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The Amber Spyglass. (His Dark Materials): Adult Edition
The Amber Spyglass. (His Dark Materials): Adult Edition
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of the trilogy, and an astounding achievement in storytelling., 17 Aug. 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, but positively relished the third. It is rare for me to read a tomb like this so quickly, but I simply could not put it down until I had finished it. The sense of adventure of the first novel is back, but now fully embedded in a series of philosophical (and physical) battles between Authority and various groups and individuals pursuing simple truths about a satisfying life.

I understand that this trilogy (and this book in particular) is criticised by religious leaders, and - having read it - I can see why this would be the case. It is not, however, a novel that is anti religion - filled as it is with battles between various groups of angels, witches, humans and beings from the 'world of the dead'. It is, to me at least, an exploration of what religion has become, and what it might be if it was progressively reformed. There is, as in all the best writing, no fudging the battle of ideas at the heart of ethical debates, and the obvious hypocrisy of corrupted church institutions intent on acquiring total power. The only firm positions taken in the book, therefore, are a fierce anti-authoritarianism, justified by the primacy of freedom of inquiry, and support for passionate loving relationships as the basis of building a 'republic of heaven'.

This book is an astonishing achievement on many levels, and at times I was on the edge of my seat, and and other times moved to tears. There were several aspects that stood out. The rethinking and reshaping of death is explored in the most imaginative and exciting way. Secondly, the final battle scene between Authority and its alternative is worthy of any battle scene in Lord of the Rings. Lastly, the ending is as full of hope as it is tinged with tragedy. No stereotypical happy-ending here, but one that still leaves the reader filled with positivity about the potential of people in human societies to live richly rewarding and ethically guided lives.

Outstanding. Astounding.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 6, 2011 11:01 PM BST


The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials)
The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials)
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The weakest book of the trilogy - but still terrific., 17 Aug. 2010
A thoroughly enjoyable, hard-to-put-down book which introduces the reader to new worlds of adventure as Lyra and Will meet each other for the first time. I found this the weakest of the three books in the trilogy, which is more a testament to the quality of the first and third books, rather than any intrinsic weakness in this one. However, with a razor to my throat, I would say that the quality of the descriptive writing is stronger in the first book, and the plot development (and the wonderful engagement with ideas about life, death and love) are stronger in the third book.

To some extent, this is inevitable, and the criticism is unfair. Having lost the benefit of being able to describe things for the first time, and also not aiming to draw things to a final climax, this book more than ably provides the stepping stone from Lord Ariel's world and the search for Dust, to the multiple worlds of Lyra and Will, Dark Matter, the witch clans, particle physics, angels and Spectres.

Once the reader is engaged with the abilities of the 'subtle knife', the author has a lot of fun with the possibility of entering (and re-entering) various worlds. We can only hope that the second book is also made into a film.


Northern Lights (His Dark Materials)
Northern Lights (His Dark Materials)
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Find out what all the fuss is about..., 17 Aug. 2010
The first of the Dark Materials trilogy is a beautiful read - indescribably stronger (for me) than the first of the Harry Potty novels. Pullman has the literary skills to describe scenes with language worthy of Thomas Hardy while also providing a pulsing dialogue and story for children. Given this is a 'children's' novel, it is noteworthy that I found it easier to read than my bookwork daughters, probably indicating that this is not a novel that will secure the attention of the younger generation as quickly as some its main competitors. However, the returns on that effort are much greater (particularly if all books in the trilogy are read). This novel doesn't just engage interest, and the sense, it engages the intellect.


The Corporation [DVD]
The Corporation [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jennifer Abbott
Offered by Springwood Media
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing but praise for the highest quality journalism and film making., 14 Aug. 2009
This review is from: The Corporation [DVD] (DVD)
Since discovering this documentary, I have - with the film makers' support - developed study materials that enhance learning and teaching on several degree programmes. It is, without doubt, the most stimulating and riveting documentary you are likely to see about the nature and impact of contemporary business thinking.

