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Confessions Of An Eco Sinner: Travels to find where my stuff comes from
Confessions Of An Eco Sinner: Travels to find where my stuff comes from
by Fred Pearce
Edition: Paperback

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The true cost of over-consumption, 19 May 2008
Mr Pearce's book is a well-researched work which documents not only the environmental costs of our current Western lifestyles but also the associated social (and to a lesser extent) economic costs. As the other reviewer point out, the author covers much ground; from writing about the prawn supply route from Bangladeshi prawn farms to English curry house tables, to a chapter about how metals vital to the operation of mobile phones are extracted from mines run by Congolese warlords. The book is certainly wide-ranging.

I'm not in a position to say if it is comprehensive but detailed it was! I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the stories behind our lifestyles and how, often and regrettably, cheap prices here harm those abroad. However, when considered overall the book is not overly gloomy just realistic. My only criticism is that while many problems are highlighted I felt that few practical solutions were suggested but to be fair to the author that is a feature of almost all similar books. And it is not doing any harm for there to be greater general awareness about the effects of our actions on others in less happy lands than England.

If you liked this you might well like Real England (Paul Kingsnorth) or Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth (a selection of different authors).


Against the Flow: The Inspiring Story of a Teacher Turned Record-breaking Yachtswoman
Against the Flow: The Inspiring Story of a Teacher Turned Record-breaking Yachtswoman
by Dee Caffari
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.73

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing round the world journey and its background, 14 May 2008
I bought this book because I had enjoyed other sailing books such as that written by Derek Lundy (Godforsaken Sea) and Rob Mundle (Fatal Storm). Dee's book certainly lived up to my expectations of what a sailing book should be about. Not only that but it is more than an account of her, nevertheless amazing, trip westwards around the world against the prevailing winds. But she also explained about her motivations in life and how she became involved in sailing initially. This is interesting, as it is always helpful to a reader to have an idea of what a person's motivation for doing things is; the book has more meaning as a result.

Regarding the journey itself, I think she covers it in the right amount of detail and focuses on the difficulties of the Southern Ocean. For a reader this is probably the most interesting part of the difficult journey, due to the multiple constant threats she and the yacht faced. I see that Dee is to be a contestant in the 2008 Vendee round the world solo race and I'll certainly be watching her progress right from the start in November.

Some diagrams explaining some of the nautical manoeuvres would be welcomed but other than that this book is difficult to criticise in any real way


Real England: The Battle Against the Bland
Real England: The Battle Against the Bland
by Paul Kingsnorth
Edition: Paperback

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wake-up call, 9 May 2008
I enjoyed Mr Kingsnorth's book a lot. I certainly was an eye-opener in many respects. The book discuss the fact that England (and no doubt many other countries - but this book focuses on England) is being effectively colonised by corporate power. The book illustrates the point by several examples; the takeover of pubs by chain pub companies, the destruction of the countryside way of life by agri-industry, the privatisation of public spaces to make them safe for high street stores and consumerism etc etc.

The idea expressed by the book is powerful and it does make one feel fairly angry that the government is unwilling or unable to stop the corporate takeover of the country. Given that more wealth and material goods do not make people happier (a proven fact) what are the benefits of this? Well the shareholders of the companies involved no doubt benefit but the cost is ruined ways of life, town centres with no local flavour which have all had the "high street makeover" and generally impoverished culture, not to mention damaged family lives due to increased work hours as a result of the perceived need to keep up with the consumers next door.

It is a pity the English do not stand up to this. Some might think this is just a nostalgic view of things but the author's point is that he is not anti-change but anti-inappropriate change. The only downside of the book is I would have liked to hear more about what can be done (only 1 chapter out of about 10 is devoted to this). After all the problem is not that people love big out-of-town supermarkets and the effects they have on once unique town centres, but it is more that they are so convenient for time-pressed people - the big question is how to persuade people to change their behaviour to dent corporate power and give the little guy a chance. Let us all hope it can be done before the whole country turns into one big corporate blandscape!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 26, 2012 6:24 AM GMT


The Kite Runner
The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Read it!, 1 May 2008
This review is from: The Kite Runner (Paperback)
Since so may others have written about this book all I have to add is that it is a truly brilliant novel, the best I have read in a long time. It is fast-paced, interesting and unpredictable. I definitely recommend it.


