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Reviews Written by
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom)
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The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in an Era of Austerity
The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in an Era of Austerity
Price: £19.33

4.0 out of 5 stars Antiquity's Role In Depictions Of The Greek Economic Crisis., 24 May 2017
Hanink is a classics professor at Brown University. This book was inspired by the recent Greek economic crisis. Its aim is to explain a cartoon that linked Greek civilisation with the economy crisis. The author who was in Greece during the crisis of 2014 onwards says she was outraged by the international media's coverage of the crisis. She paints a very accurate picture of the extent of the crisis and how it has affected people. What really upset her was how the media found the whole situation ironic. They portrayed it as a joke that the Greeks of today had decided to play on the world.

Hanink decided to write about antiquity's role in representations of the economic crisis. In seven chapters she discusses and examines the classical debt in crisis from several angles. Chapter seven is headed 'We Are All Greeks?' There is an epilogue, further reading and notes.

A novel and very interesting book.


Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald
Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald
Price: £19.33

5.0 out of 5 stars How A Great Writer's Decline Mirrored That Of The Nation., 24 May 2017
This book is about a truly great writer. His major novels are required reading for anyone interested in exceptional literature. Biographies have unfortunately not been kind to Scott Fitzgerald, neither have films. They all tend to leave you with the impression that Scott was a drunken playboy. This is untrue. He did not celebrate the lifestyle of the very rich in the so called jazz age. In fact he criticised it. True he adored it but he did not sing its praises.

The character Dick Diver in Tender Is The Night tracks Scott's own decline from 1925 to the Great Depression when he became bankrupt. Brown shows how his subject was not a sybaritic social climber who ruined his life by drink. In fact he tried to demonstrate how the American dream with its dreams of equality and exceptionalism was ruined by rampant capitalism. This account resonates with what is happening in America today.

Brown excels in showing how Fitzgerald understood the politics of his day. He likens him in this respect to Charles Beard. He describes Scott at the peak of his powers, his marriage to Zelda and the vast sums he earned. This side of Paradise sold more than 50,000 copies in 1920. His wife was beautiful and gifted. She eventually became mad and the marriage ended.

Fitzgerald was very much aware that he was witnessing a nation in decline. Laissez-faire individualism was nearing its end. His own story was mirroring that of America.. He was a very gifted writer blessed with a vivid imagination. Brown does him proud.


Grave New World: The End of Globalization, the Return of History
Grave New World: The End of Globalization, the Return of History
by Stephen D. King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will It Be A Grave New World?, 24 May 2017
King is an economist. His book is in four parts: paradise lost, states, elites and communities, challenges, and the crisis in globalisation. There is an epilogue, a bibliography and notes.

He opens by listing the technological advances of recent years, advances that make one believe that globalisation is inevitable, that borders are dissolving, and we live in a single global market place for goods, setvices, capital and labour. He proceeds to criticise this notion by showing that things other than technology determine globalisation. For example, he discusses ideas and institutions that form our economies. Historical examples are used to support his views.

King believes globalisation is in trouble, serious trouble. Economic power is moving eastwards.Nationalism is gaining strength. The reputation of international institutions like the IMF and the UN is fading rapidly. Protectionism is in vogue. Trump's speeches have echoed all of these assertions. Voters, Kiing claims, are turning to populist politicians who are opposed to globalism.

Many of the author's worries are the same as those given in several recent book. He argues that many of the values and beliefs that the western world embraced are rapidly disintegrating. Our faith in markets and technology is misplaced. There is division in Europe and America on these an other issues. It is a turbulent time. Interestingly, King opens with Lincoln Steffens who believed human progress is inevitable.

Steffens was a famous muckraker from California. In the early 1900s he was an investigative journalist who decided to expose corruption wherever he discovered it. It was Steffens who after visiting the Soviet Union in 1919 said I have seen the future, and it works. At the time his remarks were remarkably prescient. Shaw and other luminaries were taken in by the Soviet economic miracle. They denied the terror and the slavery. It turned out that the Soviet system that seduced Steffens and many others could not deliver the goods.

Although some of this book is not original, it tells an important story with flair and verve. King's analysis of the 2008 crisis is excellent as is his examination of migrants. One of the most interesting sections is on robotics and how these might do away with global supply chains. The section on China is required reading. China is using trade to spread its influence globally.

This book is very good, particularly if you want complex ideas explained so they can be digested more easily.


House of Names
House of Names
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Oresteia Women. A Rather Nasty Lot.., 23 May 2017
This review is from: House of Names (Kindle Edition)
This account of a well-known tale is replete with ghosts, broken dreams and nightmares. It is dark, sinister and gripping. It is not a direct translation. Its biggest weakness is the failure to expose the jinner thoughts of Orestes, Clytemestra and Electra. We never discover why they they committed such dreadful acts. It is insufficient to repeat that the gods willed it.

