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Neil J. Pearson (London, UK)
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Genghis Khan: And the Making of the Modern World
Genghis Khan: And the Making of the Modern World
by Jack Weatherford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

2.0 out of 5 stars An overly revisionist story as opposed to history., 16 April 2015
I didn't realise this was the work of an anthropologist as opposed to a historian but it makes a lot of sense. This is far more story than history and the author projects far too much onto Genghis and the Mongol empire. In fact I now know exactly who Dan Carlin was taking a shot at throughout his "wrath of the khans" podcast series (which I heartily recommend). Many of the benefits claimed by the author were still the result of millions (and haggling over millions does not make them less horrific) of deaths and the destruction of at least one cultural empire. I don't have a problem with there being long-term (many indirect) benefits of the mongol conquest but I was frustrated with the Author's insistence on how this was their goal all along and that they were enlightening conquests.
There are some interesting things presented in the story (origin of the word "assassin") but I was constantly under the impression that the author would censor elements that contradicted his theory (which he did unless more modern histories have new information.
The one aspect I found fascinating though was the final chapters discussing the portrayal of Mongols throughout history and the appalling use of the "mongoloid" theory for children with Downs syndrome. It's shocking to see how science can be influenced by public perception and in light of such defammation of the mongols I can somewhat understand the author's passionate attempt to redress the balance. In terms of balance though, there is clearly a place in between the pits of pre 20th century and the pedestal the author places the mongol empire upon.


Napoleon the Great
Napoleon the Great
by Andrew Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

5.0 out of 5 stars Napoleon made human through his own letters. Brilliant narration in the audiobook too., 10 April 2015
This review is from: Napoleon the Great (Hardcover)
I have to admit my knowledge of Napoleon was largely based on my secondary school education and this book highlights the British bias as far as my education was concerned. This book is a real eye opener and while it's clear Roberts is a fan of Napoleon he never really distorts facts but offers strong arguments or interpretations that clash with many popular perceptions. The best evidence is supplied by Napoleon himself in an amazing collection of letters charting his entire career. These really bring Napoleon to life and we see his wry humour, use of propaganda and obsession with soldier's boots. The way he chastises his family in personal letters also makes it easier to imagine his behaviour in famous meetings.
I have to say my preconceptions were of Napoleon as a 19th century Hitler but I was very mistaken (unless time causes a loss in perspective) - he was far more complicated than that. He certainly helped define that century though.
Roberts writes in a very entertaining way and there is never a dull moment or section where it feels like he's simply reciting a list. There's also a very dry humour throughout. Special mention has to go to narrator Stephen Thorne who delivers the book brilliantly. So good that I'm keeping an eye out for other books narrated by him.


The Martian
The Martian
Price: £1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A perfect "blockbuster book" for sci-fi fans wanting a holiday read., 9 April 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Martian (Kindle Edition)
I picked this up a while ago as the concept sounded fun but then I left it a while, thinking it would be a trashy summer holiday hit (it probably will be, once the film is out). Anyway, I had a holiday and something I could pick up and leave easily and gave it a try. It is very much a "blockbuster" book but it does a really good job of being easy to follow and damn addictive. I found myself dipping into the book whenever I had some free time available.
Think Apollo 13/Robinson Crusoe/Castaway and you'll be close to what "the martian" is like.
Watney, the protagonist goes from one hopeless situation to another, using his wits to survive just a little big longer. That constant pattern of challenge - solution keeps the book moving at a solid pace throughout. The author doesn't seem afraid to use whatever writing style that's necessary to tell a scene although I did feel it jumped around a bit too much in places and that the first person "log" style was the most enjoyable.
I've no idea how well the science holds up but it was solid enough to have me not outright calling "BS" on it. So it appears to be well-researched (although I probably wouldn't want to know if it isn't, now). It also did a really good job of injecting that sense of wonder and exploration that a sci-fi novel should have in a semi-contemporary setting. Hopefully the book/film will inspire people to try it themselves!


