Author Archive

The book I read to research this post was Britain’s Modern Army by Terry Gander which is a very good book that I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This book is around 210 pages so is a fair length and despite having a slightly different name is technically the edition of another book by Terry. It was published in 1995 so might be a bit dated. It looks at the British Army post-cold war where it has been scaled back to around 120,000 and it’s main role is going out to troublespots and keeping the peace. I was surprised there is apparently 2 territorial regiments of the SAS where they still have the same stringent standards being certainly one of the toughest regiments in the world but they are only part-time and I imagine are comprised mostly of ex-full time troopers in the regiment. All the SAS regiments are based at Hereford and they are the only army regiments that recruit only the best soldiers from various regiments but they have to have attained corporal status. There are quite a lot of garrison towns for other regiments around Britain most notably probably York and Aldershot. Another interesting fact was if you have a lot of soldiers doing a large scale mission with vehicles they have a few members of REME or the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers attached to it in case vehicles break down. These soldiers of course have to also take part in the mission. The first half of this book looks at the various regiments and the roles the British Army plays in the world and the second half looks at the equipment and vehicles they use. The soldiers in the SAS are fortunate in being able to select what equipment they need from a variety for a mission. Many others are stuck with standard issue equipment. I did quite enjoy this book and would recommend it although it might be worth checking if there is a more recent edition.

 

The book I read to research this post was Philosophy A Very Short Introduction by Edward Craig which is a very good book that I bought from kindle. Philosophy is trying to give life a purpose and meaning and it seems to be the main difference between us and animals. One individuals personal philosophy can be very different from anothers. One of the biggest factors has been reading and writing where we can study other types of philosophy. When a form of philosophy is very different to our own it seems very alien to us and if it doesn’t then we obviously don’t fully understand. Nietsche described professional philosophers as being very dangerous although he intended that as a compliment. In Ancient Greece Socrates argued it is wrong to do a bad action even as retaliation for a wrong done to you. When it looked like he was going to be executed for what they thought were heretical teachings he refused to flee into exile and claimed even when the state appears to be wrong it is wrong to defy it. Another philosopher Plato described life as being like a chariot being drawn by 2 horses one obedient and one unruly. You always have to coax the unruly one to do as you wish. In the renaissance these kinds of teachings became popular once again. In fact it was these kinds of alternative ways of looking at things that ultimately ended up causing events like the French Revolution. This book is only around 100 pages so is fairly short. It is part of the A Very Short Introduction series which consists of around 300 books and are each a difficult subject written about by an expert. I am a big fan of the series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it.

The book I read to research this post was Railway Of Hell by Reginald Burton which is an excellent book that I bought from kindle. Reginald was a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army during World War 2 and this book is about his primarily after being captured by the Japanese and becoming a prisoner of war. He had to work on the Burma Railway in very cruel conditions and a lot of the cruelty wasn’t so much as carried out by the guards although they were cruel but was things like not supplying enough food and supplies for the men and expecting them to work even if they were ill. Reginald contracted berri berri from lack of vitamin B which is in rice but lost in the milling process and also got malaria and jaundice. The jaundice because it made his blood toxic probably helped counteract the malaria. Many people assume the guards were like samurai but many were very limited education wise even some of the officers and more like thugs than anything. They had trouble speaking English and liable to beat the men if they understand. The same went for anyone unable to work. He has gone back to the prison camp as a tourist with his family after the war and wanted to show them his cell but it was being used as a prison camp during the Malaya Emergency. This book was released in a heavily edited form under another title but because he was still in the army they ordered that it might inflame feelings between Britain and Japan. Since then he has retired so isn’t subject to the same restrictions. There was an incident when the Japanese Army claims someone opened fire from a hospital and they killed everyone in the building even a patient in the operating theatre in the middle of an operation. I really did enjoy reading this book which I do recommend and it around 300 pages so is quite a decent length. I think anybody who reads this book will be quite moved. One interesting fact is that although the allied forces outnumbered the Japanese soldiers a lot of these were people like cooks and nurses and the Japanese had more infantry and there soldiers didn’t have any non-fighting men like these and were largely left to fend for themselves. As well as that the Japanese had armour and tanks which the Allieds thought would be cumbersome in the jungle and shipped most of it to help in Europe.

 

The book I read to research this post was The Dilbit Disaster by Lisa Song et al which is an excellent book that I bought from kindle. This is only a fairly short book of around 110 pages and is part of kindle singles which is short books and essay normally quite cheaply priced and often on unusual topics that people can buy. This book is about a very serious oil spill from a pipeline in Michigan in 2010 that was largely kept out of the news because the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was considered worse. The oil spill in Michigan although it didn’t involve as much oil but was much more difficult to clear up and this is still ongoing. The crude being transported down the pipeline was from the Canadian tar beds and had the consistency of peanut butter so had to be diluted mostly with benzene a known carcinogenic substance. This type of oil called bitumen has to either be mined near the surface or blasted with high pressure steam to liquify it and pump it to the surface. If there is a leak from the pipeline one problem is if the oil gets near water the chemicals like benzene tend to evaporate quickly and sinks to the bottom doing more damage than if it stayed on the surface like ordinary. For a week the agencies clearing up the mess weren’t notified it was bitumen and legally the company wasn’t compelled to tell them. The oil also had more dangerous fumes than ordinary crude and was more corrosive. One problem is it tends to corrode the pipelines it is being transported in. This pipeline transports millions of gallons of crude every day and the sensors that confirm a leak aren’t even activated unless a spill of more than 1 % of the total volume occurs. This is likely to be several hundred thousand gallons. Many people have had to be resettled permanently. Many people who needed medical treatment at the time were also coerced to sign a disclaimer saying they won’t sue the company because they threatened to refuse to let them see a doctor. 36 miles of a nearby river were very badly damaged and even the experts dealing with the clean up weren’t sure how they were going to clear it up because nothing like it before had happened. This is a very interesting book which I thoroughly recommend.

