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David W. Berger
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A Higher Call: The Incredible True Story of Heroism and Chivalry during the Second World War
A Higher Call: The Incredible True Story of Heroism and Chivalry during the Second World War
Price: £2.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A touching story, well-written, but..., 6 May 2014
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The story is good, the research is immaculate and I enjoyed this skilfully written book to an extent, but it made me uneasy. Makos has shifted diametrically from someone who says he couldn't believe anything good whatsoever of the enemy to a vigorous apologist for the German air force. Much of the book's thrust seems to me to be an attempt to portray the pilots of the German air force as noble warriors, duped by Hitler and largely unknowing of the atrocities being committed. It rams home the idea, page after oleaginous page that they were doing nothing more than their soldierly duty for Germany and as such upheld the highest traditions of military honour, for which they are to be accorded the deepest respect. For Makos, they are totally innocent of any malign complicity in the war and at times it seems they are almost 'on our side'. Well, sorry, I don't buy it. In the same way as he was wrong to believe they were all 100% evil devils, he is just as wrong in his shift to believing every line he is fed by the veterans about how they all hated Hitler and were unwilling participants who didn't really know what was going on anyway. The book was marred for me by the feeling that its undercurrent was an attempt at whitewashing and rewriting history.

Buy the book if you want to read a good yarn well told, but don't believe everything all those German pilots would like you to believe and which the ingenuous Makos swallowed hook, line and sinker. It's a shame. He didn't need to go that far and he needs to be a bit more sceptical.


Last Hours on Everest: The gripping story of Mallory and Irvine's fatal ascent
Last Hours on Everest: The gripping story of Mallory and Irvine's fatal ascent
Price: £4.05

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well deduced and researched account of what is likely to have happened to Mallory and Irvine, 30 April 2014
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Anyone who is interested in the Mallory and Irvine mystery should read this book. It's interesting and often well-written, interweaving Hoyland's personal quest and family history into what is, overall, a pretty compelling narrative. I found the almost inevitable points scoring, grudge settling and obvious infighting amongst Everest historians and researchers to be tedious and I was going to give the book just three stars for that reason, but his highly realistic conclusions on what likely happened to Mallory and Irvine brought it up to four stars.

As a read, good but not great. As a proposition about what happened on the mountain that day, impressive and honest.


Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
Price: £5.98

83 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding reflection on medicine, neuroscience and the human experience, 17 Mar 2014
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I graduated from St. George’s Hospital Medical School in 1991 and well remember doing a neurosurgical attachment at Atkinson Morley’s Hospital in Wimbledon, where Mr. Marsh was a consultant before the hospital moved to the St. George’s site. I found the experience horrifying and the visions of people lying in rows of beds on the old Nightingale wards, shattered psychologically, physically and neurologically, reminiscent of a field hospital at Sevastopol, has stayed with me. This outstanding book is somehow reassuring to me because it shows that the existential awfulness of neurosurgical illnesses and treatments is not lost on all neurosurgeons and Mr. Marsh gives us a page-turning series of vignettes which get to the heart of what it is to be a neurosurgeon (and by extension a doctor of any kind) dealing with these kinds of conditions.

Although they are experienced in sharpest relief day in and day out in neurosurgery, this book teases out the dilemmas facing all doctors who deal with life and death illnesses. It is clear that the author’s experience prior to medical school as a geriatric nurse, teacher in Africa and Oxford student of PPE has furnished him with the literary tools and perspective to be able to portray these impossible situations in an eloquent fashion and he brings us uncomfortably close to the anxiety, doubt and equivocation which must affect anyone doing this job who has an ounce of sensitivity.

Lest this sound too much like a hagiography, it must be stated that although he comes across as a man of great compassion and sensitivity, the book reveals Mr. Marsh to have more than a few elements of the old school, irascible, patrician consultant surgeon about him. These make for great anecdotes, of course, and he will no doubt be long remembered by his trainees for that, but it is not difficult to see why he is unpopular with some of the more junior surgical consultants who function as NHS apparatchiks, nor with their controllers, the ever burgeoning plethora of new-style NHS managers. Both these groups will be ecstatic to see him retire. Mr. Marsh’s contempt for the idiotic, self-serving bureaucracy, blithe and uncaring of patients’ needs, which the NHS has become is well-expressed and will be shared by many of his generation and those a little younger. He’s a prickly dinosaur, alright, but one with his heart in the right place who has much to say and says it in a compelling way.

