TPQ: What are you currently reading?
MH: I have just finished An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin's Master Agent by Owen Matthews. Sorge was a German Communist activist in Germany in the 1920s who later worked for the Comintern in Moscow. He was then recruited by the legendary Bolshevik General Jan Berzin when he was head of the forth directorate of the Red Army General staff. First sent to China and then to Japan under the cover of a foreign correspondent, he infiltrated the upper echelons of Japanese society and government along with becoming a close confident and adviser to the German ambassador in Tokyo, Eugen Ott. But it's not only Sorge's success as one of the greatest spies of all time, a man who helped change the course of WW2, this is a warts and all book. He was also a womaniser, a heavy drinker and party goer who couldn't be trusted with your sister let alone your wife. In tandem with the Sorge book I reread The Real Chief Liam Lynch by Meda Ryan. Whilst it's full of facts and dates about Ryan's life as OC of the Southern IRA Division in the Irish War of Independence and his period as chief of staff of the IRA during the civil war, unlike the biography of Sorge it fails to pad out the man himself which is a shame as he was a very substantial figure in Irish history.
MH: The Life and Times of James Connolly by C Desmond Greaves. It played a massive role in my political development. Here was a man, a role model I could recognise, working class to his core and proud of it, an internationalist who worked as a trade union and political agitator in Britain, Ireland and the USA. He also actively opposed World War One. I would also add Isaac Deutscher's trilogy about Trotsky, The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, and The Prophet Outcast. It's a great piece of work: the more so as unlike today Deutscher didn't have access to Soviet Archives. History spills out of his trilogy.
TPQ: A must-read before you die?
MH: I'm leaving this one blank, I don't wish to tempt fate.
TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?
MH: Fact, I'm not a big reader of fiction although I do dip in. I enjoyed Richard O'Rawe Northern Heist. I tried to work out which living people some of the characters were based on, if any. If I bump into Richard this is the first question I would ask him. I always read the latest John Le Carre novel when it first comes out. There is a new one out on the 17 September which I have pre-ordered. Looking along my bookshelves I spotted Gabriel Garcia Marquez The General in his Labyrinth. Apart from a good read it's also a useful portrait of Simon Bolivar who played a major role in in pushing the Spanish imperialists out of South America which until I read the book was something I knew little about.
TPQ: Favourite female author?
MH: I have read a few detective books by female authors but I cannot remember their names, But! I looked again at my bookshelves and came across a book I read long ago, in the early late 1970s and liked greatly, Alexander Kollontai A Biography by Cathy Porter. To quote from the book's dust jacket 'she was the only woman in Lenin's first government, and understood that revolution was not enough, that real political change would only come with a transformation in personal and family relationships.' Stalin left her out of his murderous purges, although he butchered those she loved and almost everyone who was ever close to her in the revolutionary years, including her great love, Pavel Dybenko. She ended her days serving as a Soviet diplomat in Mexico and finally in Scandinavia. I would also mention Gitta Sereny's book Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth. I had doubts about this book when I first read it. I was a bit of a dogmatic firebrand back then. When I contacted Gitta to express my criticisms she was patient and kind with her time. The Bounty by Caroline Alexander is another fine book by a female author which I stumbled across and thoroughly enjoyed.
TPQ: Favourite male author?
MH: I cannot pick one, there are so many. Here are some of those I have not already mentioned, John Keane's book Tom Paine, A Political Life was an eye opener for me a really great book. Hugh Thomas for his The Spanish Civil War. John Murray and Patrick Kinross for their magnificent biographies of Ataturk,.Antony Beevor for his books about Spain and WW2. Jon Lee Anderson biog of Che. Stephen F Cohen's work on Nikolai Bukharin, and the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski for his not inconsiderable work reporting from African conflict zones, especially Angola. The list is endless, all of whom have enriched my life with their tales and the knowledge I have gained from reading their books.
TPQ: First book you ever read?
MH: I cannot remember the first book I read but it was probably an Eagle Annual one of my mates in primary school gave me when he finished reading it.
TPQ: Favourite childhood author?
MH: We didn’t have books in the family home. My Mum had been pulled out of school by her dad when she was twelve or thirteen to help out on the farm he worked on, while my dad in his young teens was sent by his orphanage to a hiring market to be auctioned off to a farmer for food and board with a few shillings paid at the end of the first year. Books were not big on their horizon and when I first came along there was little money for them anyway and as we lived in the countryside there was no public library nearby.
TPQ: Any book you point blank refuse to read?
MH: The Bible.
TPQ: Any author you point blank refuse to read?
MH: None that I can think of but I'm sure they're are such authors out there.
TPQ: Pick a book to give to somebody so that they would more fully understand you.
MH: That is a tricky one. I would say the Connolly book I mentioned above or the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell. Anyone who has worked as I have on building sites and large construction sites would know similar people to those Tressell describes in his lovely book.
TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?
MH: Christopher Hitchens book Mortality. It’s a short book but a damn good read.
TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?
MH: This is an easy one Villa and Zapata: A Biography of the Mexican Revolution by Frank McLynn. The Mexican revolution was the first in the 20th century, only surpassed in history by the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions. Land and Liberty were the watchwords of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Pancho was a military man whereas Emiliano was the revolution's soul, aiming for a total revolutionary transformation of Mexico. In the right hands it would make a wonderful movie. When looking back at this historic event one cannot forget the words of Porfirio Diaz, a scoundrel for sure, but he was probably correct when he said: "Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the United States."
⏭ Mick Hall is a long standing political and trade union activist.