The Last Days of Stalin. Not associated with the recent film, it's a sober account of the period before and after Stalin's death. It starts with the infamous "Doctor's Plot" where Stalin's regime manufactured an anti-semitic plot which purged many of the best doctors in Russia. It then moves on to Stalin's actual death, where people were too scared of him to investigate when he collapsed in private. It's not actually clear that he could have survived if he'd got medical assistance earlier, or if he hadn't got rid of all the doctors, but it couldn't have hurt.
The book then moves on to the way America and the other powers reacted to Stalin's death. The real tragedy is the way US officials in particular seem to have fundamentally misread the situation, believing that Stalin was somehow a moderating influence on "hardliners" rather than a aggressive paranoiac. as such they missed the chance to create friendlier relations with his successors. Eisenhauer's instincts seem to have been correct, but he didn't overrule his more hawkish advisors.
Overall, fairly interesting but not that revelatory.
What I'm Watching
Saw the black comedy The Death of Stalin which takes a farcical approach to the events. It plays more loosely with history, in particular accelerating the timetable of the political maneuverings so that they all happen in a few days rather than taking months and years to play out, and exaggerating some of the characters.
The movie is saved by some great performances. Simon Russell Beale does a suberb job as the sleazy psychopathic security chief Beria. (I saw him play a great Stalin on the stage once in "The Master and Margareta" Steve Buscemi is a fast-talking skinny Kruschev who becomes the hero by not being Stalin. Michael Palin is darkly brilliant as the ideologically obedient Molotiov.
A funny political film, worth watching.
What I'm Reading 2
In the Darkness by Luke Smitherd. Tight SF/Fantasy with an original premise: a man wakes up in a dark room which is the mind of a woman who he can communicate with as a voice in her head. The premise is expanded effectively and there's a surprisingly tight plot with a fair amount of tension. The romance subplot might feel a bit cheesy for some, but otherwise an original and effective book.
What I'm Reading 3
Churchill in the Trenches by Peter Apps. Short work (a Kindle Single) about Churchill's time in the trenches of WW1 as a commander after he was disgraced after the great failure at Gallipolli. Quite interesting: Churchill got a hostile reception at first but gradually won some respect for his willingness to go into the trenches and his charisma.
What's striking though is how easily at a whim he was able to return to the UK when he felt like it, and to attend some parliamentary debates and votes (he was still an MP). With his high level connections he seems to have been able to effectively operate outside the command structure: turning up when he wanted, wearing unorthodox uniform including a French helmet, and calling in additional artillery barrages when he wanted. He also tried to get extra luxuries, astounding solider by turning up with a second car loaded with accessories including a tin bath.
A fascinating digression, but I'm not sure it's quite as influential on Churchill as the author suggests.
Big relief: one of the waiting lists opened up and we were able to get an after-school-club place for the kid.
Work is very busy, we've massively underestimated the difficulty of this current work so I'm having to work some mornings and evenings to try to keep going.
Haven't been able to get much exercise as this nightmarish hayfever sets off asthma symptoms and I struggle to breathe. Hate the feeling of not getting enough oxygen which is so common now. Not sure what's happening with the running injuries as my lungs give out before my legs.
Generally not feeling too good.
Ethics of the study using leaked data showing Republicans more likely to use Ashley Madison adultery website. Spiders Can Fly Hundreds of Miles Using Electricity. Open plan workplaces have less face-to-face interaction. Div that looks different in every browser, pic.
Pics. Kerala churches.
Random. Denmark's rebel cakes.