I read quite a lot, largely because I seem to make to makes lots journeys lasting an hour or two or get stuck in places where I have a certain amount of time on my hands (North Sea crane barges, flights to the South Atlantic etc.). The main subjects I like reading about are Travel, Polar Exploration, Space, Weather and Sport, but I try and fit some weightier stuff in too. Fiction authors that I really recommend include Jon McGregor and John Harding - their stuff is really good. I'm pretty partial to Ian Rankin's Rebus books and stuff that Emily Barr has written as well.
Without further ado, here's a list of books I've read since I started this page in, what, the summer of 2002 or so. The books listed are available at Amazon.co.uk or Abebooks, as well as independent booksellers who are by far and away the best people to buy from. These books are listed in a vague chronological order with things I've read most recently generally at the top of the list. This isn't entirely ideal though and it's getting to be a bit of a long list, so click here to see the books I liked best.
Whilst the internet is a cheap and convienient way of buying books, there is no substitute for shopping at a local independent bookshop or second hand bookshop. You can browse and discover stuff you never thought you might like (broadening one's mind is so important) and you help prevent the homogenization of Britain's high streets. Identikit high streets aren't classy!! This site has a list of second hand bookshops in Devon where I live.
NB: My scale, no suns being crap and five suns being marvellous, is a blatant rip-off of a clip art icon and Amazon's review scale. Note the appropriate meteorological twist to demonstrate thinking outside the box though. And as I bought most of the books listed their ratings are generally going to be slightly skewed to being better than average because, let's face it, I'm not likely to buy a lot of books I don't like!!!!
Voyage to the End of the Room
by Tibor Fischer
Didn't really enjoy this book to be honest. I found it slightly strange. Basically it's about a woman who doesn't like travelling who gets a debt collector to go and get something for her from a remote location, and this something is related to her previous existence as an exotic dancer in Barcelona. Sounds alright in theory, and the book was very funny in places too, but at the same time I found it slightly hard to read and the ending left too many unanswered questions for my liking.
A Time to Speak
Sir Vivian Fuchs
Leader of scientific expeditions in Africa in the 1930s, base commander in the early days of BAS (then known as FID) in the late 1940s then leader of a trans-Antarctic expedition in the 1950s before being actively involved in how Britain's presence in the Antarctic was conducted in the 1960s and 70s, Fuchs had an exciting, eventful life. His autobiography was quite interesting, but I got the feeling it was more of a 'short, polite precis' with Fuchs having done so much! It was quite interesting though, without being especially riveting. I was left with the impression that if I wanted to find out more about the trans-Antarctic expedition I'd have to read his book about it, and his book Of Ice and Men is very good and details the history of FID/BAS from the 1940s to the 1970s (ie during Fuchs' involvement with them) and tells readers a lot more about what Fuchs got up to.
Gerrard My Autobiography
A footballer publishing an auto-biography in his mid-twenties whilst seemingly peaking professionally rather than after retiring hints at a player cashing in on his popularity and begs the question how much of a story does the player have to tell at the point anyway? Let's face it, midway through a career there's surely a limit to what a player is able to say for fear of recriminations both on and off the field, and what toes could be trod on. That said this book wasn't too bad...slightly surprisingly a few people get slated (always amusing) for example. Considering Gerrard has captained his club for a while and was tipped for the top there's a bit too much 'awestruckness' when he started out, but that's a bit picky. What did really, really annoy me though was him bleating about being stressed when Liverpool were seemingly stalling on giving him a new contract or whether he'd leave for another club. Erm, let me get this right, here's someone being stressed whilst earning tens of thousands of pounds a week worrying about whether his current employer was going to give him a more lucrative contract worth more tens of thousands a week or whether he'd have to move 300 miles down the road and earn slightly more per week. That must be ever so stressful. I'd lose so much sleep in the same situation.
Things Can Only Get Better
Having read and enjoyed o'Farrell's novels immensely I decided to give this book, his musings on life as a labour party supporter during the 18 years of Conservative government in the UK from the late 1970s to mid 1990s, a go. I suppose the book could be seen as a kind of Fever Pitch for politics. o'Farrell is very much a labour activist through his student days and the 1980s and then as other aspects of his life assume more importance he is less involved (but nonetheless remains a fervent supporter) with the labour party. This coincides with Labour doing better and eventually coming to power. I suppose this book was OK...I guess being slightly apolitical and slightly too young to remember the 1980s in the way the author does mean that I can't identify with the sentiments expressed quite as well and this colours my opinion.
