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Mr. David Cheshire

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Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts
Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts
by Simon Jenkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too centralised by half, 25 July 2009
Jenkins seeks to answer two questions; first, what exactly was Thatcherism? This he defines as two revolutions; privatising the old nationalised industries and utilities; and bringing the discipline of market forces into public services. Both were pursued single-mindedly by the previous four premiers. Jenkins' narrative is scaffolded around these themes which gives it a nice edge. There are some revealing details; Thatcher rounds on the board of British Rail: you're all crap, she says, otherwise you'd be in private industry. Jenkins is also revealing on Blair; like Thatcher he had no hinterland, little culture and no history. Brown with his dourness and inability to communicate leads Jenkins to wonder why he ever sought a career in politics; the electorate will no doubt soon resolve this oversight. Jenkins' second question is: why has it failed? Despite the millions put in the public still think public services are rubbish. Why? Jenkins' answer is interesting; every stage in the Thatcher reforms whether by Maggie or Tony/Gordan invoke red tape by the ton; centralism is the curse of the British body politic argues Jenkins. The state far from receding grows and grows leviathan-like, every more intrusive, ever more clumsy and inept, ever more disapointing of the unrealistic expectations it generates in an ever watchful public/press. Our atomised, centralised democracy (as predicted by the insightful de Tocqueville) contrast poorly with the civic involvement of the USA or Europe; these are not perfect but Jenkins feels they deliver the sort of locally accountable public services that Thatcherism whether of the mother or of the sons never can. This book offers an interesting and often revealng narrative and the beginning of what could be an interesting debate. We pride ourselves as being the cradle of democracy; but Jenkins points out that Major won the biggest ever popular majority in British parliamentary history (yes, MAJOR!) yet got for his trouble a fwo figure Commons majority that knobbled him for good. Clearly Jenkins is right to suspect that our democracy is less fit for purpose than we think and overdue for some fundamental re-thinking.


Middlesex
Middlesex
by Jeffrey Eugenides
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A big step for a girl, 25 July 2009
This review is from: Middlesex (Paperback)
Re-inventing yourself as the cliche goes is THE classic American/ immigrant experience. In this case Greeks into Americans. But the gender/genetic twist flagged up in the novel's opening takes the story one big step beyond. What ensues is an amazing ride through family and personal history that rises triumphantly above circumstance, human blunders and the general confusion of living. A big step for a girl, a giant leap for a man you might say. A classic and a must-read, it delivers humour, courage and compassion in spades.


Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic
Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic
by Tom Holland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.44

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The age of heroes, 30 May 2008
I read this hoping for a bit more political analysis, despite the sales pitch that it is an unashamed return to narrative history. I really wanted to know, a bit simplistically, why did Rome rise and then fall? What you get is better: the sheer awe-inspiring drama of the heroic characters of the republic. Pompey, Caesar and Octavian the high achievers; Cicero the trimmer and the orator, and finally brave in death; the uncompromising Cato, unkillable soul of the republican ideal. In the end the bitter personal rivalries became so caught up in the enticing rewards of empire that they could not be contained. Ambition found its outlet in violence and legitimacy perished. Forget the management and leadership gurus, or even the diaries of Alastair Campbell. Better lessons about leadership and political rivalry are in these pages. You will also learn much about how the Romans thought and how all this amazing stuff looked and felt to them. Surely volume two and the empire will follow?


White Teeth (Penguin Essentials)
White Teeth (Penguin Essentials)
by Zadie Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How history works, 30 May 2008
This is the kind of book that gives multi-culturalism a good name. It isn't preachy or pius, it's just content to be profound and funny and readable. Above all it is Irie's story. Her older relatives share the big immigrant fear, disappearance, the nightmare where birthplace and belonging become meaningless accidents. But to young Irie, this feels like freedom. You can't escape your history, your shadow. But roots can be too too long, tortuous and deep, and in the end will have to be ignored and denied. Thus history progresses. All this comes as a bonus. The humour and humanity alone are worth the read.


