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Rowland Nelken (Nottingham, England, UK)

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Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism of Karl Marx (Penguin Classics)
Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism of Karl Marx (Penguin Classics)
by Karl Marx
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.99

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marx at his best - writing to order and to deadlines, 22 Sep 2009
In the 1850s the USA was still regarded by European radicals as 'The Land of the Free'. The left had yet to learn that America's concept of freedom was to be a world away from theirs. In these articles Marx is able to appeal to his American readers by reminding them of the iniquities of the Old World they had left behind; a world where inherited privilege and the clergy still held sway.

Only occasionally does Marx's tiresome, and now thoroughly discredited, historicism intrude. We get instead, a picture of the way that 19th century technology, with its railroads, steamships and the telegraph was making the world smaller. New global ties were breaking down the old bonds of feudalism and family.

Marx was not an on the spot reporter; he was based in London. His reflections on the disgrace that was the Chinese Opium War, the tragedy of the Highland Clearances and the misery that brought about industrial unrest in Lancashire are filled with passion and anger as well as sober, if contorted, reflection.

One piece on China shows how vastly that vast land has changed in the ensuing 150 years. The brutal, and futile, attempts of the British to open up Chinese markets to Lancashire's textiles are shown to be not only barbaric, but ridiculous. The Chinese clothed themselves quite adequately, Marx averred, by virtue of their home looms and spinning wheels, so had no need to import any cotton.

That the world has changed vastly, and not remotely in the manner that Marx so confidently predicted, takes nothing away from the lively style of the writing, and the insights these articles provide into a vanished age.
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 7, 2013 3:47 PM BST

The Great Year: Astrology,Millenarianism And History in the Western Tradition (Arkana)
The Great Year: Astrology,Millenarianism And History in the Western Tradition (Arkana)
by Nicholas Campion
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astrology - At the root of many belief systems that would deny its validity, 22 Sep 2009
This is a wonderful book. Nicholas Campion is no tabloid astrologer. He realises that astrology has ceased, for centuries, to be regarded as a serious science. In this book he traces its evolution and how its central tenet of cosmic determinism has pervaded Judaism (whose prophets rail against it) Christianity and Islam (whose scholars are at the very least, wary of its claims, and the 20th century evils of fascism and communism.

When, however, he debunks 'progress theory' as yet another recycling of the same 'Paradise Lost to Regained' myth, I believe he over reaches himself. It is surprising that a man with his historical knowledge and perspective cannot put himself in a position of the millions whose lives were (and often still are) no more than a struggle for survival.

By making the considerable effort to write this book Campion has demostrated a faith in some sort of progress. He must believe, surely, that a wider understanding of astrology will be of benefit to us. My understanding has certainly progressed thereby. Thank you, Mr. Campion.

The Pursuit Of The Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages
The Pursuit Of The Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages
by Norman Cohn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 16.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly seminal work, 22 Sep 2009
This was one of the most helpful books I have ever read. I had the misfortune to be reared, in part, as a Jehovah's Witness. Whereas most Christian contemporaries celebrated the moral tales and miracles of Jesus, and St. Paul's evangelism, JWs were obsessed with the imminent End of the World. Part of their prophetic scenario involved the chaining of Satan by St. Michael, and his 1000 year banishment, as related in the Book of Revelation. This banishment is the Millennium to which the title refers.

It was quite salutary to discover, in Cohn's book, that apocalyptic obsessions had, for centuries, been central to Christian belief, and not merely the province of whacko fringe movements. This is hardly surprising, given the content of so much of the Bible. The Crusades, and all their bloodshed, we read, were an attempt to fulfil Biblical prophecy.

Cohn describes a whole range of desperate and credulous people, across several centuries, who were persuaded to follow a range of Christian Revolutionaries, who railed against private property and privilege and claimed thereby to be ushering in a New age of Christian purity and Piety.

There are legends also, of the return of the King, not always Jesus, sometimes the Emperor Frederick II. 'Respectable' clerics, like St. Francis of Assisi and Joachim of Fiore, are also highlighted as stirring up apocalyptic fervour.

