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#Bookreview MUNICH by Robert Harris (@Robert___Harris) A solid and well-written #historicalfiction book with few surprises (@FTLOBOOKS)

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book I won in a giveaway by an author I’m happy to finally have read. More of his books to come, I am sure.

Munich by Robert Harris
Munich by Robert Harris

Munich by Robert Harris

MUNICH, SEPTEMBER 1938

Hitler is determined to start a war. Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace.

They will meet in a city which forever afterwards will be notorious for what is about to take place.

As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the channel and the Fuhrer’s train steams south, two young men travel with their leaders. Former friends from a more peaceful time, they are now on opposing sides.

As Britain’s darkest hour approaches, the fate of millions could depend on them – and the secrets they’re hiding.

Spying. Betrayal. Murder. Is any price too high for peace?

‘A brilliantly constructed spy novel’ Observer

‘Grips from start to finish … Superb’ Mail on Sunday

Imperium, the acclaimed play cycle based on Robert Harris’s Cicero novels, is running in the West End in summer 2018 – tickets now on sale!

https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Robert-Harris-ebook/dp/B01MR2AXVK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Munich-Robert-Harris-ebook/dp/B01MR2AXVK/

Hardback:

https://www.amazon.com/Munich-novel-Robert-Harris/dp/0525520260/

Author Robert Harris
Author Robert Harris

About the author:

Robert Harris is the author of eleven bestselling novels: the Cicero Trilogy – Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator – Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, The Ghost, The Fear Index, An Officer and a Spy, which won four prizes including the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and Conclave. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His forthcoming book, Munich, coming out in September 2017, is set over the four days of the Munich Conference, and is filled with the real-life characters and events of the time. Several of his books have been filmed, including The Ghost, which was directed by Roman Polanski. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty-seven languages and he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in West Berkshire with his wife, Gill Hornby, and four children.

https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Harris/e/B000APBPA4/

My review:

I obtained a hardback copy of this novel through a giveaway and thank Ash (@FTLOBOOKS) for her kindness and for the opportunity. I freely chose to review it.

Robert Harris is a familiar name for most readers and moviegoers. His novels and popular and many have been adapted to the screen (I particularly enjoyed The Ghost as I have a soft spot for films about writers). But although I have watched several adaptations of his novels, I cannot recall having read one of them, and I was happy to be given this opportunity. After reading it, I understand why he is so popular, and I don’t think this will be the last one of his novels I read.

Until I started to read the novel and later read some of the reviews, I did not know much about the historical background to it. The novel is classed as historical fiction and deals with the Munich Conference, that took place in September 1938, in a last ditch attempt at avoiding war with Germany (and Italy). The novel takes place in 4 days, from the 27th of September 1938 onwards, and covers the meeting between Hitler (for Germany), Mussolini (for Italy), Daladier (for France), and Chamberlain (for England), to try and settle Hitler’s demands for a return of the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia (mostly inhabited by German speakers and people of German origin) to German hands. The actual agreement was signed on the 30th, without the presence of the Czechs, who worried the return to Germany of that region would leave them weakened and unable to defend themselves against further German expansion. Harris sticks to the facts, and the novel is divided into four parts, one for each day of the conference, with the historical figures who were present represented fairly accurately, and the events following the correct chronology as well.

What makes it historical fiction is the fact that he introduces into the story two characters who did not exist in reality, and Englishman, Hugh Legat (one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries) and a German, Paul Hartmann (a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance). They had met in Oxford and had also spent some time together in Germany, but had not seen each other in 6 year and had a bit of history, which we learn more about throughout the book. Whilst Legat is a family man and seems to be focused on his career and on doing things by the book, Hartmann is a bit more mysterious and has the heart of a spy. He is not averse to taking risks, has no family, is much more clued on what is at stake, and is seemingly more reckless as to putting others at risk. Of the two characters, perhaps Legat is the one we get to know better and the more recognisable and sympathetic type, whilst Hartmann shares less of his personal life. He is the one calling the shots but we get fewer glimpses of his true motivation and he seems to have less to lose, and that might make him more difficult to identify with but more interesting and intriguing. Both men are highly intelligent and sharp analysts, ideal candidates to become observers and stand-ins for the readers.

The book is written in the third person (extremely well) and alternates the point of view of both characters always making clear who we are reading about. Harris has a way of making characters and events that might feel familiar sound and look intriguing (something extremely difficult when there are so many players involved) and uses descriptions to great effect. As we follow these two characters, who are both insiders of this world of diplomacy and politics but not big influencers and therefore very restricted in what they can do without risking their own lives and those of others, we share with them the wonderment, the worry, and the awe at being in the presence of such important people and at such a momentous event. We also share their frustration at being unable to intervene and change the course of history (and that would have made an interesting speculative historical fiction novel, for sure) that in our case we know will end up in tragedy.

