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Hande Z (Singapore)
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Lord of Publishing
Lord of Publishing
by Sterling Lord
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Lord of the Reams, 15 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Lord of Publishing (Paperback)
There is no doubt that one would learn many things from this book if one were interested in the literary world. Sterling Lord is full of experience and has been extremely successful. His book tells stories about the pitfalls of writing and publishing, and the arbitrariness of success and failure. The small problem I found with this book is that it is too obvious that Lord is glorifying himself a little too much. If one does not mind that, an extra star can be added for the book. Although the book is successful because of the interesting people it covers (Kerouac, Breslin, J B West, David Wise, et al), Lord could have made it more charming if he places himself a little more subtly and less 'in your face'.

The stories behind the people are also fascinating. The one I like best is about the tussle between the authors, publisher (Random House) and, of course, Sterling Lord on the one side and the CIA on the other, over the publication and sale of the book, 'The Invisible Government'. Others might prefer the stories involving the Kennedys; or Jack Kerouac; or Ken Kesey.

The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew
The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From eternity to here, 3 Jan. 2015
Lightman is a self-confessed atheist although reading his thoughts in this book, one might be forgiven for thinking him to be a This 145 page book is about a complex subject -- the universe and our place in it. It is lucid, rational, and persuasively written; a small book on a vast subject which is best enjoyed by the reader personally. In brief, Alan Lightman tells us that the current scientific view which he, as a scientist, is inclined to agree, is that our universe is the result of a random coincidence of forces and events (his first chapter explains this). He also says that current scientific opinion inclines towards the existence of not just our universe but many others. Some may similarly have randomly created conditions that lead to life. However, he accepts that these are based on scientific theories and calculations that are rational, and irrefutable for the time being, there is no way we can prove that there is life anywhere else.

Lightman is a self-confessed atheist although reading his thoughts in this book, one might be forgiven for thinking him to be a Buddhist. He certainly does not believe in the existence of any gods, and he does not believe in any life after death. He believes that we, like every living thing, grows in the time available to us in the space we are in, and gradually, we wither and are gone - like everything else that once lived but are now dead - the one billion people who were alive in the year 1800, for example.

Lightman agrees with the views of Richard Dawkins so far as biology, evolution and atheism are concerned. But he dislikes Dawkins' attitude. Lightman is amenable to people who wish to believe in a personal god or gods. He believes that the scientific people (not science) can live with religious people (not religion). He clearly does not think that science and religion are compatible, but scientists and religious people can be.

It seems, therefore, such a brilliant piece of work will probably attract criticism from Dawkins and extremist religious people.

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars There is always something in a bookstore, 1 Jan. 2015
This book may be described as a 'novella' if one goes by AJ Fikry's own definition of a novel that 'can be read in one sitting'. This is a book about an unlikely romance between a bookseller and a publisher's agent. The story takes off after Fikry finds his treasured first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's 'Tamerlane' stolen, and shortly after that, an unwed mother abandons her two-year-old daughter in Fikry's bookstore.

It is also about the unlikely romance of the town (Alice Island) chief police officer Lambiase and Fikry's sister-in-law Ismay Parish. The story is exciting and fast-paced because of the mystery behind Maya's parents. We are told quite early on that her biological mother was a black woman who committed suicide. But who is Maya's biological father? And who left Maya in Fikry's store?

There is also a minor mystery about Leon Friedman, the author of 'The Late Bloomer'. He is not what he seems, and who is the mysterious woman who is at the book event in which Friedman gives his post-event interviews?

Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views
Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views
by Matteo Pericoli
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Eyes through the glass, mind on the world., 31 Dec. 2014
Reading a book in which 50 writers write more or less a page each on the subject of windows is a temptation difficult to resist. The reader will long marvel at the imagination of those writers, the clarity of their writing, and the discipline and craft in displaying in words what went on in their minds. Why does one look out a window? To Orhan Pamuk, it is a way of 'checking to see that the world is always there, always interesting, and always a challenge to write about: an assurance that a writer needs to continue to write and a reader needs to continue to read'.

One may not necessarily see different things when one looks out the window, nor does it matter that nothing changes outside. Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norwegian writer, author of 'My Struggle') says: 'I love repetition. I love doing the same thing and at the same time, and in the same place, day in and day out. I love it because something happens in repetition: sooner or later, the heap of the sameness, accumulated through all the identical days, starts to glide. That's when the writing begins. The view from my window is a constant reminder of this slow and invisible process.'

To some, like Lauri Kubuitsile, it is relaxing to watch the birds as they search for the right word; to others, like Elmor Leonard, it is to clear the mind of unnecessary words. It is amazing what looking through the window can inspire. The next time the reader looks through a window, the view will most certainly have changed. Some may be amazed that there is a view at all.

