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Trials of Passion: Crimes in the Name of Love and Madness
Trials of Passion: Crimes in the Name of Love and Madness
by Lisa Appignanesi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Much of interest, but at times boring!, 21 Jan. 2015
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I find it quite hard to put a star rating on this book, because it has both virtues and drawbacks. The virtues are in the selection of law cases that the book concentrates on, from the period 1890-1910 - especially the last one, the American case of Harry K Thaw, which has many different features (and a main character who, by this account, sounds as barmy as they come). There is also, along the way, the interesting case of Mme Cailloux, who murdered the newspaper editor who, she thought, was ruining her prominent (and nasty) husband's political career. If you want to know about the French concept of 'crime passionnel' then this is to be recommended. And parts of the accounts of the cases are very well done.

But there is a downside. The author gets very hung up in contemporary accounts of clinical definitions of insanity, and in a sense you feel she has done too much research, not always to the reader's advantage. There is quite a lot of repetition and some technical stuff which really isn't very interesting.

So this is a curious mixture of interesting and boring. Take your pick.


Mapping Britain's Lost Branch Lines: A nostalgic look at Britain's branch lines in old maps and photographs
Mapping Britain's Lost Branch Lines: A nostalgic look at Britain's branch lines in old maps and photographs
by Paul Atterbury
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.24

3.0 out of 5 stars nostalgia with limitations, 23 Dec. 2014
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Paul Atterbury has rather cornered the market in this kind of thing, and does it well, but this time I felt that the material was a bit thin. There are the usual nostalgic pictures, but there are also rather a lot of nondescript pictures of fields where railway lines once were. The maps themselves are helpful in locating the lines described, but also have their limitations. The text is enormously well-informed and some of the picture captions are worth buying the book for. I don't understand why some lines that are still open were included, and some of the branches dismissed in a short paragraph (presumably for lack of illustrative material) sound more interesting than some of those that get half a page or more.

The book is well produced and I quite enjoyed it, but I thought some of his earlier books were better.


The Blunders of Our Governments
The Blunders of Our Governments
by Anthony King
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars two-thirds fine, one-third poor, 23 Dec. 2014
The first 300 pages are pretty good - trenchant and well researched. But then things go a bit haywire: the authors go over the same ground again and again, with some pretty obvious (but laborious and repetitive) points about hopeless project management and so on. Finally, for the paperback the authors have added a scruffy chapter about some of the things the Coalition has attempted to do. The approach here is quite different from the magisterial tone of the main text; it is superficial, querulous and nit-picking, and even includes the usual self-serving academic moaning about university tuition fees. Having accused governments of lack of deliberation, the authors promptly indulge in it themselves.

Along the way they totally ignore one of the worst blunders of all, and a classic example of the group-think they identify elsewhere, the Climate Change Act.


Bargiel: Orchestral Music Vol.1 [Dmitry Vasilyev] [Toccata Classics: TOCC 0277]
Bargiel: Orchestral Music Vol.1 [Dmitry Vasilyev] [Toccata Classics: TOCC 0277]
Price: £15.11

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars three stars for trying, 15 Dec. 2014
Woldemar (what a splendid name!) Bargiel was related by marriage to Schumann. I first came across him on a Hyperion disc on which a very fine octet of his was paired with the Mendelssohn. I later acquired a disc of his piano trios, which is well worth hearing. So this disc of orchestral music seemed worth a try. There is a symphony, dating from 1864, and three concert overtures from earlier in his career. This is not, sadly, a disc to send you away thinking you have made a great discovery. It is all competent, unchallenging Romantic stuff. The overtures are a bit portentous, and the symphony more notable for rhythmic vitality than melodiousness. If I heard a bit of this on the radio I don't think I would stick around to find out what it was. The orchestra is not one of the world's best, but is all right, and the conductor treats Bargiel's music with all seriousness. Three stars for trying.


World War II: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
World War II: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Gerhard L. Weinberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a good synthesis, 24 Nov. 2014
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What a topic to take on in this format. But the author is a distinguished historian of the War, and of Germany in the 1930s and 40s (he was peripherally involved in the Hitler diaries scandal, but never forfeited his reputation). So you get an interesting 'take' on the hostilities. He is highly critical of the German army and its role in what we would now call ethnic cleansing. He is also good value on the French and their role in the War, and on the Russians, whose role he emphasises as crucial to the success of the effort to beat the Germans. Britain does not get much of a mention! The maps have very small print and don't add much.

Overall I thought this was a good synthesis, and I read it virtually at a sitting. Recommended.


