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Clare Topping (Northamptonshire, UK)

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Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird
Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird
by Tim Birkhead
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bird Sense Made Sense, 1 Sept. 2012
Tim Birkenhead managed to find a topic that doesn't appear to have been covered in much detail before now and the idea of finding out what it is like to be a bird is certainly an intriguing one. The author examines each of the senses; seeing, hearing, touch, taste, smell, as well as magnetic sense and emotions, through a combination of scientific data originating from both anatomical and behavioural studies and personal experience and anecdotes. The latter a result of his research into guillemots and zebra finches.
These anecdotes illustrate the author's obvious personal interest in the subject matter and makes the book much more readable than it otherwise might have been.
However, despite the general readable style I sometimes found myself wavering between wanting to know much more about a particular topic and a feeling that the author was labouring the point a bit and wishing he would move on already!
In summary though this is altogether a very readable book thatI would recommend to anyone interested in birds and their behaviour, but perhaps not to anyone wanting a lot of scientific detail. I did come away from he book feeling as though there were a lot of things that I hadn't previously considered about birds; both their physiology and their behaviour. I will also be looking through the extensive bibliography to find some other books that might provide further information about this interesting topic.

British Leyland: Chronicle of a Car Crash 1968-1978.
British Leyland: Chronicle of a Car Crash 1968-1978.
by Chris Cowin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic find on Kindle, 1 Sept. 2012
I downloaded this as a Kindle freebie and whilst I might have otherwise passed it by, with hindsight I would definitely pay for this book.
The author has managed to cover a wide-ranging topic in a well structured way. In general it is presented chronologically; detailing the internal and external decisions that impacted on the company that was formed by the merger of BMC and Leyland Motors. There are also additional sections giving more information about specific, and now iconic, models such as the Allegro and Marina. He has also include quotes from the media at the time of the launches; the Marina being 'What happens when Britain's best engineers set out to build a beautiful car'.
The view presented appears to be completely objective with regards to the reasons for the failure and eventual collapse of BL. The disruption caused by the strikes prevalent in the 70s is quantified, the decisions made by management relating to the design and production of the models as well as the quality control is critically analysed and the role of the various governments and their stance on interference in industry discussed. The fortunes of BL are also compared and contrasted with those of other major car makers of the time.
The conclusion that is drawn seems to indicate that the collapse may have been avoidable, but there were so many contributing factors that it was unlikely to remain afloat.
I have to qualify this review by stating that I am not a car nut; I have a passing interest in Wheeler Dealers and I found a trip to the Coventry Transport Museum fascinating, but, although it was heavy going in places, I loved this book. I never realised how many strands and inter-relationships there were in the British motor industry, but they were all pulled together brilliantly in this book. I now know so much more.
My only criticisms are that the book is quite long, but then it is a hefty subject and I found some of the model numbers quoted (e.g. ADO28) a little confusing, as were some of the changes to the management team, especially considering the number of divisions in BL for the majority of its life. Perhaps a BLMC family tree or a timeline might have helped.
All in all I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the history of the car industry.

Quantum: A Guide For The Perplexed
Quantum: A Guide For The Perplexed
by Jim Al-Khalili
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quantum Theory without the Maths, 1 July 2012
I have been trying to get my head around quantum theory for decades (literally) but always had a mental block - mainly due to wavefunctions and too much mathematics I think. (Or is it poor lecturing of quantum chemistry when I did my degree all those years go) However, I have finally found a book that has started to help me make sense of it all.

Quantum is written by Jim Al-Khalili in a very readable style - if you like his way of presenting ideas on the various TV and radio shows then you will like this book - I could almost hear him reading it to me. Throughout the entire book there is only one mathematical equation - Schrodinger's equation - and it makes only one appearance, quite early on. All of the ideas are explained by analogy, making the whole topic much less daunting.

He does cover pretty much all of the quantum theory - starting off with the early interpretations of atomic structure, some of which are probably still taught, why and how they were proved wrong, through to the present day theories with examples of where quantum theory is applicable to everyday life with suggestions of where the theory and applications will go next (quantum computing being the main example).

All the major topics / theories are included; the double-slit experiment features heavily, but the book also adequately covers atomic structure, Schrodinger's cat, quantum tunnelling, superposition of the aforementioned dreaded wavefunctions and their decoherence. There is also a discussion on the variety of current theories, whether they could all be correct or just one and where current opinion is tending to head.

