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This is a new page so not extensive
(only just started). I will mainly include books acquired recently

It is not 'Criticism' but my comments

I shall only include books that seem special in some way










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Birds Natural world and science Music and the arts History and world affairs India  

Bird books (link)

The art of bird illustation by Maureen Lambourne (see above).   This provides a nice well-illustrated guide to the great bird illustrators. It would be pointless if its illustrations were not first class. They are.

Fine bird books (1700 - 1900) by Sacheverell Sitwell. Similar subject to the above, scholarly and beautifully-written (as expected).

Drawn From Paradise: The Discovery, Art and Natural History of the Birds of Paradise by David Attenborough and Errol Fuller' Magnificent.

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The natural world and science (link

Wild shots; a new look at photographing the wildlife of Britain by Chris Packham. Surprising. Packham wrote this, aiming to drag wildlife photography into the realm of art. His success is based on excellent examples ( good and bad) of his own work and on the elegance and clarity of his writing. This was written before digital photography but his advice and example are still relevant, as is the fact the he won 'Wildlife photographer of the year' three times. My hero.

Out of the Shadow of a Giant; Hooke, Halley and the Birth of British Science by John and Mary Gibbin (2017). John Gribbin is the author of the magnificent History of Western Science. The 'giant' in the title is of course John Newton. We learn how Newton tried to write Hooke our of history,' borrowing' many of his best ideas including the principles that would form the foundation for the universal theory of Gravity. As well as many advances in astronomy for which Halley was responsible, Newton might have remained obscure if Halley had not encouraged him to write the Principia and then paid for its publication out of his own pocket.

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Music and Arts (link)

Housman country; into the heart of England by Peter Parker (2017). I bought this after an afternoon at the Turner Sims concert hall (Southampton) devoted to Vaughan Williams setting of Housman's On Wenlock Edge for tenor, piano and string quartet. This is based on five poems from A Shropshire Lad. There was a talk about these by Peter Parker, so interesting that I bought his book which he says "might be described as an account of the life and times of A Shropshire Lad". The book includes the whole of the poems which are sensibly numbered so that they can be easily referenced while reading. Beautifully written. This led me to buy a Folio Society edition of The Shropshire Lad.

Sinfonia Eroica; the first great romantic symphony by James Hamilton-Paterson (2016). By one of my favourite writers. Beautifully written and illustrated. The 'technical' musical quotations are useful to those who can follow them but not essential. He starts: "For all the fame of Beethoven's Third Symphony, the 'Eroica', each new generation of concertgoers and music-lovers can probably benefit from being reminded of quite what a ground-breaking work it was when first performed in 1805". The author has a kind sense of humour. A nice example of his approach: writing of the less impressive 'Battle Symphony' he says 'this was admittedly an aberration, although it was to bring Beethoven much needed money, exactly as he calculated. In response to the scholars Kerman and Tyson, both of whom were lifelong academics on generaous faculty salaries, it is not cynicism for an artist to scratch a living as best he may'. Other favourite books, illustrating the diversity of Hamilton-Patterson's interests and achievements are his comic novels set in Tuscany (Cooking with fermat branca, and Rancid pansies); 'serious' novels (Gerontius - a novel based on Elgar's trip up the Amazon); Empire of the Clouds (a magnificent history of British aircraft industry); Blackbird - a love letter to the spy plane. And more.

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History and World Affairs (link)

Dereliction of Duty; Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the joint chiefs of staff and the lies that led to Vietnam by H.R. McMaster {1997). To quote a reviewer: "Vietnam did not simply happen; it was not an accidental Cold War collision that killed 58,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese. Men of power and responsibility caused it and left their fingerprints all over it - and here are the names and what they did and said in secret... shielded by a bodyguard of lies, manipulated our country down the road to war and bitter defeat". Grim and gripping. McMaster wrote the book while a serving Colonel in the US army. In 1917 he was appointed National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump. Many were encouraged by his appointment (a wise and moderate person with wide experience of military matters) but he left after one year (the second to do this).

Fear; Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (2018). The author was one of the pair of journalsists (the other was Carl Berstein) whose exposure of Nixon's involvement in the Watergate scandal led to his resignation. This book is an account of the first year of the Trump presidency. Terrifying. So dangerous was he thought to be by some senior advisors that they had to steal draft orders from the Oval office desk so that he would not issue directives that would jeoparise critical intelligence operations or cause serious international problems.

