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Tower of the Elephant and Other Stories: v. 1 (Chronicles of Conan)
Tower of the Elephant and Other Stories: v. 1 (Chronicles of Conan)
by Roy Thomas
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great comics but has its technical faults, 4 July 2011
I won't go into the comics themselves here - they are superb stuff, top-notch and A+. I would like to make a small complaint about some of the new colouring, which isn't all it could be in places. The colourists haven't, or have but ignored, seen the original colour comics. So we get some oddities - the snow lion is yellow for example, it is white in the comic because, well it's a snow lion isn't it?

For a good example of what has gone wrong see issue #6. The original comic has some imaginative, moody effects with dark reds and blues when Conan enters the shadowy temple. Here it is all rendered in bright colours, spoiling what was a very effective palette which added to the story. The new colouring on later issues of the Chronicles series gets better, but this one doesn't get the final star because of it.


Agricola and Germany (Oxford World's Classics)
Agricola and Germany (Oxford World's Classics)
by Cornelius Tacitus
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An good edition spoilt by oddities, 30 Dec 2009
This review is not about the works themselves, which are an informative and entertaining read, but about this particular translation.

The first impression I got of this edition was excellent. There is a mass of extras including comprehensive indexes, glossary, timelines, explanatory notes, a lengthy introduction and more. All good stuff and helps put everything in context nicely.

Then I noticed a few oddities. The author explains that he doesn't use the word `tribe'. Why not? It is a perfectly good word and none of his alternatives are any better. `State' isn't really accurate when describing a loose confederation of iron-age peoples who share common language and customs. Another suggested alternative is `community' which is just plain ugly. `People' is okay but bland. The occasional use of tribe would hurt nobody. A small point? Yes, but indicative.

One of the more famous lines is translated as "monarchy and freedom", knowing that Romans weren't too keen on the idea of a king this seemed odd. The Latin text reads "principatum ac libertatem". Principatem does not mean monarchy or king, even my Latin is good enough for that. There isn't a single direct English word but `dominion', `ruler' or `ruled' would be better words and gives the phrase its full meaning.

These two examples made me suspicious of the political leanings of the translator, which I don't want creeping into a translation of an ancient Roman text whichever way they lean. Reading through the introduction again I found a little nugget I missed, the British where the first to use `concentration camps' it appears. This is a crass comment at the best of times, the connection with the Nazi camps will not be lost to anyone and to mention a connection without any explanation is divisive (it isn't true either - check any reliable source). Goebbels would be pleased, but I am not impressed. If you are going to print facts outside your period please check them first.

I am sure the author is a learned man, he certainly has impressive credentials. The translation is probably very good but these oddities caused me to loose faith in its accuracy and neutrality. Thus we have good book spoilt by some desperate need to appear liberal. The translations of classical texts are no place for personal agendas, however well meaning they are (or am I being too idealistic here?).

All this could have been sorted by a stronger editor, I am talking to you Oxford World Classics. I got so annoyed in the end that I bought the Penguin Classics version instead. I suggest you do the same.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 15, 2013 6:49 AM BST


Unseen Academicals: A Discworld Novel
Unseen Academicals: A Discworld Novel
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.14

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice one, 30 Oct 2009
What only three stars?

Yep. It's good, but there are about 20 better ones to read first. It is nicely written and has the usual gentle humour shot through it. What it doesn't have is much plot. At all. If Mr. Pratchett's editor is reading this, please get tougher! There are some lovely themes, characters and events. Just not much in the way of actual story. There is a game of football and Nutt is revealed. That's your lot. Some tired themes here too, Nutt is introduced as a Gobliln, a horrible monster that people hate, so that means that he is not horrible at all. How did we guess? It would be nice to have a proper monster now and again, its all a bit PC sometimes. Mr Nutts origins turn out to be an anti-climax, although it does lead to a nice gag when he confronts the crowd, even if you can see it coming three streets away. The two stories are poorly connected to boot.

Liked it though. At the end of the day, nice one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 16, 2010 9:46 AM GMT


Ancient Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 1
Ancient Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 1
by Anthony Kenny
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction by an expert, 5 April 2009
No review yet? Well here goes. Don't be frightened by the title. Anybody with a modicum of intelligence and an enquiring mind will be the better for reading this or something very much like it. Philosophy isn't the prerogative of the bulging brain boxes of this world, but speaks to all of us about how we think and what we are. It is a subject that everybody has a stake in and we all practice every day. Philosophy isn't about life itself, it is about how to cope with it. My school failed to teach me any of it and as a result I've missed out on the best subject there is.

The book covers the early Greeks through to Augustine. Its divided into sections on the philosophers themselves, arranged roughly chronologically, and then the main subjects, metaphysics, epistemology and so forth. This is a good way to divide the subject and means you can read one section at a time and digest it before moving on. These fellows laid the foundation for just about all western philosophy that came after, much of which was just trying to cope with what the Greeks had started. I kept noticing how modern and fresh so many of the ideas were, only to remember that we are essentially the same animals and wherever you find yourself, look down and you'll find footprints (all right apart from absolute geniuses such as Newton, but you know what I mean).

