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Rich Ham (London)

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A Life Stripped Bare: My Year Trying To Live Ethically
A Life Stripped Bare: My Year Trying To Live Ethically
by Leo Hickman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and revealing, 18 Oct. 2008
Leo Hickman's year-long effort to steer his life down a more sustainable path was well documented in his Guardian columns, and makes for an excellent and entertaining full-length book. His all-round honesty and enthusiasm make a welcome change from the hectoring of most environmental/ethical writing, and the letters from readers that pepper the book are full of insights, encouragement and good sense. There is a lot to learn from in this book, and a lot to laugh at, too.

But the part I found the most eye-opening was Hickman's account of the trio of 'ethical auditors' who came to his house to interview and assess the family. These were truly horrible people, but horrible in revealingly different ways: the joyless anti-corporatist vegetarian who insisted that the family gave up meat and had no more children expressed entirely predictable, second-hand opinions, and was sour and self-righteous in a peculiarly British way, but the wealthy founder of the Planet Organic chain, who turned up expensively suited in a black cab, was not only astoundingly rude and arrogant, but made it clear from her attitude that 'ethical living' (with all its ostentatious trips to overpriced Farmers' Markets, etc) has its roots in status and class anxiety, rather than in any objective considerations for the health and wellbeing of the planet. There was, of course, a lot of ill-natured disagreement among the auditors, and much outright contradiction, as there always is when a group of people addicted to giving advice attempt to outbid one another. The fact that Hickman did not tell these people to get lost shows his essential decency - in his place I would have been a lot less polite; but the encouraging message to take away from this book is that responsible environmentalism is too important to be left in the hands of career environmentalists, some of whom are clearly making a fortune from selling green-tinted options to the well-intentioned. As consumers we need to resist the idea that we are simply being sold another lifestyle, which is something that Hickman is rightly worried about, and writes about with great insight and clarity; so for all these reasons and more, this book is a fascinating read.


Feldstudien.
Feldstudien.

3.0 out of 5 stars Work in progress, 17 Oct. 2007
This review is from: Feldstudien. (Hardcover)
I have just finished reading this short story collection, and as an admirer of Rachel Seiffert's earlier novel, The Dark Room, I found it haunting and frustrating in equal measure. Quite a few of the pieces were underdeveloped (to say the least), but nevertheless I am prepared to persevere on the strength of her tone and her clarity of expression. She is a great writer, although this collection does not really show her at her best. In fact one of the stories, about a family attempting to cross a river during WWII, was lifted word-for-word from her previous novel, which I thought was a bit of a swizz. Even so, I'm looking forward to the next full-length work from this major British talent.


Field Study: Stories
Field Study: Stories
by Rachel Seiffert
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Work in progress, 16 Oct. 2007
This review is from: Field Study: Stories (Hardcover)
I have just finished reading this short story collection, and as an admirer of Rachel Seiffert's earlier novel, The Dark Room, I found it haunting and frustrating in equal measure. A number of the pieces were underdeveloped (to say the least), but nevertheless I was prepared to persevere on the strength of her tone and her clarity of expression. She is a great writer, although this collection does not really show her at her best. In fact one of the stories, about a family attempting to cross a river during WWII, was lifted word-for-word from her previous novel, which I thought was a bit of a swizz. Even so, I'm looking forward to the next full-length work from this major British talent.


Field Study
Field Study
by Rachel Seiffert
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Work in progress, 15 Oct. 2007
This review is from: Field Study (Hardcover)
I have just finished reading this short story collection, and as an admirer of Rachel Seiffert's earlier novel, The Dark Room, I found it haunting and frustrating in equal measure. Like the previous reviewer, who begs RS to actually finish one of her stories, I found a number of the pieces underdeveloped (to say the least), but nevertheless I am prepared to persevere on the strength of her tone and her clarity of expression. She is a great writer, although this collection does not really show her at her best. In fact one of the stories, about a family attempting to cross a river during WWII, was lifted word-for-word from her previous novel, which I thought was a bit of a swizz. Even so, I'm looking forward to the next full-length work from this major British talent.


An Acre of Barren Ground
An Acre of Barren Ground
by Jeremy Gavron
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting blend of fiction and social history, 26 April 2007
This is an extraordinary novel, if 'novel' is the right word to describe a sequence of interconnected chapters that narrate the lives of some of the past and present inhabitants of Brick Lane in East London: pre-Romans, Romans, Danish invaders, Polish Jews and homesick Bangladeshis all make their appearances in this complex narrative sequence that plays with time, place and literary genres in sometimes disorienting ways.

Gavron has clearly done a vast amount of research, but his invocations of the wide array of lives lived over the centuries on this 'acre of barren ground' are never weighed down by the historical details, and in spite of the book's episodic structure, the narrative tension is maintained right until the end. Brilliant: 10/10.


