Ponting, Clive 1947(?)-
PONTING, Clive 1947(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1947. Education: O.B.E., B.A.
ADDRESSES: Home—Wales. Offıce—University of Wales, Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, Wales; fax: 440 1792 295157. E-mail—[email protected] swansea.ac.uk.
CAREER: University of Wales, Swansea, reader in politics. Worked as assistant secretary at British Ministry of Defense.
The Right to Know: The Inside Story of the BelgranoAffair, Sphere (London, England), 1985.
Whitehall: Tragedy and Farce, H. Hamilton (London, England), 1986.
Breach of Promise: Labour in Power, 1964-1970, H. Hamilton (London, England), 1989.
1940: Myth and Reality, H. Hamilton (London, England), 1990.
Decision Making in the Gulf: Lessons to Be Learned, Oxford Research Group (Oxford, England), 1991.
A Green History of the World, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1991, published as A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Churchill, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1994.
Progress and Barbarism: The World in the TwentiethCentury, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1998, published as The Pimlico History of the Twentieth Century, Pimlico (London, England), 1999, published as The Twentieth Century: A World History, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1999.
World History: A New Perspective, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2000.
Thirteen Days: The Road to the First World War, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2002.
The Crimean War, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Author and historian Clive Ponting is a professor of history at the University of Wales, Swansea. His books focus in large part on prominent figures and events of major wars, including World War I and II and the Crimean War, but also include works on environmental history, British government, and general world history.
During his tenure as a civil servant for the British government, Ponting became the linchpin in a battle against one of Britain's most controversial laws. He details his struggles against an archaic British legal system in The Right to Know: The Inside Story of the Belgrano Affair. While working as assistant secretary at the British Ministry of Defense in Margaret Thatcher's government, Ponting discovered documents that contradicted the official government version of the sinking of the Argentinean warship General Belgrano during the 1982 Falklands war. "Because he believed that the Government was positively and deliberately misleading the Commons, a select committee, and the public, and thought this was unethical, he acted out of professional conscience in sending two documents to Tam Dalyell," a member of the British parliament, noted a writer on the Freedom to Care Web site. Ponting was charged under the Official Secrets Act, which makes it a crime for any officer of the Queen or government to give official information to anyone other than the person for whom the information was intended.
The government vigorously prosecuted Ponting, and he faced "a jury that had been virtually instructed by the trial judge to deliver a guilty verdict," commented Hunter R. Clark in Time. In a pivotal—and shocking—verdict, the jury acquitted Ponting of any wrongdoing "because of what they thought was a bad law," noted Steven Erlanger in Boston Globe and because they "refused to be browbeaten," the Freedom to Care Web site writer noted. The verdict raised serious questions about the enforceability of the Official Secrets Act and led to a number of reforms in the public disclosure of government information. Ponting resigned from civil service to pursue teaching and writing.
Several of Ponting's books focus on World War II and the events leading up to it. In 1940: Myth and Reality, he explores the historical events, political leadership, governmental policies, economic and social factors, and key personalities of "Britain's last year as a truly independent Great Power," commented G. C. Peden in English Historical Review. "Ponting attempts to break new ground in his book and expose the long-held myths of that fateful year," noted Martin F. Seedorf in Historian, particularly those entrenched in the legend of Winston Churchill. He covers events and issues such as the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, Britain's increasing reliance on assistance from the United States, fleeting notions of peace with Germany in the middle of the year, and the tenuous state of British military and economic power. "Britain's most important achievement that year was simply to survive, thereby preserving a base from which the Allies could later attack and defeat Germany," Seedorf observed. Seedorf called the book "a clear and interesting account of this crucial year in British history."
Armageddon: The Reality behind the Distortions, Myths, Lies, and Illusions of World War II is a "factually fluent overview of the cause and course of the war," commented Gilbert Taylor in Booklist. Emerging as "A challenger to commonly held views," Taylor wrote, Ponting bluntly addresses topics such as the extremely high numbers of civilian deaths; the barbarism of the war on the Eastern front; the American economic boom fueled by the war effort; and the lack of complete closure in the pursuit and prosecution of war criminals. "Ponting has written a pragmatic overview of the most catastrophic war in history," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Perhaps Ponting's most controversial work is Churchill, a lengthy biography of Britain's famed World War II-era prime minister, Winston Churchill. Much of Churchill's reputation was secured by his own writings on the war and his successes within it, and on his performance as prime minister from 1940 to 1945. The biography, however, "effectively demolishes the Churchill myth and reveals instead the reactionary, the bigot, the racist, the imperialist, the class warrior, the aristocrat whose only real concern in politics was the ensure himself a place in history," stated John Newsinger in Monthly Review. Kenneth O. Morgan, writing in New Statesman, commented that while the book "add[s] to the current re-evaluation of the Churchillian legend," it was spoiled by the "remorselessly hostile tone" and the "endless catalogue of criticisms" cited from Churchill's contemporaries. "Ponting is relentlessly negative and meanspirited," stated Lukin Robinson in Monthly Review. However, the author's "view of the man is the necessary starting point for any future consideration of Churchill's life and politics," Newsinger remarked.
