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P. Scrivener (Royal Wootton Bassett, England)

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Lifting the World: The autobiography of an entrepreneur
Lifting the World: The autobiography of an entrepreneur
by Mr Bill Parkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable, eminently useful, 9 Aug. 2016
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This is a great read. A must read for anyone who is running or thinking of running their own business, this tells the story of the Life Cycle of LGH, and several other business ventures.

Lifting the World, is a fascinating look back into the building of a successful business that has been able to take its concept to the US.

Not only is it highly readable, it also tells of the highs and the lows of the business and the business man, and offers a cautionary tale about the impact of the banking industry on British businesses.

It shows the difference between the power of an idea, and what is required, in reality, to execute that idea into a successful business.

Anyone looking to understand an entrepreneurs attitude to opportunity and risk should read this book.

Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism
Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism
by Joshua Muravchik
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The very human need to believe, 12 Feb. 2014
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Joshua Muravchik is an apostate, a former National chairman of the Young People's Socialist League (USA), both of his parents were committed socialists, his mother apparently deeply upset by the contents of this book. Muravchik however, is not the hectoring, shouty, pointy fingered type. His review ( at just 350 pages) of the history of socialist development from Babeuf to Blairism is incomplete, Sweden being the most obvious exclusion, but contains sufficient information on a range of socialist intellectuals and followers to be both precise and informative. His writing style is easy to follow, well paced and engaging. Even though an American writer, other than a chapter on the two most prominent anti-socialist union leaders in the US, his case studies run the usual gamut, Robert Owen, a man apparently so esteemed in the US, that John Quincy Adams on his first full day as president when to listen to him lecture; Marx and Engels, I came away with the feeling that Engels was something of an intellectual masochist; Eduard Bernstein, one of the fathers of social democracy; Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Deng and Gorbachev. A chapter on Mussolini and Fascism shows the development and indeed seriousness with which Mussolini was taken at this period. It is interesting to note that his father corresponded with Lenin.

However, the most interesting chapters for me were on Clement Atlee, he was described as in every way a conservative except in his socialism. It is also interesting to note that despite his anti-war beliefs, he discovered that his socialist philosophy had not nullified his patriotism which he called 'the natural emotion of every true Briton'. He also said that 'it was not until the Great War that I fully grasped the strength of the ties that bind men to the land of their birth'. It is of course the conflict between international socialism and patriotic nationalism, both within and between countries that so many post WW1 conflicts have sat. It was not socialism that enabled Stalin to galvanise the Soviet Union into it's resistance to Hitler, but semi-theocratic nationalism.

The Chapter on Julius Nyrere in Tanzania is again full of interest because I knew so little about it, and it summed up very well the disparity between the socialist sentiment and it's inability to deliver standards of western living that the majority, even in avowedly theocratic countries aspire to.

But the most interesting chapter for me was the epilogue, which deals with the creation and decline of the Kibbutz system. A noble if limited experiment in some people's eyes, and one almost entirely dependant on a modernist state to protect and support it. The breakdown seems to have begun with the education and dormitory sleeping arrangements for children, many of whom were separated from their parents. Mothers particularly disliked the distress this sometimes caused and took their children back home. The additional space then required in their houses, then caused the buildings to be extended, made them more remote from communal living and gave them an enhanced pride in their personal surroundings, which they then wished to acquire and develop further. It is a fascinating examination of the battle between the communal and personal space. It is also similar to the communal living arrangements introduced at Magnitogorsk when it was being constructed. Workers were housed in open dormitories, but immediately looked to create private space. Some leaving altogether to build private mud and wood dwellings they could occupy privately.

A major thrust and a commonplace of discussions about socialism is the denial of its theocratic nature but the congruence with that fact. Eric Hoffer describes the need to believe in his book 'True Believer', and Muravchik illustrates it to good effect. In its frequent obsessions and schisms socialism reminds me of Millerism, the mid 19th century religious cult in America that once again prophesied the second coming and the end of time. It attracted a huge following, many people gave up everything to wait for salvation. Even when it failed to occur (again and again and again), it did not stop belief which merely morphed into other variants including the Seventh Day Adventists. It was known as the Great Disappointment. The fact that Marx tried to create a 'scientific' cause and effect in an effort to deny utopianism, does not of course make the argument persuasive.

