Recent Reading 15

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

  • Michael Ovitz [2018]: Who is Michael Ovitz? A Memoir. USA: WH Allen.  This is a fascinating and well-written autiobiography by the co-founder and driving force behind Creative Artists Agency. CAA grew from nothing to dominate the agency business in movies and TV, and then entered M&A consultancy and advertising.  I always admired the chutzpah of this strategy and marveled at its success.  The book explains how CAA’s creative bundling of the products of its writers, actors, musicians, directors and producers enabled it to grow as an agency, and also enabled the diversification:  the expertise gained in strategizing and financially evaluating creative bundles was used to value Hollywood studios (with their back catalogues) as potential acquisition targets. Likewise, the creativity in bundling and the access to diverse talent was used to design successful advertisements.  What surprised me reading this book was that the diversification ended after just two acquisition assignments and one advertising project (Coca Cola’s polar bears).  The key reason for this seems to have been the opposition of Mr Ovitz’s partners and colleagues at CAA, despite the handsome and arguably unearnt rewards his efforts brought many of them.  No good deed ever goes unpunished, it seems.  // The book also presents his experiences as President at Disney.  Although of course we only hear his side of that story, he does seem to have been undermined from before he even began work there. // Overall, the writing is articulate and reflective, and he seems to have grown personally through his career and his apparent failures.  I greatly admire his continued desire and willingness to learn new things – new skills, new businesses, new industries, new cultures, new hobbies.  Doing this requires rare, personal courage.  Few people in American business were as willing as he was to immerse themselves in Japanese culture when doing business in Japan, for instance.  One characteristic Mr Ovitz does not ever display is smugness, and this absence is admirable.
  • Mark Urban [2018]: The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy. UK: Macmillan. A very good account of the back story of Sergei Skripal, mostly based on interviews Urban conducted with him and others before the events which led to Skripal’s name becoming well-known.  Skripal is a former GRU officer who had spied for Britain, was arrested and imprisoned by Russia, and then traded in a spy swap in 2010.  He was living quietly in Salisbury, England until he and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok in 2018. Salisbury, of course, is famous for its Cathedral with its 123-metre-high spire. Roger Hollis, one-time Director-General of MI5 whom some people believe was a GRU agent, was a great-great-nephew of George Moberly, Bishop of Salisbury from 1869 to 1885.  The good Bishop’s daughter, Annie Moberly, published a memoir of the family in 1911, Dulce Domum, which for some reason does not mention the spire. In these strange times one has to wonder if her omission was deliberate.
  • Howard Blum [2018]: In the Enemy’s House: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War. USA: Amberley. A fascinating account of the partnership between FBI agent Robert Lamphere and polyglot Meredith Gardner in decrypting the Venona transcripts of Soviet cable traffic and identifying the Soviet spies mentioned therein.
  • Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) [1985]: Quiller. Again, superb writing and story-telling, with cliff-hangers all the way through, and close attention required to keep up.  Some superb psychological insight and moving descriptions.  My only scepticism was over the ease with which foreign intelligence services seemed to move undetected within the USSR.
  • Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) [1989]: Quiller KGB. USA: Spectrum.  I was alerted to this book and an author new to me by allegations that Shore’s supposedly-true book (below) had the same plot as this earlier novel by Hall.  Shore apparently denied having even heard of the earlier book. In truth, the only element which the two plots have in common is that both involve a planned assassination of the then General Secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, while on a visit to the DDR.  The accusation of plot plagiarism made against Shore is thus without any foundation.  Within a few pages of starting Hall’s book, I realized this was writing of altogether better quality than Shore’s, and also of most other writers of espionage fiction.  Hall often jump cuts from one scene to another, as Sartre did in Nausea, which means the reader has to pay attention. Much is implied rather than expressed, so that attention needs to be close. This is writing of great skill and care, which is no doubt why Hall’s books seem to have been forgotten.
  • Tom Shore [2018]: Pilgrim Spy: My secret war against Putin, the KGB and the Stasi. UK: Coronet.  This is well-written and fast-paced, and was exciting to read.  It purports to be a factual memoir by a British special forces agent in the DDR in the late Summer and Autumn of 1989, who allegedly foiled a dastardly plan by revanchist Russians in league with the Red Army Faction to assassinate Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin on 7 October 1989. The plot hinges on the resolution of several subtle, nested epistemic modal questions – eg, What did A know about B’s knowledge of C’s affiliation?   If the story is to be believed, this undercover agent was also – himself, personally – responsible for the success of the Monday evening Lutheran Church gatherings in Leipzig that helped to defeat the SED Government of the DDR, because he was able to ask a western radio network to advertize the event.  Whether true or false, this account is immensely condescending.  There are several reasons why I find the story most unlikely to be true. First, surely the book would need official security service clearance for publication. It does not appear to have been submitted for approval.  If it had been, would we not now be hearing about an official investigation of rogue or treacherous SIS officers?  Secondly, there is almost no deep description of the Monday evening gatherings. These were momentous events, both in terms of the fall of communism in the DDR and in terms of peaceful regime change anywhere at any time.  How many people attended each week? What was said or sung at these events? What was the mood like? How did the mood change from week to week? Did people know each other?  Were there obvious informers or Stasi agents present?  Did participants leave together and straight away? Someone who was present at these events, as the author claims he was, would surely have more to say on them. The lack of such deep, textured description, like a non-barking dog, is a strong indication that this book is a work of fiction.  Finally, the author says almost nothing about what he did, and how he ate and lived, between these weekly meetings.  A small point that arose because I was reading the book on 5 October 2018:  5 October 1989 was a Thursday, not a Friday.
