PositiveThe Times (UK)The title of the book is misleading. It isn’t really about civil wars generically, but about one conceivable conflict in particular: the Second American Civil War. Roughly at the halfway point, having established how fratricidal conflict occurs, Walter turns her attention fully to her own country. Naturally, she knows how absurd such a possibility will seem to many readers as they take the subway to their downtown offices or listen to the audiobook as they drive the kids to school ... Yet for all that, Walter is not fatalistic.
Volker Ullrich tr. Jefferson Chase
RaveThe Times (UK)... excellent and admirably succinct ... A commendation too for the translator, Jefferson Chase, who also translated Ullrich’s recent two-part biography of Hitler. He really understands his author, from Ullrich’s use of irony to his occasionally more polemical moments. It still must be hard for a German scholar to be entirely dispassionate about what was done in (still, just) living memory.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Pollan is a gentle, generous writer, so it is to his credit that he realises that an account of how he felt when he stopped drinking coffee for a few months was hardly likely to provide narrative drama. That doesn’t stop him doing it, with predictably tedious consequences, but he constructs a nice chapter all the same out of other bits of information.
PanThe Times (UK)... often feels like a special disasters season of University Challenge, in which all the answers are given by an N Ferguson of Stanford University. There are different themes to his chapters, but after a while they all blur. ... After a while I lost the thread of any argument that was connecting these events and decided just to enjoy them ... he butterfly effect flits through, then disappears. The economist Nikolai Kondratieff waves at us and is then shot by Stalin. And what can we derive from it all? Not much other than that the social network of the dinosaurs was ill prepared for the asteroid that wiped them out ... You sense that Ferguson submitted the manuscript last autumn and the desire to get his book out in time for the summer also means that he has to make judgments about the impact of Covid-19 that, frankly, haven’t quite survived the second and third waves of the autumn and winter ... One feature of this book, by the way, is its insistence on settling scores with liberal centrists in the US media and academia who have obviously got up the author’s nose. It is beyond tiresome. Nor do I take much to Black Lives Matter activism being described — along with Bolshevism — as a \'contagion\'. There are other places for such culture wars feuding ... This reviewer, however, just has to wonder at how a very clever person can end up in such a very strange place. Long Covid, maybe? Caught on one of those early, reckless trips?
PositiveThe Times (UK)McMeekin is a superb writer. There isn’t a boring page in the book. His familiarity with the archives of several countries is extraordinary. His breadth of approach, taking in events from Manchuria to Greece, as well as the main fronts, is refreshing ... When he is angry McMeekin can be magnificent ... However, McMeekin’s anger takes him to some strange places. Which provoked in me the greatest number of NOs I’ve ever scribbled on the pages of a proof ... That is indeed provocative, but strangely none of it is new. The isolationist strand of the American right from America First through McCarthyites to Pat Buchanan has always believed this version of the Second World War. Since the late 1930s their publications and their partisans have argued that this war against the Nazis was the wrong war, fought in effect to help atheist communism, and prosecuted by a president who was both unscrupulous and naive. When he wasn’t being just a dupe of the communists. And at every stage they have lost this argument. McMeekin has just reopened it.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Here [the topic of the British Constitution] is rescued, and rather gloriously, by Linda Colley, one of our most imaginative and relevant historians ... There are many stories and people in Colley’s book and these were just a few of them. Rarely is a history so satisfyingly broad in outlook while avoiding abstraction and generalisation. It is rich, enjoyable, enlightening and imaginative. Colley takes you on intellectual journeys you wouldn’t think to take on your own, and when you arrive you wonder that you never did it before.
RaveThe Times (UK)There are myriad books about the Holocaust, many of them memoirs. All are stories that need to be told, yet after a while it can be exhausting. But a work of forensic archaeology, in which a specialist historian of the Holocaust takes just one image, examines it closely and establishes who exactly is in it, how it came about and what happened afterwards, felt like a corrective to the anonymity of the poor dead bodies of Belsen ... For me, increasingly, less is more. There will be people who find Lower’s writing unemotional. She doesn’t feel the need to load her sentences with colourful words expressing feeling. She doesn’t imagine the green grass, the feelings of the mother who cannot protect her family, the callousness of the killers. Her writing is spare, with no adjectival intrusion. I welcome it. I don’t need to be told that shooting a woman and children beside a pit is brutal. The book is an act of calculated justice — turning the \'mass\' in mass murder into the families, the people who suffered. Giving them something, however small. For me, that is its power ... To the murdered others, this book is an act of restitution.
