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T. Watkins (North Queensferry, Scotland)
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Lucy to Language: The Benchmark Papers
Lucy to Language: The Benchmark Papers
by R. I. M. Dunbar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £95.00

5.0 out of 5 stars The results of a major research programme, 28 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Lucy to Language has been a massive research programme involving a large number of researchers from different disciplines working together over a number of years. And this heavyweight (and expensive) book contains more than twenty key chapters. This is not a popular science account of human evolution from pre-human Lucy to modern Homo sapiens. Each chapter is co-authored by two or three of the research collaborators, who have worked hard to produce a thoroughly argued and fully documented piece of work; each chapter is followed by several pages of scientific bibliography. The project was co-directed by three people, John Gowlett, Clive Gamble (both Palaeolithic archaeology specialists), and Robin Dunbar (psychologist and evolutionary scientist), and these three names appear as the editors of this set of papers. However, it is Robin Dunbar's name that comes up time and again throughout the book, often as one of the co-authors of many of the chapters. It is Dunbar's theories about the 'social brain', the evolution of language, and the relationship between evolving human cognition, evolving human cultural communication, and evolving human social group size that permeate and dominate the book. There is so much here that it is taking me at least a day to read a chapter, because I keep stopping to think, to take notes, or to track down one or other of the hundreds of references. This book, together with its predecessor (2010 Social Brain, Distributed Mind, which was a mid-project set of essays) will be quarried for its network of interesting and challenging ideas, and for its documentation of a great deal of front-line research, for years to come.

One small point to watch: a number of the chapters in the book are re-prints of recent articles in learned journals. Anyone who has access to the academic journals in which they were first published may want to assess whether those chapters which are entirely new justify the price of the book.


The Cello Suites: In Search of a Baroque Masterpiece
The Cello Suites: In Search of a Baroque Masterpiece
Price: £4.68

5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary book about extraordinary music by an extraordinary musical genius, 30 Sep 2013
I bought the book a couple of years ago, and read it with delight. I had known the cello suites for many years, having heard some of them on the old BBC Third Programme. I bought myself an LP of the cello suites and wore it grey. I now own CDs by three different cellists, and never tire of playing one or other of them. A couple of evenings ago, I had the chance to hear a live performance of two of the suites in a small chapel. The cellist introduced the two suites he played, telling us how he had begun to study them from the age of about 12. As a professional musician and a cellist he confirmed what extraordinary musical creations these cello suites are. So I know that it is not just me, or Eric Siblin, the author of this book.

I was delighted to find that the book was as good as the cello suites in sustaining the reader's interest and fascination. And, for me, the author is ideally suited to his subject, because he came to it "from the outside" - he is not a cellist, a professional classical musician, a music academic or critic; he is someone with very good musical knowledge who wants to share with you his discovery of this amazing music. And he does it very, very well.

I lent me copy of the book to a friend, and it has not come back to me. But I feel the need to read it again - or at least dip into it. So now I am buying the Kindle edition - it is harder to lose track of a Kindle book than the wandering paperback!


Bartleby, the Scrivener A Story of Wall-Street
Bartleby, the Scrivener A Story of Wall-Street
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Strange tale by a master of story-telling, 9 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is the first piece by Herman Melville that I have read - I have not even encountered Moby Dick, I am sorry to say. I found that I had to get used to the style of writing, which is very much of its mid-19th century time. So most sentences are full of phrases and clauses, all separated out by meticulous use of the comma. But once over that hurdle, the tale becomes engrossing, as much for what the reader learns of the lawyer-narrator as for the strange character of Bartleby.


The Cellist of Sarajevo
The Cellist of Sarajevo
by Steven Galloway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars I'm left baffled, 31 Jan 2013
This novel depends on us, the readers, knowing about the collapse of the Jugoslav federal republic and the complex wars between Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, and Kosovans in the early 1990s. Galloway published The Cellist of Sarajevo in 2008, twelve years after the siege of Sarajevo was lifted. I suspect that already our memories are rather hazy, and I wonder if the novel will find any context in the minds of readers, especially younger readers, in ten or twenty years time. In short, I think that this was an idea for a novel that was of its time. And, since the author gives the reader no historical background, I think that the book will quite quickly sink without trace. If it were high-quality fiction, and did not rely on associations with a real tragedy (that is, if it was set in an imaginary place with no association with a historical reality), it would be more durable.

The book doesn't tell us how Sarajevo came to be under siege, nor does it conclude with the end of the siege. Rather, it is closely focused on three completely unconnected individuals over a period of just a few days (whereas the siege lasted for close on four years). We learn very little of the lives of these three characters, two of whom are the fathers of families. We don't encounter these family men when they are at home, with their families, but only as they go about the city, trying to carry out what would normally be everyday tasks - ensuring that there is water in one case, and obtaining some bread in the other. The novel concentrates almost entirely on these men, as each deals with the dangers and difficulties of moving around the city, and particularly on the crossing of bridges, or exposed cross-roads, where the dangers of being caught by sniper fire are very real. The third character, a young woman who has given herself the nom de guerre 'Arrow', is a counter-sniper, who takes revenge on the besiegers for their casual killing and terrorising of her fellow-citizens. She has no 'back-story'; we don't know if she has, or once had, a boy-friend or husband, whether her mother and father are still alive, how she learned to be a sharp-shooter, or where she fits into the forces trying to defend the city. She is subject to some discipline, however, because she is assigned the task of shooting a sniper who is expected to try to kill 'the cellist'.

