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Mr. Tristan Martin (Hertfordshire, UK)
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D-Day: The Battle for Normandy
D-Day: The Battle for Normandy
by Antony Beevor
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From the D-Day invasion to the liberation of Paris, a vivid retelling, 15 May 2013
For a layman like myself who hasn't done a great deal of reading on this subject, Anthony Beevor's D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, is a fine book that gave me a greater insight in to that summer of 1944 and a richer appreciation of what happened after the beachheads had been secured. Other reviewers who have clearly done a good deal more reading were not particularly impressed with this book.

Initially, this book covers the Normandy beach invasions, as you would expect. Beevor then takes us through the battle-scarred landscape of north western France, right in to the center of Paris. As was the case with two of his most well-known previous books, Stalingrad and Berlin, it is in the smaller details that Beevor really tells his story - his effective use of personal anecdotes and diaries that really breathe life in to his narrative, are what sets him apart from countless other historians of the same era.

Despite Beevor's considerable writing skills and his mastery of marshalling such a vast amount of information in to a coherent narrative, D-Day never quite scaled the heights (or plumbed the depths, depending on your perspective) as his two above-mentioned books. This could well be because this facet of the Second World War is so ingrained in to our British consciousness that we feel like we already know the history, even if we actually don't. However, this book is still highly recommended because Beevor brings his story to life with the personal details: the petty bickering of the generals - Patton's rampant egoism and comical machismo, Montgomery's papal infallibility, Hitler's paranoia and the frustrations of his generals (the British command had decided against assassinating Hitler as they thought his increasing detachment from reality was causing him to make awful strategic decisions that aided the Allies, whereas saner German military leadership might end up lengthening the war) and of course, many personal accounts from frontline soldiers and the civilians caught in the middle, watching their historic towns get destroyed.

My main criticism of this book is that it begins with the Allies deciding when to invade France, depending on the weather conditions. Therefore, the preliminary planning decisions had all been made. As with any history book, the author must decide on a specific start and ending date of the story - just how far back do you need to go? I would disagree with Beevor in choosing to begin his book so close to the actual invasion itself. I would have appreciated some space devoted to why the decision was taken to mounting a primarily seaborne invasion, why that particular location was chosen (why France and why that area of France), why were certain beaches allocated to certain nationalities, what were the logistical issues behind such an unprecedented invasion, when these decisions were made and who by?

Anthony Beevor once again tells the story of another crucial battle of the Second World War in such a masterful way. Whether this becomes the definitive text on the subject is another debate but certainly D-Day: The Battle for Normandy was another rich, impressive book, only just missing the mark that two of his previous books had set impossibly high.


Berlin: The Downfall, 1945
Berlin: The Downfall, 1945
by Antony Beevor
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another brilliant descent in to the dark heart of European madness, 29 Mar 2013
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Anthony Beevor's superb follow-up to his epic Stalingrad continues his style of high-level strategy with a sharp eye for the human detail. As with his previous book, the reader is presented with far too numerous descriptions of mutual atrocities, mostly seemingly inflicted on the civilian population. This is never gratuitous war porn but rather set within a clear narrative, all of which is manipulated either by the vicious paranoia of Stalin, who can never sacrifice enough of his soldiers, or Hitler, an out of touch madman who has conflated his ego with that of German history itself.

What sets Beevor apart from many other military historians is his well deployed and highly effective use of personal testimony, whether taken from declassified official records or personal diaries and letters. This forces us never to forget that caught up in the awful whirlwind of these cataclysmic events are real people: German mothers hiding daughters from the drunken rapists of victorious Soviet soldiers, the claustrophobic madness of Hitler's bunker, Soviet troops sharing food with starving civilians; abundant vivid tableaux, most awful, some touching.

All wars are terrible and represent failures. Berlin: The Downfall, 1945, shows us how the Second World War ended in a destroyed city in central Europe. Brutality, treachery, suspicion, however, continued long after the guns fell silent. Anthony Beevor never lets us forget that real people pay the terrible price for the decisions of an insane leadership and that wars should always be the absolute last resort.


