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The Trouble With Europe:Third Edition: Why the EU isn't Working, How it Can be Reformed, What Could Take its Place
The Trouble With Europe:Third Edition: Why the EU isn't Working, How it Can be Reformed, What Could Take its Place

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read, though with significant eurosceptic slant, 1 Feb. 2016
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I bought this book to help me to decide which way to vote in the EU referendum. It has confirmed some of my views (eg, the EU is often dysfunctional, and it lacks democratic accountability); made me think about some issues which were not front of my mind (eg how competitiveness between countries is actively discouraged by the EU, which is disadvantageous economically); and filled in some of the many gaps in my knowledge. It also made clear that Brexit is not a clear, single political alternative. There are several options, which would depend upon negotiation, and none of them need be based on the existing models found with Norway, Switzerland or Turkey. Although Bootle aims to be balanced, and puts both sides of the argument, his preference for Brexit becomes increasingly clear.

Overall, it was a useful contribution to my thinking, but left me with the view that I need to read another book, with a positive view of the EU, to achieve an overall balance. For now, I'm still undecided.


Black + Decker ST5530-GB 550W Corded Grass Strimmer
Black + Decker ST5530-GB 550W Corded Grass Strimmer
Price: £38.95

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Failed to replenish cutting line - returned for refund, 27 Sept. 2014
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This worked really well - for about a minute. The cutting line got shorter & shorter, with no evidence of any autofeed. We followed up a suggestion from Black & Decker to remove the spring from the spool housing, but this made no difference. I returned the product for refund.


One Night in Winter
One Night in Winter
Price: £5.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readable, 31 May 2014
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Sound plot, some interesting characters, great historical backdrop. The novel requires an interplay of fictional & historical characters, which at times felt a bit strained and inauthentic. By the end of the novel, I wanted to separate out the facts from fiction, and, sure enough, there was a section which did just that. To have read it first, however, would have revealed some aspects of the plot.


Americanah
Americanah
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too close to parody, 1 May 2014
This review is from: Americanah (Paperback)
On the plus side, Adichie can clearly write well. But, I suspect, not quite as well as she thinks. When reading this book, I thought initially it was intended to be a straight depiction of life in Nigeria and, more significantly, the USA from the perspective of a recent black immigrant. As the main character, Ifemelu, developed, with increasing and almost unremitting emphasis on race, I began to wonder if the novel was heading towards parody. To write a parody on such a sensitive issue would be bold, but maybe it would be tolerated and enjoyed when written by a black writer, much in the same way that the UK TV series “Goodness, Gracious Me” affectionately sends up UK Asians. I then realised that this was clearly not the intention. As Ifemelu gained in professional standing and affluence, but not in likeability or self-insight, I thought maybe the novel would take on a “flawed character redeems herself” theme, similar that followed by Jane Austen, for example with characters such as Emma and Elizabeth Bennett. The signs, however, were not promising. In time, I decided that I was wrong again. It’s a straight novel, with a large dose of polemical argument in the shape of Ifemelu’s blog. If you are white, prepare to be made to feel guilty. If you think you aren't racist, think again – denial of racism (even at an individual level) is essentially racist:

“Of all their tribalisms, Americans are most uncomfortable with race. If you are having a conversation with an American, and you want to discuss something racial that you find interesting, and the American says, “Oh, it’s simplistic to say it’s race, racism is so complex”, it means they just want you to shut up already….Lots of folk today don’t mind a black nanny or black limo driver. But they sure as hell mind a black boss. What is simplistic is saying “It’s so complex.” But shut up anyway, especially if you need a job/favour from the American in question. “

Ifemelu becomes less likeable as the novel progresses. She comes from a privileged middle class background in Nigeria. She is very quick to judge, often on the basis of appearance. The slights she perceives could readily be seen as symptomatic of her feelings of social superiority (“do you know who I am?” she screamed at a Nigerian tradesman), rather than racist. She has no humour, warmth or self-awareness. She is a cultural snob. Her self-centred behaviour and general prickliness provoke little reaction from others, or other commentary, giving the impression that the author believes her attitudes to be appropriate. This is slightly moderated towards the end of the novel, when her friends and colleagues back in Nigeria variously describe her as “judging everyone”, “feeling so superior”, and “self-righteous”. But the overwhelming view seems to be that she is right.

