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Alex Ireland

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by Michel Houellebecq
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different, 3 Feb 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Platform (Paperback)
This book is lewd, strange, sinister, thought provoking, vivid, engaging and most of all: not for your Granny! If watching 'Eyes wide Shot' freaked you out, well then forget about 'Platform'. The plot is saturated with sexual references, sexual tension and sexual acts.

At times I was thinking if these were all removed, a 350 page book would perhaps be reduced to 40! So is there any substance to 'Platform' or is just soft porn with pseudo philosophical babbel?

I thought beneath the recurring sexual references there actually was a deeper and more meaningful story. This was of a man (Michel) trying to make sense of the world, his life and his meaning. Can he do this through lust, a loving relationship, a business challenge?

What's clear from the very beginning of the book is that a cliched holiday, with all it's shallow, stereotypical moments and cringe inducing interactions with fellow tourists certainly won't offer Michel anything he needs or interests him.

From the outset, it's clear he needs some sort of challenge that takes him outside of normality as normality pains him. This pitches him as an interesting character. In fact, one very strong facet of the book is character development. The author does a good job of bringing the reader very close up and personal with all the central characters by detailing very intimate details of their lifes, the sort of stuff only a very close friend would tell you. This makes both the characters and the story engaging.

The sexual saturation is boring at times, but overall the story's strong point besides character development is the subtle posing of some philosophical questions.

The book is certainly not the norm, if you're feeling in the mood for something different and are not easily offended, you might like it.

The Duck That Won the Lottery: and 99 Other Bad Arguments
The Duck That Won the Lottery: and 99 Other Bad Arguments
by Julian Baggini
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book of the Year, 23 Dec 2008
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In the 'The Duck that won the Lottery', 100 different logical fallacies are explained clearly and concisely. Each fallacy is initially presented by giving a well known argument that contains it, then the fallacy is explained and then a more subtle argument that may or may not contain the fallacy is provided. The clear objective is to make the reader think.

There are four reasons why I really like this book:
By using simple but relevant examples to explain each fallacy, Baggini makes things easy to read and easy to understand. For example, not everyone knows what a false dichotomy is, even though many of us thought Bush's infamous: "You are either with us or the terrorists" sounded a bit dodgy.

By using this approach something esoteric becomes non - esoteric.

After presenting an obvious example that contains a fallacy, he presents another argument which may or may not contain the very same fallacy. Things aren't as obvious and a bit more thought is required.

The intent here is obviously to make the reader question their own opinions. Yes it's easy, to pick other people's arguments apart but the chances are many of our own are a bit faulty. We may just have to think a bit more to realise that.

After several well known arguments are shown to be just more examples of sloppy thinking, there is a subtle reminder that bad logic is just ubiquitous. Most arguments are poorly thought out and contain not much more than catchy rhetoric. This is remarkable considering the origins of logic go back over 2,500 to Aristotle et al and we are still struggling to come up to speed with it.

Have you ever heard an argument which you think didn't make sense but you just couldn't explain exactly what was wrong with it? This book would definitely razor sharpen your ability to pick a hole in any argument. But that said, an over indulgence in this pastime may quickly loose friends as the reality is very few opinions are logical. There's usually a subjective assumption or a leap of logic between premise and conclusion.

All that said, I have read five of Baggini's books now. They are usually excellent - this book, no exception. In fact, it's probably his best yet. I would even go so far as to say it's my favourite book of 2008.

A Little History of the World
A Little History of the World
by Ernst Gombrich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good., 22 Nov 2008
Although this book was written for precocious children, it's a fine read for any adult. It covers a huge range of History starting at the the might of the Eyptians and continuing right up until second world war. Everything is written in clear, concise and simple terms, so it never gets too heavy. And let's face it, that's the problem with most fact books - they're usually full of academic parlence and put most people to sleep rather quickly. It's always welcomed when this trend is bucked.

'A Little History of The World' contains 40 short chapters, each chapter focussed on a key time in the world's history. As with all history there are slants here and there and inevitably somethings get more of a mention than other's but on the whole it's balanced, intelligble and most important it's enjoyable.

There's a wealth of information in this book. It's written so a nine year old child could understand it but at the sametime I'd be very confident that anybody - except a history academic - would learn something they either didn't know or get a reminder of something they've forgotten.

A great book. Buy it, if you're an adult who enjoys a good read or as a fine educational gift for any child.

Freedom Next Time
Freedom Next Time
by John Pilger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 22 Nov 2008
This review is from: Freedom Next Time (Paperback)
Interested in human rights? Interested in finding out about what some "democratic" governments can do and get away with doing when people just don't know? Well then stop what you are doing, go to your library or book shop and get this book.

In 'Freedom Next Time', Pilger details five harrowing accounts of appalling, shameful and disgraceful human right abuses: Diego Garcia, Palestine, South Africa, Afghanistan and India.

