Montgomery's 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, 1944-45 (Stackpole Military History)
Colossal Cracks: Montgomery's 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, 1944-45 (Stackpole Military History)
by S. Hart
Edition: Paperback

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile assessment, 13 Aug 2009
I was tipped off to read this book by a commenter to one of my previous reviews, which was for Carlo D'Estes Decison in Normandy. On balance I would say this book is worth reading if you wish to understand in more detail the performance of 21st Army Group, and the thinkings of its commander, Montgomery.

Carlo D'Este did touch upon the issue of stretched manpower resources as a factor behind 21st Army Groups performance, which this book critiques. Essentially the author here deleves further into the archives to explore the alleged reserve of 100,000 men that Carlo D'Este identifies in his book. Carlo D'Este argued that the 21st Army Group could have taken replacements from this 100,000 to help them push harder; in this book the author identified that of this 100,000, there was effectively only about 7,000 who could be considered fit for service, and this 7,000 was the last undeployed reserve formation the UK had.

The insights into Monty's planning and thinking are good too. For the first time it made sense to me why Monty planned the audacious Market Garden - he had to both preserve the 21st Army Group whilst also show the UK had the power to field a large army. Of course in manpower terms it couldn't do both; Market Garden makes sense in this regard as a risky attempt to push forward quickly and end the war before the UK had to start dismantling formations to keep the 21st Army Group effective.

Personally I'd like to have seen the 21st Army Group put in context with the British forces in Italy and the Far East - this might help make a decisive argument for the stretching of British resources for the war effort by looking at all the formations in the field. The other complaint is that the book is a bit dry; there is no narrative or anything to help hold your attention. Carlo D'Este's book is far easier to read in comparison.

Burn After Reading [DVD]
Burn After Reading [DVD]
Dvd ~ George Clooney
Offered by gowingsstoreltd
Price: 2.75

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fargo Part 2, 29 April 2009
This review is from: Burn After Reading [DVD] (DVD)
I think this has to be one of the most misunderstood films released in recent times. It was marketed as an out-and-out comedy, and I think many who went to see it expected laughs felt let down. It's not a comedy, it's a farce, populated by largely unsympathetic and unlikeable characters, more reminiscent of Fargo than of The Big Lebowski.

I read a marvellous review recently which described all the characters in the film as being driven by the fear of being forgotten, of their own irrelevance. So here we have John Malkovich, an embittered CIA analyst who is fired for his bad attitude and alcoholism, who never rose to deal with particularly high level intelligence anyway. We have George Clooney's former US Marshall, now personal security consultant and serial adulterer, living in the shadow of his beautiful, talented author wife. Frances McDormand's gym instructor who is willing to do anything for some plastic surgery before she becomes too old to meet anyone; and her boss who secretly loves her but cannot pluck up the courage to ask. All these characters plus Brad Pitt's dorky, clueless gym instuctor and Tilda Swinton as Malkovich's icy, charmless wife, the deeply uninterested Russian embassy and PI watching the paranoid George Clooney are brought into the shabby, insignificant affair. The whole thing is observed by the CIA, whose interest never rises above mild curiosity. None of these people matter, and nothing that they do matters. Observed in this manner, I found the picture made a lot more sense.

Bitter Victory: The Battle for Sicily
Bitter Victory: The Battle for Sicily
by Carlo D'Este
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth getting hold of, 27 Mar 2009
The battle for Sicily is one area of WW2 I had yet to read an interesting and critical account of, until I read this book. For the first time I felt like I truly understood the main issues with this campaign.

The author brands the campaign little more than a series of frustrating errors and missed opportunities on the part of the allied forces. It was a muddle from the outset, with poor planning and no-one wanting to take responsibility for it. It's quite alarming in many respects what little thought had gone into what the US & UK would do after final victory in Africa, and how non-existent the planning was. In the case of the British a deeply flawed plan was produced; in the case of the US they had no plan at all, no culture of planning or the capability of producing one. The invasion plan wasn't given any serious consideration until Montgomery got involved, and even then it was more incidental than by intent, and very late in the day. Monty managed to correct some of the most obvious gaffes in the plan, but as he hadn't been involved with the plan from the outset, the biggest strategic questions were not really asked.

