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Paul Donovan (London, UK)
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Inside the Crystal Ball: How to Make and Use Forecasts
Inside the Crystal Ball: How to Make and Use Forecasts
by Maury Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.30

5.0 out of 5 stars Clarity about a clouded future, 13 April 2015
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"Inside the Crystal Ball" sets out how to think about economic forecasts with admirable clearness. Maury Harris quickly makes it obvious that overreliance on econometric models is not helpful or practical in modern financial markets; instead such models should serve as forecasting foundations, with experience and common sense building on their footings. Maury's writing style is straightforward, using minimal jargon and offering regular, clear summaries that the economist and investment professional alike can understand. He draws on his considerable experience to highlight best practice in forecasting but also – perhaps equally valuable – when and why forecasts are apt to go wrong. For anyone who wishes to study economics, or simply (to paraphrase Joan Robinson) to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists, this book explains clearly the risks and rewards of forecasting economics for financial markets.


How To get Away With Murder Season 1
How To get Away With Murder Season 1
Dvd
Price: £10.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The writing and acting are strong - both better done than (say) Bones is nowadays, 9 Nov. 2014
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There are essentially three dramas playing side by side. The murder of the title, about which we know a lot of information, a second (probably related thread) of a missing student, and then the episode by episode case drama. The jumps in the time line are well handled, and the viewer's interest is maintained by the episodic drama as well as the evolution of the longer term story arcs. The writing and acting are strong - both better done than (say) Bones is nowadays. A good drama series.


Mockingjay (part III of The Hunger Games Trilogy)
Mockingjay (part III of The Hunger Games Trilogy)
by Suzanne Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.00

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A skilled use of futuristic fantasy to mirror aspects of today's reality, 27 Aug. 2010
The Hunger Games trilogy has been a great story arc, set in a future that is at once grotesque and yet still recognisable. The final volume, Mockingjay, has a shift from its two predecessors. The earlier books had something of a balance between the violence of the world of Panem, and the romance / fake romance / potential romance of the three protagonists. The romance story was intertwined with violence and survival stories, of course. In Mockingjay, the romance is less in evidence. Partly this is because there is a separation between the main characters, physically and otherwise, for much of the book. Partly, however, it is because Ms Collins has placed more emphasis on the horrors of war, and the complexities of moral decisions that are taken in the political arena.

Ms Collin's triumph is to create a description of a future world that is complete, and inhabited with characters that one can become emotionally engaged with. Her points are made through how those characters develop, and what happens to them. Because the characters are so well written, the fate that befalls them has an impact on the reader. The deaths here do not have the somewhat abstract quality of the previous two books - in those volumes there was anonymity, and very often the reader felt slightly disengaged, as if a Capitol based television viewer of what unfolded (the deaths of Roo and Cato being the exceptions, perhaps). In Mockingjay, the deaths are written in a way that more directly impacts the reader and underscores the brutal reality of war. The abrupt, casual way in which some characters are killed (or their death is revealed to Katniss) at times heightens this.

This much creates a book that is an entertaining if somewhat shocking read. However, Ms Collins has gone further with the story arc, and with this volume in particular. Ms Collins clearly wants her readership (of whatever age) to think.

Panem is a grotesque vision of the future, but it can also be viewed as just a distorting mirror of our own times. A world where much of the population work in environmentally unsafe conditions, often under authoritarian regimes, to supply goods for those who were lucky enough to be born in the right country? Battling for environmental resources (food riots, oil wars, and tensions over water supplies in today's world)? Children committing violence and killing without discrimination (Africa's child soldiers)? The power of mental torture (all too often in the news today)? Roadside bombs, killers that are human and yet have lost humanity, voyeurism as entertainment, the sex trade - the list of parallels goes on. It is no wonder that the romantic thread is subordinated to the realities of modern life - and yet, without being "Hollywood" in her ending (no one could suggest that of this story), Ms Collins still has romance play a pivotal role.

This is a well written, compelling, clever, and (in a non pejorative sense) an awful book.


