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Conal Henry

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The Human Stain
The Human Stain
by Philip Roth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Polemic As Always, 15 May 2012
This review is from: The Human Stain (Paperback)
The book is written to make a single point, as is often the case for Roth. Here he rails against what he would probably call political correctness and how seemingly liberal views are, in fact, forced in an extremely illiberal way down the throats of all whether they agree or disagree. Roth sets the book in the US college environment around the time of the Monica Lewisnki affair and describes the downfall of a seemingly Liberal icon because of one ill-judged or misinterpreted remark.
He is a supreme story teller and he uses this skill to incorporate his own polemic into the plot repeatedly without damaging the plot. You may or may not agree with his sentiment (I do, though I think he "over-cooks" it) but the book is very readable and, as always with this great writer, food for thought.

The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
by Bethany McLean
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Deals Well With The Complexity, 20 Mar. 2012
If Enron hadn't existed we would have had to make it up. The company was founded on amorality and constructed with the all but explicit intention of deceiving investors for management gain. In the classic style, as the project becomes more and more successful, the depth and the extent of the deception becomes greater until finally they run out of lies to tell and there is an immediate collapse.

The book is complex necessarily but the authors do a great job in taking us through the detail without blinding us. As regards the key characters (and there are upwards of a dozen)the authors seem to have adopted something of a formulaic approach to their characterisation. At times it seems like they are working off a table that sets out each characters home town, parental occupation, college and early career. You are left feeling that you know what these people got up to but you don't feel that you know them and you are, largely, left to draw your own conclusions as to why people did what they did.

That said you don't have to be a pyscho-analyst to see that Enron was an exercise in insider greed supported by wrong headed group-think. This allowed a cadre of talented managers, bankers and advisors to convince themselves and others that, in deceiving shareholders and overtly undermining the intention of regulation and in becoming multi-millionaires, they were, in fact "on the side of the angels."

So when you hear Lloyd Blankfein tell us that Goldman Sachs is "doing God's work" - how does that make you feel.

The Art of Fielding
The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Fielding, 12 Mar. 2012
This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Hardcover)
I bought the book after reading a review in the Guardian suggesting that this should be a contender for "the Great American Novel". It is not, but it is a very good American Novel. Although ostensibly about baseball and College life, I didn't feel hindered by a total lack of understanding of either. The book is, for me anyway, about relationships. Harbach's development of each of the five main characters is perfect and you feel very quickly that these are people you know well. He then tells a tale that allows him to explore each character's relationship with the other four.

The story itself is a beautifully woven exploration of all the great literary themes, love, sexuality, ambition, rivalry and loss. All captured in a subtle, evocative and ultimately very satisfying read. Given that this was Harbach's first novel one can only assume that there is more where that came from.

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