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simon collis

musings of an omnivorous biped

Of course, we’ve all seen Blackadder Goes Forth. The Allied generals used to just throw men at things, not care how many casualties there were, and kept on doing that until… somehow, the Allies won the war. Neillands’ main topic – in fact the whole reason for this book – is to answer the question: if the generals on the Western Front really were so incompetent and didn’t care about casualties, then how did they win the war in the first place?

It’s an interesting question, and he takes 500+ pages to answer it. It’s actually a fascinating read, covering not the what or the how (there are soul-crushing accounts of Passchendaele or the Somme that will haunt you forever, should you choose to read them) but instead asking ‘why’ – why did they choose to attack here, or there, why didn’t they think of x or y or z? Read more

I hadn’t read this one when I picked it up in Cash Converters (yes, they sell books as well). It’s hard to find English books in Lisbon, so the two choices in the shop were Dan Brown’s Deception Point and this. Deception Point I read in three days and you can pretty much imagine that it was like his other books, should you choose to, because it is – as with most genre authors, you get the experience you expected. Having finished Dan Brown, I picked this up not really knowing what to expect. I knew that it was about the Spanish Civil War, but not much more than that.

For Whom The Bell Tolls follows Robert Jordan, a university Spanish teacher turned dynamiter for the Communist cause. We’re first introduced to him sizing up a bridge that needs to be blown up as part of a major attack. The inevitability of death figures throughout the book – Jordan initially believes he won’t survive the bridge attack and having accepted that, meets a woman named Maria who had escaped Franco’s forces. (So far I’ve not mentioned anything not on the back cover of my edition of the book – I’m trying to avoid spoilers, if you can believe that’s relevant for a book that’s currently 77 years old.) Read more