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Milo di Thernan (London)

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Defying Hitler: A Memoir
Defying Hitler: A Memoir
by Sebastian Haffner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epiphany, 24 Oct. 2014
Survival requires membership of a pack, to which you pretend to submit your freedom, all the while thinking for yourself. Comradeship suspends the need to think for yourself.

"Comradeship always sets the tone at the lowest possible level, accessible to everyone. It cannot tolerate discussion; in the chemical solution of comradeship, discussion immediately takes on the colour of whining or grumbling. It becomes a mortal sin. Comradeship admits no thoughts, just mass feelings of the most primitive sort. "We" becomes a collective entity, with all the intellectual cowardice and dishonesty of a collective being which instinctively ignores and belittles anything that can disturb collective satisfaction."

Survival is a more durable instinct than freedom. Cries of "freedom!" will always prevail when the earth is shaken by the co-ordinated jump of millions, but this is hard to orchestrate and needs years of oppression to arrange, because it requires the wide awake participation of the corpulent middle class mass whose natural state is comfortable, selfish slumber. Think Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa, Caeucescu's Romania, Egypt's Arab Spring. Only when the self-serving daydreams of the middle classes are punctured is freedom truly triumphant. At all other times, survival prevails over freedom and blind eyes are turned towards oppression, for those not directly assaulted by it.

Both survival and freedom depend on habitat, which can sponsor, ignore or attack either. If the ideal habitat sponsors both, then the worst habitat attacks both. But the most complex relationships (between individual and habitat) are those in which sponsorship of one necessitates attacking the other. For example, freedom of conscience, conscientious objection, is a crime when the survival of the state is threatened.

If freedom and survival can compromise each other, under what conditions should each prevail? Abuse - of the weak by the strong, or of a minority by the majority - is a fertile source of controversy. Take gender inequality: should men be allowed freely to express an aversion to feminism? Is male comradeship sinister? Perhaps rugby or boxing matches should be mixed and child custody evenly balanced? Should we promote freedom for this kind of expression, or does it tarnish and undermine the good society, ultimately threatening its chances of survival? Put another way, can the state legitimately (Sparta? Themistocles?) or illegitimately for that matter (Nazi), deny freedom of expression? In either case, you have to be willing to die for your belief. Die on your feet, or live on your knees? Give me freedom or give me death, non-survival? Really?

Avoid flirting with the judgement of peers by withdrawal, non-participation, privacy, secrecy. And privately complain about the habitat's impositions, its constraints, on your freedom. This is what most of us do. But outbursts then get us into trouble, as the inter-connected world overwhelms limitations of space and time. A blog is available everywhere, always.

Is freedom of expression always a noble aim, or can it be tyrannical?

Is the refusal to participate in society, to shape it, to vote or agitate, the enemy of freedom? Will agitators, those keen to bend the world to their will, always proscribe the freedom of the disengaged? They did in Nazi Germany and this book blames the disengaged, for choosing survival over freedom. Regime invasion of one's private space, like some Orwellian Big Brother, is horrifying, but is facilitated by increasingly accessible media. Ask Satyam Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, what happens when a politically incorrect opinion is publicly expressed - media as Gestapo.

Courtesy. Laughter. In both cases, a sense of the ridiculous (an acknowledgement of our own limitations, our lack of standing to judge) before a complicated issue, weakens our self belief, our criticism, our judgement, and encourages us to listen, suspend judgement and tolerate, ideally accept.

Americans are so obsessed with freedom of expression that they have trouble disagreeing. Asians are so obsessed with freedom from expression that they have trouble stating an opinion. Where is the right balance between freedom to and freedom from. Whose survival is most assured, if our humanity depends on our ability to tolerate dissent?

Where should we be free to express? At home? And where should we be free from expression? At work? If someone pays us, should we allow their freedom of expression to constrain ours, or should we shout right back? We won't, because our honesty will be compromised by saying things we think want our colleagues want to hear. Given the importance of survival until the next pay cheque, our attitude to freedom of expression at work is defensive, not offensive - even if this necessitates dishonesty. Do our bosses really want to know what we think of them? Will they really roll over and laugh off criticism in the way juniors have to? At work, can you honestly be on the side of capital as well as labour? If so, how much of your pay differential are you willing to give up to under-paid juniors? The youngsters willing to take the risk of public disagreement are not the ones we want succeeding us in managing the place, because the gift of self-promotion is hard to devote to selfless ends.

