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Stewart M (Victoria, Australia)
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The Yellow Birds
The Yellow Birds
by Kevin Powers
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A very good book, 3 Feb. 2013
This review is from: The Yellow Birds (Hardcover)
This is without question an interesting book that deals with a conflict that will define many people lives for years to come.

This does not mean to say the book itself will be read for years to come - only time will tell on that - but it does seem to have something important to say, and says it a way which is very different from the "soldiers stories" that have dominated up to this point.

Some people have suggested that the book is too florid in its writing style, and that is misses some important aspects of the war in Iraq, and I can understand these points.

But I think that may be the whole point of the book. It does not define itself by quoting the military name of every weapon used in the book - the American soldiers just carry `rifles'. It does not highlight typical days and behaviors.

What it does is tell the story of young man who, having joined the army for reasons other than just patriotism, tries to understand what he has to do to be true to himself and a promise he made. This is not a chronicle of the war, it is a chronicle of part of one mans war.

It may not contain "the" truth, but it feels authentic enough to contain some part of it.

At times a little over written, but never the less highly recommended.


The Long Horizon
The Long Horizon
by Iain R. Thomson
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strangely beautiful,, 31 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: The Long Horizon (Paperback)
This is a strangely beautiful, winding and complex tale of the wonder that is the Highlands of Scotland. This is no straightforward narrative of change and reaction, but a convoluted, networked story of the way a people and a landscape come together to form a community. Sadly, a community that may now be lost forever.

There is a list of characters so divers and unlikely that you would think it was made up, apart from the fact that you know it is true. Some of these characters are historical, but many sat and had a "wee dram" and a "news" with the author.

This is one of the only aspects of the book I found hard - at times I really had to work hard to work out who the anecdotes were about, and how they related to each other. At one point the author notes that people in many glens were known by nick-names rather than there formal names, because the formal names were too similar - when reading some parts of this book I knew what he meant!

Predictably, but still shockingly, a story that is based around the survival of "old timers" (my words) into the modern day can only end in one way - but before the story reaches that point it paints a wonderful picture of life on the highlands.

Sad, beautiful, longwinded and above all else wonderful in its sense of place and pace.

Highly Recommended.


How England Made the English: From Why We Drive on the Left to Why We Don't Talk to Our Neighbours
How England Made the English: From Why We Drive on the Left to Why We Don't Talk to Our Neighbours
by Harry Mount
Edition: Hardcover

22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A very soft view of England, 28 Dec. 2012
This is a very gentle history of England and the English. Do not look here for rough edges, thoughtful criticism and review. Here you find an England of rose flanked doors, respectful tolerance and shy introspection.

The basic (and probably legitimate) premise of this book is that the physical nature of land, nature and weather formed the idiosyncratic character of the English. So, England made the English rather than the other way around.

Well, that's a good idea - but how long has England and the English existed? And is what the author identifies as "English" any more than the product of Victorian success and 20th Centaury decline? And is a Cornish Englishman the same as a Cumbrian? And do Cumbrians really exist, or are they ghosts of Cumberland and Westmoreland? I doubt that "English" is enough of a fixed entity to be able to pin down the factors that make them so to any one time, place or environmental factor.

I don't think you can have a book that openly admits that the geology of England is more varied than almost anywhere else on Earth, but still maintain that it is responsible in part for some overarching Englishness. Clearly England's geology has had (and still has) a profound impact on the economy of the country - but the dead coal villages of NE Somerset and Northumbria are really very, very different despite clear (but often unacknowledged) similarities.

Now, this book is interesting to read - even if I did want to argue with the author on many occasions - but some things really need to be tightened up a bit. "Most of us living in the south of England share DNA with pure blood Celts" - which would be of great interest if anybody could agree who the Celts were, and even if they actually even existed as a distinct people. "Bath ..... the only naturally occurring hot springs in England" - really? There are hot springs in nearby Bristol. I could go on - but I think I have made my point.

But in the end I think it was the circularity of some of the arguments put forward in this book that I found most hard to cope with. A love of ancient ruins is (apparently) a marker of Englishness because the English countryside has lots of them. So, where does this start? They are there because they are valued, or did they become valued because they were there?

So, this seems to a flawed, maybe inaccurate book, which nonetheless does try to look at the now contested ground of Englishness.

I would suggest you try to read a few chapters before you press purchase.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 11, 2014 1:04 PM GMT


Danziger's Britain: A Journey to the Edge
Danziger's Britain: A Journey to the Edge
by Nick Danziger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A vision of Britain, 10 Dec. 2012
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This is a strange and captivating book; but it is not one for which I would use the term "enjoyable'.