The book I read to research this post was Tracking Down Your Ancestors by Dr Harry Alder which is a very good book that I bought from a car boot sale. This book concentrates on either free or low price subscription websites that you can use to trace your ancestors. There is 2 types of tracing your ancestors one is genealogy where you locate names and dates of birth and deaths and the other is family history where you find out historical information of them and things what conditions they lived in. Many people find family history more interesting and rewarding. The Mormons have a useful website at http://familysearch.com and it has quite a few affiliated websites for different countries and regions where they have done a lot of family tree research and lot of it is non-mormons and a lot of the features on this site are free to use. There is also a website at http://cyndislist.com where there are loads of reports like birth and death records for many countries and different trades. These reports are free to download. A lot of this book is about how to use this site. Another important resource if you know the locality ancestors lived in is parish records and normally libraries will have various resources and I know in Britain have a subscription to a site like http://ancestry.com and you can use it free of charge. They normally have computers that you can use free to. This book was published in 2005 so is fairly up to date and I did quite enjoy reading it. I think I would recommend it especially if you see it for sale cheaply secondhand.

The book I read to research this post was Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century In His Life by DM Thomas which is an excellent book that I bought from a car boot sale. This book is around 530 pages so is a pretty decent length. Solzhenitsyn was a dissident author who is on a par with authors like Tolstoy and Pasternak. He was expelled from Russia in 1974 but did later go back there to live. He was born a month after the Russian Revolution and has seen first hand many of the problems with implementing communism. One problem was God to them officially didn’t exist which basically meant they could do as they liked. Particularly under Stalin people were regularly tortured and killed often with methods like being boiled alive or having there heads twisted off. In the revolution the white and red Russians were as bad as each other and often whether someone took one side or the other was simply a matter of survival. Alexander was sent to a Gulag under Stalin and later released under the presidency of Kruschev. He served in the army in World War 2 when Germany launched a surprise invasion and the Russian soldiers couldn’t get confirmation to fire back. In fact they were so taken by surprise they were trains still taking and laden with supplies for the German soldiers. Whilst in Gulag Solzhenitsyn got a job studying the phonetics in the Russian language and it might sound boring to us but he really got into it with relish and did such a good job they released him. He did have novels like The First Circle ¬†& August, 1914 published in the west in secret. The fact that he had fans in the west probably saved him later from being killed. He wasn’t particularly outspoken against communism probably like a lot of Russian authors it was just the themes he wrote about in his books upset them. It’s worth noting when Terry Waite was kidnapped in the Lebanon the kidnappers gave him The First Circle to read and it became his all time favorite book. With the situation he was in he identified with the themes in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book which is extremely well written and would definitely recommend it.

 

The book I read to research this post was Hidden Agendas by John Pilger which is an excellent book that I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This book is around 610 pages so is a pretty decent length and was published in 1998 so is a bit dated but very interesting nonetheless. The book is a social commentary on the world politics of that time and much of it is still quite relevant. One of the things looked at is the First Gulf War where we were treated to footage of so called smartbombs and told not many Iraqis would die because they carefully selected targets. In fact 250,000 Iraqis died and I remember at that time Emma Thompson the actress made quite an apt quote that she didn’t know there was so much empty real estate in Baghdad. In many ways that war was even worse than the Vietnam War because the explosive power of these weapons was greater. Just one of these bombs could take out an entire village and we weren’t shown the effects of the extensive carpet bombing carried out by the B-52 bombers. Much of US foreign has been and still is centred around keeping labor prices in foreign countries low so this can be exploited by US companies. Even the sanctions against Iraqi oil were probably at least partly to keep the crude oil price artificially high which benefitted US companies and friendly countries like the Saudi’s. In Britain around this time we saw trade union power being diminished to the extent that nowadays ¬†most workers don’t bother joining a trade union. This of course has benefitted big business where often workers who have worked for them can be offered flexible working practices like reduced wages without the need to make them redundant first thus saving the company a fortune. If you look at some of the conflicts around this time like Columbia where allegedly they were going after bigtime drug dealers but often they were left alone and it was a cover for going after nationalist guerillas who were just fighting for better conditions. If you look at the Mau Mau Emergency in Kenya in the 60′s many of the villagers forcibly moved were essentially put in concentration camps with food and water withheld from villagers who supposedly supported the Mau Mau. Death squads were used to hunt them down and despite them only killing 32 white settlers, 10,000 Kenyans were killed. As many of you probably know I like doing controversial history and this book certainly gives you food for thought. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it. On television in particular due to the need for ratings news programmes tend to focus on domestic news and that tends to centre around domestic politicians and often their personal affairs. This book takes a different perspective and I would definitely recommend it.