Author: Paul (page 2 of 103)

This Book Will Blow Your Mind

3 out of 5 stars

Science works by asking questions and then seeking answers to those questions and modifying as you go along until you learn more about the thing that you asked the question about. In this book, a plethora of authors have looked at some of the most imagination-stretching, brain-staggering questions in the universe and have set about trying their best to answer them.

It is wide-ranging in its choice of subject matter, from the tiny quantum world to the vast chasms of space, trying to understand why lightning shouldn’t exist and how we can read each other minds all the time. It ventures into the seriously weird world of quantum physics and heads beneath the surface of the earth to discover creatures that somehow are managing to live without oxygen. There are people who can see time, some seriously odd materials and details on why we all need to take an acid trip every now and again.

It had some interesting stuff that I didn’t know, but did it blow my mind though? No. Though there were some articles that I had not come across, a fair number of them I had had some prior knowledge of. If you read widely you will have almost certainly come across some of these stories already. Not a bad book if you want to introduce someone to a broad range of science.

A Pattern Of Islands by Arthur Grimble

4 out of 5 stars

Arthur Grimble was fresh out of Oxford and was interviewed by the colonial office for a post overseas. He got the job and was despatched to the other side of the world to work on the Gilbert Islands in the pacific. This was the time of colonialism and he was starting there as a cadet officer. Coming from the UK this was a form of paradise and it was going to be a place that he was to fall in love with over the next three decades.

You probably think, Grimble, that you’re here to teach these people our code of manners, not to learn theirs. You’re making a big mistake.

He was given the piece of advice above and he took it completely to heart. He was fascinated by the islanders, their history and just how they managed to eke a living in the middle of the vast ocean. Not only did they survive by developing unique ways of catching food from the ocean but they also developed a sophisticated pagan culture that was full of legends, folklore, rituals and spells. It was a way of life that was vanishing as the Catholic and Protestant religion was being draped over the culture. But if you knew where to look you could still see their earlier pagan culture shining through and as the people began to trust him they began to share their stories.

I really liked this, he is an eloquent author and a sensitive observer of the culture of these islands. He is prepared to get involved in the activities too, learning to catch octopus seeing men face tiger sharks with only a spear and witnessing the initiation rituals of the clans. I think if he hadn’t have taken that small piece of advice then this would have been a much poorer book. A great read of a part of the world that I have never heard of.

Alcoholic Betty by Elizabeth Horan

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Death: ‘THERE ARE BETTER THINGS IN THE WORLD THAN ALCOHOL, ALBERT.’

Albert: ‘Oh, yes, sir. But alcohol sort of compensates for not getting them.’

Terry Pratchett

I have always liked this quote from Pratchett, not only is it amusing, but it contains so much truth in it. I like a drink, a few pints down the pub with some friends every now and again, a couple of glasses of wine over dinner or a contemplative whiskey while reading a book late on a Friday night. However, alcohol has earned its moniker, demon for a number of reasons. It is very easy to go from a modest drinker to a heavy drinker to an alcoholic without yourself or anyone noticing your dependence on the bottle. Owning up to this to your self and others takes an immense amount of

courage.

 

That time when

I was so bad

 

When I said

Hahahaha, I’m fine

 

Of course I’m not fine though —

drinking too much

 

Horan has that courage to face up to the things that she has been doing and part of facing that has been to write her thoughts down on the page. She pours out her feelings and actions in these verses at her very lowest points. This raw and emotive prose makes this a very tough read at times and there are subjects that are about some very dark moments in her life. It is difficult to like poetry like this given how bleak some of the poems are, that said there is immense power in her words that will help someone facing some of the same issues that she has.

 

Favourite Poems

The It Girl

The Light Was Not for Me

Where there’s a Will by Emily Chappell

5 out of 5 stars

I have been a follower of the Tour de France for three decades now. It never ceases to amaze me the limits that these guys can push themselves to, just to complete the course. Some have used artificial aids, but even with that, it is still a mammoth achievement to complete the 3000 or so kilometres.

There is another cycle race across Europe though that is twice the length of the Tour. The race is called the Transcontinental and rather than having the luxury of team members and lots of support, the entrants must cycle their way without support in the fastest time possible. Whilst the Tour takes place over three weeks and is a very fast race, the Transcontinental has one stage and four checkpoints. You’d think that they would struggle to find people to take part in this, but they do find people and those that do must be utterly mad.

Emily Chappell is one of those. She began as a cycle courier in London, but her taste for adventure transformed her into an ultra cyclist and she decided to enter this. To get across a continent in the fastest time on a bike means that you have to ignore things like sleep and sensible diets, push so far through the pain barrier that you are on the limit of doing permanent damage to your body. She made it halfway before bailing the first year that she entered. Undaunted by this, she trained hard with the guy who founded the race, Mike Hall and entered the next year.