Out of the Shadows
Out of the Shadows
by Dominic Negus
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A life of change, 28 Jan. 2007
This review is from: Out of the Shadows (Hardcover)
Dominic Negus opens his book by recounting the event that serves as an turning point for him. For most people, moments of life-changing clarity are dramatic, but rarely can they be as dramatic as this. Mr Negus relates how being hit over the back of the head with an axe caused him to change his life direction. As epiphanies go, it stands as a fairly brutal example. He abandoned his day job of debt collection (specifically his work for the branch of that profession that does not tend to rely on court orders and warrants to reclaim money). He deliberately cut himself off from former associates, in order not to be tempted back. He cut back on drinking and stopped taking drugs.

Having begun in so dramatic a fashion, Mr Negus sets himself an ambitious benchmark for the remainder of his biography. However it is a challenge which he, and his ghost writer Ivan Sage, easily meet. The book focuses on Mr Negus's time as an amateur, professional and then unlicensed boxer. However, as the sub title indicates, much of the story runs in parallel and deals with the more violent incidents that marked Mr Negus's life away from the ring. His various vocations - doorman; debt collector - lent themselves to a life that encouraged violent behaviour. Moreover, as is clear early on in the account, Mr Negus was not often one to turn away from opportunities for violence. His deserved reputation was as a man of violence - in his words a "hard man". It is clearly not a reputation that he continues to have much regard for.

There is more to the story than mindless violence. Mr Negus treats the book almost as a confessional - detailing an attempt at suicide, the pressure surrounding his arrest on suspicion of armed kidnapping, and the events that led to the end of his professional boxing career.

The writing style is conversational, and engaging. The reader is drawn into the story early on, and the story makes for compelling reading. It is not strictly chronological, instead running the two strands ("in" and "out" of the ring) as parallel if intertwined threads. There is, inevitably, a possibility that the language has been toned down before making it to the printed page. However, Mr Negus even talks of a conscientious effort to moderate his language, having seen himself in a television documentary.

Mr Negus deliberately does not set out to glorify his past, but instead to portray what happened in as clear a manner as he can. It is, in many respects, a warning to those who start down a similar route. Having broken from his past (though not, it should be noted, from boxing), Dominic Negus argues that he has changed, and wants to stay in the legitimate world. The birth of his daughter, Annabella, clearly marks a second epiphany in his life - one that is maybe even more powerful than being hit over the head with an axe. He aspires to become one of the "decent people", with prospects, a pension, and an up-to-date car tax disc. The idea of Dominic Negus advancing on suburbia would rightly have put fear into the hearts of the middle classes a few years ago. Now, it seems a laudable aim for a father whose outlook on life has undergone a dramatic change. Mr Negus is a complex person, but his story may help those who find themselves facing choices that are similar to those he faced in the past.


The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265-146BC (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265-146BC (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
by Adrian Keith Goldsworthy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An informed, accessible introduction, 19 Sept. 2004
Adrian Goldsworthy provides an entertaining and accessible account of the Punic Wars, which those with no classical education should find an interesting read. Goldsworthy himself points out the fact that the British education system would have rendered this account unnecessary fifty years ago, but the decline of Latin as a school subject has left a generation (at least) unfamiliar with this long conflict.
Goldsworthy attempts to identify the facts of the battles as distinct from the conjecture, and is at pains to point out the limits of knowledge today (even with the benefits of archaeology to help lift some of the uncertainty). He also makes it clear that we must regard the sources as being tainted from the victor's perspective - for of course no Punic accounts of the conflicts survive. He uses general knowledge of the period to explain the context in which the wars were taking place, and how the changes in technology led to changes in the way in which war was being carried out.
This well-rounded account is supplemented with maps of the several of the battles, facilitating comprehension. However, there are no diagrams or pictures of other aspects of the time (a reproduction of a Trireme, for instance would have been a useful supplement to the lengthy descriptions of the text). This omission aside, the book is a good general read, going beyond a simple recitation of events, which serves to put the wars in an appropriate context.


