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P. Webster "Phil W." (Lancashire)
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Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die
Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die
by Other
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating illustrations, but tedious text, 4 Nov 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed the Museum of London’s Sherlock Holmes exhibition, which this book was published to accompany. I therefore bought the (rather expensive) book as a lavishly illustrated souvenir of the exhibition and as a text which I assumed would give a fairly straightforward background to the Holmes stories, their author, the screen versions, the setting in late Victorian and Edwardian London, and the technology of the time, as the exhibition itself did.

But overall I am quite disappointed with the book. The illustrations are certainly wonderful, and it is probably worth spending the money just for them. But much of the text, which is made up of contributions from several different writers, is rather heavy going. I am used to reading academic books, but I have to say that most of the chapters were hard work to plough through. The tone is very academic, and occasionally rather pretentious.

In short, the book takes itself too seriously. It might appeal to some academics and perhaps to some of the most dedicated “Sherlockians”, but it does not seem to be aimed at the average Sherlock Holmes fan such as myself.

I enjoy Sherlock Holmes – both the books and some of the screen versions – as light entertainment and escapism. I am certainly keen to read something about the background to the stories, but I do not want that background to be put across in such a heavily academic form that reading it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure.

The four stars I have given are an average of the five I would give for the illustrations and the three I would give for the text.

Incidentally, if, like me, you want something rather lighter on the background to Holmes’s London, I would recommend “The London of Sherlock Holmes”, by John Christopher. And, for newcomers to “The World of Sherlock Holmes”, the little Pitkin Guide with that title, by Peter Brimacombe, is a good starting point.

Phil Webster.


The London of Sherlock Holmes (Through Time)
The London of Sherlock Holmes (Through Time)
by John Christopher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.94

5.0 out of 5 stars A tour of the London of Sherlock Holmes, 2 Nov 2014
Another reviewer has focused on some errors in this book, but for me such errors do not alter the fact that I consider this to be an excellent little book that is worth five stars.

The book should appeal not just to dedicated "Sherlockians" or to those with a more casual interest in the Holmes stories, but also to anyone interested in the London of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.

The illustrations are fascinating, and the text, though brief, is well-written and quite amusing in places. (Pentonville Prison is described as "Best seen from the outside".)

We are taken on a tour of the London of Sherlock Holmes area by area, but there are also interesting little sections on the Underground, the Hansom Cab, the omnibus, the opium den, the police force etc.

Rather expensive for 96 pages, but recommended nevertheless.

Phil Webster.


Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent (Penguin Classics)
Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent (Penguin Classics)
by Alexander Humboldt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.67

5.0 out of 5 stars “No words can evoke the feelings of a naturalist who first steps on soil outside Europe.”, 22 Oct 2014
This abridged version of Humboldt’s “Personal Narrative” gives us an enjoyable taste of the travels of the scientist and explorer in South America between 1799 and 1804.

Humboldt did not just study nature; he also enjoyed its beauty, and the book contains vivid descriptions of the sights he saw. He wrote that: “No words can evoke the feelings of a naturalist who first steps on soil outside Europe.”

This is very similar to how Charles Darwin later described his feelings on first setting foot in a Brazilian forest in “The Voyage of the Beagle”.

Humboldt’s Narrative had a big influence on Darwin when he first read it as a student at Cambridge. It contributed both to Darwin’s urge to travel and to his desire to contribute something to scientific knowledge. He even took a copy of Humboldt’s book on the Beagle with him. Later, when Darwin’s own “Voyage” book was published, Darwin was delighted when Humboldt himself praised it.

Another link between Humboldt and Darwin is the fact that both were strongly opposed to slavery. Humboldt wrote this, for example:

“Nowhere else in the world seems more appropriate to dissipate melancholy and restore peace to troubled minds than Tenerife and Madeira. These effects are due not only to the magnificent situation and to the purity of the air, but above all to the absence of slavery, which so deeply revolts us in all those places where Europeans have brought what they call their “enlightenment” and their “commerce” to their colonies.”

