June 30, 2010

Trouble in Store by Douglas Morrison

With Brighton the sparehead of english eco-politics, having elected the first Westminster green MP, it is fitting that a brilliant site-specific, multi-media show carries on the fight, linking shopping and messing up the planet. So this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a chopper. If art has something to say […]

February 16, 2009

Surviving a Kidnapping in Chechnya

In 1997, Camilla Carr and Jonathan James were kidnapped and held for fourteen months in Chechnya. Speaking neither Russian nor Chechen, armed with good intentions and a car full of toys, the two Britons had volunteered to help traumatised children in Grozny. They were soon kidnapped, and this book – The Sky is Always There: […]

February 15, 2009

Stalin’s children

I have read many sagas of Russian families, but Stalin’s Children: Three Generations of Love and War by Owen Matthews has facets that make it poignant. It is both tragedy and love story by a distinguished chronicler of the East. Matthews has covered Moscow for Newsweek since 1997 and has witnessed the Chechen, Bosnian and […]

February 14, 2009

The Lost Boys

Somali born journalist Rageh Omaar and director Paul Sapin made Lost Boys, a 27- minute documentary, in four days. The film explores Somali youth inter-gang violence in London. The murder of 18-year-old Mahir Osman in January 2008 by a Somali gang made Clan Elders realize they had lost touch with the younger generation and violence […]

February 13, 2009

A Palestinian journey

Anyone familiar with the Middle East knows that Ashdod is Israel’s biggest port, nearly a quarter of a million people some 40 miles north of the Gaza Strip. What he or she will be less likely to know—and it is no accident—is that until October 1948, when the combined forces of the Israeli army and […]

January 12, 2009

The Terminal Spy

There are some stories where even the most diligent journalism cannot answer the basics: who, what, when, where, why and how? When the New York Times’s London correspondent, Alan Cowell, set out to turn his reporting on the poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko into a book, he must have known the most he could […]

January 3, 2009

Letters Against War, 2002

Tiziano Terzani was the Asia correspondent for German weekly Der Spiegel for over thirty years. The Florentine journalist also wrote for Italy’s respected broadsheets La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. After a lifetime of activity, he retreated to a secluded corner of the Himalayas. A sudden event and its fatuous analysis by another Italian journalist […]

August 19, 2008

White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America

White Cargo tells the story of the 300,000 plus urchins, prostitutes, criminals and those without social blemish or criminal record who were taken from the British Isles during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and sent as forced labour to the American colonies. While the circumstances and stories of those shipped across the Atlantic against their […]

August 19, 2008

Stalin’s Children: Three Generations of Love and War

I have read many sagas of Russian families, but this one has facets that make it poignant. It is both tragedy and love story by a distinguished chronicler of the East. Matthews has covered Moscow for Newsweek since 1997 and has witnessed the Chechen, Bosnian and second Iraqi wars. He knows something about the drama […]

June 19, 2008

My Grandmother: A Memoir

While a young girl, Turkish lawyer Fethiye Çetin adored her grandmother, a Muslim matriarch named Seher. Then she learned that Seher was in fact Haranuş, an Armenian Christian. She had been seized from her mother by a Turkish gendarmerie corporal officiating over an Armenian death march during the First World War.  My  Grandmother is Çetin’s […]

June 19, 2008

Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation

How do you review a book that articulates what your life under occupation is like so honestly and clearly that you are left feeling shocked and angry? To an outside world that sees only the issues of “peace” and “terrorism,” occupation loses its significance and becomes a mere abstraction. This book brings it back to […]

May 19, 2008

The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi

Read this. It’s sober, well written and ruthlessly forensic about Ahmad Chalabi’s business affairs and propaganda operations. NBC correspondent Aram Roston has read everything about Chalabi on the public record, and he has spoken at length with many of Chalabi’s family and long-term supporters. His finest chapters describe how Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress supplied the […]

May 19, 2008

To the End of Hell

“A pure product of colonialism” with a French father of Indian origin and a Vietnamese mother, Denise Affonço could have used her French passport to escape the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Twenty-seven years after the Khmer Rouge were overthrown by the Vietnamese, thoughts of “what might have been” thread through these harrowing memoirs, recently translated […]

April 19, 2008

Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy

Nuclear weapons and weapons-systems are never politically-neutral. Nor have they ever been developed openly or debated in democratically-elected parliaments. The Los Alamos project in New Mexico was a top-secret operation. In Britain, the decision was kept secret even from the Labour Cabinet. Likewise the French. The Israelis were so angered by Mordechai Vanunu revealing some […]

April 19, 2008

Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism

In this provocative analysis of the West and its relationship, or lack thereof, with Islam, George Weigel, the biographer of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, drafts what he describes  as  a  call to action to address jihadism. Weigel, a conservative Catholic theologian based in Washington, rejects the commonly used term “Islamic fundamentalism” in […]