Half the World (Shattered Sea, Book 2)
Half the World (Shattered Sea, Book 2)
Price: £4.75

5.0 out of 5 stars The Shattered Sea is up there with the First Law series after only 2 books., 28 Mar. 2015
First of all the cover to this book is beautiful - it really stands out and helps set the atmosphere. I really enjoyed the first book and I'm a general fan of Abercrombie so was not surprised to find this was a great read. I was initially wary of Yarvi (the original book's protagonist) no longer being the point-of-view but his positioning may work even better than previously. A few years have passed and it's clear he's putting his experience and deep cunning to work. This time around the story is based around two young warriors; Thorn who is headstrong and brash making her way in a male world, and Brand who maybe isn't as well-suited to this world as he hopes.
Much of the book is a training story with the end of the second act oddly being the pinnacle of the story and it is one of Abercrombie's tensest set-pieces yet. The final act is mainly concerned with the aftermath and it's refreshing to have this much time spent on the end of a quest.
Abercrombie's greatest strength is in his characters which are likeable regardless of whether they are genuinely good or not. His previous book's also ensure you treat characters as genuinely at risk when placed in peril - something other books suffer from. Oddly enough, I'd say his world building is more in depth in this YA book than in his mature but that just shows how blurred the lines are between such tags.
I initially went into this series thinking "I'll indulge Abercrombie while he gets ready for his next "First law" series. Now I'm strongly hoping he can find the time to continue writing both series for some time to come.


1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Unabridged)
1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Unabridged)
Offered by Audible Ltd

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So it's interesting from a "what was the bronze age like at that time" but isn't wholly satisfying from a ..., 17 Mar. 2015
I listened to the unabridged audiobook. I found the narrator's voice a bit quirky at times particularly when quoting. The book itself is a bit of a mixed bag as it really only spends 20% of it on the actual collapse, the rest is about the state of the bronze age at its prior height. So it's interesting from a "what was the bronze age like at that time" but isn't wholly satisfying from a "what caused the collapse" angle. The reasons they give for the collapse are quite reasonable - especially given how little is actually known about it.
My main issue was that I found large sections of the book quite dry and while part of this may be the narrator, I strongly suspect the underlying problem is with the writing. It does highlight the importance of being able to write history in an engaging way and while the book has its moments there are a lot of areas that are easy to get lost in - especially if you are reading the book for an insight into the collapse. It may be more enjoyable of you want to know about the 200 years prior but I think this is ultimately something I'd have been better off with leafing through the relevant pages at the library.


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive
Price: £7.83

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An eye opener as long as you aren't easily depressed., 28 Feb. 2015
I listened to the audiobook and found it really interesting. The book talks about various forms of societal collapse by looking at historical examples. It can make for a chilling and depressing read but I found it curious to look at these things from the point of view of ecosystems and resource management. I wasn't expecting the "current" example of Montana to grip me but what's fascinating about this section is you get to see all the personal attitudes and conflicts that are lost through the historical record.
It does get a bit depressing and there was more than once I wanted to bang my head against the wall at our collective stubbornness. It's not all doom and gloom though and there are signs of potential hope dotted around. It has certainly made me aware of the FSC and MSC and I'll certainly check those stamps are present on all my paper/wood and fish purchases from now on.


Cibola Burn: Book 4 of the Expanse
Cibola Burn: Book 4 of the Expanse
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The series goes in a very different direction., 28 Feb. 2015
I think it's best to put spoiler warnings up in advance as while my comments won't spoil this book it's near impossible to discuss it without spoiling earlier instalments. So there's you warning.
The events at the end of the last book mean the series has been turned on its head. Up until now the series was about humankind surviving in our solar system but with the gates there are now earth-like planets to colonise creating a new age of discovery/gold rush. Things go wrong literally right out the gate with "squatters" colonising a planet already claimed by an interplanetary conglomerate. So what could have been a "first landing" story quickly becomes a conflict between two factions. It's interesting to see how the two sides are portrayed as both act unreasonably and not everyone within a faction is on the same page. The only downside to this is that the aspect I found most interesting - that of studying the alien ecosystem is buried under the conflict. Which is a shame.
The characters bring different viewpoints although I never really warmed to Basia. Havelock started out as appearing 1 dimensional but developed into the most interesting character overall. Typically of Daniel Abraham is the fact the most interesting character is a non- POV one and also the villain.
I think this book will divide fans as it is very different from the rest of the series.
I felt the ending was resolved a bit too easily and the constant disasters on the planet was a bit of overkill for me.
I hope they go back more to the solar-based story rather than exclusively focusing on new worlds from now on though. The change was probably required to keep the series interesting and hints about the new book suggest we'll be seeing the political ramifications of the gate-system.


