Friday, 27 June 2014

Harry's Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith - reviewed by Cally Phillips


Julia Jones reviewed Harry’s autobiographical work ‘Hamburg 1946’ for IEBR a couple of years ago but somehow it passed me by  - too busy reading other things.  But when she told me he’d gone on to write more and that ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ had now been picked up by a ‘proper’ publisher and was going down a storm I was both happy and intrigued.  I went to order it as an ebook to hit ‘the wall.’ That’s the wall I have of not paying silly money for ebooks.  This one came in at over £5 and that’s a no no for me. At that price I have to look for other options.  So I  turned to my local library.

And guess what. (This is why I love libraries by the way!) Some enlightened soul at the Aberdeenshire Library Services had ordered it. It wasn’t ‘in’ yet but I reserved it. And it came within 2 days (a service to rival Amazon in these parts) AND so I got to be the first one to read the hardback edition. How’s them apples?  I mention that not just because I want to give a shout for libraries and the wonderful job they do in our society BUT because actually ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ is the perfect book for this to have happened with.
Harry Leslie Smith says on the book cover that he is not an historian but at 91 he IS history. And yes, he is.  I will go out on a limb here and say YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK.  Even if you don’t want to, you  really SHOULD read this book. Everyone should read this book. Everyone who can read. And if you can’t read, you should learn, simply to read this book.   Would I give it 5 stars. Don’t be silly. It is a galaxy of stars all on its own.   Because this is a book written by a man who has nothing left to lose.  He can tell it as he sees it. And the ‘story’ he tells us is the ‘story’ of our immediate past and present with a hint towards the future that we are going to inhabit after Harry has left us.   Harry Leslie Smith gives both a personal account of a life lived between the 1920’s and today AND a personal (but very informed and thoughtful) invective about how society has gone to hell in a handcart and why we should take out our shovels and try and fix things. 

And so, it should be required reading for anyone who has a shred of a desire to make the world a better place, and anyone who sits complaining about how come life is so bad today.  It’s not that he offers solutions per se, it’s that he allows you to look at the world in the context of a life lived and it truly made me understand more about the generation who ‘fought and died in the war so we may be free.’  I had never fully appreciated the hopes, aspirations and bloody hard work which ‘real’ individual people – ordinary people like me – undertook in the 40’s and 50’s to ‘give’ the 60’s to my generation. Well, strictly speaking ‘my’ generation came of age in the late 70’s and 80’s and I grew up thinking that the 60’s kids had had it all and wasted it all, leaving us to tidy up after the party.  Then came the 80’s turning into the 90’s when the ‘partying’ became BIG and IN YER FACE.   ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ allowed me to get a grip on a context just before my own generational beefs and to find something in common with this ‘older’ generation.

Suffice it to say, I read ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ cover to cover and yes I would pay £12.99 for it in Hardback (but it’s out in Paperback in October for £5.99 so you can wait till the, or if you’re really flush or really into digital reading it will be worth the download fee!) And I’ve gone out and bought ‘Barleywood Chronicle’ which is the compendium of his first two autobiographies. These are ‘indie’ and so will perhaps be less ‘edited.’  I have no complaints with the editing in ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ it is a very good job, but I think the ‘unequalness’ which Julia spoke of while reviewing ‘Hamburg 1946’ might turn out to be an added strength, giving even more unique ‘personality’ to Harry’s writing – that’s what I’ll find out when I get the compendium.  Harry is a true living legend. Just an ordinary guy, but a guy who’s not afraid to say what he thinks – and what he thinks is that he’s pissed off about the sacrifices all kinds of people made for us all to end up ignoring/partying/squandering important things like the Welfare State in favour of a ‘I’m all right Jack’ banker’s bonus type mentality.   And that’s where this ties in with Libraries.   Thanks to the Library Service I got to read Harry’s work for free. I hope loads of others will do the same.  Use libraries and PRAISE libraries because they are one of the greatest freedoms we have.   Thank you Harry Leslie Smith.  For taking a stand. And sharing it with us.  And thank you to his publishers – but hey, why not take on his earlier work too AND keep the ebook pricing sensible!