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 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.
  • Richard Bassett [2012]:  Hitler’s Spy Chief:  The Story of Wilhelm Canaris.  I had not realized that the Abwehr under Canaris helped British special forces reach Finland in late 1939/early 1940 to aid the Finns in their defence against the USSR (in the Winter War).  Nazi Germany was allied with the USSR and fighting the UK at the time.
  • 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 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 office.
  • 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.

Recent Reading 14

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.

  • Kate McClymont and Linton Besser [2014]: He Who Must Be Obeid. Australia: Random House.   The life and fast times of Eddie Obeid, perhaps, despite the strong calibre of the competition, the most corrupt person ever to be a Cabinet Minister in NSW.
  • Bob Carr [2018]: Run for Your Life.  Australia:  Melbourne University Press. A memoir mostly of Carr’s times as Premier of NSW (1995-2005), running a government which was, untypically for NSW, seemingly uncorrupt.
  • Aldous Huxley [1931]:  Music at Night and Other Essays. Flamingo reissue.
  • Keith Gessen [2018]: A Terrible Country. Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Writing as smooth as a gimlet, and extremely engrossing.
  • Hayden Eastwood [2018]: Like Sodium in Water: A Memoir of Home and Heartache. South Africa: Jonathan Ball.  A well-written but very sad memoir of growing up in Harare, Zimbabwe following Independence, by a member of the family mentioned here.
  • David Margolick [2018]: The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy.  USA: Rosetta Books.
  • Naveed Jamali and Ellis Henican [2015]:  How to Catch a Russian Spy.  USA:  Simon & Schuster.
  • Geoffrey Robertson [2018]: Rather His Own Man: In Court with Tyrants, Tarts and Troublemakers. UK: Biteback Publishing.  Is there anyone Robertson does not know, from Malcolm Turnbull to Prince Charles to Julian Assange?
  • Edward Wilson [2018]:  South Atlantic Requiem. UK:  Arcadia Books.  The latest in the Catesby espionage series, as always very well-written and dancing recklessly across the border between fact and fiction.
  • Philip Toynbee [1954]: Friends Apart, A Memoir of Esmond Romilly & Jasper Ridley in the Thirties. UK: Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd.
  • Roland Philipps [2018]: A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean.  UK:  Vintage.
  • James Comey [2018]:  A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.  USA: Macmillan.  Superbly structured and well-written.  Engrossing.  Bam’s best choice for head of the FBI. Would make a very good AG.
  • Pat Sloan (Editor) [1938]: John Cornford: A Memoir. UK: Jonathan Cape.
  • James McNeish [2008]:  The Sixth Man: The Extraordinary Life of Paddy Costello.  UK: Quartet Books.  Many have argued that Costello was a Soviet agent, not least MI5 in an international campaign which ended his New Zealand diplomatic career and made it difficult for him to secure other posts.  But the person running the anti-Communist division of MI5 and then MI5 itself at the time himself later came under suspicion – very plausibly – of being a Soviet agent, so the case against Costello, to my mind, is not at all decisive. The MI5 campaign against Costello may well have been a diversive smokescreen from chasing genuine Soviet agents.
  • Charlotte Bingham [2018]: MI5 and Me: A Coronet among the Spooks. UK:  Bloomsbury Publishing. An amusing memoir of working for MI5 as a secretary.
  • William D Cohan [2008]: The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co. USA:  Penguin.
  • Timothy Garton Ash [2015]: The File: A Personal History.  UK:  Atlantic Books.
  • Richard Davenport-Hines [2018]: Enemies Within: Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain.  UK: William Collins. An attempt to position the Cambridge spy ring in the context of its culture and time.
  • Fyodor M. Burlatsky [1992]: Khrushchev and the First Russian Spring. USA:  Charles Scribner’s Sons. A fascinating inside account of the reformist thinking and actions of Nikita Khrushchev and Yuri Andropov in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • William Taubman [2017]: Gorbachev: His Life and Times.  USA:  Simon and Schuster.
  • Tom Mangold [1993]: Cold Warrior:  The True Story of the West’s Spyhunt Nightmare. USA:  Simon and Schuster.
