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Dr. Mark Cope (Solihull, UK)

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GORE VIDAL's State of the Union: The Nation's Essays 1958-2008
GORE VIDAL's State of the Union: The Nation's Essays 1958-2008
Price: £4.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Radical reflections, beautifully written, 17 Feb. 2015
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The main thrust of the collection is a series of reflections on American political life, focusing really upon the global impact of US policy over the last fifty years. The last essay was dated 2005. The central point which he returned to again and again was that the US is essentially a one party state with two right wings. He dubs this the "property" party, because the essential theme is the preservation of the property of a few.

He characterises the nation from its earliest times - there are numerous flashbacks to what the founding fathers, notably Thomas Jefferson, said, and the prophetic nature of it - as moving very quickly from being a democracy to an oligarchy. Power is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of families. In modern times, this is characterised by a number of large corporations. He has stated elsewhere that whoever becomes president has been bought ten times over, and this sets the template really for the sameness which characterises American politics over the last half century.

An essential method by which power is retained is by demonising groups inside and/or outside society. The blacks, the freedom fighters of Latin America, tyrants in the shape of Gadaffi and Saddam Hussein and latterly, bin Laden and the Islamic terrorists of the middle east. Which was are or are not morally justified seems to be a side issue. He cites examples of wars or "interventions" which the US has made which were ostensibly because the government was not to their liking.

He points notably of the overt - previously it had been more covert - justification of the pre-emptive strike policy on the grounds that the mere existence of a particular regime, if it doesn't fit the "right" profile, has to be removed. It was relatively easy in the days when you could just use the word "communism", but now the excuses have to be many and various.

He characterises the US "Empire" which has grown up, based upon the ethically sound sounding justification of the spread of democratic freedoms, masking the spread of US business interests and doing little or nothing to change the lot of the people at the bottom. As Orwell said in the Goldstein section of "1984", the power changes are between the inner and outer party (the middle and upper class) but the proles (proletariat) remain the proles.

This is the essential political critique in the book I think, and it is interspersed with characterisations of individuals and groups of people who have upheld this over the years. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon (of course), Reagan, Clinton and the Bushes all get a nod in the wrong direction. The extent to which the outcomes of elections were engineered using the law to discount votes if it looks like the result might go the wrong way, is deeply disturbing. In one essay, he notes that being "Radical" is about trying to go back to the roots of an issue: "liberal" is pertaining to the free man. He notes that both these words have become words used scathingly now in US politics, because they examine too closely the nature of what is. He notes that in the US, the package is better-boxed than in previous one-party states. It rests upon the belief that you can make it to the top (whereas the Chinese know they can't), and even thought the percentage who escape poverty is small, the dream is enough to keep a sort of stability.

The essays are beautifully written ad together I think paint a coherent picture. Sardonic humour, asides into other matters (The Birds and the Bees), make it a light read, with deceptive depth and honesty. There is a bit of bitching about colleagues, but not enough to spoil the thing, and when you have finished reading it, you carry on thinking. I think that might have been the point.


Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in
Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in
Price: £6.16

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent advice for the negotiator, 30 May 2014
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I have learned about two thirds of what the book advises through years of experience, but the systematic way it is presented is excellent. The other third were things I felt I ought to have worked out but didn't. The authors give excellent advice, outlining the value of principled negotiation over bargaining and taking positions, emphasising the importance of focusing on the issue, not the individuals involved. The rationale for this is explained thoroughly and ample examples are given to illustrate the points. I found myself casting the principles into my own context (education) which you may do if you come to this book in frustration from your own experiences which is, I think, a good way of taking this book from theory to practice. The authors have clearly developed their insights from reality, and the chapters at the end, which are a sort of FAQ of what they have expounded in the body of the volume, are again a good way of moving the principles to reality in the readers' minds. A very good read, and I would recommend it.


Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi [Previous Generation]
Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi [Previous Generation]

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My third Kindle, and the best, 23 Jun. 2013
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I first bought a Kindle keyboard, then the new more compact kindle, and lastly the kindle paper white with touch screen. It really does appear that the developers have thought about how to move the device forward. Whilst all the kindles have a superb screen for reading in all lights, the lack of illumination without an external light was a problem sometimes. The Paperwhite makes the screen visible in the dark - and you can adjust the brightness very precisely - but if set properly, doesn't dazzle you. You can set it so that it is like reading an ordinary kindle in all lights if you wish - which I think is very restful on the eyes. The font resolution has improved, but on normal books it doesn't look much different to the naked eye, unless you massive fonts. I prefer bigger than average fonts given my age, and I have to say that this, for me is one big reason for liking the kindle in general. There is nothing more off putting than seeing a book you want and then finding the font is too small for comfort.