The great strength of the documentary is the quality of the input from all sections of society, whether academic experts, corporate executives, social activists or members of the public. Arguments and debates are not fudged, they are all tackled head on. Regardless of whether the issue is market accountability, branding and advertising, the profit motive, environmental sustainability or workplace democracy, defenders and critics of The Corporation are given ample scope to discuss different points of view. You can hear directly from Milton Friedman, Naomi Klein, Robert Monks and Noam Chomsky. You can witness for yourself heated dialogue between workers and managers, or demonstrators and corporate executives.

This documentary is a prima facie example of the way journalism can transform our ability to learn in a democratic society. Free speech - however unpleasant to the listener - is the life-blood of an informed electorate who can then use their knowledge to shape political action.

As a student resource (with the film-makers' consent) we produced 30 minute edited versions and learning materials aimed at stimulating debate amongst students. The reaction has been first rate, with many seeking out the full 150 minute documentary or demanding that it be made available for follow up study. It is not often I come across a piece of work that so stimulates students, and which would benefit from becoming part of a core curriculum - this documentary in certainly in a league of its own. Consequently, it is hard to think of a business school that could not benefit from introducing this documentary into its curriculum. It will inevitably stimulate much needed reflection on the nature, ethics and impact of corporations on society.

Rory Ridley-Duff (Dr)
Senior Lecturer
Sheffield Business School


The Corporation [DVD] [2006]
The Corporation [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Mikela Jay
Price: £5.80

85 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing but praise for the highest quality journalism and film making., 14 Aug. 2009
This review is from: The Corporation [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Since discovering this documentary, I have - with the film makers' support - successfully developed study materials that enhance learning and teaching on my university's degree programmes. It is, without doubt, the most stimulating and riveting documentary you are likely to see about the nature and impact of contemporary business thinking.

The great strength of the documentary is the quality of the input from all sections of society, whether academic experts, corporate executives, social activists or members of the public. Arguments and debates are not fudged, they are all tackled head on. Regardless of whether the issue is market accountability, branding and advertising, the profit motive, environmental sustainability or workplace democracy, defenders and critics of The Corporation are given ample scope to discuss different points of view. You can hear directly from Milton Friedman, Naomi Klein, Robert Monks and Noam Chomsky. You can witness for yourself heated dialogue between workers and managers, or demonstrators and corporate executives.

This documentary is a prima facie example of the way journalism can transform our ability to learn in a democratic society. Free speech - however unpleasant to the listener - is the life-blood of an informed electorate who can then use their knowledge to shape political action.

As a student resource (with the film-makers' consent) we produced 30 minute edited versions and learning materials aimed at stimulating debate amongst students. The reaction has been first rate, with many seeking out the full 150 minute documentary or demanding that it be made available for follow up study. It is not often I come across a piece of work that so stimulates students, and which would benefit from becoming part of a core curriculum - this documentary in certainly in a league of its own. Consequently, it is hard to think of a business school that could not benefit from introducing this documentary into its curriculum. It will inevitably stimulate much needed reflection on the nature, ethics and impact of corporations on society.

Rory Ridley-Duff (Dr)
Senior Lecturer
Sheffield Business School
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 2, 2011 12:35 PM BST


Prey
Prey
by Michael Crichton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but for reasons that fall outside the plot, 14 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Prey (Paperback)
This was my holiday novel for 2009 and it did not disappoint. As a narrative, I found it mostly gripping but slightly overlong. As with previous Crichton novels, the introduction of credible discussions of contemporary scientific issues adds to the enjoyment of reading the book. Interestingly, this novel builds on themes introduced in earlier novels (Chaos Theory - Jurrasic Park, Genetics/Evolution - Next). Because of this, it is perhaps the most mature statement of Crichton's own philosophy of human society. As a writer on gender issues, I also found the humour embedded in the role reversal of the two main characters (a content stay-at-home father and a frustrated working mother) both well observed and politically relevant.