So the cellist is important for one of the three main characters, 'Arrow', but he is not a character in the novel. 'Arrow' is in place one day in time for the cellist's regular appearance to play the same piece of music in the same place at the same time each day. The story acquires some tension as we wait through 'Arrow's' uncertainty as to whether she can spot a sniper. And the following day, when the cellist appears again, she successfully kills the sniper before he can get a shot at the cellist. From memory, the cellist makes one more appearance in the book, when one of the other characters happens to be near the place where he emerges to play each day, and therefore chances to see and hear him. Yet this shadowy non-character is used for the title of the book, and he is a real person, who did indeed become briefly known as 'the cellist of Sarajevo'. I find it strange and discomforting that a real, living person should be used by the author as an anonymous, voiceless character, about whom we learn nothing.

In the end, I read my way through the book - it is easy and undemanding reading, and the book is quite short - and spent time in imagination with the mostly inconsequential experiences and unremarkable thoughts of the author's trio of unconnected, uncommunicative characters. But to what end?


The Book Thief
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Strange, simply told and deeply touching, 11 July 2010
This review is from: The Book Thief (Paperback)
I read The Book Thief a busy couple of months ago, and I suddenly thought of it again today because I have been reading a thoroughly pedestrian English novel of manners that was boring. And the contrast between that and The Book Thief brought back to me how much that book had impressed itself on me. On reflection, I am sure that The Book Thief is one of the most significant novels of recent years.

It is written in a fascinating way, and it only becomes clear at the end why the story is told by Death. It's a clever device, because Death was busy everywhere about the place, especially in the early years of the Second World War, gathering up the souls of people as they died. The story is set in a small town near Munich in southern Germany, and it begins in the years immediately before the war. For me, as someone who was born at that time and who recalls being a small child in England during the war, The Book Thief gives a startling and unexpected view of like in small-town Germany, among ordinary poor, working people. Things were bad, even before the war began, and they got worse, much worse, as the war went on. People in Britain were on short rations, maybe, but things were never so bad as what is described here - and that is without the role of the Nazi party and its officials.

It is also a clever device to make the central character a naive, poorly educated little girl, Liesl, who has lost her father and can never understand why her mother gave her up for fostering and disappeared. The slow emergence of her foster-parents as quite different from how they first appear when Liesl finds herself the only child in their poor house is beautifully managed. The story is heart-rending, and the foreboding that things will not go well for Liesl is unspoken but implied by the fact that Death is the story-teller, and he is constantly watching her. How much of an impact the novel has had is clear to me because I can recall most of the characters, and many of the events and incidents in the story. But what is even more impressive is that, as I remember reading the book, its atmosphere comes back to me and it is as if I had put the book down two minutes ago. It is hard, but it is extraordinarily rewarding.


Enrique Granados Goyescas & Isaac Albéniz Iberia
Enrique Granados Goyescas & Isaac Albéniz Iberia
Price: £7.49

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A warm soundworld, 16 Jun 2010
I heard a radio review of this CD, and a single track to illustrate the review, and I bought it next day. As the reviewer said, Artur Pizarro plays the music of his Spanish compatriots with delicacy and deep affection. And, of course, it's lovely, lovely music. The radio review commented particularly on the choice of piano, a Bluthner rather than the ubiquitous Steinway, if I remember correctly. Certainly the disc has a warmth and delicacy that make it a real pleasure to listen to. I find myself playing it again and again.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2010 2:58 PM BST


Kensington SI600 Wireless Presenter
Kensington SI600 Wireless Presenter
Offered by Cartridge Point
Price: £28.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Does what it says on the box, 28 Feb 2010
Worth the extra money. It's a bit dearer than some of the comparabel gadgets, but it is well designed, plugs in and starts up, and it feels good in the hand (important when you are stepping up to give a presentation before a big audience). And it does what the manufacturer says it does.


Ancient Turkey (Routledge World Archaeology)
Ancient Turkey (Routledge World Archaeology)
by A. G. Sagona
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.38

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough, informed and readable text-book, 17 Nov 2009
I used to teach the prehistory and ancient history of the Near East, and it was particularly hard to include Anatolia - Asian Turkey - within that framework because of the lack of up-to-date texts that students could use. This is it. The authors really know their stuff, and they know how to produce a readable synthesis out of the primary materials of excavation reports and scholarly studies. They cover a lot of ground, both in the geographical sense of a very large area, and in the chronological sense from early prehistory to the appearance on the scene of Alexander the Great in the late 4th century BC. And what they have to say is well supported by a lot of good illustrations. I am well pleased with my purchase, and it is already well-used.


Wild Harvesters
Wild Harvesters
by Bill Finlayson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read, easy on the eye, thoroughly well-informed, 31 July 2009
This review is from: Wild Harvesters (Paperback)
This is one of a series of slim, well-illustrated books co-produced by Historic Scotland and a small Scottish publishing house. Bill Finlayson's book in this series covers the early re-population of Scotland following the retreat of the last glacial period. Bill Finlayson has been a leading professional researcher working on the mesolithic hunter-gatherers particularly in the west of Scotland. Having worked on one of the recent major archaeological investigations, he knows well the work of other modern research programmes. He has managed a very difficult task - to write simply and accessibly, but also authoritatively on the fugitive early prehistory. And he is aided by an excellent set of illustrations - not only colour photographs of artefacts and sites in their landscapes, but also specially created black-and-white drawings that reconstruct scenarios of everyday life. And it is cheap!


Bach: 6 Sonatas & Partitas
Bach: 6 Sonatas & Partitas
Price: £15.01

1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can hear her enjoying Bach's inventiveness, 1 Jun 2009
It's a lovely rich sound, with lots of complexity and feeling. You can sit back and let the stream of notes wash across your listening ear, forming long chains of melody with unexpected rhythmic twists.


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