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The Unwinding: Thirty Years of American Decline
The Unwinding: Thirty Years of American Decline
by George Packer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, thought-provoking journalism, 5 Nov. 2014
This is one of the best books that I have read in any genre over the past few years. It's strength is its sheer simplicity. Packer doesn't explicitly offer any judgement or tell us what to think, rather he weaves together (in incredible detail) the life stories of a string of different Americans, some famous, most not famous, but all of whom have something to say about the state of modern America. The beauty is that everyone will read this book their own way. Ostensibly written against the backdrop of the financial crisis, some will see in it proof that the American dream is alive and well; others, that modern America is more unfair and more unequal than at any time in its history. What can't be denied, however, is the power of the life stories that are told here, and the universal truths that they speak. And for those who think that Wall Street salaries are just reward for hard work, or that the poor are only poor because they choose to be, well, there's plenty to chew on here.

All in all, this is a masterpiece of journalism. The stories told are beautifully written, incredibly well-researched, and heartbreaking, thought-provoking, infuriating and uplifting all at the same time. Whether you're particularly interested in contemporary US politics and society or not, I still think this book is worth a read. For the UK, in particular, this book offers - on my interpretation - a pretty chilling vision of the future. Far better, therefore, that we start asking ourselves is this is really where we want to go.

The Truth
The Truth
by Michael Palin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Enjoyable, 14 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Truth (Paperback)
If you wouldn't normally pick up a novel from a "celebrity" author then in this case I'd advise you to think again. This really was a delight. I bought it in a hurry solely on the basis that a) I needed something to read, b) the reviews on the cover were very positive, and c) Michael Palin's a good bloke, isn't he?

So it was a very pleasant surprise that this book was both well-written and so enjoyable. It's light and easy reading, for sure, but it's very vividly written, laugh-out loud funny in several places, and - pleasingly - it actually has something serious and refreshing to say. The characters are solid and believable, the plot full of gentle twists and surprises. And while the author's travels have clearly informed the landscape, characters (and message) that inhabit the book, I found the simple accounts of "normal" London life to be just as poignant and well-observed.

The plot is outlined in other reviews, but let's call it a novel about the environment and integrity in a changing world. A highly enjoyable book. And that's The Truth.

Berlin [DVD]
Berlin [DVD]
Price: £7.10

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding television, 4 Aug. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Berlin [DVD] (DVD)
Long a home to Germany's (and indeed the world's) artists, rebels and outcasts, Berlin is the place where the 20th century began and ended and is a more than deserving subject for this in-depth (3x1 hour) documentary written and presented by the BBC's Matt Frei.

I must be honest - I'd long appreciated Matt Frei's journalism but had never realised that he was German (his accent gives nothing away even if, on reflection, his surname does...). So who better to guide a British audience through this cleverly constructed narrative of his nation's capital. Indeed you get the feeling that this is a story that Matt Frei has long been waiting to tell, and it's done with enthusiasm, wit and and a profound knowledge of - and feeling for - this great city. The story is told predominantly through weaving together the lives of the city's inhabitants, from those who shaped the course of its history - such as Frederich the Great or Hitler - through to those otherwise ordinary citizens who've been shaped by it, such as those who still recall witnessing Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, or who suffered at the hands of the Red Army in 1945. In each case, big events are seen through small eyes and it was hard not to be moved at the first-hand accounts of holocaust survivors or families carved in two by Berlin Wall, for example.

Part three begins and ends with an elderly woman clinging on to a balcony on the day the Berlin Wall was constructed. Above her, East German police trying to pull her towards Communism, below her West Berliners encouraging her to jump towards the freedom of the capitalist west. It's a fantastic metaphor for Berlin - and Germany - and if you're only even remotely interested in German history or indeed in that of the Cold War or Europe more generally then I cannot recommend this documentary series highly enough. Television history at its very best.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 15, 2014 11:39 AM BST

How to Grow a Dinosaur
How to Grow a Dinosaur
by Caryl Hart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended for dinosaur crazy toddlers, 21 Mar. 2011
This review is from: How to Grow a Dinosaur (Paperback)
My 3 year old is dinosaur crazy, and although we've only had it for a week this book is already proving to be a big hit. It's the charming story of Albie, a little boy who's bored of gardening but gets a suprise when the seeds he's planted in his back garden suddenly grow into dinosaurs. The illustrations are wonderful and the text hits all the right notes - reading aloud it's fun to have lots of "arrghhs!" and "woahhhhs!" and my son seems to adore the sense of adventure in the otherwise ordinary environment of a back garden. The fact that at bedtime he keeps asking for "Albie" is as big an endorsement as there is in our house.

Thoroughly recommended for all dinosaur-crazy 2-5 year olds.

