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Road of Bones: The Siege of Kohima 1944
Road of Bones: The Siege of Kohima 1944
by Fergal Keane
Edition: Paperback
34 used & new from $1.49

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invicta, September 19, 2013
Rorke's Drift, Tobruk, Gloster Hill,Dien Bien Phu, Khe Sanh. The siege; a town or a military outpost held by a vastly outnumbered force against a persistent and determined enemy is one of the most stirring and enduring of war stories. Most will have heard of at least two of the aforementioned examples, but the battle for Kohima is one that may be new to many. It, along with the battles for Imphal and the Admin Box, turned the tide against the relentless Japanese Imperial Army in Burma and signalled the beginning of the end of the war in the far east.

Much of the war in Burma was fought around a series of towns, villages and junctions on the all-important Lines of Communication - roads - running through the jungle between Burma and India. In 1944, The Japanese Army launched a 15,000 man offensive to take India from the hands of its Imperial masters and one of the battles focussed on Kohima, a tiny town in the Naga hills that was defended by a paltry 1,500 men of the British and Indian Armies. Even at the beginning of the two week siege, the perimeter was barely a mile in circumference and by the end it had been reduced to less than two hundred yards across. The battle was fought, as are all sieges, with great savagery and persistence on both sides, but the level of that savagery is remarkable. One of the most hotly contested areas in the town was the District Commisioner's tennis court, and it's sobering to read the description of this part of the battle which sounds more like something from the Somme, thirty years before...

"Lance Corporal Dennis Wykes was also dug in with A Company at the tennis court, In old age his heart would quicken as he described the Japanese attack. 'They came howling and screaming and full of go. It was terrifying but the only good thing was the screaming let you know where they were coming from and so we got our lines of fire right and mowed them down. Wave after wave, we cut them down with machine guns. I didn't know if I was killing one or a dozen. I just swept the machine gun through 'em and that was it.'"

Keane's account may not be the first and perhaps it says nothing new, but it brings the story of this terrible battle to a new generation of readers. It is very very well written; readable and compelling, and as clear a description of a confused and hellish military encounter as one could expect. It not only provides an account of the battle itself but also describes the political situation in the Far East and the wider campaigns leading up to the crucial moment. There are plenty of maps (although they are distributed rather randomly through the paperback version) and a nice mix of tactical description and personal account. There are some fine pen pictures of the leading personalities of the battle, including Generals Slim, Sato and Mutaguchi, and also of the humble squaddies who did the killing and dying... on both sides. Importantly, Keane has gathered accounts from the Japanese, Indian, Gurkha and Naga combatants as well as the British. The accounts from the Japanese soldiers are expecially poignant and give the lie to the misconception of the robotic Jap killing machine that endures to this day. The description of the operations by the Naga hill men (led by the indomitable Ursula Graham Bower) make a truly fascinating - and tantalisingly brief - addition to the story.

"An (Assam Regt) officer moving into his position at the tennis court found several (West Kent Regt) men leaning on the parapet in firing positions. He ordered them to move and then he pushed one. There was no response. They were all dead."

Highly, highly recommended


The End Of Mr. Y
The End Of Mr. Y

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pearls before a swine?, September 19, 2013
This review is from: The End Of Mr. Y (Kindle Edition)
Ariel Manto, an impoverished and directionless PhD student, discovers by chance a copy of a rare and notorious novel "The End of Mr Y". Rumoured to be cursed, the only other known copy of the book resides unseen in the vaults of German bank. Ariel discovers within its pages the recipe for a concoction that the book's author claims will transport her to an alternate reality from which she can access the minds of those around her.

Now, I am pathologically incapable of spotting allegory, seeing sub-text, reading between the lines. However, Scarlett Thomas' best known work to date is clearly a statement or investigation into the nature of reality so I am possibly the worst person to really appreciate what she is trying to say. Just bear that in mind as you read on.

My failings aside, this certainly is an absorbing and intriguing read. Clearly written and easy enough to follow, as a story it makes no excessive demands on the reader's intellect and I enjoyed it.

