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M. W. Stone (peterborough, cambs england)

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Children of the Atom
Children of the Atom
by Wilmar H. Shiras
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good 1950s DF, July 1 2016
This review is from: Children of the Atom (Hardcover)
This novel is an expansion of the excellent novelette "In Hiding", where the central character discovers a young boy who is a supergenius, but has been carefully concealing his intelligence from fear that in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man could be in for a rough time - perhaps an allegory of the problems faced by gifted children in that era.

Learning that the boy's intelligence is the result of his parents' exposure to radiation in an atomic disaster, he sets out to find others of his kind. He does, and sets them up in a "special school", where they can receive an education to match their IQs.

It has to be said that the later chapters are not really up to "In hiding", and in particular that the ending is a bit weak. Would it really help much for the Children to return to ordinary schools where they would surely stick out like sore thumbs now that their secret is out? When I first read the book at 13, this infuriated me, rather as three years earlier when the author of "Earth Abides" killed off Joey.

Looking at it from (I hope) a more mature perspective, I have more sympathy for Shiras, who I suspect had got into a bit of a bind. In the sf of the period there were two basic tropes for the "mutant superman" situation, and I suspect that she wasn't really happy with either. Basically, either the supermen are accepted as the natural rulers, and allowed to run the world either openly or from behind the scenes, or else the normal people turn on them and they are wiped out - and by the time of writing both had become stock clichés.

At the end of "In Hiding", Shiras seems to be leaning to he first option. Dr Welles muses that he will always be Tim's friend "as a loyal dog, loved by a good master, is never cast out". However, the problems of this are well brought out in a later chapter, where it becomes clear that some of the Children are better-adjusted than others. Had his first contact among them been someone like Fred, rather than Timothy, one suspects that Welles himself would have been less accepting.

Nor, in any case, would all normals be as accepting as Welles. When the secret comes out in the last chapter, as massacre is narrowly averted. Here the novel very much reflects the slightly paranoid time when it was written.. Today, of course, the revelation would probably be greeted with a yawn, and the Children shrugged off as just another lot of gifteds . But sixty years ago, fear of anyone different was pretty much taken as read.

Still, these are only nitpicks and overall it's a pretty good read. You just need to keep in mind that it is of its time.

Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics
Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics
by Visiting Distinguished Professor Lewis L Gould
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 29.10
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Account of a Memorable Election, June 11 2015
All in all, if you want a good but short account of the 1912 election, this book is for you.

Gould makes a few odd remarks. He twice states that Taft''s absence from the California ballot ensured that TR would carry the state even without Hiram Johnson as his running mate, though his plurality of only 174 (out of some 600,000 votes cast) makes it clear enough that his win there was far from assured. But that's a nitpick. The book contains much interesting and useful information, notably the results of the Democratic Primaries, which are often overshadowed by all the sound and fury on the Republican side, though more was probably at stake in the Democratic races.

Gould brings up some aspects of 1912 which are often overlooked, in particular that it aroused far more passion among political activists on all sides than among the public at large. Not only was turnout sharply down in percentage terms ' 58.8 as against 65.5 in 1908 ' but only the fact that half a dozen states had doubled their electorates by granting women the vote would prevent the absolute numbers from also going down. There was also a remarkable discrepancy between the presidential and congressional votes. Of the 19.5 million who took part, no less than 4.5 million (almost one in four ' ignored the Presidential race and were content to just vote for or against their local congressman.

He also brings over vividly just what a long shot Roosevelt's insurgency was, and questions the common assumption that had he won the nomination he would have gone on to win in November. Indeed, the amount of time TR spent down South, in pursuit of (white) votes there suggests that he himself was rather clutching at straws. It is sad that Roosevelt (hitherto probably the most racially liberal of the three main contenders ' should have kept the Progressive Party 'lily-white' in vain pursuit of Southern support. For all the good it did him, he might as well have stuck to his principles. At times (and like one or two contemporaries) I find myself wondering whether he was entirely sane in 1912.

