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Nick Clegg-Between the Extremes: Book Review

In ‘Between the Extremes’ Nick Clegg offers readers an insiders guide to the coalition government and provides a convincing argument for a centrist path in the future. He stresses the need for rational debate following the divisive EU referendum campaigns.

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Clegg starts the book by providing an overview of his spectacular rise and fall, from the hero of the inaugural leaders TV debates (aka Cleggomania) to the Cenotaph, the day after his party were trounced in the 2015 general election and he was forced to resign. Following the TV debates Clegg was heralded as the face of a new centre-left politics, gaining legions of fans and bringing a swell of support for the Lib Dems, leading them to form the coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010. The Lib Dems entered the coalition full of optimism, yet its clear that this experience paved the way for a frustrating experience for the party. Here Clegg is particularly sincere, explaining the mental and physical tole a leadership role takes on an individual. After this begins a section of Clegg justifying his political decisions whilst in office, with particular attention paid to the student tuition fees issue. Here it feels relatively self indulgent, with him often claiming that events were completely out of his hands. It appears that narratives of his lack of power seem all too convenient. This section feels politically motivated and is out of character with the more objective stance taken in other parts of the book, wherein he is candid about the naivety of his party. In this section you get the sense that Clegg is trying to right the wrongs of the coalition. He persistently states that the sentiment that future will look back on the coalition far more positively, but if the last five years proves anything, it is that this is not the case, where the Liberal Democrats appear to ignore the coalition years entirely.

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Clegg and Cameron at the Rose Garden

Clegg then presents his vision of a centrist political future, wherein politics is dominated by compromise. Indeed, Clegg feels that in the future coalitions will be far more regular, forcing intra-party concessions. As a result he see’s the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition as something of a game-changer in the UK. Clegg foresees the fragmentation of politics as a reason for coalitions as the rise of third parties continues in the form of UKIP. Clegg then makes a compelling argument for electoral reform to combat this new political environment and better reflect the voting choices of the electorate.

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Clegg was forced to resign following a dismal result in the 2015 general election 

A large portion of the book deals with Europe from Clegg’s pro-European stance and the issue with the EU referendum campaigns. He explains how the discourses created in the campaigns are dangerous and that the divisive messages were damaging to British politics. Here he argues that there is a need for more rational debate in the political sphere, which was missing in the EU debates. Here is Clegg at his idealistic best, arguing from his Rationalist-Liberalist beliefs but it seems fairly far removed from the reality of contemporary political discourses. Clegg’s analysis is thus an counterpoint to modern political campaign strategies and offers a reasoned critique of the way that political communication is going.

 

To conclude, Between the Extremes is a candid and timely autobiography that provides an insiders look at the coalition years. The book provides perspectives on the future of politics and critiques of the increasingly partisan political system. If you are looking to understand the Lib Dems role in the coalition or feel that post-Brexit politics is alienating you, it is definitely worth a read.

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The Minutuarist- Book Review

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The Minituarist by Jessie Burton

The Minutuarist takes place in 16th century Amsterdam, where newlywed Petronella Brandt opens the doors to her new life. But when she gets their, married life is not all its cracked up to be…

The title of this book, to me at least, is slightly misleading. The Minutuarist, (someone who makes small things) is a peripheral figure in the book and the vast majority of the content is about the odd family that Petronella Brandt finds herself in the centre of. So maybe ‘The 16th Century Dutch Housewife’ is a more apt name, but is perhaps less catchy and interesting. This annoyed me because I got something I wasn’t looking for.

There is not a huge amount of description in The Minituarist. One of the main reasons I bought to the book was because of it’s 16th century Amsterdam setting, it’s a period and setting which is relatively uncommon for modern day fiction. Unfortunately where the book takes place is almost completely irrelevant to the story. There are a few romantic descriptions of the famous canals and a bakery, but apart from that, the book never delves into it’s setting beyond face value. Amsterdam is simply a framework.

When you start reading, it becomes immediately clear that it is written for the female market. After reading the books synopsis and reviews prior to buying the book, I don’t feel this was made apparent. This again annoyed me slightly, as this wasn’t what I wanted, but I persisted with the book regardless.

However the story is intriguing throughout, even if is not what I expected. The book tells the tale of Petronella Brandt, a country girl recently married to a rich Amsterdam-based merchant. Life at her new marital home is not what she expects. Whilst her dissatisfaction is going on she is sent numerous miniature objects by a local artisan. The miniaturist makes unbelievably accurate pieces, which begin to concern Petronella as they become more and more insightful. From here the story twists and turns and has some genuinely shocking moments. This is definitely an enjoyable book to read and I found it difficult to put down. However upon completion I felt like it didn’t fulfil it’s own potential. The story certainly seems appealing and on reaching half way, you feel like the book is really going to deliver. But the second half of the story languishes on and goes in directions I didn’t want or expect it to take. This left me disappointed when the book finished.

Overall I feel like The Minitiarist is an interesting book, but it doesn’t fulfil it’s early promise and because of that I would score it a 7 out of 10, it’s a very decent read, but simply not fantastic. For a debut novel, this is an author which I will be looking out for in the near future. I definitely think it is worth a read for some people, but for me, it wasn’t what I expected it to be.

