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Jezza (London)

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An Officer and a Spy
An Officer and a Spy
Price: £3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but not as good as it could have been, 17 Oct 2014
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A bit of a disappointment. I like Robert Harris as a writer and a person but this is not interesting enough. The first-person narrator, Picquard, is just too much of an all-round straight-up honourable hero to be interesting. There really isn't much indication that he is a man of his time; the real Picquard what a casual antisemite, which makes his decision to do the right thing by Dreyfus more dramatic and interesting and honourable. There isn't much of that here. There isn't much atmosphere either - the conspiracy is not sinister, the deaths are not surprising, the plot not complex enough. Still, this is not a bad introduction to the Dreyfus story, which is complex enough to defeat most casual readers.


A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed this though I know it's not great, 5 Oct 2014
'Like' is about right. I enjoyed this though I know it's not great. I'd previously enjoyed the TV series and when I started found that the prose of this didn't live up to the 'production values' of the filmed version. The made-up names and titles grated in a way they didn't when the visual images were present. Gradually, though, I got used to it, and the plot and characters carried me along. From time to time it's interesting to see how the TV series has simplified the plot line (surprisingly rare, actually), and the characters are actually more rounded and interesting on the printed page, even though I'm still not crazy about the writing style. I'll probably read the others eventually, though I am not in any particular rush.


Jews without Money
Jews without Money
by Michael Gold
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars He's got the ability to be a real good writer, but he chooses not to use it ..., 28 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Jews without Money (Paperback)
Most interesting when it's not being political. The portraits of the first generation immigrant characters, including the chassidim and the Romanian immigrants in the wine cellar, and his mother missing the green of the Hungarian countryside and mushroom-hunting, are drawn with real skill and affection; the capitalists, and the gangsters and prostitutes and pimps who are the victims of capitalism, are caricatures and not very interesting ones at that. He's got the ability to be a real good writer, but he chooses not to use it for fear of failing to get his message across. So he never misses an opportunity to point out that capitalism is to blame, rather than let the readers work that out for themselves.


A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Price: £0.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Thought-experiment with lots of interesting political and social insight, 26 Aug 2014
Surprisingly good, with lots of thoughtful insights about religion and class. I've never read much of Mark Twain - the orthographic representations of dialect speech always puts me off. But I really enjoyed this, which I downloaded to my Kindle almost by accident. No romanticism of chivalry - quite the opposite. Twain is on the side of the poor and the oppressed, and he makes clear the relationship between serfdom in sixth-century England and slavery in his own time.


Jud Süß
Jud Süß
by Lion Feuchtwanger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.65

5.0 out of 5 stars Great historical novel of Jew-hatred and Court Jews in early modern Europe, 11 Aug 2014
This review is from: Jud Süß (Paperback)
This is a remarkable, amazing book, which deals with the position of Jews in early modern Europe (mainly Germany, and mainly Swabia) through the lens of a single, powerful 'Court Jew', Joseph Suss Oppenheimer. It's about the rise and fall of Suss, but it's also about the relationship between poor Jews, about the anti-Semitism of the rich and the poor, and so much more. It touches on the balance between Catholics and Protestants within the Holy Roman Empire too.

And there's lots of insight into the human condition too, mainly in the treatment of Suss – who is not a particularly sympathetic character – but also the Duke to whom he is counsellor and financial advisor; the Duke is an even less sympathetic character, but he is a rounded human with pride, flaws, and the occasional flash of decency.

Suss was a real person, and the subject of more than one book – there's an earlier, much more anti-Semitic book. Feuchtwanger's book is seen as philo-semitic, and was the basis for a British film in the early 1930s which was also seen as pro-Jewish (or at least hostile to anti-Semitism). The Nazis made another film in 1940, which drew on the anti-semitic text as a response to the British film.

But it's a very subtle account of Jew-hatred, seen as often from the perspective of the haters as from that of the victims. This certainly makes it uncomfortable reading; there's lots of descriptions as to how anti-semites see the negative physical characteristics of Jews – how they look, how they dress, even how they are purported to smell.

I can't believe many people read this book now (my dad had a paperback edition, which I never even attempted to read because the lurid cover certainly made it look like this was some sort of Nazi set text). It's a shame, though, because it's a great insight into what anti-Semitism was like before the rise of grand theories and fully-fledged racial Jew-hatred.

It's a long book, but one that is worth persevering with.


Minority Report (Read a Great Movie)
Minority Report (Read a Great Movie)
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly creepy, 1 July 2014
Perfect Dick - why did they make the dopey film that they did, instead of a film of this story? Interesting that the vision of the future is so dystopian (and not because of the precogs) and how much Dick has thought about the rivalry between the different state agencies.


The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiqutiy to the Cathar Heresy (Yale Nota Bene)
The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiqutiy to the Cathar Heresy (Yale Nota Bene)
Price: £9.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing but patchy, 1 July 2014
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He's interested in the Bogomils, and in the Cathars, and the Manicheans, but not much in other kinds of dualists. And there isn't nearly enough about what the dualists actually believed, or did. A bit of a disappointment that way. Still, lots of history, much of it interesting. Not a specialist enough to rule on the alleged errors.


Swann's Way
Swann's Way
Price: £0.00

3.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would, 1 July 2014
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This review is from: Swann's Way (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would, even though there were times that it drove me almost to fury or insanity. The very long sentences - that are not rambling at all, but carefully crafted with nested clauses, so that they are always going somewhere, even if it isn't clear where. The meditations on memory and how it works - so thoughtful. The insights into infuriating characters within families, and the tiny everyday cruelties that people can inflict on each other. The snobbery, oh the snobbery...which of course only makes sense in the context of both an order and the anxiety that it might be in the process of breaking down. On to the next volume!


Medieval Gnostics: The Bogomil
Medieval Gnostics: The Bogomil
Price: £1.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of nice stuff about Bogomils here!, 9 Jun 2014
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Only whetted my appetite for more. Short but informative. Judith Mann obviously knows lots about gnostics - a slightly strange decision to break it down into so many mini-books, but it suited me.


The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
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4.0 out of 5 stars A superfluous review, but..., 9 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Great Gatsby (Kindle Edition)
...this is another of those major works of literature that I somehow managed to miss out on. Well, its reputation is well deserved. Fitzgerald is indeed a great writer, and this is a great book - beautifully written, full of great observations and insights about how people behave towards each other.


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