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SirChutney

Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
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  • The Last Kingdom

  • The Last Kingdom Series, Book 1
  • By: Bernard Cornwell
  • Narrated by: Jonathan Keeble
  • Length: 13 hrs and 28 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,137
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 1,045
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,046

The first book in a brand-new series, The Last Kingdom is set in England during the reign of King Alfred. Uhtred is an English boy, born into the aristocracy of ninth-century Northumbria. Orphaned at 10, he is captured and adopted by a Dane and taught the Viking ways. Yet Uhtred's fate is indissolubly bound up with Alfred, King of Wessex, who rules over the only English kingdom to survive the Danish assault. The struggle between the English and the Danes and the strife between christianity and paganism is the background to Uhtred's growing up.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Fate is unstoppable

  • By A D MCCLENAGHAN on 13-12-14

Destiny is All

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-02-19

The Last Kingdom is the first historical novel in The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell. First published in 2004 the story introduces Uhtred Ragnarson. A man born a Saxon then kidnapped by raiding Danes who raise him from age 11, teaching him how to be a warrior.

Plot summary

866 - 876: Osbert is 9 years old and the second son of Ealdorman Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg in Northumbria. Danes raid Bebbanburg. Ealdorman Uhtred's first son, also called Uhtred, is killed and his body desecrated after he is sent out to scout the raiders. Osbert is now the oldest son of Ealdorman Uhtred and is renamed Uhtred. Ealdorman Uhtred seeks to avenge his son's death. He is killed during the failed attack on Eoferwic (York) and Uhtred is captured by Earl Ragnar the Fearless of the Danes. Ragnar, intrigued and amused by the boy's attempted attack on him during the battle, retains him in his household. Uhtred's uncle, Ælfric, takes Bebbanburg and the title of Ealdorman for himself although Uhtred is the rightful heir.

Uhtred describes his life among the Danes. Moving to the country with Ragnar and his men, working like a slave and fighting with other boys, slaves and Danes alike. Uhtred befriends Ragnar's youngest son Rorik. He has many clashes with one boy in particular, Sven, son of Kjartan, a shipmaster in Ragnar's small fleet. One day, Sven kidnaps Ragnar's daughter, Thyra, and removes part of her clothing to sexually assault her. Uhtred charges Sven from hiding, taking Sven's sword and attacking him with it. Uhtred, Rorik, and Thyra escape back to Ragnar's hall. Ragnar, offended and angry, banishes Kjartan from his service. He crushes one of Sven's eyes with the hilt of his sword - adding that he would have crushed both, had Sven stripped Thyra completely naked.

Uhtred then goes viking across East Anglia, and participates in the conquests of Mercia and East Anglia, and the invasion of Wessex. He is kidnapped by a priest, Beocca, an old family friend. He then escapes from Wessex and joins his adopted father Ragnar again. Uhtred enjoys life with the Danes but flees after Kjartan kills Ragnar in revenge, burning down his hall with his former lord inside.

Uhtred hopes to escape Kjartan's assassins by spreading the rumor that he too died in the hall-burning. Uhtred then joins King Alfred in Wessex. There he learns to read and write, and sails with Alfred's fleet of 12 ships against the Danes. After a battle with the Danes he again meets Ragnar the Younger, Earl Ragnar's eldest son, and tells him how his father died. They part friends, swearing that one day they will band together to take revenge on Kjartan. Seeking to take command of the fleet, Uhtred gains it on the condition that he marry the orphaned Wessex girl Mildrith, whose family is in debt to the Church. After doing so, he takes part in a siege against Guthrum, and is among a group of hostages exchanged when the Danes and Saxons agree on peace. Staying with the Danes in the city over winter he again meets Ragnar, who saves him from death when Guthrum breaks the peace and murders the other Saxon hostages. Uhtred then escapes to find his wife. She was taken by Odda the Younger, another Wessex ealdorman (earl or noble), to the north. There he fights in the battle at Cynwit, where Uhtred finds himself fighting against Ubba Lothbrokson's Danes.

This was my first introduction to this prolific author. It kept my interest from the very beginning and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Along with all the action, Cornwell has an eloquent writing style, using the dramatic first-person narrative in a magnificent early medieval setting. Kudos to Bernard Cornwell for making such a wonderful series. The story feels grounded in the history and attitudes of the time. There is a great deal of extreme violence, including a lot of rape and pillage and some gory battle scenes. Cornwell manages to achieve a sense of the brutality of the time without lingering on the details. And Uhtred is a believable but conflicted protagonist who helps Alfred to greatness

Do yourself a favour and read it!

