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The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation (Pride and Fall sequence)
The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation (Pride and Fall sequence)
by Correlli Barnett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating account of post war decline, 19 May 2014
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This book can be considered a sequel to another classic by Barnett, The Decline of British Power, which dissects the years between the 2 world wars. In the Audit of War Barnett investigates the causes of the post war economic decline of the UK and its record of industrial mediocrity and traces them in deliberate decisions taken during the war years, in discussions about what should be the priorities of the country after the war. The argument is built very forcefully, in a robust, stern language that leaves no doubt on who's to blame for the dismal outcome.

Correlli Barnett doesn't mince his words: The intellectual elite that gained preeminence in the UK in the '30s and '40s were drawn by "New Jerusalem" ideas of human emancipation and a very high standard of living for all. Beveridge, in his November 1942 report, set the stage for vastly ambitious plans for social security, decent housing and humanist/classical education for all. These people took for granted that the UK would remain economically viable on the strength of its industrial heritage and ignored the fact that that heritage had already become obsolete and a hindrance to progress. Indeed, Barnett describes in distressing detail the extent of economic underperformance during the war years which was masked by the fact that the war effort required every bit of machinery and every ton of coal, however inefficiently produced. Statistics of breakdowns of British trucks compared with American ones in the North African dessert are among many that corroborate the assertion that British industry didn't improve during the war.

Prescient voices in the establishement pointing out that the UK should put the priority on modernising its industry and try to step up its exports after the war were overruled and, instead, there was a conscious decision to try to keep alive the status quo ante: a plethora of old, makeshift plants with antiquated equipment relying on the home market, which couldn't compete in the european or international markets. Barnett is particularly devastating when criticising this metaphysical belief that "practical men" (as he calls the captains of British industry that had no proper engineering credentials) would manage to stay in business due to sheer pluck and perseverence.

Barnett's language carries the reader along. Of course, it is easy to be right with hindshight (Barnett writes in the mid-80's). There were extenuating circumstances for these people: there was the overpowering will to not repeat the aftermath of WW1, when people got home only to be faced with unemployment and starvation. There was also the pent up frustration of vast segments of the populations that believed that "their time had come". it would have been difficult for anyone to lean against that trend.

Barnett highlights some very interesting traits of the British: The preference to tinker with existing plant rather than overhaul it and install something superior in its place. For anyone familar with British manufacturing even today, 30 years later, this is painfully familiar and distinguishes the "British" way of doing things.

I am not surprised that this book has been out of print for a long time: it shatters many myths cherished by the average Briton. However, it is exactly books like this that should be studied in universities and business schools throughout the UK.

As A Man Grows Older (New York Review Books Classics)
As A Man Grows Older (New York Review Books Classics)
by Italo Svevo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant case study of the male psyche, 1 May 2013
This book is a magnificent description of the ambivalences tearing apart the soul of a man in arrested psychological development. Although the hero is getting on 40, his soul is that of a 15 year old boy; his relationship with Angiolina is mediated by phantasies completely divorced from reality. He goes from heights of bliss to depths of despair without any kind of rational background. His male friends, by distinction, are hugely more rational and level headed, albeit selfish in their concern for his well being.

He is fortunate enough to enjoy the attractions of a beautiful, simple girl from a humble background. This immediately creates two conflicting ideas in his head: On the one hand, he can't possibly be worthy of her, so she must give herself to him because of his "gifts" to her, therefore she is a whore; on the other hand, he is far more sophisticated than she is, therefore he is demeaning himself by being with her. Compared to him, the girl - Angiolina - is vastly more mature and composed. She is trying to humour him, as she has learnt to do with all men in her acquaintance, but in the end she has to concede defeat.

This book is written in the late 19th century, so it predates Proust. It is incredible that somebody in the provincial town of Trieste wrote such a powerful, nuanced, bold book which brings into focus all the shortcomings in the personalities of many men, then as well as now. At the same time, it is hugely readable.

The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good
The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good
by Robert H. Frank
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars With courage against muddled thinking, 21 May 2012
This is the first book by Frank I'm reading and it's like a breath of fresh air in a stale room. Combining academic rigour with easy to grasp examples and analogies, Frank builds a strong argument in favour of dissuading socially harmful behaviour (not banning it) by taxing it and using the proceeds to invigorate a much needed public works programme. Taking his cue from Darwin, he observes that behaviour that can be beneficial if pursued individually, if adopted by everyone would have a detrimental effect on the community. To prevent that from happening, enlightened individuals embrace regulation and welcome externally imposed controls. Frank elucidates the thesis with many very clear examples, of which the armaments control is but one.

Targeted at the extreme libertarians that dominate the debate in the States, it nevertheless is applicable everywhere. After reading the book one should understand clearly that attaching utility to a good depends on who else has it, and so it's highly relative. People are not after the good per se (be it a house, a fancy car, a beautiful girl); they are after the distinction that goes with it. This is a primal instinct that shows its face again and again. Rather that try to subdue it, which would be futile and oppressive, better to harness it to promote the public good. An excellent idea, lucidly analysed.

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