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Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom)
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Mussolini's Island
Mussolini's Island
by Sarah Day
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

4.0 out of 5 stars Mussolini Hated Gays, Or So He Said., 23 Feb. 2017
This review is from: Mussolini's Island (Hardcover)
In fascist Italy there was no place for homosexuality. Mussolini made many speeches about the sin of homosexuality. New research indicates he may well have been gay or bisexual himself. Many Italian men were victimised and persecuted and in some parts of the state sent into exile. In 1939 a group of Sicilian homosexuals were rounded up and imprisoned on San Domino Island in he Adriatic Sea, a beautiful but very poor place.. Using this tiny piece of history, Day has written a very interesting book, her first.

The key character is Francesco, a young gay man from Catania in Sicily. He finds his lovers in alleys and dance halls. One evening he is arrested and shipped to the island with friends, enemies and two former lovers. A young girl, Ellena, dreams of escape from her island home. She fantasises that Francesco will prove her salvation., Unfortunately, her actions cause serious problems for him. Fear and betrayal lead to violence.

There are flaws in this debut book. For example, some of the subplots should have been culled. They endanger the main story. Nevertheless, it is written with verve, and the main characters are strong. One looks forward to more from this author.


The Last of the Tsars: Nicholas II and the Russian Revolution
The Last of the Tsars: Nicholas II and the Russian Revolution
by Robert Service
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He Died As A Political Victim. His Family Had To Share His Fate., 23 Feb. 2017
Robert Service is an acknowledged historian who specialises in Russian history, particularly the Soviet era. Previous books include a superb account of Lenin. Attempts by fellow historian Figes to undermine his scholarship have been deplorable and decidedly unprofessional.

His latest book is based on deep research into archives hithero unknown or inadequately studied by other historians. The Tsar Nicholas was an enigmatic ruler. He has been portrayed as a loving family man with a deep affection for his country while others have written that he was a stubborn, reactionary tyrant. Service argues he was both things at the same time. The book concentrates on the 16 months after his abdication and while he was in detention in Tsarskoe Selo, Tobolsk and finally Ekaterinburg where he and his family were slaughtered in a cellar by Bolsheviks in July 1918. The code name for the murder was ' chimney sweep', and the Romanovs were known as the ' baggage'. After the shooting the eleven bodies and a dog were doused with acid and dumped down a a mineshaft. Other grand dukes and princes were hurled alive into another mineshaft. The murderers went to great lengths to cover up the death of the Tsarina and children for fear of alienating the Kaiser, the Tsar's cousin.

In this absorbing account the author examines the following: the character of Nicholas, the claim that one or more members of his family escaped from the cellar, why he didn't flee to England, his antisemitism, what he read while in detention, his diaries, his thoughts on the Bolshevik coup, the influence of Pankratov and Yakovlev, the political and social environment around his places of detention, why the murders took place and Moscow's relations with Berlin. Each of these is of crucial importance. Service also makes it clear that even if the Tsar's other cousin, George V, had not refused to grant the Tsar entry for fear of inciting revolutionary mobs, the Bolsheviks would never have allowed him to leave.

The abdication of Nicholas brought to an end more than 300 years of Romanov rule. Initially, the intention was to put him on show trial. However, the tear he might lead a counter coup and the advance of the Czechoslovaks in July 1917 meant that he and his family had to be moved. Moscow was also in danger of an anti-Bolshevik uprising. In July 1918. These factors led to a decision to kill him and other Romanovs. The brutal civil war sealed their death.

Service examines to what extent the Tsar was responsible for the Bolshevik takeover. His limitations are exposed as are the fundamental problems of his country. Surrounded by toadies he was told whatever he wished to hear. He was sometimes said to be like a cushion, that is he spouted the views of his last adviser. He did have principles, was a reluctant reformer, was ignorant of peasant life, distrusted the Duma, treated the excellent Stolypin very badly, and floundered during the Great War, a war that finished his dynasty.