The conduct of the campaign itself showed up even more errors. The commander in charge, Alexander, allowed his subordinate commanders (Monty & Patton) not only to influence but also dictate the course of the campaign. The two powerful armies basically fought their own battles. Co-ordination with the Navy and air forces left a lot to be desired. The consequence was that a German force the fraction of the size of the allied force was able to contain them for two months, and then escape with all their men and equipment (including a near equal number of Italian soldiers).

Errors were made by Patton and Monty too. Patton's drive round the island to Palermo arguably had more to with him wanting his time in the spotlight than military strategy (certainly this was Bradley's view). Then of course there was the infamous `slapping' incident which nearly cost him his career. The author argues Monty's plan was both too conservative and too ambitious; too ambitious is his use of airborne troops to capture key objectives and hold them against regular German units, and too conservative in that he didn't use the strength and weight of the 8th Army to really push the Germans hard. Market Garden had it predecessor in Sicily.

The author states that the whole adventure in Sicily was misconceived strategically, let alone operationally. Why were allied forces landing on the southern edge of Sicily, and not Messina itself? This is after all the supply and escape route for all Italian and German forces. By taking Messina, the allies would have bottlenecked the island. To take it even further, what indeed was the point of taking Sicily? Why not just land on the Italian mainland, bypassing the island and cutting it off?

I think we probably unconsciously compare Sicily and other operations to D-Day, which was a planning and operational success. Perhaps the allies needed to have a Sicily, Salerno and Anzio before they could have a D-Day. In Sicily we see the US forces show real competence and a little grit; though clearly still heavily reliant on the British for planning, and both on Monty for operational and strategic direction.

The well known film, Patton, could not be more wrong about Monty. Monty in fact had a good opinion of his counterpart, and realised his army was better placed to enter Messina than the British. Patton, whilst Anglophobic, seemed to have quite a high opinion of Monty too - quite unlike popular understanding.

In short - if you want a well written and clear account of the Sicilian campaign, I would definitely start here. Even if you don't necessarily agree with the author on everything, you'd be hard pressed to find a better account.

An Autobiography (Canongate Classics)
An Autobiography (Canongate Classics)
by Edwin Muir
Edition: Paperback

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful memoir, 14 Feb 2009
Edwin Muir was one of the great Scottish poets of the C20th, and this is his account of his life, split into two broad periods. The first is from his birth to around the age of 30, accounting for his time growing up in Orkney before moving to industrial Glasgow in his teenage years, before finally leaving for London and then Europe sometime into the 1920's. The second half picks up from around WW2 and into the years afterwards.

They are quite remarkably different accounts, different both in style and focus. The first is more concerned with the sharp contrast between his rural upbringing in the epic landscapes of Orkney and the harsh realities of the unhealthy, impersonal, industrial Glasgow. His account of growing up in Orkney is magical and other-worldly, aided considerably by his poet's economy of prose and eye for telling detail and imagery. When he moves to Glasgow this economy stays with him, though it is less magical and mythical things he sees now (arguably though as we are a post industrialist society, is this world any more alien to us than of the agrarian Orkney he describes?).

It is an intensely personal and introspective memoir, to the point where he lives and works as a clerk in various Glasgow offices during the period of WW1, with barely a mention to it. However, such is the ability of Muir's writing to drag you in his account of how he and his family struggled to survive in Glasgow that you barely notice it. Most of his family died within a few years of moving to Glasgow. He was ill for many years himself, cured only by a slum doctor who spent much time with him. The mental scars he bore after his claustrophobic proximity to this tragedy were considerable and lasted for many years after. It is only years later in London when an analyst starts to work with him as a patient for no fee does he realise how ill he was; at one point he was capable of having waking dreams that he could control.

The second part of the book is in sharp contrast to the first, This concerns the period of WW2 and after when he is working as a writer both in Britain (during the war) and in Europe after. You can tell immediately from his prose that this is a much more wordly man concerned with what is happening around him. Most striking is his account as a visiting teacher with the British Council to Prague after WW2. The initial period of optimism amongst the Czechs is then quickly extinguished by a Communist coup. The new regime rolls out the Orwellian nightmare those of us who read the history of the period have come to accept and expect; how dispiriting to have seen it by yourself without the benefit of hindsight we enjoy.

I'm rarely a reader of biographies but this book has been quite dear to my heart since I finished it. It is a good story told with such beautiful prose that I wish it had been twice as long; it could have been about the life of a binman who never left the town he was born in and Edwin Muir would still make it a wonderful read. I'm going to go away and read the rest of his books now.

