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Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom)
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Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda
Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda
by John Mueller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A useful corrective to apocalyptic nuclear rhetoric, 27 Mar. 2015
In 'Atomic Obsession' John Mueller takes a cool look at the rhetoric and reality of nuclear threat. His conclusion is that the threat from nuclear warfare, nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism or nuclear accident has been persistently exaggerated since 1945. Even the effects of the weapons themselves have been represented as apocalyptic – civilisation- or world-ending – rather than being compared with known threats in scale and severity. As this apocalyptic rhetoric, favoured by the media and politicians, has spread to assessment of biological and chemical threats, the danger has arisen that this rhetoric alone will achieve some of the ends of terrorists and rogue states by frightening citizens and their governments into irrational and antidemocratic actions.

Mueller's book is closely and objectively argued, and leavened with dry humour. Some might feel that his analysis of the possibilities for nuclear accident is cursory: everything else is covered. For Mueller, such problems with nukes as are substantial – in his reading, many are not – are essentially political and cultural, rather than military or technological. Somewhat to my surprise, I found it difficult to argue with his conclusions. Anyone might benefit from a reading of this book: but I would particularly recommend it to the reader hypnotised by talk of megadeaths, who may have thought that the threat to humanity posed by the development and insidious spread of nuclear weapons could be met only by a complete ban.

The book has a proper index, full notes, and extensive bibliography to 2009 ('Atomic Obsession' appeared in 2010).

Notes From Underground (Canons)
Notes From Underground (Canons)
Price: £5.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, very recent translation of an enduring classic, 21 Mar. 2015
'Notes From Underground' is one of Dostoevsky's most frequently translated books, and one might wonder why another translation is needed: there are at least half a dozen independent recent versions available, in addition to the original Constance Garnett translation of 1918 and several later revisions. Nonetheless, this is a vigorous and accurate translation that deserves to compete with the others.

Where this edition falls down is in the lack of contextual material and a decent introduction. Because of its relative brevity and deservedly high reputation 'Notes' is often the first Dostoevesky that the English-speaking reader encounters. For the beginner, however, it isn't an easy read. (The much longer 'Crime and Punishment' is actually a better starting point.) Dostoevsky drops the reader without preparation into the seething consciousness of one of the most perverse and idiosyncratic characters in all of modern literature. Some knowledge of the intellectual and social context in which Dostoevsky was writing, and of the audience that he was addressing, is essential to making full sense of this compressed, explosive narrative. Nonetheless, the publisher here has given the reader only the barest of notes. The Introduction, by DBC Pierre, is a brief, passionate recommendation of the book, but does nothing to help the neophyte.

Five stars for the text and its translation: three stars for the edition. Readers who feel they may benefit from more extended guidance should look at the Everyman, Norton, Penguin or Oxford World's Classics editions.

Satin Island
Satin Island
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing book from a writer capable of better, 21 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Satin Island (Kindle Edition)
After 'Remainder' and 'C' Tom McCarthy looked to be one of the better young British novelists. 'Satin Island', at the very least, should put the brakes to that notion.

The book reads as though McCarthy has taken one of Don DeLillo's more abstract novels and systematically filleted it of everything of interest: humour, psychological acuity, original command of language. There is no plot of any consequence – to be fair, the narrator warns the reader early on that this is the case – and the few characters are ciphers, thinly drawn with what seems to be a conscious lack of affect, incapable of involving the reader. The unnamed narrator - "Call me U", ho ho – inhabits the unholy crossroads at which deals are struck between academia and the corporation: but no midnight pact seems capable of bringing this thin material to life.

So one looks for interest elsewhere. Clearly, McCarthy is more interested in ideas than in persons here. (One character suffers a protracted death purely in order to serve as a sort of running illustration of the protagonist's governing thesis.) But the ideas in question are poststructuralist clichés of the most desperate sort: the arid jargon of postgraduate seminars substituted for the living texture of imaginative fiction. For all his protagonist's theoretical name-dropping, McCarthy seems to have little of his own to add to his influences. Every comparison that sprang to my mind – with DeLillo, Ballard and other favourites of the smart young novelist – was to McCarthy's disadvantage. A late dash for significance, when a hitherto minor character relates a Pasolini-ish story of some potential weight, and so briefly assumes a third dimension, proves misleading; and the whole thing expires quietly in a corner, without troubling the reader's heart or mind.

The adjectives that seemed best to sum up this book were 'thin', 'pallid', 'feeble', 'bland' and 'derivative' – not at all what I had expected. 'Satin Island' is only a novella, or short novel of around 50,000 words: that didn't prevent me from wishing it shorter. It's never a good sign when one finds oneself wondering whether a book is a concealed parody, an authorial joke at the expense of over-earnest readers. Even taken as such, it would be a failure. 'Satin Island' is a considerable disappointment, and can't be recommended on any level.

Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics)
Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics)
by Ivan Turgenev
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Turgenev's classic novel in a vigorous modern translation, 17 Mar. 2015
Turgenev's best novel, here in a modern translation (1991). A few readers might object to some of the slang terms as anachronistic, but for me Richard Freeborn has managed to convey the modernity and disruptive energy of the central character, Bazarov, and so to give the English-speaking reader in our time some idea of the shock that he would have presented to contemporary Russian readers. 'Fathers and Sons', as a classic of modern European literature, should really need no further recommendation. It might be worth noting nonetheless that, for the reader new to Russian literature, it is a particularly suitable introduction; its modest length and stylistic similarity to French and British realist fiction of the period reduce the barrier of difficulty. The novel is set in the period 1859-62: some acquaintance with the events of this period in Russia never hurts, but this Oxford edition includes a useful introduction and relatively brief notes.

Crime and Punishment (Penguin Translated Texts)
Crime and Punishment (Penguin Translated Texts)
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb translation of a Russian - and world - classic, 28 Feb. 2015
This is a superb translation of one of the most important novels in the canon. Dostoevsky's story of a shallow-rooted, intellectually fashionable young man who seduces himself into the commission of a horrible crime has lost none of its relevance. The quality of early translations has sometimes been a stumbling block for the English reader of Russian fiction, but no excuses need be made here. Oliver Ready's version captures Dostoevsky's storytelling drive and humour without obscuring his psychological acuity and intellectual seriousness. This is Dostoevsky for our times: essential reading still.

Wittgenstein Jr.
Wittgenstein Jr.
by Lars Iyer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Iyer extends his range, with mixed results, 16 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Wittgenstein Jr. (Hardcover)
'Wittgenstein Jr' is Lars Iyer's fourth novel, and his first stand-alone – the others being parts of a trilogy. Finishing the new book, I rather quickly formed the view that opinions among readers may differ significantly depending on whether they are completely new to Iyer, or have read at least one of the trilogy. 'Wittgenstein Jr' may be seen both as an extension of the earlier books and as an attempt to go beyond them. From either perspective, it is a partial success.

The novel is set in Cambridge, and the characters are undergraduate students of philosophy. A new tutor impresses them sufficiently by his evident seriousness and apparent weight of intellect for them to name him 'Wittgenstein'. Though the novel is set well after the real Wittgenstein's death, Iyer draws on his biography to flesh out the character, who in postmodern ludic mode both is and is not the philosopher.

Readers of the trilogy looking for more of the same will immediately recognise Iyer's comic manner, established and elaborated in 'Spurious', 'Dogma' and 'Exodus' – the mixture of high seriousness about, and low humour at the expense of philosophy and philosophers. Events then proceed roughly along the expected lines for most of the book. All amusing enough, but a mild disappointment from an author who has made the case for innovation and the original voice: the dangers of self-imitation were already becoming clear in the latter stages of the trilogy. In 'Wittgenstein Jr', Iyer doesn't always avoid the charge that he is now repeating himself, but more diffusely and at lower pressure: the jokes too familiar, the satire less biting, the point too elusive. Nonetheless, there are elements new to Iyer's writing here: in particular, an attention to the life of the emotions and the body that in the trilogy was confined mainly to the effects of gin and a very English sort of environmental horror. Drinking there is, and in full measure – these are undergraduates, after all – but the erotic also rears its head, and along with it forebodings of trouble that can't be dismissed with a philosophical bon mot.

The crux arrives in a drastic change of tone in the final section of the book, which has been ambling along in an entertaining but rather uninvolving manner. A character who to that point has been almost a passive onlooker joins 'Wittgenstein' centre-stage, and it becomes clear that this is something closer to a traditional Bildungsroman than a simple comedy of university life. Much depends on how one reacts to this: which is where the reader new to Iyer may have an advantage. Readers who are here purely for the jokes and the sarcasm may find that this unexpected emotional change of temperature is not what they signed up for. As a reader already familiar with the trilogy, I was heartened that Iyer had had the courage to try to develop away from the manner with which he had first attracted attention. I wasn't sufficiently convinced to re-evaluate my opinion of the opening sections completely: but I was at least able to forgive them their shortcomings.

I think it's a shame that 'Wittgenstein' has emerged after the trilogy. For much of its length it reads like an earlier, less focused attempt on similar material. I would recommend the final section, which might have made a fine short story, to anyone: the rest to Iyer's admirers. The uncommitted would probably do better to begin with 'Spurious', and see how they go.

by Phil Klay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Competent but rather underwhelming debut volume of short stories, 1 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Redeployment (Paperback)
'Redeployment' is a collection of short stories linked by the theme of the second Iraq War. Each story is told in the voice of a different person. The narrators are all male, and are either serving Marines or closely and recently associated with the military. These voices necessarily have a certain uniformity of tone, but the speakers represent different arms and ranks, and over the length of the book the reader is given a fairly wide view. I say fairly wide, because the views of officers are largely unrepresented, as more expectedly are those of women, American civilians and Iraqis. The focus is firmly on the experience of service, and the aftermath of service: the perspective is that of the lower and middle ranks – infantrymen, specialists, NCOs, occasionally a lieutenant – and so of men in their late teens and early twenties. The atmosphere of their virtually all-male environment, with its easy obscenity and pervasive military jargon, will be familiar to anyone who has read fiction written during the last century on the subject of men at war.