It is not without its shortcomings. The characters are not particularly likeable (of course, no-one said that they should be). Ariel is a fairly unappealing protagonist - she is not especially egregious but neither is she the sort of person that many readers will connect to, with her rather flat personality, her tendency towards self-harm and an apparently passionless and self-destructive sex-life.

Written from Ariel's point of view, Thomas liberally salts the story with scientific and philosophical exposition, ranging over a wide hunting-ground from quantum mechanics and relativity to ontology, intercessionary prayer and homeopathy. The level at which she treats the scientific subjects is neither too deep nor too shallow for general consumption. By contrast the frequent references to Baudrillard and Derrida fail to achieve anything more than a bit of self-consciously pretentious name-dropping. I have never been able to understand what "post-modernism" actually IS (or perhaps, which seems more likely, I am simply too dense) but it seems to me that Thomas would like Mr Y to be seen as some sort of post-modernist tale of the metaphysical. However, in the end, the "philosophy" of the story is (generally) simple and conventional (to anyone who has read any sci-fi and/or cyberpunk) and its language is uncomplicated and accessible - in other words, hugely at odds with my perception of post-modernism*.

If that sounds like damning with faint praise, I can only reiterate my opening qualification that "The End of Mr Y" is, taken at face value, a great read. It does have one novel quirk in that there is a "twist" which, in defiance of all convention comes at the beginning rather than the end.

* Although there is one sequence in which Ariel exposits on the subject of existence and reality at such depth that I was forced to skim the scene and then skip it entirely. I am pleased to report that I didn't feel any the worse for this.


Cunt Coloring Book
Cunt Coloring Book
by Tee Corinne
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.95
56 used & new from $7.19

5 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a disappointment, September 19, 2013
This review is from: Cunt Coloring Book (Paperback)
I bought a copy along with some cheap colouring pens, but I never seem to manage more than a few strokes before my tip goes soft and leaky.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 3, 2014 8:24 PM PST


Roden Fokker Dr.I German Triplane Fighter Airplane Model Kit
Roden Fokker Dr.I German Triplane Fighter Airplane Model Kit
Offered by Winkie's Toys & Hobby
Price: $12.44
39 used & new from $10.56

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Curse you Red Baron!, September 19, 2013
The Fokker Dr1 was fielded by the Luftwaffe in late 1917 in response to the appearance at The Front of the Sopwith triplane. Despite its relatively poor performance (and various other significant structural and technical problems), Fokker's Dreidecker ("triplane") was exceptionally maneouvrable and became a firm favourite of many who flew it. It's greatest claim to fame was that it was piloted by the (in)famous Red Baron, although many other German aces also used the machine - Ernst Udet, Werner Voss and Herman Goring to name but a few.

Unsurprisingly, for such a well-known aeroplane, there are several other renditions of the Dr1 in 1/72, including kits from Revell, Eduard and Airfix. Surprisingly, however, only Revell's seems to be "in-print" at the moment. I have no experience of the Revell kit but, if other biplanes by the company are anything to go by, it is likely to be a perfectly fine representation of the aircraft - a little clunky and crude, but perfectly acceptable to the everyday modeller.

This kit, by Roden, occupies the opposite end of the spectrum. For a 1/72 kit it provides as much accuracy and finesse that any dedicated modeller could wish for (indeed, considerably more; see later comments). Two very well-stocked sprues, providing fine, delicate moldings of the various components, including a fully realised cockpit. This latter is a bit of a rarity in the Airfix and Revell WW1 models that I've built - most have no cockpit detail at all. The Roden kit provides a seat, rudder pedals, joystick and some of the 'pit's internal structure as well. Shame that it becomes almost invisible when the fuselage is closed up...

The real problems come, however, with the wings and undercarriage. The big advantage of Revell's tooling of aircraft of this sort is that the wing and undercarriage struts are generally robustly molded and set up in such a way that the tricky business of getting the wheels and wings on at the right angles (or even getting them on at all!) is relatively simple. True, the accuracy and "look" of the kit suffers somewhat, but the build is achievable and one can expect the model to survive a little after-build handling.

