Recent Reading 16

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books, listed in reverse chronological order.

  • Leo McKinstry [2019]:  Attlee and Churchill: Allies in War, Adversaries in Peace.
  • Isidor F Stone [1947, this edition 2015]:  Underground to Palestine: And Other Writing on Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East (Editor: Mark Crispin Miller).  A superb first-hand account of the Bricha (or Bericha) Movement, the Jewish underground railroad in Europe immediately following WW II, spiriting Jews from the USSR and Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, to the Middle East.  For most people this was illegal, and was completed against a British blockade of Palestine.  In Stone’s account, Czechoslovakia was the most friendly of the EE governments towards Jewish citizens and displaced persons in transit. (HT: JG)
  • Lawrence Weschler [2019]: And How are You, Dr Sacks? A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks. A fascinating account from a long-term personal friend of this complex, multi-faceted man. I once wrote to Sacks about what I considered to be a mistake in one of his books (describing how he thought people recognized faces), and he replied thoughtfully. This was long before I knew of his prosopagnosia, and I now realize that his mistaken description may have arisen from his own inability in facial recognition.
  • Thomas J Chermack [2017]: Foundations of Scenario Planning: The Story of Pierre Wack. The very interesting biography of spiritual seeker Pierre Wack and the history of his role in the development of scenario planning at Shell from the late 1960s.
  • Stephen Hough [2019]: Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More.
  • Michael Mueller [2007]:  Canaris:  The Life and Death of Hitler’s Spymaster.
  • Richard M Nixon [1962]: Six Crises.
  • William Cook (Editor) [2010]: Kiss Me, Chudleigh: The World According to Auberon Waugh.
  • Anthony Seldon [2019]: May at 10. After reading this account, I was somewhat more sympathetic towards Mrs May, knowing more about her predicament and her constraints as PM. On the other hand, she does seem an insufferably awful person, completely unable to empathize with people who are not daughters of Bishops from the Home Counties.

    For instance, I did not know before of the various exigencies of her Brexit travel and meetings around the night of the Grenfell Tower fire. Still, these constraints do not excuse her failure to visit the site without delay. Even having just gone to bed after a quick trip to Brussels (as she had) a few hours before the fire, Tony Blair or David Cameron or even Margaret Thatcher would have got up again in the early hours and gone to the site as soon they were awoken with the news. Even Gordon Brown or John Major, if they’d not been woken at 3am, would have gone there the very first thing the next morning. Only someone severely lacking in human understanding and having no political nous would have delayed visiting for several days, as she did. It ill behooves her and always will.

    May is also revealed as inept in her negotiations with the EU over Brexit, encumbered as she was by the character defects she had exhibited as Home Secretary: wilful stubbornness (as in her irrational refusal to remove University students from the Immigration statistics); extreme secrecy; and a recalcitrant refusal to learn. Added to these defects was an ignorance and lack of interest in Europe and its institutions, and an ignorance and lack of interest in business and finance.

    She reminds me immensely of one of those puritannical spinsters who administered the backwaters of nineteenth century British life, women such as Anne Moberly, first Principal of St Hugh’s College, Oxford (and daughter of a Bishop). May’s most enduring legacy will be the Windrush Scandal, where the hostile-environment policy she created and implemented at the Home Office destroyed the lives of hundreds of law-abiding British citizens. For that vile policy she has generously managed to ensure others have received most of the blame.

