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War Games of Zelos (Coronet Books)
War Games of Zelos (Coronet Books)
by Edmund Cooper
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The War Games of Zelos, 25 Jun. 2011
The latest exploratory mission for James Conrad and his team of Expendables takes them to a planet 24 light years from home. Designated as Zelos, the crew expect to find an Earth-type world that is uninhabited, yet soon after their arrival they discover a previously-unidentified city on the main continent. Once they make landfall, they discover something even more astonishing - a population of primitive warrior humans that soon challenges their presence. Now, in order to win the acceptance of the Zelosians, Conrad and his team must participate in the War Games, a set of physical and martial challenges in which failure could result in their deaths and a conflict Conrad hopes desperately to avoid.

Edmund Cooper's third Expendable novel presents what is now a familiar pattern for readers of the series. Again we have the core team of Conrad, Indira Smith, and Kurt Kwango, along with four other new members who largely serve as secondary characters. The action does not really pick up until halfway through the novel, but once it does it provides an adventure every bit as entertaining as Cooper's previous entries, The Deathworms of Kratos and Rings of Tantalus. The Zelosians themselves are fairly undeveloped as a set of characters, but they serve as effective enough plot devices to keep the action going. Some readers may take issue with the undercurrent of misogyny that characterizes much of the series, but this aside the novel is an enjoyable adventure that provide a nice afternoon of escapist reading.


Palmerston: A Biography
Palmerston: A Biography
by David Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £28.00

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A detailed biography of 'the most English minister', 22 Jun. 2011
Few politicians have enjoyed as long and distinguished a career as Henry John Temple, the third Lord Palmerston. First elected to Parliament in 1807, he accepted office as Secretary at War two years later. After an unprecedented nineteen-year stretch in the post, he served three times as Foreign Secretary and three years as Home Secretary before becoming Prime Minister in 1855 at the age of 70. His resignation in 1858 led many people to conclude that his days in office were over, yet Palmerston returned to the premiership the following year, embarking on a second term that would only end with his death in 1865, two days before his 81st birthday.

Palmerston has often attracted the attention of biographers and historians, yet studies of him have faced the problem, as David Brown notes in the introduction to this book, of coming to terms with the enormous amount of material generated over the course of his long and active life. Encompassing over a half-century of British history and touching on an extensive range of issues during that time, the sheer number of documents generated during his political career has threatened to overwhelm efforts to use them. Brown is certainly well-prepared for the effort: a longtime Palmerston scholar and author and editor of several previous studies on "Pam", he brings an expertise possessed by few others.

This expertise shows in Brown's assured command of the details of Palmerston's life. His book is a coherent and insightful study of Palmerston, one that focuses on his public career but without slighting his private life. He sees Palmerston as a remarkably consistent figure ideologically during a period of considerable political flux, arguing that Palmerston held a fealty throughout his career to the ideas taught to him by Dugald Stewart. Though initially a Tory, Brown argues that this was due more to the influence of Palmerston's guardian, Lord Malmesbury, than any devotion to Tory ideas. Palmerston's liberal views eventually brought him to the Whig Party, where by the 1830s he had emerged as a leading figure, particularly in foreign affairs. Though disliked by Queen Victoria and detested by many of his colleagues, his popularity with the voting public - a new factor in British politics at that time - gave him a strength that made him a figure that could not be discounted politically, and one ultimately brought him to the pinnacle of British politics.

Thoroughly researched and carefully argued, Brown's book is an indispensable study of Palmerston. Yet it is a challenging work for readers to digest. Its greatest strength - the extensive knowledge the author brings of Palmerston's foreign policy - is also the book's main narrative weakness, as Brown spends pages recounting the minutiae of British foreign policy. Domestic politics and the particulars of Palmerston's personal life are covered in nowhere near the degree of detail, and they are the better for it. This excess of information on foreign policy diminishes the book's accessibility, but does not in any way temper its indispensability as a study of Palmerston. Brown's biography is the new standard by which future Palmerston biographies will be judged, one that rewards the effort spent wading through its pages with the insight it provides into a towering figure of nineteenth century British politics.


