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Neil Kernohan

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Taliban
Taliban
by James Fergusson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.67

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So the Taliban are really a bunch of pretty straight guys?, 19 Feb 2012
This review is from: Taliban (Paperback)
I am by no means an Afghanistan expert but I know enough about the excesses of the Taliban in the 1990s, and the pathologies that lie behind conservative fanatical Islamism in all its forms, to take many of the author's observations about their motives and idealogy with a pinch of salt.

I agree with him that Western policy makers, and the US military in particular, have made catastrophic errors in Afghanistan during the past decade. And I also agree with him that Karzai's govt is essentially corrupt and incompetent. However, this book tries just a bit too hard to convey the impression that Mullah Omar and his acolytes are a bunch of pretty straight and much misunderstood good guys who genuinely have the Afghan people's interests at heart, rather than any desire to regain political control of the country and take social development back to the Middle Ages.

So every instance of excessive Taliban perpetrated violence and medieval justice is explained away either as mere western propaganda, or a righteous and justifiable reaction against the Americans, or the ANA, or the Kabul govt or some other warlord's treachery. The good old Taliban are morally superior, deeply oppressed and sinned against, always on the defensive from imperialist Americans and scheming Brits.

Let me be clear. I learned a lot from the expert narrative of events in the country since the Western invasion in 2001. But the whole point of the book seems to be an exercise in pro-Taliban public relations which is rather too one sided.


Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89
Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89
by Rodric Braithwaite
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An authoritative account of a tragic war, 12 Feb 2012
Alongside Peter Hopkirk's "The Great Game" this book deserves to be regarded as a standard text on the perils of intervention by major powers in Afghanistan. It's a brilliantly written book as one might expect from a top British diplomat and its value lies in the authoritative research of first hand, mainly Russian, sources on which Braithwaite based his observations and conclusions. There is a wealth of forensic technical detail throughout on the military campaign itself, the treacherous and blood soiled Afghan politics of the day and the privations suffered by the "Afgantsy" themselves.

Braithwaite also describes the incompetence of the Soviet leadership in the 80s who, whilst presiding over a decrepit domestic political system, realised they had got themselves into a situation that was always doomed to fail with dishonour and recrimination on all sides. He also sets out the broader international context, US v Soviet geo-strategic rivalry and meddling in Afghanistan's affairs by its other neighbours, notably Pakistan.

Despite the scale of cruelty and barbarism on all sides, the humanity and courage of the ordinary Russian fighting soldier comes through in the anecdotes that form the basis of much of Braithwaite's narrative. Towards the end of the book he describes their sense of betrayal in being marginalised and largely forgotten by Russian society, in a clear parallel with US Vietnam vets. On that particular theme there is an interesting Annex at the end which compares the casualty rates with the Vietnam war and the French in Algeria.


Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign
Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign
by Sherard Cowper-Coles
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting memoir from a diplomat's perspective, 10 Feb 2012
The value of this book is less about the writer's overall prognosis on the Afghanistan problem than his lively anecdotes about the mechanics of international conflict diplomacy and British Embassy life in Kabul. This aspect has not been covered in other Afghanistan related pulp non-fiction, as those books are mainly focussed on military campaigns, terrorism, Islamism and the Taliban.

Cowper Coles writes in elegant, clinical prose and has a keen eye for the idiosyncrasies, flaws and constraints of current western policy in Afghanistan. Of most interest to me are his passages about the paranoia and irrational behaviour of the man on whom the West relies upon so much to set Afghanistan on the right track, Hamid Karzai, as well as the Afghanis collective inability to sort out their own country. It's also interesting to note Cowper Coles' quite candid diagnosis of the strategic errors that Western (mainly US) policy makers continue to make, and which repeat earlier debacles in Afghanistan throughout the past 200 years.


Case Closed : Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK
Case Closed : Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK
by Gerald L. Posner
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It may not be the last word on this subject but it should be, 28 Jan 2012
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Some of the other reviews here are quite hysterical. Ok, I am prepared to accept that Posner may have cherry picked some of his sources to support his central hypothesis. That's to be expected. He is, after all, a journalist.

