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Hande Z (Singapore)
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Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China
by Evan Osnos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Coming of age, 23 Nov 2014
Evan Osnos connects the lives of prominent contemporary individuals to present a picture of modern China. He writes about the publisher Hu Shuli and how she balances the demands of strict censorship with the nascent liberalism. He compares the deep dissenting voices of artists like Ai Weiwei and more conservative ones who appreciate the difficulty of managing China today. From the accounts, it is clear that the problem is not about managing the people or the country - the Chinese have done that for thousands of years - whether they have been successful or not never bothered the government of the day. The problem today is about managing change. The China of the Cold War and the China today are vastly different.

Many think that China is a country of many laws but no Rule of Law. Understanding China today from Osno's account of life there, one wonders if there is any Western intellectual who can first explain what the Rule of Law means and then to show how it can be imposed in China flawlessly. China seems to have left Communism as it was practised in the fifties and sixties, and now has significant expressions of capitalism. It might end up more democratic than America one day, but such a change requires time in a country like China. It is thus important that the change is well managed. This book gives the reader glimpses of the tremendous challenge that will be for those ruling China.


A Crazy Job: Leading Publishers in Conversation with Juan Cruz Ruiz
A Crazy Job: Leading Publishers in Conversation with Juan Cruz Ruiz
by Juan Cruz Ruiz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.31

5.0 out of 5 stars Still crazy after all these years?, 5 Nov 2014
Publishers and editors are the invisible people in the book industry. Most readers do not think about the work of the editor, many do not know much about the publisher, and often the only comment might be, 'I rarely come across this publisher'. In this book, Juan Cruz Luiz introduces us to some of the most fascinating and captivating men and women in the publishing and editorial world.

The range of topics discussed about the book industry is as diverse as the personalities that come through in the conversations. They speak freely and sincerely not only about their suspicion of e-books and Amazon, but also about their confidence in the published book. No matter their age -- Robert Silvers is 84 years old but he speaks with the enthusiasm of a much younger man.

Through these conversations, one readily discerns the common bond of good editors and publishers. They are fiercely independent, fearless in the face of public opinion, thus, necessarily stubborn; but they get by with a sense of humour and a sense of destiny. The conversations in this book are with old school editors and publishers. These are people who have shown a marvellous intuition as to what is fine writing. They have the learning and wisdom to introduce good authors to their readers. In short, they are not publishers of books the public likes to read -- they bring to the public what the public should read.

There are two other gems about this book. First, there is a list of the ten favourite books from each of the publishers' personal library. Secondly, the book is of an extremely good quality with a lovely and mesmerizing hard cover. The names of the people on that cover are the names of the voices within.


Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism (Terry Lectures) (The Terry Lectures)
Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism (Terry Lectures) (The Terry Lectures)
by Philip Kitcher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.40

5.0 out of 5 stars More to life, 5 Nov 2014
There are several perspectives in the study of religious beliefs. One is to examine why we should believe in gods, or a God. Another is to examine why we should not believe. In this book, Columbia University's John Dewey Professor of Philosophy examines what religious people think they will lose if they were to exchange faith for secularism. The two main issues are: first, the claim that we would lose our values, our sense of morals - the `without God anything is permissible' argument; second, that without God our lives would be meaningless.

There is a reason for this approach. Kitcher is promoting the case for secular humanism which he says begins with doubt. But one must move on from there so that it can be properly understood and lived as a rewarding way of life. Religions are founded on doctrinal statements that are accepted by the devout, and if we take those doctrines away, we find a void that may have to be filled. Secular humanism does that, and Kitcher provides a clearly written and well-reasoned case for this. Every page of this 159-page book is illuminating.

Kitcher deals with the religious preoccupation with the transcendent life and makes an irrefutable argument against that belief. However, he knows that for the believers, no amount of rational argument would persuade them to abandon the idea that after this finite life, there is a better, infinite one. His gently leads the reader to look at the end of this finite life from different perspectives and thus allay fears of death and what comes thereafter. Does it bother us what had been going on 100 years before we were born? Probably not. Many of us do not even know our great-grandparents to have any special bond with them. Would the affairs of the world 100 years after we die bother us? Again probably not. Kitcher rightly points out that what bothers us about death is that we leave behind friends and family, and projects we want to complete. It bothers us that we cannot meet our tennis friends for the weekly hit, or the coffee after that. It bothers us that we would leave behind an unfinished book. `Absence from the period just after my death is poignant because so much of the stuff of my life will be continued in it. Whenever I die, people about whom I care most deeply will live on, and I should like to be there, sustaining them and being sustained by them.' But once we come to terms with that, we can come to terms with this finite life. Kitcher points the way to looking `forward to a future, to a world without you...where you will no longer be part of the show.'

