The purpose of this page is to list, commencing 28 December 2007, books read by Landschaft. It's a guide to Landschaft brain food, and contains clues as to where influences may derive from. The Landschaft taste is eclectic as you will see! I only review books that make an impression on me, so there will be gaps in the timeline when I have ploughed through some un-worthy tome.
Read January 2009; Title: Get Rommel; Author: Michael Asher; Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicholson; ISBN: 0-297-84685-X
This forensic examination of the famous raid to capture/kill Rommel strips away the layers of propaganda and outright lies to reveal a mission doomed to failure from the start. All of the evidence and testimonies, both from the Allied and Axis sides are compared and methodically picked over to get to as near to the truth as we will ever get. The book is in narrative history format and is a real page turner. My only issue with the book is Asher's prejudice against the mission commander, Geoffrey Keyes. Asher paints him as a weak outsider - yet Keyes sucessfully led his men to target through appalling weather, the worst storms for 40 years, and stormed in to the attack, leading from the front. That said the book is a real page turner, better than a work of fiction in terms of excitement. That is Asher's skill - transforming history from dry facts into a compelling and suspensful narrative. Highly recommended.
Read Jaunuary 2009: Title: The Song Before it is Sung; Author: Justin Cartwright; Publisher: Bloomsbury; ISBN: 978 0 7475 8341 7
Maudlin, literate and compelling, a precious mixture of a novel. The narrative shifts between present and past. A researcher into the life of a fictional characacter closely involved in the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. This quotation "After a certain age, a life exists not for what it really was, but for it's mythological qualities." is certainly a wise take on memory. The Afterword at the end explains the factual skeleton upon which the author has woven his tale; the relationship between Adam von Trott and Isiah Berlin. Von Trott was one of the conspiritors executed for his part in the 1944 coup attempt. Literature at it's finest- an unreserved recommendation.
Read Jaunuary 2009: Title: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen; Author: Alan Garner; Publisher: Collins Voyager; ISBN: 1-4395-5714-4
A re-read of this classic, some (but not I) say children's fantasy. For me the sense of landscape that Garner brings alive in the chase through the snow is the real treasure of this book. But then I have a prejudice for snowscapes and winter. The book dates well, and is almost timeless in it's setting, for there are no clues to date the book in the text. I would like to imaging it around 1965, with a steam train delivering the children, Colin and Sue to Wilmslow Station for the start of their adventure. I have just had a look and the book was in fact written in 1960, so I am not too wide of the mark. I think I first encountered this book at school, when the teacher would read to us for half an hour at the end of each day.
Both read December 2008. Autobiographies, particularly showbusiness and military ones, have to be read with suspicion. They are selective, and are usually spun to put the subject into a favourable light. These two break, mould to some extent.
Brand's "My Booky Wook" (pubd Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 978 0 340 93615 3) is if anything massochistic, the author deliberately trying to seduce the reader into approval of his appaling behaviour. But the low points avoid the grubbiness that must have accompanied the excesses, for instance the drugs stuff makes light of the squalor of this world. But Brand is a master of words and this is a book to be read, not with an eye on the literal - it is a selective translation of events into the literary. His portrayal of the under-belly of London life is masterly and an important document of the times, capturing the mood of the 1990s perfectly via the oblique eye of the author.
Reeves' life, "Me:Moir Volume One" (pubd Virgin Book, ISBN 1 8522 7350 X) on the other hand, has both the qualities of the literal and the literary. It is, for a start written in the surreal language he uses on stage and screen; highly exagerated, convoluted metaphores being used to describe the every day: "I ballooned to a frightening ten stone by the age of three months" and more are what pepper the book and make it a delight to read. The line drawings are loveable and a treasure. Reeves is one year older than me, and the adolescent years are a parallel to my own. Boy-ish mischief, a love of obscure music and a fear of girls are just what I went through. As well, I share Reeves' curiosity about the world and go about foraging for interesting stuff like the sign he found in undergrowth on the route of the old Stockton & Darlington railway route. When I lived in London in the late 1990s, I had a stall on Greenwich Market selling vintage records, and I would see Vic/Jim plodding around. He looked windswept, and a bit lonely on his own. But solitary is the hunter of the vinyl, for this, I know, after reading the biog, is what Jim will have been seeking. If he had stopped at my stall, rather than at the over-priced competition around the corner, he would have found such delights - I had the obscure, virtually unlisteneble prog rock that were of his adolescence in abundance.