It took her 13 days and 10 hours to cycle the 4000 miles and she won the women’s prize. She consumed countless calories every day, existed on little or no sleep and pushed her body beyond any sensible limits. As staggering as that sounds, she was still five days behind the overall winner, Kristof Allegaert. A substantial part of the book is about the platonic relationship that she had with the founder of the race, Mike Hall and the rides that they used to go out on. It is a tribute to him too and the disciple that he founded as he was tragically killed on another race in Australia.

This is one of the best cycling books that I have read in a long while. Not only is it lyrical with a strong narrative, but Chappell is searingly honest about the few highs and many lows of pushing her body well beyond any limits in this most extreme of sports. Superb book and possibly one of the best cycling books I have ever read.

A Force That Takes by Edward Ragg

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the author in return for an honest review.

I first came across Edward Ragg’s work when I saw that one of his poems had been awarded Highly Commended poem in The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. I thought it was a wonderful piece of work, short and packed with some much meaning.

Fast forward a couple of years and I had joined Twitter. Just happed to post a link to this short piece for #NationalPoetryDay and tagged him. He followed me back and he offered to send me both his collections which duly arrived three years ago and got buried on a shelf… (Sorry Edward!).

Finally got to pick the first, A Force That Takes recently and now regret not doing so earlier. It is a delightful collection that covers his new life in China and his old life in the UK. There are poems on silence, spices, philosophers and art galleries.

Ragg has a beautiful way with language, his sparse writing, devolves so much meaning from so few words. It feels easy to read, but I guess that it takes some effort to reach this point. It is a collection that demands a re-read at some point in the future.

Three Favourite Poems:
Declaration
The Philosopher and the Lake
And my all-time favourite poem, Anthem at Morning

The Impossible Climb by Marl Synnott

3.5 out of 5 stars

El Capitan, also known as El Cap, is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite. The granite monolith is about 914m high and is a legendary mountain for rock climbers. It took 47 days to climb it the first time, and it was considered amongst the community of climbers that a ‘free solo’ attempt would be so far beyond human limits and endurance that it was virtually impossible.

Climbing with a rope is pretty dangerous stuff, but climbing without is borderline insane in my opinion. People have been doing it for a while though, and Synnott’s book takes us back to the origins of free climbing with Royal Robbins and Warren Harding as well as potted histories of the men known as the Stonemasters who made the Yosemite peaks their own. But this book is primarily about the rise and rise of Alex Honnold, who took the discipline of free solo climbing to another level literally.

In June 2017, Honnold surpassed himself, by ascending El Cap without a rope in under four hours.

This achievement was seen as staggering across the climbing community and brought numerous accolades for this. For those watching, it was a constant heart in mouth moment though.

In lots of ways I liked this book, Synnott is a climbing insider and knows all the people that were involved in this as well as being steeped in the history of climbing in that part of the USA. He writes well too. The very end of the book is incredibly fast-paced as describes the climb and the emotions going through all of those watching him ascend. However, I felt it was a little too stretched out as it took a long time to get to that point. Not a bad book overall.

The Secret DJ by Anonymous

4 out of 5 stars

The international DJ sounds the most perfect life; the glamour, jet setter heading off to exotic locations, headlining all the top clubs, being a household name and being wealthy, surrounded by the most beautiful people. Turns out it is not quite like that…

The Secret DJ was one of those who was at the top of his game for 30 odd years, but there is a chasm between how people perceived his life and the reality of it. Yes, he would fly into various places for the weekend to play to the crowds and get the place jumping, but he could only keep doing that with a regular supply of drugs and alcohol. These hedonistic weekends moving from flights to hotels to clubs and back to the airport. Sleep didn’t really exist in this drug-filled life.

Then there was his tour manager who he says took more drugs than anyone else that he knew and would always be late for the everything he attended, and from what I can make out didn’t really manage anything at all. Since he started the scene has changed dramatically, now it seems that any bedroom DJ with deep pockets can get themselves a set of CDJ’s and can become a DJ. They are obviously not as well known as the big guys, but the effect they have had is to drive the amount they get paid down. The common currency to be paid in seems to be exposures… Which will give you a lot of publicity but you can’t pay for groceries with them yet.

I had always liked dance music and can trace my love of that back to Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream and still listen to a lot of trance at the moment. However, the club scene has never really appealed, the introvert in me would much rather have a quiet drink in a pub. As well as being an interesting expose of the club scene, The Secret DJ is prepared to share his experiences to stop others making the same mistakes. He is not a bad writer either, fairly blunt and holds strong opinions and at times this was hilarious. There were nice touches too, it is split into two sections, A Side and B Side of course and Chapter 6 made me chuckle…

The Country of Larks by Gail Simmons

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Back in 1874, a young man called Stevenson walked from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire to Tring in Hertfordshire across the Chiltern Hills over the course of three days. He wrote up his walk in an essay called Beechwoods. Ten years later he was writing a book called Treasure Island and would become famous for that and other works. He was a keen observer of the natural world, listening to the chorus of birds. This landscape, whilst being shaped by human touch, was still rich in abundant flora and fauna. People co-existed with the land rather than obliterate it into submission.

