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Pik Smeet

Book Reviews: 'Heyday - the 1850s and the Dawn of the Global Age', & 'The Long Depression'

Heyday, Mayday

'Heyday: the 1850s and the Dawn of the Global Age', by Ben Wilson. (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £8.99)

This history covers the period from 1851 to 1862, from the Great Exhibition in London to the early part of the American Civil War. Britain was at the height of its power at this time, producing 70 percent of the world’s steel in 1851, for instance, and the book’s original hardback edition was subtitled ‘Britainand the making of the modern world’. But there were challenges to this pre-eminence, mainly from Germany and the USA.

Greece: the Road to Bailoutistan

In his new book, Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe's Deep Establishment, Yanis Varoufakis sets out to portray himself as the political outsider who more than spoke truth to power: he stood up to power, and earned its scorn. He details his period as the Greek Minister of Finance as he tried to negotiate a write-down on Greece's unsustainable debt, and an end to the practice of extend and pretend: his characterisation of the previous two bailouts from the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (known collectively as the Troika) which gave Greece more debt, turned it into a debtor colony (he names it Bailoutistan), and pretended that it could ever hope to pay the debt back.

Mosul: the Horrors of War

In mid-July Mosul finally fell. After over a thousand days into the campaign against Islamic State, and after an urban battle that has lasted three months longer than the Battle of Stalingrad, the last stronghold of IS in Iraq was taken.

This was at enormous cost, Towards the end of the battle, reliable reports came in of over 100 children dying of starvation. Untold numbers of dead remain buried in the rubble of Mosul, one estimate is up to four thousand. As Airwars, an organisation tracking the effects of the wars in Iraq and Syria report:

'Thousands of Moslawis have credibly been reported killed since October 2016, with West Mosul in particular devastated. The Coalition alone says it fired 29,000 munitions into the city during the assault. Five times more civilians were reported killed in west Mosul versus the east of the city, Airwars tracking suggests – an indication of the ferocity of recent fighting' (

Dissing the Establishment

The resignation of the UK’s chief representative to the EU, Ivan Rogers, gives us an unusual glimpse into the inner workings of government.  His very public (if formally veiled) criticisms of government ministers goes against the normal practice of confidentiality and secrecy that lies at the heart of the relationship between civil servants and ministers.  This suggests not only a breakdown of the machinery of government, but also highlights the changes of the personnel in office, as well as the enormous difficulty of the choices facing politicians in charge of responding to the Brexit vote.

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