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The Mountain: My Time on Everest
The Mountain: My Time on Everest
Price: £10.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Curiously flat, 15 Sep 2014
Maybe it's because I actually read the Italian version, but the book felt quite flat, which is odd for something that talks about Everest.

There is no disputing the achievements of Viesturs and his climbing abilities. Its safety record is even more impressive. His determination to make it back to base camp no matter what, even when it means giving up on a summit that is tantalisingly close, might be overlooked, but the long list of even expert guides who stayed too long on the mountain shows that such self-discipline is still quite rare, even among the best.
The raw material is therefore clearly there, but the final result feels too much like a shopping list. Stories from Viesturs' expeditions are alternated with recalls of past climbs, some of them truly otherworldly, but the book never soars, one never feels truly captured by the words.
The best parts are those that deal with the epic ascents from the past, if anything because they are replete with references to other books. As such, this is a valuable resource, a veritable 'must read' list of what the author considers unmissable mountaineering books.
But when it comes to the personal stuff, Viesturs sounds too calculated, too detached, too careful with what he writes. Even specialists aspects of his career, like his fabled fitness, which could give an interesting angle to the story, are overlooked, or get little more than a little nod.
By the final page, one is left with the feeling that this book was written more as a sort of encouragement to read other books from the same author, than to add anything truly new or personal.
For someone who reads about Viesturs for the first time, this might be a good introduction, a sort of guide through his literary production and a quick resume of his stellar career that will encourage further exploration. I suspect people who already know his story and are looking for something more personal and rare, will be disappointed.


Dead Man Talking: Famous Last Words of F. C. Naylor
Dead Man Talking: Famous Last Words of F. C. Naylor
by Luke Sorba
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing curio, 19 Jun 2014
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I have had this book for a long time, and I don't remember anymore why I bought it in first place. Still, I am glad I eventually found the time to read it, because it is an amusing book. It won't have you split at the sides with laughter, although some inventions are quite funny; and it will never become more than a small-cult classic, if that.

The prose is at times quite long winded; these are supposed to be the ramblings of a principled, uncommon man, collected in a weekly column, and at times they certainly read like it. Also, the book takes a few chapters to hit its stride; I am not sure this is the result of the (real) author being unsure of what to do, or a deliberate plot to make the final product more like a real regular feature in one of those oversized newspaper add-ons.

Once it gets going though, it's a book which is very easy to read. Maybe too easy. It would be better, if one has the required self-control, to read the boo one chapter at a time, much as one would read it if it was a real weekly feature in a color magazine. Thus paced, the famous last words of FC Naylor would acquire even more depth and humanity.

Towards the end, the beliefs and feelings of the real author begin to emerge, until the final flourish, where they are presented to the reader without much attempt to keep up the disguise of an old man dying. This earnestness is maybe a bit too obvious, but it's endearing in its own way, and eventually gains an extra star from me.


Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times
Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times
by Hugh Mcllvaney
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting, 29 May 2014
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A simply fabulous read about a truly marvellous individual. Made me wish I was born twenty years earlier, to have the chance to see his fights (in the ring, and outside).


Anschluss. L'annessione. L'unificazione della Germania e il futuro dell'Europa
Anschluss. L'annessione. L'unificazione della Germania e il futuro dell'Europa
by Vladimiro Giacchè
Edition: Perfect Paperback
Price: £14.33

4.0 out of 5 stars History repeating itself, 29 May 2014
Let's get the bad out of the way first: the book can get a bit repetitive in places. Moreover, parts of the book read like someone making an impartial list of facts and consequences, a bit like going through the dry chronicles of some village.

Apart from these minor points, which could probably be sorted out with a bit of editing, the book is well worth reading, although it will probably be painful. The facts described clash almost head-on with the accepted narrative of the German reunification, a story which has always been portrayed as a triumph of goodwill, and a huge sacrifice made by West Germany to help the unlucky eastern bloc brothers.
For those who always believed this version of the story, the reality will bite hard. Because the touted reunification was actually an annexation (hence the title), and what West Germany achieved, deliberately and scientifically, was the complete economic annihilation of a whole country. Those who held a certain opinion of Germany will no doubt be faced with unconfortable truths, and may even be forced to admit that their opinion was at least misguided, an admission which is never painless.

The book makes it very clear that the main tool to achieve the destruction of East Germany's was the monetary union, and in particular the decision of converting the DDR marks at par (in most cases). What happened to the East Germany industrial sector stands as a clear reminder of the lethal consequences of tying a country to a monetary union.

It's here that the book performs another very useful role. The current plight of the non-Germany Eurozone is identical in kind to the one of the DDR. The only difference is in the speed of events; in the DDR's case, the demise of the industrial sector was very rapid, as the real exchange rate appreciated about 300% after the introduction of the Deutsche-Marks. In the eurozone, the appreciation of the real exchange rates has been much smaller, but this only means that the inevitable consequences will need a bit more time to play out. It's actually already happening, with the industrial desertification of great parts of Spain, Greece and Italy (France will be next).

