Ils ont fait tomber Mussolini

Il y a quelques années, durant un séjour à Rome, j’avais demandé à une guide de me faire visiter les principaux lieux d’intérêt reliés au dictateur Benito Mussolini. Parmi ceux-ci se trouvaient les Fosses adréatines, le Musée de la libération de Rome (lequel abritait le QG de la Gestapo à Rome vers la fin du conflit) et le Palais de Venise sur le balcon duquel le Duce annonça l’entrée en guerre de l’Italie le 10 juin 1940. Durant toute la journée, la guide ne cessa de me répéter que les Italiens n’étaient pas entichés des Nazis et qu’il fallait faire la distinction entre les deux.

Les séides de Mussolini affichaient manifestement des différences frappantes avec la horde brune qui gravitait autour d’Hitler à Berlin. Le dernier livre de l’historien Frédéric Le Moal Les hommes de Mussolini (Perrin) offre aux lecteurs la possibilité de découvrir ou mieux connaître ces hommes (il n’y avait aucune femme dans le groupe) qui ont accompagné Mussolini sur son parcours.

Continue reading “Ils ont fait tomber Mussolini”

Volodymyr Zelensky is in a league of his own

Author Lisa Rogak (HarperCollins India)

Last September, I took tremendous pleasure reviewing the insightful book Volodymyr Zelensky in His Own Words (Pegasus Books)by Lisa Rogak and Daisy Gibbons. Despite a hectic schedule, notably due to the deadline of an upcoming book, author Lisa Rogak was generous enough to answer a few questions for this blog. Here is the content of our exchange.

______

Ms. Rogak, where did the idea of your book about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyoriginate from?

After the invasion of Ukraine, I started digging into his background. I was curious about this guy who seemed to be a natural-born leader. The more I dug, the more impressed I was. And he was funny! Who knew? I’ve done a slew of these quote books, so I put together a proposal for one on VZ. My agent said I needed a translator to dig for interviews and articles in his native Ukraine. I found Daisy Gibbons, who lives in London, and we quickly found a publisher, Pegasus Books.

Continue reading “Volodymyr Zelensky is in a league of his own”

The Indomitable Prisoners of Colditz

Since I was a kid, The Great Escape featuring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, and Richard Attenborough (in the role of the legendary Roger Bartlett – the legendary Roger Bushell in real life) has been one of my favorite movies. In 2015, when I lived in Poland, I visited the Stalag Luft III Prisoner Camp Museum in Zagan – 5 hours west of Warsaw. That memorable visit was a real pilgrimage in the footsteps of those gallant men who refused to remain behind German barbed wired.

I was therefore overjoyed to read bestselling author Ben Macintyre’s book Prisoners of the Castle: An Epic Story of Survival and Escape from Colditz, the Nazis’ Fortress Prison (Signal).

I often say that Ben Macintyre would find a way of making the history of the can of Coke enthralling. His book Rogue Heroes features among my very favorites. I, therefore, did not doubt that I was in for quite a treat when I opened Prisoners of the Castle. Even those high expectations were surpassed because the author brings the reader to a new understanding of the war experience.

Continue reading “The Indomitable Prisoners of Colditz”

Harry et Meghan sont lassants

Le prince Harry et le journaliste Anderson Cooper pour l’émission 60 Minutes (The Telegraph)

Le comte Jean des Cars est un historien et auteur réputé qui a consacré plusieurs ouvrages au sujet de la monarchie britannique. En 2022, j’ai eu le privilège de recenser son Pour la reine : Hommage à Elizabeth II ainsi que la réédition de la biographie Elizabeth II naturellement consacré à la souveraine. Les deux livres sont publiés chez Perrin.

Dans la foulée de ces recensions, M. des Cars a aimablement accepté de répondre à mes questions pour une première entrevue qui fut publiée sur ce blogue à la fin du mois de septembre dernier. J’ai de nouveau échangé avec cet auteur – qui est l’un des meilleurs spécialistes francophones des têtes couronnées – et qui fut le premier journaliste français reçu à Buckingham Palace par celui qui était à l’époque connu comme étant l’héritier de la Couronne, et ce, avant même son mariage avec Diana.