Danziger travels to a range of places scattered through out the UK - predictably they include the NE of England and Liverpool, but he also visits rural communities in Scotland, Cornwall and Suffolk. This gives the book a far wider sweep than a number of others, and in that way it reminds me more of an English Journey by J. B. Priestley rather than Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier.

The "Edge" to which the author travels is both a physical and social description of communities that had become marginalized as the tides of change passed over the UK. It seems clear that some of the communities were the victims of bad luck, but in most cases they feel like the product of neglect and poor planning. Governments of both persuasions failed the people of these communities and it is these people who had been left to bear the consequences.

In most cases there were glimmers of hope as people tried to take back some control of their own lives, but it felt like they were emptying the sea with a bucket.

I suspect a similar book could still be written today. This does not make this book irrelevant, but offers up a very clear view of what happens when places and people feel has if they have been left behind.

This book should be read as a clear-eyed, but often downcast, vision of a way of life that should not exist within the UK.


The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, Literature, Theory and Practice of Pedestrianism
The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, Literature, Theory and Practice of Pedestrianism
by Geoff Nicholson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not really......, 17 Nov. 2012
I worked my way slowly through this book over a much longer time than I would have normally taken for 250-page book. It was just about interesting enough to keep me going, despite the fact that I kept thinking "this is not really working".

I wanted to like this book, I really did, and I could not put my finger on why I didn't.

In the end it was a single sentence that described a hill in Sheffield as having "sidewalks" that made me see what the problem was. For all the authors' efforts (and it clear that he did make an effort) the "voice" of the book does not sound authentic - it sounds forced and manufactured. Too much of the content seems to be drawn from other people rather than the author and nobody in Sheffield would call a pavement a "sidewalk".

There are interesting sections in this book - but I kept wonder why things were missing. It's never possible to be completely comprehensive and many things are open to choice.

But how can "The history, science, philosophy and literature of pedestrianism" not include some account of how walking guide - such as Wainwright's - have on walking culture? The book spends many pages on walking songs (and inevitably misses ones I would have included) but seems not to include walking guides or any discussion of the impact of walking tracks such as The Appalachian or Pennine Way in defining what a "proper" walk means.

I completed this book, as I continued to hope that the next page (corner) would show something new - but it never really did.

I would like to give this book 2 ½ stars - but I cant - so 2 it is.

Proceed with extreme caution.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 23, 2016 10:55 AM BST


Australasian Nature Photography: ANZANG Ninth Collection
Australasian Nature Photography: ANZANG Ninth Collection
by South Australian Museum
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Great Images, 12 Nov. 2012
This is wildlife photography at its best. All the images are from the wider Australian region and as such their content may be rather unfamiliar to norther-hemisphere dwellers. The images are all excellent - some funny (a penguin with four wings), some are difficult to look at (another penguin with a huge wound in its side) and some are so crazily colourful (a rainbow coloured spider) - but all of them make you take the book off the shelf for another look.

The pictures are all drawn from the ANZANG wildlife photography competition - and while this may not be the most well known of competitions the quality of the pictures is still very, very high.

Recommended.

PS: if you do purchase the book, you may be interested to know that the image of an Australian Darter that won the "interpretive" section was withdrawn after the book was published as it had already been a prize winner in another competition. The original second and third place winners were elevated to 1st and 2nd. SM


Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach
Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach
by Jean Sprackland
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Discovery along the Strand line, 30 Oct. 2012
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Beach combing or just wandering along a beach alone or in company must be one of life's great free pleasures. This is both the basis and the charm of this book.

All (nearly) of the chapters in this book could have been written about almost any beach anywhere in the world. However, the author still manages to generate a feeling of both place and uniqueness.

Things are found washed up on the beach: things that tell stories, things that remain mysterious, living things, things long dead. But the charm of the book comes form the realization that most of the stories could have been told about any beach.

So it's a book that manages to feel both local and general at the same time. It's a book that reinforces the idea that we can connect with a landscape wherever we find it - it does not have to be classically beautiful, exotic or inaccessible. We just need to spend time with it.

I'm not entirely convinced that all the material in the book is completely scientifically accurate -the section on the impact of anti-depressive drugs springs to mind here. But I am willing to forgive this, as I did not read the book on the assumption it would be a textbook.

Highly recommended.


The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature
The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature
by David George Haskell
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The forest revealed., 9 Oct. 2012
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This is a dense and interesting book based on the close observation throughout one year of a very small area of old growth woodland in America.

This simple description is important to the structure of the whole book - through close and regular observation of one small area the author seeks to build a clearer understanding of a greater whole. This is a book that moves from the specific to the general, from the small to the large and, eventually, from the external to the internal.

Chapter by chapter the year unfolds , and given this chronological structure, it no surprise that the turning of the seasons plays an important role in the narrative of the book. Each chapter does have a very similar structure, but the shear diversity of the subject matter prevents the book from becoming repetitive. The chapters start with some form of observation or encounter which is used as the basis for wider thought.

However, the book is not (in my opinion) perfect. In the first half of the book the author seems to be too willing to use the term `design' when what he clearly means is `evolve' - this may be a small point, but it jars with the other scientific material. In the final chapters of the book the term `evolve' is used far more often (and more appropriately) for a book with biology at its heart. I don't know if the author was treading a "safe path" in the opening chapters before pinning his colours to the mast, but at times it does feel like that.

This is a wonderfully informative book that reads like a microscopic version of The Natural History of Selbourne. In the end the author concludes that close observation - and the addition of learning's other than just the scientifically verifiable - will lead to a greater understanding of our world and our place in it.

That's a conclusion that is very hard to argue with.

Recommended.


Nightwalk: A journey to the heart of nature
Nightwalk: A journey to the heart of nature
by Chris Yates
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A local walk, 3 Sept. 2012
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This is another book based around the value of walking. But this time the focus is on walking at night, and how are senses can still connect us to the things we find around us even when robbed of the primacy of sight.

The book takes us from dusk to dawn on a single night (and even if the events in the book are drawn from more the one night this is irrelevant) of walking on the wooded Downlands of southern England.

While there are no really remarkable wildlife encounters, there is more than enough variety to keep all but the most thrill seekers happy. (The only possible exception involves Nightjars on a different night).

What is best about this book is that the whole thing is based in a local landscape - and I suspect that this is one of the key ideas behind the book. We all live in some form of landscape and we can look all we like, but at times it pays to look in a different way - in a different light maybe! And when we do, we find things that we missed in the past. This may be "The Heart of Nature" that the books sub-title suggests - a closer observation of a thing that we take for granted.

Without question this is one of best-produced books I have bought in a very long while - from the nature of the paper to the illustrations the book suggests that it is a labor of love.

One of the other aspects of the book that enjoy is that it is written by a person whose main time in the countryside does not revolve around bird watching or conservation. Yates is first and foremost a fisherman, and I think it's refreshing to read a book written from the viewpoint of somebody who uses the rural environment in this way. While the book is not about "a fisherman walking at night" there are enough references to make you realize that fishing is never far from his mind. I was reminded of A Year in the Woods: The Diary of a Forest Ranger in this regard and was not surprised to discover that the "Colin" in this book is the author of the former one.

This is a refreshing, interesting read - I have always like the way Yates writes and I hope he writes more books about things other than his first great love.

Highly recommended.


The Green Road Into The Trees
The Green Road Into The Trees
by Hugh Thomson
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great walk through the past, 20 Aug. 2012
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Walking is (or at least was) a bit of national obsession in England - the after dinner walk, the Sunday walk in the sea air, the brisker pleasures of the Lakes, or moors and Downs. The last two books I have read reflect this passion.

The first - The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot - is a mediation on walking itself, while this book is a more conventional journey on foot along the Ikcnield Way. But the similarities do not end there: both books walk some of the same physical ground, both books refer to the poet Edward Thomas frequently and both are keenly interested in the way we (or our long gone ancestors) place ourselves in a landscape, and both are clearly written from a position of considerable knowledge and understanding.
But both books as also very different.

This book follows a slow and meandering journey along the whole length of the Ikcnield way from the Dorset coast to the edge of East Anglia - a walk through an English summer, spent under clear skies and dotted with Iron and Bronze age sites. The authors depth of knowledge of the archaeology of the Way shines through on almost every page - and the book is at its best when he is conjuring images from past. This is not to say that his observations of on the current state of England are poor. It's just that just that the modern sections tend towards accounts of people wearing funny hats and saying strange things.

These sections are well written and often funny, but they do feel conventional. This compares to the sections that are rooted in the past, where the author manages to summon a sense of place that locates the landscape both in the present and the past. The descriptions of the "tactical" location of hill forts is a great example of showing how people from long gone civilisations were capable planning in great sophistication - their technology may have been simple compared to ours, but their thinking was not.

In the end its the sophistication of old civilisations that populated the route of the Icknield Way that shines through this book.
While the book is basically a conventional account of journey many have taken before, it manages to be both informative, novel and entertaining.

Highly recommended.


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