Not so with Roden. The wing and undercarriage struts are perfectly to scale, meaning that they're weaker than a politician's promise, flimsier than a pole-dancer's g-string, as insubstantial as a Premier League footballer's morals. What's more is that each strut must be glued to the wing at precisely the right angle, then held until the glue sets before the next stage is attempted. Get the angles wrong and all hope of salvation is lost. Of particular concern to me is that too much modelling glue is more likely to destroy some of these more delicate components than actually fix them and I suspect that CA glue ("Superglue") will be a better (albeit less mutable) choice.

Roden provide decals for six alternative marking schemes, including 'planes flown by Manfred von R, his brother Lothar, Goring and several others. This wealth of decal alternatives is part justification for the kit's price tag* and it's good to have a choice. Two of the options are relatively simple paint schemes (one is all-black - can't get simpler than that...). The remainder, however, include variations on a very tricky "streaky-olive-green" camoflage pattern. I am actually looking forward to trying this out but if it looks too much, it is likely to be possible to get away with a flat OG paint job.

I haven't finished building this little kit and while I did at one stage wish that I'd bought a Revell Dr1 instead, I am now beginning to enjoy this challenging little kit. Watch this space...

================
UPDATE 1: I replaced the kit's undercarriage struts with staple wire which is flat and fine and a reasonable looking alternative but very much stronger.

UPDATE 2: The paint job is now complete in all it's streaky green glory. It was as much fun as I expected and not that hard to achieve. Given that I've seen many different colour renditions on models on the net and given that the only pictures of the authentic finish are in grainy black and white, I'm not too worried as to whether I got it right. It looks good for a first attempt.

UPDATE 3: Now complete after some considerable heartache. The main weak spot in the model is the decals which are fragile (almost) to the point of unusability, out of register and include several acres of carrier film which does tend to get in the way of the application. Copious amounts of Micro Sol and Micro Set decal setting solution were required to melt the decals into the paint and a good coat of varnish to seal them on.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 13, 2015 2:32 PM PDT


Best Served Cold: A First Law Novel (World Of The First Law Series)
Best Served Cold: A First Law Novel (World Of The First Law Series)

3.0 out of 5 stars Conan the Barbarian meets The Dirty Dozen, September 19, 2013
Beautiful, ruthless and successful - Monza Murcatto is one of Duke Orso's greatest and most favoured generals. At least until he has her beaten savagely, run through, and disposed of by throwing her off his highest balcony. By a great miracle she survives her terrible injuries and sets off on a mission to kill the Duke and all those who participated in her "murder".

In "Best Served Cold" Abercrombie takes a "sword and sandal", feudal setting and uses it to present a very straightforward revenge thriller with very strong overtones of that classic Hollywood (et al) genre the "gang heist caper", typified by... Ocean's Eleven, The Dirty Dozen, Kelly's Heroes, The Italian Job, etc etc etc.

The writing is clean and competent, with a witty, relaxed style and occasionally lapsing into a mild vernacular "for effect". The plot is linear and simple, presenting no real twists and turns... well, there are a few twists, but no big surprises, making this a relatively enjoyable and undemanding read. The story is an "exciting" one, in as much as it trips along at a fair pace, throwing plenty of action, gore (torture and sundry sword-play) and a few fairly racy sex scenes.

On the other hand, that simplicity, the lack of complexity and surprise do render the plot a fairly bland. That would be more than acceptable were the characters to take up the slack. A good "gang" adventure is in large part defined by the leading characters and their interactions. Unfortunately Abercrombie's protagonists are a bit of a letdown. The mixed bag of criminals, murderers, torturers and barbarians in Murcatto's gang are oozing potential and, for sure, Abercrombie makes an effort to build some interesting and quirky characters (almost succeeding in a couple of case) out of this wholecloth. Unfortunately they still come across as a little flat, unfinished... almost two-dimensional*. Even Murcatto herself is disappointing. One could almost replace every reference to "her" with "him" and the story would barely suffer...

