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S. Lewis "Sash" (Belgique)
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Sentence Siberia: A Story of Survival
Sentence Siberia: A Story of Survival
by Ann Lehtmets
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars An admirable memoir of survival against terrible odds, 20 Jun 2014
This is not an account of life in the Gulag. Ann Lehtmets was 'merely' deported to a kolkhoz in Siberia, along with thousands of other women, young people and children (her husband was shot). They had done nothing except ordinary lives in their country, Estonia, but when the Soviet Union occupied Estonia in 1941, being ordinary decent people was enough to warrant deportation.
I'm familiar with survivor accounts from the Soviet Union, but this one is in a class by itself, for its dignity, its courage, its realism and even, sometimes, its black sense of humour. It must have been a privilege to know the author, and as one reads the book one is constantly amazed by her resourcefulness and ingenuity. Her only advantage in an utterly hostile world was that she spoke fluent Russian, yet she managed to survive complete destitution and deprivation, hunger, extreme cold, illness and hopelessness while remaining intact as a person and retaining her moral values. Her description of kolkhoz life is a valuable slice of history (I wonder if things are all that much better even now).
I was lucky enough to buy the book at the Museum of Occupations in Tallinn, for only EUR 13. The Museum had one other copy at least. I urge anyone interested in the history of communism, the USSR or Estonia to buy it - you won't regret it.


Dark Summit: The Extraordinary True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season
Dark Summit: The Extraordinary True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season
by Nick Heil
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read, 6 Aug 2011
This is a very clear, fair-minded account of the multiple deaths on Everest in 2006. It's presented as if it sets out to be sensational and shocking, but that isn't at all the case. Heil describes what happened simply and precisely. His book makes it very easy to understand how disasters of this kind can happen even to skilled mountaineers, but without trying to blame or judge. One very pleasant surprise is that Heil is an exceptionally good, literate writer - the book is far better written than many academic publications it's my misfortune to read. All in all, a book to recommend both to climbers and to those who, like me, would never set foot on a mountain but are interested in how humans behave in extreme situations.


Bissell Carpet mate 2000E BIS2000E
Bissell Carpet mate 2000E BIS2000E

5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Product, 6 Aug 2011
Small, light, but strong and powerful - it does the job perfectly without wearing out my (black) carpet, which needs frequent cleaning. It works very well on linoleum and tiling, too, and it's easy to clean.


No Way Down: Life and Death on K2
No Way Down: Life and Death on K2
by Graham Bowley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hopefully not the best mountaineering book since "Into Thin Air", 11 Jun 2011
"No Way Down" has been marketed as the best mountaineering book since "Into Thin Air", but I hope not - there must have been better ones during that period. The book is very interesting - with such a subject it could hardly be otherwise - but in my view it has considerable defects. It's written in what seems to be a standard US mould for non-fiction - exactly the same format is used for serial killer cases! - whereby the first words must be someone's name (Eric Meyer's in this case), and the first sentence must "capture the moment" (the "jolt" of a -20° temperature). There's no need for this sort of writing workshop-taught technique here. Thereafter the narrative jumps around, focusing on one group and then another, making it difficult to follow the chronology of the climb. The author all too frequently tries to want to depict what X climber was thinking and feeling at Y time; all very well (I suppose) if there's solid evidence for it, but there's no such thing for how Dren Mandic felt as he began to climb the Bottleneck, and the imagining then is positively distasteful in light of the fact that Mendic was killed a few minutes later - he was the first to die. I also find it distasteful that the author doesn't even bother to specify the death of Karim Meherban, Hugues d'Aubarède's porter; he just lists him among the dead and mentions that he was "no longer with" d'Aubarède when the latter was last seen by Chris van de Gevel (falling to his death). But when and how did Meherban die? In general, it's clear that Bowley isn't very interested in the fates of the Pakistani porters - or those of the Korean climbers, for that matter, though it was the terrible deaths of at least two of them and their Sherpa porter that made the greatest impact on me. A propos that dreadful incident, Bowley doesn't question how, if Jumik the porter had only a sock on one foot when seen, still trapped, by Western climbers, he could have subsequently managed to start moving down the mountain when reportedly found by Big Pasang (indicated by radio telephone), just before their deaths in an avalanche (or how the Korean climber who reportedly had a smashed face could move either). He never stops to enquire what happened to the third dead Korean climber. Nor does he make any attempt to clarify why the initial ascent of the Bottleneck took so long (the start of the trouble), except for hints that the Koreans may have slowed the climb down (but they say not, of course). Throughout the focus is on the Western climbers. This might be because the book is written for the Western market (actually the US market, as Bowley uses "rappel" rather than "abseil"), but if that is the reason, I suspect it's short-sighted, as Koreans, Nepalis and Pakistanis interested in mountaineering are probably accustomed to reading about it in English.