Those who think that the Euro is not the problem, or that another Euro is possible, or simply wonder about the potential outocome of the current crisis, could do well to read this book.


The Fall of the Euro: Reinventing the Eurozone and the Future of Global Investing
The Fall of the Euro: Reinventing the Eurozone and the Future of Global Investing
by Jens Nordvig
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.31

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neat and clear, a bit too timid at times., 9 Dec 2013
This is a very well timed book. As the fabled economic rebound fails to materialise, more and more voices within the Eurozone are starting to question the dogma of austerity, and the rules of the monetary union.

The books explains in very clear terms the mechanics behind the current predicament, although it tries too hard to avoid any harsh political judgment on some facts. Saying that Germany reformed itself and thus gained a competitive advantage is true, but misses the deeper implications. Those reforms aimed at suppressing internal demand, increasing job insecurity, and amounted to a competitive internal devaluation; this is not how an economic union of peer nations it's supposed to work, and it should have been spelled a bit more clearly in the book.

A very important and useful part of the book is spent describing the political risks that will shape the future evolution of the crisis, and in particular the surge in eurosceptic movements which could be well represented in the next European Parliament. Here the author is honest enough to state clearly that a lot of the current establishment propaganda, aimed at countering the growing popularity of movements like the Front National in France, is purely that; an attempt by political figures to protect their huge invested capital in an enterprise that has proved to be deeply flawed, and that has brought untold misery on whole nations.

Another very important part of the book deals with the issue of sovereign debt, and the importance of the legislation under which public debt is issued. It turns out, for example, that the public debt of Italy and France is for the vast majority issued under domestic law, which means that it would be possible to redenominate it in new Francs or new Liras, thus greatly reducing the balance sheet consequences of an exit from the Euro.

The last part deals with the future from an investor point of view, and, according to the introduction, contains some operating ideas. These turn out to be really generic and almost useless; perhaps it was too much to expect a managing director at an investment bank to give away his strategy for the next few years.

Overall, a very clear book, edited to the right length, and containing very little in the way of filler or sub-par material.


They Meant Well: Government Project Disasters
They Meant Well: Government Project Disasters
by D.R. Mydleton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent prose, but too much dogma, 22 Oct 2013
This is a very well written book; clear, concise, to the point and with plenty of data. It's the sort of book that is at the same time informative and easy to read. The author needs to be commended for handling a potentially huge subject in a very focused manner. There are no meanderings and no useless diversions in the factual chapters, the core of each project is examined rapidly and yet thoroughly.

The thing that really grates, at least in my opinion, is the dogmatic content of the last chapter, where the 'lessons' from the failed projects are drawn. Those pages seem lifted straight from a publication like The Economist, such is their stubborn and I would said blind predictability; whatever the problem whatever the circumstances, the answer is always and forever 'more market and less State'.

The author seems to ignore recent history, which has proved that when left to their own unregulated devices, market forces can bring immense misery. Also, the author seems to think that it's possible to have a world where market forces are pure and fair, where market actors are really liable to make a gain or a loss according exclusively to their own ability to play the game. In the real world, I think it has been proved quite well that most market actors are rentiers, who thrive on inside information and the implicit promise that if things go wrong, their losses will be paid for by the community (while the profits are theirs, of course).

So, I think a bit less dogma, a bit more humility from the author would not have gone amiss. Clearly, the projects described were utterly mismanaged. But there is no proof that leaving them to private forces would have achieved a much better outcome; actually, there's plenty of evidence that points out that the results might have been just as bad.

So, five stars for clarity, three stars for the preaching at the end, which gives what I think it's a fair four stars.

IPB


Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in the Middle Taiga
Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in the Middle Taiga
by Sylvain Tesson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Linguistic brilliance wins over storytelling, 21 Oct 2013
The book is a joy to read, literally. The author keeps piling inventive metaphors and surprisingly vivid images on top of each other, assisted by what I think must be a truly excellent translation. The technical writing brilliance overshadows a bit the story itself. There is not much personal insight in the descriptions of the days spent alone in the cabin; actually, the author is not that alone at all, as he constantly receives visits and frequently makes trips around the lake (and beyond).
As the chronicle of six months spent in an isolated place, some repetitiveness is to be expected; on the other hand, there is a lack of tension even when the author describes his solitary forays in the forests and up the mountains, so at times the book reads a bit too much like a matter-of-fact diary.
Having said that, the amount of preparation and the considerable survival abilities of the author are clearly evident, and are an effective reminder that his was a serious achievement.

For me there was also a stellar point in the story; it came towards the end, when the author mentions the 'satori' of a place he's been. It's only three paragraphs, but it's a passage of enormous depth for which I felt a lot of empathy.

It is overall a good book and an excellent read, albeit a bit too restrained at times.

