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Posts about book-reviews (old posts, page 36)

Autobiography

Autobiography

Morrissey

2013


Not a charming man.

I'm a Smiths fan, which at some level makes me a Morrissey fan ipso facto. And some of the poetic writing in this book is sublime, full of insight and inspiration. But the person looking out of the pages is the most ungracious, self-indulgent version of himself it's possible to imagine. From the mean streets of Manchester, through the roller-coaster ride of the Smiths, and then to court and a solo career, few people emerge unscathed, thanked, or even broadly acknowledged as helpers or influences.

I grew up not far away from Morrissey, in space and time, and I recognise a lot of his criticisms of Northern England in the 70's and 80's: he and I actually met once on the streets of Gorton in the mid 80's. But there's something compellingly surreal about his self-image as a tortured and mis-understood artist whose project is repeatedly sabotaged. None of the Smiths' records seem to be mixed to his tastes, although he was there and exercised at least a measure of control; no interviews went well, although they were more co-ordinated than spontaneous. He seems to see his solo career as a zenith, although I suspect most of his fans are waiting more or less impatiently for Smiths riffs and flashes of past insights. And I think he may know that at some level: there are lines from Smiths lyrics thrown in at strategic points of the story, as jewels for those in the know.

2/5. Finished 22 May 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

German Secret Weapons of the Second World War: The Missiles, Rockets, Weapons and New Technology of the Third Reich

German Secret Weapons of the Second World War: The Missiles, Rockets, Weapons and New Technology of the Third Reich

Ian V. Hogg

1999


A somewhat-more-technical-than-expected look at Nazi secret weapons programmes. Having said that, it does give some surprising insights into topics that most people (and definitely me) won't have thought of before, like different designs for fuses. I suspect most people will find the chapter on the V-weapons the most interesting, but for me it was run to a close second my the chapter on artillery, which ranges from rail guns for attacking fixed fortification, through long-range bombardment cannons, to taper-bore light anti-tank weapons. Not exactly light reading, but informative about topics most histories treat as unimportant.

3/5. Finished 09 May 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Dreyfus Affair: The Story of the Most Infamous Miscarriage of Justice in French History

The Dreyfus Affair: The Story of the Most Infamous Miscarriage of Justice in French History

Piers Paul Read

2012


An excellent telling of one of the strangest, most influential, and least remembered judicial-political scandals of the 19th century. Read deftly navigates the twists and turns of "The Affair", as it became known, with its cast of shady characters, officers, politicians, forgers, and spies.

It's an anti-Semitism that comes across most shockingly, letters-to-the-editor type abuses of Jews that would be unsurprising in a history of Nazi Germany but are unexpectedly vehement in a history of France. It serves as a reminder that anti-Semitism was a force across the continent in the early years of the 20th century, and Read traces many of the effects that it had on the conduct of both World Wars. Altogether a fascinating read.

4/5. Finished 29 April 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Hidden Persuaders

The Hidden Persuaders

Vance Packard

1957


The classic exposé of advertising. In many ways this book remains fresh, perhaps because of the popularity of Mad Men in bringing 50's advertising culture back to prominence. In others, it hasn't aged well and is clearly a product of its time. If you can get back the casual sexism and references to tobacco's "cancer scare", however, it's still a great read.

I found it impossible to read this book without thinking of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, another exploration of how to affect people's behaviour "for their own good". It's hard to decide which is more insidious. While advertising has undoubtedly had long-term effects on our behaviour in the half-century since Packard wrote, it's also true that many of the techniques being espoused are now so obvious that they've ceased to be effective: I sometimes wonder whether advertising now almost has to be ironic just to get past people's media filters. As a thoughtful introduction from a time just starting to show the complexities of the modern world, though, this book is hard to beat.

3/5. Finished 24 April 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

A Brief History of the Great Moghuls

A Brief History of the Great Moghuls

Bamber Gascoigne

1971


An excellent brief history of India's most dramatic rulers.

Two elements really stand out. The first is the Gascoigne is an excellent art historian, able to put the architecture of the Moghuls into perspective and sometimes rejecting the conventional readings of the various buildings. Secondly, he highlights some of the facets of "harem culture" that seem incomprehensible to modern readers, the influence of sequestered wives, favourites, and concubines on their emperors.

Actually there's a third element worth noting. Perhaps cleaving to the "brief" part of the title, Gascoigne leaves off his history halfway through what would conventionally be regarded as the lifespan of the Moghuls, stopping with the death of Aurangzeb. He covers the lives of six great Moghuls and relegates the final eleven to an epilogue, considering that their influence and grandeur waned so fast that they cannot stand next to their great forbears. This certainly demonstrates enviable confidence from an author, but it's impossible not to agree that Gascoigne's brevity keeps the drama and excitement of the earlier history intact and vibrant.

4/5. Finished 18 April 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)