A decent British police procedural. The coppers are good; the villains villainous. Not a whole lot of character development. I thought the way the aut...moreA decent British police procedural. The coppers are good; the villains villainous. Not a whole lot of character development. I thought the way the author finished things was too cursory, but it was an entertaining book, overall.(less)
Good fun. A breezy, wry account of various people who made London the great metropolis it has become.
Most of the people covered are pretty familiar....moreGood fun. A breezy, wry account of various people who made London the great metropolis it has become.
Most of the people covered are pretty familiar. (Shakespeare, Chaucer), some less so (Mary Seacole, for example, a contemporary of Florence Nightingale, and a rival for her fame). Some of the best chapters are on the figures who might not be household names. The complementary chapters dealing with tory Samuel Johnson and radical John Wilkes are particularly fine.
Some chapters are better than others. The chapter on Keith Richards seems a little too awestruck in tone. Also, the lack of a chapter on Charles Dickens seems a largish omission.
Overall, an enjoyable read. Nice capsules of history, entertainingly put forth.(less)
A memoir and extended essay on the main themes of his writing life, this is a good reminder of just how important Christopher Hitchens was to intellec...moreA memoir and extended essay on the main themes of his writing life, this is a good reminder of just how important Christopher Hitchens was to intellectual life, both in the States and in Britain. I first read this shortly prior to the author's death and re-read it after. It only improved on the second reading.
As much as anything else, this is a story of Hitchens's ideological development: the role his parents' lives played in it, the experience of the Trotskyist Left of the 1960s, the influence of the various Amises (Martin, Kingsley), Robert Conquest's anti-Stalinism, and so on. Although a man of the Left, Hitchens doesn't fit comfortably in with some of his ideological peers. He supported both Thatcher's Falklands war and the second Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, which made him anathema to some of his erstwhile friends. However, one can argue that these positions were taken in absolute consistency with his principles. In both cases he was supporting conflicts against brutal military dictatorships. Although his insistence on the WMD rationale for the Iraqi war is a little cringeworthy, his support of Kurdish rights is commendable.
Hitchens was disturbed by the reflexively anti-Western stance prevalent within the post-1960s Left. He championed the Western literary and artistic canons, though not uncritically, as can be seen in his writings on the King James Bible. Hitchens extolled the King James translation for its literary merit, even as he argued that "religion ruins everything."
Strangely (but perhaps not unsurprisingly in the context of George W. Bush's "with us or agin' us" America), Hitchens was cast as a conservative. He was certainly proud of his US citizenship and saw America as an expression of Western ideals, to the point that he advocated a sort of American exceptionalism. That said, Hitchens was not an uncritical apologist. Though he supported Bush's toppling of Saddam Hussein, he accused the Bush administration of criminal incompetence. He excoriated the US role in overthrowing the democratic socialist Allende government and advocated that Henry Kissinger be indicted for war crimes.
One of the photos included in the book shows a smiling Hitchens at the tomb of Karl Marx, "the great man." So much for Hitchens the conservative. All of this labeling and mislabeling speaks to the looseness over terms in American political discourse, where liberalism and socialism are conflated and everything is subjected to Nazi analogies. Hitchens was an antidote to this sloppiness. Through his writings and in his life, Hitchens stood as an example of conceptual complexity and intellectual nuance. What's more, the man who emerges from this book is one of good humor and human compassion.(less)
I thought that Alfred Hitchcok's cinematic version was far superior to the original book. The plot is pretty simplistic and glaringly obvious, which m...moreI thought that Alfred Hitchcok's cinematic version was far superior to the original book. The plot is pretty simplistic and glaringly obvious, which might be seen as a crippling effect for a spy thriller. Britain is threatened by German spies. These spies murder the man who tells the protagonist Richard Hannay of the plot. Spies and police pursue Hannay through Scotland. However, Hannay is the RIGHT SORT and a GOOD EGG. Cunning Huns are no match for a clean-cut, tea-drinking son of the Empire.
If you think I just dropped a big spoiler there, I think you need to read more history. The big news is that the Germans did not manage to invade Britain in 1914.
As I intimated above, the story is pretty obvious and simplistic, relying on a few plot devices that are pretty used up by novel's end. One is that whenever Hannay seems to be cornered by his pursuers, someone comes along in a roadster to save him.
Buchan wrote better. Still, this is harmless fun of the jolly good, what-ho sort, though the movie's better. (less)
A basic overview of English history, or the history of the national area of England, more accurately. The book's focus is on overarching themes, rathe...moreA basic overview of English history, or the history of the national area of England, more accurately. The book's focus is on overarching themes, rather than on a chronological narrative. The neophyte would probably be well-served by combining this with a more conventional narrative history.
Its strength is that it gives the reader a decent conceptual framework with which to organize the welter of names and events of British history. Its weakness is that there's little there that is particularly gripping. (less)
Robert Harris specializes in the normal-guy-in-over-his-head sort of thriller. Nothing here is especially super-complex or challenging, but it is a so...moreRobert Harris specializes in the normal-guy-in-over-his-head sort of thriller. Nothing here is especially super-complex or challenging, but it is a solid, exciting story.
My only real criticism regards a sexual encounter in the book that seemed forced and far-fetched. Other than that, it was a good page-turner, with some satisfying, ripped-from-recent-headlines political intrigue.
The ending was a little contrived, but strangely satisfying from a paranoid, conspiracy-minded perspective.
This was a competent, mostly entertaining book, though not up to Reginald Hill's usual quality. There are two main plotlines running through the novel...moreThis was a competent, mostly entertaining book, though not up to Reginald Hill's usual quality. There are two main plotlines running through the novel: In one, a woman has come to Andy Dalziel wanting to find out if her long-missing husband is still alive and trying to contact her. In the other, an investigative journalistic is poking into the background of the too-good-to-be-true Conservative party rising star. Unifying the two plotlines are Andy Dalziel, implacable force for justice, and Goldie Gidman, old-time villian, who seeks to maneuver his son (said rising star) into an eventual premiership.
Ultimately, both plotlines converge, but I found the woman with the missing husband a bit dull. This part of the book seemed repetitive and under-developed. I think the problem was that Hill tried to give each part of the book equal treatment, it might have worked better had the political intrigue been the driving force of the story, with the missing husband as a smaller part.
If you're already invested in the Dalziel & Pascoe books, by all means read this. There is a bit of development in the relationship between the series's eponymous characters that's of interest. If this is your first foray into the author's work, try something else. Overall, this book felt like a link between the last novel and the next.