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How I Won the Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France (Yellow Jersey Cycling Classics)
How I Won the Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France (Yellow Jersey Cycling Classics)
by Ned Boulting
Edition: Paperback

56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Capturing the grind behind the glamour, with a laugh and a smile, 7 Jun. 2011
It took Ned Boulting two decades to graduate from commenting on potholes on Chiltern FM to reporting about the `yellow jumper' at the Tour de France. He has come a long way since those early days as a drowning Tour ingénue, and now knows everything there is to know about French service stations, cheap hotels and which yogurt-based drinks to avoid.

He has also learned a bit about cycling too. `How I Won The Yellow Jumper' is his story of the grind behind the glamour of covering cycling's biggest race. It is a tale of one man, a suitcase full of smelly socks and his noble steed, a battered Renault Espace, on an annual three-week odyssey from Grand Départ to Bedraggled Arrivée.

If you watch ITV's annual Tour coverage, you will be familiar with Boulting's dry style as he brings us short feature segments and gleans reactions from exhausted pedallers in the post-stage media melée in which pointy elbows and a willingness to stick your nose in where angels fear to tread are as vital tools of the trade as the ability to mangle a variety of European languages.

He is to Gary Imlach, ITV's inimitable and unfeasibly polished front-man, what Jens Voigt is to Andy Schleck. In his deceptively imitable every-man style, Boulting has carved out a niche as the team's super-domestique. He plays a vital role, putting in the hard kilometres that help make ITV's coverage so enjoyable.

Here Boulting conveys the real beauty of the Tour and why he has fallen in love with its utter lunacy. It is not about the stars who make the headlines, or the Alpine backdrops or the race's unerring capacity for human drama. The beauty is all in the details, whether it is the countless hours spent hanging around hotel foyers hoping to pounce on an elusive rider, or the litany of woe that is part and parcel of decamping from one random town to another on a daily basis. It is the little insights that matter, such as his random walk with the legendary Eddy Merckx while staking out his son Axel, or his pre-Tour mission of stocking up on easy-iron shirts to try to avoid the `crumpled chic' look he ends up modelling every year.

Boulting's gift as a writer is twofold. Firstly, his open acceptance that so much of the reality of covering a three-week, 3000-kilometre race is mundane and faintly ludicrous. And secondly, he writes exactly like he presents, delivering deadpan wit which makes you laugh before you even realise he has cracked a joke. Most of all, though, he does it with an obvious love of the sport without being blind to both its darker and sillier sides.

Eight years of covering the Tour has taken Boulting on a journey from novice to expert and from jobbing reporter to passionate fan. That story unfolds here without airs and graces, in the manner of an entertaining chat down the pub. True to his reporting style, his writing gives the effortless impression that anyone could do his job - until you realise that this in itself is his greatest skill.

Most importantly, he now knows it's not a yellow `jumper'. It's a tank-top. And not an easy-iron one either.

If you want glamorous anecdotes and bon mots about the stars of contemporary cycling, look elsewhere. But if you want to know what the day-to-day reality of chasing a bunch of skinny men in lycra skin-suits around France is like, then look no further. `How I Won The Yellow Jumper' is an unpolished gem from an unsung hero. Chapeau, Ned.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2015 4:29 PM BST

Carte Blanche: A James Bond Novel (James Bond Novels)
Carte Blanche: A James Bond Novel (James Bond Novels)
by Jeffery Deaver
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much carte blanche as a partial whitewash, as Bond leaps into the 21st century, 1 Jun. 2011
Deaver, the author of The Bone Collector, is the latest writer to put his own spin on Ian Fleming's classic secret agent. In fact, this is something of a reboot for Bond, putting him squarely in a contemporary setting with contemporary geopolitics and a truly 21st century villain's plot focussing on the power of confidential information and the importance of commodities other than mere weapons in modern conflicts.

Every reader (or watcher of the films) has their own view of Bond, and Deaver's version is the closest yet to my personal preference. Bond, an Afghanistan veteran, is a calculating rather than cold-blooded hero who employs his licence to kill only when necessary, and who uses his razor-sharp wits as much as the weapons and gadgets at his disposal. Previous versions of Bond have sometimes tended towards being little more than a charismatic thug in a tuxedo, or a suave, wise-cracking playboy; Deaver's Bond is a thinking man's spy in a world of realpolitik who sees the entire chessboard rather than just his next move.

Being Bond, the story takes him to an array of international locations, from Serbia back to the UK and then to Dubai and South Africa. We rediscover some old friends (a male-again M, Moneypenny, a new Q, Felix Leiter, Rene Mathis), while also being introduced to new strong, female characters: Bheka Jordaan, Felicity Willing and Ophelia Maidenstone.