Fatal Storm: The 54th Sydney to Hobart Race
Fatal Storm: The 54th Sydney to Hobart Race
by Rob Mundle
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Great story but better explanation of nautical terms needed, 26 April 2008
I think this is one of the best books describing what awful conditions can occur at sea and what it really feels like to experience such conditions in a small yacht.

The book is fast paced and moves from the story of one yacht to another and explains how the race panned out as it did. I read the book in a few days as it is so engaging. The most interesting thing is how, even large yachts (and even the warship sent to rescue the stricken yachts) are endangered by huge seas, whilst some relatively small yachts came through and arrived in Hobart safely (although this was probably more a matter of luck).

I do agree with one of the other reviewers that an explanation of nautical terms plus a few diargrams would go a long way to assisting lay readers like me understand and visualise much better the detail of what was happening). Also the book could benefit from a list of who is who as there are many characters introduced in a short space. An index wouldn't go amiss either. If it wasn't for these things I'd definitely give it 5 stars.

If you liked this book I'd thoroughly recommend "Fastnet Force 10" and "Godforsaken Sea" too.


Bring on the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice
Bring on the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice
by George Monbiot
Edition: Paperback

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Collection of essays, 22 April 2008
This book was quite good but I hadn't realised it was a collection of essays from various topics rather than in conventional book format.

Nevertheless the writer is engaging and concise and so the book is easy to read. Some of the issues he reveals will make you very angry....especially at the waster, incompetence and sheer self-centredness of government!


The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilisation
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilisation
by Thomas Homer-Dixon
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.34

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting theory, 19 April 2008
After buying this book I looked forward to reading it for several weeks as I had a few other books to read first.

I must say at the outset that whilst I am glad I read it and found it very interesting I was mildly disappointed as it did not live up to my expectations. I think that the author makes some very good points, for example, that sources of conventional oil are running out and when they do the world will certainly be a very different place. His theory is essentially that we, as societies, need to be come a lot more resilient to the possible consequences (indeed likelihood) of impending energy-shortage/climate change-induced disaster.

Having said that I did not necessarily agree with his analysis of what caused the fall of the Western Roman empire; many would say that the loss of Rome's North African provinces was the main contributing factor (amongst many others) as this was the area where the food came from and also provided the empire's tax base. The loss of the North African provinces came about for non-environmental reasons (the provinces were invaded). Also, whilst Mr Homer-Dixon focuses on the Roman Empire and the modern West, can useful parallels not be drawn between the modern West and the decline of other empires (eg Mongol, British etc). These empires were even bigger than Rome's and in the case of the British, very recent, but they are not mentioned. Why? Surely if useful lessons can be learnt for today's society in the West then why is there nothing to be gained from studying the decline of the British Empire for example? Maybe it does not fit with the author's theory?

The other main problem I thought was that whilst Mr Homer-Dixon meets many experts and talks to them and formulates his view that society needs to be much more resilient than it is, he offers few practical suggestions as to how it can be made more resilient. The book can in places becomes too theoretical.

Ultimately I enjoyed the book and am glad I read it. In my view the sign of a good book is one that makes you think, especially about "big issues" and in this Mr Homer-Dixon spectacularly succeeds. I can certainly recommend this book to everyone as it is an easy and enjoyable read, even if you, like me, disagree with the author on some issues.


Godforsaken Sea: Racing the World's Most Dangerous Waters
Godforsaken Sea: Racing the World's Most Dangerous Waters
by Derek Lundy
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Challenge of the Southern Ocean, 19 April 2008
Derek Lundy's book is excellent. The style of writing is easy to read, he keeps the action moving forward and the book is well organised.