Bloody deeds abound but those responsible are lifeless. Clytemestra is a killer with an axe and a see through dress but what motivates her to murder her husband and leave their four children fatherless? I am afraid that Toibin who is a splendid writer has produced a book that is not in the same league as his Brooklyn.

The stories of Clytemestra and Electra are told in their own voices while that of Orestes is told in the third person. The author tells us in an afterword that the book is an imaginative borrowing of the characters and stories from several Greek works including Sophocles's Electra. There is no chorus. This will please some readers. It may infuriate others.

Toibin, as always, writes elegantly and with verve. The sad is interwoven with the horrifying. The strange title is derived from the refusal of any of the characters to repeat the identities of the dead. This is a book with many merits. It would have been so much better if the main characters had come over as flesh and blood instead of figures on a vase that I have in front of me.

The essence of this novel is the way the members of a family keep secrets from one another, tell lies, an make mistakes. Members trick each other in order to commit foul deeds. The message here is that women are as helpless in the new world as in the old.


Peculiar Ground
Peculiar Ground
by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

5.0 out of 5 stars What Goes On Within These Walls., 23 May 2017
This review is from: Peculiar Ground (Hardcover)
The author examines the lives of the inhabitants of Wychwood, poor and rich alike. It is a memorable tale and will rank as one of the best novels of 2017. We learn about a woman finding the marks of plague on her body as well as a young male's experience of fathering a child. It isn't the genre known as the country house novel. Witchcraft looms.

Harleston the Samuel Johnson prize for her The Pike, a superb biography of the poet D'Annunzio. This book is a mix of fiction and his set in an imaginary Oxfordshire stately home during the Civil War, always a promising setting for novelists. Wychwood in 1663 sees the return of the Earl of Woldingham, after exile. Upheaval reigns.

The Earl sets about developingi the finest gardens.. His chief gardener is John Norris. The Earl wants to ensure security but there are rumours of witchcraft. Norris is the narrator of the first part of the book. The plan is to erect a huge wall around the estate. Norris is in love with Cecil, the Earl's daughter. Tragedy strikes involving a son and a quagmire. I

We now move forward to the 1960s. New money has acquired the property. The Rossiters now hold vast dinner parties and shooting parties. Emancipated females and gay men are frequent visitors.

The setting changes to the end of the twentieth-century. Inevitably, drugs and music dominate a Wychwood in new hands. The great storm of the 80s destroys some of the trees. The plot continues to thicken. Salmon Rushdie and a fatwa enter the picture. Increasingly, it threatens to become unbelievable. You feel you are in a time machine that is out of control. It is a sprawling affair. Yet, nonetheless, it works and you are left full of admiration for a beautifully written book.

This is the author's first work of fiction. She can be proud of it.


I Must Belong Somewhere: Three men. Two migrations. One endless journey.
I Must Belong Somewhere: Three men. Two migrations. One endless journey.
by Jonathan Dean
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern Existence Leads To Laziness When It Comes To Others., 22 May 2017
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This book is a quite extraordinary account of survival. It is about a family saga that is amazing. Dean's great grandfather was a Ukrainian Jew who had to fight for the Austrians in the Great War. In1939, he and Dean's great-uncle just managed to escape the murderous Nazis. They arrived in Britain with no possessions of value. Dean relates what effect it had on him when he read his grandfather's diaries for the first time.

The author writes for the Sunday Times. I have only come across him before but not as a writer of memoirs. As you can imagine, many of the diary entries reveal dreadful and very upsetting events, events that involved death camps, war, today's refugees, and Austrian blindness and culpability in Nazi crimes.

Dean decided to live in Britain. His experience as an immigrant is inspirational. He worked on a farm, in the wood industry, eventually becoming a managing director and President of the trade federation.. He married a British woman and after a divorce another one. Dean, like many, is fearful of the outcome of Brexit. He believes intolerance is on the increase, indeed it is dependent where you look. Unfortunately, he doesn't examine the downside of uncontrolled inward migration. His local female MP is of little help over this issue.

Dean tells us that although his great-grandfather became blind he insisted that positive thinking is the key to resolve problems.

This is a fine account that raises many profound issues that bedevill today. Dean should write a follow-up examining in more depth the issue of extremism.


New Sultan, The
New Sultan, The
by Soner Cagaptay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Ending Turkey's Crisis., 22 May 2017
This review is from: New Sultan, The (Hardcover)
The author is a historian by training. He has taught at Princeton and other universities. He has written a very fair and balanced account of President Erdogan, pointing out his strengths and weaknesses. He demonstrates how the President built a prosperous country but spoilt this year adopting an illiberal and dictatorial regime.

Turkey, after the attempted coup, is at a crossroads. The author captures the man and the country. In twelve chapters he examines: the President's rise, his years in power, the silent revolution, the Kurds, foreign policy and political Islam. There are notes, images and a bibliography.

An excellent biography.