Very roughly the writing starts extremely well but runs off a little at the end, but not much. Some subjects could have been cut down a little for my taste, to leave more room for the others - the section on logic for example. It's all clearly the result of much research, reading, teaching and knowledge by the author. We are dipping into a huge body of work here and what gets left out or highlighted is never going to please everybody. I get the feeling some of the subjects are covered in more detail than others because of their importance in the later history of philosophy, whilst some interesting diversions are left unexplored. It could also set the starting bar a little lower in places, just a paragraph or two at the start of sections to bring us novices up to speed. This is not the book for the casual reader and will require a bit of effort. I found I couldn't read it if I was tired, I needed to be on top form. I also found I had to stop frequently and stare into space in wonder, although that might just be me.

Criticisms? Well it isn't always as consistent as it could be, getting rather bogged down and technical in places without adequate exposition (for many I suspect). The tone of the writing can't quite make up its mind at times, swaying a little between the more informal to the more measured and scholarly. I suspect it took quite a while to write and this is understandable. It could do with a touch more warmth. These guys had heated debates, rivalries and a sense of humour too, adding more of these human attributes would help bring these characters alive. I can understand why the author has no interest in getting `fluffy' but it is a tad cold in places. I read for fun and do not except a test at the end of it.

What it does definitely lack is any kind of ending. It just stops and the end of the chapter on god (the small `g' is mine). Here I was expecting a piece on where philosophy had reached, where it was going and why these works are still so important today. It would have been nice just to recap and prepare you for the next volume or further reading.

All these points are but minor quibbles though. This is a very good book.

I think everybody should read something on those clever Greeks. I don't see how you can fail to be a better person afterwards! This might not be the first book to read on the subject (something a little lighter and less daunting perhaps), but you could do a lot worse than make this the second. Then you'll be ready for the original texts (well, the shorter, pithier ones anyway). Then you can annoy your friends by destroying their rhetorical arguments using two thousand-year-old retorts or summing-up modern life using Plato. Nothing new indeed. More seriously though: read some proper philosophy and leave the pop-psychology stuff alone. Go to the well first.


The Duck That Won the Lottery: and 99 Other Bad Arguments
The Duck That Won the Lottery: and 99 Other Bad Arguments
by Julian Baggini
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not deep, 2 April 2009
If you are looking for an in-depth look at rhetorical methods then look elsewhere. This is light, fluffy reading and those with more than average awareness will find little to chew on. That said it does make for a quick read and makes plenty of valid points, albeit often pretty obvious ones. If you read the media without looking behind the language then you should be read this or something similar. The only problem of course is that the book is really designed for those who would not read a book on the subject. Catch 22. The tone is a trifle inconsistent, veering between chatty to more measured and, sorry to say, includes some hideous modern office-style slang, which will date terribly. He is also obviously trying hard to be fair to everybody, admirable but not always entertaining. The best joke: sweeping statements are always wrong. Nice. It reads as if the author is holding back and only really comes alive when he starts bringing out the big guns and pointing out the philosophic arguments that underpin the destruction of the fallacies and takes a proper swing at something. The book itself suffers from amateur-looking typesetting (including huge leading), poor fonts and could certainly have done with a better editor to weed out the occasionally bizarre word choices. Good, but not what it could have been. Next time please let go a little.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 6, 2009 12:54 AM BST


Ancient World Commanders
Ancient World Commanders
by Angus Konstam
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of good paper, 1 Feb 2009
The idea of lumping together selected ancient leaders and generals into a list is an odd one. It doesn't really work and we get Roman generals next to Chinese warlords, people who have nothing in common but power. It also, amazingly, includes fictitious characters and people that possibly existed or may have been an idealised amalgam. Thus we have Hector, Saul and others next to real people.

The text is where it starts to go horribly wrong. It is littered with typing errors and gives the impression of being thrown together over a weekend with minimal research. It doesn't help that such simple things as a consistent way of representing dates have been bungled. This means it all lacks gravitas and we are left unsure as to the accuracy.

The good bits are the pictures. These include lots of statues and renaissances painting and are worth browsing through. It is also printed on decent glossy paper. So: faulty concept, hurried and lifeless text but some nice pictures. Save your money.


Emperors of Rome
Emperors of Rome
by David Potter
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Big and glossy and not very good at all, 1 Feb 2009
This review is from: Emperors of Rome (Hardcover)
The original review I posted for this book has not appeared on Amazon. It was long and made lots of detailed points with examples. I didn't keep a copy and now can't be bothered to type it again. I shall be brief: I have read lots of books on the Romans and ancient history and this book falls a long way short of nearly all of them - some sections of the text are particularly poor. Start elsewhere and you'll do much better, please. It also has some of the worst layouts I have ever seen in a professionally published and widely distributed book. That maybe going too far, but the amateur nature of the designers really, really made me grind my teeth. Now, will Amazon let this review go live?