HTC Wildfire Sim Free Mobile  Phone - Metal Mocha (discontinued by manufacturer)
HTC Wildfire Sim Free Mobile Phone - Metal Mocha (discontinued by manufacturer)
Offered by GSM-Fonz - (New Year Sale! Up to 90% price Drop)
Price: £114.30

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of bang for your buck, 19 Mar. 2011
This is my first smartphone, so my points of comparison are admittedly a bit limited. But I'm impressed. I chose the Wildfire mainly because of its size, low price and the great reviews it has received. I have not been disappointed.

It's a very well-made and attractive piece of kit with great build quality, and it feels good and "heavy" in the hand. It's also not too big and not too small. Personally, I was put off by the HTC Desire not only because of the much higher price but because it looked as though I'd be able to play table tennis with it. If you don't want a brick in your pocket but still want high functionality and usability, the Wildfire seems to be a good choice. It's fantastically easy and intuitive to use. Like I said, I've never owned a smartphone before but within a couple of minutes I was connected to the internet, was linked to my email account and was downloading apps from the Android market. It really is reassuringly easy - even enjoyable - to use. Navigating around the different apps and widgets is a doddle. Making an actual phone call - ironically - is perhaps the hardest part, and I've already accidentally called people just by browsing through the directory. But I think it's just a case of getting used to it. Messaging is simple and allows you to see the previous correspondence with the person you're texting, like an email. Signing into Facebook also downloads your friends' photos and status to your contacts list which is a nice touch.

So what's not to like? I had read that the screen resolution was a major drawback with this phone. Unless you have exceedingly high expectations or are downgrading from an iPhone or Desire, it's really not. For "normal" usage I think the resolution is absolutely fine. For text-heavy websites it's true that you have to zoom in a bit, but I don't see it as a problem. I mean, if you want to spend your day reading a newspaper then use your laptop. Otherwise I don't see any problem at all - all the apps look great, as do photos, and the colours are bright and vivid. I'm sure there are better screens out there but this one is absolutely fine, particularly in view of the price. A minor quibble I do have is that you apparently can't use the alarm setting when the phone is switched off. Kind of a pain. Also, there's no task manager or reminder included so you have download an app for this. And as with all smartphones, so I'm told, the battery life is not great (24 hrs or so). But there are ways around this, like switching off the wi-fi when not using it and lowering the brightness of the screen, etc. Also, sometimes the phone freezes ever so slightly, but this is just for a couple of seconds or so and doesn't really seem to be a major problem (at this price the processor is understandably not of lightening speed).

All in all I'm amazed at what you get for the price. It's a good-looking, well-built, easy-to-use, intuitive and feature-packed smartphone for less than 200 quid. As a "budget" or introductory smart phone I can wholeheartedly recommend the Wildfire. iPhone and Desire users must surely be wondering why they've paid twice or three times the price for (surely) not that much more phone...

So, five stars for value for money and five stars for build quality, but four stars overall because it's not quite perfect, even if at this price it's as close as you're gonna get. Thoroughly recommendable.

E.S.T. - Live in Hamburg
E.S.T. - Live in Hamburg
Price: £14.68

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best jazz album of the decade (don't just take my word for it...), 17 Dec. 2009
EST Live in Hamburg was recently named by The Times as the best jazz album of the decade (Nov 21 2009). And there's been a lot of great jazz albums released in the past 10 years so it's obviously an impressive compliment! But they're spot on. EST were very much the jazz band to watch until Esbjorn Svensson's untimely and tragic death in the summer 2008. Their music was incredibly beautiful yet refreshingly innovative, each album exploring new possibilities and taking jazz to new levels, and Live in Hamburg captures EST at the very height of their powers. It's a stunning performance from a band that live were nothing short of a phenomenon. Not only for the funky lighting and smoke machines, but for the sheer intensity and passion of their playing, as well as their incredible modesty - three more pleasant and unassuming guys you could not meet. As live albums go it's flawless - a great selection of standout tracks spanning their entire career and musicianship so exciting it will take your breath away (it did mine). So while it's hard to believe that EST are no more, this album - like the recently released "very best of" - stands as a monument to the very best jazz band of the noughties. They will be missed.

e.s.t. Leucocyte (Esbjorn Svensson Trio)
e.s.t. Leucocyte (Esbjorn Svensson Trio)
Price: £16.17

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A haunting epitaph to a jazz legend, 16 Sept. 2008
Fact 1. EST were the most exciting, critically acclaimed, innovative and commercially successful jazz trio of at least the last decade.

Fact 2. Their eponymous pianist, Esbjorn Svensson, died in a diving accident in June 2008 aged just 44.

