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Francis A (London)

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The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln
by Stephen L. Carter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.22

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent ... up to a point, 6 Aug. 2013
The description of Washington politics and society is entertaining, readable and credible. It is reminiscent of Gore Vidal's history of empire series, including his own "Lincoln". Many of the same real characters appear, and there is similar cynicism (or realism) about how politics, politicians and the law work. There is even similar use of an amalgam of language of the time and anachronism. The invented characters and conspiracy plot itself never quite convinced me. It is in a way odd that the real characters were more interesting and entertaining than the fictional ones, with whom the novelist had freer rein. But that was a minor issue until the end, and the revelation and explanation of the plot, in a rather stagey discussion between Abe and Abigail. As long as the plot remained mysterious (at least to me, unskilled at unravelling) it was possible to go along with it. The solution to the mystery and the way it was set out made it seem just a bit too clever by half, verging on the absurd. But the ride up to that point was very much worth it.


Enron: The Anatomy of Greed The Unshredded Truth from an Enron Insider
Enron: The Anatomy of Greed The Unshredded Truth from an Enron Insider
by Brian Cruver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maybe tells more than it intends, 28 Mar. 2013
In many ways this as a very poor book, badly written and structured and full of strange, inane diversions. Yet in revealing so much about himself Cruver does actually give a good insight into the Enron psyche, and indeed that of many in other companies involved in the great gas deregulation trading boom. I knew a number of what Cruver calls "Enronites", dealt with Enron as a business, even visited Houston and a gas trading floor (of Natural Gas Clearing House, which bacame Dynegy, when it was ahead of Enron in the game). The egotism, self centred-ness, short-sightedness, childish humour, sexism (of the self-termed big swinging dick traders), short attention spans, false-ness and yes, greed, were all very visible and all come out in the book. As does dishonesty and lack of moral compass, though that was better hidden from the outsider. The attempts at humour are particularly revealing. These people didn't just think they had the best brains on the planet, they all thought they were the greatest comedians, a belief reinforced by the culture which required even the weakest attempt at humour to be greeted with roars of uncontrollable laughter and back slapping.

Reading it more than a decade also reminded me of how much of the Enron culture pervaded other businesses, and still does.

Worth reading.


Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements
Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements
by Hugh Aldersey-Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Elementary Tales, 21 Mar. 2013
Like others I wondered what happened to periodicity. The main point of the Periodic Table is surely the relationship between the properties of the elements as you move across and up and down the table, but this is barely touched on. I suppose the fact that the book doesn't even contain a representation of the Periodic Table beyond the initial sketchy Mendeleev version was a warning that the title was to prove misleading. It is a pleasant enough, rather unstructured, collection of essays about the discovery and uses of the elements but you will have to look elsewhere for an understanding of the Periodic Table.


The Art of Fielding
The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3.0 out of 5 stars A good novel - no more, 25 Dec. 2012
This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Paperback)
It's a good read. Two thirds the length it would probably have been better, the characters and the plot going a bit off the wall towards the end.
In fact I never quite believed in the characters, except perhaps Henry in the first half. While better than other recent contenders, talk of this as the (or even a) a Great Amrican Novel sems to me a long way wide of the mark. Good enough reading group fare, that's about it.


Robert Bruce: And the Community of the Realm of Scotland
Robert Bruce: And the Community of the Realm of Scotland
by G.W.S. Barrow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £31.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dry and hard going, 15 Aug. 2012
Before reading this I knew little about Bruce other than the semi-myths of Scottish education and popular culture.

I know a lot more now but found the book unsatisfactory and quite difficult to get through. The scholarship is impressive, but the general reader surely can't gain much from the long lists of unknown names and titles (and localities) of those who at various times supported or opposed Bruce, which take up so much space. I suppose the author is hampered in "bringing Bruce to life" by the little contemporary hard evidence of what he was like, but the picture of Bruce the man is a fuzzy and incomplete.

It is, despite this, an interesting glimpse into the Scotland of the times, but however distasteful from a historian's perspective, a bit more imagination and a few more leaps of faith in story-telling would make for a more absorbing biography.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2013 12:19 PM GMT


A Short Autobiography
A Short Autobiography
by F Scott Fitzgerald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.64

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not an autobiography but ..., 12 Jan. 2012
This review is from: A Short Autobiography (Paperback)
This is not an autobiography, but a collection of short pieces (journal and magazine articles) which are, more or less loosely, autobiographical, arranged in chronological order. Some are personal and "straight" - for example a brief, unfinished memoir of Fitzgerald's father. Others are comic takes on parts of his life - for example a description of a summer on the Riviera with wife and child intended to rein in his spending (revealing a surprising modern sense of humour, with hints even of the Goons and Monty Python). Others are essays on some subject related to his life - for example a short treatise on Princeton and its ethos. Almost all the writing is first rate, with the intelligence and prose style to be expected. The tone is generally lighter than the biographical image of the Fitzgeralds would lead you to expect. At the end there are incidentally about 30 pages of page by page annotations (which I didn't spot until half way through) which are in themselves an amusing insight into what the editor feels a modern reader (even one picking up a Fitzgerald book) cannot be relied on to know (or google) - who is Rupert Brooke or Douglas Fairbanks, what is the Via Appia, and so on.


