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Mr. Tristan Martin (Hertfordshire, UK)

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Cityboy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile
Cityboy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile
by Geraint Anderson
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A book to be enjoyed by those who don't read books, 15 Mar 2011
In the least convincing cockney barrow-boy impression since Guy Ritchie, University of Cambridge educated Geraint Anderson (son of Baron Anderson of Swansea) writes an execrable book, full of faux macho swagger, crude sexism and just about one cliche every couple of pages.

The story itself is pretty obvious: lefty hippy becomes multimillionaire stockbroker who then rediscovers his original values (after he's made his millions, natch). So far, so predictable. And that's just about it.

The warning signs that this book is a steaming pile are not just the author's fault: the cover - white background, men in black suits, is totally Reservoir Dogs. Then the subtitle, Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile, obviously references Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; trouble is, one of these authors is a hugely talented, trailblazing iconoclast and the other is Geraint Anderson. Finally, the inside cover blurb vomits up another cliche: "Everything you always wanted to know about the city, but were afraid to ask." Really? Is that the best some PR hack could think of?

Bret Easton Ellis, in writing American Psycho (a vastly superior work of fiction on stockbroking), uses boredom as a literary device - he sucks us so skillfully into the mind of that book's antagonist, using mundane details to capture the vacuousness of his life, that we become immersed into the character's very life and thought process. Perhaps Anderson, in writing Cityboy with such unremitting naffness, is attempting the same trick. I suspect not, however; this book is simply awful.

Themes of sexism and 1990s new-laddism, drugs, conspicuous consumption and whoring, all celebrated with an arched eyebrow as if to indicate that, "Hey, I get it - I'm being ironic!" get dusted off and represented to the public under the pretence of some kind of snort-and-tell expose. If you want a great work of fiction about stockbroking, see either Ellis' book mentioned above or Tom Wolfe's superb The Bonfire of the Vanities. Cityboy is full of cliches that surely should have been weeded out at the first draft; "whirling dervishes" "wonga" "big bucks" "dodgy birds" "devil's dandruff" and many, many others. Seriously, just open the book at a random page and it won't take too many paragraphs before some lazy writing presents itself.

I suspect that Geraint Anderson isn't as stupid as his book would make him appear. That said, when all he presents to the world of himself is this dreary book, it's hard to hold anyone else responsible. Cityboy screams, "Hollywood - this is Wall Street meets Goodfellas!" except that it's more like The Apprentice meets Blow. It seems that the only people I can think of who'll like this book are those who are easily impressed and who don't read many books.

Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy
Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy
by Joseph Stiglitz
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Corporate welfare: socialism, U.S. style, 6 Mar 2011
Joseph Stiglitz's Freefall nails the root causes of the financial collapse of 2008 better than any other book on the subject. He looks in detail at who and what is to blame for the Great Recession that we are now in and also what needs to be done to ensure that another bubble doesn't inflate and burst, causing suffering to millions around the world. Concurrently, his is also a broad view that looks at the financial climate of the last thirty years.

The various chapters in this important book cover what caused the crisis, how it peaked, what the flawed response was and why - not just how - the global capitalist system needs to be thoroughly overhauled but that the thinking around economics itself needs to be fundamentally shifted to what economies and the financial system are actually designed to achieve, beyond making a few people extremely wealthy. The problem is that markets are neither self-regulating nor self-correcting; as Stiglitz writes: "The belief that markets can take care of themselves and therefore government should not intrude has resulted in the largest intervention in the market by government in history..."

Stiglitz argues that there is no relationship betwixt performance and pay for the CEOs of top financial institutions, that there is perverse moral hazard at work (bankers gamble and if they win, they win big, if they lose (which they did massively)) the taxpayer pays off their debt, that too-big-to-fail institutions are the worst form of protectionism, that privatising profit but externalising risk is corporate welfare (or socialism, United States style), that unless there are strong laws and punishments for braking them, another bubble will inflate and burst causing this - or some form of this - to happen again.

I can think of no other book on the subject that discusses both problems and solutions with such humanity. Joseph Stiglitz, while an academic who has spent the bulk of his life in financial bureaucracies such as the World Bank, is not out of touch with the great strife inflicted globally by the naked greed of certain facets of the financial class. Freefall is a calm yet passionate book that strongly urges us to take heed of the lessons of the past, lest history repeats itself yet again.

