"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, December 16, 2019

Notes on the London Review of Books for 21 November 2019

Continuing with some ad hoc notes of interesting books discussed in the LRB, first up is an interesting essay with obvious connections to the British election and this endless, absurd Brexit saga: Robert Crowcroft's The End is Nigh: British Politics, Power, and the Road to the Second World War (Oxford UP, 2019), 284pp. The virtue of this book, according to the reviewer Jonathan Perry, is that it shows how close and deep the connection is between domestic British politics and its foreign policy, above all its policy towards Europe and its various powers. Crowcroft debunks the idea that Chamberlain in the late 30s was only concerned about Hitler and policy towards Germany, and none of this had any connection to local and domestic politics in the UK itself.

I have only read a smattering of Wittgenstein over the years but always found him interesting. That interest is greatly increased after reading Jonathan Rée's review of Wittgenstein's Family Letters: Corresponding with Ludwig, ed. Brian McGuinness, trans. Peter Winslow (Bloomsbury, 2018), 300pp.

His life was far more interesting than I realized, and most of that seems to have been outside of philosophy as such and academia. Indeed, such academics as Bertrand Russell did their level best to make everyone think that Wittgenstein was bonkers when, it seems, he was far more human, far more gracious, and far less of a bore than Russell was.

For those interested, as I always am, in Russian and especially Soviet history, then Tariq Ali has a semi-critical review of Owen Matthews, An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin's Master Agent (Bloomsbury, 2019), 448pp.

Ali is himself the author of several related works, including The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution.

About Matthews' book, the publisher tells us this:
Richard Sorge moved in a world of shifting alliances and infinite possibility. Born to a German mother and a Russian father, Sorge became a fanatical communist-and the Soviet Union's most formidable spy.
Like many great spies, Sorge was an effortless seducer, combining charm with a ruthless manipulation. He did not have to go snooping to find out closely guarded state secrets-his victims willingly shared them. Hiding in plain sight as a foreign correspondent, he infiltrated and influenced the highest echelons of German, Chinese, and Japanese society in the years leading up to and including World War II. His intelligence proved pivotal to the Soviet counteroffensive in the Battle of Moscow, which determined the outcome of the war.
Owen Matthews, author of Stalin's Children, captures the sweep of history and draws on a wealth of declassified Soviet documents and testimonials to tell the riveting story of the man Ian Fleming described as “the most formidable spy in history.”

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