The story takes a while to gather momentum, as we familiarise ourselves with Bond's new surroundings as part of the politically sensitive ODG, and get reacquainted with old friends and the familiar tools of his trade, but gathers pace in its second half. Deaver conveys a real sense of claustrophobia and paranoia about the espionage trade, where things are rarely black and white and the line between friend and foe is vanishingly thin. His use of the classic action-serial cliffhanger - painting Bond into one impossible situation after another, only to go back and reveal an earlier action which allows him to escape - is effective in keeping the suspense and pace high, if perhaps a tad overused. And the complexity of the plot and motivations of the main antagonists are far more layered than the two-dimensional megalomaniacs of old.

This is not a perfect book by any means. In places it is a bit clunky and repetitive, and there are times when it feels that Deaver is trying too hard to evoke the Fleming style. Bond is also a bit too good to be true at times, seemingly anticipating every eventuality and avoiding every potential pitfall. However, it is an effective reboot which plays to the needs of both Bond traditionalists and modernists, and effectively updates the 1960s super-spy for the new millennium. In the absence of a new film, this is a welcome addition to the canon, and a distinct improvement on the lacklustre Devil May Care.

Twitchhiker: How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter
Twitchhiker: How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter
by Paul Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 21st century Phileas Fogg, 27 Sept. 2010
Twitchhiker is the tale of an ordinary man who had (a) an extraordinary idea and (b) the courage of his convictions to make it happen. Like a 21st century version of Around The World In Eighty Days' Phileas Fogg, Paul Smith decided to undertake an incredible journey, travelling - literally - to the other side of the world, his destination being Campbell Island, a point diametrically opposed to his starting point of Newcastle. Aiming to complete his trip within 30 days, his self-imposed rules stated that he could only use transportation provided and funded by fellow users of the microblogging service Twitter. In other words, his objective was to travel to the other side of the globe relying solely on the kindness of strangers.

If you aren't familiar with this social networking tool, it is essentially a platform which allows you to share updates of up to 140 characters which can be read by any other user. These could be Facebook-like status updates ("Good morning! Stuck on the M4 again"), conversations with another user, weblinks, photos or relevant news. Its detractors point to it being just another way for self-promoting narcissists to broadcast the minutiae of their lives, but Twitter has notably become the fastest way to engage with friends with shared interests (or followers, in Twitter's terminology), or to disseminate news around the world, from the Iranian elections to the emergency plane landing on the Hudson. Personally, I love it - it is my front-line for information-gathering, making 'traditional' push media like email alerts or RSS feeds feel positively cumbersome by comparison.

Smith's grand expedition underlines the sense of community and altruism which exists in this virtual world. Friends, acquaintances and complete strangers come together, Pay It Forward-style, to move him from the UK to the European mainland, and from there to the US east coast. Fellow tweeters pay for Greyhound bus tickets and drive him across the country to a chance meeting with the actress Liv Tyler at a Hollywood party, and from there to New Zealand, where he falls heartbreakingly short of his final objective (Campbell Island being both one of the most remote and difficult to reach locations anywhere on Earth and a UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site on account of its endangered sub-Antarctic fauna).

And I do not say 'heartbreaking' lightly, for while Smith recounts the events of his trip with a deft, frequently wry touch, the man and his mission draw you in emotionally so that you feel you are right there with him every step of the way. This is more than your common-or-garden semi-serious/semi-humorous travel book - it is a journey, in every possible sense.

Over and over again, his adventure demonstrates the capacity of Twitter as a force for great good, eliciting acts of charity in the most unlikely of circumstances, and for facilitating serendipitous events, aligning the orbits of loose acquaintances or like-minded strangers in distant locations around the world - genuine 'social networking', if you will. In real time, the Twitchhiker's voyage captured the imagination of all those people who provided their help and support. Reading Smith's account more than a year after the events in question, it captured mine too. A rollicking good read.

Lance Armstrong: Tour de Force
Lance Armstrong: Tour de Force
by Daniel Coyle
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for understanding both Armstrong and the sport itself in greater detail, 1 April 2010
Now updated to include a new chapter covering Lance Armstrong's return to the Tour de France in 2009, Daniel Coyle's account of the American's build-up to the 2004 race which saw him claim his record-breaking sixth win focuses more on the day-to-day life of a top professional road cyclist than it does on the racing itself.

In so doing Coyle, who gained unprecedented access to Armstrong and his US Postal Service team throughout the season, provides many fascinating insights into a peculiar world whose inhabitants fear infection and watch their weight as obsessively as the most anorexic hypochondriac. It is a world in which its occupants push lift buttons with their elbows to avoid infections spreading via their fingers, and for whom every handshake is a potential hotbed of germs. It is a world of masochistic training rides and of lung-bursting tests to assess performance and condition, where the only things that matter are the numbers. And it is a world of cloak and dagger, where every rider is constantly assessing their rivals' form and physical condition, and full of intra- and inter-team political intrigue.