There were and are many noble minded advocates of socialism, but like anything life in dealing with what Isiah Berlin called the crooked timber of humanity it is not a panacea or even from my perspective the majority of one in the everyday effort to support and maintain ever changing societies.

A good book from which I gained a lot. Recommended

Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot
Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot
by Giles Milton
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars G A Henty in Russia, 5 Feb. 2014
I enjoyed this book having read Peter Hopkirk's work, but to be honest I found it a little lightweight. It describes the exploits of a number of people, some of whom are typical late Victorian British eccentrics who would not have been out of place in any number of settings. There is something of a Richard Burton, a young Churchill in the desert with Kitchener or a host of explorers of Africa. Although Alexander Burnes is not mentioned in the book, you can feel him as somebody who would have fitted well into this milieu. G A Henty was of course the great storyteller of British Empire derring do. His stories filled many a schoolboys mind with the exploits of heroic and fearless Britons challenging foreign rogues, and this is both the books strength as a story and weakness as a piece of political analysis (if indeed that was ever the intention). So much has been written about the period and it suffers so much from historical hindsight, politically rigid thinking, and socialist beatification that it barely gets a chance to be viewed from the perspective of the time itself.

There are some wonderful vignettes in this book, Mansfield Cumming cutting off his own leg trapped under a car before crawling to the side of his dieing son before he became C.. Frederick Bailey working in extreme isolation in Tashkent and then disguising himself in an Austrian uniform with the aid of some apricot jam, and still finding time to collect butterflies. Then there is of course the famous 'Sidney Reilly', the man who came to epitomise, perhaps undeservedly the ultimate spy. One of his first actions in Moscow was to put on a full British military uniform walk up to the Kremlin and insist on being admitted as a representative of the government, much to the anger and surprise of the British ambassador who knew nothing about him being there.

The likes of George Hill and Paul Dukes I had little knowledge of, they placed themselves at enormous personal risk and showed a degree of fortitude, organisational skill and elan that make them very rare people indeed. Arthur Ransome's story is a little apart considering his obvious sympathies for the revolution rather than the revolutionaries. His relationship with Trotsky's secretary gave him a degree of access that would have been impossible for most other foreigners given the violence and paranoia of the regime and Dzerzhinsky's Cheka.

The basis of this book is that the Comintern planned world revolution by undermining Britain in India and then exporting revolution further afield. Even given the evidence in this book concerning the Indian nationalist Roy and his army being built for the purpose of invasion, it is difficult to tell, and it works on the basis that and invasion would have precipitated military defeat and then a general uprising. Given the nature of the Indian Mutiny where many Indian army regiments and units were both active in the fighting and loyal to their British officers, it is impossible to tell whether an encompassing Indian nationalism had developed to a sufficient degree to allow such an uprising to take place. The perception of course from the British side was that any attempt to foment insurrection could not be tolerated especially given the fact that the vast majority of front line Indian army units were fighting in Europe or in north Africa and the Dardanelles. It is little wonder then that Wilfred Malleson the highly effective and ruthless British officer running a network of spies in central Asia took the threat so seriously and reacted with considerable effect.

The activities of the various white armies, foreign invaders, the majority Japanese it would seem, the British had a bit of a one man and his dog effort, not surprising given commitments elsewhere, and the fighting with the Poles is not dealt with in great detail, although again this is a subject much written about elsewhere. The fact that Churchill at this stage was spoiling for a fight and deployed chemical weapons against the Red Army is distasteful, but such weapons were in considerable use at the time and no doubt the Soviets did not use them simply because they had none.

A disappointment of the book for me was the apparent lack of the use material in the Russian archives. This would have added considerably to a view both of the situation and of the individuals at the time. It is of course possible now that Putin is pulling the reigns of power ever tighter that such access is becoming harder. The British spies individually and collectively worked through a whole series of safe houses, couriers and contacts, some reliable and some not. Reilly it seems even had an opportunity to decapitate the revolutionary leadership, until being betrayed by a French journalist sympathetic to the regime. We sometimes get a glimpse of these people and sometimes not. What was their motivation, loyalty to the Tsar, hatred of the regime, money, love. It would have been nice to understand this better. Fanya Kaplan, nothing to do with this group, shot Lenin twice, but she herself was a socialist revolutionary, what were the factors that led them to help Britian. Many were killed, but perhaps the information is simply not there.