So, whilst I still don't understand quantum theory enough to be able to explain it to someone else (I think this is just me, not the fault of the book) I do feel ready to tackle some of the other books I have on the subject and in the recommended further reading list. I would also definitely recommend this book to anyone trying to understand quantum theory or to fill in some of the gaps in their understanding - it is probably one of the most accessible texts out there.

How to Do Everything and Be Happy - 2nd Edition - Your Easy Peasy Guide to Creating Happiness
How to Do Everything and Be Happy - 2nd Edition - Your Easy Peasy Guide to Creating Happiness

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pragmatic and down to earth; full of useful examples, 17 Jun. 2012
This book is not a typical self-help guide, it is an easy read that doesn't lecture the reader or go into lots of psychological theories. It is a series of suggestions to get past the feeling of 'there must be more to life than this'. The first is to create a series of days to spontaneously do what you most feel like doing - things that don't take any planning. I have to admit that I tend to do this myself and it does lead to a feeling of decadence and therefore increased happiness.
On the next level are a series of things put on the Now List - things that once you get to the end of your life, you will be satisfied that you experienced - using the theory of the bucket list, but not waiting until your time is nearly done. After all, who knows when that might come.
On the next level is the Wish List - things that are bigger and need planning - projects that may change your life - things that you can look at with satisfaction and say I did that.
He uses the easily accessible diary / calendar and lists to capture things when the occur to make it easier to tick them off when you have time.
The book is full of practical advice, it even lists potential blocks that might be in the way. Whether this will make you happier, or help you get things done though is down to how much you want to; this is just a guide to help you on your way.

I downloaded this for free, would I be happy to pay for it - possibly not, but then I already subscribe to much of his thinking anyway. What it has done is given me a kick start to think about some of my longer term goals and projects at a time when I was struggling for motivation and happiness. I certainly can't fault the underlying message that it is usually a lack of action that leads to unhappiness - that feeling of just drifting through life and, the best way to get past that is to make a plan to get things done.

Quantum Mechanics for the Rest of Us but not for Dummies: Quantum Theory Simplified
Quantum Mechanics for the Rest of Us but not for Dummies: Quantum Theory Simplified
Price: £2.29

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not sure what the point is, 17 Jun. 2012
I admit to having a bit of an understanding of quantum mechanics, but have struggled with some of the concepts so I downloaded this when it was free.

The first half of the book was about famous physicists that had contributed to the field of quantum mechanics, the second half made a few references to quantum physics. However, the main theme that I got from this was that the mathematics is hard, you won't understand it, therefore you will only ever have a basic understanding of quantum mechanics. Yes, it does have applications in every day life, but the author seemed inclined not to bother giving any detail about why it is important.

I started to wonder if the author understood less about quantum mechanics than I did. I am glad I didn't pay for this book and if you want just the basics of what quantum mechanics is all about you would be better off doing a general search on the internet and reading the Wikipedia entry.

I really don't know why this book exists and I would definitely not recommend it.

Three Men in a Boat
Three Men in a Boat
Price: £0.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Whimsical romp down the Thames, 7 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was directed to read this book by an American who described it as Brit Wit. It is the tale (as per the title) of three friends who venture down the Thames in the 19th century. The author seesaws between acting as a tourist guide (he has nothing good to say about Reading) and describing the various minor adventures and scuffles of the three friends and the dog Montmerency.

It is a little like Jeeves and Wooster in a boat, but without Jeeves to make sure that all goes according to plan. Whilst it is difficult to actually like the characters for whom hard work and toil seem to be something other people do, although they won't admit that, it is still guaranteed to make you smile and possibly make you want to partake of your own adventure.

Read the book, especially the free version, relax, enjoy the adventure and don't take anything too seriously - you are guaranteed to find the book easy going and the author good company.

All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly matter of fact, 8 April 2012
I had wanted to read this book for a long time, and it was definitely worth the wait. It was made all the more important by the fact that the author had himself fought in the First World War.

The book, for anyone who doesn't know, is the story of a group of classmates who were convinced that it was their duty to enlist in the German Army and is told from the perspective of Paul Baumer.

