"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).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Things Spotted While Reading the London Review of Books

I'm a bit behind here, but last week on a plane greatly enjoyed the 2 January 2020 edition of the London Review of Books. In there I found notices for, and long review essays about, various books, including the following.

David Runciman reviewed the third and final volume of Charles Moore's Margaret Thatcher: the Authorized Biography vol. III: Herself Alone (Allen Lane, 2019), 1072pp.

I've read the first volume, but not this one yet, though it sounds fascinating. I've also read several other biographies of her over the years, and some of her own works, including The Downing Street Years.

Thatcher, of course, is routinely credited for working with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II in helping to dismantle the Soviet Union which destroyed so much of Eastern Christianity and so many Eastern Christians.

Also not to be missed are the uproariously funny and farouche diaries of her junior defense minister Alan Clark. I've read them probably three times over the last twenty years, and having read rather a lot of British political memoirs and diaries, can safely say nothing comes close to these.

Clark was also something of an historian manqué, and his scathing book of British military leadership during the Great War, The Donkeys, is a quick, devastating, but not entirely fair critique.

The highlight of this issue for me was a long essay by Jean McNicol discussing three new books, the first of which is Maggie Craig's When The Clyde Ran Red: A Social History of Red Clydeside.

Socialism here in this time was not just a program of political revolution, though it was that, and awakened close and ongoing interest on the part of Lenin and others in Russia. Socialism here, according to Craig's book (quoting an article in the Times from 1922) included
‘Socialist study circles, socialist economics classes, socialist music festivals, socialist athletics competitions, socialist choirs, socialist dramatic societies, socialist plays – these are only a few of the devious ways in which they attempted to reach the unconverted.’ 
This essay and the books awaken a feeling of personal albeit distant connection insofar as my maternal great-grandfather was a ship-builder along the River Clyde in the late 19th and early 20th century. McNicol's essay, "The Atmosphere of the Clyde," does a splendid job of capturing the sense of social and economic tumult, suffering, but also real progress especially during and right after the Great War.

The Clyde was then, and for some time afterwards remained, one of the largest shipbuilding sites in the whole of the British Empire, employing tens of thousands at its height, including the long-suffering John Maclean: Hero of Red Clydeside, the second book reviewed here and written by Henry Bell. MacLean and others fought for just wages, rent reforms, adequate housing, and a 40-hour work week among other things we now take for granted.

The third book is Glasgow 1919: the Rise of Red Clydeside by Kenny MacAskill, who is a sitting MP for the Scottish National Party.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
On the 31st January 1919 Glasgow was in the midst of a strike for a 40-hour week. A demonstration in George Square saw the Red Flag hoisted and panicked police baton charge the milling crowd.
The War Cabinet in London monitoring the developing situation had declined pre-emptive arrests of strike leaders, but now unleashed the military. That evening 10,000 British soldiers started to arrive in the city, supported by tanks and guns. Howitzers protruded from the City Chambers and barbed wire surrounded it. Armed soldiers guarded critical sites and tanks were based at the cattle market. Images of these events have entered collective memory of the city's inhabitants.
In context this was a time when fears of Bolshevism were spread amongst western ruling elites. The first month of January saw western allied troops fighting in Russia, Trotsky leading the Red Army in Poland, the Spartacist Rebellion suppressed in Germany and the Irish Republic declared by victorious Sinn Fein MPs. Glasgow, crucial to Britain's war effort was conversely, one of the most deprived cities in Europe, and ripe for change. It was a world in turmoil.

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