My only real annoyance is Gould's somewhat disparaging attitude to Champ Clark, saying that his corny image was off-putting to Eastern Democrats ' though his two to one win in the Massachusetts primary casts sizeable doubt on this, and his even bigger win in CA suggests that Progressive Dems were quite ok with him. Later on it is suggested that Clark would have been inadequate for the challenges of domestic reform and WW1, though on the first point he was well-liked by congressional colleagues, so would probably have got as many progressive measures through as Wilson did. As for WW1, how well did Wilson do? After failing successively to keep out of war and to bring home a peace treaty acceptable to the Senate, he left his party in an utter shambles, to the point where it suffered near-annihilation (outside the South) in 1920, and remained in eclipse until resurrected by the Wall Street Crash. Could a Clark Administration have done any worse?

Nor am I totally convinced that 1912 'marked 'the birth of modern American politics.' From what I can see, the Democrats had been established as the more liberal of the two parties since at least 1896, and the debacles of 1904 and 1924 clearly demonstrated that they had no future anywhere else. Outside the South, conservative Dems had nowhere to go except into the Republican Party. All 1912 really did was reveal the degree to which this had already happened, beyond the power of even a man of Roosevelt's stature to reverse. But it was a vivid marker, and surely destined to continue as one of the most written-about elections in American history. It will stand another look.

One final point. I couldn't resist a smile about the fulsome praise for Germany by both Roosevelt and Wilson. She was highly regarded for her social benefits and the treatment of her workers, and generally viewed as an excellent example to us all. Not quite what they were saying five years later. So it goes.

Knights of God
Knights of God
by Richard Cooper
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Arthurian Legend Meets Secret Army, May 4 2015
This review is from: Knights of God (Paperback)
"Knights of God" is a 1987 British childrens' tv series (later novelised), set in a future where Britain (or at least England) has fallen into civil war and been taken over by an extreme religious (though apparently non-Christian) dictatorship. It focuses on the adventures of a young man in whom both the Knights themselves and the resistance movement take an unaccountable interest,

The Knights' uniforms and the black helicopters they use recall an earlier series called "The Guardians" which also featured a Britain that had collapsed into dictatorship, while some of the resistance fighters are reminiscent of Secret Army and similar WW2 stuff. KoG, however, is permeated with overtones of Arthurian legend. The leader of the resistance (based in Wales) is actually called "Arthur", whilst the Knights' leader is named "Mordrin" - perhaps to invoke Mordred.

As always, there's room for a nitpick or two. About the most absurd bit is the claim that the whole Royal Family has been wiped out. Short of WW3 (and doubtfully even then) this would be a sheer impossibility. There must by now be hundreds, if not thousands, of people descended from Sophia of Hanover, by no means all of them living in the UK. The entire Norwegian Royal House is descended from Edward VII, and of course there are Germans galore. I will leave to others to ponder the philosophical point of whether it is better or worse to be ruled by a German than by a religious nutter.

Gervase (George Winter) is a rather passive kind of hero, the sort that has things happen to him rather than making things happen. And many viewers probably figured the outcome of his "quest" well ahead of time. But this is ok for what is basically a kids' action adventure, and is surely more than made up for by John Woodvine's brilliant performance as Prior Mordrin. For me, he steals the show with a great portrayal of the paranoid dictator going to pieces as his regime starts to crumble.

All in all, well worth a read or (if you can get it) a view. It's a scandal that no proper dvd has been issued. However, I understand that Youtube is filling the gap for now.

Santa Fe Trail [Import]
Santa Fe Trail [Import]
DVD ~ Errol Flynn
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4.0 out of 5 stars "The Ten Commandments" Through Egyptian Eyes., March 31 2015
This review is from: Santa Fe Trail [Import] (DVD)
An interesting 1940 western, though as others have noted it takes considerable liberties with history and biography.

