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Revolution
Revolution
by Russell Brand
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.45

23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wake-Up Call, 8 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Revolution (Hardcover)
Joseph Campbell, who Brand quotes throughout his book, once wrote of that despair one feels when one has climbed the ladder of life only to find it was against the wrong wall. Brand publicly ascended a simiar ladder of addiction, consumerism, celebrity - and in 'Revolution' uses that same celebrity to warn us that it leads to nothing.

Why some reviewers criticise his elevated status is beyond me - would a similar volume from a 'nobody' have reached such a large audience as this book? No. And if it had might we then have looked upon his/her dismissal of fame and wealth as sour-grapes? Yes. Surely his rallying cry that we have been duped by a greed-driven materialistic ideal is more powerful precisely because it comes from someone such as Brand who once courted fame? Brand makes the same argument for James Goldsmith's turnabout regarding capitalism - such an about-face is made all the more poignant when it comes from within the ranks of the establishment.

This book ultimately is a self-effacing monograph on one man's disillusion with western materialist culture and his journey towards a more spiritual mindset. And why should not someone with such a high public profile use their notoriety to attempt to get his message across? That, after all, is pragmatism, not greed (as he says in his book all profits are going to fund co-operative ventures, not to line his own pockets.)

The book is very readable, candid and funny - the humour is mostly aimed at Brand himself; the humour is necessary for it outlines a number of injustices in our society, and it would easy to become enraged - yet Brand tempers this to good effect, arguing that any revolution would need to a) be peaceful and b) to begin within the individual as an act of spiritual re-alignment. Yes - Brand does not shy away from terms such as 'spiritual' or 'God' - this is not something I had expected, and I would imagine some might find it uncomfortable, but it is one of the strengths of the book.

Another strength is that it introduces the ideas of such as (the above-mentioned) Campbell, and Chomsky to a larger readership.

No, Brand does not spell out a formula for 'revolution'; this is not a primer on how to become the next Che Guevara. It is enough for him to lead people to ask questions about their own position in society, their complicity in a corrupt and ultimately environmentally suicidal system - because it is only able to continue with our compliance.

Brand, to write this book, has had to stick his head above the parapet. The number of nagative reviews of this book show this as a brave act (the majority are aimed at deriding him as a man, rather than his words); the penning of the book is, rather, an act of generosity by a genuinely open-minded and compassionate individual who having reached the top of the ladder of western materialism is telling the rest of us who struggle to mount it, that it leads to disillusionment and emptiness.

Some people think Brand's funniest joke is the man himself, that he is some kind of loquatious clown; yet in the trickster myths of the Native Americans (that Campbell loved)it is the heroic fool who is the ultimate bearer of the truth, and whose inane and scatalogical acts bring about redemption from a state of life-denying stasis. In many medieval tales it is the fool alone who dares tells the truth to the king. Love him or hate him, Brand has something to say. Others may have said it before, but perhaps not so personally nor candidly, nor with such self-effacing humour.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 9, 2014 9:54 AM GMT


Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.00

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book of many parts, 24 May 2014
I expect the publication of this volume will strike some as a purely money-making exercise, especially given J R R Tolkien's reticence in pubishing the translation during his lifetime - but one has only to read his thoughts on translating the poem to see that his reticence was mainly due to not wishing to produce something that might 'replace' reading Beowulf in its original Old English.

Arguably Heaney's translation is one that can be read alone, capturing the essence of the original - yet it isn't necessarily true to the original - for one cannot preserve both meaning and a sense of real poetry in a translation. One has to be sacrificed. John Porter's word-for-word translation gives us a literal meaning, yet it is hardly (nor is it meant to be) an easy read. What Tolkien's translation does is to preserve the original meaning yet in such a way as it is not hidden by poetic flourish. In other words it is an ideal translation for student, scholar or interested lay-person - but wouldn't necessariy make the best read for someone with a passing interest. This is because Tolkien never meant it to be so - it was a workman-like translation that was never meant to replace a reading of the original. If you want the proper metre and poetry of the original then one must read it in the Old English, for to read a modern poetic 'version' ike Heaney's one necessarily loses out on meaning.