  • Humans

  • A Brief History of How We F--ked It All Up
  • By: Tom Phillips
  • Narrated by: Nish Kumar
  • Length: 6 hrs and 27 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 90
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 85
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 85

In the 70,000 years that modern human beings have walked this earth, we've come a long way. Art, science, culture, trade - on the evolutionary food chain, we're real winners. But, frankly, it's not exactly been plain sailing, and sometimes - just occasionally - we've managed to really, truly, quite unbelievably f--k things up. From Chairman Mao's Four Pests Campaign to the sinking of the Titanic; from the American Dustbowl to the world's leading superpower electing a reality TV mogul as President...it's pretty safe to say that, as a species, we haven't exactly grown wiser with age. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Absolutely amazing!

  • By merlinka on 14-03-19

Loads of facts and history but very funny too

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-01-19

Extremely entertaining and depressing in equal measure. Do you enjoy history, quirky stories, and social sciences? Well, this could be the book for you. As one would expect from a former Buzzfeed writer, ‘Humans’ has is written in a very informal, conversational style. Tom Phillips packs his book with well researched eclectic examples from human history of our desire to make disastrous mistakes. He presents these in no particular order, and turns the oft-used narrative upside down. By touching upon only the critical elements needed to construct the mental final picture of each historical event, he enriches the text by adding lots of examples to send a compelling message in each chapter. Nish Kumar narrated, which helped to convey the grim sarcastic humour. Whether we learn from these errors or not is a different matter entirely and as this book illustrates, it's not always as easy or black and white as it seems.

  • The Audiobook of the Year (2018)

  • By: No Such Thing as a Fish
  • Narrated by: Jane Hill, Andrew Hunter Murray, Anna Ptaszynski, and others
  • Length: 9 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 447
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 406
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 404

Think you know what happened in 2018? Think again. Following hot on the heels of the success of The Audiobook of the Year (or, more precisely, 12 months later), The Audiobook of the Year (2018) bravely delves behind the headlines to sniff out the best and most bizarre facts of the past 12 months. Compiled and written by the creators of the award-winning hit comedy podcast No Such Thing as a Fish, all of whom are researchers for QI.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent Listen

  • By Amazon Customer on 23-10-18

Trivial, but absorbing and entertaining

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-12-18

No Such Thing as a Fish is a weekly British podcast series produced and presented by the researchers behind the BBC Two panel game QI. In it each of the researchers, collectively known as "The QI Elves", present their favourite fact that they have come across that week. The regular QI elves who present No Such Thing as a Fish are Andrew Hunter Murray, Dan Schreiber, Anna Ptaszynski and James Harkin.

This book is effectively a massive episode of the podcast. The Elves present a compendium of topical facts in 365 categories. Each presenter takes it in turn to present their favourite facts. Then they discuss the information surrounding that fact, and the other presenters add in extra facts and information connecting to it. This bumper book is fun, and packed with offbeat, silly facts. The tone is just right: dry, sharp and deadpan. Recommended for everyone who loves nuggets of trivial news.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Royal Flash

  • The Flashman Papers, Book 2
  • By: George MacDonald Fraser
  • Narrated by: Colin Mace
  • Length: 9 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 229
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 213
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 213

In volume II of The Flashman Papers, Flashman tangles with femme fatale Lola Montez and the dastardly Otto Von Bismarck in a battle of wits which will decide the destiny of a continent.

In this volume of The Flashman Papers, Flashman, the arch-cad and toady, matches his wits, his talents for deceit and malice, and above all his speed in evasion against the most brilliant European statesman and against the most beautiful and unscrupulous adventuress of the era.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Flashy does it again!

  • By Hammerhead on 25-07-15

A cad, chauvinist, misogynist, adulterer

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-18

“I was sufficiently recovered from my nervous condition – or else the booze was beginning to work ...

Royal Flash is the second of the Flashman novels. Written in 1970 by George MacDonald Fraser, Fraser based the book on the plot of The Prisoner of Zenda. Set during the Revolutions of 1848 the story is amusing enough. It is set in the fictional Duchy of Strackenz. This makes it the only Flashman novel to be set in a fictitious location. The story sees Flashman (view spoiler)

In Royal Flash we see old Flashy in all his guises. Coward, scoundrel, lover and cheat. He uses his wits and skill to out of all manner of sticky situations. Well researched and full of detail, the mixture of history, humour and adventure makes for a great read.

