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M. D. Holley (Kent, UK)
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I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban
by Malala Yousafzai
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful.clear and moving, 18 Nov 2014
A wonderfully clear, insightful and well written book. As an author Malala runs rings around many of her more established contemporaries.

This is worth reading in its own right as a very vivid and moving story, which really captures the landscape of the Swat Valley, and of the characters involved.

Listening to her description of the way the Taliban gained popular support quite reminded me of methods and beliefs of certain populist politicians in Europe.

I could not quite agree with all her interpretations of the Qur'an (focus on all the nice parts and pretend the nasty parts don't exist), but her story does demonstrate that we should pay more attention to the silent majority of moderate muslims.

Recommended.


The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of Us
The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of Us
by Alice Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Audience participation unveils the meaning of life, 18 Nov 2014
This book is inspirational on so many levels. It really gets you thinking about your own body. I read a lot of it on a long plane trip, and I am sure my neighbours thought I was mad, because Alice Roberts has a way of inducing active participation from her readers. So I found myself waving my finger in front of my face to find my blind spot; seeing how my shoulder blade slides around; squeezing my larynx (and nearly choking); saying eeeh and aaaah out loud to see where my tongue goes.

But the idea that we personally relive evolution in our own journey from a single cell to a fully formed adult is really fruitful, and helped me to understand much better how all forms of life are connected.

The detailed descriptions of how the embryo organises itself, and of the genes that drive this, are breathtaking.

I was continually amazed at the parallels between the developing human and developing fruit flies, worms, dogs and so on.

I think the fact that this is written by a woman who has just had a baby does make a difference, and I am not sure these insights could have quite come from a man. The book is extremely well written and easy to read. The illustrations (by Alice Roberts herself) are very clear.

Thoroughly recommended as one of those rare books that really helps to change one's understanding of life, the universe and everything!


The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall
The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall
by Mary Elise Sarotte
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a novel, 18 Nov 2014
This is a thrilling account of the weeks leading up to the opening of the Wall. It is based on the personal experiences of the actual people involved. The voices of both sides - protesters and the authorities, are given equal weight.

The book is extremely well researched, and reads like a novel, with a tremendous build up of waves of tension. It is written with empathy, so that I actually felt quite sorry for the authorities who were grappling with so insurmountable a challenge.

Apart from the fascinating historical story, there are some serious lessons to be learned - that events are driven by local actors and cannot easily be driven by foreign countries; that the course of history is not pre determined and can take very unpredictable and surprising turns; that momentous events can happen by accident.

I have only one minor criticism, and that concerns some of the naive and rather shallow comments in the introductory pages. These comments (e.g. the implication that East Germans abuse their dogs, Russians are rapists, Berlin is uniquely militaristic, communism is inherently evil and so on) betray the fact that the author has been hoodwinked by western mythology. I fear she might have been deceived by East German propaganda too, had she been there at the time. Still, these lapses do not persist after page 11, and do not detract from an otherwise excellent book. To provide some balance in the face of simplistic prejudice, I would suggest to readers 'The Iron Curtain Kid' by Oliver Fritz, which is the best account of life in the DDR that I have found to date.

'The Collapse' is thoroughly recommended.


Home: A Time Traveller's Tales from Britain's Prehistory
Home: A Time Traveller's Tales from Britain's Prehistory
by Francis Pryor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Claustrophobic and limiting, 28 Oct 2014
I learnt a lot from this book. I know much more about about the houses people lived in, a little bit more about the 'offerings' they left behind, and a little bit more about how they managed the landscape. The most appealing aspect of the book is the way Pryor describes the thrill of new archaeological discoveries - his enthusiasm is infectious!

But to get to these insights one has to wade through so much lesser grade material. Pryor is repeatedly quite rude about many other archaeologists, criticising them for being 'thinkers' or academic. And yet spending time with Pryor during the reading of his book felt awfully claustrophobic, precisely because Pryor is not a thinker. If he has an enquiring mind, or any interest in biology, psychology, anthropology, political society, economics or the wider sweep of history, he does not show it here. His outlook seems curiously blinkered, as if he cannot raise his vision above the level of the trench he is currently digging. At times I felt as if I was down the pub talking to a typical Daily Mail reader.

