Not Quite World’s End: A Traveller’s Tales – John Simpson

Suffused throughout with references to John Simpson’s baby son, this autobiography-cum-collection of travel memoirs is a mixed bag.

I struggled at times with the mix of deeply personal autobiography (You can’t begrudge Simpson’s love for his family, particularly when he explains why becoming a father again was such an unexpected joy) and the slightly self righteous political commentary (possibly all the more galling because more often than not I find my self agreeing with John Simpson’s view!).

The other irritation about the book was the repetition of certain events, often told as if for the first time.

For me, a bit more editing would not have gone amiss.

But Not Quite World’s End is well worth reading despite both these elements, if simply to piggyback on John Simpson’s years of experience of reporting on world affairs – he is not deterred by the powerful or the poor, and through forty years with the BBC has contacts and fixers galore, all of which means that he’s able to share the detail and an analysis of important events in less well known or well understood parts of the globe – from Baghdad to Belgrade, from the forced relocation of Botswana’s Kalahari Bushmen to the “disingenuous” use of intelligence material to persuade the British parliament to back the invasion of Iraq in 2003. link: Not Quite World’s End: A Traveller’s Tales – John Simpson

Strange Places, Questionable People – John Simpson

A Christmas gift from TJBR, purchased from my Wishlist, this is John Simpson’s earliest-written autobiography, and the last one for me to read to get up-to-date with with what’s available in paperback. Just the thing for a holiday ‘blockbuster’, it makes me what to re-read the subsequent books where he revisits some of the narrative in this one, which covers his childhood and first marriage, both of which provide interesting backdrop to his the early days of his career.

In the later chapters, John Simpson moves on to talk about his various roles at the BBC, and the world events on which he reported – ranging from the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first Gulf War and the massacres of Tiananmen Square, as well as some private travels, including the fascinating trip to the lapis lazuli mines in Afghanistan and an expedition up the Amazon to stay with the remote Ashaninica tribe.

Buy it: Amazon link

The Wars Against Saddam: Taking the Hard Road to Baghdad – John Simpson

A hardback Christmas treat for myself, but one that I’ve delayed to indulge in due to other reads, and it being hardback and so not easy commuter fayre. However, return flights to Belgrade plus the Belgrade-Novi Sad bus journey provided me with ample opportunity to get another dose of biography, history and politics Simpson-style.

Twenty plus years of reporting on foreign affairs, and Iraq in particular – JS reported on the Iran-Iraq war, on the chemical attack at Halabjah, on the first Gulf / Kuwait War in 1991 as well as the second – synthesized into a comprehensive account and analysis of Saddam, his regieme and his relationship with the West. Interspersed with the biography we get chunks of autobiography from JS, showing the all too human side of the roving reporter.

Fascintating and informative – buy it: Amazon link

A Mad World, My Masters: Tales from a Traveller’s Life – John Simpson

A Christmas present from TJBR and another good read from John Simpson, with tales of his adventures in lands afar and encounters with the good, the bad and the ugly of the 20th century. I particularly liked that way the stories were grouped by theme, rather than chronologically, and it’s always fascinating to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of history.

Buy it: Amazon link

News from No Man’s Land: Reporting the World – John Simpson

This is the other roving reporter autobiography that I took to Chile with me, and reading it after Kate Adie’s provided some interesting contrasts, and I enjoyed it just as much, although for different reasons. I’m not sure I’d enjoy meeting John Simpson, as he comes across as rather too despotic for my tastes, but then again, determination and self-assurance are two traits which I suspect are essential to success as a reporter, particularly one who frequently reports on wars and unrest around the world.

The subject matter of this third volume of John Simpson’s autobiography is the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and the fall of Kabul. It’s a fascinating read, taking you into the mechanics of journalism, and the workings of the BBC as well as giving you the political long view so often lacking in TV news reporting.

Buy it: Amazon link