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J A C Corbett (Blackheath, London, UK)
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Why England Lose: And other curious phenomena explained
Why England Lose: And other curious phenomena explained
by Simon Kuper
Edition: Hardcover

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining romp that lacks groundbreaking revelation, 17 Oct 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
`Why England Lose' or `Soccernomics' - to give it its non-UK title - is an attempt by Simon Kuper, a leading football writer, and sports economist, Stefan Szymanski, to give football the `freakonomics' treatment. The result is sometimes entertaining and often interesting, but overall the effect is somewhat uneven and frequently bogged down by the authors' attempts to provide a theoretical framework for their musings.

Comparisons with Moneyball, Michael Lewis's 2003 account of how Billy Beane revolutionized the Oakland Athletics baseball team through statistical analysis, are inevitable. At times `Why England Lose' seems a self conscious attempt to give football the Moneyball treatment . But the very nature of the game is less controlled than baseball, which essentially boils down to one-on-one encounters between pitcher and batter. Football's inherent randomness, despite the authors attempts to argue otherwise, make it more difficult to be influenced by statistical theory.

Arsene Wenger is the golden boy of this book. He has used statistics and psychology to brilliant effect, particularly in the first half of his career as Arsenal manager. The authors unravel some of his strategies, but don't really add much new. There's a sense that even an in-the-know fan could suss them out (buy young, sell after a player has peaked, make a player feel wanted, and so on) over a few post-match pints.

But instead of on-the-field business the authors explain other footballing phenomena. Some, such as why new stadiums and football tournaments don't bring desired economic benefit, is fascinating. Others, such as which country is the best `pound for-pound' footballing nation, less so.

This is an entertaining book, but I'd stop short of describing it as a must read. There's a knowingness - which borders on smugness - in its tenor that belies the actual content -- which is interesting but not exactly earth shattering. In his earlier works and his weekly FT column Kuper has proven himself a far more entertaining and perceptive author; it's a shame he doesn't quite carry it off here, but maybe that's a problem that comes with co-authorship.


Philips AVENT SCF274/23 Express Electric Steam Steriliser
Philips AVENT SCF274/23 Express Electric Steam Steriliser

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A more compact solution for less heavy users, 6 Oct 2009
This steriliser is a more compact version of a model I'd tried previously. Philips Avent products - as you will garner from my previous reviews - are really great; the best quality kit we've bought for our child, and believe me when I say that we've bought a lot. It comes with two Avent bottles, which are also the best that we've used and on their own worth around 10.

As to the steriliser, it performs perfectly well. We are, to be honest, occasional users -- our child was mostly breastfed until 5/6 months and never used a dummy -- and the larger, more expensive model was not really necessary. This is neat and tidy and sterilises in a quick enough time -- I'm not really sure what other reviewers are complaining about when they say it is too slow for their needs. All in all, good quality and value from Philips once again.


Freddy the Frog Bath Book (Axel Scheffler's Noisy Bath Books)
Freddy the Frog Bath Book (Axel Scheffler's Noisy Bath Books)
by Axel Scheffler
Edition: Bath Book

4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely gift for young children, 6 Oct 2009
This is a terrific, brightly illustrated book for under-threes. I tried to hide it from my young son to give to him when he was a little older, but he spotted the arresting colours and was immediately dipping into my bag to get his copy.

I'm not entirely sure about the wisdom of giving children a book to read in the bath - but because it is in a plastic, spongy materiel, it is more long lasting than conventional illustrated books and won't become dog-eared in the way thag even board books do.

In short, this is a fun, nicely written and illustrated book - and it squeaks as well.


Leviathan
Leviathan
by Philip Hoare
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant account of Whales and their effect on the human consciousness, 19 Sep 2009
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This review is from: Leviathan (Paperback)
Whales exert a huge presence in modern consciousness - `Save the Whale' has been a clarion call of the environmental movement for as long as I remember - and yet comparatively little is known about them. Indeed only recently have accurate anatomical drawings been made, and for years scientists and natural historians were reliant on guesswork.

This is Philip Hoare's history of his own fascination with whales. It starts with his childhood encounters with life size replicas at London's Natural History Museum and ends with his adult encounters, a stunning and poignant account of swimming with sperm whales in the Azores. Throughout he mixes literary criticism (invariably Herman Melville features heavily), social, cultural and natural history - much, alas, until recently bloody and driven by man's profit motive rather than his passion for nature - with his own profoundly moving experiences of these great beasts.