The Justice Game: Tales from the Bar
The Justice Game: Tales from the Bar
by Geoffrey Robertson
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The most important game of all, 3 Mar 2011
Renowned Queen's Council Geoffrey Robertson, most recently seen defending WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, has written an amusing, insightful and passionate book on some of the more notable cases he has been intimately involved with.

Lady Diana, Matrix Churchill, the Oz trial and defending The Guardian newspaper against Neil Hamilton MP are just some of the headline-making stories that Robertson throws some personal light on. He shares what draws him to each case and how he analyses it; how events play out in court and the legal and civic ramifications - each episode given a personal slant from a witty and perceptive writer.

Geoffrey Robertson QC both condemns and celebrates the game of justice and values it primarily as a force for the individual to challenge the state, whether that be freedom of expression of a controversial artist, the battle against secretive intelligence agencies or at the most extreme end of the scale, someone challenging the death penalty.

No prior understanding of the English legal system is required as Robertson writes clearly, avoiding the restricted code of legalese. He articulates the importance of having evidence and accusations tested in the most robust, adversarial fashion, a right that is simply too important to give away, even under threat by the state's monster du jour, terrorism. In all, a fascinating read from a man who has been at the centre of legal cases of national importance for over thirty five years.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 16, 2011 10:43 PM BST

Collapse [DVD]
Collapse [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chris Smith

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I don't deal in conspiracy theory, I deal in conspiracy fact.", 21 Feb 2011
This review is from: Collapse [DVD] (DVD)
Directed by Chris Smith, who directed the hilarious documentary American Movie, a film so funny I half expected it to be a hoax, turns his attention a radical 180 degrees and instead gives us 82 minutes in the company of a former Los Angeles Police Department detective turned investigative journalist, in Collapse.

Collapse is a penetrating character study of Michael Ruppert, an enigmatic man who advocates fiercely that industrialised civilisation is at a tipping point because global energy supplies - essentially oil - have peaked. Western society is in such a precarious position, Ruppert argues because money has no power without energy and (easily available) energy has crossed the Rubicon into an inexorable downward slope. As a consequence, the world faces financial turmoil and civic unrest.

Not entirely without criticism (Ruppert occasionally comes across as a little unstable and erratic, prone to hyperbole), this documentary gives the viewer a chance to get familiar with uncomfortable topics that get scant column inches in the mainstream mass media.

This "intellectual horror movie" (according to Variety) is sure to leave an impression on all who watch it, whether you agree with Ruppert's analysis or not. Collapse is a valuable piece of filmmaking and deserves as wide an audience as possible.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone
by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.40

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The biggest mistake of the occupation, was the occupation itself.", 17 Dec 2010
I'm assuming we already know that the war itself was viciously premeditated and illegal. This book, through a series of lively vignettes, deftly characterises the fool's errand that the was the U.S.-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority's attempt at what they called "nation building."

Rajiv Chandrasekaran's perceptive book documents how the Bush administration rejected international experts (in healthcare, education and so forth) in favour of Republican party apparatchiks who would be more interested in selling off state companies, privatising as much as possible, lowering business taxes and reducing tariffs on imports. These steps were considered more important by the Bush-friendly bureaucrats than trivial things like getting medical supplies in to hospitals.

Neoconservative ideologues thought the best way to kick start Iraq was to espouse the doctrine of free-market capitalism, whilst simultaneously hiring companies like Haliburton on the back of no-bid cost-plus contracts at the U.S. taxpayer's expense. Corporate-welfare socialism benefits and enriches certain sectors of the U.S. economy but for a country that is struggling to come to terms with a brutal, one-sided war, it is inappropriate. What is needed is to fire people from jobs, in a country where the unemployment rate for males is already 40 per cent and then explain to them that those are the benefits of living in a globalised, U.S. style capitalist market. The United States government can do that because they love human rights (as long as you're not gay or anything).

Whilst my "review" of this book is heavy handed and errs quite badly on the foaming-at-the-mouth, ranting side of things, Rajiv's writing itself, is superb, displaying a light touch, letting people, both U.S. and Iraqi, speak for themselves. Many books have described the events leading up to the war against Iraq, Imperial Life in the Emerald City is one of the best examples of what happens after a war.

