I’m catching up with my November reads – one more to go after this review, but I wanted to save that for another themed post. Anyway, today we have two works of non-fiction which, while a biography and a travel book, do have something in common, and that something is politics. No, no, don’t look away, I’m not going to get all heavy and political on you (I’ll save that for my rant on genres coming next); these two books have a unifying theme, but they were also both enjoyable reads.
Roy Hattersley – “Henry Campbell-Bannerman”
(02 April 2013 – from Any Amount of Books on a London trip)
Originally from a box set of the 20 prime ministers of the 20th century (how handy!), this is a really competent and well-done life of a little-known politician who did some really important things, not least introducing Road Tax! It was a trip down memory lane for me as, although I didn’t remember much about CB himself, we covered this period very heavily in O-level history (so heavily that we ended up skipping through the other end of the syllabus, WWII, on bandaed sheets (remember those, if you’re over 40?)). So I was shouting along with “We want eight [Dreadnoughts] and we won’t wait” – in my head, luckily for other members of the household.
There are good descriptions of the machinations of power, Victorian and Edwardian politics and politics in general, and good illustrations, although I would have preferred these to have been captioned rather than just referenced at the back.
Negley Farson – “Caucasian Journey”
(From Bridget, 17 March 2013)
In a manuscript revisited by the writer and edited by his son, this redoutable foreign correspondent and traveller makes a journey across the Caucasus by horseback alongside veteran Russophile and travelling companion (who prefers to walk), Alexander Wicksteed, notable for his aversion to baths and habit of storing provisions in nests of tins and boxes.
It’s the 1920s, and Farson looks back at this time through the lens of subsequent political events, adding an evocative and tragic dimension to this description of what is effectively a lost way of life, as the Russian leadership sought to standardise the peoples and wipe out dissent, moving ethnic groups like pieces on a chessboard. He chronicles their way of life and the coming of the first Communist enthusiasts (mainly tedious people who ask too many questions), but also life on the road, with its oddities and amusements, the welcome to visiting strangers and the endless haggling over the price of meat. An absorbing and interesting read, given the extra historical and political dimension which removes it from the standard class of travel book.
Currently reading: I’ve just finished a Marian Keyes novel, and I’m reading another travel narrative about the Silk Road and Sebastian Coe’s autobiography. Watch this space for reviews (and the odd rant coming up …)