Steve Earles’ Book Reviews – April/May 2012 edition

By Steve Earles

Another edition of thought-provoking book reviews from our Irish based correspondent Steve Earles. Please enjoy!

Siege Malta 1940-1943
By Ernle Bradford

Pen & Sword Books have a richly deserved reputation as publishing company of distinction, and Siege Malta perfectly compliments their fine catalogue of books.

Situated between Europe and Africa, Malta was a vital supply base in the Allied campaigns against Germany, Italy and Rommel’s Afrika Korps. It’s worth remembering that the siege of Malta went on for three years, one of the longest in history. While this would be a special story in the hands of any author, what makes this book special is that Ernle Bradford served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, with great courage and distinction. Moreover, after the War ended, he actually based himself in the Mediterranean and displays a love of Malta and its brave people far from the pen of any dry academic. Well researched and engaging at all those of us who value human courage (a cursory glance at the news, will tell you it’s an all too rare and precious commodity today), I found it as moving as it is informative.
(Pen & Sword Books Limited)

Shadow of the Sultan’s Realm
By Daniel Allen Butler

The Sultan’s realm in this fine well wrought book is The Ottoman Empire. This empire lasted for over seven centuries and stretched across three continents. At it’s peak, it produced innovations in literature, science, warfare, and architecture. When the empire collapse, its fall redrew the map of the world, changed the course of history, and it’s ramifications continue to effect the world to this day.

Daniel Allen Butler’s book tells the story of empire’s dissolution in the chaos of The Great War. We know if the battles it was involved in, Kut, Gallipoli, and Beersheba. The people who inhabitant Butler’s book have become legends in their own right. The ambition-driven patriot Enver Bey, T.E. Lawrence, known worldwide as the legendary Lawrence of Arabia thanks to the classic film of the same name starring Peter O’Toole (something of a legend in my part of the world himself!), who led an irregular war against the Turks. Aaron Aaronsohn, the Jewish botanist turned spy. David Lloyd George, who displayed as much integrity dealing with the Ottoman Empire as he did ‘aiding’ the White Russians against their fight against the Red Terror of the Bolsheviks. Winston Churchill, the man with the vision, whose plan for the Gallipoli campaign would have been a masterstroke of the Great War, had he been allowed to implement it as he saw it. Churchill would have his hands tied more than once in this period.

Following Lenin’s October Revolution, it was Churchill, not the self-serving Lloyd George, who saw the evil of the Bolsheviks and their anti-democratic Red Terror. It was Churchill who gave his all to the fight to free Russia from them, and the tragedy of the 20th century that this great man did not achieve his noble aim. And of course, most importantly of all, Mustafa Kemal, who would earn the name Ataturk, and go down in history.

Not only did I enjoy this book for its historical relevance, but also for its current relevance.
(Potomac Books)

An Introduction to the Psychology of Paranormal Belief and Experience
By Tony Jinks

In these dark times of recession, war, (and EMO!), more and more people are reporting seeing such phenomena as UFOS, ghosts, and angels. These topics will divide people into those who believe, (who think that those who don’t are blind), and those that don’t believe (who think that those who don’t are mad!).

What Tony Jinks (who is a lecturers at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, where he teaches neuroscience and paranormal studies to psychology students) does is to take an educated, fair-minded look at the reasons for people seeing these things. I found it a refreshing and informative read.
(McFarland & Company, Inc)

The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses
By Paul Koudounaris

It’s fair to say that all of us here love heavy metal, we really do, and so do you, or you wouldn’t be here reading this. As well as the music we love our album covers, whether it’s technicolour madness of Derek Riggs’ renderings or Iron Maiden’s mascot Eddie, or the Hieronymous Bosch inspired madness of Cathedral’s Dave Pratchett, we love the artwork, and death and skulls are a huge part of it. Indeed, this book was very well-received by Britain’s top metal magazine Metal Hammer.

From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, human remains were an important part of the Christian religion’s cultural landscape. The fear of death we display in our insanely youth orientated 21st century did not exist then.

So, the book itself is a thing of beauty and joy forever, stick your e-books (e-books, there’s an new oxymoron!), a book is something you hold, care about and cherish. The photographs are incredible, honestly, this is one the best value books I’ve ever seen, if you bought it today, and you lived (which isn’t certain, as I see in this fine tome!) for another say, fifty years, you would still have the value of this splendid, timeless book.

Paul Koudounaris has a doctorate in Art History from the University of California and is an expert on the subjects of European ossuaries and charnel houses, and it shows. He loves and understands his subject. And so will you when you read and, not just read, but absorb this on an emotional level. For all the petty differences between humanity are ultimately trivial. The one thing we all have in common is we all die. That is not a morbid thought, rather to me, it’s a cause for enjoying our lives as much as we can without hurting anyone else.

A stunning and inspirational book, if you buy one book this year, make it this one.
(Thames & Hudson Ltd)

Aleister Crowley: The Biography
By Tobias Churton

All heavy metal fans are aware of the name Aleister Crowley, his name and his ideas are is mention in songs everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Exhorder. Yet if you were to ask the same fans if they knew anything about Aleister Crowley, they would be stunned by the revelations in this book.

I have to say, I myself am quite knowledgeable on Aleister Crowley, I have written articles about him, read widely on him, and even done research for the fictional character based on Crowley that appears in Pat Mills and Olivier Ledroit’s fine graphic novel series Requiem, but even I was stunned by the breath of this book. Tobias has done himself and his art proud here, with a unique amount of unseen material and photos, but more! Tobias understands Crowley and gives his incredible life the nonjudgmental telling it deserves.

