Profile for Toby Frith > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Toby Frith
Top Reviewer Ranking: 13,899
Helpful Votes: 288

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Toby Frith (Tunbridge Wells)

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wilderness
Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wilderness
by Michael Symmons Roberts
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The new Wilderness, 8 Jun. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Like most working people in this age of online retail, I arrange for my parcels and large deliveries to be sent to me at work. This thankfully bypasses what can be an enormously frustrating encounter with the vagaries of the postal service for me here in Tunbridge Wells. As any attempt to try to redirect a parcel by mail or phone to my local post office usually ends with Kakfa-esque confusion, I have to go to the depot directly. As I don't have a car, it's necessary to take a short train ride to the wonderfully named but sadly nondescript "High Brooms" station and then walk to the outskirts of an unsightly industrial estate for about 20 minutes. This journey weaves its way through a forlorn estate and then with only a tall steel fence for company, I have to scramble along the roadside as the council deemed it unnecessary to even have a pavement out there. Only then do I come to the out-of-town collection of architectural eyesores that make up these vital civil resources, a place where everyone else has the good sense to drive to and exit sharply.

These monuments of no-mans-land are given definition by Edgelands, a tour of man-made features that occupy the unmapped areas between town and country. Poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts grew up in the sprawling enmeshed network of suburbs that now link Liverpool and Manchester together; a jigsaw of landfill sites, warehouses, sewage "treatment" farms, allotments, electricity pylons and other vital elements of our civil geography. Industrial historian Tim Edensor calls these areas "spaces of and for nothing". They call this "England's true wilderness" - an accurate observation given how much of the rural countryside has been documented in an artistic fashion over the last five centuries years or so.

Roberts and Farley eschew the fashion in what is termed "psychogeography" nowadays in that they seek to celebrate these unsightly blots instead of decrying their obvious lack of aesthetic value. Some of the chapters are accompanied by the inclusion of a contemporary artist or poet who is attempting to reshape or reinterpret these landscapes, such as photographer Henry Iddon, who takes long-exposure images of Cumbria from the high vantage points of Coniston Old Man, making towns and roads "like seeing the ghost of heavy industry, its long-extinguished blast furnaces and smelting plants and ironworks, all fired up and working again. The edgelands must lie somewhere between this Romantic night and that crucible of molten tungsten, sodium and halogen."

Elsewhere, they invoke the strong literary history of Britain and its fascination with this scenery - T S Eliot's Waste Land being an obvious example, or W H Auden, who apart from his timeless quote "A culture is no better than its woods", was also fascinated by mines and felt at home in this area.

Tramlines and slagheaps, pieces of machinery

That was, and still is, my ideal scenery

There's a fair amount of amusing humour and insight here. One memorable chapter deals specifically with Pallets - "consumer capitalism's red blood cells" - where the authors decide to visit a yard. They imagine it somewhat like Legoland, in that if Britain can build a pencil museum, then at some point these vital if unseen carriers of the world economy should be recognised and celebrated accordingly.

It's this irreverent approach and insight that makes Edgelands a delight to read. There's no attempt either to inject a current of pseudo-social analysis into these areas - instead they redirect artistic or aesthetic interpretation to the reader. Once you pass through the first few chapters, the style and writing becomes more cohesive, as Farley and Roberts tread through these regions. By the end, you might be tempted yourself to document or at least recognise them as integral to our landscape as more pleasing parts.

The Hugo Young Papers: Thirty Years of British Politics - off the record
The Hugo Young Papers: Thirty Years of British Politics - off the record
by Hugo Young
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars "Politics is mastering the right shade of grey", 1 Jun. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Hugo Young was an exceptional journalist and highly regarded by the British political cognescenti. For one, he never took notes when meeting his subjects, instead relying on a remarkable memory to type them up immediately afterwards. In the introduction, his wife remarks that he would not even stop to say hello when he arrived home and that she would hear the sound of furious typewriter hitting before he emerged.

This book is a collection of his notes and catalogues interviews he held with various political figures during his time at both the Sunday Times and then the Observer until his death in 2003. There is little in the way of proper analysis here, but as a behind-the-wall peek at the machinations of all three parties and more importantly the very human thoughts and viewpoints of their members, it is a remarkable document and invaluable to any student of the period.

