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Jon (United Kingdom)

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The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time
The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time
by Keith Houston
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real pleasure, 2 April 2017
This is a fascinating history of the inventions and developments that go to make up a book. There are four parts: The Page, about the materials used from papyrus to machine-made wood-pulp paper; The Text, about written language, inks, scribes, and printing; Illustrations, about the development of methods of putting images on pages; and Form, about scrolls, wax tablets, bookbinding and book design. It is all well explained and nicely illustrated.
The form of this book – at least the inside – is also a real pleasure. It is crisply printed on high-quality paper, well laid out, with coloured drop capitals and dingbats at the start of each chapter and section. It is a joy to hold and read. Credit is due to the book designers, Abbate Design, the production manager, Anna Oler, and the printer, Asia Pacific Offset.
Unfortunately the same is not true of the cover design, by David J. High of highdzn.com. The book is quarter-bound in cloth, and the rest is bare grey cardboard. Cardboard is not meant to be left exposed, so the corners quickly get bruised and splayed. Rough cardboard does not take print cleanly, making the back of the book, where there is a lot of print, look cheap and shoddy. Presumably the idea was to show the bones of a book, but it contrasts badly with the quality of the contents and form of the rest of the book. I will cover the cardboard on my copy with something more in keeping, maybe marbled paper (I am an amateur bookbinder).
Despite the cover, the book is well worth five stars.

The Unfolding Of Language
The Unfolding Of Language
by Guy Deutscher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of insights and revelations, 12 May 2013
I've read this book twice now. It is the best that I have found for explaining how and why languages change, and how they have got to how they are now. Parts, like the one on the Semitic verb, are fairly abstruse, but that is because of the complexity of the subject matter. Deutscher writes clearly and with a light touch. If, like me, you're fascinated by how language works, you'll love this.

A History of Ancient Egypt: From the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid
A History of Ancient Egypt: From the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid
by John Romer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a slog, 3 May 2013
I've been a fan of John Romer's down-to-earth television programs and books, but I found this one a bit of a slog. He is concerned that many people have over-interpreted the archaeological evidence, projecting onto it later Egyptian, Christian and Western traditions to give a false picture of ancient history. This book is intended to look at the evidence without any preconceptions. He is therefore continually arguing that we should draw the minimum of conclusions from the evidence, which has the rather depressing effect of concluding from each find that it doesn't really tell us much about what ancient Egypt was actually like.

The drive to avoid imposing preconceptions gets a bit silly in places. Reviewing the great disparity in the richness of burials between different groups of people, he agonises over whether using the word 'elite' might make us think the political arrangements that led to the disparity were the same as in modern societies.

After quoting a tomb inscription that describes Imhotep as 'The chancellor of the king of Lower Egypt, the first after the king of Upper Egypt, administrator of the great palace, hereditary lord, greatest of seers', he describes the inscription as 'somewhat oblique'. What?? It might possibly, as Romer suggests, be a collection of courtesy titles, but oblique it ain't.

I found it rather odd, in a book intended to be scholarly, and presumably to be international, that he has translated all of the measurements that archaeologists have made in metric units since the middle of the last century into British Imperial units.

No doubt Romer is right that a corrective is needed to books that build fantasies on little evidence. But for me, the repeated arguing against what others have said before was a distraction - I would rather just have had the evidence presented and explained.

Bastard Tongues: A Trail-Blazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages
Bastard Tongues: A Trail-Blazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages
by Derek Bickerton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the book I was expecting, 29 Jun. 2012
I expected this book to be mainly about pidgins and creoles. In fact it is the story of how our feisty, hard-drinking hero turns himself into a linguist, travels the world examining creoles, creates a new theory about creoles and pokes the linguistic establishment in the eye. The histories and characteristics of pidgins and creoles emerge piecemeal, when used as ammunition in Bickerton's feuds with other academics. There is no synthesis. I'm all for authors enlivening their texts with background and anecdote, but here the balance is wrong, more about academic infighting than the subject in the title.

For a linguist, Bickerton has a surprisingly tin ear for language. He tells us how, when working at Lancaster University and seeking to belittle the vice-chancellor, he produces a brochure from a Washington conference where Bickerton's affiliation is shown as 'University of Lancaster, England': "Look," I said, "people over there have never even heard of you. They have to be told where your university is." But hasn't Bickerton heard Americans talk about 'Paris, France'? They do this for a good reason: there are multiple Parises and Lancasters in the USA itself. Also, he uses the phrase 'creating a grammar from ground zero', where most people would write 'from the ground up'. 'Ground zero' was originally used to designate the exact point where the atom bomb fell in Hiroshima, then later to refer to the location of the World Trade Center after its destruction - not the image Bickerton was intending.

