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J. Stephens (London, UK)

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Stand On Zanzibar
Stand On Zanzibar
by John Brunner
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious now, but in the 60's this was taken seriously., 12 Sep 2010
This review is from: Stand On Zanzibar (Paperback)
This book is worth reading for anyone interested in the attitudes and expectations of the late 1960s.

It is not the easiest read, not least because it is full of cloyingly 'hip' sixties' jargon and attempts by the author to make up new words so as the reader knows he is in "the future" (like 'codder' and 'shiggy' for man and woman/girlfriend). These neologisms very quickly become wearying and stale and sadly serve to date the book irrecoverably to the 1960s.

A full work at over 500 pages, it is competently written with some wonderfully descriptive passages, but is more concerned with painting a word-picture of a dystopian future than it is in telling a coherent, plot-led story. So, whilst it is diverting at times with it's bleak outlook of a compromised future, there is no real sense of narrative flow and direction.

The work is best known as a prediction of the dystopian future of 2010. I see some other reviewers here are marvelling at the exactitude of Brunner's novel, but you notice how weak and paltry their examples of its prophetic powers actually are. The fact of it is that this novel - and let's not pussyfoot around this - is laughable in its predictive powers. New York is not under a dome, and is in far better shape than it was when the story was written. Wealthy businessman are not reduced to sharing a small flat just to find somewhere to live - in fact, the vast majority of people don't have to share their dwelling. Food is not in short supply. Et cetera, et cetera.

In short, then, worth reading as an insight into the preoccupations of a bygone time, but as a novel, mediocre, and as a prophetic piece of work, risible.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2013 1:35 PM BST

Entropy: A New World View (Paladin Books)
Entropy: A New World View (Paladin Books)
by Jeremy Rifkin
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Laughably bad book, 5 Sep 2010
Sorry, but this is a terrible book. Rifkin, a guy who seems to delight in writing books on subjects he evidently has no real comprehension of, identifies "hot" topics that will appeal to a certain disaffected type of person and writes for that market. It is, in my opinion, actually simple capitalism in its most cynical form - pandering.

The example of the review below by 'Macgregor' is illuminating in this respect. All wishy-washy vague idealisations about 'ecological economics' (on the website of a multi-national corporation, natch). There is no rigorous and coherent thought expressed, but instead merely a generalised and harmlessly anodyne distaste for the system that he is evidently very much a part of.

This is a microcosm of the problem with the book in general. It is a bland revolution, a safe revolt, a rebellion for the middle-aged hippy and for those who don't want to accept things as they are, but can't really be bothered to work towards change. Rifkin fires off volley after volley claiming that collapse is immanent and imminent, in which case, one wonders why he is bothering to write at all. As stated at the beginning of this review, the reason is simple: to satisfy the market. QED.

Trekking in the Pyrenees (Trailblazer)
Trekking in the Pyrenees (Trailblazer)
by Douglas Streatfeild-James
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guide BUT bear one thing in mind !!, 19 Aug 2010
This is a compact but informative guide that should be used with the Rando edition maps (which can purchased in France quite easily).

BUT - as i found out - bear in mind that the time guides given in guide (eg "allow 8 hours to hike this section) do not make any allowance at all for stopping. So, when the book says eight hours hiking, that means at least ten hours unless you literally do not stop or slow down at all, ever (and let's face it, that's not very likely really).

Have fun!

The Origins of the Organic Movement
The Origins of the Organic Movement
by Jonathan Dimbleby
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.72

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original, challenging and informative - brilliant., 6 Aug 2010
As Jonathan Dimbleby notes in his foreward to this work, Conford has done the organic movement a real service here by unearthing (pardon the pun) the centrality of far-right and fascist ideology in the history of the organic movement and the Soil Association itself. Far better, as Dimbleby sagely observes, to wash this dirty laundry in public and admit to a past which needs the disinfectant of sunlight, then to try and hide it in the closet.

Essentially, Conford's work reveals the ethical, political and ideological concerns and ideologies that gave rise to the organic movement in both the UK and the US, as well as Europe to a lesser extent. Today we think that environmental awareness and 'caring for mother earth' is a modern thing - this book reminds us that such thinking was very much in fashion in the inter-war years, but was then mainly a right-wing ideology rather than left-wing as it appears to be today. If you've read Orwell's "Road to Wigan Pier" where he bemoans that socialist ideology is 'machine-orientated' then you'll know what i mean. Orwell was far ahead of his time as a socialist, although not sui generis. Ruskin, William Morris, Arthur Penty and others all preceded him).

This is not a polemical work, but a sober and scholarly approach to the subject that is nevertheless intensely interesting and extremely readable. A real achievement. Conford is clearly a supporter of the organic movement but does not reduce himself or the movement by resorting to paltry cheer-leading. Instead, he strengthens the case for it by admitting a history that has both good and bad parts as all histories have. If you are a supporter of the organic movement and 'can handle the truth' as Jack Nicholson put it, gird your loins and read this book. It isn't pretty, but it is fascinating.