One major disappointment for me comes right at the end of the book with the story of Boris Bazhanov, secretary to the Politburo, who was passing information to Britain for several years, and it seems having been smuggled out of Russia by British intelligence survived numerous assassination attempts. This story alone would make both a fascinating book and a pretty sensational film. Indeed it is likely that the information supplied by him gave the British government the opportunity to threaten the Soviets concerning their plans for India, that being the whole point of the book and of the British spies activities in Russia it seems to me a major omission not to explore this in significant detail.

Worth reading but I feel could have been both more thorough and more politically observant.

The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began
The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began
by Stephen Greenblatt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.38

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 5 stars for Poggio but only 3.5 for the argument, 1 Nov. 2013
I intermittently enjoyed this book having come across Poggio Bracciolini, the bookhunter a couple of times recently. Firstly a television programme on the 'history of the joke' and secondly in Christopher Krebs book on the influence of Tacitus' Germania. He is a figure to whose obsessive industry the world owes a great deal and he deserves to be better known. The authors main argument, which he overemphasies in the title is to show that Poggio's extraction of Lucretius's 'On The Nature of Things' from monastic oblivion was the seminal text in kick starting the Rennaisance. Aside from the fact the Rennaisance is a retrospective view of an elongated period of European history and that other cultural interactions inevitably played their part, not even the most ardent biblical scholars would claim that the Bible answered all possible line of intellectual enquiry (fanatics aside who are a class unto themselves in any culture), Greenblatt's emphasis offers an attractive case for Lucretius influence upon developing thought and its wrestle with the dominant power structure of the church.

The author is attempting to argue that the intellectual freedom that emerged from the particularly Greek but later Roman world was inherently superior to that of medieval Christian custom and practice, and that the loss of these works, the vast majority to simple neglect, acts of war and the passage of time rather than prohibition presented a purposeful restriction of intellectual development and human understanding. Well aside from the obvius point that even the most 'liberal' power structures have restrictions on what can be written, published and said, he is here placing together Christianity a belief system and the Church a power structure and seeing the same thing in both, (I have no religious beliefs, although I accept that the multiplicity of spiritual forms has huge purpose and significance for most people even if they are not currently within the current western liberal norm). The use of the story of Hypatia is to my mind largely irrelevant to the argument. She died cruelly the victim of a fanatic and largely ignorant mob. Such murders sadly are still commonplace throughout the world in overtly religious, or secularly relgious (National Socialism, Communism) communities and are not evidence of doctrinal argument even where the prevailing texts are used as an incitement to violence.

The interesting debate is therefore whether the Church and Papacy as power structures sought to restrict and prevent access to works that were likely to undermine Christian doctrine and as a consequence their own power base. Well the answer is of course they did, but there is a duality here which the author fails to acknowledge. It seems from the book that many significant within the Church hierarchy were interested to debate internally the values and ideas that the works of Lucretius and others outlined even atomism, the most contentious argument, but would not be seen to show such interest outside a very restricted circle, and would certainly not allow dissemination of a heretical text. The modern paradigm I suppose would be the denial of the free market within orthodox socialism, even where the financial security and maintenance of a socialist power structure rests almost entirely upon the market for its continued existence. We therefore have to draw a balance between the cynicism of the power structure in maintaining its preferential role and that of the true believer whose fanaticism bred both the Reformation and the Counter Reformation.

It is possible to argue in this context that 'On The Nature of Things' because of its intellectual interest to a minority of the well connected, well educated and adventurous created a vanguard of thought. But most of the people concerned, certainly the likes of Thomas More in Utopia ( a book and argument that the authour largely laud's, although I have always seen More's use of that term as at least a partial understanding that what was being argued was unachievable given the nature of humans as we are, rather than what utopians would like us to be), would never have countenanced a wide publication of such a text. The more radical figures in this case, at least for the vast majority of people must surely be figures like John Wycliff and William Tyndall whose heresy was seeking to enlighten the common people through the medium of the vernacular Bible rather than a text that only an infinitesimally small number of people would have come across, let alone be able to interpret. Tyndall certainly paid for it with his life.

Perhaps one of the more interesting asides in this book is the translation of the text by Lucy Hutchinson the wife of Thomas Hutchinson MP and significant figure during the English Civil War.