It is in so many ways a perfect book: accessible, evocative, brilliantly written, expertly portioned between Hoare and the great Leviathons (and never, as so many of these sort of books are, self indulgent) and superbly illustrated; a worthy winner of this year's Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 12, 2011 5:22 PM BST


Juliet, Naked
Juliet, Naked
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Low Fidelity, 18 Sep 2009
This review is from: Juliet, Naked (Hardcover)
Juliet, Naked purportedly follows a tradition to that set by Nick Hornby in High Fidelity-- in so far as both books follow music obsessive approaching mid life crisis. The title is a take on The Beatles' `Let It Be... Naked' - a pared down version of their finest album -- and alludes to the latest release (a version of his classic album `Juliet') by reclusive American folk singer, Tucker Crowe. Meanwhile in England, Crowe's legion of fans, led by "Duncan", discuss every nuance of his work over the internet.

Sadly the elements that made High Fidelity such a joy are lacking. There is none of polish and verve of the earlier book; the raw wit and insight that later made such a successful transition to film. It's difficult to empathize with characters that are so dreary and have so little going for them. Large passages are made up of conversations between the three main characters - Annie, Duncan and the elusive Tucker - but the words they speak are as trite as their personalities.

Hornby eschews his favoured North London backdrop for a fictional east coast town, Gooleness. But there is little sense of place, and even its wretchedness seems cursory. In High Fidelity Hornby tries to mix things up by using lists as a device to break up the novel: there it is done with hilarious results; here he tries it with invented Wikipedia entries and excerpts from internet chat rooms and it's as riveting as -- well -- a Wikipedia entry or an except from an internet chat room.

This book is four years in the making, but it seems rushed and lacking, as if it is a first draft that needs greater editorial input. I wonder what a publisher would make of it if it came through their door unsolicited and without Hornby's name across the top?

Only in the last fifty pages do we see glimpses of the author's past form. The part where the obsessed Duncan unexpectedly meets Tucker is invariably comic, if not somewhat implausible. The closing sections are nicely done too, with no grandstanding by the author. But 15-20 mildly amusing pages in a novel 250 pages long do not make a good book.

This is one to be avoided; sad evidence of an author not just losing form, but after other bum notes, such as `A Long Way Down', seemingly in decline.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 27, 2009 3:16 PM BST


Of Time and the City [DVD] [2008]
Of Time and the City [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Terence Davies
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: 8.57

11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious dirge that says nothing about this great city, 29 Aug 2009
Veteran film maker Terence Davies revisits the city of his youth in this purportedly elegiac documentary, Of Time and the City. As a son of the city I had long looked forward to seeing this film. On its release Davies was hailed as the forgotten hero of British cinema and it was deemed an indictment of this country's film industry that he hadn't received the backing to make a film in almost a decade. Now I know why.

First let me deal with the good parts. Liverpool looks fabulous in the new footage. At times you think you could be looking down on Rome. The archive materiel is great too, and seeing the Mersey ferries and the old overhead railway reminded me of New York.

If you want a homage to Liverpool watch the pictures, turn down the sound and put on a record to drown out the sound of Davies's interminable drone. Then you might appreciate this great city, and maybe even the director too.

For this film isn't really about Liverpool, rather it is Davies' rambling recollections of growing up there as a repressed homosexual. He mixes his memories with excerpts from poetry and Chekhov; I think it's supposed to be lyrical, but it's just dirge, frankly. Indeed this film seeps with his lack of artistic discipline and he lets loose on all his petty-hatreds. His rant against the monarchy has nothing whatsoever to do with the ethos and spirit of the film. His barely controlled anger, expressed as it is in his ridiculous voice, is almost comical. He also sloppily mixes up scenes from the city's 1980s nadir with shots of the 1960s.

Why has it taken such pseudo-intellectualism for Liverpool to receive on film the serious cultural credit it merits?

There is nothing about the vibrancy and energy of the city. He bangs on about Liverpool's contradictions and introversion, but ignores the fact that it looks out to sea, that it was Britain's principal repository for foreign ideas - particularly from the American east coast - until the 1970s. Laughably he dismisses the Beatles. Disgracefully the city's preoccupation with football is virtually ignored. The only mention Everton get is on a radio voice over. Liverpool for some reason are portrayed as a 1950s football force. It says nothing about Liverpool except that it is staunchly Catholic and working class. Really, my impression was that it was a place alien to where I grew up.

