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#1944club – opening the week with a classic Maigret

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Inspector Cadaver by Simenon
Translated by William Hobson

I’ve often remarked (either here or to myself) that you can’t go wrong with a Maigret; I’ve read a number of them for our various Clubs, and because Simenon was such a prolific author, there’s usually one of his most famous creation’s escapades available for reading, whatever the year we pick! 1944 is no exception, and there were numerous short stories and novels to choose from; however, I ended up with one which I came across on one of my trips to London over the summer – “Inspector Cadaver”.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the new covers…

I was particularly pleased to come across it in Skoob, because it’s the first of the new Penguin translations I’ve read; I’ve been keen to find out what they’re like and also how I got on the with translation. The latter was just fine, and the story intriguing – it turned out to be a bit of a slow burner that suddenly took off for me mid-read and I ended up being absolutely gripped.

“Cadaver…” finds Detective Chief Inspector Maigret somewhat out of his comfort zone again (Simenon *did* seem to like to do that to his character…) Our sleuth is comfortably established and well-known in Paris; however, the examining magistrate, Brejon, has asked a favour of Maigret and sent the latter out into the country, to Saint-Aubin-les-Marais. Brejon’s brother-in-law is in trouble: a local youth was found dead on the train tracks but the country gossips have got to work, implying that the death was not accidental and that Naud (the brother-in-law) is implicated. Brejon hopes that Maigret can help sort things out, but that may not be so easy…

For a start, Maigret has no official status. Then there is the attitude of the locals, who close ranks against the interloper and seem to have no intention of helping him find the truth. And there is the titular Inspector Cadaver… His actual name is Cavre, and he and Maigret know each of old, from a time when Cavre was drummed out of the force. What is Cavre doing in Saint Aubin? Who employs him and why does he always seem to be a step ahead of Maigret? What are the Naud family hiding, in particular the daughter? And will Maigret ever find the solution?

It was so easy being Maigret. You had a whole apparatus of the most sophisticated kind at your disposal. And you only had to casually drop your own name for people to be so dazzled they would bend over backwards to be agreeable to you. Whereas here he was such an unknown that, despite all the articles about him, all the photographs of him in the papers, Etienne Naud had marched up to Justin Cavre at the station.

Well, of course, he does get to the truth, and in his particularly distinctive way, though not without a lot of grumpiness and poking into secrets and annoying people – pretty much his modus operandi, really. What was noticeable to me, as someone who’s read quite a lot of Maigret now, is the detective’s ambivalence. He often sides with the poorer people he meets with, the victims of society who are often sacrificed for the sake of the rich. Yet he finds himself seduced by the rich lifestyle, finding it hard to shake off the inbred respect he feels as the son of a poor family. But Maigret being Maigret will never entirely let the rich off the hook, despite having sympathy for some of them. In this story he dispenses his own kind of justice and fate takes a hand at the end too, leaving you with the feeling that what goes around comes around, and that a certain kind of person will always gravitate towards their own kind.

Via Wikimedia Commons – By Jac. de Nijs / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As always, it’s a joy watching Maigret going through his detecting process; appearing to bumble around but actually having a very definite purpose. His encounters with Cavre are pointed and amusing, and seeing him finally getting the better of his ex-colleague is marvellous. Reading this, I realised how much I felt that the recent adaptations for TV with Rowan Atkinson got it wrong. The bits I watched were glossy and melodramatic, and that solidity of Maigret, his almost impenetrable character, seemed to elude Atkinson…

Plot-wise, I did get a major strand about two-thirds of the way in, which kind of revealed the whole reason for what had happened. That wasn’t a problem, as it was still a delight to watch the whole facade built up by the Naud family unravel under Maigret’s investigation, and Simenon’s ability to capture the tensions and atmospheres around the family was impressive. Very satisfying!

So my first read for the #1944Club was a good one. I rarely find myself disappointed with a Maigret, but I don’t always remember to pick one up. The Club reads are a great excuse to revisit favourites, and I often return to crime – in fact, I might well be heading to a rather wonderful re-read later in the week. Watch this space… 😉

The #1944Club launches!

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Yes, it’s that time of the year again! Those of you who’ve been following for a while will be aware that I co-host a biannual reading week with Simon at Stuck in a Book. He came up with the fun idea of focusing our reading on a particular year, and we’ve done six so far with people joining in on their blogs, social media etc. We got as far as the 1970s before deciding to go for a random year earlier in the 20th century, and 1944 came out of the hat!