Four Lions - Special Edition [DVD]
Four Lions - Special Edition [DVD]
Dvd ~ Riz Ahmed
Price: £8.70

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Marx Brothers join al-Qaeda, 5 Dec 2010
The pedigree of this film is impeccable: directed by Chris Morris (The Day Today, Brass Eye, Nathan Barley) and written by Morris, as well as Peep Show writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, Four Lions delivers perverse laughs by the truck load.

For some, this film will cut too close to the bone. Not that the filmmakers are trying to be anything as boring as "controversial" but rather that the film uncannily echoes the terrible 7/7 London tube bombings, as well as arrests of wannabe jihadists. This is achieved through the use of snippets of CCTV footage around London, intelligence photographs of British countryside "training camps" and garages filled with primitive homemade bomb-making equipment.

This comedy about inept British suicide bombers, their mundane lives and feeble grasp of reality, their almost complete ignorance about anything outside of their paranoid, myopic world is not the most conventional subject matter for a sitcom, much like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers vis a vis serial killers - but Four Lions is the best, most original British comedy in years. Perhaps lacking that trademark Chris Morris stamp, the only real criticism of this film (and it is a minor criticism) is that, like other great British film comedies of recent years - Shaun of the Dead, 24 Hour Party People - Four Lions is not particularly cinematic. As such, this feels more appropriate at home than in the cinema.

That minor quibble aside, Four Lions is hilarious from start to finish, finding vast swathes of deep humour in a most unexpected place, whether that's a wookie being shot at the London marathon or ill-chosen crow-bombers. If you want something a little different from conventional no-brow romcoms, Four Lions is a brave, almost Ealing-esque comedy that dares to poke fun at people and events that traditional Hollywood wouldn't touch.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Steven D. Levitt
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unconventional journey to the further shores of economics, 22 Nov 2010
The economist John Kay defines economics as the study of allocation of resources betwixt competing demands; Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, in his youthful essay on the theory of intergalactic trade, described his essay as a serious work on a ridiculous subject, the very opposite of most economics papers. With Freakonomics, authors Kevitt and Dubner define it as the study of incentives and using this starting position, visit the strange, further shores of economics.

What the book is essentially about is applying unsentimental and hopefully objective methodology to facets of life that are not usually given to such study: the incentives at work when real estate agents sell their own houses as compared to selling other people's, how an urban crack gang is structured along corporate American principles (fans of television series The Wire should be particularly interested in that chapter), how much influence parents really have over young children's development. Some of this seems like it has the potential to be quite important, some of it seems pretty trivial (particularly the section on white / black / poor / rich children's names) but most of it is engaging, written as it is in a conversational style, though with a great respect for raw data.

Put the hyperbole of the glowing reviews ("Prepare to be dazzled" etc) to one side and authors Steven Levitt (economics lecturer at the University of Chicago) and Stephen Dubner (former New York Times Magazine editor) can fairly be said to have produced the most askew glance at the potential of a traditionally dry subject yet written. This is not an introduction to economics but an introduction to the possibilities of economics.

Fool's Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe
Fool's Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe
by Gillian Tett
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neither anti-capitalist rant nor banker's mea culpa, 11 Nov 2010
Author Gillian Tett has worked at the Financial Times for over fifteen years, specialising in global markets. This position has given her a frontline perspective on just how certain markets collapsed so spectacularly and damaged so many lives. Tett's position as a leading journalist has given her on and off the record interviews with many people that she regards as key players in this sorry tale.

Fool's Gold is neither a crude anti-capitalist rant nor a mea culpa for the Masters of the Universe. Instead, Tett shows us how a very innovative idea - Collateralised Debt Obligations - was seeded in the financial industry in a fairly niche market but germinated into a complex, diffuse poison that temporarily brought the banking world to its knees.

Necessarily, this is a rather elaborate book and yet Tett manages to keep the story focused (and also provides a handy glossary) as it twists through a labyrinthine path of financial deals within deals. No doubt there will be events and people that she has overlooked but writing this draft of history so close to the calamity itself, Tett can be quite forgiven if her portrait of this financial car-crash doesn't capture every reflection in each piece of shattered glass.

Fool's Gold is a fine piece of investigative journalism that certainly relates an important facet of a terrible crime. Free from emotional judgements on either side, Gillian Tett has provided us with key indicators to just how the "credit crunch" happened. Lessons learned / how it should be avoided in future will require a whole separate book to do the subject justice.