A major failing exposed by Service was his preoccupation with the Russians to the exclusion of the Georgians and Uzbeks who constituted some fifty percent of the country. This alienated them. The examination of his reading while in detention reveals he read War and Peace, a book he had had censored, The Count of Monte Cristo and the ludicrous Protocols of the Elders of Zionism. He read the latter to his family during Lent 1918. His diary indicates he was an exhausted man who was probably pleased to have shed the burdens of ruler. He believed that by abdicating he would foster national unity. He was fearful that if the Bolsheviks gained power they would pull out of the war. This would be in his view dishonourable and a disgrace.

There is little doubt that Nicholas hated Jews. He regarded them as an alien force that aimed to breakup Russian Christian civilisation. Nicholas believed all the Bolshevik leaders were Jews.

In this account, Service has demonstrated that the last Tsar was a decent man who was more complex than the romantic figure that is portrayed in many other accounts. He died as a political victim not as a martyr.

Today, Putin has gone out of his way to restore the reputation of Tsar Nicholas. Books about the Romanovs are on open display. Yeltsin, his predecessor, had ordered the reburying of the Royal remains in St Petersburg's Peter and Paul Cathedral. In 2000 the family was canonised. Putin has continued the rehabilitation in order to cement his own legitimacy and claims that he wishes to return to traditional Russian values based on stability and nationalism and the Orthodox Church. He has expressed more than once his revulsion at the massacre in the cellar.

An excellent book that adds to the author's reputation as a leading scholar of Russian history.


Isabella of Castile: Europe's First Great Queen
Isabella of Castile: Europe's First Great Queen
by Giles Tremlett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Her Story Is About Power In The 16th Century., 21 Feb. 2017
When Isabella became Queen in 1474 it was s major turning point not only because she was a woman but also because for some 70 years her father and half brother had ruled Castile in a half- hearted manner. The Monarchy had become the subject of abuse, derision and rebellion. The great land owners, the Grandees, were not enamoured of th prospect of a Queen ruling them, and in any case there were other claimants. Many saw her as having acquired the throne by a preemptive coup.

Castile was the biggest, strongest and most populous Kingdom. Its four million people meant it was more populous than England. It had originally been occupied by Muslims, or Moors. It had fractious relations with Aragon, the Muslim Kingdom of Grenada and Portugal. Navarre to the north was also troublesome. Isabella's mother was Portuguese, her grandmother was English. The new Queen was determined to become the most powerful woman Europe had seen since Roman times.

She achieved her goal by harnessing the ideas and tools of the early Renaissance. To many historians she remains the greatest European Queen. in 49 chapters Trumpets demonstrates he is one of them. There is an Appendix of monetary values, many plates and an excellent bibliography. Trumpets has written a fascinating book. It deserves a wide readership..

The Castile she ruled owed its name to the Castles that dotted the land. Her country had been a crusading nation and defender of Christianity's southern frontier. Isabella set out to purge those who had challenge her coup. Religious and ethnic cleansing took place. Thousands were burnt and even more expelled. In addition, many were forcibly converted to Christianity. Jews and Muslims were erased from the official population. The infamous Inquisition was used to extract confessions under torture. Most of her actions were warmly applauded throughout Europe. After all,m they had done the same much earlier. Nonetheless, it was none other than Machiavelli who talked of her 'pious cruelty'.

Isabella was a person of intense convictions. She seldom changed her opinions. For some of her subject this brought stability and security. She was intent on extending her power beyond Castile. With the help of Columbus, her country pushed further and further westwards, discovering a New World that brought gold, glory and power. Eventually, it increased the land size of 'western civilisation ' fourfold.

All of this had another important effect. It transferred power from feudal Lords to the Monarchy and royal bureaucrats. It was the forerunner of the 18th century absolute monarchies. With her husband who controlled Aragon she controlled most of contemporary Spain. Tremlett rightly points out that it is pointless trying to separate out the role of husband and wife. They shared power as near equals.