Recommnded not with reservations, but gets 3.5 because it's argument does not convince and is inevitably unproven and unprovable as I think the author himself tacitly acknowledges.

The King's Peace, 1637-41
The King's Peace, 1637-41
by C. V. Wedgwood
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the most influential war in modern history, 29 Aug. 2013
Known as the English Civil War, but also heavily involving Scotland and Ireland was not only the fundamental basis upon which a constitutional monarchy was built, but also it's arguments between Parliament and the Crown signified in the royal prerogative had a huge influence on the American War of Independence, the French revolution and even down to the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Many American historians understand this relationship far better than it is now understood in the UK. It is therefore a tragedy that this seminal event in British history is barely taught in schools and probably barely recognised by most people at all, even those who speak of roundheads and cavaliers.

This is the first of three volumes written by Cicely Wedgwood and covers the initial period of agitation; move and counter-move that signalled the beginning of the conflict between 1637-1641. King Charles I, is in many ways a tragic figure from his attempt to impose a new Anglican prayer book in Scotland to his attempts to outwit his parliamentary opponents, particularly the skilled, influential and redoubtable John Pym, his choices of action and advisors are often poor. He sincerely believes in the divine right of kings, and in his eyes is serving his country faithfully. His two most able ministers Archbishop Laud and the Earl of Strafford are both cursed with an inability to show tact or sympathy and continually alienate even those who should be their supporters. Strafford in Ireland seeks to support the King while keeping the more rapacious English and Scottish settlers in check. However, the raising of a hated Irish army to support the King in Scotland and then by implication to threaten England leads to his downfall. The involvement of Charles in seeking support in Ireland and then abandoning Strafford to his fate on the block is indicative of his lack of control and the immense pressure that Parliament was beginning to exert.

His sympathy and love for his wife Henrietta Maria, lead Charles to seek money and alliances with the Catholic Spanish that allow Spanish troops to be shipped through England to fight against the Protestant Dutch, again severly undermining his standing and influence and leading to rioting and the killing of priests in London.

The figure of John Pym should be famous in English history. He more than any other man controlled and manipulated parliament, and it was his skill and management of Parliament that procured the execution of Strafford and whose continued baiting and challenge to the King and his rights and prerogatives led inexorably to war when Charles would not or could not cede control particularly over his right to tax and raise an army. Oliver Cromwell is at this stage a supplementary figure to the action and is barely mentioned in this volume. Wedgwood says of Pym that he 'was the principal architect of the constitutional revolution of the next eighteen months, and therefore one of the most significant single figures and one of the most remarkable intellects in the constitutional history of England'. As Charles was to discover the main machinery of the state could be managed very well without him. He needed them, they did not need him.

The first part of this initial volume is a survey of the country, looking at constitutional, economic, religious and customary practice. It can be a bit heavy going, but bear with the first 150-200 pages and you are in the meat of the parliamentary battles and the fight for personal and factional influence and the book conveys this well. It allows you to draw conclusions from the information presented rather than take a fixed position. Although I think there is probably more sympathy for the King than you might find in other volumes.

Charles might well have been a character of Shakesperean tragedy. A clever man, but failed by hubris, naivety and the march of time. He and Pym were the hinge figures upon which constitional change was bent.

As Archbishop Laud wrote in his diary of Charles when he himself was imprisoned in the Tower of London; the King whom he and Strafford had served had not been worth saving - "he knew not how to be or be made great."

Cicely Wedgwood writes with an easy but perhaps more literate style than is common nowadays, but she makes this complex area easy to follow and understand.

I am looking forward to the two subsequent volumes The King's War and thetrial of Charles I.

The Battle: A New History of the Battle of Waterloo
The Battle: A New History of the Battle of Waterloo
by Alessandro Barbero
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leave the battle of Waterloo as it is - Wellington, 27 July 2013
But of course we cannot leave Waterloo as it was. One of the most important battles in history. It's written record has also become one of the most contentious. Who won the British, we were only a portion of Wellington's army; the Germans, Germany as a state did not even exist when the battle was fought; the French well it's difficult to understand how they could think they did anything but lose, but don't tell them it will upset them.

