I had read only one Jane Austen book before ‘Persuasion’. It was ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which I read in the early 90’s in the Himalayas, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’ve seen films of other books, such as ‘Emma’, but what attracted me to ‘Persuasion’ was the fact that I knew nothing at all of the plot.
Like ‘Pride and Prejudice’, I enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed entering another place and time, where life was as different as if you were to visit a planet in another galaxy.
The only beings that exist on this planet are middle class people from rural England. No one works, and the most important thing in the World is the art of conversation. Even the least articulate of Austen’s characters speaks beautiful genteel English, and they all have the ability to remain within the limits of what is considered respectable, never getting even close to discussing vulgar subjects like sex.
The next most important rule of the game is that you must try to find the most eligible available spouse. They must be well-situated within the English class system and have a reliable source of income. Of course, they must also be respectable, eloquent and good looking. All this has to be done without anyone actually admitting that this is what they are up to.
Persuasion is the same as ‘Pride and Prejudice’, in the sense that it is another delightful chocolate from the same box. I enjoyed the clever way people talk to each other, and the storyline was light-hearted fun, like a Hugh Grant romantic comedy. The narrator was superb.
‘Salt, Sugar, Fat' is a depressing expose of the processed food industry. It’s a fairly detailed analysis of how the industry has crammed more and more of these three ingredients into food, and the resulting havoc wrought on the health of Americans. Dramatically increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke have arisen as the population has become increasingly dependent on fast, cheap, convenient, tasty food and drink containing frightening amounts of these eponymous ingredients, as well as a whole load of other chemicals to flavour, colour and preserve the food and increase its shelf-life. The same problem has now been inflicted on other, poorer, nations, such as Mexico as the corporate giants have colonised other markets in their relentless pursuit of greater profits.
Over time, some sections of the public have become more aware of the health hazards associated with these foods, but it hasn’t really reduced the scale of the problem. Attempts to introduce government regulation in the US have largely been scuppered by the lobbyists representing the powerful food and agriculture industries. There has been some effort on the part of the food corporations to reduce the quantities of salt, sugar and fat in their products, but these reductions have been fairly minor, token cuts and haven’t reduced the scale of the problem. Many people have cravings for these powerfully tempting products and can’t cut back effectively, and often don’t have the time, awareness or motivation to make radical changes to their lifestyles. Advertising and marketing campaigns are cleverly designed to make processed food seem irresistible, and of course advertisers are more likely to emphasize health benefits than to warn of the dangers of eating these products.
The World has surely got itself into a sorry mess when people are encouraged to oversize their drink portions so that they are ingesting 44 teaspoons of sugar in their giant cup of fizzy soda, while people in other countries starve to death in droves. The companies defend themselves by saying that no one is being forced to consume their products. It’s a free market and they are only selling what people want. But surely, for the sake of the health of everyone, there should be a massive education campaign telling people how they are potentially harming themselves by eating fast food. There should be limits on the amounts of salt, sugar and fat that can be included in processed foods, as there are in other countries. Surely enough is enough?
Michael Pollan is a great food writer. In his previous three books he enlightened me and changed my attitude towards food and the food industry. He got me started on the road to eating food that my grandparents would have recognised as food (avoiding today’s cornucopia of processed foods when possible) and to worrying about the way food is mass-produced and animals are mistreated.
His fourth book, ‘Cooked’ continues some of these themes but from a slightly different angle. He looks at foods corresponding to the four classical elements: fire, water, air and earth. For ‘fire’, he chooses traditional barbecue of hogs in the Deep South. For ‘water’, he looks at meals cooked in a pot. ‘Air’ is bread, and ‘earth’ is foods relying on the action of microorganisms (e.g. fermentation to make alcohol or acidification to make cheese).
It’s an interesting and enjoyable book. A rambling, meandering, thoughtful piece about what food means to us as humans. But, unlike his other work, it doesn't really have one central point or idea that he’s trying to prove.
For this reason, it comes over as being slightly contrived and a bit aimless. You can’t help thinking that Pollan needed to write another book and was a bit stuck for a central idea, and then he thought about the four elements and that was good enough. The result is a Sunday Supplement magazine article that stimulates your appetite, but doesn't really bite like his earlier works. But it’s a best seller, so what do I know? In any case, it’s good enough to deserve a listen, so go ahead.
This is the fifth epic historical novel by Ken Follett that I have read (or listened to). ‘Pillars of the Earth’ (his mediaeval historical epic) was stunning. Probably the most compelling and entertaining book I’ve ever read. ‘World without End’ was a continuation of the story and was enjoyable, but suffered a bit from sequelitis.