A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand's Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (Asian Arguments)
A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand's Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (Asian Arguments)
by Andrew MacGregor Marshall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The endgame is not in sight, 28 Dec. 2014
Thailand is a deeply divided country and neither faction is likely to hold Andrew MacGregor Marshall's book in high regard. As often the case, history and politics have as many perspectives of truth as there are claimants of truth. A previous reviewer posted the review of Giles Ji Ungpakorn, who had claims that Marshall's book is misnamed because it has no relevance to Thailand's struggle for democracy. That is something the reader can figure out for himself. Ungpakorn, a British-Thai writer once in trouble himself for offending the Thai king, also claims that Marshall is a writer 'from the elite-gazing school' who has no interest in the mass movement. However, the focus of this book is clearly on the problems at the top, and even then, it is unfair to claim that the author has no interest in the mass movements.

From the neutral reader's point of view, this book presents a clear and interesting account of the modern political history of Thailand. It is an account that connects the politics of the political parties, the military, and the royalty in the narrative. It may have some accounts that might understandably appear 'tabloid-like' (as some reviewers think). One example is the author's account that King Bhumibol became king only because the truth about his brother Ananda's death was concealed from the public. Ananda was the anointed successor to the throne but on 9 June 1946, he was found dead with a bullet wound through his head. Marshall's theory that it was Bhumibol who fired the gun may sound plausible but his only source of authentication was an article written by the author himself.

The author constantly reminds the reader that King Bhumibol's death is imminent, and that in the current state of affairs, Prince Vajiralongkorn is likely to succeed to the throne; but he warns that Thai politics with its history of volatility, and the fact that the anointed successor often did not succeed, the heir is not apparent. However, it is clear from the book that whoever succeeds King Bhumibol is likely to be influential in the governing of the country.

This book was published by Zed Books under its 'Asian Arguments' series which has many publications on Asian countries tending to cover perspectives that contain material that are controversial. Marshall's book on Thailand may not have the full truth (or it may) but it is a very accessible and interesting book that provides a good (if not the full) measure of the country's political problems.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 28, 2014 2:43 PM GMT

Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank That Broke Britain
Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank That Broke Britain
by Ian Fraser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside of the Bank it's all greed, 27 Dec. 2014
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Investment banking and investment bankers are the darlings of modern banking industry. Ian Fraser reveals in this enthralling book that there is nothing really to envy - the men at the top of the banking business do not understand investment banking; at least, not the dangers that come with poor risk management. Unfortunately, poor risk management comes with greed and ignorance. So when the bubbles are forming everyone enjoys a super high income and status. But bubbles inevitably burst.

This book focuses on the way the three men who run the Royal Bank of Scotland ('the Bank') as its CEO in succession - Fred Goodwin, Stephen Hester, and Ross McEwan. The bulk of the story concerns Goodwin who was the principal villain; a megalomaniac who spends the Bank's money to satisfy his personal idiosyncrasy. He bullies his subordinates and hides crucial truth from the investors and regulators - that the Bank was not dabbling in subprime mortgages when it was steeped in it.

Goodwin's craving for acquisitions and the men (like Larry Fish) who helped him acquire them for the Bank made no proper due diligence of the banks that they gobbled up for the Bank on both sides of the Atlantic. Essentially, they 'overpaid for rubbish'. The board was kept in the dark in many things that Goodwin did. The result was that there were no internal checks on the way he ran the Bank. Could this really happen to a major bank? The answer is clearly yes. The details in this book sound too horrendous to be true, but in the end, all eyes were opened when the bubble burst.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 28, 2015 1:03 PM GMT

Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life
Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life
by Heather Greene
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Not the least bit dry, 25 Dec. 2014
This is the smallest book on my shelf of whisky books but it contains all the important information that every whisky drinker should know. The value of this book is enhanced by Greene's clear and jolly style of writing, and the book size is small enough (223 pages in quarto size). The differences between single malt and single grain; single malt and single malt scotch; blended and unblended whisky are clearly explained. The reader will find out what bourbon is and why Jack Daniel is a special kind of bourbon (using Lincoln County process).

She also explains the distillation process and the importance of water during and after distillation (some distillers do not add spring water during distillation - hence their whisky have higher alcohol content). She surveys whisky made from the main whisky countries including Scotland, Ireland, United States, Japan, and India carefully, and clearly explaining the different approaches in the process and thus the different flavours they produce.

There is a chapter with suggestions on how to build a whisky bar at home. This is useful to the novice whisky drinker. A previous distiller takes issue with a couple of her suggestions from Noah's Mill and Rowan's Creek on the ground that she wrongly classified them as 'grain to bottle distillers). She did, but she also mentioned that these distillers produce different kinds of whisky. She was probably referring to the small batch whisky (explained elsewhere in the book) here.

There are also chapters on whisky glassware, as well as whisky cocktails. Importantly nowadays when more people are drinking whisky with their food, Greene has a whisky and food pairing section. And, of course, the common question about ice and whisky is has not been left out. If there is just one book that one will have in the home, Greene's will probably be the popular choice.