Isabella understood the power of propaganda. To govern is to make believe, said Machiavelli. To ensure her version of history would triumph she recruited a set of tame chroniclers who depended on the Queen for their living. As a result, Isabella became a model of every possible virtue and a useful symbol for religious conservatives and authoritarians.

The author shows how Isabella, with her husband King Ferdinand, did more than any other monarch of her time to reverse Christendom's decline. It was her use of violence that prevented appreciation of her extending beyond Spain. This Queen, however believed the hand of God was behind every blow delivered in her name.


Reporting War: How Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture, and Death to Cover World War II
Reporting War: How Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture, and Death to Cover World War II
by Ray Moseley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Reporting War Despite Censorship., 20 Feb. 2017
Reporting war is literally a hazardous business for apart from the obvious dangers the reporter faces either covering up the truth, certainly the full truth, or possibly serious affecting morale at home by revealingb what really took place. Does he or she report failure in high places or cowardice, and so on?

Hal Boyle of AP once said to be a good war correspondent all you needed was a strong stomach, a weak mind and plenty of endurance. It only differed, he says, from police reporting in that you were a bit closer to the bullets. In the 1939-45 war some 1,800 correspondents were accredited to Allied forces. 69 were killed. By the end of the war, 2.2 per cent of American reporters had been killed and 6.8 per cent wounded, compared with 2.5 per cent and 4.2 per cent for the US military.

Some correspondents were famous: Hemingway, Cronkite, Dimbleby, and Moorhead. 12 American correspondents won Pulitzer Prizes. Several women gained recognition for their work.: Gellhorn, Cowley were two of the most famous. International law prohibited correspondents from carrying weapons. A few did however and some used them. One shot down a German plane. They all faced dangers. Bullets, disease, desert storms mines, booby traps and long months of separation from families.

Coverage of battles varied from the imagined, to the sentimental to the account that left out the blood and death. Reports and pictures such as shown in, for example, in the opening twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan would have been very heavily censored. In the Vietnam War blood washed into your kitchen thanks to television. In the Great War you waited days before hearing what happened. The Second World War was very heavily reported from every theatre. Steiner said reporters were not liars, 'it was in the things not mentioned thst the untruth lies'.

One of the many problems that correspondents faced was how to report accurately what happened in a unit if you were embedded in it. This was common in the Iraq wars. Some said after the war that what they had written was utterly false. We were, said Charles Lynch, a propaganda arm of the government. Robert Allen who was on Patton's staff said the coverage was stupid.

Nonetheless, some great reporting came out of the Second World War. Many correspondents risked their lives to provide it. Undoubtedly, some things were covered up. For example, tactical failure up to the end of 1942, racism in the American military, and desertion. The average pay of these reporters was $100 a week. Some drank to excess and smoked endlessly. One or two even took a dog to war.
The Second World War was a radio and a newspaper war. Unlike the Gulf War there were no satellite phones. Some of the finest reporting came from Australians.

The author was a foreign correspondent from 1961 to 2001. He has written a fascinating and balanced book. Highly recommended.


British Army of the Rhine (History of Military Occupation)
British Army of the Rhine (History of Military Occupation)
by Peter Speiser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £33.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A Military Machine Was Used As A Social Integrator., 19 Feb. 2017
When the war ended in 1945 elements of the British army and air force occupied Germany. It was reminiscent of 1918/19. The focus of this book by Speiser, a history lecturer, is on the attempt by the British government to use BAOR as a means of improving relations with the German civilian population. The Cold War was just beginning. The intention was to turn an occupation carry into a protecting force and in so doing strengthen German integration into the Western defence against the Soviet Union.

