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Andy (Berkshire, UK)

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Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel (The Culture)
Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel (The Culture)
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first Culture Novel, not quite the best of the genre, but still excellent, 30 Aug. 2010
A gripping sci-fi novel set in the near-utopian Culture universe. This one concerns a war fought by the culture with a race called the Idirans. The plot follows the exploits of a James Bond type character (of the more recent, serious kind) who survives a variety of hair-raising dangers to reach the final chapter where all the strands of this tremendously well-crafted novel come together.

The novel has several sub-plots and self-contained skirmishes, not all of which are critical to the main plot but which are compelling in their own right. I'm told there is also satire and allegory to real-life events; but because it was written in 1987 many are now lost on me, and it doesn't matter if you don't get it.


Stardust Our Cosmic Origins
Stardust Our Cosmic Origins
by Stephen Welch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and easily read account of astronomy, evolution and man's place in things, 15 July 2010
An entertaining and easily read summary of the state of our knowledge in many of the fields of modern science that pertain to humans place in the universe. The author - whom I met selling his book in my local branch of Waterstones - seems to have had a lot of fun researching this work, and his passion for the subject shines through.

Obviously not a big-budget production, the few factual errors are of no consequence in a work of this kind.

The book's level is that of the better BBC documentaries, and there's a small selection of recommended books and authors, from whom Mr Welch obviously gleans much of his material.


London Labour and the London Poor: Selection (Classics)
London Labour and the London Poor: Selection (Classics)
by Henry Mayhew
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.34

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Account of Poverty in 1850s London, 10 July 2010
The outstanding voice within this book is not, in fact, the author's. His prose is, I suppose, typical of the period: convoluted, complex and difficult to "scan". Presumably this was a way an author demonstrated how smart he was.

The authentic voices are those of his subjects, whose accounts of their own lives and those around them have the undoubted air of - nice word this - verisimilitude. He reports at length, and with probably only modest editing, their spoken statements.

It was a hard world, by these accounts; and very easy to slip from modest comfort into utter destitution, from which recovery seems to have been nearly impossible.

This is a highly recommended book, even for those who, like me, gave up history at age 13 and have never regretted it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 19, 2012 8:35 PM BST


And God Created Cricket
And God Created Cricket
by Simon Hughes
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Once I got beyond the first 100 pages, I really enjoyed this, 6 Jun. 2010
Simon Hughes' selected highlights of cricket's history, from about 1300 till the start of 2009. It's a good effort, apparently well researched and with lots of nuggets of historical factoid that were new to me, at least.

My major grumble is that the first 100 pages or so are marred by annoying attempts at "trying to be funny", often in a way that's just plain puerile. Take this example from page 82.

"Three weeks into [the 20th C.] Queen Victoria died (probably of boredom from reading Ranji's book), the whole nation was in mourning after her 63 years sitting on the throne (she must have had terrible constipation), and a BBC newscaster announcing her passing was vilified for not changing his paisley tie for a black one"

Excuse me?

Once we get past, say, 1950 the rubbish mostly disappears. Instead we get first or second hand witness accounts and anecdotes from a writer who has actually lived through the scenes he's describing. Much, much better.


Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Stephen J. Dubner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite as Great as its Reputation, 12 May 2010
This is what happens when a guy who knows how to analyse data and dream up interesting questions, takes a dispassionate look at human behaviour. So, the numbers seem to show that an unexpected consequence of the legalisation of abortion that occurred in the late 60s resulted in a dramatic fall in the American crime rate in the 90s (there were other reasons, but this seems to be the main cause).

This mostly a good read, though many of the American cultural references made no sense to me, and weren't so intriguing that I could be bothered to google them. The long, detailed and boring analysis of American forenames I skipped. We Brits might think we have issues with a static social class system; theirs seems to be just as exasperating, and racially aggravated too.


The Political Animal: An Anatomy
The Political Animal: An Anatomy
by Jeremy Paxman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most Intelligently Observed, 10 April 2010
I once wanted to be a politician (we're talking 25 years ago now). A good friend, who knew both politics and me, said I had no chance: "you're not the type", he told me, dismissively. On the evidence of this book, I was wrong to doubt his opinion and wrong to think the comment was meant as a slight.

This book is an engaging trip through the realities of being a Member of Parliament and / or member of Government. Written in 2002, things have if anything grown worse since then. Every aspiring politician might want to read this.

No solutions are offered to the ever-downward trajectory of politics in the public's esteem. In fact, the weakest chapter is his "afterword", where he opines whether this really matters (it does) and what's to do about it (nothing really).


Matter
Matter
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Yes, it is worth the read..., 2 April 2010
This review is from: Matter (Hardcover)
This is a long book, which took a long time to read. It starts well, before settling into a long middle section which drags a bit. But the conclusion, by contrast, felt rushed (deadlines looming?). Characters are "closed down" in a rather perfunctory way, and I was left with a few loose-ends and unanswered questions; or maybe I missed something (3 months elapsed from start to finish).

Having said all that, this is still a good yarn. I liked the characters, and the storyline is set in the still wonderfully rich Culture universe. It's not as good as his earlier Culture novels, such as Player of Games, but it's a vast improvement on the frankly boring, Algebraist.

Curiously, there's a 17-page (!) glossary of characters and terminology at the back of the book, not all of which I remember from the main text. For example, the childhood nickname of one of the minor characters is recorded; but none of the action takes place in that time, so how do we know? Is it relevant? Did I just miss it? If there had been an index with page references I would have probably used it, and that's because I do still quite like this book.


Smart Chip from St. Petersburg: And Other Tales of a Bygone Chess Era
Smart Chip from St. Petersburg: And Other Tales of a Bygone Chess Era
by Genna Sosonko
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.78

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another excellent book by Genna Sosonko, 16 Jan. 2010
This is another excellent book; not so much about chess so much as the players who play it. Anyone who plays any kind of mind-game will understand the stresses and uncertainties and life-course taken by the players the author describes.

Highly recommended.


The "God" Part of the Brain
The "God" Part of the Brain
by Matthew Alper
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First You Read Dawkins' "God Delusion", then read this to find out why you still "want to believe" anyway, 3 Jan. 2010
I did like and enjoy this book, which lays out its stall scientifically, but without the kind of rigour you would expect from a practising scientist (the author claims to be a contributor to the "emergent new science" of neurotheology, but that's not quite the same).

However, that's not to quibble; you will find many of the "big questions" addressed in this book, most particularly why humans should - across all cultures - have this idea that there is a mystical, supernatural universe that is always just out of reach. Many questions are not answered, but then it is the function of a good book to ask more questions that it answers.


Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel
Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel
by Michio Kaku
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 5 Dec. 2009
I remember now why I did a degree in physics, and that the inspiration for doing that was a single teacher. Michio Kaku has surely inspired many people to devote their careers to physics, judging by this compelling volume.


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