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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly entertaining, descriptive account of world events
How does he manage it. John Simpson appears to be able to be at almost all the world's defining moments in the past 20 years; from the Berlin Wall, Tianmen Square, Russia "White House" standoff, Iraq/Bagdad. These events are all extremely well documented (and the difficulties endured to report them) in this account. The magic words "BBC reporter" seem...
Published on 19 Aug. 2001

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars From Your Humble Correspondent
John Simpson's self-effacing recollections makes good reading, especially for Americans who are used to jaded TV talking heads who are overpaid, over-praised and over-produced. Until the current crises in the Middle East, most broadcast correspondents did their jobs with few reasons to worry about their safety. Simpson, on the other hand, stuck his neck out throughout his...
Published on 27 Dec. 2009 by R. M. Ravitz


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly entertaining, descriptive account of world events, 19 Aug. 2001
By A Customer
How does he manage it. John Simpson appears to be able to be at almost all the world's defining moments in the past 20 years; from the Berlin Wall, Tianmen Square, Russia "White House" standoff, Iraq/Bagdad. These events are all extremely well documented (and the difficulties endured to report them) in this account. The magic words "BBC reporter" seem to act as a password which still provides access at the highest levels around the world. Simpson appears to be more of a "chancer" (his words) than you might expect from his relaxed TV style, but is clearly a highly capable individual.
This book brings back evocative memories of the major political events of the last 20-25 years. It shows the contrast in reporting procedures, with literally the first punch from Harold Wilson (not reported by other press), to the spin doctoring of current times.
Well worth the money.
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65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memoir of a complex life lived at the centre of world events, 27 Mar. 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Strange Places, Questionable People (Paperback)
This gripping volume is a must-read for two sorts of people. Its instant attraction for those who want an adventure story which takes place over thirty years and at the epicentre of world events is obvious - Simpson is a self-confessed adventurer, and in one of his best moments of self-realisation, he admits to being "a bit of a chancer" too. And as an adventure story you couldn't ask for better. Simpson's been shot at in Sarajevo, threatened in Dublin, bombed in Bagdhad and nearly arrested by secret policemen in Kabul. He's got on the nerves of the KGB during the Cold War, gone down the Amazon in trepidation of finding a parasitic fish which makes its home in the most intimate of areas and he stood in Tiananmen Square as the tanks rolled in. According to these pages he's got a short temper and, just for added spice, a bad habit of losing it at risky moments. But the real joy of this book is in the slow revelation of the man's character and the dissipation of the one-dimensional image and set preconceptions we may have of him. Simpson appears to me to be both honest and generous with his life. He is prepared to show himself in a bad light and even admits to using the pages to settle a few old scores along the way. He shows the grimmest aspects of his profession as well as the glamorous side and yes, he does glamorise it a little. But that appears to be because he genuinely regards it as the best job in the world. In the final pages he writes one of the best manifestoes for the work of ournalism and of public-service broadcasters I have read. This saw me through two flights, a holiday, an airport delay and two weeks of commuting to work. Recommended - it'll thrill you but make you think as well. Who could resist that?
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than a History book, 10 Feb. 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Strange Places, Questionable People (Paperback)
John Simpson is one of those people I thought I knew a little about but what a revelation this book is. Throughly readable and enjoyable as well as historically informative. You also get the impression that Mr Simpson is one of those rare people that you could not help but like. A Must read.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding - a must-read, 16 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Strange Places, Questionable People (Paperback)
I confess I used to think of Mr Simpson as a being a little smug, with polished measured reports either in the studio or from various foreign parts. Nothing could be further from the truth, the risks that John Simpson and his colleagues take on a daily basis belie the measured quality of his reports. This book covers a very wide range of the major foreign events of the past few decades, and brings them to life better than any history book. Strongly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars From Your Humble Correspondent, 27 Dec. 2009
This review is from: Strange Places, Questionable People (Paperback)
John Simpson's self-effacing recollections makes good reading, especially for Americans who are used to jaded TV talking heads who are overpaid, over-praised and over-produced. Until the current crises in the Middle East, most broadcast correspondents did their jobs with few reasons to worry about their safety. Simpson, on the other hand, stuck his neck out throughout his career. He is perhaps the best-known reporter to have ever been assaulted by a prime minister (Wilson)! From Sarajevo to Baghdad and back again, Simpson placed himself in danger to get the news, not always with the assistance of London higher-ups. Some sections make seem tedious when the author details the mechanics of broadcasting, i.e. getting pictures transmitted quickly as possible, exclusives that turned out to be of short-lived importance. All in all, a satisfying reading experience. Decidedly unglamourous.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book., 8 Feb. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Strange Places, Questionable People (Paperback)
I read this more and more slowly as the end approached, trying to put off the evil hour when it finished. Since then, I've been filling up the void in my life by going round reciting choice anecdotes from the book to anyone who will listen, like the tale of Nicolae Ceausescu's fountain pen and the episode where John Major asks Simpson for advice on how to make his election campaign less boring. The most riveting nonfiction book I've read for ages.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Experience is Things You'd Rather Not Have Seen, 12 Mar. 2005
By 
Ian Millard - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This book, using quite a lot of the same material as A Mad World, My Masters, is a better read. Simpson seems sort-of at home in odd places, perhaps a by-product of his own unusual family background, which he described elsewhere as "Wandering Jew Meets Flying Dutchman". He has seen things most of us hqve not or would not wish upon ourselves: Chinese soldiers burned alive by a mob, the aftermath of the massacre of Muslim civilians by the Israeli-paid "Christian" militia in Beirut, a Securitate agent beaten to death in the (as he points out) stage-managed "revolution" in Bucharest. Sad events and times such as the old man collecting wood for other old folks in Sarajevo, killed by a sniper for the hell of it.

