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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
The Gathering Storm - Winston Churchill My favourite moment in any James Bond film occurs near the end of Octopussy. Roger Moore has figured out that the tactical nuclear weapon is hidden at the circus and is about to go off, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The event might also trigger World War III. He has a few minutes to act.

He charges into the ring during the middle of the performance, dressed as a clown, and tries to get to the bomb. The bad guys, also dressed as circus performers, do what they can to stop him. The audience assumes it's all part of the act, and roars its appreciation. Then, suddenly, they see the very business-like device, and realise that it's not a joke. There's total silence as Bond desperately works to disarm it.

In the first volume of Churchill's history of World War II, we get the real-life version. Churchill can see Germany rearming and becoming stronger, and he understands what Hitler's policies will lead to. He tries to warn Britain and the rest of the world, and no one pays him any attention. He's being alarmist. There's little evidence that Hitler wants anything more than what, really, is Germany's right. It's not clear that Nazism is all bad. (I once found a rather startling book at a yard sale, called Germany: Fascist or Soviet?. The author, writing in the mid-30s, had considerable problems deciding which was the lesser evil). Various things happen, which in hindsight could hardly have been plainer indicators of what was to come, and Churchill still can't get anyone to take him seriously.

History has now, of course, determined that Churchill was a hero, and he is routinely invoked to justify any number of decisions. He was wheeled out again before the start of the Iraq war. A Chamberlain-style policy of appeasement isn't going to help, explained Dubya. What would Churchill do? (Maybe his speech-writers also considered "What would Jesus do?", and decided it was the wrong occasion). Personally, I rather doubt that the mature Churchill, who always had an eye for the big picture, would have allowed himself to be diverted by this comparative sideshow. But why don't you read the book and decide for yourself? It's astonishingly gripping stuff.