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M. D. Holley (Kent, UK)
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Not Forgetting The Whale
Not Forgetting The Whale
by John Ironmonger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read, very original and quite quirky, 9 May 2015
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A wonderful read, very original and quite quirky. Plenty of humour too, and refreshing that we meet a cast of of nice (if flawed) characters along the way - just like real life.

The author brings some deep insights into the state of our world in a very gentle and un preachy way. A lot of research must have gone into this.

Until about nine tenths of the way through I was thinking this was a five star book, but I found the ending just a little too saccharine and Hollywoodesque for my tastes. Still, the truth is I really enjoyed nearly all of it.

Recommended!


Triumph of Seeds
Triumph of Seeds
by Thor Hanson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and wide ranging, 9 May 2015
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This review is from: Triumph of Seeds (Hardcover)
This is outstanding! Don't be misled by the somewhat unassuming title. This is wide ranging, informative, full of humour and very readable.

We learn the amazing story of the seed of an extinct type of fig found in the ruins of Masada, which blossomed into a tree after nearly 2000 years of dormancy. About how the seed (bean) of coffee unlocked the enlightenment. Why rats can gnaw through concrete. And how to kill a spy with a poison umbrella, laced with seed extract.

On the way we have insights into the nature of life (in what sense was the 2000 year old fig seed alive - did it have any ongoing metabolic processes all that time?). We learn a lot about symbiotic co-evolution. Have seeds domesticated humans in the way that they have manipulated many other species? There is the intrguing tale of why seeds contain active ingredients like caffeine. Why do peppers taste hot, and why do all other animals find pepper unpleasant to eat but humans love it?

Hanson has a very original mind, and he is very well read. Throughout he demonstrates wonderful powers of story telling.

Highly recommended


Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now
Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uncompromising is not always the quickest way to go, 27 April 2015
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This is very powerful stuff, and much of it is along the right lines. It feels really good to read, and gives quite a buzz. But I can't help thinking that some of the author's rhetoric, while being wildly popular with people like me (see the adoring and sometimes smug Amazon reviews already submitted by westerners) may actually be counterproductive.

I fully agree that the violence comes directly from Qu'ran itself. Those western politicians who state otherwise are not being completely truthful. But sometimes, in politics and in conflict resolution, the best way to achieve your goal is indeed to step around the truth.

The author is consistently wrong about one thing: she repeatedly portrays Islam as somehow uniquely flawed compared to other religions. I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian and, based on my own experience, there is no area where Islam is more repressive, violent or extreme than the Christianity of the Bible. In fact the similarities between fundamentalist Islam of the author's own upbringing, and the fundamentalist Christianity of mine, were astonishing to me. By mistakenly portraying Islam as somehow uniquely different, the author is in danger of misdiagnosing the problem.

Once we acknowledge that Islam and Christianity (in their original forms) just about match each other in their attitudes to intolerance and violence, we can start looking for solutions. We can test peaceable Chistian organisations (say, the Chuch of England) against the author's five theses. We would find that the theses fail this test, as peaceable Christians have not, in fact, acknowledged openly that the Bible is full of intolerance and violence, or that Jesus' sayings should not be taken seriously. Instead we have a kind of collective delusion, where Christians falsely imagine their Bible to be full of love and benign attitudes. Main stream Christianity has moved so far away from the Bible that it is barely recognisable, and even the word 'Christian' has come to mean behaviour which is the opposite of that set out in the sacred text. The modern Christian position may not be rigorously coherent from an intellectual point of view, but the coexistence of the Church of England and a secular liberal society actually works!

Surely, rather than uncompromising head-on confrontation, with public recantations of the type Hirsi Ali recommends, we need a reformation that gently buries the nasty parts, allowing adherents of the religion to save face and quietly turn Islam into something completely different. Just like the process that happened with Christianity.

PS Or perhaps the process is not yet fully complete with Christianity - let's see how long before I get attacked by Christians for this review ;)
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 16, 2015 10:47 PM BST


Sony SRS-X7 Wireless Speaker with NFC and Bluetooth - Black
Sony SRS-X7 Wireless Speaker with NFC and Bluetooth - Black
Price: £159.17

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful sound, 26 April 2015
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I bought this after giving up on my Sonos, because the Sonos would not play my high resolution FLAC files.

It was easy to set up, both on bluetooth and via wi fi to the computer. It is reliable; the battery works well and it is portable. It plays every file type I can throw at it.

But the sound is extremely lifeless and flat. I have had two cheaper Sony speaker docks in the past and they both dramatically outperformed the SRS-X7. The sound is certainly much poorer that the Sonos. I am even wondering if my example might be defective.

Either way I am going to have to buy yet another speaker dock. let's hope it's third time lucky!


Words Without Music
Words Without Music
by Philip Glass
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.10

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humility personified, 25 April 2015
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This review is from: Words Without Music (Hardcover)
I just couldn't put this down, and it ended all too quickly. Glass is an excellent writer of words.

