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R. D. Freeman

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Command and Control
Command and Control
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrifying, 22 Jan. 2014
This is a very remarkable book. How successive US governments have allowed so much damning information to get into the public domain is a mystery since the book utterly damns their record in handling nuclear weapons.

Schlosser demonstrates beyond any possible doubt that nuclear weapons systems are too complex for human beings to control even when not at war. Equally terrifying is his clear demonstration that, when senior military men and politicians are given clear evidence of unsafe weapons, they just refuse to take action.

The book details accident after accident and gives precise information of design flaws that render weapons unsafe and Schlosser demonstrates the near impossibility of people being able to make informed decisions should a real nuclear attack occur. All in all this book shows that the American military and politicians are just fooling themselves if they think they are in command and have control over their weapons.

From around 1960 to 1980 I endlessly feared a nuclear war by choice. Now, in our more stable east-west climate, I now see that we should be worried about a nuclear war by incompetence.

A very worrying book.

A Chinese Childhood
A Chinese Childhood
by Chiang Yee
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful window into a lost world, 21 Mar. 2012
This review is from: A Chinese Childhood (Hardcover)
Chiang Yee was born into a land-owning Chinese family in 1903 and lived in China until 1933. In this book he recalls both his childhood and a good deal of the history of the extended family of which he was a part. Around 40 members of the family lived in a single compound. Once established in England he wrote `The Silent Traveller' series of books.
`A Chinese Childhood' is a charming and gentle evocation of a way of living that had lasted thousands of years but was dying out even when Yee was a child. Everything that went on in the compound and in the small town was based on rituals developed over centuries. There seems to have been no aspect of life - whether recipes, meal etiquette, clothing, meeting and greeting, gardening - for which a string of rules had to be learnt and rigorously applied. What to westerners would seem stultifying clearly gave the Yee family a sense of belonging and of timeless security.
The book is a gem, recording as it does one of the greatest cultures that the world has ever seen.

Stet: A Memoir
Stet: A Memoir
by Diana Athill
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lost age of amateur publishing, 21 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Stet: A Memoir (Paperback)
Since the other reviewers to date have concentrated on Athill's writing and on her portraits of some of the authors she worked with, I will say something about an aspect of the book that I think deserves more notice.
The publishing firm that Athill joined was an unbelievably amateur affair. André Deutsch was an intuitive and opportunistic publisher who just followed his enthusiasms. The result was an endless stream of excellent but often near to unsellable books, created in an office which verged on the dysfunctional. Deutsch had little or no idea of how to run a business and absolutely no concept of how to select, employ and manage staff. Athill was a co-director but she absolutely refused to accept any of the responsibilities of that role. She survived by burying herself in her authors' works.
No such publishing house could survive to day, where marketing is all and stocking decisions are made by a handful of accountants. Gone are the days when a publisher such as Deutsch largely survived because they could bank on 800 or so libraries buying a copy of every title they published.
There is plenty of evidence that Deutsch was not unique - the Hogarth Press was very similar. It is a sad paradox that managerialism and marketing have killed the old, wonderful and creative publishing houses. Athill has done history a great service by (I think for the first time) recording so effectively an important part of Britain's publishing history.

Liberal Crusader: Life of Sir Archibald Sinclair
Liberal Crusader: Life of Sir Archibald Sinclair
by Gerard J.De Groot
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Archie Sinclair: a man to admire, 3 Mar. 2012
Archie Sinclair is a name that always seems to crop up in connection with Churchill, but he had a life of his own. This biography - which is strictly a political biography - reveals a man of profound commitment to 19th century Liberal principles and high ideals.
The section of the book covering the time when the Liberals were in coalition with Labour is very revealing. One wonders whether the Liberals of today would have so readily entered into coalition if they had read this part of the book. The skill with which the Labour Party manipulated the downfall of the Liberals is breath-taking.
De Groot makes a very good job of describing Sinclair's rise to prominence in the Liberal Party after WW1 and his long battle to promote free trade when there was such a clamour for protection. Perhaps the most revealing section of the book was his fight against appeasement. Just as committed as Churchill was in this battle, history has generally given all the credit to Churchill and overlooked Sinclair's huge contribution.
The part of the book covering his time as Air Minister in WW2 is particularly interesting and shows the despicable lengths to which Beaverbrook went to promote his ministry at the expense of Sinclair's.
De Groot has done a fine job of showing a dedicated and sincere politician at work and what it cost Sinclair to stick to his high principles. The one weakness of the book is to give us too little insight into Sinclair's personal life.
I particularly liked the following remarks by De Groot on Sinclair's political career:
`Sinclair was an anachronism even from the beginning of his career: his dress was Edwardian, his technique in debate that of a time when argument was still an art form, and his gentlemanly style appeared old-fashioned in a Parliament populated increasingly by dull technicians, cynical careerists and thugs.'
But you end up with a deep admiration for a high principled man.