The abuses are systematic and on a grand scale. They reflect problems of governance and the pernicious consequence of mass ignorance which facilitates either bad action or inaction. He chronicles each account by first explaining the particulars of the background of the problem and then presenting the details of his own very thorough investigations.

The chapters in the book correspond to different documentaries Pilger has done which are also available now on his various DVDs (which are also excellent). The difference is that the book goes into more detail.

It's not just a book of facts, there's an underlying socio-political point in 'Freedom Next Time': democratic governments can be complicit in human right abuses if something suits their geo-political needs and people are disinterested about what happens in other parts of the world - usually quite far away from their own doorstep.

The only criticism I'd have is that I thought his in South Africa chapter. I thought his account of Mandela veered slightly from balanced objectivity. Yes, there may have been some non - ideal things that someone widely regarded as a human rights hero had to do, while in political office, but isn't that always the sad reality? Tough decisions may have to be made. There may be times when there may only be a lesser of two evils, and isn't only naive idealism preventing us from accepting that?

But the book's positives far outweigh pedantic negatives. For example - sticking with South Africa - Pilger details the shocking abuses of workers in the South African mines. This was something that I myself, only found out about after a trip to South Africa when the miners were currently on strike, because the working conditions were so unsafe and so many of them were dieing while producing gold which let's face it was mainly for Western Jewelry. It was melancholic reality that stuck in my head and I was irritated why most Western media and people - who let's face it end up buying Jewelry coming from mines like these - were just blissfully unaware of it.

There's a shocking sad reality to life. When people don't know, either because of ignorance or apathy, they won't be able to care. When they don't care, democratic governments won't do anything. It's essential that we engage ourselves in these issues. Yes, unfortunately ignorance is bliss but as the journalist Molly Ivins once said ignorance can also be "root of evil".

Thankfully we have elucidating, enlightening and conscientious focused people like Pilger to help us wake up from time to time.

Stupid White Men: ...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!
Stupid White Men: ...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!
by Michael Moore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful., 28 Oct 2008
This book is just dreadful. It's just pure sensationalism and really asinine jokes. It's like a bad mix of something you'd here from a stand up comic and really stupid leftist propangda. I first heard of Moore when I saw him on a debate on TV. I thought he could combine charisma, wit and some political acumen so I was looking forward to reading this book.

To my dismay, it was shockingly bad. Poorly put arguments on a range of topics, and a range of solutions that are so bad you don't know whether his tongue is in his cheek or if he has even so much of clue of geo - politics.

The references for Moore's arguments are either non - existent or could be beaten by a quick search on the web. He begins by moaning that the publishers didn't want the book published as if there's some conspiracy against his views. If I worked for a publishing company, I wouldn't want this book published simply because it's so bad and would just drag the company down to the gutters of tabloid journalism.

The idea that's he's somehow unique in critizing the US is just nonsense. There have been plenty who have been doing this for years. And you'd be far better off spending your time and money reading their books. Chomsky, Piliger et al.

If I buy a book and don't like it, I give it to a charity shop or to a friend. This book was so bad the only place I felt comfortable putting it was the re-cycling bin. Hopefully when the paper is re-cycled it will be put to better use.

It was nonsense and should never have been published.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 13, 2011 8:47 PM GMT

Swords And Ploughshares: Bringing Peace to the 21st Century: Building Peace in the 21st Century
Swords And Ploughshares: Bringing Peace to the 21st Century: Building Peace in the 21st Century
by Paddy Ashdown
Edition: Paperback

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed perspective of post conflict handling., 23 Sep 2008
In this book Ashdown looks at some of the problems, issues and political challenges for post - conflict regions.

From his experience as working as a High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegivina, he immediately has some credibility. Some of his points are very simple but very relevant such as his argument that rogue leaders often fear international criminal courts more than wars. It would much more sense if we gave these courts more gravitas and get the despots on trial rather than accept policies that entail colateral damage and all sorts of civilian misery. Please take note US administration.

He also stresses the importance of understanding other cultures. He makes the point, the Muslim religion has a sense democracy in it. Every Imam is elected. These means the Imans and Mullahs must be listened to, if one wishes to guage public opinion. There's undertones as well as some much needed political sense here. We need to understand the Muslim world and culture of Islam.

I think this would be a good book for anyone studying or working in foreign policy. My only critism would be is that, the abudance of facts and detailed diplomatic speak can make it a bit dry to read at times.

A Short History Of Nearly Everything
A Short History Of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overrated, 23 Sep 2008
I'm sorry but I am skeptical of journalists or writers who think they can write a book about anything. Yeah sure they've a great gift for writing but that doesn't mean they have a great gift for understanding and explaining what it is they are writing about.

I think there are two problems with this book:

1. Bryson never explains the scientific method. I think this is an unfortunate omission. It means the mechanism which establishes science as most objective and reliable paradigm we have for establishing objective truth about the universe is omitted. Without the scientific method, we have no way of differentiating between science and psuedo-science, no way of differentiating the reliability of the big bang theory and crystal healers.

