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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, July 29, 2021


I'd read it.... IF it was delivered to my door and then handed to me in my chair.... 


Just Finished Reading: The Revenge of History – The Battle for the 21st Century by Seumas Milne (FP: 2012) [277pp]

This is a bit of an odd one. I picked it up expecting (indeed hoping) that it was an analysis of how the late 20th and start of the 21 centuries got us into this mess. Although there were elements of that it turned out to be, at least for me, rather disappointing on that note. This isn’t to say that the book was bad or defective in some way – it wasn’t. It’s just that it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

Running from 1999 to 2011 this was a look at the political, economic and military events of the period from 9/11 to the Arab Uprising. There was one aspect that took me a little while to get my head around from the very start. Rather than looking backwards from 2012 when it was published each section (and sub-section) is contemporary with the events described. Although I don’t think it actually says anywhere, either in the preamble or the blurb on the back, the book is (or seems to be) a collection of the author’s articles presumably printed at the time in The Guardian newspaper. Whilst that is a valid way of doing things – especially if you hadn’t read them before – it does I think significantly reduce the authors opportunities to analyse events with the benefit of hindsight that he obviously had prior to publication of the book rather than prior to publication of the articles themselves. What might have been more interesting would be if the author had commented on his own work with that hindsight from an almost god-like position of ‘knowing’ what was coming next. A little ‘post-modern’ I know but I think it would have worked and would have given some interesting and valuable insights into things.

For those who are unaware, The Guardian is/was the premier left-leaning newspaper in the UK and, before I stopped buying all newspapers some years ago, I read it for many years from my student days and through my first 20 years of employment from then. So naturally I found myself in agreement with almost every word in this book. Unfortunately that was one of the things that ‘disappointed’ me (*I know*!) and I must admit I did find myself a little bored from time to time. I also clearly remember much of what’s covered here because I’m fairly switched on politically (as you may have realised – lol) and I was paying attention at the time these events were unfolding around me. If this applies to you as much as me I can’t see you deriving much from reading this book. If, however, you were *not* paying attention (for any of a whole host of reasons) or want to see the first part of the 21st century through a pair of lefty eyes then you might get quite an education. Reasonable but I’m really looking for something a bit more analytical.  

Monday, July 26, 2021


 


 


Just Finished Reading: Ship of Force by Alan Evans (FP: 1979) [255pp]

Summer, 1917. After returning to England after his adventures off the Pacific coast of North America the Admiralty didn’t really know what to do with Commander David Cochrane Smith. Was he reckless, nothing more than a glory hound or was he something else – gifted, special, an asset in the ongoing conflict with Germany. Only time and opportunity would tell and Rear-Admiral Braddock was determined to give him that opportunity. Despite some opposition, Smith was to be given command of a destroyer flotilla in the English Channel tasked with the destruction of enemy U-Boats. He was to report to his commanding officer in Dunkirk at his earliest opportunity. But on arrival any thought that all had been ‘forgiven’ was quickly dismissed. His ‘flotilla’ was in fact an aged Torpedo Boat ‘Destroyer’ dating from the last years of the 19th century and a barely functioning Monitor coastal bombardment vessel. To make matters worse, as if they could be, both crews had a reputation of insubordination and causing regular trouble whilst on shore leave. If Smith was to make any headway or any impression at all he needed to do something quickly. Taking command of the ‘destroyer’ on his first day in post they run across a surfaced U-boat and engage it. Rescuing survivors after the battle the dying captain of the submarine rants about ‘Operation Swordbearer’ – a plan that is sure to turn the tide of war in Germany’s favour. But was exactly *is* Swordbearer? Dismissed as the ramblings of a dying man by Smith’s new commander it is up to Smith and his team to uncover the plot and defend against whatever the planned attack can throw at them. But with two of the worst ships in the Dunkirk squadron what can one man possibly do? Quite a lot – if that man is as resourceful and determined as Commander David Cochrane Smith!

