Article published on January 27, 2016.
Reg Seward is the quintessential BookChap – which is why we asked him to be our guide. And not being a man to shirk a challenge, here he is setting out on what I firmly believe will be a journey to be savoured. Expect new missives in due course! (And if you are of a similar slant of mind you could do worse than check out his growing number of reviews here on nudge and in nb magazine.
For many years now, I have been squirreling away vast numbers of books relevant to the World Wars and others. My shelves have many books from Naval Fleets to Army Land Forces, plus Air campaigns of course. Colossal battles and who fought them, memoirs of the great and the noble right down to the lower ranks; all tell a story that; with their involvement, the entire world we once knew was changed irreparably inside a few years.
I cannot dismiss the importance of the characters that made up these wars, neither the glorious; or the inglorious. The adage of lions being led by donkeys is true, but why? I read books to find out.
Without my reading of these books, I would probably not know that alongside the Second World War that affected Great Britain; and caused so many deaths and such misery, there was an even greater struggle happening on the Eastern Front at Russia at the same time.
Narrowing that education down further, we have individually written accounts of these struggles that define the truth as it happened. In much the same way as actors tell us that playing a villain is far more rewarding than playing a hero, I choose to read more about the Axis forces than our own. As a result of my reading these accounts, I have slowly become an armchair expert on most of the German leaders, their rise and downfall and, what happened to them. To my mind they are a fascinating study on how people tick, both under stress and calmness.
Lots of books about Adolf Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Goering and Ribbentrop are just a few of them. Narrowing that down even further, we have the generals in charge and their own memoirs, right down to almost forgettable people. Adolf Hitler’s chauffeur, secretary, or even his cook has related his; or her own memories into book form.
After engaging in all these books over time, a fuller, more vivid picture emerges, it does not make things right obviously, many people simply want to draw a line under the chaos but, we should learn by our mistakes but that seems not to be happening anymore, if it ever did.
I have an old book given as a present at Xmas 1945-46. Not especially brilliant but, the title It All Happened Before by John Radnor informs us through the basic history of the ‘unofficial’ Home Guard. Throughout English history, citizens have grouped together to fend off possible invasions of our nation. So, as indicated in this book; wars have always been going on and still do. Why? By reading these books we can teach ourselves, make up our own minds, maybe do something that has an effect, who knows, but I can say quite categorically, I know a lot more than the uninformed. Simply by reading lots of books.
SECOND OPINION: Empire of the Night by Robert Olen Butler