Then came his 20th century trilogy. Basically, these are the stories of five families who get tangled up in the events of World War 1 (Fall of Giants), World War 2 (Winter of the World) and the Cold War (Edge of Eternity).
These three 20th century novels are all entertaining, because Follett knows how to tell a good story, but they are flawed by the disjointedness inherent in jumping around between the five families, and the implausibility of the families’ participation in all the key events of 20th century history.
Plus, in this, the third volume, the author seems to be getting tired and jaded. It feels like Ken Follett is going through the motions and just bashing out books for the money. I even wondered if this one was written by a ghost writer (especially when he calls a British Policeman’s truncheon a ‘nightstick’. Follett is English, so he either changed it to ‘nightstick’ to make it more comprehensible to an American audience, or he didn’t write it himself).
Having said this, it was still fairly entertaining and kept me reasonably engaged to the end. I just feel a bit sad that Follett seems to have traded quality for quantity.
What can you say about a man who had this much impact on history? How could a person rise from such humble beginnings to mesmerize and captivate a nation, instilling god-like devotion in his followers and inspiring them to wage war on the rest of the world?
This book provides some of the answers, but the true inner Hitler will always remain something of a mystery. He had an unusual early life: He was born in Austria, not Germany. His father was illegitimate and his grandfather may have been Jewish, no one knows for sure. In early adulthood he aspired to be an artist, but he struggled greatly to make a successful career out of this. His failure resulted in him living, for a time, on the streets, in dire poverty. At this stage there were no obvious signs that he was a monster: He loved and cared greatly for his mother and was heartbroken when she died. Strangely, he greatly respected the Jewish doctor who treated her for cancer.
In World War One, he miraculously survived four years of trench warfare as a lowly corporal. Germany’s defeat was very painful for him, but he enjoyed and revelled in warfare more than any other activity. From this time onwards he was motivated by two main passions: the rise of Germany and the destruction of the Jews. In order to bring this about he needed to rise to power, and to acquire this power he used his extraordinary talent for oration. He was a brilliant speaker. Despite his unremarkable appearance and diminutive stature, he captivated his audiences wherever he went.
He used this talent to harness the German people's patriotism, their fear of communism and their anti-Semitism, persuading them to go to war to create a new German Empire. His method of waging war, ‘blitzkrieg’, was innovative and immensely successful. This military success continued for a while, but it nurtured an unrealistic optimism in Hitler. As the tide of war started to turn, when the USSR and USA joined the fight against Germany, he continued attacking, against overwhelming enemy forces, in the mistaken belief that he could repeat his early successes. This approach, which incurred massive loss of life, continued right to Hitler’s end. In his final few days, even as he could hear Russian artillery fire from his bunker in Berlin, he was ordering counterattacks in the deluded belief that the war could still be won. Finally, when he realized that the war was lost, he committed suicide to avoid the humiliation of capture by the Russians.
Why did he hate Jews and treat them so abominably? I didn't find an answer in this book. The Jews have been persecuted throughout history, so antipathy towards them is not particularly rare, but the extent of Hitler's hatred of the Jews and the appalling cruelty he perpetrated upon them was exceptional and truly shocking. Clearly, he used anti-Semitism as a means of motivating others to fight for his cause, but why he wanted to go as far as to commit genocide is unclear. There doesn't seem to have been an incident in his life where he was badly treated by Jews, so it is hard to identify how this came about.
Listening, for 44 hours, to the story of the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler was certainly interesting, although there are certain feelings of guilt and self-accusations of morbid fascination associated with it! I wasn’t able to completely solve the puzzle of what formed this man’s character and how he succeeded so spectacularly, but I did gain some valuable insights into his life and times. If you are interested in history, this book is definitely worth listening to.
I like John Grisham.
As a general rule, when I buy one of his books, I am confident that I am going to be entertained. But this one is an exception. Its the story of a young Ivy League Lawyer grinding her way up the corporate law ladder in New York City who is suddenly laid off when the sub-prime crisis hits. She is forced to find work in 'Discovery' country, a backwater in the Appalachian Mountains where corruption and exploitation of the poor by mining corporations is rife.
She eventually 'discovers' herself by finding fulfillment in helping these victims fight the evil mining companies. The trouble is that the story is disjointed and weak. The heroine is bland and its hard to empathize with her, and the plot never really gets going and then all of a sudden BANG!. Its over and you think. Is that it?
I'm surprised Grisham's advisors didn't get him to revise this one before publication. He must have enough money by now, so you would think that he would value his reputation for quality and his legacy too much to allow second-rate books like this one to tarnish his portfolio.
