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

Monday, December 29, 2014

Just Finished Reading: Designated Targets by John Birmingham (FP: 2005)

It has now been several months since the 21st century battle fleet ‘emerged’ into the Pacific Ocean in 1942. Despite their best efforts both futuristic technology and knowledge of the future has made its way into both Allied and Axis hands. True to their different natures both sides have handled this information differently. The Americans are using the knowledge to make money – by buying companies destined to be important in the years ahead and by contracting future stars of song and screen – whilst the Russians, Germans and Japanese use the information to eliminate their present and future enemies and anyone associated with them with abandon. On both sides plans for war winning weapons are pushed ahead with foreknowledge and access to previously undreamt of computing power. But now both the Axis Powers and the Soviets know they are living on borrowed time. They know that their present dominion has, in the future they now have access to, become no more than a warning from history. Dedicated to change that forever the Japanese attack and invade Australia and the Germanys, now at least temporarily at peace with the Soviets, launch an all-out attack on England with jet fighters and long range missiles. If they can just hold off the Allies for 6 months they believe they can develop nuclear weapons which would give them the power to hold what they have already gained. 21st century Admiral Philip Kolhammer, USN has other ideas. Not content with simply defeating the Axis Powers he is determined to shape the world so that the future he came from will not come to pass - If only he can defeat the three most dangerous adversaries on the planet whilst keeping contemporary conspirators at bay.
As you may remember I really enjoyed the first book in this series of alternate WW2 novels. This volume was no exception – it rocked. The combat sequences are impressive enough and are much more than the predictable ‘my guns are bigger and more advanced than your guns’ sort of way. OK, there’s some of that going on (rather inevitably) but it’s so much more. But what really impressed me, even more than in the first book, was the thinking about the economic, cultural and psychological effects of having a bunch of people from the early 21st century and, much more importantly, knowledge of what is going to happen in the years ahead – scandals, deaths, criminal investigations, biographies written after death that now come back to haunt people still alive and much more besides. The author has given this whole other aspect of the impact of time travel a lot of serious, serious thought and has come up with some things I had never considered and much that I wholeheartedly agree with. It seriously impressed me and raised the whole book to a much higher level of quality and enjoyment.

I am also always impressed when an author can create numerous characters – of box sexes – and make them all real. As you might expect a few of the minor characters where effectively place holders and stereotypes but on the whole they lived and breathed which was all the more interesting in contrasting 21st characters and ‘Temp’ (contemporary) ones. Again the relationships, mostly confused, seemed to be very real and completely realistic, although the percentage of Temps who are out and out racist, sexist and/or homophobic still sticks in my craw somewhat – though reading accounts of WW2 recently seems to have confirmed this attitude at least in some cases.

I’m definitely looking forward to the third volume which I expect to be equally dramatic and equally surprising in many ways. Highly recommended for an exciting and thoughtful experience even if you’re not usually a reader of SF.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

It's snowing....! Well, not here.... but somewhere......
Background light suggests many stars 'outside galaxies'

By Jonathan Webb for the BBC

6 November 2014

A new study of the universe's background light has suggested that as many as half its stars might be hidden in the space between galaxies. Measurements were made by two cameras sent beyond the atmosphere on a rocket. After subtracting all the interference from dust and galaxies, the leftover light has ripples in it, which the study's authors ascribe to lone stars, flung out during galactic collisions. Other scientists believe it comes from whole galaxies that are very distant. The new results are published in the journal Science.

Prof Jamie Bock from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of the report's authors, described the extragalactic background light (EBL) as "kind of a cosmic glow". "It's very faint - but basically the spaces between the stars and galaxies aren't dark. And this is the total light made by stars and galaxies during cosmic history," Prof Bock told the BBC. Earlier measurements from rockets and satellites had shown that there was more fluctuation in this background than the sum total of known galaxies could explain. At least two proposals were made to account for the extra light: it might come from very early, distant galaxies that formed when the universe was much younger, or it might come from stray stars outside galactic boundaries. Prof Bock's team set out to study the EBL in detail, in terms of its colour and its distribution, to try and settle the debate.

