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Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom)
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Fit2Fat2Fit
Fit2Fat2Fit
by Drew Manning
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An unusual perspective on weight loss, 23 July 2012
This review is from: Fit2Fat2Fit (Hardcover)
The American author, a part-time physical trainer who had always been fit and active, set out deliberately to mimic the bad habits of some of his clients, with a view to gaining insight into why so many of them found losing fat and gaining fitness so difficult. At the peak of his 75lb/33kg weight gain he would reverse the process: in theory, this would demonstrate that he was right and that his clients were whiners. He would blog about the whole process.

The result was an emotional rollercoaster for the author and his family. Having become obese for the first time in his life, the author encountered all the associated psychological problems as well as the novel experience of pain, breathlessness and disinclination to exercise that he had thought his clients were exaggerating. He emerged from his ordeal only with the support of family members, and with an enhanced respect for people who do succeed in turning their lives around.

There is a diet plan for rapid weight loss and sensible suggestions for exercise. The only problem I had with the book was the feeling that this was essentially a magazine article expanded to the length of a book; there is a fair amount of repetition, and as with all diet and exercise books that stick to the facts about weight loss, there is nothing really new here. But the author writes amusingly, and he deserves some credit for having challenged preconceptions among the fit and active about how easy it is for the ordinary person to lose weight.


How Not to Die: Surprising Lessons on Living Longer, Safer and Healthier
How Not to Die: Surprising Lessons on Living Longer, Safer and Healthier
by Dr Jan Garavaglia
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual approach to healthy living by a forensic pathologist, 23 July 2012
This is a guide to healthy living written by a woman who spends her professional life examining the corpses of people who have died unexpectedly - many of them prematurely and for reasons that were avoidable. The result is a very readable combination of case studies - the detective work necessary to establish cause of death - and reflections on what these deaths tell us about what we should avoid in our behaviour and lifestyles if we want to go on living healthy lives.

In a sense there is nothing new here; but the unusual approach really does focus the mind on the way in which the same small number of factors - particularly obesity, substance abuse, neglect of exercise, ignoring warning signs, and foolish risk-taking - crop up again and again on the morgue slab. The author sets out common-sense strategies to deal with all these things.

The author is an American medical examiner, and the book is written primarily for an American audience, but the truths that she highlights are common to all of us. Her advice amounts to a conservative strategy for living long and well by avoiding excessive risk: a refreshing change from the silly promises of life extension so often made by medically unqualified gurus.


Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics)
Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics)
by Epictetus
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.88

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the basic texts of classical ethics and moral behaviour, 16 July 2012
This is a compilation of the texts that, taken together, comprise almost everything we have of Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher who might have some claim to be considered the most influential classical writer on ethics and practical morality. The primary text is the 'Discourses', Arrian's reconstruction of Epictetus' lectures, which in this modern translation is very readable. It is supplemented by the 'Fragments', and the 'Handbook' (or Enchiridion) - a pithy digest of the main themes of the more expansive 'Discourses'.

Highly recommended, alongside Marcus Aurelius's 'Meditations', Cicero's 'De Officiis', and the relevant writings of Seneca, for anybody wanting to understand the Stoicism of the Hellenistic period, and its influence on the practical morality of the succeeding Christian centuries. The main thrust of Epictetus' thought - that individuals are at the mercy not of events themselves but of their mistaken interpretations of events - remains strikingly modern and highly relevant, underlying such contemporary therapeutic doctrines as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Introduction; Discourses (206 pages); Fragments (12 pages); Enchiridion (16 pages); Glossary of Names; Notes. No index or bibliography, but a brief suggestion for Further Reading.


Philosophy: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions
Philosophy: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions
by Nicholas Fearn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Useful 'audit' of contemporary philosophy, 11 July 2012
This book, published in 2005, attempts to give the intelligent non-specialist an overview of philosophy in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The author is a philosophy graduate, but a journalist and writer rather than a professional philosopher. He approached his task by interviewing as many eminent living philosophers as possible, and his thumbnail portraits of these people help to make the book lively and approachable. The reader is never allowed to lose sight of the fact that philosophy is an activity conducted by living people.

Nonetheless, as the endorsements by Raymond Tallis and Hilary Putnam would imply, the subject is treated seriously. Fearn divides his book into three sections: 'Who Am I?', 'What Do I Know?' and 'What Should I Do?' Each of the thirteen chapters under these broad headings then tackles a single topic - 'The problem of the self', 'Innate ideas', 'Moral luck' and so on - and draws on the work of one or more current practitioners to show how things stand at present.