After Europe
After Europe
by Ivan Krastev
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.63

3.0 out of 5 stars Europe Is Not Quite This Fragile., 21 May 2017
This review is from: After Europe (Hardcover)
We cannot escape Europe at the moment. It is ironic that after rereading the speeches made decades ago about how enlarging the EU would help to dilute globalisation it is now argued that enlargement has brought problems we are not prepared to put up with any longer. Krastev argues that the EU has always been an idea in search of a reality. He further believes that the glue that once held the union together no longer works. It is a sombre and pessimistic picture which is not convincing. Among his many claims is that German high school children don't know that Hitler was a dictator. This is simply untrue. Again he says that Europeans are more insecure than in the days of the Cold War.This is nonsense.

The Bulgaria author is well-known in Europe, and America, for his political writings. In this short account, little more than an essay, he examines various crises. In particular, like many, he views the notion of a borderless Europe as a fantasy. He is equally dismissive of Europe as the fulcrum of world politics. His argument that nationalism and populism are at odds with the EU's pooling of sovereignty is, frankly, old hat.

His comments on multiculturalism are, however, very apt as are his strictures about the effects of meritocracy. He contrasts the latter with populism. The author is a liberal and as such he points out what he describes as rampant illiberalism in Eastern Europe. Jacobs has made a similar point. At times he also implies that Europe is on the verge of collapse, a view I dispute.

One cannot dispute that this is a book written with passion, verve and much political commonsense. I just wish we would stop writing off an important land mass like Europe. It has undergone enormous changes over hundreds of years and survived.

There are far too many unsubstantiated assertions in this book. Too many sweeping generalisations. Too equate what happened in the Great War to the Hasburgs with today's EUs problems is a fantasy too far


Spoils
Spoils
by Brian Van Reet
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An American Female Soldier vs Iraqi Jihadism., 21 May 2017
This review is from: Spoils (Hardcover)
As a former senior army officer I can vouch for the authenticity of this book's military content. The setting is the Spring of 2003 and the coalition troops are advancing on Iraq. Hussein's giant statue has been toppled. A 19 year-old female soldier, Cassandra Wighead, is ready for war. She is taken prisoner by the mujahideen. Van Reet's book now focuses on her eight weeks in captivity. We learn about fear, uncertainty, and the misplaced idealism in the early days of the war.

Reet was born in Houston. He joined the army as a tank crewman., became a sergeant and was awarded the Bronze Star for great.courage. After an honoourable discharge he went to Missouri University and then to the University of Texas. His short writings have attracted many awards.

His decision to write a novel about the Iraq War is one that several other writers have adopted, just as numerous ones did after the Vietnam War. Reet's first novel is sound, never less than interesting but no more. One cannot fault the detail about the fighting. If anything it is underplayed. The story of Abu al-Hool, a member of the group that takes Cassandra prisoner, is an excellent way of showing how the captors came to be fighters in the first place. Although references to militant Islam are as far as possible balanced they are by necessity simplified.

I found his language at times mundane but he certainly tells a gripping tale. In a few months time a very similar book is being published by a British author. It will be interesting to compare the two.


Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World
Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World
by James Ball
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alternative Facts., 20 May 2017
Donald Trump has been accused of being a maverick, of course he is in political terms for he has never held political office at any level. He is a very successful billionaire business tycoon. If his opponent had not run such a dreadful inept campaign and not had some dubious political baggage which included her husband he would not have won the race to the White House. It will be a miracle if he is elected for a second term, even given the current wave of poularism.

Books are now pouring out about him and the campaign. The social media is in overdrive. Trump has already shown us his erratic personality, his arrogance, his inability to listen to his advisors, and his lamentable choice of language. We should remember also that he is Commander in Chief. He daily accusers the media of a witch-hunt against him.

This book is about fake news. There's a lot of it about and it's growing. The glossing over of the truth is, sadly, commonplace in politics. It has been for hundreds of years. It is also prevalent in business and the City. It is not unknown in sporting circles.

James Ball is a journalist. He use to write for the Guardian. He focuses here on what we quaint!y call the information industry. Lies, as we know, abound from every crevasse. In the Presidental campaign both sides told some whoppers. Statistics are the most common source. Then, and in currently in our election campaign, faulty statistics are thrown around like confetti. Labour would have you believe our land is sinking under the weight of grinding poverty, thousands of children are starving, pensioners are dying every day from hypothermia, and so on. The Tories paint a picture of a steady ship omitting to note that some of the crew are rebellious.

Ball, like many other writers such as Harry Frankfurt, blames the media for these ills. It is biased. Facebook gets a bashing and rightly so. It is replete with bogus information. Several newspapers do not hesitate to peddle falsehoods. An interesting target is Canary. Look at this pro Corbyn website and you will see why immediately.

The author suggests a number of cures. I firmly support one, namely the media must study statistics and how to use them honestly. The problem, of course, with many solutions is that cracking down too hard on the media will enable people such as President Trump to declare any criticism as being based on fake news. Meanwhile, charlatans will continue to ply their wares.


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