Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
"A pestilence does not have human dimensions, so people tell themselves that it is unreal, that it is a bad dream which will end..... They continue with business, with making arrangements for travel and holding opinions. Why should they have thought about the plague, which negates the future, negates journeys and debate? They considered themselves free and no one will ever be free as long as there is plague, pestilence and famine."
Albert Camus, The Plague, 1947
Monday, September 28, 2020
Just Finished Reading: Dark Continent – Europe’s Twentieth Century by Mark Mazower (FP: 1998)
As you can no doubt imagine, covering a goodly chunk of a continent over around a hundred years of its history in a shade over 400 pages is going to look at trends more than details and incidents of significance rather than detailed narratives. This is the case with this somewhat dense but fascinating volume. Starting with the aftermath of the First World War the author hits the highlights of the Soviet Revolution and the chaos in the collapsing Austro-Hungarian Empire and the defeated Germany. With boundaries redrawn and whole ‘new’ nations created (or recreated) – to say nothing of internal fighting and civil war – mass migrations took place the likes of which the world had not seen before and would not experience again until the end of the Second World War. As reconstruction moved ahead and Reparations became ever more problematic the western democracies struggled and sometimes failed to address the needs and the demands of their populations. Both Italy and, a decade or so later, Germany abandoned democracy altogether in an attempt to redress grievances arising directly from the First World War. Concentrating at times on Germany, Russia, France and Italy the author highlighted the various attempts to reshape the world, or at least their small part of it, in their image – and how each in turn largely failed in their endeavours. With Reconstruction as the major issue arising from World War Two, the US had learnt its lesson from the first war and instituted the Marshall Plan both to revive/reinvigorate the European economy (and not insignificantly bolster its own after the boom years of the war) and as a direct counter to the Soviet threat. This treat also assisted in the growing integration of Europe firstly as an economic entity and then, increasingly, as a political one. It had been a long time coming but the idea of a European Union or even a United States of Europe had been seriously talked about – at least in some quarters – since the 1920’s.This was at times a dense read. Even without more than a cursory look at the world wars themselves the author still had a lot of ground to cover. But cover it he did and cover it very well indeed. This is much more than a brief overview of the western end of a continental mass. This is looking over broad flowing rivers and then diving down into the depths to discover both how the rivers flowed and what caused them to periodically change their course. Some time was spent of islands in the stream and where rivers met, sometimes almost imperceptive and at other times in great cataracts or waterfalls. Occasionally individual fish where pulled out and examined before being released back into their natural environment – but you get the point before my allusions to the flow of historical narrative moves too far into the strained and farcical. Although comparatively short – considering the subject matter and scope – this was a very accomplished work that would reward repeated reading to tease out a fuller understanding of the historical events that shaped Europe. Definitely recommended but be prepared to give it the time and effort it deserves.
Sunday, September 27, 2020
Saturday, September 26, 2020
The Book Addiction Tag
I found this on Merphy Napier’s BookTube channel…
1: What is the longest amount of time you can comfortably go without picking up a book?
A few days maybe if I’m away from home and there’s no opportunity to buy one. After that I start getting antsy and on edge.
2: How many books do you carry on your person at any one time?
These days none at all. Back in my work days I’d always have one with me to read in my lunch break. If I’m travelling any great distance I’ll have a book plus a few more to tide me over being away from my stash @ home.
3: Do you keep every book you buy or are you happy to pass them on to make space for more?
I do tend to keep every book I purchase unless they’re particularly bad – they get given away to charity shops or somewhere. VERY occasionally when I need the shelf space I’ll donate a bunch of books to charity but I think this has only happened twice so far. I’d rather just find somewhere in the house to stack them away.
4: How long would you spend in a bookshop on a standard visit?
That very much depends. I can pop into a bookshop, look around for a few minutes, and leave. Other times I can spend 10 minutes, or half an hour browsing – especially if I’m looking for a particular type of book or something on a particular subject. Oh, and there’s no such thing as a ‘standard visit’ for me!
5: How much time per day to you actually spend reading?
These days – post retirement….. Around 3 hours, maybe more if the book is particularly good.
6: Where does the task ‘picking up a book’ appear on your daily To Do list?
LOL – I REALLY don’t plan my life THAT much!
7: How many books do you reckon you own in total?
Oh, I have NO idea. If I had to guess I’d say somewhere in the region of 5 thousand…. Maybe 6 thousand.
8: Approximately how often to you bring up books in conversation?
