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Swindon Ian

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Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession
Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession
by Ian Bostridge CBE
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary exploration of music and life, 21 Jun. 2015
This really is one of the most thought-provoking and enjoyable books I've read in a very long time. I knew Schubert's piece a little beforehand, but listening to it again, song by song, with Ian Bostridge's interpretation and analysis has been a revelation. The book sets the song cycle within its historical context in a fascinating way, but Bostridge also draws on his long experience of having to go through the emotional journey, with an audience, of actually performing it... and more than that he takes the song cycle as the starting point for a profound reflection on what the piece still means to us in the modern world. In many ways the writing reminded me of WG Sebald... with the diversions and meandering path of associations which Ian Bostridge explores, beautifully written.


The Principles of Art (Galaxy Books)
The Principles of Art (Galaxy Books)
by Robin George Collingwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Please don't bother!, 21 Sept. 2013
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I'm afraid to say that I've not read a weaker theorisation about the nature of art since reading Tolstoy's 'What is Art?'. Collingwood says in the introduction that there are two typical problems with answers to this question - there are authors who know art when they see it, but can't theorise cogently about it; or authors who can theorise cogently, but don't actually know what they are talking about. Collingwood seems to be a rare example of both...

So here we are: "What the artist is trying to do is to express a given emotion... A bad work of art is an activity in which the agent tries to express a given emotion, but fails. [p282]... Every utterance and every gesture that each one of us makes is a work of art. [p.285]" To arrive at such a vacuous conclusion after nearly 300 pages sure should have been a warning sign to the author that they'd lost the plot somewhere along the line.


What is Life?: How chemistry becomes biology (Oxford Landmark Science)
What is Life?: How chemistry becomes biology (Oxford Landmark Science)
by Addy Pross
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The idea of a living system, 30 May 2013
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This is a wonderful read, and, I think, an important contribution to our understanding of the nature of life... that is, how one might understand the nature of living things in chemical / physical terms. What I found so refreshing about Pross' approach was the way he sought to combine insights from scientific work on the possible emergence of life-forms from the primordial soup with a more ahistorical perspective on what a system needs to be doing to count as living; in particular, how a chemical system can maintain itself in what seems such a highly unstable position (from the perspective of the second law of thermodynamics). With great clarity Pross outlines ideas around the sort of dynamic kinetic stability that an open system of interacting components can achieve, drawing energy from its environment. Pross uses some wonderful down-to-earth examples to explain the ideas; one I particularly liked was his comparison of a living system with a juggler keeping balls in the air, and comparing this with a juggler standing next to a pile of the balls; all the same components are involved, and yet the difference is profound... equally one cannot expect to simply throw together a group of molecular components found in cells, and expect the thing to `live'. I did find myself amazed anew at the thought that everything alive today has come from a previous thing that was alive; in other words, we know of no case of a living thing having arisen or been created from non-living matter... except for the case (or cases) that we can assume started life on earth.

I do think there is more work to do here, however, and some parts of Pross' argument were less convincing. For example, the picture of life that emerges is one best suited to a replicating community of entities; ie life seems to be something that is most naturally ascribed to populations, rather than individuals. While this does seem a valuable perspective, and can throw useful light on the need for a more flexible approach to what one counts as a life-form (e.g. single bacterium vs a bacterial colony), it did not seem so convincing in regard to the types of entity that we normally take to be paradigmatically alive, eg cats and dogs, you and me, etc. And partly I think this points to further work needed to clarify in more formal terms what it means to take something to be system (ie which might have dynamic kinetic stability); and what it means for it to maintain `itself'. A living system maintains certain features of itself over time (ie certain properties that are ascribable to the system rather than its components), and so is `concerned' (in a suitably naturalist sense of the term) with itself... yet I'm not sure we have a grasp on what `itself' means in this context. Equally questions of what it means to ascribe purpose to the behaviour of such a system (ie to understand it as acting in a certain way in order to...) are only touched on in the book - with no real explanation of why teleological explanations seem so natural for a system with dynamic kinetic stability compared to the behaviour of a system simply winding down into a lower energy state (e.g. the car rolling down hill).