All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity
All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity
by Marshall Berman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.79

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid analysis that still burns white-hot 30 years on., 1 Jun. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Taking its title from the quote by Karl Marx, Berman's authoritative study into the modernist experience, originally written in 1981, still has major significance in the midst of the information revolution and the death of the Soviet Union.

He takes the reader back to analyze literature from Goethe, Baudelaire and Marx himself to Russian masters such as Gogol and Mandelstam, observing how their writing helped to frame our understanding of Modernism set against the developing social and economic framework of the Western world.

At the heart of the book is Nevsky Prospekt, the ultra-modern street in the heart of the first true modern city in Petersburg that gave birth to the most important moment of 20th century history.

King of Tokyo
King of Tokyo
Offered by 24/7 DIRECT
Price: £25.13

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crush your opponents!, 1 Jun. 2011
= Durability:3.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:2.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: King of Tokyo (Toy)
Ever wondered what it would be like to be Godzilla or even Mothra, ploughing your way through Tokyo suburbs, intent only on defeating your irradiated opponent in a feast of atomic-induced rage? Well, thanks to Magic the Gathering creator Richard Garfield you can in King of Tokyo. He obviously couldn't get the official licence sadly.

It's a two to six player game that is short on rules and fast to play, with anyone over the age of six or so able to pick up easily. It's also very fast, which means that you can finish a game in a matter of 15 or so minutes. To become the King of Tokyo a player has to either reach either the defined number of victory points, or defeat all their opponents. The central mechanic of the game allows each player to roll six dice up to three times to achieve either - victory points, claws (which allow you to attack your opponents), energy or health. By collecting energy cubes you can purchase special abilities in the form of cards, although in the sessions played so far, I found these to be frustratingly a bit too random in terms of quality to really think about using a great deal.

The game's components are colourful and will appeal especially to younger children, with the creators electing for robust cardboard cutouts rather than figurines. There is a small, well-made board which determines who is the current incumbent of the title and the aforementioned power cards are drawn beautifully.

In terms of strategy, the game is easy to pick up without being too deep. One player will become King, which enables them to attack all the others players simultaneously. They can attain victory points by keeping this position, but conversely they cannot heal themselves. All other players can attack the king individually if they wish, but if they decide to, then upon receipt of damage the King can yield, which means the attacker must then become King of Tokyo. As such, it's

In a six player game, it is much harder to retain this position, so one must be careful. The result is usually a fast and furious game in which some players are eliminated without being able to really do much. The upside is that once one player goes in a six player game, the others usually follow suit soon after.

If you're looking for something that can engage all the family quickly in a fun, albeit aggressive, game, then King of Tokyo is a worthwhile purchase.

Moral Combat: A History of World War II
Moral Combat: A History of World War II
by Michael Burleigh
Edition: Hardcover

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Masterly prose and analysis from Burleigh., 20 Jan. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
One can sense that many historians of the 20th century want to grapple and grasp with the Second World War, the conflict that defined the way we live our life today. There's a sense of completeness about the subject, from the way that we see the rise of a vagabond to the most powerful man in the Europe to the unusual synchronicity of the two main totalitarian regimes involved. Add the end of Empires and the dramatic rise of the USA bookmarked at the end by the Atomic Bomb and you have all manner of historical themes that start, intertwine and end within this relatively short period of six years.

Michael Burleigh's book takes a different stance to such recent studies of the period as Andrew Roberts' "The Storm of War" or Norman Davies "Europe : Divided" which look to provide a grand overview. Neither does it seek to mark or bullet point turning points or strategic decisions taken by the military, like in Ian Kershaw's "Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941". Instead, applying the forensic historical research that made his 2000 book "The Third Reich" such a powerful read, Burleigh takes this conflict and the actions contained therein to an atomized, human level.

