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Profile for Clive P L Young > Reviews

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Content by Clive P L Young
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Reviews Written by
Clive P L Young "Clive Young" (London, England)

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Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
by Anna Funder
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb telling of a true modern horror story, 28 April 2011
A fascinating and exceptionally well written book revealing an all-too-recent horror story at the very heart of Europe. Funder engages us immediately with a flowing literary and often metaphorical style which is both affecting and illuminating. The structure is similarly subtle as she painstakingly pieces together the shredded lives of Stasi victims to portray a state and people brutalised by casual and capricious cruelty. Truth is elusive and, according to the Australian author, reconciliation in present-day Germany barely registers. Traumatised victims are left uncared for, torturers go unpunished. How sad that a modern European state was developing as recently as the late 80s techniques to "annihilate the inner self" by "the engendering hysterical and depressive behaviours in the target persons". Socialism was supposed to increase the happiness of the people by eliminating material poverty, and it did this to some extent. However happiness depends even more on psychological wellbeing and the enormous DDR security apparatus painstakingly eroded personal trust and security to the extent that oppression and misery could be the only outcome.


Kluge
Kluge
by Gary Marcus
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertainingly investigating our not-so-beautiful minds, 3 April 2011
This review is from: Kluge (Paperback)
Enjoyable, concise and very readable book from a US psychologist on how our particular evolutionary history dictates/limits the way humans (can) think. Our brain structures betray a history of overlaid technologies, resulting in an inelegant, inefficient, 'kluge' which sort-of works but leaves us prone to inept thinking, poor self-control and even mental disorder as the newer reasoning parts of our brain compete and conflict with older, more primitive and instinctual leftovers. This effects our memory, beliefs, language and even how (and why) we feel pleasure.

There is actually surprisingly little on brain biology; instead Markus takes us on a tour though some of the quirks of human thought such as 'anchoring' and 'framing' (how and in what context a problem is posed effects our response), 'confirmation bias' and 'motivated reasoning' (selectively choosing evidence and arguments that favour our beliefs) and why we are so poor at balancing immediate gratification against future reward. Marcus ends with some inspiring tips on how to be aware of some of the more obvious conceptual kluges and try to become better, more rational, thinkers.


Napoleon's Haemorrhoids: ... and other small events that changed history
Napoleon's Haemorrhoids: ... and other small events that changed history
by Phil Mason
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing snippets of alternative history, 29 Mar. 2011
Although lumbered with a naff title, an undeniably entertaining skip through some of the "small events that changed history".

Alternate history shows us just how provisional and random some of the mainstays of our culture really are. In this parallel universe Alaska is still owned by Russia, the US became a monarchy (twice), Napoleon woke up "feeling much better" on Sunday 18 June 1815 and narrowly won the Battle of Waterloo, Archduke Franz Ferdinand escaped assassination in 1914 but Russian firebrand Lenin was gunned down four years later. In New York 1931 the promising English politician Winston Churchill was hit by a car and killed but his never-to-be nemesis Adolf Hitler (real name: Schicklgruber) had already committed suicide in 1923 following a chaotically failed putsch.

Fascinating and thought-provoking but the scrapbook style of the book is just too haphazard. Which events were really critical i.e. would have really changed history and which would have happened anyway? If Archduke Franz Ferdinand's car hadn't taken a wrong turn in Sarajevo would the First World War really not have started? And if Napoleon's unfortunate ailment hadn't put him off his game on that Belgian battlefield on that particular day would Europe really look much different now?


Teach Yourself Brazilian Portuguese New Edition (Teach Yourself Complete Courses)
Teach Yourself Brazilian Portuguese New Edition (Teach Yourself Complete Courses)
by Sue Tyson-Ward
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stepping beyond the phrase books, 29 Mar. 2011
An excellent example of a compact, well-focused text book. Indeed a 'text book' text book. Very well designed and written, clearly-explained grammar, useful and lively vocabulary. Could really have done with better coverage of irregular verbs but I generally found it both practical and enjoyable. I was using this for GCSE revision, and didn't have the recordings but I think this would work well for anyone wanting a quick overview to get beyond the phrasebook stage. It is not an in-depth course abut as a beginner I thought there was plenty to work with.


Portuguese (Brazilian) I, Comprehensive: Learn to Speak and Understand Brazilian Portuguese with Pimsleur Language Programs
Portuguese (Brazilian) I, Comprehensive: Learn to Speak and Understand Brazilian Portuguese with Pimsleur Language Programs
by Pimsleur
Edition: Audio CD

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Basic Brazilian, 1 Mar. 2011
About 15 hours of audio material over 30 lessons. Starts very, very slowly with an odd and irritating technique of pronouncing the words end-first but gradually speeds up. The technique is to develop and repeat (albeit with variations) a fairly restricted set of words and structures over and over, with hardly any grammatical explanation. It actually works quite well, is excellent for (Brazilian) pronunctiation, and you definitely learn the material without needing repeat listens. The range of vocab is very restricted though, and I felt I really needed better written support material.


