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Paul T. Gannon

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Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire
Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire
by Calder Walton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.00

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A shocking and detailed account of the end of empire, 26 Mar 2013
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Other reviewers have given this book a low rating and made various criticisms, but Walton's book deserves better. He has uncovered a shameful set of episodes in British history, effectively debunking the 'we were so nice to the natives, unlike those nasty Belgians & French' myth. Those who say that times have changed and that the author is viewing events through modern 'liberal lefty' focus fail to understand why it has taken so long to uncover this story - it's because those responsible for the torture policy knew that they were doing wrong and wanted to cover it up. Walton has done a pretty good job in bringing this story to light. As Walton shows, British intelligence outfits in WWII resisted attempts to use torture of captured German and other Axis prisoners. People knew then that torture was morally wrong as well as ineffective in gaining reliable intelligence.

Apart from the gut-wrenching accounts of torture, Walton demonstrates how an failed strategy of repression was enthusiastically enforced time and again and always with the same failed outcome. Walton also draws attention to occasions when alternative approaches were pursued.

I do have one minor criticism regarding his misunderstanding of the nature of Ultra intelligence in WWII which he states, incorrectly, was synonymous with Enigma decrypts. He fails to mention and indeed seems unaware of the Lorenz/Geheimschreiber decrypts which provided the strategic intelligence within the Ultra classification. Similarly his comment on Alan Turing's theoretical work, which he relates to the Bombe used to help in Engima decrypts, is dubious. But, such minor errors do not affect the overall value of this most important book on the end of empire in the last decade and more.

Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea
Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea
by Christine Garwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating glimpse into science and public debate, 3 Jun 2010
This fascinating, if slightly overlong, book is well worth reading for understanding how public scientific debate is constructed. The author draws parallels with Creationist theory, but there are interesting lessons too about some of the political challenges to climate change theory. It's also a good read in general, often illuminating and frequently painfully funny - such as the report of the chap expelled from the Flat Earth Research Society of America for alleged 'spherical tendencies'. My only serious criticism is that the book tells us only about Anglophone 'planoterrestrialism'. Was/is it really confined just to Britain, the US, Canada and New Zealand. What about France and Germany? About this the author makes no mention which is a pity for it would cast flt-earthism in another light if it was/is indeed restricted to 'Anglo-Saxon' countries. Otherwise, for the open-minded reader, here is a worthwhile diversion into examining some features of the odder reaches of human condition with lessons for some of the most critical issue of our day.

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