  • Ben Macintyre [2018]: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War. UK: Viking.  A great account, well-written as this writer’s books always are, of the case of KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, who spied for Britain and then defected. One disappointment:  Macintyre asserts without sufficient consideration that Roger Hollis was not a Soviet agent, which is the line taken by the authorized MI5 historian, Christopher Andrew.   Firstly, Macintyre quotes Gordievsky quoting a senior KGB official as having dismissed the claim that Hollis was an agent of the KGB (p. 138 of Kindle edition).  Interesting but irrelevant if Hollis had worked for the GRU.  Also, we would expect names of high-level foreign agents to be tightly held, so one senior person not knowing if Hollis was an agent means nothing.  Moreover, the two agencies were rivals and were explicitly prohibited by Stalin from collaborating. Secondly, Macintyre says that the Soviet spy code-named Elli was identified as Leo Long.  As Long did not work for MI5 and Elli did, Long could not have been Elli.  Because not all documents have been released, we still don’t know the full story about Hollis nor, if he was not a Soviet agent, then who was the GRU’s senior spy in Britain at the time.  Given this ignorance, it is disappointing that a writer of Macintyre’s calibre should just accept the incomplete and much contested authorized line. For a critique of Andrew, see Paul Monk’s article in Quadrant (April 2010). For more on Hollis, see here.
  • Robert Hutton [2018]: Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter. UK: W&N.  The true story behind Anthony Quinn’s fictional account, cited below.  Well-written, well-paced and extremely interesting.  In order to determine if the Nazis had created a secret network of 5th columnists in wartime Britain, MI5 created one, led by an inspired agent, Eric Roberts.  It just goes to show that if you want to get the credit for fixing something, you may first have to break it yourself.  Who knew Britain had harboured so many would-be Gauleiter, including most energetically, Marita Perigoe, the daughter of the popular antipodean composer, May Brahe.  It is interesting that Roger Hollis opposed this activity and managed to prevent a similar false network to attract left-wing sumpathizers being created in Britain after WW II.
  • Simon Mawer [2018]: Prague Spring. UK: Little, Brown. A thriller centred on Prague in a few days in August 1968 (so not spring at all), before and during the Warsaw Pact invasion.  It was nice to see a mention of the brave Milada Horáková.  I liked the story about the characters initially in Prague rather more than the escapades of the two hitchhiking students.  With the latter story, it felt that the author was really writing about his younger, more naive self, and, truthfully, that self did not interest me. But then, I have never found Bildungsromane much worth reading.  One factual error:  The Czech character Lenka Konečková, daughter of a fictional character, Lukáš Vadinsky, tried and executed with Rudolf Slánsky, writes an article for a student newspaper in which she names some of those executed (Chapter 33). The names listed include London, the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. But Artur London was not executed. It is not clear if this is an error by the author or by the character (ie, the author knows the truth about London, but the character does not).  Although it may have been the case that people in Czechoslovakia did not initially know the fate of the accused in the Slánsky trials, this would surely have been known to a politically-active family member such as Ms Konečková by this time in 1968.
  • Henry Porter [2018]: Firefly. UK:  Quercus. A gripping and empathetic thriller set on the Syrian refugee trail to Europe that runs via Greece and the Balkans.  The book is also a superb ethnography of life as a contemporary refugee and life as an anti-terrorist agent among refugees. The way we live now, it seems.
  • Charles Cumming [2018]: The Man Between. UK: HarperCollins. Another pacy spy thriller from Cumming.  The writing is good, although filmic, but not as gripping as Scott’s.  One has to wonder if stories are hard to come by when the main character, Kit Carradine, is a successful writer of spy fiction with almost identical initials to the author’s, who gets caught up in an actual spy mission.  Fomo, pomo or projection?  A quibble:  Would a security agency debrief a much-sought and well-known informant in an apartment in central London where she could be seen from the street?  One stylistic bug which a good editor should fix are long, discursive sentences with repeated changes of focus which frequent the book.  Do books still have editors, I wonder?
  • Manda Scott [2018]: A Treachery of Spies. UK: Bantam. A modern-day French murder mystery that reaches back to treachery and double-crossing in the French resistance and the SOE in WWII.  Riveting, although occasionally implausible: How convenient that the central resistance action was captured on cinefilm?
  • S C Brown [2017]: Initiation: A Spy Story. A well-written thriller set mostly in wartime France, playing on what we know about the sympathies of the leadership of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, and drawing on the moral dilemmas faced by ordinary French citizens. Includes that long-standing problem of espionage: how to transmit a true message to your enemy, and have them believe it?
  • Anthony Quinn [2018]: Our Friends in Berlin. UK: Jonathan Cape.  An easy, well-written thriller set in wartime Britain amongst a circle of would-be German agents.  Lots of single, double and triple bluffing. I liked the subtle allusion to J. Alfred Prufrock and the hook for a sequel involving an upper-class English Soviet spy.
  • Jeremy Duns [2018]:  Agent of Influence: Antony Terry and the Shaping of Cold War Fact and Fiction.  Skerry Publishing.  A brief account of the life and times of an influential British journalist who may have also been employed by MI6, as part of a concerted effort to place foreign intelligence staff into foreign correspondent positions with British newspapers.
  • Claire Harman [2001]: Fanny Burney: A Biography. USA: Alfred A. Knopf. A fine biography of the writer, aka Madame d’Arblay.  The last part of the book, after Madame d’Arblay’s return to Britain from her entrapment for a decade in France, felt rushed, as if the author was keen to finish.  One quibble: Harman repeats the claim that Mrs Clara Bolton was Benjamin Disraeli’s mistress.  As far as I can tell, the only evidence for this claim is a statement made by Disraeli’s lawyer, Philip Rose, after Disraeli’s death five decades after the alleged affair (and four decades after Mrs Bolton’s own death).  The letters between Mrs Bolton and Mr Disraeli don’t seem to support this claim.  Imagined affairs appear to have been a common trope in biographers’ lives of prominent Georgians and Victorians.
  • Craig Brown [2017]: Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret.  UK: Fourth Estate.   What a sad life she had.  Was it Clive James who said that celebrity is a mask that gradually eats away the face of the person wearing it?
  • John Menadue [1999]: Things You Learn Along the Way. Australia: David Lovell Publishing. An insightful account of a life, by someone who worked at the pinnacle of political, media and government power – with Gough Whitlam, Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Fraser. As Australian ambassador to Japan (1977-1980), Menadue got to know the brothers Tony Glynn (1926-1994) and Paul Glynn (1928- ), long-serving Australian Catholic Marist priests working in Japan.  Some personal interest, as they are cousins of cousins-in-law of mine.

Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 15’

Recent Reading 13

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.

  • Dan Shanahan [2017]: Camelot Eclipsed: Connecting the Dots.  Independently published.
  • China Mieville [2017]:  October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. UK:  Verso.
  • Joshua Rubenstein (Editor) [2007]: The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov. USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Henry Hemming [2017]: M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster.  UK:  Preface Publishing.
  • Evelyn Waugh [1935]:  Edmund Campion, Jesuit and Martyr. UK:  Longmans.
  • Alison Barrett [2015]:  View from my Tower: Letters from Prague, March 1985 – May 1988.   A fascinating series of letters from wife of the British Ambassador to members of her family about her time in Prague, in the period of stasis just before the Velvet Revolution.
  • John O Koehler [2008]:  Stasi:  The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.  USA:  Basic Books.
  • Giles Udy [2017]: Labour and the Gulag:  Russia and the Seduction of the British Left. UK:  Biteback Publishing.
  • David J Garrow [2017]: Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.  USA:  William Collins.
  • Yanis Varoufakis [2017]: Adults In The Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment. UK: Vintage Digital.
  • Nick Bilton [2017]: American Kingpin: Catching the Billion-Dollar Baron of the Dark Web. USA:  Virgin Digital.
  • Michael Howard [1996]:  Strategic Deception in the Second World War.  USA:  WW Norton.
  • Andrew St. George [1995]: History of Norton Rose. UK:  Granta Editions.   This is a history of the English law firm Norton Rose, written for the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1794.   The firm grew in the 19th century alongside the railways, acting as a conveyancing firm for the land purchases needed for new railway lines at the same time as lobbying MPs to legislate for the routes of these lines desired by its clients.  Its growth was helped by the life-long friendship between young Mr Philip Rose and Benjamin Disraeli.  One error in the book:  St. Geoge seems to have conflated two of Disraeli’s confidants and alleged mistresses:  Clara Bolton (nee Clarissa Marion Verbeke, 1804-1839), polyglot wife of George Buckley Bolton (the Disraeli family doctor) and Henrietta, Lady Sykes (c. 1801-1846), wife of Sir Francis Sykes (1799-1843), third Baronet of Basildon.  Mrs Bolton was also a confidant of Alexander d’Arblay (1794-1837), only son of Fanny Burney and a grandson of Charles Burney.
  • Peter Godfrey-Smith [2017]:  Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life.  UK:  William Collins.  This is a fascinating and well-written account of the intelligence of cephalopodes, drawing on the author’s underwater interactions with them.  The only major blunder in the book is the author’s mistaken view that the only or even the main form of human thinking is verbal.  This belief shows the fallacies possible when generalizing from introspection, and perhaps only a philosopher could believe something so obviously false.  Most mathematicians, architects, musicians and visual artists; most engineers, craftsman, surgeons, and machinery operators; and most sportsmen and women, dancers and actors, spend most of their time thinking without using any words, in my experience.
  • Philip Pilkington [2016]: The Reformation in Economics:  A Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Economic Theory.  UK:  Palgrave Macmillan.
  • John Le Carre [2017]: A Legacy of Spies.  UK:  Penguin.
  • Roy Hattersley [2017]: The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from  the Reformation to the Present.  UK:  Chatto and  Windus.
  • Don Aitken [2005]:  What was it all for?  The Reshaping of Australia. Australia: Allen and Unwin.
  • Don Aitken [2016]:  The Second Chair.  Australia:  Danbee Books.
  • Mark Singer [2016]: Trump and Me.  USA:  Penguin.
  • Ian Hacking [2014]: Why is there Philosophy of Mathematics at all?  UK:  CUP.
  • David Talbot [2015]: The Devil’s Chessboard:  Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government.  USA:  William Collins.
  • Edward Jay Epstein [2013]:  Sixty Versions of the Kennedy Assassination: A Primer on Conspiracy Theories.  EJE Publications.

Central London churches

A list of some central London churches and their denominations, updated as I visit them:

  • All Hallows by the Tower, Tower Hill / Anglican
  • All Saints Cathedral, Camden / Greek Orthodox, originally Anglican
  • Chapel of King’s College London / Anglican
  • Chapel of Hospital of St John and St. Elizabeth, St John’s Wood / Roman Catholic
  • Chapel of St. Thomas’ Hospital, Lambeth / Anglican
  • Christ Church, Spitalfields / Anglican
  • Christ-the-King, Gordon Square / Catholic Apostolic
  • Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane / Roman Catholic
  • Emmanuel Temple, Westminster / Evangelical Christian
  • Finchley Quaker Meeting House / Society of Friends
  • Friends House, Euston / Society of Friends
  • Holy Trinity, Marylebone / Anglican
  • Holy Trinity, Sloane Square / Anglican
  • St Andrew Undershaft, St Mary Axe / Anglican
  • St Anselm and St Cecilia, Holborn / Roman Catholic
  • St Bride’s, Fleet Street (the Journalists’ Church) / Anglican
  • St Clement Danes / Anglican (the home church of the RAF)
  • St Clement’s Eastcheap / Anglican
  • St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street / Anglican and Romanian Orthodox
  • St Etheldreda’s, Ely Place, Holborn / Roman Catholic
  • St Giles Cripplegate, Barbican / Anglican
  • St Giles-in-the-Fields / Anglican
  • St James, Piccadilly / Anglican
  • St John’s, Smith Square / formerly Anglican
  • St John’s, Waterloo /Anglican
  • St Katherine Cree, Leadenhall / Anglican
  • St Luke’s, Old Street / formerly Anglican
  • St Magnus the Martyr, Monument / Anglican
  • St Margaret, Lothbury / Anglican
  • St Martin, Ludgate (the Guild Church of St Martin-within-Ludgate) / Anglican
  • St Mary Aldermary / Anglican
  • St Mary, Finchley East / Roman Catholic
  • St Mary-le-Bow / Anglican
  • St Mary-le-Strand / Anglican
  • St Mary Woolnoth / Anglican
  • St Pancras New Church, Euston / Anglican
  • St Pancras Old Church, Somers Town / Anglican
  • St Paul’s, Hammersmith / Anglican
  • St Paul’s Cathedral / Anglican
  • St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden (the Actors’ Church) / Anglican
  • St Peter’s Church on Eaton Square / Anglican
  • St Peter’s Italian Church, Holborn / Roman Catholic
  • St Sepulchre-without-Newgate / Anglican
  • St Stephen’s Church, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead / formerly Anglican
  • Temple Church / Anglican
  • Wesley’s Chapel, Finsbury / Methodist
  • Westminster Cathedral / Roman Catholic
  • Westminster Quaker Meeting House / Society of Friends