The book is incredibly down to earth in tone and lacks sentimentality. The soldiers deal with things that are sent their way, the trenches, the poor and limited food, the fear, the search for bodies, visiting friends in hospital that they know are close to death - it is all very pragmatic. We share in the joy that the boys and men feel when they get extra rations, find a goose that they kill and cook or get light duties. The difficulty that Paul has when he has to kill someone and then watch him die when they are both trapped in no man's land in a shell hole is conveyed sensitively.

How close an understanding the book gives to what the soldiers on both sides felt and how they coped during the war is impossible to tell if you weren't there, but it certainly heightens the appreciation of what young men were forced to go through and how it must have changed their lives if they survived.

Definitely read the book.

For Whom The Bell Tolls
For Whom The Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some great scenes, but dialogue lets it down, 8 April 2012
This is the second Hemingway novel that I started, but I never finished the first, finding the dialogue too disjointed and irritating. However, I thought I would give one of the more well known and acclaimed novels a read.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s and tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American lecturer, fighting on behalf of the anti-Fascist guerrillas, and his mission to blow up a bridge at the start of a major offensive. For help he is taken to a group of guerrillas living in caves in the hillsides. They all have their own histories and motivations and not all of them welcome his presence and the changes that will be inevitable as a result of his mission. The story is weaved around the different personalities and Robert's interaction with them, from the leader, Pablo, to Maria with whom he falls in love.

The story is set over the course of only a few days, but still manages to include a lot of information about the war and how it affected individuals. The way that Pilar tells the story of what happened when they took back their town from the Fascists and the punishments that they meted to some of the townspeople builds and builds the tension and is brilliantly written. However, as with the earlier book I found the dialogue disjointed and not to my taste with some of it a little too wordy and unnecessary. Others may find it vital to the story.

I would still recommend this book and am glad I read it all the way through. Hemingway does make you feel for the characters, no matter how gruff he makes them, which I think is the mark of a good book. However, it was not enjoyable enough to make me read any of his other books for now.

The Leopard: Revised and with new material (Vintage Classics)
The Leopard: Revised and with new material (Vintage Classics)
by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.79

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging meander through 19th Century Sicilian Aristocracy, 16 Mar. 2012
I have to agree with one of the other reviews - The Leopard is a strange novel. It is set in Sicily and starts in 1860. It follows the fortunes of Prince Fabrizio and his family. From his adoring and long suffering wife, adventurous nephew and his love for the low-born but new-monied Angelica, and his ignored daughters.

At the time of the arrival of Garibaldi all is in slow transition for the old families of Sicily, even set against the inertia of the island. Other families move in the right circles and are buying land. The Prince (the Leopard) knows this is happening but there is a feeling of inevitability.

There is no great depth to the book, it is gentle, strolling almost. There is little tension, no cliff edge, no battle scenes. It is centred around the thoughts of the Prince, his priest, his daughter. However, it left me wanting to know more, I was disappointed that I didn't learn what happened to some of the family members - there was a jump from 1860 to 1883 to 1910 - I wanted to know what happened in between.

This is a delightful book, the author weaves wonderful descriptions and dialogues, the rapid changes in the establishment against the background of the slow pace of Sicilian life with the feeling that all of the characters are being pulled along by something pre-ordained and out of their control.

I really would recommend anyone to read this book that just wants to lose themselves for a day or so in an entirely different world. It is an easy read, not a book that you have to work hard at, but one that left me feeling calm and peaceful. I loved it.

Better Plant and Garden Photography
Better Plant and Garden Photography
by Philip Smith
Edition: Paperback

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3 and a half stars depending on what you are looking for, 15 Feb. 2012
If you are looking for a book that will instantly make you into a prize winning garden photographer (should such a book exist then please let me know) then you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a book that has lots of beautiful photos that inspires you to want to go out and take photos that could make you a prize winning photographer, then this could be the book for you.

The book is divided into relatively short chapters, most of which you can read in about 5 or 10 minutes. The topics included vary from colour to light to equipment, but, as the book is short, the information given is brief. If you are new to photography then the information may be just what you are looking for. If you have spent much time thinking about and trying to improve your photography then it is possibly more of a reminder of what you should be doing.

Having read this book I definitely feel inspired to go and find some gardens where I can go back time and time again, and 'feel' the essence of the garden (even if it is a grey, windy, February day) which I guess means that the book has done its job and why, along with some beautiful photos, I gave it 4 stars. If I was to rate the book on the technical information it contained then it would be somewhere between 2 and 3 stars.

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