45 Degres a L'Ombre (Folio Policier)
45 Degres a L'Ombre (Folio Policier)
by Georges Simenon
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £13.93

4.0 out of 5 stars A claustrophobic voyage on a colonial steamer, 13 April 2011
The story is set on a passenger steamer on a return voyage from the Congo to France, presumably in the 1930s. The cabin passengers are all colonials, although there are 2-300 native deck passengers as well. The story is seen through the eyes of the ship's doctor, Donadieu, who sees all, hears all, but studiously avoids any attachments.
As the ship leaves port her hull scrapes a rock and ruptures one of the fresh-water tanks; a list quickly develops. This and various mechanical malfunctions soon create a sense of unease in the passengers. The ship's condition is not the only disturbing aspect of the voyage. There is the mad passenger, who has to locked in a padded cabin; there is the young couple barely able to stay in their cabin together, stressed out by their dying baby and the husband having given up his job to save his wife's health; there is a mysterious illness killing off the native passengers. And so on.
Simenon brilliantly conjures up the close, sultry, suspicious atmosphere which pervades the ship. Hardly any passenger is there of his or her own free will. Their voyages are ones of necessity and the confines of the ship resemble a prison. Only the natives living on deck seem to be free and happy.
Almost until the end of the book Simenon keeps piling on the mysteries and the suspense. As in so many of his books, though, he seems to lose interest at the end, where he has a long section that more or less recapitulates what you have already read. Apart from this weakness, it's a fine book and a welcome antidote to all those glossy ads that try to persuade you that being a passenger on a ship can be a desirable experience.

by Roy Jenkins
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sad tale of a deposed politician, 20 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Dilke (Paperback)
I discovered this book at the second-hand book stall when on holiday. Whilst I must have seen the name here and there I never appreciated how important he was and how near he came to being Leader of the Liberal Party, and even PM.

The Jenkin's biog falls into three parts (as did Dilke's life). In the first part (1843-1885) Dilke showed early promise as an outstanding undergraduate and, at the presumptive age of 26, after a world tour, he published `Great Britain', a record of his travels. This was a huge & instant success, which helped him to become an MP in 1868. Dilke was very radical and, through a close partnership with Joseph Chamberlain, became an irritant to his party leaders yet, so influential was he that, when Gladstone formed his 1880 Govt, Dilke got a post in the Foreign Office & Chamberlain one in the Cabinet (Bd of Trade). Their joint resignation in 1885 (over Ireland) helped bring an end to Gladstone's administration.

Then began the second phase of Dilke's life (1885-1892) when he was cited in the Crawford divorce case. Despite his near certain innocence of the charges made against him in two court cases, his political career was ruined, although he did manage to get elected for the Forest of Dean in 1892.

The last phase (1892-1911) was Dilke's isolation on the back-benches.

What is extraordinary about this story is that Dilke was one of the best-known politicians of his day and widely talked of as the leader-in-waiting. Yet his citation in a divorce case where the chief witness (Mrs Crawford) seems to have invented every charge that she made against him, was enough to remove him from the scene. Today investigative journalism would have exposed Mrs Crawford & a more tolerant age would have accepted Dilke back on the front bench after a decent interval.

Jenkins tells the story with great gusto. It is a magnificent book.

Lady Sackville: A Biography
Lady Sackville: A Biography
by Susan Mary. Alsop
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stranger than fiction, 5 Mar. 2011
This biography of Lady Victoria Sackville (Vita Sackville's mother) is well worth reading. She said that her life was like a novel - it was, especially in the sense of truth being stranger than fiction.

She was one of the five illegitimate children of the unmarried 2nd Lord Sackville. He was a diplomat but, wherever he was posted, he kept his partner (Pepita, a Spanish dancer) and children out of the view of the embassies he worked for.

Pepita died when Victoria was 9 yrs old, so she was put in a convent in France. At the age of 18 her father became British Ambassador to the USA. Staggeringly, both the British and US governments accepted the idea that his 18 yr old daughter should go to Washington as his hostess. This proved a great success.

In due course, back in England, she married a cousin and, on her father's death became Lady Sackville, the mistress of Knole in Kent. She and her husband Lionel had to fight off a very public lawsuit from relatives who tried to disinherit Lionel. Later she had to fight another lawsuit when Sir John Murray Scott left her a fortune.

The book is splendidly written and maintains the drama of Lady Sackville's life throughout.

Whig World: 1760-1837
Whig World: 1760-1837
by Leslie Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.64

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The surprising world of the Whigs, 2 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Whig World: 1760-1837 (Paperback)
I guess most readers of this book would start with the certain knowledge that the Whigs were a political party, which evolved into the Liberal Party. Mitchell quickly asserts that they were no such thing: they were a cast, made up of landed people who were hopeless at winning elections but brilliant at maintaining the power that land gave them.

Mitchell makes his case thoroughly by examining their attitude to socialising (they were a very exclusive group); to London (it was theirs and they built the great squares so they could live in quiet exclusion there); to the country (they detested it); to the French (no better people); to education (they believed it could improve mankind); to religion (a dubious enterprise); to history (they owned it and it was populated with the achievements of their families - every virtuous man in the past had been a Whig.)

Elegantly and wittily written, this is a superb book.

Harold Laski
Harold Laski
by Kingsley Martin
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A glimpse into a forgotten world of left-wing battles, 30 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Harold Laski (Hardcover)
This book is a most interesting biographical memoir of Harold Laski - the author, Kingsley Martin, knew him well.

Familiar as the name has always been, I would have been hard put to say just where he fitted into the post-WW1 Labour Party. It turns out that he was an academic all his life (mostly at LSE), who also wrote endless articles for left-wing papers. He was a frequent speaker on left-wing platforms and his Marxism did not prevent him being a member of Labour's National Executive.

The book is particularly good on the struggle that left-wingers had to find a way to break out of the poverty and lack of political influence of the working classes and trades unionism. Laski thought (non-violent) revolution was the only way. For our generation it is fascinating to see how impossible it was for Laski and his colleagues to foresee that the masses would be tamed by turning them into mass-media watching consumers, who could not care less about all the issues of internationalism, justice and liberty that so occupied Laski.

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