on 26 November 2002
If you area contemporary of Kate Adie and grew up in England in the 50s and 60s you will relate to much in this book - from the overhang of WW II, to dreary council estates and pirate radio. But it is from about 1970 that your world and that of Kate Adie will probably diverge. Kate takes us through an incredible journey of local radio and TV, ultimately reporting from many of the world's major trouble spots. Of course if you live in England you know her well. If, like me, you've lived overseas for the past twenty years you have probably never heard of her.
Her book is a gripping behind the scenes look at how the news is made and the risks and sacrifices that someone with a seemingly glamorous job has to make - including 3 bullet wounds. It is somewhat disconcerting to realize that the reporters can sometimes be in greater danger than the military - at least the latter are trained and have weapons to defend themselves.
Early on in the book Kate tries a little too hard to be witty and amusing in just about every sentence - but this becomes less noticeable and irritating as the action moves to the streets of Belfasts or Sarajevo.
Although it is an autobiography, Kate reveals practically nothing of her personal life - the odd mention of a boyfriend or a family gathering. Perhaps she intended it that way, or perhaps her work is her life.
In the final chapter she summarizes the changes occurring in TV news - instant satellite pictures, dumbed down chatty shows etc. Much different from her hey day of lying in a trench somewhere with bullets wizzing overhead. She cannot resist the odd jibe but the punches seem to be pulled.
She makes much of the difficulties of succeeding in a man's world .. where women were once regarded as best suited to cover flower shows and cooking programs. Most of the men who seem to have given her a hard time, particularly early on in her career, are probably still drinking in the pub. She has beaten them all.
You'll never think of a live report from Iraq or Indonesia or Bosnia the same way again after you read this book.
on 4 December 2004
When I was 19 and a naive and carefree student, I had an older boyfriend of 25 who had just come out of the army. He used to tease me about my privileged lifestyle, and told me that when he was 19, he had been serving in Northern Ireland. A woman once came up to him and demanded to know what he was doing in her town guarding a checkpoint with a gun. 'It made me think,' he said. That story is one thing that helped me understand the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The other is a chapter headed 'Northern Ireland Perhaps' in this book.
Reporter Kate Adie describes the horrors of this war which, according to the BBC, should not be called a war. Her Northern Ireland is populated by grey-faced people who hate each other, '...a mass of badly nourished bags of nerves'. She tells of fights breaking out at funerals, of riots stopping dead because a Glasgow Rangers match was about to start. Of bleach thrown at soldiers, of soldiers sweeping ornaments from a woman's mantelpiece.
She recounts how her career took her from local radio where there was some question as to whether anybody was listening; to Libya, where someone was listening even when she wasn't on air - if you wanted room service, the best way to get it was to ring London and complain about how slow it was.
As with many autobiographies of women doing traditional men's work, the personal details were fascinating - the anecdote about what happened to the grubby tabloid hack going through her tent while she was reporting the first Gulf War was particularly good. This book also shows clearly that our Kate can use her elbows and fists if she has to. However, the book gave the impression of a very private woman - she drops hints about 'above average shopping' and singing and sailing and finding her biological mother, and then clams right up again. I wanted to stop her and ask for more - but that's better, I suppose, than wishing she would shut up.
I found this book badly edited. Possibly, the publishers were too scared of her to curb the sheer joy of a woman used to reporting in three-minute segments suddenly released into 400 pages. It is certainly very chatty and immediate, but a bit of careful red pen work would have tightened it up.
Read this book:
* if you want to work for the BBC
* if you want to be a journalist
* if you are a news junkie
* if you want to know what really happened in Libya, Northern Ireland and Kuwait
* if you admire Kate Adie's work
on 19 August 2003
The world is not short of books of memoirs by journalists, but this is one of the best.
About her early career in local radio, Adie is screamingly funny. Not in an arch, here comes the next anecdote, sort of way, but in the dead pan style of Three Men in a Boat - one thing happened, and then another, and the next, apparently not noticing that the reader is rocking with laughter.