  • Jefferson Morley [2017]: The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton. USA:  Macmillan. Oddly, Morley mentions Teddy Kollek knowing both Angleton and Philby, but not that Kollek was a guest at Philby’s wedding to Litzi Friedmann in Vienna in 1934.
  • Robert Graves [1960]: Goodbye to All That. UK: Penguin.
  • Richard Pipes [2015]: Alexander Yakovlev: The Man whose Ideas delivered Russia from Communism.  USA:  Northern Illinois University Press.
  • Charles Hamblin [2017]:  Linguistics and the Parts of the Mind.  (Written ca. 1968. Posthumous edition prepared by Phillip Staines) UK:  Cambridge Scholars Publishing.  Remarkably prescient of Belief-Desire-Intention models of autonomous agency.
  • Masha Gessen [2012]: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. USA:  Granta Books.
  • Masha Gessen [2017]: The Future is History:  How Totalitarianism reclaimed Russia. USA:  Granta Books.
  • Daniel Ellsberg [2017]: The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner.  USA: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Jacques Pauw [2017]: The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison.  South Africa: Tafelberg.
  • Anne Goldgar [2008]: Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age.  USA:  University of Chicago Press.  Why would I be reading this in this time of ICOs, I wonder?
  • Artur London [1970]: The Confession.  UK: Morrow.  A famous account by one of the defendants in the Slansky Trial in Czechoslovakia in 1951.
  • Hubert Ripka [1950]: Czechoslovakia Enslaved: The Story of the Communist Coup d’Etat. London: Victor Gollancz.
  • D J Taylor [2010]: Bright Young People:  The Rise and Fall of a Generation, 1918-1940.  UK: Vintage.
  • Edith Olivier [1989]:  Edith Olivier: From Her Journals, 1924-1948. Edited by Penelope Middleboe. UK:  Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Philip Mirowski and Edward Nik-Khah [2017]: The Knowledge we have lost in Information: The History of Information in Modern Economics.  USA:  Oxford University Press.
  • James McNeish [2003]: Dance of the Peacocks: New Zealanders in Exile in the Time of Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung.  UK: Vintage.
  • Francis Wheen [1992]:  Tom Driberg:  His Life and Indiscretions.  UK:  Pan.  This book is riveting reading, spoilt by its too-strong sympathy for its subject.
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick [2017, 4th edition]:  The Russian Revolution.  UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Oliver J Lodge [1916]: Raymond, or Life and Death: With Examples of the Evidence. USA:  George H Doran Company.
  • Launcelot Cranmer-Byng [1947]: The Vision of Asia. UK: John Murray.
  • Sam Dastyari [2017]:  One Halal of a Story.  Australia:  Melbourne University Press.
  • Hilary Rodham Clinton [2017]:  What Happened.  USA: Simon and Schuster.  Indeed!
  • David Burke [2009]: The Spy who came in from the Co-op: Melita Norwood and the Ending of Cold War Espionage. UK:  Boydell Press.
  • Alan Vaughan [1974]: Patterns of Prophecy.  USA:  HarperCollins.
  • Tom Bower [1996]: The Perfect English Spy: Sir Dick White and the Secret War, 1935-90.  UK: Mandarin.
  • Jenny Hocking [2016]: The Dismissal Dossier: Everything you were never meant to know about November 1975 (Updated Edition). Australia: Melbourne University Press.  Sadly, even after this account, I feel we do not yet know all the duplicity around the events of 11 November 1975.
  • Anna Thomasson [2015]: A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing.  UK:  Macmillan.  A wonderful account of the December-May friendship of Edith Olivier (1872-1948), later a writer, and artist Rex Whistler (1905-1944), who first met in 1924.  Given their ages at the time of meeting, it would be more accurate to describe this as an August-March friendship.
  • Evelyn Waugh [1964]: A Little Learning: the First Volume of an Autobiography.  UK:  Chapman and Hall.
  • Edith Olivier [1945]:  Four Victorian Ladies of Wiltshire.  UK:  Faber and Faber.
  • Edith Olivier [1938]:  Without Knowing Mr Walkley.  UK:  Faber and Faber.
  • William Sturgis Bigelow [1908]: Buddhism and Immortality.
  • Garry Wills [2014]:  Making Make-Believe Real.  USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Garry Wills [2017]: The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power. USA:  Open Road Media.

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.


The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
How quickly daft jumping zebras vex!
The five boxing wizards jump quickly.
Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow.

