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P. M. Fernandez "exilefromgroggs" (London)

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Mr Good Enough: The case for choosing a Real Man over holding out for Mr Perfect
Mr Good Enough: The case for choosing a Real Man over holding out for Mr Perfect
by Lori Gottlieb
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A forlorn voice hoping to change the world, 7 May 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a sad book. The author, Lori Gottlieb, sets herself to understand what it is that has made forming permanent relationships so difficult. Unlike Laura Stepp, in Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both, this isn't written as an "observer". Gottlieb is a single mother (by artificial insemination) aged a little over 40. She faces the fact that, had she not turned down relationships with men in her 20s and 30s, she would almost certainly not be on her own now. The mundaneness of the married relationships, which she would have looked at with derision then, she now looks upon with envy. How did she reach this situation?

The conclusion that she comes to, through interviews with male and female friends, acquaintances and counsellors, is that in her determination not to "settle" - a phrase that recurs throughout the book, she has turned down "good enough" potential life partners in the pursuit of a fantasy "Mr Perfect" "Prince Charming" who in reality doesn't exist. And as she has become older, the opportunities to secure a good partner have become harder to come by.

She traces the roots of this thinking in various directions. Feminism assures women that they should have the same opportunities as men - but the biological facts of the matter are that they simply don't. The media - magazines, TV dramas, films - reinforce the idealism which has changed the way in which people have formed relationships over the last few years.

But the book is optimistic as well. At the end of it, Gottlieb has changed the way in which she views her search for relationships, and has (albeit briefly) enjoyed one of the most satisfying relationships she has known for a while. And for those women who will read this book, they have the chance to reflect upon and unpick the impact of the surrounding culture, and perhaps reduce its impact upon the way in which they think.

Incidentally, although written by somebody used to the "Sex and the City" style gossipy fault-finding with potential male partners, this is a book which can usefully be read by people other than single women. There are plenty of men who have the unrealistic "maximising" approach to women, which keeps them out of good relationships, and it's also useful as a reminder to people who are wondering about the relationships which they have found themselves in.

This book is fluidly written, as one might expect from a journalist, and insightful. I would strongly recommend it to anyone, male or female, who wants to think through how culture impacts people's social behaviour.

The Devil's Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers
The Devil's Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers
by Vicky Ward
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable journalistic endeavour, 2 May 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the second time my attention has been captivated by a book about recent "American" history that has in reality shaped the world. The previous one was Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story. As with that book, Ward has moved well past the headlines, into the personalities and events which shaped them.

This is the story of the biggest bankruptcy in American history - the fall of Lehman. The history of Lehman is explored, back to the time when the people who were running the company in 2008 first appeared (and how they managed to make it into such a large company). It looks at how the company moved from the idealistic vision of those who set it up, to be different from the rest of Wall Street, to a company that hid the scale of its financial troubles from the market until it was too late. At the end, somebody says that "it's not a tragedy, it's a story of hubris." But as Booker points out in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories that is exactly what tragedy always is.

A couple of quibbles. Firstly, the sheer number of names. It's inevitable, I suppose, in a thirty year history, that there will be large numbers of people who walk in and out, and the most important people (Dick Fuld, Chris Pettit, Joe Gregory) acquire their own momentum. But a lot of the names simply became a blur, after a while. Ward sought to temper this by having a list of names - a kind of dramatis personae - at the beginning - but it was still pretty overwhelming.

The other quibble is the financial technical speak. I really hoped that having read the book, I would have some better understanding of what it was that was actually happening with the money. But I can't say that I did. I understood how money that had been advanced on property prices that were falling could be under threat (though I still don't really see why, as with negative equity, it wasn't possible to simply wait for prices to rise again - or if the borrowers couldn't pay, how come they were lent to in the first place). I don't understand the bond trading - the concepts of government borrowing, yes, but not how you can make money buying and selling government borrowing. Not real money, the sort that you can then give people as a fat bonus at the end of the year. Ward's booksimply takes a lot of this for granted, and a lot of the people puzzled by the banking crisis would really like to know how it works.

But this is an excellent work, despite these "weaknesses", and Ward has done a remarkable and thorough job of telling the human story behind one of the seminal events of our time.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 29, 2010 4:35 PM BST

God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
by John C. Lennox
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Books you agree with, books you disagree with, 28 April 2010
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In an ideal world, people would read books that they disagreed with. The books would be so persuasive that people would change their minds, and the population would move quickly to an intellectual synthesis which worked.

In the real world, people simply don't read. Those people who do read, read books which they agree with, and then chuck them at friends who either also agree (which at least makes them feel a little better about the world in general), or other friends who don't agree, and who don't bother reading the books, or who if they do remain unconvinced.