However, his various assertions about Oswald's life, social outlook, state of mind in November 1963 and modus operandi, reinforced by extensive and authoritative footnotes, amount to a fairly comprehensive debunking of the various conspiracy myths. Oswald's alleged connections to US and Russian intelligence, Jack Ruby, anti-Castro elements and The Mafia are well and truly filleted. One of central planks of the conspiracy based cottage industry is, of course, the sequence of events regarding the assassination itself. Here Posner lucidly presents the now widely accepted case evidence for how Oswald was proficient enough with a bolt action rifle to get off three shots in just over 8 seconds and killed JFK and wounded Connally. His dissection of the whole Jim Garrison shenanigans and Oliver Stone's "JFK" movie is another highlight.


The Kennedy Conspiracy
The Kennedy Conspiracy
by Anthony Summers
Edition: Paperback

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the best of the pro conspiracy books - but rather turgid, 18 Jan 2012
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This review is from: The Kennedy Conspiracy (Paperback)
I agree with others that this book looks comprehensively researched but it's far from a perfect assessment of the various threads of Oswald's rather disparate life or indeed what "might have happened" in Dallas. As some have suggested, Summers is subtle enough to caveat many of his assertions and at times he treads a fine line between informed speculation and what we know as the hard facts. Some of the circumstantial assertions about Oswald's relationship with anti Castro elements and other New Orleans based right wing nuts have since been dissected by the likes of Gerald Posner.
I also found the book rather a turgid read because it lingers for far too long on peripheral issues well beyond the central questions. These are: who killed Kennedy? (Oswald did); did he act alone? (there is no hard evidence to suggest otherwise); Could he have fired that number of shots at that speed and escape from the book depository in time (Answer: Yes and there was no "magic bullet" either); Was he an agent of the CIA or FBI (not a shred of verifiable evidence); Was he set up by the Mafia (not a shred of evidence); did he even meet Guy Bannister (No evidence); was he a CIA or KGB double agent (No, he was a social misfit and fruitcake who was not intelligence agent material).
Of course, Summers' book is seductive because it has such density and length so it looks like the last word on the subject. But when you strip all this down to the fundamental issues concerning Oswald's modus operandi, state of mind at the time and proficiency with a bolt action rifle, the central planks of the conspiracy theory fall away.


Rodinsky's Room
Rodinsky's Room
by Rachel Lichtenstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An unconventional book about the London Jewish experience, 20 Dec 2011
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This review is from: Rodinsky's Room (Paperback)
I agree with at least one other reviewer that this book might have been even more readable if Rachel Lichtenstein had been the sole author. I was not entirely convinced either by Iain Sinclair's chapters. For me his passages were rather a distraction from the central core of the book, Rodinsky's obscure life and the environment around Brick lane which he inhabited. Contrast that with the sincerity, affection and rather touching chapters chronicling Lichtenstein's dogged determination to unravel Rodinsky's life and death circumstances. Wherever one stands in the debate about the balance of the book, no one can argue that it certainly sheds some fascinating insights into aspects of the London Jewish immigrant experience and its historical connections to the communities that once flourished in Eastern Europe, as well as, of course, modern Judaism.


Made In Stoke 24/7/11 [Feat.Myles Kennedy]
Made In Stoke 24/7/11 [Feat.Myles Kennedy]
Price: £10.28

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pure live rock'n'roll, 21 Nov 2011
The career of one Saul Hudson, raised during his early years in Stoke, has enjoyed a renaissance in the past decade, first with the excellent Velvet Revolver and more recently through various collaborations and solo work, including a very respectable studio album recorded with a few of his heroes 2 years ago. This live album is one of the best I've heard in the hard rock genre for some time. It's got a great sound mix as befitting commercial releases these days but it also has the right amount of spontaneous authenticity as all good live albums should.

Of course, it helps to have one of the finest vocalists around, Myles Kennedy, fronting up your band and whose vocal power and dexterity is on full display here. It should be noted that he masters the various Guns'n'Roses anthems, especially "Rocket Queen" and "Sweet Child O' Mine", a lot better than Axl Rose these days.

The highlight is the stunning lead guitar playing throughout from a man who prides himself on his virtuosity and all round genius with a Gibson. His stand-alone solo on disc two, which includes an improvisation on the theme from The Godfather, is simply astounding.

