Posts Tagged ‘war’

The Book Thief

Sunday, August 6th, 2017 | Books

I confess that I have not fared well with Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief.

It is certainly a well-written book and interesting story. Who doesn’t love death as a narrator? However, it has not captivated me. Half way through I found that my reading simply stagnated and I did not get any further.

I’m just not that excited to find out how it ends. And, well, I kind of know that already, because it’s included in the story. No doubt there were some exciting twists to come. But I shall never know.

A Woman in Berlin

Friday, May 5th, 2017 | Books

Let it never be said that I do not listen to my wife. Elina said I should read A Woman in Berlin and I did. And I’m glad because it is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.

It reads like a novel, but it is, in fact, a real-life memoir of a woman who lived in Berlin during the Second World War. It tells the story of the Soviet invasion and the rape of an estimated two million German women.

It’s not something you hear about a lot. We did the world wars extensively in school. But most of it focuses on the fighting, or on the British side of things. This is only to be expected when you are in Britain. And we did cover All Quiet on the Western Front, which gives a German perspective of things.

Two million is a lot of rapes, though. It seems like that deserves mention. But even in Germany, it was rarely talked about, and it was only the re-publication of this book that brought it into the spotlight.

There is not a great deal of graphic detail. It is just the story of one woman getting on with life. A life that involves having your property stolen, being taken by two soldiers on the stairs, and being forced to prostitute yourself to a Soviet officer to get protection from the rest of them.

Certainly worth a read. I even based a chunk of my 2017 public speaking world championship speech on it.

The Man Who Won The War

Sunday, December 27th, 2015 | Public Speaking

This is my Toastmasters speech for Project #5 of the Storytellig manual ‘Bringing History To Life’. I told the story of Alan Turing.


Monday, May 4th, 2015 | Books

Anyone who does not want to fly combat missions is sane enough to fly combat missions. That is the ironic narrative of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, a novel set during the Second World War.

I found it really slow going at first. Funny, but slow moving. It follows the life of Yossarian, as well as a large cast of other characters, as they attempt to survive through the war. As the story goes on it opens up into a dark, satirical and ultimately very funny story. If you have that kind of sense of humour. Which I do.

The impossible but simultaneously inevitable situations that Milo Minderbinder finds himself in, the idea of someone being promoted just so their name would be Major Major and Captain Black’s endless series of loyalty oaths are just absurd enough to be ridiculous and yet somehow plausible in the crazy world we live in.


War and Peace Volume 2

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Books

Pin a fucking medal on me, I have finished War and Peace. As Mark from Peep Show would say, I am not directly comparing my struggle reading it to the French invasion of Russia and subsequent retreat, but it was very difficult. Well, not so much difficult, but long.

I really got into it at the end. To say the first 800 pages were slow going but then it picked up sounds like a joke, but it did feel a little like that. As you get to know the characters more and more you become more involved with them, and in a novel this long, that is quite a lot.

The epilogues were huge. Normally an epilogue a chapter at the end of a book. Tolstoy had two epilogues, each with a dozen chapters in.

The fact such a book managed to maintain my interest all the way through is praise worth in itself. But this is to assume that the man, in this case “I”, had a choice in continuing to the end. However, history has shown us that once something is set in motion, it is not the will of a single man that moves it. Or something…


War and Peace Volume 1

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | Books

I have not posted about many books recently. Not because I haven’t been reading, but because I have been tackling the Leo Tolstoy epic, War and Peace. I have not finished it, but I have reached the end of the first volume.

That term is a little misleading as the copy I have divides the book into two halves, which it calls volumes. However, Wikipedia divides it into four books/volumes, which according to the text itself, I am now on the 8th book.

The story is that of the Russian high-society during the Napoleonic years. So far there has been some peace, then some war, then some more peace. Throughout this the story had managed to maintain my attention with it’s beautiful language even if parts of it threatened to stray into a Jane Austen-style monolog on the problems of finding a husband.

