Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Book Learning # 84 What Happened by Scott McClellan

I found this book in a box whilst sorting out other books around the house. It was one of those low priority, nagging jobs that had been waiting about six months to get done.
I picked it up and sifted through. By no means the best written of political accounts I have ever read but engaging enough. I was interested by his move from democrat to republican (a move many made during the 1980s) and his impressive career rise (Press secretary before 40).
I am sure that when this was first published it made an impact, I am sure that his viewpoint was  pretty insightful and interesting.
Right now it reads as a dated account of history. The narrative is simple enough but doesn't really hold your attention too long.
It tells us a few straightforward things about GWBush that we had pretty much already known.
He is a straightforward type of guy. Not super bright but not dim. Deferred to those around him, especially Rumsfeld and Cheney.

File under 'I cant wait for the Christmas books'

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Book Learning # 83 Chavs by Owen Jones

Data heavy yet thoroughly readable.
Challenged prejudices and assumptions.
Reinforced some misty, cloudy, put aside convictions.
Reminded me of some experiences I would much rather have forgotten.
Forced me to consider aspiration and that yes, it's really important.
Took me outside my comfort zone.
Even made me laugh a few times.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Book learning #82 Coming up for Air by George Orwell

Umm, Lets see?
Turning leaves?
Smoky hearths?
Warm beer?
Sweaters and corduroy?

Must be time for some Orwell.

I can happily claim Orwell as my favourite author yet I am also happy to admit that I have still
not read all his works.
There was much about this book that I just loved.
I loved the nostalgia.
I loved the moments when it simply reached out of the page and touched my consciousness.
I loved the slightly acidic humour.
I even loved the feel of the copy I was reading.

He has yet to fail me.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Book Learning. 'Let us continue'

I had to blog about this, Just had to.

I may not finish Robert Caro's superb account of LBJ's years in the Senate anytime soon. It may well be sometime into next year before you see my completed blog entry. I just wanted you to know how much I love this book.

I love this book so much that I had to slice it into three, in order to gain three times the possible enjoyment from it. The simple fact is that the published version is a touch too hefty for late night reading, especially as I have a habit of dropping books onto my face as I doze off.

I love this book because it has taken me almost ten years to not quite finish it. Normally that would be a problem, give it up. Master of the Senate is different, it's like the very best of friends. The best of friends you don't see for two or three years and then spend a brilliant weekend at the beach and it's just like you're back at college again. This book cares little if I read a dozen others between picking it up again, it's own brilliance will hold the day.

In terms of content, I will go into much more depth of the pleasure, discomfort, disgust and hope that this book has brought to me when I finally, eventually review it.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Book learning #81. Brief encounters by Gyles Brandreth.

I'm almost, slightly embarrassed to add this to the strange and varied list of books in this blog.
First of all, there's Brandreth himself. Mad jumpered nutter from telly in the 1980s, failed Tory MP from the 1990s and resident bon hommeur of the Sunday supplements, not even the Sunday supplements that I occasionally read.

Then there is the sort of cobbled together clump of the Sunday supplement essays and interviews that this book consists of. I think I'll go back and publish all my semi decent blog entries from the last eight years, shove on the bookshelf in a regional airport and see how it does. Can't be any worse off? Surely?

But finally, there is the fact that whilst I literally shat my way through this book (nothing says 'good loo read' like a hundred odd, shortish interviews and anecdotes with the great, the almost great and the completely unheard of), I did actually quite enjoy it. Brandreth, although a Tory, would probably be able to talk his way past me into a re education centre rather than the firing squad. He seems to be a pretty decent chap and he write reasonably well. The subjects were, by and large, interesting and open to his probing. There were also one or two moments of classic hilarity. The trip to Copenhagen in 1971 was an outstanding piece of comic writing.

I do rather hope that I will read something weighty very soon to shove this book off my blog front page.
File under 'guilty pleasure'

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Book Learning # 80 The History of England Volume 1. Foundation, by Peter Ackroyd.

Hey there summer read.
How you doing? How was your summer?
Oh look, I'm sorry about the first part, the part where I casually picked you up , read you for a while but then dumped you for something more exciting.

But who's laughing now?

I got bored of the other book (very quickly as it happened) and came grovelling back to you.

You had already told me about the infrastructure of ancient England and how cosmopolitan it was before the Romans landed. You had told me about the Norman conquest and made me marvel that it was the last time this island had been successfully invaded.

After we got back together you made me rethink a lot of casually held ideas and prejudices about the middle ages. About religion and hygiene. I loved reading about the Black death (but I have always been into that crazy stuff). You took me right up to the death of Henry VII and the beginning of what my history teacher always called 'the early modern age'.
in truth, I'm just glad you took me back. I really enjoyed you.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Book learning #79 Humanity- A moral history of the Twentieth Century by Jonathan Glover.

I purchased this book on the 24th of March 2001. In those days the Twentieth century really meant something. Indeed, if you were buying books in those days you had been born and raised in it. The relationship was real and intense and the only thoughts of the next century were of the timid, toe dipping 'what's it going to be like?' variety.

This is a historical and philosophical tour which includes the following delights. My Lai,  Stalin, World War One,  Bomber Command, Atomic weapons,  Pol Pot,  Rwanda, Yugoslavia, The Cultural Revolution and of course, everyone's favourite, National Socialism.