Stalingrad
Stalingrad
by Antony Beevor
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Narrative history at it's best, 5 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Stalingrad (Hardcover)
Stalingrad was one of the worst battles of the Second World War. Anthony Beevor's brilliant book drives this horrific story from the events of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the USSR in June of 1941, through to Operation Uranus, the Soviet encirclement of the German Army of November 1942 and ending with the surrender and defeat of the Germans in February 1943. No prior knowledge of this battle is required to appreciate this triumphant book.

Beevor does not spare the reader from the brutal conditions of the events, nor learning about war crimes committed by both armies. Just as much focus is given to the depictions of Soviet and German high command, as to the terrible life of the boots on the ground: Stalin's vengeful paranoia and Hitler's increasing detachment from military reality, both play out their bloody, murderous dramas.

What brings this all together so superbly is Beevor's talent, not only as a great historian who has amassed a huge amount of information but his writing ability, in filtering all of this detail in to a highly readable account of what is often described as not only the turning point of the Second World War (where Germany received a definitive defeat and really made them retreat for the first time) but also the first conflict of the emerging Cold War, with Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt all attempting to manage each other, to establish power-relations for a post-war world.

In short, in writing Stalingrad, Anthony Beevor has helped capture an event so awful that it almost transcends history to become myth. Beevor has kept the human dimension, in all it's terrible suffering, front and center. Stalingrad ends with the start of the Soviet march towards Germany. This book was so impressive that I immediately started Beevor's companion piece, Berlin: The Downfall 1945.


Why We Fight [DVD]
Why We Fight [DVD]
Dvd ~ Eugene Jarecki
Offered by DVD Vault UK
Price: £5.00

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "When war is this profitable, you're going to see a lot more of it.", 3 Feb 2013
This review is from: Why We Fight [DVD] (DVD)
Why We Fight explores the rise and consequences of the Military Industrial Complex, as warned about in President Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address of 1961: "...we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

This speech, according to director Eugene Jarecki's film, is disturbingly prophetic and his film aims to fulfil another part of Eisenhower's speech: "Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Jarecki attempts to achieve Eisenhower's goal of an "alert and knowledgeable citizenry" through the use of many talking heads, from those on both the political right and left, such as John McCain and Richard Perle, Gore Vidal and most interestingly, former CIA analyst turned academic, Chalmers Johnson. Despite the fact that Jarecki was attempting to fulfil an American, Republican president's farewell wishes, he was unable to raise a single dollar towards the funding of this film in the United States, with the exception of the Sundance Institute.

Why We Fight is an important documentary, taking a calm approach to an important subject, through the use of first hand interviews and plentiful archival footage. This deserves to be seen by as many people as possible because when director Jarecki asks American citizens "Why we fight?", the answer in the documentary is uniformly "freedom" but the interviewees are unable to provide any more depth than that, as if the response to the question is some indoctrinated automatic mantra (curiously, "Why We Fight" is also the title of Frank Capra's propaganda films of the Second World War).

This film is highly recommended for those interested in subjects such as the Military Industrial Complex of course, the American Empire, foreign policy and the shift from a Cold War posture to a post-Cold War footing and what is often referred to as pre- and post-9/11 thinking.


The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden
The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden
by Mark Bowden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.42

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks the detail of The Looming Tower and the punch of No Easy Day, 13 Jan 2013
The Finish by Mark Bowden is a rather slender volume, coming in at 266 unindexed pages. Perhaps we are too close to the events but simply, this book is lacking in sufficient detail. The blurb promises to take us,"...inside the rooms where decisions were made and on the ground where the action unfolded." This is true but neither aspect fully satisfies.

Bowden has secured interviews with many people (national security staff, CIA officers, even President Obama) so The Finish is very much the official narrative. His picture of the Terrorism Information Awareness database is convincing and how it builds a picture from a million disparate sources, like a dot matrix printer. However, this intelligence cannot be described in detail and so the process whereby Osama Bin Laden was actually tracked down never feels fully complete. For a book that synthesises intelligence work with military operations, Mark Urban's Task Force Black provides a useful companion piece.

Similarly, for a better perspective from the boots on the ground, SEAL Team Six member Mark Owen's No Easy Day is a more detailed, first-hand account, given that he actually participated in the raid on the Abbottabad compound. Bowden retells this story but without the authentic aspects that Owen brings to the table.