Nevertheless a really good read and much to recommend it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 20, 2016 6:08 PM BST


The Marriage Plot
The Marriage Plot
by Jeffrey Eugenides
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear..., 14 July 2012
This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Paperback)
Having really enjoyed Middlesex, I was looking forward to reading this, but I'm afraid to say that I was very disappointed. What was he thinking? Is there some irony I'm missing in the banality of the dialogue and the emotional lives of the protagonistics? And all that name dropping of modern critical theory ... good grief, don't get me started on that.


What is Art? (Penguin Classics)
What is Art? (Penguin Classics)
by Leo Tolstoy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I'm not sure Tolstoy had much idea..., 14 July 2012
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Ok, so this is a bit of classic... but very much in the sense of something one might read purely for its historical interest. Tolstoy's own conception of art as the honest work of conveying information is woefully inadequate, but the book is worth reading just for his vitriolic (verging on manic) dislike of the music of Wagner.


How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything
How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything
by Mike Berners-Lee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guide to your carbon footprint, 14 July 2012
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This is a wonderful book, and not at all preachy. It looks at a range of activities, products, foods, etc and orders them according to their carbon footprint - a great way of showing how easy it is to sweat the small stuff, rather than facing up to more significant changes that one could make. The author is very good at explaining the assumptions he is making, and how calculations of carbon footprint can often only be estimates. There is a lot of humour in the book, and some great surpsising examples - I loved the idea that cycling one mile can have a larger carbon footprint than driving if the energy you use has just been derived from eating a plate of air-freighted asparagus! Ultimately the message of the book is about having the information to make informed choices, rather than being dogmatic or condemning particular ways of life.


More Than You Can Say
More Than You Can Say
by Paul Torday
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The less said the better, 16 Feb. 2012
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This review is from: More Than You Can Say (Paperback)
I was quite disappointed with this one. I've enjoyed all of Paul Torday's previous novels, but this one is written in the style of an action adventure with a very unconvincing story about an ex-soldier being drawn into a marriage of convenience with someone who appears to be an Afganistan refugee, but who turns out to be a terrorist. The story, the characters and the writing just didn't seem to gel as well as in the previous novels.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 25, 2012 7:27 PM BST


The Tao of Pooh [Perfect Paperback] by Benjamin Hoff; E.H. Shepard
The Tao of Pooh [Perfect Paperback] by Benjamin Hoff; E.H. Shepard
by Benjamin Hoff
Edition: Perfect Paperback

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stick with the real thing, 13 Aug. 2011
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Being a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh, I was looking forward to reading this, hoping that it would articulate some the bear's wisdom, but I was very disappointed. The tone is hectoring, dogmatic and preachy. Stick to the original!


Language and the Pursuit of Happiness: A New Foundation for Designing Your Life, Your Relationships & Your Results
Language and the Pursuit of Happiness: A New Foundation for Designing Your Life, Your Relationships & Your Results
by Chalmers Brothers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.36

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and philosophical approach, 18 Dec. 2010
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This book was recommended to me as part of a management training course, but I found it of much wider interest. The framework introduced as part of the training course was an 'Observer - Action - Results' structure, where 'observer' means the interpretative or narrative framework within which one might be making management decisions.

However, the real core of the book is about the role of language more generally in framing how one lives: first of all, in terms of the frameworks of interpretation within which one lives transparently, and how making these explicit can help break you out of negative ways of assessing oneself or one's situation. Secondly, however, Brothers develops a view of language in terms of its primary role being to enable commitments to be undertaken; for me, this view of language was reminiscent of Robert Brandom's work. The idea of how one lives in and through language in a way which is not always visible to oneself, and how one can fall into simply adopting (in an inauthentic way, one might say) the commitments and standards of the society one lives in, owe much to Heidegger, I think.

The book is not perfect, and there are some flakey parts, but if you are looking for a philosophically-based self-help book, this could be for you!


Newton and the Counterfeiter
Newton and the Counterfeiter
by Thomas Levenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.28

4.0 out of 5 stars What you didn't know about Newton, 13 Oct. 2010
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Ok, so you might have vaguely heard that Newton became Warden of the Royal Mint... but Levenson's book does a remarkable job at explaining what this transition meant for Newton, and also the context of the melt-down (metaphorically and literally) of British currency at the time due to industrial-scale counterfeiting.

The book is very readable (except for the extensive quotations from documentation of the time), and makes a thought-provoking link between Newton's interest in alchemy and why he may have seen counterfeiting as such an unforgiveable crime, and pursued it with such rigour. Recommended.


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