Witty, knowledgable, dated
The way Jan Morris manages to thematically describe the British Empire without it seeming as if she has shoe-horned events to fit her thesis, that the Empire changed, in purpose and intent, during the long reign of Victoria.
He reads well. I quibble with some of the pronunciation (''Métis" is pronounced 'may-tee', not 'metiss'), but he does well with the text, including the copious footnotes.
The book was written in the 60s and early 70s, and the attitudes and language used perhaps reflects that, but Jan Morris was and is an expert writer, and her wit and wisdom make the occasional unreconstructed imperialist tone forgivable
I'm only partway through the audiobook, but so far, not-so-good...
I like Jonathan Dimbleby on Radio 4, where he does a good job as debate moderator on Any Questions, but I'm less convinced by him as an author and narrator.
Just a couple of examples of clumsy writing - he mentions 'circumnavigating' an aggressive dog to reach its owner's house. He's unable to discuss the Vikings without the obligatory references to rape and pillage. An old woman's stove is 'festooned' with pots and pans... Better editing might have helped to remove some of Dimbleby's stylistic excesses.
He's obviously been told to bring some of his own personality and humanity to the proceedings, so we get some non-sequitur references to his boarding school days, his boating experiences in Devon and some hedged references to a possible history of depression. His own moods and emotional responses are jarring, and add little to the reader's appreciation of the places he's reporting from.
Whereas WG Sebald, Jan Morris or Paul Theroux are able to evoke a place through its emotional impact on them, JD doesn't quite manage to pull this off, and ends up coming across as a bit of a whiner when he affects to tell us that he finds St Petersburg cold and somehow hollow at its core.
Some of the dialog and interchanges with characters also fails to convince - early on he admits to having little to no Russian (which begs the question, could he not have made an effort to learn before embarking on such an undertaking?). At one point he's conversing with an archaeologist who is enthusing about the thrill of finding artefacts - I don't think this took place: archaeologists aren't treasure hunters, and the thrill comes from piecing together evidence of the past, not from isolated trinkets, themselves of limited explanatory value.
All that said, I will persevere with the book, because I'm interested in life in the 'new' Russia, and Dimbleby has a journalist's eye for the underlying context, which is necessary and valuable to prevent the book from becoming a more straightforward travelogue.
I'd heard about The Road to Valour in a few places, and was keen to find out about Gino Bartali, 1938 and 1948 Tour de France winner and Italian cycling legend.
The book really covers two themes - Gino's cycling career and his work during WWII to help rescue Italian jews. The evidence for the latter is a bit patchy, not least because Bartali (who died in 2000) wouldn't talk about his wartime efforts, so the authors are sometimes struggling. It's much stronger on the cycling, and especially on Bartali's battles with Coppi (his arch rival) and with the Italian press, who continually write him off.
All in all, an interesting book which illuminates the era and the eccentric figures who pedalled through it.
Like most people, I didn't really have a clear idea exactly *why* Europe went to war in August of 1914, and why it took 4 long years to arrive at a peace. I left Meyer's book with a much better understanding of the factors and personalities that led the world into the meat grinder of the Great War.
The book is a bit too detailed in places, in terms of the military history and strategic wartime decision-making, and perhaps a bit light on the effects of war on the non-fighting people in the belligerent countries, but it's a minor quibble, and this is an excellent book.
The reader can be a little dry-sounding and dull, but he generally does well with the material. there's a few obvious audio-patches where the tone of voice changes mid-sentence or mid-para, but nothing too jarring.
I've read quite a lot about WWII and the Holocaust, but this book really bought home the scale of the industrial murder that took place between the Elbe and the Vistula and between 1933 and 1945. Snyder doesn't need to make trite comparisons between Stalinist and Hitlerian atrocities - he lets the crimes and the victims speak for themselves, and the result is a valuable and humane book that should be compulsory reading for our current crop of gung-ho intellectual pygmy leaders, keen to repeat the same mistakes in our supposedly more enlightened times.
And so he should, given the scale of the fraud perpetrated on the 99% by the criminal propertied classes and their lackeys in government. If you like Chris Hedges, read Salon and don't pronounce the word as 'gubmint', then this could be the book for you.
This is the middle book in the Pax Britannica trilogy and deals with the events around the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Victoria. Morris goes into great detail about pretty much every aspect of the Empire, which was by then at it's apogee. I preferred Vol 1, which was a bit faster-paced, and am into Vol 3 at the moment, though we're still mired in the fin de siecle.
Jan Morris is old-school - there's not the overwrought apologist tone that colours much modern history on the British empire and it's myriad crimes and misdemeanors. She trusts that we, the readers, know that Imperialism isn't justifiable, but she refuses to judge the Imperialists by our moral standards, and in my view she sets the right tone by this approach.
I'd recommend the trilogy, which is well-written, well read (in both senses) and entertainingly informative.
The scope and scholarship, coupled with the readability and gripping prose.
It was accessible without being dumbed-down
Pacing, gravitas and colour
A good accompaniment to Bloodlands, by Timothy Snyder
Somebody who doesn't mind following Amis on a one-way journey up his own arse
Something not by Amis
He does well with the characterisation
Amis/Nearing, all the other ones
Really, really poor book. Impossibly louche characters used as a vehicle for Amis' own imaginary recollections of his youth, and to reinforce his own particular prejudices. A mean-spirited little book, too. Awful. It was my nth attempt at an Amis Jr., and has forever cured me of the impression that he has something to offer.
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