The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola

I read this as my progress through the Rougon-Macquart cycle.  I can’t say it is one of the best. The plot seems a bit plodding heading to the typical Zola tragic ending.

I didn’t get the same feeling I had eg with the Fortune of the Rougons that reading Zola was a good way to learn some French history. I am aware of the conflict between clerical and government interests;  this is relevant to relations of politicians to the French army at least to the Second World War.  However, I did not quite understand all the details.


Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson

This was quite readable. It starts with Kissinger’s childhood in Germany and his journey to the US as a refugee from the Nazis and experiences in the US army in intelligence in World War 2. The significant part covers his life as an academic in political science, with his steady transition to actual politics. His work as an advisor to Rockefeller (from at least 1960) was followed by his appointment as National Security Advisor by Nixon in 1968. It is noteworthy how he was able to make the transition. It covers his investigations of the Vietnam war in the mid 1960s and his conclusion that the war was a lost cause. This is interesting considering his later role.

I found the material on the 1964 Republican convention interesting not the least as I read this during the 2016 Republican convention.  The two have some parallels.

In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences by Truman Capote

This is an extensive study of the 1959 murder of a family in remote Kansas. It compares the lives of the killers with those of the victims continuing through the trial and execution. It can be seen as a non-fiction novel. However, one central character is missing from the story: Capote himself. He inserted himself in the sequence of events from after the killing through to the execution becoming far from a dispassionate observer.

I read this after seeing the Capote film for the second time.

Stalin’s Englishman: the Lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie

This was a useful book, adding to my knowledge of an interesting time and phenomenon. It put forward a few things I had thought otherwise, eg he discounts the idea that Burgess deliberately engineered being sent home from the US so that he could warn Maclean. It seems feasible that there were other ways Maclean could be kept up to date.

I had always rather dismissed Burgess as a buffoon, but this book made me reassess this.

Marked for Death: the First War in the Air by James Hamilton-Paterson

This was a readable account of the origins of aviation and its development in the First World War.

The point about the patent the Wright Brothers held on powered aviation holding back the aviation industry in the US relative to Europe was interesting.