It follows the lives of several West Point graduates of the 1850s, who are destined all too soon to become famous, as they are posted to Kansas Territory and meet up with the notorious John Brown. It has a great cast, including Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, who rather predictably fall for the same girl (Olivia de Havilland), with Raymond Massey as Brown himself.

Massey takes a brilliant part as the religious fanatic, serving a basically good cause by the very worst of means. In his conviction that his every act fulfils the will of God, he at times anticipates Charlton Heston’s Moses, though unlike Moses he doesn’t get any miracles or other Divine help. However, that lack does not seem to cramp his style. When he hears the Voice of God, one has little doubt that to him it sounds very much like his own.

The good guys, for their part, have mixed feelings about Brown. To some degree, they can see where he is coming from, but they are firmly on the side of law and order. To them, he comes over much as Moses might have appeared to a bunch of decent and reasonable Egyptians, who can sympathise with his aims, but cannot accept his methods. Another parallel might be with some 21C liberal, deeply in sympathy with the Palestinians, who utterly loathes Israeli policies, yet cannot stomach the actions of ISIS or Al Qaeda. And, like Brown, they do their duty as they see it.

Inevitably, the film shows its age at times, most notably in the portrayal of the Blacks, which must surely make a modern viewer cringe. At times it is even worse than Gone With the Wind in this respect, and one must be grateful that the scenes where Blacks appear are few, and mercifully brief.

Also, at times I feel the South is let off just a shade too lightly, with little awareness that the fanaticism was not all on one side. I rather wish they could have included someone like Edmund Ruffin (the nutjob who fires the first shot at Fort Sumter) to remind us that there were plenty of extremists below the Mason-Dixon Line as well as above it.

This said, however, it is still well worth a view. Above all, it does a good job of conveying a sense of impending doom, as the little victims drink and chat together without any sense of the tragedy that awaits, in which some of them will (along with so many others) be killed or maimed. There is a bittersweet irony in the words put into the mouth of Robert E Lee (Moroni Olsen) at Brown’s execution “So perish all enemies of the Union” spoken in blissful ignorance that in little over a year he will be an enemy of the Union himself. Only Olivia de Havilland weeps, in anticipation of what Brown’s life and death portend.

Swallow the anachronisms and watch it.

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4.0 out of 5 stars "There Once Was A Family Named Troon, Determined To Go To The Moon", Aug. 20 2014
These five stories were written in the 1950s, and cover the conquest of space through the eyes of a single family, British-Officer-Class in origin, named Troon, which manages to be always at the leading edge of it.

The first story covers the building of the space station, and the intrusion of Cold War politics on a timeline where the Soviet Union didn't fall. The second is on the Moon when the Cold War has turned hot.

The third portrays the first, Brazilian, Mars expedition (fortunately, the destruction of the northern hemisphere in WW3 hasn't slowed down the conquest of space by more than a hiccup), while the fourth covers Brazil's effort to keep space as a monopoly, and the resistance which this generates. .

The fifth story is (for me at least) unintentionally humorous. Without giving away too much, it focuses on one particular Troon, who has developed a psychological problem which disqualifies him from being given command of a spaceship. Unfortunately, this means he is effectively barred from space (a fate worse than death for one of his family background) because "you can't ship a Troon as crew". Evidently, for one of this eminent race to go up as anything less than skipper is as unthinkable as putting Prince Charles into the Royal Navy as an Ordinary Seaman. Space has been conquered, the northern hemisphere blasted into radioactive desert, yet the British class system - or at least this space age variant of it - has come through without a scratch. Wyndham was very much a man of his time, and this is mentioned in a throwaway line without any explanation being thought necessary. It is just assumed that the (British) readership would understand.

Still, don't let that put you off. They are nice, unpretentious stories and make a good read. Enjoy.

Presidential Succession.
Presidential Succession.
by Ruth Caridad Silva
Edition: Hardcover
11 used & new from CDN$ 50.28

5.0 out of 5 stars After 60 Years, Still the Definitive Work on its Subject., June 20 2014
As a long-standing American History buff, I know of no book coming even close to this on its particular subject.