Some of the prophets, with their ravings against Jews and private property, foreshadow those two evils of the 20th century, Fascism and Communism. Indeed, it was the righteous certainty of members of both those movements that were the book's inspiration. As an Intelligence Officer in the British Army in WW2 Cohn came face to face with true believers in both those destructive movements. 50 years on this book has not dated. Although Islamic Fundamentalism is beyond this book's scope, it is easy to see the parallels with its mediaeval Christian equivalent.

Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog! (Penguin Popular Classics)
Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog! (Penguin Popular Classics)
by Jerome K. Jerome
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Men Behaving Badly in the 1880s, 22 Sep 2009
Very little of note happens in this book, yet it is utterly compelling. I was intrigued to discover that the author had originally intended to write a tourist's historical guide to a stretch of the River Thames. The meat was to be the historical significance of, say, Runnymede and Windsor, together with scenic description. A little of that remains.

At the centre are three city clerks taking afew days out from the office. The book is a celebration of friendship. The men are terrible boatmen. They upset many other river users. They exchange long winded anecdotes about previous trips of their own or of their friends. Their attempts at catering are woeful and their nights cramped and uncomfortable. The jaunt, however, leaves them, as it was designed to do, eminently refreshed and invigorated as they return to London for a night out at the theatre, wearing still their now rather rank and damp clothes.

There is slapstick, but there is also tragedy. Memorable in particular, was the floating corpse of a young woman. The narrator told of her despair at being jilted; at being left with the shame of unmarried motherhod and consequent banishment from home.

The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest
The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest
by Rudolf Steiner
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.95

3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars How can anyone take this book seriously?, 19 Sep 2009
The most peculiar aspect of this peculiar book is that it continues in print, and not purely as a work of historical interest, such as might be the case with a manual of witches' spells or an alchemist's handbook.

Rudolf Steiner created the 'discipline' of 'Anthroposophy', a so called spiritual science, which bears no relation whatever to 'science' as it is generally understood. Indeed it is nothing more than a whimsical invention of Steiner himself, requiring no empirical evidence, no hypotheses and no proofs by experiment.

How else could someone solemnly declare that the author of the Book of Revelation, when envisioning the angel with the fiery feet, was foretelling the advent of Jan Masaryk? He is also unequivocal that the sixth angel's trumpet was sounded in the 1840s.

This book's success and continued appeal and the continued existence of the ridiculous invention of 'Anthroposophy' tell us much about human credulity. They also speak volumes about the tremendous charisma that Rudolf Steiner must have radiated. In his day he drew a global following; he was successful in raising finance for a worldwide network of very successful schools which continue to flourish.

The schools may be fine, so long as they do not teach what is in this book. The ready market for gobbledegook, earnestly delivered, and received without question, is, however, quite disturbing.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 12, 2012 3:41 PM BST

Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist
Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist
by James Lovelock
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A misunderstood scientist, 16 Sep 2009
Before reading this book I had heard of James Lovelock only as someone whom 'serious' people dismissed as irrelevant. Richard Dawkins trashed him and his gaia idea as such obvious nonsense that no explanation of its absurdity was necessary. An acquaintance parroted what I gather to be part of the creed of his particular 'green' cult. His 'green faith' gave him the freedom to reject Lovelock as useless purely on account of his advocacy of nuclear power. I do not know how much of Lovelock's work Dawkins had studied. My acquaintance, however, was never shy of voicing authoritative opinions on works he had never read.

There is certainly something of the old codger in this book. Selective education (Lovelock went to grammar school) and a training as an industrial chemist whilst studying for a degree at evening classes, were, he thought, a far better preparation for a life in science than that acquired by today's graduate whippersnappers.

Although a man of his time, his greatness lies in being able to see above it. Yes, like many intellectuals of his generation he felt drawn to socialism, but realised its limitations in his maturity. Indeed, a rigid socialist system would have made it virtually impossible for him to become a freelance, free thinking, independent scientist. Academic specialisation too, may have prevented his seeing the obvious connections between physics, chemistry and biology which led to the Gaia hypothesis.