Buy this book if you are:
Interested in life and death.
Interested in medicine.
Interested in neuroscience and the roots of consciousness.
Interested in what it is to be a doctor.
Interested in what it is to be a person.
Interested in the search for meaning.
Interested in the philosophy of healthcare.
Interested in a thought-provoking, entertaining read, which you won’t be able to put down.

Don’t buy it if you:
Are feeling psychologically fragile.
Are unable to deal with paradox, nuance and not having a clear answer.

This book deserves to become a bestseller and to reach a broad audience, both due to its content and the quality of its writing. I don’t know if it will or not, but it is certainly a profound addition to the corpus of human literature.

(Disclosure: I am a GP, recently moved to practise abroad, partly because I couldn’t stand the NHS any more. I haven’t seen Mr. Marsh since 1990 and he wouldn’t know me from Adam. He wouldn’t have known me from Adam then, so I’m certainly not puffing the book through any personal connection.)
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 12, 2014 1:26 AM BST


No More Beyond: The Life of Hubert Wilkins
No More Beyond: The Life of Hubert Wilkins
by Simon Nasht
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful biography of an extraordinary man, 4 Feb 2014
It is amazing that so few have heard of Wilkins, even here in Australia, where I live. He must rank as one of the most incredible characters of the first half of the twentieth century, certainly the most incredible Australian (though he did nothing to ingratiate himself with the powers that be in his own nation, as the book explains), and also certainly the greatest explorer, even if we consider Shackleton, Thesiger, Amundsen and the rest.

The book is well-written and thorough. Any amateur student of exploration, aviation, WW1, the poles or, indeed, anyone who wants to read a biography of a fascinating, adventurous man who was liked by all who met him, should buy this book. The world produces few true heroes such as Wilkins and he deserves to be remembered.


The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty
The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty
by Nina Munk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.30

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A salutary tale, exquisitely well-written., 23 Dec 2013
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Jeffrey Sachs is fearsomely smart, driven and idealistic. The word hubris could also have been invented for him. His is an example of how the deceptively compelling simplicity of the Western rationalist / mechanistic approach can lead us so far up the garden path. The apparently 'obvious' solutions to this top economist with a (somewhat questionable) track record in turning round second world economies, solutions so self-evident only a moron could fail to see them, turn out not to be quite so self-evident after all. This book does an excellent job of chronicling the many creative ways in which the messy realities of life, and especially life in the 'developing world', acted together to stymie his best efforts in ways which he could not have predicted. What he could have predicted, however, was that perverse forces of some kind would inevitably act against what he was trying to do. He did not do that and went into the whole Millennium Village Project with a wide-eyed innocence which any gap year student who had spent a bare six months volunteering on a third world development project would have found laughable. You can't help feeling that if he'd done some time as a young man in the Peace Corps this whole debacle would never have happened.

What is as remarkable as the story itself, though, is that Nina Munk has crafted a compelling, page-turning story out of what most people would think was rather a dry topic. She is a gifted wordsmith and I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in development or simply the pitfalls of believing the Western rationalist-centric view of the world can deliver the answers the world needs on its own.


The Great Planes, by James Gilbert
The Great Planes, by James Gilbert
by James Gilbert
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, evocative book, 16 May 2013
This book is a classic, giving accounts of a variety of classic aircraft from the pilot's point of view by one of the world's greatest aviation writers. It inspired me to get involved in aviation.


Accident and Emergency Radiology, 2e: A Survival Guide
Accident and Emergency Radiology, 2e: A Survival Guide
by Nigel Raby FRCR
Edition: Paperback
Price: £36.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, 18 Oct 2012
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Compulsory reading for anyone working in A+E. I went on an emergency x-ray interpretation course that was essentially based on this book and they kept referring to how good it is, which indeed it is. The standard pocket reference on the subject. Buy it.


Switzerland: A Village History
Switzerland: A Village History
by David Birmingham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic insight into modern Switzerland, 25 Oct 2009
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For anyone with an interest in modern Switzerland and any knowledge of the Vaud / Bern border areas this book is a must. It is readable and fascinating and helps you place into context the patterns of contemporary life and social structure. If in doubt, buy it.


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