Unsurprisingly, this is another tale of scientific 'progress' gone bad. Even so, the most interesting parts of the novel - for me - came from the philosophical dimensions rather than the story itself. Crichton sets out contemporary views on the intelligence embedded in complex adaptive systems. He achieves this by telling a story about microscopic organisms created in the laboratory that can be organised to create a 'camera' to look inside the human body. Inevitably, some 'dark forces' (in the form of a military contract) complicate the work and ethics of the scientists, and the plot takes a dramatic turn when the laboratory organisms start to attack human beings.

The grounding of the novel is the idea of 'intelligence' that develops and evolves in complex living systems. This appealed to me, not least because I'm currently supervising a PhD student who has adopted this theoretical perspective for their study. Crichton makes complex scientific ideas accessible with great skill. Even though the credibility of the plot becomes far fetched, it remains so only because of the accelerated timescales rather than the underlying ideas. In this aspect, it is similar to the views expressed in 'Next' about genetics and patenting biological life.

This is "science-faction" rather than science fiction: as such, it is hard to know where to locate it on my bookshelf!

Rory Ridley-Duff (Dr)
Senior Lecturer
Sheffield Business School


The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but flawed, 14 Aug. 2009
I read this book after strong recommendations by academic colleagues teaching our International Business degree programme. While I found it fascinating, the use of hyperbole and an occasional lack of rigour places this book squarely in the realms of a polemic rather than a credible critical or political analysis. As a polemic, it pushes all the right buttons and provides a wealth of sources to support the many claims that are made.

One key strength of the book is the international coverage, and the depth of the discussions from all parts of the world. Snippets from personal visits and interviews lend a level of drama and realism, but the kind of rigour expected in academic studies is not present in this work. If I were judging this book wholly on readability and contribution to contemporary debates, it would surely get five-stars. It is a long overdue examination of the risible claim that US-style democracy is being spread peacefully around the world. The central thesis, ably articulated, is that free-markets have had anti-democratic impacts in every state where they have been deployed. Klein's argument is at its most powerful in discussions of Poland, Russia and South Africa. In Poland, she describes the mass support for restructuring state industries as worker cooperatives, only to be ignored by overseas "aid" agencies determined to force through privitisation plans (halted and partially reversed after elections swept the Solidarity movement leadership from power and reintroduced some measure of democracy). In Russia, she sets out how the will of elected representatives was - quite literally - shot to pieces when the military enforced the suspension of parliament. This left behind a Yeltsin dictatorship advised by US free-marketeers in all aspects of economic policy, resulting in the Russian oligarchs and a mafia-controlled business sector. In South Africa, Klein describes how joining international financial institutions made it impossible for politicians to deliver their promises for land reform and an economy based on cooperative enterprise. The blatant opportunism of the IMF and World Bank, and their complicity working with defenders of aparteid, is described in detail and fully exposed. The naivity of South Africa's newly elected negotiators is shocking, tragic and gripping in equal measure, contributing to the most unjust international "aid" of the century.

As Klein convincingly argues, the democratic will of elected representatives was crushed in each of these (and other) countries to pursue an anti-democratic ideology based on a global free-market. She describes the unholy trinity of the IMF, World Bank and US corporations who collaborated in the removal or subversion of democratic politics around the global. As such, the book provides a new level of insight into the coordination between various international authorities supporting mass-exploitation directly opposed to democratic rule and makes a worthwhile contribution of lasting value. Particularly heartening is the final chapter ("Shock Wears Off") which indicates the collapsing influence of the IMF, World Bank and USA amongst South American countries. Around the world institutions are being developed to end the era of lassez-faire economics.