At its peak, BAOR numbered some 80,000 military personnel and their families. This book also examines the living conditions of the the troops social interaction, and the many points of friction between the military and German civilians. Success depended on how receptive the Germans were to to the BAOR, and the attitudes of the British personnel in conducting their new relationships. The period covered is 1948 to 1957. Speiser argues that although there were important changes in these relationships, the BAOR was not an effective tool to strengthen ties with a defeated and demoralised Germany. This should not cause great surprise.

The reasons, he suggests, were: the nature of military organisation, and the reluctance by many British troops to engage with the German population. This was because of war experience and the increasing details of the massacre of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and others. The author believes the main achievement was the prevention of a deterioration of relations between servicemen and Germans.

For the first time in the history of the British army, the BAOR was permanently stationed in Germany, a country that was now regarded as a major bulwark against possible Soviet aggression. The occupation of the Federal Republic ended in May 1952 and German sovereignty was restored. Germany, said Bevin, was now a key ally against the Soviet threat. This account evaluates how successful was the attempt to turn a major military force into an alliance partner.

The British government invested millions of pounds and considerable diplomatic efforts to achieve the integration of the new Federal Republic into the Western alliance. The three zones of occupation received Marshall Aid and by 1955 West Germany was a member of NATO and the WEU.

This is an interesting account of how the British Army of the Rhine was used not only as an occupational force in the country of a former enemy but also as an organisation to cement relationships with people who had been its sworn enemy a few months before. Understandably, it was not initially a great success. Those who served in the BAOR in the 1960s, and later, had a very different experience.


A Line Made By Walking
A Line Made By Walking
by Sara Baume
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solitude., 19 Feb. 2017
This review is from: A Line Made By Walking (Hardcover)
This is a moving and compelling book about coping with mental illness Sarah Baume grew up in County Cork. She studied fine art and creative writing. She has published in journals, newspapers and anthologies. Her previous and first book, 'Spill Simmer Falter Wither, was well received by critics. She lives in West Cork.

She has written an unusual and very attractive novel about coping with city life, in fact coping with simply being alive. Franckie is an artist. She is in her twenties. Her grandmother died in the early hours three years ago. Franckie has moved into her empty rural bungalow on turbine hill. She has done so hoping that the setting will enable her to cope better with life and her art.

The bungalow becomes her haven. She is reluctant to leave its protection. Her family stop visiting her. Franckie, it is clear, is finding it very hard to interact with people so more and more she concentrates on the natural world around her. Nature gives birth and nature spawns death. The author paints a picture of meditation, meditation on the links between nature, art and the frailty of humankind.

There are ten chapters each of which is entitled with the name of a bird or animal. For example, chapter 7 is 'Frog', chapter 10 is 'Badger', and chapter 1 is ' Robin'.

Franckie misses her grandmother. She sees her in the flower beds, the greenhouse and in the shoehorn. When the house is put up for sale, the auctioneer advises clearing the house of junk, weird trinkets, and old furniture. Six months after grandmother died, the house had been looted of its former self by Frankie's family.

The book is replete with symbolism, metaphors and similes. It is clever, entertaining and absorbing. Baume is clearly interested bin loneliness and depression. In her debut novel she wrote of a 57 year old man telling his dog of his problems. Franckie is another very lonely outsider. Dead animals feature. Their photos form an important part of her new book. In this book we are drawn into an intimate relationship with a depressive. Franckie is desperately seeking a gentler life style. There are other characters, for example, Jink who mends her bicycle. but they are fleeting. At times you wonder if this is really a fiction book. A plot is hard to discern save Frankie's mental recovery.


Time Travel
Time Travel
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars You Can Only Get Into The Future By Waiting., 19 Feb. 2017
This review is from: Time Travel (Kindle Edition)
The author has previously written about how science and technology have changed our world and imagination. Here he writes about how our imagination has affected the science of time.

Almost inevitably he starts with reference to Wells's famous 1895 novel. He claims that Wells was the first person to think of time travel. If he means using a machine then yes but others had certainly played around with the idea of a fourth dimension, even the ancient Greeks.

