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John Holland (Surrey, UK)
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Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear
Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear
by Dan Gardner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revealing stories of the misuse and misunderstanding of statistics, 18 Mar. 2009
I found this a fascinating exploration of our inability to handle information and risk adequately in an age overloaded with data. This book describes some of the psycho-social research that has built understanding of the rules of thumb we use - the Example Rule, the Good-Bad Rule and the Rule of Typical Things. Coupled with the Confirmation Bias, this starts to explain why mass panics break out in localised areas over spurious data - for example the MMR vaccine in the UK and silicone implants in the US.

From the examples given, I feel much more able to explore statistics and challenge the conclusions being drawn, but this is probably untrue - an over-confidence not based on reality. Sadly, the research suggests we are all prone to errors of judgement based on "gut reaction", even when we have an understanding that we may behave in this way, and especially when in the company of others who believe the same. But the book does conclude that, despite all the scare stories, there has never been a better time to be alive...

Well worth reading, just to open your mind to how others may be manipulating the information presented to you.


The Solitaire Mystery
The Solitaire Mystery
by Jostein Gaarder
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More misery than mystery, 10 Dec. 2008
This review is from: The Solitaire Mystery (Paperback)
After reading Sophie's World, I selected this with some hesitation - could the author repeat the success of that work. Sadly, where Sophie's World could be heavy going, in comparison this is a light-weight throw-away.

There is a focus on jumping between plots in the main story line and a book-within-the-book, which allows some interesting questions about reality and perceptions to be asked. But these great questions find little more response than "oh" through the characters. Where Sophie's World successfully used a child-adult conversation to explore aspects of philosophy through a learning child's mind, a similar approach in this book seems to generate infantile responses rather than learning.

Disappointing.


The Rotters' Club
The Rotters' Club
by Jonathan Coe
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a tale of growing up in the 1970's Midlands, 21 Sept. 2008
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
The first part of this book read like the Golden Years, a description of childhood through rose-tinted spectacles that all of us could wear about growing up decades ago. But this part is brought to a close with cataclysmic events that bring to the story closer to current life. The book then develops depths that I hadn't expected initially, combining a dark humour with the tragedy that made this a more stimulating read. Some of the deep divisions in 1970's society and the collapsing hierarchy are seen through an adolescent's eyes, that tarnish the initial golden years.

This is a mixture of observation of family life combined with commentary on a particular period of British history. The book builds some surprises and tells the story well. The only serious flaw is the third part of the book, which is a stream-of-consciousness download of thoughts around the plot. This fails to add any relevant detail, and merely reflects on events form the fictional main character. This creates a painfully slow means to finish the book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 25, 2012 7:34 PM BST


Birds without Wings
Birds without Wings
by Louis de Bernieres
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flutters but doesn't fly, 21 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Birds without Wings (Paperback)
This story tells the tale of war, mistrust and power struggle in early 20th century Turkey, though the eyes and lives of a mundane village in Anatolia. Close to the setting of his previous novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the author re-uses much of his understanding of the area to combine novel with history lesson.

Mixing the petty normality of village life with the brutal realities of distant political decisions and the chaotic local implementation of thee decisions, the book describes joys of life and futility in the face of mindless bureaucracy.

This story has appealing characters and a heart-warming connection between different (opposing) races in the battles of that time. But it never quite generates the same emotions Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and suffers from a surfeit of history lesson in the background.


Trinity
Trinity
by Leon Uris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars families, feuds and farce in the politics of 19th century Ireland, 21 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Trinity (Paperback)
This book describes the interactions and feuds between Irish catholic farmers, the aristocracy and protestant workers from mid 19th century up to the start of the First World War. With rebellion brewing, the interactions are laced with poison, with all parties protecting and furthering their own interests.

The poignant moments of family crisis (births, deaths and marriages) are superbly portrayed, and there is energy in the build-up to key events, which almost compels but just falls short.