It is therefore fortuitous that we have an Italian to guide us through, and what a fantastic job along with the translator John Cullen he makes of it. This whole volume is written with verve and panache. In a series of short punchy chapters we are given an utterly involving, compelling and riveting account of a clash of arms that was as spectacular as it was awful. Taking place on a battlefield barely two miles across, far more condensed than any other of the period, the sheer brutality, heroism, trauma, fear, spectacle and horror of this confrontation are conveyed from both a tactical and individual perspective.

This account is written with great clarity from d'Erlon and Reilles initial advance, the monumental fight for the chateau of Hougomont, the Nassauer's defence of La Haye Sainte, they eventually ran out of ammunition and had foolishly burned the doors to the farm the night before to keep warm; the charge of the British cavalry that obliterated d'Erlon's corps but burned itself out, including the Scots Greys; the Prussian advance and the battle for Plancenoit. Nothing is missed in this account. The Allied deployment into square as the mass of the French cavalry charge towards them. It is of course wonderful to watch Sergei Bondarchuk's 1970 epic with Christopher Plummer and Rod Steiger, but in the film you just don't get the sort of nuance that this description brings. The French cavalry whose horses would not charge the bayonet infested square did not simply retreat, many stood merely yards away, taunting the square to fire in order to take advantage when they had to reload. The tension of the standoff must have been ferocious, but discipline in this instance mostly prevailed, and the cavalry were eventually worn down. The loss of La Haye Sainte enabled the Fench artillery to engage the squares at close quarters causing absolute carnage, but still they held. In the midst of one of the squares the wife of a British soldier is dressing the wounded until she herself is wounded.

The final assault by the Imperial Guard is repelled by an equally ferocious defence by the British and allied infantry, and the pursuit of the broken French army begins. There are numerous instances of friendly fire between the allied and Prussian forces that sometimes descend into a deadly farce. There is the looting of bodies by every side looking for money and valuables, and the way the injured are left on the battlefield is appalling.

You may not get all of the political background to the battle or the tensions inside the camp of each army. The British distrusted many of the Dutch because only a year before hand many had been part of Napoleon's Army in Spain. The German deputy to Blucher, Gneisenau disliked and distrusted Wellington and felt the Prussians had been let down during the Battle of Ligny when they were routed. Whether Wellington witheld men is difficult to believe. But not mentioned in this account is that Castlereagh who was Wellington's mentor and supporter as Foreign Secretary was well aware during the Congress of Vienna that to see the French annihilated might well replace a French military dictatorship with a Prussian one. Wellington's own battle at Quatre Bras at the same time was as severe as Ligny but held with less men than the Prussians already had available to them, so the charge is difficult to countenance. However, Blucher ensured that Gneisenau honoured his commitment.

Both Wellington and Blucher knew that neither could win on their own. Gneisenau only allowed von Bulows corps far enough forward to ensure that Wellington had committed himself to fight. Wellington equally as well knew that unless he stood the Prussians would not support him. the Prussians had their own problems, the Saxon regiments of the army mutinied against their forced absorption into the Prussian realm and had to be split up. Blucher had to escape out of a rear window of a house to get away from them. Not bad for a 72 year old.

Every element of the allied force is given its recognition in this account.the King's German Legion are particularly highlighted as are Maitland's Guards regiment. There are also some interesting asides about the unruliness of the British army, but their ferocious and honour bound commitment to fight. Wellington complained that nobody in the British army ever read a regulation or an order except as one might read an amusing novel. He could not get the allied artillery to stop counter-battery firing when the French fired, giving away their positions and making the situation worse.

After the battle there are descriptions of numerous accounts of personal survival and letters home to loved ones that are deeply touching. Many simply could not believe they had survived such an encounter.

As Wellington apparently really said about his troops "Our friends - I may say it in this room - are the very scum of the earth. People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feelings - all stuff - no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children - some for minor offences - many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it is really wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are."

Completely absorbing. I did not want it to end and it will stay long in the memory.