Professor Silva packs a detailed study into a short space, and comes to a number of valid conclusions. In particular, she is firmly (and probably rightly) convinced that John Tyler was wrong to call himself "President" after Harrison's death in 1841, as only the powers and duties, not the office itself, had devolved upon him. While not hugely important in the case of succession through death, this has had pernicious consequences in cases of temporary inability, since while powers and duties can be given back when a President recovers, the office itself, if it is considered to have changed hands, cannot. So Chester Arthur and Thomas R Marshall were obliged to sit on the sidelines for months, waiting for their situations to be resolved either by a President's recovery or by his death. In Marshall's case, neither of these ever really happened, so that he was left waiting in the wings for 17 months until the expiry of Wilson's term.

One point. Reading Silva has convinced me that the widespread criticism of Marshall, for refusing to claim presidential power, is wholly wrong. Since Wilson would not have stepped down willingly, Marshall would in effect have had to stage a legal coup d'etat. Even as a temporary expedient, this would have had dangers. If it involved the permanent deposition of the President, it would have set a frightfully dangerous precedent which could still be causing trouble a century later. In these circumstances, Marshall was surely right to stay out of such dangerous constitutional waters. He was not weak, but wise, and the Republic owes him much.

Silva also makes a strong case against the constitutionality of the 1792 and 1947 Succession Acts, as it is highly doubtful whether either the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tempore of the Senate are "officers", as understood by the Constitution. These acts also compromise the constitutional separation of powers by letting legislative figures exercise the executive power. The 1792 Act was particularly defective given that a Pres Pro Tem was often chosen for only one session at a time, so that the Acting President could be arbitrarily replaced by a single chamber of Congress, or put under improper pressure by the threat to do so. The 1947 Act is somewhat better, as it provides for a Speaker to resign before taking up Presidential duties, but that raises constitutional issues of its own, and also the possibility of a Cabinet Officer becoming Acting President and then being displaced when a new Speaker of PPT is chosen. In short, it's a mess.

At the risk of rushing in where Angels with degrees in Constitutional Law might fear to tread, I am less convinced by Silva's insistence that the Framers never intended the Vice-President to succeed to the entire Presidential term, but only pending a new election. Even if they did, they failed to make this at all clear, given their flat statement that the Vice President is chosen for the same four-year term as the President. And after all, the States which ratified the Constitution (and so who were, in this context, the real lawgivers) only ratified what the Framers had actually put on paper, not things they may have vaguely intended but didn't, or at least didn't clearly, write down.

One thing, though, Silva definitely gets right. She correctly notes that this would not have been a "special" election, as it is often casually called in discussion of this subject. The Constitution makes no provision for election of President and Vice President to any term other than four years, so there is no way for a new President to be elected for the unexpired term only. The election would start a new term. Thus if the vacancy arose in an odd-numbered year (as seven out of nine have in fact done) you would no longer have one Congress elected with the President, and another at mid-term. All Congressional elections would for better or worse be "off year" ones. Whatever the desirability of such a situation (which I suspect most Presidents wouldn't like) it at least deserves to be kept in mind.

Also, this would have infringed the separation of powers in other ways. As the Constitution (by Silva's reading) only allows but doesn't compel such an election, this gives Congress an improper hold over an Acting President , either to blackmail him by the threat to cut short his tenure by calling one, or to bribe him by offering to keep him in office by not doing so. Neither is at all in the Spirit of the Constitution. If the Framers wanted such an election they should surely have mandated it - or else expressly forbidden it. Leaving it as an option (if indeed they did so) was getting the worst of both worlds.

This also makes the question of Tyler's title less moot than at first glance. The Constitution requires the Vice-President to step aside for a President Pro Tem "when he shall exercise the office [not the powers and duties] of President". So if he is exercising only the powers and duties, but not the office itself, he can presumably continue to preside over the Senate - yet another encroachment on the separation of powers. Perhaps, despite the problems noted above, Tyler acted for the best when he "cut the Gordian knot" by claiming the Presidential office , and his contemporaries chose the lesser evil by going along with this.

