What are you reading? – 14 June 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 14, 2018
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Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Lawrence Freedman’s The Future of War: A History (Allen Lane, 2017). “Here Sir Lawrence Freedman brings a fresh perspective to his already formidable understanding of military strategy. He looks at how, since the middle of the 19th century, people have sought to predict the nature of future conflicts. He cites famous examples such as The Battle of Dorking, written in 1871, and The Great War in England in 1897 (1894), both of which stimulated debates about military preparedness. Such futurology has engaged academics and generals such as Sir John Hackett with his The Third World War, published twice in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Popular fiction writers – everyone from H. G. Wells to Tom Clancy – have also shaped thinking. Yet, as Freedman notes, all such predictions are works of imagination since the future is not preordained.”

Richard Joyner, emeritus professor of chemistry, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Ryan Holiday’s Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue (Profile, 2018). “Life is usually believed to be more cock-up than conspiracy. Yet this gripping book tells how billionaire and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel mounted a successful, complex and legal conspiracy. His targets were the gossip website Gawker and its founder, British expat Nick Denton. Thiel wanted vengeance because in 2007 Gawker had outed him as gay. With a small army of lawyers, he enabled Terry Bollea, better known as the wrestler Hulk Hogan, successfully to sue the site over a sex tape extract it had published in 2012. Hogan won $140 million (£105 million) in damages, a hit that caused Gawker to close in 2016. There are three interesting actors in this story: Thiel and Denton, similar in many ways, and the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects freedom of expression.”

A. W. Purdue, visiting professor of history, Northumbria University, is reading Richard Wilkinson’s Lloyd George: Statesman or Scoundrel (Tauris, 2018). “This short but well-informed study addresses the great problem of how to balance the last Liberal prime minister’s achievements with his considerable, indeed glaring, faults. Few would deny the remarkable success of a man who rose from modest beginnings to play an important role in laying the foundations of the welfare state and to become an inspiring wartime leader, although some will find Wilkinson’s view of his contribution to military victory exaggerated. Lloyd George was a charismatic and inspiring figure and, at least early in his career, brave in his opposition to the Boer War and support for social reform, but he was also devious, opportunistic and involved in financial scandals. If many statesmen have had adventurous sex lives, his was on a Casanovan scale, while his dealings with Hitler showed him as, at best, gullible. Wilkinson concludes that ‘his faults were outweighed by his achievements’, which seems rather too kind.”

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