Profile for Brian R. Martin > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Brian R. Martin
Top Reviewer Ranking: 421
Helpful Votes: 1343

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Brian R. Martin (London, UK)
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
The Strangest Family: The Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians
The Strangest Family: The Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians
by Janice Hadlow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars The dysfunctional Hanoverians, 25 Jan. 2015
This book is mainly about George III, the third Hanoverian king, who came to the throne at the early age of 22 and ruled for an impressively long 60 years. But it starts by sketching in less detail the story of his predecessors, George I and George II, whose lives had a profound influence on his own. The two former monarchs had much in common. Both had bad relations with their wives (George I had even imprisoned his for a while) but this did not stop the wives joining their husbands in notoriously hated their eldest sons, who quickly `went off the rails' with multiple mistresses and accumulating huge debts. George III himself had a far from happy relationship with his father, and so when he married a minor German princess, Charlotte, from the impoverished state of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, he was determined to break this toxic `tradition' and establish an harmonious family life based on his firm ideas about the role of kingship as one of duty and obligation. He was the first to define the role of a monarch in this way, with the King as head of a happy family, the role model for his subjects. Janice Hadlow calls this `The Royal Experiment'.

All started well. Queen Charlotte was an intelligent woman, well educated by the standards of the day, who happily joined her husband in building their ideal family. It turned out to be a very large family, as Charlotte was pregnant most of her fertile life, producing a remarkable 15 children, all but two surviving into adulthood. George was a kindly father, who doted on the children when they were young, and Charlotte played a major role in their extensive education. But the idyllic situation was not to last. As the children grew into adulthood, conflicts with George surfaced and the Royal Experiment began to falter. He was totally unable to understand why their allotted role, i.e. to respect his opinions in all things and to be companions to the Queen, should not be enough to keep them happy. Although he expressed a desire to see his daughters married, he never did anything active to achieve this. Indeed he even had passed the Royal Marriage Act that forbade any member of the royal family marrying without the permission of the King.

As the tensions mounted, history repeated itself. The King's eldest son went the way of other Princes of Wales and took mistresses, even illegally marrying one, drinking heavily and running up huge debts, finally contracting a marriage to a German Princess he had never seen and who he hated from the moment he set eyes on her. For most of their lives they lived apart. In the Hanoverian tradition, relations between him and his father become poisonous. The King's relations with his other children also changed. The sons were kept short of money and some were sent abroad, not to return for many years; the daughters married late in life, or not at all. Meanwhile some were embroiled in sexual scandals. It was even said of one that the father of her illegitimate child was one of her brothers, although the evidence for this is far from conclusive.

If all this was not enough, in 1788 George suffered his first attack of madness, with all the horror that implied, given the state of medicine at the time. The effect on the family, particularly the Queen, was profound. In the book there is a moving portrait of Charlotte painted at this time; the strain is etched on her face. Eventually George recovered, but some years later the illness returned and his hated eldest son was appointed Prince Regent, but to the great surprise of everyone, and the anger of his supporters, he did not dismiss the current Tory administration and install his Whig friends in power. With the support of the Prince Regent, the remaining daughters at last `broke free' and married, not all with the blessing of the Queen. George did not recover and lived on in a sad imaginary world of his own until his death in 1820.

The Hanoverian royal dynasty was undoubtedly a very strange family; dysfunctional would be the modern term. George is a character deserving some sympathy. His ideals greatly influenced Victoria when she became Queen, and led to our modern idea of monarchy. But none of his children could really be said to have led happy, fulfilling lives, despite the King's avowed wish that this was his aim. Janice Hadlow shows in great detail, based on meticulous research, how and why George's great Royal Experiment failed. She does so in clear elegant writing that shows a real understanding of the period and the characters in this grand play.