Kitcher shows not only that there is a firm, rational way to morality and ethics through the path of secular humanism, he also shows the contradictions and inconsistencies of establishing ethical beliefs from a religious base. Naturally, everyone who believes in God believes his God is the true God and that God wants us to live life according to his doctrines. The trouble is that that God cannot make himself universally clear and consistent.

It is with the issue of the meaning of life that Kitcher is at his best. He weaves that subject seamlessly into the issue of our finite life, our living ethically without God, and shows what we need to do when our lives go awry - we `should be committed to salvage, not salvation'. He shows us that, ironically, it is the immortal life that is meaningless. It reminds us of what Seneca once said, `In hope of tomorrow, we forfeit today.'

Kitcher's book is best read with Samuel Scheffler's `Death & the Afterlife', 2014 Oxford University Press.


Sebastião Salgado: From My Land to the Planet
Sebastião Salgado: From My Land to the Planet
by Sebastião Salgado
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Mirror of the world, 31 Oct 2014
If we were to have a community of people who do not lie and do not fight, would that not be the epitome of a civilised society? But such a community does exist and is living in the heart of the Amazon jungle. They are the Zo'é. They live naked, incapable of telling lies and do not tell lies; they do not know about fighting and do not fight. They settle disagreements by facing their opponents and putting forward their respective arguments one by one until they reach an amicable conclusion. Salgado visited this tribe in 2009 and documented their life and personalities with his camera.

Sebastiao Salgado is a photographer of outstanding skills. Like the legendary Henri Cartiér-Bresson, his photographs are at once enigmatic and also full of meaning that the viewer can mull over and over again. Some of those are found sprinkled across this book. But this book is an autobiographical account of his life and work, not a coffee-table book of lovely photographs alone.

Salgado was born in 1944 in Brazil. He developed a love for photography and living with people and observing communities. This book not only traces his childhood in Brazil to his present abode in France, but also the development of his affinity with humans, society, and our relationship with animals and the land. We can see how his observations led him to form the kind of ideological and political views, his unconcealed disdain for the consumerism of modern cites and the economic greed that festers in such places. The nature of this human is best expressed in his own words (from p.106 -107):

`I saw so much suffering, hatred and violence in the course of my reportages for "Migrations", that I emerged extremely shaken. But I have no regrets...Photographers are there to act as mirrors, just like journalists. So don't talk to me about voyeurism! The voyeurs are the politicians who stood idly by and the military who facilitated the repression [in Rwanda]...I have always tried to show people in all their dignity. In the majority of cases, they are the victims of cruelty, of events. They are photographed at a time in which they have lost their homes, seen their loved ones murdered, sometimes even their own children. For the most part they are innocent people who do not deserve the misfortunes that have struck them. I took these photos because I thought everyone needed to know. That is my opinion, but I do not force anyone to look at them. I am not here to lecture or set my conscience at rest by rousing feelings of compassion. I took these images because I had a moral, ethical obligation to do so. In such moments of suffering, you may ask, what are morals, what are ethics? It is when I am faced with someone who is dying and I have to decide whether or not to release the shutter of the camera.'


Lists of Note
Lists of Note
by Shaun Usher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poor list, 25 Oct 2014
This review is from: Lists of Note (Hardcover)
The size, cover, and format of this book indicate that the publisher intended this book to be a companion to the previously published 'Letters of Note'. I give that book a higher rating strictly because the content of that book is of greater interest to more people (I think). There many general readers of biography who would be keenly interested in letters written by and to their biographical subjects. But only specialist biographical scholars would be interested in random lists made by the subject characters.

Lists featured in this book include those made by Marilyn Monroe, Susan Sontag, Sylvia Plath, Christopher Hitchens, Rudyard Kipling, Thelonious Monk (jazz pianist), Walt Whitman, Leonardo da Vinci, and Queen Elizabeth II, and many others.

The contents of the lists printed are naturally varied and some are interesting - such as the one from a Mafia member which contains, 'Do not be seen with cops'. The page containing Peter Roget's initial draft Roget's Thesaurus is entitled 'Existence' and written in his own hand with a rudimentary list of various words such as 'reality', reference', and 'relation'. Harry Truman's list seems to be short descriptions of how his year has been - for example, '1920: One happy year; 1921: Going very well'. Scott Fitzgerald has a list of tenses with amusing examples.

It is a fine coffee table book but that is about all.


The Impulse Society: What's Wrong With Getting What We Want
The Impulse Society: What's Wrong With Getting What We Want
by Paul Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Increasingly impulsive, 17 Oct 2014
`A society is made up of individuals who strive to mould it into the ideal society' - is this statement right? Roberts thinks that it was right but the modern society is driven by a vast market economy that promotes immediate gratification, and technology that enables the market to manipulate the individual. The result is that the individual is being moulded to see himself (and not his society) as the centre of the universe.