Again, all of this could be overcome if any of the characters were actually likeable but they're not. They all (including the leading lady) start the journey as a bunch of violent, cynical, greedy, self-serving thugs, unlikeable** and untouched by conscience and, as it turns out, irredeemable to a man/woman. Nevertheless, the story is big on the central moral; i.e. that revenge brings no rewards. And that moral bangs leadenly throughout this rather long novel like a loose door in the wind. Yeah yeah, I got the message in the first couple of chapters - no one wins! After that point, "Best Served Cold" is little more than revenge porn and, towards the final quarter, I was flagging, wishing that they'd all just kill each other and let me get on to a better book.

In the end, the story is perfectly readable, indeed is enjoyable and witty (if you have the persistence and stomach for it). It makes a fine enough holiday read next to the missus' Jackie Collins, but it lacks the vim needed to lift it above the common herd and earn it a fourth star.

* Contrast this with Dahlquists' Glass Books trilogy. Despite its many shortcomings, it presents three of the most vibrant, interesting and sympathetic protagonists I have encountered.

** For some reason Abercrombie has a small obsession with his characters' propensity to snort and spit rather more frequently than is quite reasonable.


The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frenetic Gothic steampunk adventure, September 19, 2013
Miss Temple - a spunky heroine with a perfectly charming pair of green ankle boots and a great curiosity to discover why her fiance has thrown her over.

Cardinal Chang - neither religious nor oriental, but he'll send you to your god for the price of a cup of chocolate.

Dr Abelard Svenson - long-suffering, chain-smoking physician and reluctant nurse-maid to a whoremongering rake of a German prince.

Three characters who find themselves enmeshed in a singular plot that threatens the morality of the civilized world...

At nearly 800 pages, this is a true leviathan of a novel, and it's the first of three. There is a tortuous, meandering plot which has barely revealed itself by the end of the first third of the book, salted with liberal flashbacks and changes of point of view, all couched in a densely verbose and frequently redundant prose. Worse still is the host of secondary characters, many of whom are either not named when they are first met or not revealed when they are first named. This is a difficult read, requiring some considerable concentration and I found myself having to skip back and re-read several pages or even chapters to try and remind myself of who's who, who's doing what to who and why. But then, it IS gothic; there is nothing spare or cut down about this story.

Nevertheless it is certainly a compelling and, yes, enjoyable book - if you persist. After the first cycle of three chapters, the plot DOES begin to reveal and what appeared to be an impenetrable mystery DOES become much clearer. The tempo picks up and the excitement builds. The characters are interesting and engaging. Miss Temple comes into her own as an indomitable, and tiny, whirlwind of straight(ish)-laced womanhood in "her" second chapter as she marshalls her forces against the sinister cabal. The good Kapitan Doktor Svenson is revealed as a (reluctant) man of action and Cardinal Chang shows his honourable nature. The story is thrilling and genuinely unpudownable; imagine (as the blurb suggests) a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, writ large and with the added spice of a bit of erotic naughtiness to tantalise the reader into turning the next page. This latter element is well billed in the blurb, but don't go expecting to much. Don't go (as did I!) flicking forward to find the rude bits because they are few and far between and not as naughty as you might expect.

Not a book for reading while waiting for a train (or waiting for the train to reach your station) - you may or may not miss your stop but you will certainly lose the thread. Give the book the attention it deserves - a quite evening in front of a roaring fire, or tucked under your duvet - and it will repay you with many lost hours avoiding (or stalking) the Comte d'Orcancz's henchmen over the city's rooftops, frequenting bordellos and coffee houses and dodging bullets or rapiers. There are escapes and frenzied pursuits aplenty, steam-trains and even an airship. Five, well earned stars and I will certainly be reading the next two - The Dark Volume and The Chemickal Marriage.

Mrs Temple, baiting a particularly obsequious and treacherous hotel reception clerk...

"Do you know," continued Miss Temple, "I have always meant to inquire as to your brand of pomade, for I have always found your hair to be so very... /managed/. And slick - managed /and/ slick. I have wanted to impart such grooming to any number of other men in the city, but have not known what to recommend - and always forgot to ask!"
"It is Bronson's, Miss."
"/Bronson's/. Excellent." She leaned in with a suddenly serious expression. "Do you never worry about fire?"
"Fire?"
"Leaning too close to a candle? I should think - you know - /whoosh!/" She chuckled. "Ah, it is so pleasant to laugh. But I /am/ in earnest, Mr Spanning."


