Friday, June 27, 2008

The Last Fighting Tommy + Carl von Clausewitz's On War: A Biography

Harry Patch, who will be 110 on 17 June, is the last British trench fighter of the first world war. His childhood in a sleepy Somerset village is beautifully evoked in this moving memoir as he recalls the sinking of the Titanic, the suffragettes, and seeing his first plane in 1912. In 1917 he was sent to the Western Front to experience the bloody reality of warfare ("It wasn't a case of seeing them with a nice bullet hole in their tunic"), although he avoided killing the enemy (deliberately shooting an attacking German in the leg).

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Their Darkest Hour + Napoleon in Egypt

"Nobody knows themselves," says a wise old Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor in this morbidly fascinating book. "The nice person on the street ...That same person in a different situation could be the worst sadist." Some of the men and women Rees interviews here showed exceptional bravery during the war, such as the German man caught by the Gestapo distributing anti-Nazi leaflets. Others became monsters, like the Japanese soldier who at first befriended a Chinese woman: "Raping her, eating her, killing her - I didn't feel anything about it," he says.

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