In The Twentieth Century: A World History, Ponting provides a "well-structured and fluidly written interpretive effort" at summarizing twentieth-century world history, commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. He uses a "thematic rather than chronological approach" to offer a view of the century "from a truly global perspective," noted Jay Freeman in Booklist. Ponting focuses particularly on the economic disparities throughout the world.
Ponting returns to the topic of military history with The Crimean War, a conflict that sealed into popular culture the Charge of the Light Brigade and the self-sacrificing efforts of Florence Nightingale. However, Ponting finds nothing romantic about the Russian conflict. Instead, he chronicles a hopelessly mismanaged war in which incompetent and despised commanding generals simply forgot to ensure the flow of food and supplies to frontline troops; in which a military commander mistook groups of enemy Russian soldiers for comrades and rode blithely to his doom; in which a genuine brigade of light cavalry perished in a real Valley of Death; and in which, noted Beryl Bainbridge in the Manchester Guardian, the war's final death toll exceeded that of the American Civil War. The "real drawback to any book about the Crimean War is that you can hardly bear to read it," commented Byron Rogers in Spectator. Ponting's account"is a catalogue of such incompetence, disease, and failure that an relenting fog comes down at the start, with Catholic and Orthodox monks scuffling over the keys to the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem, the ostensible pretext for war, and it is there at the end." Bainbridge called the book an "exhaustively researched and scholarly history" of the debacle.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of Armageddon: The Reality behind the Distortions, Myths, Lies, and Illusions of World War II, p. 1927; March 1, 1999, Jay Freeman, review of The Twentieth Century: A World History, p. 1149.
Boston Globe, August 19, 1986, Steven Erlanger, "Britain's Law on Secrets Often Broken," p. 2.
Contemporary Review, October, 2004, review of TheCrimean War, p. 250.
Economist, February 25, 1989, review of Breach ofPromise: Labour in Power, 1964-1970, p. 81; May 12, 1990, review of 1940: Myth and Reality, p. 90.
English Historical Review, February, 1994, G. C. Peden, review of 1940, p. 257; February, 2000, Tom Buchanan, review of Pimlico History of the Twentieth Century, p. 260.
Foreign Affairs, May, 1999, G. John Ikenberry, review of The Twentieth Century, p. 133.
Guardian (Manchester, England), March 6, 2004, Beryl Bainbridge, "Led to the Slaughter," review of The Crimean War, p. 14.
Historian, autumn, 1994, Martin F. Seedorf, review of 1940, p. 182.
Library Journal, February 1, 1999, Harry Frumerman, review of The Twentieth Century, p. 107.
Monthly Review, January, 1995, John Newsinger, review of Churchill, p. 56; April, 1996, Lukin Robinson, John Newsinger, "Ponting's Churchill—A Reply," p. 33.
New Statesman & Society, May 13, 1994, Kenneth O. Morgan, review of Churchill,, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, July 25, 1991, review of 1940, p. 44; July 10, 1995, review of Armageddon, p. 52; February 1, 1999, review of The Twentieth Century, p. 63.
Sierra, November-December, 1992, Kathleen Courrier, review of A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations, p. 114.
Spectator, November 25, 2000, Sam Phipps, "Western Tunnel Vision," review of World History: A New Perspective, p 57; April 17, 2004, Byron Rogers, "Led by Donkeys," review of The Crimean War, p. 40.
Time, March 18, 1985, Hunter R. Clark, "Challenging Government Secrets: A Wiretapping Expose Brings Calls for Reforming an Archaic Law," p. 32.
Freedom to Care Web site,http://www.freedomtocare.org/ (December 17, 2004), "The Significance of the Clive Ponting Case."
On This Day,http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/ (December 17, 2004), "1985: Falklands' Row Civil Servant Resigns.".
University of Wales, Swansea Web site,http://www.swan.ac.uk/ (December 17, 2004).*