Chancellors
Chancellors
by Roy Jenkins
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A concise collection of essays, 19 Sept. 2004
This review is from: Chancellors (Paperback)
The Chancellors provides a series of biographical essays on the British Chancellors at the end of the 19th and during the first half of the 20th centuries. Jenkins has chosen not to treat each Chancellor in the same way, given differences in the careers of each man. Thus there is no attempt to offer a biography of Churchill in a brief essay, but the analysis of Simon is expanded to include more than just his tenure of 11 Downing Street. The essays do make cross references to one another, but can essentially be treated as stand alone works.
Jenkins' style of biography was, of course, honed over the years, and though these essays may not live quite to the standard of his longer works ("Gladstone", for instance) they remain enjoyable. There is a certain amount of contemporary analogy in some of the pieces, which may date the book (and certainly did not tend to appear in Jenkins' other works), but this in no way detracts from an objective and scholarly set of essays.


Chancellors
Chancellors
by Roy Jenkins
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good set of scholarly essays, 11 Sept. 2004
This review is from: Chancellors (Paperback)
The Chancellors provides a series of biographical essays on the British Chancellors at the end of the 19th and during the first half of the 20th centuries. Jenkins has chosen not to treat each Chancellor in the same way, given differences in the careers of each man. Thus there is no attempt to offer a biography of Churchill in a brief essay, but the analysis of Simon is expanded to include more than just his tenure of 11 Downing Street. The essays do make cross references to one another, but can essentially be treated as stand alone works.
Jenkins' style of biography was, of course, honed over the years, and though these essays may not live quite to the standard of his longer works ("Gladstone", for instance) they remain enjoyable. There is a certain amount of contemporary analogy in some of the pieces, which may date the book (and certainly did not tend to appear in Jenkins' other works), but this in no way detracts from an objective and scholarly set of essays.


America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy
America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy
by Ivo H. Daalder
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.95

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting thesis, objective setting out of facts, 2 Mar. 2004
This is a thoughtful and generally objective assessment of the impact of Bush Jr on the foreign policy of the United States. The central thesis that runs through the book is that Bush Jr has had a fairly consistent set of foreign policy objectives that were modified by the events of 11 September 2001 - but modified within the existing guidelines. More broadly, the authors see Bush Jr’s objectives as in the foreign arena as drawing from some of the purposefulness evident in domestic policy in his first eight months in office (when, of course, foreign policy was subordinate to domestic aims, but still followed an “America first” rather than a multilateral approach).
The analysis concludes with warnings about the dangers of Bush Jr’s approach, and implies that the administration has not learned the lessons it should have taken away from fighting an enemy that is not a state in the traditional sense. The criticism of the lack of planning for the post Afghan and post Iraq conflict environments is an area of particular emphasis - with the undertone that, in a conflict where “nation-building” is essential if military objectives are to be met long term, multilateralism is critical to the success of operations. Hints of “imperial overstretch” creep into the debate here.
The book sets out the background and provides supporting evidence extremely well. For a dual authored piece, Daalder and Lindsay have managed to come up with an extremely readable book, written in a comfortably informal style with (one suspects) the odd appearance of a rather dry humour coming in. The authors are former Clinton staffers, but objectivity is not particularly damaged. The bias, it appears to me, is a strong support for the position of the now rather isolated Secretary of State, Colin Powell. There is no “knee-jerk” analysis depicting Bush Jr as a buffoon, or as a slave to sinister neo-con forces in the administration, and the authors skilfully point out that to characterise Bush Jr in such a way is to misunderstand his Presidency. It would have been nice if there was slightly more examination of the US’s perception by other countries under the new Bush Doctrine - for instance, if the US sees itself as a “liberator” of Iraq (which it must as part of the Bush Doctrine), it must see all attacks on itself in Iraq as the work of Baathists, Al-Qaeda and so on (as they can be the only opponents of “liberation“). However, if Iraqis do not share the same world view as Bush Jr, these attacks are potentially legitimised (Iraq’s experience with Western incursions into its territory have rarely categorised the incoming authority as a provider of “liberty” or freedom, as the British experiences in the inter-war period demonstrate only too clearly). Bush Jr’s failure to pursue multilateral support because of the absolute belief in the righteousness of the Bush Doctrine could be a major problem, if other areas of the world hold different but still legitimate interpretations of liberty. This is an area which leads out from Daalder and Lindsay’s work, and would probably benefit from further study.


