With the centennial of onset of The Great War only two years away, Adam Hochschild's history is an excellent overview of the calamitous events of WW IWith the centennial of onset of The Great War only two years away, Adam Hochschild's history is an excellent overview of the calamitous events of WW I and their impact on Britain. Hochshield doesn't attempt to have his book be a comprehensive history of World War I. His focus is on the political and social undercurrents opposed to the war. He traces the protests and demonstrations of war resisters, conscientious objectors, suffragettes, pacifists, and labor movements who accurately foresaw the war as a tragedy that would engulf all of Europe (and their respective colonies around the world) and claim millions on the bloody battlefields of Belgium, France, Turkey, and Italy. The incompetence and appalling leadership of British military officers, especially Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig and his predecessor commander-in-chief Sir John French, have been chronicled extensively in earlier history of the war. What is equally appalling is why British politicians let them remain in command despite numerous failed military strategies that costs tens of thousands to die in single days such as at the Battle of the Somme when nearly 60,000 British troops were slaughtered on July 1, 1916, almost 17,000 in the first hour. All after a massive artillery barrage that lasted days when more munitions were fired than in the last 12 months of the war. Despite the heavy bombardment, German machine guns mowed down rows and rows of advancing British soldiers until their barrels almost melted Almost as complicit as the incompetence of British military leaders was the decision of British politicians to suborn the media to publish propaganda instead of accurately reporting on battles, strategies, hazards of trench warfare, and casualties. Some of the British propagandists were stalwart literary figures - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and John Buchan. The madness of trench warfare also took a heavy toll on all forces. Yet British generals executed almost 400 soldiers who disobeyed orders or resisting going over the wall to die in no man's land. Little was known about 'post traumatic stress syndrome' (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan) or 'battle fatigue' (WW II). Troops suffering mental breakdown had what was called 'shell shock' but little was done to treat them or recognize the effects until after the war. In 1990, a group of British citizens began a Shot at Dawn campaign to pardon those executed for failing to follow orders. Warfare has changed much since The Great War. Modern wars aren't fought just between armies. Technology has brought more horrendous weapons to the battlefield. We have the benefit of more objective journalism. But propaganda still exists and those who protest against wars are still deemed 'unpatriotic.' "To End All Wars" is a sober and well written history that documents why the decision to go to war should not be left to politicians and generals. ...more
We had just returned from a brief visit to Guangzhou and Schenzen in 2007 when I discovered Winchester's story of Joseph Needham. I was so enthralledWe had just returned from a brief visit to Guangzhou and Schenzen in 2007 when I discovered Winchester's story of Joseph Needham. I was so enthralled by his saga, Cambridge professor who has an affair w/ a young scientist who escaped from Nanjing days before the Japanese invaded in 1935. Everyone at Cambridge knew about the affair, including his wife, and Winchester says it reflected the tolerant social and sexual atmosphere of the Cambridge dons.
Needham was a polymath and learns Mandarin with the aid of his lover. He learns to speak and write so well the British government gives him a diplomatic passport and flies him into Kunming over the Burma hump to connect w/ Chinese intellectuals who've escaped from eastern China during the war.
What Needham does in those next two years and after he returns to Cambridge, is one of the most amazing stories you can imagine. I'm a reasonably well read person, but I'd never heard of Needham before and how he became probably the world's foremost scholar of Chinese science, art, and culture.
I've read several of Winchester's books and am amazed at his talents as a scientist and storyteller. Even if you don't have much interest in China or science, read this book. It will open your eyes about the ability of one man to devote his life to one of the great challenges in life, understanding the many mysteries of China.
Here's a challenge . . . go to the best library in your area and see if they have any of Needham's collected works, a 20 volume encyclopedia of Chinese art and science. Our little library in Burlingame, CA had three volumes and we checked them out and read through them. Not only was Needham a scholar, he was an excellent writer and story teller himself. ...more