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N. Chivers

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Alistair Cooke's Seasonal Letters from America (BBC Audio)
Alistair Cooke's Seasonal Letters from America (BBC Audio)
by Alistair Cooke
Edition: Audio CD

1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Glad when I've had enough..., 22 Oct. 2009
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There's an old joke that goes, 'the food at this restaurant is awful, I'll be glad when I've had enough', which basically sums up my opinion of these audio CD's. I'd be surprised if there is more than 2hrs of material here, which even though I didn't particularly thrill to the content, hardly seems like enough.

Now I understand that Alistair Cooke and his 'letters' were something of an institution, and may appeal to those wishing to travel down memory lane, but for someone like me, coming to them with relatively little previous exposure, I found them rather dull. I would have been much more interested in hearing Justin Webb (the BBC's North American correspondent who introduces each broadcast) talking about contemporary America. Still, Alistair Cooke's letters are what they are, so there's no point in complaining about that, if you are already a fan I'm sure these CD's will delight, I just don't think they are good value. There's masses of other Radio 4 output available for free on the iPlayer that I would rather listen to.

Orchard Toys Big Digger
Orchard Toys Big Digger
Price: £9.22

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good but two pieces don't lock together, 11 May 2009
= Durability:3.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:4.0 out of 5 stars 
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This review is from: Orchard Toys Big Digger (Toy)
These Orchard Toys jigsaws are great, we've got a few of them. However there are 2 pieces in this particular puzzle that don't interlock (by design). Why? This just confused my boy when he managed to match the picture up but couldn't get the bits to stick together.

Super Crunchers: How Anything Can Be Predicted
Super Crunchers: How Anything Can Be Predicted
by Ian Ayres
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Contains one golden nugget - the rest is dull, 18 Jun. 2008
I'm quite fond of these 'pop economics' books. At least there seem to be a few of them on my bookshelves now, so I feel well qualified to pass judgement on this one.

On the whole, a big disappointment. I have to admit I skipped a few chapters in the middle because I was bored. Most of the interesting stuff could easily have been condensed down into something the size of an article in the Sunday supplements. I should have known the book was going to be a duffer when I saw the testimonial on the front. It was written by one of his best buddies, so hardly impartial, and whose own book, Freakanomics, I also thought was overrated.

Also, given the subject matter you think the author would have worked out the chances of the book being read by people who aren't American and adjusted his style appropriately. I'm not sure words like 'kvall' and 'glommed' are words even in America, so why use them? And although I still got the point, examples evolving around baseball and other such Americana left me cold.

A much better read is The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford (British, so his writing is much more worldly).

But I'm still giving this book 4 stars. Why? Because towards the end there is some really interesting stuff about statistics and particularly something called 2SD. Most books I read, understand (or not) then forget. However this statistics stuff is genuinely useful and has stayed with me. Now I reckon that a few quid to learn something good that most people don't have a clue about is a bargain.

by Nick Hornby
Edition: Paperback

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cliche teen lit, 16 Jun. 2008
This review is from: Slam (Paperback)
Last time I read one of Hornby's books, I was in my twenties and the main characters were in their thirties. I have fond memories of reading these books. They spoke to me.

Now I'm in my thirties and the main character in this book is a teenager and I'm just not interested at all. Reading this is like being reminided that I'm old.

This book should be filed under teen fiction as teens are the true target demographic for it. Certainly all the things I found cliche - and there were a lot - might at least seem new to them.

by James Long
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pageturner, 6 Jun. 2008
This review is from: Ferney (Paperback)
Bought this unseen on the basis of an article in the Times (suggesting that it had been 'lost' made it seem so much more appealing - how big a sucker am I?)

Was dismayed when I took delivery to see the words 'love affair' mentioned on the cover, was even less impressed when I started reading it to find out it was some kind of quasi spiritual, romantic piece of hokum. However, I'm pleased to report, that apart from a few nauseating references to 'love making', I really enjoyed it. It certainly kept the pages turning on the daily train commute and I cared enough about the characters to want to know what happened to them. Perhaps if I was more into this genre of writing I could have rated it higher, but as it stands - four stars.

Barefoot Soldier
Barefoot Soldier
by Johnson Beharry VC
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

15 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 12 Oct. 2007
This review is from: Barefoot Soldier (Paperback)
Firstly I'd like to make it clear that I'm reviewing the book, not the man.

The writing is awful, it's like reading a twelve year old's recollection of "What I did on my summer holidays" - "I did this... They did that... He did this... I did that...". There's barely a sentence that contains more than ten words in the whole book. It was either written by people who don't read or for an audience who don't read. I'm sure the publishers would claim that the style was chosen to reflect the authentic voice of Johnson Beharry or the immediacy of life on operations with the British Army, but the reality is that it's just lazy prose for intermediate level readers.

The first third of the book is about his life in Grenada and this is boring beyond belief. Just because he later went on to win a VC doesn't suddenly make his life up to that point interesting in any way. My memoirs would be more entertaining that this sentimental tripe.

The second third is about his military career and once again it is very ho-hum stuff. Only when the text turns to operations in Iraq do things liven up, but even then this book is a desperate let down

Beharry was cited for two separate acts of bravery one on the 1st May 2004 and one on the 11th June. Reading about the 1st of May was good - bullets flying everywhere, daring actions whilst under fire, all certainly deserving of medals. However to win a VC requires truly amazing bravery and courage so I was expecting to read about something exceptional happening on the 11th June. Instead, out of a four hundred page book, precisely one and a half pages are given over to what happened.