2. There's a countless amount of facts, dates, figures and 'imagine this' type stuff all there with the assumed intent of making a reader go wow. All very well, but too many times, instead of explaining principles and concepts, Bryson opts for facts about people or dates. It really doesn't matter if it was 1915, 1916, or 1917 when Einstein published his theory on general relativity what matters is what his scientific theories were saying, the concepts that underpin them and why we can be confident they're correct.

As a science writer, Byrson comes up short. I think people like Simon Singh, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Richard Feyman, Robert Winston, Sean Carrol are better. Personally, I much prefer pop Science books that instead of listing fact after fact after fact after fact after fact after fact, put the emphasis on explaining what the scientific theories are saying and why they are credible.

As a final note, may I add, my Friend got the hardback version of this book which has some absolutely amazing scientific illustrations. My review refers to the version without the illustrations.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 9, 2009 12:11 AM GMT

Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
by Viktor E Frankl
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptionally deep., 16 Sep 2008
What gives this book a very distinguished credibility and authenticity is the pertinent fact that the author formulated his ideas while as a Holocaust prisoner. Immediately the reader is taken out of the comfort zone as the captive and dehumanising realities of such a barbaric context are presented.

Frankl looks very very deeply at what provides human strength to get over the most forlorn, hopeless and torturing circumstances. Nietzche's dictum "What doesn't kill us only make us stronger?" planted itself in my mind throughout this book and just did not move.

It's very difficult to find any sort of fault with any story where humanity can triumph inhumanity, it really is. There's just such a sense of sadness and misery that the fact that someone can ruminate the meaning of life is relation to love is almost surreal. It's almost as if every veneer of life is stripped back such that all that is left is a naked conciousness which tries to assert itself like a immutable flame which must burn for some intrinsic, innate reason that can only be explained by a very penetrating and intense love.

It's not a scientific approach with a ground breaking theory. It's a remarkable human story containing a most precious and valid reflection from an intelligent man who was lucky and strong enough to make it through something our worst nightmares could not even come close to.

What's it All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life
What's it All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life
by Julian Baggini
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 16 Sep 2008
So what's it all about? Think you know the answer? Well if you do or if you fancy a philosophical approach to this intriguing question this is the book for you.

Baggini begins by trying to make sense of this very thought provoking question - a sort of what's the meaning of the question itself before going anywhere near an attempt to look for answers. This ensures that the question itself is probably understood and it is a clear, logical approach to take. There's never any point trying to answer a question you don't understand or doesn't make sense.

He then looks at some popular answers: belief in God, altruism, the greater good, happiness, success, loosing yourself through transcedence, carpe diem. In each case he shows that after some close examination that each respective answer is flawed. He does this by working his way through the respective answers in detail and then poking holes thus showing that things that seem to make sense just don't add up when examined. His writing is clear and succint. No philosophical creditials are required from ther reader. Just an open mind and a willingness to question.

What becomes apparent is that maybe our brains are just incapable of answering the 'meaning of life' question. Maybe it's just part of human nature to seek meaning and purpose when in fact there might just be none. Many answers, each with their own unique appeal, wow factor and catchy jargon, may have popular appeal but after some logical anaylsis, they come across as no more than visceral notions, which don't really make much sense and seem to have only manifested to appease a question that we long to answer but simply cannot answer. So our we fools for thinking about life so simply? Well that's perhaps a bit harsh but what's clear is that answers which may seem appropriate aren't. Is that such a bad thing? No. There's no great tradegy in discovering flaws in our beliefs for it just means we have to reflect, mature and try to face reality for what it really is rather than what we wish it to be. By then adjusting our lofty notions, presumptions and expectations we can seek and find real meaning through an honest and objective views of ourselves and our lives.

Complaint: From Minor Moans to Principled Protests (Big Ideas)
Complaint: From Minor Moans to Principled Protests (Big Ideas)
by Julian Baggini
Edition: Paperback

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thought provoking, 10 Sep 2008
How ironic would be to complain about a book entitled 'Complaint'? Let's not go there, there's no need to. As someone who loves to complain, moan and rant, I found this book both funny and reflective. I've read a few Baggini books now. I like his style. He's detailed in his presentation of arguments but not overly dry and cumbersome like so many other philosophers both past and present.

Baggini examines and discusses the various different types of complaints. Their uses, their consequences, their purposes, their benefits. He captures things we all know about but expresses them in a way that very few of us could. A sign of a good thinker. A sign of a good writer.

Although there's no outstanding Eureka moment in this book, it's a very solid framework for thought and discussion. His opinions on the habbits of men and women are interesting and his idea that complaining being a human universal that if used correctly is something which has practical benefits. This can take many shapes; the complaint can be the starting moment of a process which will produce required change or it just be a form of human catharsis. Either way, it's worth remembering complaining is an interesting characteristic which reflects who we are and how we feel about ourselves and think about what's around us.

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