Two rocket flights were used to collect the data, in 2010 and 2012, as part of an experiment dubbed CIBER: the cosmic infrared background experiment. On each 10-minute flight, a 10m (30ft) sounding rocket travelled briefly beyond the Earth's atmosphere and two infra-red cameras took wide-angle images of the sky. Doing the measurements twice allowed the researchers to rule out fluctuations coming from the dust within our own solar system. "[On the second flight] we're looking through a completely different patch of the solar system, and we see the same signal," Prof Bock explained. "It's been really nice to have multiple flights, so we can do all these checks." Once all the non-background light, such as galaxies themselves, was discarded - "you kind of surgically remove them" from the images, Prof Bock said - the team was left with a clean picture of the EBL.

The brightness and the blueness of the light in that picture, they claim, support the idea that it comes from stars stripped of their galaxies. "It's inconsistent with [the light coming from] the very first galaxies, because it would look a lot redder," Prof Bock said. The report also says there is so much light in the recordings that there might be just as many stars outside galaxies as inside them. "Astronomers know this stripping happens, but we're saying it's much more prevalent."

Other researchers are less certain of the data's implications. Jo Dunkley, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, said she did not think the evidence for vast numbers of lonely stars was compelling - "though it would obviously be really interesting if it were. This is a big question in astronomers' minds, because we can't assign all the light we see to galaxies we know," Prof Dunkley told BBC News. "So where is all the rest of it coming from?" She said that the work represented "a really nice measurement" and agreed that the reported background light probably could not have come from the very earliest galaxies - but argued that there is much still to know about those galaxies, and the ones that followed soon after. "There's so many galaxies out there, very faint galaxies, very far away, and I don't we've got a full census of those yet."

Prof Steve Eales, an astronomer at Cardiff University, was also cautious about the findings. "When you see a result like this, you never say 'well yes that's obviously right'," he said. Prof Eales said the JPL team's interpretation - and their conclusion about extragalactic stars - was "perfectly possible" but that corroborating evidence would be needed. If so many stars exist outside galaxies, he explained, you might expect to find more examples in between the galaxies closer to our own. "But the problem is, once single stars move away, they're very hard to see. There's nothing to rule out the possibility but there's probably no other evidence yet that they exist." Prof Bock acknowledged that his findings would probably not meet with universal acclaim. "We have to hear how other people react to it," he said.

[Of course singleton stars wandering between galaxies has been the staple of SF novels for decades. So it would be interesting to have that idea confirmed scientifically. It would certainly be weird living on a planet orbiting one of those stars. I imagine that the night sky – with the possible exception of a moon or moons – with be virtually jet black. Just imagine what their astronomy would be like. They might even think that they are unique and alone in a dark universe – if they would even think that big. Strange indeed!]

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Just Finished Reading: Modern China – A Very Short Introduction by Rana Mitter (FP: 2008)

There are two things in the 21st century that cannot be ignored and will probably define the period – Global Warming and the rise of China as a global power. Despite its present slowdown (though still galloping ahead in global terms) in the next 50 years it will most likely have surpassed all other nations in economic and quite possibly military terms to be the top global superpower with everything that means to the rest of us. For many, many reasons China is the place to watch and the more we know about it the better. This short introduction (only 140 pages) is a great little place to start.

Running historically from the enforced opening of trade by the European powers in the 19th century, through the Boxer Rebellion, crisis, famine, civil war and the rise of Communism to the present economic ‘miracle’ the author tries (and in my opinion more than succeeds) to give an impression of what China has gone through in the last 150 years to get where it is today. The route has been far from easy and far indeed from a straight line from past to present (and into the future) but it goes a long way to explain the why of things as well as the how of things. There can be little argument that, especially with around 1/6 of the world’s population within its borders China is a behemoth to be reckoned with. It’s likely that, when the present focus on the Middle East fades into the background, China will be entrenched across most, if not all, of the Far East and, it would seem, a significant portion of Africa. China, unlike the worlds democracies, looks decades ahead and plans accordingly. When we finally shift our focus to the resource rich poor nations of the world we will find that the Chinese are already there and have been for years if not decades before us.

In the future multipolar world (who would’ve thought that the Cold War certainty could feel so cosy now) China will be a serious player in every corner of the world. It will demand respect and have the economic and military power to back up that demand. Personally I think that if you have children you should be encouraging them to learn what will probably be the second language of the 21st and maybe the dominant language of the 22nd century – Chinese. You could do a lot worse that start educating yourself with this book and following up with reading some examples from its short bibliography. More on China to come.


