Book Reviews

Book Reviews and Insights
An Appeal to Reason by Nigel Lawson

When there is so much data suggesting the world’s climate is heating up, some may find it presumptuous of Nigel Lawson, who is not a scientist and has undertaken no original research, to hope to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. Would we take seriously an appraisal of his time as Chancellor of Exchequer written by someone whose only expertise was in oceanography?

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Gorgeous George: The Life and Adventures of George Galloway by David Morley

It is a brave man who attempts to uncover the truth about George Galloway. One slip, one factual infelicity, one unguarded opinion and the biographer can expect to get his head bitten off. For, when it comes to receiving rather than dishing out abuse, the Respect MP and onetime Celebrity Big Brother contestant is no pussy cat.

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The Devil’s Disciples: The Lives and Times of Hitler’s Inner Circle by Anthony Read

One of the Great War’s consequences may have been the dethronement of the Romanovs, Habsburgs and Hohenzollerns but — as a new generation of scholars are attempting to show — court politics proved far more enduring. Although the costumes may have been cut from coarser cloth and the manners far cruder, the centres of power in totalitarian regimes continued to provide all the old opportunities for positional jostling that had been commonplace in the audience chambers and ante-rooms of the old dynasties.

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Luck by Ed Smith

When Ed Smith became a full-time professional cricketer for Kent in 1999 the county side was preparing for the new millennium by shedding anything that smacked of old-fashioned amateurism. Professionalism was to be a state of mind. Players were henceforth required to sign up to a new code of conduct.

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1938: Hitler’s Gamble by Giles MacDonogh

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Munich by David Faber

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Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming by Christopher Booker and Richard North

Many of us are beginning to weary of the pushier sort of ‘expert’. Gone is the sense of proportion, the admission of scientific doubt, the ability to weigh risks against benefits. Taking seriously a year’s worth of their health warnings would give anyone an eating disorder.

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The Road to Southend Pier by Ross Clark

With an estimated one surveillance camera in Britain for every 14 Britons, reality television has never been more invasive. The reason Big Brother has been allowed to watch its citizens so comprehensively in this way rests with the claim that CCTV is a protection rather than an intrusion. Only the guilty should fear the all-seeing eye. Those with nothing to hide have nothing to worry about. It is tempting to imagine this is what Calvin’s Geneva might have been like if only the technology had been the equal of the theology.

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Time to Emigrate? by George Walden

‘Why is no one talking about what is happening in our country?’ demands the splash across the front cover of the latest book by George Walden. It is therefore something of a surprise in the pages that follow to find the former Conservative minister discoursing at length on the problems of immigration, terrorism, crime and house prices — all familiar mainstays of the modern conversational canon.

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American Ally: Tony Blair and the War on Terror by Con Coughlin

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The British Empire and the Second World War by Ashley Jackson

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Unspeak by Steven Poole

The etymologists of the Oxford English Dictionary should be alerted that Steven Poole has coined a new word. First used as the title for his book, published in 2006, ‘unspeak’ is a noun for a ‘mode of speech that persuades by stealth’. How, it might be asked, does this differ from ‘spin’?

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Great Lives: A Century of Obituaries Edited by Ian Brunskill

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. In every life there is the subject for a sermon. Perhaps that is why so many sons of the manse have ascended into Fleet Street’s paper pulpits. Indeed, if there is one area of journalism that has progressively improved over the last 20 years it is the obituary notice.

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We Are At War by Simon Garfield

Reality television has demonstrated that it is no longer necessary to possess a distinguishing talent in order to enjoy celebrity status. Critics might argue that Simon Garfield has worked similar wonders for the diarist’s art. Where once we were treated to the inner demons of generals and statesmen, Garfield touts the daily musings of ordinary folk doing nothing much.

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The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader by Michael Moore

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is the most commercially successful documentary film ever made. It received a prolonged standing ovation from critics at the Cannes film festival where it became the first non-fiction film to win the Palme d’Or. If it does not win an Oscar at the next Academy awards, then do not rule out Moore making a documentary about the right-wing conspiracy at the heart of Hollywood.

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The Right Nation: Why America is Different by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge

When Robert Goizueta, Coca-Cola’s boss, attempted to justify his $80 million annual income to a meeting of shareholders he was interrupted four times — with applause. Attitudes to wealth and opportunity, as to so much else in the United States, are far removed from the prevailing mood in Britain and Europe. During the Cold War, many of these differences were overlooked in the common cause against a yet more alien ideology. The illusion of unity has disappeared with the Warsaw Pact. As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue in The Right Nation: Why America is Different, ‘it is rather like two relative strangers who fight off muggers and then go off for a celebratory meal only to discover that they don’t have as much in common as they thought’. The American hospitality might not, in any case, be to the taste of many Europeans. Nearly a quarter of those living in the southern states want to reintroduce prohibition.

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Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain by Robert Winder

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Conquerors of Time by Trevor Fishlock

In 1795, John Evans, the son of a Methodist preacher, set out from St Louis across the unchartered plains of North America in search of a lost tribe of ‘Welsh Indians.’ He had heard reports of a pale-skinned people speaking a language that sounded like Welsh inhabiting the area that is now North Dakota. Rumour had it that they were the descendants of Madoc, a 12th- century Welsh prince and his retinue who had supposedly made it to America 300 years before Columbus stood before the mast.

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Bill Clinton: An American Journey by Nigel Hamilton

This first volume of Bill Clinton’s biography, taking the story as far as his presidential election victory in 1992, comes at a peculiar time. Unlike many of the hasty invectives pronounced upon the 42nd president, Nigel Hamilton’s study is written on the grand scale, drawing on much of the published record and delving further with interviews and insights. Yet it has been published too late to take account of what Hillary Clinton has to say in her recent chart-topping memoirs (soon to be a staple of second-hand bookshops). And it has been published prior to Bill Clinton’s autobiography and the release of his archives. Nigel Hamilton has put in an awful lot of work for a biography that will soon be comprehensively superseded by the release of new material.

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Cap’n Bob and Me: The Robert Maxwell I Knew by Eleanor Berry

When, in 1825, Harriette Wilson began her Memoirs with ‘I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of 15, the mistress of the Earl of Craven’ an avid readership settled down to revel in what was clearly going to be the work of an old pro. So perhaps it is as well for Eleanor Berry’s personal reputation that at the end of Cap’n Bob and Me the reader feels somewhat short-changed.

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History of Britain: The Fate of Empire by Simon Schama

In the first two volumes accompanying his History of Britain television series, Simon Schama had a clear framework in which to work. Essentially he told of the dynastic struggles of kings, queens and pretenders, adding a little bit of plague here and a touch of religious fervour there as and when it became necessary to discuss lesser mortals. In Professor Schama’s hands, the technique worked well, but there was no prospect that he could sustain such an approach in this third and final volume, covering the period between the dawn of an independent America and midnight’s false bonhomie on the Greenwich peninsula.

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The Last Diaries by Alan Clark

There is doubtless some passing pleasure to be had in making it into the Royal Enclosure or, failing that, the ‘Sunday Times Rich List’. But for those in political and media circles the last opportunity has passed for gaining immortality in the pages of the Pepys of our times now that the final volume of the Alan Clark diaries has been published. Part of the pleasure was the risk that inclusion entailed. A mention in the Alan Clark diaries is like playing Russian roulette with posterity.

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