In my view Tolkien's translation is that middle ground - readable yet informative; a translation of a great poem rather than a great poem itself - but even so very well written, and truer to the original than any other popular translation. On a personal note, as one who has researched the poem, I wish it had been to hand when I was writing my own book.
What's more I wish his notes had been available, too. These form the most interesting part of the work - a briliant analysis of the poem 9crafted by his son Christopher) out of Tolkien's lecture notes from his teaching days at Oxford. One is greeted with not a dry commentary but great insights, as one might expect from a man who championed the poem when others questioned its quaity.

If you are interested in the poem and it's history, then the book is a must; if you're interested in Tolkien's ideas and wish to see how the poem influenced his fiction, the clues are here too. The inclusion, after all this, of his Sellic Spell, a reconstruction of the 'folktale' behind Beowulf, which he argues became emeshed within historical events to become the poem we know today, is a real bonus. It reads ike a Grimm's fairy tale. I loved it. After this come two variants of a poem based on Beowulf - both of which are of interest.

If i have any criticisms they are that I wish an Old English version of the poem had been placed alongside the translation, as often the Old English is referred to in the commentary, and one feels a loss that the original is not present (and I'm sure Tolkien would have wanted wider public access to the original poem - luckily the Sellic spell does come in an Old English version, too); also I wished that we could have seen the complete set of lecture notes, though what does appear is more than adequate. His lecture 'Beowulf:The Monsters and the Critics' would aso have made a good inclusion - but thebook is hefty enough as it is, and both this essay, and Beowulf in Old English are widely available. My advice would be to get hold of a copy, and then let Tolkien be your guide in to its mysteries, for in my opinion there is no better guide than this man whose love for the poem shines through on every page of this book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 24, 2014 12:28 PM BST


Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3)
Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3)
by Alan Garner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heir to the Gawain poet, 31 Aug. 2012
Well, I couldn't wait any longer, and have just devoured Alan Garner's 'Boneland' in one sitting. And my thoughts? This is a difficult thing to write about. Would I recommend it to others? Certainly. But with reservation - for it is a book that has many resonances for me on a personal level that I wonder if anything I say would be relevant for anyone but myself. Here the job of reviewer seems questionable. What use is it for me to talk about my experiences of a book, when, arguably, the book is more than words on a page - a novel exists in the mind of the reader, and it is fleshed out by what the reader brings to it. There is no such thing as a novel as a separate entity, utterly objective, that can be read without us projecting something of ourselves into it. But I'll write about my experiences of it, for what it's worth. You may, and will, read a very different novel.

I read the Weirdstone of Brisingamen when I was in my early 30's - not as a child, and I found it to be the work of a man in his twenties. I enjoyed it, but I found the mixture of Saxon and Celtic myth jarred somewhat. Having immersed myself in myth for the previous 15 or so years I found it unsatisfying mythically. But I recognised Garner as a good storyteller - just not as captivating as I may have done if I had read it as a child. The Owl Service, though, was leagues better - a more complex and mature work. Thursbitch I found the work of a genius. Garner did not need to write of elves and wizards to bring the landscape to life; Thursbitch's supernaturals were more deeply rooted in the land, more real; it was as if garner had realised how to portray the numinous without having to turn to the stock figures of fairytale. Boneland, being part three of the Weirdstone trilogy, then, had me (wrongly) worrying in anticipation that he would feel the need to return to the old style. But I needn't have worried. The book is more like Thursbitch or Strandloper than any of the Weirdstone books; indeed, it sits almost as a sister to Thursbitch, both in tone and in plot.