In his science Humboldt was a polymath whose research covered anthropology, biology, botany, geography, geology, zoology and more. But he also saw that nature was an interconnected whole and that “Everything is interrelated”. This view, that we need to see the unity of nature whilst trying to understand the parts that make up the whole, is similar to an aspect of what Marxist (but non-Stalinist) scientists such as Richard Lewontin refer to as the dialectical view of nature.

Sadly, Humboldt is not widely remembered today. But it is not surprising that his name is not as well known as Darwin’s. Humboldt contributed a great deal to science, but he did not make such a world-shattering breakthrough as Darwin did when he came up with natural selection as the mechanism for evolution.

Phil Webster.


The Boys [DVD] [1962]
The Boys [DVD] [1962]
Dvd ~ Ronald Lacey
Price: £12.41

5.0 out of 5 stars A Neglected Gem, 30 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Boys [DVD] [1962] (DVD)
This is a neglected gem of British cinema from the early 1960s. It tells the story, through flashbacks, of the trial of four teenagers who are charged with committing murder in the course of a robbery.

The film gives us a glimpse of working class London in 1962, and it raises social issues such as: inter-generational conflict; stereotyping; social class; and the inflexibility of the law. It also shows how the same events can be perceived and described differently by different people.

But most of all the film is an intriguing courtroom drama. Are "The Boys" guilty or not guilty?


Empire and Revolution : A Socialist History of the First World War
Empire and Revolution : A Socialist History of the First World War
by Dave Sherry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars World War One: Imperialist Carnage, 25 July 2014
The government and media have used the commemorations of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War to whip up patriotic feelings and to try to persuade us that WWI was a war that had to be fought in order to defend freedom and civilisation.

This book is a powerful antidote to such nonsense. Dave Sherry shows that the millions who died did so in a war that was brought about by imperialist rivalries between the main capitalist powers.

Capitalism is based on two key features. The first is the extraction of surplus value (profit) from the working class (both manual and white collar workers) by the capitalist class. The second is competition between rival capitalists. The unplanned nature of this competitive production leads to periodic crises, and the economic competition between rival capitalist/imperialist states often spills over into military competition, leading to war.

Sherry points out that this tendency of capitalism to lead to war is as relevant today in 2014 as it was in 1914. Again we are seeing the ruling classes of the big powers jostling for influence (in Ukraine, for example) and creating tensions of the kind which led to world war a hundred years ago.

Sherry also shows that it was mass protest by workers that finally brought the war to an end. When the war started, a few individual pacifists refused to be swept along by the patriotic fervour, but the only organised opposition to it came from a principled minority of the international socialist movement: the Bolsheviks in Russia, and people like Rosa Luxemburg in Germany and John Maclean in Britain. But after years of bloodshed and hardship, millions of workers and soldiers came to support these anti-war revolutionaries. The war was finally brought to an end by revolutions: in Russia in October 1917 and in Germany in November 1918.

I strongly recommend this book. It is powerfully argued, well-written, concise and very relevant.

Phil Webster.


The Sibley Guide to Birds
The Sibley Guide to Birds
by David Allen Sibley
Edition: Flexibound
Price: £24.18

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spoiled by colour problems, 6 July 2014
I have had the marvellous first edition of this book for over ten years, and I hastily bought this updated second edition as soon as it came out.

But there are two problems with this new edition. These problems are not with what the author has produced, but with the printing. Firstly, the colours on some of the bird illustrations are too dark. Secondly, the print of much of the text is a sort of faint grey colour instead of black, and also rather small, making it difficult to read.

There has been a lot of discussion about this on the American Amazon website (Amazon.com), and it seems there is the possibility of changes being made when a new print run is produced by the publishers.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 24, 2014 8:18 PM BST


The North American Bird Guide (Helm Field Guides)
The North American Bird Guide (Helm Field Guides)
by David Sibley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £25.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spoiled by colour problems, 6 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I have had the marvellous first edition of this book for over ten years, and I hastily bought this updated second edition as soon as it came out.

