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The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words (1000 BCE - 1492) (Story of the Jews Vol 1)
The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words (1000 BCE - 1492) (Story of the Jews Vol 1)
by Simon Schama
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the Old Testament, 25 Sept. 2013
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Simon Scharma calls this a Story rather than a History and perhaps with reason. If you were to expect the familiar Jewiosh stories from the Old Testament you would be sadly disappointed. There is no reference to the great tales of Samson, of Elijah in his chariot of fire and (astonishingly perhaps) barely a mention of Abraham. In fact, Scharma has amassed copious evidence about the Jewish experience throughout history from ancient times up to 1492 while ignoring what many would imagine its major source, the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jesus of Nazareth hardly gets a mention but his followers certainly do and their treatment of the Jews, while familiar, still manages to fill one with dismay. Islam treated them slightly better but there were still massive burdens to be borne by Jew living in Moslem areas of the world. A good deal of the book is somewhat depressing, particularly since we know that the worst is yet to follow.

This is not really an easy read because it contains a massive amount of scholarship, far more than the TV programmes that accompany it. However, Scharama has a most attractive style and if you watched the programmes you can imagine his voice as you read: its humour, sardonic asides, deliberate anachronisms and moving passages that touch us more deeply.

It is the first of two volumes, covering the earlier TV programmes: the second volume is due next year. I will certainly be among those who are loooking forward to reading it.


The New Republic
The New Republic
by Lionel Shriver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Really a Serious Novel, 20 Sept. 2013
This review is from: The New Republic (Paperback)
It's a little late in the day to discover Lionel Shriver. She is an accomplished novelist of the first rank with a distinctive and highly perceptive view of human nature and the human condition.

She presents this novel as a comic but this is deceptive. It is comic in the wayu that Measure for Measure is comic; that is seldom funny and not intending to be.

It explores serious isssues in serious ways. A major theme is, of course terrorism, giving in to terrorism and realpolitik. She wrote it in Belfast and was influenced by her perception of terrorism there. It is also a book about charisma: why some people have it and some don't; the desire to be loved and to make a mark; why goodness is not always the attraction. A perceptive comment is that good-looking people need a reason to be disliked, unattractive people need a reason to be liked. It is also a satire on journalism and introduces a variety of characters who are quite distinctive. But the most interesting are the protagonists Edgar and Barrington.

This is not a slight novel, even though Shriver presents it, according to Graham Greene's categories, as an 'entertainment'. It is, but much more than that. Read it and see.


Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-1959
Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-1959
by David Kynaston
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 50s Under the Microscope, 12 Aug. 2013
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As someone who lived as a young adult during the late fifties,I found it interesting to read the offering of a historian who was too young to have experienced the time first hand. What David Kynaston has done is to select what he considers the significant details of the time under the microscope: a very short period of modern history.
The book has been criticised as cut and paste, which it binevitably is to some extent. Certainly there is little critical comment and no moralising. The qualities which generally recommend the book are the skill of selection and the smoothness of the writing. Kynaaston knows how to keep mus interested and tells a good story. He catches well the spirit of the times.
For me the book was worth it for a single chapter: the one which outlines the debate about grammar schools, secondary mods, the public schools and the 11+ . It's a debate which still continues. I cherish a quote by an American commentator who compares rejection at 11+ (not selection!) to the racist policies of USA at the time: "That hopeful phrase 'parity of esteem' is as hollow as our 'separate but equal'. The main difference is that we discriminate against a minority and the English against a majority" How very true.


Who Goes Home?: Scenes from a Political Life
Who Goes Home?: Scenes from a Political Life
by Roy Hattersley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotage of a high order, 2 Aug. 2013
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I really enjoyed this book when I first read it and having lent someone my copy without getting it back (a common problem) i bought another copy. It's full of good stories from the veteran politician who comes across as a very agreeable man and a smooth writer. It was worth the money for two delicious anecdotes about Denis Healey which made me laugh outloud. Thoroughly recommended.


Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832
Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832
by Lady Antonia Fraser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dramatic in Parts., 2 Aug. 2013
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This book was received with great acclaim and in some ways it merits it. There is certainly nothing about the 1832 Reform Act that a general reader would want to know that is omitted.The characters of the time, especially Grey and Wellington emerge quite clearly. On the other hand, as the author acknowledges, the Act was only a beginning: a small addition to the number of electors and the end of a number of abuses.It may be a book for the historian but I found a number of longueurs and learning too much about too little. Perhaps a book on the reform acts in general would be of more use to the non-specialist reader. I was also surprised by the number of usage errors that a good editor should have picked up. In short, this is a worthy read but not exactly an entertaining one.


