Sunday, November 25, 2018

VIETNAM An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975- Max Hastings

Hastings does a fine job of turning an immensely complex conflict into something very readable within 650 pages.

He covers all the major battles with some politics thrown in but it is more the story of the combatants.

The absurdity of war and bureaucrats is summed up when Dein Bien Phu is written of:  As the French were desperately trying to hold on they parachuted untrained troops in but refused to issue then with parachute badges afterwards because they hadn't done the formal parachute course, brilliant stuff.

The war was lost by 1968 when Johnson stated he would not run again but  they kept it going for another sevens years with thousands of more totally unnecessary deaths.  Utterly criminal and understandable that there were major discipline issues from this time onward.

Hastings is nothing but fair when it come to laying out the facts on atrocities committed by both sides, mass murder in other words, thousands slaughtered and this is civilians here not combatant.

Interesting aside regarding My Lai; the massacre was basically written off as "nothing to see here' by staff officer Major Colin Powell.This was the killing of up to 500 civilians and they pinned it all on a sub-intelligent Lieutenant who finally served 42 months under house arrest as a punishment.

The North Vietnamese and Vietcong were just as brutal, the true extent of the atrocities they committed against their own people will never be known.

I took away from this book what a total arsehole Robert McNamara appears to have been, He just kept throwing humans into a meat grinder with no plan, no hope of success.  He compounded this by everything he did previously with Project 100,000, where people who were deemed too unintelligent to be enlisted previously were then signed up. McNamara okayed the lowering of the IQ and physical standards, so basically mental defectives were enlisted and sent off to die.

This is a great read, like all Hastings histories he keeps it moving an provides wonderful overviews of what was an 'epic tragedy".

Thursday, November 15, 2018

MYTHOS -The Greek Myths Retold - Stephen Fry

This is Stephen Fry's retelling of some of the Greek Myths , not all of them but many, and its a lot of fun.

He gives us lots of conversation and doesn't shy away from the sex and violence that are intrinsic to the myths with many laugh out loud moments.

I've read the Robert Graves translation which is wonderful but as an introduction and easy read  this is hard to beat.

The remarkable thing about the myths is the impact they have on our every day language the roots of many of our most common words, phrases and things are seen here for the first time.  Good stuff

Sunday, November 11, 2018


My book of the year, I've just spent a fortnight reading this and loved everyone of the 972 pages involved.

It starts with the arrival of the first settlers and ends at the end of the Clinton administration.

Johnson take on things is right wing, something that he has never disguised and upsets some, not me, but his detail is astonishing so anyone ignoring his works for his politics is doing themselves a major disservice .The amount of information packed onto a page is enough to send the reader seguing off to find several more books.

One of his most interesting take is with the breaking up of Standard Oil ,Carnegie's steel empire and several others the government did the public a disservice. Once these business's were broken up prices increased for the consumer.  This is relevant today as calls were made just last week to end Amazon's dominance in online retailing.

There are several more examples of Government interference being bad for the people, prohibition obviously and  poor handling at the beginning of the great depression, Johnson's contention is it may have ended earlier if Hoover had let the markets correct themselves.

Its not all politics with plenty on social history as well, fantastic.

A riveting read without a dull page.

AND YET - Christopher Hitchens

The very last collection of reviews and essays from Hitchens, his premature death in 2011 robbed us of  genius .

Witty, sharp and always up for an argument he is a joy to read , his jottings on a milk carton would entertain.

Sadly from now on its just re-reads

1984 -George Orwell

First time I have read this in 30 plus years, its not much of a novel but the message is chilling.

Intolerance allows suppression and we are living in very intolerant times.  We are starting to see history re-written when in practical terms we should see both sides of an issue promoted.  We are seeing  a partisan media actively promoting their views with no regard for fact in many cases.

A very chilling novel if you are remotely aware of what is going on around you.

FEAST DAY OF FOOLS - James Lee Burke

Featuring the third outing for the character Sheriff Hackberry Holland in his small south west Texas town.  There are people smugglers, murderous preachers many killings.

Burke is very readable but as he's got older the moral up rightness of his star characters has got a bit tedious.  No one is as unbending as Holland, an there is two too many bad guys in the story.  Not his best not his worst.


This is a re-read, with another copy I bought.  Chandlers diaries and writings on his creations, writing in general, working in television and movies.

A talented individual but I imagine could have been very hard work to deal with.