The Alan Partridge Complete Box Set (Region 2 UK)
The Alan Partridge Complete Box Set (Region 2 UK)
DVD ~ Steve Coogan
9 used & new from $15.70

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Come and climb "Mount CHAT-mandu" with Alan (ba-DUM! Tish!), September 18, 2013
Holy Moses! Is this character really twenty-odd years old? Steve Coogan may not have invented "cringe-comedy" but he must be one of its most celebrated exponents in the UK and, in Alan Partridge, he melds the genre with that of mock-reality to create a truly enduring masterpiece...

...or that's what it says on the tin. In retrospect, AP doesn't quite bear up to close scrutiny, in my opinion. Look at an alternative and equally lauded example, for instance - The Office. Ricky Gervaise may not be the first in line for a Subtle and Sensitive Award, but the offices of Wernham-Hogg are, in fact, very artistically painted. The scenes, set pieces and characters all have a strong element of realism to them and it is quite possible to imagine oneself working there and meeting the people. This realism throws the comedic aspects of the various character into much sharper relief. Alan P suffers from many of David Brent's personality defects; he is insensitive, narcisistic and hugely aware of his own underappreciated talents, but the manifestation of these traits is far less subtle. The situations he finds himself in, his behaviour and his treatment of people around him stray far beyond what is believable and into an almost surreal, slapstick parallel universe and I found the comedy much more forced as a consequence.

There's no doubt that Alan Partridge IS funny and becomes more so in the later Radio Norwich series. The problem is that, in viewing the three series back-to-back, this comedy starts to wear a little thin. The first series, KMKYWAP (or "Kumkyuwap" as Alan likes to call it) is the shakiest, consisting of seven episodes (including the Xmas special) of his TV chat-show in which he welcomes, abuses, humiliates (and ultimately shoots) his guests. "Shaky" because the chat-show format is extremely restrictive and also because his weekly guests are, for the most part, played by just two co-stars (Rebecca Front and Patrick Marber).

The next two series "I'm Alan Partridge" open things up considerably by letting him out of the TV studio and providing him with a much wider and more diverse list of supporting characters. Thus we are introduced to his reformed alcoholic co-host on the Norfolk Nights radio show, Dave Clifton (Phil Cornwell), his PA Lynn (the excellent Felicity Montagu), the slightly damaged Geordie, Michael (another wonderful and understated performance from Simon Greenall) and, in the second series, Alan's manic Ukranian girlfriend Sonja (Amelia Bullimore). The comedy is still deeply-rooted in slapstick, but the move from the TV studio and into the "real world" makes more room for this comedy style. There are some classic scenes, including Alan's encounter with his number one fan, his chocolate mousse sex session with Julia Deakin and the live KMKYWAP Show at the Linford Travel Tavern (cringes don't come any more intense than that).

The set is a re-boxing of the two-disk releases of each of the three series and so includes a bewildering plethora extras, including mini-episodes, out-takes, deleted scenes, photo galleries, radio spots and so-on.

Yes it's classic BBC comedy, but it has been improved on and it is starting to show its age.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2015 12:22 AM PDT


Terminus
Terminus

4.0 out of 5 stars Escape from New York, September 18, 2013
This review is from: Terminus (Kindle Edition)
Terminus is Adam Baker's third novel and it is a continuation of the zombie ravaged world that he introduced in Outpost and Juggernaut. However, while it is a continuation, it is NOT a rehash, not a warming over of old characters and scenarios. Instead, Baker continues his ongoing exploration of the effects of the alien revenant virus as it spreads through a gradually disintegrating world.

The story follows Lupe, a New York gang-girl who has been co-opted by a team of scientists, rescue personnel and soldiers to re-enter New York (first taken over by the zombies and subsequently nuked by the government - shades of the classic North American survivalist paranoia going on here?) and extract the one scientist (a rather cornily named Doctor Ekks) who might have found a cure. Their search takes them deep into the Manhattan sewers and subway system, but what will they find there...?

