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A Mad World, My Masters: Tales from a Traveller's Life (2000)

af John Simpson

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Following his successful first volume of autobiography, Strange Places, Questionable People, this second volume is a thematic weaving together of John Simpson's adventures from his career as a foreign correspondent.



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I made it almost to the end of this lengthy auto-biographical second volume. I haven't read the first volume which probably didn't help. I thought it might be interesting and add to my knowledge of current affairs. I have often seen the author reporting for the BBC, usually from some war zone or other. Unfortunately, this account spans his entire career most of which dates back to before my time. I was hoping to read details of more recent events.

Simpson highlights an increasing apathy especially amongst Westerners towards events abroad. He wants to educate and inform people and refuse to allow them to bury their heads in the sand. I agree with his goal and believe that we should all try to stay abreast of world news--as Christians, how can we pray effectively unless we know what is going on!?

"What's the problem about wanting to know more, rather than less, about what is going on? That, surely, is what we should all want. Slowly, as I go through the letters, I understand that what these people dislike is the reminder that under NATO's bombs there were ordinary men and women like themselves. They would much rather not know; they wanted to believe that every bomb reaches its target, that every casualty is someone who deserves it. Well, I'm here to tell you it ain't true. Sorry"

I didn't warm to the author's style. Each chapter has been given a generic title, for example, "Icons" or "Dictators." There are then mini stories within each chapter that obviously relate to the heading. It has the effect of making the stories extremely short--I would rather have learned more detail and stuck with far less subjects. The stories themselves are hit and miss--some were very interesting--Princess Diana and some of the villains...yet others seemed repetitive or just to have been included because they matched the title rather than because they contained any interesting material. I was totally lost in some chapters and didn't have a clue what the author was talking about. This book definitely could have had a better content edit and been shortened somewhat.

There is some bad language in the book including some very strong language. There are sex references although nothing graphic up to the point I reached. There is a lot of violence due to the author reporting from various war zones.

There is a touch of a "hero" complex throughout. Simpson is always the one who stays in the danger zone or tackles the government or defends various values etc. Some might say that he is entitled to this due to his lengthy journalistic service. But, it doesn't do him any favours as a little humility would definitely have made the book more readable (and believable.)

Having faced death day in and day out, I wonder what the author will do in retirement or how he will sum up his life achievements.

"No I thought; dying is important and significant and special. It can't happen somewhere as ordinary as this. Not to me."

God was gracious and didn't choose to take Simpson at that point, but when He does, he will stand before God and be asked to give an account of his life. I hope by the time Simpson gets to this point, he has found true hope that isn't found in placing oneself in dangerous situations to feed information to the public, or in maintaining neutrality in news reporting or even in adventures at home and abroad. I hope that he realises that his death will only be important, significant and special if he has had his sins forgiven and is adequately prepared to face God.

Those interested in world events dating back to the 1960's might want to read this. ( )
  sparkleandchico | Jun 2, 2017 |
Some people just aren't cut out for the suburbs. As one of the BBC's top foreign correspondents, John Simpson has been at the epicentre of many of the world's flashpoints for more than 30 years. Afghanistan, Belgrade, Hong Kong, Baghdad; you name it, he's been there. And what's more, he hasn't just met the great and the good, such as Clinton and Blair, he's met the top bogey men, too. He's had Osama Bin Laden pleading with some Afghani guerrillas to kill him and his crew, he's interviewed Emperor Bokassa, Colonel Gadhafi and Arkan and had close up dealings with Saddam Hussein. And it goes without saying he was one of the first people in the entire world to see in the new millennium on the specially named Millennium Island, which the Kiribati government claimed just squeezed inside the international date line.

Small wonder, then, that Simpson is a source of dozens of good stories. Many of these have been written up elsewhere in his autobiographical Strange Places, Questionable People, but there are plenty left over for this latest book in which Simpson eschews chronology and just sticks to some plain old-fashioned story telling, with sections on villains, spies, icons etc. Unsurprisingly, Simpson has a journalistic eye for detail and nuance and never holds back from telling you the things you want to know; so when he went to interview Bokassa, he managed to sneak a look inside his giant deep freeze to see if there were any human body parts. It sounds trivial but it isn't; in a strange sort of way the examination of the contents of a deep freeze can be every bit as revealing as an hour on a shrink's couch.

Simpson is a genial companion, not much given to introspection, and the book races seamlessly from anecdote to anecdote. And yet underpinning the narrative is Simpson's global malaise, a feeling that everywhere in the world is becoming more and more similar and that it's increasingly hard to find anywhere genuinely wild and remote. Simpson has been to many of those places, but the way he describes them makes them seem fairly similar in their own kind of way. McDonalds and the Gap may be thin on the ground, but there are bullets and danger aplenty. To have been to so many of these places is an achievement in itself; to have returned unscathed is a minor miracle; John Simpson has led a charmed life in more ways than one. --John Crace

The best-selling second volume of autobiography, updated with a new chapter.

There are only a handful of places left on this earth where you can't buy a McDonald's hamburger or stay in a Holiday Inn - and John Simpson has been to them all. This hugely successful volume of writing is a celebration of some of the world's wilder places. His extraordinary experiences include stories about a television camera that killed people, about how Colonel Gadhaffi farted his way through an interview and how he - Simpson - mooned the Queen.
  antimuzak | Feb 26, 2006 |
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Following his successful first volume of autobiography, Strange Places, Questionable People, this second volume is a thematic weaving together of John Simpson's adventures from his career as a foreign correspondent.

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