Some of the apparently racist attitudes attributed to white people are articulated by black people, without any evidence that white people do indeed think this way (assuming that people of any given colour are all predisposed to think in the same way). An example of this is the vexed question of black hairdos. Possibly naively as a white person, I had always assumed women’s choice of how to do their hair to be a function of both personal preference and preparedness to dedicate time and money to the quest of having one’s hair ‘just so’. Not the case, apparently. As the (black) career adviser said “My only advice? Lose the braids and straighten your hair. Nobody says this kind of stuff but it matters. We want you to get the job.” Somehow or other, having ‘relaxed’ (ie straightened) hair is supposed to make black women appear less………..black. (I can’t say I’d noticed.) This view even extends to Michelle Obama: “If Michelle Obama got tired of all the heat and decided to go natural………..She would totally rock but poor Obama would certainly lose the independent vote, even the undecided Democrat vote.” The hair topic gets a great deal of coverage.

Ifemelu also firmly believes in there being a hierarchy of races in the USA, with the blacks at the bottom. She is dismissive of other race’s claims of oppression in her blog, to an extent which some would find offensive:

“In the hatred of Jews, there is also the possibility of envy – they are so clever these Jews, they control everything these Jews – and one must concede that a certain respect, however grudging, accompanies envy. In the hatred of American Blacks, there is no possibility of envy – there are so lazy, these blacks, they are so unintelligent, these blacks. “

Areas in which blacks have excelled (and continue to excel), such as sport and music, only get the briefest of mentions, and then in a disparaging manner, regarding these fields as stereotypical, and consequently irrelevant, or even insulting. Ifemelu wants to make her mark in the rarefied society of Ivy League universities, and fails to perceive that this could be a challenge for anyone, regardless of their race.

Ifemelu is also very dismissive of people trying to be kind to her. She interprets their expressed interest in Africa as being insincere and/or as a demonstration of their anxiety not to appear racist, unsuccessfully, needless to say:

“I don’t need her [her white lover, Curt’s aunt, who had been talking about her positive views and experiences of Africa] to over-assure me that she likes black people…….Of course his aunt would not have done the same thing with a blonde Russian. A blonde Russian was white, and his aunt would not feel the need to prove that she liked people who looked like the blonde Russian.”

Overall, if I wanted to read a polemic about race in the USA, I would have read a non-fictional account. I wanted to read fiction, with interesting, complex characters and a strong sense of place. I learnt very little about Nigeria, nothing at all beyond the middle class milieu that the characters inhabit. I still have a slight nagging feeling that we weren't supposed to take Ifemelu seriously, but if so, there were too few hints of this. Other novels, such as Aminata Forna’s “The memory of love”, or Lawrence Hill’s “The book of Negroes” have far more to say about Africa. Philip Roth’s “ The human stain” gives a much more multi-layered view of race issues in America. All of these books are a better read.


Not Me: Memoirs of a German Childhood
Not Me: Memoirs of a German Childhood
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Growing up in Nazi Germany, 2 Oct. 2013
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I have read Fest's biography of Hitler, and thought his own history would be interesting. It was.

This book has a number of strong elements. Fest's family, especially his father, were opponents of Nazism, and managed to tread the fine line of been open (to a degree) about their opposition, whilst avoiding imprisonment, or worse. His father was barred from his profession of teaching, but continued to avoid compromising himself to support the Nazis, in collaboration with friends and acquaintances. Those wanting acts of daring resistance will not find them here. To paraphrase his father, he made mistakes, but he did no wrong. Fest himself, as a teenager, was precociously academic in his interests, and there are some long passages about classical German literature and music which some might find tedious and hard to follow as few can probably equal his literary prowess. (I include myself in this group.) To me, Fest's very strong grounding in German culture illustrated that there was nothing special in German culture which inevitably led to the horrors of the Nazis - Hitler was an aberration, rather than a natural consequence of how German culture evolved. Fest's war time experiences are exciting to read, and I found the immediate aftermath of the war interesting - a time when being demobbed was a different experience in Germany to the UK.