Offered by mrtopseller
Price: 4.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not their best, but still quite good, 25 Jan 2009
This review is from: Lightbulbs (Audio CD)
I was a really big fan of their previous album, transparent things, which thumped along very nicely to a funky bass that could be Can or the Happy Mondays, with lyrics occasionally reminiscent of the latter. The tunes were catchy but the album wasn't back to back with them; space was left between them for electronic noodling, which seems to give the big tunes more of an impact when they came along. It was a nicely served dish of innovative electro pop, and it deserved a lot more success than it realised.

The good news is that the quality hasn't dropped with Lightbulbs. The bad news is that this album feels like the band have hardly moved on at all. My first listen was one of disappointment; second time round I noticed a few tunes I quite liked, but I still had this feeling of being underwhelmed. I would recommend getting this album if you haven't heard F&M before, or are a fan of their work. If you have heard them before and aren't that keen, this album will do nothing to change your mind.

DJ Kicks
DJ Kicks
Offered by Hausmusik
Price: 14.84

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good indeed, 10 Jan 2009
This review is from: DJ Kicks (Audio CD)
This isn't the best in the DJ Kicks Series - that goes to their compatriots Kruder & Dorfmeister's Seminal mix way back in the 90's - though the fact that I've mentioned K&D in the same sentence as Booka Shade should give you an idea of what I think! Sometimes I really wish I was in Berlin...

This is very, very good electronic mix of techno and house. Like the best mixes, the movements in the music are seamless and anticipated, and yet the sometimes the real killer tunes (track 3 & 15 for my money) come out of nowhere and take you by surprise, suddenly you have found yourself beating out a rhythm with your leg for the last 30 seconds. Like K&D, they take other tunes and make them their own.

In a word, buy it! (two words)

Doors Open
Doors Open
by Ian Rankin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.51

3.0 out of 5 stars Meh, 10 Nov 2008
This review is from: Doors Open (Hardcover)
It's not a bad book, it's just not that great, and it being Rankin, you do expect something far more than half-decent. And that's all this book is really, half-decent. Compared to most of the Rebus books, it's very thin on the ground plot-wise. Most of the characters are fairly forgettable; though the premise of the heist is not without interest. It's still the page turner we have come to expect from Rankin, but you get the feeling you know what is coming on the next page. To some extent this is true of any author you get used to reading - you get to know the style and way they tell a story. You knew with the Rebus novels that the loose ends would tie up at the end somehow, but not much of an idea how. In this book, the only suspense at the end is over who will be screwing who.

My take on this is it is just an overlong Fredrick Forsyth short story - it should be 200 words shorter, sold in a volume.

And is it just me, or is anyone else really bored of reading about Edinburgh yet?

The Kingdom [DVD]
The Kingdom [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jamie Foxx
Price: 2.19

15 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful, 5 July 2008
This review is from: The Kingdom [DVD] (DVD)
Worst film I have seen this year. What on earth is Jamie Foxx doing in this mindless pile of rubbish?

The film opens with this 2 minute potted history of Saudi Arabia -with lots of flashing images and snippets of newsreel. Basically the upshot of this is that there is oil in Saudi Arabia. The fact the filmakers believe this important information gives you an idea of the core audience - i.e. idiots. Whenever a new character enters the screen, they either introduce themselves by name and by job title, or it appears for them on the screen. Just to stop you getting anxious that you might need to use your brain.

Then the film cuts to a terrorist attack on an American oil workers compound in Saudi Arabia. The attack takes place on a family and friends softball game, just to make sure that you do get angry and yell at the TV that someone better be taking the fight to those commu-nazis - I mean, terrorists. Just to make sure you know the terrorists are bad, you see one making a child watch it all happen, and another dress up as a policeman, pretend to re-assure the Americans before blowing himself up among them.

Fortunately, someone is taking the fight to the commu-nazies, and this is Jamie Foxx and his elite team of FBI investigators get sent out to Saudi Arabia. They realize early on in the film that Saudi's are only good at being brutal, incapable of police work, or being terrorists.