The Deathworms of Kratos
The Deathworms of Kratos
by Richard Avery
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable sci-fi adventure with some dated elements, 18 Jun. 2011
Humanity in the year 2071 is straining at the limits of terrestrial and solar sustainability. With billions of people placing a demand on Earth's finite resources, an outlet is needed. Robot probes have identified planets in other systems capable of supporting human life. But before they can be colonized they must be proven - a high-risk prospect. Enter the Expendables: a group of highly talented criminals and misfits who combine technical expertise in their chosen fields with checkered pasts. Led by James Conrad, a former commander in the United Nations Space Service, they are sent out to explore Kratos, the first viable planet discovered by the probes. Yet not only must the team determine the planets viability as a colony for humans, they must also answer an additional question - just who or what left the large ruts scarring the planet's surface?

Edmund Cooper (who published this novel under the pen name "Richard Avery") was a British author whose wide-ranging oeuvre included a number of science fiction novels. This book was the first of a four-book series that he wrote in the mid-1970s in which his team would face various challenges on an Earth-like world. In many ways this is the best of the quartet, as Cooper couples his pulp action here with pages spent laying out his premise and developing his characters into distinct figures rather than leaving them as interchangeable cardboard cutouts. His themes of sustainability and resource deprivation, a growing concern in the years in which he wrote this, gives his book an air of prescience for readers today, helping to separate it from similar sci-fi novels of its ilk.

Yet these strengths sit uncomfortably with dialogue and situations that can seem somewhat racist and sexist to readers today. Cooper's fans have credited him for populating his crew with a diverse group of people, yet the novel seems dated with the degree to which they oftentimes dwell on their racial backgrounds. No character embodies this better than Kurt Kwango. The team ecologist, he is credited with being the smartest member of the group and is often at the heart of the action. Yet he seems obsessed with race to a degree more befitting someone of the 20th century than Cooper's supposedly more enlightened future. It's a problem that detracts from what it otherwise an enjoyable sci-fi adventure, making it more a product of its time than one that, like many of the best works of the genre, rises above it to become a truly timeless work.


The Deathworms of Kratos
The Deathworms of Kratos
by Richard Avery
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable sci-fi adventure with some dated elements, 18 Jun. 2011
Humanity in the year 2071 is straining at the limits of terrestrial and solar sustainability. With billions of people placing a demand on Earth's finite resources, an outlet is needed. Robot probes have identified planets in other systems capable of supporting human life. But before they can be colonized they must be proven - a high-risk prospect. Enter the Expendables: a group of highly talented criminals and misfits who combine technical expertise in their chosen fields with checkered pasts. Led by James Conrad, a former commander in the United Nations Space Service, they are sent out to explore Kratos, the first viable planet discovered by the probes. Yet not only must the team determine the planets viability as a colony for humans, they must also answer an additional question - just who or what left the large ruts scarring the planet's surface?

Edmund Cooper (who published this novel under the pen name 'Richard Avery') was a British author whose wide-ranging oeuvre included a number of science fiction novels. This book was the first of a four-book series that he wrote in the mid-1970s in which his team would face various challenges on an Earth-like world. In many ways this is the best of the quartet, as Cooper couples his pulp action here with pages spent laying out his premise and developing his characters into distinct figures rather than leaving them as interchangeable cardboard cutouts. His themes of sustainability and resource deprivation, a growing concern in the years in which he wrote this, gives his book an air of prescience for readers today, helping to separate it from similar sci-fi novels of its ilk.

Yet these strengths sit uncomfortably with dialogue and situations that can seem somewhat racist and sexist to readers today. Cooper's fans have credited him for populating his crew with a diverse group of people, yet the novel seems dated with the degree to which they oftentimes dwell on their racial backgrounds. No character embodies this better than Kurt Kwango. The team ecologist, he is credited with being the smartest member of the group and is often at the heart of the action. Yet he seems obsessed with race to a degree more befitting someone of the 20th century than Cooper's supposedly more enlightened future. It's a problem that detracts from what it otherwise an enjoyable sci-fi adventure, making it more a product of its time than one that, like many of the best works of the genre, rises above it to become a truly timeless work.


Zachary Taylor (American Presidents (Times))
Zachary Taylor (American Presidents (Times))
by John S. D. Eisenhower
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.18

2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointingly thin biography of 'Old Rough and Ready', 11 Jun. 2011
Zachary Taylor ranks among that small group of presidents who was more famous for what they did before they became president than for what they did once they occupied the office. A career army officer, he shot to fame when he led his troops to victory over Mexican forces in the Mexican War. Basking in the adulation of a grateful nation, his parlayed his triumph into a victory as the Whig candidate in the 1848 presidential election, only to have his presidency cut short by his death less than a year and a half after taking office.