But there are two problems with this new edition. These problems are not with what the author has produced, but with the printing. Firstly, the colours on some of the bird illustrations are too dark. Secondly, the print of much of the text is a sort of faint grey colour instead of black, and also rather small, making it difficult to read.

There has been a lot of discussion about this on the American Amazon website (Amazon.com), and it seems there is the possibility of changes being made when a new print run is produced by the publishers.


Angelica's Smile (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)
Angelica's Smile (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)
Price: £6.59

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly Average, 25 Jun 2014
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I’ve loved most of Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano stories, but I’m sad to say that this latest offering is a disappointingly mediocre one. I never thought I’d have to call a Montalbano story “average” – but this one is just that.

There has been an enjoyable formula for these books: Montalbano’s quirky personality; the interplay between him and his team; lots of humour; and the occasional critical social comment from Camilleri’s left-leaning perspective. (In the TV version we also get the beautiful Sicilian scenery.)

Some of the previous Montalbanos have disappointed me, but up to now this has been for a specifically identifiable reason. The mood of “The Age of Doubt” was dismal; “The Treasure Hunt” was spoiled by a distastefully grim scene; and a couple of the books irritated me when Camilleri brought in premonition-type paranormal episodes.

But there is nothing specific that I can point to as spoiling “Angelica’s Smile”. I did miss the usual sprinkling of social comment, which is absent this time. But the real problem is that it has the feeling that Camilleri has become jaded and is just going through the motions. And that made me feel that I too was just going through the motions in reading it.

Also, although the plot itself has never been the most important aspect of the Montalbano books, I thought that the plot here was plodding and predictable.

There is still probably just about enough to make the book worth reading for Montalbano fans. We get Montalbano’s endearingly odd behaviour as usual, and there is an amusing episode of jealousy involving Livia, as well as the regular comic scenes with Catarella. But don’t expect the high quality of the best Montalbanos. I hope we aren’t witnessing the sad decline of a once-great series.

Phil Webster.


RSPB Handbook of British Birds
RSPB Handbook of British Birds
by Peter Holden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than just an identification guide, 29 April 2014
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I have used several different bird books over the years, but in my opinion this is by far the best single book for birdwatchers. I know that many birders rate other books, such as the Collins Bird Guide, more highly as identification guides. But this book is perfectly adequate for identifying birds in most circumstances, and it has the advantage of being much more than just an identification guide.

As well as excellent illustrations and details on identification, voice, habitat and habits, there are sections for each bird on its food, breeding behaviour, distribution, movements, migration, population and conservation. So if you want to know something about the lives of the birds you are identifying and enjoying, then this is the book for you.

Of course this book only covers British birds, whereas the Collins Guide covers all European birds. But the Collins Guide has the big disadvantage of having maps which are far too small, whereas the maps in this RSPB Handbook are excellent. (There is a distribution map for each species on the same page as the illustrations and text for that species.)

Finally, there is the question of whether it is worth buying this new fourth edition if you already have the third edition, which was published four years ago in 2010. The main changes are in the updating of the distribution maps and the population statistics. There are not a lot of changes other than this, but for me it was worth buying the new edition for this up-to-date information.

Phil Webster.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 18, 2014 10:50 PM BST


The Case of the Buried Clock (Perry Mason Series Book 22)
The Case of the Buried Clock (Perry Mason Series Book 22)
Price: £3.71

3.0 out of 5 stars Weaker than the usual Perry Mason, 20 Mar 2014
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Perry Mason stories are amongst my favourites when it comes to light, escapist reading. I have read a lot of them and I have found that most are very good, a few are really excellent, and just a few are disappointing.

Unfortunately, I consider this book to be one of those few disappointing ones. The plot is over-elaborate and unconvincing, and there is only a little bit of the fast-paced and brilliant courtroom dialogue that is the most enjoyable feature of most of the stories.

I fear that if someone read this as their first Perry Mason, it might put them off reading others, which would be a real shame. Read Perry Mason, but perhaps not this one!

Phil Webster.


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