Above all, this book is as close as any writer has ever been allowed to get to the man behind the façade of Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France champion. In so far that any book authorised and signed off by the man himself can be, this is an honest appraisal of what makes Armstrong tick, from his single-minded focus on hitting peak physical condition in the month of July to his overwhelming need to not just beat but destroy anyone who stands in his way, whether they are wielding a bike or a keyboard.

The book also touches upon the racing year through the eyes of Phonak's Tyler Hamilton (a former US Postal teammate), and Floyd Landis (a Postie in 2004, but one who would leave for Phonak in 2005 to escape Armstrong's long shadow). It even tackles the multiple accusations and litigations being aimed at Armstrong at that time, including the infamous book L.A. Confidentiel by Irish journalist David Walsh, and while the examination of these carries a hint of red-white-and-blue tinted spectacles, it is largely handled in an even-handed way; it is not simply an extension of the Armstrong PR machine.

For anyone who is interested in an external portrait of Lance Armstrong, or in the fine detail behind the broad brush-strokes which comprise the annual spectacle which is the Tour de France, this is one to add to the collection. It's not necessarily a book for the cycling ingénue, but it is a richly rewarding read nonetheless.

My Comeback: Up Close and Personal
My Comeback: Up Close and Personal
by Lance Armstrong
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting addition to (but not substitute for) Armstrong's previous books, 4 Jan. 2010
This coffee table tome certainly lives up to its subtitle of `up close and personal', providing the reader with genuine insight into the year that Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France, returned from retirement.

And what a year it was too, encompassing not only a podium finish at the Tour in his racing comeback, but also the birth of a child and his second `job' promoting global cancer awareness and fund-raising through the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

The book is essentially a photographic account of the twelve months following Armstrong's decision to return to racing in September 2008, annotated with his own, frequently wry, commentary.

Elizabeth Kreutz's excellent photography strikes a nice balance between journalistic and candid images, recording meetings with global heads of state, training and race preparation, and more intimate moments with his family and the seemingly ever-present drug testers. Kreutz's images capture, amongst many other moments in time, Armstrong in the company of former US presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush (possibly the ultimate in jaw-dropping name-dropping); a shot of Ben Stiller posing on Lance's bike, to which is attached a little-known tale of near-disaster (the actor broke the bike's chain mere minutes before the team time trial, necessitating a rapid repair), and the great man's obvious joy at the miraculous birth of his fourth child, Max (having been told by doctors during his cancer treatment that he would be unable to father children naturally again).

If you want Armstrong's life story, this is not the book for you. (Pick up one of his previous two autobiographies, It's Not About The Bike or Every Second Counts instead.) Or if you are looking for the full story of his 2009 comeback, there are a number of other books out there covering the 2009 Tour de France and Armstrong's role in the race.

But if you are looking for a book which conveys both breadth and depth lacking in press coverage or other, unauthorised biographies, then this admirably fills in the background detail behind the big stories with the aid of some fantastic - and exclusive - photography. It is, at most, an hour's leisurely read, but to judge the book purely on its length is to miss the point. My Comeback is a fascinating year-in-the-life record of one of sport's most successful, intriguing and charismatic sportspeople. Well worth seeking out.

Rumpole of the Bailey
Rumpole of the Bailey
by Sir John Mortimer
Edition: Paperback

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very British hero, 27 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Rumpole of the Bailey (Paperback)
This is the first of John Mortimer's books about the barrister Horace Rumpole, defender of the downtrodden, an expert in bloodstains and typewriters, the successful advocate in the defence of the Penge Bungalow Murders (alone and without a leader), and regular quoter of the Oxford Book of English Verse (the Arthur Quiller-Couch version).

Rumpole is to the world of criminal law what James Bond is to international espionage. A leading man who is in many ways as tragic as he is heroic, and who passionately believes in upholding his dearest values, primarily the presumption of innocence and the sport of verbal jousting with judges and the prosecution.

In this book's six stories (subsequently serialised for television as season 1 of "Rumpole of the Bailey"), we follow selected trials from Rumpole's career, aided and abetted by a supporting cast of very British oddballs. These range from his formidable wife Hilda (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed) to the utterly ineffectual Guthrie Featherstone QC, his head of Chambers, taking in beautifully drawn caricatures of judges, lawyers, clients and criminals based on people from Mortimer's real-life courtroom experiences.

You don't need to be an expert in law - or even have much of an interest in the British justice system - to appreciate this book. More than anything, these are quirky, human tales of a man who consistently champions the cause of the (allegedly) criminal underdog, being equal parts barrister-at-law, detective and courtroom entertainer, who encounters a never-ending variety of odd people and situations in the course of plying his trade.