Philip Glass is a very intriguing character. He must be one of the most determined of people. How else would he keep at it without any success until his early forties, living in virtual poverty, dismissed by the musical establishment and by his own parents, driving taxis and allowing his wife to work as a cleaner? He must have had huge self belief in the face of adversity.

And yet he emerges from the pages of this book as as the polar opposite of a Mahler or a Wagner - no huge ego or self obsessed bahaviour, but deep humility and an openness to collaborate with and be directed by others. Throughout, Glass is rather understated and modest in his writing.

I found it all incredibly inspiring, and an excellent example to follow - who of us has to work so hard and wait so long for recognition in our chosen field?

Through the book we meet an impressive cast of interesting people, places and ideas. Glass's discussion of music, and the connection between music and image, is also very insightful.

My only wish is that he had gone on longer and spent more time on recent years (most of the book is taken up with his years of struggle). But that's becuase I can't get enough of him.

Recommended!


The Buried Giant
The Buried Giant
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Less is more, 19 April 2015
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This review is from: The Buried Giant (Hardcover)
It was wonderful to enjoy the sheer craftmanship of Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel. Here is a true professional at work! There is not a word out of place.

Ishiguro has chosen a very straightforward, even childlike, way of writing, yet paradoxically the message is deep, and the characters spend most of the novel in a state of some confusion.

All of the characters come across as likeable and honest, yet terrible things happen under their watch.

There are no 'goodies' and 'baddies' as such, but there are certainly two sides fighting against each other.

Everything is superficially very wholesome, yet the outcomes are not happy ones - the ending is deeply moving and intensely sad.

It is a fantasy, but has echoes throughout of very real problems in the contemporry world.

I thoroughly enjoyed this highly original and gripping book. It is one of the best novels I have ever read. Ishiguro shows that profundity does not need to hide behind complexity, and that less is more.

Recommended!


Play It Again: An Amateur Against The Impossible
Play It Again: An Amateur Against The Impossible
by Alan Rusbridger
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The book that has it all, 13 April 2015
I am not a Guardian fan but I really enjoyed spending time in Alan Rusbridger's company. He seems a very nice bloke, with a lot of humility. And he's got some really insightful ideas about life, and about the role of professionals and amateurs in contemporary life. What an inspirational work!

This is one of those rare books that has everything - it tells the story of an impossible battle against the odds; it is a diary; it includes some incredible politics (especially the News International story); we meet a cast of wonderful characters (from Condoleezza Rice to Murray Perahia to Gaddafi's son) and it has a lot to say about music.

The inclusion of the full score at the end was a good choice. I listened to the Chopin Ballade several times (I didn't know it before) so that it became the sound track to my life during the week I read the book.

But most of all this book is an inspiration. If Alan Rusbridger can do it, with his hectic life, then any of us can. There can be no one with a more demanding job than he. So I have booked my first piano lesson already. Wish me luck!


An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
by Chris Hadfield
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Made my flesh creep, 29 Mar. 2015
This made my flesh creep.

Undoubtedly there is good advice here, but Hadfield has such a blinkered, self aggrandising view of himself that I found it impossible to read.

Prepare to be patronised, big time, by someone who is not very self aware!


The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920
The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920
by Eugene Rogan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How we got to this place, 29 Mar. 2015
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So many of the problems in the world today are happening in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire. This well written and fascinating history helps uncover the origins of current tensions. It is a history which deserves to be better known (especially by our politicians).

Rogan starts well, setting out the context of the Ottoman situation in the later nineteen century. Quite quickly we arrive at the Great War.

The chapter about the British attack on Basra in 1914, together with soldiers' accounts of how they cheerfully massacred unsuspecting locals, is very disturbing. It comes as a constant shock to enter the mindset of racist, empire building Britain of 100 years ago (as they say, the past is a different country).

If I have one criticism about this otherwise illuminating work, it is that there is too much space given to describing First World War battles in detail. What started as a high level Ottoman history descends into a kind of boy's adventure story in places. I would have much preferred the author to tell us more about what happened after the armistice, about how Ataturk brought the empire to an end in the early 1920s. I would also have liked a brief update on each Ottoman land covered - from Libya and Egypt to Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi, Yemen and Bulgaria - to understand how we got from 1918 to 2015 in those places.

Nonethelss this is an invaluable new book, containing vital information in an easy to read and accessible style.

Recommended


The End of Days
The End of Days
by Jenny Erpenbeck
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

2.0 out of 5 stars I have lost the plot!, 20 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: The End of Days (Hardcover)
It almost never happens that I give up on a book. Yet that is what I have just done. This novel has all the ingredients which I would normally like - an East German author, and eastern European perspective, and a highly original and intriguing plot.

Yet I have found it really hard going. To be honest I simply could not follow what was happenning in Book 3. I didn't know who was talking when or exactly where or when it was set.

I quite enjoyed Book 1 , but in Book 2, set in Vienna, I started to feel confused. Book 3 became almost completely baffling.

This is probably all my own fault, but on the other hand if I had found any of the characters true to life or sympathetic in any way then I would have probably persevered.

Sadly I can't recommend this.


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