The Course of My Life: The Autobiography of Edward Heath
The Course of My Life: The Autobiography of Edward Heath
by Edward Heath
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not always well tempered, 23 Oct. 2007
There seems to be a rule: the worse the politician the better the memoirs. Heath's aren't bad. He was an odd figure. Chosen as Tory leader to rival the modern Wilson style, he proved to be an awkward, lonely and rather inflexible Prime Minister. His Premiership is often judged a failure. This book doesn't reveal much of his emotional life. He confesses that "I am told I do not always find it easy to express my appreciation of people to their faces." Otherwise the private man remains just that.

And yet this book goes a long way to rescue his reputation. Heath goes back earlier than I had realised. His Europeanism was sincerely and profoundly rooted in 1940's wartime duty as an artillery commander in the allied invasion of Germany. As Tory Chief Whip in the 1950's he held his party together during the Suez debacle and emerged with honour (unlike Prime Minster Eden, here described telling his cabinet secretary to burn incriminating documents). Heath grappled early with deep and intractable issues, especially Britain's long term economic decline, immigration, Powell, Ulster (the IRA bombed his home) and above all unruly and over-wheening trade union power. Long before there was any sort of consensus about how to deal with them (the Thatcher/Blair generation's achievement) Heath's old fashioned Butler/Macmillan one-nation Toryism simply did not measure up to the awfulness of trying to govern Britain in the 1970's.

Heath's Europeanism never falters and reflects a very English pragmtatism. On the vexed issue of losing sovreignty to Europe Heath relies on the simple formula that we are pooling, not surrendering it. On the Federal question he calls the EU "sui generis", neither free trade area nor super state in waiting, never imitated and always different to any abstract theory or model.

Heath's book has a few gems which enliven a sometimes not lively narrative. Visiting Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin could not grasp Heath's explanation of what he did as a whip ("How do you mean, persuade them to support you? Surely you just tell them to?")

Perhaps two moments define the man. Having achieved his poltical dream of actually getting the UK into the EU, this classless moderniser turns his back on the burgeoning celebrations, retires alone to his solitary room at Number Ten where he gather strength by playing a Bach prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier on his clavichord. The other, 1968 and he quotes his old enemy Enoch Powell as Health Minister saying in the cabinet room that there was no need to cede a nurses' pay claim because " I can bring in all the nurses we need from the west Indies." Game set and match there, Enoch. Overall not an easy read; but then not an easy man.


Fish! Sticks: A Remarkable Way to Adapt to Changing Times and Keep Your Work Fresh
Fish! Sticks: A Remarkable Way to Adapt to Changing Times and Keep Your Work Fresh
by Stephen C. Lundin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An awful great read, 30 July 2007
Only the most churlish could give this a poor review. So let me try. The style is the worst dumb downed American business guru hoopla. The story format is cheesier than the most cheese-laden cheese market in ville de cheese. The messages can mostly be found elsewhere. Charles Handy's Understanding Organisations remains the best overview and Fish Sticks clearly owe a debt to the literature on coaching. But what can you say about a book which is short, demands to be read in a single sitting, has big print summaries, excites with its combination of simple yet hugely powerful lessons, and could actually be implemented by real people in real work places. It's true, when you read it you want to tell someone about it, or even better lend it to someone immediately. Yet the ideas are simple ones. Together with the original Fish, the key notions are that you decide your attitude to the work you do (selling fish has its drawbacks), it's important to have fun at work and to extend this to include your customers, and focus on customer expectations and how to exceed them; then in Fish Sticks, notions of sustaining change by encouraging everybody to identify, personalise and keep discussing your organisational vision. These are healthy messages for organisational renewal and resurgance. And yet how boring and unmemorable that bald summary sounds. It's much better in the orginals which are cheap, quick, cheesey, relevant and above all endearingly irreverent. Fish, like cheese, can definitely be good for you.


