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Nobrow 9: it's Oh So Quiet: Nobrow Magazine
Nobrow 9: it's Oh So Quiet: Nobrow Magazine
by Sam Arthur
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Shhhhh....., 29 Nov. 2014
Another sumptuous anthology of illustration and comic art, this one has a very distinct feel with its 'quiet' colour palette of magenta, cyan and yellow. Jon McNaught is the perfect choice to carry the edition, with cover art and a sublime comic entry as we've come to expect. All the comic strips are 4 pages (two spreads) however the illustrations are particularly strong in this one.


The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Timothy Lim
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative, 5 Jan. 2011
This is a fact-heavy account of the circumstances surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient manuscripts discovered in caves near Khirbet Qumran that went on to become something of a cultural icon. I found the book informative, but if I'm being honest, a little on the dry side. There's an awful lot of information crammed in here, much of it concerning what we can gather about the Qumran community. Also a lot on how the scrolls have contributed to our understanding of the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity. No doubt the media-driven mystique of the topic led me to unreasonably high expectations, but unfortunately the subject didn't capture my interest as much as I thought it would. On a positive note, I approached this book not quite knowing what the Dead Sea scrolls actually were, and Timothy Lim certainly cleared it up for me, dispelling the myths and explaining their importance to archaeologists and researchers of ancient Judaism/early Christianity. In that respect, job done.


Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Samir Okasha
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction - informative, balanced and accessible, 5 Jan. 2011
A book of this size will never do justice to such an extensive subject as the philosophy of science - but what this covers, it does so extremely well, thanks largely to the author's clear writing and a good choice of subjects.

The fundamentals of induction, explanation, realism and scientific change are all explained intelligibly, arguments are presented with corresponding counterarguments, and where necessary, topics are introduced with the right amount of background information - for example, the debate between scientific realism and anti-realism begins with a summary of the older, more metaphysical debate between realism and idealism; the chapter on scientific reasoning begins with an exploration of the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, and so on.

A chapter on scientific change and the nature of scientific revolutions is particularly enjoyable, introducing the logical positivists and Kuhn's view of science. Another chapter explores some of the more notorious philosophical problems within science, such as the concept of absolute space and the dilemma of biological classification. The final chapter is devoted to a much-needed discussion of the various criticisms often aimed at science, including that old chestnut, scientism.

Overall I found this to be an introduction worthy of the name - it was informative, challenging and kept my interest throughout. Suitable for anyone interested in philosophy or indeed any branch of science.


Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Timothy Gowers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good take on the subject, 5 Jan. 2011
It's well known that some concepts in mathematics can be utterly mind-bending - concepts such as curved space, higher dimensional geometry, infinity, and more besides. To be able to work with any of these, you often need to let go of the urge to visualise something and instead settle for merely conceptualising it. You need, in other words, to feel comfortable thinking in a thoroughly abstract way. This book is an introduction to that way of thinking. It's not one of those books that joyously recaps all the rules and syntax you'd forgotten since leaving school. Rather, its aim is simply to give you the means to grapple with core aspects of advanced mathematics.

While this book doesn't overwhelm with technicalities (a British GCSE or equivalent in the subject should be sufficient prior knowledge for most readers), the rules and processes are not ignored, and there are brief introductions/reminders of topics such as Euclidean geometry, irrational numbers and so on. However the author's aims and emphasis are decidedly more psychological and philosophical. Why should we accept the axioms proposed by mathematicians? What exactly is a number? What does mathematical proof actually mean? These questions first need to be explored before embarking on the path to more esoteric concepts such as multi-dimensional geometry and manifolds (incidentally, useful for anyone interested in string theory).

The chapters are sensibly structured and Gowers's enthusiasm for the subject radiates from each page without ever sinking into that patronising "Hey kids, maths is fun!" style of writing. The last chapter contains a selection of genuinely interesting FAQs, including some good suggestions as to why so many people seem to strongly dislike mathematics, compared with say biology or English literature (about which the non-enthusiast may just feel indifferent). Overall I found this more interesting that expected; a useful take on the subject that lays the groundwork for some of the more advanced areas of mathematics.


Kant: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Kant: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Roger Scruton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One of the toughest VSI's I've read, 5 Jan. 2011
My expectations of this book were never towards a light, easy read. The VSIs on Hume, Hobbes and Spinoza were all tough for the general reader, but, with perseverance, not insurmountable. This one, I'm afraid, defeated me. I forced myself through to the end, and what I understood, I enjoyed. Most interesting to me was Scruton's account of Kant's political vision and the introduction to Kant's metaphysics with relation to the rationalist/empiricist positions of Leibniz and Hume.

