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TAKING LONDON

WINSTON CHURCHILL AND THE FIGHT TO SAVE CIVILIZATION

A lead balloon of a book.

A ham-fisted account of the Battle of Britain.

A frequent collaborator with Bill O’Reilly in the gee-whiz school of history, Dugard does not confront a fact without spinning it into the moral equivalent of a tweet, as these two complete paragraphs suggest: “The British like Hitler. A lot.” One of the author’s glancing examples is that of the future King Edward VIII teaching his niece, the future Queen Elizabeth II, how to do the Nazi salute. Alas for Hitler, Winston Churchill wasn’t buying it. Churchill looms large over this narrative, though Dugard peppers the text with characters straight out of a 1960s epic film, including heroic soldiers and RAF pilots, sneering Nazis, children’s toys lying in ruined streets. For all the purple flourishes, the author takes care with the historical details. He extensively analyzes Britain’s reluctance to enter into armed conflict with Germany, as well as the Nazis’ going for broke on the air war in the summer of 1940, sending wave after wave of bombers until, finally, Britain’s war machine kicked into gear and “the workers, skilled and unskilled, men and women alike, stood to their lathes and manned the workshops under fire as if they were batteries in action.” Those words are Churchill’s, by far the better writer than Dugard, who favors chyronworthy telegraphic prose. Entire paragraphs again: “A single German U-boat could kill the highest levels of Anglo-American leadership with a single well-placed torpedo.” “The Germans are coming back.” “And yet five German bombs will make this morning quite unforgettable.” That the narrative is full of action is thanks to the facts of the matter, which don’t really need Dugard’s breathlessness. Readers with an interest in the early years of World War II would do better to read Churchill’s Their Finest Hour.

A lead balloon of a book.

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9780593473214

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2024

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GENGHIS KHAN AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

“The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors,” writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), “but also as civilization’s unrivaled cultural carriers.”

No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking “not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world.” Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him “so excellent a lord in all things,” Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word “Mongol” figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of “mongoloid,” a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down’s son himself argued that imbeciles “derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more ‘pre-human, rather than human.’ ”) Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongols’ reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours—into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-61062-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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