If you fundamentally (deeply, personally) disagree with a strong groundswell of public opinion, should you say so, or keep quiet and just go along with it? There are no heroes who do not learn the emptiness of heroism before they die. So, heartfelt indignation and devotion to your version of truth at all costs (think Dietrich Bonhoeffer) or apples for teacher and servile devotion to your interpretation of what would please the group (think Machiavelli)?


The Nectar of Angels: The Arrowsmith Saga, Part One
The Nectar of Angels: The Arrowsmith Saga, Part One
by Dane St. John
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.70

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not really Bordeaux, more three Johns. Gaunt. Wycliffe. Ball. A fabulous read., 16 Sept. 2014
How would you explain your interest in history? History sharpens my response to the London streets I walk, the mystery of the old Indian ladies I might sit next to at weddings, my warmth towards the bumptious, hard headed, warm hearted Australians, South Africans or American colleagues I work amongst, as well as my appreciation of ostensibly neurotic well-heeled (but actually quite kind) Parisians and Dusseldorfers. History helps me lightly inform the reading habits of my kids, so that each book helps in some small way to lay some foundation for the next, even if extremely loosely. History vastly increases my success in transforming thoroughly tiresome corporate evening chat into the discovery of new friends and enthusiasms. History allows me to get closer to life, to people of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

All I need of a history book is to recognise some small part of the people and the places promised by the title and the introductory spiel so that I can slot another piece into the jigsaw that is my world view. Some jigsaw pieces are beautiful on their own. Some jigsaw pieces seem innocuous, of limited help or relevance for the bigger picture, but allow you to make enormous strides towards completing a difficult corner with which you have struggled for months, possibly years. Sometimes you come across both. This book is a beautiful piece on it's own, as well as a wonderfully informed and informative contribution to England's Edwards.

This is about John of Gaunt and his times, which were full of rich characters and a society growing up through religious pains (John Wycliffe) and social inequality (John Ball). It is not really about Bordeaux or wine (which was my reason for buying it), which provide background to the French campaigns of the Black Prince. The author takes risks with the words he uses, but pulls it off effectively: you are absorbed Arrowsmith's world so deeply that closing the book is like coming up for air. His knowledge of medieval implements, London's places and England 's nobility is strong, teaching you much. Judging by this book, If I met the author, I would listen laughingly to his wit, wisdom and playfulness, attributes which he wears lightly enough to be charming, rather than intimidating.

I suspect that Bordeaux comes through in the sequel, but I'm sure I'll chug it down happily anyway.


The King's Women
The King's Women
by Deryn Lake
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical faction, 17 Aug. 2014
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Charles VII and his unloved son Louis XI bridge the European gap between the English invasion of France and the French invasion of Italy. This book deserves credit for three things, excellent characterisation, liquid prose and dense history. The first forty pages of Paul Murray Kendall's biography of Louis XI corroborate all of Deryn Lake's story, in, obviously, a much drier way and anyone prepared to pursue the facts will benefit immeasurably from the people and plot the author intimately and humanly acquaints us with, in a way that pure historians never can. So I applaud it, heartily, and thoroughly recommend it. It's a long book, 595 pages, but sectioned sensibly. Excellent.


Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics)
Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics)
by John Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do you want to be a mule or an exile?, 4 Aug. 2014
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It is the duty of youth to rebel. You only understand this when you are old. Time throws things, like wives, children and colleagues in the way of your weltanschauung, insisting that you surrender to theirs. And when you surrender your weltanschauung, you die, the thing that animates you ceases to care.

Ceasing to care is the curse of old age. Yet it is inevitable. Because if you refuse to surrender to the opinions of their mother - she ceased being your wife when the first child arrived, just as she ceased being your lover the night before the wedding, but she will blame you for both forever - your children or your colleagues, they will cast you aside. They will cease to care for or about you.

For this reason, the last marriage always lasts (submission is preferable to exile), parents are dead to their children, few of us enjoy our work. If we don't cling to our weltanschauung,we die inside. But if we do cling to our weltanschauung, we die outside. Mules or exiles.