This isn't a book primarily about strategy, equipment or economic decisions made by the political and military commanders on the battlefield, it's principally about the business end of war, namely the horrendous killing and its consequences. That ranges from the gut-wrenching experiences of combat troops, to resistance under foreign occupation, the systematic death brought by ideologies to their enemies via death camps and the long-range destruction wreaked by bombing. What Burleigh is often at pains to point out is why the prevailing moral sentiments at the time changed under pressure from ideology and the mobilization of countries towards what Joseph Goebbels famously called "Total War".

"Moral Combat" reads well. Burleigh's prose is inflected with the confidence and vigour of a man who knows his subject and he isn't above withering criticism of certain individuals with a stroke. His previous historical research, especially the study of the Third Reich, serves him well . However, it's a book that begins to reap rewards once we arrive at subjects ridden with moral ambiguity. The first half is similar to others, providing a backdrop to many of the important events of the war. When Burleigh arrives at subjects like Operation Barbarossa though, you can sense that this is where he begins to grapple with the book's main objective.

One of the most horrific sections contains Burleigh's scalpel-like analysis of the events of June 1944 in the French town of Sait-Amand, where the actions of Maquis resistance fighters spurred on by the Allied invasion and the SS troops mobilized to meet them led to a horrific chain reaction of events. It's not the gory details of the deaths tjat chills you, it's how the moral compass swung wildly between the occupying forces and the unhinged, desperate actions of resistance fighters that came about because of the threat of violence. In the end, the Germans found the idea of executing 500 innocent villagers as a response to the Resistance far too easy to comprehend. SS General Heinz Lammerding, in response to the protesting mayor, said it was "nothing for us" as they had hanged "a hundred thousand" people in Kiev and Kharkov. Of the 500, they hanged 99 at lunch whilst listening to gramaphone records. The effects of a murderous campaign where soldiers had become so accustomed to treating other humans as utterly insignificant had taken its toll.

You can sense that Burleigh himself is combative in that he wants to stamp out some of the moral arguments that have arisen since the war finished. It is easy, he argues, for armchair philosophers to make judgments about the decisions taken by those, such as Curtis Le May or Arthur "Bomber" Harris, who were forced to carry the can and thus became by association notorious with the event, when often they were carrying out orders from above. The latter in particular has become so associated with what is seen as the senseless destruction of Dresden in February 1945 that it's often forgotten that he was in favour of other targets, when Churchill provided the order. Burleigh's view is that the Allied bombing of Germany and the targeting of civilian populations was utterly vindicated because of the upmost support of the regime by them. He takes time to point out that the systematic oblivion of the Holocaust was well known to them to, as many saw the bombing as "retribution for their actions towards the Jews". Whilst you can sense that Burleigh doesn't apply the same level of detail with his sections on Japan, his targeting of Hirohito as someone "who got away with it" makes for gripping reading.

"Moral Combat" ends in a fashion too that makes it stand out as a fine book for the subject, by tackling the legal history of both Nuremberg and Tokyo in a concise way. No international standard was in place for something of this nature, given that in 1918 the Germans had not been occupied. The remoteness of the Japanese trials from the countries of the victors (essentially the US) was laced by the fact that many in Asia saw the victors as interlopers on their own territory. In the final sentence the author brings the subject up to date, reminding us that "the 15 million Chinese killed by the Japanese may prove to be, in the long-term general trend of the world, the deed that will prove to have turned most notably against Japan's interest, for there can be little doubt about who is going to be the super-power of the 21st century".

Backed by outstanding historical research and a prose that never wavers into nebulous ambiguity, "Moral Combat", perhaps in a way that mirrors the subject it covers, gathers at an unstoppable pace as Burleigh takes you into the heart of Armageddon.

Germany: Jekyll And Hyde: A Contemporary Account of Nazi Germany
Germany: Jekyll And Hyde: A Contemporary Account of Nazi Germany
by Sebastian Haffner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haffner's lucidity remains powerful to this day, 25 Feb. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Sebastian Haffner left Germany just before the start of the Second World War, and emigrated to London where he wrote for the Observer. This contemporary account, written in 1940, is a revealing and visionary account of what was wrong with the Nazi regime, and how an eager public had lapped up Hitler and his cohorts. Far from being deceived, Germans were all too willing to let him control their daily lives.

