Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Links & Connections (3)
I’m enjoying this idea of linking sometimes very different books due to titles or close title matches. So here’s a few more from the last few months…
Dominion by C J Sansom
Dominion – The Making of the Western Mind by Tom Holland
[Two VERY different if almost as large books]
WTF? By Robert Preston
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – A Memoir by Kim Barker
[I think WTF is going to be the slogan of the decade!]
Munich by Robert Harris
Munich – The 1938 Appeasement Crisis by David Faber
[Two very interesting and highly entertaining reads surrounding a pivotal event]
Although there’s nothing similar in the review pile ATM there will be more coming. Plus I really liked the idea of reading the two Munich books back to back. It WAS very ‘on point’ but I think reading a fictional account and then a non-fiction account of the same incident added value to both reads. Far less ‘on point’ was further reads on the uses/abuse of history from two perspectives, two tales of British political sex scandals (one fiction and one non-fiction separated by 50 years) and a Sharpe novel based in India involving the East India Company followed by a detailed history of the same institution that both ended around the same timeframe. Definitely MUCH more of that sort of thing to come!
Monday, October 25, 2021
Just Finished Reading: The Fall of The Towers by Samuel R Delany (FP: 1965) [416pp]
500 years after the Great Fire fell from the skies and destroyed the world the last human city – Toron – was beginning to fail. Hemmed in by a still dangerously polluted ocean and prevented from expanding into the radioactive wastes inland they could only build up. But after centuries of restrictive growth there is nowhere left to go. As the city’s economy grinds inexorably to a halt the malcontents in the lower city riot. With civil unrest on the rise there is only one hope – War! As the army gathers to attack the Barrier between the City and the Wastes a recently sentient AI dedicates itself to stop them. Meanwhile, in deep space, a malevolent evil presence, devoid of a physical body, approaches Earth looking for a body to inhabit and new worlds to conquer. Time is running out for humanity and the last city that holds them.
This is trilogy of shorter novels in a single binding: Captives of the Flame (aka Out of the Dead City) , The Towers of Toron  and The City of a Thousand Suns . I’m not actually sure if I’ve ever read (or more accurately completed) a Delany novel before. I had a ‘go’ at ‘Dhalgren’ in my teens but it didn’t stick. I think I gave up on that pretty quickly. This I read because of the reference to a “berserk computer” prompted me to add it to my Man Vs Machine ‘series’ I’m working my way through presently. Unfortunately said AI didn’t really appear in the book(s) very much or have great an impact when it did. Despite the fact that I completed this I can’t say that I enjoyed it overly much. The stories haven’t dated very well and although they had some interesting plot lines and reasonable characterisation I lost interest in the story about half way through. The original idea was a good one I thought but the author managed to add in a series of (what I considered to be) irrelevant sub-plots – like the non-corporeal alien – that didn’t really move the story on that much as well as a ‘virtual’ war that quickly descended into farce. I did think that this might just be a comment on the Vietnam conflict but on second thought considered the publication date(s) to be a bit early for that sort of thing. The idea of the (potentially at least) last humans refusing to die off after surviving a nuclear war for so long could have been – indeed should have been – a great read of humanity triumphing over crushing adversity. Unfortunately this novel/novels was nothing of the sort. Definitely a missed opportunity there. Not recommended.
Sunday, October 24, 2021
Thursday, October 21, 2021
Just Finished Reading: The Anarchy – The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple (FP: 2019) [409pp]
It was not exactly an auspicious start to the enterprise. Fewer than expected investors had signed on to the undertaking. Certainly nowhere near the investment capital had been raised compared to their Dutch and Portuguese rivals. From the very start it was going to be an uphill struggle to survive. As if that wasn’t enough the first trading missions went badly – so badly that a significant number of trading ships simply vanished never to return. Only the interception of an already laden Dutch ship saved the company from going under in those early days. But Luck, as she has a tendency of doing, changes. Settlements were agreed with local princes and trading started flowing back – in a trickle at least. But the opportunities were truly immense. The British who landed in India, at Bengal, were astonished at the wealth seemingly there for the taking – if they could hold onto it. Security was, naturally, a problem. Months away from any relief they had to be able to defend themselves. The British navy was available in time of war – in other words quite often – but could hardly be prevailed upon to protect assets inland from the trading ports. But the Company did have something in its favour – money – and with money the ability to buy security in the form of mercenary captains and hired local soldiers trained to fight in the European way. A private Company hired itself a private army. They were not alone of course but gradually the Portuguese, the Dutch and even the French left the sub-continent effectively leaving it to the British to gobble up piecemeal. The Company and its plans were not without opposition however. The local leaders had been fighting amongst themselves for generations and knew a thing or two about warfare. They were even aware of European fighting styles and could afford European arms and European captains just as the Company could. But the local leaders had other things too – deep seated rivalries that could not just be set aside in the face of a common enemy, an overpowering sense of power and entitlement that had little foundation in reality and a mistaken belief that one or two lost battles would send the Company scuttling home to Britain. Things had gone too far for that. The Company was now so successful that it was FAR too big to fail. The revenue it generated for the British economy outweighed every other money stream by far. If the Company failed, some argued with a great deal of reason, then Britain itself could fail. So, gradually, reluctantly, the British government (whose Ministers already invested in the Company and who were loath to see their investments in peril) became more and more entangled in its operation and more and more dependent on its survival.
Before reading this excellent history I had no real idea just how important the East India Company was in the history of the British Empire, Britain herself and indeed world history of that period. Not only did the Company provide – by essentially asset stripping an entire sub-continent of its natural wealth – a HUGE capital influx to the coffers of the British economy for decade after decade but it gradually took over the administration of more and more of India and placed the British government in the position of having to ‘take charge’ when the Company was faced with bankruptcy. If you have ever wondered, like me, just how the British ‘acquired’ India then look no further that the history of the East India Company. It’s actually incredible that a private company answerable only to its shareholders was generating a significant percentage of Britain’s GDP and, at least for a time, had more armed forces at its command than did its mother-country. I wonder if that’s a sneak-peek into the future of multi-nationals. Covering several hundred years from its inception to its crashing down in flames this is a fascinating look at a company out of control, a continent being ransacked and the fight over what should be done about it. A definite must read for anyone interested in India, the British Empire and the possible future of BIG business.