So where does the book fall down? As other authors have pointed out, there is a clear political bias to the writing that will please some and attract condemnation from others. This, for me, was not the biggest flaw. Rather, it was the carelessness of some claims that retrospectively fits 'facts' to theory, rather than developing theory from 'facts'. Secondly, there is no full consideration of the debates surrounding 9/11. The author, incredibly bold in setting out the influence of US corporates and the US government outside the USA, is much more inhibited about developments within the USA itself. Having set out that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld effectively declared "war" on the Pentagon (with the goal of ending US-style "central planning"), it is staggering that the author ignores both international debate and USA court cases that claim that 9/11 was itself part of the very 'shock therapy' that is central to the book's thesis. Perhaps this was a step too far for the publisher? Lastly, the loose use of important words and concepts by the author weakens its intellectual stature. For example, 'postmodern' management is linked to Friedman's free-market ideology: this is a profound misreading of the assumptions underpinning 'postmodernism', as well as the way postmodern philosophy is affecting the study and practice of management.

These gripes aside, I unreservedly recommmend this book. An updated edition that considers the 2008 / 2009 banking collapse in light of the book's central thesis would surely be another best seller. Are we witnessing the boldest attempt yet at Shock Therapy, or - as John Gray might argue - the final nail in the coffin of global laissez-faire?

I, for one, would be interested in this author's view.

Rory Ridley-Duff (Dr)
Senior Lecturer
Sheffield Business School
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 28, 2010 10:48 AM GMT


Cooperation at Work: The Mondragon Experience
Cooperation at Work: The Mondragon Experience
by Keith Bradley
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Useful text for anyone interested in comparing cooperative and conventional businesses, 13 Aug. 2009
A useful book that compares the dynamics and performance of the Mondragon Cooperatives with comparable conventional businesses in the same region. Whilst the book is now dated, it is unique for comparing findings from a number of the member cooperatives with a 'control group' of workers in conventional businessess. It is this comparison that is both the strength and weakness of the text. The strength comes from the data itself, showing the full impact of the cooperative ethic and structure on the motives, experience and outcomes of cooperative working. The weakness, however, comes from the authors' attempt to couch this 'experiment' as a form of popular capitalism. As other texts (notably Oakeshott, 1990 and Whyte and Whyte, 1991) make clear, the motivations of founding cooperateurs were strongly anti-capitalist in their intellectual heritage and social thought. Moreover, they were heavily influenced by both Maoist and Ownenite thought, different socialist traditions that departed from Marx in many respects.

While this recasting of the motives and aspirations of the founders of the Mondragon Cooperatives may act to provide a bigger market for the book, the scale of misrepresentation weakens its intellectual credibility. Nevertheless, this is a study of lasting value that lays to rest many ridiculous, poorly evidenced, claims that worker-ownership and control is a pipedream. This study clearly shows not only the viability and sustainability of organisations owned and controlled by the workforce, but also the variable social impacts that may result.

Rory Ridley-Duff (Dr)
Senior Lecturer
Sheffield Business School


Participation and Democratic Theory
Participation and Democratic Theory
by Carole Pateman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As relevant now as when it was written., 13 Aug. 2009
It has taken me several years of good intentions to finally read a book that I have seen regularly referenced by leading writers on democratic theory in the business world. Carole Pateman's book is surely worthy of being called a 'classic' not simply for its academic rigour, but for its careful and considered analysis of the contribution of democratic theory to a wholesale reform of business and management practices.

Although the text is short, it is a careful and intensive critical analysis of 'democratic theory' that has prevailed since Schumpeter's 1940s work. The first part of the book, inevitably, deals with the influence of Schumpeter's attempt to revise democratic theory to one based on non-participation by the masses, based on periodic elections. As Pateman is at pains to point out, Schumpeter conceived democracy as a popular contest for the votes of a (largely ignorant) electorate. She makes a convincing argument, through careful analysis of the authors who preceded Schumpeter, that this was an unashamedly elitist project that sought to subvert and prevent mass participation in both political and workplace decision-making by systematically denying people developmental opportunities. Pateman carefully describes a number of inter-related traditions (centred on the work of Rousseau, J. S. Mill and J. D. Cole) that theorise democracy as a system of direct and indirect involvement in decision-making at all levels of society. In the course of this argument, she demonstrates how the workplace will be the heartland of any future project to democratise society.