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

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Decline remains our fate; death will some day come' - Atul Gawande, 24 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Unfortunately, we consider people at the terminal stage of life only when we have close friends or relatives who are in that situation or when we find ourselves at death's door. Thus, until then, we rarely think about our mortality seriously enough to feel capable of handling it when we or our loved ones are nearing the end of life.

In this lucid book, Atul Gawande takes us to a close and personal view of several people close to him, including his wife's grandmother, Alice Hobson, and his own father, who is also a surgeon like Atul himself. We are introduced to them when they were already at an age many of us consider 'old', but they were still young in spirit and in flesh - vibrant and independent. Gradually, Atul describes the effect of advancing years on them, how for example, Alice began to fall frequently, how his father began to feel numbness in his fingers, and then we see them no longer physically strong, but frail and weak, and realise how age and illness are such devastating twin catastrophe we will face in a matter of time.

Atul shows us why it is that old people resist going to nursing homes. He shows us the dilemma that family members experience when they try to let the obviously old and weak family members live the independent lives they want, and yet have the safety and attention they obviously need. Decisions as to where to house them are difficult enough, but as the author shows, there are even more difficult decisions to be made when a terminal illness is diagnosed. Do they go for treatment, and if so, which type of treatment - and bear with their debilitating after-effects - or do they forgo treatment altogether?

In the course of taking us through the end of life of these people, Atul also takes us through a grand tour of the hospital, the nursing home, the hospice, and other alternative facilities for the terminally ill. More importantly, he makes us examine what it is that we understand to be the meaning of life because when we are nearing the end of it, we all have our personal reasons to fight for the extra year or two, or to gracefully accept the end.

The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China--And How America Can Win
The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China--And How America Can Win
by Geoff A. Dyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.58

5.0 out of 5 stars Can it be a friendly contest?, 24 Dec. 2014
Geoff Dyer shows us that the contest between China and America is reflected in several areas, from the military to the economy. But it is crucial to understand what exactly drives the contest. The motivations are clearly different. America has been the Rome of modern times and it seeks to maintain that status. China, on the other hand, has never been an imperial power like America and yet finds itself today doing many of the things that define American imperialism. It believes in non-interventionism. As Dyer says, 'The irony is that, from Beijing's point of view, the U.S. is the radical, revolutionary power trying to change the rules of the game...From Sudan to Zimbabwe, China believes it is defending a status quo the West once established but now wants to tear up.'

It is therefore equally important how America perceives China as a rival, but in order to understand fully what kind of rival China is, America must understand China's perspectives. Again, Dyer makes the point: 'If the feeling takes root in the U.S. that China is presenting a worldview that will be attractive to large parts of the world, this will add real political edge to the competition. The temptation will grow in the U.S. to elevate the rivalry to a form of ideological contest, with echoes of the Cold War.'

A discussion about a contest necessarily requires a discussion of the contestants. The focus of this book is on China, which the author sees as the growing giant, and America is discussed as if it were only the foil. Reading this impressive work at the superficial level may create the wrong impression, not only of China or America, but of both.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The essence is clear, 22 Dec. 2014
As the author says, 'Essentialism is not a way of doing one more thing; it is a different way of doing everything'. Many of us are 'majors in minor things', that is, we do too many things, most of which are non-essential. Given that we have limited time, the habit of doing unnecessary things affect the quality of the things we really need to do. That is the essence of essentialism - precision. Doing what needs to be done and no more.

McKeown rehashes many of the ideas that R Covey has advocated in his 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', but he has done it in a very efficient way, and the success of his effort lies in the fact that the reader can finish his book in one evening and feeling refreshed with bright ideas and the inspiration to put them into practice right away.

One of his points is that we should learn to say 'no' to projects that we have no inclination or use for. We must appreciate the fact that we have a choice, and the exercise of that choice in saying 'no' is crucial. When too many things impinge on our time and energy, something has to give. We must appreciate that. In this regard, he tells us that it is important to understand trade-offs. If we commit to something, we might have to give up something else. Choose which has the priority. It is as simple as that.

Another useful habit is to learn to focus on only one thing at a time. That, as is now well-known but not fully understood, is not the same as multi-tasking. We can multi-task by, say, washing the dishes and listening to music. But we cannot multi-focus. We must therefore learn to eliminate the things that are trivial. Warren Buffet, McKeown reminds us, made his fortune on 10 big investments - not hundreds.

How do we begin? McKeown suggests that we can start by eliminating and cutting losses. Discard things that are losing propositions, things we accumulate that are cluttering our lives. We must have the courage to cut losses. Be realistic and build buffers, he tells us; so that we do not underestimate the time we need to get a thing done.

Finally, it is important to be decisive. We must be clear as to what the issue is before us, constantly asking what it is that we need to do and whether we need to do it. If the answer is not clearly yes, then, he says, it is clearly no.

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