Category Archives: Non Fiction

Review of In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies by Howard Blum

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As good as any fictional spy thriller

Howard Blum tells the fascinating story the race to capture the Soviet spy ring that passed the secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. The main characters are codebreaker Meredith Gardner and FBI agent Bob Lamphere, and Blum details how Gardner cracked fragments of the key Soviet codes, with Lamphere piecing them together to capture the Soviet spies.

The book reads like a novel and at places I did question how much this was based on fact or the authors suppositions, but at the end of the book Blum does assure the reader that all conversations or thoughts in the characters heads are backed up by documentary evidence.

It’s a pacey read, and to use a cliché quite a page turner. Although I was aware of many of the characters such as Klaus Fuchs, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Blum does provide rich character background that give more depth and insight than a dry analytical account of the process involved.

The book ends with the execution of the Rosenbergs which Lamphere and Gardner were unable to prevent without disclosing that the codes had been broken.

A fascinating account of the early days of espionage in the Cold War.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not required to provide a positive review.

 

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Review of Air Officer Commanding: Hugh Dowding, Architect of the Battle of Britain by John T. LaSaine

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Great account of the man in the right place at the right time

LaSaine’s biography of Dowding is an even-handed account of the man who saved Britain from invasion in 1940. He details in a readable way Dowding’s foresight and organisational genius without which Britain would have had no organised air defence system to defeat the Luftwaffe in 1940.

Despite Dowding being nicknamed “stuffy”, LaSaine does breathe a little into the personal life of the man behind the austere exterior seen in official photos. However, the book is heavily focussed on his military life and particularly the politics and intrigue amongst the senior commanders of the RAF. I would have liked to have known more about his personal life, but possibly there is little archival material to work from aside from his belief in spiritualism.

What is undeniable is that Dowding was loved by “The Few” amply demonstrated by a photo in the book of him in a seemingly incongruous bowler hat and suit with a WAAF on one arm and surrounded by pilots. (see below)

Overall an insightful and useful addition to the expansive Battle of Britain bookshelf.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not obligated to write a positive review.

Review of “Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and Eisenhower’s Campaign for Peace” by Alex von Tunzelmann

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Excellent and very readable account of the Suez Crisis of 1956

Alex von Tunzelmann has put together an excellent account of the political manoeuvring that resulted in the 1956 Suez Crisis and how that crisis prevented a more effective response to the Soviet invasion of Hungary that occurred at the same time.

It’s an incredible story of British, French and Israeli duplicity and conspiracy with US President Eisenhower valiantly trying to prevent a potential World War whilst trying to fight an election.

The writing is excellent and whilst the content itself could be quite dry the author recounts the story in style that keeps your attention via an hour by hour account featuring a colourful group of international politicians.

With the 60th anniversary approaching I’d highly recommend this for anyone wanting to understand the modern Middle East and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of “Hitler’s Soldiers: The German Army in the Third Reich” by Ben H. Shepherd

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Fascinating revisionist history of the Wehrmacht

Ben Shephard pulls aside the curtain of respectability that many accounts of the German Army are cloaked in, demolishing the image of an honourable and decent fighting force compared to the SS.

In a detailed account he highlights countless occasions where the Wehrmacht are complicit in war crimes showing that many took part and a few notable exceptions complained. What some may find surprising is the early war conduct of some of July 21st conspirators.

However, the book is not purely about war crimes, but also about the combat performance of the Wehrmacht. Shephard shows how the early war effectiveness was eroded away once the gargantuan task of taking on the Soviets was clear and shows how the army still continued to retain its cohesion even when the outcome of the war was clear.

I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to read a more rounded view of the 3rd Reich and some insight into how ordinary men descend into barbarians.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of “Britain’s War: Into Battle, 1937-1941 (Britain’s War #1)” by Daniel Todman

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A hefty tome, but fast moving and very well written.

The book is expansive with 1937 to 1941 strategic, political, economic, military, cultural and social commentary covered in equal measure.

Todman covers details of the period generally ignored by many volumes. Whilst this might appear to be a dry subject he manages to inject a very readable style with many eyewitness accounts. The book continues to the end of 1941 with a second volume to follow covering the remainder of the war.

A thoroughly fascinating read – Highly recommended.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of “Churchill’s Last Wartime Secret: The 1943 German Raid Airbrushed from History” by Adrian Searle

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No hard evidence, but an interesting and well researched tale nonetheless.

Adrian Searle lives on the Isle of Wight and has written several history books. This book details the evidence he has compiled to validate the tale of a German raid on the Isle of Wight in 1943 to steal radar equipment.

The book gets into the evidence of the raid in the last two thirds with the first third detailing and debunking tales of other alleged German raids including the infamous Shingle Street story.

There’s also a chapter covering details of the British raid on Bruneval which again was to steal radar equipment and which bears some similarities to the alleged German raid.

Searle then goes onto to showcase his three key characters all of whom are unfortunately now deceased. The first two appear to be reputable characters, one a former war crimes investigator and local Isle of Wight historian and the second a German city senior archivist and apparent veteran of the raid. The third is a second hand source offered by a local military historian.

These combined with some archival evidence, such as an ARP report of “dingies full of Germans in the sea” put forward some scant flesh on the bones of what would result in a major re-write of British World War 2 history.

True or not, there’s shades of the early pages of Jack Higgins “The Eagle Has Landed” when Searle searches local cemeteries for evidence of British and possibly hidden German casualties.

I’ll leave you to decide, but you can’t deny Searle his diligence in his research and coming up with a rattling good tale that I for one would be delighted to be true.

I received this book free from Pen & Sword and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of “Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness” by Craig Nelson

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Fast flowing new account of the attack on Pearl Harbor

Craig Nelson provides an expansive book that tells the often told story of the Pearl Harbor attack. It’s been a while since I’ve read Prange’s standard on this subject “At Dawn We Slept” so I have little to compare, however I found this a comprehensive account with some interesting later chapters covering how some of the characters fared in later life and the modern day Japanese and American perspective.

Divided into three parts it’s a substantial read at 500 plus pages but does flow at quite a pace. Part one covers Japanese-U.S. relations, the growing tension in the Pacific, and Japanese war planning. Part two covers the attack itself including midget submarines. Part three covers the aftermath of the attacks, rescue efforts, salvage efforts, as well as a whistle stop tour of the Pacific campaign to the dropping of the atomic bomb.

I’d recommend this for anyone looking for a present day view of the attack it’s ramifications both at the time and also to the present day.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.