IPB


Where The Wild Things Are
Where The Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too awkward for bedtime reading, 21 Oct 2013
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I find the format and editing of this book very awkward. Some pages only have a couple of words in it, and sentences are spread over more than one page. This makes it difficult to read the book while holding it at the same time to show the pictures to a child. The intonation and rhythm is difficult to keep while the pages are turned. I much preferred a book like A Squash And A Squeeze, where text does not spill over, and each 'stanza' in the story can be read while staying on the same page.
The story is also a bit too sparse.
Overall, a mismatch between what I needed and what the book turned out to be.

IPB


La guida sicura. Tecnica, psicologia e filosofia della guida
La guida sicura. Tecnica, psicologia e filosofia della guida
by Siegfried Stohr
Edition: Perfect Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Un libro da leggere piu' di una volta, 15 July 2013
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Questo e' un libro che va approcciato con le giuste aspettative. E' puerile pensare che basti leggerlo una volta per diventare piu'bravi alla guida. No, la prima lettura serve soltanto a farsi un'idea dei contenuti, e della loro organizzazione.

In seguito, e' meglio selezionare poche pagine alla volta, e cominciare ad applicarne il contenuto alla propria guida, con pazienza. Una volta acquisite le tecniche descritte, si ricomincia, rileggendo altre pagine e aggiungendo ulteriori modifiche al proprio modo di condurre l'auto. In questo modo si avra'il tempo di acquisire e padroneggiare le tecniche descritte dall'autore; molto meglio che cercare di applicarle tutte insieme, e rischiare di fare soltanto confusione.

La descrizione delle tecniche di guida occupa la parte centrale del libro, ne costituisce il ripieno, come in un buon panino. Ma le sezioni di testa e di coda, le fette del panino, sono altrettanto importanti. In particolare, la prima sezione si occupa degli aspetti psicologici della guida sicura. Il messaggio che traspare da queste pagine del libro e' sottile ma fondamentale: la guida sicura e' prima di tutto un atteggiamento mentale. L'autore aggiunge anche due importanti corollarii: tutto cio' che capita quando siamo alla guida e' frutto delle nostre azioni e delle nostre decisioni. E nessuna abilita' tecnica puo' toglierci da un guaio nei quale ci siamo messi per aver ignorato le regole della prudenza e della fisica.

Il libro sara'certamente utile per chi e' gia' arrivato alla consapevolezza descritta nella prima sezione, a chi e' arrivato a rendersi conto che la guida sicura e' un obbligo verso se' stessi e verso gli altri. Chi invece e' ancora allo stadio precedente, nel quale il mezzo meccanico viene usato per proiettare e gratificare il proprio ego insicuro, difficilmente cogliera' l'importanza del messaggio. Anche ammesso abbia la pazienza di appropriarsi delle tecniche descritte, queste non faranno che distorcere ancora di piu' la percezione delle proprie abilita', e probabilmente serviranno soltanto a farlo uscire di strada piu' velocemente.
In altre parole, questo e' libro che mi pare sara' utile proprio alle persone che ne hanno relativamente meno bisogno, ma di questo non si puo' certo dare la colpa all'autore.

All'autore imputo invece una certa insistenza nel decantare le doti dei sistemi di sicurezza BMW, insistenza che lascia un certo gusto amaro di spot pubblicitario in certe sezioni. E' lodevole lo sforzo di rendere un po' meno aride le sezioni tecniche, sforzo i cui risultati sono a volte buoni, a volte meno.

Trovo sorprendente l'omissione della tecnica del punto di fuga per giudicare l'ampiezza delle curve, anche se per gli interessati la lettura di un qualsiasi manuale di guida sicura in moto dovrebbe colmare la lacuna.

I racconti nell'ultima sezione possono far sorridere nella loro ingenuita', ma non fanno che riprendere il contenuto delle sezioni precedenti ed applicarlo a situazioni che sono certamente plausibili. Sono quindi una sintesi importante, da non trascurare.

Nel complesso, un libro che non mi sono pentito di aver comprato, e sul quale tornero' parecchie volte in futuro.

sicuri si diventa, Ride Safe.


Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia
Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia
by Ahmed Rashid
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sense of deja vu., 23 Feb 2013
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There is plenty of information in the book, and it's organised in vertical slices, each one related to a single issue: pipelines, religion, smuggling mafias and so on. This is good, as each single aspect of the Afghan and Taliban story is presented on its own, and fully developed within a single, manageable unit. I think some chapters could even be read on their own.

On the other hand, each 'story' overlaps with the others, so there are scenes or particular events pop up many times, in different parts of the book (for example, the massacre of the Azaras in Mazar-e-Sharif). This gives a feeling of deja-vu (or deja-lu, to be precise).

Luckily, the author provides in an Appendix a very detailed Taliban timeline. I would suggest keeping a bookmark on it, and referring to those pages on a regular basis. In this way, as you go through the chapters, you will be able to place what you are reading in the right context, and see how it relates to what is described in other parts of the book.


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