Not only is this a book about the 1996 Vendee Globe, non-stop single-handed yacht race round the world, but it also deals with a range of other relevant subjects as well. For example, he has sections talking about the boats and the thinking behind their design, the psychological factors that make people want to enter such races as the Vendee Globe, how competitors have to be business people too in order to raise the sponsor money for the race, and weather factors affecting sailing boats. It is a true multi-disciplinary approach and all the more interesting for it!

The author interviewed the skippers from the race and so the story is enhanced by virtue of being an account "from the horses mouth" as it were; although the skipper's comments are cleverly worked into the narrative, it is very helpful to hear their views on, for example, their journey across the terrible Southern Ocean.

I read the book in about 3 days and thoroughly recommend it to anyone interesting in sailing, extreme sports, exploration, or who generally just likes a good read. The only two things that I think would make the book better are (1) some diagrams which show what, for example, "hoving-to" means (I know this was explained in the text but as the saying goes "a picture speaks a thousand words"), and (2) more maps. Otherwise it is one of my top reads!


Charlie Wilson's War: The Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History
Charlie Wilson's War: The Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History
by George Crile
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uncritical but fascinating account of US 1980s involvement in Afghanistan, 7 April 2008
I had initially put off reading this book due to its length, especially after I heard from friends who had seen the film that the film was quite short. However having started to read the book I was engaged almost immediately.

The book, whilst long, is interesting almost the whole time (there are some bits about two-thirds of the way through the book where I feel it flags somewhat). The story is relatively well known so there's no need for me to summarise it here. The book gives a very valuable and worrying insight into how a lone congressman, albeit quite a character, can deal with foreign governments, militaries and intelligence agencies without the knowledge, or in the face of the opposition of, the appropriate US authorities. The author is a very good writer and keeps the book moving; and despite the fact that it often deals with congressional politics of the eighties this is not boring (if it was I would be the first to lose interest) as he tells the story in a logical and focused way.

I think the book could be made even better by having the end section expanded at the expense of the middle section to deal with the consequences of the funding of all the mujahadeen groups. Mr Crile is not critical at all of the actions of Congressman Wilson; certainly Wilson helped contribute to the withdrawal of the USSR from Afghanistan but the long term cost for the West of the policy of Mr Wilson and Mr Avrakotos is not looked at in any detail. Although one has to admire Wilson's ability to make things happen, the book leaves the reader wondering if, especially in view of current problems in this part of the world, things mightn't have been better dealt with by those in the State Department with the appropriate experience and background: for example why did the CIA continue to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to the various mujahadeen groups once the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan?

Overall, well worth reading. I have marked it 3 instead of 4 stars simply because I think it could have been made more concise.


Six Frigates: How Piracy, War and British Supremacy at Sea Gave Birth to the World's Most Powerful Navy
Six Frigates: How Piracy, War and British Supremacy at Sea Gave Birth to the World's Most Powerful Navy
by Ian Toll
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and all the better for being longer!, 25 Mar 2008
I had put off reading this book for several months because of its size (the hardback version is a heavy book of about 500 pages). However, having now read it I wish I had done so sooner as it is a very informative and entertaining story. In fact I was disappointed to finish this book!

Essentially the book tells the story of the birth of the US Navy starting at around 1790 and ending at the finish of the War of 1812. It is told as a story would be and it is so engaging that it is easy to read and having started the reader will want to keep going. I read it in 4 days.

For most British readers (or which I am one), the book sheds light on a little known episode in British history. I suppose it is little known here because (1) the War of 1812 was overshadowed by the bigger conflict with Napoleon, and (2) since 1815, the Anglo-American relationship has grown much closer and so there is little need to look back at the "American" question.

The author's style of writing is very easy to read and follow. It is a truly excellent work from which I learnt a lot about subjects that I previously knew very little about. If I had one criticism it would be that there are virtually no maps (as is often the way for some reason with such books) and a map of the Eastern US coast pointing out the places being described would make the book even better. Overall highly recommended!


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