It’s a year that has a lot of potential for interest; World War 2 was of course still underway, and so it might be thought that publishing would have been limited. Also there could be a tendency for books to focus very much on what was happening in the world, or conversely provide escapism. And works published in parts of the world away from Europe could be less affected by those world events.

A quick look at the big books from the year throws up some intriguing titles. There’s “The Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham (which I’m sure I have somewhere); Christianna Brand‘s atmospheric “Green for Danger” was a classic crime novel which captured the tension of the times; Margery Sharp‘s “Cluny Brown” made her debut; and of course Agatha Christie was as prolific as ever with no less than three works (one of which was under her pen-name of Mary Westmacott). In fact, crime fiction features strongly on lists of books from 1944, and maybe the format, with a crime being committed and all being put to rights at the end, was something that appealed to readers in times of conflict.

In fact, there are a number of Persephones which were published in 1944 (which I found out thanks to Simon’s excellent post about them!) and I’ve read one and own another. I *would* like to read the Mollie Panter-Downes stories, as I loved her “One Fine Day”, but I don’t know if time will be on my side…

I have a few books in mind for this week, as well as a guest post, and it will be fascinating to see what works people choose to read and write about. As usual, I’ll have a dedicated page on the blog where I’ll gather up as many links to everyone’s 1944 posts as I can – so don’t forget to leave a comment so I know what you’ve said and where it is! Simon will no doubt be having a post that does the same and so between us we can hopefully make sure everyone is featured.

So do feel free to join in with the #1944Club – there are some interesting and varied books to be read from that year, and I’m looking forward to everyone’s thoughts!

The dilemmas of bibliophiles through the ages… @BL_Publishing @shedworking

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Shelf Life by Alex Johnson

British Library Publishing have been rather spoiling me recently with unexpected review books; “The Pocket Detective” was an unexpected treat, and another perfect-for-me volume popped through the letter box recently in the form of “Shelf Life”. An anthology of writings about books and reading collected and annotated by Alex Johnson, it contains some real gems from a dazzling array of illustrious writers.

If you love books, you most likely also love books about books, and so this is going to be an essential collection for you. It not only covers the reasons for reading, the pleasures and benefits it brings, and the dangers of not reading enough, but also spreads its net wider. So we consider the problems of physically housing a library (a subject familiar to all bibliophiles); the dangers of letting children near your treasured volumes; and, lawks a-mercy, the difficulty of destroying them (excuse me while I have an attack of vapours….) Although I jest a little; I know that charity shops have been swamped by donations of vast amounts of unwanted “50 Shades…” books, so J.C. Squire does maybe have a point…

It isn’t all flippancy though; the rather grumpy Schopenhauer discusses the psychological implications of random, trivial reading (he’s obviously not a fan of chick-lit then, nor of Hegel it seems from his comments here…) He also urges caution in reading too much and not allowing yourself time to think about the book just read, encouraging giving yourself the mental space to assimilate the reading. Theodore Roosevelt warns against swamping one’s soul in the sea of vapidity which overwhelms him who reads only “the last new books”. And the book also includes what might perhaps the most famous essay on books, Walter Benjamin‘s “Unpacking My Library”, which I’d read before and which never fails to delight.

By Michael D Beckwith [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

One of the most absorbing of the essays is that of Gladstone (the famous British PM) who discusses the issues surrounding the construction of your personal library, and the vagaries of cataloguing, wrestling with the eternal problem facing the bibliophile of how and where to categorise and shelf those pesky volumes – proving that nothing changes in the world of books! Intriguingly, while I was reading this particular part of the book, I invested half an hour in a somewhat lightweight but occasionally diverting little series on BBC2, “Monkman and Seagull’s Genius Guide To Britain“; in a strange case of serendipity, during the episode I watched the brainy pair visited Gladstone’s personal library which I’d just read about, and it was lovely to actually see the place. It’s housed in a building which also offers hotel rooms, so that you can stay overnight and look at the books – heaven! 🙂

Needless to say, “Shelf Life” is packed to the gills with gems and I could have quoted half of it. However, I’ll share a few of my favourite lines with you:

Charles Lamb on the condition of library books: How they speak of the thousand thumbs, that have turned over their pages with delight!