  • M

  • Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster
  • By: Henry Hemming
  • Narrated by: Henry Hemming
  • Length: 11 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 67
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 60
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 60

Maxwell Knight was a paradox. A jazz obsessive and nature enthusiast (he is the author of the definitive work on how to look after a gorilla), he is seen today as one of MI5's greatest spymasters, a man who did more than any other to break up British fascism during the Second World War - in spite of having once belonged to the British Fascisti himself. He was known to his agents and colleagues simply as M and was rumoured to be part of the inspiration for the character M in the James Bond series.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • M uncovered

  • By ctolstoy on 04-09-17

A peak into the life of a cryptic spy-master

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-18

The subtitle of this fascinating biography proclaims that Maxwell Knight to the MI5's greatest spy-master. While this may or may not be the case, Knight - a leading light at MI5 between the 1930s and 1950s was incontrovertibly the strangest. Charismatic, funny and possessed of an instinctive talent for the arcane act of running spies, Knight was also an animal obsessive who in his 50s became a well known BBC natural history presenter. He shared his home with a reeking menagerie - with various exotic pets including a Himalayan monkey and a bear named Bessie. He had three marriages, but consummated none of them, probably because he was terrified of sex. And despite helping them break up Nazi spy rings during the War, he was himself an enthusiastic fascist who maintained such sympathies until at least the 1930s. Henry Hemming has done a superb job of peeling back the layers covering this most veiled of spies, even if he doesn't quite solved the conundrum posed by his subject.

Knight's espionage career had unlikely origins. After a stint in as a dissolute jazz musician, he was recruited in his early 20s by a private intelligence agency, who set him the task of infiltrating the British Fascisti, the UK's first self-proclaimed fascist party. Knight rose quickly, becoming the party's director of intelligence and helping to recruit a young William Joyce (later the Nazi propagandist Lord Haw-Haw). The fact that he sympathized with the views of those on whom he reported must have made his rise easier. In 1931, aged 31, he was recruited by MI5, and negotiated permission to run his section - M section from his flat, with his monkeys in attendance Hemming's thoughtful biography brings to life an endearing figure whose fame within MI5 lasted well into the Cold War.

Actually, despite his reputation as a master spook, Knight's record was patchy. He was easily distracted by his hobbies, which also included writing pulp fiction and dabbling in the occult. And as section head at MI5 he failed, for instance, to expose the Cambridge spies recruited by the Soviets. While Hemming's biography is rich in sub-plot and cameo characters, its main character remains shadowy. Ironically, it is only in fiction that Knight today stands in plain sight. As one of the models for Ian Fleming's 'M' and for Jack Brotherhood in John le Carré's A Perfect Spy.

  • Stranger Than We Can Imagine

  • Making Sense of the Twentieth Century
  • By: John Higgs
  • Narrated by: John Higgs
  • Length: 11 hrs and 13 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 130
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 119
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 119

The 20th century should make sense. It's the period of history that we know the most about, an epic geopolitical narrative that runs through World War One, the Great Depression, World War Two, the American century and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But somehow that story doesn't quite lead into the world we find ourselves in now, this bewildering 21st century, adrift in a network of constant surveillance, unsustainable competition, tsunamis of trivia and extraordinary opportunity.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Not to be missed

  • By J on 24-02-17

Fascinating and frightening book

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-18

Stranger Than We Can Imagine bills itself as "an alternative history of the 20th century." Which raises the question: an alternative to what about the 20th century, exactly? John Higgs asked this very question when he found himself in his local bookshop watching a video of Barrack Obama. He was talking about whether the hacking of Sony Entertainment by the North Korean regime should be regarded as an act of war, on a thin slice of glass and metal he’d pulled from his pocket.

Looking over at the history section of the bookshop, Higgs couldn’t find anything that explained exactly how the world ended up the way it is today. A world with all its peculiarities and contradictions, so he decided to take on the task of explaining it himself. But this isn't just a book about events, its also about the way we make sense of it. The fact that people of different eras have related to their world in different ways is hardly news. But the 20th Century is a special case, marking probably the greatest shift in perspective ever experienced. So much so that even their immediate predecessors, the Victorians, would have found the inhabitants of the 20th Century strange and baffling creatures.

Higgs is interested in occasions when canons of knowledge and authority were upturned, when the 20th century chipped away at the idea of there being one grand unifying perspective, and instead privileged multiple perspectives, points of reference and ways of understanding the world.

