Only a short volume, this well-written work documents the weakening of the West in the geopolitical arena. The book first focuses on the reductions in military power of Western nations, both in terms of their military budgets and also their matériel. Despite modern weapons being produced, the volume of forces and the amount of weapons mean that many Western nations and indeed when they are combined in the NATO alliance would struggle to fight in a real nation to nation conflict, in particular with a major power. The author identifies that with the rise of ISIS and Russian annexation of Crimea, the old world order of international relations has been broken down. In the new world order we see rising nationalism, an end to American unipolarity as a superpower and the rise of spheres of influence among growing world powers such as Russia, China, India or Saudi Arabia. A lot of key military figures are consulted for their opinions and most express their frustration with politicians freezing budgets and express their growing concern of standing by to idly spectate international events. There is certainly an unwillingness of Western nations to engage militarily, an identified weakness. The new world may see a decline in liberal democratic values and from reading this book it is clear to identify that the future is most uncertain.
The New Cold War by Edward Lucas My rating: 4 of 5 stars This book is a study of Russia in the post-communist era. It documents the rise of Vladimir Putin and identifies the ‘new cold war’ that envelopes Russia’s relations with the outside world. I found the book to be detailed with information and I was surprised by many of the features of the new Russia. I hadn’t realised that under Putin the Russian economy had been growing really well nor had I an appreciation of his soaring approval rating with his people. The Russian dominance of the energy market, in particular, gas, is quite daunting. I really enjoyed the chapter that focussed on the actual way this energy market is structured. The new Cold War won’t necessarily be fought in terms of military might and arms races. The Russian military strength is very dilapidated and they spend 25 times less on their military budget than the US. The new war will be fought in the markets with hard-hitting Kremlin-supported oligarch cash and the high profits from the energy market. I was surprised at the overall effect how that, since 1989, Russia has reverted back to its old Iron Curtain Soviet ways, despite me imagining that it was all freedom and capitalism there now. ‘Sovereign Democracy’ has quite different values to the political system we understand. The author has done his best in this book to explain what makes Russia tick and how we can possibly overcome a dark new era of global hostilities. View all my reviews
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway My rating: 4 of 5 stars Farewell to Arms is said to be Hemingway’s best book. Set in the Spanish Civil War, Robert Jordan is an American fighting in the International Brigades for the Republicans. He is tasked with blowing a bridge behind enemy lines and joins a band of guerrillas based in a cave, nor far from the chosen target. He falls in love with a rescued young girl and for three days enjoys true love. The book is feted as the best fictional account of the Spanish Civil War. I feel that Hemingway truly captures the feelings of this conflict. He worked as a war correspondent during the actual war and For Whom The Bell Tolls contains his accurate observations from the field. From the Madrid luxuries of the (primarily Russian) General staff, to the isolation, bonding, disputes and emotions of the guerrilla band, Hemingway weaves a splendid tale of loyalty, betrayal, fear, elation, romance and the horrors of war. I really enjoyed the Spanish language being used in conversation and it really helped to set the scene to hear the people cursing with real Spanish phrases. This work could be used in Translation Studies. It demonstrates the spirit of the Spanish people during their civil war. There is a sense of reality that these people were dealing with many foreigners and it is interesting to see how Robert Jordan, an American or ‘Ingles’, who spoke perfect Spanish, was so well-received and respected by the close-knit band of warriors. For me the ultimate conclusion was disappointing. The tragic twist was quite not as stomach-churning as in that of Farewell to Arms, for example, yet was perhaps the pessimistic outcome that Robert Jordan had envisaged as events conspired against him. Perhaps the book is an accurate description of the desperation of the Republicans as they on the whole unsuccessfully dealt with the formidable fascist foe with all their superior military equipment and force. Farewell to Arms is a great book but I am sure that in the Hemingway archives there is better work still to discover. View all my reviews
Romantic Revolutionary: Simon Bolivar and the Struggle for Independence in Latin America by Robert Harvey My rating: 4 of 5 stars Simon Bolivar was one of history’s great characters. His revolutions across South America overthrew Spanish rule in six countries. His empire extended across the continent and was as large as that of Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great. Against all the odds, he was a Nietzchean superhuman, who with mainly inferior forces, defeated a strong European military power. He would race for battles across thousands of miles, often having to deal with the impossible geography of Latin America to do so. He was very sympathetic to the needs of the people, across all races and classes yet he had a vicious streak that was sometimes necessary to curb the power of his enemies and to protect his ideals. His military prowess as a general was unmatched yet he lacked the cut-throat political acuteness in order to rule his legacy in peace time. Bolivar’s romantic notions allowed the rise of caudillos who would nearly all turn against him by the end of his life. His life was semi-divine, mystical and has inspired many to this day yet his failure to govern successfully left him impoverished at the end of his life, seeking exile. perhaps he was too successful and took on too much? Perhaps he didn;t do enough and should have continued to liberate the whole continent? This book is interesting and well-written and gives a good insight into the life of a legendary character. View all my reviews
Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya. Nicolai Lilin by Nicolai Lilin My rating: 4 of 5 stars I really enjoyed Nicolai Lilin’s first book and was keen to get stuck into this follow-up. It is really quite a different story and focusses on his career as a Russian soldier in the Chechnya war. The same vivid, friendly writing style is eminent and the reader becomes attached to the colourful characters Lilin describes. The first-hand horrors of war are very striking and there are some really gruesome scenes. The story flows from battle to battle whether it be mountain warfare or more typical urban warfare. Lilin’s military comrades seem as tight a crew as the criminal gang from his youth and their dark adventures are really exciting and quite gruesome and dark. He has a clever way of seeing light in even the darkest of scenarios, an existential view on his predicament. The writing is paced quickly and the descriptive detail gives a clear image of the author’s wartime adventures. It’s a great read and I truly hope that Nicolai Lilin goes on to write further stories of his interesting life. View all my reviews