Oft-times, his sense of objectivity is uncomfortable for more partisan journalists and others, as in Bosnia, where the Americans, in particular, were uncomfortable with the true and complex picture of a three-sided conflict without obvious good guys; they preferred a view showing a two way split, with the Bosnian Muslims called "Bosnians" (good guys) and the Bosnian Serbs called "Serbs" and very definitely bad guys.

Even in Southern Africa, while having been very anti-apartheid and fairly pro-ANC as a reporter there, Simpson does not shrink from showing the better side of the Afrikaaners, nor from exposing the mess into which South Africa under Mandela was sliding at the time this book was published nearly a decade ago (and which continues...).

Simpson can come across as rather smug, he who has seen all, though far less so in this book than in A Mad World...or on TV (he still appears on satellite TV on occasion. You will not find solutions to world problems here, but this book IS a damn good read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why does he do it?, 18 Mar. 2003
This review is from: Strange Places, Questionable People (Paperback)
This is a good read. We're used to seeing John Simpson on tv reporting from dangerous places but the book reveals what you don't see and the great lengths he goes to to get his stories. Many times he has put himself in serious personal danger and you have to wonder why he does it. His stories are riveting although I've had to get the dictionary out a few times - he has a wide and to me, unusual vocabulary. I recommend this book. I've found it hard to put down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An utterly outstanding account of an outstanding career, 25 Aug. 1999
By A Customer
It's books like this that make me regret more than ever that I read science at university rather than journalism. In this, the first volume of the story of his outstanding career, John Simpson gives an often amusing, frequently shocking account of his travels which have taken him to all but a handful of countries in the world, lead to him to witness many history-making events and interview a sizeable proportion of the people who caused them to happen. As you would expect for a BBC man, the narrative is gripping and expertly written to such an extent that one almost feels feels part of the action, be it filming the clandestine activities of the KGB, dodging bullets during the Islamic Revolution in Iran or interviewing the manically giggling Colonel Gadhafi in his 5 star Bedouin tent. The real danger in telling as remarkable story as this would be the temptation to slip in to a Boy's Own, Gung-Ho narrative in which the observer appears more important than the events themselves. But with John Simpson there is none of this. He tells his story with a good deal of wit and always with an engaging and slightly self-deprocating air, openly admitting the times when his initial impression turned out later to be wrong but not adopting an "I told you so" attitude when - in a large number of cases - events proved him to be right despite the naysaying of those around him. His genuine affection for people he has met and places he has been shines through, as do his thoughts on some of the less savoury charcters he has come up against in his travels. However, John Simpson seems to possess the rare gift of being able to distinguish between ideology and personality and will admit to feelings of grudging respect, even affection for certain aspects of charactes of some of the whose actions and motives he otherwise has little time for. But the main treat is reading a first hand account of events and people by a man who really has been there, seen that and got the bloodstained T-shirt. If you wish you'd been on hand to witness the crumbling of Apartheid, the Iranian Islamic Revolution, the Tiananmen Square massacre, the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the wars in