Nelson: A Dream of Glory
Nelson: A Dream of Glory
by Dr John Sugden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nelson Britannia's God of War - Lord Byron, 27 July 2013
Some time ago Ian Hislop made a documentary examining the change in national character brought about the by the Great War (until WW1 the Napoleonic war was known as the Great War). He did this in part by examining the attitudes and character of two people. Nelson, the son of a country parson with a familial connection to the navy. A flamboyant romantic, almost an adventurer. And the Duke of Wellington, the dour aristocratic son of the Irish Protestant Ascendancy. Having read the first part of this massively detailed biography of a man who had at his death a world wide renown to the extent that a Russian naval flotilla passed their respects at sea upon hearing of his death, I would now only agree in part with Hislop's interpretation. Nelson had many facets to his character. Romantic, impulsive, hot-headed but also at times taciturn, rigid, pious and punctilious when applying the rules in the Caribbean under the Navigation Acts. In a world where advancement was by contact and influence, he was unerring in cultivating superiors pushing himself forward and securing where possible places and money for his family and those he supported within the Navy. He was loyal to his crews and had a paternalistic, hugely patriotic and god-fearing belief in the rightness of the world as he saw it. He disciplined his crews to keep order and to improve the efficiency of his ship, not as a form of cruelty.

As we watch his career develop with its inevitable highs and lows, his poor judgement when entrusted with the Prince Regent highlighted his immaturity and susceptibility to flattery and his outrageous and utterly courageous action at the battle of Cape St. Vincent showed his love of action and quest for glory that would make his name, you see a man grow who has the look of destiny about him. There were many fine captains in the navy at this time but Nelson managed to distinguish himself even then. He constantly looked for action a chance to take on the enemy both at sea and on land. It is an irony of his service that he was blinded in one eye Corsica, and lost him arm Tenerife while fighting on land rather than at sea. His constant commitment even at the beginning of his career in Nicaragua, his fighting spirit and politicing in Naples and Genoa trying to get the Austrians, Neapolitans and indeed his own British army superiors to confront Napoleon's armies with more vigour reveal a man devoted to his calling and his country, even if they also reveal a lack of political awareness and enthusiam for impractical schemes that can only be described as reckless.

His marriage to Fanny was unfortunate for both of them, even though he maintained his stepson Josiah with him and wrote faithfully to his wife. His view of her was perhaps more that of an idealised wife and he must take the lions share of the blame for its failure. She remained loyal and loving throughout, spending many years caring for his ailing father.

His favourite ship the Agamemnon gave him the command he sought and he took full advantage of it. He made it with some hard working officers and men a fine fighting vessel. The navy really was his life and until Emma Hamilton his obssession.

I thought given the size of this volume (part 2 is bigger) I might be confronted with the occasional turgid shallow, but this is really a consummate piece of research, writing and development of the character of Nelson. It will not give you an overarching view of the way the navy operated in this period (see N.A.M Rodgers 'The Command of the Ocean') for that. But as a biography of one of the key figures in British history I would not look for anything better. perhaps only Marianne Czisnik's 'Horatio Nelson: A Controversial Hero' can offer a really different perspective.

As we leave Nelson in this volume. A man twice seriously, almost terminally ill from tropical disease, half blinded, with a stomach problem and hernia gained during the battle at Cape St. Vincent and with only one good arm, we see a man bereft thinking his time is over. He is hardly to know that his most momentous days are yet to come.

I am equally sure that John Sugden, he busts the myths but clearly loves his subject, will carry him forward into battle as brilliantly as he carried himself.

A great book.

The Men Who Lost America: British Command during the Revolutionary War and the Preservation of the Empire
The Men Who Lost America: British Command during the Revolutionary War and the Preservation of the Empire
by Andrew O'Shaughnessy
Edition: Hardcover

43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They lost, but not the way we think., 8 July 2013
It is often difficult to find books on the AWI from a British perspective. As you would expect for a history that is now largely unknown in the UK, not taught in schools and barely appreciated by the majority of the population. It is often difficult to find anything outside the norm of American historical studies, that for all their relevance to American history see the conflict in isolation rather than the context of the European and world conflict that the British government had to consider it from. Andrew O'shaughnessy a British academic in Virginia (beautiful place if you ever get the chance to visit), has written a potted biography of the ten most important British protagonists; politicians, soldiers and naval officers. It gives a view of their actions that does not disguise the in-fighting, destructive politicing and sometimes vainglorious adventurism that characterised this war, but neither does it denigrate them as people or their military exploits, both successful and disastrous.