Complete Stories (Penguin Modern Hardback Classc)
Complete Stories (Penguin Modern Hardback Classc)
by Kingsley Amis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.25

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chips from the workbench ..., 12 Jan. 2012
... is Amis's own rather dismissive assessment of his short stories, in an introduction to an earlier collection, included here as an afterword. As usual he gets it about right. The categories are familiar from his full length works - SF and drink (combined), detective stories, ghost/horror stories, historical fiction, pastiches. My favourites were probably the opening three army stories from WW2, perhaps because some of the same characters recur, giving a bit more, well, length to the short form. The SF/drink series also adds up to, in this case, five related pieces, but for me were a bit of a struggle, in the end just about worth it. In fact for an Amis fan the familiar wit and sense make the whole thing worth it, but I suspect less so than re-reading some of the novels.


The Fires: How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City-And Determined the Future of Cities
The Fires: How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City-And Determined the Future of Cities
by Joe Flood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.79

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating on several levels, 22 July 2011
Debunks the myths surrounding the devastation of the South Bronx and other parts of New York City in the late 70's. If you are interested in the real story of that period when New York seemed about to collapse, and descend into the abandoned city or walled-off prison of science fiction movies of the time, it's a good read. The most thought-provoking element is however the lessons of misapplication of computer modelling that contributed to the devastation of whole neighbourhoods. The supposedly giant brains of the RAND Corporation whizz-kids, and the gullible (and/or self-serving) politicians and officials who employed them, turn out to be more responsible for what happened than the corrupt landlords, arsonists, and insurance fraudsters that domionated, and perhaps still dominate, public perceptions. The bit about the "determining the future" in the sub-title implies that lessons were learnt. Perhaps, but the role of "quants" and their risk models in the banks' collapse and (dare I say it) the sometimes blind faith in computer modelling of climate change perhaps suggest otherwise.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 20, 2013 10:14 AM BST


The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of about Fifty
The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of about Fifty
by Wilfrid Sheed
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Still no British publisher?, 25 May 2011
Maybe a sign of the times that even as excellent a book as this has still not found a UK publisher.

If you've ever listened to and enjoyed Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Holiday, or any of a dozen others, or watched a Fred Astaire film or two, or listened to any pre- be-bop jazz. Then you'll enjoy this book. It will help if you have a collection of the great American songs to hand (at a push even Rod Stewart will do!) to dip into as you read (and if you are interested in the book at all you surely will have).

The writing can at times try just a bit too hard to be clever, and the depth of treatment of lyricists is a little random, but those are small criticisms of a joyful tribute to the astonishing output of popular song in about 30 years of the last century. You also catch, in very digestable form, quite a bit of American social history of the period as you swing along.


Roads: A Millennial Journey Along America's Great Interstate Highways
Roads: A Millennial Journey Along America's Great Interstate Highways
by Larry Mcmurtry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit of an oddity, 23 Mar. 2011
I had never read McMurtry before (had never in fact heard of him, although his fame as a screen play writer more than a novelist specialising in Westerns might have impinged on my conciousness). I was attracted by the subject - a "road book" about the inter-state highways. I have driven maybe 10,000 miles on them on various trips and have always wanted to drive from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

It is somewhat odd book, that I see greatly divided people on the .com site. It is quite short, barely 200 well-spaced pages and, although by no means comprehensive, covers a lot of miles. It is certainly not for someone who wants a Paul Theroux-type travel book, with many interactions with people and places. Here you are very much alone with McMurtry and his thoughts, and confined to the road and road-side food stops and hotels. At 700 and more miles a day there is little time for sight-seeing, and there are only (for the most part) very general descriptions of the passing scenery. Few people, other than those in McMurtry's mind, are encountered. There are a lot of references to writers and other artists associated with the places passed nearby (almost all passed without stopping), many of whom McMurty himself notes are obscure, forgotten figures.

Yet I enjoyed it, just as I enjoy long drives, through almost any scenery. You do get a good impression of what it is like to drive these roads, and of the individual characters of seemingly very similar bits of infrastructure. At one point for example he describes how on one route the road is traversed by footbridges for cattle, bringing to mind the distinctive string of once sky-blue painted (if now faded) slim footbridges for farm animals on the M6 north of Preston. McMurty's writing is good (if not quite good enough for me to be tempted to read his Westerns). The tone is reflective, often even a shade depressed. It includes, somewhat off topic, a memoir of the little dirt roads around the farm he grew up in, and of his father (in particular) and the now distant world before widespread ownership of trucks, when mules and carts and cattle drives represented the normal pace of travel.

If you like long, uneventful drives, or long, uneventful road movies this book is for you (with the perhaps contradictory advantage that it will, given its length, not detain you for too long).


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