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Hanns and Rudolf- Book Review

 

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Hanns and Rudolf tells the tale of Rudolf Hoss, Kommandent of Aushwitz and Hanns Alexander, a German Jew turned Nazi hunter who eventually caught Hoss. The narrative takes the form of an interweaving biography of the two figures. This is done by separating each of their stories into different chapters. The book is written by Thomas Harding, who is Hanns’ great nephew. The family tie that the author has helps to give the book a purpose as after all, this is a period of history written about constantly.

Firstly I would like to point out that this book was not what I thought it would be. I thought that it would tell the lengthy story of Hanns trying to catch Rudolf, when in fact the vast majority of this book is about their completely separate lives and their journeys pre war as much as their actions during and postwar. The link between the two is that they are both involved in WWII, not that Hanns was the man to catch Rudolf. Whilst the book does include this, it didn’t feel like the main part of the book as you would expect from reading the front cover, which says”The German Jew and the hunt for the Kommandent of Auschwitz”. I therefore found this slightly misleading, so if you are to read this book, don’t expect a lengthy detective novel as this is not what the book offers the reader.

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The book tells the tale of Hanns Alexander (right) and Rudolf Hoss (left) 

Hanns and Rudolf is very well researched, with great detail given about both the characters childhoods. However a lot of the information about Rudolfs early life seems regurgitated from other sources. The Hanns sections stand out because he is a new character to amateur historians and the authors family ties help to personalise him to the reader.  This book is all about portraying the two characters as people, rather than symbols of their armies or  nations. It is a human story of how one German Jew ended up hating his country and how Rudolf became a mass murderer . This personalised take on the characters is typified by the fact that throughout the book they are referred to in first person (because of this, I have decided to do the same).

One of the books most interesting facets  is how Rudolf Hoss did what he did, was he simply following orders, or was he not sane? It certainly is intriguing reading about Rudolf and the extent of his crimes against humanity. It’s compelling reading when Harding writes about Hoss’ constant struggle to keep up his family life normal whilst being Kammondent of Aushwitz. Equally absorbing is Hanns’ journey out of Nazi Germany and his decision to fight against them in the war and him becoming one of the very first Nazi hunters after the wars end. On top of this there is the story of Hanns’ twin brother Paul and how they constantly seem to keep bumping into each other during the war. Both Hanns and Rudolf are very interesting characters and the format of having their stories told in interlinking chapters works very well for the narrative. This book is extremely readable because of this.

The book is a well written account of the two characters. It’s engaging you and wills you to read on to the end. Overall I would give this book an 8 out of 10. It is not as insightful or as original as a book like Monuments Men and is not as well written as a Bryson, but it is an interesting and personal story of two contrasting characters in WWII. I was personally disappointed with the shortness of Hoss’ capture, which should of been the crux of the book, but was relegated to a couple of pages.

 

 

 

 

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One Summer- Book Review

One Summer

One Summer by Bill Bryson

One summer is an interesting proposition for a book, telling a somewhat chronological story of a few months in time. The fact that the summer of 1927 in America was one of the most fascinating periods in modern history makes for a compelling tale indeed.

Having read previous Bill Bryson books, A Short History of Nearly Everything and Shakespeare, World at Stage, (both of which I recommend despite them being rather heavy reading!). I was excited when I came across a new book emblazoned with his name and ‘The Spirit of St Louis’ flying across the cover.

The book follows the main headlines of the year, focussing loosely on the biggest events in the months of May, June, July and August.  Each of these months have particular focuses, these are; Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, President Coolidge and alleged anarchist murderers Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Whilst these figures are the focal points of the chapters, there are numerous other stories interwoven with them.

The talent that Bryson uses to maximum effect, is to pick out of history what’s interesting, something which many historical fiction books fail to recognise or achieve. This results in a thoroughly entertaining, absorbing book which entices the reader to continue on. Brysons writing style brings the period to life, his constant comparisons to modern day life illuminate the vast contrasts between then and now. You feel the optimism of the roaring twenties pulsating from every page. The wild excesses of the time highlight what a remarkable and unique period it was, particularly in America. The book is fantastically well researched, with a wealth of information everywhere you look. All this information is written in Brysons trademark light-hearted style and I believe this to be the most readable Bryson book to date, from my experience.

A criticism that can be voiced about this book is it’s somewhat disjointed format. The action seems to jump arbitrarily between events. The chapters are named after a figure but only parts of the chapter talk about them. Some of the jump off points for the topics are supported by tenuous links. One moment you will be reading about Babe Ruth, then Charles Linbergh and then Henry Ford, all in a couple of paragraphs. The action also deviates from the year 1927, as the title of the book suggests, but goes on to discuss events throughout the twenties and beyond the forties. This makes the title of the book at the very least, a little bit misleading. However neither of these are an issue for me, if anything they add pace to the action and underline what a remarkably busy summer it was. The jumping between different time periods help to give contextual background to the events of 1927.

I would rate this book as 9 out of 10, for the simple fact that it is truly entertaining, informative and completely absorbing. I found this book very difficult to put down and for those reasons it goes down as one of my literary highlights of recent years.

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