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DB "davidbirkett" (Co. Kildare, Ireland (but born & raised Liverpool, UK))

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India and the British Empire (Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series)
India and the British Empire (Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series)
by Douglas M. Peers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £35.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Ontological, teleological, hermeneutic semiotics, 22 Feb. 2016
A very interesting and informative look at British India from some unusual specialist angles. The jargon can be a bit difficult at times (witness my title), and a couple of chapters would have been much more comprehensible without it.


Quentin Durward
Quentin Durward
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a read, 22 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Quentin Durward (Kindle Edition)
This is one of the less well-known Scott books, and it is rarely adapted for film and TV, but I found it interesting and enjoyable. It’s set in an unusual place and period – I only knew a little about the rivalry between France and Burgundy in the late 15th century, and I didn’t know that the kings of France had a Scottish guard.


Korngold: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
Korngold: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
Offered by unknown_pleasures
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and enjoyable, 29 Jan. 2016
Korngold wasn’t someone I had heard of. He was a Viennese Jewish Wunderkind who impressed Mahler and had some early success as a composer and later as a conductor. He went to Hollywood before Anschluss to do some film scores and even won Oscars!
The 2nd Sonata won considerable acclaim among professional musicians, but it is too “academic” for my taste, but I highly enjoyed the “lighter” music – the 1st sonata, some early fairy story music and some film music (which was influenced by jazz and popular music. Glad to have heard it!


Das Hexenkreuz: Liebesroman (Seelenfischer-Tetralogie 2) (German Edition)
Das Hexenkreuz: Liebesroman (Seelenfischer-Tetralogie 2) (German Edition)
Price: £3.17

4.0 out of 5 stars Drei und halb, 28 Jan. 2016
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Four is a bit generous - the average review on amazon.de is about 3.8. OK but a bit slow going at times – I think the main problem is that it is too long, one of those books where you suspect the author is being paid per thousand words. It is a sort of “Perils of Pauline” but set in late 18th century Italy (and France a bit) with a backdrop of the papal suppression of the Jesuits (the book provides the necessary background to “Seelenfischer”. The heroine loses her clothes in just about every chapter for the first two thirds of the book – indeed there are scenes in a couple of the central chapters that can only be described as soft porn – I suspect Hanni Muenzer has one eye on a TV serialisation. It’s called a “love story” but while that forms an important part of the book, it is often relegated to the background. It’s much more of a potboiler, packed with politics, sex (Casanova has a walk-on part), Satanism and secret potions.  


The System Of The World (The Baroque Cycle Book 3)
The System Of The World (The Baroque Cycle Book 3)
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Approaching the Unities, 11 Jan. 2016
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“Quicksilver” wanders round much of Europe and has a timespan of decades. “The Confusion” takes us around the world, and covers several years. Both have three or four main viewers (Jack, Bob and Eliza plus Daniel). “The System…” in contrast has a much narrower focus. Beyond a brief excursion to Hanover, the action is entirely in England (and almost entirely in or near London). The viewer is mostly Daniel until near the end when he shares the role with Jack. And the timescale is months. But this literary transition from picaresque to formalism acts as a counterpoint to what was happening in the arts at the time when the book is set – the transition from Baroque formalism to Rococo playfulness, and I can’t imagine this is accidental.

The move from entropy to order also “informs” an important theme in the book – the beginnings of Information Theory. And I loved the conceit of bringing Newcomen into the story. The idea of a steam powered computer is surely a nod to Sterling and Gibson’s “The Difference Engine”.

The whole trilogy is a triumph, and I hope Stephenson revisits his world at various times between the Baroque and the Second World War/Turing parts of “Cryptonomicon”


The 2300 BC Event: Vol 3 Mythology -The Eyewitness Accounts
The 2300 BC Event: Vol 3 Mythology -The Eyewitness Accounts
by M. M. Mandelkehr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Some great ideas, 4 Jan. 2016
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Although most people, even the well-educated, haven’t even heard of the 2350 BC event (as it should more accurately be called) it is actually a well-documented horrific climatic minimum, much worse than the Little Ice Age or any other event since before the Iron Age. It was responsible among other things for the collapse of the New Kingdom in Egypt, and delayed the advance of civilisation by several centuries. And the speculation that it was caused by a close encounter with a comet sort of goes back as far as Velikovsky (who dismissed it as he believed that all comets were of the relatively puny size of the ones we are more familiar with) but has recently been revived by dendrochronologist Mike Baillie. We now know that comets can be enormous – the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, has recently been shown to be an ex-comet that somehow got trapped between Jupiter and Mars.

Moe Mandelkehr is a “layman” (in fact an engineer) who has studied the archaeology and mythology around the event in great detail. He makes one intriguing suggestion: that the event is connected with the Pleiades, Comet Encke and Halloween, and I think he is probably right.