I get the sense that Reeves' is the more honest history. Brand's is just too wrapped up in the cult of Brand to be entirely plausible. But that might just be my prejudice, for I'd far rather be marooned on an island with Reeves who is funny, humble and wise than Brand, who portrays himself the neurotic ego-maniac.
Read June 2008 Title: The Jew of Linz: Wittgenstein, Hitler and the Battle for the Mind; Author: Kimberley Cornish; Publisher: Century; ISBN: 0 7126 7935 9
The premise of this work is the coincidence of Adolf Hitler and Ludwig Wittgenstein having attended the same school in their childhood at Linz in Austria, pre World War I and that Hitler's anti-semitism was based at least in part upon Hitler's personal contempt for Wittgenstein. The author presented no firm evidence of contact and the premise upon which Cornish has based his train of analysis is therefore based upon supposition (though he presents a persuasive case). Hitler and their contemporaries at the school were of humble origins, Wittgenstein from a family of fabulously wealthy industrialists - thus Wittgenstein clearly stood out from his peers as a conspicuous outsider. Cornish suggests this was the catalyst that shaped Hitler's doctrine and extended to the shaping of Wittgenstein's. Cut to Cambridge University, England; recruiting ground for Russian "mole" agents, young idealists embedded in the upper ranks of the British establishment, and again the author makes (well researched) leaps of faith suggesting Wittgenstein may have been the recruiter of Burgess, Philby, Maclean, Blunt. This second string of logic is plausible and pits Wittgenstein's ideology against it's natural enemy, Hitler, via the medium of Communism However, the suggestion that this is a reaction to Hitler, as potential childhood adversary (rather than leader of a nation hell bent on world domination) is weak. Thus the two main arguments in the book are not only themselves weak, but the weakness is compounded by the suggestion that the two arguments are linked via the medium of childhood animosity.
The book then heads off at a tangent, with a round up of Wagnererian anti-semitism, the pre-Schopenhauer Thomas Acquinas' suppression of theories of the mind, Schopenhauer's take up of the theory and it's evolution via Wittgenstein. Then some drawn out and suspect experiments to assert the mental unity "no-ownership theory of Mind" holds water. And there we have the book. Or rather two books because the second tangential part does not really attach to the first, except via the stepping stone of Wittgenstein.
A strange brew of conspiracy theory, an exploration of radical philosophical thought and some intriguing historical snippets pieced together in an entertaining, at times dense and tangled read. This review may sound dismissive, but this book has lead me on to explore some of those snippets, particularly the journey of ideas from India via Jewish traders to mediaeval Europe. Also the life of Thomas Aquinas who did a pretty effective job of stopping off-message doctrine in it's tracks. A book I would recommend, but on the basis of extreme caution (the reader needs a basis of the undisputed facts of C20th history as the foundation upon which the authors hypothesis can be challenged). The reader should be prepared to speed read/skip through some of psychological/philosophical experiments in part III that to this reviewers mind are pure gibberish.
Read April 2008 Title: At Waugh with Waugh; Author: WF Deedes; Publisher: MacMillan; ISBN: 1 405 00573 4
Bill Deedes, a journalsist of the old school, former Cabinet Minister and WWII hero is recently deceased (17 August 2007). Shortly before his death he felt compelled to put to rest some of the rumours and half truths circulating for over 70 years that he was the model for William Boot in the satirical Evelyn Waugh novel, "Scoop". Deedes unpicks the rumour from the fact in a relaxed and engaging manner, exposing the Boot character to be an amalgamation of characters in 1935 Abyssinia, covering the invasion of that country by Italy. Deedes acknowleges being part of that amalgam, recalling the vast collection of luggage Boot assembled for the trip as a direct portrait of himself. Waugh, was a notorious snob, and Deedes recalls with relish some of his prickliness towards fellow journalists during their close confinement during the war coverage. This book is a gem. It covers ground from the more measured perspective of objective reportage, quite different from Waugh's bitter satire in "Scoop" and adds to Waugh's contemporary history of the invasion "Waugh in Abyssinia" (1936). A must for between the wars obscurists. Sits nicely next to Myles Hildyard's "Letters Home 1939-45", another Landschaft recommendation.