One thing that the developers ought to consider I think. With the touch screen, it really does become a rather useful notebook. I think there ought to be good software development for a very simple word-processor for creating and storing text files, just like on the PC/MAC. [NOTE: You can create a word document containing just numbers, email it to your kindle, and then when you open it attach a note to each number. When you create notes, there is predictive text, like on a smartphone! These save in My Clippings and you can download them when you connect to your computer, as this is a standard text file.] How difficult could it be to smooth this out a bit and make it a bit more user friendly? Given the battery life, those of us who like to make notes when on a journey, or keep diaries, this device is potentially a much much better vehicle for writing on in these circumstances than smart phone, tablet or laptop. Boots up instantly, closes down almost instantly, can be seen in any light, power efficient, silent, portable, light. Have I made a case?


Eric Clapton: The Autobiography
Eric Clapton: The Autobiography
by Eric Clapton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eric reflects on himself, 5 Jun. 2012
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I very much enjoyed this book. It was refreshing to read Eric Clapton's assessment of himself, and throughout you get the impression that he is a little embarrassed to tell us some of the things he does, written as it is from the perspective an older, sober and settled man, happy with his life. But he doesn't pretend that he is misunderstood or that others are to be blamed for his excesses - he takes it on the chin. There is no attempt to gloss over the bad bits, and the story tells us that what a person becomes depends on the whole of life, warts and all. It is something that age teaches most of us. The book is very moving in part: the passages leading up to his full realisation that he needed help and those concerning the death of his son stand out in particular. Eric seems to have been a true Journeyman, bringing his passion for the little known dimensions of blues music into the mainstream. His hero Robert Johnson would be well pleased with this story. It could be a blues song. An honest and open life-assessment, and in case Eric reads this - thanks.


The Tyndale Bible: A Facsimile
The Tyndale Bible: A Facsimile
by David Daniell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £30.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I am still here", 16 Jan. 2012
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As the ghost of William Tyndale taps the folio leaves of the King James Bible, these are the closing words of David Edgar's play for the RSC "Written on the Heart" which is about the relationship between the translation of the 1611 King James Version translators and Tyndale's. 84% of the King James version of the new Testament is unaltered Tyndale, which is perhaps a better review than I can write. This is a lovely book, with facsimile pages of the original. The English is not easy to read, as it is somewhere between Chaucer and Shakespeare in density, but quite easy to work out. Given the size, which approximates the original, I had to use a magnifying glass or reading lamp - but don't let this put you off. It is wonderful to see the English language in a period of transition. The humanism of the language is so refreshing, and he really was trying to make a translation which would speak to the reader, whilst retaining great intellectual integrity with the text. Much of it was translated in a small cell by candle light and smuggled out by sympathisers. You hold in your hand a book the ownership of which, in those days, was punishable by death! If there were six stars, this book would get them.


Pascal's Fire: Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding
Pascal's Fire: Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding
by Keith Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An alternative view to Richard Dawkins, 4 Aug. 2010
In this book, Keith Ward discusses the view that belief in God is a valid, perhaps a more valid, starting point for engagement in scientific investigation than that of the non-believer. The book seems to be written as an apologetic in the light of Dawkins' popular and influential recent anti- religious polemics, most notably The God Delusion. It is well written and accessible to the general reader, although he does presuppose some familiarity with philosophical and theological terms. There is a thorough bibliography and index which mean that the interested reader can follow the selection of evidence for themselves, in whole or in part.
He looks at a wide range of current scientific theories, and explains how they are not incompatible with belief in God, and that speculation on such things as other universes, non-materialistic explanations of matter, such as quantum theory, may fit with what religions have said all along. By the end of the book he doesn't answer the question which everyone wants the answer to: can we prove there is a God in the same way that we can prove that the table is in front of me? Can I do an experiment which shows there is a God, which can be replicated for anyone who wants to know the answer, as sulphur turns red when you heat it in a test tube?
The reader of this book or Dawkins' book, will come to either with a frame of mind which will determine who they believe. On the very last page, Ward says: "In the end, however, without personal experience of transcendent mind and without some experiential evidences of such a mind in history (what the religious call 'revelation'), this will simply remain speculation." "This" being the book's assertion that it is reasonable to see compatibility between the discoveries of modern science and belief in God. The interpretation of the subject matter of science in such a way that it does not seem incompatible requires a religious outlook in advance. This quotation could have also been put on the first page of the book as well as the last, as it underpins the argument.
The conclusions Ward draws are not the result of logical steps provided by his reviews of scientific understanding in the main body of the book, but they are a reasonable, credible and fair interpretation of a selection of evidence. Dawkins, it has to be said, also draws a reasonable conclusion which is that his selection of evidence does not give us any reason to suppose that there is a reasonable ultimate mind behind it all. Both present their arguments as though they are the right interpretation, of course.

If we were to imagine that the material we select to support an argument are like pieces of scaffolding which we join together to make a tower, the aim of which is to reach our conclusion. The actual scaffolding poles we select are those which will make the type of tower we want to build, and which will take us to a place which we believe is there already. It is no surprise, then, that we find it. Dawkins and Ward take different scaffolding poles and construct different "ladders". Dawkins builds his up the side of mount improbable, and Ward's leans against mount probable. They both select reliable subject matter and they both show that it could be pointing in a particular way, but that is more down to the selection than to a specific demand which the data puts on them to point itself in their chosen directions. The view you have in advance, or the selection and interpretation you prefer. will probably determine who you go with.