Still, despite such nitpicks, I repeat that this book is easily the best thing available on the subject. And one thing I'm sure of is that future readers will be flabbergasted that it took till 1965 before the 25th Amendment would finally do something about it.

Survivors: The Complete Original Series
Survivors: The Complete Original Series
DVD ~ Various
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5.0 out of 5 stars Post-Apocalypse SF Comes Of Age On TV., May 16 2014
The "post apocalypse" theme is an old staple of sf, and has been attempted every so often on tv. This series marks its coming of age.

It is unashamedly derivative from similar written sf, but is none the worse for that, as it follows the best examples, George R Stewart's "Earth Abides" and John Wyndham's "The Day of the Triffids" . Its beginning follows Wyndham, giving more glimpse than Stewart of the actual disaster, though the disaster itself, a virus plague, is closer to Stewart's. However, it doesn't waste much time getting down to business and showing how its characters cope with the aftermath. The early episodes recall "Triffids" with a wannabe dictator distinctly reminiscent of Torrance. OTOH, "The Future Hour" and "Something of Value" illustrate all too well that the absence of government has its problems too. They also bring out the frightful vulnerability, both to human attack and the vagaries of nature, of a tiny farming community with no wider world to fall back on. One sees all too clearly why the Tribe in "Earth Abides" finished up as hunters and not as farmers. As the latter, a single hailstorm could condemn the lot of them to starve.

"Law and Order" is clearly based on the trial of Charlie in EA (as also perhaps the opening scene with the rabbit) , though with a twist of its own, while "The Future Hour" presents moral choices of a different sort, as do "Genesis" , "Revenge" and "A Beginning".

That last episode raises another point, unmentioned, iirc, in either book - how a tiny group, isolated for years with no one else to talk to, can get thoroughly brassed off with one another. The Tribe of "Earth Abides" is often criticised as overly passive and unenterprising, but might a less placid group have driven each other barking mad?

To my mind, the series really gets into swing with the survivors' adoption of two orphaned children, who both give them a responsibility and offer a hint of hope for the future. Indeed, they rather "steal the show" especially Stephen Pedler who takes a wonderful part as 7yo John. Their dog, Ben, also deserves an honourable mention, having more personality than many human characters. He can say an unbelievable amount with just one low growl, and his distrust of that barber shows through long before he is called upon to act. The same cannot be said of those "wild" dogs, who don't convince at all, sitting peacefully around the Land Rover and all too clearly expecting the humans to provide a meal rather than become one.

Almost equally engaging (I hate to say) is Talfryn Thomas as the revolting Tom Price. And of course the leading characters are great. Ian McCulloch takes an excellent part as Greg Preston, the hardboiled leader who knows what survival requires, with Carolyn Seymour nicely balancing him as the more principled (or squeamish) Abby Grant. Abby herself is beautifully portrayed as a woman desperately torn between trying to build a life with her companions, and her reluctance to abandon the increasingly unpromising search for her young son.

One memorable scene is the chilling conversation between Abby and her son's old teacher, who starkly depicts the future (or lack of one) that the survivors face. Not only unable to make light bulbs, or generate the power for them, 99% of them can't even fall back on candles - they won't know how to make those either. Nor something as simple as a table knife (or for that matter a table) or such basic tools as hammers. The best he, an educated man, could do would probably be a crude stone tool of some sort, and most are less knowledgeable than he. In short, when the leftovers of the old world run out, Mankind (especially in what were the advanced countries) is in dead lumber.

