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Jezza (London)

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Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done
Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done
by Oliver Burkeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.25

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not really necessary if you regularly read the column, but nice to see it all in one place, 21 Oct 2011
I regularly read Oliver Burkeman's column in The Guardian, and I really like. I think he strikes exactly the right tone towards the 'self-help community' - he's sceptical and suspicious, but not totally dismissive. He leavens it nicely with some well-chosen and nicely written references to the academic literature on happiness and behaviour change.

If you have any interest in either and don't know the column, the book is well worth reading.


The Price Of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness
The Price Of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness
by Oren Harman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Good biography of a really weird scientific genius, 14 Oct 2011
I expect mathematicians to be a little odd, but Price seems to have taken this to extremes. He really does illustrate the way that someone can be a genius and a bit of an idiot at the same time. Once a militant atheist, he converted to one of the dullest variants of Christianity imaginable on the strength of his analysis that the 'coincidences' in his life were too extreme to be the result of chance. Even if this were to be statistical proof of the existence of God (which seems unlikely to me, though I am not a statistician) I can't see how it could be evidence that New Testament is factual - yet Price seems to have thrown his lot in with that lot, becoming a promoter of some of the absurdist views of C S Lewis. He believed he heard voices from God, telling him to give away all of his stuff and his money, and also to not be particularly clean.

But he does seem to have been a genuine scientific genius, even if he was also unable to build on his brilliance to establish a scientific or technological career.

This is a very well written book, sympathetic but not slavishly admiring of its subject. I'm ashamed to admit that I skipped some of the more complicated bits about group and kin selection - I hope I can revisit them soon.


Merkabah Rider Tales of a High Planes Drifter
Merkabah Rider Tales of a High Planes Drifter
by Edward M. Erdelac
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.13

2.0 out of 5 stars Failed attempt at a hasidic western gothic horror novel., 14 Oct 2011
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I didn't expect much from this, but it was still something of a disappointment; such a good idea to write a kabbalistic western. I have to say that I was expecting a Graphic Novel, but found instead a graphic novel. I'm sure that the writer thinks it has a gothic sensibility like a Jewish version of Lovecraft, but it didn't do much for me. The supernatural elements were clunky and uninteresting, the descriptions dull. I know the character of the Rider is supposed to be mysterious, but he was just bland, with no emotional depth at all. The various villains, both human and demonic, are stereotypes, and there is a slightly unpleasant dimension to the only Black character that is heading towards racism (even if the Rider is supposed to have fought on the Union side in the Civil War for moral reasons).

I don't suppose I will be reading any more of these.


Kingston Technology Micro SDHC 16GB Memory Card
Kingston Technology Micro SDHC 16GB Memory Card
Price: £5.71

3.0 out of 5 stars Not without issues, 27 Sep 2011
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Not sure why, but my HTC Desire doesn't seem to really like this card. Every time I reboot the phone, or put some new content on the phone, it doesn't read properly. Often the card reports it's "Read Only", though in fact I don't have any trouble writing to it. Funny...


Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier
Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier
by Edward Glaeser
Edition: Hardcover

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotal and largely devoid of serious analysis, 19 Sep 2011
Very disappointing if this is a book by a 'leading' economist. Evidence assembled to fit the preconceived prescriptions, with little acknowledgement that there is counter-evidence. Lots of neo-liberal economics and what passes for theory among free-marketeers. Little acknowledgement that anyone else does any work on urban issues. Arguments from history, but no engagement with serious historical or economic-history analysis. Braudel not even in the bibliography. Cheap shots at mayors who have tried to help the poor. No geography apart from the theory of relative advantage. No mention of successful German or Scandinavian cities - they might as well not exist.

The final chapter is slightly better (EG suddenly realises that urban planning might make a difference - that's what makes Vancouver a nice place, apparently) but it's mainly about investing in education and not trying to buck the market.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 19, 2011 10:52 AM BST


Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives
Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives
by Carolyn Steel
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but not all that interesting or enjoyable to read, 17 Sep 2011
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...which is a real shame. I completely agree with where she's coming from and what she says. I don't disagree with her analysis or her recommendations, though I think that the latter are a bit feeble. Educated consumerism is not going to save us, either from food insecurity or from the rapacity of the supermarkets. It's funny how reticent we all are to propose legislation and regulation, and how much we'd like voluntarism and personal choices to be the solution.