However, there is value in reading a book which reflects your own position, as I discovered when I read Lennox's book. Of course, I was already convinced that anything other than atheism wouldn't lead to the end of science as we know it. I was also convinced that miracles and so on weren't a problem to science, but that naturalism had serious problems in various areas. Lennox in this book rounds up much of what has happened roughly since the death of Carl Sagan, with the many contributions to the naturalism/theism debate being given weighting in his text roughly in accordance with their significance. The conclusions that he comes to, and defends, correspond pretty much with where I had ended up - so part of the value of reading a book that I agree with by an intellectual heavyweight was being encouraged that the conclusions I had come to were intellectually defensible.

If you are undecided, or if you are convinced by The God Delusion (why?? It has been taken apart!! Not one brick of his argument has been left on top of another!) then this is probably as good a single-volume case for theism in science as you are likely to get. But, of course, you won't read it.

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
by Francis Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another voice in the origins debate, 7 April 2010
We are assured by Richard Dawkins and others of that ilk that no self-respecting intelligent person, let alone scientist, could possibly believe in a God. Their case is undermined by the fact that scientists like Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project not only believe in God but can make the intellectual case for their position, and with substantially more force than the case against God made in "The God Delusion".

In this book, Collins charts his own journey to faith, guided largely by C.S.Lewis (Mere Christianity), and then outlines his own intellectual position on the issue of origins. He identifies three main positions - atheism, creationism and intelligent design - correctly showing that ID is a distinct intellectual movement - but also identifies what he considers weaknesses in all three. His own position is "Theistic Evolution", or "BioLogos" to use the term he coins. He argues that the evidence suggests that the history of the universe does not show evidence of external agency (unlike the position of creationism or ID), but that there are aspects of the universe which are not adequately explained by purely naturalistic perspectives (unlike the position of atheism). He also argues that the culture wars, which have little to do with science and much to do with philosophical presuppositions, are damaging both science and faith, by firmly scribing an unnecessary line between the two. In this regard, Collins adopts the reciprocal position of Stephen Gould (Rocks of Ages), who advocates a complete separation into non-overlapping magisteria.

At the very least, this is a thoughtful contribution to the debate from an intelligent and informed voice. He hopes to soften both anti-science Christians and anti-faith scientists to one another, and as somebody with an understanding of both camps, has a chance of achieving this.
Comment Comments (20) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 29, 2015 7:38 AM BST

The Making of Modern Britain: From Queen Victoria to V.E. Day: 1
The Making of Modern Britain: From Queen Victoria to V.E. Day: 1
by Andrew Marr
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who better than a senior BBC journalist ..., 22 Mar. 2010
... to write this sort of book?

For at least two reasons. Firstly, as a journalist, Marr is used to telling a story. He engages his readers with everything, from slices of domestic life to high politics - throughout the whole book, the facts matter - not simply as abstract pieces of information to be absorbed, but as events which shaped the lives of individuals.

Secondly, as a BBC journalist, Marr is used to careful impartiality. There are no heroes here - or rather, there are heroes, but they are human: we don't have any hagiography. And there are, in a sense, no villains. For example, on the matter of appeasement, Marr avoids the simplistic approach of blaming the ten or so politicians who steered the policy, and points to the fact that people in their millions were crying out for their leaders to avoid war.

Too often, the writers of disciplines we call "the arts" have their own axe to grind, their own agenda to put forward. So we have feminist, gay, black, social evolutionist accounts of history. What we don't see enough of is this kind of general account, which looks at history "in the round". There are other such accounts - I enjoyed Great Tales from English History: the Battle of the Boyne to DNA, 1690-1953: Battle of the Boyne to DNA v. 3, for example, by Robert Lacey, although these were perhaps pitched at a slightly younger readership (Marr has slightly more salacious detail about mistresses, for example). But if you are looking for a single volume overview of the key issues that shaped the United Kingdom in these crucial years from 1900-1945, you could do much worse than start here.

Freesourcing: How To Start a Business with No Money
Freesourcing: How To Start a Business with No Money
by Jonathan Yates
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than I thought, 9 Mar. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I got this expecting it to be a book either full of vague agendas to make you rich with no real substance, or an encouragement to rip off everybody around you in pursuit of your own wealth. In fact, neither was the case. The book actually came across as something along the lines of "The Rough Guide to Ethical Entrepreneurship".

In terms of business ethics, the writer stresses the importance of doing something that adds real value, of looking at opportunities where repeat business will come your way through what you can offer, and of treating suppliers with fairness. And in terms of ideas, whilst some of the suggestions sounded rather grandiose, there were many of genuine ways of doing things for free that would help a business in its early stages. A fair number of these I was familiar with already - Skype, Freecycle, Blogger - but there were a good number I'd not come across as well. My copy of the book has about 12 page corners folded over where I intend to go back and have a closer look.

