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All quiet on the Western Front / Erich Maria Remarque ; translated from the German by Brian Murdoch ; afterword by Brian Murdoch.
Author: Remarque, Erich Maria, 1898-1970 -- Murdoch, Brian O., 1944-
Publisher: London : Vintage, 1996. -- London Vintage, 1996. -- ©1994
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 3:28:22 PM
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I read this book in preparation for listened to an ABC Radio National discussion of it in circa 2015 and, having read many books on history which told of the political machinations, battles and treaties, but this one told of one soldier's experience in the trenches and it's effect on him, his platoon and his family away from the front. He says at the beginning of the book, simply tries to tell [the stories of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped [the war's shells, were destroyed by the war. The book does this admirably.
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Moments : the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs : a visual chronicle of our time / Hal Buell ; foreword by David Halberstam.
Author: Buell, Hal, author. -- Buell, Hal, author. -- Halberstam, David, author of foreword.
Publisher: New York, NY Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2015. -- ©2015
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 2:48:26 PM
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This book, a gift from my son and daughter, presents and discusses the Pulitzer prize-winning photographs of each year from 1942 to 2011. The photographs are not surprisingly amazing but they are accompanied by the events in the photographs themselves and a commentary on the evolution of press photography.
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Brief candle in the dark : my life in science / Richard Dawkins.
Author: Dawkins, Richard, 1941-, author.
Publisher: : Random House Australia, 2015 -- London : Bantam Press, 2015. -- copyright2015.
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 12:54:19 PM
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I read this second autobiography without having read his first, having received it as a gift. It covers his life from mid career to a dinner to celebrate his 70th birthday. He recounted his experiences at conferences and having his books published including the importance of having a good editor. He also discussed his experience appearing on television, dealing with producers and debating opponents and cited a scheduled BBC appearance where he was asked to summarise his disagreement with Steven Pinker and when he advised that there wasnt much of any disagreement, the program was cancelled.

He summarised some of his better known books including The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable', Unweaving the Rainbow, The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth The Evidence for Evolution. After his summary of The God Delusion, he discussed the response and one illustration shows a range of books published in respond with titles such as 'The Dawkins Delusion one wonders if any have sold more than a dozen copies. Towards the end of the book he wrote a conversation between Jarvis and his friend parodying PG Wodehouses Jeeves and Bertie on biblical themes which was priceless.
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Wolf Hall / Hilary Mantel.
Author: Mantel, Hilary, 1952- author.
Publisher: London, Fourth Estate, 2009 -- London : Fourth Estate, 2015. -- ©2009.
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 12:43:29 PM
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This historical novel is a close-to-what-actually-happened account of the life of Thomas Cromwell from his childhood through his rise to the court of King Henry VIII concluding with the death of Sir Thomas Moore. Even if not strictly historically correct, the events of court, the intrigue, the contest for royal favour, the politicking makes interesting reading and Im looking forward to reading the next in the series, Bring up the Bodies.
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Lazarus rising : a personal and political biography / John Howard.
Author: Howard, John, 1939-
Publisher: Pymble, N.S.W. : HarperCollins, 2010.
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 11:56:41 AM
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John Howard was Australian prime minister from 1996 to 2007 making his tenure in The Lodge the second longest to date. It was also a period of relative political stability and steady economic growth albeit not a period of great political excitement. Starting from his youth, Howard recounts working at his father's petrol station, his election to parliament, his time as treasurer in the Fraser Government, the years in opposition, the 1996 election making him prime minister, the years in the top job and finally his election defeat in 2007. For someone who has lived in Australia for most of the years Howard was in parliament and who has an interest in politics, the book provided a backstory to his life in politics. As comprehensive as the book is, it does brush over some of his shortcomings including the aborted retirement at a time which would have allowed Peter Costello to take over and who may well have won the 2007 election. Nonetheless, although I don't read many political memoirs and read this book as it was a gift, I did enjoy this book.
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Iron Curtain : the crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 / Anne Applebaum.
Author: Applebaum, Anne, 1964-, author.
Publisher: London Penguin Books, 2013.
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 11:30:45 AM
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The book details how the Soviet Union, once its army had occupied Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War, systematically took over the countries that were to become the Eastern Block which typically started with taking over the secret police, taking over or shutting down other political parties and, in due course, doing away with any semblance of democracy. But what I found particularly striking was, how the Communist parties in these countries endeavoured to take over all civil society, having operatives in every team, every charity, every club to ensure their leaders were committed communists. This insidious infiltration has parallels with how Christianity operated in past centuries before the Reformation and how Islam operates in some countries today.
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Stasiland / Anna Funder.
Author: Funder, Anna, 1966-, author.
Publisher: Melbourne : Text Publishing, 2003. -- ©2002.
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 11:16:47 AM
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When the writing was, so to speak, on the wall, those in the Stasi, the East German secret police force acquired shredders from the West and when they broke down, cut up the files with scissors, yet they kept them in bags. Since reunification, a team of forty workers has been painstakingly reassembling the documents so those whose loved ones were imprisoned and killed by the Stasi can find out what happened to them. However, at the rate they're going, this team wont be finished for another 375 years.

