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Stupid White Men: ...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!
Stupid White Men: ...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!
by Michael Moore
Edition: Paperback

40 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pratchett of Polemic, 13 Nov 2002
Nice alliterative title for a review, don't you think?
I'm not seeking to belittle Michael Moore by comparing him to Terry Pratchett: in fact, the opposite is true. He, like Pratchett, tops off deep and humane moral feeling with a sprinkle of wonderful comedy. Also, like Pratchett (and Shakespeare I suppose, but maybe that's taking comparison *too* far) balances comedy with tragedy, giving both a greater edge.
This book is tragic, and it is compelling. Moore's thesis - that America is run by a junta of corporate interests - is convincing. It is a matter of concern for us all if these people are as amoral as he says they are, for we are all affected. It is likely that in a few weeks from now, British troops will risk their lives to destroy some probably-non-existent weapons of mass destruction and incidentally hoik the price of Texan oil.
Dodgy? You bet. Few Brits have many illusions about Dubya and his mates. This book will strip away any that may remain.

The Big Sleep and Other Novels (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Big Sleep and Other Novels (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Raymond Chandler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

54 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American Classics, 25 Oct 2002
Ernest Hemingway, in between drinking gallons of booze and writing those cute short sentences of his, once observed that all American literature comes from Mark Twain's 'Huckleberry Finn'. He was right in a sense. Twain's novel was the first to deal with the archetypal North American conflict between city and wilderness, the demands of civilisation and the lure of freedom. You can see Huck right up to the present day: in J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield perhaps, or in Lester Burnham in 'American Beauty'.
And he's right there in Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Forget your Poirots and your Marples. Forget even Sherlock Holmes. Marlowe is the greatest literary detective. What makes him great is his apartness; Chandler's novels are not really about solving mysteries - often the plots don't make a lot of sense - but about the tragedy within the man he created.
Marlowe is tragic. A noble, Arthurian figure (Chandler almost called him Malory, after the author of Morte d'Arthur, but rejected the name as too obvious) he is isolated in the decadent civilisation that surrounds him. He is, as Robert Graves might put it, the one good man in a wholly evil time.
His dilemma - whether to give in to the temptations of the world around him, or to pursue his lonely crusade - is at the centre of each of these novels, and in each novel is explored in a different way. They are all absorbing even though, as I've said, Chandler didn't really care a hoot about plot. (He once said that whenever he ran out of ideas he had a man walk into the room with a gun. So not much pre-planning and storylining going on there, then).
In an essay about detective fiction, Chandler wrote of Marlowe and his Los Angeles:
'Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid... He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.'
Such is Chandler's Marlowe. Read him, and be amazed.

A History of Britain III: The Fate of Empire 1776-2000: Fate of Empire; 1776-2001 Vol 3
A History of Britain III: The Fate of Empire 1776-2000: Fate of Empire; 1776-2001 Vol 3
by Professor Simon Schama CBE
Edition: Hardcover

63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Weight-Training, 25 Oct 2002
I don't like glossy coffee-table books because of their physical nature. If you like to read lying down they are a bind: lie on your back and they make your arms sore in a way no paperback does; lie on your side and their waxy pages catch and reflect the light. *And* you have to swap sides every time you turn the page.
But for Simon Schama I'll make an exception. This is not just a paperback text with glossy pictures stuck on and a tenner added to the price. It is - please forgive the terrible nineties expression - an 'experience'.
This particular period of history is not, perhaps, as interesting as the centuries covered in the earlier volumes. After the excitement of the Napoleonic wars and their aftermath the narrative becomes less incident-packed and more focussed on social history. That I find this less interesting than the battles and religious strife that went before says more about me than it does about Schama. His prose pleasantly complements the photos and illustrations. He might not thank me for saying it, but he gives history a pleasing sense of narrative such as we non-academic dabblers need to keep us entertained.
So, a good purchase, especially if you're buying someone a present, or you're after a handsome volume to sit on your living room bookshelf. If you actually want to learn about the period this is a good introduction. However Schama is generally uncontroversial and readers already familiar with the material won't find much that's new.
Just be prepared to sit at a table to read it. Or maybe you want to beef up those biceps?

The Lord of the Rings (3 Book Box set)
The Lord of the Rings (3 Book Box set)
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Paperback

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Familiarity breeds..., 24 Oct 2002
Many people overlook LOTR's strangeness. Although it wasn't, perhaps, the very first book in the genre we call 'fantasy', it *was* revolutionary. If we tend to miss that aspect of it these days it's perhaps because our tastes have been jaded by imitators who seem humdrum by comparison.
To focus on meaning in LOTR is probably a mistake. Many critics have chipped away at it and found...nothing. Hence the novels' critical rejection by the mass of teachers, academics and commentators. There is no imagery to discuss, little subtext, and the themes are so huge it's difficult to stand far enough back to see them. In short, you can't really set an essay on LOTR, which makes it intimidating. The brave few who have tried to interpret it in conventional literary terms have often approached it as allegory; the fact the it was written during the second world war (a few bits were even put together during bombing raids) probably *does* inform the general good vs. evil theme. But good and evil weren't new concepts, even in 1940.
Tolkein's achievement is the scale of his invention. He did not just write a story - though the novels abound with dazzling narratives - he created a world. Fair enough, this world may only exist in our imagination, but then so does ancient Rome or Elizabethan London. Tolkein gave us detail sufficient to make it real in our heads.
One suggestion: read the novels before you see the films. I think that seeing the films first would probably wall in your imagination. Tolkein demands that you give it a free rein.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 13, 2010 3:34 PM GMT

Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics
Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics
by Matthew Parris
Edition: Hardcover

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Crystal Spirit, 19 Oct 2002
This wonderful book is not so much an autobiography as apologia - an apology, that is, in the old sense of humble self-justification.
Anyone who has read anything by Matthew Parris, and particularly his much-missed parliamentary sketches in The Times, will know that he has no need of justifying himself to us; his humility, though admirable and genuine, is belied by the scale of his achievement.
Nobody has written more brilliantly about politics since George Orwell. Parris and the author of 'Animal Farm' are, you might think, a pretty unlikely pairing. Despite his travelling and global perspective, Parris does not apparently have the radicalism of Orwell; Orwell was not so skilful an observer of personality as Parris. What they share is what Orwell once called, in a poem, 'the crystal spirit' - humanity, honesty and a hatred of humbug, all manifesting themselves in prose of luminous simplicity.
Yet Parris agrees with Peter Ackroyd's assessment: that he, Parris, has 'no talent', and has thrived only as a commentator, a 'chance witness'. He laments, in his final chapter, that he has never done anything original: 'If in my life I had been able to think up just one important thing...then I could be happy in anonymity'. The originality of his work is open to debate - that of his life is not. If this lack of originality he claims has helped to produce some of the stuff he describes in this book, I say hurrah for that.
Near the end, he moves from apologia to apology, regretting that he finds little room to describe his travels, his family history beyond childhood, and, most intriguingly, his pet llamas. I regret this too. I only hope he makes amends as soon as possible with a second volume.

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