Like Thursbitch there are two stories in one (although this isn't a fair description - there are two timelines, melting into each other rather than two distinct plots). The first (in time) tells of a prehistoric man in the age of the painted caves, basically a shaman, obsessed with keeping the world in existence through his art and rituals, and dreading his own passing lest this knowledge be lost; his quest resembles that of John Turner in Thursbitch whose strange fate in embroiled in the attempt to keep the year turning ('summer hangs in the balance tonight'). The second story has Colin Whisterfield, the boy from the Weirdstone series, who is trying to find his lost sister, and who suffers a breakdown through which he is helped by a psychiatrist named Meg - these pair form the equivalent to the two modern-day protagonists of Thursbitch; indeed we see similar exchanges between the two concerning the movement of the earth's crust and our place in the cosmos. But I'm not going to tell you what happens, obviously, perhaps, for a start, because what happens isn't easily told - Garner's tales are elusive at best.

There's a lot of Garner's personal story in the book - like Colin, Garner suffers from manic-depression, and has described elsewhere (The Voice that Thunders) his own analysis under a maverick psychiatrist. Here it is given a fictionalised form, and it is the relationship between doctor and patient that knits the story together. Colin is a complex character - his dance from highs to lows is described eloquently; his moments of openness and revelation touching - especially the story of the crow...

But what struck me was the resonances with myth and legend and the geography of the area of Cheshire in which Garner has set the bulk of his books. And here's where you'll either love the book or hate it, depending on what you bring to it. For as a novel it was mysterious, rich, melodious (his writing has a musical quality, full of rhythm and repetition) - holding one's interest, as well as igniting the senses (I've never fancied cheese and wine as much as reading one of the scenes in this book - mind you, try reading the desert scenes in Strandloper without having to drink lots of water!). But what I most enjoyed were the veiled references to older traditions and poems - and here I'm at an advantage. having studied, and loved, the works of the Gawain poet, I recognised nuances in the plot based on his works, but also whole phrases taken straight from the poems that most, I fear, would miss. And this would be a shame, as the meaning of the phrases give the events they are describing within the novel a greater depth and pathos, which otherwise might be missed. The novel reads well without them, but to see them adds a whole extra dimension. I'm thinking about references to the poem 'Pearl' in a passage in which Colin hears the voice of his sister (and which brought a lump to my throat) and especially a number of descriptive passages that resonated with events in Gawain and the Green Knight (the sharpening of an axe being one such moment). Garner really is the modern-day heir to the Gawain poet.

It's a book that is rich in ideas, too - you can tell that masses of thought and research have gone into it, yet it wears that research lightly; he'll mention something about the stars, which adds colour to the story, yet to a researcher like myself I know has not been nonchalantly tossed onto the page - for instance an idea of the age of certain constellations - whether man knew of the Hunter (Orion) and the pursued maidens (Pleiades) before he had left Africa, which I found enthralling.

It's a book I think I shall begin again, immediately - for like good music the point is not to get at the end and find out what happens, but to immerse yourself in the experience. Garner doesn't do twists or reveals; the story isn't really separate from the weave of words - yet there was one point where, in the story of the stone carver, the shaman, that I was wrong-footed.

And the 'point' of the book? Is there a 'media-friendly-sound bite' that one can give to summarise what it is about? No - not really, except perhaps this: Don't confuse myth with reality (as myth is far more important) and that sometimes the answer to a question is not what you might have wanted or expected, but it is an answer all the same... John Grigsby (...)
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2014 6:40 PM BST


Sphinx Mystery: The Forgotten Origins of the Sanctuary of Anubis
Sphinx Mystery: The Forgotten Origins of the Sanctuary of Anubis
by Robert Temple
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.00

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solving the Riddle, 22 Jun. 2009
At the end of the nineties a plethora of books were produced claiming to solve the 'riddle' of the Sphinx. All now need to be re-written or totally discarded in light of the evidence that Robert (helped by his wife, Olivia) Temple have unearthed on this issue.

I was lucky enough to meet the Temples in Egypt over a decade ago, when the first question of 'is it a lion?' was first aired by them. I was currently working as a researcher for Graham Hancock whose own view was that the figure represented the constellation of Leo. This put me in the 'other camp' but the first nagging doubt was put in my mind then, and after reading 'The Sphinx Mystery' I am now convinced of the validity of the Temple's argument that suggests the Sphinx was originally a giant statue of the dog-headed god Anpu (Anubis) - guarding the Giza necropolis just as Anubis guarded the Egyptian Netherworld.

