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charlie

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The Black Prince: The King That Never Was
The Black Prince: The King That Never Was
Price: £5.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Black Prince (and his father, Edward III), 18 Aug. 2017
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I enjoyed this book greatly - there are many fascinating insights. Of course, there isn't enough known about the Black Prince to warrant a weighty tome and the author rightly expands the material available by including the causes of the 100 Years War and more general events within the reign of Edward III (such as the foundation of The Order of the Garter). A more appropriate title for the book might, therefore, have been along the lines of "Father and Son: Edward III & The Black Prince - the struggle for control of medieval Europe." Not concise, I grant, but perhaps more accurate as to the content of this intriguing book.


Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World's Most Infamous Diamond
Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World's Most Infamous Diamond
Price: £7.47

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite some story, 5 Aug. 2017
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A fascinating insight into why the legend/reality of the Koh-i-Noor diamond is so potent. It has to be said [spoiler alert] that the diamond now in the crown of the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother is a shadow of the original - and the history of that original can only be traced with any degree of certainty from the early nineteenth century. Nobody on the diamond's timeline emerges well - with the possible exception of the shamefully manipulated child maharaja, Duleep Singh. The authors bring the story right up to the moment, noting the growing calls for repatriation from the self-appointed heirs to former societies who may - or may not - once have had this exact diamond within their cultural framework. As with the Elgin marbles, the danger is an opening of floodgates. Is it in anyone's interests that the National Gallery (to take a random British example) be reduced to showing only Constable and Turner? Should France return most of its pre-nineteenth century paintings to Italy, perhaps? Some key contents of the Frick Collection and the Wallace Collection return to France? The only fair governing point has to be what was legal at the time. Otherwise, where to stop in rewriting history?


The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York
The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read, 31 July 2017
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I take my hat off to the author, the research that has gone into her book is stupendous - it makes for the nigh perfect bedtime read. My one niggle is over chronology. I was confused at times as to what decade we were now in. Virginia Bonynge married in 1894 and the author notes that among the guests was "Princess Christian (sister to the Prince of Wales)." Yet a mere one small Kindle page on, we learn that she (Virginia) was "best friend of the King's sister." Right; so we have jumped to post 1901 when Queen Victoria died and the Prince of Wales has become King Edward VII? Seven years skipped by? I don't mean to nitpick - I loved this book - but where exactly we had got to on the timeline, even within one girl's story, could be bewildering.


The Shortest History of Germany
The Shortest History of Germany
Price: £6.47

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readable, 3 Jun. 2017
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Yes, this may well be "the shortest history of Germany" up until Bismark's Second Reich when the pace slows down and the detail increases. Over a thousand years of earlier history is, by contrast, taken at a gallop. This contrast grates somewhat, as does the appalling editing. Frederick William II of Prussia was not Frederick the Great's son - and the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (never Francis II of Austria) didn't change sex to become Frances II.

The author's interest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is quite clear. Yet this is still a most readable book and a fascinating conclusion that the post World War II West Germany was, in many senses, the real Germany with the 1989 "reunification" tacking on what had always been culturally, socially and religiously a different country.


What is Wrong with Us?
What is Wrong with Us?
Price: £7.47

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent (if a tad self-approving), 14 May 2017
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In the post-war era, the visual arts (in particular) changed course and headed into a nonsense land where aesthetic consideration was booted out the door and replaced by "meaning." Some artists, I think of Antony Gormley, do keep a toe in both camps but much of their output is - to use the earthy phrase - "like farting through a keyhole; clever - damn clever - but not art."

Society was of course changing, certainly come the 1960s. The "Serota Tendency" clique and acolytes were young in the era of the so-called Generation Gap. This was the age of Hippies, of Woodstock, when anything from your parents' generation was outmoded, boring and to be rejected simply for not being new and "with it." These ageing Peter Pans now lead the arts establishment (though they doubtless hate the word, not the actuality) and it seems reasonable to deduce that - terrified of being seen as stick-in-the-muds - they are hard-wired to consider anything new (Tracey Emin's bed/Damien Hirst's shark) as meritorious simply for being new, never done before.

Some of the contributors to this excellent book do their arguments no favours, however, by being unable to resist a touch of clever-clever 'de haut en bas' smugness. Many of the words used are no longer in everyday use - more's the pity, I hear the authors cry. However, you won't win friends and influence people if the audience you present your argument to is exclusively Oxbridge high table. There never was any merit in preaching to the converted.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2017 6:46 AM BST


Stiff Upper Lip: Secrets, Crimes and the Schooling of a Ruling Class
Stiff Upper Lip: Secrets, Crimes and the Schooling of a Ruling Class
Price: £8.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Was it quite so sinister and abusive (and on such a scale) as this book proposes?, 24 April 2017
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Alex Renton is a very angry man. Public schools failed him and the focus of his book, analysing the system and ethos, is unremittingly negative. My credentials for writing a review are St Aubyns prep school and then Harrow. I am in Alex’s age group and passed through my schooling as an unpopular non-games playing gay nerd.