May the day bring you something you want and a whole lot of things you need!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Action sets things in motion, and one cannot foresee even the effects of one's own initiatives, let alone control what happens when they are entangled with other people's initiatives in the public arena. Action is therefore deeply frustrating, for its results can turn out to be quite different from what the actor intended".

Margaret Canovan, 1998.  

Cartoon Time.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Favourite Movies: Skyfall

I’ve been a James Bond fan since the very beginning though I seriously doubt I saw Dr No in 1962 when it first came out (being only 2 years old at the time). I do remember seeing Thunderball at the cinema which may have been in 1965 but I’m not sure. Did movies get shown a year or more (or reshown) after their first release back then? I honestly don’t know.

Anyway, suffice it to say that I’m a huge fan of the franchise/series since its earliest days and have seen all of the movies on multiple occasions. My favourite Bond is still Sean Connery (mostly I guess because I grew up with him so to speak) but Daniel Craig definitely comes close – very close – to toppling him of that top ranking. I liked Craig very much in Casino Royal and welcomed the return to Bond as he should be – alone with only a gun and his wits to save the day. No backup to speak of and no ridiculous gadgets that Roger Moore in particular used (and who was, in my opinion the worst Bond by far). Bond should be, as portrayed by Craig so well, a complete bastard – but a loyal British bastard. The less said about Quantum of Solace the better. It had its moments but too few and too far between. Thankfully Skyfall more than made up for any wobbles in Craig’s second outing as Bond.

It all starts with a dramatic chase sequence to recover a stolen laptop hard drive (why such a device would contain the entire list of British agents imbedded within terrorist organisations across the globe – encrypted or not – in beyond me!) in which Bond disappears (I’ll say no more than that). His driver and support is played excellently by Naomie Harris who proves to be more than able to keep up physically, mentally and verbally with Bond. When the hard drive is lost it’s only a matter of time before the information is unencrypted and the blackmail/political embarrassment begins. But it’s more personal than that. This isn’t just a terrorist organisation causing problems – this is a direct attack on MI6 and M (played in outstanding irascible fashion by the brilliant Judy Dench) in particular. To counter that only one man will do – Bond. Back on active duty he needs to find the bad guys and recover the hard-drive before any more agents die. But his opponent (played completely over the top by Javier Bardem) has factored this all in and is constantly one or more steps ahead until Bond changes the rules and location to a more controlled environment – by going home.

Of the many, many things I liked about this movie (acting, action, dialogue) I particularly approved of Sam Mendes’ return to the old Bond by paring things back to the basics and by pitting two individuals against each other using limited resources except for guns (OK sometimes lots of guns) and wits. I really liked the nods to the old films including some nice scenes (and funny comments from M) with a classic Aston-Martin DB5. The dialogue, both between Eve (Moneypenny) and Bond and M and Bond is brilliant – sparkling, funny and a joy to watch/listen to. It was one of the things I most enjoyed about this movie. All in all I thought it was one of the best Bond films and certainly one of, if not the, best post-Connery films. I’m really looking forward to the next instalment at the end of next year.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind

By Rory Cellan-Jones for BBC News

2 December 2014

Prof Stephen Hawking, one of Britain's pre-eminent scientists, has said that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence. He told the BBC: "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." His warning came in response to a question about a revamp of the technology he uses to communicate, which involves a basic form of AI. But others are less gloomy about AI's prospects.

The theoretical physicist, who has the motor neurone disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is using a new system developed by Intel to speak. Machine learning experts from the British company Swiftkey were also involved in its creation. Their technology, already employed as a smartphone keyboard app, learns how the professor thinks and suggests the words he might want to use next.
Prof Hawking says the primitive forms of artificial intelligence developed so far have already proved very useful, but he fears the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans. "It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate," he said. "Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded."

But others are less pessimistic. "I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a decently long time and the potential of it to solve many of the world problems will be realised," said Rollo Carpenter, creator of Cleverbot. Cleverbot's software learns from its past conversations, and has gained high scores in the Turing test, fooling a high proportion of people into believing they are talking to a human. Mr Carpenter says we are a long way from having the computing power or developing the algorithms needed to achieve full artificial intelligence, but believes it will come in the next few decades. "We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can't know if we'll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it," he says. But he is betting that AI is going to be a positive force.