Some incidents are absurd but all too believable. The man Jenny meets in the country, fleeing The End of the World with a sackful of banknotes - just waste paper now - and the eloping couple who run off with a bag of equally worthless gold coins, are credible as examples of how obsolete ways of thinking linger on. Less so is the trader who raids disease-ridden towns for goods - to trade for gold! Far simpler, Shirley, to just raid the jewellers' shops and take the gold direct? And while I quite accept that outdoor survivalist or "back to nature" types are better fitted than most for this world, to meet three such - Charles Vaughan, Jim Garland, Paul Pitman - in as many episodes, perhaps stretches credibility just a mite.

But this is quibbling. "Survivors" is a magnificent series, doing for post-apocalypse sf on television what Stewart and Wyndham did on the printed page. Not to mention being up there with Dr Who as a worthy memorial to its creator, the late Terry Nation. Don't miss it, whatever you do.

by Poul Anderson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Another Good "SF Detective" Story., March 10 2014
The late Poul Anderson was always one of my favourite sf writers, and this is an absolutely vintage specimen.

Human explorers come back to find the Earth destroyed, and badly need to find out whodunit, if only to assure that the killers aren't also a danger tot hem. While doing so, they also have to find ways to go on living in a not particularly human-friendly galaxy. It's beautifully done, the alien races are well drawn as only Anderson could, and problem is ingeniously solved.

Perhaps one very minor gripe. I always preferred the title used for the magazine version in Galaxy - "The Day After Doomsday". Somehow the shorter title loses some of the oomph - but it's not important. Don't miss it.

See How They Ran: Th British Retreat of 1918
See How They Ran: Th British Retreat of 1918
by William Moore
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Vivid Account of a "Darned Near-Run Thing"., Jan. 20 2014
I rediscovered this book after last reading it donkeys' years ago. It was a good reunion.

It extends from mid-1917 (its description of Passchendaele is unforgettable) through to mid-1918, but its main focus is on "Michael", the German assault on the BEF in March 1918. Moore provides about the best account that I have so far read, and above all starkly conveys just what a close call it was.

While not singling out the British generals for condemnation (in places Marshal Foch emerges hardly better, and Petain comes over as frightfully short-sighted) Moore is decidedly not one of the John Terraine school of "rehabilitators". One thing that comes out strongly is that the BEF owed its survival in that crucial month far more to German mistakes than to anything in particular that its own commanders did. The British officers who really counted seem to have been the junior ones, who again and again prevented a unit's retreat from turning into rout. This of course had its downside when the Germans "struck it lucky" and the officer was killed, which all too often was followed by the men surrendering. But overall the officers in the trenches counted for far more than those in the Chateaux. Now why am I not surprised?

From time to time I've heard the 1918 offensives dismissed as a "desperate throw" with little chance of success. Don't believe it. Despite his mediocrity, Ludendorff came within an ace of winning, in which event Pershing's "Seventh Cavalry" would almost certainly have been too late to save the Allies from catastrophic defeat. And like I say, Moore paints a great picture of it. If you're interested in World War One, this is a "must read".

Nationality and the war / by Arnold J. Toynbee
Nationality and the war / by Arnold J. Toynbee
by Arnold Joseph (1889-1975) Toynbee
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Maiden Work of a Brilliant (If Opinionated) Young Man, Nov. 12 2013
I discovered this book in my local library at around age 16. It aroused in me a lifelong interest in the First World War (and especially its politics) and for many years coloured my attitude to the Peace Treaties. It was Toynbee's first book, written when he was 25, so predictably did not get all matters right, but from this distance in time it hardly matters, as the things he got wrong are at least as interesting as those he got right.

This shows at times in his attitude to religion. At the time of writing, Toynbee wasn't all that religious (though he changed later) and whilst he includes "a common religion" as one of the factors bringing a nationality together, about the only time he invokes it in practice is in relation to the boundary of Northern Ireland. Thus neither Israel nor Pakistan features anywhere on his fascinating maps. This attitude leads him even further astray in relation to the South Slavs, where he confidently predicts that the Bosnian Moslems, after not only losing the ascendancy they enjoy under Habsburg rule, but also being impoverished by land reform for the benefit of their Serb neighbours, would soon be reconciled to the latter by - wait for it - going to the village school with them! After Srebrenica, one hardly knows whether to laugh or cry.