This CD is a must buy for anyone who wants to hear some diamond hard live rock'n'roll with a contemporary feel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 26, 2012 6:34 PM BST


Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern
Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern
by Simon Winder
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a bit verbose but entertaining all the same, 12 Nov 2011
I had read enough European history over the years to be familiar with the central themes of this book. For most of modern history Germany was mainly a patchwork quilt of kingdoms, city states, minor dukedoms etc, all of which were a focal point of powerplays among the other great European civilisations and nation states (France, The Holy Roman Empire, Russia). And it's identity was really forged through centuries of war, pestilence and mayhem mostly caused by local petty dynastic rivalries. What comes through in the book is how Germany's political and cultural heritage was therefore much less homogenous than many of its near neighbours. The author certainly knows the country well and has researched its history and all things Germania extremely thoroughly. There are plenty of interesting insights, especially about the interminable struggles of the medieval period, as well as the religious/political turbulence of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

He also rightly pokes fun at aspects of German culture such as the obsession with monuments and iconography, quaint social habits, leather shorts and stodgy cuisine, while at the same time praising the good things Germany gave to the world: like JS Bach. At the same time, he shows his visible disdain for its nationalistic legacy that spawned master race theories from the likes of Nietsche and Wagner, and other ideologies that eventually led to the Kaiser then Hitler and Germany's abject humiliation twice in the space of thirty years.

All that said, I agree with other reviewers that the book is quite dense and rather verbose in places. I concentrated mainly on the passages dealing with German history and politics and usually skipped across the rather turgid prose describing various castles, festivals and museums.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 21, 2011 9:41 PM GMT


Heritage
Heritage
Price: £7.97

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's a grower but it's not a classic, 19 Sep 2011
This review is from: Heritage (Audio CD)
Having read the cautious press reviews of "Heritage" in advance of its release I knew that I was in for something challenging and quite different from Opeth, yet another album that more or less continued their determined and calculated ascent (or descent depending on your point of view) from their Scanda death metal roots to the more cerebral musical landscapes which they now inhabit alongside their mentor, Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson.

But I was still quite surprised by the direction of the record. Let me be clear, when you listen to a band of this calibre there is always something to enjoy in anything they produce. But you still need to separate their musical artistry, which is undoubtedly impressive, from the overall impact of the record on the ear at first listen. Does the album move, inspire, make you laugh or jump up and down, bathe in its sounds and melodies? Do you listen to it actively or passively?

In this case while there are undoubtedly some fine musical and instrumental sequences, notably on "Slither" and "Folklore", most of it comes across as a sort of prog rock jamming session which seeks to pay tribute in some way to almost every major prog rock act of the past 40 years. It also feels more like a Mikael Akerfeldt experimental solo album with the band just along for the ride.

"Heritage" will probably grow on me and I'll listen to it now and again but, as a devotee of the earlier "Blackwater Park" and "Watershed" records (both of which are modern prog metal classics), I can probably say right now with hand on heart that I will probably never develop any real affection for it in the long run. And I reckon most Opeth fans will agree with me, even those new ones who prefer stroking their chins to banging their heads.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 25, 2011 6:39 PM BST


Hot Sun, Cool Shadow: Savouring the Food, History and Mystery of the Languedoc
Hot Sun, Cool Shadow: Savouring the Food, History and Mystery of the Languedoc
by Angela Murrills
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Joie de vivre on every page, 16 Aug 2011
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I've just read this wonderful book in advance of a forthcoming visit to the Languedoc region. I chose my holiday primarily because of an interest in medieval history and the Albigensian Crusade. The book touches on those historical themes briefly but it's mainly a joyous celebration of the region's rich and varied cuisine, provincial village and family life. I loved the author's lively and descriptive passages devoted to the meticulous preparation of the Languedoc's mouthwatering dishes - confit de canard, cassoulet etc - and her revealing insights into the cycles of agricultural life in general, the wine, cheeses, fish and game conservation. The narrative includes some useful snippets of trivia too. So, for example, I learned that nicotine was named after a French Ambassador to Spain from the region, a M Nicot, who introduced tobacco to France mainly because he liked its medicinal qualities. And the fabric that subsequently became denim in America was a cloth mixed of white and purple thread that originated in Nimes, hence "de-nimes"


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