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Let's Build!: Why We Need Five Million New Homes in the Next 10 Years
Let's Build!: Why We Need Five Million New Homes in the Next 10 Years
by James Heartfield
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit misguided..., 17 Feb 2008
... But thought provoking nonetheless. James Heartfield believes that the solution to the housing crisis in the UK is to be found in the construction of 5 million plus new homes, at ten to the hectare, over the greenbelt in the south east and doing away with the the planning laws (as we know them), in the process. In making such an argument his is an unusual voice - reflecting a hotchpotch of political opinions, a mixture of thatcherite libertarianism and social democratic optimism.

It is a very readable book, it's argument is sometimes difficult to follow but it does fit together. His main criticism is an attack on the governments policy of restricting the development of greenfield land, in favour of land that is essentially being reused: 'brownfield' sites in planning terms. What he believes this has led to is inner city areas being regenerated at great expense with dubious social consequences - tiny flats, high house prices and cramped urban conditions. He argues that this situation has come about due to an irrational committment to the seperation of 'town' and 'country', the product of a nation dwelling in the past and not looking to the future, and the direction of architects, planners and politicians that people should live on top of each other and take public transport everywhere - political beliefs dressed up in the language of sustainable development and environmentalism that are extremely profitable if you are in the loop.

So far, so good. The problem is that, whilst his radical alternative vision is welcome, it strikes me that it would never work on a practical level. If you were to deregulate on the extent that he advocates you would probably end up with a situation not dissimilar to that currently faced in Ireland and the USA - thousands of empty homes built on green fields, landscape changed forever, collapse in property values, redundancies in the construction industry. The environmental costs are even more severe: no infrastructure to go with development, which makes everyday living carbon - intensive and expensive. Not good in a world of swiftly depleting natural resources - but this reality is one that Heartfield is apparently unconcerned about. He does go some way to pre-empt such criticisms, wheeling out the familliar argument that the government should foot the costs of infrastructure and not property developers, but he hasn't fully considered the costs of such an arrangement.

Overall it is good to have a radical voice in this debate. Heartfield speaks uncomfortable truths about the planning system. However, the argument he makes is incomplete and there are too many shortcomings for this book to really be taken seriously by policymakers.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 12, 2010 9:45 PM BST

The Writing On The Wall: China And The West In The 21St Century
The Writing On The Wall: China And The West In The 21St Century
by Will Hutton
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars slightly disappointing., 1 Feb 2008
I had looked forward to reading this book for a long time, as Hutton is a fantastic writer and I normally agree with much of what he says. The writing on the Wall is not a bad book - in a lot of ways Hutton is spot on with his analysis of the world and the targets of his criticism. There are also nuggets of real insight into China here (hence the three star rating), and it is worth reading for this reason.

The main problem is, as a previous reviewer points out, that this book isn't really about China. There isn't really enough analysis of Chinese politics and economics to really back up his central thesis: that if china is to survive it needs to become more like the West. You are left with the sense that Huttons faith in the so called European 'enlightenment infrastructure' is exactly that - a belief. Personally, I expected a bit more in the way of hard analysis here.