Socrates, Cicero, Dante and Voltaire clung to their weltanschauung and all were cast out by their wives, children or colleagues. But they are immortal in a way that those who did not will never be. Their weltanschauung made the world safer and wiser for posterity. The light in their eyes never went out, even in exile. When the light goes out, laughing with abandon ceases, to be replaced by bitterness, or an anger at the system that doused it. Cranky, irascible old men, but dutiful to their mothers, wives and colleagues. Mules, who lost their sense of the ridiculous, because they could no longer judge, literally laugh at, systemic hypocrisy, having surrendered themselves to it by dousing their own spark plug.

There is an answer. Be kind to other people's weltanschauung. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. And make sure you fall in love with a kind person, capable, on occasion, of subjugating his or her interests to yours for the sake of your shared happiness, making you want to return the favour as often as possible. Above all, laugh as much as you humanly can, but never like a hyena.


A Pillar of Iron
A Pillar of Iron
by Taylor Caldwell
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Helps non classics scholars to a full understanding of Rome, 23 Jun. 2014
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The love established between Cicero and Julius Caesar as children spent a lifetime dealing with Cicero's selfless principle in favor of a democratic republic and Caesar's self-interested ambition in becoming Emperor. Caesar won, posthumously, as his sister's great grandson, Octavius, adopted by Caesar in his will, established dictatorship. This story explains how, shedding light on all the familiar men - Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Mark Antony - as well as the ladies who tormented and inspired them, especially Livia and Fabia. It is a very enjoyable sketch of Roman history which lays a detailed foundation for the reign of Octavian, which you get an impression of in another book (Augustus) which then passes the baton on to Octavian's wife, another Livia, his successor's mother. Livia, Tiberius's mother, is accessibly dealt with in Anthony Barrett's biography. Three books and you can pin Rome down. Then you can start on Virgil, whose Aeneid eulogises Augustus's reign, and slowly, but securely, access classical history in a very modern, entertaining way.
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Nokia Lumia 1520 (Unlocked LTE, 32GB, Yellow) SIM Free *International Version*
Nokia Lumia 1520 (Unlocked LTE, 32GB, Yellow) SIM Free *International Version*

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exemplary service from Gooddeal4you and NokiaCare, 18 Jun. 2014
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The SIM did not work. I told them. They sent me a return docket immediately. Then the SIM worked (I went to Nokia Care - there was no problem with the phone; 3's network had been temporarily down).

Adobe flash player doesn't work (but Adobe docs do).
I can watch but not download BBC iPlayer.
The Risk (board game) app is rubbish compared with the iPad version
These are predictable software issues, which I hope OS 8.1 solves (my OS is Windows 8.0)
WhatsApp perfect.

I love holding it - it feels small in the hand for such a luxurious screen.
The yellow is beautiful.
No way is it too big.
Massively fast: quotes on marketwatch.com come up instantly - they take 5-10 seconds on all other phones and tablets I've used
Maps interesting - so much more to explore in OS and camera and Nokia music, maps, satnav etc. I've hardly started

Video is excellent; excellent voice capture too.
Music playback a bit reedy, but volume great.

I'm utterly delighted.


Augustus: A Novel
Augustus: A Novel
by John Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Modern Shakespeare, 7 May 2014
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I studied Shakespeare's Anthony & Cleopatra at 18 and wish I had known about this novel. Ancient Rome held absolutely no appeal for me - too big a subject, too complicated, too full of inaccessible, earnest men like Cicero, Virgil, Horace - until I read this book, at 48. If I was ever asked what manna from heaven is, what an unexpectedly tasty, helpful, enjoyable, revelatory, gift is, I would say: this book. At any age. The memory of it will last a lifetime.


Revenge of the Rose: A Novel
Revenge of the Rose: A Novel
by Nicole Galland
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Edible, 7 April 2014
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One of the children of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine was Richard the Lionheart. Another, Richard's elder sister, was Matilda, who married Henry the Lion of Saxony. Otto IV was their son, grew up in England and got on well with his uncles, Richard and (the evil) King John (of Robin Hood fame). To avoid courting controversy about historical validity, the edible Nicole Galland names him Konrad and this mischievous, astute, iridescent book is a story about a moment in time in his court. This is not history, but wonderful, imaginative context for history which, in its own way will give you a feel for three permanent historical imponderables - Burgundy, The Holy Roman Empire and Welf/Guelph versus Ghibelline. Konrad/Otto IV should not have been emperor; Frederick II of Hohenstaufen should have been, but he was too young - but pursue this elsewhere....I loved this book. The author must be a great lady to hang around with, because the characters she invents are. Oh, and was that use of the word "edible" appropriate? Not sure, but it sure is suggestive. And so is Nicole Galland's writing.