Theodore Roosevelt on how a reader’s choice of book may reflect their state of mind: If he does not care for Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Sebastopol, and The Cossacks he misses much; but if he cares for The Kreutzer Sonata he had better make up his mind that for pathological reasons he will be wise thereafter to avoid Tolstoy entirely. Tolstoy is an interesting and stimulating writer, but an exceedingly unsafe moral adviser.

Gladstone on the importance of classic works: Books require no eulogy from me; none could be permitted me, when they already drawn their testimonials from Cicero and Macaulay. But books are the voices of the dead. They are a main instrument of communion with the vast human procession of the other world. They are the allies of the thought of man… In a room well filled with them, no one has felt or can feel solitary.

“Shelf Life” is a real delight of a book. Johnson, who has a number of blogs (including a very interesting looking one all about bookshelves!), clearly knows his stuff and the selection of essays here is wonderfully varied, entertaining and fascinating. I mentioned the dreaded C-word recently when I blogged about “The Pocket Detective” and I fear that “Shelf Life” is another essential potential gift for the book lover in your life. And, hey – it will add to your pile of books about books so that you’ll have the perfect solution to one aspect of shelving your books by having to give them a dedicated space of their own! 🙂

The background to a seminal myth @BodPublishing #frankenstein

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The Making of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Daisy Hay

Although 2018 is being touted as the centenary of the end of the First World War, this year also sees a very notable bicentenary – that of the publication of Mary Shelley’s seminal work of Gothic literature, “Frankenstein”, which was of course first published in 1818. There have been a number of new publications to mark that anniversary, but Bodleian Library Publishing have rather taken the prize, in my view, with a beautifully produced and thought-provoking volume which takes a look at the genesis of Shelley’s great work.

Mary Shelley, of course, came from literary stock: her mother was the great feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and her father was author William Godwin. Tragically, Mary junior’s mother died after giving birth to her, an event which informed the daughter’s life and work. And indeed, Mary Shelley’s life was anything but tranquil and dull, being punctuated by regular drama and tragedy. The loss of her children by miscarriage or death and the drowning of her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, informed her life and work; she was indeed a remarkably strong woman to survive such blows.

Daisy Hay’s excellent book takes a look at the forces that formed the Frankenstein myth, and pivotal to that is the fact that it is a mythology of birth; a weird sort of birth, at that, with a creature constructed rather than born naturally, but still it is a birth. Hay’s five chapters focus on different angles of that genesis, taking in Time, People, Place, Paper and Relic to delve into what caused Shelley to write her book. Certainly, the context is vital to understanding why “Frankenstein” is what it is, and Hay does a wonderful job of placing Mary Shelley firmly into her landscape, with the events of the first French Revolution still fresh in people’s minds; as well as showing the maelstrom of scientific experimentation and discovery that was taking place.

“Frankenstein” in its turn constructs an allegory for the French Revolution in which first the potential and then the vainglorious corruption of Revolutionary ambition is laid bare. The novel reacts too to the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution, and to its unlooked-for impact on labouring communities.

The people in Mary’s life were of course important to the development of the book. Being surrounded by Percy, Lord Byron, John Polidori et al, in creative and atmospheric settings, is going to stimulate the brain. It’s clear from Hay’s writing here that it was a complex interaction of external forces (world events, inventions, science) and internal (family) dynamics which formed the final story. She also clearly delineates the effects of childbearing and loss on the narrative, and it’s hardly surprising that Shelley ended up creating a birth myth like no other.

Hay takes things further by exploring the manuscripts left behind; not only of “Frankenstein” itself, but letters, diaries and works of art, all of which tell their own story, adding to the greater tale. Poignantly, we also see images of the relics Mary kept during her life: locks of hair from Shelley and their son, as well as her own; Shelley’s watch and seals; and his pen. These bring home the reality of what she lost, and although she lived on to produce more work, she felt more in touch with the past than the future, leaving her legacy to be taken care of by her loving daughter-in-law, Jane Shelley.

“Making….” is of course a beautifully produced book, lavishly stuffed with colour pictures on glossy paper, which I’ve come to expect from Bodleian. Many of the striking images are drawn from the Bodleian Library’s extensive collections and they enhance the narrative wonderfully, bringing Mary and the story of her creation to life. However, the narrative itself is fascinating and erudite, and I found it really enhanced my understanding of the achievements of the book as well as its meaning. I read “Frankenstein” back in the day, as well as Stoker’s “Dracula” and was struck by just how powerful and damn good the books were. Up until that time I’d known them through Hollywood cliché; well, the book is always better and that was certainly the case with these too. The excitement and suspense, as well as the exploration of ideas, with which these books were filled was miles away from Karloff and co.