Musical Instrument Museums

For reasons of record, here is a list of musical instrument museums, ordered by their location:

  • Athens, Greece: Museum of Popular Musical Instruments
  • Berlin, Germany: Musikinstrumenten Museum
  • Brussels, Belgium: Musical Instrument Museum
  • Monte Estoril, Portugal: Museum of Portuguese Music, Casa Verdades de Faria
  • New York, NY, USA: Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Phoenix, AZ, USA: Musical Instrument Museum
  • Rome, Italy: Museo di Strumenti Musicali dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
  • Vermillion, SD, USA: National Music Museum, University of South Dakota
  • Vienna, Austria: Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Recent Reading 10

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books.
David Eagleman [2010]: Sum: Tales from the Afterlives.  (London, UK:  Canongate).  A superb collection of very short stories, each premised on the assumption that something (our bodies, our souls, our names, our molecules, etc) lives beyond death. Superbly fascinating.  One will blow your mind!  (HT: WPN).
A. C. Grayling [2013]:  Friendship.  (New Haven, CT and London, UK:  Yale University Press).
Andrew Sullivan [1998]:  Love Undetectable:  Reflections on Friendship, Sex and Survival.  (London, UK: Vintage, 1999).
Michael Blakemore [2013]: Stage Blood. (London, UK: Faber & Faber).  A riveting account of Blakemore’s time at the National Theatre in London.
William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac [1945/2008]:  And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks. (London, UK:  Penguin Classics).   Mostly writing alternate chapters, this is a fictional account of events based on the death of David Kammerer at the hands of Lucien Carr.
Jack Kerouac [1968]:  Vanity of Duluoz.   (London:  Penguin Modern Classics, 2001).
Charles McCarry [1974]:  The Tears of Autumn. (London, UK:  Duckworth Overlook, 2009).   The assassination of JFK as a conspiracy organized by the family of the Diem brothers, involving Cuban military officials, the KGB, and the Mafia.
John Williams [1965]:  Stoner. (London, UK: Vintage, 2012).  Alerted by the enthusiasm of the late Norman Geras, and reinforced by the praise of Julian Barnes,  I starting reading this book with keen anticipation.  I should have known better:  someone who liked the books of Philip Roth clearly had a literary taste to be wary of.     Stoner was a great disappointment, and certainly does not belong in any collection of Great American Novels.
Is the book great literature?  Well, frankly, no.  It is well-written, no question, but not well enough.  We are told the main character William Stoner has no friends while an undergraduate, but nothing in the thin preceeding pages would explain why.   We are told he switches from studying agriculture to literature after an epiphany in a compulsory literature class, but this paragraph (and it is just a paragraph) is very thin indeed.   Why did he have this epiphany?  Where did it come from?  Nothing beforehand (in the book) would justify this event, and the event itself is only barely described.   Do people make such a switch so often, that no explanation is needed?  Not in my experience.
I can see that members of the literati – for instance, Julian Barnes – would like to read about people who come to love literature and who then devote their life to its teaching.  But Williams merely states these attributes of William Stoner as facts, without providing any compelling justification – not psychological, nor social, nor familial, nor cultural, nor literary, not spiritual, nor nothing – for these facts.     Indeed, there is hardly any justification at all, let alone a compelling one.
The narration is by a third-person narrator, and he or she seems to know what is inside Dr Stoner’s head.  Moreover, every other character is a cypher to the narrator, as (presumably) they are to Stoner himself.  One is therefore tempted to read the narration as being in the first-person.  But then, some of it is too vague for either a knowledgeable first-person or an omniscient third:  on pager 109, for instance, we read that Stoner disposed of his $2000 inheritance by giving “a few hundred dollars” to his parents’ black farm worker.    A few hundred?  Surely, Stoner knew at the time exactly how much he gave.  Likewise, surely, an omniscient narrator would also know the amount.   This is sloppy writing, and it undermines the case for the narrator being either first- or an omniscient third-person.
Similarly, we are told several times that Stoner had a deep friendship with Dave Masters, who is killed in the Great War.   But although this friendship is mentioned, it is not described in any depth.  It is certainly not invoked, nor is an invocation even attempted.  So, again, we come away thinking the narrator barely knows about which he speaks.   Just how credible, then, is anything the narrator says?    The book undermines its own case.
Why has the book proven popular?   Well it is more popular in Europe than in America.  I believe the answer to this disparity goes to something the former British Labour MP, Bryan Gould, once said when comparing political life in Europe with that in Australia, New Zealand, or North America:  In the New World, anyone upset by a social problem tries to fix it.  In the Old World, anyone upset by a social problem tries to live with it.   Stoner is a book about a man who lives with every major problem of his life, accommodating himself to an unhappy marriage, to a wife who appears on the edge of madness, to the end of his only happy relationship, to an alcoholic daughter, to not seeing his only grandchild, to an unsatisfying and tedious job, to an unfair assignment of work duties, to no promotions, to a lack of close friendships, to public gossip and innuendo about his marriage and relationships, to the death of his parents and his one apparently-close friend, while only ever once, it seems, standing up for himself.  And the counter-attack he launches is in such a small and picayune way, hurting the very students he is supposed to care for, that it can hardly be worthy of any emulation.
Certainly such people exist (indeed, the Old World is full of them),  but this novel never presents a compelling case that this particular man, William Stoner, should behave in this way.   Indeed, it hardly presents any case at all – the writing is all tell, and no show.    The power of showing is demonstrated by the one scene where the author does invoke the events, rather than merely mentioning them: the PhD upgrade viva of Charles Walker, where we can read the dialog for ourselves, and draw our own conclusions.    If only the author had done this more often, the book would have been much better.
 

Theatre

Having created lists of concerts I have attended, bands I have heard, galleries I have visited, etc, I overlooked theatre and dance productions I have seen.  Herewith a list, sometimes annotated, to be updated as and when I remember additional events.