Beyond that, there were large chunks that, for me at least, made for tortuous reading - no doubt a reflection of my own intellectual limitations rather than any failing of the author, who, to be fair, pre-warns that a re-read will be necessary. I realise that Kant's ideas are notoriously tough even without their own ambiguities and contradictions, but other readers have obviously got a lot out of this book, so I shall probably file this under 'to re-read'. In the meantime, take this rating as a first impression - possibly of use to other beginners, and hopefully to be revised at a later date.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 16, 2015 5:57 PM GMT


Hume: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Hume: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Alfred Ayer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very short - not quite introductory - but very rewarding, 5 Jan. 2011
Another fairly demanding read from Oxford's Past Masters series repackaged and reissued as a Very Short Introduction. Here it's Ayer's 1980 treatment of David Hume. It's worth noting this because any complaint from beginners about the use of the word 'introduction' should be directed at the publisher rather than the author who I think has done a magnificent job with this beautifully precise study.

Following a short biographical first chapter, Ayer quickly delves into an exposition of Hume's philosophy, focusing on his aims and methods, his assessment of bodies and selves, his analysis of cause and effect, and his thoughts on morals, politics and of course religion. Rather than focusing on a single work at a time, he switches back and forth between the Treatise, the Enquiry, and so on, extracting and assimilating passages seamlessly into his own examination.

Some have complained that Ayer intrudes too heavily with his analysis, shoehorning in too many of his own thoughts and ideas. Personally I didn't have a problem with it. Ayer was an important philosopher in his own right, and it was inevitable that any scholarly treatment of Hume's ideas would include their vulnerabilities and demand interpretation and critique. On balance, I don't think he overstepped the mark.

This may be a short read, but it isn't a light one, and beginners (I count myself as one) should be prepared to concentrate and even make notes to get the most out of it. If you were expecting Hume for Dummies, you'll likely feel overwhelmed and disappointed. It's worth persevering though. I came away with not only a deeper understanding of Hume's own philosophy but also a capacity to actually reflect on the ideas themselves.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2012 2:19 PM GMT


Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality
Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality
by Manjit Kumar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Feeds the brain and the heart, 17 Nov. 2010
Like a good novel, this kept me gripped to the very end thanks to a perfect balance between hard science and human interest. The first thing you notice about the book is the detail. Copiously researched, Kumar has pulled together a truly impressive array of material, both personal and professional, constructing a rich history that transports you to the subject's golden age and to the lives of the key players. He tells a story so engrossing and so detailed that I felt surprisingly moved towards the end. Yes, by a book on quantum theory.

In terms of the science, there are some first-class explanations from blackbody radiation and the photoelectric effect through to EPR and Bell's Theorem, with 30+ pages of end notes. Although the history is structured around the debate between Einstein and Bohr, other key players are afforded considerable coverage - not just the obvious ones like Planck, Rutherford, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, de Broglie and Born, but also (and to his credit) some of the lesser known figures - Sommerfeld, Uhlenbeck, Compton - whose crucial contributions to the field frequently go unmentioned in books and articles on this subject.

The great debate itself is a tremendously invigorating one. Both Einstein and Bohr agreed that quantum mechanics was correct. Where they disagreed was in whether or not it was complete. In fact the implications of this disagreement went deeper, calling into question the fundamental role of physics itself, and whether there is even such a thing to be measured as an independent objective reality. On this, the author's background in physics and philosophy are put to good use. Overall then, this is a captivating fusion of science, history, philosophy and biography, and a great way to feed the heart and the brain.


Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
by Daniel C. Dennett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More investigation than Polemic, 17 Nov. 2010
In Breaking the Spell Dan Dennett takes the time to set out the scope of his inquiry and to tackle questions in the right order. It feels like a genuine investigation rather than a mere polemic, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with either approach, this one brings a calm precision to the table. The courteous tone is apparent from the very first question, of whether or not it's wise to subject religious belief to scientific scrutiny, given the possibility that this might break someone's spell. What do we endanger if the spell is broken? Is it worth it? With over 300 more pages filled with 'something', Dennett's answer is obvious before it arrives, but for a book of this nature, it's a good starting point.

Compared to his atheist cohorts (in particular, his fellow horsemen Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins), Dennett is less interested in attacking religion than in understanding what we can learn about this curious phenomenon, in particular from its origins and development. Objections are pre-empted and answered calmly and persuasively. Statements are qualified and clarified to a degree that might even infuriate some readers. Bringing with him a wealth of evolutionary, anthropological and psychological research, he is never afraid to point out where more research is needed, even if this means holding back from winning an argument. Don't, however, dismiss Dennett's book as an apology; it should be welcomed as a rigorous and respectful contribution to the debate.