The book was realistic, as well. I fear that in Britain today, everybody wants something for nothing. The author is quite clear that if you expect to succeed at this sort of enterprise, you have to be prepared to work at it. Even so, he is clear that this should not be at the expense of human relationships. So all through the book, I found myself very sympathetic to the author's values and attitudes.

Everybody, apparently, has a novel inside them, and most people probably also have something they think is a sure-fire business winner. This book argues strongly that, if you are determined to succeed in business, nothing as insignificant as lack of money need stand in your way.

Olay Regenerist Regenerating Moisturiser Day Cream, 50ml
Olay Regenerist Regenerating Moisturiser Day Cream, 50ml
Offered by Look Beautiful
Price: £8.17

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars My wife says ..., 26 Feb. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
... It's okay. The dispensing system is a bit odd - you press the top, and it squirts out of the middle of the top. It smells nice, and is not greasy, and makes your skin feel better when you put it on. How much younger does it make you look? Um, not a significant number of years, really.

Hum. Will that do?

Successful Novel Plotting (Secrets to Success)
Successful Novel Plotting (Secrets to Success)
by Jean Saunders
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In an ideal world ..., 26 Feb. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
... all potential authors of novels would have a grasp of the canon of English (if not world) literature and would understand what makes a good plot. All novels would change the world. Nobody would ever have to be sent a rejection letter.

This is not, however, an ideal world. People embark on possible writing careers, the author of this book seems to be suggesting, with no real idea of what makes a readable novel - the role characterisation, pace, and so on, have.

This is, pretty unashamedly, a book for those people. Jean Saunders has made a living as what might be called a professional writer - writing not, apparently, so much out of a desire to tell a great story burning in her soul, but to meet the demands of a market for romantic literature, short stories in magazines, or whatever else she feels competent to turn her hand to - most recently, "how to" guides for aspiring professional writers.

If you want to make a living as a writer, and are competent at actually producing writing (you can hack grammar, punctuation and so on - which itself makes you part of an exclusive club these days), but are not so confident about what a novel might be like ... to be honest, I wouldn't bother. Just write for markets that are more likely to give you a better return for your money. There's enough competition for the few "undiscovered author" novels as it is.

However, if you really think that with a bit of coaching, that nebulous idea in your mind might be converted into 80,000 words of sparkling prose, this book might help.

The Bookman
The Bookman
by Lavie Tidhar
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "File under Steampunk" apparently, 2 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Well, what to say?

How about reference points? Think of a post-modern "His Dark Materials". Think of "The Matrix" set in the Victorian era. Think of pirates, Jack the Ripper, Conan Doyle and Jules Verne thrown into a melting pot with alien lizards, alternate histories, revolutions and horcruxes.

How about style? Tidhar's prose is lucid, literary and informed. The narrative is pacy, and kept me turning pages - occasionally melodramatic, and would somebody really do all this for love? Isn't that a little - well, Nineteenth Century?

How about plot? If there is any real vulnerability, it is here. There is just too much going on. The shades of grey are too subtle, the factions too numerous, the good guys too bad and the bad guys too good - perhaps that is like life - but by the time you work out in convincing terms who is who and what to do, the book has just about finished.

A good read - I genuinely enjoyed this, though it's a bit off my beaten track. If you are looking for an interesting new voice, and are prepared to go somewhere different, you could do a lot worse.

by Lauren Beukes
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A scary vision of the near future, 26 Dec. 2009
This review is from: Moxyland (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The first few pages are always heady. The author invites you into the world he or she has created - will you like it or loathe it? Will it be convincing or confusing?

Lauren Beukes has created the latest in a line of dystopian visions. In part, we have the violent control of Nineteen Eighty-Four; but the underlying culture is closer to Brave New World or even Jennifer Government. And for more commentary, see Amusing Ourselves to Death (A Methuen paperback) or How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.

It has a harder edge. Beukes has captured the zeitgeist and sharpened it. It is a world of recreational drugs, sex and sexuality, where corporations act as they see fit with little regard for the law - or more accurately, pretty much as the law - where the rich have got richer, and the poor have got poorer but have been rendered pretty much impotent through being disenfranchised.

We meet four characters, whose lives intersect - Kendra, Toby, Lerato and Tendeka. All have issues with the status quo on one level or another. From the history of dystopic worlds, we know that this is not a good situation to be in. Will they survive? Can they learn to love Big Brother? Or can they overthrow him?

This is good SF - the extrapolations are all too real, all too obviously deriving their heritage from the world we see around us. The language is - well, put it this way, if you are going to have a problem with the "F" word, I wouldn't recommend this book (even so, I think it's not a bad idea to get it off the cover ...). But the book should take an honourable place in the catalogue of dystopia.

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