Recent Reading 19

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

  • Stephen Clingman [2018]: Bram Fischer – Afrikaner Revolutionary. Jacana Media. An account of the fascinating life of Bram Fischer, scion of Afrikanerdom (grandson of the only Prime Minister of the Orange River Colony, son of a Judge-President of the Orange Free State, married to a niece of Jan Smuts), Nelson’s Mandela’s lawyer, and fellow member of the SACP. // Nice to read of three people I have been privileged to have known: Anthony Eastwood, Pat Davidson and Hugh Lewin.
  • Donald Sinden [1986]: Laughter in the Second Act. Futura. More of the same, although fewer anecdotes than in the first volume.
  • Donald Sinden [1982]: A Touch of the Memoirs. Hodder & Stoughton. An amusing collection of theatrical anecdotes.
  • Halik Kochanski [2022]: Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-1945. Penguin. A fascinating account of many different aspects of the resistances movements across Europe. Nazi colonizers established a great variety of regimes in the countries they occupied, from seemingly-tolerant quasi-self government in Denmark through to obliteration of all public administration, civil society, education and culture in Poland. It helped if you looked Aryan. As a result of this diversity of over-rule, resistance activities also varied greatly in scope, reach and intensity.//The reading needed, in multiple languages, to write such a book as this is immensely impressive.
  • Richard Crossman (Editor) and Louis Fischer, André Gide, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Stephen Spender and Richard Wright (Contributors) [1950]: The God that Failed: Six Studies in Communism. Hamish Hamilton. I first read this book in 1981, borrowed from the library of the house I was staying at, in Maasdorp Avenue, Alexandra Park, Harare (then Salisbury), Zimbabwe.
  • John Pomfret [2021]: From Warsaw with Love: Polish Spies, the CIA, and the Forging of an Unlikely Alliance. Henry Holt & Co. An interesting account of espionage competition and collaboration between the USA and Poland, from the 1970s onwards. As the Iron Curtain fell, Poland became a very close supporter and collaborator in espionage and special forces operations with the USA.
  • James Killen [1985]: Inside Australian Politics. Methuen Haynes. A fine account of his political career by Jim Killen (“Killen The Magnificent”), one of Federal Parliament’s wittiest speakers and few gentlemen. At times, as in his account of his support for the white-minority regimes of Southern Africa through the 1960s, the text seems to be glossing over his true opinions. No orotund words about different levels of black and white social development or joining the fight against communist terrorism can justify support for those regimes without appearing to be racist, and – more importantly – without actually being racist. Killen rightly points out that, after UDI, the British Commonwealth focused on Rhodesia while ignoring evil elsewhere, for example, by Milton Obote’s government in Uganda. While this argument is forceful, it is a form of whataboutism, and does not (as Killen seems to think) provide a justification for his support of Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia. //Robert Mugabe was a master of the use of violence to obtain his political ends from his return to Southern Rhodesia from Ghana in May 1960, but the use of violence was occasioned by the obstinate refusal of the white settler regime to countenance any progress towards majority rule. Mugabe ruined Zimbabwe, but, three decades earlier, the white settlers first ruined Mugabe. One could argue that this view is coloured by hindsight, except for the fact that some people saw this clearly at the time – including Killen’s fellow Liberal Party MHR, Malcolm Fraser. //Killen was Minister of Defence under Fraser and describes him thus: “He unquestionably was the worst chairman I ever sat under. . . . He had not the slightest idea of listening to an argument and then drawing the various points of view together. Not infrequently he would adjourn an issue on which he could not get his way to ‘enable us to get further advice’.” (page 256)
  • Matthew Hammett Knott [2022]: A Class of Their Own: Adventures in Tutoring the Super-Rich. Trapeze. An amusing account of life as a tutor to children of the very rich.
  • Patrick Mullins [2019]: Tiberius with a Telephone: The Life and Stories of William McMahon. Scribe. McMahon was certainly very odd, perhaps the oddest person to be an Australian PM. His childhood was tragic, with the early death of his mother, then his older brother, and then his father, and his repeated shuffling from the house of one relative to another. He was mostly raised by a maternal aunt and her husband, who later became a Lord Mayor of Sydney. Inheriting wealth from his father in his youth, McMahon became a balletomane, race-horse owner, high-stakes gambler, and libertine, and also a devout and theologically-informed convert to Anglicanism. It has to be said that not many Australians of his era were balletomanes, and even fewer politicians were. The title of this fine biography is a reference to a famous description of him by his opponent Gough Whitlam, describing McMahon’s running of his government remotely. //The form of the biography is interesting, with standard biographical chapters interspersed with an account of various attempts by ghost writers to edit or re-write McMahon’s own unpublished memoirs late in his life. It is apparent from this account that, at least in his last years, McMahon suffered from the onset of forms of dementia.
  • Jess Hill [2021]: The Reckoning. Quarterly Essay #84. A powerful account of the #MeToo movement and its impacts in Australia.
  • Victor Sheymov [2013]: Tower of Secrets II: Tiebreaker. Cyber Books Publishing. This is the sequel to Sheymov’s first book, covering his years in the USA. After an MBA and a career in finance, he returned to consulting for the NSA, and later founded a tech start-up, Invicta Networks. The company implemented his ideas for dynamic parameter configurations in firewall servers. As before, written in the third person, and very thrilling. CIA is not shown in a good light.
  • Victor Sheymov [1993]: Tower of Secrets: A Real Life Spy Thriller. Cyber Books Publishing. This is a well-written account, written in the third person, of Sheymov’s career as an expert in cryptographic systems in the KGB and his gradual disillusion with communism, leading eventually to his defection to the West in May 1980.

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