Mary Shelley was a fascinating, inspiring woman, and her work left an immense, influential and lasting legacy. As Hay reminds us, the word ‘Frankenstein’ is in common currency, used for everything from Cold War symbolism to GM crops. The mainstream popular imagery surrounding her most famous book doesn’t do it justice, and “Making..” has made me not only keen to reread “Frankenstein” but also to explore Shelley’s life and work further; fortunately, as you can see from the image above, I have just the books on my shelves to do that…

(Review copy kindly supplied by Bodleian Library Publishing, for which many thanks)

#1944club – one week and counting… :)

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Just a little reminder that in a week’s time, Simon at Stuck in a Book and I will be launching the #1944club! As with our previous reading weeks, we’ll be encouraging you all to read, explore, share and write about books from a particular years, and 1944 is the one in question.

Things kick off on Monday 15th October, and I have to confess that I’ve already started reading up in advance of the launch (I think Simon has too!) It’s an intriguing year, and I can’t wait to hear about what everyone’s reading. So do join in and share your #1944club reads – either here or at Simon’s blog. It should be great fun! 🙂

Christmas comes early to the Ramblings! @BL_Publishing #BLCC #thepocketdetective

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Normally I’m one of those people who get a bit scratchy about the rampant commercialism in the shops, and the fact that Christmas items start sneaking onto the shelves as early as September; however, an unexpected arrival at the Ramblings courtesy of the wonderful peeps at British Library Publishing set me thinking about festive gifts, and I have to say it will be the ideal thing for anyone who loves Golden Age crime!

This is it – “The Pocket Detective”, compiled by Kate Jackson:

And great fun it is too! I was in the BL earlier in the year with my BFF J.; we’re both fans of the Crime Classics and were investigating the shop while visiting the place, and I’m pretty sure there was a poster up advertising this little book. It wasn’t available yet, but I imagine is being launched for the Christmas market, for which it’s of course perfect. It’s a fairly safe bet that fans of GA crime are also going to like puzzles (as the latter is a major element of the genre) and “The Pocket Detective” is stuffed with them.

There are crosswords; word searches; cross out the word; odd ones out; missing vowels; really, every kind of word-based puzzle you could imagine. Those would be treat enough, but the book goes a little further with a section about 30 pages long featuring colour visual puzzles. These are drawn from the wonderful cover images of the Crime Classics which have been tweaked or distorted so you have to spot the differences or identify which book the image is from. Great fun!

Although the focus is naturally on the books the BL publish, the riddles aren’t restricted to just those. In fact, they cover all manner of classic crime, and I was pleased to find that I sailed through several of the Agatha Christie-themed tests! (Well – I have been reading her work since I was about 12!) Sayers is there too, as well as the newly rediscovered names from the Crime Classics, and it’s fun to pit yourself against the compiler’s ingenious conundrums. Jackson blogs about classic crime fiction at Cross Examining Crime, and she obviously knowns her stuff!

Obviously, “The Pocket Detective” is the perfect gift; either for the reader of crime in your life, or just yourself! I can imagine that it would be the ideal thing to occupy yourself with while everyone else is sleeping off Christmas lunch – or in fact at any other time of the day. It’s ideal as the darker nights draw in, and I can see it keeping me very busy (and distracting me from actual reading) over forthcoming weeks. Do yourself a favour – add it to your Christmas wishlist… 😉

Penguin Moderns 15 and 16 – Luscious prose and evocative journalism

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I haven’t left it too long between pairs of Penguins this time, possibly because I was particularly keen on reading one of them, and possibly because I felt the need of something brief after a fascinating but dense doorstop of a Russian book. So without further ado:

Penguin Modern 15 – Daydream and Drunkenness of a Young Lady by Clarice Lispector

Lispector needs no introduction, I’m sure, to readers of the Ramblings. I’ve written about her before here, and although I’ve only read the one work by this celebrated Brazilian author, it was memorable and stunning and I’ve always meant to read more. So this Penguin Modern, with three short pieces, was an ideal way to ease back into Lispector’s work.

