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Make of it what you will
on 1 May 2009
Baker is an American novelist who previously specialised in deliciously filthy books like "Vox" and "The Fermata", but here turns his hand to non-fiction, with a history of the 1930s and early 40s, showing the apparently inexorable drift towards totalitarianism and world war. It's a very easy read, eschewing the usual narrative in favour of two or three "soundbites" per page, each with a sort of "countdown clock" - "It was January 30th, 1933", "It was September 1st, 1939", and so on (to be honest, this device begins to get irritating after a while; a simple dateline would have sufficed).
He does make a number of irritating errors of detail (you can tell he's not a professional historian), and the events chosen are - by their very nature - selective. This tends to give a somewhat distorted view of events, and if you're not already familiar with the period you might find yourself thinking "Hang on - how did THAT suddenly happen?"
Perhaps we are supposed to be shocked to learn that Winston Churchill was a belligerent pragmatist, or that Roosevelt deliberately provoked the Japanese in order to assure America's entry into the war. To anyone who has studied this period at all this is hardly news.
As to Mr Baker's avowal that the American pacificts and anti-interventionists "were right", you must make up your own mind.
Despite these reservations, the book still has a "page turner" effect, with much food for thought for the international realpolitik of the present day.
Worth reading, but not the full picture, not by a long way.