But the main problem is that this felt a bit like a compilation of Guardian articles, without enough of a theme or an analysis that built up through the book. I didn't learn very much from reading it either, which was a shame. Even the references and further reading are a bit muddled, so that it doesn't feel like a gateway to a wider body of research and information.

Shame, because I bet she's a really nice person who would be great to have involved in campaigning, or to share a meal with.


Requiem for the East
Requiem for the East
by Andreļ Makine
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Post-soviet novel with odd tone of loathing and regret, 11 Sep 2011
This review is from: Requiem for the East (Paperback)
It's a requirement of the modern post-soviet novel that it has a certain ambivalence towards the USSR, and this well-written book does it better than most. There is plenty of anti-soviet and anti-Communist loathing, but also some understanding of why people for felt loyalty to, if not love for the soviet union.

That said, I don't think this is as great as other reviewers find it. Vassily Grossman, for example, does the ambivalence so much better - this is too much like a modern Zhivago, with not much understanding of what the revolution was for or what the USSR meant to so many.


One Day
One Day
by David Nicholls
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.95

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nicely written but annoying nevertheless, 31 Aug 2011
This review is from: One Day (Paperback)
David Nicholls can clearly write well, which is what kept me going with the book. He has a nice eye for details and for interior monologue. But one of the characters is both unpleasant and uninteresting, and it's hard to spend so many pages in his company. Maybe that's why it took me so long to finish this small and light book.

It's interesting, too, that so many people have commented on its description of contemporary reality, yet no-one seems to notice that its narrative about class is a complete fairy-tale. The female character is bright but has no 'social captital' in the form of family connections or clear view of how personal advancement works. She gets a crap job in a nasty fast food place, but eventually her decency, hard work and talent win through and she ends up a success. The male character is lazy deadbeat with no talent except for a certain superficial charm, but he has lots of social capital and self-confidence. He gets a super media job and becomes rich and famous, but eventually his failings show through and he ends up at the bottom. See? It's a fairy-tale - real life is just not like that. By comparison, the romantic aspects seem like gritty realism.

Interesting solution to the problem of what to do once the two protagonists have started their relationship. Most rom-coms deal with this by having a final not-very-threatening crisis in the relationship - a mistaken identity or misunderstanding thing that can be sorted out in time for the final kiss. This does have a more inventive plot device, which I won't give away for the sake of those who still want to read this.


The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet
by David Mitchell
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Period gothic novel with C19th Japan setting, 24 Aug 2011
Not as experimental as other David Mitchell - despite multiple points of view (not quite multiple narrators), this is mainly a conventional historical novel. In fact, it rather reminded me of James Clavell's Shogun - an odd place for Mitchell to have ended up.

That said, it is beautifully written and a pleasure to read. The central plot element is verging on the horror-novel gothic, and I'm not at all sure that it would really fit with Shintoism (how should I know?), but I didn't really care. It restored my wish to visit Japan (rather weakened by an 18-hour business trip a few years ago) and to learn more about the Dutch East India Company.

There are lots of negative reviews here, and some of them make good points, but I'm still glad that I read this book, and it hasn't undermined by appreciation of Mitchell.

BTW there a quite a few literary anachronisms in the book, which I assume is Mitchell having a laugh - I suspect there are more clever jokes in there that I missed.


The Company You Keep
The Company You Keep
by Neil Gordon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.10

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping novel about the Weather Underground fugitives, 24 Aug 2011
This review is from: The Company You Keep (Paperback)
Really, really good; can't believe I am the first to review it. I was expecting to be put off by the structure (multiple narrators) but I soon forgot about it as I was carried away by the plot and the characters. It's a little too sympathetic to Weather for my liking - it gives all the best political speeches to those who are themselves sympathetic, and doesn't allow anyone who thinks that its strategy and tactics destroyed the American Left to express their views.

But a very enjoyable novel none the less - although I thought the ending (no spoiler) wasn't true to the spirit of the book.

I am sure that the forthcoming film will be great too, and I'm looking forward to it - even though I know how it turns out. There are some great suggestions for further reading at the end, but I'd add David Zaire Marowitz's "The Radical Soap Opera".


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