19 January, 2006

From 1848 to 1945

Finally, I have some books to report.

The age of capital was splendid, a marvellous drawing together of the prevailing historical themess of the 1848-1875 period, the first mad flush of the capitalist world. Hobsbawm writes exceptionally well, lucidly and with some pleasantly acerbic asides (the passage on the arts is particularly amusing), and his connections between the worlds of science, arts, philosophy and economics are brilliant - the connections between activities in the various fields and the economic climate as well as the philosophies of capitalist, democratic liberalism are made clear, so that one feels an enormous light has been turned on, illuminating the wholeness of historical, literary, economic and philosophical events where previously one saw them as isolated bits of history knowledge. [1]

It made me want to read more Marx. I might have a bash at The eighteenth brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, which my da says is his favourite of Marx's writings. (I wish I'd read enough Marx to have a favourite of his writings.)

Antony Beevor's Berlin: the downfall was rather less splendid. It's a rollicking, novelistic history of the war in Europe from around 1944 to definitive German defeat, and it reads tremendously easily (one can see why it made it on to so many 'books of the year' lists: books that read easily but sound worthy always do). Novelistic, perhaps even filmic, in that it's very chronological so it cuts between the goings on in Moscow and the court politics surrounding Stalin, to the frenzied terror and hubris of Hitler's bunker, from Vasily Grossman's diaries as he advances with the frontoviki to the diaries of terrified Berliners, from the Yalta conference to the refugees returning to Germany from the eastern parts of the Reich. However he has a rather distasteful obsession with rape - I am not in any way denying that an awful lot of rape did happen on the Eastern front, but Beevor's focus is more on the most horrific of personal accounts rather than in trying to establish, for example, exactly how prevalent rape was. There was also some rather cheap speculation on Hitler's sexuality - he 'suppressed his homoerotic side' for the relationship with Eva Braun, for example - an assertion which is not backed up by anything at all. Later in a description of Hitler's last public appearance where he met some Hitler youth members, he describes Hitler as displaying 'the intensity of a repressed paedophile'. Now, I'm not springing hotly to Hitler's defence here, but it seems to me there's plenty to accuse him of without unfounded insinuations of paedophilia. It leaves one wondering how much historical evidence he bases the rest of the book on, which seems rather unfortunate. [2]

Vasily Grossman's diaries of his experiences on the Eastern front were recently published, edited by Antony Beevor (A writer at war: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945). I'll probably buy them when they're out in paperback. Before then I want to try reading his enormous novel centered around the battle of Stalingrad, Life and fate, conveniently available at a library near me.

1 comment:

woodscolt said...

Incidentally, the numbers in square brackets are so that I can keep track of how many books I've read this year.