The Very Best of Chopin
The Very Best of Chopin
Price: £13.27

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent performance, 30 July 2010
This review is from: The Very Best of Chopin (Audio CD)
I had just been to a live performance of Chopin, which was terrific and made me want to have a CD. I was a bit wary of buying this CD, not having heard of the pianist before. But I wasn't disappointed, it's a good selection and very well played. For two CDs, it is great value.

Silverline 868613 Diamond Feather Edge File, 85 mm Blade
Silverline 868613 Diamond Feather Edge File, 85 mm Blade
Price: £3.61

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for tough toenails, 7 Jan. 2010
I tried a glass nail file, and my toenails wore it flat. So I searched for a diamond nailfile, and found that a coarse one for toenails cost £29. Then I found this file. It's cheap, has a comfortable handle, and works perfectly at rapidly filing away the toenails.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2011 7:48 PM GMT

Mapp and Lucia (Penguin Modern Classics)
Mapp and Lucia (Penguin Modern Classics)
by E. F. Benson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 19 Oct. 2009
As a lifelong fan of PG Wodehouse, and seeing the introduction to this book put the series in a class with Wodehouse, Dickens, Waugh and Diary of a Nobody, I was hoping for more than Mapp and Lucia could deliver. I hadn't seen the TV series.

It's a tale of small-town snobbery and bitchiness. Lucia has the edge in snobbery, Mapp in bitchiness. They have repeated battles for social supremacy. The snobbier one always wins.

I gave up four-fifths of the way through the book. Maybe a mistake, because other reviews say the ending is unexpected. But I just couldn't be bothered to read any more snobbery and bitchiness.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2014 5:12 PM GMT

The Elements of Typographic Style
The Elements of Typographic Style
by Robert Bringhurst
Edition: Paperback

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful but quirky, 19 Sept. 2008
This is a very useful book, but sometimes rather opinionated. For instance, Bringhurst passionately detests 'titling figures' that is, numbers of even height set on the line, 01234... He wants us to always use 'text figures', numerals that I can't show here, where the tails of 4 and 9 hang below the line, and 8 is taller than the rest. He scorns titling figures as 'middle-class' and 'illiterate', fit only for classified ads.

He is also inconsistent in his prejudices. Italic faces were first made in the middle ages only in lower case, so had to be used with upright capitals and brackets etc. Bringhurst tells us that because of this history, we must today always use upright, not sloped, brackets with italics. But he quietly accepts and uses sloped capitals with italics in his own book.

Despite these oddities, this is an enlightening and helpful book.

PhotoShop Elements 4 (Windows only)
PhotoShop Elements 4 (Windows only)
Offered by The Retro Booth
Price: £39.95

29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as I had hoped, 5 Jun. 2006
I bought this partly because of the 'divide scanned images' feature - I have a lot of old photos to scan, and it would speed it up to scan four at a time and have them automatically divided. Unfortunately, it only works about half the time, even if you leave lots of white space between the photos. Sometimes it gives up, sometimes it divides off two of the photos, and sometimes it cuts a photo in half, along a horizon or other strong feature. Half a loaf is better than no bread, so I still use the feature. But you would have thought that Adobe could get it to work better. A simple 'chop the image into four quarters' would have been much more useful.

English as a Global Language
English as a Global Language
by David Crystal
Edition: Paperback

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A short history of the rise of a language to dominance, 10 Feb. 2003
This is a fascinating review of how the English Language got to its present position of world dominance. David Crystal is not, contrary to Daniel's review, a linguistic imperialist. He lives in Wales, speaks Welsh, and champions minority languages. But he also understands that an interconnected world needs a global lingua franca, which will be a second language for the great majority.
From Daniel's review, you might get the impression that Crystal advocates fertilizer bags having instructions only in English. In fact, Crystal is quoting the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, who said that farmers in her country should learn English as a second language, since international companies were never going to print instructions on fertilizer bags in Sinhalese. She was simply being realistic.
Crystal recognises that the dominance of English today is the result of chance, the language repeatedly being in the right place at the right time. If English had not become the common second language, another language would have done so. Crystal gives us the reasons for English's rise, the history, the effects on other languages and some predictions of where its going. It's quite a short book, and I would have preferred more detailed discussion in places. But it's certainly worthwhile reading.

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