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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 Second World War 6. Triumph and Tragedy (v. 6)

Triumph and Tragedy - Winston Churchill The final volume of Churchill's incredible history of WW II. There's absolutely nothing else like it, and he turns in another masterpiece. The things people quote most often are his bitterness about being voted out of office just as the war is ending, and Stalin's bare-faced lies concerning the atom bomb. He claimed to know nothing about it, which Churchill believed, but it later turned out that he'd had a spy in place who'd passed out all the secrets.

But here's the bit that made the greatest impression on me. The British strategy has finally come to fruition. Way back in Volume II, Churchill made an brilliantly prescient decision: rather than going into a defensive huddle and putting everything into defending Britain from the impending German invasion, he diverted resources to hold Egypt. He wanted the possibility of counter-attacking later on. We did indeed win the Battle of Britain, and we also kept Egypt. Then we marched across North Africa, won the Battle of El Alamein in Volume IV, took Tunis, and invaded Sicily. After that, we fought all the way up Italy and finally forced the remnants of the Axis forces to surrender there in late April, 1945.

Simultaneously, Germany was falling to a combined onslaught from Soviet, US and British forces. It was clear that the end was very near there too. The question was what to do with the newly victorious army that was sitting at the top of Italy. Churchill argued that they should turn East. He could already see that Eastern Europe was going to be carved up between Soviet and Anglo-American forces, and he wanted to get as large a slice as possible. But Eisenhower didn't like this. He felt that it sent a bad signal to our Soviet allies, and he decided to go West instead, to mop up the last pockets of resistance in Southern France. It turned out that this was the wrong call. As Churchill bitterly complains, if only they had taken his advice then a substantial amount of Eastern Europe would have avoided becoming Soviet satellite states for the next 50 years.

With hindsight, it's clear that Stalin would never stay allied to the US and Britain longer than necessary. As soon as Germany, their common enemy, was out of the picture, he had no reason to do so. Loyalty wasn't an important concept to him. Unfortunately, this wasn't obvious at the time.

It's very difficult to understand that your key ally is just about to become your enemy and will ruthlessly exploit your naive trust. Tragedy indeed.