Depends on the company and what I’m reading at that moment. My friends know I read ‘a lot’ so aren’t too surprised if I bring books into the conversation. Plus I’ve known the guys long enough to be able to recommend books to them.
9: What is the biggest book (page count) you have finished reading?
Probably the single volume version of Lord of the Rings coming in at over 1100 pages. I remember it taking me 4 weeks to finish back in my teens.
10: Is there a book you had to get your hands on against all odds?
I was so impressed with ‘Metropolitan’ by Walter Jon Williams that I was over the moon to discover it had a sequel. Naturally I had taken YEARS to read the first book so the second book was out of print. It took me several months to track down the sequel online. Naturally I still haven’t read it yet!
11: Is there a book you struggled to finish but refused to DNF?
I don’t DNF often but I’m not afraid to. Life is far too short to continue reading books you’re getting nothing from. I’ve DNF’d books after 20 pages. I’ve DNF’s others with less than 100 pages to go. It very much depends on the book and maybe my mood at the time.
12: What are three of your main book goals for 2021?
I want to really get my ‘Britain Alone’ series off and running. I’m presently nibbling around the edges (as I do) but need to dive in and splash about a bit.
I’ve been building up collections of books in areas like Travel which I need to start working through.
I aim to read and review 100 books in 2021.
13: Have you ever converted someone into a reader?
Kind of. One of my gaming friends doesn’t read much and hardly ever reads fiction. But I was so enthusiastic about a series of Vampire detective novels that he started reading them too. He ended up reading the whole series.
14: Describe what books mean to you in 5 words.
What makes life worth living.
Friday, September 25, 2020
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Just Finished Reading: Shelter In Place by Nora Roberts (FP: 2018)
At 16 Simone Knox just knew she would die. The boy that had so recently dumped her – by text! – had just walked into the movie theatre with his new girlfriend. Nothing her friends could say to her could keep her in her seat and she retreated to the nearest Mall restroom. After a few moments and a few deep breaths she was on her way back to her seat when she heard screaming. At first she thought it was just the movie but then a person ran past her and then another – with blood on them. Then she heard it – gun shots. Running back to the restroom she dialled 911 – she was the first caller. As luck would have it a police cruiser was in the parking lot dealing with a fender bender. Running into DownEast Mall they responded minutes before local law enforcement could arrive. Within moments the first shooter was down and seconds later the other shooters turned their own guns on themselves. It was over. But in those few minutes’ dozens of shoppers were dead and many more injured. But along with victims there were heroes too – those who put themselves in the line of fire to protect others, those who gathered scattered survivors together to hide until the cops arrived. Of course nothing like this is ever really over. The dead need to be mourned, wounds need to heal, and hearts need to mend. Survival is a lifetime achievement. But as some put their lives together and others put their lives on hold one other person did not respond with sadness, regret or survivors guilt. They responded with ice cold fury. They had carefully planned the massacre and the idiots who took part had fucked it up. So they made a list of everyone who had, in some small way, profited from the shooting – from the campaigners and the TV celebrities and the kid who called 911. She’d be kept to last. But it was a long list so…… work to do.I think I picked this up purely for the title and the fact that it looked ‘different’. I wasn’t really expecting to be blown away by how good, and how emotional, this was going to be. Mass shootings seem to be a fact of life these days – at least in the USA (mostly). That does little to reduce the impact on all concerned and for the communities in which they happen. I was incredibly impressed at how the author handled both the incident itself – told exclusively from the PoV of the victims – and of the immediate aftermath once the EMTs arrived. The whole thing was, as you might imagine, rather emotional. But that was very much the beginning. The rest of the book – extending over several decades – focused on Simone herself (and her family), Essie McVee (the cop who shot the first gunman) and Reed Quatermaine who worked in the Mall’s pizza place and is the link between several other characters. I’m certainly not going to try to precis the book (apart from the fact that it’s ruin the story for you!) but I will say this: this is a VERY accomplished and polished novel. From practically the first page I was totally hooked and totally invested in the lives of the major characters (and some of the minor ones too). The author had a great way of making you really like the good guys but also at least understand (and in some cases pity) the bad guys. Some of them you’d like to have as neighbours, some as friends. One in particular – CiCi – I would have TOTALLY loved as a friend/neighbour/aunt/grandmother. She was AMAZING – and she wasn’t even a main character. I whizzed through the 500 pages in a matter of days. I only had a few minor criticisms that hardly amount to much. I did think that the ending was rather abrupt and maybe a little anti-climactic but I guess a couple of bullets will do that. One other thing, and I know this will sound kind of weird, is that I had a feeling that this book was a little too well written, a little too polished. I did feel at times as if I was being manipulated by the author a little too blatantly, but that might just be me. There are a few warnings though – given the subject matter there is a reasonable amount of violence in this book and some of it is graphic. There’s also a fair amount of swearing and some (consensual) sex. But if you can handle all of that this is a very good read. It is at times very emotional though and I’m guessing that it will probably be that much more so for my American readers – so be warned. Otherwise highly recommended. More from Ms Roberts to come. I did actually pick up another one of hers recently (cheap) but discovered it was one of her Romance novels. Needless to say I have given that one away….