Pre–20th century, we lived in an age when large parts of the world were carved up by colonialism—where you were in the hierarchy was more important than who you were as a person. If you were a serf or peasant, then that's who you were, regardless of whether you were a good person. It seems appalling to us now, but it was how people understood themselves. It was extremely harsh on the majority of people, but it was stable, and it was the only model of society that we had. It was something that was so integral to all of history, so when it all disappeared almost in the blink of an eye when WWI ended, it was a really big deal.

This was the period where we tried to come to terms with different perspectives and with not having a fixed point of society, or omphalos [an object of world centrality]. This deletion of the arbitrary omphalos happened in many areas, including art, politics, and psychology, during this period. Einstein’s theories set the precedent right from the off; indeed, what could be a more convincing arena for the demonstration of the subjectivity of viewpoints than the supposed bastion of objectivity, the physical sciences? And this is the common thread which unites the various unconnected developments: relativity. Freud’s presence in Stranger Than We Can Imagine is audaciously low-key, and Marx doesn’t even make the index. It’s Einstein who is the father of the era. His discovery that there were no absolutes in physics, only how things appeared relative to the observer, was quickly matched in art, philosophy and politics. Jasper Johns spoke of Duchamp’s “persistent attempts to destroy frames of reference”, and that’s the prevailing theme of the early 20th Century, expressing itself in Cubism, atonal music, The Waste Land, even the cinematic development of montage. And along with it came the rise of individualism. Higgs notes how the end of World War I also marked the end, virtually overnight, of the age of emperors. With the fixed certainties of the imperial age gone, the door was open for the “multiple perspectives” of democracy. This, inevitably, had its dark side. Mussolini was a self-declared relativist who concluded that, since there was no one true ideology, it was the luxury of the most powerful to be able to impose their own ideology by force. Hitler, Stalin and every murderous dictator who followed in their wake, couldn’t have agreed more.

Higgs follows these currents through modernism, existentialism and nihilism, but finds towards the end of his journey the Internet introducing “feedback loops” into our lives which seem to be pointing our collective consciousness in a new, more cooperative direction.

Stranger Than We Can Imagine is a thought-provoking read. Its memorable anecdotes and signposts to further reading make it an enjoyable introductory text on twentieth century history, as well as an accessible guide to many of its more murky aspects.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Man with the Golden Typewriter

  • By: Ian Fleming, Fergus Fleming
  • Narrated by: Julian Rhind-Tutt
  • Length: 13 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 19
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 19
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18

On 16 August 1952, Ian Fleming wrote to his wife, Ann, "My love, This is only a tiny letter to try out my new typewriter and to see if it will write golden words since it is made of gold". And he did write golden words: 14 best-selling James Bond books and an equally energetic flow of letters to his wife, publisher, editors, fans, friends and critics, charting 007's progress....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Fleming, the man, so likable and charming

  • By SirChutney on 02-12-18

Fleming, the man, so likable and charming

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-18

The Man with the Golden Typewriter succeeds in showing an Ian Fleming much different from the one who narrates Bond. To his professional contacts and friends he was amusing and generous. To his fans he was the ideal author to receive a letter from: courteous, amusing and appreciative. Even as his health started to fail he kept up a breezy manner to amuse anyone who concerned about him. His style has the flair of his 007 novels. But the letters add a warm, conversational tone. The Fleming in these letters embodies the ideal qualities of the British gentleman.

Editor Fergus Fleming (Ians nephew) is a celebrated non-fiction author in his own right. He has tracked down a diverse range of letters and even obscure Sunday Times pieces. He arranges these with care. He also adds relevant biographical information and summaries of the Bond novels . This adds important context to the letters which are for the most part organized chronologically.

Each batch corresponding to the evolution and reception of a different Bond book. Maybe ordering all the letters by date would have made more sense? But Fergus’s order is easier for the lay reader to digest. The are a few exceptions to the novel-based groupings. These are chapters devoted to Fleming’s correspondence with

* Ernie Cuneo,
* Major Boothroyd,
* Raymond Chandler, and
* Yale Librarian Herman Liebert.

You get the impression that Fleming was a nice chap. Especially in his correspondence back to members of the public who have written to him. His replies always show courtesy and warmth.

In short, this is a book that is far more interesting and entertaining than you might have thought; you don’t have to be a Bond nut to enjoy it. The underlying story is sad: as Fleming’s health failed, his marriage disintegrated and the quality of the books dipped. But for much of the book we are revelling in Fleming’s success ...

