Quite long, but detailed. Could've used more discussion of the security side of the KGB (and its predecessors), as opposed to primarily discussing strQuite long, but detailed. Could've used more discussion of the security side of the KGB (and its predecessors), as opposed to primarily discussing straight intel ops. Key points:
1) Soviet intel collection was at its height 30s-early 60s (especially during the era of the "Great Illegals"), when it could rely on ideologically driven agents, and when Britain and the U.S. were not as alive to the collection threat. Post Prague Spring ('68) and the rise of the New Left, the Soviet image lost its luster, and, hence, its willing ideological recruits in the West.
2) Proper intel analysis does not thrive in authoritarian systems, where providing the "wrong" assessment can lead to one being fired...or worse....more
I heard about "Red Cavalry" some years ago, and got the book in order to read it. However, while I enjoyed that portion, I liked the tales of the gangI heard about "Red Cavalry" some years ago, and got the book in order to read it. However, while I enjoyed that portion, I liked the tales of the gangsters and characters of Odessa's Jewish slum even more....more
The qualification and training stuff was interesting. The man is a fine writer, but sometimes the literary embellishments are a little over the top. HThe qualification and training stuff was interesting. The man is a fine writer, but sometimes the literary embellishments are a little over the top. He's also pretty high on his own fumes....more
This is thick as a brick (almost 700 pages) and detail heavy. But, it reads fairly quickly, and provides a good overview of the social, political, ecoThis is thick as a brick (almost 700 pages) and detail heavy. But, it reads fairly quickly, and provides a good overview of the social, political, economic, and military history of the Revolution. There's enough political machinations to excite the poli-sci nerds, and sufficient coverage of battles to fire up the military history geeks. Also, a fair amount of discussion on foreign affairs, the role of Europe, and the place of domestic British politics in the events from 1763 to the end of the war. Required reading for all 'muricans....more
I've filled in more holes in my knowledge of British history. I understand better the role of British arms on the continent in the 18th century, and tI've filled in more holes in my knowledge of British history. I understand better the role of British arms on the continent in the 18th century, and the the career of Marlborough. I never tire of reading Chruchill's prose. Interesting, as well, to see a half-American British PM's view on American history, particularly the Revolution and the War of 1812....more
Well worth the read for anyone who wants a glimpse of life in Mongolia during the Russian Civil War. While the controversial part IV, with it's apocryWell worth the read for anyone who wants a glimpse of life in Mongolia during the Russian Civil War. While the controversial part IV, with it's apocryphal "Buddhist" prophecies and fanciful references to the subterannean kingdom of Agharti, may be completely fanciful/fictional, it's still entertaining, and is dying for a good Indian Jones treatment....more
Good old-fashioned narrative history, using a variety of European and Chinese sources. It tells the story of Hong Xiuquan, a 19th century failed ConfuGood old-fashioned narrative history, using a variety of European and Chinese sources. It tells the story of Hong Xiuquan, a 19th century failed Confucian scholar who blended a vivid vision/dream of God and his family with Christian missionary tracks he came across in southeast China. Hong came to beleive that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ and went about setting up his heavenly kingdom, "Taiping." His missionary efforts garnered support among the societal outcasts in southeast China, where the political, economic and social effects of the 1st Opium War, and ongoing battles between the Qing government and various anti-Manchu secret societies createed a sense of continual upheaval. After run-ins with the local agents of the Qing government, the Taiping transformed themselves into a militaristic, autocratic, anti-Confucian/Buddhist movement, whose army challenged Beijing for over a decade. This Taiping "rebellion" was actually a war that claimed more casualties than the First World War.
My only issues with the book: it's written in the present tense, i.e. "Hong Xiuquan goes to Canton in 1840," and there is no prologue. The narrative stops dead when the main characters die. ...more
Service makes Lenin a real person. As the first great western biographer of Lenin, i.e. the first westerner to have access to previously suppressed arService makes Lenin a real person. As the first great western biographer of Lenin, i.e. the first westerner to have access to previously suppressed archival materials, he vividly describes Lenin the person, Lenin the leader, Lenin the conniving politician. At times his analysis does seem to dwell for far too long on psycho-babble (e.g. how did the death of Lenin's father and brother effect him?, etc.) but the overall effect is to describe Lenin as a human.
Lenin was a product of his upbringing. Though he was an geneological microcosm of the ethnic diversity of the Russian Empire, he always identified as a Russian...a European Russian. He came from an up and coming provincial noble family who provided him with an excellent classical education. His training in Latin, Greek, German and French prepared him for an emigre's life, and sharpened his mind for a lifetime of engaging in doctrinal hair-splitting.
Some of the best anecdotes are about Lenin as a hypochondriac who enjoyed being babied by his mother, sisters and wife. Yet, he was also a very physical person who enjoyed cycling, hiking and showing off his ice-skating chops (the guy grew up on the Volga after all). Besides being extremely passionate about politics, he loved classical music and chess, though he famously denied himself of all these pleasures so that nothing would interrupt his revolutionary work. He most likely had an affair with fellow revolutionary Inessa Armand, but, again, did not allow this dalliance to get in the way of his revolutionary goals. In fact, according to Service, Lenin had an almost romantic love of Marx and Marxist theory, which satisfied him more than an conventional relationship could have. Yet, he was in many ways a warm human being. He was obsessed with the health of his fellow comrades, and he loved children. It was a great regret to him that he and Nadezhda Konstantinova were never able to have children. He had to satisfy himself with spoiling his nephew and the children of friends. In fact, Lenin was apparently a great rough-houser who resisted familial attempts to shoo the children outside.