I wonder if Alex has seen the excellent section on public schools in The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. This, written in the early 1980s as a piece of fun, was exceptionally well researched (by public school boys and girls of Alex and my generation) and has metamorphosed now into a document of social history. On page 71 there are two lists encapsulating what was then considered good and bad about the public school system. The ‘good’: 1) Team spirit 2) No sucking up 3) No sneaking 4) No showing off 5) No crying or whining (a great Sloane dislike 6) Never say die 7) Serve God and His institutions (the school).

The ‘bad’ list (don’t work too hard, young sexual thrills are best, snobbery) is one to dispassionately agree upon. Alex would probably see the ‘good’ list as unacceptable, too – certainly ‘no crying or whining’. But that is about personal dignity, surely? Yes, everyone needs to show emotion and cry – behind closed doors, privately, or in front of our closest soul mates. Is the Sloane/public school stiff upper lip of the title of this book really to be deplored? Sloane Rangers squirmed at the teddy bears and candles on the Mall when Diana died – personal reticence and discipline can be seen as positives, not negatives; it’s called self-control.

My personal beef with the system is the poor education it gave me to face the modern world. In single-sex schooling in the 60s and 70s, we were taught, ipso facto, that we were to be administrators and rulers of the British Empire. This was bizarre as the empire, post war, was self-evidently crumbling with India ‘the jewel in the crown’ having declared independence in 1947. My prep headmaster felt it was more important for his boys to learn that they should walk on the curb side of the road to a lady (to stop her being splashed by mud from a passing carriage) than it was to understand that women were valued colleagues and equals in an evolving and diverse society and workplace.

School days could be physically brutal – an extension, mostly, of the paedophilia the boarding public schools encouraged and embraced (often by default, not intent). I, though, was not abused (no, this is not false memory syndrome on my part – I’m gay and should be clear about male sexual advances). Alex has sought out instances of abuse and, certainly, his mailbag has been full. Paedophilia took place as did brutality – and one case is one case too many. However, I am not convinced, from personal experience and that of non Colonel Blimp contemporaries, that it occurred on the scale Alex, in his anger, proposes it did.

Had I children, would I send them to a boarding school? No, I wouldn’t. Two of my godchildren, however, went through co-educational day school in the private sector and are excellently rounded citizens in 21st century Britain. Was the system Alex and I went through years ago wrong? Yes it was, but not in all respects - and it is easy to judge and be critical of any institution in past history by the standards and mores of contemporary life.


Night Trains: The Rise and Fall of the Sleeper
Night Trains: The Rise and Fall of the Sleeper
Price: £6.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating subject, excellently written, 13 April 2017
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The research and detail in this most readable and engaging of books is worthy of a PhD thesis. This is, too, a romantic book (small r - though encounters with a large R oft took place), elegiac, wistful and nostalgic. As a child, I remember well the excitement, the sounds, the smells, the movement of the night train to Edinburgh. Change is usually for the best - but not in the case of the demise of the night train. There was something individualistic about them which, today, Virgin Trains East Coast - clean, sanitised, oft efficient - cannot match as they purr into Waverley station by early afternoon, having thundered up from London. Will the Caledonian survive much longer, with so many night trains having disappeared on the continent? I wonder.


Bedtime Stories for Grown-ups
Bedtime Stories for Grown-ups
Price: £9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 23 Jan. 2017
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What a superb concept - bedtime stories for grown-up. Ben Holden's choices are eclectic, wide-ranging in genre and in subject. It's brilliantly put together and I hope sincerely for another compilation. One of my best buys in recent months.


The New Book of Snobs: A Definitive Guide to Modern Snobbery
The New Book of Snobs: A Definitive Guide to Modern Snobbery
Price: £5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars well worth reading, 18 Dec. 2016
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This is an odd hybrid; neither as dully statistical as 'Social Class in the 21st century' nor as belly-laugh filled as the seminal 'Official Sloane Ranger Handbook.' The first half of the book examines the history and etiquette of snobbery, a tribal characteristic of the middle class which evolved, with multiple layers, in the mid-nineteenth century following the Industrial Revolution. The second half looks at examples of contemporary snobbery through various characters and circumstances. D.J. Taylor confects his material expertly, but it doesn't fully gel in his hands as snobbery is, self-evidently, really quite funny to observe. The humorous touch isn't missing but (dare I say this) an edit of the cameos by one of Tatler magazine's feature writers would have been no bad thing. Nevertheless an interesting and well-written book which I enjoyed and certainly recommend.


The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country
The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country
Price: £4.74

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific read! (but what of the sauna? the high divorce rate?), 18 Nov. 2016
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Hugely entertaining - the perfect bedtime read (even if you skip a few pages when the author posits, in some detail, her research gleaned from various Danish experts).

I was surprised that there is no mention of visiting a sauna - a major part of Danish culture (yes, I have been there). Equally, I could have done with a little more exploration of the contraditcion of a high divorce rate set alongside the claim to being the happiest of countries in which to live. Could it be that if society nurtures and supports its citizens to the extent of the Danes, they lose the self-discipline and 'knuckling down" required to keep a relationship going? Why not just bail out when the going gets tough and start again - the state will scoop you up. I wonder.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 13, 2017 2:16 PM BST


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