Laugh a minute.

Well written and thought provoking, it looks at the ethics and philosophy behind the actions of those responsible for some of the greatest crimes against humanity in the period covered. There is plenty that is not covered (South American dictatorships, Middle Eastern terrorism, North Korea and that's just for starters). The book raises many issues, for me one of the main points is the willingness of the many to go along with the ideas of a few.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Book learning # 78. The Third Man by Peter Mandelson

"Oh Mandy,  well you came and you gave without taking..."

They say every political career ends in failure.

I say every political memoir descends into tedium.

Look, it wasn't all bad. The first chapter or two were great, looking at Mandelson's early career and the creation of New Labour. The relationships within the Blair/Brown/Mandelson trinity were rich and made engaging reading.

Then I just got bored with the bits in the middle. Cut to the 2010 election. The negotiations, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. Throughout the book the insanity of Gordon Brown came through. I ended up feeling rather sorry for him.

I would recommend Andrew Rawnsley's books over any of the 'inside accounts'.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Book learning #77. Science tales by Darryl Cunningham

I love the graphic form. Still do. All these years after Tintin, Asterix, Maus. 
I have spent the last two days zipping through this thought provoking text  with it's basic graphics as it illuminated a few key scams/lies/hoaxes from modern science.

The key thing I came away with? 
If my kids or wife were deathly ill, would I trust homeopathy or scientific medicine?
I've dabbled in homeopathy and it made sense at the time, well I went along with it at the time. I really enjoyed the sessions and the calm nature of the practitioner. It was indeed, more psychotherapy than anything medicinal.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Book learning #76 How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

Alright fellas. I know. Hold it.

Frau Random Doubt got this book for Christmas, after she had read it, it spent some time on the bedroom floor and before you know it, I'm reading it.

Excuses apart, this was a thought provoking, modern, intelligent and mostly witty (sometimes hilarious) account of feminism.

That's right. Feminism.

Like all big ideas/movements/struggles, feminism has it's differing perspectives and it's not my place to go into them here.

Moran puts the ideas into perspective and adds a sprinkle of light onto some dark areas.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Book learning #75 Letters from America by Alistair Cooke

Oh Dear Christ!
This was one of several wonderful Christmas books (2011 was a profoundly good year for the Christmas books).
A brief look through the photographs and I saw a style worth following. A brief look through the essays and I recalled a long lost friend.
The earliest essays dated from 1946. They were poignant, funny and true. That pattern continued for the next 60 odd years. The essays cover a wide range of topics, almost every aspect of American life, society and government.
These essays made February feel like a homesick month, a rich, textured form of homesickness, an aspirational feeling, a good feeling.

Thank you Mr Cooke.

nb. The image is not that of the book in question. I have taken the rare step of choosing an image I like as opposed to an image the publishers like.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Book learning #74 Chronicles Vol 1 by Bob Dylan

Oh I just loved this book.

It felt like a novel written by a quirky poet, an adventure through a not quite specific time and a New York I can still recognize. I loved reading about the Village and reminiscing about the streets and the places he started out in. There was a 40 year gap between our experiences but, as any New Yorker will tell you "the city changes and it doesn't change".

I found philosophy on almost every page, poetry, wisdom, a love of music and of life.

This was a perfect start to 2012.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Book learning #73 Revolution 1989. The fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen.

If the man hassles you, threatens or intimidates you, tries to build a cheap and nasty supermarket on the meadow opposite your home, fear not. There is such a glorious thing as people power.

I loved 1989. The actual year at the actual time was a good year for Mondale. I saw the Stone Roses live at Norwich Arts Centre (I don't think I have even sweated so much, not even in a broken subway car in an New York heatwave). I left school (in those days you still 'left school' at 16 even if you went onto higher things) I kissed girls, I wore floppy shirts and ragged jeans, I drank beer, I listened to alot of loud jangly guitar, my skin was perfect, I had no belly, I got stoned, I sailed a helluva lot, I was pure blonde, no grey in sight, I started smoking, I danced, I sang.
I was rock n' roll. I was 16. I was on it!

And I was aware, because that was the year I got an A grade in Modern History GCSE that Europe had been divided in half at the end of WW2. And I was aware, because my mum listened to Radio 4 non stop, that all things were not as they should be in Eastern Europe. And I was aware, because I had had nightmares in the early 1980s about nuclear war that the Russians were baddies. I was also aware of these things because I was a bright lad obsessed with history and politics. Just as I am now an older bloke obsessed with history and politics which is possibly why I enjoyed this book an awful lot.

The Cold War now seems like an odd dream. It's hard to think that we were living on the front line of an armageddon that would have rendered things like 'front lines' irrelevant.
It also seems incredible that The Soviet Union, and Mr Gorbachev in particular allowed the dissent to turn into revolution. This book brings those days back to life, reminds us of the hope that was ushered in during that amazing year. It was the year I began A'Levels, the year I studied 1848 'The year of Revolutions'. Such history suddenly seemed belittled by events in our own time.
I still recall our history teacher, a man in his sixties who vividly remembered the war. His opinions about German and Russian behaviour were often controversial. I shall never forget his face on November 10th as we talked about the Berlin wall coming down.

He could not fathom it.

Neither could we.