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Reviews Written by
C. Young "Clive Young" (London, England)

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Pompeii
Pompeii
by Robert Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Turgid toga tale, 10 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Pompeii (Paperback)
Well-researched but woefully under-written, Harris turns a truly exciting snd unique historical event into a bit of a lacklustre plod. The aqueduct near Vesuvius is failing and Attilius, an engineer, is sent by Pliny (yes, that one) to invesigate. His predecessor has gone missing and mysterious portents suggest all is not well.... As you would expect from Harris there is some interesting historical background (the wonder of Roman water engineering, Pliny himself, Pompeii politics and manners, the description of the eruption), but the plotting is tugid and unrealistic, the characters underdevloped and the (supposedly important) love interest just underwhelming. The ending is pretty pitiful, too.


Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town
Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town
by Mary Beard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable academic "CSI:Pompeii", 4 Aug 2014
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Beard opens by challenging the notion that Pompeii was simply a normal city simply 'frozen in time'. Pompeii itself had a long history and was recovering from an earthquake when the eruption in 79 occurred. Most of the city was evacuated during the catastrophe, its contents largely removed by the fleeing inhabitants. Some came back later to retrieve their remaining possessions and a fair bit was robbed subsequent looters. Moreover the early excavations were crude and what was uncovered has since deteriorated. Constructing the history of the town seems therefore like a jigsaw with most of the pieces missing; there is much speculation and controversy over even some of the most basic 'facts'.

Beard therefore manages to give an impression of the historiography of the city, drawing on changing ideas from archaeology and forensics, and circumstantial evidence from the (also fragmentary) contemporary literature. Anyone with an interest in how history works as a discipline will enjoy this 'CSI Pompeii ' approach as Beard builds up the picture of what we know or can reasonably surmise of various aspects of Roman life.

I read this in preparation for a trip to Pompeii this summer and it hugely enhanced my enjoyment of the visit. It is dense but very readable though I felt the detail of the competing claims sometimes interfered with the broader story, leaving me with as many questions as answers. But then that is probably the sign of a good history book.


La ira de los justos / The Rage of the Righteous (Apocalipsis Z / Apocalypse Z)
La ira de los justos / The Rage of the Righteous (Apocalipsis Z / Apocalypse Z)
by Manel Loureiro
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.02

3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but slightly disappointing, 21 April 2014
If you liked first two in the series, you'll probably like this one, too (athough not yet translated into English?). It is a similarly highly readable page turner, though the breathless action is now perhaps becoming just a little silly and repetetive. In a way the zombies fade into the background a bit as the heroes end up in a fascistic mini-state and get mixed up in a slave rebellion. The heavy Nazi metaphors are a bit simplistic and waste the post-Apocalypse setting. Similarly an interesting idea about the intervention of the last surviving pre-Apocalypse state is nicely set up but burns out improbably. I had the impression the author was now little bored with the story by the end and had run out of ideas.


La posguerra vista por una particular ...y su marido
La posguerra vista por una particular ...y su marido
Price: £8.05

4.0 out of 5 stars Charming account of childhood in Franco's Spain, 21 Nov 2013
A warm, personal story of growing up in Madrid in the tough postwar period, a little nostalgic despite the obvious toughness of the times. Hunger and hardship stalked the madrileños but the author vividly brings to life the small joys and sense of community of the era. A humanisic social history witnessing a period of Spanish history it is sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand


Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End
Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End
by Manel Loureiro
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.64

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb fast-paced Spain-set zombie thriller, 14 Nov 2013
(Refers to the Spanish edition)

I usually read a couple of books in Spanish a year to keep the language ticking over, and this was chosen at random - but what a treat! Zombie fiction is not really my thing but like the other reviewers I found the book utterly gripping and worth 5 stars as a page-turner. The downfall of Galicia is plausibly realised and we feel the psychological drain of the author/diarist's aimless post-apocalypse struggle against the tide of No Muertos. I liked the way the story of the final days of Vigo is pieced together and the occasional flashes of gallows humour. Looking forward to read the next in the series


Apocalipsis Z. El principio del fin (Spanish Edition)
Apocalipsis Z. El principio del fin (Spanish Edition)

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb fast-paced Spain-set zombie thriller, 14 Nov 2013
I usually read a couple of books in Spanish a year to keep the language ticking over, and this was chosen at random - but what a treat! Zombie fiction is not really my thing but like the other reviewers I found the book utterly gripping and worth 5 stars as a page-turner. The downfall of Galicia is plausibly realised and we feel the psychological drain of the author/diarist's aimless post-apocalypse struggle against the tide of No Muertos. I liked the way the story of the final days of Vigo is pieced together and the occasional flashes of gallows humour. Looking forward to read the next in the series