Beyond Endurance by
Captain Nick Barker was the Captain of the Royal Navy vessel Endurance at the time of the Falklands War. The Endurance was at the time the UK's South Atlantic/Antarctic patrol vessel and the announcement it was going to be paid off in the early 1980s was one of the factors contributing to the outbreak of the Falklands War. This book is Barker's account of events leading up to and through the war from his and his vessel's point of view. The Endurance provided intelligence warning of an imminent invasion and was then involved in succesful campaigns to reclaim South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. All the while, the author and his vessel were not treated especially kindly by the powers that be, nor was the author upon his return. A little bit of bitterness then inevitably, and rightly in my opinion, creeps through in the book. Barker's book is an interesting perspective on the war, if a little dry.
One Day in the Life of Ivan
This book is based on Solhenitsyn's experiences in Stalinist labour camps in the 1940s and 1950s. Needless to say it paints a bleak picture of labour camp life, a life where everything is obviously a struggle and any victories against the system hard won. I can't say I especially enjoyed this book. but it obviously gives an insight into the lot of an awful of innocent people.
In Forkbeard's Wake: Coasting
Around Scandinavia by
Having been put off by the opening chapter of this book twice I eventually persevered and it turned out to be my kind of travel book...the author goes to some places I'm interested in and have been too and as well as chronicling his adventures also brings in details of the history etc of the places he visits. In this book the author sails around southern Scandinavia and northern Germany, amongst other things visiting parts of Norway my work takes me too in the summer (and then these parts of Norway spend parts of the winter chasing me for taxes). It still never ceases to amaze me how travel writers succeed in meeting so many people and making friends so easily when they travel around...that doesn't seem to happen to me!
Walking on Thin Ice by
This book tells the story of explorer David Hempleman-Adams' trek to the North Pole in 1998 accompanied by Norwegian marine commando Rune Gjeldnes. Having failed to reach the pole twice, and having reached the South Pole, both magnetic poles and the geomagnetic North Pole as well as having climbed the highest peak on each continent Hempleman-Adams was understandably keen to reach the Pole! This book is basically a dairy of the trek, so inevitably covers the highs, lows and frustrations of a difficult journey. Having read many books about Antarctic expeditions, what stands out about the North Pole is just how much tougher it appears to be to reach. Reaching the South Pole may be uphill (to 10,000 FT) across sastrugi-riddled ice in terrible winds, but trekking to the North Pole involves crossing sea ice which can drift at quite alarming rates or break up into leads which need to be crossed or navigated round. Sea ice can also collide to form pressure ridges which need to be climbed...rather difficult when carrying one's supplies on a sledge! On top of that there are storms to contend with and the (sadly increasingly remote) threat of being attacked by a polar bear. Hempleman-Adams' account brings home how tough it is to get to the North Pole.
Based on diaries and interviews with surviving participants, Lansing wrote an account of Sir Ernest Shackleton's escape from a sinking, ice-bound ship in Antarctica to an almost deserted south Atlantic island with no loss of lives. Shackleton twice nearly made it to the South Pole before it was reached by Amundsen and Scott. After the South Pole was reached, Shackleton decided to mount an expedition to cross the Antarctic via the South Pole. He sent one vessel to McMurdo Sound to then make sledging expeditions towards the South Pole and lay food caches for Shackleton's party to then cross Antarctica from the Weddell Sea. Unfortunately, Shackleton's vessel became stuck in ice in the Weddell Sea and eventually sank. Shackleton and his men then had just 3 open boats and meagre provisions to escape to a deserted sub-Antarctic Island, Elephant Island. From there Shackleton and 5 men rowed/sailed 800 miles to South Georgia which Shackleton and 2 men then crossed (10,000 FT mountains and lots of crevasses - not easy!) to get help from a whaling station. All in all a pretty miraculous escape. The odds on hitting South Georgia with a small boat and minimal navigating equipment from 800 miles are really very slim!
account of the expedition
draws on several diary sources and is an entertaining read on how the
unfolds. Lansing also reveals details about some of the conflicts and
that inevitably rose, and having also read Shackleton's expedition
the details Lansing presents are a little 'juicier'. Inevitable I
Anyway, cracking account of an amazing escape.
