Profile for P. Webster > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by P. Webster
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,334
Helpful Votes: 605

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
P. Webster "Phil W." (Lancashire)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
pixel
The Fourth Secret (The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)
The Fourth Secret (The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)
Price: £2.47

4.0 out of 5 stars A short but enjoyable Montalbano story, 18 Dec 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Montalbano fans may already be familiar with the plot of this novella-length story, as it formed the basis of one of the TV episodes of "The Young Montalbano". (It was transformed from "The Fourth Secret" to "The Third Secret" in the process.) But for me, despite the shortness of the book and the fact that I already knew the plot, it was still a good read.

The story follows the usual enjoyable formula for Camilleri's Montalbano books: we have Montalbano's endearingly 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.)

This time the social criticism relates to the large number of deaths on building sites every year that are caused by employers who put profit before the safety of their workers. (Although it soon emerges that in this case a couple of the deaths are actually deliberate murders in the legal sense rather than murders in the moral sense caused by negligence.)

Catarella plays quite a big part in this story, and the translators (although different ones from the usual Stephen Sartarelli) do a good job on his mangled words. (Catarella gets "commotional" when Montalbano shares secrets with him.)

Incidentally, there are a few errors in the text, but these seem to be printing or transcription errors rather than the fault of the translators.

At his best, Camilleri is brilliant, but some of the Montalbanos have disappointed me. 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 have irritated me when Camilleri has brought in premonition-type paranormal episodes, such as the telepathic twins in "August Heat".

This one, too, contains a premonition-dream, but it was a small enough part of the story to make it just a minor irritation rather than a major annoyance.

This might not be one of the very best Montalbanos, but neither is it one of the disappointing ones. It is well worth buying.

Phil Webster.


1960s Britain (Shire Living Histories)
1960s Britain (Shire Living Histories)
by Susan Cohen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars OK for some basic facts on the "Swinging Sixties", 7 Dec 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I have wavered between three and four stars for this book, but I've come down on the side of four because the book basically does what it sets out to do, which is to pack lots of facts about 1960s Britain into a small book. It does so with chapters on: family; food and drink; shopping and fashion; home and neighbourhood; education and social services; transport; relaxation and entertainment; work; and health.

The facts given are sometimes important and sometimes interesting but relatively trivial. So, on the important side, I was surprised to learn that although the contraceptive pill came into use in 1963, by the end of the decade "only one woman in ten had ever taken the pill." And on the more trivial side we learn that Fulham's top footballer Johnny Haynes became the first player to receive a wage of £100 per week in 1962, while by the end of the decade George Best was being paid £5000 per week.

I did, however, notice some factual errors. Kim Philby was employed by MI6, not MI5, while he was secretly working for the Russians. The first James Bond film, Dr No, came out in 1962, not 1963. The TV series "The Saint" began in 1962, not 1966. And when the author says that "... snow fell from the end of December 1963 until March 1964..." I presume that she is actually referring to the "Big Freeze" of December 1962 - March 1963. However, given the amount of information packed into this little book, I suppose that a few errors are bound to creep in.

I also think that if you want a book that gives a FEELING of what it was actually like to live through the sixties in Britain, you would be better off with Alison Pressley's book, "The 1950s and 1960s: The Best of Times". Pressley's book might not contain as much factual information as this one, but it has more humour, lots of amusing anecdotes, and a greater number of interesting illustrations. As someone who was in my late childhood and teens during the sixties, I actually enjoyed Pressley's book more.

As for in-depth analysis, well that is not really what this book is about. But it does make the serious point that not everyone in the 1960s was enjoying affluence and a "Swinging London" lifestyle. For example, Cohen shows that there was a lot of poverty and that there were some areas with an unemployment problem, despite the generally low level of joblessness. She also gives examples of the appalling racism and sexism that were widespread at the time.

The information contained in books like these also needs to be put in the wider economic, social and political context of the times. Firstly, the fifties and sixties were the period of capitalism's long post-war economic boom. We took it for granted that everyone would have a job, that living standards would rise every year, and that we would have free education and health care, paid for by progressive taxation.

Secondly, there was a widespread political mood in the sixties of support for the idea of social justice, and growing opposition to racism, sexism, class inequalities, wars, famines, etc.

Thirdly, in the sixties we really thought we were THE rebel generation, with our music, our fashions and our rejection of old-fashioned attitudes. (Even those of us who lived in small towns in the North of England!) Of course this was largely the arrogance of youth: every generation feels like that to some extent, and our rebellious youth sub-cultures were no real threat to the status quo. But on the positive side, at least it left a lot of us with a healthy disrespect for the powers-that-be.

When the 1970s came along and capitalism reverted to economic crisis and started to take away from ordinary people many of the post-war gains, it's not surprising that some of us, influenced by the three factors above, moved politically to the left.

Phil Webster.


Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin
Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin
by Tim Birkhead
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.37

5.0 out of 5 stars Birds, Ornithology and Evolution, 30 Nov 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This fascinating and beautiful book is a must for anyone with a serious interest in birds, ornithology and evolutionary theory.

Topics covered include: the debates surrounding the evolutionary origins of birds; the speciation process; classification; migration; breeding behaviour; sexual selection; learned and instinctive behaviour; population studies; and conservation.

But the book does not just feature the birds and the science. It also tells the story of the human personalities involved in the development of ornithology since Darwin.

For example, there is Ernst Mayr, who was both a field ornithologist and also one of the most important evolutionary theorists of the twentieth century. Mayr was still writing books on evolution when he was in his nineties, and his ideas were particularly important in explaining speciation: the process through which a new species branches off from an already existing one.

Mayr wrote that “... birds are a marvellous stepping-stone in three directions: towards evolution, towards systematics, and towards biogeography.”

Then there are Peter and Rosemary Grant, who carried out a long-term study of the finches on the Galapagos Islands, a study which (like Mayr’s theoretical approach) revealed much about the speciation process through which the finches have diversified.

I’ll just mention one more of the many interesting characters from the book, and that is Rachel Carson. Carson’s book “Silent Spring” (1962) played a crucial role in bringing to public attention the damage being done by DDT and other pesticides. For her pains, she was subjected to vicious attacks by the agrochemical industry and its hired intellectual thugs.

This book is not cheap, but it is well worth the money. I strongly recommend it.

Phil Webster.


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: £19.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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: £14.24

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: £11.62

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
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £9.85

5.0 out of 5 stars A Neglected Gem, 30 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
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

6 of 6 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: £22.61

1 of 2 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

2 of 2 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.


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