The film makes some amazingly lame attempts to draw attention to the cultural differences between America and Saudi Arabia. In one scene, Jeniffer Garner's character touches a dead Muslim man when doing an autopsy. Bear in mind that her character is meant to be some sort of expert in Middle East terrorism. This is meant for the viewers benefit - the filmakers assuming that its target audience won't even be aware there are such things as cultural differences, so we end up with a ridiculous scene in which a middle-east expert doesn't know even small basics about Islamic culture. The film's idea of political complexity is to have someone introduced from the American embassy telling the FBI agents not to get killed and to go home ASAP. And towards the end of the film this official gets his way - but not before the terrorists launch an attack on the FBI agents by attacking their convoy on the way to the airport. Then in a daring chase, the FBI agents walk into two terrorist hideouts, killing hundreds of terrorists like so many levels of the computer game Medal Of Honour.

After bursting into an apartment and blowing half a family away, Jennifer Garner's character offers a traumatized hid a lollipop. This tells you right here everything you need to know about the people who make this film, that the family would be in some way grateful that the Americans made the bad men go away. Commando is a more complicated film. In fact, do you remember the start of Commando, when you see Arnie stroking a lovely baby deer with his daughter? That's the lollipop scene. Commando is charmingly amateurish, seemingly written by a hyperactive 14 year old. The Kingdom has aspirations to serious drama.

The Kingdom, and films like it, are the reason Team America: World Police was made.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 3, 2010 10:58 AM BST

The Circuit: An ex-SAS soldier's true account of one of the most powerful and secretive industries spawned by the War on Terror
The Circuit: An ex-SAS soldier's true account of one of the most powerful and secretive industries spawned by the War on Terror
by Bob Shepherd
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 27 Jun 2008
Bob Shepherd, ex-SAS, tell us the story of his time as a PMC from the days when it was a small, closed market, to today's free-for-all in Iraq. Clearly, Bob knows his stuff. His story is not gung-ho; though clearly a man who knows how to handle himself in dangerous situations, he is often smart enough to know how far to push the envelope. But he understands the job inside and out. In one very revealing chapter, he tells us of a time he was escorting a journalist in Iraq, and ended up advising local American commanders on doing basic counter-insurgency - some of it really simple stuff - it was scary how little they knew about it, and how much of a lack of common sense they had. If this experience of Bob's is any reflection of most of the American units, it certainly explain why such a dog's ear has been made in Iraq. Bob's experience of dealing with modern PMC's in Iraq and Afghanistan also makes for sobering reading - if anything it was scarier than his dealings with the American forces. PMC's are in competition, with an eye on the bottom line. If Bobs' account is anything to go by, safety has been compromised to meet this bottom line. Many of the PMC's he encountered were people completely unsuited to the job.

The one thing I think this book lacks is a little scholarship. We don't really get any figures - how much of a problem this is. Bob's experiences are well worth reading, but you come away oddly unsatisified, wanting to know more. I am glad he was encouraged to put his experiences on paper, but we could do with a bit more background. Bob doesn't feel comfortable discussing his years in the SAS, and you have to respect that. So perhaps some expansion on the PMC industry would make it more interesting, and accomodate this research in the book. Facts and figures would be made so much more interesting by these great accounts Bob gives us.

Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time
by Clive James
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 19 Jun 2008
If you are like me in any way and show an interest in literature, philosphy, science, history, politics, art and music - but are often put off by the often inpenetrable, pretentious writing on them - then this book is for you. If on the other hand you have no problem with inpenetrable, pretentious cultural studies, then this is for you to re-aqaint yourself with the English language!

Clive James writes wonderful, simple, clear prose. And it is full of insights, page and page. A man who seems to know so much could be forgiven for being arrogant - but there is not a hint of it in this book. This is a book written with real understanding of his subjects, you will find no ill-informed polemics here. This is not to say that he writes about some people he does not like - Sarte amongst others - but what he does do is avoid the obvious criticims. The book is broken up into chapter of about 4-12 pages, each using a famous C20th (sometimes C19th) figure as his starting point, before taking you off on an interesting angle. It's perfect for dipping in an out of, and given the size of the book, fantastic value for money. Given the number of insights he makes, it's just as well it is something you dip in an out of - I have frequently found myself putting the book down after reading a chapter, intent on letting what I have read run round my head for a while. I'll probably be dipping in and out of it for a year to come.

I haven't come across a book quite like this before. I'd go as far as to say it's the best buy I have ever made on Amazon.

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