To The Hilt
To The Hilt
by Dick Francis
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A fairly typical Dick Francis thriller, 11 Jan. 2015
This review is from: To The Hilt (Paperback)
Alexander (Al) Kinloch is a painter, who lives alone in a remote bothy in the Scottish Highlands, on the estate of a land-owning relative, always referred to, rather irritatingly, as Himself. One day his peace is disturbed by the appearance of four thugs who only speak to say `Where is it?' and when he protests his ignorance they brutally beat him before leaving. He repeats this story to others, but towards the end of the book it emerges that Al does have something of value hidden at the bothy. This is rather odd. Are we expected to believe that he forgot about this? Otherwise why repeat the story? At the same time he learns of his father's illness and returns to London to be with his father in his last days. Here he is reluctantly drawn into a complicated story involving the embezzlement of millions of pounds of money from the family brewery and attempts by his sister and her odious husband to take control of both the brewery, a precious gold item, and a valuable racehorse. The latter of course is the way that Dick Francis `smuggles in' the inevitable horse-racing theme, although here it is not so central as usual. It also enables him to explore Al's complicated relationship with his estranged wife, who lives and owns a horse-training establishment. The various themes are eventually drawn together, and the villains get their just desserts, but not before a murder is discovered and Al is subjected to even more brutal treatment.

This is fairly typical Dick Francis thriller: several interwoven themes involving missing money or valuables; the horse racing scene; and some violence inflicted on the main character. It is in general well written, but not all the characters are believable. The young private detective who can effortlessly don a wide range of disguises, both male and female, that fool everyone, is a cliché, as is the gangster who doesn't mind beating someone violently, but draws the line at killing him. Nevertheless, `Up to the Hilt' has many good features and is worth reading as an antidote to the `serial killer' variety of thrillers.


Red Wolf
Red Wolf
by Liza Marklund
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Thriller or social novel?, 5 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Red Wolf (Paperback)
This book is the fifth in a series featuring Annika Bengtzon, a reporter on a Stockholm newspaper. The story starts with her intention to write a series of articles about terrorism in Sweden, starting with the destruction in 1969 of a fighter jet on an airbase in a small town in the far north. A local reporter has found new information, but is killed by a car on the day before Annika arrives to interview him. By talking to a young boy who was the only witness, she realizes that the `accident' was in fact a deliberate killing. Her suspicions that the killing is related to the historic terrorist incident are strengthened when soon afterwards the boy is himself murdered. Through her connections with a senior policeman she learns that the suspects for the 1969 attack were the members of a tiny Maoist group, whose leader, codenamed Ragnwald, left Sweden to join ETA in Spain. But then two further murders occur, with evidence that they are also related to the old revolutionary group. Has Ragnwald returned, and if so why after so long? These are the questions Annika sets out to answer.

In an earlier volume in the series Annika was traumatized after being kidnapped by a deranged individual and this has left her insecure, both mentally and physically. She is not an attractive character. She often acts without thinking about possible consequences; is rather patronizing to `lesser' employees (air attendants, receptionists, etc.); and can be vindictive and unscrupulous, as shown by her devious (and illegal) actions in later destroying the career of her husband's lover. Nevertheless, Annika's Editor has tolerated her, but now begins to lose patience as she becomes increasingly obsessed with the case. This is where one of a number of subplots about modern Swedish society intervenes. This one is about office politics and the state of Swedish journalism. While clearly important for the author, it doesn't add much to the overall story. Neither does another one, which is Annika's interaction with her hysterical, near-alcoholic friend Anne, who has a complicated relationship with her ex-husband and later in the story looks as if she will lose her job in TV, partly due to a knock-on effect of an action of Annika's, although Anne does not know this. (You can see it has much in common with a complex soap opera.)

Eventually, all the stray ends are tied together, largely by Annika herself, and as a further twist also involve an important female minister of the current government. The finale involves a brutal confrontation with the few remaining members of the Maoist group in a locked hut in the numbing cold of an Artic night, and an explanation, strongly hinted at earlier, as to why Ragnwald has returned. The outcome is the death or capture of the remaining members of the group and (totally unbelievably) the discovery by Annika of a huge sum of money hidden by Ragnwald, the reward for which is sufficient to buy a new house for Anne and so help solve her personal problems (an unnecessary sweet touch).

There are many good points about this book. The descriptions of the intense cold in northern Sweden is excellent and most characters are well described and believable. Only Annika's husband is a bit two-dimensional and the police in Luleċ are portrayed rather unflatteringly. My main criticism is that the author does not seem to have made up her mind whether it is a thriller with some social background, or a general novel about modern Swedish society, told through the life and actions of an investigative journalist. There is a lot of detail about Annika's domestic daily life with her husband and two children that adds nothing to the thriller plot.