The stories are broadly in the confessional mode familiar from journalism, in which the author merely records the other's words, refraining from intrusion and comment. The reader must read between the lines to infer the author's purpose and detect a connecting thread. This is standard writing workshop stuff: show, don't tell. Klay has been open about the amount of research his writing demanded, and the payoff is there, in that the scenarios Klay describes feel both authentically detailed and lived. (In one of the more successful stories, Klay makes use of the military's weakness for jargon by giving us a narrator whose every third or fourth word is an acronym, with no explanation provided. The reader immediately feels the distancing effect of this 'precise', 'efficient' language, and how it allows men to keep the truth of their actions at a bearable distance. The book as a whole could have done with more moments like this.)

'Redeployment' is competently written, and very readable. Nonetheless, there are two large problems here. One is that there is already a considerable body of first-rate nonfiction writing, and a little fiction, about the Iraq conflict, to which 'Redeployment' quite frankly makes rather a small addition. The second is that there is an even larger body of fictional and nonfictional writing about the experience of serving in the American military. Particularly relevant is that produced by veterans of the Vietnam War, which casts a long shadow over later writers. For any reader familiar with that literature, 'Redeployment' will provide a strong sense of déjà vu, and more importantly a feeling that one has seen this done elsewhere and with greater power. Klay's indignation at, for example, the amoral careerism of some senior officers, or the military's indifference to the difficulties of reintroducing able-bodied but psychologically traumatized veterans to a society for which war is something that happens on television, is clearly felt: but it has been rehearsed before, and to far greater effect, by other writers. The points that Klay makes are valid, but he lacks both the authorial equipment to make them fictionally compelling and the sheer rage that drives the best earlier accounts.

The sticking point for me was that even at the end it was never completely clear to me why these stories were being told as fiction. Klay has limited talents as a writer of fiction, or he has laboured hard to conceal them. The stories read like good, honest reportage: but there is nothing compellingly fictional about them. In fact, one of the oddities of this book was that, like a collection of journalistic articles, it had no detectable artistic structure. The individual stories accumulate, rather than build or coalesce: the pieces never make a picture. The impression is of material filling a book, rather than of a book conceived as such.

The stories in 'Redeployment' are worth reading, for anybody interested in the subject of the tales, rather than the manner of their telling. In its rather detached way, it provides a truthful account of one kind of contemporary war. Nonetheless, this debut volume isn't the stuff of prize-winning fiction. I can only see the book's recent triumph in the National Book Awards only as an instance of patriotism winning out over aesthetic sense.

D'Addario EXL130 XL Nickel Wound Extra Super Light  (.008-.038) Electric Guitar Strings
D'Addario EXL130 XL Nickel Wound Extra Super Light (.008-.038) Electric Guitar Strings
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Extra super light string set for electric guitar: very good, but make sure you understand what you're getting..., 18 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought these as an experiment: I usually use D'Addario .009 or .010 sets, depending on the instrument.

Very light indeed on a 25.5" (Strat/Tele) scale guitar tuned to standard pitch. I would regard these as almost unplayably light on a 24.75" scale (Gibson). For me, the bass strings in particular are simply too light: you need a very light touch to avoid bending these strings out of tune as you fret them. Great for very low action, big bends and single notes on the treble strings: not so wonderful for rhythm. The lack of volume and 'weight' from the wound strings is immediately obvious. These might be a better choice for instruments with active pickups, low frets and flatter radius fingerboards, and for players who are more concerned with sheer speed than quality of tone. Might be useful for a player with tendinitis or related hand problems, looking for low tension.

Otherwise, the usual sterling D'Addario quality: they last well and hold tune after stretching in. D'Addarios are consistently the best strings I have used without paying silly money.

Misswonder Torx T2 T3 T4 T5 T6 Cell Phone Repair Kit Tool Set Magnetic Screwdrivers Tools
Misswonder Torx T2 T3 T4 T5 T6 Cell Phone Repair Kit Tool Set Magnetic Screwdrivers Tools

5.0 out of 5 stars Useful Torx and case tool kit for small consumer electronics., 18 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Exactly as described: Torx screwdrivers in the useful small sizes, plus a number of plastic tools for prying open cases, etc., without damage. Useful for more than mobile phones.

Blindsight (Firefall Book 1)
Blindsight (Firefall Book 1)
Price: £2.43

5.0 out of 5 stars An unusually clever and literate science fiction novel., 18 Dec. 2014
An unusually clever and literate science fiction novel. 'Blindsight' combines a page-turning plot with memorable characters and cutting-edge neurological speculation. The result is a credible imagining of the first encounter between human beings and non-human aliens. As if this were not enough, Watts throws a couple of curve balls that invite serious thought about what it means to be human, and even what it means to be a conscious being.

A book that will reward the reader who wants to be made to think, and not merely to be entertained.

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