In essence 'Gaia' is the realisation that living creatures not only adapt over generations to their environment; they also adapt the environment itself. Like so many innovative ideas it seems so obvious in hindsight. What are coal and limestone but the fossilised remains of organisms, to which remains subsequent life has itself to adapt?

The only irksome Lovelock trait I found was his 'Paradise Lost to Regained' attitude. He waxes ridiculously sentimental about the rural England of his youth and the idealised village community where he set up his first married home. It seems odd that such a broad ranging mind could not see how intensely man made is rural England, even the pre combine harvester, big fields, commuter village England of his boyhood. Indeed, as a prosperous commuting research scientist, he was part of the 'wrecking' mechanism he despised. The interaction of organic life with environment, the essence of Gaia, is convincing. The notion that we are heading for doom unless we radically change is not so persuasive.

A previous reviewer found his admiration for a fellow chemist, one Margaret Thatcher, a contradiction. Lovelock, however, was justified in sharing her impatience with statism, especially when a strike in the NHS caused him unnecessary medical complications.

The book is an inspiration to any scientist who lacks expensive resources. Cheap home made gadgets can provide many tools for research. There is much to learn from this man and this book. Other reviewers have mentioned how difficult he is to categorize. That is the essential charm of this work.

I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing
I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing
by Kyria Abrahams
Edition: Hardcover

26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarity salvaged from horror, 6 Sep 2009
The Jehovah's Witnesses are no ordinary Christian sect. They are a state within a state and their state is a model of totalitarianism. Although they depend on nation states for schools, medical services, roads and the rest, they have convinced themselves that they, and they alone, have been appointed by Jehovah God as his sole earthly representatives.

Members are obsessively reminded that the world beyond their meeting halls and literature is the province of Satan and will, any time now, be destroyed in a terrifying orgy of destruction. The only escape is to become a full member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and to devote all one's time, beyond that required to earn a living, in the service of Jehovah's organisation. This involves regular, carefully monitored and supervised door knocking. Every JW doorknocker mouths a script identical to that dictated by the New York bosses.

Bearing the above in mind, it is hardly surprising that this ghastly outfit leaves a trail of psychological wreckage in its wake. Escape is difficult; it requires a complete deprogramming session of a mind which has been, often for decades, under the absolute control of this detestable cult. Members are ordered to shun as 'apostates' all who choose to leave, even if they are close friends and family.

A huge number of apostates of this minority cult have published their impressions of the JW life. Most are suffused with anger at years wasted in the service of a lie. Kyria Abrahams is obviously angry, but she uses the weapon of comedy to denigrate this disgusting organisation. Dictators often relish anger; ridicule can infuriate the pompous and self righteous. Should any JW boss read this book, they would hopefully cringe inwardly at being portrayed as slaves to such absurdity as is their ever changing doctrine and collection of declared 'Truths'.

Kyria describes how she breaks the JW Christmas taboo by attending a fiend's party and reflects what a shame it is that Jehovah will kill all these nice people at the imminent Battle of Armageddon. She has the strength even to reflect on the comedy of a disastrous, quasi arranged, marriage to a believing JW 'brother'.

This book has already proved a popular read with ex JWs such as myself. Hopefully it will overcome the censorious attitudes of the JW establishment, who frown on all literature not written by their members. I would like to call this book a 'must read' for all those still trapped within JWdom, as well as those currently tempted to join by the cleverly programmed promises of Paradise.

With any luck it may be the catalyst for escape for several still suffering under the cruel constraints of this evil outfit.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 14, 2012 7:32 PM GMT

Opening the Door to Jehovah's Witnesses
Opening the Door to Jehovah's Witnesses
by Trevor Willis
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.74

13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another escape story from this foul cult, and most clearly told., 4 Sep 2009
Trevor Willis is not only a disillusioned and angry ex Jehovah's Witness - there are countless thousands of us - he is also an excellent writer.

Reading this book reinforced my rage against this cruel, self righteous cult. Mr. Willis shows his obvious intelligence by his writing style alone. The world hating, life denying JWs had so captured his youthful mind, that he left school at the earliest opportunity to earn a basic part time living as a window cleaner. That left him plenty of 'free' time to do the Society's bidding.

