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Christopher West (UK)

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The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
by Samuel P. Huntington
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly, insightful and timely, 11 July 2014
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This is one of those books that everyone who thinks and cares about the future should read. You probably won't agree with everything in it, but Huntington's thesis is powerful and, I fear, has a lot of truth in it. I don't think this means that 'one world' liberals should give up, but it does show that the route to a future peaceful world will be a difficult one. (But what a grand challenge for bright, well-meaning people in the next generation!)

To me, the most interesting point is the continuing role of religions in defining supranational boundaries. Rather than getting fanatical at spreading our own faith, or going down the Dawkins route of rubbishing all religion, we need to get used to this basic fact.

It's a shame this wasn't on the bookshelves in the White House and Downing Street in 2003.

The In/Out Question
The In/Out Question
by Hugo Dixon
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Common sense on Europe, 27 May 2014
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This review is from: The In/Out Question (Paperback)
We need this book more than ever, as Britain hurtles lemming-like towards quitting Europe. Too many books on Europe either gush about the wonders of the 'European project' or rip the whole idea to shreds. This one takes a sensible middle course: there are lots of things wrong with the EU, but we should get stuck in and help other sensible Europeans fix them.

The author is clearly a believer in market solutions to political problems. I'm not sure things are always that easy, but we can agree to differ a little.

The book is brief and clear (too many books on Europe drown in Euro-jargon). For the price of a Sunday newspaper, you can get yourself really well informed about this important debate.

THINGS I AM ASHAMED OF: A Memoir (Kindle Single)
THINGS I AM ASHAMED OF: A Memoir (Kindle Single)
Price: 0.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and honest, 27 May 2014
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I was attracted by the title and not disappointed. The author doesn’t wallow in shame, but is just honest about the sort of crap things most of us do when young then try and forget but actually keep remembering. His honesty made me feel better about my own youthful failings.

I’ve lopped off a star as I felt the book rambled a bit at the end. He largely stopped talking about his actions, and instead talked about his views – something I find a lot less interesting (I can get views anywhere and everywhere on the Internet for free, but actual personal experience is special).

But overall I really liked this truthful memoir. I liked its brevity, too: a nice ad for the ‘Single’ genre. Good stuff.

A Breed of Heroes
A Breed of Heroes
by Alan Judd
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Realistic novel about a dark period in British history, 22 April 2013
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This review is from: A Breed of Heroes (Paperback)
This novel tells the story of a young British officer caught up in the Northern Ireland troubles. It gives a real feel for what life was like for such a person, veering unpredictably from the comic to the tragic, from the bored and inactive to the manically busy. The author is an acute and witty observer, and shows us a range of military characters 'warts and all'. There's a gentle undercurrent of plot - but mostly service is seen as a series of disconnected, random events, which is, I imagine, how it was. The author served in Ireland and the book feels sharp, truthful and authentic.

There were some points where the book made me laugh out loud. But let's hope these terrible times never come back.

A Nail Through the Heart: A Novel of Bangkok
A Nail Through the Heart: A Novel of Bangkok
by Timothy Hallinan
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.17

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkness and light, 3 Oct 2008
This is an excellent novel set in contemporary Bangkok. While technically a thriller, it is written with both the flair and depth that you would want from a `literary' novel. This is proper writing - it begins with a beautifully set scene: `across the river, a city of eight million shimmers like the ghost of a brushfire', and keeps up this standard, with vivid, imaginative metaphors and, of course, plenty of dark Chandleresque wise-cracking from the narrator-hero and his colleague in the Thai police. The novel's central characters are real and complex, not the 2-dimensional types who inhabit pulp thrillers.

Of course, what pulp thrillers have, and many literary novels lack, is pace and plotting. This book is not `literary' in this sense: the plot twists and turns and kept me guessing till the end. There's a particularly neat reversal in chapter 42...

Along with the literary writer's art and the thriller-plotter's craft, we get the benefit of the sensitivity to and insight into another culture of the travel writer. The author lives in Bangkok and his wife is Thai. He weaves the knowledge that this gives him gently but pervasively into the story - I didn't feel lectured, but by the end both had many mental images of Bangkok and, more valuable, the beginnings of an understanding of Buddhism and the way it influences the mindset of Thai people (and, beyond that, a reminder of how different the Eastern mindset is from that of the West).

The story itself... Well, I won't give it away. Suffice it to say it's complex, it does stack up looking back, and it takes us to some very dark places. Too dark? That depends on your taste. Unlike many `noir' thrillers, the darkness is balanced by the family life of the hero, which, though it has its tensions, is loving and honourable. Actually that's another thing I really like about this book. Light and dark, not just Kurtz-like gloom.