Prof Hawking is not alone in fearing for the future. In the short term, there are concerns that clever machines capable of undertaking tasks done by humans until now will swiftly destroy millions of jobs. In the longer term, the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk has warned that AI is "our biggest existential threat".

In his BBC interview, Prof Hawking also talks of the benefits and dangers of the internet. He quotes the director of GCHQ's warning about the net becoming the command centre for terrorists: "More must be done by the internet companies to counter the threat, but the difficulty is to do this without sacrificing freedom and privacy." He has, however, been an enthusiastic early adopter of all kinds of communication technologies and is looking forward to being able to write much faster with his new system. But one aspect of his own tech - his computer generated voice - has not changed in the latest update. Prof Hawking concedes that it's slightly robotic, but insists he didn't want a more natural voice. "It has become my trademark, and I wouldn't change it for a more natural voice with a British accent," he said. "I'm told that children who need a computer voice, want one like mine”.

[It’s easy to ignore or laugh off the potential dangers of AI just as it’s possible to ignore or side-line the dangers of Global Warming as something that will either never happen or believe it’s something that our grandchildren can deal with. I think that both eventualities will catch us by surprise despite decades of ignored warnings. The question is: what then? Genies are notoriously difficult to put back into bottles. Once they’re out in the real world we’ll just have to deal with them. I have a feeling that the fall-out from Global Warming will be a lot easier to deal with.]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Just Finished Reading: The Wonder Box – Curious Histories of How to Live by Roman Krznaric (FP: 2011)

It’s a perennial question normally answered (in many formats) by Philosophy – How Should I Live my Life? The author of this interesting volume has other ideas: Why not look for answers, or at least possible answers in the more concrete examples of historical figures and societies from other non-Western cultures? There is also a challenge and a deeper question embedded in this approach – Why do we live the way we do today? Are there valid, practical alternatives to what we consider normal behaviour in our advanced western capitalist societies? Because clearly things have not always been this way. There was a time before Facebook (weird I know) and even a time before the Internet (can you imagine that?). There was a time before the 24 hour culture when you could be out of contact for hours, or days or even for longer periods. Did people way back then – say the 1970’s – have to live at a much slower pace or did they just want to? Could we do that today through choice?

Why stop there of course. Why not examine every part of our lives and think about why we do the things we do. Are we actually making reasoned choices about or lives or are we, like fish, simply oblivious to the social and cultural waters we swim in? Do we accept things the way they are simply because (we think) that they have always been done this way? Well, a little bit of historical knowledge would address that particular myth or misunderstanding. The past is full of examples of how we have done things differently – from working patterns to relationships, from politics to family structure, from our relationship with money to the dominance of a single sense (sight these days), from changes in belief to thoughts on creativity and our relationship with death and the process of ending our lives with dignity and, sometimes, style. All of these things have been different in the past and are available to learn from. There are individuals: heroes, rebels, teachers, doctors and even politicians who can teach us – by their concrete example – of other modes of being from the sacrifice of people like Albert Schweitzer to the sheer grit and determination of Helen Keller. There are hundreds upon hundreds of historical role models we can look up to and emulate for their persistence in the face of hardship, for their commitment to their fellow human beings, for their passions and dedication, for their grit and, often, bloody-mindedness to get things done and make things better. This is not the sometimes unrealistic musings of philosophers long dead but the real-life examples of real people (sometimes admittedly long dead too).

This was an interesting twist on the whole ‘how we should live’ question. Rather than theory this is practice from individuals who have been there, done that, and sometimes lived to tell their tale. Across the world there are countless examples of how people have lived their lives in ways that can help you examine yours and just maybe make a few changes that will improve things. More particularly this book might start you thinking about why you live the way you do and hold the beliefs that you believe (or even know) to be true. Are they true? If so why have other people held other equally strong beliefs? Is it just a matter of them being wrong or because they lived in a very different worlds with different cultures and different zeitgeists? (I do love that word – the German’s are, after all, such a comforting people). This book asks you to dig into the past lives of others across the globe and use their lives as lenses to see our own culture afresh and then question how and why we live our own lives. It’s an interesting experiment once you start down that road. Who knows where it might lead…… Recommended. Oh, it has a really good bibliography too!  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Just Finished Reading: The Cider House Rules by John Irving (FP: 1985)