When she gets to her later career in TV News, the laughs disappear, because this is serious stuff. She is very illuminating about the differencec between the news as the journalist sees it, and how it ends up on our TV screens. She has been to many of the big news events of the last twenty years , and this book gives a new insight into most of them.
You don't see much of Kate Adie in this - you see what she saw. But what she saw is fascinating - and extremely well written.
on 2 December 2002
The Kindness of Strangers is the autobiography of Kate Adie.
Kate Adie is widely regarded in the UK as one of the countries most fearless and respected journalists. She has worked in warzones from Belfast to Beijing and Bosnia to Basra.
I read this book with awe. It covers her life from the age of 12 in Newcastle, where she claims she was a painfully shy girl; and her eventual and almost accidental career with the BBC, first in local radio and then through regional TV, before her eventual rise to international fame reporting from some of the most dangerous and lethal troublespots on the planet.
The most appealing thing about this book is the way she describes her various adventures with considerable self-depricating good humour and a raconteurs eye for detail. Yet through the jokes you see touches of the steel and fire that make her such an outstanding correspondent - her determination to not just get the story but to get the story right, regardless of the risks whether dodging bullets on the streets of Beijing or with the British Army in Iraq.
This is without a doubt one of the funniest and most entertaining reads of the year. And yet it is also a touching and intimate prortrait. Highly reccomended.
on 18 October 2003
I'd always liked Kate Adie and while I don't feel as if I actually know her any better after reading this book, I now not only like her, but I admire her immensely. This book drew me in from the start. I was fascinated by the way her career just sort of 'happened' and how she coped with and, mainly, conquered the ingrained bigotry and sexism of the late 60's and 70's to get where she is. That she still has to deal with it now is depressing, what male reporter would be criticized for his grooming and dress while in the middle of combat?
The book goes from light relief, Royal visits to India, to her passionate anger at the atrocities visited upon the Chinese students and demonstrators in Tinanamen Square, I think it is the lies and the cover up of facts by the Chinese Government that anger her more than anything. We also get a very balanced account of Northern Island. She provides evidence of the bigotry, hatred, and incessant intolerance that is an everyday fact of life there, but she balances it with kindness from strangers. She also provides evidence of the huge gulf between how the rest of Britain views Northern Island and how they view themselves.
The most surreal account was of her time in Libya. It beggars belief that a country can be almost run at the whim of one man, but that is how it seems. She also shows the futility of raining bombs on a country such as Libya. All the USA managed to do was to reinforce Colonel Gaddafi status in his people's eyes.
I was also taken by the sheer arrogance, intolerance and hostility of Saudi Arabia. Religious zealots constantly harassed and attacked woman soldiers, and reporters while billeted on Saudi Arabain soil during the 1991 Gulf War because they were 'women' and therefore inferior despite the fact they were there defending their big oil rich country. Her story of the University Lecturer who was shot by her father because she took advantage of the way the International News was in her country and demonstrated with like minded women by 'illegally' driving alone, shocked me. Women in Saudi Arabia must be driven by male drivers and are spied on and unable to conduct almost any aspect of life without male permission. Why does our government supports this intolerant and nasty regime?
Kate Adie held up recent history before me and taught me much about the histories, and the resultant mind sets, of people such as the Serbians, Bosnian, Croats etc. It made it easier to understand how the conflict was almost inevitable, without ever offering any excuse for it.
I believe that Kate is writing another book, I for one will look forward to reading it.
on 25 December 2002
I have a lot of respect for Kate Adie and this book does not diminsh it. There are some very powerful chapters on Tianenmen Square, The Gulf War etc but did I really feel I knew much more about her as a person as a result? No. This is more a series of work anecdotes than an insight into Kate Adie and what makes her tick - very impersonal. Probably better titled Kate Adie's Career. Took me quite a while to get in to this but it gets better as it goes along.
on 22 February 2004
Kate Adie is, of course, very well known in the UK for always being in the thick of the action. Here she tells us what it is like behind the scenes, what she saw but could not adequately report (had to report facts, not emotions). Adie takes us through war zones, earthquake ruins, royal tours and massacres. She is human and recounts events that have moved her whilst regaling us with stories of journalistic incompetence (hers and others). It is reassuring to know she is fallible and is not afraid to tell us about her mistakes. The major events are not always covered chronologically which can be confusing and there is very little reference to a personal life, which is intriguing. She may have preferred not to reveal such details but you are left wondering how did she maintain relationships whilst stuck in the desert or dodging sniper fire? You know she is adopted and discovered her biological mother, but you get no details. She only mentions briefly her childhood and her student days, before she moves onto life in local radio.
