The Oldie - - HISTORY -

MADELEINE AL­BRIGHT Wil­liam Collins, 304pp, £16.99, Oldie price £13.76 inc p&p

Re­tired politi­cians, such as the US Sec­re­tary of State un­der Bill Clin­ton, should not write his­tory books un­less they know what they are talk­ing about. This was the gist of a scathing re­view by the Cam­bridge his­to­rian Richard J Evans in the Guardian. ‘Lump­ing to­gether post-stal­in­ist dic­ta­tors such as Kim Jong-un and Ni­colás Maduro with rightwing na­tion­al­ists such as Vik­tor Or­bán and Vladimir Putin is not much help in un­der­stand­ing ei­ther the forces that brought them to power or the poli­cies they are im­ple­ment­ing,’ he wrote. ‘Al­bright seems to iden­tify fas­cism sim­ply with a hos­til­ity to democ­racy and a propen­sity to lie. There’s a vast lit­er­a­ture on its his­tory and pol­i­tics, but this might as well not ex­ist as far as she is con­cerned. For the Nazis, for ex­am­ple, she re­lies mainly on Alan Bul­lock’s bi­og­ra­phy of Hitler, pub­lished in 1952. Her ac­count of fas­cism’s his­tory is shot through with er­rors, great and small. Why does any of this mat­ter? If we fail to iden­tify how the threat to democ­racy op­er­ates or why it suc­ceeds in some places and not in oth­ers, we won’t be able to of­fer any ef­fec­tive op­po­si­tion to it.’

Other re­view­ers were more gen­er­ous. ‘If Mrs Al­bright’s learn­ing is to be ex­pected,’ wrote the Econ­o­mist’s anony­mous re­viewer, ‘her way with words is a happy sur­prise, as is her wis­dom about hu­man na­ture. Free of geopo­lit­i­cal jar­gon, her de­cep­tively sim­ple prose is sprin­kled with shrewd ob­ser­va­tions about the emo­tions that un­der­pin bad or wicked po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions.’ While he found that ‘much of the early chap­ters are stan­dard his­tory lessons’, JP O’mal­ley, in his re­view for the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent, pro­nounced the book an ‘ad­dic­tive and widely in­for­ma­tive read… at its most com­pelling when Al­bright ca­su­ally rec­ol­lects per­sonal de­tails of diplo­matic mis­sions…’

Kim Jong-un of North Ko­rea: dic­ta­tor

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