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Hande Z (Singapore)
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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

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

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: £15.11

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

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.


Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
by Professor William Deresiewicz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.30

5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to think, 28 Sep 2014
The coming generations of students face a twin danger. First, digital technology is altering the way they think even without them knowing it (See Susan Greenfield's 'Mind Change', Rider Books 2014). Secondly, they go to school and university/college not realising that the system of education has changed from the time of their grandparents and parents, from one of education to one of amassing credentials and resumes. They are taught, insidiously, not to take risks but to do what everyone else is doing and the difference is that they have to try and do it better than everyone else.

Deresiewicz sees the downward spiral that this kind of system causes to one's creative mind. He traces the history of the change and identifies the issues that need to be addressed before the education system can once again turn students from excellent sheep to human beings. It is not surprising that college professors and administrators form a strong force rejecting the views expressed in this book. Deresiewicz might have exaggerated the gloom but it is important to understand his concern for value in education.


Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence
by Karen Armstrong
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Birth of violence, 25 Sep 2014
Armstrong returns to history and religion with, one might say, a vengeance. In this new contemporary perspective on the co-mingling of those two ancient disciplines, Armstrong challenges the perceived view that religion is the cause of violence in history. This basic objective may be the subject of semantic debate as to what counts as a major war and whether the author misses the point if one can show that many wars have a strong connection to religion. Squabbling over these issues will detract from the otherwise impressive and enthralling account of the role that religion played in the history of major conflicts throughout the world.

Armstrong holds the view that man is not inherently war-like, and that hunter-gatherers had neither time nor organisation to wage war because an army is needed to wage a war, and hunter-gatherers, she says, have neither time nor resources to raise armies. Wars arose only after human society turned agrarian. Armstrong embarks on a world tour beginning with India, explaining how violence inherent in early Indian religion was subsequently brought under control by the renouncers of violence. She expanded her account into ancient China to emphasise that the influence of Confucius and Mozi in reining the violent excesses of the Chinese warrior kings.

Armstrong then sweeps from the Far East to the Middle-East and examines the role of religion and politics according to Jesus, and from there, to the Byzantine Empire, the cradle of religious wars. Before proceeding to that most famous of religious military campaigns known as `The Crusades', Armstrong digresses to explain the `Muslim Dilemma' - how might Islamic justice be achieved in a belligerent, imperial state? This might be contrasted with the Hebrew dilemma that Armstrong discusses in an earlier chapter. She believes that Yahweh, the Israelite god wanted his people to leave the agrarian state but it was not possible. Thus the Israelite state grew imperial, leading to the violence as described in the Hebrew Bible (which, as Armstrong reminds us, was heavily revised with new material by seventh century reformers).

Armstrong then works towards the more contemporary accounts of the intersection between violence and religion - the return of fundamentalism and `Global Jihad'. And that takes us to the end of the book in breath-taking fashion before concluding that although religion is like the weather, and `does lots of different things', it is not correct to say that it has `a single, unchanging and inherently violent essence.'


Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less
Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less
by Joseph McCormack
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

5.0 out of 5 stars K.I.S.S. in brief, 24 Sep 2014
The Twitter generation has no patience to read `War and Peace'. In short, people have shorter time span for long memos, long speeches, long meetings etc. Hold on, there are different matters that must not be confused for each other. Impatience and attention deficit disorder are problems that require solutions. In this regard, readers might find Michael Harris' book, 'The End of Absence', a useful follow-up to this one by McCormack. Brevity in our action and work is not the true solution here. Brevity is a virtue promoted by McCormack in this book because being brief makes us more effective people at work. It helps us more socially adept because brevity promotes clarity.

After addressing (briefly) the importance and usefulness of being brief, McCormack provides some useful methods that help create a discipline for brevity. He explains that there is no need to panic over the 140-character squeeze imposed by Twitter because 'the ideal level of engagement is even lower'. Describing the sins of long and useless (tautology?) meetings, McCormack suggests ways to overcome this time-consuming activity that will help the reader acquire a decisiveness in knowing when and where to be brief.


In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise
In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise
by George Prochnik
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.57

3.0 out of 5 stars Hush...there's a decibel in the room, 14 Sep 2014
To some, this book may seem like making a great deal of noise over the virtues of silence. Although this book might have been more effective if it had been edited down to an essay, there may be something in the patience required to gradually absorb the details and anecdotes Prochnik expresses in his book.

The plot, so to speak, is simple - the world is growing noisier and we are being distracted and rendered less effective by the constant noise all around us throughout the day. He points to research that indicates that unnecessary background noise affects the young in their effort to learn language. This failure to learn the language effectively is one of the causes of increasing numbers of autistic children in modern times.

Physical soundproofing is getting more effective (and more expensive) but we can learn, less expensively, to block noise, and maintain a healthy diet of sound each day. Prochnik recommends that we learn to experience the quiet of the Zen garden and the Japanese tea ceremony which require silence and thereby, help one to appreciate the value of noiseless thinking.


You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom
You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom
by Nick Cohen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Never mind the label, 14 Sep 2014
As one reads through this book, he is likely to forget whatever label he might have stuck on others or on himself. This book was written with a force of persuasion through the indignities inflicted by man on each other ('man' here includes women - both as oppressor and victim). Cohen tells the story of Hirsi Ali and her long journey from childhood to adulthood in Somalia and Europe, finding deep prejudice against her for her gender and her religion. The same goes with the story of one of India's most talented artists, Maqbool Fida Husain, who at age 94, finally renounced his citizenship because Hindu politicians made use of his art and his name to create political opportunities for themselves.

Cohen wonders how British law courts would ignore John Stuart Mill's declaration that no one had a right to restrain another except to prevent harm, and blithely rule against defendants who were said to have defamed another even though no harm was proved by the defamation.

This book provides numerous instances in which humans oppress others for no justifiable cause. Do we believe in freedom? That is the question he wants us to answer in our hearts. How do we justify limits to freedom without giving up our own space? We have to think about that.


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