Read March 2008 Title: The Court of the Red Tsar; Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore; Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2003; ISBN: 1 842 12726 8
A more scholarly work than "Young Stalin", dense with fact, but a very fluid read. The flippancy that dogged "Young Stalin" is toned down considerably. No longer is Stalin the hot headed and likable rascal of his youth - and this is what may have curbed the author's exuberance. Here is charted the descent into paranoia of his mature and later years. How the close circle of Bolsheviks tore each other apart, orchstrated by Stalin. Of the monumental insensitivity and brutality towards the Russian population; the mass deportations, random executions; internments and beatings. That Sadam Hussein chose Stalin as a model for his own rule adds another dimension to the horrors Russia has endured at the hands of it's leaders and reinforces Acton's dictum: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".
Stalin's death was a lesson in poetic justice. In his final months he had engaged a persecution of Jewish doctors, the most able in the land, and in his death throes, there was no doctor of sufficient skill to tend to him.
A terrifying read that gets more horrifying throughout. Just as one ogre is despatched, another more evil than the last takes his place.
Read February 2008:- Title: Young Stalin, Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore, Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2007, ISBN 978 0 297 85068 7
A page turner of narrative history, this companion volume to The Court of the Red Tsar reveals the murky past behind Stalin. Bandit, mischief maker and political schemer, one draws the conclusion that the great Stalin was not so much driven by Marxist ideology, but the lust for power, adventure and influence.
Montefiore's irritating moments of flipancy - and there are a few that border on the inappropriate for a work of dignified scholarship mar the worth of the book. He needs to rein himself in somewhat in his use of the vernacular - "blag", "hit he floor running" are two examples that I recall. One also gets the impression he is on his subject's side in his despicable cloak and dagger exploits around the European continent, much as an indulgent parent forgives the tantrums of a child, again undermining the objectivity of the study. This all devalues the painstaking research and disentanglement of the blizzard of research, fact, rumour and innuendo that go into this Life. But that said, the book is a wonderful read, and I will eagerly move on to "The Court of the Red Tsar" tomorrow...
Read January 2008:- Title: Isles of the North, Author: Ian Mitchell, Publisher: BirLinn 2004, ISBN 1 84158 298 0
Ian Mitchell's bete noir is the heritage and nature lobby, and the power they hold sway over the northern Islands (of Scotland). To make his point, he has contrasted Island life in Scotland with the geographical equivalent on the isles of Western Norway. Both sets of communities are potentially isolated, both carry the risk of stagnation and extinction, both are inhabited by souls passionate about their homelands.
Mr Mitchell persuasively argues his case, that the Scottish administration is strangling Island communities, protecting and preserving a percieved version of history, a theme park simulacrum, and denying the future the opportunity to evolve. The Scottish Isles are on life support whether they like it or not, in a hyper-real purgatory. The contrast with the locally governed Norwegian Isles is marked - they have considerable local flexibility to operate and do so by concensus and pragmatic decision making.
I am with Mr Mitchell in his scepticism about the Scottish administration and the various QUANGOs and lobby groups that influence it. There are so many focussed on such a small density of population that the poor inhabitants don't stand a chance, pulled this way and that between the worthy, but misguided objectives of the policy makers who have no connection with the communities.
He reserves special contempt for that most futile of pursuits, bird watching. Making lists; a waste of a life - but a, perhaps THE most powerful environmental lobby. He says quite rightly that communities and wildlife have co-existed in harmony without the self-serving environmentalists. I read today in the newspaper that lunatics are trying to "re-introduce" wolves and beavers to Scotland, negating and defeating their own preservation argument because it will fundamentally alter the balance of current nature. But at least the wolves might eat a few environmentalists.
The critique of the administration is one of the points of his book, an excellent read from a polemical point of view in it's own right. But the bonus is, it is a most marvellous travelogue, relating a very skilful journey by yacht through the Scottish Northern Isles across the North Sea to the Isles of Norway (and back). Vast quantities of single malt are consumed en route. One can imagine air drops of the stuff at way-points to keep Mr M and his companion fuelled up. Discussions, some journalistic, some just for the human contact are related sensitively and with dry wit, and I am particularly fond of the fearless way Mr Mitchell puts revisionist meat on the bones of sensitive historical topics, a case in point; regarding Quisling of Norway.
I shall vote with my wallet and buy Isles of the West, which I had hoped to read in the right chronological order but was defeated by it being out of stock in Waterstones.
