Profile for Daniel Bor > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Daniel Bor
Top Reviewer Ranking: 449,563
Helpful Votes: 120

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Daniel Bor (Cambridge, UK)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
pixel
Total Immersion
Total Immersion
by Terry Laughlin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.69

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful book for teaching a far more effective front crawl technique, 1 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Total Immersion (Paperback)
This book teaches front crawl, using a new, highly structured and technical method, which is easy to learn, fun and highly effective. The book is basically divided into three sections: the first 7 short chapters provide the background and theory to the approach; then chapter 8 gives you 6 lessons and multiple drills to move from very simple exercises to a full front crawl. The remaining short chapters gives general advice on fitness, strength and competitive swimming. Having gone through all six lessons now, I do feel far more confident in the water now, and my previously appalling front crawl technique is rapidly turning into something that feels sleek, efficient and fast. The book itself does a reasonable job of teaching you this, albeit with everything outside of chapter 8 somewhat repetitive, only cursory or just unnecessary ballast. I could have done with quite a few more diagrams to help me (the DVD is almost essential in addition to the book, I suggest - or at least check out some total immersion videos on youtube), and actually the drills could occasionally have been explained in more detail. But on the whole I found the book a useful, enjoyable channel to swimming far better.


Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum
Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum
by Richard Fortey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Meandering description of people and science behind Natural History Museum, London, 1 Aug. 2009
The title refers to an obscure, hidden room in the non-public section of the London Natural History Museum, which houses all the forgotten, but fascinating animal artifacts that once played a purpose in highlighting some scientific truth to the public or researchers of the museum. The idea is that this book is a similar room for Forty as he recalls the various curious human creatures that inhabit this famous building.

The style of the book reflects this metaphor - at times being almost too exuberant, but at least interesting and imaginative, but at other times, especially when describing the science, becomes somewhat dry and jargon-laden. It also meanders around, somewhat at random.

The book has opening and closing chapters which generally talk about the place and its works, with specific chapters in the middle covering the various departments of the Natural History Museum - animals, plants, minerals, etc. Fortey meanders between revealing elements of the research behind the secret, scientist-based half of the Natural History Museum, and describing its history, both in terms of the building and its originators, and various colourful workers that passed through its doors. He conveys very well the passion, dedication and eccentricities that are consistent themes for everyone who works tirelessly on cataloguing the organic world. The people do come alive, with Fortey's close descriptions of their appearance and characters, even if at times his words seem a little overly dramatic and the act therefore a little desperate to make everyone appear interesting.

His description of the science is less successful, and he seems defensive as to the importance of the work of the place, and nostalgic for a bygone era when there may well have been more scientific freedom, money and influence, but not necessarily nearly as high quality of science. Rather than demonstrate by clear, exciting examples why this work really is important, Fortey unfortunately conveys some of the tedium of the field, and I did find myself struggling through this book somewhat, and feeling that it was too long (even though the book isn't particularly lengthy). I also feel that Fortey missed some tricks with the structure. It just felt that he didn't really plan too much how he would structure the book, and just wing it. There were times when I felt he was trying to write two books simultaneously - one about the science of the place, and the the other of its history and people. And the seams between these two worlds showed constantly and were rather ugly. I also wish that the real star of the show, the building itself, could have been given a more prominent role, and been the main topic to knit together everything else. The building does sound fascinating, rambling and vast, but maps really should have been provided, and would have made the place come alive for me, rather than just hear in text about yet another corridor or another turret and have no clue where such places were, and having them all blend together frustratingly in my mind.

I have loved the Natural History Museum since childhood, and was so excited when this book arrived, but although I finished the book (eventually) because of the anecdotes and colourful people described in it, as well as a small subset of the scientific passages, I was hoping for so much more.


Like Water For Chocolate
Like Water For Chocolate
by Laura Esquivel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not really literature, but a simple, rich dish to savour, 30 July 2009
This novel tells the magic realist/family folk tale of an all-female Mexican family in the midst of the revolution in the early part of the 20th century. Tradition and repression is pitted against passion and love in a battle between mother and daughter, with food the potent, spicy ingredients both of communication and control. Recipes and the power of food take on a magical role, as eating certain ingredients laced with tears of grief or blood of passion evoke intense longing or a literally burning libido. I really enjoyed Like Water For Chocolate for its sheer emotional exuberance, it's original, imaginative siren song to fill one's life with passion. I was gripped by the plot, read the short book in two sittings, and in the end was very moved. Unfortunately, though, this book isn't really literature - it isn't really trying to be. It is almost a childish version of magic realism. The characters border on stereotypes, the language is simple and slightly dull (not helped by a clunky translation), and there were a few moments where I felt that the magical power of food was taken too far, and dragged down to the humour of a children's playground. But these flaws are all easy to forgive, since the simple, yet rich flavours of the book are just so easy to savour.