But still, a good read - especially if you are not well aquainted with China.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: The shocking story of how America really took over the world
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: The shocking story of how America really took over the world
by John Perkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a nice story, 10 Mar 2006
I picked up this book having noticed that yet another corporate expose that become a Stateside bestseller. John Perkins spent the bulk of his career as an economic planner for a large engineering company which existed right at the heart of what Eisenhower famously described as the 'military industrial complex'. Like many in his position, his biography can be read as an attempt to locate himself at the centre of world events, yet cynicism at this should be withheld as the books central message is a good one.
As far as these kind of books go, Perkins gets his message across well. He tells how, having been recruited into the 'corporatocracy' in his mid twenties whilst a student at business school, he was seduced into a glamorous life of first class travel - meeting a cast of minor statesmen and other eccentric characters. His side of the bargain was to write economic forecasts which supported 'development' packages which were granted on the condition that they were spent on construction projects carried out by US firms. The hidden agenda in this apparently mutually beneficial relationship, however, is that the developing countries in question were then indebted to the US, which enabled the US to gain support for economic, political and military agendas which have resulted in an increasing worldwide gap between rich and poor. This, he argues, is what is wrong with the world at the moment, was the primary cause of 9/11, and is something that he personally feels responsible for.
It is a compelling narrative and he covers events in the world fairly accurately. It seems fairly obvious that Perkins was not cut out for the line of work he was in - instead of being a Machiavellian hardman he is far too sentimental about the worlds poor to do his job properly. It is only his ego that keeps him going, and to his credit this is something he identifies - hence the 'confessions' aspect of the title. However, I personally found the moral high ground he takes - having come through to the 'other side' - irritating. Perkins didn't wake up one day and realise what he was doing was wrong. He knew it all along, and kept going until he had enough money and status to gain a platform to preach at the rest of us.
Not content with having exposed his old paymasters, he tells us what we should be doing to change things. Hes one of these new age/CSR types, and believes that through our choices as consumers we can raise consciousness that can change the way the world is. Apparently, if you're a teacher you can start by teaching your students to 'read between the lines of American History'. With the greatest of respect, John, you're the last person a teacher needs to tell them how to do their job. In any case, people have been saying this stuff for years, and with way more eloquence and insight than a corporate middle manager going through a mid life crisis.
At the end of the day this is a good book to give to someone who is completely ignorant about the way the world works, as a lot of people unfortunately are. I respect John Perkins for writing it and I hope it reaches a wide audience. However, as an account of globalisation it is weak, and there is a rich body of dissenting literature in economics that deals with the issues involved far better than Perkins overstatement of his own bad accounting.

CONSCIOUSNESS -                                                         AN INTRODUCTION
by Susan Blackmore
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars life affirming?, 6 Jan 2006
The presentation of this book will irritate traditionalists (There are lots of cartoons, and GCSE textbook style 'question boxes'), but this should not detract from an what is an excellent introduction to a highly complex topic. Blackmore excels in making very abstract and hypothetical ideas about human consciousness accesible to almost anyone.
In effect the book provides the reader with a 'jumping off point', suggesting that the only way in which you will gain insight into matters related to consciousness is by introspection. In other words, no theory will do the trick - the answers lie in analysing your own subjective experience. What Blackmore does is lay out the key points of various theories through all the relevant disciplines: psychology, philosophy, religion and science.
Of course, this approach does have its weakness - and this is true of any kind of popularisation of a subject. No doubt some would complain that Blackmores approach amounts to 'dumbing down'. However, this is exactly why the book is referred to as an 'introduction', and those looking for a new take on the subject will end up disappointed. However, there are ample references, enabling the reader to pick up on the leads Blackmore gives. As Blackmore writes, studying consciousness completely changes your view of the world, and its something you have to be ready for. Another guarantee is that you will end up more confused than you begun: consciousness can demystify far more than it can explain. However, if you want an intellectual challenge that will change your life this book is worth every penny.

The Play Ethic: A Manifesto For a Different Way of Living
The Play Ethic: A Manifesto For a Different Way of Living
by Pat Kane
Edition: Paperback

17 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars NO., 19 July 2005
This book is very well presented and researched. Its argument is well put and challenging, both in the intellectual and stylistic sense.
The main problem is the author has obviously spent no time at all in the real world. He advocates that by (re)discovering the 'playful' side of our personalities we can somehow transform our working environment, to being something that its not - eg no longer work.
Yeah, well, that's fine if you're in a creative job, like being a musician, or working in an advertising agency. But try applying it to being a nurse, teacher, claims handler, farmer, data inputter or any of the million other mundane jobs people struggle through to pay their dues in our screwed up economy.
The notion falls flat straight away, because, actually, in the real world there are profits to be made and targets to be reached. People also desire power, and ruthlessly compete with each other for wealth and status.
I'm trying not to be a boring old cynic. People read books like this and genuinely get inspired to live more meaningful lives. Good for them. But, at the end of the day, its completely stupid to think ideas like this can change the world. To do that requires a lot of effort, persistance and... no pun intended - Work.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 15, 2010 9:22 PM BST

Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East - The Egyptian Experience (Lisa Drew Books)
Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East - The Egyptian Experience (Lisa Drew Books)
by Caryle Murphy
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy it., 19 July 2005
This book really gets to the issues relating to the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, not just in Egypt but across the Middle east. Theres a lot of material out there relating to this kind of stuff, especially in the wake of all the bombings - some of it good, some of it less so, but this is excellent. Caryle has a great way of mixing together journalistic anecdotes with historical, political and religious analysis in straightforward language. Works really well as an introduction to a hugely complex topic. Highly recommended.

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