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India (link)

Inglorious Empire; What the British did to India by Shashi Tharoor (2016). A gift from a good friend (Ram Rajan). The author served for 29 years at the UN, culminating as Under-Secretary General and is a Congress MP in India. Very thoroughly argued and written with much kindness and humour. But devastating. As described on the cover "British Imperialism justified itself as enlightened despotism for the benefit of the governed, but Shashi tharoor takes on and demolishes this position". In the eighteenth century India's share of the world economy was as large as Erope's. By 1947 it had decreased 6-fold. I wrote brief notes on this while reading it and have put these below .

The Tears of the Rajahs; Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805 - 1905 by Ferdinand Mount (2015). Wonderful book. A history of India seen through the experiences of Mount's ancestors. I read this before Inglorious Empire (above) and so become more aware - as did Mount- of the unsettling 'truths' about what the British did to India. He describes how an ancestor (John Low) "took an active part in deposing three kings, each of them ruling over a territory and population the magnitude of middle-sized European state. He deprived a fourth Raja of a large part of his kingdom and survived three shattering mutinies".

The British in India; Three Centuries of Ambition and Experience by David Gilmour (2018). Very highly praised account of British life in India. It is not typical history, but a huge collection of information about everyday life of all levels of society, all seen through the letters (etc) and Partition in 1947?of the participants with anecdotes galore. I did not finish it.

Partition; the story of Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 by Barney White-Spunner (2017). The author has commanded Brithish and allied troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans, Africa and Asia and is a noted military historian. As stated in the cover blurb "the contributions of Ghandi, Nehru,Jinnah, Churchill, Atlee and Mountbatten are praised and damned in equal measure". A major question he addresses is "did our inability to leave India lead to two of the worst lossed of life in the twentieth century -the Bengal famine of 1942-1944 and Partition in 1947 (yes)? And the British Indian Army had seemed powerless to act. Why?" This account was highly praised by reviewers in UK, India and Pakistan. Totally gripping and made me feel that I had understood what I previously found incomprehensible. Sadly one message that I was left with was similar to the books above by Mount and Tharoor.

 

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Notes on Inglorious Empire; What the British did to India by Shashi Tharoor (2016). Notes stimulated by the book given me by Ram.

Wikipedia: The event that led the author to write this book was a 2015 Oxford Union speech he delivered on the topic "Does Britain owe reparations to its former colonies?". The speech went viral on the internet leading to some million views on Youtube. According to Shashi Tharoor, his publisher called him and gave him the idea to transform this into a book. He replied that everyone knows about it. But the publisher insisted that if everyone had known this then your speech cannot go viral to such extent. This inspired him to convert his 15 minute speech into a 330 page book. Hear the speech on YouTube.

The industrialisation of Britain was paid for by de-industrialisation of India.
World-famous handloom weavers were broken up (thumbs and equipment).
Cotton was imported to England, converted to cloth and exported to India.
Clive got so much loot from india it bought hem a number of ‘rotten boroughs’ so he could have his interests looked after in England. Note: Loot was taken and the word also taken. British had the cheek to call him Clive of India as if he belonged to the country whereas he had ensured that a lot of the country belonged to him.
The tax system was changed from tax on harvests (diminished in bad years) to tax on land. The tax was used to pay very high salaries to British administrators and was also sent to Britain. So tax that would have been used previously by rulers for developments in India was sent home.
Slavery. When this was abolished huge compensations were made to slave owners who had been made rich by the slaves, but nothing to the slaves themselves.
Under the Raj about 24 million died of starvation.
In World war II about 4 million Bengalis starved to death as a result of Churchill’s policy of diverting stored grain from Bengal to UK to feed soldiers.
No wonder the sun never set on the British Empire because even God could not trust the English in the dark.
WW1. One sixth of British troops were from India. 54,000 died. Indian taxpayers paid 100 million pounds (not changed to present value). And supplied equipment, animals, food supplies – all from their taxes. In today’s money the total cost paid by India was £8 billion pounds.
WW II. Two and a half million in uniform. At end of the war £3 billion pounds debt (in today’s money), 1.25 billion from India – never repaid. [Note: some of the soldiers were used to stop Japanese advance into India so were a good thing – the only successful bit of British war against Japanese].
Railways and roads built by British for their own benefit. (Note that many countries built these without needing to be colonised to achieve it).
The first railways were from the interior to Bombay to export cotton to UK.
After 1857 (mutiny or India’s 1st war of independence) the railways were extended to rush troops to threatened areas.
Ship building. India used to be the major ship builder in the East but British stopped this so that only British ships could be used for trade from India.
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