Like that of every Jehovah's Witness, Trevor's life was consumed in 'spreading the Good News of the Kingdom'. In Witness speak, that means knocking on doors whereby to brainwash others as he had been brainwashed.

This book explains how the organisation has developed since its late 19th century origins in America. It has assumed the role of Jehovah God's sole representative on Earth, and spends most of its time and energy decrying the rest of Christendom as the work of Satan.

The methods by which the JW HQ in New York separate their congregation from the rest of humanity are carefully explained. They have an iron discipline and a ferocious sanction against any member who dares disbelieve, disobey or question. They have bludgeoned their members' minds most efficiently. They are told that Jehovah will kill, at the imminent Battle of Armageddon, all those who do not toe their ever changing line. The members either jump into line, or as thousands continue to do, leave the organisation.

Leaving very often means forsaking friends and family and creating an entirely new life. JW demands are so rigid and time consuming; their propaganda against the whole of society outside their mean little world so effective, that a committed JW will have no remaining ties in the 'doomed and wicked world'.

This is a brilliant guide for outsiders, and would be invaluable for anyone still trapped within. Unlike most good books, however, I would like to think there will be few more like it. When that disgusting organisation folds, as it deserves, there will be no more need to warn the world against it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2012 3:23 PM BST

Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life
Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life
by Joseph Ratzinger
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.95

4 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A most absurd book by a very important person, 3 Sep 2009
If you are seeking a book which seeks to prove that there is truth behind a long held figment of the imagination, this is definitely worth reading. 'Eschatology', the study of the 'Last Things' i.e. Death, Judgement, Resurrection, Heaven and Hell is based not on evidence, hypotheses subjected to experiment or, indeed, any research whatever. The notions stem purely from selections of Biblical verses, written down often as a result of prophetic visions and trances.

When these 'sources' prove inadequate as they sometimes do for this writer - 'Pure Biblicism does not get us very far'- he writes at one stage, Joseph Ratzinger makes up suitable things on the spot. What would any reasonable person make of the following 'conclusions'? - a. Human beings live on 'with the Lord' even before the resurrection - b. This living is not yet identical with the Resurrection which comes only at ''at the end of days'' which will be the full breaking in of God's Lordship over the world'

These ramblings of a deranged mind, no matter how correct and 'educated' the language, would not matter were the author not the Pope - he who proclaims himself to be Jesus' own unique earthly rep.

So long as such peculiar works are venerated, there will continue to be a strong case for a new 'Age of Enlightenment'. Religious obscurantism is wreaking enough global havoc with its current, (hopefully temporary) revival.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2011 7:00 PM BST

The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars
The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars
by Patrick Hennessey
Edition: Hardcover

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An honest and convincing account, 3 Sep 2009
I have never come under fire, but place every faith in Patrick Hennessey's description of the sensation. I was at Sandhurst in the 1970s, and the author conveyed the sheer weirdness of that experience with alarming accuracy. The mind bending tedium, squalor, exhaustion and bad tempers, those dominant features of infantry exercises on English heaths and Welsh hills, evoked so many memories, dormant now for more than three decades. Like Hennessey, I was often puzzled as to how the training might relate to any job an infantry officer might later be charged with.

The author was refreshingly honest too, when describing the job itself, notably in Afghanistan during 2007. Objectively, everyone knows that war is obscene, disgusting and best avoided. That a fire fight can be a thrilling experience seems like owning up to being a sado masochist. Hennessey had established his credit with this reader through his Sandhurst accounts. I can take on trust, therefore, his disturbing descriptions of combat.

Memoirs from WW1 invariably point to the difficulty, or even impossibility, of outsiders understanding the experience, and the paradox of longing for the longed for leave to end. That way the writer can rejoin the only community that does understand; namely the comrades back at the front.

Hennessy's experience was no differrent 90 years on. I could go on; so much rings true. The irritation at journalists and politicians; the clean pressed combat uniforms of those far from combat back at base...I cannot imagine a better account of the war that is currently being fought, and may, we are told, last for decades.

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