on 28 August 2014
I found this a very readable book. I would agree with other reviewers when they point out that there is nothing particularly new in terms of historical content. However what Burleigh does express well is that individuals create history as much as groups,. In this regard his illumination of the leading and key personalities of the era was insightful. He also has a quirky sense of humour and wit that infuses the book, no better illustrated than in the epilogue.
I bought this book, well because it just seemed so interesting. And some of the actions described are ones that most people are unfamiliar with these days. Teh author has a quirky perspective on a lot of issues and makes reading his accounts enjoyable. Somewhat like Max Boot. However Michael has an irritating habit of making snap judgements about historical figures without qualifying his statements. While I found the vignettes of the individual conflicts a great read, the book ends abruptly and seemed to lack any overall theme.
on 10 July 2013
I would not normally have picked up a book about various colonial conflicts but, as a fan of the author, I bought it and - like his work on terrorism - found it more interesting than I expected. What makes the work engaging is how these numerous conflicts are put in the context of a world in transition from one where the old European empires held sway to one where America would have to pick up the slack. The great irony at the heart of the book is that America itself welcomed the liquidation of the old colonial powers initially (how could it not given its own history) but found itself by the late 1960s bogged down in a conflict in Vietnam that it had inherited from those European powers (and while America may have branded itself differently the game it was playing globally was eerily similar to that of the European powers of the nineteenth century).
So the work has broad sweep and is put in the context of trends in global history. At the same time it goes nitty-gritty and engages with the characters that participated and shaped events. The book does not look to put all these conflicts in one bucket but rather identifies how people shaped events and some conflicts turned out better than others.
Nuanced and entertaining, I do hope Michael Burleigh publishes again soon. Given that Burleigh's career-defining topic has been political religion, perhaps he could have a look at the monetary policies of the twentieth century and where they have led us....
In a concise and readable, yet also probing and analytical survey of the two decades after the Second World War, Burleigh charts the painful, turbulent and, often, violent passage of peoples trying to shake free of colonialism mostly in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Carribean. It is not a comfortable read, exposing some of lowest moments in the post-war political affairs of Britain, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and other powerful nations. The author holds up a mirror that shows us the ugly, exploitative side of our nations, and how they have (mis)behaved on the world stage. Assorted respected statesmen also get knocked from their historical pedestals (fans of John F.Kennedy will be livid), being exposed as manipulative, opportunistic, or simply stupid in their dealings with impoverished Third World Countries.
The range of conflicts covered is impressive: Algeria, Congo, Cuba, the Hungarian revolution, Indo-China, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Kenya, Korea, Malaya, the Philippines, Rhodesia, the Suez crisis, & culminating in Vietnam. There are also concise and illuminating (and critical) summaries of leaders who shaped the postwar world, including Castro, Churchill, de Gaulle, Eden, Eisenhower, Ho Chi Mihn, Kennedy, Khruschev, Macmillan, Mao, Stalin, & Truman.
As a consequence Burleigh shows how and why the peoples of many undeveloped nations now distrust or even hate the West - his book explains so much about the antagonistic state of the world in the 21st century. (Especially relevant to current international affairs is the account of how MI6 & the CIA manipulated Iranian politics to keep Oil under the control of British & American oil companies.) I have found it an illuminating and insightful survey, and rank it among the most important books on Modern History I have read over the past decade. Five stars doesn't do it justice.
on 15 May 2013
This is yet another excellent work by Michael Burleigh, his own man - and proud of it. The biffing and other politics that went on after the war was quite extensive and horrible and had a big effect on the strategic development of our planet. Assuming Burleigh has been as diligent over his facts as in earlier books this is a great work. (I was slightly put off by his location of Churchill's death, actually Hyde Park Gate, London.) The extent of his scholarship is quite stunning. This is the kind of book which will be on my shelves long after the collectors for the summer fete and jumble sale have banged on the door.
on 4 August 2013
This book appears to have been hastily written and tries to cover too much with a degree of depth that careers widely from minute details about someone's life to skipping through the background of major conflicts (such as the background to Vietnam). From an historical perspective, Burleigh derails too often and slips into making personal caustic comments on players, which should never belong in a serious historical work - which, frankly, this is not. He draws few conclusions or trends that might be of relevance and the only summary he presents (on page 506, the last page) is laughable. There are some interesting points he makes but this feels very much like the work of someone who has trawled through existing secondary literature that exists in English (or more likely, has some interns do it for him) than being a serious historical work.