Rio de Janeiro – Estátua da escritora Clarice Lispector e seu cão Ulisses no Leme. (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil) via Wikimedia Commons

The book contains three stories – the title one, “Love” and “Family Ties“. All concern women’s lives, all are beautifully written, and all are utterly memorable. The first story is that of a young lady who indeed daydreams and gets drunk. Her husband and children almost seem incidental; instead she lives in a haze, detached and somewhat alienated from her family, only really moved by a glamorous rival when she’s out drinking with her husband and a business client. “Love” tells of Ana, another married woman with children; stuck in a passive, content routine, an unusual chance encounter on a tram shakes her out of her complacency and threatens her everyday existence.

She had pacified life so well, taken such care for it not to explode. She had kept it all in serene comprehension, separated each person from the rest, clothes were clearly made to be worn and you could choose the evening movie from the newspaper – everything wrought in such a way that one day followed another. And a blind man chewing gum was shattering it all to pieces. And through this compassion there appeared to Ana a life full of sweet nausea, rising to her mouth.

Family Ties” in particular is a triumph; the central female character, Catarina, is seen in relation to her mother, her husband and her son, all of whom have different views of her and depend on her in different ways. Once again a seemingly happy existence is not what it seems, and Lispector dissects human relationships with frightening precision, laying bare in a few sentences the tenuous nature of love and life.

There was no escape… And there was no way not to look at it. What was she ashamed of? That it was no longer compassion, it wasn’t just compassion: her heart had filled with the worst desire to live.

This was a stunning addition to the Penguin Moderns series; Lispector is such a wonderful writer, and each hypnotic story lingered in the mind after. The language is often gorgeous, and I’m left wondering why I’ve left it so long to go back to Lispector’s work. After all, I think I might well have her complete stories lurking somewhere… 🙂

Penguin Modern 16 – An Advertisement for Toothpaste by Ryszard Kapuscinski

In complete contrast to book 15, Penguin Modern 16 is a collection of short journalistic pieces by Polish author Ryszard Kapuscinski, who was known also for poetry and photography. The four pieces collected in this book are all set in post-War Poland, a country that seems as far away and exotic as any distant regime.

By Mariusz Kubik, http://www.mariuszkubik.pl (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The title story sees the author visiting a small village dance, where future marriages will be decided; “Danka” tells of temptation and a clash between modernity and old-style religion; “The Taking of Ezbieta” is a striking piece which relates the effect on the parents when their only daughter is seduced into taking the veil; and in the final story, “The Stiff“, Kapuscinski joins a group taking the coffin of a miner back to his family.

That woman and that man did not have much of a life, although they gave it their lungs and their heart. After that, they tried to fight. But when solitary people try to fight for their cause, it is only at that moment when they naively forget that right must yield to might. In the end, that moment always passes. And what’s left is what’s left.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this particular PM, but I don’t think I anticipated such striking, evocative and memorable pieces. The post-War Poland which Kapuscinski captures is indeed a strange place, struggling to move into modernity but hampered by the superstitions and beliefs of the past. Some of the conditions seem incredibly primitive for the 20th century, as if the little villages and towns had been missed by progress and lost in time. Kapuscinski’s writing is clever and at times sharp; his anger, for example, at the grievous hurt done to her parents by Elzbieta and the nuns is not far below the surface. Another excellent addition to this collection and another author I want to explore more of!

*****

I was really impressed with this pair of PMs and made an interesting discovery when I was looking up Kapuscinski online; one of the titles of his books sounded familiar, and when I went and had a dig in the stacks, I did indeed own it – a gift from youngest child some Christmases ago!

It sounds absolutely fascinating, and chimes in a little with my mindset at the moment. So hopefully that one will be coming off the stacks soon too! 🙂

Rediscovered Russian modernism @ShinyNewBooks

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I wanted to share with you my latest review over at Shiny New Books; I seem to have developed a reputation as their Russian specialist, as once again I’m considering a lost classic from that country!

Tynianov’s book is an intriguing one which doesn’t seem to have been fully translated in the past. A historical novel, which tells of the death of the famous Russian writer Griboyedov, it’s a complex and multilayered book. I *did* have some reservations, particularly about the lack of notation and supporting material, but nevertheless it’s an interesting read. You can check out my full review over on Shiny!

“The burden of knowing” #TwoMinutesToMidnight #armageddon

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Gods of Metal by Eric Schlosser

Have gone to the trouble of ransacking the shelves to find the Eric Schlosser book I own (see my post here!) I felt it was only fair to actually *read* the book reasonably soon, particularly as it’s been languishing on the shelves for over three years. The timing felt opportune after listening to Richard Clay’s stimulating programme on the nuclear threat, “Two Minutes to Midnight” (which I blogged about extensively) and I was in the right frame of mind for some hard facts. And Schlosser certainly provides those.