So, all in all worth reading. Or even better get the audio book and listen to the excellent narration

  • Absolute Pandemonium: The Autobiography

  • By: Brian Blessed
  • Narrated by: Brian Blessed
  • Length: 13 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,506
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 1,422
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,421

A memoir from national treasure Brian Blessed. There is no one quite like Brian Blessed. He's an actor, film star, trained undertaker, unlikely diplomat, secret romantic, martial artist and mountaineer. He's also a brilliant storyteller who will - and you must brace yourself - simply leap out of the story at you. Ready? Then listen to Absolute Pandemonium and you'll be taken on a riotous journey from his childhood, growing up the son of a miner in Goldthorpe, to finding fame in Z-Cars.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A joyful, irreverent, nine hours of fun!

  • By Vernon Wright on 23-10-15

Prince Vultan AKA The Dynamite Kid

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-18

Over Christmas 2015, I listened to Brian Blessed’s big, booming voice. No he didn't pop round for dinner, rather I listened to him read his autobiography, Absolute Pandemonium. In summary - a thrilling romp; a fantastic, fun listen. The best book I’ve heard since I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan. Its read with ebullience and enthusiasm. He sings, he does the voices, he swears, he tells jokes, he does it all.

The name of the book sums up the content pretty well. Here's a typical quote:
“So the first time I ever came into contact with O’Toole was at one of these very gatherings. I remember it well because I’d just punched Harold Pinter down a flight of stairs. Oh yes, I’m afraid so. No long dramatic pauses this time, Harold; he got one right on the side of the jaw. Wham!”

Blessed lives his life with the dial turned up to 11. He’s a big man, with a big personality. But saying this the book isn't all brawling, madness and chaos. He shows a genuine streak of emotion, intelligence and kindness. He doesn't drink alcohol and has a loving family. For example, he says love never ages. He wakes with his wife [actor Hildegarde Neil] and they can’t wait for the day to start. They hold hands, their love grows and they’re happy.

He also enjoys stillness and silence. Sometimes he needs to be on his own. Many times, he reveals, he's been in rehearsals and thinks, “Christ, I’ve got to leave.” This, he relates, got him into trouble many times.

The book starts up Everest, with a story about a turd. It then covers his early life in Yorkshire and his discovery of acting. It moves onto TV roles such as Z Cars, film roles (including his most famous part in Flash Gordon … GORDON’S ALIVE!), and beyond. Brian has a tendency to digress, going off onto various tangents in a nonlinear way. These anecdotes make it seems that Brian is sitting in a room with you, having a chat. Why bother to run though your life chronologically when you can bounce about a bit and select the best bits?

You get the impression that he believes that we all have our own Everests to climb. The greatest danger in life is for us to decide not to take our own adventure, whatever they may be.

Lots of laughs, and a few tender moments which will have you reaching for your tissues. All in all its an upbeat book with a distinct lack of malice. A big talent, big passion, bags of confidence. A man who grasps life with both hands and gives it a damn good shake. We can all learn from this. Brian lives to persue his dreams, and has had enormous enjoyment in the process. This is something we can all learn from.

Highly recommended! But maybe the last word should go to Brian himself? [NSFW]

  • The War in the West - A New History

  • Volume 1: Germany Ascendant 1939-1941
  • By: James Holland
  • Narrated by: Leighton Pugh
  • Length: 26 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 212
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 193
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 193

Are you ready for the truth about World War Two? In the first of an extraordinary three-volume account of the war on land, in the air and at sea, James Holland not only reveals the truth behind the familiar legends of the Second World War but he also unveils those lesser known events which were to have the greatest significance. The first book to consider the economic, political and social as well as the military aspects of World War Two, this is a unique retelling of a monumental event in all its terrible and majestic glory.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Refreshingly new view of World War 2.

  • By Ian David Williamson on 06-06-17

The first of a projected three-volume study

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-18

Is there anything new to say about WWII? Yes, there is.

Given the huge amount of books that have been written about the Second World War, it is difficult to imagine that there is anything new to say in the subject. Yet for some time now a growing critique of the long-received wisdom has emerged. This is one that brings a new understanding to the factors that shaped the conflict and its outcome. James Holland's latest opus, 1939 - 1941 The War in the West (The Rise of Germany), is the latest of a new generation of historians writing "revisionist" views of WWII. An established military historian, James Holland provides yet new insights into the circumstances leading to the outbreak of Second World War in Europe.