I corresponded briefly with the author on his opus that I had just read before this, "The Cost of a Reputation" - a book that transcends in intellectual depth and readability most of the recent blockbusters of narrative history. Mr Mitchell asked which of the Isles I would like - and the answer: most of the Norwegian ones, and only Foula in Scotland. Foula was the most shambolic, free spirited of the Northern Isles, and for that, they are the most honest and are the last hope for a group of communities under siege.
Read January 2007:- Title: The Undergound Reporters, Author: Kathy Kacer, Publisher: Evans 2002, ISBN 13:9780237531591 and 10: 0237531593
A history of jewish children growing up in Czechoslovakia during the persecutions. The net closes in and they maintain their spirits by publishing a secret newspaper for their community. The inevitable happens and the community is rounded up by the Nazis. Few survive the Holocaust, but those few present the history with dignity and humility. The book is simply written for a young audience, with little of the academic depth of the typical doorstop tome, but this adds to rather than detracts from the lucidity of the story told.
Read January 2007:- Title: Strangers, Author: Taichi Yamada, Publisher Faber and Faber 2005,ISBN 0-571-22437-7
A ghost story of delicate sensitivity written with the clarity of Yoshimoto and the other-worldlines of late Ishiguru.
More about the author here: Taichi Yamada
Read December 2007:- Title: The Cost of a Reputation, Author: Ian Mitchell, Publisher Canongate Books 1998, ISBN 0 86241 822 4
Mitchell (aided materially by his patron the Earl of Portsmouth) documents a (perhaps the most) bitter libel battle between Lord Aldington and Count Nikolai Tolstoy. It concerns publication of alleged activities surrounding repatriation of Cossack and Jugoslav POWs at the end of WWII and the Byzantine to-ings and fro-ings in the libel case. Another individual, the highly likable Nigel Watts gets entangled in the case as it grinds relentlessly on to it's awful conclusion.
Read November 2007:- Title: The Lost Gospel, Author: Herbert Krosney, Publisher: National Geographic 2006, ISBN-10: 1-4262-0041-2 and ISBN-12: 978-1-4262-0041-0
A facscinating record of the recent history of the Gospel of Judas, a fragile, unique Gnostic papyrus discovered in the late 20th Century. It changed hands again and again between dealers of various shades of integrity before finding safe haven in the nick of time before it degraded beyond repair.
To quote the Gospel: "Jesus said to Judas: you will exceed all of them, for you will sacrific the man that clothes me." The book makes the point that should be obvious to us all: why vilify Judas - because he is the individual that is responsible for providing the premise of Christianity. It also sets out the chronology of the development of the bible - notably that it was not finalised until the Council of Trent in the mid 16th Century.
Greed, detective work, scholarship are all to be found between the boards of this riveting read. The only disappointment is the absence of an Index and Bibliography.
Read October 2007:- Title: A Dirty War, Author Anna Politkovskaya, Publisher: The Harvill Press 2001, ISBN 1 86046 897 7
I cast a glance at my bookcase and noticed this book - and decided to email a thank-you to the author for being so brave. So brave in fact that she died as a result of her relentless persuit of the truth. Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on 7 October 2006 - just about the anniversary of when I read her book. There are numerous suspects and the investigation into her death is inconclusive in all but it's conclusion of murder. RIP Anna - the world needs more people like you.
A full record of Anna's work life death and murder investigation is recorded at Anna_Politkovskaya testament
Read September 2007:- Title: It is Bliss Here: Letters home 1939-1945; Publisher: Bloomsbury; ISBN 0 7475 7802 8
This remarkable record of one man's war through the Mediterranean, North Africa and the D Day landings is one of the great narrative histories of World War II. I was saddened to learn Hildyard died recently - in 2005. His ancestral seat was Flintham Hall not 20 miles from my home and I had planned a visit to talk to him.
A remarkable record - one of the great personal diaries of the war. As a book, it works very well as narrative history - the editing has been carried out sympathetically and the continuity ensures Hildyard's tale is seamlessly told. As a personal history, it is up there with Edwin Campion Vaughn's acclaimed record of the First World War published as "Some Desperate Glory". That Antony Beevor, the big hitter of modern narrative history wrote the introduction is a testament to the importance of this archive.
I have written a short piece about the author at Miles Hyldyard