Random book recommendations

Read recently though I’ve no time/inclination to give them all separate blog posts — there’s a spy theme to all three, though…:

  • Canaris: The Life and Death of Hitler’s Spymaster by Michael Mueller — I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the story of Wilhelm Canaris, a hyperpatriotic German sailor who ended up running military intelligence during the Nazi regime, but who eventually schemed against said regime and ended up being among the last high profile prisoners condemned by Hitler in early April 1945. That said, this book is both informative and maddeningly opaque — Mueller is upfront in the introduction regarding Canaris’s inclination to give little away on the personal front, understandable given his line of work, while he’s also very clear that there’s almost no way you can judge Canaris either as a fanatical Nazi or a saintly resistance member, as he was neither. Some good information regardless but not the best read in the end, more’s the pity.
  • Elizabeth’s Spy Master by Robert Hutchinson — from one archschemer to another, arguably. But Francis Walsingham was anything but someone trying to undermine his own government; he was doing his best at all times to make sure it wasn’t undermined. As a study of a government and society under pressure — a combination both of outside threats and inside paranoia — Hutchinson does a better job in giving more of a portrait of Walsingham than Mueller does with Canaris; then again it’s also true that Mueller’s approach is a little more formally scholarly while Hutchinson, though no less scholarly (the bibliography alone is an impressive collection of original materials), aims at a more popular audience to good effect. Still, overall I prefer a study from another side entirely, Alice Hogge’s God’s Secret Agents, in terms of contemplating the contrasts and the similarities between then and now, at least from a specifically English standpoint.
  • The Great Game: On Secret Service in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk (since redone in a couple of editions and other overlapping texts, but this is the one I read here at the library so hey). Read this some months back and meant to say more about it in a detailed post; for now I’ll just say that while this edition is a little outdated — Hopkirk makes mention of a variety of Russian archives unavailable at the time which were opened up to researchers, at least for a while, in the 1990s — the whole thing is a pretty amazing story of power politics writ large over the landscape of steppes, desert and mountains that’s Central Asia. I wanted to find out more about the Great Game as such and damned if I didn’t find out. More recent studies by Hopkirk or others always appreciated if there’s something specific to recommend (personally I’d be up for a study of the process strictly through the eyes of the people who were being conquered…)
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