“Gods of Metal” was published in 2015 as a Penguin Special, alongside a new edition of John Hersey’s seminal “Hiroshima”, to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Schlosser is an investigative journalist, probably best known for “Fast Food Nation” (although “Two Minutes…” referenced his book “Command and Control” which also sounds fascinating); those journalistic skills are certainly on show here. “Gods…” explores the world of nuclear resistance in the USA through the Plowshares movement, and their actions are brave and terrifying in equal measure.

The fact that an eighty-two-year-old nun had broken into a high-security nuclear-weapons complex seemed unbelievable. But to some people familiar with the security arrangements at Y-12 the intrusion was the logical result of mismanagement that had plagued the facility for years.

In 2012, a small group of people broke into a high-security weapons complex in Tennessee; unfortunately, they gained access unimpeded; fortunately they were peaceful protesters. Schlosser relates the history of the Plowshares group, a movement inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker newspaper, and which has spawned dissenters over many decades. Their belief in peace and disarmament is paramount, and they’re willing to be jailed in the most shocking conditions for their cause. Schlosser follows the three protesters from the moment of their break-in to their eventual imprisonment and aftermath, whilst considering the state of nuclear control in the USA as well as the increasing arms race from developing countries. And it’s really scary stuff…

Little Boy [the bomb dropped on Hiroshima] – a crude and highly inefficient atomic bomb, designed in the 1940s with slide rules – contained about 140 pounds of weapons-grade uranium, and almost 99 per cent of it harmlessly blew apart as the bomb detonated. And, when that happened, two-thirds of the buildings in the city were destroyed and perhaps 80,000 civilians were killed. The amount of weapons-grade uranium needed to build a terrorist bomb with a similar explosive force could fit inside a small gym bag.

As Schlosser is at pains to point out, the nuclear threat comes not simply from a conflict (and a really big war is going to end up with Mutually Assured Destruction, so one would hope that the major powers are still trying to avoid this – although that wasn’t necessarily the case when this book was published). There is the fact that smaller countries are developing nuclear capability, but without necessarily the proper controls; and the more weapons there are, the higher the probability of an accident. Then there’s the ideal of a nuclear terrorist threat which is mind-bogglingly awful, and when you consider how relatively easy the carnage of 9/11 was, the concept doesn’t seem so unlikely.

By Lgmelby [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

But possibly the likeliest threat (and this was highlighted in “Two Minutes…” as well) is from incompetence or accident. As Schlosser reveals, the various nuclear sites are run by a series of commercial agencies (G4S at one point, FFS!!!) and these are shown again and again to be totally motivated by money and to be failing the most basic security tests. What is particularly terrifying is the ease with which the Plowshares activists gained access to the sites; the security was abysmal and had they wanted to actual take drastic action, they really could have.

For nearly forty minutes, I stood on the shoulder of a dirt road within throwing distance of a Minuteman complex. I didn’t see another car on the road, let alone a security fence with guns drawn. The short-grass prairie that stretched before me was windswept, gorgeous, dotted with small homes. You would never think that hidden beneath this rural American idyll, out of sight, out of mind, were scores of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Just yards away from my rental car, sitting not far below my feet, there was a thermonuclear warhead about twenty times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, all set and ready to go. The only sound was the sound of the wind.

“Gods of Metal” (the phrase is how the activists refer to the missiles) is a stunning mixture of the factual and the personal, which makes it particularly compelling and very affecting. Schlosser writes beautifully, and whatever you might think of the Plowshares activities and beliefs, you can’t help but admire their commitment to their convictions and their willingness to go to jail for them. And Schlosser’s slim book (120 pages) packs a real heft (I wonder if it’s perhaps “Command and Control”-lite, and whether I need to explore that book too…) The facts are stark and Schlosser’s warning of the real danger we live with every day is chilling. After listening to “Two Minutes to Midnight” (which will still be here on the iPlayer for a little longer) I was convinced we were walking around with blinkers on; I’m even more convinced of that fact after finishing “Gods of Metal” and I can see why it was released alongside “Hiroshima” (kudos to Penguin Books for that). It’s a worthy companion piece to that work, and it’s about time that more people read these works and started paying attention to what’s going on in the world around them.

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