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Somerset Coast from the Air
Somerset Coast from the Air
by Jason Hawkes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £3.82

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of superb photographs but captions needed closer scrutiny, 17 Jun. 2008
This is a very nice coffee-table type of book, containing some well-chosen photographs of the Somerset coast, stretching all the way from Portishead and Clevedon down to Minehead, Porlock and the fringes of Exmoor National Park. There is a nice balance between shots of natural features and pictures of the built environment and human activity, such as the docks at Avonmouth. The one let-down, though, is the typos in the picture captions, which are all too frequent. Surely, even in a book where the pictures predominate, better editing is called for - it's not as if there were acres of text to srutinise, just one-line captions beneath each picture. Let's hope the editing is more thorough for future books published in this series!


Having it So Good: Britain in the Fifties
Having it So Good: Britain in the Fifties
by Peter Hennessy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb work of political and social history, 21 Sept. 2007
This is, quite simply, an excellent book. It is extremely well-written, handles its copious source material with panache and is a riveting read. Both 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' perspectives are provided, with lengthy and authoritative chapters dealing with politics and statecraft, consumerism and culture, and wider social issues as well. Britain's wider place in the world - its relations with Europe, the Commonwealth and the USA as well as the developing Cold War backdrop - is examined in detail and the author is invariably fair-minded in his appraisals of the conduct of political leaders, military commanders, civil servants and diplomats. The author usefully includes a liberal sprinkling of his own recollections, which help provide a vivid insight into 1950s Britain. A rewarding read for any fans of modern British history. It makes one look forward to the third volume, which will focus on the 1960s.


The Cold War
The Cold War
by John Lewis Gaddis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very readable history of the Cold War, 11 April 2007
This review is from: The Cold War (Paperback)
To write an engaging and wide-ranging history of the Cold War decades in 266 pages is no mean feat, but Gaddis has, on the whole, achieved this.

Obviously, it's easy to criticise what he may have left out - perhaps a closer examination of the economic dynamics within the Soviet system towards the end of the priod might have been useful, while there are only perfunctory glimpses of the "proxy" conflicts which played out in the developing world. Intended or not, the author's soft spot for Reagan is obvious in the later chapters, while the manifold failings of later Soviet leaders, Gorbachev largely exempted, are laid bare with a certain relish.

Nevertheless, this is a concise, lively and popular historical account of the Cold War, enlivened by judicious use of quotations from the key players and candid assessments of political leaders, both East and West.


Michael Foot: A Life
Michael Foot: A Life
by Kenneth O. Morgan
Edition: Hardcover

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthy historical study of Michael Foot's life and works, 15 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Michael Foot: A Life (Hardcover)
This is, on the whole, an interesting book by an established political historian and biographer (and Labour peer in the House of Lords). While many people are familiar with the scornful newspaper stereotypes of Foot from the early 1980s when he led the Labour Party, this biogaphy provides a detailed assessment of both his party political activities and his 'hinterland', especially his early years as a journalist and author (either writing columns for or editing, the Evening Standard and Tribune, amongst other publications, and his co-authored book, Guilty Men, written at the outbreak of World War Two)

It is, on the whole, sympathetic in tone, but is honest about Foot's noticeable illiteracy on matters of economic policy (which his political opponents gleefully exploited as a result of the commitments contained in the 1983 Labour General Election manifesto). While some readers may find the internal politics, personality clashes and left-right tribalism of the Labour Party tedious, this forms an essential backdrop to any serious assessment of a major post-war Labour politician. There is also a wealth of detail on the other members of the Foot clan, and their individual life and works.

A dry, but rewarding read.


Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts
Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts
by Simon Jenkins
Edition: Hardcover

33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Penetrating critique but falls down on the elixir of "localism", 8 Jan. 2007
With this well-written and insightful book, Jenkins confirms his status as probably Britain's leading broadsheet columinist on matters political. Here, he has a compelling thesis and follows it through chapter after chapter, and only the latter couple of chapters are somewhat of a letdown. The continuation of Thatcher's 1980s deeds, via Major, Blair and, most probably, Gordon Brown, is documented well, with judicious use of figures and concrete examples to underpin the trenchant views of the author. The mismatches between the two distinct Thatcherite revolutions are stressed throughout this book, though reference to Andrew Gamble's excellent 'The Free Economy and the Strong State' would have been instructive. Many of the problems and inefficiencies supposedly brought about by command and control centralism (or, in the early postwar decades summed up as 'The man in Whitehall knows best') are exposed here, including some major and very costly failings under Brown's watch at the Treasury. It becomes clear from this evidence that ministerial accountability is one of the hollowest words in the British political vocabulary.

While the supposed panacea of 'localism' does not really convince, we can at least be sure that we are right to be highly sceptical of leading politicians pronouncing ad nauaeam about the virtues of devolving power and reinvigorating local governance. The words 'clutching' and 'straws' spring to mind. Also, despite the post-1997 devolution settlements, the political culture in Britain still seems highly centralised and one fears that the good citizens of Britain are not ready to somehow embrace a localist philosophy as a way of overcoming the pathologies of heavily-centralised management of public services. Indeed, much evidence points to a generally declining interest in political participation, with local politics perhaps bearing the brunt in terms of pitiful local election turnout levels. Central or local, regional or supranational, public administration everywhere is a complex business and devolving a swathe of powers to local councils - whatever their territorial basis - is not necessarily the magic potion that Jenkins, despite his preeminence as an author and commentator, so fervently believes it to be.

A very interesting read, but, as with many analyses of the failings of how Britain is governed, it offers a comprehensive diagnosis, but remains unconvincing in the remedy it offers.


Brown'S Britain
Brown'S Britain
by Robert Peston
Edition: Paperback

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and enjoyable analysis of Mr "Prudence with a Purpose", 11 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Brown'S Britain (Paperback)
Gordon Brown is portrayed here with some degree of admiration, both for what he has achieved as Chancellor since 1997 and for his undoubted and strongly-held ideological underpinnings (one of the many similarities with Thatcher that Peston brings to our attention). This is well-written, highly journalistic book, packed full of detail, anecdote and who allegedly said what to whom, why and when in the corridors of power in Westminster. However, it's not all about recurring personality clashes and murky insider machinations. There are cogent evaluations of Brown's role in Labour Party politics pre-1997, his expansive role in social and economic policy-making as Chancellor, and good summaries of the effectiveness of his flagship policies, plus much that is useful on the changing internal machinery of the Treasury. The fraught and sometimes embittered relations between the Treasury and No. 10 are a recurrent and enjoyable theme here. Peston effectively conveys the importance of certain members of Brown's political clique, espcially Ed Balls, with latter coming across - again, with no little admiration - as the animating genius of much that Brown and the Labour government have done on macro-economic policy since assuming office. The most insightful and interesting pages are reserved for Labour's internal politics surrounding the UK's potential entry to the Euro, which is covered in two excellent chapters; much light is shed on the differences and divisions between Brown and Blair on this issue.

Overall, then, an often fascinating book, both informative and enjoyable - the author has much to say about both the man (Brown) and the machine (the Treasury) that he has dominated for nearly a decade.


DC Confidential
DC Confidential
by Christopher Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging memoir from "Our Man in Washington", 21 July 2006
This review is from: DC Confidential (Paperback)
Christopher Meyer has written a very likeable and accessible memoir - concise and snappily-written, and with a liberal sprinkling of wry humour. Not for him the 900 plus pages of so many dry, self-congratulatory examples of the political/diplomatic memoir genre. He has many interesting things to say about both political personalities (statesmen and civil servants) and governing institutions (The FCO, No. 10, etc).

Also, he does not pull his punches when it comes to offering judgements upon the actions and intentions of major political fugures, such as Blair, Straw, Prescott and many other leading New Labour ministers.

His reminiscences about earlier diplomatic postings in both the the US and Germany are informative and amusing in equal measure. In particular, he deftly conveys some of the flavour of both countries' political traditions and bureaucratic traits, and is illuminating on the social and political landscape of the USA west of the eastern seaboard.