Three Potters

Surfing idly, I encounter a reference to one Andrew Onderdonk, an international lawyer who visited with George Santayana (1863-1952) in the 1920s. The question that immediately entered my mind is the one I am sure occurs to you too: Is this man a descendant of the second Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania? That was Henry Onderdonk (1789-1858), who was supposedly replaced as Bishop due to a problem with alcohol. Bishop Henry’s successor, the third Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, was a mathematician and philosopher named Alonzo Potter (1800-1865), whose grandson Warwick Potter (31 October 1870-11 October 1893) was a student and close friend of Santayana’s at Harvard. Santayana wrote a very moving quartet of sonnets to him, following his early death. One sonnet is here, and posts on Santayana here. I imagine Warwick Potter would be completely forgotten now if not for Santayan’s consoling poems.

It seems that Andrew Joseph Onderdonk (1889- ?) had also been a student of Santayana’s at Harvard, and was still alive in the mid-1960s, when he offered to sell Santayana’s writing chair to journalist Joseph Epstein.

Warwick Potter’s father was Major General Robert Brown Potter (1829-1887), a Civil War general on the Union side and subject of a famous photo, taken around 1864.  The photo (below) is mainly well-known because the photographer, Mathew Brady (1822-1896), included himself in it. One would be tempted to call this action post-modernist, if painters from the renaissance onwards had not done the same. Brady’s louche posture against a tree on the right of the picture contrasts with the formality of comportment of the General, standing hatless at the centre of his behatted men, who all face him while he faces us. I wonder about the names and fates of the other soldiers in the photo.

Alonzo Potter’s first wife, and the mother of Robert Potter, was Sarah Maria Nott, the only daughter of Eliphalet Nott (1773-1866), President of Union College, Schenectady, New York, from 1804-1866.  Warwick Potter had three brothers and a half-sister: Robert Burnside Potter, Abby Potter, Austin Potter and Frances Tileston Potter. He was born on 1870-10-31 in Lemington, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne and died on 1893-10-11 in Brest, Brittany.  I find it most consoling that I am able to place Warwick Potter in his family, with both his father and paternal grandfather being identified, and help preserve his memory. He has now, for me, a local habitation and a name.

Recent Reading 12

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.

  • Edward Fulbrook [2016]:  Narrative Fixation in Economics. UK:  College Publications.
  • Pamela Vass [2016]:  The Power of Three:  Thomas Fowler, Devon’s Forgotten Genius. UK: Boundstone Books.
  • Charles Babbage [1835]:  On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. UK:  Charles Knight.
  • Timothy James Burke [1996]:  Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women:  Commodification, Consumption and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe. USA:  Duke University Press.
  • Petina Gappah [2016]:  Rotten Row. UK:  Faber & Faber.
  • David Wootton [2015]: The Invention of Science:  A New History of the Scientific Revolution. UK:  Penguin.
  • Joseph Wechsberg [1969]:  The Voices. USA:  Doubleday.
  • Karl Marton [2016]:  True Believer:  Stalin’s Last American Spy. Simon & Schuster.
  • David Coltart [2016]: The Struggle Continues. Zimbabwe: Jacana Media.
  • Yudhijit Bhattacharjee [2016]:  The Spy who couldn’t Spell:  A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets. USA:  Berkley.
  • Barrie Cassidy [2016]:  The Party Thieves: The Real Story of the 2010 Election.  Australia:  Melbourne University Publishing.
  • Martin Pearce [2016]:  Spymaster:  The Life of Britain’s Most Decorated Cold War Spy and Head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Transworld Digital.
  • Andrew P Street [2016]:  The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull, the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat. Australia: Allen & Unwin.
  • Graham Freudenberg [1977]:  A Certain Grandeur:  Gough Whitlam’s Life in Politics.  Australia:Macmillan.
  • Tom Bower [1995]:  The Perfect English Spy:  Sir Dick White and the Secret War, 1935-90. UK: William Heinemann.
  • David Bohm [2013]:  On Dialogue. UK: Routledge
  • Ben Kiernan [1986]:  Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World. UK:  Quartet Books.
  • Wilfred Burchett [1969]:  Passport: An Autobiography.  Australia:  Thomas Nelson.
  • Robert Harris [2016]:  Conclave.  Cornerstone Digital.
  • C. A. E. Moberly [1911]:  Dulce Domun. George Moberly, His Family and Friends.  UK: John Murray.
  • Lucille Iremonger [1957]:  The Ghosts of Versailles:  Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain and their Adventure.  UK:  Faber & Faber.
  • Christopher Hollis [1958]: Along the Road to Frome. UK:  George G. Harrap.
  • Ed Balls [2016]:  Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics. Cornerstone Digital.
  • Thomas Rid [2016]:  Rise of the Machines: The Lost History of Cybernetics.  UK: Scribe.
  • Joshua Rubenstein [2016]:  The Last Days of Stalin. USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Randolph Vigne [1997]:  Liberals and Apartheid: A History of the Liberal Party of South Africa, 1953-68. UK:  Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Frank Dikotter [2016]: The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1862-1976.  UK:  Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Lafcadio Hearn [1904]:  Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation.  NY, USA: Macmillan.
  • C. B. George [2015]:  The Death of Rex Nhongo. Riverrun.
  • Hannes Wessels [2010]:  PK van der Byl:  African Statesman. South Africa: 30 Degrees South Publishers.
  • Alexander Nehamas [2016]:  On Friendship. USA:  Basic Books.
  • Larry Tye [016]:  Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon.  USA:  Random House.
  • Charles Cumming [2016]: A Divided Spy. USA:  HarperCollins.
  • Joseph Mazur [2016]:  Fluke.  Oneworld Publications.