I have a PC, a laptop, a smartphone, an Ipod and an electronic keyboard. I'm not boasting. Most people in the West who aren't embroiled in poverty probably own a similar range of digital devices. These digital machines have taken over the World and occupy large chunks of our time. And I'm not complaining. I get huge pleasure listening to talking books (a gift of the digital age) and browsing the internet. 25 years ago I got my first computer and it had a hard drive less than 500mb. I hadn't heard of internet or email, There was no Wiki, Google or Facebook. 25 years earlier, when I was a toddler, the only computers were massive creaking mechanical dinosaurs hidden away in military facilities or NASA.
I find this dramatic recent change in our way of life astounding. And I'm not a computer geek at all. I have no idea how they work, I just enjoy the way they present information, entertainment and interactions with my old friends whenever and wherever I want them.
So this book is the story of how that all came about. The visionaries and eccentrics who took the series of steps, starting with adding machines and progressing to the first personal computers, video games, the internet, search engines and social networking. The book presents the Goliaths such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Alan Turing, along with the many Davids with whom they collaborated so productively. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I found it a fascinating listen.
I listened to this book because I was curious. I listened right to the end because I was determined to give it a chance and maybe discover why it has become a number one bestseller. After finishing it I read the Audible reviews. I was pleased to see that it got completely slammed by most reviewers, who have recognised it as the rubbish that it is. So I suppose the book must have appealed to lots of people to become popular in the first place, and then, afterwards, lots of people have bought it because it is a best-seller. Its interesting that it continues to sell more and more copies to people who find it to be complete trash (me included). The author must be laughing her tits off (all the way to the bank) reading the damning reviews by idiots like me who've given her their cash. I suppose I should have checked the reviews beforehand, but I don't usually do this because a) I don't want to spoil the surprise and b) I don't want to be prejudiced by other people's opinions. At least my curiosity has been satisfied.
This book is phenomenal. I have worked in an acute healthcare setting for nearly 30 years and yet this field is almost entirely new to me. During the course of this book Dr Bland has completely changed my outlook on the causes and management of chronic illness. I have no idea whether I will stick to it, but at the moment I am determined to radically change my diet, because I am now convinced that a careful choice of diet (combined with exercise, which I already do enough of) is the key to staying healthy in the long term and avoiding chronic illness.
At first I thought he was a bit of a quack and I wondered if I was wasting my time and my Audible credit, but as the story unfolded I became completely captivated and convinced by the evidence presented.
I am now going to listen again. I've downloaded the PDF and I'm going to try to implement the lifestyle changes. There are even recipes in the PDF, and I'm going to give those a go!
I’d never read a Stephen King before so I looked it up on Wiki and found that of his 64 books this one is supposedly the best.
I did enjoy it a lot, I liked the characters and the building drama of the super flu and the struggle between good and evil, but I could never quite suspend disbelief about the existence of angels and devils, and that spoilt it for me.
I also thought the final showdown with the villain was a bit of an anti-climax and wasn’t one of those great shocking revelations when you are amazed by something you weren’t expecting (e.g. the final scene in Sixth Sense).
So, yes I’m glad I listened to it but, no, I didn’t think it was as brilliant as other people have.
A terrorist bomb explodes in a New York art gallery, killing many people and destroying priceless art treasures. Theo, the hero of this book, loses his mother in the blast, but before discovering this he is given a famous painting, The Goldfinch, by an old man dying of his wounds, accompanied by a young girl.
The rest of the book describes the effects of this initial trauma on the life of the boy growing into a man. He is taken in by two kind New York families and is eventually reclaimed by his dodgy estranged father, who whisks him off to Las Vegas. Theo still has the painting and has kept it secret all along.
He forms a friendship with a likable Russian-American rogue and they hang out together, getting drunk and experimenting with drugs. His father is then killed as a result of mixing in the wrong circles, and so Theo is alone again. He runs away to avoid Child Custody Services and rejoins the kindly New York antique dealer who had helped him after the bomb blast.
The book then shoots forward a few years to find Theo getting himself into trouble by selling fake antiques, and then he is reunited with his Russian Friend. There is a bit of an adventure at the end and I won't spoil it any more than I have already done.
Overall, I was disappointed by this book. It is well-written and the characters are well-drawn and engaging, but the plot is slow and a bit random. It sort of drifts along and you are thinking 'come on, come on, get on with it', and although it finishes with a dramatic climax you are still thinking 'what was the point of all that?'. It is all a bit shapeless and unsatisfying.
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