Aleister Crowley was born in 1875, to parents who belonged to a fanatical Christian sect called The Plymouth Brethren, it could be said that Aleister’s character was formed as a reaction to this. The only book he was allowed to read as a child was the Bible. Aleister could to the very end quote any part of the bible (this is well assayed in Bruce Dickinson [yes, of Iron Maiden] and Julian Doyle [who has worked with Terry Gilliam and Monty Python]’s splendid film The Chemical Wedding, in which Simon Callow, one of England’s foremost actors and Dickinsian scholar gives a wonderful portrayal of Aleister). Crowley was particularly taken with the Book of Revelations, and his mother took to calling him The Beast. A name he was quite taken with and adopted.

As an adult, Crowley inherited a fair amount of money and proceeded to explore such diverse field as mountain climbing (he was an outstanding mountaineer), sex (he was born out of time, the 60s would have loved Crowley, and indeed, it is through John Lennon having Crowley’s image on the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club album that interest in The Great Beast grew anew.), literature, drugs and of course philosophy and magic. He also worked as a spy for the British in both world wars , indeed Crowley was friends with Robert Bruce Lockhart, a British agent, who, with Sidney Reilly the ‘Ace of Spies’, plotted the overthrow of Lenin and Trotsky [the Beast was not involved in that one! Perhaps if he had been, it might have worked]. Crowley also knew Dennis Wheatley (whom he liked and provided the inspiration for the character of Morcata in The Devil Rides Out, made into a fine film by Hammer in the 60s, with a script from Richard Matheson and with the legendary Sir Christopher Lee as the Duc De Richlieu and Charles Gray as Morcata). He knew Irish poet and patriot WB Yeats too, but they loathed each other!

Most importantly of all, Alestier is known for his revelation : “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of law.” This does not mean you should do whatever you want, if means you should discover your own individual true will and purpose, if you find it and pursue it, you will be successful in it. Crowley believed all humanity’s miseries were as result of pursuing things that were meaningless, miserable and wrong for the individual.

Honestly, this book is marvelous, and Crowley himself would be pleased at Tobias’s work; he has even had access to the Crowley family’s relationships and papers.

I can’t recommend this book enough, if you already have an interest in Crowley this will be the book of the year (or even decade to you). If you have not previously read about Crowley, and my piece has whetted you appetite, this is the place to start (and it is so good, you could actually finish here too), Yes, if you only ever read one book on this incredible man, a man who’s time has surely come in the 21st century, make it this one.

Please check Tobias’ website for more information on both him (he’s quite an interesting fellow in his own right) and his work.
(Duncan Baird Publishers Incorporating Watkins Publishing)

The Devil Is A Gentleman
By Phil Baker

The perfect compliment to Tobias Churton’s fine Aleister Crowley biography. Crowley and Wheatley actually knew each other, and Crowley was a great inspiration on Wheatley’s work. When I was a child I was fascinated by Wheatley’s work, the lurid covers with devils and sexy ladies had a profound effect on my young self. Later I would read the books and still love them to this day. My mother read many of Wheatley books when she was expecting me and perhaps that explains a lot! Wheatley knew how to spin a tale. Some aspects of his work have dated a little, but it’s up to the reader to be sensible here and simply accept, not what they are, but the times they were written in. What is important is, his books were about the battle of good and evil, and despite the devils and demons used to sell the books (definitely an influence on many the heavy metal band!), Wheatley was full-square on the side of the angels.

I was afraid, approaching this book, that Wheatley would not live up to his fictional work, but Baker presents a marvelous well rounded fellow, a product of his time, but a tremendously entertaining one.

Well researched and compelling told, I hope this book is the start of seeing a revival and reassessment of Wheatley’s fine body of work.
(Daedalus Publishing Ltd)

Atrocitology: Humanity’s 100 Deadliest Achievements
By Matthew White

In this terrifying and enthralling book, Matthew White takes stock of the bottomless well that is man’s inhumanity to man across the centuries of human history. From the First Punic War to the reign of Peter the Great and the terrible wars of the 20th century, this epic book measures the hundred most violent events in human history. Matthew has not formed any grand theory for the causes of human violence and cruelty, he does share three big (and remarkably thought-provoking) lessons. Which I will share with you now.

1). Chaos is more deadly than tyranny.
2). The world is even more disorganised than we realise.
3). Wars kill more civilians than soldiers (in fact, the army is usually the safest place to be)

His research is impeccable and he writes with great strength and Oliver Cromwell’s genocidal invasion of my native Ireland, an event we still remember to this day, and still curse Cromwell’s name for, is covered in appropriate style. An Irishman would always notice if it wasn’t. He also covers one of my favourite periods of history, the Russian Civil War, and again, he does so in fine style. This war helped give rise to Stalin and he gets his own chapter, truly Stalin shows the banality of evil, that this ‘grey eminence’ should have killed and tortured and starved so many millions is bewildering.

But there is much more I didn’t know, so many other terrible events covered, and that made this a very thought-provoking book, for I realised this further important truth, We are all capable of the events in this book if we do not police not only each other but the darkness that lies within us. Regardless of race, colour, creed, we are all capable of the worst acts of inhumanity to man. We all have the potential for great evil as well as good, and it’s the evil we should watch out for while nurturing the good.

Read this and the next time you embark on some small petty act of meanness or cruelty, think again. From little acorns of cruelty… monstrous things can grow if left unchecked by us ourselves.
(Canongate Books)

Sean is the founder/publisher of; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.