PositiveLondon Review of BooksPersonalities perform in the foreground of a series of historical set-pieces, vividly recounted and analysed. A long section presents the Empress Catherine II ... Nothing will make me like that evil woman, but Colley’s long and thoughtful retelling of her political development, raking the world for wisdom in the midst of lethal conspiracies and crazy speculation about her sex life, is compelling. Her evocation of Haiti is another brilliant set-piece, as she evaluates the constitutions devised by that phenomenal generation of black leaders after Haitian independence ... One of the virtues of this book is that it isn’t Eurocentric ... Colley shows, shrewdly enough, how rulers desperate for cannon-fodder devised a connection between soldiering and the new idea of citizenship ... Colley’s book proves that constitutions can sprout from all kinds of earth.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)MacGregor naturally gives a lot of space to spies and spooks ... Rightly, MacGregor sets the limited sufferings of the western garrisons against the 140 men and women known to have lost their lives at the Berlin Wall ( rightly, too, he adds the names of the eight East German border soldiers who were killed on duty). The misery of the many thousands of families divided by the wall comes out in many of his interviews. Yet there were other Berlins beyond the city heroised by John F Kennedy in 1963. Many Berliners never even saw the wall...They don’t form part of MacGregor’s story ... MacGregor isn’t always good on history...But the voices he has saved, and the richly researched skill of his narrative at big moments, rescue an echo of one of the many lost Berlins.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Some historians use metal-detectors to snatch out something flashy. Others do patient archaeology, relating the tiniest object in each stratum to its context. Snyder is the second kind ... In this book, he seems to have set himself three labours. The first was to bring together the enormous mass of fresh research – some of it his own – into Soviet and Nazi killing, and produce something like a final and definitive account ... But Snyder\'s second job was to limit his own scope, by subject and by place ... Snyder\'s third aim is to correct, radically, the way we remember what happened ... Snyder shows convincingly how the Holocaust emerged ... This book\'s unforgettable account of the Ukraine famine shows conclusively that Stalin knew what was happening in the countryside and chose to let it run its course (some 3 million died) ... The figures are so huge and so awful that grief could grow numb. But Snyder, who is a noble writer as well as a great researcher, knows that. He asks us not to think in those round numbers.
RaveThe London Review of Books...[a] tremendous biography ... Taubman, who has studied Khrushchev for most of his working life, was able to read the secret files and Party minutes, and to travel about post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine in search of surviving witnesses and family members. The range of his research, his mastery of sources and his ability to win the confidence of most – not quite all – of the people he tracked down are astounding. As a result, Taubman will make many readers – especially those who have not kept up with the torrent of revelations from the opened Soviet archives in the last ten years – change their understanding of history.
RaveLondon Review of BooksJames Hamilton-Paterson, still one of England’s most skilled and alluring prose writers in or out of fiction, has done something...original. With imaginative scenes enacting ‘what we have lost’, he combines closely researched and detailed accounts of the decay of one legendary British product after another. Cars, motorbikes, shipbuilding and the nuclear industry are all there ... governments encouraged mergers. Many proved disastrous. Hamilton-Paterson is excellent on this. He has a real, critical love of cars, and clearly a passion for motorbikes: his chapter on Triumph and its merger with several other motorbike companies is vivid, knowledgeable and shocking ... Hamilton-Paterson ends What We Have Lost with a marvellously written requiem for British firms and brands now dead or buried under takeovers or lost to the portfolios of foreign-based conglomerates ... Hamilton-Paterson’s grief, his sense of injury and loss, is eloquent.
RaveLondon Review of BooksWith a professional interest in psychology and in the development of her own inner life, Verdery seizes the chance offered by her file to explore her identity ... Nothing is morally simple in this wonderfully candid, observant and diligently self-questioning account ... [an] unforgettable book.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksGraham Robb’s book offers the story of the Debatable Land, but at the same time it’s the account of his own explorations and reflections there ... Robb—a graceful and imaginative writer—describes vividly the frozen rivers, the flash floods, the cruel winds, and the general hardiness required of the traveler ... [Robb\'s book is] luminously observant...introspective...rich with anecdotes and scholarly reading ... But when it comes to politics...less convincing ... The final part of Graham Robb’s book is less accessible ... Toward the end of The Debatable Land, Robb wheels off into ingenious but perilously high-wire historical speculations ... His enthusiasm and his delight in his own wide-reaching research are likable. But there’s something of Jeddart justice in his handling of historical evidence: hoist the conclusion first and then select any data that back it up. In the same way, his vision of the Debatable Land as a melting pot in which Scots and English could become a single people doesn’t reflect the gathering flow of nationality politics in both countries.
John le Carre
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksHere and elsewhere, David asks himself whether his childhood—con man father, absent mother—led him inexorably toward the spy profession...Much to his credit, he does not make a facile link between childhood lying, adolescent disguise, and the deceits of intelligence work ... While David Cornwell still declines to talk about much of his secret work, out of personal rather than national loyalty, he is scorching about the pretensions of espionage and its lack of accountability.