"In following the great events of the period - the Crusade, the wars with the Lombard communes, and the long drawn out struggle with the papacy - it is sometimes difficult to remember that life at the imperial court was not entirely concerned with affairs of state. There were the daily round of gossip, intrigue and love affairs, dancing, festivities and hunting, the usual diversions at any period of a rich and privileged society revolving around the person of the sovereign. All the more so, in this particular case, because the Emperor himself evidently enjoyed life and was a connoisseur of its pleasures and diversions, who even when he was older still preferred to be surrounded by young people." This from page 202 of Georgina Masson's biography of the other Emperor, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen.

Enjoy the daily round in this feast of a book.


The Ruby in Her Navel
The Ruby in Her Navel
by Barry Unsworth
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars All roads lead to and from Sicily, 20 Feb. 2014
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History is accessible only to the extent that it has clear entrances and exits. You can spend years of frustration being haunted by an incomplete understanding of Guelph and Ghibelline or the significance of Naples or the relevance of the Brenner Pass. But the greater the frustration, the greater the delight at some erosion of that ignorance. Look at the Mediterranean from side to side and fix on Tyre, then Carthage, then Gades, the original Phoenician trade route. Now look north from Carthage to Genoa, with a nod to Rome and Pisa as you pass. Sicily is at the heart of the world.

Bu Sicily does not have clear entrances and exits, because everyone covets it.

No chapter in history more resembles a romance than that which records the sudden rise and brief fall of the house of Hauteville. In one generation the sons of Tancred passed from the condition of squires in the Norman vale of Cotentin, to knighthood in the richest isle of the southern sea. The Norse adventurers became sultans of an Oriental capital. The sea robbers assumed together with the sceptre the culture of an Arabian court.

That paragraph is an admiring quotation of one historian, Symonds, by another, Norwich. It captures the pivotal importance of Sicily. Rome wants the Normans to submit to the Pope's religious zeal, which the Albigensians in particular are undermining, but the Normans are tolerant of Moslems. Rome harnesses the military influence of Hohenstaufen Germans north of the Alps, who will evict the Saracens, in an effort to displace the Normans. (In return, the Hohenstaufens receive the Imperial crown from the Pope.) Rome succeeds eventually, with the birth of Frederick II in 1194, after which Rome regrets its actions, because the Holy Roman Empire has encircled Rome and the Swabian Hohenstaufens aren't listening any more. (Their envious neighbours, the Bavarian Welfs/Guelphs, might be more amenable to Papal demands though...)

Imagine the ankle of Italy as a stage where Normans build castles from which to crusade, Germans intrigue with bishops to invade, Greeks fight both along the line from Corfu to Corinth and those at either end of the Constantinople / Venice / Genoa trade route look on, worried that they might be next.

And read this book to get a very personal flavour of all of this, with the kind of illuminating story that stokes your imagination as you settle down to sleep, hopefully to dream in rich Mediterranean colours.


The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc
The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc
by Nancy Goldstone
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Light, like fiction, yet dense with fact. Magnificent., 19 Dec. 2013
Margaret of Anjou never had a chance. Her grandmother, Yolande, was a principal architect of the French defeat of the English, by 1456, one date - fittingly the exoneration of Joan of Arc's reputation - to mark the end of the Hundred Years War. This made her a natural enemy and proof came with the ceding of Maine, Normandy and Rouen in the early years of her marriage to Henry VI. So, the next question is what was that War all about? And much of the answer depends on the madness of Charles VI, which was exploited by his paternal uncle, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, to divide France. I have waited years fully to understand the Burgundy/Valois antagonism. I have waited longer to understand the French claim on Naples, which this book takes me closer to, since Yolande's eldest son, Louis III, spent his life waiting to inherit it. And the new question nagging at me is the relevance of Aragon, which this book has poked and prodded me into considering. Nancy Goldstone is so direct, factual and occasionally mischievous that you can not help being charmed by her writing. And you learn so, so much. This book is a breathtaking achievement. Thank you.


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