One other issue is that although Keith Ward does make a case for theism, in that the sense that the idea of God may be interpreted as being in accord with modern scientific findings: but I am unclear how you get from this to what most of us would recognise as religion. Religion is filled with very specific ideas about God. Christians not only believe that there is a God, but there is God of Love, and that Jesus was this love in flesh form. I'm not going to defend this here, as it is a faith statement, based on the revelation of the New Testament: but, Keith Ward does make a jump from what he calls the "ultimate mind" to God as a moral being, made known through personal interactions - in the light of revelation. How is this compatible with science? In this respect perhaps he goes a step too far.

On balance, I think Ward gives a far less partisan account than Dawkins, and he more gently suggests what may well be, rather than calling those who don't see it his way as being delusional. For those who have read Dawkins' The God Delusion and want a set of counter arguments which too engage with science at a serious level - and make a reasonable case for God - I would recommend that you read this book.


The Castle In The Forest
The Castle In The Forest
by Norman Mailer
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Explaining Hitler, 24 Aug. 2009
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I didn't quite know what to make of this book after a few chapters, but persisting with it, I found it compulsive reading. You do have to remind yourself that it is a novel, as, apart from the narrator's explanations of his own role, it reads like a biography of the Hitler family - mainly his father Aloyes- up until Adolf's early adolescence. Norman Mailer really explores in perhaps the only way you can - a novel - as the history will never explain it - some of the background to why Hitler thought and acted the way he did. It doesn't go for the usual psychoanalytical approach, and a great deal of what actually was significant is left for the reader to determine. But the skill of the writer is that he does draw you in (I was fascinated by Hitler's father's "lectures" on bees), and you find yourself trying to piece it together. As one of Hitler's secretaries said in her memoirs, you can't reconcile the charming man with the monster that was Hitler no matter how hard you try. This is not an easy novel to read, but it rewards effort, and I think in time to come, that this might be seen as a book to rival his previous best.


The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine
The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine
by Alister McGrath
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

6 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dawkins Delusion, 13 July 2009
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This book is a short, concise and quick-to-read version of the more substantive "Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life" by the same author. The main thrust of the arguments are here, and I have the impression that people wanted a version of the longer book which could be easily absorbed by those wishing to counter Richard Dawkins' argments, such as members of church groups. It does have the feel of a tract or pamphlet. I wanted to read some considered counter-arguments after reading The God Delusion, which is not a good book if it is the only book on religion you have read. I think that the arguments in this book easily identify the weaknesses of The God Delusion, which is its main purpose. Personally I prefer the longer book but this one is simpler, concise and more accessible and is entirely consistent with the more fully explored arguments found in the the more substantive volume.


The God Delusion
The God Delusion
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The God Delusion, 13 July 2009
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This review is from: The God Delusion (Hardcover)
The God Delusion is well written, and Richard Dawkins extends the same literary skill we see in his other more scientific books such as The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. I wanted to read this books to see what arguments he put forward in support of the view that the idea of God is a product of the power of human minds to convince themselves of the truth of something without the supporting evidence. Where he succeeds I think is that he easily demolishes the more bizarre aspects of belief and practice, and shows in the tradition of serious philosophers of the same persuasion such as Ludwig Feuerbach, that many religious positions are psychological in origin. Where he is not so successful is that he tends to be factually inaccurate in some of his supportive quotations, or he takes them out of context. He uses sound-bites divorced from their place in a well-worked out argument - which is always ill advised. Another area of weakness is that he only really argues about extreme religious expressions which most serious students of religion dismiss anyway. Ironically, the point he does not "win" is the simple point of whether God exists or not. As his major critics have pointed out, the existence or non-existence of God is not "provable" either way. I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it, but if you read it, don't make it the only book you read about religion, as, despite being well written, with more reflection and thought the arguments are not as convincing as they first appear.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 9, 2010 7:16 PM GMT


Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
by Justin Pollard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alfred the Great by Justin Pollard, 1 Sept. 2008
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This review is from: Alfred the Great (Paperback)
This book was my main vacation read this year, and I found it to be outstandingly good. Well written, historically accurate but never losing the story, which made me want to keep reading. What came over to me was the relative humanity, spirituality and phenomenal intelligence and intuition of the man, breaking the mould of the usual push, rush and massacre military style of the age. What particularly moved me was that the epithet "Great" came about in the sixteenth century on account of his literary works and translations, not that he created the framework of England, which we see diluted even today. "In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated, and in prosperity a man forgets himself; in hardship he is forced to reflect on himself, though he be unwilling." (Alfred the Great) A psychologist or a ninth century Saxon King? Read this book.


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