The latter part of the book, dealing with pre-and post-9/11 is a riveting read, and provides a balanced overview of US and UK foreign-policy activities in this fraught period. Overall, then, a sharply-written, well-told account of a diplomatic life in both Germany and Washington D.C., packed with interesting anecdotes and comments - sometimes acerbic, sometimes affectionate - about the realities and rewards of overseas postings.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2008 6:23 PM BST


The Almost Impossible Ally: Harold Macmillan and Charles De Gaulle
The Almost Impossible Ally: Harold Macmillan and Charles De Gaulle
by Peter Mangold
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.37

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb work of diplomatic and political history, 12 July 2006
Mangold has produced a very informative and engaging account of how the lives and times of these two fascinating political statesman intertwined in the years both during and after WWII. It is generally a fascinating read, and gives a superb account of the many issues and events - nuclear armaments, relations with the US administration, the development of the economic integration process within Europe, and Britain's ill-fated EEC application from 1961-63 - over which the two men both confronted and conversed in sustained bouts of high-level politics. Mangold's researches in the archives are extensive and his command of the source material is assured.

If you like a complex mix of both political and diplomatic history, then this work on two complex and contrasting personalities is highly recommended. It also, with a deft touch, places these two statesman within the wider domestic and international contexts which shaped their respective nations' foreign policy interests and conceptions of their regional or global obligations and commitments. In its own way is also stands as a nuanced and informative treatment of broader Anglo-French relations in this period. As a whole, this book is not too "scholarly" to repel the general reader but for those reading from an academic standpoint the usual scholarly apparatus is provided, with endnotes and a full bibliography of both primary and secondary sources, again reinforcing the impression that the evidence on which this book is based has been handled with great care and attention.


Sunshine on Putty: The Golden Age of British Comedy from Vic Reeves to The Office
Sunshine on Putty: The Golden Age of British Comedy from Vic Reeves to The Office
by Ben Thompson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.20

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining read, but too self-indugent overall, 7 July 2006
This book is a rather strange amalgam of bits and pieces which, taken together, never quite satisfies. It combines: quite a few penetrating insights about the British comedy landscape in modern times; a useful and informative potted history of tv comedy since the 1990s, both mainstream and more leftfield, whether sitcom, sketch show or stand-up; some waspish asides and many more meretricious or fatuous footnotes ; and some rather extravagant hero-worship of Vic Reeves, Jonathan Ross, Johnny Vegas (especially inflating the latter's supposed significance as a comedy performer) and others, combined with a rather unkind demolition job on David Baddiel's comedy credentials..

The author has clearly succeeded in writing a provacative thesis, offering many judgements and opinions on leading comedy performers and productions that we can either take or leave. Also, this appears to have been a labour of love for the author, who surely ends up rambling on for too long and then reaches a rather unpersuasive endpoint with The Office festive specials at the end of 2003. On the plus side, many of the interviews he has conducted are entertaining and informative, and the book makes good use of an impressive list of seemingly willing interviewees. However, this book could surely have been slimmed down, made more concise and snappy. Some of the rather portenteous quoting of Freud and other thinkers seems laboured at times, and the stale, simplistic broadsides aimed at Thatcherism and all its evils is merely thin gruel and no more, even if de rigeur for books written about popular culture during the 1980s and 1990s. Exasperating and enlightening in equal measure.


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: Hardcover

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy socio-political history but plodding in parts, 19 Jun. 2006
Generally, this is a readable and informative piece of social and political history, with the author succeeding in placing the disinct phenomenon of British fascism within its wider context. Thus, we are always made aware of the more general party political, economic and international climate, giving us an appreciation of how the British strain of fascism

was rooted within a set of distinct historical circumstances. Sometimes, the book relies on lists to overwhelm us with information: which members of the great and the great supported (overtly or covertly) Moseley's causes at various points in time are often inserted in the text and interrupt the narrative flow. Overall, an interesting read and would be read profitably alongside the authoritative biographies of Moseley (i.e. those by Robert Skidelsky or Stephen Dorril). Also will appeal to those with a general interest in Britain's turbulent post-war years.


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