Task Force Black: The explosive true story of the SAS and the secret war in Iraq
Task Force Black: The explosive true story of the SAS and the secret war in Iraq
by Mark Urban
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Avidly pro-war but with decent, first-hand research, 31 Oct 2010
BBC journalist Mark Urban uses his contacts in the defence and intelligence establishment to give the reader of Task Force Black the inside track on what "Tier 1" Special Forces were doing in Iraq; whilst the front cover of the book specifically mentions the SAS, a good deal of the book concerns the United State's covert operators, Delta Force.

Urban's book certainly contains enough descriptions of door-kicking assaults, house raids, kidnaps and rescues to satisfy those who like to read about modern warfare but he spends an equal amount of time on military political manoeuvring and the concepts behind the strategies. So whilst we get first hand accounts of the rescue of British hostage Norman Kember and his Christian Peacemaker Team, or the killing of the leading fanatical Islamist Abu al-Zarqawi, we also get to learn about Major-General Stan McChrystal's concept of building networks, or of the Iraqi Awakening movement.

For those interested in the political dimension, Mark Urban uses much terminology of modern political discourse - the kind that seeks to make what is obvious, unclear and murder seem acceptable. When one hundred-plus American soldiers are killed in one month, the losses are referred to as "shockingly high"; when over fifty women and children are killed (not in one incident) this is referred to as merely "regrettable." As a consequence, Urban falls into the pro-war camp, promoting myths supportive of establishment objectives: al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) didn't exist until British and American forces invaded Iraq; the US-UK military presence attracted these fighters to Iraq, the consequence of which provided retroactive justification for why Western soldiers were waging the war in the first place. This kind of nonsense is given the facade of respectability by Mark Urban, a leading journalist who really should know better.

Readers who have learnt about the WikiLeaks revelations concerning the routine kidnap, extortion, torture and even murder committed by members of the Iraqi National Army and police and the lack of interest in this by British and American troops, will find some evidence in this book that supports these terrible events. "Concern" is expressed that British and American governments are arming and training Iraqi state forces who then brutalise their own people, is mentioned by Urban but not discussed at great length. There is, of course, substantial precedent for Western forces supporting state gangsters as a bulwark against the favoured bogeyman of the day, perhaps most extensively documented in the area of U.S. relations with Central America during the 1980s. All of this passes without too much concern by Urban because it is the price of building "stability" - again, more state-supporting dogma by a high priest of the secular religion that is mainstream journalism.

Task Force Black still gets a good review because Mark Urban does deliver on his promise to give us the goods about the "secret war in Iraq." As with many books on modern warfare, Mark Urban is perhaps just too close to his subject to get sufficient perspective on what is being committed in the cause of Western political objectives: the Iraqi bodycount, oil and state corruption are all brushed aside in favour of high technology, military acronyms and the proxy thrill of the 2am raid on a hostile target house ("alpha"), as doors are kicked in and rooms are "cleared."
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 28, 2011 10:24 AM BST

Ghost Force: The Secret History of the SAS
Ghost Force: The Secret History of the SAS
by Ken Connor
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Military history written from a position of authority, with more context than usual, 30 Oct 2010
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Ken Connor's Ghost Force - The Secret History of the SAS, is an authoritative account of 22 Regiment's greatest hits: Malaya, Borneo, Aden, Northern Ireland, Iranian Embassy, Falklands, Desert Storm et al. While much of this will be familiar terrain for many readers, there are two reasons why this book stands above a great many others in the genre: the first is that the author served in the Special Air Service for twenty three years; the second is that Connor attempts to place the SAS's actions within a historical and / or political context.

The first reason is self-explanatory. Regarding the second reason, Connor gives us a very condensed history of, for example, British involvement in the Middle East. Inevitably, his interpretation of the facts will not be to everybody's taste but he is at least refreshingly free of both "Andy McNab" style anti-Arab racism and right-wing warmongering.

Ken Connor rightly praises the Regiment, particularly for many of its "hearts and minds" operations but just as importantly, he criticises the organisation and calls for its reformation. Connor gives us many reasons why the SAS succeeded so brilliantly on missions that were considered impossible (including many vivid first hand accounts) but also he is quite damning about the bloated, traditional army structure has contributed to its modern failures, particularly the first Gulf War.

Ghost Force is recommended for those who want a more perceptive and detailed history of the SAS, rather than a book full of gung-ho action and military posturing. While Ken Connor's grasp of political history will not satisfy all readers, his expertise and experience lend great weight to the authority of this well-written book.

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