The writer's weapon is his prose - Haffner writes with the conviction and wisdom of a man 30 years his age (he was around 35 when this was written), and whilst his arguments are simple, they are never less than effective. He delivers a damning verdict against his countrymen.

Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (PS2)
Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (PS2)
Offered by CDandVinyl
Price: £5.96

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a good wine, this one gets better with time, 26 Jan. 2007
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Like all truly great computer games, Pro Evolution Soccer has always been a totally immersive experience despite it essentially being just a football simulation. There are certain cosmetic aspects to the presentation of the PES series that have been upstaged by its only serious rival, FIFA, but deep down PES remains the purist's choice, and for good reason.

The Japanese remain the masters of gameplay - and in an attempt to compromise the realities of modern football with a playable simulation they have recreated "the beautiful game" in the form of Pro Evolution Soccer 6, Konami's latest incarnation of the PES series.

Both annual incarnations of FIFA and PES are essentially just updates of the existing format. Yet with PES6 Konami have added some interesting aspects to the game which on the basis of some of the more negative reviews on here, have put some people off.

The most frustrating facet of the PES series was that defending was particularly easy, even with very poor teams. Whilst it would be perhaps hard to win games, the art of shutting your opponent out wasn't that difficult to master. Sliding tackles in particular were a surefire way to win the ball, and you were hardly ever punished unless you were very late. With PES6 you can throw that all out of the window. Sliding tackles are now what they are in the real game, a massive gamble that can often open your defence up if timed wrong and usually end up with your defender being yellow-carded. Headers have to be timed - and here the advantage of players having an asterisk special ability come to the fore. The same with just normal tackling - it's all about timing otherwise you'll be left for dead. So what does this tell us about the game? You need to practice, and then practice again.

There are other aspects that are enjoyable. Playing in the Premiership for example, you'll find that you will be hustled continually by your opponents. The quick-fire short passing game that you want to play with might have to be compromised. To this end the long-ball passing on PES6 has been considerably improved, adding an extra dimension to the game that was previously rather lacking. Spraying the ball around adds an element that was bypassed with previous editions, although complacency is usually punished.

Shooting is predictably difficult and initially frustrating, but again practice really does pay dividends. Players with real pace are lethal, but again, defenders aren't as predictable as they were, and the old "drop of the shoulders" which could be used to devastating effect in older editions, isn't quite so effective. Long range shooting is much better and can be useful with the right kind of player.

Goalkeepers have become more a part of the game as well - especially on the "random" aspect. They're more likely now to palm the ball away or spill a high cross, which can be frustrating, but this is a simulation. When keepers make mistakes, it is usually costly.

I've not been playing the game particularly long, but immediately I've felt that it's a considerable improvement on PES5. The game is much harder, and better for it. It requires a lot of time and effort to master, but as always this is the sign of a truly great game. All the hidden tricks and moves are still there, and no doubt more have been added in the mean time.

Hitler's Generals
Hitler's Generals
by Correlli Barnett
Edition: Paperback

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview of a broad subject, 13 July 2005
This review is from: Hitler's Generals (Paperback)
Corelli Barnett effectively edits this ambitious book, which is a compilation of essays by various historians concentrating on 26 of Hitler's Generals. His skill is to divide the various personalities into groups, from the deskbound administrators like Halder, overseers like Von Runstedt to the battlefield genius of Rommel and innovation of Guderian.
Time and space constraints the profile of each General, but in every case much is made of, in virtually every case, their unstinting professionalism and more tragically, their total adherence, via the unswerving loyalty demanded by the Prussian officer "code", to the aims and objectives of the Fuhrer.
This provides the most interesting aspect of the book, as it details each General's attitude to Hitler, which in virtually all cases with the exception of Model, was one of distaste. Some readers may find that certain essayists excoriate their subjects more than others, but the overall feeling throughout, as mentioned above, is one of tragic paralysis, cunningly created by Hitler's requirement that all officers swear an oath of loyalty to him, and his own natural ability to divide and rule.
What comes across more than anything is a detailed construct of the demands required of a large Army, and in particular, whilst no doubt horribly immoral, the remarkable achievements in the field of a professional Army that threatened to conquer the whole of Eurasia. The Wehrmacht was without doubt the most disciplined, tactically superior mechanized force the world had ever seen, and this book proves to be a fascinating insight into its prime proponents.