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Monday, September 21, 2020
Just Finished Reading: The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan (FP: 2004)
It’s hard to believe, living at a time when the Corporation is everywhere, that not only was there a time when they did not exist but a time when they were actually outlawed. But times change and money talks and whispers in all the necessary ears. As businesses grew and opportunities grew with them financing such ventures became increasingly difficult. Corporations – especially with limited liability – were the answer and so they were permitted once more. Before limited liability anyone investing in a business could lose everything if the business collapsed owing debts that needed to be recovered. When liability was limited only the investment was lost – not everything the investor owned. Naturally investment opportunities increased and with them profits as well as the power that corporations wielded. One of the most famous corporation in the 17th century, which lasted long into the 19th before being ‘wound up’ by the British government, was the East India Company which had its own armed forces! But the modern corporation we know so well today came of age in the USA – so much so that today’s ventures have all of the rights (though few of the responsibilities it seems – of citizenship itself. They also – under law indeed – are charged to focus purely on earning dividends for their shareholders. They are legally obliged to maximise profits and only engage in activities that are primarily aimed at this outcome. Any other task – such as setting up schools or crèche’s for their employees or food banks or anything else for the community must, at least in some way, profit the company. What is more, with the profit motive front and centre, anything that increases profits it naturally held to be of the highest value – anything. So ‘lobbying’ politicians to downgrade environmental protection laws that cost companies to comply with is a good thing. Saving money on adequate protection on vehicles to prevent deaths in collisions – knowing that the average fine is less than the cost of fixing the problem and saving lives – is a good thing. Using friendly media outlets and scientists to question the link between smoking and lung cancer or CO2 and Climate Change (AKA Global Warming) is a good thing as it delays the day when companies will need to do anything that might reduce their profits regardless of the damage and death they cause in the meantime. Anything like this are essentially someone else’s problem – or someone else’s opportunity to make money from the misery caused by someone else – rather than a problem that needs to be addressed and, ultimately, solved. Welcome to the world of the Corporation.
Told mainly from an American PoV – especially for the legal bits – this is an unashamed polemic against the unbridled greed and actual danger of unrestricted corporations. The answer, the author says (and I agree) are enforceable and enforced regulations overseen by agencies with the will and the legal teeth to do so. Corporations in their present guise are wild animals that need either to be tamed or at the very least caged within acceptable ranges. Letting them roan free and comparatively unencumbered is a recipe for disaster – as we will, no doubt, find out. Companies are presently very powerful institutions but they exist at the will of the State. Powerful companies have been wound up before when they got above their station – just ask the East India Company, and they had an army behind them. An interesting read if a very partisan one. Unfortunately this is one of those books that end up either preaching to the already converted or wasting their time trying to convince the ‘opposition’ of their case. But at a mere 167 pages it’s still worth a read though – by either side.
Sunday, September 20, 2020
Friday, September 18, 2020
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Just Finished Reading: Imperial 109 by Richard Doyle (FP: 1977)
It should have been a normal flight from Durban to New York via London. It would have been if the co-pilot had been doing his job properly or if Captain O’Neill had been supervising the repairs to the wings fuel tank. As they began to lose fuel over the desert one thing was certain, they’d never make Cairo without extra fuel and more repairs en-route. Setting down on the Nile at a reserve fuelling stop the passengers were less than happy with an additional overnight stay. But when a young naval officer, showing off to the mine owner’s secretary, was taken by a local crocodile they were even more anxious to leave and head towards Cairo’s bright lights. The passengers were the usual bunch of the rich and shameless – a South African mine owner anxious to meet his financiers in New York, his spoilt and bored wife, the young secretary at the end of her tether, the Italian count and his tempestuous young wife on their way to the Italian embassy in Washington, the mysterious mining engineer with an apparent independent income and greedy eyes, the old man and his daughter picked up in Italy and on the run from the Nazi’s, the Swiss businessman who was both more and less than he appeared, the Turkish noble who was anything but Turkish…. Then there was the unusual cargo of gold bullion on its way to American and the unofficial reception committee waiting for its arrival. It was shaping up to be one hell of a trip – if they could make it there alive!
