A travel book recommendation: Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum

A critic review (source Guardian) can be read at: http://bit.ly/2Dyhtc5.
It is grim but essential reading, and does much to explain the legacy of burning resentment in Ukraine, which led to the country’s clash with Vladimir Putin, a strongman seen by many as from the same mould as Stalin.
Book description from Google Books:
AN ECONOMIST BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag and the National Book Award finalist Iron Curtain, a revelatory history of one of Stalin’s greatest crimes–the consequences of which still resonate today In 1929 Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization–in effect a second Russian revolution–which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. At least five million people died between 1931 and 1933 in the USSR. But instead of sending relief the Soviet state made use of the catastrophe to rid itself of a political problem. In Red Famine, Anne Applebaum argues that more than three million of those dead were Ukrainians who perished not because they were accidental victims of a bad policy but because the state deliberately set out to kill them. Applebaum proves what has long been suspected: after a series of rebellions unsettled the province, Stalin set out to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry. The state sealed the republic’s borders and seized all available food. Starvation set in rapidly, and people ate anything: grass, tree bark, dogs, corpses. In some cases, they killed one another for food. Devastating and definitive, Red Famine captures the horror of ordinary people struggling to survive extraordinary evil. Today, Russia, the successor to the Soviet Union, has placed Ukrainian independence in its sights once more. Applebaum’s compulsively readable narrative recalls one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century, and shows how it may foreshadow a new threat to the political order in the twenty-first.
The book is rated 4.40/5 at goodreads.com, from 306 ratings. See 70 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2D4ktw3.
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A travel book recommendation: The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta by Kushanava Choudhury

A critic review (source Guardian) can be read at: http://bit.ly/2DrMXkt.
…The Epic City is a wonderful, beautifully written and even more beautifully observed love letter to Calcutta’s greatness: to its high culture, its music and film, its festivals, its people, its cuisine, its urban rhythms and, above all, to its rooted Bengaliness.
Book description from amazon.com:
Shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the YearA masterful and entirely fresh portrait of great hopes and dashed dreams in a mythical city from a major new literary voice.Everything that could possibly be wrong with a city was wrong with Calcutta.When Kushanava Choudhury arrived in New Jersey at the age of twelve, he had already migrated halfway around the world four times. After graduating from Princeton, he moved back to the world which his immigrant parents had abandoned, to a city built between a river and a swamp, where the moisture-drenched air swarms with mosquitos after sundown. Once the capital of the British Raj, and then India’s industrial and cultural hub, by 2001 Calcutta was clearly past its prime. Why, his relatives beseeched him, had he returned? Surely, he could have moved to Delhi, Bombay or Bangalore, where a new Golden Age of consumption was being born. Yet fifteen million people still lived in Calcutta. Working for the Statesman, its leading English newspaper, Kushanava Choudhury found the streets of his childhood unchanged by time. Shouting hawkers still overran the footpaths, fish-sellers squatted on bazaar floors; politics still meant barricades and bus burnings, while Communist ministers travelled in motorcades. Sifting through the chaos for the stories that never make the papers, Kushanava Choudhury paints a soulful, compelling portrait of the everyday lives that make Calcutta. Written with humanity, wit and insight, The Epic City is an unforgettable depiction of an era, and a city which is a world unto itself.
The book is rated 3.99/5 at goodreads.com, from 70 ratings. See 17 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2CUs2W0.
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A travel book recommendation: Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina

A critic review (source Guardian) can be read at: http://bit.ly/2CZlJAl.
Riot Days could so easily have been a straightforward, from-the-horse’s-mouth confessional account of one of the most publicised political protests of recent years. Alyokhina takes on a far greater challenge: creating a text that is not just a reflection on a piece of art, but becomes one itself…
Book description from Google Books:
A Pussy Rioter’s riveting, hallucinatory account of her years in Russia’s criminal system and of finding power in the most powerless of situationsIn February 2012, after smuggling an electric guitar into Moscow’s iconic central cathedral, Maria Alyokhina and other members of the radical collective Pussy Riot performed a provocative “Punk Prayer,” taking on the Orthodox church and its support for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.For this, they were charged with “organized hooliganism” and were tried while confined in a cage and guarded by Rottweilers. That trial and Alyokhina’s subsequent imprisonment became an international cause. For Alyokhina, her two-year sentence launched a bitter struggle against the Russian prison system and an iron-willed refusal to be deprived of her humanity. Teeming with protests and police, witnesses and cellmates, informers and interrogators, Riot Days gives voice to Alyokhina’s insistence on the right to say no, whether to a prison guard or to the president. Ultimately, this insistence delivers unprecedented victories for prisoners’ rights.Evocative, wry, laser-sharp, and laconically funny, Alyokhina’s account is studded with song lyrics, legal transcripts, and excerpts from her jail diary—dispatches from a young woman who has faced tyranny and returned with the proof that against all odds even one person can force its retreat.
The book is rated 4.03/5 at goodreads.com, from 203 ratings. See 68 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2D0HHmt.
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A travel book recommendation: Gorbachev: His Life and Times by William Taubman

A critic review (source The Economist) can be read at: http://econ.st/2DpGkis.
Yet, revealing as the book is about Mr Gorbachev’s ability to overcome ideological dogmas that required squaring up to the West, it is equally revealing about how Western leaders were unable or unwilling to believe him.
Book description from Google Books:
The definitive biography of the transformational world leader by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Khrushchev. When Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, the USSR was one of the world’s two superpowers. By 1989, his liberal policies of perestroika and glasnost had permanently transformed Soviet Communism, and had made enemies of radicals on the right and left. By 1990 he, more than anyone else, had ended the Cold War, and in 1991, after barely escaping from a coup attempt, he unintentionally presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union he had tried to save. In the first comprehensive biography of the final Soviet leader, William Taubman shows how a peasant boy became the Soviet system’s gravedigger, how he clambered to the top of a system designed to keep people like him down, how he found common ground with America’s arch-conservative president Ronald Reagan, and how he permitted the USSR and its East European empire to break apart without using force to preserve them. Throughout, Taubman portrays the many sides of Gorbachev’s unique character that, by Gorbachev’s own admission, make him “difficult to understand.” Was he in fact a truly great leader, or was he brought low in the end by his own shortcomings, as well as by the unyielding forces he faced? Drawing on interviews with Gorbachev himself, transcripts and documents from the Russian archives, and interviews with Kremlin aides and adversaries, as well as foreign leaders, Taubman’s intensely personal portrait extends to Gorbachev’s remarkable marriage to a woman he deeply loved, and to the family that they raised together. Nuanced and poignant, yet unsparing and honest, this sweeping account has all the amplitude of a great Russian novel.
The book is rated 4.23/5 at goodreads.com, from 137 ratings. See 34 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2DmwQnX.
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A travel book recommendation: The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn by Margaret Willes

A critic review (source The Economist) can be read at: http://econ.st/2DrDjOK.
Margaret Willes’s new book shows more clearly and more engagingly than most previous works how this friendship developed, and offers a vivid and subtle depiction of her subjects’ sensibilities.
Book description from Google Books:
An intimate portrait of two pivotal Restoration figures during one of the most dramatic periods of English history Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn are two of the most celebrated English diarists. They were also extraordinary men and close friends. This first full portrait of that friendship transforms our understanding of their times. Pepys was earthy and shrewd, while Evelyn was a genteel aesthete, but both were drawn to intellectual pursuits. Brought together by their work to alleviate the plight of sailors caught up in the Dutch wars, they shared an inexhaustible curiosity for life and for the exotic. Willes explores their mutual interests–diary-keeping, science, travel, and a love of books–and their divergent enthusiasms, Pepys for theater and music, Evelyn for horticulture and garden design. Through the richly documented lives of two remarkable men, Willes revisits the history of London and of England in an age of regicide, revolution, fire, and plague to reveal it also as a time of enthralling possibility.
The book is rated 3.69/5 at goodreads.com, from 16 ratings. See 9 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2CZraiT.
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A travel book recommendation: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