The key American figures are little more than ciphers in this narrative and although the context of the seven years war which was so formative, is alluded to it is not covered in any detail. Nevertheless this a brilliant piece of historical research and writing. The battles in parliament often being from my pespective more riveting than those on the battlefield. The petty and professional jealousies between Cornwallis and Clinton, Carleton and Burgoyne, the Howe Brothers and the quite extraordinary Admiral Rodney, make for an education in late 18th century politics, military fortitude and chaos that nowadays would be regarded as close to professional anarchy. The British may have won most of the engagements, but their misunderstanding of the narrowness of loyalist political support and the rising popularity of nascent American nationalism led to frustration, disgust and an anxiety to be rid the whole adventure. Once the French entered the war (whatever Americans may think, they were acting on their own behalf, rather than with any great sympathy for independence) and subsequently the Spanish and with support from Dutch finance, there was simply no way that Britain could sustain and win such a war. They could win battles but not hold territory. American military resistance although fluctuating to the point of almost total disappearance sustained enough depth, purpose and potency to win victories beyond what was expected of them.

These portraits humanise the protagonists , show their agonies of choice, personal and political doubts and compromises and their perosonalities, some sympathetic, others especially Rodney quite loathesome.

In the end this was a war incapable of being won with the resources available and if the rest of Britain's then empire was to be preserved. And do you know what, this was a good war to lose. The thought of an occupation force in America brutalised and brutalising would have been even more vicious and soul destroying than any of the vagaries of the war itself.

Highly recommended.

A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich
A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich
by Christopher B. Krebs
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Rome to Auschwitz, 21 Mar. 2013
'The Saxons most carefully guarded their race and nobility and did not taint themselves casually by intermarriage with any other tribes, let alone inferior ones; they tried to generate a distinct, unadulterated people that resembles only itself.' 1930's National Socialist race laws? No, a monk, Rudolf of Fulda writing in a commentary on Tacitus's Germania in 835AD. Germany of course until 1871 was not a country, it was a feeling, a longing. This one book of less than thirty pages by the Roman historian Tacitus, about a place he had never visited was meant as a commentary on a region, some of whose traits such as loyalty and probity he admired. However, there was no tribe of Germans, no country, no cultural homogeneity. Instead this one text, that because the Roman empire had failed to subdue the region took on a mythic status of cultural and physical superiority. A closed culture that elevated itself above the mongrel norm of mainland Europe.

Christopher Krebs follows this journey of a lost and found manuscript. It's interpretation, misinterpretation, misuse and adoration down the centuries and across cultural boundaries. Most of the people involved in it's translation and dissemination are long forgotten. Some allied to the papacy tried to use the text to persuade Germans to join a crusade against the Turks when Vienna was threatened. Others to build a national identity during and after the ravages of the Thirty Years war. Others still in interpretations so wild linked an invented early German god to an even more invented son of Noah or even a descendant of ancient Troy. Even Martin Luther and the French philosopher Montesquieu were not immune from the hold that this text held in the imagination of educated German speakers and romanticists. The concept of Ein volk, Ein Reich that Hitler espoused descends directly from this text.

At one time there were 300 German speaking small states, independent cities and kingdoms. This single story, unconceivable to Tacitus fulfilled the ache of an intellectual class for a sense of identity, purpose and destiny.

'Our ancestors handed this language- so noble, so distinguished, and full of spirit of its fatherland- to us pure and unspoiled by any influx from outside'. The poet Martin Opitz 1617.

Later still the philosopher Fichte and the writer Herder cited Tacitus to create a sense of national unity during the Napoleonic wars. It would be interesting to find out how much Kant and Hegel were influenced by it, but this is not mentioned in the book. There were of course dissenters who swam against the tide, particularly in the late 19th century the world renowned German classicist Eduard Norden, who proved that Tacitus's text could not possibly have had the meaning attributed to it, but he was reviled and it was in any case far too late after unification in 1871 for doubters. German nationalism of the imperial period and of course the obsessions of National Socialism about race and destiny and the mysticism of Himmler found eveything they wanted to confirm their views. Hitler thought it was largely nonsense but useful. It was even taught in schools and to the Hitler Youth as part of racial theory.

One of the ironies of the book is Christopher Krebs statement that National Socialism debased the German education system, leaving many children almost wholly uneducated outside of national socialist ideology. The irony being that it had been through the centuries the most educated people who had propagated such arrant nonsense in the first place.

This is a first rate piece of historical detective work and writing. If anybody needs to understand human cupidity, gullibility and false thinking I could not think of a better place to start. Tacitus is blameless. He is about the only one.