I agree with Pryor's criticism of the pure academic. But the ideal is a doer who is ALSO a widely read thinker.

Although the book claims to be a 'time traveller's tale', we learn precious little about what life was actually like. How long did people live, what was the child mortality rate, what did it feel like being led by very young men in a society without much central organisation? What did people do daily, what did they wear, what was their entertainment, what might they have believed, what was the role of women, when did children come of age?

Instead of this type of insight, we get masses of material where Pryor indulges his own peculiar political views. He states clearly (page 270) his contempt for what he calls 'top-down central government' in the contemporary UK. Through the rest of his book he takes every opportunity to twist archaeological evidence to 'prove' that in ancient times there was no 'top-down' authority! He seems to assume that modern humans are somehow unnatural, and that those of the past were more egalitarian, less violent, less proud, less status conscious etc. than people today. Amazingly he claims that city walls, ramparts, hill forts and killer weapons were all for decoration only.

Too much of this feels like the rambling rant of a man of limited education, so that it is difficult to take it seriously. Sadly, I cannot recommend this book.


A Buzz in the Meadow
A Buzz in the Meadow
by Dave Goulson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Endearing, 17 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Buzz in the Meadow (Hardcover)
Some scientists ruin their books by their self aggrandising arrogance (Craig Venter surely takes the accolade here). In total contrast, Dave Goulson is very endearing. We repeatedly hear about his failed projects, dead ends and embarrassing episodes. Even as a child Goulson seems accident prone, accidentally managing to kill every animal entrusted to his care. Perhaps we get a much better idea of cutting edge science from Goulson than we do from the self proclaimed 'super heroes'.

He writes very affectionately about his subject, teaching us effortlessly about insects along the way. It is so well done that you barely realise you are into serious learning. A lot of the book is occupied by steamy sex scenes among the insects, which is rather entertaining.

Yet Goulson has some really serious points to make, and impercepticly he leads us along towards his objective. He shows how all life forms are interconnected, and ends with some amazing stories about bees and environmental degradation. Here his own research has really made a difference in government policy - a wonderful achievement for such a self effacing man. Goulson remains calm, balanced and non hysterical throughout.

This is a book with an important message, and deserves the widest possible circulation. Highly recommended.


Gone Girl
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One dimensional, 15 Oct 2014
This review is from: Gone Girl (Paperback)
First the good points. The plot is very clever indeed. It keeps reinventing itself (you could almost say this is three different books with three different plots, wrapped into one) and is unpredictable. In this sense the novel is quite stimulating.

And now the bad points. The prose is coarse, unrefined and clumsy. Characterisations and place descriptions are not vivid. The author has verbal diarrhoea, so that 100 words are often used where 10 would have been more effective. In common with some other contemporary novels, huge doses of cynicism are used throughout, giving a one dimensional feel (cynicism is a human quality, but most humans have other qualities too). The characters are unsympathetic. The effect would have been much more chilling had any of the characters had a good side.

This plot, in the hands of a more elegant and self disciplined writer, could have been subversive, sinister and overwhelming. As it is, we are left with a very light weight book which is poorly written. A shame.

It was a real challenge to keep going. This is not a page turner. I am glad I made it to the end for the fascinating plot, but I shan't be reading any more Gillian Flynn.


Sonos PLAY:5 White - The Wireless Hi-Fi (formerly S5)
Sonos PLAY:5 White - The Wireless Hi-Fi (formerly S5)
Price: £349.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yesterday's technology?, 30 Sep 2014
I have lived with my Sonos for about six months. With regret, I am about to stop using it in favour of a rather cheaper Sony bluetooth dock, which I have bought as a replacement. I can't help feeling that Sonos is yesterday's technology.

