Strange Days Indeed
Francis Wheen
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Buy *Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoia* by Francis Wheen online

Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoia
Francis Wheen
PublicAffairs
Hardcover
352 pages
March 2010
rated 2 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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This books purports to be a world review of the 1970s. It reminds me of the old Saul Steinberg cartoon of a New Yorker's view of the world, where you see the avenues of New York City and the rest of the entire globe merges into nothingness - only in this case, the object in the foreground is Britain. So, reader beware: if you want a fair assessment of the 1970s from a true global perspective or from a U.S. perspective, go elsewhere. If you are dying to learn about (deservedly) half-forgotten minor scandals that shook Britain, this might be a good book for you.

The author's thesis is that this was a decade of paranoia, and he picks and chooses evidence to fit his thesis. We get a lot about Watergate (although nothing new - the author relies entirely on secondary sources) but nothing much about the Ford or Carter presidencies that followed. One would expect a discussion of the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis that brought down the Carter administration, but nada.

There are about four pages devoted to China - strange in comparison to the extensive discussion of Harold Wilson's private secretary. There's nothing about the stagnation of the Soviet Union, which paved the way for the great decline of the 1980s, Gorbachev, and the end of the Cold War.

A few pages are devoted to the Portuguese withdrawal from Africa and the Angolan civil war, but nothing about the death of Franco (Nov 20, 1975), which paved the way for democracy on the Iberian peninsula. We get no analysis of the Cambodian genocide, almost nothing about important developments in the Middle East including the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanese civil war and Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, which was followed by the Camp David accords.

The 1970s saw the first test-tube baby and the introduction of the silicon chip. If you want to read about them go somewhere else.

There's a chapter on Idi Amin that omits mention of the Entebbe raid - astounding. No mention of the end of the war in Rhodesia (surprising because of the British connection) and the emergence of Mugabe.

No mention of India and Pakistan, which fought a war in 1971 leading to the creation of Bangladesh.

In short, the author wrote about what he wanted to write about. Fair enough, I guess, but the title doesn't really describe the book. It's really a recollection of a bad time in Britain with a few other secondhand bits gratuitously thrown in.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Alan Elsner, 2010

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