A key strength of the book is that it critically analyses the claims of different theorists using a wealth of social science studies. These provide credible resources to evaluate the viability and robustness of the arguments made by different democratic theorists. As a result, Pateman demonstrates the social science support for participatory democracy as viable alternative to non-participatory 'representative democracy'.

Especially interesting - for me - was a review of the social, economic and political achievements in the first 20 years of Yugoslavian worker democracy. While it is tempting to argue that history has rendered this "experiment" obsolete, it is clear from contemporary movements in South America (particularly Argentina and Venezuela), as well as the continuing growth of cooperative and employee-ownership movements worldwide, that the kind of integrated systems of worker democracy pioneered in Yugoslavia continue to have enduring relevance for the politicians and practitioners of today. Eschewing both the state-socialism model of Russia and China, as well as the free-market orthodoxy of Hayek and Friedman, the Yugoslavian attempt at bottom-up economic reform based on widespread worker-participation clearly had successes that others are (knowingly or not) replicating around the globe.

For all those involved in the cooperative and employee-ownership movement, as well as those in the state, private and third sectors looking to understand the potential of social enterprise, Pateman's work is a clear 'core text' for both public sector employees and social entrepreneurs / cooperateurs. It provides students with both a theoretical and practical perspective on the central issues of participatory democracy in economic development.

While an updated analysis of the evidence base would be useful (and is certainly possible), the core contribution of this book - one that time has not diminished - is a powerful articulation of the central assumptions of participatory democracy in the workplace. Pateman achieves a level of clarity that is unsurpassed. She distinguishes the rhetoric of "representative democracy" and "managerialism" from radical (and critical) management. In doing so, she enables students to enter into a genuine debate about the potential of democratic management, and the forms it will take. By providing students with the intellectual resources to critique the link between "representative democracy" and "managerialism", her work reamains central to emergent debates in social enterprises over the power to control financial and human resources.

Rory Ridley-Duff (Dr)
Senior Lecturer
Sheffield Hallam University


Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men?: A Debate (Point/Counterpoint)
Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men?: A Debate (Point/Counterpoint)
by Warren Farrell (with Steven Svoboda)
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ground-breaking and timely., 2 Aug. 2008
As a university lecturer who has taught and written on Equal Opportunities issues, this book is a welcome and overdue addition to the literature on gender relations and sex discrimination.

In this book, one of the foremost liberal thinkers in the men's movement for equality - Warren Farrell - pits his arguments against staunch defenders of feminism. Counter arguments are presented by James Sterba, with input from over a dozen established feminist academics.

The organisation of the book is excellent: both Farrell and Sterba use the same chapter titles to construct their arguments on key topics. This is a useful approach that enables both lecturer and student to study arguments and counter-arguments on a series of contentious issues. The writing style is accessible, and also supported with appropriate academic references.

The value of this book is that for three decades, a men's movement for sexual equality has been gathering and organising arguments for progressive change. In many cases, their arguments are an evolution of, rather than a challenge to, feminist ideas on equality that developed in the 1960s. Despite this, a power shift in the late 1960s radicalised the women's movement and debate shifted (unconsciously?) away from advancing "equal rights" to advancing "women's rights". Those who radicalised the feminist movement successfully blocked the dissemination of Farrell's work in the mass media (although he has been able to publish six books and develop a strong following for his work).

When I started presenting academic papers exploring Farrell's perspectives at conferences, it quickly beecame apparent that antipathy to Farrell's work was mostly based on prejudice and not careful reading of his work. This book is, therefore, ground-breaking as it marks a point where the men's movement equality arguments are considered serious enough to warrant serious discussion amongst contemporary feminists.

For those with an interest in philosophy, this book represents a stage in a Kuhnian paradigm shift (a stage where new theoretical arguments are becoming so influential that they can no longer be ignored or disparaged). For this reason, I encourage all lecturers with an interest in gender relations / social science to examine this book and consider its value as a core text to reinvigorate the teaching of gender relations.

Dr Rory Ridley-Duff
Senior Lecturer
Sheffield Hallam University


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