Hard Road to Glory by
Having made an inauspicious start to his boxing career and 'froze' in his two biggest fights in the early 1990s (including a nationally televised world title fight), Johnny Nelson eventually became a dominant world boxing champion before retiring as undefeated champion. Nelson had to make it to the top the hard way and struggled with nerves and fear early in his career, and later in his career had a harsh reputation for being a slightly 'boring' boxer. His autobiography was OK...reasonably interesting, particularly given his more circuitous route to the top, without being especially outstanding.
Made in Sheffield by
Outspoken football manager Neil Warnock vents his spleen, has a pop at some who've antagonized him and tells readers about his life in football in his auto-biography. Warnock was manager of Scarborough FC for a time in the late 1980s when I lived there, so I was curious to read his thoughts on events there. Inevitably the focus of the book is on more recent times when Warnock has been more in the public eye. Anyway, this book is very candid for a football autobiography when it comes to settling scores and is quite an interesting read as Warnock has spent most of his management career outside the Premier League working on tight budgets and fighting fires. Unfortunately Warnock comes across as something of a sore loser over his team's relegation from the Premier League in 2007. On a production note I'd like to be slightly cutting, Warnock-esque even, and suggest that a slightly smaller typeface and slightly different line spacing would have made the book thinner and surely both cheaper to produce and better for the environment. Judged against the standard of other football autobiographies this is a good one.
This is Your Life by
This novel was really good and pretty funny. It's basically a sideways swipe at the cult of shallow celebrity; the hero of the book (arguably an anti-hero though!) stumbles into the world of celebrity and somehow manages to become a celebrity without actually really doing anything but at the same time falls out with his mates. I'm reluctant to say more in case I ruin the book, but it's really good and worth reading!!!
Bernie Slaven was the star striker and leading goal scorer for my team (Middlesbrough) between the mid 1980s and early 1990s. During this time Middlesbrough were something of a yo-yo club being relegated or nearly relegated two or three times and promoted or nearly promoted four or five times, whereas now (2007) they're an established Premier League side. Anyway, the book contains everything a football auto-biography should.....self-promotion (some of a little cringeworthy and shameless I thought), justification for misunderstandings, having a pop at a few people and some opinion on the game today. I found the book interesting without being stunning, and certainly better than most football autobiographies I've read, but at the same time the subject matter means this book would be of limited appeal to most I imagine.
In Search of Elvis
by Charlie Connolley
I bought this book because I'd liked other Charlie Connolley books...Stamping Grounds taught me everything I know about Liechtenstein, and Attention All Shipping has a more personal resonance as it's about the areas in the Shipping Forecast, which is one of the forecasts I make! As for Elvis, well, some of his stuff's good, and I've ruined Suspicious Minds at karaoke once or twice (the last time the karaoke bloke noted it was sung with a Brummie twang which owed more to a gutful of lager than any pretensions of taking the song in a new direction). Anyway, this book is about Elvis. The author travels the world visiting Elvis sites and exploring Elvis' legacy. Inevitably the author visits Graceland, Tupelo and Memphis but finds Elvis in Uzbekistan (the author has also taught me all I know about Uzbekistan!), Israel and a handful of other unlikely locations. The asides about Elvis and his cultural impact are interesting and the book made me laugh a few times too. Pretty good really.