Fearn doesn't have much time for continental philosophy; the bare half-chapter devoted to postmodernism is dismissive. Nor does he care much for Peter Singer's utilitarianism and the fashionable animal rights agenda to which it gave birth. The focus is squarely on the Anglo-American tradition. However, Fearn avoids off-putting technical discussions of minutiae. His concern is to show how contemporary philosophers in this tradition still attempt to offer substantive answers to large, serious questions of the kind associated with the idea of 'doing philosophy' in the past.

One of the refreshing aspects of the book is that the author is ready to contend that in certain areas, discussion is effectively over: the public has simply not caught up with developments among the professionals. Without worshipping at the altar of science, he is prepared to show how philosophers in the past sometimes failed in their endeavours simply for lack of the right technological tools. On the other hand, where disputes still thrive, he conveys the intellectual excitement well. For Fearn, philosophy still has a point and a purpose separate from those of the more specific disciplines to which it has given birth.

This is an excellent, wide-ranging discussion of its subject: highly readable, without being patronising, and suggesting many lines of further enquiry. Doubtless it will not completely satisfy experts, but it wasn't written for them, and no book of this length could hope to be complete or equally authoritative on all subjects. It lacks only a bibliography for further reading, though one might be assembled from titles referred to in the notes. Recommended for any interested adult reader, though a motivated teenager might well cope with much of it. An acquaintance with at least the outlines of the history of philosophy and the main historical concerns would help: so not perhaps for complete beginners.


On Obligations: De Officiis (Oxford World's Classics)
On Obligations: De Officiis (Oxford World's Classics)
by Cicero
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to improve on this edition for the general reader, 4 July 2012
An excellent edition of one of Cicero's most important philosophical works, and, through its influence on the Christian humanists, one of the most influential works of practical moral philosophy ever composed. 'On Obligations' (De officiis) was written by Cicero in 44BC in the form of advice to his son, then studying at Athens, on the nature of honourable conduct.

A fluent modern translation (2000) by P. G. Walsh, based on Winterbottom's edition (1996): substantial contextual introduction, discussing not just the composition of the book but its subsequent influence; chronology and select bibliography; extensive and genuinely useful notes; and index. Highly recommended.

Introduction 37 pages; text 126 pages; notes 80 pages; plus index, bibliography etc.


Juggernaut
Juggernaut
by Adam Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Adam Baker's second novel improves on his first, 4 July 2012
This review is from: Juggernaut (Paperback)
Adam Baker's debut novel, 'Outpost', was a competent but rather generic apocalyptic thriller. 'Juggernaut' is set in the period prior to 'Outpost', but is not strictly a prequel and can be read independently. On the other hand, readers coming to it from 'Outpost' will find at least partial answers to some of the loose ends Baker left there.

In this book, Baker has fused the post-9/11 military thriller with the bio-hazard horror novel. The plot - a team of mercenaries desperate to recover something from their largely wasted time in Iraq: a hidden horde of stolen gold; a shadowy CIA agenda; a seemingly straightforward off-the-books mission that goes horribly wrong - is familiar enough. But Baker has done his homework, and the detail of mercenary and intelligence operations is convincing.

Baker still writes like a screenplay writer - all choppy prose and two-sentence paragraphs - but moves the plot along efficiently enough. He is less adept at dialogue, and struggles to convey complex information in a believable way. Some of the information-laden speeches that characters are required to give later in the book would never have been uttered in such a stilted, cod-literary way in actual conversation. However, Baker seems to have improved as a creator of character, lending even the somewhat improbable female-led mercenary band a veneer of credibility. In fact, I could have done with more of this deepening of character, along with a more extended exploration of the ideas behind the book; preferably at the expense of action scenes that, while predictably kinetic, are too numerous and too similar and thus also repetitious.

Nonetheless, on the whole 'Juggernaut' succeeds better than 'Outpost' as an entertaining if undemanding read. A brief epilogue suggests a possible third book on the same theme, and again enough ends are left untied to make that book potentially interesting.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 6, 2012 3:55 PM BST


Meditations
Meditations
by Marcus Aurelius
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic reflections on life and right conduct, 29 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Meditations (Paperback)
This is an excellent pocket edition of one of the most famous and enduring works of classical philosophy. The 200 pages of text are divided into twelve books; each book consists of a series of musings or reminders to himself jotted down by the author perhaps over the course of ten years. Together they form a practical manual of self-conduct and a guide to dealing with others and the world that in many respects has simply not dated. The excellent translation (2003) by Gregory Hays gives us a Marcus Aurelius unobscured by old-fashioned English, and catches his tone perfectly: direct, unaffected, penetrating, stoical.

