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Didier (Ghent, Belgium)

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5.0 out of 5 stars excellent value for money, 15 Feb. 2012
I bought one of these a couple of weeks ago and since day one it has become my favorite kitchen knife: good grip, very sharp, and exactly the right size to do all sorts of cutting (I use it mostly for vegetables). Will it last for years and years? Your guess is as good as mine, but even if it only lasts for a year or two that is still excellent value for such a low price.

No Title Available

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent value, 13 Feb. 2012
I recently bought one of these and - although there's plenty of other quality knives available in the kitchen - find myself using it over and over again. Very sharp, with a good handle, and a practical protective sleeve. Admittedly, this is not the same 5 star quality as a Wüsthof knife for instance, but then again: it's a lot cheaper too, and provides excellent value for its price.

Scanpan Purple Utility knife
Scanpan Purple Utility knife

4.0 out of 5 stars solid & versatile, 13 Feb. 2012
I actually own this knife in a different colour but, working on the assumption that it performs the same in any colour (and why shouldn't it?), am very well pleased with it. It's light, sharp, handles well and is a great all-round kitchen knife. The protective sleeve is very practical too allowing you to store it in a drawer or take with you on a picknick. Excellent quality for a reasonable price.

The Best of Men
The Best of Men
by Claire Letemendia
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars entertaining, but not top-notch, 11 Feb. 2012
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This review is from: The Best of Men (Paperback)
I used to read historical novels by the dozen, of all sorts of kinds (ranging from Bernard Cornwell to Barry Unsworth, Sarah Waters and C.J. Sansom) but then I started reading history books, so it had been a while since my previous historical novel when I picked up 'The best of men'. Perhaps that explains in part why it didn't impress me as I hoped it would? The story and the plot are captivating enough certainly, and a conspiracy to kill Charles I at a time when civil war is raging across England is definitely a fine starting point for a novel.

Our hero Laurence Beaumont -just returned from the Thirty Years' War on the continent - seems the only man in England capable of unmasking the conspirators and saving the king's life, and as a sort of 17th century James Bond he sets to work. In my opinion, too much of a James Bond actually: he is not only of noble birth, wealthy, handsome, intelligent and charming, but whatever you throw at him (torture, hired killers) cannot stop him, and in between thrilling last-minute escapes and brushes with near-death he invariably finds the time in every town he happens to pass through to seduce some or other noblewoman too. There's nothing much wrong with most of the other characters, though many of them remain rather one-dimensional: either through and through 'baddies' (such as Colonel Hoare), or upright and principled to a fault (e.g. Lord Falkland).

This is not to say that I found this book a complete waste of time, on the contrary. The pace is fast and the writing easy, so this is actually a fine book for a sunny day on the beach, or better even: under a warm duvet on a winter's evening.

A Little History of Philosophy
A Little History of Philosophy
by Nigel Warburton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.73

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Admirable introduction to a fascinating subject, 2 Jan. 2012
I have to confess that until very recently I would have been hard pressed to come up with a sensible answer if asked 'what's the use of philosophy?'. But then I read Ben Dupré's 50 Philosophy Ideas (You Really Need to Know), followed by Plato and A Platypus Walk into A Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes (hilarious!) and in the wake of those read Nigel Warburton's book. 'A little history of Philsophy' is probably modelled on Ernst Gombrich's A Little History of the World, and in fact it succeeds admirably in doing for philosophy what Gombrich did for history. In barely 245 pages subdivided into 40 short chapters Warburton chronicles the history of philosophy, from Socrates and Plato to Peter Singer.

Did he omit certain philosophers? I'm sure he did, but then again: this is explicitly a short history of philosophy, and judging it by that standard I cannot find fault with it. Of course, one could argue that as a novice I am hardly in a position to judge, but one thing I can say with absolute certainty: Warburton's book has given me an appetite for more, so Bertrand Russel's History of Western Philosophy (Routledge Classics) is next on my reading list, and surely that is a good thing?

Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720
Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720
by Tim Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.54

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History -writing at its best, 2 Jan. 2012
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I have ever loved reading about English (or rather British) history, and this book was a real treat. Having recently read Jenny Uglow's A Gambling Man (which is, by the way, also a fabulous read) it seemed only logical to continue with 'what happened next': the short-lived reign of James II and the Glorious Revolution. As he states in the introduction Tim Harris set out to accomplish two things primarily with his book: to show that it was domestic political turmoil rather than external factors (i.e. the invasion by William of Orange) that toppled James from the throne, and to demonstrate that the Glorious Revolution was not a 'tame' affair but rather truly revolutionary both in spirit and in outcome. To do so (and according to me he proves both points beyond any doubt) Harris uses a broad social context instead of focusing on the political elite, and takes James' three kingdoms England, Scotland and Ireland into account.

What follows is a superb account of this landmark event in British history, and how indeed James II was king for barely three years, although his succession to the throne in 1685 was greeted with enthusiasm. A fascinating story, and Harris describes it with verve and full of detail. Harris clearly did lots of research into both primary and secondary sources (there's 80 pages of notes to the text) but this massive amount of information never gets in the way of the narrative. Although strictly speaking it is not necessary I wish I had read I had read the companion volume Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms, 1660-1685 first, I'm sure the experience of reading them both in the right order is even more overwhelming.

A truly magnificent book, and for some reason or other I'll never forget the reply from a Scottish cleric Harris quotes on p. 425: 'He that is afraid of a fart will never stand thunder.'!

Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents
Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents
by Professor Tony Judt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A seminal book, 2 Jan. 2012
Tony Judt was clearly a very learned man, with an astonishing range of knowledge and a profound insight in the social and political history of the Western world. How he analyzes 'The Way We Live Now' in chapter one, and 'The World We have Lost' in chapter two demonstrates an astonishing intellect, and what he says about the fall of 'the Left' in chapters 3 and 4 rings very true. Equally so, the suggestions he makes in 'What Is To Be Done?' in chapter 5 seems to me sound advice well worth listening to. The bitterest pill to swallow is perhaps the near certainty that those in power will not read this book, nor - if they do - take its lessons to heart.

A Measure of All Things: The Story of Man and Measurement
A Measure of All Things: The Story of Man and Measurement
by Ian Whitelaw
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Order out of chaos, 2 Jan. 2012
I'm not a very 'scientific' person, and especially all manner of exact sciences are definitely not an area in which I can confidently claim to have some expertise. Nonetheless I picked up this book on a whim recently and once I began reading it I found (not least to my own surprise) I could hardly put it down. What a fascinating story the history of man and measurement proved to be! It is indeed, as Whitelaw writes in the introduction how humankind has tried 'since the earliest civilizations, to impose order on the world'. After a short introductory chapter about systems of measurement the book is subdivided into 10 chapters:
- Length
- Area
- Volume and capacity
- Mass
- Temperature
- Time
- Speed
- Force and pressure
- Energy and power
- A measurement miscellany (measuring firewood, ring sizes, and such more)

There's a very logical progression to the whole story (after all, you have to be able to measure length before you can measure area - even I can see the logic in that), and in each chapter Whitelaw admirably succeeds in describing the fascinating history of the subject, introducing his reader into as miscellaneous matters as the furlong, the nautical mile, a parsec, shotgun barrels, the gauge of railroad tracks, paper sizes, hogsheads and barrels, the kelvin scale, lunar years, the difference between speed and velocity, and so on and so forth...

I'm aware that to some all the above is part of their daily lives and to them this book probably contains nothing that they weren't aware of already, but to me it was endlessly fascinating. Whitelaw succeeds in explaining it all in a very simple manner (i.e. comprehensible to science dummies such as myself) and does so in a charming tongue-in-cheek style. I both learned a lot and was charmed and amused along the way, which is something that until now I only ever experienced with history books.