Tradition et innovation: Elizabeth II a réussi ce mariage fascinant!

Selon lui, « le décès d’Elizabeth II a été l’évènement le plus considérable de l’année 2022, notamment pour une raison que le public ignore souvent: elle fut le seul chef d’État en fonctions (de 1953 à 2022), qui avait vécu la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale. En 1939, elle avait…13 ans! Quand elle devient reine, Staline est toujours [au pouvoir] à Moscou! La longévité de la reine est extraordinaire. Nous ne reverrons jamais un tel « spectacle », notamment parce que la jeune souveraine avait compris, bien avant Churchill, le futur pouvoir de la télévision. Elle fut, dans bien des domaines, une pionnière. Tradition et innovation: elle a réussi ce mariage fascinant! »

Le décès de la bien-aimée souveraine, survenu le 8 septembre dernier, est naturellement venu changer la donne et marquait le début d’un nouveau chapitre dans l’histoire de la monarchie.

Continue reading “Harry et Meghan sont lassants”

The Harry and Meghan episode is worse than the abdication crisis

There are lots of parallels between Wallis Simpson and former King Edward VIII (left) and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (right) (Insider)

Few weeks ago, I reviewed Andrew Lownie’s enthralling and fascinating book Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor. The author – a disillusioned monarchist who believes in institution but feels let down by some members of it – generously accepted to answer a few questions for this blog. Below is the content of our discussion.

________

Mr. Lownie, while researching Traitor King, did you make any findings that surprised you?

Lots not least the extent of the Windsors’ dealings with the Nazis which can be found in documents, the knowledge that the Royal Family and Government had of their activities and the rather bizarre relationship the couple had and their bisexuality. Also, the degree of the attempted British cover up of his treachery.

Understandably, Winston Churchill is a frequent guest in the book. I might be wrong, but I didn’t get the sense that he became a tooth-and-nail opponent of the Duke of Windsor during the war. How would you describe the evolution of the relationship between the two men?

Churchill had been one of the Duke’s strongest supporters during the Abdication, mainly because of his romantic notion of the monarchy, but the scales fell when he saw the Duke’s duplicity over the financial settlement in 1937 and the disloyalty shown during the war when Churchill had to threaten him with court martial. The relationship then became more pragmatic with Churchill trying to find him a job after the war and suppressing the embarrassing captured German documents, but he refused to join a cruise when he learnt the Windsors would be present.

Continue reading “The Harry and Meghan episode is worse than the abdication crisis”

The Prince of Wales – Bouncer of the Monarchy

“‘I put my arm around my brother all our lives […], and I can’t do it any more. We’re separate entities’” Prince William once said about his relationship with his brother Prince Harry. With the release of the Netflix so-called documentary about the life of the Sussexes, media outlets report that the Prince of Wales will respond in a “swift and robust” manner to any unjust claim made by his brother and sister-in-law, whose second part will air tomorrow, December 15.

Anyone eager to know what kind of response Harry and Meghan might encounter from the principal members of the Royal family should immediately grab Robert Lacey’s enthralling and insightful book Battle of Brothers – The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult (Harper). Full disclosure, I received a review copy of this book more than a year ago. The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II prompted me to dive into it. I think the timing couldn’t be better, even though I know an updated version is available with new material.

Continue reading “The Prince of Wales – Bouncer of the Monarchy”

Le point de bascule de 1942

L’année 1942 aura toujours une signification particulière pour moi. Mon défunt père est né cette année-là, pendant la bataille de Stalingrad. Il m’a initié à la Seconde Guerre mondiale par une belle collection de livres à l’intérieur de laquelle je me suis plongé le nez très jeune. Dans leur magnifique livre 1942 (Passés / Composés), Cyril Azouvi et Julien Peltier m’ont permis de découvrir toute l’envergure et la signification de cette année « bissectrice de la guerre » pour reprendre l’expression citée et empruntée à l’historien français Henri Michel.