This Phoenix edition is genuinely pocket-sized. The reader who wants to know more will have to look elsewhere - there are no notes, and no bibliography or index. But these are not necessary to a first reading of the 'Meditations', one of the most lucid and readable books that has come down to us from the Roman period.

Highly recommended.


Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Oxford World's Classics)
Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Oxford World's Classics)
by Friedrich Nietzsche
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nietzsche's best single book?, 28 Jun. 2012
This is probably the best, though not the most famous, book Nietzsche wrote. As a highly readable starting point for the reader new to the author it can hardly be bettered, giving a taste of Nietzsche in both extended and aphoristic modes, written late enough to represent his mature thought, free of the rather artificial and now dated manner that Nietzsche deployed in 'Thus Spake Zarathustra', and offering examples of his thinking on major issues. The reader who is familiar with Camus, Foucault and other representatives of modern Continental thinking may be startled by how many anticipations and premonitions of these thinkers appear in this book.

This edition is a good modern translation (1998) with a useful introduction and notes by the translator.


The Historical Jesus For Dummies
The Historical Jesus For Dummies
by Catherine M. Murphy PhD
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even-handed and scrupulous introduction to the life of Jesus, 24 Jun. 2012
'The Historical Jesus For Dummies' is an attempt to set out what is known from evidence of the existence of Christ. It isn't aimed at believers or non-believers as such, and the author has been careful to make no claims for or against traditional beliefs beyond her careful examination of the textual and archaeological evidence. As a result, the book is usable by anyone interested in the subject, regardless of their beliefs.

As any historian would when dealing with a disputed subject for a lay audience, Catherine Murphy begins by setting out the rules of historical evidence. She then moves from an examination of the gospel stories to a recreation, by way of context, of the world into which Jesus was born: the world of first-century Rome and Palestine. The Bible story is firmly situated in the power politics of the time and place, and both the Jewish and Roman contexts are explicated.

The author reviews the history of successive scholarly attempts to establish the provenance and authority of the Biblical texts and the impact of the most recent research. She shows how the story of Christ has been modified by subsequent commentators and in response to changing human needs. A final chapter even looks at representations of Christ in art.

I found this book admirable in its intention and achievement. As an up-to-date, even-handed single volume introduction to the subject that avoids debunking or proselytising it could hardly be bettered. In particular, I would have confidence in placing it in the hands of a questioning teenager. 'For Dummies' does not mean 'dumbed-down'.


On The Edge
On The Edge
by Edward St Aubyn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Comedy of New Age manners, 20 Jun. 2012
This review is from: On The Edge (Paperback)
St. Aubyn is best known as the admired author of the 'Melrose' series of five novels. Along with the much shorter 'A Clue To the Exit', 'On the Edge', originally published in 1998, stands apart from those books and has attracted relatively little attention.

The author writes well, in the sense that he can construct a memorable sentence, handle a story that is told from multiple points of view, and wield an ironic wit as required. Unfortunately, in this book at least, he is competing with the likes of Evelyn Waugh and the young Anthony Powell, and the comparison is not to his advantage. He has neither Waugh's genuine savagery nor Powell's command of bone-dry deadpan humour.

St. Aubyn has avoided the easy path of caricature common to fiction on New Age themes. He is fairer - and nicer - to his characters than either Waugh or Powell would have been, allowing them a third dimension, determined to find redeeming qualities and complicating features in everyone, forcing the reader to rethink. He can create credible female characters: a skill that one can't take for granted in a male novelist.

But over the long haul I missed the snap of teeth. One senses a certain disabling fondness for the institutions - Findhorn and Esalen, among others - that are the ostensible objects of his questioning gaze. As a result, the emotional temperature never rises much above a comfortable tepidity. The novel seems not so much to end as to peter out, unable to decide how seriously to take itself, settling for reassurance. Billed as a satire, it is in fact a gentle comedy of modern manners set among bored (but well-heeled) seekers after wisdom on two continents. The final impression is of nothing much at stake.

Recommended to anyone who wishes to sample St. Aubyn without committing to the full 'Melrose' experience.


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