I suppose I have to take the word of the people who were there and the people who dish out the medals that what Beharry did on the night of the 11th constitutes valor above and beyond the call of duty - but that it just my point, I got no sense that anything exceptional was happening from the words I was reading in the book. Basically a grenade went off dangerously close to his head which stunned him rather than killing him (blind luck, not courage to thank for this). When he came to his senses he reversed his APC out of danger until he crashed into something and got rescued himself. After reading this, I was still turning the pages waiting for the good bit to come, but it doesn't, that's it, total anticlimax.

I also don't like the way his marriage and its subsequent breakdown is totally glossed over; these are usually significant occurrences in the lives of most people, but it's hardly mentioned in the book. Strange considering the vast number of pages given over to writing about his Gran. One wonders if this omission was possibly a deliberate decision so as not to tarnish the reputation of our hero?

The only part of the book I enjoyed were the last fifty pages detailing what happened to him after he left Iraq and got his VC. On the whole very disappointing.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2015 3:48 PM GMT

by Henri Charrière
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fisherman's tale, 23 July 2007
This review is from: Papillon (Paperback)
Amongst all the rave reviews this book is getting there are a handful that share the same opinion I have come to, namely that there is more than a whiff of the fisherman's tale about this story and that our hero is so smug as to make him almost deserving of his sentence.

So the question I've been wrestling with is this; does the fact I no longer believe Henri Charriere's story make the book any less enjoyable. Unfortunately, the answer is yes. As a work of fiction it just doesn't stand up, you need to know the story is true or the effort of reading it isn't worth the reward. If this was a fictional account the author would not have imbued his main character with such powers as to make all his tribulations seem like nothing; even superman has weaknesses. Also, it's not particularly well written. Maybe because it is a translation and the original French is much better, but I found the language clunky. There are places where idiomatic French seems to have been translated literally leaving sentences that make very little sense.

Think I'm going to read 'Touching the Void' next to make up for the disappointment with this.

How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle - How the World's Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers
How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle - How the World's Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers
by William Poundstone
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fiendish, 12 July 2007
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I loved this book. The puzzles are great and there's a good spread of difficulties. About half the book is given over the story of the rise of the tech giants and how they recruit good staff, particularly developers. It's all highly entertaining, the only bit I didn't care for was Poundstone's own theories on the best way to interview staff. I'm not in HR so this I could do without, but other than that this book is great fun, especially if you're a programmer.

Data Warehousing For Dummies
Data Warehousing For Dummies
by Alan R. Simon
Edition: Paperback

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cheesy, 12 July 2007
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I've never bought a 'Guide for Dummies' before and all the prejudices I had about them are turning out to be true.

This book's style is totally inappropriate for its audience.

Let me explain. If I bought a Dummies Guide to, say, Shakespeare or Windows Vista then I could forgive the author if it was written in a jokey or chatty style. These are subjects that attract dilettantes, readers who may want a more relaxed introduction to their chosen topic. But no one is going to want to read a book about Data Warehousing unless they are already an IT professional. Furthermore, when said professional (me in this case) picks up this book he/she isn't looking to be entertained - this isn't pleasure reading - they're looking to learn the facts as quickly and painlessly as possible. Long introductions and cringe making jokes just get in the way of this.

I'll give a 'for instance'. The author states that a data warehouse doesn't need to be large (terabytes of data and scores of tables, etc). Simple enough. He then decides to emphasise this point by paraphrasing the conversation from the film Crocodile Dundee where the hero whips out his knife and says to the mugger 'That's not a knife, this is a knife' (substite 'data warehouse' for 'knife' in the previous sentence). Why? Does the author think I'll be rolling around on the floor laughing, saying 'Gee, I only wish learning could be this much fun all the time'? Seriously, this dross takes up half a page.

The back cover proclaims that this is a plain English guide to Data warehousing. The publishers obviously don't understand the differnce between 'cheesy English' and 'plain English'. I wouldn't say this book is factually incorrect in anyway, it's just very inaccessible. It should be no bigger than an O'Reilly pocket guide, instead it is 300 pages of chat and padding.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 29, 2012 12:51 AM BST

The Eye: A Natural History
The Eye: A Natural History
by Simon Ings
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Subject, 12 July 2007
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I sympathise with Ings. He must have spent months, maybe years, doing a huge literature review on the subjects of eyes, vision and optics then one day he has to sit down and squeeze all this information into a single book that needs to be both accessible and entertaining to people who probably have no previous knowledge of these subjects. Bill Bryson must have been faced with a similar, and certainly bigger, problem when he wrote 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'.

The difference between Ings and Bryson though is that Bryson really has the knack of getting straight to the interesting bits of whatever he is writing about. His enthusiasm and enjoyment fairly jump out of every page. With Ings on the other hand, you often get the sense of the weight of the task he gave himself coming through in his writing. Unsurprisingly, if it was a chore to write it becomes a chore to read.

Another thing that annoyed me about this book was Ings rather pompous use of language. What was his editor thinking letting him use words like 'Palimpsest', 'Gimcrack' and 'Furbelows'? This isn't an academic text book, I'm reading this for pleasure remember; I don't want to have to reach for the dictionary every fifth page.

It's beginning to sound like I hated this book, but I didn't. The fact that I read it in its entirety says a lot, as I am not averse to putting a book to one side if I find it is not an enjoyable read. I actually wish I could have given it 3.5 stars - four is over rating it and 3 does it an injustice. Even after taking into account the gripes I have already mentioned I would still be surprised if this wasn't the best non academic book available on what is a fascinating subject.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 3, 2011 8:48 PM GMT

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