The Road
The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive, utterly stark, gripping apocalyptic thought experiment, 23 May 2009
This review is from: The Road (Paperback)
A father and his young son desperately fight to survive in a world destroyed by a decade of post apocalyptic ash and fog. The only food left are mainly found in decaying tins, while any remaining within any decent shelter is out of the question, due to the roving, cannibalistic gangs. This incredibly stark novel paints a definitive, frighteningly detailed picture of what it might be like to live in such an environment. Little actually happens in the story, which repeatedly involves similar vignettes about finding food in abandoned houses. But this is not so much a criticism as a reflection of the tedium of what life must be like in that world. In fact, one of the great feats of the novel is that it is in fact riveting. Burning in the reader's mind on every page are a set of questions: What caused this catastrophe (you never know)? Will the father and son survive? Will they find good people to befriend? Will reaching the ocean (the goal for most of the book) be their salvation?

The father and son have been struggling so long in this way (8 years, perhaps - few explicit details are ever given), that they both secretly long for death, and there is little that interests them in the barren landscape. Everything is stripped down to be naked, real, simple, uncivilised. Religion and god are dying as concepts, kindness and morality seem naive notions, and even language itself seems to be shrinking under the weight of the sunless sky. The style reflects this. It is simple, terribly stark, with punctuation even disappearing. However, this is not to say that emotional power is lost with this simplification. "Okay" is easily the most common dialog sentence, but each time it means something different and carries with it volumes of hidden, tormented meaning. Occasionally McCarthy can't resist slipping into more flowery, poetic prose, and these times definitely enhance interest and raise deeper questions, such as whether life has a purpose. However, these are also the times when I felt once or twice that the author has over-reached, and where the stark naturalism of the novel is punctured. Similarly, there are one or two moments where religion rears up, particularly up the end, which seem so incongruous with the rest of the book, and which detracted from its haunting achievement.

I couldn't help, though, being in awe of the writing quality of The Road. Being so unrelenting, so dark, it is hard going - and yet you feel compelled to read the next line, the next page. Many shocking images will stay with me, as will the depth and subtlety of the main relationship between the father and son, and the incredibly profound questions that shoot right for the core of our existence.


Bartk's Mikrokosmos: Genesis, Pedagogy, and Style
Bartk's Mikrokosmos: Genesis, Pedagogy, and Style
by Benjamin Suchoff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.95

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Description misleading, 23 May 2009
I bought this, assuming that this was the collected 6 volume version of Bartok's Mikrokosmos - as the production description implies. It is not - it is a commentary on the Mikrokosmos, and doesn't include any of them itself. The product description comes from the back of the book, where the second paragraph (not included on the Amazon site, unfortunately!) makes this clear.

I'll keep this review up until Amazon fixes this problem, to help others avoid the same mistake I made.


Making Up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World
Making Up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World
by Chris Frith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.94

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An ideal introduction to the interface between the brain and mind, 2 Feb. 2009
This popular science book, written by one of the most prominent cognitive neuroscientists in the world, explores the current evidence of how our brains generate our mental image of ourselves and the world. He first outlines how our brains give us an image of ourselves and the world that can deviate frighteningly from reality. Sometimes this is simply because our heavily embedded ideas of our perceptions and beliefs are wrong, but sometimes problems arise due to brain damage. In the second second section, he centres on the brain as a prediction machine, which gives us the power to understand ourselves, our bodies and each other. The book is written extremely clearly, largely without the use of jargon, and although a tad dry in places, includes sufficiently exciting content to keep the reader engaged. Some attempts to make the book more popular worked well, such as occasional idiosyncratic and funny footer notes. I wished these would have taken a more prominent role, and he would have felt more at ease to make far more of these kinds of comments. However, Frith's imaginary conversations with a cynical and anti-scientific English professor feel more like an afterthought, and he could easily have made far more of the idea, had he wished. As a cognitive neuroscience researcher myself, I didn't really learn anything new, as Frith is largely reluctant to speculate on any ideas that haven't already been very firmly established, but I was nevertheless able to appreciate the coherence and intelligence of his explanations, which at times did allow me to view a well-trodden topic afresh. For a layperson, however, I can't think of a better introduction to the interface between the mind and brain than this book.


