MAO: The Unknown Story by Jung
Chang & Jon Halliday, Jonathan Cape,
£25. ISBN 0224071262|
To the outside world, Mao was another
charismatic, ideological leader. The truth is
far more complicated and appalling. In this
compelling work, Jung Chang and Jon
Halliday combine to expose Mao as even
more corrupt and power-hungry than his
fellow murderous despots.
This is certainly no hagiography, and from
start to finish, Mao’s leadership and character
are exposed in a less than favourable light.
Unlike the other dictators, Mao is shown to
have no real interest or belief in the ideology
he espoused when he seized power from
Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists. His interest
simply lay in cementing his position as
leader of the Chinese Communist Party
and the country as a whole. A further
difference between the dictators was that
Mao performed his terror crimes in public to
act as a deterrent to the whole population.
There was little fear the outside world
would find out since all forms of media
were strictly censored, and the rare visits
by foreigners were tightly controlled in
order to ensure no word of his murderous
ways could escape.
More important to Mao was the dream
that China would become a nuclear power
one day. He achieved this aim by cunningly
manipulating Stalin into handing him the
treasured knowledge of how to cultivate his
own nuclear weapons.
In this fascinating work, the authors
portray Mao as a uniquely single-minded
man, whose strength was his utter disregard
for others, his capacity for deception and his
ability to exploit frailty.
The Gamblers by John Pearson,
Century, £17.99. ISBN 1844132056|
For decades, John Pearson has presented
literary exposures of some of the world’s
most enigmatic people and clandestine
organisations, yet in this fixating and
shocking work, he may well have reached
the pinnacle in terms of sheer revulsion.
The Gamblers is a riveting portrait of the
notorious Clermont Set, the most notable
figures being John Aspinall, James
Goldsmith and Lord Lucan, all of whom
demonstrate repellent arrogance, lust for
material wealth, and chilling brutality.
The ultra-fashionable Clermont Club
was founded in 1962 by John Aspinall, a
man who understood that the easiest way
to make money was to exploit the rich.
He achieved this through this ‘exclusive’
gambling club, a breeding ground for
luxuriant aristocratic decadence. In a single
evening, Lord Derby lost £200,000 to
Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat.
One of the most interesting aspects of
the book is Pearson’s analysis of the central
characters. Aspinall appears a particularly
unattractive character. He seems to have had
considerably more time for his pet tigers
than his numerous wives, despite the fact
that one severely disfigured his friend Mark
James Goldsmith comes across as little
better. Initially seen at that time as a
romantic and even tragic figure after his wife
Isabel’s death, he had a naked greed and a
propensity to turn vicious if opposed.
Another of Aspinall’s many titled patrons
was Richard John Bingham, the seventh earl
of Lucan. His nickname ‘Lucky’ deserted
him at the chemin de fer table, where he lost his
After his subsequent divorce from his wife
Veronica, his resolution to kill her to regain
his children was no secret. Pearson advances a
new and interesting theory on Lucan after his
failed attempt to kill Veronica in 1974.
Could it be, as Pearson purports, that
Aspinall put him in touch with a ‘Mr X’, an
international smuggler of both money and
people? Whatever the true solution, the
book has an ability to hold the reader in its
fascinating yet repulsive grip, as Pearson lays
out the mystery of these suave and scandalous
From War to Westminster by Stefan
Terlezki CBE, Pen & Sword, £19.99.
Stefan Terlezki has an extraordinary story to
tell. From War to Westminster is a remarkable
tale of one man’s battle against unimaginable
hardships and trials.
Born in the Ukraine, his pre-war childhood
was blighted by the arrests and imprisonment
of his father – a courageous citizen leader in a
very poor but proud community.
Worse was to come after the Soviet
Union’s annexation in 1939, and subsequent
Nazi invasion, when the 14-year old Stefan
was deported by the Germans and sold into
slavery on an Austrian farm.
His relationship with his new owner’s
family makes fascinating reading as does his
period of imprisonment by the Gestapo.
Within three years he found himself liberated
by the Red Army and appointed within its
ranks as a lieutenant to fight against the
Japanese, but managed a perilous escape back
into the British-occupied zone of Austria
where he became a stateless political refugee
for three years.
In 1948 Britain decided to accept
Ukrainians who had refused transfer to the
Soviet Union. Terlezki volunteered to train
as a miner in Wales, believing the mountains
could provide a good training ground for
guerrilla warfare against the Russians.
Before long, however, he had managed
to make his way into employment in the
catering services of the British army and went
on to successfully work in the hotel industry.
He also began to develop an interest in
local and national politics, becoming
Conservative MP for Cardiff West in
1983 and later winning the friendship
of Margaret Thatcher and other leading
members of the party.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment of
Stefan Terlezki’s turbulent but extraordinary
tale comes when he is reunited with his
father at Heathrow Airport after 42 years.
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