So good so far. I will report back after volume 2.


You can’t handle the truth!

Friday, August 29th, 2014 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts, Video

In the film A Few Good Men Colonel Jessep speaks the often quoted, though perhaps not very well understood, “the truth? You can’t handle the truth.”

I used to consider myself more right-wing in that I was (and still am) a libertarian. Though as I have grown older I have come round to more of a lefty socialist world view. However, my attitude towards the military has changed in the opposite direction.

As a libertarian I was anti-military. My view was that we should just let other countries get on with it and you should not be classified as a hero for taking government money to go murder black and brown people. Consistent with my libertarianism, though not a view in line with what many other people on the right would think, most of whom want to see aggressive military spending.

As a socialist, I am now not no so sure. If we are going to say that the machinery of governments should be used to maximise equality instead of liberty, then why should it stop at an arbitrary national border? Why insist that money be taken from the rich and given to the poor, while at the same time reconciling North Koreans to their horrible fate of oppression and starvation?

Of course one message to take away from this is that the whole left-right issues are not so easily pigeon-holed. But also, that the left-right view points are often inconsistent within themselves – the right do not want the state to interfere (except in the bedroom), the left do want the state to interfere (but not in the bedroom).

Back on the video though, it illustrates an important point. This issue is not an easy one. How do you balance the desire for peace with the desire for justice and liberty?

All Quiet on the Western Front

Monday, August 18th, 2014 | Books

I had seen the film a decade or so ago (probably on VHS, that is how long ago it was), but with the 100th anniversary of theGreat War arriving, I decided I would read the original novel by Erich Maria Remarque.

It turns out that the war was pretty horrible.

It was not the shocking moments of horror that you might encounter when watching Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. It was the relentless horror, sometimes sparse in the detail, but the fact that you can gloss over such issues, reflects the nightmare of trench warfare. Other times the details are not spared. Of course we all know it was horrible, but simultaneously cannot imagine what it was really like; so such attempts are probably useful.

It would be nice to think we had learned our lesson. Of course, that probably is not the case. Even aside from the two world wars, Nassim Taleb wrote in The Black Swan that after the huge war that raged across the whole of Europe, people presumed we would have realised war was a stupid idea and would never do it again – that was the Napoleonic Wars.

Anyway, back on the book. I knew the ending from the film, so the impact was not as powerful as it could have been. Nevertheless, it is still a bold one.

All Quiet in the Western Front

War Horse

Monday, July 28th, 2014 | Books

A friend recommended I read War Horse. I sounded quite a good idea at the time, because I thought they said “war whores”, and thus assumed it was about sex workers from 1914 to 1918. In fact, even when I found out there was a horse in it, I assumed it was just on the more risque end of the spectrum.

However, it turns out that it is actually a story about a horse that goes to war.

The book was good, though I imagine the stage production is far more moving.


All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 | Books

“Out of 193 countries that are currently UN member states, we’ve invaded or fought conflicts in the territory of 171.” Or so the book’s description reads.

The author, Stuart Laycock, begins by talking about how he was trying to list all of the countries that Britain had invaded. The more he thought about it, the longer his list got, and the longer his list got, the more it would seem to make an interesting topic for a book.

It did. He goes through each country in alphabetical order discussing Britain’s involvement in it. Some of which is extensive, others were just fought a battle there. Importantly, he spends more time talking about these lesser known incidents than he does discussing the history that most of us already know about (World Wars for example).

It is written in a very informal style. This keeps the mood light and prevents it from becoming a monotonous list of events. It perhaps could have done with some editing though. The phrase “you might think we’ve never invaded X country, but you would be wrong” or some variant of that expression seems to appear on every other page. To be honest, given I am reading a book about how we have invaded almost every country, I wasn’t thinking that.

There is some history that I had no idea about, and much that I did kind of know about but had never really heard about in detail, and this filled in a lot of knowledge.

All the countries we've ever invalided