Review: Shell-Shock: A History of the Changing Attitudes to War Neurosis by Anthony Babington

Shell-Shock: A History of the Changing Attitudes to War Neurosis [1997] – ★★★★

“…They broke his body and his mind/And yet They made him live,/And They asked more of My Mother’s Son/Than any man could give...” (from Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Mother’s Son).

“…Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;/ Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad…” (Siegfried Sassoon, October 1917).

This is an insightful book about the history of “shell-shock”, a type of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by soldiers after a prolonged combat. Anthony Babington is neither a medical professional nor strictly a trained historian, but his book still provides a thought-provoking overview of a very misunderstood illness. From wars described by Herodotus (484-425 BC) to the Gulf War of 1990/91, the account touches on every major war conflict to explain how “shell-shock” and combat stress were perceived and treated through history.

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Recent History Non-Fiction Reads: The Electric Chair, & Empireland

I. The Electric Chair: An Unnatural American History [1999/2009] by Craig Brandon – ★★★★

This book is on the history of one of “the elephants in the room” in the US – death penalty by electrocution. It talks in depth about the case of William Kemmler, a vegetable peddler from Buffalo, who became the first person to be executed by electric chair in America on 6 August 1890. Previously, Kemmler was convicted of murdering his common law wife Tillie Ziegler. It is this man, or rather his death, that became a pawn in the complex business and political game of inventors, investors, entrepreneurs and politicians, at the centre of which was the so-called “current war” waged by Edison (a proponent of the direct current (DC)) and Westinghouse (a proponent of the alternative current (AC)), both eager to prove that only their patented electricity was the way forward for American society, both for domestic and penal purposes.

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Review: A People’s History of Tennis by David Berry

A People’s History of Tennis [2020] – ★★★★1/2

Lawn tennis was different. It was played “as much with the head as the hand” and it encouraged playfulness and enjoyment of performance” [David Berry, Pluto Press, 2020: 23].

This new non-fiction book is about the history of “lawn tennis”, as viewed through the prism of class and gender politics. Rather than being just a sport for the privileged and well-off, David Berry argues that tennis has also historically provided important battlegrounds for “freedom” movements, for the rights of women, immigrants, black people and people from the working class segment of the population. Referring to the sport’s “amateur” beginnings and explaining the business side of the game, Berry talks about tennis between the wars, about the history of tennis clubs, as well as details the rise of first tennis stars that helped to transform tennis from an amusing hobby played on the British Isles to a global phenomenon and industry worth millions of pounds. Often referring to Wimbledon, the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, Berry demonstrates with a great narrative flair the constant battle to shed away the “exclusivity” of tennis, a sport which remains one of the few in the world that, from its very origin in the nineteenth century, was designed to be played by both men and women.

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