MixedThe Times (UK)There are some brilliant social histories of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich that convey more insight in 20 pages than this manages in 270. Which is not to say that there’s nothing of interest here, rather that these briskly depicted women tell you as much about Nazism as Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy do about modern football ... it’s pretty interesting anyway ... If there is a lesson...it is a pessimistic one about how self-interest and selective apathy can make monster-lovers of so many of us ... They are a depressing lot. Their self-serving capacity to tolerate the worst aspects of human behaviour may indeed have resonance today.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... relatively concise and always compelling ... Rees understands the value of managing your material economically for greatest impact.
MixedThe Times (UK)There is a mystery at the heart of this book, one which the author doesn’t appear to recognise and so cannot solve ... why are people, including Larman, still so angry with [Edward VIII] for abdicating? ... But the peaceful departure of a powerless constitutional monarch at his own request, Larman says, \'represented a social and political crisis like England has seldom known\'. In his view, only the Civil War period comes close. Larman is an amiable and talented young writer, but it’s hard to agree with this ... So my thought on finishing this always interesting book was to ask the question that it decides not to: wasn’t the whole abdication business a ruling-class psychodrama that distracted the courtiers and the barons and the King’s ministers from the far more serious set of crises unfolding in 1936?
RaveThe Times (UK)... a remarkable story and this is a remarkable book. More, whether the author knows it or not, it is a book that takes us well beyond the medical and ethical issues that it covers, helping to explain the political and social predicament that now afflicts so many of us — the crisis in truth and its exploitation by people without scruple ... What should amaze the reader of Deer’s book, however, is the weakness, venality, vanity and slowness to action of the medical establishment and its publications and institutions in the face of a rogue doctor. Most of the things that Deer did should have been done by the profession itself. Had he not so assiduously turned every one of Wakefield’s stones over, the man would probably still be licensed to practise here.
Volker Ullrich, Trans. By Jefferson Chase
RaveThe Times (UK)Ullrich is a fine writer and the book is well organised, but perhaps its most important characteristic is that it is written by a German ... there is no hint of the revisionism that has allowed some historians to try to absolve the German people from responsibility for Nazi crimes, or that has permitted some military historians to portray the Wehrmacht as soldiers doing their duty, albeit on the wrong side ... Soldiers and civilians, Ullrich establishes firmly and repeatedly, were complicit.
Mary L. Trump
PositiveThe Times (UK)There are no hidden grudges in this bleak book and there is no hidden agenda. It’s all right out there ... This is not a book full of shocking Trump anecdotes; although there are one or two. It is something else altogether; it’s a psychological profile of a horrible family. And if there is a villain here, it’s not the man who has become the worst US president of the modern era; it’s his dreadful father, Fred Trump ... The reader might decide that the author would be more morally convincing if she had walked away from the money and the family. And it’s true that for all that the book is well-written and unemotive, the author never analyses herself and her motives. Yet running through every chapter is the theme of getting some recognition from this cold, conscienceless family for the tragedy of her father’s life and death.
Laurence C. Smith
MixedThe Times (UK)This is a book for fluviophiles ... This is not a long book and Smith is a decent and enthusiastic writer, whose prose is clear and who explains scientific concepts well ... He also explains very well why a muddy looking river, carrying sediment, is generally so much less destructive than a clear one, which cuts through the rock in its path. So it’s a bit of shame that he felt it necessary to throw in quite a lot of extraneous history in what I felt was an unnecessary attempt to prove the importance of rivers. I could quite easily have managed a little more on the geography of rivers and how they vary. Indeed, I felt that the book really perked up when Smith was describing his experiences as a geographer.
Ibram X. Kendi
MixedThe Times (UK)... the copy editor was obviously distracted and failed to save the author from some very ugly phrase-making ... You should read it for its reminders about the ways in which many if not most whites in America have over the centuries demeaned and conceptualised blacks. And you should read it for its arguments about what racism is, even if in the end you are not obliged to agree with all of them. Nor should you dodge it on the basis that you knew all this already — like me, you almost certainly didn’t ... The difficulty is that the thesis seems to demand that any suggestion of any internal ill effect on black American populations, arising from whatever historical experience, is itself racist. But this notion, as we have discovered in this country in places such as Rotherham and Rochdale, can create an inhibition to analyse, let alone deal with genuinely catastrophic behaviour sometimes arising from group perceptions and identities. Any group, any identity. Perhaps racism is even more complex than even Stamped From the Beginning, however valuable it is, has quite grasped.
Janet L. Nelson
PositiveThe Times (UK)...if you like the name Cathwulf, then this is the book for you. My favourites include Ragamfred, Willibrord, Queen Liutperga, Ermenbert of Worms, Duke Toto of Nepi and the scribe Hitherius. All names that seem ready for rediscovery and reuse .... Nelson, emeritus professor of medieval history at King’s College London, would, I think, make a marvellous dinner party neighbour. She understands the era and is romanced by it ... Yet she also clearly sees her subjects as she writes about them, walking around in front of her ... She is happy to make judgments in the case of disputed accounts, to argue with other historians and to try to get the reader to appreciate what is similar and what is so different about that world.