A critic review (source Guardian) can be read at: http://bit.ly/2CywB89.
Isaacson doesn’t claim to make any fresh discoveries, but his book is intelligently organised, simply written and beautifully illustrated, and it ends with a kind of mental gymnastics programme that suggests how we can learn from Leonardo…
Book description from Google Books:
The #1 New York Times bestseller “A powerful story of an exhilarating mind and life…a study in creativity: how to define it, how to achieve it.” —The New Yorker “Vigorous, insightful.” —The Washington Post “A masterpiece.” —San Francisco Chronicle “Luminous.” —The Daily Beast He was history’s most creative genius. What secrets can he teach us? The author of the acclaimed bestsellers Steve Jobs, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin brings Leonardo da Vinci to life in this exciting new biography.Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Walter Isaacson weaves a narrative that connects his art to his science. He shows how Leonardo’s genius was based on skills we can improve in ourselves, such as passionate curiosity, careful observation, and an imagination so playful that it flirted with fantasy. He produced the two most famous paintings in history, The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. But in his own mind, he was just as much a man of science and technology. With a passion that sometimes became obsessive, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry. His ability to stand at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences, made iconic by his drawing of Vitruvian Man, made him history’s most creative genius. His creativity, like that of other great innovators, came from having wide-ranging passions. He peeled flesh off the faces of cadavers, drew the muscles that move the lips, and then painted history’s most memorable smile. He explored the math of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea, and produced illusions of changing perspectives in The Last Supper. Isaacson also describes how Leonardo’s lifelong enthusiasm for staging theatrical productions informed his paintings and inventions. Leonardo’s delight at combining diverse passions remains the ultimate recipe for creativity. So, too, does his ease at being a bit of a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical. His life should remind us of the importance of instilling, both in ourselves and our children, not just received knowledge but a willingness to question it—to be imaginative and, like talented misfits and rebels in any era, to think different.
The book is rated 4.13/5 at goodreads.com, from 4363 ratings. See 417 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2C4GZoF.
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A travel book recommendation: Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now by Stuart Maconie

A critic review (source Guardian) can be read at: http://bit.ly/2C0PMI8.
…Maconie’s book is not only a heartfelt tribute to Wilkinson and the marchers, but a reaffirmation of the role of the personal within the political, and a rallying call for anyone stirred by the story of Jarrow.
Book description from Google Books:
Three and half weeks. Three hundred miles. I saw roaring arterial highway and silent lanes, candlelit cathedrals and angry men in bad pubs. The Britain of 1936 was a land of beef paste sandwiches and drill halls. Now we are nation of vaping and nail salons, pulled pork and salted caramel.In the autumn of 1936, some 200 men from the Tyneside town of Jarrow marched 300 miles to London in protest against the destruction of their towns and industries. Precisely 80 years on, Stuart Maconie, walks from north to south retracing the route of the emblematic Jarrow Crusade. Travelling down the country’s spine, Maconie moves through a land that is, in some ways, very much the same as the England of the 30s with its political turbulence, austerity, north/south divide, food banks and of course, football mania. Yet in other ways, it is completely unrecognisable. Maconie visits the great cities as well as the sleepy hamlets, quiet lanes and roaring motorways. He meets those with stories to tell and whose voices build a funny, complex and entertaining tale of Britain, then and now.
The book is rated 4.30/5 at goodreads.com, from 80 ratings. See 31 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2D5Ryaw.
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A travel book recommendation: Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry

A critic review (source Guardian) can be read at: http://bit.ly/2CSqiNC.
Nothing symbolised such failures better than the case of Okawa primary school, whose story is one of the engines powering this book, giving it the character of a finely conceived crime fiction or a psychological drama.
Book description from Google Books:
Named one of the best books of 2017 by The Guardian, NPR, GQ, The Economist, Bookforum, Amazon, and Lit HubThe definitive account of what happened, why, and above all how it felt, when catastrophe hit Japan—by the Japan correspondent of The Times (London) and author of People Who Eat DarknessOn March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of northeast Japan. By the time the sea retreated, more than eighteen thousand people had been crushed, burned to death, or drowned.It was Japan’s greatest single loss of life since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. It set off a national crisis and the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. And even after the immediate emergency had abated, the trauma of the disaster continued to express itself in bizarre and mysterious ways.Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, lived through the earthquake in Tokyo and spent six years reporting from the disaster zone. There he encountered stories of ghosts and hauntings, and met a priest who exorcised the spirits of the dead. And he found himself drawn back again and again to a village that had suffered the greatest loss of all, a community tormented by unbearable mysteries of its own. What really happened to the local children as they waited in the schoolyard in the moments before the tsunami? Why did their teachers not evacuate them to safety? And why was the unbearable truth being so stubbornly covered up?Ghosts of the Tsunami is a soon-to-be classic intimate account of an epic tragedy, told through the accounts of those who lived through it. It tells the story of how a nation faced a catastrophe, and the struggle to find consolation in the ruins.
The book is rated 4.32/5 at goodreads.com, from 473 ratings. See 88 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2CSrlNy.
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A travel book recommendation: Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe by Anne Applebaum