Seal of the Worm (Shadows of the Apt Book 10)
Seal of the Worm (Shadows of the Apt Book 10)
Price: £4.40

5.0 out of 5 stars Satisfying conclusion to a unique series, 4 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
There's always a concern that the final installment in a long running fantasy series will disappoint but Adrian Masterfully brings the series to a satisfying conclusion resolving many character arcs and story threads that have been building since day 1. The series-long war comes to a head and alliances are made where it becomes very possible that a possible wasp defeat may merely allow another faction to become even more dangerous. This is largely thanks to Adrian making a point to show the Wasps as "human" as their adversaries can be "inhuman". This is exemplified in Tynan, my favourite character of the last few books and his counterpart Milus. Elements from earlier books come to fruition and it really does feel like their was a plan throughout or Adrian covers his tracks well.
If I had to pick a criticism, I think it would be that the Worm sublot wasn't really required and that the main thrust of the battle could have easily filled the book. That said, I was impressed how this new idea was resolved and fed into the main events - it also provided characters with things to do that may have seemed redundant otherwise. Speaking of the characters, they all feel pretty fleshed out at this stage and characters I criticised being introduced in "the air war" were more than welcome here. Some of the series earlier characters felt a little extraneous and I still feel as though Thalric faded into the background midway. This was counterbalanced by an enjoyable return to form for Totho though and it shows a level of maturity in the author when he knows not to force a character into the limelight.
I'd probably give this book a 4 but given it's a concluding chapter it is a solid 5. The concept is still one of the best in fantasy and the mixture of ancient and modern military makes it pretty unique in a crowded marketplace. It has also been a joy to watch Adrian's writing skills match his ideas over the course of the series. I'll be checking out his future books and crossing my fingers he'll eventually return to the world of the kinden.


War Master's Gate: Book Nine in the Shadows of the Apt series
War Master's Gate: Book Nine in the Shadows of the Apt series
Price: £4.40

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Stakes/Pikes are raised in this penultimate chapter., 9 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The penultimate book in the series is definitely one of the strongest and has plenty of developments while giving the whole cast something to do (a weakness in some of the later books). As has often been the case in the series, I find myself gravitating towards the villains and Adrian has to be commended for making sure the wasps never feel like just the bad guys. This is largely because many of the wasp agents are decent people doing their duty. This is exemplified in General Tynan, my favourite wasp since Thalric lost his edge. Another species that I came away liking more were the mantids who have evolved beyond the warrior elf stereotype into an even more tragic race.
My only concern is that a whole new threat is introduced towards the end of this book and I worry that it may be too late to do so. I guess i will find out upon reading the final book but this installment has given me quite a bit of hope.
As an aside, I found the short story at the end to be a bit of a slog but I can't really complain about additional material.


Abaddon's Gate: Book Three of the Expanse series
Abaddon's Gate: Book Three of the Expanse series
Price: £6.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back on Track, 17 Sept. 2014
I found the second installment merely "solid" but I'm pleased I eventually got around to part 3. It addresses all of the issues I had with the second book by having a plot that was unique and also opened the series up in ways I hadn't foreseen. The POV characters were all really strong and distinct this time too. My favourite aspect of the book (and something all the books in the series have been good at) is how it throws you into the action right away and continues to escalate throughout. By the half-way point I was almost out of breath and was concerned the story might run out of steam. I needn't have worried as this book doesn't let up until the end and when you get there you can't wait for the possibilities of what comes next. I'm glad the series is back on track and with the potential to go in many different directions. The authors have essentially created the "summer blockbuster" of the sci-fi novel without having to be dumb. Keep them coming.


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