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Michael Layden (Ireland)

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Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World
Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World
by Robert Neuwirth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £27.89

4.0 out of 5 stars A peek under the carpet, 19 April 2012
Living in a relatively prosperous country, the concept of life in one of the gigantic squatter settlements seems almost as close to hell as one can get. The picture I had in my head before reading this book was of short brutish lives living in squalor, with raw sewerage flowing down the street. All of which really goes against what we see as the basic requirements of life.

It's funny how much this book changed my opinions as well as leaving me completely perplexed about what should be the role of ownership of property in these communities. But a good book shouldn't necessarily make life any easier, it should force us to think and it should make us understand that there are no definitive solutions.
The real heroes of the book are the inhabitants of the squatter communities who remind us that we are all basically the same. The shear ingenuity, hard work, stoicism and optimism of many of the inhabitants is breathtaking.
Some of the national circumstances are truly grotesque but the steadily improving lot of inhabitants in other countries is downright amazing.
It's funny the only part of the book that I didn't like was the discussion of the historical/western experience of squatting. I think it was rather dull and broke the flow of the book. It was far, far more interesting hearing the actual day to day stories and experiences of people in the various squatter communities. The historical stuff is disjointed and there were too many disjointed anecdotes and not enough relevance to the discussion of the four different national experiences.It would have been better if this was put into a separate book.
It would have been better if the descriptions of life in each of the different communities he lived in was fleshed out more.
All said though I enjoyed the book and will be passing it on.

Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe
Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe
by Norman Davies
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Europe Version 3.09, 5 Mar. 2012
There is a old Reader digest DIY book, from the 1960s, in the house here. It is filled with project after project on how to modernise your home. To give a flavour of the horror within it, it suggests nailing some thin plywood over the rails of the banisters to have nice modern solid sides so that dust can't build up in the nooks and crannies. This book leaves one with the same sense of horror. Beautiful unusual kingdoms with their own peculiarities now permanently modernised behind nice homogenous national facia.

It is hard to understand how little we question the existence of the nation states we see all around us. It usually when we hear of some extremest group looking for an independent state that we comprehend that there are some disgruntled entities behind the facia.

But this book brings so many kingdoms out of the historical garbage heap. It is hard to understand how absolutely and completely they have dissapeared. Savoy, burgundy, Grand Duchy of Lithunia, Galcia,Prussia,Aragon are some of the entities which live again for a short time in this book.
It is not just that these countries have disappeared it is the shear banality of their disappearance. In many cases in ways which were tragic, but mostly just tied up in the ebbs and flows of a royal family and its success or failure. The incredibly ruthlessness of the major powers and the inability of colossal royal egos to put their people first made the end in many cases extremely fast.

You would think that institutions that had survived many centuries would leave some trace and yet this is the true horror of the book, no matter how absolute a political entity may seem,entropy is always working to return the component parts to a more fragmented state. With the problems with the EU how long before a whole series of new states start flexing their political muscles again as the principles of Subsidiarity meet economic and resource collapse

Digital Film-Making
Digital Film-Making
by Mike Figgis
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Good effort at demystifying film making, 7 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Digital Film-Making (Paperback)
Watching Robert Llewellyn you tube channel carpool, has me thinking more about AV as a medium to get a message out. Not knowing much about AV I had gone through several books on DV this is the first that seem to have a similar attitude to Llewllyn. Basically that the story or conversation is more important than the technology.

This is an easy read, which gives a good idea of both how game changing digital video cameras and computer editing are.
He has thought a great deal about the simple mechanics of this revolution.

Some of his best advice is common sense and yet profoundly challenging. His favourite still camera is one he has had years. As he points out the equpment is not as important as the person operating it.
A great photographer will be able to take a good picture with even the most basic equipment. In a world where we are constantly being told that we have to have the best and newest this is good advice.
He really encourages one to have respect for what equipment you have and to really really get to know it very well.
In a age where it is easy to pick up good quality second hand equipment this is a real incentive to stay focused on what is important.
He loves his craft but is obviously is highly frustrated by a lot of what goes on in the media industry. He also has a fascination with doing things at the most basic. His discussion of lighting, musical under scoring and of editing are
particularly interesting.
Good book, will definitely focus on getting to know the digital cameras I have better and stop worrying about having the newest and best.
Good advice to on questioning why you are doing things, definitely he does not believe in over gilding the lilly. He I think must be a nightmare to work with if you are old school, but a delight if you are
learning the craft.

Merchant Schooners: v. 1 (Modern maritime classics reprints)
Merchant Schooners: v. 1 (Modern maritime classics reprints)
by Basil Greenhill
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vol 1 and 2 of a remarkable set, 4 Feb. 2012
If you get Volume one try to also get Volume 2 at the same time. Particularly as the Irish Trade section is in Volume 2!! Interestingly this was where many of the last schooners plied their trade

Basil Greenhill adored Schooners with every pore of his being. He was also the director of the Maritime Muesum in Greenwitch, so these are volumes written by a professional who was also a total enthusiast. This means the books are filled with information which spills out like an enjoyable conversation.

It is hard to comprehend the shear flow of information contained in these two small volumes.
Individual Schooners.
Throughout the two volumes there are pictures, statistics of various schooners. There are numerous pictures and sketches of different schooners. Also some details about when they were built, where and where they eventually ended up.

Individual Ports/ ship Yards
Ports and Shipyards are discussed and in many cases you get a glimpse of how the ports were before gentrification. Again good photographs and discussion give an idea of the life both in the dying years and in the glory years. What is particularly interesting to me is the descriptions of the building of ships on beaches and the off loading an loading on beaches.
Ancedotes and stories
Throughout the books the real flavour of life on the schooners is conveyed through the words of the participants in the ports, ships and trade
The developing technology, reducing manpower, engines, different sale arrangements are all discussed in detail with good sketches and diagrams.
Trade routes
There is a great deal of discussion of the various cargos and routes schooners carried, some even as late as the 1960s
Characters/ professions
In the early days everyone in the small port towns seemed to be involved in the ownership and manning of schooners. Building, operating, insuring and trading were all orgainsed locally. This meant that there was a great deal of diversity in the maritime sector in every coastal town. The book gives a good flavour of the mutual nature of Schooners.
Discussion of why Schooners lost out, the strategies they used to compete
The difficulties of leaving and entering ports due to adverse winds was particularly interesting and makes the rise of more easily scheduled motorised transport more understandable.

Great books well worth having in any library looking to an existence beyond oil.

Patriots and Profiteers: Economic Warfare, Embargo Busting, and State-sponsored Crime
Patriots and Profiteers: Economic Warfare, Embargo Busting, and State-sponsored Crime
by R.T. Naylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Mankind has the memory of a goldfish, 22 Jan. 2012
In a sane world this would be a compulsory read for every UN official and every reporter covering international relations.

The book is filled with so many news stories from the last thirty or so years. All the stories that got us indignant at the time and then disappeared within a short while. Short term horror as some international figure is caught taking bribes for choosing one arms supplier over another. A bank here caught helping a arms deal. A nasty bad man caught delivering guns to this weeks evil country. Then the week afterwards the same players are safely retired in a friendly third country.

For us consumers of news, every incident is just seen as another twisted merchant of death who is outside the pale. Then we conveniently forget all about embargoes and six months later when it happens again it is seen as an isolated incident and we get indignant by our disgust at another incident of criminality.

Naylor does a great job of putting together a well argued case that the whole mechanism of embargoes does not work and that it creates a level of lawlessness which lasts well beyond the embargo. Countries are able to get the weapons they need and invariably create their own manufacturing which then becomes a new supplier of arms into the world. The networks created for smuggling arms invariably smuggle even worse things back from the country being embargoed. What is particularly interesting is the countries who have the strongest role in Embargo breaking. Won't be too specific as the shock and awe on every second page is a good reason to keep turning the pages.

Naylor uses Irony and occasionally sarcasm to great effect. Your often reading about the latest scumbags and he'll slip in a line which is a classic of understated irony. Considering how gullible we the public are so much of time, it is really only humour, which can deal with the shear awfulness and crassness of the dealings at all levels of government and business. It must be a deeply frustrating exercise being an honest man or woman working in any agency trying to stop weapons getting into the wrong hands.

With the lunatic cheer leaders again building up for another war in the gulf it is well worth sitting down and reading this book, it will help inoculate you to the nonsense being spouted by our so called leaders in the west.

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
by Marc Levinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.05

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The remorseless march of the box, 19 Jan. 2012
It is hard to imagine a topic as mundane as Containers could be so interesting.But Levinson suceeds in blending in sufficient statistics, anecdotes to inform and yet not overwhelm. You get to know the major players, losers and even some of the villains.

On the very first page he has these lines
"What is it about the container that is so important? Surely not the thing itself. A soulless aluminum or steel box held together with welds and rivets, with a wooden floor and two enormous doors at one end:the standard container has all the romance of a tin can"

The book is not a dispassionate business book and you do get a feeling that Levinson himself ended up more than a bit in awe of the container by the end of his research.He has a great ability to blend small local details into the broader global implications.

For such a simple technology it shear impact on the world we live in is both surprising and also more than a bit disturbing. There really is no going back to days of "on the Waterfront" for so many reasons.

World Canals: Inland Navigation Past and Present
World Canals: Inland Navigation Past and Present
by Charles Hadfield
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good reference book on Canals, 19 Jan. 2012
This is a very comprehensive book and yet is a joy to read. Charles Hadfield loves Canals and inland waterways and it shows. The book is three dimensional it explores the history of canals and also looks at the geographical spread of canals.

The discussion of the technological developments over the centuries is well done. The resulting economic, legal, political and social impacts of these developments are also considered.

As with any book covering such wide ranging topics the pictures, diagrams and maps are absolutely key. The maps of each region are clear,uncluttered and relevant.The diagrams are more often than not historical and delightful. The photographs are a mixture of historic and new.

The book I think is one of the best that I have read on Inland waterways and should be in anyone's library who is looking at future transport in a world with energy constraints

Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science
Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science
by Michael Brooks
Edition: Paperback

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Giants of science are hunted verociously by midgets with slingshots, 26 Oct. 2011
In any discussion of the major challenges and threats that mankind faces, the comfort blanket used by many is the old hairy chestnut "They will think of something"

Reading a book like this one is a sobering eye opener. It reminds you that outside of the world of Sci Fi that solving problems is not the primary objective of most scientists. It is much more likely that the giant egos will be happier to see others fail rather than lose face themselves. So solving the actual problem is not as important as being recognised as being the first with a solution. Even if this is not the correct one.

Good book, most of it is focused on scientists who are dead. Reading about how incredibly vindicative and small minded many of them were/are this is probably understandable.It's much easier to talk about the dead. Also fascinating seeing what inspired leap forwards in science.

There are many scientist discussed who I hadn't heard of. Others I had heard of but not the long fights they had to go through for acceptance. It really doesn't pay to have good ideas.

The last few chapters give some idea of the dangers faced by scientists who are brave enough to stick their head about the parapet. Rachel Carson, Rowland and Jim Hanson all found this out the hard way.

Perhaps the line the book by Bronowski ends on says it all
"Science is the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not" and "that needs more courage than we might think"

Enneagram in Love and Work: Understanding Your Intimate and Business Relationships
Enneagram in Love and Work: Understanding Your Intimate and Business Relationships
by Helen Palmer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The gift of freedom, 24 Oct. 2011
I ordered this book and two others on the Enneagram. years ago for someone who had done a course on Enneagrams and was heading off on holidays. Suffice to say it arrived late so I ended up reading through it. Before it I had put Enneagrams in the same category as Astrology. It is a useful tool for personal development

But it is much more scientific and based on clinical experience than I thought. I think we all go around feeling slightly strange, believing somehow we are a fraud because of how different we are to others around us.

I was startled when I read the piece on Enneagrams fives, it was the clearest description of how I look at the world that I could imagine. Almost freaky seeing your personality exposed on paper.. But this in itself was a liberation instead of worrying that I was somehow odd I found out I was a fairly standard five. Pity I didn#t read it in my teens or early twenties! Interestingly there is even talk about what are unhealthy aspects and healthy aspects of your type. This gives one something to focus on and also is a constant source of amusement to me as I see my planes of weakness breaking through again and again. Ahh! without challenge what is life :-)

In my upbringing I was brought up to see the good in people, life experiences can somehow blunt this enthusiasm. This book helped to restore my faith in people. It gives you some idea of what are the motivations of each type. Understanding how different people view the world and how they look for acceptance is a great foundation in life.

Finally in the Work and Relationship sections I found almost identikit descriptions of one set of work and one set of relationship dynamics which had caused me a lot of pain and anger. Understanding that another person is not necessarily at fault and that the inevitable clashes between different character types have a predictable nature is very comforting. It gives one much greater empathy towards other people.

I have bought several copies to people who were tearing themselves to bits with internal struggles or at work or in relationships. Three of the people I gave copies of the book to found it very helpful.

We are all very different but it is nice to find that there are basic personality types. We really need to have a better understanding of how we all function separately and in combinations.

This was the most useful enneagram book I found, there are others I have read that are more far reaching or with better writing. But none of them have been as clear and useful to me.

Salt: A World History
Salt: A World History
by Mark Kurlansky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit too salty, need too digest in small bites, 24 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Salt: A World History (Paperback)
This is the sort of book you leave lying around with a bookmark, a classic toilet book.
Nearly every page has a new exciting fact, disturbing food preparation story or another power who had their time at the top of the salt pile. But its not really the sort of book that you consume in one go.

My overwhelming reaction after reading the book is one of intense appreciation for Refrigeration and other food preserving technologies that don't require salt.
When you learn of the shear importance of salt, in terms of storing of many foods and the hard hard work needed to store them, you really get a good appreciation for how difficult life has been for the generations before us.
Convenience food is just such a modern concept.
The history of the wars caused by salt and the need to build up strategic salted food stashes prior to them is disturbing. But what happens in a barrel of fermenting/rotting salted fish and assorted herbs is even more horrendous. Particularly when people end up thinking of it as a delicacy.
The book is a virtual encyclopedia of salt and deals with all the technologies associated with salt production over the centuries as well as the industries which developed using various salts.

We are immensely fortunate not to live in times where eating all manners of salted dishes was the only show in town.

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