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James-philip Harries "none of the above" (france)
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1848: Year Of Revolution
1848: Year Of Revolution
by Mike Rapport
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

6 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars some revolts in Europe, 10 Aug. 2010
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When I was child, "doing" the 19th century, the revolutions of 1848 were mentioned only in passing. I now understand why.

How do you cover the disparate conflicts of that year? Geographically, thematically or sequentially? Rapport opts for the last, possibly simplest option, but it's still hard going.

The hungry 1840s were cursed with harvest failures and an industrial recession. This can account for the upheavals, perhaps, but does not explain why many countries (Britain, Belgium, Scandinavia, Russia, Iberia, the Ottoman Empire) suffered hardly any challenge to the old order. The revolts were confined essentially to Mittel-Europa, France and Italy. I assume (Rapport does not tell us) that the weather varied over this huge geographic area, most of which was barely if at all industrialised.

The diversity of aims of the rebels sowed the seeds of their destruction. National unionists (Germany & Italy) national secessionists (Hungary, the Balkans), republicans, liberals, democ-socs, proto-Marxists (of whom Marx was one), proto-anarchists (of which Herzen and Bakunin were two) were never going to unite to overthrow absolutists with the army at their sole command.

So they failed, and the reaction set in, and triumphed.

Were there any enduring gains from this convulsion? Rapport makes a case for raising awareness (emancipation of the serfs, jews and females, the spread of political ideas to all classes) but it could equally well be argued that the results were disastrous. One can date the scapegoating of minorities,a strident nationalism, the replacement of proximate landlord oppression by distant bureaucratic oppression: to 1849. And both sides were guilty of these developments which had their apocalyptic expression in the 20th century. Above all the left learned its lesson well: in order to liberate the people, you need a huge tax funded apparatus of repression at your disposal.

Rapport is scrupulously fair to all sides in his account, but the most interesting part of the book is the concluding chapter. Here the red petticoat shows under the academic gown but it's no worse for that. He discusses the tide of ideas swirling through Europe in 1848. It made me wish that he'd written the history thematically from the start.

Maybe my old history teacher was right: some trouble in far off countries, less than a million dead.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 3, 2016 10:22 PM BST


The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into How the World's Poorest People are Educating Themselves
The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into How the World's Poorest People are Educating Themselves
by James Tooley
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversial, my dear Watson, 18 July 2010
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Don't be fooled by the author's description of his "journey". This is not some soft focus third world tourism, but an examination of the waste in public education, and the virtue in private education. Tooley finds schools in the poorest slums where noone thought it was possible for parents to spare the cash to pay for them. And often they prefer to pay cash than to get public education for free. Why? Because public education is wasteful, remote and managed for the benefit of the producer not the consumer. (Teacher absenteeism is as rife in the South as it is in the inner city.)
So the bien pensant Gordon Brown / Guardian / International aid & charity types will hate this book. If you think that playgrounds are more important than blackboards, that quality comes from raising wages, that the poor are too stupid to make wise choices, that children rarely remember a teacher but give daily thanks for an inspiring classroom, then you'll hate it too.
Sadly for those of us who agree instinctively with Tooley, he is a clumsy writer and some of his argumentation is long winded and repetitive, which detracts from the pleasure of reading how even the poorest help themselves and each other. The book only occasionally succeeds in its aim of tugging the heart strings.
The publisher (despite Tooley's laughable claim to be non ideological) is the Cato Institute, a right wing American think tank. Education remains as politically and ideologically divisive as ever. You can however now contribute to private education in the third world through the foundation they have set up to provide loans and scholarships. Of course, the slum schools were already providing bursaries to their poorest pupils long before Tooley came along, but every little helps.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 20, 2011 7:38 PM GMT


Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West
Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West
by Christopher Caldwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

27 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Will the muezzin's call be heard over Oxford's dreaming spires?, 3 July 2010
This book's title echoes Edmund Burke's essay on the French revolution. While a disaster at the time, that revolution did not lead to the end of civilisation. Nor I hope will the recent large scale immigration into Europe.
Caldwell argues, with feline sensitivity worthy of the real intellectual father of this work, Gibbon, that modern European immigration is different in scale and kind to previous episodes such as (to take two examples) the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the French revolution. Second generation immigrants today do NOT want to integrate, and are MORE attached to their homeland and culture than their fathers. Nor does their higher fertility compensate for the low indigenous birthrate. The welfare state is doomed anyway.
If true, this is sad. But it's also a losing bet, which will be reversed by the third generation. This will probably be led by the women, who can see advantage in Europeanisation that their menfolk fear.
Caldwell's particular menace is Islam. Will (in Gibbon's words) the muezzin call from Oxford's spires? Will mass Muslim immigration succeed where Poitiers and Vienna failed? I think not, though you might say that I refuse to believe the thesis rather than I refute it.
But consider this. A religion, whose prophet said that it would divide into seven times seven sects, only one of which would be saved. Which systematically wastes half the talents of its population. Which hasn't provided a worthwhile scientific advance since the invention of algebra. Whose member sects are in constant low level conflict. Where ethnicity often trumps religion in major internecine wars. Which is, in short, wholly inadapted to the modern world. Does this seem like the monolithic confident intellectually coherent and culturally universal religion that Caldwell describes?
Islam survives, perhaps, only because of its ferocious penalties against apostasy. These penalties are illegal.
What then happens when the trickle of apostates becomes a torrent and then a flood? Here it might be scary, with a low intensity civil war running throughout Europe - to end, of course, in the eventual collapse of Islam.
I am ready to allow the author's vision of the future to be more probable than mine. (After all, he went to the trouble of writing this excellent book.) But predictions about the future are almost always wrong, as has been shown time and time again. Caldwell is excellent on recent history. On the future, no futurologist is to be trusted.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 1, 2013 7:37 PM GMT


Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear
Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear
by Dan Gardner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars safer than we think, but more boring too, 2 July 2010
I bought this book thinking it might be about risk, and how to measure it. Well, more fool me.
In fact it's a political tract which argues that we panic about things which are really insignificant dangers. Perhaps with the turning of the millennium we have all grown up enough to realise that there aren't paedophiles lurking at the bottom of the garden any more than there are fairies. Or perhaps not. According to Gardner the media and government are infested with infantile fears propagated to keep the populace in a permanent state of compliance to wars, CCTV, school gate X ray machines and so on.
This is Aunt Sally stuff and while it's well done, and I thoroughly agree with it, it does get wearisome. Pick up the book again and you don't need to find your place: the barrage of statistics just keeps coming. Oddly, Gardner does not consider the two biggest "risks" (or not?) that preoccupy us today: global warming and financial meltdown.
Why not? I suspect it's because, behind all the bluster and anecdotes, there's no actual maths here. (Some readers may be grateful.) Gardner is good at the one in a million stuff, but is hopelessly lost as soon as it comes to distinguishing between independent and conditional risks (the Roy Meadow error, let's call it) let alone the more difficult stuff.
Try this: You have 365 people in a room. Is it certain that one of them was born on the 4th of July? If not, why not, and what are the actual odds?
Yes it's difficult, but it's doable. And I don't think the author (trained as a lawyer, so I'd better be careful) quite can.


Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)
Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)
by William Poundstone
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars worth the money, 2 July 2010
William Poundstone has been mining the weirder reaches of reality since Malcolm Gladwell was in short trousers. If you like Gladwell and you can't wait for his next, try this for a treat. It's well written, better sourced and does have some real life lessons.
Poundstone begins with the usual fare for this kind of book. A trip through modern psychology and behavioural economics. So far so interesting, but if you've heard it before... well it can get a bit repetitive. Never fear, the second half of the book takes real life cases such as internet pricing, menu design, anchoring (the best but grossly overpriced and the worst but unbelievably cheap items bracketing... you guessed it .... the thing I want you to buy.
Poundstone has a dry wit and the book is often nearly laugh out loud funny. I don't know if this is deliberate or not, but he also wrote an excellent biography of one of the fathers of the atom bomb, which I still refer to from time to time. Prisoner's Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory and the Puzzle of the Bomb I'd recommend that as well


Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation
Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation
by E Chancellor
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars available on amazon.fr, 9 May 2010
A fool and his money are easily parted. This is a history of speculative foolishness worthy to stand beside the classic texts of Kindleberger (Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises and Mackay Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Wordsworth Reference).
It's a good thing to part fools from their money, of course. How else is the efficient allocation of capital to be achieved? But reading this book, full of the richest fools, the brightest brains of Wall Street and academe, one wonders how there can be any money left. Chancellor has a brilliant ear for the telling anecdote, and his range is vast.
This book was published in 1999. It's not out of date, and an account of the shenanigans of 2000 to 2010 would be merely to reprise themes already adequately discussed in the history of the tulip bubble, the Wall Street crash, and so forth. Bubbles inflate for the same reasons (and with the same misperceptions of value) and their pricking is identical (people wake up).
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. And I can't understand why it is unavailable on amazon UK. Get it from France and pay the VAT and postage - it's worth it.


Risk
Risk
by John Adams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £31.03

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars no statistical knowledge required, 3 April 2010
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This review is from: Risk (Paperback)
This book has been out for quite a while, and I have little to add to the previous reviews.
I would encourage you to read it, especially if you have no previous statistical training. There is very little math, and while some of the concepts are at first hard to grasp, Adams' style is always clear, never patronising and he rarely lapses into the professional jargon that disfigures more technical tomes.

If you've ever played backgammon, you'll understand Adams' notion of risk compensation. If you are unsurprised that young men in slow cars pay higher insurance premiums than older women in fast cars then you have already understood the concept of the risk thermostat.
These two concepts, plus a somewhat reductive typology of personalities, form the basis of the discussion, and show why most risk modelling is tripe.

The book was published over a decade ago. Since its appearance, there has been an explosion of research into risk, much of it funded by banks. Has any of this research yielded greater security for the banks that funded it? I wonder.


Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
by Daniel R. Headrick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £48.95

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Guns, germs and landscape, 31 Mar. 2010
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This is a history of European colonial expansion. With several centuries and continents to cover the story is inevitably broader than it is deep. Nevertheless, the author is always interesting and sometimes fascinating.
Jared Diamond's bestseller "Guns, germs and steel" covered much the same ground, but IMHO this is a better and better balanced book. Headrick emphasises the reverses as well as the successes, which give the lie to the idea of "manifest destiny" underlying Diamond's view of history. Disease resistance (or not) played as large a role in the advance of the frontier as military prowess, and many peoples adapted their tactics in war to hold the European invaders in check for upwards of three hundred years.
Headrick contrasts the rapid collapse of centralised states (the Aztecs, the Inca) with more "primitive" polities such as the plains Indians or the Auricanians in South America or the Afghans. He does not enlarge on an implicit question: were these indigenous success stories due also to the nature of the landscape? After all, indigenous empire builders must also have tried before, and failed.
One other small caveat, which naturally Headrick barely mentions. Overseas expansion was always seen by the Euopean powers as a side show. Their focus was always on Europe. So the Indian empire developed "in a fit of absent-mindedness" and not as a pre-ordained expansionary policy maintained over centuries. It might just look that way in hindsight. In fact, European governments more often acted as a brake on expansion. The role (mostly merciful) of the Jesuits is insufficiently applauded. The desire of the British crown that the American colonists contribute to their own security was perfectly reasonable, yet their refusal to pay tax created the US. The UK, meanwhile, didn't care enough to defeat the rebels.
Reading (and writing) history, it is easy to slip into the mind-set of the "just so" story. Just because it turned out that way does not mean it was planned or had to turn out that way, as Headrick acknowledges. European expansion was down to some pretty ripe individuals. Cortes would have been court martialled and hanged without his stunning victory. Clive of India started out as a clerk with few prospects, became a dab hand at training and bribing indians, won perhaps the most one-sided victory in history and retired, not to India, but to swank about the Home Counties as the first "nabob". Even the adventurers had their eyes firmly fixed on home.
This is a good book, easy to read and enjoyable. Its limitations are inherent in its subject. It could do with a few more maps, so keep an atlas handy to enhance your enjoyment.


Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia
Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia
by Francis Wheen
Edition: Hardcover

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes the Soviets seem sane., 23 Oct. 2009
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At a safe distance, we can laugh at this history. If everyone had known at the time what Francis Wheen reveals of the time we would all have had a nervous breakdown. Our rulers seem to have been mad, bad and (given that they had their fingers on the nuclear button) very dangerous indeed.
Wheen has taken advantage of the deaths of most of the main actors to expose some previously libelous truths. Whether his seventies history would be as mad if extended beyond 1976 or not depends perhaps on whether some of the late seventies figures are still alive.
Of those who are dead, we know that Nixon was a paranoiac drunk, Heath an imbecile, Wilson a fruitcake, the leader of the largest UK trade union a soviet agent... All good rollicking stuff! Great laughs - at a distance.
You'll read this book at a sitting or two. Then you'll want more. Wheen's other stuff is good too:How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern DelusionsHoo-hahs and Passing Frenzies His book on Marx has been highly praised by non_Marxists, and though I've not read it that's good enough for me, but I can't find the link. Can it be that the British are so bored with Socialism that Marx is out of print?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 5, 2009 6:01 AM GMT


Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922 - The Destruction of Islam's City of Tolerance
Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922 - The Destruction of Islam's City of Tolerance
by Giles Milton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

12 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the first 20th century "ethnic cleansing"?, 22 Oct. 2009
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Fans of Giles Milton's previous work will be pleased to see that he has lost nothing of his narrative drive and descriptive flair. However,here the subject matter is darker, and you need a strong stomach to read the second half of the book. Also, Milton (presumably no relation) needed to do a bit more research for this than previous works because the issue is still controversial. (He still didn't do enough, to judge by some comments.)
Smyrna (modern Izmir) was probably the richest and most cosmopolitan city in the Levant. Amazingly, despite its large population of British, Italian, French, Jewish and Armenian citizens, it was largely unscathed by WW1.
Then came the peace talks and the demands of the Italians, the opportunism of the Greeks and the deviousness of Lloyd George. The Greeks invaded, lost, and retreated to Smyrna along with a huge refugee population.
Mustapha Kemal (later Ataturk) led his troops into the city, and order broke down. (The Greek army had evacuated without a formal surrender and without helping their countrymen.)
As many as 500,000 refugees ended crammed into the port under the helpless or indifferent eyes of the allies in their warships. Then the fires were set.
The city burned, hundreds of thousands lost their lives, some people behaved heroically, most behaved abominably. Kemal spent the time chatting with his general staff, drinking raki and conducting a love affair.
The fire started in the (already pillaged) Armenian quarter. It is standard Turkish history to say that the Armenians started it.
Peace was achieved by the exchange of Greek and Turkish populations amounting to more than a million (of those who survived). The fate of the Jews, the Armenians, etc. is recorded elsewhere. The fate of Izmir is to be ADB, the airport you go to for a cheap package holiday.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 27, 2012 10:02 AM BST


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