Tournament of Shadows – The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Asia – Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac

Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia, is a real labour of love by husband and wife team Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac, and is the result of many years travel and research on their behalf. So top marks for effort then, and the book is a physically impressive, weighty and voluminous tome. The actual content though, while certainly very entertaining and interesting in places, is unfortunately a bit lacking. I am always wary of books that are co-written, as they always have a higher than normal potential to be lacking in coherency and narrative structure. This is unfortunately the case here.

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Pirates of Barbary – Adrian Tinniswood

Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the 17-Century Mediterranean, by Adrian Tinniswood, sheds much needed light on who and what pirates actually were, and who and what they did. It debunks the stereotypical notion of Blackbeard with his talking parrot and his pieces of eight, as being a typical pirate. In the real world, piratry was a world of profiteering, slavery, butchery, brinkmanship and religion, with its players being a motley crew of Christians and Muslims from all walks of life. Adrian’s book brilliantly illuminates their world, and this world’s revelation will be a shock to you.

The period of history when pirates reigned was the 17th-century, and geographically they were to be feared from the Mediterranean, up the Western coast of Europe and spanning to Scandinavia and Northern America, and out across the expanse of the Barbary Coast (present-day Morocco, Algeria and Libya). Mostly though, and this is the focus of the book, they had their bases of operations all along the Barbary coast, especially the port city of Algiers, which was pirate-central.

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Constantinople The Last Great Siege – Roger Crowley

Constantinople: The Last Great Siege, 1453 by Roger Crowley, is a history of the momentous struggle waged for the city of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in 1453. This was a real game-changer in historical terms, as it finally and utterly rested power in the region from the faltering Byzantium empire to the Ottoman Turks, and shut Christian Europe out in the process. It is also the history of the titanic and fatal battle of two great leaders, Sultan Mehmet II and Emperor Constantine XI.

Constantinople, sitting as it did on the Bosphorous sea, was a massive and natural fortress. Indeed, it had proved impervious to previous mostly Muslim and other assaults, except for one crucial and brutal sacking of the city by Christian Crusaders in 1204. So it was possibly with no great alarm that the Emperor Constantine and Constantinople’s inhabitants viewed the approach of the young Sultan’s army – that however was soon to change, once they realised the extent of the army, and the iron will of the Sultan.
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The New Nobility – Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan

The New Nobility – The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB, is a book that delivers exactly what its title promises. This is a very brave work, written in English by Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan. I don’t say “brave” lightly, when you consider the fate of so many Russian journalists, lawyers or human rights activists who dare challenge or question Putin’s establishment in today’s Russia. Indeed, reading a little online about the authors, they have experienced their share of harassment prior to authoring this work, including involuntary “visits” to Lefortovo prison – one hopes that this literary work will not be used as an excuse for more of the same against them.

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Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, the late American science fiction writer, served in the U.S army in World War II, was captured and imprisoned by the German army in Dresden, and therefore witnessed the fire-bombing of that city by the Allies in February 1945. Slaughterhouse 5 is the book he felt compelled to write about this massacre, being turned as he said into a figurative “pillar of salt” in its aftermath. It is also his rejection of war of any kind in its entirety, and should be considered a classic “anti-war” book, as well as a testimony to the bombing of civilian innocents in Dresden.
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