The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story (Literary Classics - Gramercy Books)
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story (Literary Classics - Gramercy Books)
by Adams Douglas
Edition: Leather Bound

5.0 out of 5 stars Should have read these sooner, 17 Nov. 2010
The late Douglas Adams - friend of Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins, first person to buy a Mac in the UK, science enthusiast, wildlife advocate and comedy writer. No idea how I managed to reach my mid 30s without having read his books, but it was long overdue so I decided to catch up in style. I ordered the thick, gilt-edged, leather-bound Gramercy edition containing the "trilogy in five parts" plus one short story. First, what a physical beauty this book is! Second, what a joy it was reading each story back to back. Individually I'd rate them as follows:

***** The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
***** The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
**** Life, the Universe and Everything
***** So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
**** Mostly Harmless

(Young Zaphod Plays it Safe is just a short story so probably unfair to give it a rating alongside these. Frankly it's just a bit strange.)

The thing I admire about this series is the science behind the science fiction; the degree to which Douglas has clearly thought not only about the Hitchhiker universe but also 'the' Universe as it is. I love his perspective on parallel universes for instance (the entire multidimensional infinity of space/time/probability, aka the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash). Some of the concepts here are truly ingenious, and that's where the beauty lies. It's not greatly thought-provoking, it's not hugely philosophical, it's just inventive and funny. The combination of quirky humour and science works for me (though I'm sure nerdishness is not a pre-requisite to enjoying these books). Overall then, a good solid five star series, with the first book deserving nothing less than 42/10. Dirk Gently will definitely be added to my wish list.


Love All the People (New Edition)
Love All the People (New Edition)
by Bill Hicks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Laugh. You'll only cry otherwise, 17 Oct. 2010
Like almost all anti-establishment figures who died before their time, Bill's premature death served to seal his reputation as an almost godlike figure. Easy to be cynical about that of course, but also worth remembering that to be timeless you need a special something in the first place. Bill was no saint, no genius, and his arguments were not always as watertight as they might at first have appeared. But reading his material 16 years on - and reflecting on everything that's happened since - he seems, if not quite godlike, then at least the closest we got to a pre-millenial prophet. And a funny one at that. Much of his continued popularity lies in the simple fact that his material is still so painfully relevant; his vital injection of unhinged sanity more desperately required than ever.

Reading his denunciation of the first Gulf War and President Bush Sr, you can't help but reflect on the ample material he'd have had to work with during the Bush Jr era and the invasion of Iraq. Reading his take on the safe and soulless manufactured pop of the 80s and 90s, you long to hear him let rip on the proliferation of reality TV. Reading his caustic lampooning of reactionary Republicans, you wonder what he'd have had to say about the Tea Party movement. It's impossible not to ponder these things and wonder how the focus of his work might have changed had he remained with us. Was he all set to have become a lightning rod for reason? Or for spirituality? Was he destined to become a leading light of the late 90s anti-globalisation movement? Or a researcher of '9/11 truth'? It's possible to find seeds for all of these and more in the later routines covered in this collection.

Of course one of the most moving things about reading this book is knowing what lies ahead. Several 1993 performances feature Bill joking with the audience about how this would be his last show ever. He knew the real reason of course, but he didn't let on. Also included here is his 31 page letter to John Lahr revealing his devastation at being the first ever comedy act to be cut from the Letterman show. (Letterman would later take full responsibility for that decision and in 2009 finally air the routine in its entirety in the presence of Bill's mother as guest.) Another fascinating inclusion is the script for the pilot episode of a new Channel 4 talk show, Counts of the Netherworld. This would eventually be screened in 2004 on the tenth anniversary of his death.

Transcripts are always going to be an incomplete way to experience a performance, but thankfully the transcripts here are faithfully recounted down to each hesitation and word stumble (and for anyone familiar with Hicks's routines, it's really not hard to pull the missing flourishes and contortions from your head). Unsurprisingly this is a book with no shortage of laugh out loud material, but the additional letters and lyrics give the reader a fascinating insight into Bill Hicks the man. Original, challenging, and well-meaning, he wasn't perfect but he was mostly on the right track, and, to coin a phrase, one of life's good guys. If you identify with that feeling of being caught between both loving humanity and fast losing faith in it, read this book, smile, and take comfort in the fact that at least one man was feeling much the same way almost two decades ago.


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