March 19, 2008

The Age of Assassins: The Rise and Rise of Vladimir Putin

Since Dimitri Medvedev’s predictable triumph in Russia’s presidential elections, the future of the Kremlin’s internal power balance has fascinated those who scrutinize events in Moscow. As ever, questions outstrip answers. The central issue is whether the latest choreographed ballot signified a true shift of power away from Vladimir Putin. Since 2000, when Putin came to […]

February 19, 2008

Israel – Palestine on Record: How the New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East

When Israel was occupying much of southern Lebanon in 1984, I recall reporting, in a paragraph or two in a larger story, that I’d just been in a trashed Shi’ite village where, amongst other things, a car had been run over by an Israeli tank. That evening I received a checking query from New York. […]

February 19, 2008

Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq

Thank God for journalists like Patrick Cockburn: diligent, intelligent, clear-eyed, brave, experienced. In Muqtada al Sadr and the Fall of Iraq, his third book on the country, he assembles a narrative out of the conflicting mash of self-serving accounts, propaganda and rumour over the last bloody five years. In doing so, he renders all of […]

January 19, 2008

Small wars permitting, dispatches from foreign land

Part memoir, part previously-published reportage, Small Wars is a romp through twenty years of Christina Lamb’s career as a foreign correspondent. Her tale begins with a personal invitation from Benazir Bhutto to her ill-fated wedding to Asif Zardari. Lamb displays a talent for putting herself in the right place, where she meets not only the […]

January 19, 2008

A Model American

A Model American, Elsie Burch Donald’s third novel, is a twist on the classic saga of “normal” westerners dumped in weird surroundings. How do they cope? The lead characters are two middle-aged American tourists: Bill Bolton, a rich, successful businessman; and his wife, Marjorie. With them are their guide, Anne Philips, a young Englishwoman of […]

December 19, 2007

One Soldier’s War in Chechnya

It was with some pleasurable anticipation that I awaited this book from the Frontline’s Books Editor. He wanted “a soldier to review a soldier’s book.” When it arrived, I did what I do with all books before starting to read it in earnest: examine the cover, look at the photos, check for maps. This volume […]

December 19, 2007

Cobra Gold

My heart sank when confronted with this book. Ever since Andy McNab (not his real name) made it big with his SAS tales, a plethora of former SAS veterans has published fictional accounts of their lives and times in Afghanistan/Iraq/Oman/you-name-it. Like celebrity biographies, their tomes dominate shelf space in the lower-end bookshops. I have nothing […]

November 19, 2007

3 Para

British Paras are renowned more for prowess on the battlefield than media savvy. However, that reputation may need to be revised with the publication of 3 Para by Patrick Bishop. This book is an account of 3 Para Battle Group’s tour in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, last year. Throughout their six months on the ground, […]

November 19, 2007

French Century – An Illustrated history of Modern France

Brian Moynahan was the Sunday Times roving correspondent in the years before Rupert Murdoch bought the paper and turned it into the mail order catalogue that Don McCullin called it under the  editorship  of Andrew Neil. (McCullin’s public observation was undoubtedly the reason Neil fired him, although war photography and investigative reporting were anyway not […]

October 19, 2007

Women of Courage – Intimate Stories from Afghanistan

Above all other countries, because of its long conflict since 1979, longer than the lives of many of those now reporting it, Afghanistan has faced several different generations of reporters. They tend to see the country through the prism of the first campaign they were in, a narrow frame of reference, with few shades of […]

October 19, 2007

Where Soldiers Fear to Tread

Any journalist who spends time in disaster zones comes away with at least a grudging admiration for aid workers. While some are self-righteous, others self-serving, a few simply naïve and more than a few exasperating,  almost all of them earn our admiration. A few, perhaps, win a small touch of envy for having actually “done […]

September 19, 2007

Legacy of Ashes: The History of CIA

The only CIA man I’ve ever had dealings with, knowingly at least, was a nerdish fellow with thick glasses who used to hang around the bar of the Camino Real hotel, eavesdropping on the foreign journalists covering the 1980s civil war in El Salvador. Forbidden by the US Embassy to travel into areas controlled by […]

September 19, 2007

A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja

After Saddam Hussein’s warplanes dropped poison gas on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja in March, 1988 a cameraman found among the dead the bodies of a mother and her small son, “her arm outstretched as if to beg for help.” He had “a strong desire to lie down next to her and not get […]

August 18, 2007

Perfect Hostage

Nearly two decades ago, the people of Burma came within reach of achieving the kind of “velvet revolution” that brought freedom and democracy to eastern Europe. The student uprising of August 1988 failed to rid Burma of the generals. Today, the country remains under military control, and its adored opposition leader, the Nobel laureate Aung […]

August 18, 2007

Chechnya – Russia’s “War on Terror”

When three planes smashed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, few expected Chechnya to feel the impact. But 9/11 probably had the most far-reaching consequences for the Chechens since Stalin deported the entire population to Siberia in 1944. It also saved the career of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose […]