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N. J. Freedman "CDA Men's book group member" (Nice, France)
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Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
by William Dalrymple
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.84

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, well-researched, and absorbing. Less effective in Kindle format., 13 Jun. 2013
Return of a King
Review by the Cote D'Azur Men's Book Group

The opinions in our group on this book divided initially. A few were confused by the vast number of places, names and interrelationships, and found the first 100 or more pages hard going, despite the sketched maps and 23 pages of biographies and charts of 'dramatis personae'. The Kindle version has their splendid photographs gathered at the end of the book, rather than being distributed through the text, which is a great pity. We may note that in a book where the reader may need move between sections, for example to refer to the glossary, to biographies or photos, an e-book format can be less effective.

Despite the slow start, most found this is an excellent book. Dalrymple's descriptions, based clearly on a prodigious amount of research, not only British but, more importantly, from Afghan and Persian sources, paint a wonderful picture of the personalities and lifestyles in the region at the time. With similarly sourced material to explain the first British incursion into Afghanistan in the 1800s one gets a vivid picture of the tribal nature of the whole surrounding region, and the origins of Afghan society leading to the horrors of the British Army's retreat and comprehensive defeat. The parallels with the war still being fought today are striking. The British may have forgotten, or elected to forget, their history in Afghanistan but for the Afghans it is clearly still very much alive.


The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production
The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production
by Peter Marsh
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting on history, good collection of cases, too light on future of manufacturing and human, societal aspects, 15 Dec. 2012
Review by the Cote d’Azur Men’s Book Group

Today we live in an electronic age that is revolutionary and exciting, and the future for global manufacturing has both enormous opportunities from new technologies, and, for Western nations, huge challenges from existing and newly industrialising countries such as China and India.
Financial Times journalist Peter Marsh covers a lot of ground with this book, starting with a good historical overview of the evolution of developments that have had a critical impact on the economy. There have been three key overlapping eras since the Industrial Revolution. The 'transport revolution', ca.1840-1890, included steam-driven railway locomotives and the iron- or steel-hulled ship. The 'science revolution', ca. 1860 - 1930, gave us the steam turbine, electric motor, and internal combustion engine, while a range of new industries arose based on new chemicals and materials. Later, the huge reduction in production costs of silicon-based electronic circuitry sparked the 'computer revolution' from ca. 1950 until 2000, continuing to drive down product and manufacturing costs, stimulating massive innovation in products, processes and user markets.
In his final chapter we are given an interesting table tracing 'general purpose technologies', from the domestication of plants around 9000 BCE, to present day nanotechnology, with the technologies indicated as being product-related, process-related or organisational in nature.
Peter Marsh is at his best in describing the course of manufacturing and product innovation via short 'caselets', using very diverse examples of businesses from around the world that have adopted novel ways of doing things to create new user benefits, and is very fond of adding charts, numbers and dates to add detail to his examples. We learn about the invention of float glass technology, and its crucial role in the creation of LCD'S for modern flat screen devices; and the remarkable, massive product variety of Essilor, the world leader in spectacle lenses.

The body of the book is taken up with examples of what has been changing in recent decades, for example the linking of value chains to a 'value web' across companies and borders; environmental concerns demanding changes in materials and location; flexible manufacturing leading from mass production to the possibility of mass customisation. The rise of China is treated at length, as opportunity and threat.
'Crowd collusion' is the term Marsh uses to elucidate the success of companies situated in close geographical clusters, such as in Switzerland for watches, Sheffield for steel-related products, and medical products in Memphis.

Looking ahead, robotics and nanotechnology are opening up immense opportunities for lowering production costs, improving quality, and creating new products. One of the most promising areas suggested for manufacturing is in health care, with the possibility of combining genetic engineering techniques with computer science, medical imaging and electrical engineering for diagnosis and treatment of disease.

"For the most talented and technically qualified people,” the author writes, “the new industrial revolution will bring huge opportunities…….no less than those that changed the world in the eighteenth century”. Unfortunately little else is written about the human, labour, employment or social aspects of manufacturing.

The last chapter, entitled 'The New Industrial Revolution' is a little disappointing in that it is hardly more than a repetition of material in the earlier chapters, with few real pointers to what might lie ahead, other than a continuation of current trends.

The book is well written, but one is left with the feeling that it is a collation of many (admittedly interesting) historical stories, but didn't meet its title by expressing much about future specific advances. However it is very readable, containing nuggets of great interest to the general reader.


The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy (Politics and the Environment)
The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy (Politics and the Environment)
by David Shearman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £27.95

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An expensive, thought-provoking, extremist political polemic, 13 Dec. 2012
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A review by the
Côtes d'Azur Men's Book Group

This book is titled "The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy". Anyone who wishes to learn about either subject will be disappointed by this book. On climate change its content is limited to elementary statements by others, and dates from before 2007. On democracy its criticisms are those met in a first year study of the subject. The factual content, on both topics is, at best, tendentious, often misleading, and sometimes plain wrong.
However, the broader message, that the world is facing serious problems of over-population; energy, water and food shortages; and the destruction of the commons, is thought-provoking.
The authors argue that modern democracy is unable to cope, being dominated by big business driven by a profit motive, and market forces. The tough policies required only lose elections, so cannot be implemented. Sudden collapse is predicted. Civilisation as we know it, especially in the developed countries, may break down.

Our discussion group comprised 11 mature professionals; our opinion was almost unanimous that the authors' argument, that the collapse of civilisation as we know it will only be prevented by authoritarian world-wide rule by ecological experts, combined with rigorous limitations on free enterprise and general freedoms, is far fetched. Nevertheless, it is highly possible that the insufficiency of the earth's resources to meet the ever growing demands of the world's increasing population will lead to the rise of more authoritarian rule. That is unlikely to be the solution to the problems.

A book priced so highly suggests a professorial text book of quality, whereas in reality it reads more as an extremist political polemic.


Turkey: A Short History
Turkey: A Short History
by Norman Stone
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Turkey: A Long Disappointment, 23 Aug. 2011
TURKEY: A SHORT HISTORY
by
Norman Stone

This review is by the Cote D'Azur Men's Book Group which comprises a dozen retired academics, accountants, engineers, lawyers and businessmen from several nations.
We read non-fiction and chose this book by Norman Stone because we wished to understand better the history of a country that is now becoming so pivotal in the world. In that, and other respects, all members of our group were bitterly disappointed.

In providing a short history it failed:

* The history of the Ottoman Empire was lost in a mass of irrelevant detail and unnecessary anecdotes
* Place names, crucial to an understanding of the range of the empire and, more importantly, the relevance to today, were not mentioned on the only (poor) map in the book
* The post WW1 Armenian matter, crucial to an understanding of whether genocide took place and its relevance to Turkey's EU ambitions, was hardly mentioned
* Ataturk's influence, again crucial to today's battle over military/civilian control of the country was, again, passed over far too briefly

In writing terms it failed further:

* The sequence of events described mixed up the chronology to such an extent that, again, it was difficult to understand what was being said
* Extraordinarily long sentences left our readers struggling to understand what was being said
* We all commented that we had never seen so many unnecessary commas
* Several typos have escaped the editors.

In brief, of nearly a hundred non-fiction books that we have read in recent years, we deem it to be one of the most disappointing in content, writing, and style.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 1, 2012 11:11 PM GMT


Lake Views: This World and the Universe
Lake Views: This World and the Universe
by Steven Weinberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.95

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Prominent Physicist's Views on Science, Nuclear Deterrence, Space Exploration and Religion, 28 Jun. 2011
The Cote d'Azur Men's Book Group has been reading "Lake Views" by Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and cosmologist. The book is a collection of essays published between 2000 and 2008. The Group, which boasted two physics degrees among those contributing, came to the book hoping for enlightenment on such topics as the search for a unified field theory, dark energy, string theory and the multiverse, but came away baffled. Not only baffled, but also somewhat put out, because the book has obviously been written for the educated and intelligent layman, in other words people like us! And although we could recognize the words, we could not understand the underlying concepts, apparently explained in a most intelligent and insightful style by the author, perhaps because one does need more scientific background knowledge to do so.

Fortunately, the book includes a number of pieces in the form of book reviews or talks which he has given on other subjects. He writes about religion and science, for example. Here his sense of humour appears. He is an atheist, but he notes that friends where he lives in Texas have not attempted to convert him, which might convey that they do not care whether he spends eternity roasting in hell fire. The conjunction in this book of religion and cosmology, notably the concept of the multiverse, the idea that our universe is one of many parallel universes, led one member of the group to wonder whether in one or more of these other universes things were arranged better than in ours. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a universe without cruelty and illness? Wouldn't it be heaven to live in such a universe?

More down to earth, Weinberg criticises the US anti-missile programme under the Bush administration in the most trenchant and practical terms, displaying his clarity of thought. In addition he argues well that NASA should not waste its resources putting men into space, for scientific work can now be done more efficiently by robots. He also wrote a short piece about the hostility of many 'liberals and intellectuals' towards the state of Israel, of which he is a staunch supporter. The majority of our group disapprove of the idea that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. After all, one can criticise the French state and its policies, or China, without hating the French or Chinese people. However, at least one member of our group thought Weinberg justified in condemning the boycott of Israel by a British association of teachers as due to "spectacular moral blindness, hatred of Jews, or both." A clear case of applying double standards.
In his review for the TLS of 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins, Weinberg nicely traces the decreasing degree of religious certainty with the rise of scientific knowledge. He accuses the author of focusing on Christianity and Islam, both faith-based religions, and of ignoring others such as Hinduism, Judaism or Shinto which stress observance rather than faith. He also shows his strong distaste for extremist Islam, with "I share Dawkins's lack of respect for all religions, but in our times it is folly to disrespect them all equally".

Despite several black holes, we enjoyed the book, in which the personality of Prof. Weinberg comes through strongly. He is, we decided, a man of deep culture and wide interests (including somewhat to our surprise an interest in military history), a man we would like to meet.


The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can be Done About It (Grove Art)
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can be Done About It (Grove Art)
by Paul Collier
Edition: Hardcover

51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Analysis and Solutions for a Better World, 28 Sept. 2007
Despite well-publicised significant improvements in the average condition of several billion people in our world, there remain some one billion seriously poor people, and their condition is unlikely to improve. They are trapped, by conflicts, by possessing natural resources (sic), by being landlocked with bad neighbours, and/or by bad governance. Additionally, globalization is not going to help those caught in the trap. Do we have a responsibility to help? Yes, says Oxford professor of economics and African studies expert, Paul Collier, we do because we are citizens, and that status demands that we help our fellow human beings.

We are a book group of retired men, with experience in a wide range of disciplines and countries, who have read and discussed "The Bottom Billion". Without exception, we all found Collier's identification of this group of non-developing nations, and the problems they face, highly thought-provoking. We were particularly impressed by his use of researchers from different countries and disciplines, and the quantitative techniques used, to analyse the causes of those countries' problems, the impacts on them, and for identifying potential solutions. The power of these analyses was such that many of our preconceived views were changed and we were left wondering what, if anything, we could do as individuals to help the people of these countries escape from their terrible plight.

The Bottom Billion is very principled treatise that takes a close look at one of the biggest running sores in our world, and offers some solutions where many people may have said, sorrowfully, that no cure exists at all.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2009 11:16 AM BST


Ubiquity: The New Science That is Changing the World: The Science of History or Why the World is Simpler than we Think
Ubiquity: The New Science That is Changing the World: The Science of History or Why the World is Simpler than we Think
by Mark Buchanan
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ubiquity is Everywhere, 22 Aug. 2007
Yes, ubiquity is in the dictionary and it is something that is ever present and has the ability to be in many places at the same time. Mark Buchanan provides an intriguing explanation of why a whole range of complex things in the world around us behave as they do, and brings something new and almost magical into the world of science.

Some may expect that the world is governed by laws and equations, while social behaviour is mostly unpredictable. We have special laws that tell us how electricity behaves as it does, why like magnets repel each other and why, if you sit under an apple tree, you might get a Granny Smith bombarding the top of your head. There are perfectly rational explanations for all these wonders. Nevertheless there remain many highly complex situations for which we simply have no guiding principles or laws, and this is where Mark Buchanan, formerly an editor at Nature and New Scientist, brings new light with the concept of `ubiquity'.

What if systems of all kinds can reach a state where, for example, just one relatively trivial event can trigger off a devastating earthquake, a tsunami, or any other phenomenal event just waiting to happen? Thousands if not millions of grains of sand can be dropped, a grain at a time, and the resultant pile, or sand castle, remains relatively immobile. Yet just one more grain dropped somewhere can produce devastation: the system has reached a critical state. Buchanan gives many instances of this criticality at work. He cites the day an Archduke's driver took a wrong turning in Sarajevo and a startled assassin took full advantage. That began the sequence that led to the bloody First World War, according to popular history, yet there have been countless other plausible `triggers' reported. The key point is that a critical state had already been reached in a region, and a catastrophe was bound to happen.

Forest fires provide another well-treated example, where it seems that conventional wisdom must be overturned once we understand that it is impossible to avoid them all, therefore fires should not always be extinguished at all cost. Where and when they begin, and how large they will become, are impossible to predict. Letting some burn may well reduce the pressure, perhaps avoiding larger catastrophes.

We now know, however, that there is a `power law' that relates the intensity to the frequency of all such complex phenomena, and they are all around us, in the physical world and in social and even financial market contexts. We are in the realms of chaos, yet there are very valuable insights to be gained by understanding ubiquity.

This book, the Cote d'Azur Men's Book Club decided, is somewhat similar to The Tipping Point but has more breadth, depth and, perhaps, sophistication. It is well researched, and it also manages to be a sort of treatise for historians to squabble about. We all enjoy a touch of the unknown, that exciting tingle down the spine and Mr Buchanan is quite good at the chilling business, all, of course, in the interests of science.

Of the three somewhat different editions, the newest paperback version has the most appropriate subtitle, "Why Catastrophes Happen".

One of our members, a chap with a scientific turn of mind, found fault with one of the illustrated diagrams, insisting that it was wrong, and is corresponding with the author. Was this yet another instance of ubiquity at work, or poor work by a researcher?
Well, it is all a fairly academic discussion point at the moment, may it stay that way but you never know, do you?


1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
by James Shapiro
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Winner: The World's Leading Literary Figure Centre Stage, 26 July 2007
England was at war with the Irish, a second Armada was expected any time and it was so cold the Thames froze. Oh, yes, Queen Elizabeth was on the throne but she was ageing and childless and potential successors were lining up. Yet it was to prove a great year for literature because William Shakespeare was creating some of his greatest works, Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, Hamlet and As You Like It. It was a time when to displease The Queen could be fatal and when the Lord Chamberlain censored books and plays, a sort of Elizabethan political correctness. Many a slip twix pen and paper could prove costly, particularly as Shakespeare and his like relied heavily on material provided by national and Court events. He invented new words and, of course, over the centuries since his death, the language has changed and so have the meanings, which is why many modern people find The Bard difficult to understand. The Cote d'Azur Men's Book Club, learned chaps all, had no such trouble and voted New York professor James Shapiro's saga, "l599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare", a winner.
Shapiro focuses on Shakespeare's work and his environment rather than his domestic life, and Shapiro's prose, coupled with one's imagination, brings the Elizabethan era vividly to life. The Earl of Essex is a ghostly figure well before he had his head chopped off by The Queen he professed to love. A ghostly figure not quite in the same context as Hamlet's father, but maybe Essex was someone who gave Shakespeare much food for thought. These were not peaceful times; the man in the street and thousands like him were pressed into Army service and many were ambushed and massacred by Lord Tyrone's bloodthirsty Irish soldiers.
The book works well at three levels, placing Shakespeare in the context of Elizabethan England and its social, political and theatrical environment, about which there is enough for all tastes. Shapiro shrewdly picks his way through the streets of London, following the writers, the fools, the courtiers and The Queen. He has written a book full of detail, that captures the sense and feel of the era, and it puts the world's leading literary figure back where he belongs, centre stage. Francis Bacon gets a few mentions, but the author does not subscribe to the controversial opinion that Bacon penned some of Shakespeare's plays. Is this a dagger I see before me? Quite so.


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