Incidentally, this book is also available as part of "The First Rumpole Omnibus". Either way, it is a thoroughly good read. Simply retire to a quiet corner with a bottle of finest Chateau Fleet Street and enjoy the trials and tribulations of this most British of heroes.

Boy Racer
Boy Racer
by Mark Cavendish
Edition: Hardcover

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As brutally honest as he is fast, 6 Sept. 2009
This review is from: Boy Racer (Hardcover)
I have read a large number of sporting books in my time; some very good, many distinctly mediocre. This might just be the best one I have ever read.

Love him or loathe him - and it is difficult to be anywhere in between - Mark Cavendish is to sprinting on two wheels what Usain Bolt is to sprinting on two legs. If road cycling had anywhere near the same profile in the UK as athletics does, more people would be idolising this young man in the same way as the incredible Jamaican athlete.

Cavendish's autobiography weaves the tale of his four stage wins at the 2008 Tour de France with his life story up to and including his win at the 2009 Milan-San Remo classic. Although the book covers only the first two-and-a-bit years of a pro career which still (hopefully) has many successful years to come - and therefore does not include his six stage wins at the 2009 Tour - there is so much packed into the 340-odd pages that it does not feel padded at all.

The book reads in much the same way the man himself conducts himself in interviews: he shoots from the hip with his heart on his sleeve, occasionally inserting foot in mouth. But anyone who has ever seen Cav interviewed would expect no less: in a PC, PR-conscious world, here is a sportsman who is as brutally honest as he is fast. At times it is painfully obvious who he does and does not respect in the cycling world, and yet he is surprisingly self-critical, self-effacing and not afraid to admit when he has been proven wrong about someone. The book is full of little insights into the mindset of a master practitioner and behind-the-scenes revelations of what it is like to be a professional road cyclist, which make this a cut above the average sporting autobiography. Add this to the fleshing out of a person far more complex, meticulous and magnanimous (to his team) than the one-dimensional cocky narcissist sometimes portrayed in the media, and what you have here is a compelling tale that had me tearing through the pages much like the man himself does when he has the sniff of the finish line in his nostrils.

Unputdownable. Having waited a few months before buying this, I will be first in line to buy the next chapter of the story of this incredible young man.

Free: The Future of a Radical Price: The Economics of Abundance and Why Zero Pricing Is Changing the Face of Business
Free: The Future of a Radical Price: The Economics of Abundance and Why Zero Pricing Is Changing the Face of Business
by Chris Anderson
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Free - Chris Anderson, 5 Sept. 2009
Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, provides a thought-provoking examination of how the growth of online markets brings a whole new world of possibilities to the idea of getting things for "free", and how "paid" goods and services can continue to co-exist alongside it.

The book contains little in the way of new thinking, but it is well-researched (although, as noted in other reviews, a list of references would have been helpful) and replete with case studies and examples (both contemporary and historical) that outline the evolution of "free" from the birth of disposable razors to the global phenomenon of social networking.

This is a great primer (and a lot more than that) for anyone involved in business who wants to understand more about Web 2.0 technologies and how they can exist alongside traditional "bricks and mortar" business models - and even enhance them.

The Last Game: Love, Death and Football
The Last Game: Love, Death and Football
by Jason Cowley
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, particularly for Gooners, 4 Aug. 2009
An interesting, semi-autobiographical attempt to put one of the most famous domestic football games ever - the 1989 league title decider between Liverpool and Arsenal - into some kind of social, post-Hillsborough context. Well-researched, with plenty of interesting references and quotes from several of the people involved on that memorable night. Probably only one for die-hard Arsenal fans, though.

The Real Deal: My Story from Brick Lane to Dragons' Den
The Real Deal: My Story from Brick Lane to Dragons' Den
by James Caan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The life (so far) of a businessman & a true humanitarian, 4 Aug. 2009
Best known for his role as one of the five multi-millionaire investors on TV's Dragons' Den, James Caan has produced an autobiography which mixes charisma, humility and a genuinely fascinating life story in equal measure.

From his early life as the drop-out son of a Pakistani immigrant to his current status as a TV celebrity and founder of his own private equity firm, we get an insight into what has made Caan successful, both in terms of his business acumen and the personal values that have driven him, among other things, to help save Barts' Hospital and get personally involved in helping victims of the recent disaster in Kashmir.

This book should serve as an inspiration to anyone interested in business, and who wants to believe that the commercial world is not purely about the accumulation of personal wealth. Here is a man who gets involved in charity and humanitarian work simply because it is the right thing to do, as opposed to just being the right thing to be seen doing.

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