For as long as he could remember, orphan Homer Wells wanted to be of use. Born into the orphanage in St Clouds, Maine, he knew of no other life despite finding several families who would take him in, at least briefly. Dr Wilbur Larch, who ran the orphanage, worried that Homer was being institutionalised but he loved him as a son and feared for his progress in the outside world. But needing to feel of use Homer began assisting in the work of Dr Larch, both legal (the live births of unwanted children) and illegal (the abortions that the state would not sanction regardless of the need). Until that fateful arrival of young Candy and her loving boyfriend who had heard of a Doctor who would perform such services that could not be obtained elsewhere. That was when Homer fell in love, broke his promise and stepped out into the wide world setting in train a whole host of consequences he had no idea he was responsible for.

Although a rather chunky 587 pages this really shouldn’t have taken me over 2 weeks to complete compared with an upcoming book to review of 582 pages which took me 5 days to finish (OK, I was off work ill for 3 of those days but the point stands). It’s not that this is a bad book. It is not poorly written, now is it boring, convoluted (OK, maybe a little) or exactly difficult. It was arguably outside of my normal comfort zone but, as one of my regular lurkers has remarked, my comfort zone is rather wide. This book was, in many ways, an impressive one. The characterisation was outstanding. I always admire the way that an author can create a number of characters of both sexes that are completely believable and that, in one way or another, the reader can relate to. The author did that here ‘in spades’ (as they say). The story, whilst rather convoluted (in other words ‘real’), was eminently easy to follow. I certainly didn’t lose the plot at any point. I think my problem was that nothing really seemed to happen – despite the fact that a great deal actually happened. I know that hardly makes any sense but, at least for now, that’s the best way to describe how I felt reading it. It wasn’t exactly a slog as such. I didn’t feel that reading it was a particular effort but I couldn’t seem to read more that 5-6 pages without finding something else that needed doing. In contrast to my upcoming ‘chunky’ book where I read over 100 pages in a day and had to force myself to put it down and go do something else to stop my eyes burning!

So… not exactly gripping. More interesting, funny, clever, well written and a deserved modern classic, but……….. I am making more of an effort to read more, for want of a better word, mainstream novels. Well, this was one of them. There will be more as it’s not exactly put me off pushing my boundaries a little bit (never a bad thing in most cases). 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter is Here.... Christmas is Coming.....
Surveillance laws 'not fit for purpose', MPs say

From The BBC

6 December 2014

Surveillance laws that allow police officers to access people's phone records are not fit for purpose, the Home Affairs Select Committee has said. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) has been used to access journalists' records in some cases. The committee said journalists' sources should be "fully protected" and access to data under Ripa was "secretive". The Home Office said there were measures in place to ensure police powers were not abused. Police officers have also failed to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed, MPs said.

Earlier this year, it emerged police had used their powers under Ripa to obtain information about phone calls involving newspaper reporters. The Metropolitan Police used the Act to try to obtain the telephone records of the Sun's newsdesk to try to identify who had leaked the "Plebgate" story involving former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell. Kent constabulary also used their powers under Ripa to obtain phone records of a journalist investigating the Chris Huhne speeding points scandal, as well as those of one of his sources - despite a judge agreeing the source could remain confidential.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: "Ripa is not fit for purpose. We were astonished that law enforcement agencies failed to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed under the legislation. Using Ripa to access telephone records of journalists is wrong and this practice must cease. The inevitable consequence is that this deters whistleblowers from coming forward." He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that journalists' records should be kept privileged, "otherwise we get into a situation where legislation introduced for completely different purposes is being used in a mission creep to be able to control sections that were never intended to be controlled".

Half a million pieces of information are accessed every year under the legislation, added Mr Vaz. He told the programme it had been used for "trawling", saying: "We have felt for some time that public officials are using this piece of legislation for what was not intended by it." The committee called on the Home Office to hold a consultation on an amended Ripa code of practice, which would give special provisions to those dealing with privileged information. Security minister James Brokenshire said communications data was "an absolutely critical tool" used "to investigate crime, safeguard national security and protect the public".