The pace of the novel is uneven. Due to how closely Harris follows the events, there are moments when the leaders are travelling, paperwork is being prepared, or when due to their roles, both characters and not in the thick of things, and although the novel is never boring (because of the great characterisation and the level of detail), it is not a page turner where the rhythm is frenzied and never lets off. There are tense moments at the beginning, then there are the actual meetings between the leaders, which are not witnessed by the two men, and then things pick up again. The secret documents being exchanged, the difficulty in arranging meetings or even exchanging a few words in such circumstances become increasingly clear as the conference comes close to an end, and both men become bolder and take bigger risks. The ending is somewhat anti-climactic (though realistic) but I don’t want to reveal too much.

I am not an expert in this historical period, but I did feel that I got a better insight into the events and also the historical protagonists of the Munich conference thanks to the novel. Reading some of the comments, it seems that many feel Harris has managed to make Chamberlain’s position and manoeuvres more understandable and agreeable, rather than adhering to the popular view that he was too weak and did not handle the negotiation well. Harris explains that after working on a documentary about the subject many years back, he had remained fascinated by this historical event and felt he had to write this book. (He also includes a lengthy bibliography acknowledging the sources he has used to write the book, which will be of great help to anybody looking for further information).

Here some examples of Harris’s writing in this novel:

Legat took out a large white cotton handkerchief and wiped his face. It would not do to turn up red-faced and perspiring. If there was one sin that was frowned upon above all others in the Private Office, it was appearing to be in a flap. (Harris, 2017, p. 10)

…because people believed what they wanted to believe — that was Goebbel’s great insight. They no longer had a need to bother themselves with inconvenient truths. He had given them an excuse not to think. (Harris, 2017, p. 139)

There is a very memorable scene, when shortly after the English delegation arrives at their hotel in Munich, they are regaled by  an oom-pah band playing in the street, in front of the hotel, The Lambeth Walk. Legat, very aptly, describes it as “surreal” (p. 212).

One of the moments that I thought better defined and explained Hartmann and his actions (because he had always been a firm believer in Germany and its nationhood and that had caused some friction with Legat in the past) was when he talks about Hitler and how they had ignored “the power of unreason” (p. 297), that he goes on to explain, saying that people kept making excuses for Hitler’s most extreme and bizarre behaviours (his antisemitism, his ethnic policies…), telling themselves that these were one offs that could be overlooked or ignored, whilst he now believed the most evil and the most extreme ideas and behaviours someone is capable of are what truly define him or her as a person.

I think this book works well as historical fiction and I’d recommend it to people who want to learn more about this particular historical episode without having to read several historical volumes. On the other hand, this is not a thriller or a standard spy novel, and although there are intriguing and mysterious aspects that quicken the pace, Harris sticks so closely to the actual events that he does not introduce major changes or surprises, even when it comes to his fictional characters. A solid and well-written historical fiction book and one that has convinced me I must read more of Robert Harris’s work.

Harris, R. (2017) Munich. London, UK: Hutchinson, Penguin Random House UK.

Thanks to Ash for the book and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it please remember to like, share, comment, click, keep reading, reviewing and smiling! 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The Third Reich in 100 Objects: A Material History of Nazi Germany by Roger Moorhouse (@Roger_Moorhouse) (@penswordbooks) Great images and fabulous writing. #History #Photography

Hi all:

I bring you another book by Pen & Sword, and I think this one will be of interest to many people.

The Third Reich in 100 Objects by Roger Moorhouse

The Third Reich in 100 Objects: A Material History of Nazi Germany by Roger Moorhouse  (Author), Richard Overy (Author, Foreword) A Fantastic Book, didactic, entertaining, and moving. Great images and fabulous writing.

Hitler’s Third Reich is still the focus of numerous articles, books, and films: no conflict of the twentieth century has prompted such interest or such a body of literature.

Approaching the canon of World War II literature is a challenge for a general reader but the 100 objects approach is a novel and accessible presentation.

This is a compelling, frequently shocking and revelatory guide to the Third Reich that has been collated and presented by two of the world’s leading World War II historians.

The photographs gathered by Roger Moorhouse and Roger Moorhouse include Pervitin, Hitler’s Mercedes, Wehrmacht toilet paper, Hitler’s grooming kit, the Nuremberg courtroom, the Tiger Tank, fragments of flak, the Iron Cross and, of course, the Swastika and Mein Kampf.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Third-Reich-100-Objects-Material-ebook/dp/B0761TQX82/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Third-Reich-100-Objects-Material-ebook/dp/B0761TQX82/

Hardback:

https://www.amazon.com/Third-Reich-100-Objects-Material/dp/1784381802/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Third-Reich-in-100-Objects-Hardback/p/13559

Author Roger Moorhouse
Author Roger Moorhouse

About the author:

I was raised in Hertfordshire and ‘enjoyed’ an unspectacular career at Berkhamsted School, before being inspired to return to education by the East European Revolutions of 1989. Thereafter, I enrolled in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of the University of London in 1990 to study history and politics. I graduated with an MA in 1994 and have since studied at the universities of Düsseldorf and Strathclyde, cunningly avoiding gaining a Ph.D. at either.

I began my writing career working for Professor Norman Davies. I collaborated with him on many of his recent publications, including Europe: A History, The Isles: A History, and Rising ’44. This working relationship culminated in 2002 with the publication, in three languages, of a co-authored study of the history of the city of Wrocław (the former German Breslau) entitled Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City.