  • The Lieutenant of Inishmore, at the Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London, August 2018.  Martin McDonagh’s very funny satire on the IRA and the INLA, in a well-acted production.  The production was somewhat gory for my tastes.
  • Lovers Anonymous developed, written and performed by Encompass Theatre Collective, St Pancras Community Association, Camden, as part of the Camden Fringe, 4 August 2018. Audience of about 25 seated in a circle, as if we were all participants in an AA-style meeting of people with relationship problems.  A mix of acting, music, dance & improv, it was energetic and entertaining, but lacked narrative coherence and character development. The long speeches sounded too glib, so they were not convincing as contributions from the floor.  I guess you need a lot of rehearsal in order to truly sound unrehearsed, as Monty Clift showed.
  • Goethe and Christiane performed by One Night Stand Productions and eurus ops theatre company, written and directed by Joseph Prestwich, at the Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham, South London, on Saturday 26 August 2017. This was an interesting and amusing new play based on Goethe’s life and his engagement with Italy. The staging and acting were both excellent. Webpage here.
  • Henry V by Cyphers Theatre Company at The Proud Achivist, on Sunday 25 October 2015, St. Crispin’s Day, and the 600th Anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Directed by Marcus Bazley, and starring Paul Anthony, Carmella Brown, William Holyhead, Dylan Lincoln, Rupert Sadler and Louise Wilcox. As before, this is an exciting and energetic production, and was again superbly acted. One had to fight hard to ignore the leaking sound of the fine ragtime and blues pianist in the bar outside.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at Tutu’s, King’s College London, 23-25 March 2015, directed by Luke James Boneham, and starring Joe Prestwich, Grace Farrell, Ally McDermott, Rosalia Mythos-Perris, Tom Marsh, Ben Dallyn, Emily Brown, Travis Alabanza, George Collecott, Akshay Sharan, Ioana Andrei, Aurelie Blanc and Jackie Edwards. This was a very good production. I particularly liked the detailed choreography of fast-paced, witty movement in the scene where Lysander (Tom Marsh) and Demetrius (Ben Dallyn) were both besotted with Helena (Emily Brown). Not sure if this choreography was planned and directed or was improvised by the actors – in either case, it was very good.image
  • Proof, a play David Auburn, at Tutu’s, King’s College London, March 2015, directed by Mathew Hodson and supported by the Faculty of Natural and Mathematical Sciences of King’s College London.
  • Great Expectations, at The Proud Achivist, February 2015, in a Cyphers Theatre Company production, directed by Marcus Bazley, and starring Chris Anderton, Victoria Hamblen, William Holyhead, Dylan Lincoln and Rupert Sadler (as Pip). Another superb production from this ensemble – fast, frenetic, fluent, folksy, feisty and fun.
  • Heels of Glory: A Drag Action Musical, by Tricity Vogue (writer) and Richard Link (composer), directed by Stephen Heatley, at Chelsea Theatre, London, January 2015. Some good music, and the henchpersons were choreographed well. But lyrics and words and comedy and plot and singing and acting and lighting could all do with some more work. OTOH, perhaps best to ignore my comments, as I’ve never really got drag.
  • Great Britain, National Theatre production of play by Richard Bean, directed by Nicholas Hytner, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 29 December 2014. I lasted just the first half, and would have left earlier if I could have done so without disturbing anyone. Not at all funny – there were perhaps just three mildly-amusing one-liners, none of them particularly witty or satirical, in the first half. Lots of swearing and explicit sexual innuendo (both verbal and physical), which I assume was intended to be funny. But who laughs at swear words and extreme male chauvinist displays of sexist insults these days? Who ever did, come to that? (In my entire life, I have never met anyone who laughed at Benny Hill, for instance, which may only show what sheltered upbringings modern Australians have.)The script had the feel of something written by someone in late middle age, trying his hardest to be down and dirty with the kids – and missing it completely. As an example: Why was the Police Commissioner’s secret gay lover half-Chinese and half-Welsh? I imagine such specific detail was intended to be funny. But it wasn’t funny, and no one laughed at it. Nothing was done with this detail (at least in the first half), so why was it there at all? It was as funny as saying he was half-Welsh and an architect, ie, not at all. Perhaps it would be funny to people who don’t know any Chinese people or any Welsh people, or people who don’t live in modern Britain. Perhaps Benny Hill would have found it funny.The actors did their best with a script that should have gone straight from paper factory to wrapping fish-and-chips. I have known a dozen people wittier everyday, all the time, than anything I heard here, and encounter similar people frequently. The average stranger in a British post office queue is funnier. And they do not have the luxury of writing their words in advance.Perhaps the play was funnier on another night, the night the critics went. Or perhaps I just wasn’t in the target demographic, since I was expecting to see clever political satire and sharp wit, rather than f-words, unfunny d-jokes, and stale, ham-fisted political commentary. However, no one around me was laughing either, so there must have been a lot of us from that wrong demographic there.
  • King Lear, at the Greenwood Theatre, by the King’s Shakespeare Company, directed by Freddie Fullerton, produced by Aja Garrod and Serena Grasso, and starring Steffan Rizzi (Lear), Lydia Fleming (Goneril), Bex Evans (Regan), Juliet Wallace (Cordelia), Matthew Aldridge (Gloucestor), Rupert Sadler (Edgar), Magnus Gordon (Edmund), Joe Prestwich (Fool), Tom Marsh (Kent), Benjy Cox (Albany), Will Holyhead (Cornwall/Old Man/Captain), George Colecot (Oswald/Burgundy), Andrew Marks (France/Knight/Servant/Messenger), Ally McDermott (Curan/Knight/Servant/Gentleman), and (as Knights) Marcus Bell, Charlotte Downes, Liam Flaherty, Ollie Harrison, Nessa Khurram, Mattho Mandersloot, Zack McGuinness, Holly Nicholls, and Tallulah Smart. This was a monumental production, intelligent, violent, and morally serious. December 2014.
  • Romeo and Juliet, by London Theatre Workshop, The Eel Brook, Fulham. Audience only a few more than cast, sadly. Some inspired performances, but felt like the troupe were still finding their feet with the play. Perhaps would have been better later in the run. Hard to discern what this production was for. Why another production of R&J? Why now? Why this way? A lot of knives, unnerving to those of us awake in the front row.