I think some of the book's problems come from a wish not to offend anyone or to join in the controversies surrounding the climb, but to me they just suggest that Bowley, a non-climber, was the wrong person to write the book. However, he did convince me that the only climbers involved to whom I'd trust my life would be the Sherpa Pemba Gyalje (maybe) and the lone Basque climber Alberto Zerain, who just got on with it - alas, his website is not in English. And the book and its people stay in my mind, maybe despite rather than because of Bowley's literary skills and mountaineering knowledge.


Js Bach: Cello Suites
Js Bach: Cello Suites
Price: £21.93

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ideal recording of the Bach cello suites, 17 Nov 2010
This review is from: Js Bach: Cello Suites (Audio CD)
The most important bit first - to my ears this is the most beautiful and sensitive version I've ever heard of what to me is the summit of all Bach's compositions (and thus, I suppose, of all music). If you too love this music, never mind if you don't know the violoncello da spalla and have never heard of Dmitry Badiarov - listen to a few movements and hopefully you'll be won over as I was. It's the fourth recording of the work I've bought (Casals and Bylsma are among the others), but it's the only one I'd keep. And I'm writing this review because I'm afraid that because Badiarov isn't well-known the recording won't sell very well, and I'd like to change that. I don't know him or his record company, but I was overwhelmed when I first heard some of the recording on Belgian radio, and after I'd played the whole of it, and I'd like others to share that experience.

Amazon's introduction to the recording is slightly inaccurate: "spalla" is Italian for "shoulder", not "arm", and the instrument is indeed played on the shoulder. Music-lovers living in Belgium, of whom I'm one, should already be familiar with the violoncello da spalla, thanks to the pioneering work of Sigiswald Kuijken in promoting it and promulgating the idea that it was the instrument for which Bach intended the suites, but perhaps it's less well-known in other countries. Certainly even an amateur interested in 17th. and 18th. century music will probably be aware that many more stringed instruments were used in that period than is now the case - and that the contemporary cello à la Rostropovich was not necessarily one of them. So even some "authentic" performances by "authentic" baroque ensembles may in fact not be authentic at all, because they use a standard cello rather than a cello da spalla, a bass viol or another early member of the string family.

Amazon's introduction also fails to do full justice to Dmitry Badiarov, who is not only a gifted player, but an instrument-maker too. He both studied violin with Kuijken and made the violoncello da spalla on which Kuijken plays and has recorded the Bach suites. And of course, he made the instrument which he plays on this recording. How many of today's instrumental soloists could make their own instruments? Not many, I think. This alone makes the recording interesting, as an exceptional testament to the relationship between a player and his instrument. But to me what make it outstanding are its exceptional beauty of tone, and the extraordinary sensitivity with which Badiarov plays. So often even the greatest cellists "scrape and saw" in some of the more emphatic movements - even Casals, even Rostropovich, even Kuijken. Badiarov never does. He never forgets that these are dances, and that even more than Beethoven's seventh symphony they merit being called "the apotheosis of the dance" - dances for spirits rather than human beings - and he never forgets that in them Bach seems to be exploring the range of his inspiration as well as that of the instrument. Perhaps it's precisely because Badiarov apparently doesn't often play as a soloist (he plays in many important early music ensembles) that he's content to put himself at Bach's service, instead of just using the music to demonstrate his own skills. So the music as he plays it is not a virtuoso display, but both beautiful and very moving, as it should be - as if Bach and Badiarov are thinking the music aloud through the instrument, creating it as they go.

So I repeat - if you don't have a recording of the cello suites already and are looking for one, try Badiarov and his violoncello da spalla. And if you already have a recording or two, try this one anyway: hopefully you'll be as enchanted by it as I am.


Cantiones Sacrae Quinis Vocibus, Atwerp 1612
Cantiones Sacrae Quinis Vocibus, Atwerp 1612
Offered by KAOZI168-CLASSICAL---*SHIPPED IN TIME *
Price: £16.70

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to this great composer, 22 Aug 2010
It's a pity that this expatriate Englishman isn't better known in his adopted home, which is now Belgium (where I live), or generally. It's also a pity for us (though maybe he wouldn't have thought so) that he never had occasion to try his hand at opera; his settings of religious texts are extremely colourful and exceptionally apt in dramatic terms - a rare case for music of this kind where it's worth referring to the set text while listening to the music. The Sarum Consort is not so well-known as some of the few other ensembles which have recorded Philips, and it uses women's rather than boys' voices, but I liked their version better than any of the other versions I've heard of the texts recorded here (they use one singer per voice).
And it's a pity that recordings tend to feature the same selections from the 1612 and 1613 publications of Philips' works, or bits and pieces of one mass, plus a few madrigals, meaning that the same few motets are recorded over and over again. There is not a single recording of a complete mass by Philips. No doubt this is because of a lack of performing editions, but here is at least one prospective purchaser of a mass recording, or other "new" works. Definitely he is worth as much attention as his great contemporaries - even Monteverdi!


The Unfolding of Wisdom. The Buddha's Path to Enlightenment
The Unfolding of Wisdom. The Buddha's Path to Enlightenment
by Alan James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.82

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly what it promises, 22 Aug 2010
This is an excellent introduction to the practice of Buddhism. It does not claim to reflect either the Hinayana or the Mahayana tradition, but seems to be mainly inspired by Theravada teaching. Alan James takes a practical, down-to-earth approach, with language and examples which are very easy to understand and (try to) put into practice.


Badgers (British Natural History Series)
Badgers (British Natural History Series)
by Ernest Neal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading, 10 Jun 2010
This is a super book which all badger-lovers will appreciate. It should also be required reading for all those in Wales and England who are currently moving towards further culling of badgers with a view to eliminating bovine TB, as it explains, carefully, sensibly and objectively, why culling is a disgraceful waste of money which only makes the problem worse.


Angel of Death: Killer Nurse Beverly Allitt
Angel of Death: Killer Nurse Beverly Allitt
by John Askill
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than nothing, 10 Jun 2010
There are not many books on the Beverly Allitt case, so this one is better than nothing. No doubt it provides all the main facts. But it's relatively poorly written (lazy journalese) and repetitive, and it focuses very heavily on the families of the victims rather than on the perpetrator, or on the problems with hospital management which may have facilitated Allitt's activities. This is a pity, because Allitt is a member of a rare but particularly dangerous class of serial killers, better documented in the US than in the UK, who operate by practising a medical profession. Such killers very often exploit weaknesses in the system which employs them, and they are helped by the general belief that all doctors, nurses etc. can be trusted absolutely because they are motivated solely by compassion and a desire to help. In fact, their motivation is likely in general to be more complex than that, and in some cases may include a strong desire for power over others, a desire which is quite easily satisfied by a medical career. So in this case it would have been interesting to have had a more thorough analysis of Allitt's possible motives (she made no useful statements) and a more detailed comparison with similar cases in the US, Scandinavia and elsewhere.
Nick Davies' "Murder on Ward Four" is said to be a better account of the Allitt case; I haven't yet read it. And no, I don't have a grudge against the medical profession, but anyone interested in murder through the ages or extreme regimes such as nazism will be bound to notice the frequency with which members of the caring professions have signally failed to live up to their supposed mission. Means and opportunity are not a sufficient explanation for this phenomenon.


The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy and Why They Matter
The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy and Why They Matter
by Marc Bekoff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.44

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Waste of Time, 17 Mar 2010
This ought to be a fascinating book, given the subject. In fact I had difficulty finishing it. It's extremely repetitive. Over and over again Bekoff states that animals do indeed have emotions - most readers likely to buy or borrow the book probably don't need persuading of that. Over and over again he criticises scientists who deny the existence of emotions in animals; it would be better to spend more time analysing why so many scientists have unfortunately felt the need to do this. The book is inevitably anecdotal, but many of the anecdotes are not particularly interesting or interestingly told. And there's a certain flavour of US-style New Age woffle which is often very irritating. In short, the book's a bore; don't waste your time with it.

It does, however, have one virtue. Among the references cited by Bekoff is a 2006 article by New York Times journalist Charles Siebert called "The Animal Self". If you have Bekoff's book in paperback, you can find the reference to the article on page 174, referring back to page 50. The very long link Bekoff gives to the article doesn't work, but you can easily find it simply by googling Siebert or checking the NYT website. In less than 15 A4 pages (and free of charge) the article describes the latest research on personality in a wide variety of animals, with brief but precise scientific background and details. Inevitably, Siebert is short on individual anecdotes about the personality and emotions of animals, but you can find them in plenty of books. So don't bother with Bekoff - download Siebert's article for the basic scientific information on animal personality and then follow up your individual animal interests with the amazon websites.
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