After thoroughly enjoying his previous book in the series I was really looking forward to this and it very much did not disappoint. Smith is a great character especially in this book with both his anger management and self-doubt issues under more control. He still doesn’t quite understand why his men look up to and value him so much but it doesn’t take too much reasoning power to discern the reason why – although he does push his people to perform (probably more than they thought they could) he is a VERY good leader of men, although I do think that he’s a bit too reckless for my liking. One of his qualities though is that Smith leads from the front. He certainly puts his men in danger and does get some of them killed (word to the wise – in these books it’s best not to get too attached to secondary characters!) but he’s right in the thick of it with them, taking the same risks and just as often needing at least some medical attention once combat it over. As with the previous book the naval combat scenes are both very well down and damned exciting. The tension builds throughout the book with a simple fight between destroyed and sub to start with, moving through a fast ‘contact’ with multiple enemies caught unawares whilst loading troops and finally with a ‘boss fight’ between Smith’s small flotilla (plus a fast torpedo boat that he ‘borrowed’) against an enemy Battlecruiser and her escorts. There’s also a reasonable espionage sub-plot as well as, with Smith’s well-deserved reputation, a brief relationship element. Great characterisation throughout – I particularly liked the irascible female tugboat captain who assists Smiths plans from time to time. Overall this was GREAT fun from the first page. I think I have just one more of this author’s series to read and am actively trying to get his others. A total blast and highly recommended if you can find a copy.          

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Reading Plans for 2021 (and Beyond) – Half Year Update

 

Has it REALLY been 6 months already? Yup! How times flies during a slow motion Apocalypse…. I think it’s about time I surveyed how my 2021 Reading Plans were doing. Well, it’s one way I can keep myself on track – or at least TRY too! [lol]

Following The Labels

My Plan to follow the country/region labels is going reasonably well. I’ve read & reviewed the bunch of books for both France and Germany (with an additional China bonus triple), so (ancient) Greece is up next – presently sitting in the ‘to be scheduled soon’ pile – and I expect to complete both the India and Ireland batch this year.

Dipping in the Knowledge Streams

Dipping is, I think, the word here. I’ve been nibbling around the edges of ‘Britain Alone’, ‘World War to Cold War’ and ‘USA:WTF’ but will become more focused going into the 2nd half of the year. I’m actually about to start the official foundation of my ‘Britain Alone’ set of books with the 1938 Munich Crisis, so that’ll be showing up for review in about 5-6 weeks. The foundation for the ‘World War to Cold War’, which is a review of Occupied Europe prior to D-Day will follow later (but well before year’s end). As the topic of ‘USA:WTF’ is rather more amorphous it’ll be a little more hit and miss as I’m really not sure what would count as a foundation for that subject!   

Wild Cards

I think the ‘Wild Cards’ are working well and the increased number of them will be showing up from around now and going forward into next year. I’m expecting, with them being ‘wild’ and all, that they should produce some real surprises – and not only for my hard-core readers.

Finishing/Progressing Series

I’m approaching the end of the ‘Sharpe’ series of books – just in time for Cornwell to drop another one! – which should be complete early next year. I’ve also recently (and finally!) finished the ‘Divergent’ series of books. Coming up, by the end of the year anyway, will be the final book in the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy that I still haven’t read. I’m yet to start either the ‘Foundation’ or ‘Dune’ series of books, in advance of the Foundation TV series or the Dune movie but hope to do so this year (although the reviews might drop in 2022). Naturally, being me, I have started several more long running series – notably ‘The Expanse’ – which will take some time to complete.

Bigger Books & Reducing the Review Pile

The review pile presently stands as 11 which is somewhat better than the 14 of six months ago. I am endeavouring to read longer books to push that down to around 8 (which seems reasonable) but its slow going. Presently my average read is 330pp (which is at least 20pp more than six months ago!) with the aim to get that above 350pp and keep it there. The largest book reviewed since records began (on Oct 22nd 2020) is 561pp but that record will fall in a few weeks.

Awards

My plan to read more Award Winning books is, I think, going well. MANY more to come including some interesting surprises.

 Continuing as Usual

On top of all of that I’m, naturally, progressing with all of my background reading plans. The last of the (extended) ‘Man Vs Machine’ reading pile has entered my (enlarged) ‘read next’ stack sitting on my sofa, so the next stack of WW1 based novels will start being scheduled soon(ish). The rest of the reading Cosmic Background you can probably already guess at. The only notable addition going forward will be a number of Ancestry related books both on the deeper genetic aspects of the Brits (and Irish of course) as well as some more focused reading on the Caribbean and the pre-revolution American colonies.