Now there's good, bad (well, sort of) and indifferent here, for me. The story itself is well-paced and it skips along nicely, striking a perfect balance between the excitement of the classic zombie melee, tense claustrophobic searches through collapsed (nay, collapsing), flooded tunnel systems and long periods of boredom waiting for... rescue? for the zombies to break in? to die? And it IS a good story, calling on the well-known, tried and tested Resident Evil gameplay scenario, with characters galore, puzzles, traps, expositional documents and landslides - it really DOES feel like the classic computer game. The atmosphere is well-crafted too - murky, claustrophobic, cold and smelly; nowhere that you'd like to spend your summer holidays, that's for sure.

Another plus point is that it becomes clear from the beginning that the characters are pretty much doomed, having received a healthy, bone-marrow-warming dose of radiation poisoning, they are gradually succumbing to its effects. This adds bucketloads of tension to the story and turns the determined optimism of the more typical "we're going to get out of this if we alll pull together" schtick onto its fatalistic head. A very nice touch and one that Private Hudson would have loved; "Great! Game over man! Game over!".

The characters are, as I have mentioned, varied and fairly interesting and again there's a nice balance struck between the comfortably recognizable (perhaps straying a little towards the cliched?) and the anti-typical. I guess I have to say that I found the characters a little flat, wooden, samey in places. They all talk much like one another (in a stylized, hyper-macho mil-speak) and behave much like one another and a little more development and behavioural diversity would have been nice.

I have moaned about Baker's style in previous reviews. His clipped, staccato delivery. Sentences of no more. Than three words. At a time*. Tends to grate. After a while. I admit that I find it a little easier to read, with practise, and it does add tension and pace, but I would prefer to see him break out of it and use the method a little more sparingly. I'll also admit that it does force him into some rather cool, tastily descriptive (even lyrical) compound word groups...

"Smashed teller-glass crackled underfoot."
"Skin-crawl blackness."
"Bloated bruise-flesh marbled with livid veins."
"Meat-smack as the bullet punctured inert flesh."

So, this is a fine, distinctive addition to the zombie apocalypse genre from Baker; it's good points far outweigh the occasional bad and it rattles along the tram-tracks at a decent pace, spraying blood, bone fragments and brain tissue about with gay abandon. Good holiday reading, but don't forget to bring a length of lead-pipe or a baseball bat... you'll need it.

* Yeah yeah. So I'm exaggerating. Sue me.


Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel (Culture series)
Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel (Culture series)

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1331 A Space Odyssey, September 18, 2013
Consider Phlebas is Iain M Banks' first foray into hard-core scifi and is the opening shot in his long running Culture series. This classic space opera tells of shape shifting turncoat Bora Horza Gobuchul who has been tasked by his alien masters to retrieve a lost AI from a deserted world. The story takes him all over the galaxy, falling in with mercenaries, narrowly escaping the destruction of space stations and, in true Banksian style, getting partly eaten by cannibals. The denouement takes place deep under the ground in a network of tunnels on the deserted planet, chasing the AI drone and battling monstrous aliens.

Well, my summary leaves a lot to be desired, I'll admit. However, Banks had already penned four excellent (semi) conventional novels by the time Phlebas was released, so this very conventional space opera (for conventional is what this is) was written by a highly talented and experienced author*. In consequence, Consider Phlebas is a well crafted, cleverly plotted adventure story, set in space. There's bags of exciting action, plenty of varied and three dimensional characters, an intelligent storyline and oodles of techno. Plus point.

On the other hand, being his first stab at scifi, it does stray into somewhat clichéd Hollywood science fiction shoot-em-up territory and has a somewhat naïve air to it. Many of the characters do have rather stereotypical scifi names, and the thread that runs through the story, life aboard a Millennium Falcon-esque spaceship had been done to death before Banks (or Wheedon) came to it. Neg point.