The author calls the idea of time travel a fantasy of the modern era. The leading scientists and writers in the field such as Bradbury, Asimov and Heinlein are discussed. He also examines the writings of Woolf, Eliot and Borges, all keen time travellers. The timescape began to replace the landscape , he writes.

In a fascinating chapter Gleick analyses Proust's notion of time. He states, what is or ought to be, common knowledge that physicists say time machines are a fantasy, they are simply not possible. Wormholes in spacetime are also dealt a death blow. Stephen Hawking is quoted to rub in the view that time travel is impossible. Hawking argued that this is proved because we have not been invaded by hordes of tourists from the future.

Gleick's book is informative and witty. While acknowledging that time travel is impossible he argues the idea of such travel is nonetheless very useful. This is because it has made us study and understand time in a more mature and intelligent manner. It may, he says, even help us solve the complex problem of consciousness. Not all scientists would agree. The author claims that time travel is what we conscious humans do. Our thoughts , he argues, are a dynamic system taking place in time and evolving in time. An interesting observation.

Gleick has written an exciting thought-provoking book. He could have mentioned that not everyone liked the 'Time Machine' when it was published in 1895. The scientific theory on which Wells based his book was criticised by a number of critics. There was a deal of sarcasm in some reviews. The 1960 movie in which the time machine resembled a sledge with a red chair didn't help. The languid blond companion of George the time traveller was of the year 802701.


Reporting on Hitler: Rothay Reynolds and the British Press in Nazi Germany
Reporting on Hitler: Rothay Reynolds and the British Press in Nazi Germany
by Will Wainewright
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

4.0 out of 5 stars The Truth Has Always Struggled To Get Out., 18 Feb. 2017
There is very little that is new in this journalistic account of the British Press Corps in the interwar period. Hindsight is a wonderful thing said Einstein. When Hitler is discussed it goes into overdrive. In 1933, no one knew what Hitler's true intentions were. Recent research indicates he didn't even know himself despite the ramblings in his book. Hence, support for him by leading press barons in this country, all of which has been known for many, many years, should not cause surprise. Hitler came to power for three major reasons: to restore Germany's place in the sun, bright sun, to revenge defeat in the Great War, and to put Germans back to work. The Jewish problem had been lurking in his fevered mind for decades but that is not why Germans voted him in in 1933.

Rothermere, Dawson, and other owner/ editors viewed Hitler as a bulwark against communism, as did Churchill. Already we knew what was happening in Russia under Lenin and Stalin. Unless one was alive in those days, said Jacobson, it is impossible to exaggerate the fear of bolshevism. The press barons fell under the propaganda being spewed out by Goebbels and others because they were highly receptive at the time. There were also key economic reasons why Britain wanted to see a resurgent Germany. Many influential people in Britain sang the praises of Adolf. They disappeared come 1939. After 1945, they vanished, some to become Peers.

We should also remember the hundreds of Germans in Britain during the 1920s and 30s. Many of these had the ear of influential people, including those who worked in radio and for newspapers. In addition, a major reason for the support of Hitler in the West was the desire to avoid at almost any cost another world war. These additional reasons help to explain why many, as in Germany, were willing to look the other way when Hitler began to flex his muscles.

Far too much is made of giving out fake news or editors amending copy. This has gone on ever since papers were invented. Does any intelligent person believe that what the BBC or SKY pump ⛽ out hour by hour is the unvarnished truth? Even in a so-called liberal democracy we are manipulated by newspapers and other media.

Rothay Reynolds was a rather poor reporter. Prior to working for the Daily Mail in the 1920s, he had been employed by M17, the disinformation wing of the Secret Service. His job was to put out fake news. This book, regrettably, tells us nothing of value about him. His newspaper reports are limpid, in part due to Lord Rothermere's interference. His report about the murder of Schleicher in 1934 is unbelievably off target. In brief, Reynolds time in Germany was undistinguished. i do not recommend reading what he sent home.