2006 saw the publication of Killing Hitler, my first solo book. An account of the numerous attempts on Hitler’s life, it was a critical and commercial success and has been published in numerous other languages, including German, Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Japanese.

My most recent book – entitled Berlin at War – is a social history of Berlin during World War Two, which was published in the summer of 2010. Based on first-hand material such as unpublished diaries, memoirs, and interviews, the book gives a unique “Berlin-eye view” of the war. It has been well-received, with positive reviews in most major publications. Writing in the Financial Times, Andrew Roberts said of it that: “Few books on the war genuinely increase the sum of our collective knowledge of this exhaustively covered period, but this one does.”

My new book, published in August 2014, is The Devils’ Alliance, a history of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, one of the few remaining unexplored areas in the history of World War Two. It is published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Pact’s signature, in August 1939.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Roger-Moorhouse/e/B001H6N0AI/

Twitter:

 

My review:

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have always been fascinated by antiques and collectibles, not so much for their monetary value, as for the stories (and the History) behind the objects. As museums prove, objects can make us feel closer to other cultures and eras, creating a tangible reminder of lands and times distant from ours. Some objects might have an intrinsic interest (they are made of valuable materials, or by well-known artists), others are interesting because of their owners (kings, queens, or famous historical figures, like writers, inventors, artists…), and others because of what they represent. Although no objects are good or bad in their own right, they become infused with meaning through the use they are put to, and they can make us feel all kinds of emotions, from delight to abject fear.

In this book, the author has collected a hundred objects to give us, as the subtitle states, ‘A Material History of Nazi Germany’. And he achieves his aim with flying colours. The author is an expert on the period and has written many books about Hitler and Nazi Germany, and although I’m sure different people would have chosen differently, the selection he has put together gives the reader a good understanding of all aspects of life in Nazi Germany. We find personal objects, both of the Nazis (from Hitler’s paint box and his moustache brush to medals, decorations, and death cards) and their victims (the well-known Judenstern [the yellow star Jews had to wear), a forced labourer’s ‘Work Card’, or Sophie Scholl’s Matriculation Card [a member of the White Rose resistance movement]), objects that illustrate everyday life under the regime (ration cards, a gas-mask, the devaluated German banknotes, Hindenburg Lights…), examples of propaganda (The Schattenmann [the shadow man, a warning against talking about military secrets], a variety of posters including one for the propaganda anti-Semitic film Der Ewige Jude, the Great German Art Exhibition Catalogue, and the many imposing buildings), objects directly related to the war, including weaponry (planes, tanks, bombs, even the V-2 Missile) and documents. Each object is accompanied by a brief note (around a page or so) explaining its origin and putting it into context.

Richard Overy’s introduction sets well the project of the book and its author and emphasises the importance of image for Hitler and his party. This becomes increasingly evident as one progresses through the book, where there are ample examples of uniforms, symbolism (like their use of runes, the swastika, and the German eagle), badges… The writing is both informative and compelling, and it varies to suit the nature of the object. Sometimes it is descriptive and fairly neutral, but at others, it is impossible to read without feeling grief, sadness, and/or anger. The book has the advantage of not following a narrative thread, whereby it is easy to read in fits and starts, and readers can pick and choose the objects they are interested in, or go through them all, as I did. If we read it from beginning to end, the objects form a chronological history of sorts, as we start with objects that reflect the beginning of the regime, and eventually get to weaponry and documents from the very end of the war. The last object is Göring’s cyanide capsule, so you get the idea.

There were objects I was familiar with, and others that I knew about but had never seen (for example, the iron bed of a psychiatric asylum, that, as a psychiatrist, I found particularly moving and horrifying), and some that were complete surprises, like a Hitler Elastolin Toy Figure, the Mutterkreuz (a cross given to mothers who had 4 children or more. The author summarises it thus: It signified, in effect, the politicisation of the German womb, [Moorhouse, p. 109]), or the very cute ‘Goliath’ miniature tank (sorry, but there are some lighter moments as well. In case you feel curious, you can check it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goliath_tracked_mine). What I was more impressed by, apart from the quality of both, images and writing, was the way these disparate objects and the narrative behind them managed to give me a good sense of what life was like at the time, without having to read tonnes and tonnes of pages full of dry information. This book illustrates well the power of images. I have read plenty of books set on that era and watched many movies that take place in the same historical period but seeing the real objects helped me feel closer to the action, the people, and the events than I had ever before.

I recommend this book to people interested in the history of the period who are not big experts on it and don’t want an exhaustive account of battles and events. I also recommend it to anybody thinking about writing a book about the era, or people who design sets or work sourcing props or designing backdrops and objects for theatre, television or film. There is plenty of material to inspire numerous productions, and it is all collected in a single, easy-to-read, and well-indexed volume, with notes that facilitate further research tasks. Another winning volume published by Pen & Sword.

A quick note: my version of the book is a hardback copy, but I’ve checked the e-book version and the images are as good as those in the print version (although depending on the use you are thinking of giving it, you might consider what suits you best, as there’s little difference in price between the two versions, but this varies depending on the store).

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author for this outstanding book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

 

 

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