A good companion to works such as Tooze's Wages of Destruction and Collingham's The Taste of War, this work investigates British attitudes towards a w...moreA good companion to works such as Tooze's Wages of Destruction and Collingham's The Taste of War, this work investigates British attitudes towards a war that was thought to be determined by modern technology. The British Empire was notable for its reliance on its powerful industrial basis.
Perhaps Edgerton's book is not as thorough as the two studies mentioned above. The book has a stronger political slant, as Edgerton argues that later historical interpretation of the war was strongly colored by the rise of British nationalism and post-war political thinking, which displaced the strongly internationalist outlook of the was years. This gave rise to the myth of Britain "standing alone" against the might of Nazi-occupied Europe, which in turn fed many small myths. This work makes a strong effort to replace myth with facts and figures, and describe the reality of the war years. The result is laden with information both on industry and on the important personalities of the period.
At times one does get the feeling that the author is overreaching a bit. But this is a very interesting work, which may change one's perspective on a period about which all already appeared to be known.
This account of the investigation of the murder of Thomas Briggs, in a railway carriage in 1864, has one big disadvantage: We will never know what act...moreThis account of the investigation of the murder of Thomas Briggs, in a railway carriage in 1864, has one big disadvantage: We will never know what actually happened, and Kate Colquhoun refuses to speculate. On the details of a policy investigation in 19th century London, which expanded as the detectives crossed the ocean in search of their suspect, her book is both informative and a pleasure to read. The section on the trial and execution of Franz Mueller is long and grim, and calculated to bring home the rough realities of justice at the time.
A fascinating aspect of this story is the economic life of Mueller, an immigrant in London who worked as a tailor, and his friends of the same class: How they pawned goods to get cash, bartered and traded among themselves, mended second-hand goods and generally tried to scrape together a living in a hostile world. It will never be clear whether Mueller was the victim of this practice, unwittingly purchasing the dead man's possessions, or tried to profit from him to convert the goods he has robbed into money.
Ian Mortimer's day-by-day account of the year 1415 covers Henry V's preparations for the invasion of France, the siege of Harfleur and the battle of A...moreIan Mortimer's day-by-day account of the year 1415 covers Henry V's preparations for the invasion of France, the siege of Harfleur and the battle of Agincourt, and their aftermath. The original narrative structure provides a lot of context to the kings actions and helps us to understand the impact of the event of the battle. Mortimer's writing is high quality as always.
I am slightly less convinced by the historian's final judgment of Henry V. Mortimer eloquently analyzes and defends his right as a historian to be a judge of character. But in truth, even this excellent book gives us only a limited insight in the motives of a 15th century king. We see Henry through his actions, which are interpreted for us by the historian. There is a risk of judging the straw man we have constructed by our 20th century interpretation, instead of the real man.
That said, the book is laden with fascinating information, inviting the reader to make his own judgment. It is not a story from which anyone emerges with much credit: The ruthless Henry V, the mentally ill French king, the weak dauphin, and the duplicitous John the Fearless, are all deftly sketched as the flawed main characters in the drama of 1415.(less)
This book has the hallmarks of an official history: It frequently refers to official documents and meeting minutes, elaborates on the managerial cultu...moreThis book has the hallmarks of an official history: It frequently refers to official documents and meeting minutes, elaborates on the managerial culture of MI5, and contains organizational diagrams as an appendix. It also contains accounts of the most important counter-espionage and counter-terrorism cases in the history of MI5, and a large number of interesting background facts. Nevertheless, readers who are only looking for a gripping espionage story may be bored by the story of MI5 as an institution. Strange as it is, considering that MI5 had no legal basis for much of its existence, and the government stubbornly (but with very little credibility) refused to acknowledge that existence.
But the political story also deserves to be told. The relationship between MI5 and its own government is an interesting topic in itself, as governments were over-eager to use the secret service against their political opponents, or worried that it was acting against them. Christopher Andrew argues that MI5 generally stayed within the boundaries of constitutional propriety, despite the pressure occasionally exerted on it.
The author acknowledged in an interview that there were deletions for security reasons, and especially in the later chapters there were stories he was not allowed to tell for reasons he personally disagreed with. Nevertheless it is an independent account, sympathetic to its subject, but not uncritical. (less)
The Crimean war is today mostly a dim memory from a bygone age in politics and warfare: Most people faintly remember something about Florence Nighting...moreThe Crimean war is today mostly a dim memory from a bygone age in politics and warfare: Most people faintly remember something about Florence Nightingale, the charge of the Light Brigade, incompetent leadership and much human suffering. And perhaps there is much to be said for that summary.
One thing Figes does is tell that story in more detail, doing more justice to those who lived through the bitter conflict. But he also adds a lot of context to this war, explaining why the governments chose to send men to fight in the Crimea -- all for their own reasons. It is a grim insight in the history of the Balkans, baring the roots of conflicts that have lasted to this day. It is a sad story, but one that deserves to be told.
Figes also makes a case for the lasting influence of the Crimean War as one that helped to redraw the map of Europe. This is less convincing. The Crimean War certainly had a lasting cultural legacy, famously inspiring writers such as Tennyson and Tolstoy, and fundamentally changing the life of the latter. But the direct consequences of the war, political and military, were limited and soon overturned. It was just one phase in a long process that changed the Europe of 1815 in the world of 1914: Probably one that was disproportionally more bloody than it was decisive.