I know that you’re never supposed to judge a book by its cover but those who have been around this Blog long enough know of my love for flying boats. The fact that the book had a flying boat – and one from Imperial Airways no less – on the cover was enough for me to snap up this 1970’s thriller. The actual fun started when I read the blub on the back comparing the book to a splicing of Airport, The 39 Steps, Jaws (presumably for the crocodile incident!) and Murder on the Orient Express. Having read the book I can probably agree on those points. Despite its 480 page length this novel actually contained at least 5-6 novels intertwined. It wasn’t exactly a car crash novel though. It was just that SO much was going on and so many people were involved – the cast in any movie would be like Towering Inferno or any of the other 70’s disaster movies – that there was no time for catching any breaths. The book was PACKED with story and a fair bit of action too. Despite the fact that most of the characters were seemingly straight out of central casting the author gave each of them enough room to become reasonably real people. Or at least real enough to relate to. True, this is hardly high literature as there’s just far too much going on in every scene. But still it’s so bloody entertaining to watch the author pull ridiculous stunts with the story without stepping over the line into actual farce. Sure, there were laugh out loud moments when things got particularly silly but that too was entertainment of a sort. Overall though the constant feeling was one of a simple (if complex) fun adventure in the old style. I actually surprised myself at just how much I enjoyed myself reading what was, in effect, a trashy airport novel. It had no pretentions to being anything else but good clean silly fun and delivered that in spades. If you just want something to relax to next to the pool or over a few rainy days this is definitely the book for you. You’ll laugh at the convoluted plot but that’s all part of its charm. Highly recommended if you can find a copy.
"On a visit to the US from Germany during the first decade of the last century, Max Weber asked a group of American workers why they kept voting for politicians who seemed barely qualified for the task and ended up letting them down. He got his answer: "We spit on these 'professionals', these officials. We despise them. But if the offices are filled by a trained, qualified class, such as you have in your country, it will be the officials who spit on us."
How Democracy Ends by David Runciman (2018), p164.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Monday, September 14, 2020
Just Finished Reading: The Kamikaze Hunters – Fighting for the Pacific, 1945 by Will Iredale (FP: 2015)
With the war in Europe coming to an end and demands on the Royal Navy falling in concert Winston Churchill offered their services to the US to assist in the final assault on Japan. The US Navy had reservations but their objections were overruled by the President. Initially tasked with bombing of oil refineries the British Pacific Fleet showed its ability to deal with tricky situations and earned plaudits from those who had originally questioned their use or usefulness in the Pacific – a theatre and way of fighting the British were unfamiliar with. Their next task was something different again. As the American Fleets approached the Japanese Home Islands and it became obvious to everyone that the last days of Japanese Imperialism approached the Japanese became desperate. So desperate indeed that they approved an idea that would shock the world – the Kamikaze. In essence it was a truly simple idea. With a reducing number of qualified pilots available on any particular mission the odds of a successful attack on US warships was steadily dropping. The odds of surviving an attack were decreasing too. But what if the pilots didn’t need to come back? What if the pilots only had one mission? When the attackers no longer had to think about surviving multiple missions and attacking multiple targets the odds of a ‘successful’ mission increased. The results were both terrifying and incredibly effective. Instead of dodging bombs and torpedoes dropped on them the ships of the US fleets now had to cope with bombs aimed with dedicated human precision – to the point of impact. The cost/benefit balance was equally devastating. In ideal circumstances a single pilot in a single engine fighter could destroy an entire aircraft carrier. As the Americans approached Japan the number of kamikaze attacks increased and increased again. Something needed to be done.
Part of the response was tactical, part technological. More fighters were kept back to operate CAPs – combat air patrols to engage the kamikazes before they can do their end-runs. Newer IFF devices prevented kamikaze planes from joining flights of US planes returning home after missions and classified proximity fuses were fitted to anti-aircraft ammunition to enhance lethality – but it wasn’t always enough. This is where the Royal Navy came in. Using its air assets (predominantly US designs) and armoured aircraft carriers the BPF was to provide flanking cover for future missions – which would put them directly in the firing line for any kamikaze attacks. It was not going to be a very pleasant experience. Following the usual format of recruitment, training (in the UK, Canada and the US) and deployment in theatre this well researched and often gripping account of a forgotten aspect of RN and Fleet Air Arm history puts you right in the action with people we ‘watch’ learning, fighting and, all too often, dying far away from home long after the European war ended. Part simple history and part long overdue recognition of service this was an excellent account of actions that should not have been side-lined nor forgotten. Definitely recommended for all flying and Pacific War buffs.
