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William Cohen (London)
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Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End
Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Necessary Look at Unmentionable Problems, 8 Dec 2014
This is a super book, which looks at 'assisted-living' programmes, the treatment of terminal diseases and the meaning of our mortality.
The first line is very striking: 'I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn't one of them.'

Dr Gawande is very honest and he admits the limits of the medical profession. The stories about individuals facing death are quite harrowing in places. As are the accounts of individuals struggling to cope with old people's homes. Gawande says some pertinent things about what life is about - like importing the chaos of animals into an old people's home - to show how the pursuit of safety and comfort is unsatisfying for many.

The author leavens his thesis with humour, like the chap who refused to move out of his house and was blown up by a volcanic explosion (which may well have been preferable to leaving all that he was familiar with behind). My mother was a spiritual healing practitioner, and I was struck by how Gawande can't really escape concluding that religion has something to contribute in this area, and the soullessness of some of the 'car mechanic' medicine he represents.


Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room [DVD]
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alex Gibney
Price: £5.80

3.0 out of 5 stars A good overview, but only a book can get to grips with the intrigues, 3 Dec 2014
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I watched this after reading 'Conspiracy of Fools' by Kurt Eichenwald. I wanted to see what the characters looked and sounded like. Skilling definitely sounded impressive, but as it turned out, managed to inspire misguided confidence.

I was a bit disappointed because it brought home to me the difference between books and films. Books can carry huge amounts of information, films only skim the surface. Watching this felt like reading the summary on the back of a book jacket.

Andy Fastow features a lot in the book, but he's only a minor character in the film. They focus more on the traders in the film with the recordings of the telephone calls that revealed their sharp practices.

Bethany McLean, the journalist who exposed the Enron hype, features heavily in this film. She's an inspiring figure.

I'm glad I read the book first.


Weapons of Mass Diplomacy
Weapons of Mass Diplomacy
by Abel Lanzac
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

5.0 out of 5 stars A Comic Book for Speechwriters, 26 Nov 2014
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I've never bought or read a bande dessinnée before, but having watched the film, Quai D'Orsay, I was inspired to buy the book.

It was a fun experience I had no difficulty racing through the pages. I thought the authors managed to include lots of amusing lines and observations on the life led by top officials in the French foreign office. It's rather a poignant story about how France opposed the Iraq War, and at the same time a good insight into the problems faced by speechwriters.


Quai d'Orsay
Quai d'Orsay
Dvd ~ Thierry Lhermitte
Offered by inandout-distribution
Price: £10.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Film about Speechwriting, 18 Nov 2014
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This review is from: Quai d'Orsay (DVD)
This is droll film examining the trials and tribulations of a French speechwriter. In fact it goes into almost all the intellectual, moral and practical problems faced by political speechwriters.

A boss obsessed with three-part lists (legitimacy, unity and efficiency), ministerial advisors putting their oar in, a leak to a journalist sabotaging the whole process, it's all extremely authentic.

It's funny, and at the same time it says something about how Government ministers and civil servants can be heroic. The minister is based on Dominique de Villepin and his efforts to dissuade the Americans from going to war in Iraq.

As a speechwriter myself, I was rather surprised that a mainstream film could be devoted to the irritations and obstacles to creating the perfect speech. Only the French could justify it. I enjoyed it immensely!


How to be Normal: Advice for the Perplexed
How to be Normal: Advice for the Perplexed
by Guy Browning
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humour with Brains, 18 Nov 2014
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In 1204 the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides published a 'Guide for the Perplexed'. Guy Browning has written an updated version for the C21st, with jokes.

This is a collection of short sketches observing thin slices of life: how to be soft, how to be instinctive, how to say no. Each one is a capsule of insight, humour and beautiful writing.

The book is crammed full of quotable insights like, 'skipping is how knees laugh', 'there are two things in life that are difficult to ignore: world poverty and a jam doughnut', 'panic is paranoia with legs'.

The experience of reading is pleasurable and sophisticated like drinking a fine sauterne.


Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story
Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story
by Kurt Eichenwald
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A lesson in how corporations go astray, 5 Nov 2014
This was an excellent cautionary tale. I will be very careful how I do my accounts in future. Eichenwald has written a page-turner about how corporations go astray.

It's a fun dramatisation with the author speculating on what the main characters are thinking while they're eating. I'm also enjoying the internet research on what has happened since. I found myself getting up early to finish it.


Politics Of Hope
Politics Of Hope
by Jonathan Sacks
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars There is such a thing as society, 13 Oct 2014
This review is from: Politics Of Hope (Paperback)
This is 'early' Jonathan Sacks. It contains the seeds of what he focuses on in greater depths in his subsequent books. This book deals with 'liberalism' versus 'libertarianism' and champions the former over the latter. It's more philosophical and academic than his later works.

I like the ideas, but his analysis of what's wrong in society pre-dates the rise of social media, and the emergence of the blogosphere. Sacks is socially conservative, but when divorce was difficult men and women endured much misery, and before homosexuality was legalised, there was also much misery. I like his traditional values, and I like the Jewish way. I'm not convinced that organised religion is going to make much of a comeback.

Fortunately 15 years later we can also watch Lord Sacks preach on YouTube.


Ebby: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W.
Ebby: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W.
by Mel B.
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.95

4.0 out of 5 stars This is a sad story. Ebby was in the right place at ..., 22 Sep 2014
This is a sad story. Ebby was in the right place at the right time for Bill W. but he wasn't able to maintain his own sobriety. The account of his many relapses and his inability to hold down jobs is quite harrowing at times. He was a lonely man, despite his ability to turn on the charm.

I think I first saw this book featured in The Sopranos - Christopher was reading it. It's well written and can be read in a few sittings.


God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction
God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction
by Shais Taub
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.05

5.0 out of 5 stars Uplifting, 21 Sep 2014
I saw Rabbi Taub on a Jewish.net video - he was amusing and profound. This book was just as wonderful - it offers many deep insights into human psychology, and at the same time it's easy to read. His basic point is that we've got to come to terms with reality to Iive well. He points out that 12 step programmes use many of the spiritual insights of the Torah, and you can be Jewish and maintain the integrity of your faith on the programme.

Rabbi Taub is a very likeable teacher and his wisdom will enrich your life.


Business Secrets from the Bible: Spiritual Success Strategies for Financial Abundance
Business Secrets from the Bible: Spiritual Success Strategies for Financial Abundance
by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.58

4.0 out of 5 stars If Gordon Gekko became a rabbi..., 26 Aug 2014
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I found a lot of what Rabbi Lapin has to say refreshing and inspiring. I came to his work after reading people like Jonathan Sacks and Yoram Hazony, who give accessible insights into Biblical stories, which I find very helpful.

Rabbi Lapin is a bit more populist and we get plenty of his opinions to go with his Biblical insights. He's a bit old school - explaining his contempt for the commencement speeches that tell graduates to 'follow your dream'. He says learn to like what pays well.

In my younger days, I worked for a City law firm which was well-paid, but it wasn't easy, and the quality of human relationships was poor. According to Rabbi Lapin, I should have stuck with that rather than struggling as a freelance for many years.

Having read Yoram Hazony and Abraham Twerski and other rabbis on money, I think he rather simplifies the complex ethical ideas Judaism has around earning a living.

Still, I read it in a weekend, and feel better for it.


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