Not that he was always wrong by any means. He cautioned against any attempt to depose the Hohenzollerns, and predicted that if a German democracy were seen as something imposed by a foreign conqueror, it probably wouldn't last, and even that the Germans might "give it a militaristic turn, and disconcert us by aping the [Prussian] drill sergeant from whom we had delivered [them]". He also suggested that West Prussia (what would later be called "The Polish Corridor") might all too easily be the occasion for a future war. Not bad guesses at how things turned out twenty years later. In the final chapter, he also seems to envisage something like the League of Nations.

For all his brains, though, he could not totally escape the passions of his time. This shows particularly in his attitude toward Russia. As AJP Taylor might have put it, he was one of those intellectuals for whom "scepticism stopped at the Russian frontier", and his take on its future is often optimistic to the point of absurdity. He even calls it "Holy Russia", though one wonders what he could have thought holy about the regime of Nicholas II. So Southern Slavs and others have a clear right to independence from Austria, and Alsatians from Germany, but Poles, Lithuanians and other non-Russian subjects of the Tsar must be content with "Home Rule" of the sort being offered to Ireland - though an awful lot of Irishmen weren't - because "liberalism is in the ascendant [in Tsarist Russia!] and will prevail". So that's all right then.

His attitude to the Ukrainians is even worse. He explains at length why, for the greater good of the Russian Empire, they cannot be allowed even so much as Home Rule, let alone independence, and must "abandon their particularism, and allow themselves to be reabsorbed in the indivisible body of Holy Russia" [1]. He even urges them to also abandon their language, as it consists only of "a few peasant ballads" in favour of Russian [2], and adds insult to injury by consistently referring to them as "Little Russians". Rereading this, I found myself wondering what the Ukrainian was for "Patronising prat".

One more goof. In the chapters on the Middle East, Toynbee touches on an unstable, multi-ethnic state which is "obviously" doomed to disintegration, and whose duty it is of the Powers to sort out how to divvy up when the inevitable collapse takes place. He is talking about - Afghanistan! It tickled me when reading "Between Oxus and Jumna" which he wrote some four decades later, how he praises the heroic stands of the Afghans against the British Empire (to whom he had blithely awarded most of it in the earlier book). In the later one, he makes no reference to his youthful predictions, which saddens me a bit. I would have loved to read his retrospections on this matter, and can't help wishing he at least had had the grace to blush.

Still, this was the first book of a young man not long out of College, so a little Christian charity is in order. This book gives a fascinating overview of the ethnic complexities of 1914 Europe, as seen by a super-intelligent young Englishman of the day. It really gripped me as a teenager and I still keep a copy half a century on. If you are interested in its themes, it is well worth a read as we come up to the its centenary, and that of the war which inspired it. Get a copy.

[1] The word "must" appears again and again in this book, and elsewhere in Toynbee. But rarely, after using it, does he follow up by even asking, let alone answering, the question of "Who's going to make them?" In this he reminds me forcefully of Woodrow Wilson and his "The Senate must take its medicine". All in all, though a great lover of Toynbee's books, I think it fortunate that he never held any political power, as I fear he could all too easily have joined Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Emperor Joseph II on history's long roll call of well-meaning disasters.

[2] In fairness to Toynbee, let it be said that he modifies this to some degree in a slightly later book "The New Europe", where he accepts that the Russian government "must" grant recognition to the Ukrainian language - once again without any indication of what could be done about it if they didn't - but still rejects any idea of independence, as it is unthinkable for Russia to lose Odessa and Kieff and be cut off from the Black Sea - though in an earlier chapter he is perfectly ok with Austria-Hungary losing access to the Adriatic, even though it has no other coastline, while Russia does. The principle of nationality can apparently be sacrosanct or not depending on whose ox is being gored.

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