Sugarlumps
Sugarlumps

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what is seems, 7 Sep 2008
This review is from: Sugarlumps (Audio CD)
There are some very groovy songs on this CD. But be warned - only two tracks are actually sixties tracks, and one of then isn't much cop. The rest are modern but done in the style of the time, some more serious than others. Two tracks are fake - billed as ultra-rare `lost' psychedelic classics only there aren't, despite the added period hiss! If you are a collector of 60s then avoid. If you like groovy music then give it a go.


An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper-class Idiots in Charge
An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper-class Idiots in Charge
by John O'Farrell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.57

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't expect too much, 3 Jan 2008
Right, this is my third attempt of a review and this one stays. Put simply: not bad, not brilliant in any way but reasonably well written and mostly useful. Some of the jokes are jolly funny too, A sort of Wikkipedia with gags. My original reviews were not as generous with stars but on reflection and several cups of tea I think three is fair. As with many reviews on Amazon it has tended towards the five stars and one star review split, a sign that something is amiss and that something is usually political or factual and so it is here. The clue is in the title.

It suffers from the retrospective application of current morality, judging the actions of other as we would judge ourselves today, or more realistically our immediate neighbours. There are gems, little flashes of insight into the fragility of civilisation and the capricious nature of events and people. These are refreshing indeed. Then we see nothing more of them for page after page. Again the clue is in the title. It is a partisan history told by somebody with political points to make. It is not a diatribe by any means and for most of it the touch is gentle, but it surfaces here and there to spoil the flow. What we don't have room for is doubt, little doubt is expressed at the validity of the facts reported. Whilst any history book full of doubts and alternatives is annoying after a while it might be an idea to acknowledge the uncertainties now and again just to remind the reader that you weren't actually there.

The book starts rather poorly. The first couple of dozen pages or more represent a view of British history you won't find in any modern serious history book worth its salt (pun intended). The views are practically Victorian. Here and there throughout the book we meet factual errors, which lead to an unnerving feeling that the stuff we are reading that is new to us may contain yet more. Confidence is shaken a little, particularly when a few old chestnuts are brought out for another roasting. More than a couple of straight and easily checked facts are just plain wrong. Bad form this, you really should be able to do better. If you can't find sources that agree than at least acknowledge this and explain why, don't just pick one of the numbers or events and hope nobody notices.

The humour is not all of the best quality. We are informed that Queen Victoria is a dumpy sour-faced old bat and that George III is a nutter, not exactly sparkling satire by any standards. Local Conservative workers are creepy social misfits and Margaret becomes Maggie are two particularly childish efforts. The objects of derision are the usual clichés, toffs, bishops, mill owners, generals, the Daily Mail, people in topis and so forth. There's a touch too much blame being passed around and not enough explanation or understanding. At least he makes a few jokes about duffing-up the French, ah, the acceptable face of bigotry. And then he goes and spoils in all by suddenly being magnanimous for a change, the swine.

The sections on the World Wars are rather pedestrian. The old conclusions from the 1960s are wheeled out. The Great War was horrible, pointless and it was all Haig's fault and the worst thing we did was execute people for cowardice (you really could have engaged the brain properly here). Meanwhile the Second World War was noble and brave and it was all down to Churchill that we won. No wonder old generals get browned off with politicians, you just can't win.

At one point the author asserts that it is hard to think of a system for choosing a leader that is worse than a hereditary monarchy. Well you don't have to be any sort of fan of kings and queens or possess much imagination to answer that one. There are plenty of worse ways, how about selling it to the highest bidder like the Praetorian Guard? Or better still have a protracted little war in which the most vicious leader wins. We may have had some rubbish ones but at least we didn't get Stalin. Exaggeration is not very British Mr. O'Farrell, we don't like it.

At other points we do get a genuine flashes of insight and, dare I say it, almost a sense of pride (steady on). The ending is almost touching. I wrote some rather stuffy stuff about the prostitution of history in a previous review. A bit harsh but there is a real nub of truth to it. It is well written and you'll zip through 473 pages of British history before you know it. It even manages to explain the Corn Law in a succinct and enjoyable way, which is more than my history teacher managed.

Read and enjoy by all means but this isn't a `proper' history book due to the overall partisan nature and the inclusion of too many easily checkable inaccuracies, which is a pity. It could have been much more than it is. As says on the pages of Wikkipedia on rather a lot of articles about history: the neutrality of this article has been disputed.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 13, 2012 4:03 AM BST


Long Ears in Space
Long Ears in Space
Price: £30.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent psychedelic garage, 23 Feb 2006
This review is from: Long Ears in Space (Audio CD)
A band that might failed commercially, but it left this behind to show where it had been. There’s a little bit of punk, a little bit of folk, little bit of pop and quite a lot of fuzz. There’s a lovely Floyd-like psychedelic drone present too. The production has a tight, slightly sparse feel and it is musically competent, witness the superb Beatles cover. The lyrics are of the time, but no worse for it, and often hit the spot dead centre. This is no band with one or two decent songs, they have a whole songbook. Why aren’t they on compilations?


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