The market-driven economy goes for immediate rewards and quick fixes. It is addicted to constant growth that is measured by higher figures and greater numbers. Quality and values are suffocated by quantity and size. Innovations once seen as the means to improve the productivity of the worker is now used to improve the productivity of capital. Roberts blames the widening income gap to the twin evils - market economy and technology. We must not forget Adam Smith's warning: 'No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable'.

The danger, as Roberts adds, is that this trend kills the concept of the commonwealth 'because it is no longer a wealth to be shared'. Instead of being members of a society, we become competitors against each other.

There is a slew of books that touches on similar ideas and subjects - society, the individual, and technology. Nick Harkaway's 'The Blind Giant', and Paul Verhaeghe's 'What about Me?', as well as Susan Greenfield's 'Mind Change' will complement Roberts' book very well.


The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century
by Steven Pinker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making sense of what we think, 17 Oct 2014
If you feel that you need an up-to-date version of 'The Complete Plain Words' (by Ernest Gowers), or have enjoyed 'The Elements of Style' (by White & Strunk) so much that you wish that there is a longer version of it, then Pinker's 'The Sense of Style' is what you are looking for. Chapter Four: `The Web, the Tree, and the String' may be the most important and useful chapter in this book because it teaches syntax, without which grammar becomes a wild horse. This chapter is technical and needs careful reading. My favourite chapter is chapter 6: `Telling Right from Wrong'. In this chapter Pinker takes a swipe at purists and pedants for misleading the reader and writer - 'in their zeal to purify usage and safeguard the language, they have made it difficult to think clearly about felicity in expression and have muddied the task of explaining the art of writing.' Chapter 6 is probably the essence of this book.


The Real Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don't Want You to Know
The Real Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don't Want You to Know
by Aaron Klein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.43

4.0 out of 5 stars Real enough, but is it complete?, 12 Oct 2014
Aaron Klein sets out the chronology of events, and subsequently disclosed information, and raises some very pointed questions that discredits the official position. First, Stevens was killed in a building known as the CIA Annex. That was a building next to the main building which most people assumed to be 'the US Consulate'. Klein points out that there is only one official American consulate and that is in Tripoli. Under UN convention, no country can establish any facility without the host country's approval. The CIA annex was so top-secret that its existence was not known to the senior US administration. That means no one at that level was able to assess the security arrangements.

The security provided for that facility is remarkable if we accept the information in this book. There were few trained guards. There were no watch towers in the compound. The main security was outsourced to a private security company. The outer compound was guarded by unarmed local guards. The inner compound was guarded by members of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, with known connections to Al-Qaeda. Klein asks, what justified this bizarre security arrangement? More crucially, what was going on in this compound? Klein alludes to secret dealings by the CIA in using the facility to trade in arms including "MANPADS" (Man-portable air-defense systems). Were the arms going to the rebels in Syria? The US had already destabilised Libya by bringing down the secular government of Gaddafi. Is it attempting the same in Syria?


Life's Too Short to Drink Bad Wine
Life's Too Short to Drink Bad Wine
by Simon Hoggart
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkle, 8 Oct 2014
What a delightful book. The author cannot be accused of being a wine snob for he has such great love for lesser known wines such as Chateau D'Angludet and Camel Valley, which, is probably not known outside of Britain - it is a British sparking wine whose claim to fame was coming in second to Bollinger in a blind tasting. The cartoons and witticism are joy enough to merit getting this book. But it is indeed a well-written - concise and yet full of information.


Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen
Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen
by Philip Ball
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Here, there, and everywhere, 1 Oct 2014
Mankind has a long fascination with things unseen. Philip Ball draws our mind (if not our eyes) to a close examination of most of that which is invisible to us - from ghosts to fictional characters. He merges fact and fiction in telling the history of man's interest in this subject. He discusses whether our world is as Plato says, `a mere shadow of reality'. He talks about occult forces, magic, and the black arts. He describes the incredible performance of David Garrick as Hamlet's ghost, and, naturally, a long segment was devoted to H G Well's 'The Invisible Man'.

There are two ways to disappear as Ball tells us. One is to bend light and become transparent (a matter of optics), and the second is 'to blend into the background and become indistinguishable from your surroundings'. From all these things man continues to pursue the subject of invisibility, turning, even warships and aircraft 'invisible' to radar.

The only fault with this book is the abrupt ending. For that the reader might pick up David Zweig's book 'Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion'. Zweig has a clearer and tighter exposition of the subject of invisibility although he looks at it from a different perspective - the work of people who stay out of the limelight. He provides the wider concept and conclusion that is lacking in Ball's work.


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