The Songlines (Vintage Classics)
The Songlines (Vintage Classics)
by Bruce Chatwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The human tide, 25 July 2007
This is a unique and unclassifiable book, part novel, part travel book, part notebook full of quotations and speculations. Chatwin focuses on the notion that language and human thought began in songs that sang the landscape and living things into existence. Aboriginal culture continues this tradition in songlines which are explored as living entities, maps, boundaries, calendars, catalogues, survival systems, myths. Chatwin says the ultimate question he is asking is, why are humans so restless? He argues that this is the ultimate human quality. We are nomadic in our core. He quotes a European tramp: "It's like the tides were pulling you along the highway. I'm like the Arctic tern, guv'nor...what flies from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again." This book doesn't provide answers. Indeed it plunges into even wider speculations about war, prehistory, mythology and culture. But it goes far beyond the predictable "Aboriginal wisdom for the westerner" that I expected. A fascinating, difficult, but intriguing book.


The Timewaster Letters
The Timewaster Letters
by Robin Cooper
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.90

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A right going over, 25 July 2007
This review is from: The Timewaster Letters (Paperback)
Dear Robin Cooper, Well the Amazon reviewers have certainly had a go at you haven't they? Totally ignoring the reviews by REAL COMEDIANS you had printed on the back cover guaranteeing how funny it is. But a very mixed bag of Amazon notices here if you don't mind my saying so. Very unfairly though I think many of the would-be so-called reviewers failed to realise the sheer effort that goes into a book like this. Number one, the stamps. Number two the humour is more of the slightly off-key rather than the custard pie variety. Indeed it's what's not there. Like imagining the face of the Hon Sec of the Silhouette Society when she sees Great Uncle's wonderful work. The tone of the letters is just mad enough to be convincing. Trigger Happy by post. Anyway, to the point. I have gathered together a few like-minded reviewers Robin, and we would like to intiate the on-line Robin Hooper fan club. We've hired a coach and would like to meet you to discuss web sites etc in the car park on Luton services on the M4, I think it is. Hope to see you there, if not, don't worry, we know where you live. RSVP. ps do you plan a companion volume of the envelopes?


Status Anxiety
Status Anxiety
by Alain de Botton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's not you..., 25 July 2007
This review is from: Status Anxiety (Paperback)
This is a clever book, more consolations of philosophy, but one grounded in culture and history. His consistent theme (neo-Epicurian?) is that modern history has inflated and distorted our expectations. Hence we equate lack of material success with deep inner and moral failure and general worthlessness and unlovability. The remedy, adjust your expectations to make them more appropriate, is logical but on its own lacks credibility. Appropriate to what exactly? Must we earn to love our failure? Embrace our inadequacy? In fact in the second half of the book de Botton provides a rich variety of avenues to explore: politics (it's not you who's to blame, its society, capitalism, etc), art (learn to value your rich and complex inner life), religion (bad now, better later), even bohemia (be grubby but with style). Indeed this book contains the most interesting - well actually, only - history of the bohemian life-style I've ever read. De Botton's style of argument piles it on a bit, repeating the arguments in many forms, and the introductory bit posing the problem (the perils of modern meritocracy etc) is a bit lengthy and depressing. But the solutions are more elegantly presented and the overall effect is convincing, thought-provoking and genuinely informative. And don't worry if you can't afford to buy it. Not a problem.


The Hill Bachelors
The Hill Bachelors
by William Trevor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small perfections, 25 July 2007
This review is from: The Hill Bachelors (Paperback)
As a short story writer William Trevor displays a complete mastery of form, character, language and setting. These elements are moved around in the manner of a skillful scene-shifter with sometimes one element, sometimes another, coming to the fore. It is the Irish setting in the title story and The Virgin's Gift. Sometimes it's character as in Three People. He can also do unlikely romance, as in the beautiful Against The Odds. Trevor creates perfect miniatures, full of light and detail and meaning.


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