  • Henry V, at The Proud Achivist, October 2014, in a co-production of Cyphers Theatre Company and King’s Shakespeare Company, directed by Marcus Bazley, and starring Chris Anderton, Victoria Hamblen, William Holyhead, Dylan Lincoln, and Rupert Sadler.  This was a very impressive production, of high professional standard.  Who wouldn’t want to be an actor, when you get to run around in public like this, shouting and fighting? A superb production, fast-paced, clever, and witty. All the sound effects – seagulls, sailing ships, war drums, swells – were produced by the actors themselves, and transported us instantly. The costumes were cleverly and subtly colour-coded so that we could tell French from English characters played by doubling actors. Some nice public participation, such as asking audience members to donate coins for the welfare of incognito Henry’s soldier challenger. And some clever improv by Will Holyhead when an audience member handed him a kangaroo-laden Australian dollar coin. “This seems to be a strange animal . . . A dragon?”  Who wouldn’t want to be an actor, when you get to engage in banter like this?
  • Blackshaw Theatre New Writing Night, 30 September 2014, Horse and Stables Pub, Waterloo, London. Five very good items tonight, especially Luca Vigano’s short play about a hit-man commissioned to kill his client, Slice of Death, directed by Stephen Bailey and starring Annie McKenzie and Oscar Porter Brentford.
  • Teh Internet is Serious Business, play about Anonymous and LulzSec by Tim Price, at the Royal Court Theatre downstairs, Sloane Square, London, 23 September 2014 (press night).   I recommend the play very highly.  As someone remarked afterwards, there can be few plays around that present C++ code through the medium of interpretative dance.   The play is fast, kaleidoscopic, witty, and visceral, and some scenes are very funny.  I think there are many possible explanations for the actions and evolution of Anonymous, and the play essentially presents just one narrative.  The one it presents is plausible, however.   It is also good in capturing the specific personalities and motivations of some of the LulzSec members, particularly Tflow and Topiary, who were in the downstairs bar before the show.
  • Solo for Two, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, London Coliseum, London, August 2014.
  • Blackshaw Theatre New Writing Night, 29 July 2014, Horse and Stables Pub, Waterloo, London.  Of the events featured this night, only Gravy, written by Harold Kimmel and directed by Christian Durham, was worth writing home about:   this presented a very funny NYPD investigation of the crime scene that ends Hamlet, with the Ghost and Horatio called in for questioning over the multiple murders, incest, and various perversions discovered.
  • Gulf, performed by Pivot Theatre Company, written by Jeff Scott and Alister MacQuarrie, directed by Charlie Kenber with music by Patrick Sale, at Camden People’s Theatre, London, July 2014.   The play explored relationships between a mother and her teenage daughter, the daughter and her school headmaster, the mother and her colleagues and a psychiatrist, and issues of pedophilia, teenage sex, and the internet.   I found the play confusing, especially with actors switching roles apparently randomly, and lots of scenes made no clear sense.  Perhaps the play was about too many issues and too many relationships to be adequately covered in the time.   I liked the  music, as music, but not sure it worked with the play.
  • Measure for Measure in Cabaret, by King’s Shakespeare Company, directed by Lauren O’Hara and music by Henry Keynes Carpenter, final dress rehearsal, London, July 2014, prior to participation in the Bristol BardFest.
  • London Student Drama Festival 2014, Teatro Technis, Camden, London, 21 June 2014.  Five short plays: 12″; Honestly (both Imperial College); The Parting Glass (UCL); Lizards (SOAS); Guilty Parties (KCL).  Best by far was the KCL entry, very funny and well acted, written by Alister MacQuarrie, who rightly won Best Writer award for second year running. SOAS entry was workshopped and showed it; could have done with more work.  UCL play was an Oirish drama about The Troubles – oh so serious, so overdone, its conclusions telegraphed ahead of time, with melodramatic acting, cod accents, two anti-minimalist sets leaving nothing to our imaginations, an upright piano, and enough actors for a Cecil B. De Mille epic, including even a 5-person Celtic band on stage:  Holy Mother of Mercy was this awful!    For reasons unknown, this insult to those of us of Irish descent won award for best entry.   And speaking as indeed such a person, why must any Irish drama be accompanied by Celtic folk music, as if Irish people can’t appreciate any other type of music?  Has no one heard of John Field, James Galway, or the Vanbrugh Quartet?   Even The Messiah had its first performance in Dublin!  Five centuries of English condescension towards Ireland embodied in one folk band onstage tonight.
  • Another Country, by Julian Mitchell, directed by Jeremy Herrin, at Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, London, June 2014.  A superb production of a play which imagines what events in an English public school in the 1920s might have led the Cambridge 5 to betray their country.  Rob Callender superb as the young Guy Burgess:  authentic, spirited, leopardesque, riveting.
  • Blackshaw Theatre New Writing Night, 27 May 2014, Horse and Stables Pub, Waterloo, London.
  • Trojan Barbie, by Christine Evans, by the King’s Players, King’s College London, under Holly Robinson (director) and Dan Bird (producer), in Tutu’s, KCLSU, Temple, London, March 2014.   Without question, one of the worst live performances I have had the misfortune to witness.
  • Copenhagen, by Michael Frayn, performed by Ria Abbott (Margrethe Bohr), Freddie Fullerton (Niels Bohr) and Tom Marsh (Werner Heisenberg), under Alister MacQuarrie (director), Aja Garrod (producer), and William Nash (executive producer) in the Old Anatomy Museum, King’s College London, Strand, March 2014.  Superbly acted and directed, this was theatre of a high professional standard, equal to any I have seen.    Another review is here.
  • Romeo and Juliet, by King’s College London English Literary Society, under W. Nash (director), at the Greenwood Theatre, London, February 2014.  An innovative, witty, and funny treatment, superbly acted.
  • The Tempest, by King’s Shakespeare Company, under Hannah Elsy (director) and Aja Garrod (producer), at The Rag Factory, Heneage Street, Brick Lane, London, December 2013.  Outstanding performances by Imogen Free (Ariel) and Max Funcheon-Dinnen (Stephano).   The modern touches worked very well, and brought the play alive.  Was a full house.
  • The Magic Flute, by English National Opera, directed by Simon McBurney, London, December 2013.  As always with this director, there were some stunning visual effects, for instance, the shoals of actors representing birds, each fluttering folded paper to produce a rustling sound.
  • Marlowe’s Edward II, by The National Theatre, London, October 2013.
  • Richard II, starring Eddie Redmayne and directed by Michael Grandage, at the Donmar Warehouse, London, December 2011.
  • Hamlet, by Schaubuhne Berlin, at the Barbican Theatre, London, December 2011.
  • Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, Liverpool, 2004.
  • The Elephant Vanishes, by Theatre de Complicite, Lincoln Centre, New York, June 2004.
  • Hamlet, by Calixto Bieito, in Birmingham, September 2003.