Watchmen TP International Edition
Watchmen TP International Edition
by Alan Moore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping if gruesome graphic novel triumph, 9 Aug 2013
A graphic novel often - and not surprisingly - considered the current masterwork of the format. Certainly in terms of ambition and depth, the rich interplay of multiple story lines, the subtle images and occasionally surprising depth of characterisation the claims are pretty justifiable. It is often as gripping as any conventional novel. The 'alternative' history follows the fates of a motley group of masked New York crime-fighters, exposing the intrinsic silliness and even kinkiness of this bizarre very-American notion. The post-war disillusion and increasingly bleak fear of nuclear war is cleverly drawn and the hooded heroes are far from heroic - the story doesn't shy from the near- fascistic nihilism and inherent violence of some of these oddballs. The clever plot is unbalanced though by the appearance of a genuine 'superman' with extraordinary powers. This seems to weaken the basic premise, that the 'watchmen' were rather foolish fantasists or quasi-psychopaths. Nonetheless it is hard to imagine any graphic novel packing more punch.


The Peshawar Lancers
The Peshawar Lancers
by S M Stirling
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £4.97

3.0 out of 5 stars Slow-burn steam punk Raj yarn, 9 Aug 2013
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The author has great fun imagining what the British Raj would be like if still around today. In this alternative history Northern Europe is inconveniently destroyed in a meteor shower in the mid nineteenth century, so the Empire relocates to Delhi and survives as a bizarre but actually quite plausible powerful militaristic Anglo-Indian hybrid. Technical developments are disrupted so the 21st century is dominated by horses and airships. The Angrezi Raj is lovingly constructed with charming attention to detail in terms of language and cultural mores. Some subtle fun is had with the Raj's concepts of modernity and design but mostly it is played straight. The real problem with the novel is the background overshadows the flimsy plot and characterisation. The story is ok but rarely gets going as the reader plods through detailed description. Not a bad book at all but a poor clone of Fraser's Flashman in the Great Game (The Flashman Papers, Book 8), set in the 'real' Raj and which deals with much the same themes as Lancers with far more wit and 'authentic' verve.


Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle
Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle
by Daniel Everett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring tale of a man on a (linguistic) mission, 21 July 2013
What do linguists and anthropologists do, and what is their purpose? Why is the value of spending over three decades studying the tribal language and culture unique to just 400-odd souls living deep in the Amazonian jungle.

In this exciting and inspiring account Everett explains how sent with his family in the 70s to study the Pirahã people with the aim of translating the New Testament into their language. Initially disappointed by the tribe's pragmatic, stripped-down culture, he began to admire how perfectly adapted the society was to a hostile and capricious environment. The apparent cultural 'simplicity', was really a unique philosophical focus on the 'here and now' and reflected in the Pirahã language, explaining the absence in the tongue of 'normal' abstractions such as numbers, colour terms and even complex grammar.

Everett soon realised the unusual features of Pirahã fundamentally challenged the then-dominant theories of Chomsky's 'universal grammar' and Pinker's popular 'language instinct', both notions claiming language is hard-wired into the brain. Culture, argues Everett persuasively, has always had a huge influence on language and the Chomsky's 'nature not nurture' paradigm has misguided linguistics for years.

The book is divided into two parts, firstly a wonderful description of the richness and perils of Amazon life and secondly - just as exciting, but in a different way - the debate over the Pirahã language and how it impacts on linguistic theory.

The in describing the tribal 'other' the anthropologist - Everett reclaims linguistics as a branch not of psychology but anthropology - sets up a critical mirror to their own society. This may even challenge personal identities. Everett describes movingly how living among such a pragmatic and evidently happy people led him to question his own religious values, and he eventually left the mission for ever.

I'd hugely recommend this book, though, like his excellent follow-up Language: The Cultural Tool, it is slightly let down by a sometimes oddly narrative erratic structure.


May on Motors: On the Road with James May
May on Motors: On the Road with James May
by James May
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing enough, but outstayed its welcome, 11 July 2013
May has perfected an amiably blokeish 'tell it like it is' TV personality through Top Gear and innumerable spinoffs. I was quite surprised though how amusing and often quite clever his writing is. Mostly observational stuff concerning the weird subculture of motoring (car buying, motorway services, crap cars, crumbly old classics, car vs motorbike, petrol vs diesel...that sort of thing) but has lots of good and often quite funny ideas. My problem with this book was actually that there was too much of it; 87 newspaper articles and some out-takes, I'm afraid I got a bit bored with the tone by the end.


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