As a former student at the Free University in Berlin (during the 1970s when the Wall was still firmly in place), where Fest also studied, I would have been interested to read more about how his family and friends fared in post war Berlin, with the Blockade, erection of the Wall and so on. I suppose that there is another tale to tell from that period, but it will have to be by someone other than Fest.


Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell Trilogy Book 2)
Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell Trilogy Book 2)
Price: £5.99

83 of 96 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dense, but not deep, 6 Jun. 2013
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This sequel fails to deliver the interest and and colour of Wolf Hall, and overall is pedestrian and boring.

Mantel persists in her strange narrative style: third person, with Cromwell often only referred to as 'he', with a first person's perspective. A new innovation is the awful phrase 'he, Cromwell', rather than just 'Cromwell' which makes the English appear worse, rather than better. As well as confusing the reader (with no gain in terms of more sophisticated understanding), this clumsy form of expression can lead to daft writing, such as "The earl is on his feet. He remains seated."

The readability of the novel is further diminished by the poor use of paragraphs, extraordinarily long chapters, and the lack of clear breaks between different scenes. I expect that everyone reads for a limited period at a time - certainly not for 150 pages without a break. Without obvious breaks in the text, and the tendency to segue directly from one event to the next, there is no logical place to stop reading, and when starting to read again, I often had to back track to find the thread of the narrative again. The novel has a 'stream of consciousness'feel to it, without the depth or insight that usually accompanies this style of writing, and gives no consideration to how the reader might respond to the text.

I've read many, many novels in my time, some quite long and demanding, eg Tolstoy's 'War and Peace', and 'Anna Karenina'. I don't mind thinking hard to get full value from the text, but in this case, I felt that maintaining the concentration required was more akin to understanding a tedious tax form, rather than appreciating literary depth.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2015 9:03 AM GMT


Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity
Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity
by Mike Hulme
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.99

79 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think.........., 29 April 2009
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I bought this book because of my increasing unease about some of the contradictory and apocalyptic comments that were being made about climate change. Although I don't doubt the fact that the world is warming, and that humans are to a greater or lesser degree responsible, I am irritated and concerned about simplistic reporting of and commenting upon climate change issues by the media, politicians and various pressure groups. An example of this is the Guardian's '100 months to save the world' series of articles. I understand the premises behind this, (both the scientific basis, and the desire to force actions), but I find my own response is to oscillate between becoming completely fatalistic, and rejecting the whole argument, as the world (with or without us) clearly will still be there in 101 months. This book helped me to articulate to myself the reasons for this reaction.

From my lay-person's understanding of science, I know that there must be a lot of uncertainty about future predictions, and that we lack the tools to forecast in what specific (and to a degree localised) ways climate change will be catastrophic (or not), although we can anticipate many of the things that might happen. This book is about the disagreements about what might happen, and how these are played out through various cultural manifestations, which shape the way we think and act.

A lot of the disagreements have as their basis the relationship between science and wider society, and the fact that the choice of responses to climate change is inevitably political, and in some cases, ethical. With such complexity, there is a need for more, rather than less, critical thought. Blind allegiance to 'green' or 'eco' causes, without being ready to learn and debate will not get us there.

This is a well-researched, fairly academic book, rather than a straight polemical read. This is to its credit, although it can make the underlying ideas hard to put across.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2009 4:04 PM BST


No Title Available

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much more intuitive than Photoshop, 3 Dec. 2007
I've never really got to grips with photoshop, what with layers, selections and so on. In contrast, I've found Capture NX much easier to master (or at least become halfway proficient), with U-Points making selective editing much easier. The non-destructive aspect is also great, as you can always undo a mistake. With NEF files (ie RAW files from a Nikon), it's also helpful to have the camera settings imported (unlike in photoshop), so if, for example, you set highly saturated colours in the shot, they will be so in the NEF. If you decide this was too much, you can easily tone it down a bit in NX.

On the downside, the software can run slowly (with 1GB RAM), although the recent updates (available online) seem to be addressing this over time. All in all, NX is a much better RAW converter than the one that comes with Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.


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