Continue reading ‘Theatre’

Recent Reading 9

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books:
Anita Raghavan [2013]:  The Billionaire’s Apprentice:  The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund.  (New York:  Business Plus).   This is a fascinating and excitingly-written account of the rise and fall of several people, many of them Americans of South Asian descent, associated with the activities of the Galleon hedge fund.  First among these is billionaire Tamil-American Raj Rajaratnam, founder of Galleon, and convicted insider-trader.  In the next tier are his many insider informants, primaily Rajat Gupta and Anil Kumar, both prominent partners of McKinsey and Company, a management consulting firm.  Indeed, Gupta was three times elected global MD of McKinsey by his fellow partners, and thus the book has lots of fascinating information about The Firm and its operations, incidental to the main story.
Insider trading is a strange crime.  Surely most traders engaged in trading for its own sake (and not hedging some activity or transaction in non-financial markets) seek to take advantage of something they know that others don’t, even if it is just knowledge arising from more clever or faster analysis, or the knowledge that comes from aggregating views across multiple trades.   And who, exactly, are the victims here, since any trading requires a willing counterparty?    But even if insider-trading is not considered an evil, there is great dishonour in breaching confidences gained in positions of trust, and there seems little doubt that Rajaratnam’s informants did that.
An odd feature of the book, where so many prominent Indian Americans and South-Asian businesspeople are name-checked, is the failure to mention Praful Gupta.   As far as I am aware, the two Guptas were no relation, and met when they were fellow students at Harvard Business School.  Rajat Gupta, in a newspaper interview in 1994, said they became and remained very good friends.  While Rajat pursued a career with McKinsey, Praful became a management consultant and partner with Booz, Allen & Hamilton, and later a senior executive with Reliance Industries.
An annoying feature of the writing is the author’s repeated confusion about tense.   On page 217, for instance, we read, “In 2005, Lloyd Blankfein’s predecessor and former secretary of the Treasury Henry M. “Hank” Paulson Jr. had approached Gupta about joining the Goldman board of directors.”  But Hank Paulson only became Secretary of the US Treasury in 2006, where he remained until January 2009.   At the time this sentence was written by Raghavan in 2012 or 2013, Paulson was a former Treasury Secretary, but not in 2005, the time referred to at the opening of the sentence.   There are similar instances of inaccurate or confused tense on pages 257, 288, 347, and 362, and no doubt more that I did not catch.  These appear so frequently that one is tempted to consider them not mere lapses nor evidence of a non-grammatical linguistic style, but indicative of a more fundamental difference between the author’s conceptualization of time and that of most speakers of English. There are also a number of confusions or ambiguities of subject and object, and of deictic markers, in sentences throughout the text.
 

Influential Music

Having written posts on influential non-fiction books and on influential fiction books, I thought it interesting to list pieces of music that have  influenced me.   To start with, I’ve confined myself to western art music (aka “classical” music).   Jazz and world music to come in due course.  The music is listed in alpha order of  composer surname.

  • Adams:  Phrygian Gates
  • Arriaga:  String Quartets
  • Arriaga:  Symphony
  • Bach:  Double Concerto for Violin
  • Bach: Piano Concerto #1
  • Bach:  St. Matthew Passion
  • Bach:  St. John Passion
  • Bach:  Mass in B Minor
  • Bach:  The Well-Tempered Clavier
  • Bach:  Cantatas
  • Bach:  Toccata and Fugue in D minor
  • Bach:  Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin
  • CPE Bach:  Magnificat
  • Beethoven:  Piano Sonatas
  • Beethoven:  Symphonies 3, 5 and 9
  • Beethoven:  Piano Concertos
  • Beethoven:  Piano Quartets
  • Beethoven:  Piano Trios
  • Beethoven:  Violin Concerto
  • Bernstein:  Overture to Candide
  • Binge: Elizabethan Serenade
  • Cage:  Music for prepared piano
  • Cherubini:  The String Quartets
  • Chopin:  Preludes
  • Debussy:  Preludes
  • Farrenc:  The Piano Quartets
  • Farrenc: The Symphonies
  • Feldman: Triadic Memories
  • Glass: Koyaanisqatsi
  • Handel:  Messiah
  • Haydn:  Sturm und Drang Symphonies
  • Haydn:  The Creation
  • Haydn:  The String Quartets
  • Hummel:  Trumpet Concerto
  • Maxwell Davies:  Eight Songs for a Mad King
  • McPhee:  Tabu Tabuhan
  • Meale:  Clouds Now and Then
  • Mendelssohn:  The String Symphonies #7-12
  • Mendelssohn:  Magnificat
  • Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture
  • Mendelssohn:  Octet
  • Mendelssohn:  String Quartets and Quintets
  • Mendelssohn:  Piano Trios and Quartets
  • Mendelssohn: Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Mendelssohn:  Elijah
  • Mendelssohn:  Violin Concerto in E minor
  • Mendelssohn:  Violin Concerto in D minor
  • Mendelssohn:  Concerto for Piano and Violin in D minor
  • Mendelssohn:  Songs without Words
  • Montague: Piano Concerto
  • Mozart:  Last 3 symphonies
  • Mozart:  Requiem
  • Mozart: The String Quartets
  • Nishimura:  Bird Heterophony
  • Nyman: Songs for Tony
  • Ore: Codex Temporis
  • Orff:  Carmina Burana
  • Penberthy: Saxophone Concerto
  • Reich:  Nagoya Marimbas
  • Reich:  Music for 18 Musicians
  • Riley:  In C
  • Roman: Drottningholm Music (Music for a Royal Wedding)
  • Schumann:  Dichterliebe
  • Schumann:  The Symphonies
  • Sculthorpe:  Sun Music III
  • Shostakovich:  Concerto for Piano and Trumpet
  • Shostakovich:  Incidental Music for Hamlet
  • Shostakovich:  24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano
  • Stockhausen:  Stimmung
  • Stravinsky:  The Rite of Spring
  • Takemitsu:  A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden
  • Tchaikovsky:  Symphonies #4 and #5
  • Tchaikovsky:  Violin Concerto
  • Vanhal:  The Symphonies
  • Wagner:  Prelude to The Mastersingers of Nuremburg
  • Xenakis:  Metastaseis
  • Xenakis:  Pithoprakta.