This is a well-written book, that describes background and history in great detail to back up the story. But it fails to build on the beginnings. The book builds a compelling plot to a point, but the conclusion moves into short summaries that are almost notes of the planned ending, compared to the previous prose.

Some years later, Leon Uris wrote Redemption as a sequel to this novel. With better use of time-shifting, Redemption is a better telling of both its own story and this one.


Enduring Love
Enduring Love
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars unpredictable, self indulgent and lacking plot, 13 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Enduring Love (Paperback)
Not having read any other of his books, I don't know how others rate, but I'm not rushing to find out ofter this painful experience. This story features a frustrated writer desperate to get back to real science, written by an author who tries to come across as scientific (see the appendix which attempts to justufy the ludicrous plot). Alongside the anti-religion tirade, this just feels far too autobiographical to be set as a novel.

And the (disconnected) leaps in the plot go far beyond a credible novel. Probably trying to be too clever, and cram in too many disconnected ideas, I'm afraid McEwan fails to pull it off (or pull it all together) in this book.


Redemption
Redemption
by Leon Uris
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A global story against the backdrop of revolution and the first world war, 13 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Redemption (Mass Market Paperback)
This is the sequel to Trinity and builds on the families and characters introduced in that novel, but this story stands on its own and surpasses the former. Telling the story of Irish families split asunder by emigration, feuds and bitterness, Redemption spreads their story across the globe. Families from Ireland to New Zealand are separated and may be re-united, while the First World War intervenes.

Focussing on a few characters from these families, the book describes the futility of family feuding, strategic warfare in foreign climes and failure to communicate on a grand scale. No-one comes out as winners in this saga. But the heroes keep the plot boiling, and the pages keep turning. Hard to put down.


Kant And The Platypus: Essays On Language And Cognition
Kant And The Platypus: Essays On Language And Cognition
by Umberto Eco
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars massively challenging categorisation of the categories, 2 Sept. 2008
It's rare that I fail to finish a book, but this is one of the times I failed. I am absolutely fascinated by the subject matter - how do we understand knowledge, how do we create meaningful categories for stuff and how does this create inherent limits to our understanding and knowledge? But I could not get to grips with Eco's deeply academic rendering of the subject.

The back cover describes this book as "full of jokes, connundra and startling insights". Sorry, but I didn't see this - just pages full of esoteric discussions that required hours of study to deconvolute into something meaningful. After trying four times, I have now given up - this book goes to Oxfam, with good luck to a more persevering reader.


The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult finding the gold in the dust, 2 Sept. 2008
This book is written by a proud sceptic, who challenges all our assumptions about systems and beliefs in modern science and particularly economics. The author worked in large financial firms, and saw the downfall of current beliefs.

He argues strenuously for people to avoid believing in the charlatans, and demonstrates numerous failings of the systems. But he fails to offer a better way so, despite his displayed intellect and thinking prowess, he comes across as a whiner. This is unfortunate, as I warmed to his message, but I found myself constantly waiting for the great revelation of how things could be run better. It never really appeared.


Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
by Viktor E Frankl
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The search for meaning through experience and psychology, 2 Sept. 2008
I was shocked by the small size when I received this book from Amazon. I had heard so much about the book, and expected a great deal from it. Compared to most books in the self-help section, this book is tiny, but Frenkl conveys his story clearly and succinctly in 150 pages.

Assuming that his readers will have read or heard the more gruesome details of the concentration camp, Frenkl describes the daily reality of a prisoner's experience. With poignant moments scattered throughout the first (autobiographic) part of the book, he describes how people survived, supported others and died in that world. As a psychologist, he also tells the reader how and why he and others made some of their choices during that time. On its own this is a gripping read.

In the second part of the book, he relates this experience to his own form of psychology - logotherapy. This form of psychology focuses on man's search for the purpose and meaning in life. This part of the book becomes quite academic at times, but is well worth persevering with, to put the earlier part into current context.


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