Given Taylor's background and claim to fame, John S. D. Eisenhower would seem to be the ideal candidate to write a biography of America's 12th president. The son of a former president, he was a career army officer himself before retiring to become a prolific author of military histories. Yet the end result is disappointing. Eisenhower's slim book is a sketchy account of Taylor's life, one that provides only the barest of details about the man and little real understanding of his role in American history. The first quarter-century of Taylor's life are covered in a scant eight paragraphs, reflecting the lack of effort in understanding the role these early years played in shaping his personality. Much of his early military career is also glossed over in a rush to get to the critical years of the Mexican War. These chapters play to Eisenhower's strengths, allowing him to draw upon his previous work on the conflict, So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848. Yet even here precious space is wasted providing unnecessary or superfluous background to events, diminishing the book's value as a biography of Taylor even further.

Though Eisenhower's final chapters dealing with Taylor's time as president provide more in the way of detail and analysis, they cannot make up for the overall deficiencies of this book. Overall Eisenhower's biography is a disappointing entry in "The American Presidents" series, one that fails to reflect the considerable strengths the author brought to the project. Readers seeking more than the barest details of Taylor's life would be better off picking up K. Jack Bauer's far more substantial Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest instead of this book, with fails to satisfy any real appetite to learn about Taylor or his role in American history.


Bismarck: A Life
Bismarck: A Life
by Jonathan Steinberg
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perceptive study of the 'Iron Chancellor', 20 May 2011
This review is from: Bismarck: A Life (Hardcover)
No single person was more responsible for the creation of Germany in 1871 than Otto von Bismarck. First as minister-president of Prussia, then as chancellor of the German Empire he shaped and guided the creation and development of the country for over a quarter of a century. Yet as Jonathan Steinberg points out in the introduction to his biography of the man, he was a ruler without any sort of sovereignty or popular support, a fact that makes his achievement all the more remarkable. How Bismarck came to occupy this role and stamp he placed on Germany is detailed in this perceptive book, which provides an understanding of his achievements within the context of his life and times.

Little about Bismarck's early years indicated the outsize role he would play in history. Born to a Prussian landowning family, he benefited from the opportunities open to him as a member of the Junker class. Drawn to politics in his early thirties, he soon made a name for himself as a staunch supporter of the Prussian king, Frederick William IV and in 1851 was named the Prussian representative to the Diet of the German Confederation. It was here that he developed his famous pragmatism as a politician, as well as fostering an image of recklessness he felt would serve him well in his political dealings. Yet he desired to be at the heart of power, and he succeeded in winning appointment as Prussia' minister-president in 1862 thanks to the active support of Albrecht von Roon and other members of a conservative camarilla.

Once in power Bismarck began a remarkable transformation of European politics. The key to his power, as Steinberg notes, lay not with party support or military backing but from his ability to dominate Frederick William's brother and successor, William I. With the king's backing, Bismarck was able to remake the map of Europe, forging the nation of Germany from the disparate states that survived the Napoleonic era. Yet the governing system he constructed was one designed to maximize his authority as chancellor, thwarting the demands of liberal politicians for a greater voice for parliamentary democracy. This system proved to be a double-edged sword, however, as Bismarck found out when William's grandson William II took the throne. Lacking the hold that he had on the new emperor's grandfather, Bismarck's resignation was finally accepted in 1890, leaving the governing power of the advanced industrial state in the hands of a mercurial young monarch and his independent and assertive military.

Steinberg's book is an excellent account of Bismarck's life and times. He offers a fascinating portrait of a dramatic politician who dominated the politics of his nation as few have before or since. By setting Bismarck's life into the context of its times, he demonstrates well the impact Bismarck's policies had - for better and for worse - on the development of Germany as a nation. Unfortunately this does come at a cost, as Bismarck's private life is generally given short shrift outside of its impact upon his temperament, but such a sacrifice is understandable given the challenge of summarizing such a long career within the confines of a single volume. Steinberg succeeds in providing readers with what is likely to be the best single-volume biography of the "Iron Chancellor" for decades to come, one that should be read by anyone seeking to understand this fascinating and important figure.


