Review: The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939

The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939
The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Antony Beevor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a definitive history of the Spanish Civil War. The book has been regarded by the Spanish themselves as one of the best-researched volumes on this dark period of turmoil in their country’s history. The breakdown of democracy saw the split of the nation and a leftist democratically elected government was forced to deal with the rise of a militaristic fascist rising headed by Franco. The precursor to World War 2, this civil war attracted the interests of the rising Fascist movement across Europe with the Caudillo’s forces being supplemented and supported by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. They got to test out their modern weaponry in the field of action and a lack of international support for the actual government left them with little alternative but to rely on the Soviet Union for their support. This led to the republicans being over-reliant on the Spanish communists who struggled to take over and erode democracy from their own angle, constantly infighting and vying for strength with the other elements of the Spanish left; the Anarchists and the POUM. This history details how all the events unfolded and describes how each of the key battles was won and lost. There was a ferociousness during this conflict which only civil wars attract. The horrors of modern war truly unfolded disasters such as Guernica only emphasised how critical air support had become. The German Condor Legion and their Meschersmitts, backed up by Italian Fiats, consistently demolished the Republican resistance and paved the way for an overall Nationalist victory. Poor military judgement, combined with Stalinist purges of even the more successful Russian generals, left the Republicans constantly making errors in their military tactics. The lack of proper international support (with the exception of the volunteer International Brigades), in particular from Britain led to the inevitable crushing of the elected government and their forces. Appeasement was in the air as Western politicians tried to avoid the inevitable European conflict that was brewing and the Spanish were sacrificed. It was a war of experimentation which left the Spanish people at the mercy of the violent forces which dominated the time. Franco consolidated his own power well and was relentless and unforgiving, not accepting any olive branch of peace when offered and pursuing an ultimate military victory so he could proceed to rebuild his country in his own image. The book is highly detailed and covers every angle well, though I would have perhaps wanted a more lengthy conclusion to discuss more of what happened in the post-conflict period. I look forward to tracking down some of the author’s other work, in particular, his account of the battle of Stalingrad which was often mentioned in this most excellent history of the Spanish Civil War.

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Review: The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge

The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge
The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge by Jeremy Narby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I eagerly anticipated this book as I had heard it mentioned as a classic on Ayahuasca and as a good reference point in a number of other books and Ayahuasca and shamanism. The author begins in typical Ayahuasca tourist fashion, and undertakes you on his Amazonian journey with a shaman, partaking in the sacred Yage ceremony. If anything I was a little disappointed with the author’s own experiences and felt that he had perhaps misunderstood his visions a little. I read on, however, and the novel turned into a page-turning thriller. The research done on the twins / dual serpent cosmology myths was fantastic and a revelation to me. It was clear that Narby had done a great deal of research on his hypothesis. I think to anybody studying shamanism, the middle chapters of Narby’s book are essential. As the book moved towards the DNA link with Ayahuasca I was at first sceptical but the author wrote in a convincing manner and I felt that the extremely distant link was well-pointed out and certainly a possibility though I can see the scientists more easily dismissing ‘The Cosmic Serpent’ than perhaps the ancient medicine men who I would imagine would be more open-minded. As an apprentice ayahuasquero myself, who has studied exclusively on my own in the West, I think that there is a lot more to the DNA link than meets the eye. Ayahuasca is a substance which does alter the mind in a tremendous way and I See true possibilities that it is what we call DNA triggering some of the visions. I think the book highlights, not how much we know of science, but how little we know of ancient shamanism. A true understanding of Ayahuasca and the power it harnesses, if well understood could drastically improve our world, if nothing less than to bind Western man back to his natural roots.

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Review: Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea
Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a well-written gripping journalistic account of North Korean defectors, describing their lives in the DPRK. I have to question whether the accounts are completely truthful and genuine as so much information which emerges from North Korea tends to be biased. However, the accounts make good reading and describe a truly Orwellian culture that is very unlike our own Western lifestyles. To a romantic socialist, some of what may appear is idyllic, but as is often the case, the horrors of famine and gulags are all too apparent. There is much quaintness in many of the stories, of simple love, of familial ties, of the teaching of children. The emotions felt by North Koreans are just the same as elsewhere in the world. However, it seems as though the state control of all aspects of life is extremely strict. The failure of the food supply system and the healthcare that was a real high point of the earlier years of the DPRK, is all to evident as the communist world collapsed in the late 1980s. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is the way in which the defectors adjust to their new lives in South Korea. If ever the two Koreas are united, there is a massive gulf between the cultures which I don’t think can be bridged too easily. Overall, the book is quite disturbing, but still very gripping. I think it should be studied in context alongside other texts on Korea.

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Review: When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order

When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order
When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by Martin Jacques
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent study of China and its position in the modern world. The author explores the rise of China’s power, through history and into the future. China will be the biggest power in the global economy and this book projects how the new world will look. It examines Chinese attitudes to the world, the rate of development in China, and how China will treat the rest of the world as it assumes its position in the number 1 spot, currently held by the USA. A key factor which the author constantly identifies, in how China differs from previous world powers, is that China is not just a nation-state in the Westphalian sense, but a ‘civilisation-state’. It is continental in terms of its landmass and holds 20% of the world’s population. It has a rich 5000 year old history and is much less imperialistic in its attitude to foreign countries as the great powers which have preceded it. There are vast differences in how a world with China at its head will appear. The Western illusion will be shattered and countries will become ever more dependent upon a developed China. The study contains many fascinating statistics which prove the author’s thoughts and ideas. It introduces many topics which I had previously not really appreciated, such as the Chinese racial views on the world and also the dependency of Western Oceania countries such as Australia and New Zealand on the Chinese economy. As a sinophile, myself, I found the book thoroughly intriguing. It is unlike any other study I have read to date on China and offers a good glimpse into the future of the mother country. It is a question of when and not if, China becomes the biggest and most powerful nation on earth. It is scary to us in the West, what this may entail, but equally it is important that we ready ourselves for a new world order. This book provides ample preparation for anyone interested in what the growth of China means to them and how the world will change.

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