Other reporters were far more distinguished, for example, Eric Gedye of the Telegraph. Because of his accurate appraisal of what was taking place in Germany he was sacked in 1937. Norman Ebbutt of the Times was another reporter head and shoulders above Reynolds. It is evident that the author of this book has done most of his research in the Times's archives.

A book that adds very little to our knowledge of British press reporting in Nazi Germany prior to 1939. The papers of the press barons are much more revealing.

Analogies with the new maverick American President's attacks on the media are of dubious value. Of course, he has been smeared, and now this will increase given his gross ignorance of the political system. The press thrives on half-truths. They make excellent headlines. In 1933 reporters were just that. They were not fortune tellers. When they did report the nasties they put their jobs at risk. They had some pretty unsavoury owners and editors to overcome.


Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table
Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table
by Stephen Westaby
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Raw And Moving Memoir. Surgeons Are Not Meant To Be Human. The, 17 Feb. 2017
At the age of 18 Westaby watched a heart operation. He was a medical student hiding in an observation gallery. The pregnant female patient died, there was a great deal of blood. Undeterred, he went on to become a world leader in open-heart surgery. On the brink of hanging up his scalpel he has bared his own heart. His book is extremely powerful and disturbing.

Westaby has worked in the NHS for 35 years, 30 of these as a consultant cardiac surgeon at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The account is based on the stories of people who he operated on. The nearest equivalent is the book, 'Do No Harm' by Henry Marsh, a brilliant neurosurgeon. However, while Marsh relates his life including errors made, Westaby rails at a system that he claims stopped him doing more. Stephen is a maverick and like all mavericks he has made enemies. Many medical pioneers, Jameston, Buler and many others were also mavericks. Like them, Westaby ignoredconventions, rules and adopted untried techniques and technology in order to save patients' lives.

That he even became a doctor let alone an outstanding surgeon is amazing. He was born in Scunthorpe in the 1950s and reared on a poor council estate. At the tender age of seven he determined to become a heart surgeon after seeing a cardiac operation on television. Then his grandfather died of heart failure. While working as a hospital porter he persuaded a pathologist to let him witness postmortems. He was the first in his family to gain a place at university.

Unconventional from the outset, he adapted a pair of rubber boots with tubing and tape to enable him to operate for hours without taking a toilet break. He had had a lot to drink. Like all too many dedicated workaholics his personal life suffered. His first marriage ended in divorce. He is now married to a Sister in A&E. Westaby describes cardiac surgery as like quicksand. It sucked him in to extremes. He details the lives of his many patients with humour, precision, and gusto. Most of the cases were successful but not all. In 1995 he implanted the first ever permanent artificial heart pump. It was not too successful. A second patient lived18 months after the same procedure. A 21-year old female with heart disease was operated on. The pump saved her life and she is still alive today.

These three operations were performed without the approval of the Ethics Committee, and Stephen faced dismissal. He ignored the threat and went on to pioneer other new treatments, including the first permanent artificial heart charged by a rechargeable battery, which was linked to the power supply through a line coming out of the patient's skull.

In his memoir, the author expresses bitterness wondering if he was a fool to spend his life in a world of misery. He saved the lives of many children but had none of his own. He criticises the lack of funds for life-saving technology. He admits that surgeons are not normal people. Thank goodness say I.

Westaby admits that he views patients as puzzles to be solved. He has touched over 12000 hearts. He does not shrink from sprinkling his memoir with profanities and expletives. He describes urine as liquid gold. His English is at times dire. Some of his cases like the baby boy and what his Somalia mother did when he died are harrowing. Westaby quotes the famous surgeon Sir Russell Block :' I have three patients on my list today. I wonder which one will survive'.

Westaby invented the Westaby tube to keep lungs open. Arguably, his most amazing achievement was his operation on Peter, an operation described in some detail. Almost 69, he ponders the possibility that the adult heart might one day be regenerated with its own stem cells. Although he runs and has played rugby, Westaby ls fixated on fixing hearts. There are no morals drawn from his experiences.

This is a remarkably frank memoir by a man who has done an immense amount of good for humankind. It is an adrenaline -charged account. What makes this book unique is not the stories. It is the brutal honesty of the author's language. He describes hearts as like a 'dog's dinner'. One he describes as like a wet fish. He estimates that over 300 of his patients have died as a result of something he did or tried to do.

He attacks the creeping managerial culture in today's NHS. He likens directors to the Stasi. He points out with reasons why sixty per cent of children's heart surgeons in the UK are now from overseas. This surgeon like many hates paperwork. Westaby discusses the psychopathy of the surgical mind. He blames it on lack of sleep in training which produces immunity to stress. But as he demonstrates in his book there is a dreadful tension between objectivity and grieving.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 20, 2017 12:25 PM GMT


The Bughouse: The poetry, politics and madness of Ezra Pound
The Bughouse: The poetry, politics and madness of Ezra Pound
by Daniel Swift
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Poetry Of A Madman?, 17 Feb. 2017
Ezra Pound was a very difficult man. He was an ardent fascist and an anti Semite. His best work is the unfinished , 800 page Cantos, a poem of legendary complexity. The problem is how to reconcile his poetry with his life which was full of contradictions. He admired the American Constitution yet spent the Second World War broadcasting anti-American propaganda from Mussolini's Italy. He said the fascist dictator was a great boss. At the heart of this book is the issue of how Pound could be at once Fascist, madman and great poet.

Pound was a racist who said truth was to be found in Chinese philosophy and Japanese plays. Pound was a madman, traitor, genius and fascist. His failings falsify his strengths. He was hero and villain. Wyndham called him the Trotsky of literature.

Born in 1886, Pound lived in Italy from 1925 to 45. In July 1943 he was indicted by the US Department of Justice for treason. In May 1945 two Italian communists arrested him then allowed him to hand himself in to the nearby American military post. He was taken to the Disciplinary Training Center at Pisa. It was a punishment and rehabilitation camp. Pound was put in a cage. In June he suffered a nervous breakdown. But amazingly, after being moved, he was allowed to begin writing poetry .He began to notice the natural world around him. Pound held lessons for fellow prisoners. His nickname was Uncle Ezra. Pound was visited by his wife Dorothy and his son Omar who was serving in the US army. Meanwhile, in Washington a treason case was being prepared.

On 21 December 1945 in Washington a joint psychiatric report said he was suffering from a paranoid state which renders him unfit to participate in his own defence. In other words, the report concluded, he is insane. He was taken to St Elizabeths Hospital in Washington where he spent the next twelve and a half years. At the hospital he was patient 58,102. He was visited by T.S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Charles Olson and many other famous poets. In later years they reinvented American poetry. Many of them had first hand experience of mental problems. Lowell, for example, spent months in psychiatric hospitals.

Pound said that his reason for working for Mussolini was that American Political leaders had abandoned true American values. This rings a bell. He considered Hitler to be a martyr.

The book does not draw links between Pound and American far-right campaigners today but it would be very easy to do so. Pound never called for violence but he does preach brutality in code.

Many believed he faked his insanity. Not all doctors who examined him concluded he was insane. He certainly seemed to enjoy his stay in the asylum, the bughouse. Whether he led his doctors a merry dance we will never know but unlike Lord Haw-Haw he escaped hanging. The author says nothing about Pound's medical records so we don't know if he was subjected to the fads of the day such as drugs and lobotomy.

In April 1958 the treason indictment was dropped and Pound returned to Italy, to his daughter's castle. From there he went to Venice with his mistress. When asked about his incarceration, Pound told a reporter that 'All America is an insane asylum'.

To write this account, Swift has researched publicly available records of St Elizabeths. His book is eloquent and full of understanding.


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