The Raw Shark Texts
The Raw Shark Texts
by Steven Hall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oversold and undercooked, 21 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Raw Shark Texts (Paperback)
Cartainly an odd book. There's something about the title, the cheesy cover art with its typewriter font and the curious layout that gives a faint air of vanity publishing. On reading it the feeling is hardly dispelled, with uneven writing, bonkers plotting and a ludicrous denouement.

It starts off strongly enough, with solid chunks of good writing. A man wakes up with amnesia and gradually realises he has a mental condition that erases and scrambles his memories. He slips into what seems to be paranoiac delusion. The second half is a road-trip through his fantasises, pursued by an imaginary shark. The shark seems to represent his grief over the sudden death of his much-loved girlfriend - the trauma that originally tipped him into psychosis. Finally he has to face the shark, and being a fantasy, what is the first scenario to come to (anyone's) mind?

So basically a good idea but the whole thing reads like a first draft rather than a finished book. The second half in particular is full of feeble philosophising and long passages of all-too-skippable prose. The final surprise though is not the uninteresting 'undex' at the end but the 'acknowledgements' page (bizarre again in a fiction work, surely), which lists dozens of people who apparently 'made such a difference to the finished book'. Not-critical-enough friends, perhaps.

And what was the point of the cat, anyway?


The Ascent Of Rum Doodle (Vintage Classics)
The Ascent Of Rum Doodle (Vintage Classics)
by W E Bowman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An uphill struggle, 15 Jan. 2011
Bill Bryson claims this is 'one of the funniest books you will ever read'. The spoof account of a climbing expedition to the Himalayan peak of 'Rum Doodle' is declared to be a lost treasure of the English comic novel. Sadly it doesn't live up to Bill's billing. The naive narrator in the style of The Diary of a Nobody (Penguin Classics)'s Pooter. However where Pooter was surprisingly subtle and varied the humour here is broad and repetitive. A trudge up a mountain is maybe just not as challenging as Pooter's polite society. In fact it reads more like a forerunner of Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns - The Complete Series [1976] [DVD], which was fun for a 30' TV slot but is a style not really sustainable over an entire book. I was glad when the expedition staggered to an end.


The Dressing Station: A Surgeon's Odyssey
The Dressing Station: A Surgeon's Odyssey
by Jonathan Kaplan
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable resume of an oddly detached doctor, 28 Dec. 2010
Fleeing to England than America to avoid conscription to the apartheid regime, South African surgeon Jonathan Kaplan builds a successful career as a surgeon. A chance encounter back in Africa draws him away to the existential exhilaration of war and he finds himself in a front-line medical charity working in Kurdistan. Unable to return to the mundane comfort of a hospital job, he becomes a 'medical vagabond'; a ship's surgeon, a flying doctor, a filmmaker and again medical aid worker. The man has sure led an interesting life, but it is a shame he chose to tell it in such a conventional way. The linear, isolated episodes, although well written, seem to defy engagement. It is almost if the surgeon's professional detachment has seeped into his writing. Only late in the book as Kaplan becomes emotionally attached to the struggles of Eritrea does the writing really grip. Less action and more analysis - of the context and his own motivations - would perhaps have made this a stronger book, but it still powerfully underlines the universal awfulness of conflict.


Ice-Cold in Alex (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
Ice-Cold in Alex (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
by Christopher Landon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Ice cold' is still rather cool, 28 Dec. 2010
The iconic war film was based on this pacy short novel, drawn from the author's own experience in the WWII North African campaign. An alcoholic officer and his faithful NCO are ordered to escort two nurses out of Tobruk port, about to fall to the Afrika Korps eastwards to the safety of 'Alex' (Alexandria). To avoid the advancing Axis forces they have to head south and cross the hostile desert in a rickety ambulance. On this arduous off-road trip they pick up a 'South African' officer they believe to be a German spy. Drama ensues as themes of redemption, reconciliation and even romance are explored. The focus is on action rather than analysis, but this is a taught tale, undeniably cinematic and still very readable as it exposes the stress, strangeness and uncertainty of war. Like the characters you'll want that ice cold beer after finishing.


The Dip: The extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit (and when to stick)
The Dip: The extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit (and when to stick)
by Seth Godin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars OK advice but poor explanation, 12 Dec. 2010
The notion of the 'plateau' is familiar among educators. After the first excitement and quick feedback on progress when studying a new subject, language, instrument or whatever, the learning curve flattens out as the newbie has to put in the long, superficially unrewarding hours to eventually achieve mastery. This book applies the plateau to business and dramatically renames it the 'dip', the demotivating slow growth and low income stage where initial enthusiasm has worn off. Godwin correctly indentifies this as a crucial stage when entrepreneurs often quit. If you can get through it though, the reward is mastery of your market, the dip having seen off your less resolute competitors. Sound if unspectacular advice. The problem is Godwin fails to explain the characteristics of the dip properly, so when he (again sensibly) tries to nuance the argument by saying 'it is actually OK to quit sometimes', the book simply falls apart in a sea of contradictions and superficial questions. The Dip is itself then something of a conceptual dip, pity Godwin hadn't persevered to give us something really useful.


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