His other main proposal, which in fact covers the whole of the second volume and half the third, is much more speculative: that the cometary detritus for a significant period of time formed an elliptical ring around the earth and that this explains a lot of mythology. Here he has only got me half convinced. For a start there is a case of more being less. He ropes in as evidence pretty much anything circular, cyclical or serpentine most of which could just as easily, or sometimes far more likely, refer to the sun, the moon, the comet itself, and the cycles of day and night, the stars overhead and the seasons. However there are highly intriguing nuggets in almost every chapter. There are also some howlers which should be corrected in a future edition (and I hope there is one): a map showing the Congo Basin as arid and the Kalahari as not, and several references to the Balts living in the Balkans rather than by the Baltic. At one point he suggests that there might have been similar climatic events earlier on (and there almost certainly were), but he neglects to mention that there were also others later on: 1628 BC, 1150 BC, 540 AD which may have been slightly less catastrophic but were pretty horrendous all the same, and some of which probably had cometary origins as well.

One reason why I hope that there is a second edition is that it could and should make use of modern CGI simulations of what the ring would actually look like. Google on “if the earth had rings” and look at some of the images created by a guy called Ron Miller. These images are for a circular, equatorial ring with a single division rather than the elliptical ring with a near polar orbit and six to eight divisions that Mandelkehr proposes, but they do support his thoughts about rivers around the earth, and huge celestial mountains to the north (such as Valhalla). Unfortunately I don’t see anything tree-like, which is a pity because I thought his chapter on the World Tree one of the more convincing. Maybe the debris could have been ellipsoidal rather than elliptical?? And what would the tidal action of the Moon do to such a ring??

Anyway, for all its faults, a very important book. Read it, check out a few of his “facts” and references (I’ve done a few and with the exceptions quoted above they squared up) and then think about it.


Die Blechtrommel by Grass, Gunter (1987) Paperback
Die Blechtrommel by Grass, Gunter (1987) Paperback
by Gunter Grass
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The Little Drummer Boy’s Guilt, 17 Dec. 2015
Grrr. I bought the paperback because when I did so there was no German language Kindle edition available. I clicked the box saying that there ought to be, and about two weeks later one appeared.

Anyway.

This being an “important” book I felt I ought to tackle it in the original, which was a tougher task than I expected and I had to make frequent visits to a handy website that gave detailed chapter-by-chapter resumes in English to ensure that I had understood it properly. It’s not only that Grass dips into dialect at times or that the mildly surreal nature of the book often makes it difficult to guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word from its context, but also the discursive style and references to barely remembered scenes that happened many chapters ago.

It’s a very complex book and will intentionally mean different things to different readers, but for me it is “about” Catholicism and guilt, particularly for things that weren’t really your fault.

I wonder if, even subconsciously, what made Grass choose a dwarf drummer for his hero was the song “The Little Drummer Boy”. Although it was written in the 1930’s the first major recording was in 1955 (by the Trapp family!), just when Grass was starting the novel. There are all sorts of references to The Virgin Mary in the book, the mother of Oscar’s child is herself called Maria and Oscar comes to think of himself as a reincarnation of Jesus.


Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 12 / Silence Op. 9
Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 12 / Silence Op. 9
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £16.95

3.0 out of 5 stars "Nevermore" and Collectivisation, 28 Oct. 2015
“Silence” has very little to do with what John Cage was trying to show, except maybe for the last minute, and a few other snatches of “Caginess”. It is a rather good tone poem inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and written before the First World War.
After the war Miaskovsy became part of the Soviet musical establishment. The 12th Symphony, christened “The Collective Farm Symphony” isn’t bad (I’ve heard duller symphonies of his) but even the composer was disappointed with the last movement.


Wolf, H.: Penthesilea / Pfitzner, H.: Das Kathchen Von Heilbronn / Strauss, R.: Fantasy (Berlin Staatskapelle, Suitner)
Wolf, H.: Penthesilea / Pfitzner, H.: Das Kathchen Von Heilbronn / Strauss, R.: Fantasy (Berlin Staatskapelle, Suitner)
Price: £5.53

4.0 out of 5 stars Anschaulich, aber ein wenig phantastisch, 7 Oct. 2015
Not a lot to add to the previous review (which I found very helpful), beyond that I enjoyed it all (except maybe the talking bit).


The Confusion (Baroque Cycle 2)
The Confusion (Baroque Cycle 2)
by Neal Stephenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

4.0 out of 5 stars "Barroco" (Port.): a rough or imperfect pearl, 6 Oct. 2015
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I imagine Stephenson knows the origin of the the word perfectly well, and is only too happy to think of his cycle in that way. Concerning this second book, when I was doing my PhD I often needed to analyse the ceramics I was making by heating them up with a material called Fusion Mixture. The results were all too often difficult to interpret, so I scrawled "Con" on the bottle before "Fusion". But of course that was the original meaning of the word "Confusion": simply "melting together" - the sort of insight you keep on getting from Neal Stephenson, and he does a lot of melting together in this volume. Anyway, a great follow up to "Quicksiver", if anything less confusing, and it also makes sense of some of the puzzling bits of "Cryptonomicon", but as other reviewers point out, you would certainly need to read the Baroque Cycle in the correct order, for your brains would melt if you didn't. Looking forward to "The System of the World".


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