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Elacia (Somerset, England)

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A First Rate Tragedy: A Brief History of Captain Scott's Antarctic Expeditions
A First Rate Tragedy: A Brief History of Captain Scott's Antarctic Expeditions
Price: £5.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and Thorough, 16 May 2012
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Despite the modesty of its new subtitle, this revised edition of Diana Preston's 1999 book offers a solid biography of Captain Scott, touching on all the key events of his life from childhood to untimely death. The author is especially good on his courtship and marriage of Kathleen Bruce, and the dynamics of their partnership; an area treated rather cursorily by some biographers.

The main focus, naturally enough, is on Scott's experiences in Antarctica and, if Preston's style is perhaps a little too cool and impersonal to make her narrative as engrossing as Kelly Tyler-Lewis' searching, heartfelt account of Shackleton's depot-laying party, The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party, nonetheless, she does an admirable job of trawling through an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources to present a thorough, workmanlike chronicle of the trials and achievements of the Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions.

Her revisions seem mostly confined to the penultimate chapter, `The Reason Why', where she considers new evidence in her appraisal of the various factors that contributed to the deaths of Scott and his four companions: shortcomings in the laying of the supply chain, Scott's sometimes questionable decision-making, his preference for ponies over dogs and an over-reliance on manhauling, dietary deficiencies, and the exceptionally severe weather conditions that prevailed during much of the return journey. This is where Preston excels, offering a careful and clear-headed assessment that deftly counterbalances Huntford's hatchet job on the one hand and Fiennes' hagiography on the other. Her conclusion is incisive, compassionate and touchingly phrased:

`The point is not that they ultimately failed but that they so very nearly succeeded.'

A word should be said of the Kindle edition of this title, which is exemplary. All notes are actively linked, as are the contents, photos, maps and index, making it a pleasure to use. Other than a handful of minor typos, the only weakness is the reproduction of the photos, which are rather grey and lacking in tonal balance. Overall, though, it's by far the best produced e-book I've yet read.

Journals: Captain Scott's Last Expedition (Oxford World's Classics)
Journals: Captain Scott's Last Expedition (Oxford World's Classics)
Price: £4.27

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Avoid the Kindle version of this title, 9 Mar. 2012
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This is not a comment on Scott's Journals, but a warning to avoid the Kindle version of this title published by Oxford University Press. It's necessary to make this clear, since Amazon has a habit of lumping together reviews of the same title, even when they clearly refer to very different editions.

Signs that Kindle readers are being shabbily treated are evident from the outset when, presumably as a result of a botched search-and-replace, one encounters the following formulations in the introduction: `introductionspective', `introductionduced' and `introductionducing', as well as one instance of `scott' and one of `printduring'.

Thankfully, the main text is relatively error-free, but there are a couple of instances of missing text: one in the narrative itself, which runs, `found to have quite a lot of fat on him and the' (the sentence stops there), and one in the notes that attributes `Slough of Despond' to `one of the scenes in part 1 of B' (which was obviously intended to say, `Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress"'). Moreover, several tables are rendered virtually useless at any text size due to erratic tabulation and arbitrary line-endings, while note numbers aren't actively linked to their respective notes, which means a good deal of page-saving and searching through the Kindle's Notes and Marks function. Finally, the index is of no practical use whatsoever.

While some of these shortcomings might be tolerable in cheaply produced editions, they become unacceptable when issued by renowned publishers like OUP and Penguin (whose Kindle edition of Fitzgerald's `This Side of Paradise' leaves much to be desired), retailing at prices not much lower than one would pay for their own print editions.

Though the responsibility for highlighting these errors of negligence shouldn't fall on Kindle users, until Amazon revises its returns policy for Kindle purchases, there seems little more we can do to encourage improved quality control among publishers.

Update: Since these comments were posted, the cost of the Kindle edition has varied from £5.38 to £0.99 and back to £5.38. Other customers might feel they can live with its shortcomings at the lower price, but should Kindle users to expected to reconcile themselves to second best? A lemon is a lemon at any price, and it remains inexcusable that such a shoddy item should have been issued by a major publisher.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 30, 2012 8:05 PM BST

Father Of Blues Harmonica
Father Of Blues Harmonica
Price: £10.82

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Neglected Original Sonny Boy Williamson, 18 Jun. 2010
Sadly, John Lee Williamson's fame as one of the seminal figures in recorded blues has been largely eclipsed by the success of Alex `Rice' Miller, who appropriated his stage name, and enjoyed well-earned acclaim for his harmonica playing during the fifties and sixties, benefitting hugely from the discovery of the blues by white performers and audiences at this time. Thankfully, a small but devoted following has ensured that the original Sonny Boy's music is still fairly readily available on CD.
Completists will want to track down the five-volume set (available as individual discs) released by Document in 2002. But for those who consider the blues an essential but not exclusive part of a well-balanced musical diet, the forty-five cuts on this three-disc set might just be all the Sonny Boy you need.
The packaging, though well-designed, is rather minimalist, with the discs contained in conventional plastic jewel-cases, each featuring the same cover image, and packed into a flimsy card slipcase. There are no liner notes, but the track lists are annotated with dates, locations and personnel. Each disc contains fifteen tracks, and clocks in at around forty-five minutes.
Kicking off with `Better Cut that Out' from 1947, we then jump back ten years to `Good Morning, School Girl', his first recording as a frontman, and from here things run chronologically. The tracks are well-chosen, offering an excellent overview of his ten-year recording career fronting a variety of line-ups from trios with Yank Rachell and Big Joe Williams to full bands featuring drums, bass and piano. The sound quality is generally exceptional for recordings of this vintage, with only the occasion hissy track.
Of course, the main attraction here is Sonny Boy's marvellously expressive harp, rasping, moaning, whooping and wailing through every song. Unlike the Chicago blues players who followed, his sound is unamplified, and for all the growing sophistication of his recordings, it never quite loses the country yelp of his small town roots. But he was also a fine singer with a lazy, slurring delivery developed partly to disguise the endearing stammer that can be clearly heard on `Jivin' the Blues. He also wrote all but one of the songs in this collection.
Though the music easily merits five stars, and this competitively priced compilation stands out from a slew of shoddily packaged alternatives, it's slightly let down by its cut-price packaging and the lack of liner notes.
The collection is rounded off with the life-affirming `Wonderful Time'. Opening with one of Sonny Boy's most infectious solos, and featuring a sublime guitar break by Willie James Lacey, this joyously funny song will leave you with a grin to rival Sonny's in the photo that adorns the cover. Recorded scarcely six-months before his sad and shocking death, this is the way to remember the man who fully deserves to called `father of the blues harmonica'.

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