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Wednesday, 06 December 2006


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If you ever read "Punch" between 1914 and 1918, when political cartoonists used to go along to debates in the House of Commons and draw from life, look at the way Lloyd George's hair changes from iron grey, at the beginning of the war, to pure white four years later.

One can't help but be reminded of the pre-Iraq and post-Iraq photos of our own Tony Blair ... whatever you think of the war, he has undoubtedly paid for it with his youth.

Hilary, Grigg's biography is illustrated with Punch cartoons and, indeed, ends with a December 1916 example captioned "The New Conductor: Opening of the 1917 Overture" showing a somewhat drawn and frowning DLG in full evening dress with baton raised. I am now hooked on the man and next year I'm going to treat myself to volume four.

And yet when one searches for the PM whom Blair is the biggest crook since, one inevitably alights on LG.

I too, am more of a non-fiction reader than of fiction, although in my case it tends to be politics rather than history. I hope you do finish The Man In Full - I devoured that book a few years ago during a holiday in Tuscany, and I'd go so far as to say it's even better than Bonfire.

But then, as you're so fond of pointing out, what do I know!

'Dearieme', for me the jury is still out. I picked up Volume 3 of his biography, 1912 - 1916, off a second-hand book stall so I know little of his previous life or his premiership. It touches on the Marconi affair and Crigg does not spare him. Even so, his conduct as Minister of Munitions was exemplary and the country owes him a debt for that, I think, as well as his insistence on a new 'dictatorial' system of running the country via a small War Committee, a method instantly revived by Churchill in WWII.

John, on this particular subject you are very sound! Yes, I will get round to reading that book sometime. Apart from anything else, I can't get the characters out of my mind. I was having some financial problems of my own at the time when I first tried to read it and that scene in which the Banking committee decide to put the 'hero' throught the financial grinder touched a very sensitive nerve! (Not that I am, or ever was, in the 'zillionaire class, I hasten to add.) Brilliantly written book, though.

But with those odd exceptions, I still don't understand why people read novels when they could read history.

Having spent the last year or so reading nothing but history before switching to a novel or two recently, I can probably answer this. Sometimes you need a break. For starters, reading a decent history book takes ages as the sentences are so compacted with meaning, whereas dialogue and scene-setting in a novel can be skimmed through in seconds. It was a nice break I have to say, although now I am chest deep in history once again, specifically Juliet Barker's Agincourt.

"Sometimes you need a break".

Absolutely right, Tim, and I find it in what I call 'Crash-Bang-Wallops', that is, Anerican crime stories which, alas, I tend to buy by weight rather than numbers, as my local second-hand paperback seller will testify!

Thanks for the tip on "Agincourt". I visited the battlefield once. There is a line of trees on one side (although I couldn't swear it was in exactly the same place, but the trees on the other side had gone. Still, if you narrowed your eyes and used your imagination you could just about 'see' the way they would have funnelled the French heavy cavalry into a nice-but-nasty killing ground for English archery to work its havoc.

In return, here is my personal tip for one of the most enjoyable history books I ever read: "Dreadnought" by Robert K. Massie:

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