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

Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China – Colin Thubron

09 Jan: Just started this travelogue of Colin Thubron’s visit to China in 1986 – after China had re-opened its doors to the West, but before Tiannamen Square. Good so far…..

… and finally finished it in March. Not that it wasn’t a good read, I just hit one of those patches where you don’t really get into anything. Still, with The Mapmakers having snuck in and revived my reading appetite, I rattled through this during commutes, and moved on to John Simpson.

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

The Kindness of Strangers – Kate Adie

One of my favourite books of the year.

I had to ration my reading as this was one of only 2 books I took to last me through 4 weeks travelling in Chile. It got me through the flights from London to Santiago (I’m not at my most relaxed at 36,000 ft), and a cold and rainy afternoon in Puerto Natales.

Kate Adie is a TV News Reporter I remember well from my teenage years – she always seems so cool, calm and collected in the most amazing situations – and her “From our own correspondant” programme on Radio 4 is one that I often find myself trying to organise my Saturday mornings around. In fact, I frequently find myself envying her and her job, which has taken her to so many far flung places and into many of the 20th century’s key events. All the more so after reading this autobiography, learning more about her early years in the BBC, and of her encounters with politicians and world leaders – official and unofficial – over the past 4 decades.

Buy it: Amazon link