This is just one of the fascinating stories in Funders book. Most of the others are based on interviews with former inmates and Stasi officers, a woman who almost escaped via the underground train system, a rock band that kept having its equipment seized and bookings cancelled, a woman asked to explain the meaning of letters shed received from a boyfriend in the West, all copied by the Stasi. This isnt a history of the Stasi, per se, but a collection of stories about life under its control and the legacy its left.
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The God argument : the case against religion and for humanism / A. C. Grayling.
Author: Grayling, A. C.
Publisher: London : Bloomsbury, 2013.
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 11:10:51 AM
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Grayling covers similar territory in this book as Dawkins in 'The God Delusion', Hitchens in 'God is not Great' and Harris in 'The End of Faith' but he does so more from the perspective of a philosopher who steeped in the western philosophical tradition, hence his arguments with the traditional arguments for the existence of a god from definition, design and theism are soundly dealt with. He also deals with so-called creationism, aka intelligent design although this is a soft and easy target and with arguments for being an agnostic but at one with the atheists put forward by Bertrand Russell although I find this one on a weaker footing.

The second half of the book is puts forward the case for humanism and his arguments here are not as strong, but so because the arguments of religion are well established and easily countered whereas setting out the case of humanism is inherently not as straightforward. Nonetheless, Grayling must be commended for not just dispensing with the flawed arguments advanced by religious apologists but also putting forward the case for positive alternative.
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Russian roulette : a deadly game : how British spies thwarted Lenin's global plot / by Giles Milton.
Author: Milton, Giles.
Publisher: London, UK : Sceptre, 2013. -- London Sceptre, 2013.
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 11:09:31 AM
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Forget James Bond, who never uses disguises, announces himself by name, fights thugs for hours without so much as a scratch and kills a score of baddies with a gun fired over his shoulder yet is never hit, Milton recounts a number of remarkable real spies, the earliest spies in what was to become MI6. Starting with some Russian-speaking Brits in Russia at the time of the revolution, the embryonic organisation very quickly became very proficient at gathering valuable information from inside the regime and making harrowing escapes from the embryonic and also very proficient Cheka, predecessor to the NKVD and later KGB. British spies were also active in Tashkent monitoring the building of an army of Indian discontents planning to infiltrate and instigate uprisings in British India, a major risk at the time that most British forces were deployed on the western front.

Miltons account is both fascinating for both bring together the accounts of the spies themselves and the political manoeuvrings of the time from memoirs and recently declassified official documents and presents it in a style which is very readable and thoroughly enjoying.
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In the shadow of the sword : the battle for global empire and the end of the ancient world / Tom Holland.
Author: Holland, Tom.
Publisher: London : Little, Brown, 2012.
Review by: Coates, Stephen William Mr  on: 27/01/2019 11:05:19 AM
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It is widely known that from the teachings of Mohammed 570-632, Islam spread rapidly from what is today Pakistan to Morocco. Tom Holland's book gives a comprehensive account of that part of the world as it was prior to Mohammed and the events of the following centuries leading to the rise of Islam. Prior to Mohammed, the Romans and then-Zoroastrian Persians had fought a series of wars which has exhausted both empires. So when the Moslem armies began their advances, neither offered the resistance they might otherwise have done. Second, a plague broke out in the middle of the sixth century which devastated the populations of the more urbanised non-Arabs than the dessert-dwelling Arabs hence the former were less able to withstand the advance of the latter. Beyond explaining such factors which facilitated the advance of Islam, Holland also examines how the faith developed from the teachings of one individual to a functioning religion complete with a schism so early in its history. For those interested in history and how the modern world became as it is, this is an essential read.
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