Sunday, September 13, 2020
Saturday, September 12, 2020
The Classics Book Tag
Another one from the ever interesting Book Olive on YouTube..
1: What’s an overhyped Classic that you REALLY didn’t like?
That’s easy as I have TWO: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. What people see in these books and why they are so revered is beyond me.
2: What is your favourite time period to read about?
The 19th Century and WW2
3: What is your favourite Fairy Tale?
I DO so like the Grimm Fairy Tales… Dark is good as they should be. Fairy Tales are teaching aids for children and should be gritty and full of peril.
4: What is THE most embarrassing Classic you haven’t read yet?
Surprisingly I was rather late coming to this reading lark so haven’t read any (I think) of the children’s Classics. I mean to make up for that fairly soon(ish).
5: What are the Top 5 Classics you’d like to read soon?
There still 2 Jane Austin I haven’t managed yet (Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey), I also want to read my way through Dickens which will probably take me the rest of my life! But there are SO many Classics I haven’t read yet it’s hard to say. Definitely 19th century adventure novels and classic crime stories. Most definitely all of the Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie. That’s a MUST.
6: What is your favourite book/series that’s based on a Classic?
Drawing a total blank here – Sorry!
7: What is your favourite movie/TV series based on a Classic?
I’m going to cheat (a bit) here and say Forbidden Planet (based on The Tempest by Shakespeare) and the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Mr D’Arcy. This TOTALLY ruined my future love life as I was looking for another Lizzie Bennett from then on – and never found her!
8: In your opinion what is the worst Classic to Movie adaptation?
No idea I’m afraid!!
9: What are your favourite Editions that you’d like to collect more Classics from?
I’m not really one for collection specific editions of anything really (though Penguin books always get a look over because of their generally very high quality.
10: What is an under-hyped Classic that you’d recommend to everyone?
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Dracula by Bran Stoker gets all the love but Frankenstein is MUCH better in my opinion.
Friday, September 11, 2020
Thursday, September 10, 2020
Just Finished Reading: The Mammoth Book of The End of the World edited by Mike Ashley (FP: 2010)
This is the last (for now at least!) of my Pandemic/Post-Apocalypse reading. Generally these books (this one containing 24 stories of eco-disaster, asteroid impact, pandemics, nuclear war and much else) are pretty hit and miss affairs. Some of the stories will be excellent, others barely passable but the majority will be pretty solid if generally unspectacular. This was actually one of those (in my experience at least) rare instances when nearly every story in here was at worst pretty good. For example I thought the worst (not actually shabby) story was by Robert Silverberg. That alone says something. The publication dates ranged from 1951 (Fritz Leiber) to 2010 (Alastair Reynolds and others) and included well known (again to me) authors as well as those I hadn’t come across before. My favourites included ‘The Rain at the End of the World’ by Dale Bailey, ‘The Man Who Walked Home’ by Alice Sheldon, ‘The Clockwork Atom Bomb’ by Dominic Green and ‘Terraforming Terra’ by Jack Williamson. But I think my favourite of the lot (which is saying something from such a strong bunch) was ‘Moments of Inertia’ by William Barton - If for nothing else for the really inventive (and to me hilariously funny) reason for the end of everything. As the Galaxy was consumed by a powerful energy beam and the last people on Earth prepared to kiss their collective ass’s goodbye they were visited by aliens who apologised for the inconvenience but they were the clean-up crew and hadn’t realised that there was intelligent life here. You see our Universe was actually the result of an industrial accident in a higher dimension and they’d only just noticed. Being moral beings they couldn’t just wipe out intelligent life everywhere (not just on Earth!) so had created ‘reservations’ to house every creature that had ever lived – everywhere…… So please stand by and, oh, yeah, sorry about that……! [lol] I just loved the irony. Humanity thinking itself so important and trying to figure out the origins and meaning of existence and it turns out to be the result of someone else’s mistake. Brilliant!
Anyway, this is a most excellent collection of post-apocalypse stories and will no doubt get you thinking about lots of things. I think that they’re all pretty reader friendly – despite the subject matter – so no nightmares I predict. Lots of enjoyment and musing though. That I can be sure of! Enjoy!