Less impressive, or simply factually wrong, depending on your interpretation, is Bowden's description of an action taken during the Bill Clinton presidency. On page 93 of The Finish, Bowden writes, "President Clinton authorized two missile strikes soon after the embassy bombings, one targeting Al-Shifa, a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum thought to be developing chemical weapons..." This factory which was subsequently destroyed actually produced anti-malarial medicines for the Sudanese population; lack of access to these basic drugs resulted in tens of thousands of civilians dying throughout Sudan. Intentional or not, the destruction of this factory produced a higher death toll than the events of 11th September 2001 and yet there has been no early morning raid by special forces operators on the Clinton residency.

Ultimately, The Finish is an adequate book with interesting elements, about the conclusion to the 9/11 narrative but is totally dwarfed when compared to the best book about the path to 9/11, Lawrence Wright's epic, The Looming Tower.


Slash: The Autobiography
Slash: The Autobiography
by Slash
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Delivers the vicarious thrills but where's the man behind the hat?, 1 Jan 2013
Slash, ghost-written by Rolling Stone staff writer Anthony Bozza, promises us two things: the inside track on one of the defining rock bands of their era, whilst simultaneously tempting us with vicarious drug thrills. It delivers on both counts but does so in such a bland way that I kept thinking while reading this, "Am I missing something?"

Yes, Slash gives us all the snort-and-tell stories of rock and roll decadence that you can stomach: daylight hallucinations of attacking monsters, crippling heroin addiction, vodka induced delirium tremors and so forth, all the while riding the crest of a wave of what was then the world's biggest rock and roll band, Guns N' Roses. And yes, Slash also gives us his perspective on how GNR was put together with an "us against the world" attitude and how it all so acrimoniously fell apart in a mess of years of legal wrangling. The final few chapters go on to tell us of his joy of parenthood and his post-Guns musical career, neither of which are particularly interesting for the reader.

The trouble with this book is that, for all the wild stories it contains, it is just so bland. Unlike other autobiographies, such as Keith Richard's Life or Simon Pegg's Nerd Do Well, Slash's own personality really doesn't leap off the page. Again, perhaps I am missing a trick here: that this book is so calm, easy to read and ordinary, could indeed be an accurate representation of who Slash is as a person and I am certainly in no position to make that judgement but through it all, this book didn't seem to have any real passion or personality that leapt off the page.

That said, I imagine for most readers, they will devour this book for the short but furious ride that was Guns N' Roses and for that part, Saul "Slash" Hudson tells us as much as we can expect, wary as he must be from the litigious Axl Rose. For those looking for an in-depth personality portrait of life at the centre of a rock and roll circus, will leave only partially satisfied.


Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West
Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West
by Tom Holland
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The real story of the "300" - but so much more besides, 8 Dec 2012
Telling the story of a military campaign from the fifth century BC was always going to be a difficult assignment, given that there is a lack of primary sources and secondary sources are in conflict. However, going against popular consensus, Tom Holland has actually surpassed Rubicon for sheer narrative drive.

As with Rubicon, which invited parallels betwixt the collapse of the Roman empire and the potential implosion of the United States' empire, Persian Fire solicits another contemporary analogy, addressing as it does the attempt of a global superpower to crush two upstart "terrorist states." Regardless of whether that analogy can be sustained or not, Persian Fire is a dramatic read, taking us through the origins of the Persian empire and its clashes with the west, including the main battles and the tactics used therein.

The first third or so of the book was rather dry, dealing primarily with the internal politics and backstabbing that characterised the building of the Persian empire but once the scene changes to Sparta, the dramatic pace steps up. Certainly, anyone interested in the true story that inspired the graphic novel and film "300" (which mythologised the last stand of the Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae), will find much of interest in this book.

Whilst Rubicon gave us a fresh perspective on familiar material, Tom Holland has taken on a much more demanding task with Persian Fire, masterfully illuminating an ancient war that could be argued to have set the stage for the next two and a half thousand years of European culture. The slow scene-setting in the first third of this book aside, Persian Fire is highly recommended.


No Easy Day: The Only First-hand Account of the Navy Seal Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden
No Easy Day: The Only First-hand Account of the Navy Seal Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden
by Mark Owen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.80

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important story as told by one of the boots on the ground, 7 Oct 2012
Pseudonymous author and former Seal Team Six team leader Mark Owen recounts his career at the bleeding edge of special operations in No Easy Day. The first half of the book focuses on recruitment, training and various operations that Owen was involved with; the second half - and no doubt the selling point of the book - recounts the planning and execution of Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden (it seems in reality, there was never any attempt to capture Bin Laden alive, according to Owen).