Call of Duty (Mac)
Call of Duty (Mac)

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense FPS - an essential for Mac users, 13 July 2005
This review is from: Call of Duty (Mac) (Video Game)
An essential release if you are a FPS lover. Call of Duty spans several campaigns set in Normandy, Germany, Stalingrad, The Ardennes and Berlin. The mechanics of the game are excellent, and you feel as you are properly immersed into the machinations of "grunt" level battlefields as you and your squad are propelled into various conflicts against the Nazi enemy. The Single player campaign is good, but apart from some particularly hard levels here and there, doesn't really get harder as you go alonger, and disappointly for this user, is not chronological in running with the timeline of the conflict. For example, you start in Normandy (1944), and then hop over to Stalingrad (1942). This slightly detracts from the game IMHO, not having quite the cohesive storyline that the Medal of Honor games have.
The various weapons involved are great use though, and the AI of the enemy is generally more refined than that of its aforementioned rival. Certain weapons are better than others, and take some while to get used to, but after a while you'll be preferring the solid action of the M1 Garand to the the scattergun MP40. Another slight quibble which stops me from giving this game the full marks is that several of the "Vehicle" levels where you pilot either cars, or sit in them and shoot are far too arcade-like and far too fast for my liking, in particular the Airport Shoot-out that gets ridiculous at points. However this doesn't detract too much.
The real core of the game however is the Multiplayer part, and it's this where it comes into its own. The various maps are all excellent.
One tip = get a two button mouse otherwise you'll be struggling.

Cricket 2005 (PS2)
Cricket 2005 (PS2)
Offered by CDandVinyl
Price: £2.50

3.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating, but still playable, 11 July 2005
This review is from: Cricket 2005 (PS2) (Video Game)
Cricket 2005 has taken some of the previous year's incarnations graphics, interface and problems, and improved them, but sadly has not taken onboard some of its more peculiar idiosyncrasies, which is a shame, because it prevents it from becoming a great game. Like most of EA's products, the graphical presentation is second to none, and here they've added some lovely flourishes, especially with player's faces to give it that little bit more of a realistic feel. The interface is easy to use and navigate, and there are now more options to use when creating players. My only niggle here is that it still requires a massive amount of space on your memory card which is frustrating.
Onto Gameplay. Bowling is still frustrating, and to be honest I now find myself autoplaying the other side's innings, often making it easier, as most sides average around 250, although some I've seen go up to 382. This is far too easy to do, and they should have made sides get higher totals through this method as it's all too easy to stray to. There are little flourishes with the bowling, like building up a meter that can make you bowl a special ball, and there are now on-screen guides to help you choose which ball to go for.
The Batting controls are exactly the same as before. As others have commented, it is extremely hard, but I'm finding that it's not the "slogfest" that was previous editions. The bowlers change their bowling line and length a lot more than before, so that "surefire" 4's and 6's in 2004 are not what they were. This is eternally frustrating at the start, but Cricket is a game of patience, and EA I think have tried to replicate this. Another niggle is that your "Batting Confidence Meter" only seems to go up after hitting boundaries - something that I think is wrong. Although players could just block balls to build up their confidence, there should at least be some action after nicking a few cheeky singles here and there. Getting out is frustrating - it's all too easy to press reset, but Cricket again is a game born of patience. Start slogging indiscriminately (as it's all too easy to do) and you will get punished.
The AI of the computer bowling is strange - as others have commented, I've seen spin bowlers in action on a green pitch after just 6 overs, and sometimes a bowler has been in action for 20 overs or so.
So in summary, EA Cricket 2005 is a game for fans, and fans only. It's one I think I'll return to, especially in two player mode, when you and a friend are batting, it can be extremely rewarding to build up a great partnership, but there are pitfalls with the gameplay that need to be addressed for future editions. However Cricket is a game with many, many conditions affecting it, and it is very difficult to replicate those without sacrificing gameplay.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5