The Diary of a Nobody (Wordsworth Classics)
The Diary of a Nobody (Wordsworth Classics)
by George Grossmith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pooter Again, 10 Jun. 2013
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I reread this classic as result of the connection with Roger Mortimer's Dear Lupin, Letters to a Wayward Son, Lupin being the name of the son of Charles Pooter, the 'nobody' of the title. Pooter is one of literature's great comic characters and the book has many scenes that make you laugh out loud. But like all great comic characters he is presented subtly. Pompous, platitudinous, accident-prone, subserviant to his employer, maintaining respectability on the fringe of lower middle class poverty, he is at the same time principled, decent and finally loveable.

This is a great book now publishes at minimal cost. Make sure you read it.


This Boy
This Boy
by Alan Johnson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Not just another abused childhood, 10 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: This Boy (Hardcover)
Library and bookshop shelves are crowded with books about deprived and abused childhoods. This one is different for a number of reasons. Most obviously, Alan Johnson is known to all the readers already as a successful cabinet minister and now television personality. There is the usual abuse and neglect of the child,grinding poverty of a kind we had perahps thought no longer existed. There is the shame and embarrassment of poverty, the lack of self-esteem which so often accompanies it. But as well as the victims, there is also the heroine, Alan's sister, not much older than himself, to whom the memoir is dedicated 'To Linda, the one who kept me safe'. Johnson shows no self-pity in his writing which is spare and fluent. His descriptions of the minor characters are vivid with key details giving a portrait of each. It would be surprising if this were to be his only book.
Many people have reviewed this book and it has found gener4al acclaim. I agree entirely: do read it.


Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a Political Survivor
Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a Political Survivor
by Jack Straw
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memoirs of a Major Player, 15 Oct. 2012
Political memoirs have a great number of pitfalls. There is the danger that they become self-serving: how I was right when everyone else was wrong. They deal with recent history which practically all of the potential readers will know something about. They overlap with other memoirs covering the same period and can be tedious. However they are the first writing of the history of the times and must, therefore, be taken seriously.

Jack Straw held the posts of Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary and did so with distinction. He is an honest man and does not cover up his mistakes, like taking on Michael Howard inadequately prepared or, more importantly, backing Tony Blair on his Iraq decision while unaware of some of the real facts. He is modest about his achievements and fair to his colleagues, pointing out flaws where he sees them but without rancour. The only part where I feel he could have been more transparent was when he did not throw his hat into the ring to take on Gordon Brown when his leadership was tearing the party apart.

I was impressed, as I have always been reading political memoirs, at the sheer pressures of the job; especially the way in which 'Events' take over: small decisions or things completely outside one's control can blow up into major issues on which the media pounce. We need to respect our leaders a good deal more for their 18-hour days. A small fact that struck me was that ministers in the highest post are never alone but have constant bodyguards, like inmates of prisons.

Jack Straw writes fluently and well and the book is a pleasure to read. I recommend it unreservedly.


Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady
Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady
by Kate Summerscale
Edition: Diary
Price: £13.37

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Damned by Diary, 11 Jun. 2012
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Kate Summerscale has done it again.

Readers of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher will know her talent for bringing to light what is hidden in the corners of Victorian history. She does so with a style and grace which keeps the reader constantly page-turning, constantly learning and being informed about a world in some ways like our own but already hugely different.

The position of women in Victorian times emerges most clearly. Double standards for men and women, husbands owning their wives' property on marriage, sexual urges regarded as a form of insanity. We have the new divorce law which made it easier for men to divorce their wives for adultery, even though they have illegitimate children of their own; where it is even possible for a woman to be found guilty of adultery with a man but for him to be found not guilty!

The disgrace of Mrs Robinson hangs on a diary she wrote of her affair with a married man. Or was it all fantasy and imagination, as he claimed? She could have avoided a public hearing by pleading insanity but perevered with results the book will tell you.

An excellent read.


Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure
Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure
by Tim Jeal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.25

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adventure in Africa, 14 Dec. 2011
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Tim Jeal is an expert on the subject having written biographies of Livingstone and Stanley and here covers some of the same material.

He updates the celebrated Moorhouse books on the search for the origin of the Nile, bringing in masses of recent research. The characters are an amazing array of adventurers, each risking life in Africa for a variety of reasons. The book is reminiscent of a recent book on Everest: none of the locals had any idea why the outsider white man wanted to carry out this exploration at such cost and risk to life.

Jeal's hero is Stanley. He reinstates Speake at the expense of Burton and presents Livingstone as unsaintlike. None of them seems likeable but immensely courageous and driven.The brutality, racism and snobbery of the time is quite nauseating. Deaths are recorded like the loss of chessmen rather than the extinction of real human lives.

If there is a fault in the book it is perhaps that it tries to cover too much ground, bringing the story up to date in a pacy way but sometimes reading like a history textbook, rather than creating, as it does at its best, a real sense of what this kind of exploration must really have been like.


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