Most importantly, Service does much to dispel the myth, perpetuated by Khrushchev and his successors for ideological reasons, that all the ills of the Soviet system were instituted by Stalin. In fact, Lenin was completely ruthless when it came to those whom he deemed enemies of the revolution. He penned many a note urging military and political authorities to engage in witch-hunts, massacres, etc. He created the CHEKA. He did not care that peasants were dropping like flies from famine as long as he ensured the existence of the revolution. For him, political terror was a necessary tool. Dictatorship was also necessary. He latched onto the notion of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and never let go. Of course, his party was the only organ that could legitimately represent the proletariat, and he was it's star. While he lived, only he could correctly interpret Marxist doctrine. Nevermind that he, as a pragmatic politician, often needed to abandon Marx (such as Marx's notion of a two-stage revolution: first capitalism then socialism). This obstinate attitude put him constantly at odds with sections of his own party, Social Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and other socialists, let alone followers of right-wing political ideologies. Despite this, Lenin was a consumate politician, switching positions when it suited him, stabbing political allies in the back to gain advantage. Besides his powerful, yet doctrinally questionable writing, it was this moving and shaking that kept him on top of the heap.
Yet, his most important attribute was his leadership skill. He cajoled the other Bolsheviks into making the October Revolution. He fought for the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and the NEP. He established the USSR. His leadership won the Civil War. That is not to say that he didn't make any bone-headed decision. He made plenty. Yet, like all good politicians, he had a knack for deflecting the blame onto his comrades. Though, his word was not absolute in the party either before or after the revolution. That's where his stubborness and political gamesmanship came into play.
This was originally written in 1924. Thomas' grasp of ancient and medieval history is suspect. His description of modern Arabs often displays the prejThis was originally written in 1924. Thomas' grasp of ancient and medieval history is suspect. His description of modern Arabs often displays the prejudices of his era. He also hero-worships Lawrence. That said, he offers some very good first hand reporting on Lawrence and interesting descriptions of key battles in the asymetric and conventional sides of the Middle Eastern campaign. He also does some justice to Arab culture. Unlike most of the faculty I encountered in my Near Eastern studies program, I am not of the opinion that you have to throw out every pre-1979 work on the Middle East/Islamic world just b/c stereotypes existed then which are impolitic now. Should that be the case none of us would every read history....more
Published in '68 by a brilliant British scholar. Excellent run down of the political, social, cultural and economic history from the 17th to the mid-2Published in '68 by a brilliant British scholar. Excellent run down of the political, social, cultural and economic history from the 17th to the mid-20th centuries. Chuck-full of detail, but never dry. Bawden gives a lucid, easy to follow explanation of how economic and other hardships drove Mongolia into Manchu servitude in the late 17th century and subsequently stirred anti-Manchu feeling and helped bring about an autonomous Mongolia in 1911. He chronicles Mongolia's status as a Soviet satellite, her role in the Soviet-Japanese disputes of the '30s, her unfortunate aping of Soviet collectivization and Stalin's cult of personality (during the rule of Choibalsang) with similarly disasterous results.
He particularly focuses on the role of Lamaist Buddhism in all aspects of Mongolian life. He makes no bones about his distaste for the "decadence" of the church, faulting it for enriching itself on the labor of its adherents, monopolizing a considerable portion of the country's productive citizens through the clergy; passing off "quackery" as legitimate medicine, etc. Despite this, the author is not a Marxist-Leninst apologist and he does not defend the Soviet inspired destruction of the church, nor does he defend Choibalsang's cult of personality, the purges initiated by the party, it's economic bungling that nearly destroyed the country in the early 30s, etc.
However, it is fascinating to read a work written in an era when the socialist experiment was still alive and well throughout much of the world, including Britain. The author speaks about building socialism and communism as if these were workable states that could objectively be achieved rather than utopian fantasies. Of course, it is anachronistic of me to project my late 20th century thinking back on to something written before I was born. The collapse of the USSR was not a forgone conclusion at that time. As dis-functional as it was by '68, it still appeared as a somewhat legitimate model of social, economic and political, though oppressive, development. What Bawden's real gift is, is that he brings together Chinese, Russian and Mongolian sources to get at what actually took place in Mongolia's modern development. He starts to prise open the secrets of a society that was isolated and mysterious long before it hitched it's star to the USSR. He does an especially admirable job of trolling through the shifting historiography of the country, as yesterday's revolutionary heroes were suddenly branded as Japanese spies and erased from official documents, made non-persons. He makes a serious attempt to investigate important figures who were eliminated for so-called treason, the true details on the rise of Choibalsang--as opposed to the school book nonsense about his destined rise to leadership, etc....more