The world has lost a jazz giant, for sure. But what have EST left behind with Leucocyte, their last ever album? What Leucocyte most definitely is not is more of the same. As one other reviewer said, this is certainly not comfy background music (not that EST ever were). And yet neither would be it be fair to describe it as an awkward concept album. While much "freer" than their previous records - and indeed the whole album was based on improvisation and recorded over a mere 48 hours - how you'll enjoy it is probably closely related to how you came across EST in the first place. For those of a more jazz-orientation, well-versed in the sounds of Germany's ECM label, for example, I'm sure that Leucocyte will be well-received. It's edgy, darker, and well, just a little bit "difficult". And impressively so - after all, this was recorded in May by a band at the height of its commercial and critical success. And yet EST were still prepared to risk it all to take themselves in an entirely new direction. Hence for those who've come to enjoy EST for their melodies more than their improvisations, who would generally listen to more rock and pop than jazz, Leucocyte will probably require some work and it will most definitely not be to everyone's taste. Whereas previous EST albums appealed to the lighter side of the soul, tracks such as "Earth" and "Ab Initio" take it right to the dark side, bringing forth a haunting intensity that EST had previously only ever hinted at. Incredibly, it feels like music from the darkest, innermost reaches of EST's soul. And in the context of Esbjorn Svensson's subsequent death, it's thoroughly haunting. But as an epitaph to one of the greatest musicians of his generation, it couldn't feel more appropriate. EST will be sorely missed. And Leucocyte, like their previous albums, provides more than ample illustration why.

Fifa: The 2006 Fifa World Cup Film - The Grand Finale [DVD]
Fifa: The 2006 Fifa World Cup Film - The Grand Finale [DVD]
Dvd ~ Fabio Cannavaro
Offered by BLT-Deals
Price: £8.73

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Total Disappointment, 17 Dec. 2006
Considering how great the 2006 World Cup was you'd think it would be pretty hard to produce a useless video of it. All those hours and hours of great football, the wonderful atmosphere in Germany and, England's poor performance apart, a real treat for football fans all over the world. Well, FIFA have pulled off the impossible here and produced a video that captures none of the excitement, none of the passion and not even that much of the football. Only a fraction of the games are actually covered; some for too long, others for not long enough. So most of the great goals and the best action are missing. And even the matches that are covered are not filmed from the normal angle (i.e. looking down onto the pitch) but instead from the players' view which means you see next to nothing of the overall action. And with the commentary patchy at best there's hardly anything to get excited about - the atmosphere is more funereal rather than a carnival of football. Overall it feels like it was made and edited by people with no idea about nor feeling for the Beautiful Game - even the interviews included are dull. I mean, is the best question to ask Jens Lehman about the world cup really how important concentration is for a goalkeeper? It's pathetic. And all this nonsense doesn't even come cheap. A poor souvenir of a great world cup. My advice would be to save your money and your happy memories of the World Cup and look elsewhere.

Sam's Town
Sam's Town
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.97

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost - but not quite - a classic, 9 Nov. 2006
This review is from: Sam's Town (Audio CD)
Prepare to be a bit disappointed. Hot Fuss was far and away one of the best indie albums of 2004 and I couldn't have been more eager to hear Sam's Town. And although there really are some belting songs on this album ("Bling (Confessions of a King)" is an instant classic) I can't help feeling disappointed, particularly with the lyrics, which were for me a real high point on Hot Fuss. Instead I get the feel that the melodies were written first and then whatever random words would fit were just tacked on afterwards. Sometimes it's like they don't even fit, and they definitely don't have anything much to say. Maybe I was expecting too much, but songs like "Mr Brightside" were great not just for the awesome melody but also the fantastic lyrics which, to me at least, told stories which I could relate to. I really can't generate the same kind of enthusiasm about any of the new songs, as catchy as they often are. So four stars. Great songs, dull lyrics. Almost a classic album, just not quite.

Tuesday Wonderland
Tuesday Wonderland
Price: £14.71

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 27 Sept. 2006
This review is from: Tuesday Wonderland (Audio CD)
These three unassuming guys from Sweden just keep going from strength to strength. They're a jazz trio which fuse rock, pop, jazz and classical music into something so original, so fresh and so touching that you really do have to hear it to believe it. As the previous reviewer said, "Tuesday Wonderland" has more of 2003's "Seven Days of Falling" about it rather than 2005's "Viaticum", but the house style certainly remains very much in evidence. Wonderful, enchanting ballads are interspersed with uplifting, energetic almost rock-like jazz that really does stand these guys apart from their contemporaries.

And as EST begin to break the US (they recently made the cover of Downbeat Magazine - the first European jazz group ever to do so) you can't help thinking that their best might be yet to come. And given how brilliant their output up til now has been - Tuesday Wonderland included - that's really saying something.

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