I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.

by Julie Myerson
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant novel, 30 April 2008
This review is from: Sleepwalking (Paperback)
This is a clever, deep, engrossing book. In essence it is about a young woman's attempt to escape the mess that two previous generations have made of life. It is extremely well-written, but the writing never gets in the way of the story and the characters, which are to me the most important aspect of a book. Neither is it `over-plotted': a simple, realistic story unfolds, with a build-up to a choice and to a face-off with the forces of evil - no, not evil, that's too melodramatic, the forces of tragedy and waste - at the end. Good novels leave me feeling reconnected to life, to its depth, to its subtleties, and this one hits the spot perfectly.

Mrs. Pooter's Diary (Black Swan)
Mrs. Pooter's Diary (Black Swan)
by Keith Waterhouse
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A labour of love, 23 Jan 2008
If you love `Diary of a Nobody', you'll love this, too.

The premise is simple - Carrie kept a diary, too. Unlike her husband, she has kept her diary under wraps...

There are many things to enjoy about this book. First and foremost, the author is clearly a fan of the original. Modern humour is so often destructive and vicious: the Grossmiths loved their characters, laughable as they were, and so does Waterhouse. Secondly, he has captured the voice of the era, and specifically of a lady of that era and that class. Thirdly he has done copious research - all kinds of 1890's products pop up and add authenticity.

He adds some extra storylines, all of which work, and gets round the one weakness of the original, its contrived `deus ex machina' ending, by adding a gently ironic twist.

This is best read in conjunction with the original, a chapter each at a time. Occasionally, he appears to get out of step, but only occasionally, and soon gets back on track again.

Of course, if you haven't read `Dairy of a Nobody', then this must all seem a little puzzling. Give yourself a treat: rush out and buy a copy immediately, and get hold of this book as well.

Nature Cure
Nature Cure
by Richard Mabey
Edition: Paperback

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't 'do what it says on the tin', 23 Jan 2008
This review is from: Nature Cure (Paperback)
I really wanted to love this book. Depression is a vile, destructive thing, and also something of a mystery, and any tale of its defeat should be both inspiring and informative. Add to this the location, the East Anglian countryside, this book looked (to me) irresistible. And then there were all the fulsome comments from national newspapers on the cover...

However, in the end I was disappointed. I learnt little about depression, its causes and cures - or about the real inner life of the author. I got little sense of the horror of depression at the start, of an eventful and bumpy journey in the middle, of any interest in the psychological forces at work as we travelled, or of a real cure at the end.

Behind a veil of lyricism, the author is really rather reticent. For example, part of his healing process came via a relationship, but we are offered no insight into this at all - no doubt tactful to the lady involved, but it makes dull reading.

Of course, there are good things about this book. Mabey writes with poetry and elegance about the environment, and his love of nature shines through (`It was the kind of day that makes one feel like saying grace for a blade of grass'). Were it marketed as a series of essays on rural life, ecology etc., or just a literary diary of a year in rural East Anglia, it would be very pleasant. But it purports to be something more, and to me it does not deliver on this promise.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 4, 2012 1:51 AM BST

The Reed Flute: A Novel Set in East Anglia
The Reed Flute: A Novel Set in East Anglia
by Tessa West
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.96

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good-hearted book, 19 Jun 2007
I enjoyed this book. It's a simple story told in a clear, attractive, intelligent style. For me, an added pleasure came from it being set in East Norfolk, a place where I once lived and for which I still have huge affection. As with many novels, the setting is as strong a character as the protagonists.

Not that the people are lifeless... There are basically three characters, two Iraqi Marsh Arabs seeking a new life in Britain, and a middle-class Brit widower trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife. The story is about how their lives intersect, initially purely by chance (the structure is a slow lead up to that chance meeting, and the immediate consequences the meeting). I particularly liked Abbas, the old man who has spent so much of his life running, first from Saddam then from poverty. His outsider's view of England and the English, and his very un-modern view of life itself, is refreshing and convincing.

All the characters grow and change as the book progresses - I won't spoil it by saying how.

Any criticisms? It's rather slow, and the storyline (such as it is) is pretty predictable. But somehow I didn't mind that. It makes a pleasant, and more realistic, alternative to melodrama and literary overwriting. Don't expect fireworks, but if you enjoy gentle, realistic writing that's good-hearted without being schmaltzy and with a strong sense of place -- give this a go.

By the way, the author shares my surname - but she's no relative, or even anyone I've actually met. The book was recommended by a friend: this is a genuine review, not a plug!

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