The first and last chapters of the book are very odd. In the first she comes across as quite arrogant and the last (a postscript) she appears to want to teach us about how broadcasting and reporting have changed in recent years.
This should not to detract from the rest of the book, which is first class. Describing how her and her crew were befriended by locals in unusual circumstances, such as the family that were homeless after the Armenian earthquake offering them half their meagre supper without a second thought, which prompted the title of this book. Her human, compassionate interpretation can be very moving, yet uplifting, but does not detract from the events themselves. Anecdotes about journalists falling into trenches, going to the toilet in the desert with 2000 men and shoe shopping in Beirut keep us amused also.
I would highly recommend this book to biography fans as well as those with an interest in current affairs.
on 18 February 2004
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is completely packed full of work related memories and stories, some very funny, others very sad. It not only makes you appreciate the country you live in but also the extent that journalists go to just to provide the rest of us with up-to-date information.
I finished the book wishing I knew more about Kate Adie as well as her work. From looking at the photographs I was desperate to know more about her family and her personal life. Still, the book never claimed to cover those things, so there is certainly nothing to complain about, it was great.
on 21 November 2002
If you want to read about Kate Adie's private life, this is not the place to do it; she gives very little away. This book reveals an attitude: the ingredient that has made her standout in her career. There is a timmidity in her writing that people who have heard stories about the great woman would suspect to be false, but as the book continues the reader cannot help but like this character and it becomes impossible to think it anything other than genuine.
Colourful annecdotes and rare insight into the major events of the past two decades give the reader an entertaining and enlightenning account of life in the real world. Unlike many of her equals, there is no male bravado to contend with in this autobiography, just humanity.
on 8 February 2012
Oh dear! I am saddened to say that this is one of the worst books I have read for a very long time. Indeed I struggled to get through it and it has taken me an inordinately long time to read it.
I expected to find the person behind the composed exterior that we saw regularly standing in war torn areas across the globe. But just who Kate Adie is really we never learn. Autobiographical in the true sense this is not.
The first few chapters, indeed almost a third of the book recount Kate's childhood, early days in radio and transition to television and standing in front of the camera. This is told in a gung-ho, jolly hockey sticks, isn't this all great fun, way. When you read it, you think all right but what is going on underneath the surface.
The later section of the book recounts some of the major events that she has covered, including her stint reporting from Northern Ireland, Libya, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, the Iranian Embassy siege and Tiananmen Square, Beijing, amongst others. In each case we get the background to how tough it is to report in these situations, plus some of what is actually happening. But the background to the conflict is often given only a cursory explanation. I just could not help thinking the whole way through, that these accounts had been written by another journalist, the writing would have been so much more engaging. For example when I read John Simpsons' `A Mad World, My Masters: Tales From a Traveller's Life ISBN-10:0330355678 I was thoroughly engaged.
Kate makes it clear that she hates journalists / reporters who stand in front of a camera and say what they feel about a situation. She bemoans the switch that has happened in this century to the way in which news is reported in an altogether more personalised way, rather than simply recounting events as they have unfolded.
Not surprising then that this extends to her personal life and her inability or aversion to tell us the feelings that she has felt in her life about people who she has been close to and personal events in her life. We have no clue as to who she has and is close to, although the book does contain a photograph of her and her new found birth family, (Kate was an adopted child). However, she tells us absolutely nothing of her personal journey in finding her natural mother and meeting her for the first time. This whole life changing episode is reduced to about two lines in the postscript!
In short, for me, reading this book was like walking through treacle. I believe a lot of people would be disappointed by this book.