While No Easy Day does fit neatly in to the template for many military memoirs, Owen does deliver a taste of authenticity and while working with writer Kevin Maurer, the story is kept at a brisk pace. We hear about various missions in Afghanistan, some successes and some failures, all the while building to an inevitable final mission that could possibly become a small piece of history, though we are still too close to the event to make that judgement for sure.

There was some controversy with the publication of this book, around the concept of "national security." It seems that "national security" is often invoked more to protect the image of senior staff from embarrassment and allegations of incompetence, than it has to do with protecting the lives of boots on the ground. Reminiscent of another former pseudonymous special forces operator, "Andy McNab" and his release of Bravo Two Zero and Immediate Action, the national security ramifications of McNab's books seem to be virtually non-existent and I suspect the same will hold true for No Easy Day. If anything, books like these, while seeming to expose special forces operators, only add to the mystique of the covert world.

Ultimately, No Easy Day is Mark Owen's attempt to set the record straight, as he sees it. It's a straightforward read of an important mission, one that the American citizen has funded through their paying of tax dollars. It was inevitable that there would be some public accounting of this mission and that would most likely have been a top-down version of events. Here, we have a crucial slice of history given to us early, as seen from the frontline.


Desperate Glory: At War in Helmand with Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade
Desperate Glory: At War in Helmand with Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade
by Sam Kiley
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The daily grind of blood, sweat and sand, 23 Sep 2012
British journalist Sam Kiley was the only writer who spent a full six month tour with UK armed forces in Afghanistan (April - October, 2008). While some of the material in this book has already been covered, such as in Patrick Bishop's 3 Para and Ground Truth books, never has it been so richly rendered as in Desperate Glory.

Some reviewers, it seems, have taken umbrage with the "flowery descriptions" of sunsets and landscapes in this book. If Kiley is to accurately represent the experiences of young people at war in a foreign land, then the environment in which they are doing this must be accurately rendered. The ever-present dust and the blistering heat are as much a part of these experiences as the lack of suitable equipment and the road-side bombs. Compared to Michael Herr's brilliant writing in the Vietnam classic Dispatches, where Herr presents war as some kind of psychedelic bad acid trip, Kiley's writing is quite muted.

Kiley must be congratulated on never placing himself centre stage, of never flattering himself on how dangerous his expedition was; this is self-evident. While not making himself a part of the story, though, Kiley doesn't quite achieve the superb level of writing that marks the best in this genre, such as Evan Wright's Generation Kill, or the aforementioned Dispatches. Desperate Glory is a much more workmanlike piece of reportage.

Sam Kiley has written in Desperate Glory a snapshot of British lives in Afghanistan and this book may well perhaps come to be regarded as a valuable account of what the UK was doing there, how little we achieved and at what cost in blood and treasure, both theirs and ours. This book gives all of us, the families and friends of those serving, politicians who sent our people there and the citizenry as a whole, a troubling account of this most bloody of fool's errands.


End This Depression Now!
End This Depression Now!
by Paul Krugman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.89

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your spending is my income and my spending is your income, 2 Sep 2012
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This simple fact, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, is the key to getting us all out of the economic depression we are languishing in. No need to rehash his arguments here. Instead, let me just note that this superb book is a highly readable, evidence-based polemic that forcefully looks to counter prevailing political and economic orthodoxy.

Krugman looks at the situation primarily in the United States, though he does cast his eye over the situation in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain and Greece whilst also drawing on the lessons from history, particularly the last great depression and the pre- and post-World War II situation. Additionally, he adds a postscript summarising the most recent studies of government spending on growth.

If you've read Joseph Stiglitz's great book, Freefall, this is an excellent companion piece. End This Depression Now! is a fiercely argued challenge to conventional ignorance that clearly demonstrates that fashionable austerity policies, even if they are advocated by Very Serious People, only serve to prolong an unnecessary and man-made depression that has terribly destructive repercussions on real families, real people.

Finally, any economic book that draws an analogy from the great Calvin & Hobbes can get nothing less than five gold stars!


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