Pour revenir à Stalingrad, il ne devait suffire que « […] d’une seule journée pour réduire en cendres cette cité moderne et pluricentenaire » selon les plans établis par les hautes sphères allemandes. À la tête de troupes mal équipées par sa faute pour un combat hivernal, Hitler avait pourtant mal évalué le coriace adversaire qui revêtait l’uniforme du soldat soviétique et qui allait payer avec son sang les erreurs stratégiques commises par Staline au début de la guerre. Quant aux soldats portant le feldgrau, ils sortiront de la ville éponyme du dirigeant soviétique la gueule cassée et promis à une rude captivité après 6 mois et 22 jours d’une bataille dont la Wehrmacht ne parviendra pas à se relever.

Continue reading “Le point de bascule de 1942”

Boris Yeltsin and “The Crown”

Queen Elizabeth II and Russian President Boris Yeltsin (The Telegraph)

I’m watching every episode of The Crown, not only because of my love and appreciation of the monarchy in all its complexity but mainly for its entertainment value. For obvious reasons, I never take the content of the series at face value since there are many aspects which differ from reality.

Nevertheless, episode 6 of The Crown’s Season 5, titled “Ipatiev House”, brought many questions to my mind. For one, Russian President Boris Yeltsin never went to Buckingham Palace to meet Queen Elizabeth II, which makes the whole diatribe in which he insulted the Queen in Russian fictitious and potentially misleading for anyone believing that the series is an accurate portrayal of reality.

I therefore decided to ask Sir Rodric Braithwaite, Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Moscow between 1988 and 1992 and the author of an excellent recent book about the history of Russia, to shed some light on the relationship between the Crown and the two-headed eagle.

Continue reading “Boris Yeltsin and “The Crown””

Donald Trump was an unprincipled commander in chief

At the crest of the wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, I devoured retired Admiral William McRaven’s book Sea Stories, relishing its numerous anecdotes. One of them concerned Abu Ghadiya, a terrorist mastermind responsible for the highest number of American and Iraqi deaths, notably at the hands of suicide bombers. At a crucial moment, the US Army received intelligence on his whereabouts in Syria, giving them the possibility of neutralizing him. President George W. Bush’s approval was necessary to conduct the operation.

To make a fascinating story short, Admiral McRaven was tasked with briefing President George W. Bush about the sensitive mission. During the briefing, the commander-in-chief, who didn’t have a strong reputation as an intellectual or a man of detail, asked a very pointed question about the ordnance proposed to conduct the mission. “He was so well versed on the missions and the nomenclature of the specific ordnance that he understood that using a precision-guided five-hundred-pound GBU-31 was in fact the right munition for the job. I was momentarily taken aback by the question.”

In Countdown bin Laden, Chris Wallace says much the same about President Barack Obama during the quest to neutralize Osama bin Laden. “He was a president who carefully analyzed everything before making a decision”, observed the veteran journalist.

Unsurprisingly, things took a turn for the worst when Donald Trump arrived in the Oval Office. In a very insightful – yet scary memoir – former Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper paints the portrait of “[…] an idiosyncratic, unpredictable, and unprincipled commander in chief” and a man as despicable as one can be.

Continue reading “Donald Trump was an unprincipled commander in chief”

The Source of JFK’s Greatness

For as long as I can remember, November 22 has always been a sobering date on my calendar. My late father, like many of his generation, revered John F. Kennedy. He owned several pieces of memorabilia. He also vividly remembered where he was and what he was doing on that fateful day when his favorite statesman tragically fell under the bullets. Before the Roosevelts, Truman, LBJ, Reagan and both Presidents Bush – commanders in chief for whom I have tons of admiration – JFK was the first one who piqued my intellectual curiosity.

I cannot proclaim that I have read every book regarding the main figure of contemporary Camelot, but I always make a point of skimming the pages of as many as I can. Mark K. Updegrove is a presidential historian whose work I have always been interested in. I was, therefore, impatient to grab a copy of his recent book Incomparable Grace: JFK in the Presidency. I was expecting a good read because the author has an enthralling writing style. But I got much more than that.

Continue reading “The Source of JFK’s Greatness”