Holland argues that blitzkrieg as we know it is a myth and reveals that the picture looked much different in 1939: In advance of its Polish offensive, Germany was short on resources, tanks, and trained soldiers. Meanwhile, France had more men in uniform than Germany, and Britain had the best navy in the world. The invasions of Poland and France were incredible gambles, and Hitler’s initial successes would mask hard truths.

Holland pays careful attention to the operational level of the war often overlooked in previous histories, making The Rise of Germany more than just military history, but also social political, and economic history sure to generate significant scholarly debate and reader interest.

This is a well researched and superbly written account of the years 1939-41 skewers a number of myths about the early years of the Second World War. The next two volumes should be unmissable.

  • What Fresh Lunacy Is This?

  • The Authorised Biography of Oliver Reed
  • By: Robert Sellers
  • Narrated by: Sean Barrett
  • Length: 17 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 225
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 210
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 211

Oliver Reed may not have been Britain's biggest film star - for a period in the early 70s he came within a hairsbreadth of replacing Sean Connery as James Bond - but he is an august member of that small band of people, like George Best and Eric Morecambe, who transcended their chosen medium, became too big for it even, and grew into cultural icons. For the first time Reed's close family has agreed to collaborate on a project about the man himself.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Thoroughly enjoyable!!

  • By Jay on 14-11-13

An enjoyable read about one of our true eccentrics

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-18

Robert Oliver Reed (13 February 1938 – 2 May 1999) was an English actor known for his upper-middle class, macho image, hellraiser lifestyle, and "tough guy" roles. Notable films include The Trap (1966), playing Bill Sikes in the Best Picture Oscar winner Oliver! (1968), Women in Love (1969), Hannibal Brooks (1969), The Devils (1971), portraying Athos in The Three Musketeers (1973), Tommy (1975), Lion of the Desert (1981), Castaway (1986), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) and Funny Bones (1995).

At the peak of his career, in 1971, British exhibitors voted Reed 5th most popular star at the box office. An alcoholic, Reed's issues with drink were well publicised. He had the dubious distinction to be described by Bette Davis as:

‘possibly one of the most loathsome human beings I have ever had the misfortune of meeting’

Sellers has written several books on celebrities, but this is his most enjoyable. He has interviewed Reed's family and ex-wives/girlfriends to get behind the image he produced for the public. The book contains numerous anecdotes exist, such as Reed and 36 friends of his drinking in one evening: 60 gallons of beer, 32 bottles of scotch, 17 bottles of gin, four crates of wine, and a bottle of Babycham. He subsequently revised the story, claiming he drank 106 pints of beer on a two-day binge before marrying Josephine Burge:

'The event that was reported actually took place during an arm-wrestling competition in Guernsey about 15 years ago, it was highly exaggerated.'

Steve McQueen told the story that in 1973 he flew to the UK to discuss a film project with Reed and suggested the two men visit a London nightclub. They ended up on a marathon pub crawl during which Reed got so drunk he vomited on McQueen.

Reed became a close friend and drinking partner of The Who's drummer Keith Moon in 1974 while working together on the film version of Tommy. With their reckless lifestyles Reed and Moon had much in common, and both cited the hard drinking actor Robert Newton as a role model. Christopher Lee, a friend and colleague of Reed, commented on his alcoholism in 2014:

'when he started, after [drink] number eight, he became a complete monster. It was awful to see.'

All in all an enjoyable read about a great of British cinema, Oliver Reed. Simultaneously a gentleman, an alcoholic, an eccentric, a bully, a misogynist, and an underrated actor. A man who found it impossible to control his inner demons. What is interesting are the comments made by people who were saying how much they adored and admired Ollie when he was sober. It's sad to think of how much more he could have made of life and relationships if he didn’t hide his true nature behind drink. Should the reader be amused by his sometimes violent ‘pranks’. I’m not so sure.

The book is fairly repetitive and reminded me of White Line Fever in some ways. A monotonous cycle: Ollie made a movie, done a bunch of crazy stuff while intoxicated, then made another movie. In between his drinking spiralled out of control, the people around him suffered, and his health declined. Perhaps we could have got more depth from his family, friends and acquaintances? If you know little of Ollie you'll be shocked, appalled and bored by his tiresome behaviour without the depth of insight this biography needed to balance it.

However, even after years of abuse for playing Antonius Proximo, an old, gruff gladiator trainer in Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000) in what was his final film, Reed was posthumously nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

He was perhaps the last hellraiser of his generation and they don't make them like Ollie anymore. And maybe that isn’t such a bad thing?

RIP, Ollie.