  • Henry Hemming [2019]: Our Man in New York: The British Plot to bring America into the Second World War. A fascinating account of fake news and deception campaign run by a government aiming to influence political events in a foreign country.
  • Brian Abrams [2018]: Obama: An Oral History.
  • Patrick Cunnane [2018]: West Winging It: My Unforgettable Time in the White House. Chatty and unpleasant.
  • Steve Vogel [2019]: Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War’s Most Audacious Espionage Operation.  Riveting account of the Berlin tunnel operation.
  • Graeme Skinner [2007]:  Peter Sculthorpe: The Making of an Australian Composer.  Led to this by the biography of Peggy Glanville-Hicks (below).  Only covers the first part of  his adult life.
  • Suzanne Robinson [2019]:  Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Composer and Critic.  What a fascinating life she had, and seemed to know everyone. Reading about and listening to her music, I realize her main structural technique was ethnomusical collage.  Interesting, and often very pretty, but, like theme-and-variations form, ultimately shallow. 
  • David Cameron [2019]:  For the Record.
  • George Ferguson Bowen [1850/]: Ithaca in 1850. Second Edition. Bowen [1821-1899], twice President of the Oxford Union, was President of the Ionian University in Corfu from 1847-1851, and then was Chief Secretary to the Government of the United States of the Ionian Islands from 1854-1859.  While serving in that latter post, he married Contessa Diamantina di Roma, daughter of the President of the Ioanian Senate. Bowen was then appointed founding Governor of Queensland from 1859 to 1868.
  • Nick Thorpe [2015]: ’89: The Unfinished Revolution.
  • Michael Meyer [2010]: The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Peter Millar [2016]: 1989: The Berlin Wall: My Part in its Downfall. Books to read on the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall. I recall the excitement of those end-of-days vividly.
  • Sandra V. Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille [2012]: Circle of Treason: CIA Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed.  A very good account from two of the team who identified and caught Ames.
  • Duncan White [2019]:  Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War.  Fascinating and gossipy, although I had picked up much of it before.
  • Robyn Arianrhod [2019]: Thomas Harriot: A Life in Science.  Harriot was a remarkable person and deserves a respectful and learned biography.  This book is not it, because the author does not understand the extent to which a modern, secular, anti-religious scientific worldview was alien to Harriot’s time (and even to Newton’s time, a century later).  Harriot may or may not have been an atheist, but he certainly wasn’t a modern, secular scientist.  In her attempt to assert that he was, the book comes across as very anachronistic, and she fails to enter into or evoke his time and worldview. The book is much more a product of her time than of Harriot’s.  
  • Miranda Carter [2001]: Anthony Blunt: His Lives.
  • Edward Snowden [2019]: Permanent Record.  Superb. My respect for this very courageous and intelligent man continues to grow apace.
  • Karen Olsson [2019]: The Weil Conjectures: On Maths and the Pursuit of the Unknown.  A book about pure mathematics by a non-mathematician.  Not as good as she thinks it is.
  • Blaine Harden [2018]: King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea.  A biography of Donald Nichols, one of the stranger people, of the many very strange people, to end up as an intelligence officer.
  • Gordon Thomas [2003]:  Assassination Robert Maxwell:  Israel’s Superspy.   A compelling case for Cap’n Bob being a long-term informant for Israeli intelligence and for his corrupt involvement with money-laundering schemes of communist Eastern European leaders (particularly the regime of Todor Zhikov in Bulgaria).   A less compelling case is presented that Maxwell was assassinated by Israeli agents.  But who of us knows?
  • Tom Bower [2019]:  Dangerous Hero: Corbyn‘s Ruthless Plot for Power.  The Dear Leader comes off very badly in this account.  First, his one experience of actual executive power (in local government) showed him to be inept, ideological and recalcitrant.  As most others with close experience of him recount, he is not very bright, learns nothing, and almost never changes his mind.  Second, what precisely DID he do in those missing months after the early finish of his VSO service in Jamaica before his return to the UK?  Was he being trained at a revolutionary camp in Cuba?  Bumming across the USA?  Working on Wall Street?   Third, is Dianne Abbot still sitting in his office chair when he is away from his desk?
  • Ross McMullin [2005]:  So Monstrous A Travesty: Chris Watson and the World’s First National Labor Government.  Australia’s third Prime Minister (and the only one so far who was born in Chile).
  • Tim Parks [2005]: Medici Money:  Banking, Metaphysics and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence.  A fascinating multi-disciplinary account of the Medici banking dynasty.
  • Mungo MacCallum [2009]:  Kevin Rudd and the Lucky Country. Quarterly Essay 36 Australian Story.
  • Mungo MacCallum [2014]:  The Whitlam Mob.
  • Norman Moss [1987]: Klaus Fuchs: The Man Who Stole the Atom Bomb.
  • Steven Pfaff  [2006]: Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany: The Crisis of Leninism and the Revolution of 1989. (HT: OK)
  • George Packer [2019]:  Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century.  This is a superb account, effectively combining detailed political and historical analysis with personal knowledge of Holbrooke.

    It is sad to see that the lessons of Vietnam were deliberately and wittingly ignored by Obama and most of his foreign policy team. I was reminded of Susan Sontag’s statement after 9/11 that “America has lost her innocence. But don’t worry, we will get it back. We always do.”

    The only flaw of this book, a serious flaw and making for unpleasant reading, is a discussion of Holbrooke’s sex life. Although Holbrooke himself seems to be someone I would have been unlikely to have warmed to, no true friend, as Packer claims to have been, would write or publish such a discussion.

  • Gordon Corera [2018]:  The Illegal:  The Hunt for a Russan Spy in Post-War London.  The story of Gordon Lonsdale, aka Konon Molody.
  • Morris Dickstein [2002]:  Leopards in the Temple: The Transformation of American Fiction 1945-1970.
  • Jeremy Duns [2013]:  Dead Drop: The True Story of Oleg Penkovsky and the Cold War’s Most Dangerous Operation.
  • Jeremy Duns [2019]: A Spy Is Born: Dennis Wheatley and the Secret Roots of Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
  • John Earl Haynes [1999]:  Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America.
  • Evan Ratliff [2019]: The Mastermind: The Hunt for the World’s Most Prolific Criminal.  The intriguing story of white Zimbabwean Paul Le Roux, who may also be Satoshi Nakamoto.  If only he’d been satisfied with the vast profits from online sales of legal drugs in the USA. 
  • Roy A. Medvedev [1989]:  Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism.
  • Aino Kuusinen [1974]:  Before and After Stalin: A Personal Account of Soviet Russia from the 1920s to the 1960s.  A fascinating autobiography of someone who had an interesting life near to the top  of Soviet politics, was the second wife of Otto Kuusinen and knew Victor Sorge in Japan.
  • Roy A Medvedev and Zhores A Medvedev [1976]:  Khrushchev: The Years in Power.  From this account, Krushchev was undone by his idiosyncratic and impulsive decision-making style, and his failure to ensure his continued support from the apparatchiks.
  • Zhores A Medvedev [1983]: Andropov:  An Insider’s Account of Power and Politics within the Kremlin. This biography and the one by both brothers on Krushchev are both superbly well-written (and/or translated) in a fine literary style.  A great pleasure to read, as well as interesting and very informative. 
  • Chris Smith [2019]:  The Last Cambridge Spy: John Cairncross, Bletchley Codebreaker and Soviet Double Agent.
  • Jon Davis and John Rentoul [2019]:  Heroes or Villains? The Blair Government Reconsidered.
  • Owen Matthews [2019]: An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent.

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