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brenlyons (Hamamatsu, Japan)

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Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World
Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World
by Patrick J Buchanan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

26 of 44 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars energetic but ultimately not convincing, 3 Oct. 2010
This is a revisionist polemic rather than a balanced work of historical research. Buchanan begins with a premise and then doggedly and relentlessly sets out to prove it, marshalling an impressive but selective array of quotations along the way. His premise is that Britain had no real need to participate in either World War and that by doing so transformed each war into a world-wide rather than a contained European conflict. Britain's actions (largely brought about by the demonic influence of Winston Churchill in both instances) led to the deaths of millions, the destruction of the British Empire, and the Cold War between the two super-powers left standing after the shooting had stopped.

The book has some interesting sections. The detailed criticism of the iniquities of the post-World War I Versailles Treaty is particularly devastating, and is probably the best part of the book. Buchanan comes across as a passionate captain of a debating team who is only interested in advancing his own arguments while minimizing or suppressing the counter-arguments of his opponents. As a result, the book ultimately fails to convince.

There is no original research and all sources are secondary, i.e. borrowings from the works of others, and selected borrowings at that. Among the writers cited are Barbara Tuchman, George Kennan, Churchill himself, William Shirer, Neil Ferguson, Robert Evans, and several dozen others. A visit to some of the works of the historians cited will show that their authors came up with conclusions rather at odds with those of Buchanan. Oh well, never mind. As a former speechwriter for others and then a politician in his own right, Buchanan probably enjoyed himself tremendously while writing this book. Since he merely had a bash at the Brits (primarily Churchill) and didn't do anything really dangerous such as denying the Holocaust a la that other revisionist David Irving, he will probably get away with it. The bad part is that some gullible people might actually believe him!
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 9, 2012 8:14 PM BST

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
by Anna Funder
Edition: Paperback

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ordinary, contemporary decency, 27 Nov. 2009
Some of the reviews written above complain or find fault with Ms. Funders interjections or opinions during the course of her conversations with the people she meets yet I believe this adds very much to the charm and integrity of her account. She is reacting to the stories of people who lived under a regime that would have seemed incomprehensible to a girl born on the other side of the world (Australia, 1966) when the Wall had already been in existence for five years. It could have been something happening on another planet. It is significant, I think, that Ms. Funders never actually saw the Wall. It was gone by the time she got to Berlin. But the legacy of the Wall lived on in the damage it had done to the people imprisoned behind it and this is what her book is about. It is not a scholarly work with footnotes, nor is it a series of interviews conducted in English with an (unacknowledged) interpreter doing the donkey work which is what we have come to expect from our television superstars. This is not Gitta Sereny interviewing concentration camp commanders, nor even Hannah Arendt commenting on the 'banality of evil' as she witnesses the trial of Adolf Eichmann. No, this is a very different thing altogether. This is a young Australian woman of Danish descent (she thought that was close enough to "pass" as German, but it turned out it wasn't) who decided to study German as a kid to the bewilderment of her family. She liked the weird agglomerations of the language that made nuanced new words. She goes to Berlin and starts to meet people who lived under the DDR regime, already 7 years defunct by the time she gets there. That's where the stories come from. So she's judgemental. Why not? She can hardly believe what she is hearing. This is late 20th Century Alice in Stasiland -- just as weird as the Lewis Carroll original: there is no unemployment even if you are unemployed, this is a multi-party state even if there is only one party, the Wall protects you even if we shoot you for trying to leave. Something is seriously askew here. Objectivity in these circumstances would have led to the following "balanced" report from Berlin in former times: 'Obviously the Jews must be doing something deeply subversive, otherwise Herr Hitler wouldn't be so angry with them'. Indubitably. In fact, I find several parallels with this occasionally poetic (very rarely over-written) account of Ms. Funder with that of the "Berlin Stories" of Christopher Isherwood written from the same city during the early 1930s when the Nazis were just coming to power. In the same way as Isherwood she captures the feeling and mood of the city, the swampy setting, the wide grey streets, the bustling trams, the cavernous apartments with brown linoleum, the trees, the parks, the drunks, the feverish gaiety, the underlying gloom. Ms. Funder gives us a personal (and why not?) snapshot of a certain time and place just as Isherwood -- 'I am a camera' -- did for another period in the history of this city.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 13, 2016 3:33 PM GMT

It's No Crime: To Change Your Mind
It's No Crime: To Change Your Mind
by John Dean
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Crime, 18 Oct. 2001
Many first novels are thinly disguised descriptions of the author's own life experiences. Everybody has a story to tell. A lot of these books are poorly written and interesting only to a mild degree. For that reason, few of them ever get published unless the author is some sort of celebrity. This book, on the other hand, is extremely good. John Dean produces a series of almost photographic sequences that puts you in the shoes of the narrator as he moves from a North of England working-class background to young executive status, a position he comes to question. Following his strange love for "Kendo" (the Japanese Way of the Sword) he breaks with his life in England and travels to Japan, where his life undergoes monumental changes. The narrative is very straightforward -- this is the way it was, this is the way it is -- and the reader gets drawn into the story. What happens next?
Japan is presented as a real country and not just some exotic location to provide contrast with the UK. The main character actually returns to the UK about two-thirds of the way through the book just in time for the Miners Strike in 1984. This is a very powerful sequence. The incidents he records probably really happened.
I bought this book because I have met John Dean. I work in Japan and our paths have occasionally crossed. I thought the book wouldn't be much good but I was totally wrong about that. This is really good stuff. When he talks about Japan he tells it like it is. He produces a very fair and accurate description of what it is actually like when you come over here as a "gaijin" (foreigner) -- literally, an "outside person".

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