A Strange Business: Making Art and Money in Nineteenth-Century Britain
A Strange Business: Making Art and Money in Nineteenth-Century Britain
by James Hamilton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How art became an industry, 3 Jan. 2015
Nowadays, if we want to buy an original work of art, we naturally turn to an auction, or a dealer operating from an art gallery, and if originals are beyond our pocket, there are plenty of good quality reproductions available at affordable prices, again from dealers' galleries, or even via the Internet. It is now far less common to buy direct from the artist. But this is a relatively recent development. Formerly, buying original works of art was the preserve of the very wealthy, the aristocracy and landed gentry, and artists relied very much on their patronage. This situation changed radically at the beginning of the 19th century, and how this came about is the subject of this book.

There were several contributory factors. One was the rise of a new class of wealthy people, industrialists and entrepreneurs who made their money from commerce and wanted to purchase art, partly for the status it brought, but also to establish public and private collections, but did not have the time or knowledge to do so without the advice of experts. They needed middlemen to advise and negotiate purchases and to arrange the complex business of transporting artwork safely to England. The resulting collections also needed a new profession of curator to oversee them. Another important factor was the establishment of organisations, such as the Royal Academy, to represent the interests of artists. Most artists (Turner was a notable exception) were content to work through agents, leaving them to concentrate on what they did best, the production of works of art. They even, by and large, ceased to grind their own colours, or make their own canvases, as yet other new specialist trades grew in these areas. Art was steadily transformed into an industry, where making money was often the prime consideration.

A further major change occurred with developments in the production of prints, with the introduction of steel plates that could produce vastly greater print runs without loss of quality compared to copper plates or wood blocks. More money could often be made from the prints than from the original oil painting. Art books became much more affordable, and there were even mechanical machines that could accurately reproduce sculptures and scale them to a more domestic size if required. These developments created a whole new market of the rising middle class for works of art.

The story of how art became entwined with industry is described in detail in this book. Indeed some might say a little too much detail, because the endless lists of names of artists, dealers, art buyers etc. does become a little tedious at times and distracts from the main story. It also veers a bit off course towards the end with rather peripheral material about the short-lived `panoramas' and the like which showmen put on, and ends with a brief chapter about the Great Exhibition of 1851, which seems out of place. Nevertheless this is a well-written book about a fascinating subject that for me was something I had not previously considered. Along the way it contains many interesting snippets about the personalities of the artists and others who played a part in the transition.


Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
by Atul Gawande
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Daily dilemmas of a junior surgeon, 18 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This volume was originally published in 2002, when the author was a junior doctor undergoing surgical training in an America hospital. It was the first of a subsequent series of books that, together with giving the 2014 BBC Reith Lectures, have established him as a household name. It consists of a series of essays based on cases he worked on. They vary very widely, but all are linked by highlighting important question about the role of the doctor in medical treatment and the doctor-patient relationship, particularly in a hospital setting where decisions often have to be taken quickly against a background of imprecise information or knowledge.

A perfect example of this, although extreme, is the final case he discusses of an otherwise healthy young woman who presents with an inflamed red leg. Is this a severe case of cellulitis (probability approaching 100%) or is the leg infected with the bacteria necrotizing fasciitis (probability vanishingly small, but with potentially devastating consequences)? The author honestly admits that hunches, gut feelings and other unscientific considerations inevitably play a role in decisions about what actions to take, however much he wishes that they didn't. He is just as frank about other aspects of medical practice, such as the need for surgeons to hone their technique on real patients, with the inevitable consequences that the less advantaged in society become the `guinea pigs' and some operations will not be done well. But when his own child becomes dangerously ill he honestly confesses that he does not want an operation to be done by an inexperienced junior surgeon, as would any parent wanting the best for their child. How do we resolve this dilemma?

There are many other dilemmas of medical practice discussed in the book, such as: how should poorly performing surgeons be disciplined in a way that does not make the profession in general too conservative and hence hinder surgical progress; to what extent is a surgeon entitled to `steer' a patient into a course of action that they, the doctor, thinks is the right choice, even though the risks may be high; and should a doctor attempt to prolong life, even when the treatment will not prevent the inevitable outcome and may even produce more suffering?

This well-written book brings home to the reader not just the technical difficulties of being a surgeon, but also the ethical responsibilities it entails and the stark problems that surgeons have to face daily. It can usefully be read by both medical students and professionals, as well as by anyone who is liable to be a patient at some time, and that means all of us.


Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End
Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medicine at end-of-life., 15 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Atul Gawande, an American general surgeon in a busy Boston hospital, is well known as the lead author of the `checklist' system, now used worldwide, which is designed to stop surgeons making errors before they even start an operation. In this book he turns his attention to `end-of-life' issues.

The spectacular advances in medical science in modern times have been matched by equivalent advances in practical medicine. Surgical procedures are now done that were previously thought impossibly dangerous, and new drugs can greatly prolong lives, so that living to be 100 is no longer a very rare event. But there is a price to pay. In all too many instances the extra years, and they can be substantial, are spent with a low quality of life, often in poorly managed and depressing care homes and the like. The end, when it inevitably comes, is a bad experience for everyone concerned, where all too often the emphasis on keeping the patient alive is frequently cruel and counterproductive. The author illustrates this by describing many cases he has personally been involved with, and by visiting care homes and similar facilities. They make difficult reading. He argues persuasively that by making such facilities the norm, medicine has failed its `clients'.

He also visits facilities where the emphasis is not just on safety and comfort, but focuses also on what the individual patient needs to achieve a good quality of life, and ultimately a good death. Hospices are just one example, but other very imaginative ones also exist, and examples are given that he has observed. In essence what he is saying is that there comes a time when the inevitability of death has to be accepted by the medical profession and at that stage the aim should be to achieve a painless and meaningful end. Remarkably, he quotes evidence that counseling and hospice care for dying persons has been shown to often result not only in a better death, but the dying person actually living longer than those under non-hospice medical care.

This a moving compassionate plea for a reappraisal of the way the medical profession views its role at the end of life and should be read by all medical practitioners. The author's previous books have been highly praised and have won prestigious awards and I am sure this one will too.


Memoir of a Thinking Radish: An Autobiography (Oxford Letters & Memoirs)
Memoir of a Thinking Radish: An Autobiography (Oxford Letters & Memoirs)
by P.B. Medawar
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Memoir of a brilliant medical scientist, 28 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Sir Peter Medawar was a superb medical scientist working in the field of immunology, who is best known for his pioneering work on graft rejection and the co-discoverer of acquired immune tolerance, which was fundamental to the future success of tissue and organ transplants. He has been described as the `father of transplantation'. Born in Brazil in 1915 of an English mother and Brazilian father of Lebanese descent, he came to England at an early age and quickly showed his brilliance as an experimental scientist, but also someone with wide interests, from opera to cricket, and possessing a sharp whit. By midlife he had been showered with awards including many honorary doctorates (all meticulously recorded) and shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1960. He held many prestigious posts, the most important of which was the Director of the MRC's Medical Research Centre at Mill Hill in London. Tragically, his career was seriously curtailed when in 1969 he suffered a major stroke, which left him unable to do the lab work that he loved. Doubtless his life style, frequent worldwide travel to give lectures and attend conferences, accepting multiple administrative commitments, plus a lifetime of heavy smoking, did not help. At times he railed against his medical treatment when this was poor, but never asked the `why me' question and was dismissive of religious explanations.

This book is not a conventional autobiography, but as the title says, is a memoir, with a mixture of accounts of his scientific work, some quite technical, with more personal memories. He is remarkably frank, and often scathing, about institutions that he has found wanting, and the same is true of people. Haldane is described as "the most brilliant man I have known and also the most stupid". Many others are written off, perhaps somewhat cruelly, without redeeming features. At times there is more than a hint of intellectual arrogance. When he became Director of the Medical Research Centre and made the customary visit to all the groups he summarized the staff as mostly "journeymen scientists", with some outstanding individuals. He sometimes comes across as someone who is so focused as to be unaware of much else. This is true of his family life, where he freely admits that he was hugely dependent on his wife, and devotion to his research meant that he was a very poor father to his four children. Three of the latter we are told made bad first marriages, but he makes no connection between this and their upbringing.

This is an interesting book that is certainly worth reading. If nothing else, it confirms once again that great men have their failings and that health is no respecter of status.