The Temples bring much reasoned, intelligent and logical arguments from both archaeology and textual analysis to prove their point - but in doing so answer the question of 'water weathering' on the Sphinx by the ingenious (and textually supported)conclusion that it was once surrounded by a moat of water. What's more - a wealth of historical research reveals a number of eye-witness accounts dating back centuries of chambers under the Sphinx - accounts that have been ignored or just never looked for by other authors writing about such secret chambers. The research in the book is solid, wide-ranging and thorough, and many translations of these 'lost' accounts are provided for future scholars in the book's appendices. The chapter on the face of the Sphinx is another tour-de-force - its conclusions are flawless.

Don't be fooled by the title - the Temples' mass of original research includes more than just a re-appraisal of the Sphinx itself, but also the whole symbolic 'plan' of the Giza plateau and how both relate to the imagery of the netherworld journey as described in the pyramid texts.

The book is weighty, and rich with annotated illustrations - but it is not a light read. The arguments that are put forward are fully supported with research (in a traditional academic style) - yet the author's tone is personal, at times acerbic or shocked (especially when commenting on the deficiency of other scholars research) which will either delight or enrage depending on which side of the academic fence you stand! I found the book stimulating and original - and on a number of occasions the evidence presented made me say aloud 'of course!'. I cannot look at the Sphinx the same way again - my perception has been changed. Scholarly, intriguing, astonishing, entertaining and ultimately idea-changing this is a rare and brilliant book!

John Grigsby (author of 'Beowulf and Grendel')
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2011 1:41 AM GMT


The History of Britain Revealed
The History of Britain Revealed
by Michael John Harper
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll never think of history the same way again!, 22 May 2003
M J Harper's book, like most incendiary devices, is slight, neatly packaged, and easily missed on the shelves. Like other incendiary devices it too delivers a deadly blow - this time, however, to the cherished halls of academia.
What is the book about? Basically it is a book about history - British History, but one that questions the very foundations of what we were taught at school and continue to be taught by people such as Simon Schama.
It doesn't, like many 'alternative history' titles, argue for Lost Civilisations or alien influences - it merely suggests the simple notion that the English language is older than previously thought.
Simple! The problem with 'simple' notions is they slip easily into the brain and begin to take root. I began reading the book armed with a pen, underlining sentences - putting exclamation marks in the margins - all of a derogatory nature...for the book challenges the very essence of our historical paradigm - one reacts with immediate defence. No - it can't be true!
But Harper's wit and humour (a reason for reading the book by itself!) eventually begins to wear those defences down in a way an overly academic author could not.
You begin to ask - 'what if?' What if the derivation of modern English from Anglo-Saxon was just a theory concocted by linguists that could actually be shown as illogical? What if the English language never ousted the Celts from England because the Celts had never occupied it?
If you want to lose some sleep then read this book. If you don't agree with the theory Harper presents then at least experience the intellectual thrill of challenging everything you thought was true about our linguistic origins.
For Harper presents the reader with a number of anomalies regarding the English language that seem to show that the orthodox view of its development simply does not add up. Why does English flout a number of hard and fast linguistic rules - rules which would not be broken if Harper's theory were true - that far from being a derivative of a number of languages English lay at their origin.
I find Harper's book unsettling. It's like Poe's Raven. It sits on my bookshelf uneasily. It demands to be thoroughly thought through. I try to ignore it but it's futile. One day I'll have to face it's implications. Nevermore! Nevermore!
John Grigsby (author of 'Warriors of the Wasteland')


Cecilia's Vision
Cecilia's Vision
by Tim Armstrong
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Visionary Book, 15 July 2002
This review is from: Cecilia's Vision (Paperback)
It is rare these days to read a book that inspires one to further investigate the topics and historical period that it deals with - Cecilia's Vision is such a book. Packed with murder, intrigue, and heresy, it is a brilliant evocation of a lost age, cunningly entwined with a palpable sense of mystery.
The characters are as rich as the mercurial storyline itself; and most importantly it is an enjoyable read!


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