Gulf, Angola and Yugoslavia, or wanted to ask probing questions of the Ayatolla Khomeini, Margret Thatcher, Andrei Sahkarov, Radovan Karadzic, Mikhail Gorbachev, Gerry Adams or any number of political dissidents, terrorists, secret policemen or ordinary people caught up in it all, then this book is definitely for you. I found it compelling, educational, unnerving, astounding, gripping and a whole host of other things which space does not permit me to record but would all encourage anybody to buy this book. John Simpson certainly knows how to be in the right place at the right time and I only hope he's still around to report on the Second Coming.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reporting by a master, 25 Dec. 2011
By 
Brian R. Martin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Strange Places, Questionable People (Paperback)
This book, first published in 1998, and reissued ten year later, is an account of 32 years that John Simpson spent as a correspondent for the BBC, commencing in 1966 when he first joined that organization aged twenty-two. During this long period he reported, both for radio and television, on numerous important events worldwide and from most of the trouble spots of the world, including Northern Ireland, South Africa, Iraqi, Iran, Russia, Bosnia, China and Afghanistan, to name just a few. If anyone should doubt that these were often very hazardous assignments, they should read, for example, his eyewitness accounts of the siege of Sarajevo, the crushing of the student revolt in Tianamen Square, and the bombing of Bagdad during the Gulf War. They give the reader a real feeling for these dramatic events. He says his love of the job is not the excitement that comes from being in danger, but I suspect that must at least be part of it.

Sometimes on television John Simpson can come across as a bit smug, but in this book you get a strong impression of an honest man who has a passion for reporting the facts without fear or favour. His statement that he would not cross the road to shake the hand of Gerry Adams, having witness a teenager writhing in agony having been shot through the kneecaps as an IRA punishment, speaks volumes for his integrity. He is also generous in his praise for his team, cameramen, sound recordists and others, without whom reporting would not be possible. But his profession is one where rivalries are strong and not all people in it behave well. He admits using the pages to settle a few old scores along the way, but usually without naming the `villains' (although doubtless the professionals will be able to identify them). The only job where John Simpson seems not to have made a success was as a parliamentary correspondent, although covering home affairs does give rise to two of the best anecdotes in the book, one on a plane where John Major asks Simpson how he can make his election campaign less boring, and the other as a young reporter being strongly punched in the stomach by Harold Wilson, outraged that Simpson had dared to ask him a question as he was walking on a platform to catch a train.

Although often critical of the BBC, John Simpson obviously has a deep love for the institution (he describes it as a marriage), that is almost irrational given the way it has sometimes treated him, and the book ends with a chapter defending the BBC and the role of honest and fearless radio and television reporting that is as good as anything I have read. This is not a conventional autobiography. For example, there is little about his first wife and the two children they had, and when that marriage ended it is mentioned in just a few lines. But as an account of John Simpson's life in reporting, doing a job that he clearly regards as the best in the world, it is a superb read.
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Strange Places, Questionable People by John Simpson (Paperback - 3 Oct. 2008)
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