Good points first. Set up was dead easy. Sound quality is stunning. Reliability is first class.

My problem is that I usually buy my music as high quality FLAC files (so called Studio Master, at 24bit/96kHz). My main set up is a hi fi and you can really hear the difference with the Studio Master files. I am reluctant to buy compressed music of inferior quality now that Studio Master is available widely.

I use the Sonos for more casual listening in a different room, but sadly it wont accept the Studio Master 24 bit files.

Now I did survive for a while by downloading everything twice, once at 24 bit for the hi fi and once at 16 bit (CD quality) for the Sonos and for my phone. This was a real chore.

But recently I replaced my phone, and the new one accepts Studio Master files. Now the only reason for the double downloading chore was the Sonos - and guess what? I am finding I don't bother. So more and more of my music library plays on my phone and my hi fi but not the Sonos. Ironically, even my tiny bluetooth travel speaker can play all the Studio Master music (via the phone!).

I have also noticed another weakness of the Sonos - you are forced to use the Sonos interface to control it, even if you are playing Spotify or Quobuz. Each provider produces its own app which is as user friendly as possible, and that's how I want to control my music. The Sonos app gets between you and the original provider, and it's inevitably a bit clunky.

I am just tending to use the Sonos less and less, which is a real pity as it was expensive.

What I really want is something that plays ALL my music library in reasonable quality and which I can control via an original app on my phone. There are loads of recent bluetooth and DLNA speakers that do just that.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 4, 2014 11:41 PM BST


For Bread Alone
For Bread Alone
by Mohamed Choukri
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.92

4.0 out of 5 stars Gruelling, 28 Sep 2014
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This review is from: For Bread Alone (Paperback)
This little book is based on the author's own childhood. It paints a vivid picture of 1950s Morocco.

It is not an easy read, becuase the author had an extremely rough time, growing up in the Moroccan underworld. It is not for the faint hearted, for there is a lot of depravity, violence and sex.

There is some very unusual and effective use of language to emphasise the degradation and humiiations faced by the narrator.

It is good literature, but rather a gruelling read.


The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every other novel will seem flat after this, 28 Sep 2014
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I enjoyed this as much as any novel I have ever read.

It is very easy to read - a real page turner. And yet it is highy original. I had no idea where it was heading to, since the plot is enirely unpredictable. In some ways reading this is like living your actual life - you never know what's coming next, nor do you fully understand what is going on around you.

Apart from the enjoyment of the story, I learned some fascinating new history about Japan, China and Russia. I feel inspied to look more into this era.

I have had some bad experiences with adventurous, arty or surreal novels, but this manages to be all of those things yet very approachable and enjoyable at the same time.

I give it highest possible recommendation.


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
by Yuval Noah Harari
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights on every page, 27 Sep 2014
Beautifully written, this book contains one incredible idea: that the success of homo sapiens derives from our inclination to believe in imaginary (i.e. non existent) things, and to act on those beliefs. This insight alone is worth the price of the book.

Harari has a very original way of thinking, and the book turns up gems on virtually every page. His thoughts on the role of empires and religion and science are invaluable.

The scope of the book is immense. As well as covering a vast time span from the most distant pre history to a science fiction future, Harari ranges far and wide in science, engineering, politics, religion and biology. I particularly like the way he concludes with a brief picture of homo sapiens passing into the future, and into successor species.

In a work of such scope and originality, it is inevitable that errors and hair brained ideas will creep in. Harari is fearless in tackling every subject, yet he cannot be expert on them all. For example, while he has interesting things to say on economics, he is not really secure in his understanding. His description of humanism is almost unrecognisable. The section on why women would make good military generals is not thought through. These flaws did undermine my confidence in him a little. He also sounds like he has an axe to grind on vegetarianism. While I tend to agree with him, I felt he lost his objectivity whenever this subject came up.

Overall though this is a huge achievement, and I sense that Harari's one big idea will stick. Highly recommended.


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