Some of the people, all of the time

Writer Colm Toibin has an article in praise of Henry James’ novel The Ambassadors, here.
Did Toibin not notice the words of the text as he read it? That novel is appallingly badly written. James’ long, rambling, discursive sentences reflect not subtlety and nuance, but long, rambling, muddled thought. The prose is often hard to comprehend, due to this muddle. An irritating widespread quirk of his style are sentences containing multiple pronouns, each pointing to different people – or perhaps to the same people. There is no consistency. Sometimes a pronoun in one sentence refers to the subject of the previous sentence, and sometimes to the object. Sometimes, indeed, one pronoun in a sentence may refer to the subject in an earlier sentence, while another pronoun refers to the object in another sentence. I lost count of the number of times I encountered this deictic ambiguity: eventually I concluded that either James was deliberately aiming to make it impossible for the reader to parse his text, or else it was he himself who was muddled, following no consistent rule in his pronoun assignments; in either case, I should feel no shame at abandoning such poor prose. James is justly neglected, and long may he remain so.

Why read?

Why do we read? Many people seem to assume that the only reason for reading is to obtain information about the world. With this view, reading fiction is perhaps hard to justify. But if one only reads to learn new facts, then one’s life is impoverished and Gradgrindian. Indeed, this reason strikes me as like learning to play the trumpet in order to have a means to practice circular breathing.
In fact, we read for many other reasons than just this one. One could say we primarily read novels for the pleasure that reading them provides:

  • the pleasure of reading poetic text (as in the novels of Hardy, Joyce or Faulkner, for instance)
  • the pleasure of reading elegant, finely-crafted prose (eg, Fanny Burney, Doris Lessing, Perec, Brautigan, the English translations of the books by Zhores and Roy Medvedev)
  • the pleasure of engaging in deductive reasoning (any detective or espionage novel)
  • the pleasure of imagining alternative societal futures (scifi), presents (political thrillers, espionage novels), or pasts (historical fiction)
  • the pleasure of being scared (crime thrillers, horror stories)
  • or the pleasure of parsing an intricate narrative structure (eg, Calvino, Fowles, Murnane, Pynchon).

These various pleasures are very distinct, and are orthogonal to the desire to gain information about the world. And some of these pleasures may also be gained from reading non-fiction, for example the finely-honed journalism of Lafcadio Hearn or AJ Liebling or Christopher Hitchens, or the writing of Oliver Sacks, who passed on today.

Charles Burney

This post is a history of the family of Charles Burney FRS (1726-1814), musician and musicologist, and his ancestors and descendants.
Sir MacBurney was one of the 60 Knights who participated in a jousting tournament, supervised by Geoffrey Chaucer on the orders of Richard II, held at Smithfield in London in 1390.
One James Macburney is said to have come south to London from Scotland with King James I and VI in 1603.   His descendant (likely a grandson), also James Macburney, was born around 1653 and had a house in Whitehall.   His son, also called James Macburney (1678-1749), was born in Great Hanwood, Shropshire, around 1678, and attended Westminster School in London.   In 1697, he eloped with Rebecca Ellis, against his father’s wishes. As a consequence, the younger James was not left anything when his father died.  The  younger man’s stepbrother, Joseph Macburney (born of a second wife) was left the entire estate of their father.
This younger James Macburney (1678-1749) was a dancer, violinist and painter, and was supposedly a wit and bon viveur.  He and Rebecca Ellis had 15 children over 20 years, of whom 9 survived into adulthood.   By 1720, he had moved to Shrewsbury,  and Rebecca had died.  He married again, to Ann Cooper, who apparently brought money to the union which helped her somewhat feckless husband. This second marriage produced 5 further children, among whom were Richard Burney (1723-1792) (christened “Berney”).  The last two children were twins, Charles Burney (1726-1814) and Susanna (1726-1734?), who died at the age of 8.  Their father James had apparently dropped the prefix “Mac” around the time of the birth of the  twins.
One of Charles’ half-brothers was James Burney (1710-1789), who was organist at St. Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury, for 54 years, from 1732 to 1786. Charles Burney worked as his assistant from 1742 until 1744.
For a period, Charles Burney and his family lived in Isaac Newton’s former house at 35 St Martin’s Street, Leicester Square, London.  Among Charles’ children were:

  • Esther Burney (1749-1832), harpsichordist, who married her cousin Charles Rousseau Burney (1747-1819), also a keyboardist and violinist.
  • Rear Admiral James Burney RN FRS (1750-1821), naval historian and sailor, who twice sailed around the world with Captain James Cook RN.
  • Fanny Burney, later Madame d’Arblay (1752-1840), novelist and playwright.
  • Rev. Charles Burney FRS (1757-1817), classical scholar.
  • Charlotte Ann Burney, later Mrs Broome (1761-1838), novelist.
  • Sarah Harriet Burney (1772-1844), novelist.

Charles’ nephew, Edward Francisco Burney (1760-1848), artist and violinist, was a brother to Charles Rousseau Burney, both sons of Richard Burney (1723-1792), Charles’s elder brother.  This is a self-portrait of Edward Francisco Burney (Creative Commons License from National Portrait Gallery, London):
In 1793, Fanny Burney married Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D’Arblay (1754-1818), an emigre French aristocrat and soldier, and adjutant-general to Lafayette. Their son, Alexander d’Arblay (1794-1837), was a poet and keen chess-player, and was 10th wrangler in the Mathematics Tripos at Cambridge in 1818, where he was a friend of fellow-student Charles Babbage.  He was also a member of Babbage’s Analytical Society (forerunner of the Cambridge Philosophical Society), which sought to introduce modern analysis, including Leibnizian notation for the differential calculus, into mathematics teaching at Cambridge. d’Arblay was ordained and served as founding minister of Camden Town Chapel (later the Greek Orthodox All Saints Camden) from 1824-1837, and then served briefly at Ely Chapel in High Holborn, London. The founding organist at Camden Town Chapel was Samuel Wesley (1766-1837).
Not everyone was a fan of clan Burney. Here is William Hazlitt:

“There are whole families who are born classical, and are entered in the heralds’ college of reputation by the right of consanguinity. Literature, like nobility, runs in the blood. There is the Burney family. There is no end of it or its pretensions. It produces wits, scholars, novelists, musicians, artists in ‘numbers numberless.’ The name is alone a passport to the Temple of Fame. Those who bear it are free of Parnassus by birthright. The founder of it was himself an historian and a musician, but more of a courtier and man of the world than either. The secret of his success may perhaps be discovered in the following passage, where, in alluding to three eminent performers on different instruments, he says: ‘These three illustrious personages were introduced at the Emperor’s court,’ etc.; speaking of them as if they were foreign ambassadors or princes of the blood, and thus magnifying himself and his profession. This overshadowing manner carries nearly everything before it, and mystifies a great many. There is nothing like putting the best face upon things, and leaving others to find out the difference. He who could call three musicians ‘personages’ would himself play a personage through life, and succeed in his leading object. Sir Joshua Reynolds, remarking on this passage, said: ‘No one had a greater respect than he had for his profession, but that he should never think of applying to it epithets that were appropriated merely to external rank and distinction.’ Madame d’Arblay, it must be owned, had cleverness enough to stock a whole family, and to set up her cousin-germans, male and female, for wits and virtuosos to the third and fourth generation. The rest have done nothing, that I know of, but keep up the name.” (On the Aristocracy of Letters, 1822).

K. S. Grant: ” Charles Burney”, Grove Music Online. (Accessed 2006-12-10.)

Recent Reading 11

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books.
Francis King [1970]:  A Domestic Animal. Faber Finds, 2014.  A well-written account of unrequited love that becomes an obsession.  Both the plot and the dialogue are, at times, unbelievable, although the obsession and the emotions it provokes in holder and object are very credible.
Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 11’