RaveThe Times (UK)Until now no one has written a book about the phenomenon of Maoism. This has been gloriously rectified (as Maoists might put it) by Julia Lovell ... a history that is revelatory and instructive, without ever being dull. Indeed in retrospect, while some of it is still scary, a lot of the material here is full of a dark humour ... One of my favourite chapters in the book is also the closest to home. It’s the part where Lovell describes how Maoism appealed to people in the western democracies ... As Lovell shows in this beautifully written and accessible book, atrocity and absurdity were always Maoist bedfellows.
PositiveThe Times...a well-argued, lucid case for the prosecution of the appeasers, ranging from Ramsay MacDonald — prime minister when Hitler came to power in 1933 — to the Tories who opposed Winston Churchill becoming prime minister seven years later... What Bouverie re-establishes, through deft use of original sources, is that at almost every point from Hitler’s appointment as chancellor to war being declared, the policy of appeasement strengthened Nazi Germany and the Axis far more than it helped Britain or its allies.
RaveThe Times... for all Macfarlane’s occasional self-indulgence, for all that the book is 50 pages too long, for all that it tries too hard sometimes to impress, I ended up loving it. He converted me. The author’s neverending curiosity, his lack of self-pity, his generosity of spirit, his erudition, his bravery and—when he writes directly—his clarity had me by the end ... There are simply wonderful chapters here, combining a command of natural and human history, a love of places and names, and the significant capacity to get to these places ... this is a book well worth reading, and if you’re quarrelsome, like me, worth persisting with.
MixedThe Times (UK)\"Although I think that there are some things in this book that are plain wrong, and although I sometimes feel the academic straining always towards his thesis, I believe that this is an essential read for liberals ... You may not agree with Kaufmann, but you have to deal with him ... So where does Kaufmann go wrong? Take this example. It’s his argument that an essential part of American-ness has been its whiteness, even for minorities. So, for example, Jewish actors have taken Wasp stage names and even minorities, when asked to choose a typical American surname, go for Anglo names. But Kaufmann must surely know that the great-grandparents of most African-Americans were given Anglo names by their owners.\
PositiveThe TimesFor the most part it does not disappoint ... the pictures are gorgeous, the choices MacGregor makes of what to write about are often surprising and therefore fresh ... the pictures and MacGregor’s contextualization of them are enough to make a very superior coffee-table book. I enjoyed the syncretic progression ... it’s all there, from Akhenaten to Zarathustra. Or mostly. It is very hard to illustrate atheism with objects unless you equate it, as MacGregor in essence does, with the failed experiments in revolutionary France or Russia ... I rather wonder too if MacGregor hasn’t underdone the flipside of religion. It’s not that it isn’t there, but it seems to me offset by a noble desire not to condemn ... Nor is there anything here about religion and sex, which is an omission that is hard to understand, since MacGregor is no prude ... Sometimes good just has to be enough.
PositiveThe Times (UK)I hope bookshops find this book easier to categorise than I do, otherwise it may be destined to float round the shelves, homeless, finally finishing up stacked in a corner of the New Age section. Because what is it about? It has three parts, but I’m not at all sure why, and the cover information, \'a voyage of experience: a journey through grief, philosophy, consciousness, humanity and magical thinking\', suggests an almost arbitrary combination of elements ... Perhaps never mind. In the end it was just what the author wanted to write about, because those were the things in his mind. And we can go with it because it is a rewarding mind to spend some time with.
Emily Jane Fox
PanThe TimesUnworsenable ... Fox could have decided not to write this depressing and pointless book.
PositiveThe TimesDespite my generation...I approached this pro-psychedelics book by the American food writer Michael Pollan with something worse than scepticism; I approached it full of prejudice. And there was plenty there to keep my jaundice alive ... When I put it down I had become very interested in what Pollan had told me. Then I started following some of his footnotes and the characters and science he had introduced me to, and I became increasingly intrigued. The book was having an after-effect. I was changing my mind. How did that happen? Not easily, especially since the early part of the book is not an easy read ... Finally, though, I had to admit that Pollan’s arguments against total prohibition, in favour of developing the therapeutic use of psychedelics, and indeed in favour of personal experimentation in controlled circumstances, had won me over, despite myself. I may even give it a go ... One caveat, though. If we are to make more use of psychedelics, please don’t make the rest of us sit through the ramblings of day-trippers describing their euphoric micturations, or how nothing is everything. That would be too high a price.