England's Elizabethan age was an age of growing literacy, but also one of sharp class distinctions. That is strongly reflected in this book, as a cour...moreEngland's Elizabethan age was an age of growing literacy, but also one of sharp class distinctions. That is strongly reflected in this book, as a courtier who wrote poetry might leave a record of his innermost feelings, but a yeoman farmer only the list of his possessions that was created on his death. So this is not an entirely balanced guide to the Elizabethan age, but Ian Mortimer nevertheless furnishes a fascinating dversity of detail, from theather to cookbook recipes, from architecture to dental hygiene, from the workings of the courts to medicine.
This is a very enjoyable and diverse book, even if in places it is a little dry in its enumerations and it necessarily has to be selective in its coverage. Mortimer goes to some length to make similarities and differences with our time explicit, and the adopted "guidebook" format serves that purpose well.
This book ends with the comment of Marlborough's opponent Bolingbroke, that the late duke had been such a great man that Bolingbroke preferred to forg...moreThis book ends with the comment of Marlborough's opponent Bolingbroke, that the late duke had been such a great man that Bolingbroke preferred to forget his flaws. That seems to sum up Holmes' attitude as well. While his biography of John Churchill does mention the criticisms of his enemies, this is a deeply sympathetic work. In this it may be a bit unfair to the duke's contemporaries. It is a very enjoyable book. The War of the Spanish Succession and its campaigns are now in a distant and murky past, unfamiliar to the modern reader and not easy to find order or sense in. Holmes manages to create a narrative that provides a good framework for Marlborough's campaigns and battles. His description of Marlborough's victories is as clear and concise as can be expected from an experienced military historian. But the personality of Marlborough remains enigmatic, despite the many quotes from his voluminous correspondence. It is hard to say whether this is a failing of the biographer, or unavoidable because the great commander always kept in mind that his letters might fall in the wrong hand. Evidently, Marlborough was not very inclined to explain or defend his own actions, and it is to Holmes' credit that he showns restraint in trying to fill the gaps. (less)
I enjoyed reading this book, but in the end I was slighly dissatisfied. The death of Amy Robsart is a historical fait-divers of lasting interest, but...moreI enjoyed reading this book, but in the end I was slighly dissatisfied. The death of Amy Robsart is a historical fait-divers of lasting interest, but it is also something about which we will never learn the full truth: It would be unfair to blame the author for that. The good news is that Skidmore's book profits from the rediscovery of the original report of the inquest into Amy's death, as well as a lot of private correspondence and literature of the period. But he doesn't really succeed in drawing conclusions from it, even by adding modern insights into death by disease or accident. I don't know whether it is to the author's credit that he refrains from pushing his own theory, or not: It is a relief after all the "Of course Ay did it!" television shows, but it a clear thesis might have given the book more structure. It is a bit meandering and in several places repeats itself. What Skidmore does expose, by paying close attention to relationships and timelines, is the web of court intrigue that surrounded Leicester and Elisabeth I, and the manipulation of the facts for political purposes. Unfortunately, to tell that story he has to repeat much about Elisabethean court life that is already well known, so that the preponderance of old facts tends to crowd out the new ones. (less)
An interesting but very dry history of the Secret Intelligence Service. The problem may be that Jeffery has fallen for the modern management illusion...moreAn interesting but very dry history of the Secret Intelligence Service. The problem may be that Jeffery has fallen for the modern management illusion that the fate of an organization is decided by its organogram and the personality at its head. But while it is interesting to learn something more about the three men who used the designation 'C' in the period described (1909-1949) there is a lot more to a secret intelligence organization than that. Jeffery gives us too little insight in the culture of MI6, the personalities if the other people who worked for it, and the actual work that they did.
There are some little gems in the text, and some fascinating new stories, for example about the attempts of MI6 to sink or sabotage the ships that brought Jewish refugees to Palestine in the late 1940s. But at times Jeffery gives the impression that other people have told all the interesting stories about MI6 and he comes to fill in the grey background of bureaucratic in-fighting in Whitehall. For a historian with access to previously unopened archives, that is a shame.
Maybe because this intended to be an official history, he tries to be extensive in geographical coverage, instead of giving any information in depth. Sweeping global overviews give us a few names, a bit of local political background, and perhaps a few sentences of biography, before people are allowed to sink in obscurity again: So often you feel that there is a fascinating story there, perhaps several, that is not being told.
The book is readable but it took me a long time to get through this. And I disliked the typesetting, especially the way in which an 'e' collides with a preceding 'r'. A tiny detail but it looks so ugly that it is disruptive.(less)
This story is far more interesting than the rather obscure subject seems to promise. Colin Smith has managed to write an account that weaves together...moreThis story is far more interesting than the rather obscure subject seems to promise. Colin Smith has managed to write an account that weaves together the personal experiences and recollections of the men at the front with the grand strategy of the men in government, never losing sight of the human perspectives. It probably helped that the scale of the conflict between Vichy France and Britain was often small, involving thousands of men at a time when millions fought on other fronts. But many of these battles still resulted in absurdly unnecessary death and destruction, caused by the warped sense of honor of officers who somehow felt obliged to sent their men to die for a cause that was both bad and lost. Smith is sharp in his condemnation of such behaviour, but otherwise conveys insight in and sympathy for many of the men who played out their role in this story. It was an odd conflict, in which men who had been allies in a recent past and might soon be allies again, fought each other with a murderous politeness that Louis XIV would have considered rather quaint. And afterwards many preferred to forget about it completely, but it should not be, and Smith tells the story well.(less)
The original concept of a "traveller's guide" to medieval England works amazingly well. The author provides us with a lot of information, of a kind th...moreThe original concept of a "traveller's guide" to medieval England works amazingly well. The author provides us with a lot of information, of a kind that is often buried in monumentally dry social histories, in a straightforward and entertaining manner. One can indeed imagine the sights of medieval England (though perhaps not the smells). (less)