Ave Maria - Sacred Arias and Choruses
Ave Maria - Sacred Arias and Choruses
Price: £5.99

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice collection of beautiful choral music, 1 Mar. 2004
Music snobs will probably throw their hands up in horror at this - it is a compilation CD, for goodness sake. Populism is taking over the world of classical music, and all anyone ever listens to is the extracts that appear in adverts - edited highlights. Music snobs can, suffice to say, be ignored. The CD does have a populist feel to it - Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, Ave Maria from Schubert, but the CD also covers some less well known pieces. Moreover it gives more than the edited highlights. The performances are consistently good though not especially well known performers. To cavil a little - I thought the Ave Maria a little more rushed than normal, and the “belting it out” version of the Hallelujah Chorus seemed to be preferred. These are minor criticisms however - it is a nice collection of some beautiful choral music. Snobs can chose to wade through the entire canon, but from time to time it is very pleasant to have the best bits served up on a single CD.


Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves: A BBC Radio 4 Full-cast Dramatisation (BBC Radio Collection)
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves: A BBC Radio 4 Full-cast Dramatisation (BBC Radio Collection)
by P. G. Wodehouse
Edition: Audio Cassette

18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the right cast, 1 Mar. 2004
To make it clear from the outset - the book is great. There is no point saying the same thing over twice, so if anyone wishes to get my views on the Wodehouse text, there is a review out there somewhere in the system, with five stars.
The danger with a dramatisation of a favourite book - radio or TV - is that it never matches your mental image of the characters. Coming to a dramatisation like this, therefore, one always has to brace ones self for a bit of jarring. This dramatisation jarred me a little too much, however. The actors were fine, the adaptation of the script was very good - if occasionally a little clumsy in communicating some of the scene setting. The problem was that the principle characters of Richard Briers as Bertie Wooster and Michael Hordern as Jeeves.
Hordern comes across as very remote, and more than a little disdainful of the young lord and master. This may have been how the very early Jeeves was written, but it did not last long. Wodehouse wanted to build Jeeves into a sympathetic character, tolerant - even indulgent - of Wooster. Hordern plays Jeeves as if he were on the verge of resigning in irritation with Wooster.
Jeeves is given a fairly limited presence in the dramatisation. This is generally the case in the book, of course, where (with the exception of one short story) Bertie Wooster is the narrator. However, Jeeves always "punches above his weight" because the text always gives Bertie's thoughts on Jeeves, or reactions to him - and that is quite lacking here. The limited role for Jeeves also exposes the second key flaw, which is that Richard Briers (though putting in a commendable performance) can not pull-off the voice of a young man in his mid twenties. Briers sounds like a middle aged person playing a young person, and it grates in a role like that of Bertie Wooster. This far more pronounced than with the TV part played by Hugh Laurie - who was also playing a younger person - perhaps because Briers has chosen to emphasise the "breathless schoolboy" enthusiasm in the part. Unfortunately for Briers this does not create an image of a social butterfly in his twenties, and instead reminds the listener of Briers playing "Tom" in "The Good Life" sitcom. We have the same endearing boyishness, but it is a middle aged man exhibiting this attitude, and that does not come across correctly.
There are, of course, a limited number of these dramatisations available, and as previous critics have noted there are far worse ways of passing a drive. The story is good, and that helps carry the audiobook. The actors are not bad by any means, but the interpretation of the two principle characters makes it very difficult to suspend disbelief and give oneself over to enjoyment of Wodehouse's sparkling prose.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 21, 2012 5:28 PM BST


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