A Rainbow of Blood: The Union in Peril - an Alternate History (Britannia's Fist Trilogy)
A Rainbow of Blood: The Union in Peril - an Alternate History (Britannia's Fist Trilogy)
by Peter G. Tsouras
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable but flawed alternate history novel, 14 May 2011
Peter Tsouras's second volume in his "Britannia's Fist" trilogy picks up near where his last one, Britannia's Fist: From Civil War to World War - An Alternate History (Britannia's Fist Trilogy), left off. Having entered the war as a result of a naval incident off the coast of Ireland, the British have occupied parts of Maine and upstate New York. Portland lies under siege, and the Royal Navy has broken the blockade of the South, though at considerable cost. Now with new life breathed into the Confederate cause, a French army marches up from Mexico to aid in the recapture of New Orleans and Lee outmaneuvers Meade to strike at Washington itself. Yet with the Copperhead rebellion broken in the Midwest, the battle-hardened Union responds to the new threats with the aid of a host of new technologies. But will it be enough to save the United States from its horde of enemies?

The American Civil War is as well-trodden a subject for alternate history as it is for military history. Yet Tsouras's book stands out for two reasons. The first is his divergence point; his use of the controversy of the Laird Rams as the reason for the war's expansion, is original and it allows him to portray a more advanced conflict than is justifiably possible in similar novels. The second is his expertise. With a background in military intelligence, Tsouras brings considerable knowledge of martial affairs, which adds to the verisimilitude to his narrative. These two elements often combine to make for dramatic descriptions of battles in places like Kennebunk and Claverack, accounts that are among the high points of this book.

Yet the strengths of Tsouras's book are offset by some glaring flaws. Often his narrative is interrupted by long descriptions of regimental histories and uniforms that show off Tsouras's research but do little to advance the story. Some of that effort would have been better spent familiarizing himself with the broader historical background, as his plot exposes some disappointing gaps in his knowledge. His portrayal of Benjamin Disraeli as the Conservative Party leader in 1863 is a particularly large whopper given how he develops his plot (and one that gives added meaning to Angus Hawkins's choice of The Forgotten Prime Minister as his title of his biography of the man who was, in fact, the actual leader of the Tories at that time). Errors such as this can temper the enjoyment of the novel and raise doubts about the depth of his research in non-military affairs. Hopefully Tsouras will address these weaknesses while building upon his strengths in the final volume, which holds promise for a dramatic end to his alternate history series.


Last Liberal Governments: The Promised Land, 1905-1910: The Promised Land, 1905-10 v. 1
Last Liberal Governments: The Promised Land, 1905-1910: The Promised Land, 1905-10 v. 1
by Peter Rowland
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A detailed account of Liberal government in Edwardian Britain, 9 May 2011
The general election of 1906 ranks with those of 1931, 1945, and 1997 as among the great landslides of twentieth century British politics. After a decade in power the Unionists were turned out, replaced by a resurgent Liberal Party led by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Yet in many ways, as Peter Rowland makes clear in this book, their victory was in many ways illusory. Riding a wave of anti-Unionist sentiment and with their opposition fragmented on the issue of tariffs, the Liberals had little in the way of an agenda that measured up to the opportunity which they possessed. These years in office and the policies the government pursued are the subject of Rowland's book, which examines what was achieved and what was not in that time.

Rowland does this is a series of chapters that divide the issues into the natural categories of domestic, foreign, and imperial policy. In all the goals were modest, tempered to some degree by the knowledge that any radical legislation would face certain defeat at the hands of the Unionist-dominated House of Lords. Though initially Campbell-Bannerman's successor as prime minister, Herbert Asquith, demonstrated little interest in pursuing a more confrontational approach, the 'People's Budget' proposed by the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, set the two houses of Parliament on a collision course with one another. In the January 1910 general election triggered by the crisis, the Unionists made significant gains, though the Liberals were able to maintain office with the support of the Labour and Irish Nationalist Parties. After months of fruitless negotiations, a new general election confirmed the Liberals in office, clearing that way for a reform measure that would allow the Liberals the ability to overcome the longstanding obstruction of their agenda by reducing permanently the power of the upper house.

