Monday, January 14, 2019

Matthew Carr

Matt Carr is a writer, campaigner and journalist, living in Sheffield England. His non-fiction books include: My Father’s House; The Infernal Machine: a History of Terrorism; Blood and Faith: the Purging of Muslim Spain; Sherman’s Ghosts: Soldiers, Civilians, and the American War of War; and Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent.

His first novel The Devils of Cardona, was published in 2016 by Penguin Random House in the US.

Carr's latest book is The Savage Frontier: the Pyrenees in History and the Imagination.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Carr's reply:
When I'm writing non-fiction, my reading tends be dominated by the subject in hand. I try to read obsessively on whatever project i'm writing about so that I'm completely filled up by it. When I'm in between books, as I am now, I try to read more freely, either catching up on books I've been looking forward to, or following possibilities that interest me. I'm currently looking into the possibility of a book on the Arctic, so I read Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams. Few people write more eloquently or gracefully about landscape and nature than Lopez. Every time I read him he's a revelation and an inspiration.

Over the holiday period I also read Adam Zamoyski's Phantom Terror, an amazingly well-researched book which shows how the Austrian Chancellor Metternich and his reactionary cohorts set out to reverse the revolutionary and nationalist movements unleashed by the French Revolution in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.

I would have liked to have had a book like this when writing my history of terrorism The Infernal Machine and my book about Europe's 'migration crisis' Fortress Europe. Zamoyski persuasively shows how Metternich and other European governments imposed a European-wide surveillance network in an attempt to repress a 'phantom' revolutionary conspiracy that was essentially a figment of their imagination. Briskly and wittily-written, his book is filled with examples of non-existent conspiracies and official paranoia, dishonesty and surveillance overkill, all of which we have seen repeated in subsequent historical episodes.

Over the holiday season I also took time to read some fiction. I came across Walter Kempowski's All for Nothing after reading a rave piece in the New Yorker, and it lived up to everything that was written about it. It's a mournful, epic account of the apocalyptic collapse of East Prussia in the last months of World War 2, seen through the eyes of a Prussian landowning family. Kempowksi is one of those writers who is able to combine a broad historical tragedy with a real sense of emotional intimacy. I shall be reading more of him in the future.

Following this catastrophic trajectory, I also found myself reading Paul French's City of Devils, a sizzling noirish portrait of gangsters, hucksters, show girls, and war in interwar Shanghai. French knows he has a great story, and he tells it well, in all its sleazy and often shattering detail, from the hedonistic nightlife of the Shanghai Western 'settlement' in the 1920s to the Japanese invasion.

So that's two books dealing with social collapse as I hunker down for 2019, to remind me that no matter how difficult the present moment seems, things have been a lot worse.
Visit Matthew Carr's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Devils of Cardona.

--Marshal Zeringue