On Tyranny

Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

33917107Although a short book, this is a very important read.  Timothy Snyder is an American historian who is able to pull together lessons from history on how to recognise and resist dictatorships and facism.  Some reviewers feel that it is essential reading for all Americans.  I disagree.  I think it would be good if people of all nations could read it and learn from it.

Because it is a short book I don’t want to rob the author of his thunder by outlining all the content.  However, just to give you a flavour of what it contains, I will summarise the chapter that had most resonance for me – Chapter 10 Believe in Truth.

Synder states that submission to tyranny happens when you renounce the difference between what you hear and see and what is actually the case.  He then goes on to outline four ways in which truth has died in various societies, and how it is dying in America as you read this.

Continue reading “On Tyranny”

Elephants in the Therapeutic Community

Sometimes, for the private practitioner, it can feel like there are more local therapists than clients.

38830The therapeutic community is trying hard to ignore two elephants sitting in its midst.  Their presence is discomforting.  In more considered moments we know they are there, but, broadly speaking, many of us hope they will go away.

The first elephant can best be described as ‘the glut’.  It used to be claimed that there were more therapists in the UK than members of the armed forces.  Whether it was ever true historically, it is almost certainly true now.  But sometimes, for the private practitioner, it can feel like there are more local therapists than clients. Continue reading “Elephants in the Therapeutic Community”

The Spinoza Problem

On one level, it was a book about two very different influential figures separated by three hundred years. It was interesting to learn about seventeenth century Jewish life in Amsterdam, and about Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. However, two factors gave the writing much more significance and impact.

51ks87xytml-_sx320_bo1204203200_This book has much to commend it, despite the ending which I found disappointing.

As I read the book I was thinking of giving it a five star rating, and the phrase that kept coming into my head was “a very satisfying read”. I had initially purchased the book on the strength of having previously read Yalom’s psychotherapy books, and another of his novels (which has what must be the most unattractive title for many readers – When Nietszche Wept). That novel, and his professional books, convinced me that the author could write very accessible prose on potentially challenging subjects, and that he was able to create characters with real psychological depth.

This book was satisfying on so many levels. It was written after the author was inspired by a visit to the Spinoza museum in Rijnsburg where he learned that Alfred Rosenberg (the intellectual force behind much of the Nazi anti-semitism) had deliberately and personally stolen the library of the Jewish philosopher.  Continue reading “The Spinoza Problem”

Towards Solving the Trump Mystery

While is may sometimes be true that personality is more important than policy, it isn’t always so.

FullSizeRenderOn 12 February 1999, Bill Clinton survived his impeachment, despite having lied under oath and having committed “sexual acts” with a junior member of staff – things which would have resulted in the departure of most politicians.  In chapter 10 of his book, Lessons from the Top, Gavin Esler describes how, at the time, the Senate majority leader, the Republican Trent Lott was utterly bewildered:

There are only a couple of things in my career that I still have not been able to understand. One is the fact that the American people apparently continued to support Clinton through the whole thing, knowing what he did, knowing what he said, knowing how he demeaned the office … I still think history needs to try to  explain why the American people thought that was all okay.

I felt something of the same confusion over Trump’s election.   Continue reading “Towards Solving the Trump Mystery”

Ambition of Men

Given the limited scope, the book, on the surface sounds as if it could have been very boring. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

29397486I had been an admirer of Harris’s work for a number of years and bought this on the strength of his ability to inform, tease, and entertain me. I have to say that I found this the strangest of his thrillers to date, and yet one which was at the same time, satisfying.

What is different about the book is the extremely limited scope. There is limited terrorism, gunfire, bombs, and death, but all this takes place in a very minor capacity, almost at a tangent to the central focus. All of the main “action” takes place within the Vatican – within two buildings, in fact. The “action” is simply the election of a new pope.

Given the limited scope, the book, on the surface, sounds as if it could have been very boring. However, nothing could be further from the truth. By limiting his attention Harris has succeeded in creating a very intense, powerful portrayal of a religious and political intrigue. Continue reading “Ambition of Men”

The Americans Don’t Come Out Of This Too Well

For me, the genius of the book – the moment where I stopped reading and thought, “Wow, that’s clever! Why didn’t I think of that?” happens about two-thirds of the way through.

18635080I read thrillers on holiday for the same reason that people watch Soap Operas at lunchtime or of an evening.  I want to be entertained and temporarily drawn away from the demanding routine of my life into another world.  If I vaguely care about the people in that world, that’s a bonus.  If I learn something in the process, either about life or myself – well, that’s a double bonus.

The is book is the second in Jonathan Holt’s Carnivia trilogy and I bought it on the strength of really enjoying The Boatman (the first in the series).  It shared many of the qualities that brought me enjoyment of the first novel.

The reader is drawn into the book by a very skilful abduction of a teenager, and the attempts of the police to find her.  Straight away there is tension to be resolved.  The kidnappers keep ratcheting up the suffering they are imposing on their victim.  Two of the main police protagonists are at odds with their superiors about how to proceed, and also at odds with each other, making any successful resolution look difficult.  Finally, the straightforward kidnap starts to look less than straightforward.  In a sense we think we know who did it, but then that certainty also starts to unravel.  Continue reading “The Americans Don’t Come Out Of This Too Well”

I’m Angry About What Happened

I am left admiring the originality of the plot and the skill with which it was handled. But reading it was more than an intellectually satisfying experience. I am also left with anger at what happened …

24824392This is one of the most interesting books I have read for a long time. Several writers have used the device of portraying a single event from the perspective of different characters. (You could argue that it has almost been a compulsory ruse of writers from at least Henry James onwards.) For me, what sets this book apart from some of the rest is the way time is used to create an almost unbearable tension as at least two versions of reality slowly emerge and are finally brought together and tested.

The main protagonist, a female TV documentary maker, has a secret from the past that she has managed to keep well buried and away from her partner and son. The author also hides it from us for most of the book, allowing us to guess from clues what it might be. Someone discovers a past involving the woman and writes a novel about the events which he then makes sure that the woman and her son get a copy of. Continue reading “I’m Angry About What Happened”