In Search of Nature (Allen Lane Science)
In Search of Nature (Allen Lane Science)
by Edward O. Wilson
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nature writing that brings the world to life, 13 Oct. 2006
Edward O. Wilson is, for my money, the finest nature writer since Gilbert White of Selborne. His extraordinary invocations of the lives of ants, worms, sharks and snakes - some of the most feared and reviled creatures on earth - cut across the cultural meanings that have attached themselves over the course of human history, and show us why we should continue to pay attention to such animals, and especially to their increasingly threatened habitats. At times Wilson gets so close to his subjects that he seems more like an anthropologist than a biologist, but it's this closeness that has yielded the insights that make his writing so compelling. Anyone who enjoys this would also enjoy his wonderfully written memoir, Naturalist


In Search of Nature
In Search of Nature
by Edward Osborne Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nature writing that brings the world to life, 13 Oct. 2006
This review is from: In Search of Nature (Paperback)
Edward O. Wilson is, for my money, the finest nature writer since Gilbert White of Selborne. His extraordinary invocations of the lives of ants, worms, sharks and snakes - some of the most feared and reviled creatures on earth - cut across the cultural meanings that have attached themselves over the course of human history, and show us why we should continue to pay attention to such animals, and especially to their increasingly threatened habitats. At times Wilson gets so close to his subjects that he seems more like an anthropologist than a biologist, but it's this closeness that has yielded the insights that make his writing so compelling. Anyone who enjoys this would also enjoy his wonderfully written memoir, Naturalist


The Coffee-House: A Cultural History
The Coffee-House: A Cultural History
by Markman Ellis
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The birth of the public realm in 17th-century London, 26 Sept. 2006
This is a remarkable and persuasive account of the rise of a specific form of public sociality in 17th-century England: the coffee house, a seemingly unlikely blend of middle eastern and Protestant values, thrown into fruitful alliance by the presence of a stimulating beverage - 'the wine of Islam', as Markman Ellis characterises it - a drink that served to introduce the discipline of sober public discourse into a hitherto booze-sodden British life.

Coffee, the world's second-most traded commodity (after oil), provided the catalyst for a novel kind of mercantile wide-awake club which led, eventually, to marine insurance (through Lloyd's Coffee House) as well as to Starbucks and Coffee Rebublic, complete with their array of newspapers and magazines in imitation of their historical forebears. Ellis does a good job introducing the characters behind the rise of the coffee habit, as well as elucidating the various contested meanings of the drink itself, but he is particularly good at recreating the locations in which coffee was first consumed, and what the act of consumption meant to its earliest customers.

After reading this, your frothy latte will never taste quite the same again.


The Times Atlas of the World: Comprehensive Edition (Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World)
The Times Atlas of the World: Comprehensive Edition (Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World)
by Collins Bartholomew
Edition: Hardcover

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The grand-daddy of all home atlases, 6 Sept. 2006
This is a well-nigh perfect atlas, well designed, up to date and comprehensive. The introductory material putting the Earth in its planetary context is particularly good (although the recent demotion of Pluto to a 'dwarf planet' means that this section will now be out of date until the next edition), while the geology section, explaining the dynamics of various geophysical phenomena such as tectonic plates, earthquakes and volcanoes, does the job of a dozen specialist text-books. The map pages themselves are a model of cartographic clarity, and the index is consistently reliable. All in all, this is the best atlas on the market.


Timothy's Book: Notes of an English Country Tortoise
Timothy's Book: Notes of an English Country Tortoise
by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Edition: Hardcover

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tortoise's-eye view of the world, 6 Sept. 2006
This elegant little novel is narrated from the point of view of Gilbert White of Selborne's pet tortoise, Timothy. For White, the great 18th-century British naturalist, Timothy was both an object of warm domestic affection and cool scientific observation, but for Timothy - at least according to the fictional version presented here - White and most of the other humans encountered by the venerable creature continually misunderstood and misrepresented him; so here, in his own book, Timothy gets to set the record straight, and offer the tortoise's-eye view of the world. He is, for example, continually surprised at humanity's lack of a fitting home (in contrast to his own snug shell): 'Great soft tottering beasts. Houses never by when they need them. Even the humblest villagers live in ill-fitting houses. The greater the personage the worse the fit', and he is eloquent on the subject of the dreamy pleasures of hibernation ('Earth beneath me throbs with warmth. Cold black sky presses down. Current of memory tugs at me...')

The danger of a fictional device such as having a tortoise for a narrator is that it could come to seem whimsical over the course of an entire novel, but the way that the author slyly reverses the sometimes arrogant human observation of the natural world, to present nature's view of humanity, is wonderfully done, and in the end Klingenborg succeeds in creating not only a sympathetic historical character, with a voice and personality all his own, but a powerful ecological fable for our times.


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