Finally, major kudos to Conford for including such a useful and extensive index - not only a standard index, but an index of names of people and also of institutions and places with brief but informative biopics of them. This was a Godsend.

A five star work.

Fantasy, the Bomb, and the Greening of Britain: Romantic Protest, 1945-1980
Fantasy, the Bomb, and the Greening of Britain: Romantic Protest, 1945-1980
by Meredith Veldman
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing look at an under-researched topic., 6 Aug 2010
If you have an interest in the interaction of fantasy, sci-fi, nuclear weapons, environmental politics and ethics, then i wholeheartedly recommend this book. Veldman has done a great job in assembling a good deal of primary literature to support her case that there was a strong inter-relationship between writers and 'green politics' in post-war Britain.

I gave this work 4 stars instead of 5 for the following reasons (quibbles only, don't let this put you off):

Two-thirds of the way through the book Veldman rattles through a list of influences on British writers and the green movement. This has the feel of being included for the sake of inclusivity, rather than an integral part of the argument. For example, in discussing the role of the organic movement pre-WWII, Veldman plays down what Philip Conford ("The Origins of the Organic Movement") has stated is the "centrality of right-wing ideology and even fascism" to the organic movement by denying that most of those involved in the Soil Association were Nazi sympathisers. This is sophistry - they were British fascists, not German fascists. One needs only remember that Jorian Jenks, who was Secretary of Agriculture in the British Union of Fascists, was also editor of the Soil Association's journal until 1963 despite being an unrepentant fascist to see how weak this argument is.

Also, Veldman is unfortunately too keen to be on the 'right' side of the green debate. At one point she states in a footnote that (and i quote from memory) "I don't want to suggest that there isn't a wealth of scientific evidence to prove that eating organically grown food is indeed healthier". Now I eat organic food. I believe its healthier and that it's better for the environment. BUT, there is absolutely no real, solid scientific evidence to back this up. It's an ethical thing and a gut thing (no pun intended). To claim in the backhand way that Veldman does that there is plenty of 'scientific evidence' is frankly shabby and it smacks too much of a desire to be seen as 'in touch' with the ethics of the moment. A small point, admittedly, but it speaks to a mindset that is perhaps a little too adulatory in its approach and too binary in its analysis - nuclear bombs are "bad things" therefore the people that oppose them are, ipso facto, "good people" and "good people" write "good works". Let's move beyond a simple identification of ethics with literary merit, shall we?

As I say, minor quibbles. This is that rare thing: an academic work which is genuinely interesting to read. Buy it and learn and enjoy!

Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity
Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity
by Patrick Curry
Edition: Paperback

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So disappointed., 6 Aug 2010
Let me start by saying that i'm a big fan of Tolkien (who isn't, right?) and really wanted to like this book, not least as it's a defence of Tolkien. Sadly, i have to report in all honesty it's a BIG disappointment. Here's why:

Reading the book, it very rapidly becomes clear that Curry has an agenda; he has a chip on his shoulder, and he wants you to know about it. Sometimes that can be a good thing - a polemic approach to a text can be illuminating and invigorating. Curry's is neither. To start with, he badly misrepresents or misreads (i think 'misreads' to be fair) the intentions of previous critics of LOTR [Lord of the Rings]. To cite just one example from many: on page 35 Curry writes:

"It is not surprising, then, that his [the critic, Raymond Williams] treatment of pastoralism terminates in mere abuse of Tokien's work as , absurdly, 'half-educated' and 'suburban.' Oxford professors may be many things, but they are not yet half-educated; and Tolkien actually complained to his son in 1943 that 'the bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets'."

What's happened here is that Williams, as Curry observes, is criticising Tolkien's *work* - LOTR. Curry, in the very next sentence, attempts to defend it by asserting that 'Oxford professors may be many things, but they are not yet half-educated' - which is something entirely different from what Williams was arguing. Also, Williams was accusing LOTR of exhibiting a 'suburban' attitude to rural life - a romantic, idealised and, yes, pastoral view of it. In this context, Curry's quotation of Tolkien's complaint against suburbia is mystifying - a suburban mentality does not mean an exaltation of suburbia, it means an exaltation of rurality *from* suburbia.

Sadly, this sort of sloppy logic and inability to engage with literary criticism on a adult level is only too obvious throughout the book. On page 38, for example, Curry attempts to place Tolkien's politics in opposition to "modernists such as TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, DH Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis" - none of whom were 'modernists' in the sense that Curry intends ('technological modernism' as he puts it in the same paragraph). All were, like Tolkien, haters of 'technological modernism' and so he - quite astonishingly - manages to defeat his own argument within one paragraph.