BT8500 Advanced Call Blocker Cordless Home Phone (Quad Handset Pack)
BT8500 Advanced Call Blocker Cordless Home Phone (Quad Handset Pack)
Price: £94.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good call blocking phone with answerphone - a few minor niggles, 13 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought a quad set to operate with a Virgin phone line and I have no serious regrets. The hardware is well made and fits nicely in the hand with the buttons slightly recessed to avoid mistakes when keying in. The screen is clear, a reasonable size, and its colour during calls can be set by the user. Brightness and loudness are two other features than be changed. There are also a wide range of volume-adjustable ring tones that can be chosen for different purposes. The call screening/blocking software (Call Guardian) has an extensive number of options that seem to cover most eventualities, and works well provided you have some form of Caller Display enabled (for which providers usually charge). If you don't want to block a class of `suspicious' calls, for example Withheld Number, or International, then they can be diverting automatically to the answer phone. This is very useful because you then can examine them at your leisure. Alternatively you can initially accept all calls and by the press of a button block those you don't want to accept in future, thus building up a directory of permanently blocked nuisance calls. The useful one-button Rapid Call, or its equivalent, is also enabled if your provider has this option. Setting up a directory of Contacts who bypass Call Guardian is, as usual, tedious, although once done on the base set they are automatically copied to all phones. Some way of inputting the data from another phone would have saved a lot of time.

I found two unsatisfactory features. One is that although the sound quality when making calls is good, the quality of the sound from Call Guardian when announcing a caller is very poor and I have several times been unable to decipher it and so had no option but to accept the call. The other criticism is the documentation supplied. This is a 70-page booklet, but no Index, just a useless Menu, but without page numbers. The equivalent documentation for the BT6500 and the BT7600 both have comprehensive indices. Why not this one? Fortunately, setting up the various features is fairly intuitive and there is a `wizard' to get you started, but it would have been made easier with a better manual.


The Faber Book of Reportage
The Faber Book of Reportage
by John Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History from those who were there., 12 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is collection of short descriptive pieces, some no more than a page and seldom more than half a dozen, mostly written by eyewitnesses to the events described. They range in time from 430 BC to 1986 AD.

The dominant theme is conflict and its accompanying horrors, with atrocity stories to the fore. Examples are: the massacre of prisoners by Richard I after Richard I after taking Acre in 1191; the murders of English women and children by Indians at Cawnpore in 1857; the horrors of the German concentration camps in WW2, with their sadistic medical `experiments'; and many, many others. There are also grim descriptions from civilian life, such as: the Black Death of 1348; the burning of Archbishop Cramer at the stake in 1556; and the barbaric behaviour meted out to slaves in the West Indies. Horrific as these accounts are, they are often also very moving, such as the description of the death of Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and Fanny Burney's account of her mastectomy without anesthetics in 1811. There are also lighter, more cheerful, pieces such as Marconi's account of sending the first radio signal across the Atlantic in 1901, and Jan Morris' account of the first ascent of Everest in 1953.

These examples give some account of the impressively wide range of topics in the book, which are the result of much reading by the editor and, as he admits, much badgering of friends and acquaintances for suggestions. The result is a superb volume. Open it at any page and one can find an engrossing account of some event that almost invariably gives one a new insight, even if the subject described is well known. However, because of the unremitting horror of much that is reported, it is best sampled in small doses.


The Faber Book of Science
The Faber Book of Science
by John Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine selection of scientific writing, 30 Oct. 2014
This is a collection of scientific writings spanning several hundred years from the Renaissance to modern times. John Carey has obviously read very widely to compile the entries, which range over many topics in the physical and biological sciences, and, as befitting a professor of English, he has made his choice not only on the importance of the topic, but also on the quality of the writing. The contributions vary from a single page to several pages; some have extensive commentaries from the editor, others just a note on the source reference. They also vary in style. There are classic pieces of writing about seminal discoveries such as radioactivity, X-rays, and the atomic nucleus, by the discoverers themselves; commentaries by eyewitnesses or later interpreters and biographers; and personal accounts by eminent scientists about how their ideas evolved with time. One of the longest entries of the latter type is Darwin on evolution. There are also occasional lighter pieces, such as the story of how Bird's Custard Powder came to be invented, and even a few contributions, including poems, from well-known literary names who were also amateur observers of nature. I enjoyed reading this collection. It is of course a personal selection and one can think of many other possible entries, but most are well written and informative and their length means that one can dip into the book and read some of them when one has a few minutes to spare.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20