George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
by Michael Hall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £45.00

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars magnificent, 10 Nov. 2014
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Michael Hall's monograph on G F Bodley was promised a long time ago, but it was certainly worth waiting for. This is a magnificent account of Bodley's life and work, with full attention paid to his partner Thomas Garner, and detailed evaluation of Bodley's buildings. Hall confronts head-on the suggestion that Bodley persisted too long with the Gothic forms he knew, and by weight of argument and illustration upholds Bodley's reputation as one of the great figures of the Gothic Revival. This is a scholarly and detailed account.

The book, nearly 500 pages, has been given excellent 'production values' by Yale UP: it is printed on good art paper, bound in signatures, and the quality of the colour photography (much of it by Geoff Brandwood, no less) is outstanding. So at last it is possible to appreciate, for example, St Augustine's, Pendlebury, so often the victim of old or inadequate photography, but a great church when you go there. The pictures of Clumber and Bodley's other masterpieces are equally good. There are careful floor plans, and a lot of contemporary watercolours. It is a visual treat. and the model of a modern book on architecture.

We now have monographs on Butterfield, Pearson, Burges, Bodley and a number of others. When can we expect a full monograph on Street?


High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain
High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain
by Simon Heffer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So what?, 13 Oct. 2014
This is a worthy book, but ultimately a disappointing one. Simon Heffer's journalism is trenchant and stimulating; this is neither. It is an assiduous account of some important aspects of Victorian Britain with an emphasis on intellectual history but including much on social and political trends. Its heroes are the Arnolds, father and son, and Gladstone. But you never get a clear account of the positions Gladstone held at different times (a chronology would have been very useful) or how influential Matthew Arnold was. Indeed all the thinkers whose work is here elaborated (with generous, or perhaps excessive, quotation) are left hanging - how influential were they? You can't tell from this.

Where he scores is in the account of the attitudes that had to be overcome in the interests of what seems now like natural progress, whether on the franchise, the rights of women, or the reform of the army and civil service. This is good stuff, and justifies the detailed account of some of the parliamentary battles.

This a very London-centric book. Heffer almost sounds embarrassed by his excursion to Yorkshire to describe Saltaire. Yet the provincial cities were crucial to the prosperity and development of the country during those years.

It kept my attention throughout, so just about gets four stars,. but I cannot offer a very enthusiastic recommendation.


Everyman's Castle: The story of our cottages, country houses, terraces, flats, semis and bungalows
Everyman's Castle: The story of our cottages, country houses, terraces, flats, semis and bungalows
by Philippa Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars dull and disappointing, 25 Sept. 2014
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Seduced by the favourable reviews, I bought this thinking it would be interesting. Sadly, I found it to be very dull. It is a worthy compilation from quite numerous sources about different types of British dwelling - cottages, country houses, suburban houses, flats, bungalows - but after I had fallen asleep over it for the third time I decided that I was not learning much and that the whole enterprise was not what it had been cracked up to be. The pictures are moderately interesting, but you feel you could do with a lot more. A disappointment.


Modernity Britain: Book Two: A Shake of the Dice, 1959-62 (Modernity Britain Book 2)
Modernity Britain: Book Two: A Shake of the Dice, 1959-62 (Modernity Britain Book 2)
by David Kynaston
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an authentic account of an interesting time, 21 Sept. 2014
If you enjoyed the previous volumes in David Kynaston's history of Britain since 1945, you won't be disappointed by this. It is the usual compilation of extracts from private diaries, newspaper reviews, policy documents, and vox pop reports, put together with little overt editorialising but much skill and perception. Here are the authentic accounts of what was going on in the two and a half years after the 1959 general election, covering changes to the cityscapes, changes to shopping habits, changes to people's way of life, as well as the television programmes that excited attention, the important events in cinema and theatre, the role of women and the vexed question of immigration.

The skill is in the marshalling of so many sources. The author doesn't need to tell you what he thinks - it's all there in the material he selects.

Strongly recommended - especially if you were around at the time!


The Eye of the Storm: The View from the Centre of the Political Scandal
The Eye of the Storm: The View from the Centre of the Political Scandal
by Rob Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a politician's take on politicians in trouble, 30 Aug. 2014
Rob Wilson is an MP who somehow finds time to write books. He has interviewed a number of parliamentarians who have fallen foul of the media in recent years, and told their stories largely from their point of view. As a result you get a lot about media pressure and the effect on families. It is interesting, but in most cases I didn't feel that there was a lot that was new. And there is the point that these people have chosen to put themselves in the public eye. Often it was their own (sometimes bizarre) errors of judgement that got them into trouble.

Then there is the case of Andrew Mitchell, with whom the book starts. According to this account he was the victim of a set-up; but you wonder why the dissident police officers targeted him, and not one of the many other members of the government who frequented Downing Street. Wilson's pretty deadpan account enables you to form your own opinion.

Recommended to anyone interested in this sort of thing. I am still left wondering why the media camp outside the houses of politicians in trouble, for the sake of a picture of someone they photographed the day before.


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