I can only explain the lacunae and illogicality of Curry's work by reference to his hatred of what he [Curry] calls "the psychotic fantasies of modernist science" (see his paper on astrology for a 'spiritual earth' - 'Grounding the Stars in Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture 1:2 (2007) 210-219). As i wrote earlier, sometimes a polemic approach can be a joy to read and extremely enlightening - this was not one of those occasions. This is merely a lashing-out against the modern world dressed up as scholarly criticism.

Really wanted to like this book. Big disappointment.

Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice
Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice
by David Pepper
Edition: Paperback
Price: 39.11

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be put off by the other obviously biased review, 2 Aug 2010
This is an excellent and thought-provoking analysis of the deep ecology movement. Do not be put off by the clearly biased review - it's one thing to say you disagree with the conclusions reached in a book, but quite another to say that industrialism is the problem and that any criticism has to start from that point!

John Betjeman Collected Poems
John Betjeman Collected Poems
by John Betjeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.49

6 of 47 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Yet another Tory reactionary who thought that new = bad and old = good, 2 Aug 2010
Reading the other reviews on this page you can see that what Betjeman is still praised for was his romanticisation of some imagined 'golden era' of country lanes and smiling peasants where nobody actually did any work or got ill. Betjeman contrasts this with his hatred of the egalitarian modern world where chain stores and other evils were making what were formerly luxuries for the wealthy things available to the masses.

"Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough" as Betjeman wrote. Quite safe for him, as the old Marlborough & Oxford public school boy was miles away in his country house at the time he penned those lines, bemoaning all the new house being built for the masses that looked simply ghastly. And as for providing electricity for all -

"Encase your legs in nylons,
Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul"

This collection of Betjeman's poetry is a textbook on Tory elitism masquerading as concern for the environment. It's as false as Prince Charles flying in by jet to collect his latest Green award.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2013 12:30 PM BST

Story of a Norfolk Farm
Story of a Norfolk Farm
by Henry Williamson
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good explanation of the appeals of Blood and Soil, 27 Jun 2010
Today it is often forgotten that the Soil Association and the organic/environmental movement were often the same people who followed Mosley and Hitler with their ideas of 'blood and soil'. We may wonder at why so many did.

This book is an excellent reminder. Williamson seems to have been an essentially decent guy who was a bit of a dreamer, loved 'nature' and was enraged at what he saw as the destruction of the environment at the hands of what he termed "finance-industrialism" and what today we would call corporations. He became intrigued by the answers offered by the British Union of Fascists and the organic movement (Jorian Jenks, Mosley's secretary of agriculture was a founder member of the Soil Association and edited its journal, Mother Earth, from beginning until 1963. They preached that to save the nation from the perils of industrialism, a return to locally grown, organic food was essential (see "From The Ground Up" by Jorian Jenks, or for a review of the era Philip Conford's "The Origins of the Organic Movement" is also highly recommended).

Read without moral judgment as much as you can. I think Williamson was a lover of nature who sadly saw a fascist version of environmentalism as an answer after attending the 1935 Nuremberg Rally (and witnessing the 'well fed German boys and girls' - Williamson, "The Phoenix Generation"). That he was mistaken is obvious - the point today is to be equally alert to fascist aesthetics (e.g. Avatar) without losing our sense of ecological responsibilities.

The Holes in the Ozone Scare: The Scientific Evidence That the Sky Isn't Falling
The Holes in the Ozone Scare: The Scientific Evidence That the Sky Isn't Falling
by Rogelio A. Maduro
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent expose of the shoddy science behind the ozone scare, 17 May 2010
I must admit I was not expecting much from this book when I ordered it. A lot of these types of books are merely conspiracy theories with a few facts thrown in to give the appearance of research. But I am pleased to say that i was surprised, very surprised.

The two authors are both scientists who have published extensively on physics and atmospheric chemistry and it shows. They have a sure grasp of their subject matter and are able to relate the fatcs in a way that is easy for the layman to understand, but still very scientifically rigourous.

They quote extensively from scientific literature to show that the grounds for the ozone scare were nowhere near as certain or settled as we were led to believe at the time. What is especially revealing is how many of the "scientists" involved were more environmental activists than scientists, with a history of pushing scare stories regarding the environment. For example, that supersonic aircraft would lead to massive, life-threatening global loss of ozone (it hasn't, despite years of supersonic flight both civil and military).

The authors prove beyond all reasonable doubt, by reference to scientific literature, that the Antarctic ozone hole had been noted for decades before its "discovery" in 1985 by British, French and Japanese scientists. They also recount the ludicrous scare stories that were doing the rounds in the run up to the Montreal Treaty that phased out CFCs - mass blindness and skin cancer, fish dieing out at sea, crops failing, etc.

Buy this book - and read it with a sceptical mind - by the end of it, the authors' objective and rational argument, backed up by reams of scientific evidence will have convinced you.

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