A great artist is entitled to say to the world: judge my art, don't judge me. But if the artist writes an autobiography (or worse, pays someone to write an autobiography), he invites the world to judge not only the book, but its subject. I'd like to think that beneath the mumbling inscrutability is spark of something interesting. Not here. The two main influences in Keith Richards' life from adolescence foward have been smack and flattery. Assisting in the creation of this autobiography should have given him an opportunity to reflect on the effect that these have had on him, and the effect he has had on those around him. It would appear that Keith's only complaint about heroin addiction is that he had to spend time trying to find his next fix. He does not appear to have been aware that the houses and hotel rooms that are constantly breaking out into flame, or the cars that are constantly going off the road, might have created criminal risks to everyone around him, including his infant son and daughter. Keith actually thinks it is cute that he taught 10 year old Marlon to warn him when they were driving up to international borders so Keith could shoot up before going through customs. Granted, it does appear that Keith's most productive period coincided with his greatest drug use. Then there are Keith's sophmoric rants about everyone in the Stones except Charlie. After all these years, you would think that Keith could think of something charitable -- or just not bitchy -- about Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, or Brian Jones. Bill gets almost no mention, Mick Taylor gets half-hearted praise, and Brian gets bitch slapped. Keith saves his worst for Mick Jagger. No doubt Mick has begun to believe his own myth, but so has Keith. Real pirates did not have pirates of high priced lawyers. Real tough guys don't get minders to fight their battles.
When then three stars? The book does its task of revealing Keith, as Keith would like himself to be revealed.
Engaging and absorbing. One of the best modern histories I have ever heard. Chapters alternate between general Soviet history between the death of Brezhnev and the end of the Soviet Union, and an hour by hour account of final three days of the Soviet Union and Gorbachev's career.
If you like biography with lots of personal (and gossipy) details, you will love this. The events, of course, were of monumental historical importance, not just for the Soviet Union but for the world.
In the perpetual debate between the importance of broad historical forces and personality in the determination of historical events, this book makes a strong case for personality. That is not surprising, because in a totalitarian regime the personality of the dictator cannot help but have an excessive effect on current events. On the other hand, the other lesson is that rule by personality that runs against irresistible historical forces cannot last long: seventy years is not the long run
An basic History 101 overview of an era, but lacking in colour until you get to Gorbachev, and to a lesser extent Brezhnev. Possibly because the lack of freedom means very little in the way of candid records and reflections in time of Stalin and Kruschev. . The Gorbachev period has much more colour in the form of contemporaneous comments from supporters and foes.
The basic question the author asks is whether personalities or historical forces account for the downfall of the Soviet empire. The author concludes that personalities were of greater importance than is generally accepted in contemporary academic historiography. However, the next question is never asked: is the importance of personality the result of a system of personal dictatorship, as distinct from democracies where historical forces are felt through the ballot box. A related point: the author condemns (albeit weakly) Gorbachev's "failure" to use force to hold the Soviet Union together. Another question is not asked, one that is related to the one just mentioned: was the Soviet Union ever anything but an artificial state and society, in the sense that it had to be held together by oppressive force, or not at all.
The narrator is uneven. Sometimes he seems to get bored and sounds like a robot. Also, when will audio publishers make sure the narrators know how to pronounce foreign names and words? The most grating example, but not the only: Levesque pronounced several times as "Levesk".
There are many good memoirs of war, and many great memoirs of the Pacific War. This is not one of them. The reminsiscence of Manchester's war in Okinawa, at the end of the book, would be worth reading if there were no other accounts of this tragic battle But, despite the title, this book is largely concerned with two topics that go beyond his reminiscences of the Pacific War. The greater part of the book are not his reminiscences of battles he fought in, but popular histories of battles he has only read about. This part is filled with pedantic quotes in several languages that appear intended to impress us with Manchester's learning. The other main topic are dubious anecdotes about Manchester's personal life in and around the time of the war. Many are either of suspicious authenticity or are completely tactless. I strongly doubt his account for why he was thrown out of officer candidate's school. In one anecdote he tells us how honourable his comrades were, to the point that a man who described having "made it" with a sweet heart was shunned by Manchester's squad; in another anecdote he his boasting of the size of his Johnson, and his anatomical description of making out with a girl in a movie theatre, makes one cringe.
If you are inclined to give Manchester a chance, by and read the book. The narrator of this book has two very different, but equally grating styles. The main style is a forced flat delivery like someone reading announcements on a public address system in a 1930s movie. When Manchester quotes someone else, the narrator adopts a cartoon voice that is seldom appropriate for the person quoted.
I supposed die-hard students of the Pacific War will read this anyway, but if they are real students they will not learn anything except Bill Manchester's self-regard.
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