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer
How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer
by Sarah Bakewell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing biography of a fascinating man, 2 Nov. 2011
Many of us are familiar with the name Montaigne, probably a good deal less of us have read (even partially) his The Complete Essays (Penguin Classics), and how few of us could claim to know the man apart from what he reveals about himself in his writings? This splendid book at the very least will acquaint you thoroughly with Montaigne's life and the different reactions to his Essays throughout the centuries. I found Bakewell's approach in selecting one question ('How to live?') and then subdividing Montaigne's biography in 20 chapters each starting from one of Montaigne's answers to that very question very refreshing. She is clearly very passionate about her subject, has done her research well, and writes in a very lively and fluent style.

Apart from providing one with a lot of information, this remarkable biography (re-)awakened the desire in me to read the Essays themselves, so now they have a permanent place at my bedside, and has I have (re-)discovered: there is no greater joy than reading a couple of pages of Montaigne every now and then before going to sleep (if you can limit yourself to just a couple of pages!).

A splendid book, heartily recommended!

Our Mutual Friend (Oxford World's Classics)
Our Mutual Friend (Oxford World's Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.49

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deep and disturbing novel, 2 Nov. 2011
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This last year I have been engaged in reading all of Dickens' novels as he wrote them, so 'Our mutual friend' should have been the last to read but for some reason or other I skipped A Tale of Two Cities (Oxford World's Classics) along the way. But apart from that it has been a glorious experience and a journey fully worth taking. All of his novels share certain characteristics but also have their own special appeal, and 'Our mutual friend' is no exception.

In fact, I found this novel one of the most disturbing of them all. The plot itself is fairly straightforward: John Harmon has been living abroad for years separated from his miserly father, but now that this father has died John Harmon travels to London to find that even from beyond the grave his father continues to taunt him: in order to inherit his father's vast fortune, John must marry a particular girl (Bella Wilfer). If he does not, he inherits nothing. However, by a freak accident a murdered man is mistaken for John Harmon which allows John to assume another name and personality and observe Bella Wilfer without her knowing who he is: is she worth having? And what if she isn't? Now that in itself is surely a disturbing conundrum, and not just to John Harmon. What of Bella Wilfer? Should she not feel that this will turns her into a sort of product to be bought and sold? If she accepts John Harmon, won't people think she took him for the money? And if she refuses him, will not many consider her a silly girl? Is it still possible to come to an honest decision about a suitor, knowing that you'll be not only marrying him but also his money?

To my mind Dickens explores this theme of 'deceptive appearances' in a masterly way. Many of the other characters in the book also turn out to be not what (or how) they appear at first sight or are altered beyond recognition before the novel is out: members of 'Society' turn out to be bankrupt frauds, the most sarcastic lawyer falls desperately in love with a factory girl, a gentle old man turns into a greedy miser while the proverbial money-grasping Jew is something completely different, and at times it seems there are more gentlemen amongst the poor than in the upper classes.

Which brings me to a second theme: as in many of Dickens' novels, there is also a huge element of social inquiry and criticism. Contrary to what most members of 'Society' in the novel would claim, it seems that having a lot of money is not a prerequisite to be a gentleman or a lady. On the contrary, time and again Dickens shows how money can corrupt, and how those without often (but not always, that would be going too far even for Dickens) have a true morality while the rich do not. This is not to say that all is gloom in 'Our mutual friend'. Indeed, I found it to be one of the funniest novels he wrote, abounding with hilarious characters and laugh-out-loud scenes.

Although his novels are steeped in 'realism' (in the sense that the whole setting and period is brought magnificently to life) I can well imagine that some may think Dickens utterly unrealistic. True enough, the 'good guy' usually 'gets the girl' in his novels (and the good girl also gets her guy). Whether that is a good thing (at the very least it's a comforting thought that things may turn out right in the end) or a bad thing (after all, in real life none of us are born with a guaranteed happy ending certificate) I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that I immensely enjoyed each and every one of his novels, and 'Our mutual friend' is definitely no exception!

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