He insisted there are already safeguards against abuse of police powers to access data. The Home Office specified new rules will ensure "extra consideration" is given in cases where police want to see the phone records of those in sensitive professions, such as journalists. The revised code will be published before Christmas, according to the government. Privacy lobby group Big Brother Watch said the current situation was "intolerable". Emma Carr, who is the director of the group, said: "When a senior parliamentary committee says that the current legislation is not fit for purpose, then this simply cannot be ignored. It is now abundantly clear that the law is out of date, the oversight is weak and the recording of how the powers are used is patchy at best. The public is right to expect better. This is intolerable."

[Colour me cynical but I don’t think that we should be at all surprised that security or surveillance legislation is subject to ‘mission creep’ and is regularly abused, misused, mishandled and where necessary covered up. Governments of every shade will do whatever they can to protect themselves, to restrict access to information they don’t believe that the people should know about and to spy on the very people whose job – in a healthy functioning democracy – is to ferret out corruption and incompetence within the very organisations that we set up to run things in our name. Whenever we hear the word security we should immediately become suspicious – most especially when we are told that ‘procedures are already in place and there is nothing to worry our befuddled heads about. Just return to your game shows and your celebrity scandals. Leave the real world to us. Everything is safe in our hands…..’]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Just Finished Reading: Eleven Days in August – The Liberation of Paris in 1944 by Matthew Cobb (FP: 2013)

It was never meant to happen this way. The plan all along was to bypass the city a leave its German garrison alone to wither on the vine whilst the Allied armies swept around Paris in great arch’s pushing the German forces headlong back to their own countries boundaries. Two things changed their minds – or at least modified a part of the plan: Charles de Gaulle and the Parisians themselves who forced the issue. In the end the Allies had no alternative but to liberate Paris far ahead of schedule.

Of course no story of this magnitude is that easy. Paris was, and still is to a large extent, a mythic city and its liberation after so many years under German occupation had to be equally mythic. The tiny French contingent of the Allied forces fighting in France had to be, for political and propaganda reasons, at the head of any liberating force. De Gaulle demanded for good reasons (mostly his political future) that French troops should be seen by the world – and most especially by the French themselves – liberating their own capital. After many arguments, arm twisting, threats and a largely unauthorised race to the city boundary the French where finally authorised to proceed. The strangest part of that process was the agreement – mandated by the American command structure upon a largely North African and integrated force – that only white troops should entry Paris as its liberators and that all non-white troops should be temporarily stood down until the liberation was complete.

The citizens of Paris meanwhile, chaffing under years of occupation and the terror that followed it, decided to take things into their own hands. After waiting for weeks after the initial D-Day landings they had had enough and, after obeying the order to show restraint and wait, decided to throw what little weight they had against the much reduced German garrison. Starved of weapons, explosives and manpower they used whatever they had wherever they could. Luckily the Germans had little appetite for a fight and, unlike their counterparts so recently in Warsaw, defended themselves and little else. Psychologically already retreating with their compatriots heading back to Germany they hit out only when they thought themselves sufficiently threatened. Ordered to fight to the last man by an increasingly delusional Hitler and tasked with destroying the city rather than hand it over intact to the Allies the German commander clearly had no intentional of doing either. As Resistance pressure grew and the sound of street battles reverberated through the city boulevards the Germans waiting for someone to surrender to wearing more than a Free French armband and carrying a Sten gun dropped to them by the British.

After enjoying the author’s previous book on the French Resistance I was not disappointed to find the same passion and level of detail I had come to expect from this accomplished popular historian. Told with personal details from all sides involved in the iconic events of those two weeks this is a gripping tale of political wrangling, personal sacrifice, naked (and to be honest often na├»ve) patriotism among the city’s youth, fear, and triumph as the tanks rolled into the outskirts and inched their way forward surrounded by cheering crowds. Made all the more poignant by the largely ad hoc unplanned progress this is a great moment in European history captured in the dairies and correspondence of the men and women on the ground. Cobb has the ability to bring you right into the heart of the action where you can smell the cordite, feel the anxiety and also the relief and pent up fervour once the whole city was free. Highly recommended for anyone interested in modern French history or those who want to be riveted by a great story well told.