But what is Davies really saying? To me, it seemed to be that Liverpool rejected him because he is homosexual and that this fiercely Catholic city was too narrow to accept that in the 1950s. I'd counter this by saying that his experience was typical of gays everywhere in the 1950s - a time when homosexuality was, after all, outlawed - and are that it chewed him up and spat him out because everyone hates a poseur and no city despises pretentiousness like Liverpool. Worse still, he hasn't outgrown it: just watch this drivel and find out.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 3, 2011 10:57 AM BST


Philips AVENT SCF276 iQ24 Electronic Steam Steriliser
Philips AVENT SCF276 iQ24 Electronic Steam Steriliser

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Avent lead the way, but is this essential kit?, 23 Aug 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have found since the birth of my son that Philips offers the best range, quality and value for money in baby products. After several false starts he won't use any other bottle than the Philips Avent (three of them come with this product), which is simple, ergonomically designed and doesn't give him wind.

This steamer-steriliser promises to take some of the work out of sterilising baby paraphenalia - and it does just that. You can take out and replace bottles as you need them as it runs on a 24 hour cycle.

However, the truth is that if you are breast feeding your child and only need the occasional bottle/ dummy it's just not that useful. The tried and trusted home sterilising kits (essentially an elaborate bucket that you put tablets and water in and fetch out items with a tong) will suffice. Remember that you only need to sterilise things for the first six months so even if you are relying on bottle feeding it will have a limited life.

Ultimately, this does what it says on the tin, but I would beg the question - is it an essential product? For many parents I would say it's not.


Philips AVENT SCD520 DECT Baby Monitor with Temperature Sensor
Philips AVENT SCD520 DECT Baby Monitor with Temperature Sensor

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine, reliable and good value for money, 23 Aug 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the neatest baby monitor I have seen, combining sleek design with good sound quality. It comes with all the requisite features one would expect, such as lullabies, two-way talk transmission and a torch. The sound is crisp, and it has a long range transmission. Of course it comes with the solidity and fine design that are hallmarks of Philips products.

Previously I have reviewed the SDC 530, which is nearly twice the price, but this does most of the things the more expensive model does and represents far better value for money.


Philips Azur GC4641 2400 Watt Steam Iron With Auto Shut Off
Philips Azur GC4641 2400 Watt Steam Iron With Auto Shut Off

5.0 out of 5 stars The BMW of steam irons, 23 Aug 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My younger self would have laughed about the prospect of getting excited about a steam iron, but what's not to get excited about this great beast of a contraption?

This is a heavyweight and powerful addition to my home's itinerary of domestic products and replaces the 15 dud I got from Argos many years ago. That said, I would never have known it was a dud until I felt the power of a Philips Azur. This iron glides through my week's shirts, powering through creases and speeding through a routine chore. I reckon I can do around 15 shirts in an hour or so; previously I would have managed about 10.

Invariably it swallows up water and needs refilling a couple of times an hour. But I can live with that and it takes barely a minute to reheat. It's also a lot neater than other so-called power irons (which are often twin parted and take up twice the space). Obviously it's a good deal more expensive than conventional irons, but if you tally up the extra hours it'll save you over a year I would counter that it's well worth that investment. A good buy.


Lost and Found in Russia: Encounters in a Deep Heartland
Lost and Found in Russia: Encounters in a Deep Heartland
by Susan Richards
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.68

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost in Action, 10 Aug 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Lost and Found in Russia uses the stories of everyday Russians to tell the story of Russia since the fall of communism in the 1990s. It draws on the experiences of Susan Richards, an experienced and accomplished journalist in the country, and paints a dismal picture of the fates of Russians since the shackles of the old regime fell.

The book's main flaw is the lack of central narrative or sense of context. Richards tells us nothing of herself or what she's doing in Russia - yet her career as a journalist and charity founder is a remarkable one. There is an assumption that the reader will be familiar with her work, particularly an earlier book - Epics of Everyday Life.

This is a curious anomaly and the result is that as a reader I cared nothing for her. Her characterization is also weak and I found it difficult to empathize with her associates - many, such as Anna, who are otherwise fascinating - whom she uses to illustrate the story of Russia's people. As a book it lacks purpose, seeming like a string of chronologically listed anecdotes. There are also some glaring errors (such as her recounting watching Portugal beat France in the 2006 World Cup semi final) that diminish its credibility further.

This isn't to say that Lost and Found in Russia is entirely without merit. Some of the stories are moving, strange, fascinating - as witness Richards' encounters with Old Believers or Russian scientists. Had she been more selective and used them in a manner reminiscent of Wendell Stevenson's magnificent `Stories I Stole' (covering similar themes in post-communist Georgia) it would have been a far better work. As they stand they just don't stack up to build a cohesive book. Instead Lost and Found in Russia seems like an unwieldy piece of magazine journalism and is ultimately an unsatisfactory experience.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 13, 2013 9:43 AM BST


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