Nevertheless, CP is a great intro to Banks' world. There is nothing tentative about it, being a joyful and whole-hearted piece of popular writing, nowhere near as gritty, nor as overtly political as his "mainstream" stuff. If he hits this relatively new ground running, the fellow can be forgiven for stumbling a little and he certainly regained his stride in later books in the series 9at least according to popular opinion). Reading other reviews, Phlebas is clearly disliked by some, perhaps for its rather simplistic, formulaic and linear format. Personally I enjoyed it enough to give it four stars: despite its various failings, it is still a pretty decent first go and if you're planning on a tour through The Culture, I can't imagine a better place to start than the beginning.

* Why then did he wheel out that "like a rag doll being shaken by an angry child" cliché? It's like authors feel they have to include it as a matter of course. Is it some sort of authorial in-joke?


Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams, 1943
Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams, 1943

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Apres moi..., September 18, 2013
James Holland tells us that only one book has been written about the dams raid - Brickhill's "The Dam Busters". A quick search on Amazon suggests that the assertion isn't entirely correct; Max Arthur wrote "A Landmark Oral History" in 2008 and several others have been published in 2013 alongside Holland's treatment. Nevertheless, it's a little surprising that so few have been written before now and the main problem with Brickhill's 1954 classic is that many of the details of the raid were unavailable to him so soon after the war. Clearly it is about time that the story was brought up to date, and with several documentaries on the subject surfacing in the last few years and a new film in the pipeline, now seems to be as good a time as any.

In the 70 odd years since the raid, the work of RAF Bomber Command has come in for intense scrutiny and not inconsiderable criticism. This is unsurprising; in the years since the war it was natural for public opinion to look with some discomfort on the horrors visited on the civilian population of Germany. Then again, in this age of precision bombing and surgical strike, it is hard to appreciate the daunting technological and operational difficulties faced by the RAF, and the immense political imperatives faced by the Allied leadership in maintaining pretty much the only concerted offensive against the enemy until D-Day*. Whatever the justification of modern attitudes to the bombing offensive, the achievements of Operation Chastise are easily tarred with the same brush. However, as Holland makes clear, it was a very different proposition than the contemporary area bombing campaign and it presaged the more discriminatory approach that we see today.

I admit that it's been quite a few years since I read Brickhill so it's hard to tell just how much more access Holland had to the truth than his predecessor or how better our understanding of the raid is because of that. Nevertheless, it's an epic story and Holland presents it very well indeed. He is also fastidious in presenting the "good side" to the dams raid story - the astonishing speed with which the Upkeep weapon was turned from a hazy concept into a working bomb and the similarly astonishing speed with which the squadron that carried it was formed and trained. Of course there is also the great courage and skill of the crews who delivered Upkeep. Holland is also careful to include a discussion of the impact of the raid and it is clear that he is no revisionist. Although it can - and probably will - be argued from both sides until the War fades from memory, Holland makes a reasonable case that the raid, at the cost of a few aircraft and their crews, had a disproportionate effect on the on the Nazi war machine.

Nor does he ignore the human factor - Holland paints a vivid and, in places, moving picture of the bomber crews, the scientists and politicos who developed the bomb and some of the German civilians who suffered the consequences of the raid. To be honest the latter is de rigeur these days (and rightly so) but in The Dambusters, Holland does rather pay it lip service. By contrast, there is an interesting inclusion of the testimony of one of the flak gunners at the Moehne Dam which adds a nice perspective to the story. Also interesting is the description of Guy Gibson; very much a "warts and all" treatment.

This IS a very well written book and a highly recommended read. The Kindle version is well presented with few (if any) typos or formatting glitches and a nice set of well reproduced photos. Perhaps a few more maps would have helped.

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If this is your first foray into the WW2 Allied bombing offensive, you will find a huge selection of other titles to try, but my personal favourite (and rather in the "look back in shame" camp) is Len Deighton's novel "Bomber" - just as epic a read as The Dambusters, but presenting the more workaday face of the war. Martin Middlebrook's expansive series (The Peenemunde Raid, The Berlin Raids, The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Mission etc) on the campaign is also well worth a look - perhaps a little dated but remaining both accessible and detailed.

* Yes. I know that's a simplification


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