A century and a half later Gail Simmons decided to follow in his footsteps tracing the changes in the landscape since Stevenson first walked there. But it was also a time to take stock of the countryside before the ancient woodlands, historical monuments and drovers roads that will be obliterated soon by the pointless and controversial High Speed 2 (HS2) rail line that will smash through here soon.

It is also a walk down memory lane too, as this was the part of the country that her parents moved too after her father finished serving in the army and it was where she grew up. But even though she was familiar with it, there had been significant changes since that time, whole woodlands flattened to build on and villages that were once separate were now surrounded by the urban sprawl. Her walk takes her through villages that are now part of the commuter belt, where private roads with expensive price tags and driveways full of executive cars seem to be taking over. The juxtaposition between sleepy village greens where the cricket match is being played and walking past fields with PRIVATE KEEP OUT signs does jar a little.

I read this book knowing that HS2 had been given the go-ahead by the government. It is already way over budget, and that it set to escalate as they squander ridiculous sums of money of a train service that we don’t need. For the nominal extra expense in the total budget, a tunnel under this part of the country would still be the best solution. The project is a big white elephant, but sadly this government thinks that it will be useful. This was an enjoyable book to read, Simmons has a quite beautiful way of writing, and this book is a wonderful eulogy to the landscapes and woodlands that will be lost. There is so much crammed in here for a three-day walk (plus a little bit) and I’d thought she would be more furious about losing all this countryside. However, what comes across is more pain and anguish over what is going. When it has gone then it is lost forever. I liked that they had included Stephenson’s original essay at the back of the book and as a nice little touch, I thought the dictionary definitions that are liberally scatted throughout the book on all manner of country words and phrases worked well too.

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

4.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

It was only fifteen years ago that the last human was eradicated from the planet and thirty years since the apocalypse began. They were killed by the machines that they built to help them, robots. Most of the robots are controlled by a One World Intelligence or an OWI, that pools the consciousness of millions of robots into one huge central server and power base.

Not all robots are willing to cede power to this entity rather they would rather take their chances in what is left of the world, scavenging components from dead and dying robots that have failed. The biggest collection of these machines is in the Sea of Rust, the Midwest of America and a brutal AI Wild West. One of those who still has her mind is Brittle. She is a scavenger robot, collecting parts from robots that have failed in the rust belt and bringing the parts back to the hubs for payment for ongoing repairs and spares.

There are not many of her type left, but one of the others, Mercer, has just taken a pot shot at her as he is after some of her working parts. Managing to escape she heads back to NIKE 14 to get repaired. Soon after she arrives, Mercer turns up too. The rules of the place don’t allow fighting inside so there is an uneasy truce. While there are there, the place is invaded by CISSUS, one of the OWI’s. There is a bot there who needs her help to get out as she contains code that will be useful to those opposing the power that the OWI’s have. They escape via the tunnels, into the madlands, but can they stay far enough ahead of the facets that were coming after them?

This is an utterly bleak dystopian future that Cargill has created. Life has been scoured from the earth and all that is left is the robots that we created trying to stay alive in the robotic equivalent of natural selection. I thought this was a fantastic book in most regards, I liked the original concepts, but if there was one tiny flaw, I felt the characters had a little too much humanity in them for robots. I was kind of expecting them to have much less compassion. Very highly recommended.

Journeys in the Wild by Gavin Thurston

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

There can’t be many people who have not seen one of the BBC’s masterpieces in wildlife documentaries. The gravitas of Sir David Attenborough helps, but what really makes them special, for me at least, is the photography. One of the guys behind the lenses and screens is Gavin Thurston. It is a job that he been doing for over three decades and he is probably one of the best in the world at it. Keeping solvent at the beginning of his career was like walking a tightrope. Thankfully he was saved from debt by a lucky break where he was offered a chance to film an advert. The money from that kept him solvent and meant that he didn’t need to sell his gear and deprive himself of an income.

His list of filming achievements is pretty long, but he has also been lucky too. The films he was making were a success. He has been lucky too, not only has he seen and filmed some of the greatest wildlife moments but it has taken him to the most beautiful parts of the globe. It is not all luxury hotels and five-star service though, as to get that defining shot for a programme, involves sitting up trees covered in bees for hours at a time, got very wet and sunburnt on innumerable occasions, has frozen his arse off at the poles and nearly dying several times, including a tribesman killing a snake as it was coming up behind him.

Thought this was a great book with an insight into the life of a cameraman. I really liked the diary format where he has selected the best entries from the various trips he has had all over the planet. In amongst the exciting and mundane, there are several laugh out loud moments. He has seen some amazing things, and been to every continent and even 1000m to the bottom of the sea.

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