Hurrah For The Blackshirts!: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars
Hurrah For The Blackshirts!: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars
by Martin Pugh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Fascism made sense to some, 13 Mar. 2013
It is perhaps hard to credit that in the late 19th century supposedly at the height of Britain's imperial might, there was such anxiety about decline and the state of the nation, the industrial challenge from Germany and the USA, the naval building programme that Tirpitz had initiated and the poor performance in the Boer War that Churchill made a comment to Asquith that 'Germany is prepared for war and prepared for peace, Britain is only prepared for party politics.'

The tragedy and human cost of WW1, together with the political corruption of Lloyd George; seeming betrayal of the soldiers returning from the war; fear of the Bolshevik threat transferring itself and continual industrial unrest, some 86 million days were lost to strikes in 1921 alone meant that for some an alternative to the decaying and debased parliamentary system had to be found. Italian Fascism seemed to offer one option. A combination of patriotism, corporatism and socialism. It offered to some people in the Conservative party a panacea. At this period of course large elements within the party viewed industrial capitalism as a ruination of traditional conservative values that were primarily attached to the land and a hierarchical/monarchical structure.

At first Martin Pugh's book reads like a collection of semi-imperialist oddballs, female cross-dressers trying to hang on to the independence they found in the first world war and odd groups and journals that had a similar readership to those ultra-nationalist elements in late 19th century Germany, who did so much to push the country on a path to confrontation with Britain. It is when Oswald Mosley appears that you get some sense of direction and purpose.

Mosley is an interesting character. An aristocrat who represented both Tory and Labour seats; a soldier during the war who appealed to men from a similar background and a consummate public speaker. There is no doubting Mosley's sincerity and his contempt for parliamentary process which was shared by many. The Unity party that also attracted the likes of Harold Nicolson and the British Union of Fascists took their inspiration from Italy and Mussolini. Mosley knew that he was unlikely to achieve success directly through the ballot box and as Mussolini did and Hitler was to do subsequently was looking for a crisis of democracy to push himself forward as a leader figure, using his aristocratic links and political sympathisers. That this did not occur is probably down to two things. The British are intellectually lazy and from the time of Cromwell onward have also had a loathing of arbitrary authority, although funnily enough they are still attracted to the monarchical version of it. The second reason is that the depression never caused the same ravages to the economy and levels of unemployment that were so prevalent in the USA and Germany. In fact the oft cited case of the Jarrow marchers was something of an aberration in the context of a growing economy, so this crisis that Mosley was looking for did not materialise.

The high water mark for the BUF was the Olympia rally of 1934. Mosley had considerable support in some sections of the press and with some members of the Conservative party including members of parliament. It is hard though to see how far he and his acolytes regardless of their sometimes exalted positions managed to penetrate beyond this. The same figures appear and re-appear across a number of groupings and do not become more convincing with the passing. The fact is that the upper echelons of the Conservative party detested Mosley because he was drawing votes away from them, particularly in agricultural areas where the BUF campaigned hard. The 1934 rally that had been targeted by socialist plants in the audience and the subsequent physical ejections by BUF stewards (most political parties employed their own stewards and this was allowed by law. Political rally's at this point were rather more violent than we appreciate and would certainly shock many people today), gave the Conservative press an opportunity to attack the BUF, and with threats from advertisers, newspaper support fell away. Support waxed and waned throughout the pre-war period, only achieving a level of resurgence with the middle-class peace movement in the late thirties when war seemed inevitable.

Most fascist movements have attracted anti-semites, and this is one of its defining failures, Mosley himself initially had no interest in anti jewish racism, but absorbed it reluctantly when its obvious popularity boosted membership. Most anti-semitism at this time was linked to Bolshevism and international finance, opposite ends of the spectrum perhaps, but no different to what the opinion of many Germans was towards Britain and the City of London was in the late 19th century.

Two other interesting aspects of this book and the movement are an account of the abdication crisis and the role of women. The abdication crisis was far more of a people versus establishment event than I had appreciated. Edward was popular and both Mosley, Churchill and others actively supported his retention as monarch. He actually wanted to be a more traditional King with real authority and this senior political figures would never countenance. As far as the role of women is concerned the BUF was the opposite to other fascist movements. It actively supported women's roles in the party and put forward more women parliamentary candidate than all the other parties combined. Women were enthusiastic members and campaigned regularly.

A very good account. Recommended.

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