July's People
July's People
by Nadine Gordimer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant, powerfully ambiguous assessment of an imaginary collapse in Apartheid, 26 Jan. 2009
This review is from: July's People (Paperback)
This short, ambiguous and intensely claustrophobic novel, written at the height of apartheid, imagines a revolution where Black people throughout South Africa are rising up, reclaiming their country and murdering any white people they find. The white liberal middle-class couple Maureen and Bam have been relatively respectful and supportive of their black Servant, July, over many years, and so he agrees to shelter them in his rural village while the worst of the violence ensues outside. The novel centres on how this white family barely acclimatises to this relatively primitive life, how they interact with the black community around them, and their ongoing relationship with July, who now is in effect the master of their domain. The style, mainly told through the eyes of Maureen and Bam, is stilted, with half-sentences, unexpected changes of subject, at times almost hallucinatory physical detail, yet only a sparse smattering of inner thoughts. The world and everyone in it seems to be subjected to a conceptual fog. As the novel progresses, Maureen and Bam increasingly, unwittingly, lose their former civilised possessions and symbols of power, as step by step they are reduced to the black people they are living with, and July's attitude towards them shifts towards defiance and indifference. They stumble through basic survival as if in dementia - they have no idea who steals their prized white possessions or how, they only hear transitory snippets of the state of the world and the revolution outside, and even their memories of their past relations with July at times seems hopelessly flawed. The only clarity for the reader to emerge occurs during the dialogue, which is blisteringly accurate, particularly between Maureen and Bam, but even here most chats are littered with failures to understood each other's thoughts. Sometimes this is simply because of the problems with language, but one suspects it also reflects that no one understands themselves or their motives, let alone anyone else's . So these spoken sentences are meagre oases in a novel which gains considerable power from its vagueness, ambiguity and seeming lack of direction. It is almost impossible for us to place on a firm footing any of the relationships between the major characters, particularly of that between July and Maureen, which at times could be defined as Master and Slave, at others is the reverse of this, and still at other moments feels like two lovers or even an old married couple. It is equally difficult to understand why July looks after this white family. Such profound ambiguities of relationships run through this central artery of the novel and pervade every inch of its flesh. They also make it an absolutely fascinating and rich read, and one that probably demands a second reading immediately after the first.


The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
by James Gustave Speth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.00

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great description of the problems, not so hot on the solutions., 24 Jan. 2009
This book, from a leading US environmentalist, argues that the environmental situation is critical, not just in terms of global warming, but also in terms of the extent of species extinction taking place, and the destruction of many major ecosystems. It claims that capitalism as it currently works is the major cause of this, as growth is the prime purpose of companies and governments, but this necessarily comes at the expense of natural resources and the environment. It claims that our obsession with growth is misplaced anyway, since beyond a relatively modest salary, happiness doesn't increase. Instead, happiness is primarliy supported by social and communal ties, which modern capitalist habits erode. The book then goes on to suggest potential solutions, by changes on a personal, corporation and government level.

I think that Speth makes a convincing case for how dire the environmental crisis is, and for how destructive and misguided capitalism can be. However, the book is very largely about the US, which frustrated me enormously, firstly because many of the problems are (hopefully) specific to the Bush administration, and secondly as this is a world crisis and many different countries are facing these problems in different ways. When it comes to the solutions, Speth comes across as a teenage idealist in many ways: naive and vague. There is no detailed economic discussion of what kind of system could replace capitalism and yet stabilise wealth, no detailed blueprint for how government can stabilise carbon emissions, or what role the individual can play. Although at times Speth recognises the complexities of the situation, he makes no attempt to provide pragmatic analyses of these complexities, in order to provide some guidance. This over-general approach to providing a "bridge" over the abyss ended up making me feel more pessimistic rather than less, and I found the book keenly frustrating overall, particularly since the style is rather repetitive and wildly overburdened by quotations. I'd say worth reading for the first half, and aggressively skimming for the second.

((I read this book on the recommendation of a series of articles in the New Scientist (see Opinion Section from 16 October 2008), and actually found those articles considerably better and more succinct.))


Waiting For The Barbarians
Waiting For The Barbarians
by J M Coetzee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superlative and disturbing, 9 Jan. 2009
A riveting, delicately written allegory on the injustices of empire and the callous cruelties of war, as told by a clever, mildly altruistic magistrate emotionally embedded in a frontier town. I started reading the novel, believing it would make some obvious, even trite, comments about imperialism - and indeed in the first 10 pages this is how it appears. However, the complexities and doubts soon pervaded the writing, and I was left feeling most impressed by the sheer brilliance of the ageing narrative character, in all his confusion and rather nuanced and polluted displays of dignity and morality. To me, this was the meat of the novel, with the fontier, the war and injustices somehow secondary to that. The style is taut, yet lyrical in places and feels effortless. The novel isn't very long, but nevetheless it feels like an epic, with considerable plot, and many horrifically vivid scenes. Superlative stuff.


Invisible Monsters
Invisible Monsters
by Chuck Palahniuk
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Full of super-vibrant characters and hallucinatory plot twists, 4 Dec. 2008
This review is from: Invisible Monsters (Paperback)
This is a short novel with Palahniuk's characteristically punchy style, describing the connected realms of plastic surgery, transgenderism and the continuum between deformity and beauty via three larger-than-life characters on a drug-induced road trip. To me this was almost like two novels. The first two thirds are a little slow by Palahniuk's standards, but then it races to the end with incredible vigour, helped along by an almost hallucinatory set of wild plot twists and revelations. While for me the ideas and twists in Fight Club worked beautifully, here they seemed just a little over the top. Despite this, I definitely paused for thought on many occasions, and very much enjoyed the ride.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2009 11:32 PM BST


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4