 

Recent Reading 8

TheMothersofthePlazadeMayo-2004
The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books:

  • Jason Matthews [2013]:  Red Sparrow (New York: Simon & Schuster). A debut spy-thriller by a 33-year CIA clandestine service veteran,  this book is well-written and gripping, with plot twists that are unexpected yet plausible.    The book has placed the author in the same league of Le Carre and McCarry, and I recommend the book strongly.   As so often with espionage and crime fiction, the main weakness is the characterization – the players are too busy doing things in the world for us to have a good sense of their personalities, especially so for the minor characters.  Part of the reason for us having this sense, I think, is the sparsity of dialog through which we could infer a sense of personhood for each player.    And the main character, Nate Nash, gets pushed aside in the second half of the book  by the machinations of the other players.  In any case, the ending of the book allows us to meet these folks again.    Finally, I found the recipes which end each chapter an affectation, but that may be me.  The author missed a chance for a subtle allusion with solo meal cooked by General Korchnoi, which I mis-read as pasta alla mollusc, which would have made it the same as the last meal of William Colby.

 

  •  Henry A. Cumpton [2012]:  The Art of Intelligence:  Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service. (New York:  Penguin).   A fascinating account of a career in espionage.    Crumpton reports an early foreign assignment in the 1980s in an African country which had had a war of liberation war, where the US had a close working relationship with the revolutionary Government of the country:  The only candidates that seem to fit this bill are Zimbabwe or possibly Mozambique.  Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF Government was so close to the USA in its early years that the Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) had only two groups dealing with counter-subversion:  a group seeking to counter South African subversion and a group seeking to counter Soviet subversion.  Indeed, so great was the fear of Soviet subversion that the USSR was not permitted to open an embassy in Zimbabwe for the first two years following independence in 1980.

The book has four very interesting accounts:

1. Crumpton’s perceptive reflections on the different cultures of CIA and FBI, which are summarized in this post.

2.  The account of the preparations needed to design, build, deploy, and manage systems of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs, or drones) in Afghanistan.  The diverse and inter-locking challenges – technical, political, strategic, managerial, economic, human, and logistic – are reminiscent of those involved in creating CIA’s U2 spy-plane program in the 1950s (whose leader Richard Bissell I saluted here).

3.  The development of integrated Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for tactical anti-terrorist operations management in the early 2000s.  What I find interesting is that this took place a decade after mobile telecommunications companies were using GIS for tactical planning and management of engineering and marketing operations.  Why should the Government be so far behind?

4. An account of CIA’s anti-terrorist programs prior to 11 September 2011, including the monitoring and subversion of Al-Qaeda.  Given the extent of these programmes, it is now clear why CIA embarked on such an activist role following 9/11.  George Tenet remarked at the time (in his memoirs) that such a role would mean crossing a threshold for CIA, but until Crumpton’s book, I never understood why this enhanced  role had been accepted at the time by US political leaders and military leaders.  From Crumpton’s account, the reason for their acceptance was that CIA was the only security agency ready to step up quickly at the time.

  • Paul Vallely [2013]:  Pope Francis:  Untying the Knots. (London, UK:  Bloomsbury).  A fascinating account of the man who may revolutionize the Catholic Church.    Francis, first as Fr Jorge Bergoglio SJ and then as Archbishop and Cardinal, appears to have moved from right to left as he aged, to the point where he now embraces a version of liberation theology.   His role during the period of Argentina’s military junta of Jorge Videla is still unclear – he seems to have bravely hidden and help-escape leftist political refugees and activists, while at the same time, through dismissing them from Church protection, making other activitists targets of military actions.

Bergoglio seems to understand something his brother cardinals appear not to – that the Catholic Church (and other fundamentalist and evangelical Christian denominations) are not seen by the majority of people in the West any longer as places of saintliness, spiritual goodness, or charity, but as bastions of bigotry, irrationally opposed to individual freedom and to human happiness and fulfilment.  In its campaigns against gay marriage rights, euthenasia, abortion, and other private moral issues, the Church opposes free will not only of its own clergy and lay members, but also of other citizens who are not even Catholic adherents.   Such campaigns to limit the freedoms and rights of non-believers are presumptious, to say the least.  The Catholic Church does a great deal of unremarked good in the world, work which is sullied and undermined by the political campaigns and bigoted public statements of its leaders.

The book is poorly written, with lots of repetition, and several  chapters reprising the entire argument of the book, as if they had been stand-along newspaper articles.   The author clearly thinks his readers have the minds of gold-fish, since interview subjects are introduced repeatedly with descriptions, as if for the first time.

The photo shows one of the demonstrations of the The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, held weekly since 1977  to protest the junta’s kidnap, torture, and murder of Argentinian citizens.   We should not forget that the military regimes of South America, including the Argentinian junta of Videla, were supported not only by the Vatican and most local Catholic clergy (with some brave exceptions), but also by the US intelligence services, including during the administration of Jimmy Carter.

Recent reading 7

Berliner Ensemble
The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books:

  • Igor Lukes [2012]: On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague.  Oxford University Press.   Some comments here.
  • Randall Woods [2012]: Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA.  Basic Civitas Books. Colby comes across as remarkably liberal, pragmatic and sensible in this account of his life, promoting agrarian socialism and grass-roots democracy to beat the communists in South Vietnam, for example.
  • Roger Hermiston [2013]:  The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake.  Aurum Press.
  • C P Snow [1969]:  Variety of Men.  Penguin Books, second edition. (HT:  Saul Smilansky at Normblog.)
  • Charlotte Joko Beck [1997]: Everyday Zen: Love and Work.  Thorsons.
  • James Button [2013]:  Speechless: A Year in my Father’s Business.  Melbourne University Press.   A mention here.
  • Robert Dessaix [2012]: As I was Saying.  Random House Australia.  A typically erudite collection of talks and essays, as smooth as a gimlet.
  • Charles S. Maier [1999]:  Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany.  Princeton University Press.
  • Meredith Maran (Editor) [2013]:  Why We Write.  Plume.
  • Marci Shore [2013]:  The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe.  Crown Publishing Group, New York.
  • Thomas Nagel [2012]:  Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.  Oxford University Press USA.  Any book so heavily criticized by Brian Leiter has to be of great value, and this was.

The photo shows the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, from 1954 home of the Berliner Ensemble.