By detailing the twists and turns of policymaking in these years, Rowland exposes a profound conservatism in the attitudes of the Liberal administrations - not one of ideology but in its approach to issues. Rooted as it was in its traditional philosophy, the Liberal governments offered little in the way of fresh ideas as to how to address the problems of a changing society; indeed, even the Liberals' revival in 1906 was based not on anything new but on their reaffirmation of the nineteenth-century gospel of free trade. Yet the author's success in demonstrating this is tempered by an absence of any effort to explain why this was so, leaving it to others to provide a more fundamental understanding. Such an omission limits his achievement with this book, but does not detract from its overall usefulness. Clearly written and firmly rooted as it is in the primary sources of the time, Rowland's book endures as a valuable account of a pivotal period in British politics, one that can still be read today with profit.


To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain
To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain
by Adam Hochschild
Edition: Hardcover

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The First World War and its discontents, 8 May 2011
The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 was greeted in Great Britain with a massive show of unity. Men of fighting age rushed to enlist, while organizations and factions set aside their differences in order to face their new common enemy. Yet such support was not universal. As widespread as the demonstration of enthusiasm for the war was, a committed handful stood in stubborn defiance against the conflict. Adam Hochschild's book details their often lonely struggle against the backdrop of the war they so passionately opposed. In it, he attempts to provide an understanding of the choices they made, showing why they refused to subordinate their conscience to the war effort and the prices they paid for their stance.

The people Hochschild focuses on are a select group, men and women who are bound by family and personal ties to the British elite. He starts by charting the origin of the opposition of some of them to war by detailing their opposition to an earlier conflict, the Boer War. The fighting there led people such as Charlotte Despard, Emily Hobhouse, and the Pankhursts to campaign against the British war effort. For them, opposing the war was just one of many causes they undertook, as the activists Hochschild highlights were often at the forefront of radical reform in Edwardian Britain. Yet the outbreak of the war against Germany created deep divisions among their ranks, even to the point of tearing apart families such as the Pankhursts. Their stand provoked considerable public derision, and most of them were subjected to surveillance and obstruction by the authorities. Yet Hochschild sees their fight as all the more noble for its futility, ultimately granting them the larger moral victory despite the hopelessness of their cause.

All of this Hochschild describes in an engrossing narrative that conveys well the drama and tragedy of his subject. He is especially good at detailing the relationships between his characters, such as that between Despard and her brother John French, the first commander of the British Expeditionary Force. If there is a villain in his account it is Douglas Haig, whose obstinacy Hochschild savages for fueling the bloodshed. Yet for all of its strengths Hochschild's book suffers from a lack of focus. Often his subjects disappear for pages as he describes the more familiar tale of the overall course of the war; while this can illustrate what excited the passions of its opponents, the considerable amount of space the author devotes to it distracts more often than it enhances his story. While the strengths of Hochschild's narrative outweigh this deficiency, it does limit his achievement with this book, which offers an interesting look at an aspect of the First World War often ignored by other chroniclers.


The Shores of Kansas
The Shores of Kansas
by Rob Chilson
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Character study of a time traveler, 27 April 2011
This review is from: The Shores of Kansas (Hardcover)
Grant Ryals is a taciturn Missourian who possesses a rare gift: he is one of only a handful of people who possess the ability to travel through time. Even among this group, though, Ryals is unique, as he is the only one who can travel back to the pre-human past. Ryals uses this to establish an institute devoted to the study of the prehistoric flora and fauna, which flourishes with the publication of books, journals, and the release of movies, all of which are the product of his solo journeys to the past. Yet Ryals finds survival in the distant past easier than living in the present, as the unwanted fame his adventures have brought him and his struggles to deal with the efforts by the institute's manager to abandon Ryals's research efforts for more lucrative plans sends him back ever more frequently to the past - at the risk of his very life.

Robert Chilson's novel offers an interesting approach to the time travel tale. Here time travel is less the issue than a plot tool, an escape hatch for his central character. The details are usually left out to make room for Chilson to develop Ryals, an introvert whose gift makes him into a global celebrity,. Chilson's description of Ryals's trips to the past are the best parts of the book, as Ryals watches sauropods lay eggs and is tracked by a tyrannosaurus rex. By contrast the chapters in the present are less interesting, as Chilson does not spend as much effort to develop his characters and at times seems at a loss as to what to give them to do. Moreover, as a product of its time, the novel suffers from the now-outdated understandings about dinosaurs and how they lived, a problem that becomes acute as Ryals's interaction with them forms a key part of the book. These deficiencies detract significantly from the novel, making it one that only die hard fans of the premise will enjoy.


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