A critic review (source Washington Times) can be read at: http://bit.ly/2D4bASQ.
Anne Applebaum’s book is a valuable reminder of the devastation those wars wrought. Though it is beautifully written with brilliant vignettes, it also has cogent histories peppered with phrases such as “They lost everything”, “It was bombed,” “He was sent to Siberia.” It’s a pleasure to read and important to think about…
Book description from Google Books:
An extraordinary journey into the past and present of the lands east of Poland and west of Russia – an area defined throughout its history by colliding empires, and only now emerging from the clamp of Soviet rule. Traveling from the former Soviet naval center of Kaliningrad on the Baltic to the Black Sea port of Odessa, Anne Applebaum encounters a rich range of competing cultures, religions, and national aspirations as inhabitants of the borderlands attempt to build a future grounded in their ancestral legacies. In reasserting their heritage, neighbors often unearth old conflicts: in Vilnius, a Lithuanian professor charts a historical conspiracy against his language by the Poles, while his Polish neighbors rail against the Lithuanian determination to deny their ancient claims to the city. In Minsk, a young “post-modernist” couple, seeking a rallying point for Belarusian nationalism, piece together cultures and legends to create tradition where none is remembered, while another resident of the city devotes himself to recovering the Jewish culture that once predominated. Rich in surprising encounters and vivid characters, Between East and West brilliantly illuminates the soul of the borderlands and the shaping power of the past.
The book is rated 4.16/5 at goodreads.com, from 225 ratings. See 28 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2D8f5Y6.
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A travel book recommendation: Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North by Robert Ferguson

A critic review (source NY Times) can be read at: http://nyti.ms/2BXPKRo.
…it offers something rarer: an engaging, layered look into a culture complex enough both to produce stylish rain gear and to embrace the foul weather that necessitates it.
Book description from Google Books:
Scandinavia is the epitome of cool: we fill our homes with Nordic furniture; we envy their humane social welfare system and their healthy outdoor lifestyle; we glut ourselves on their crime fiction; even their strangely attractive melancholia seems to express a stoic, commonsensical acceptance of life’s vicissitudes. But how valid is this outsider’s view of Scandinavia, and how accurate our picture of life in Scandinavia today?Scandinavians follows a chronological progression across the Northern centuries: the Vendel era of Swedish prehistory; the age of the Vikings; the Christian conversions of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland; the unified Scandinavian state of the late Middle Ages; the sea-change of the Reformation; the kingdom of Denmark-Norway; King Gustav Adolphus and the age of Sweden’s greatness; the cultural golden age of Ibsen, Strindberg and Munch; the impact of the Second World War; Scandinavia’s postwar social democratic nirvana; and the terror attacks of Anders Behring Breivik.Scandinavians is also a personal investigation, with award-winning author Robert Ferguson as the ideal companion as he explores wide-ranging topics such as the power and mystique of Scandinavian women, from the Valkyries to the Vikings; from Nora and Hedda to Garbo and Bergman. This digressive technique is familiar from the writings of W. G. Sebald, and in Ferguson’s hands it is deployed with particular felicity, accessibility, and deftness, richly illuminating our understanding of modern Scandinavia, its society, politics, culture, and temperament.
The book is rated 3.60/5 at goodreads.com, from 85 ratings. See 13 reader reviews at: http://bit.ly/2D5VCaB.
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