Razor's Edge The Unofficial
History of the Falklands War by
This book is, at the time of writing (summer 2007) a relatively recent book about the Falklands War and concentrates on the military details of the campaign. In this respect the detailed descriptions and maps of key battles will appeal to military historians, but I found these descriptions a little confusing and hard to follow. That said, I'm more interested in other details pertaining to the war rather than a blow by blow account, and so the stuff about the build up to the war and its general progress was of much more interest to me. Given the time that's elapsed since the war different sources were available to this author than were available, say, immediately after the war so Bicheno gives a different view of the causes of the war than, say, Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins' The Battle for the Falklands, especially from the Argentinean point of view. I found this to be an interesting book with some thought provoking insight into the events that led to the war, but at the same time I found the blow by blow account of battles hard going (more a reflection of my interests than any fault of the author's though - his details and maps are clearly painstakingly produced) and the author's insistence on using a number of seemingly obscure words drove me to the dictionary more often than I'd have liked.
by Dean Koontz
A bartender leaves work and finds a not on his car telling him that if he takes the note to the police a someone will be murdered and if he doesn't take the note to the police someone else will be killed. A series of further notes follow leaving the bartender, who's pushing the edge of the law anyway, increasingly complicit in murder and utterly in the frame if the police get involved. To complicate matters he believes his loved one is in danger from the killer, and that the killer may kill him too. So he ends up in a race against time to save his own life and his loved one as well finding the murderer. I thought the ending was a little weak, but it's a gripping read and ideal for a bit of escapism
In Search of Kazakhstan
by Christopher Robbins
How much do you know about Kazakhstan? Beyond being part of the former Soviet Union and having some oil and steppes I didn't know much about the place. I nearly had to go there with work once though. A book about a country I knew virtually nothing about but nearly had to go appealed to me though! A conversation on a plane prompts the author to visit Kazakhstan and see what he can find out. He makes some evidently well-connected friends (travel writers always seem to get doors opened for them that never happen when I go somewhere!!) and gets to know the country's president through a series of interviews, which provides readers with an insight into pre and post-independence politics in Kazakhstan. The author also travels across the country to its beauty spots and less salubrious spots, such as the Gulags, the Aral Sea which is disappearing and areas where nuclear weaponry was tested and weaves his observations with anecdotes and tales about Kazakhstan's history. It's a good book this one, and leaves a positive image of the country.
I read this book a few years too late; it's basically a 'state of the nation' kind of book about football around 1999-2001 and how the game is being globalised, becoming more corporate and generally moving away from the game it was some years ago. Many points remain valid today, for example concerning the G14 clubs, television, the way UEFA and FIFA conduct themselves, transfer dealings, the threat of hooliganism etc. The list is fairly endless, and murky worlds of agents dealings, bungs and dodgy transfer deals barely get much of a mention. In some respects this book makes for depressing reading, but salient points are made. Anyway, in spite of valid points this book, in my opinion, has been superseded by other books along similar lines, such as Broken Dream by Tom Bower as well as various other titles. This is nothing against this book by the way, simply the nature of current affairs books I suppose - they inevitably become superseded by events.
The Falklands Regime
by Mike Bingham
Against a background of a lifetime beset by personal tragedy and illness, biologist Mike Bingham defeats significant odds to become a leading penguinologist on the Falklands. His penguin surveys in the 1990s when working for a conservation group revealed a rapidly declining penguin population, the causes of which appear to be linked to the rise of commercial fishing and oil exploration. His findings evidently make uncomfortable reading for the authorities and numerous clashes of interest come to light as the author and his family endure some pretty shocking miscarriages of justice, ill-treatment and human rights abuses before being effectively hounded out of the Falklands. It makes for a sad but gripping read, and the way the author was treated looks pretty appalling really (some of the stuff that went on looks totally indefensible really, but without knowing the story from the other side there's only so much a reader can say). One of the sad things that really struck (alongside the way the author was treated) me was the short-sightedness of some of the reaction to the declining penguin surveys...stricter environmental controls on vessels and small zones where no commercial fishing is allowed would enable both penguin populations and other animal populations to flourish which in turn would help tourism and commercial fishing - tourists want to see penguins, and there's no point in fishing an area bare - leave some of it as a 'safe haven' so species can top themselves up.
Penguins of the World by
The author is a noted penguinologist and presents, in this book, a lay person's guide to the world's penguins. After a general introductory chapter, details of the behaviour, breeding patterns etc. of each penguin species is presented. The book then ends with some remarks about penguin conservation...as this book was written in the 1990s comments pertaining to global warming are obviously outdated but the general message that human activity (e.g. land clearance for farming, commercial fishing) and climate change are the biggest threats to penguins and as a number of species' are already endangered or close to endangered something needs to be done! Anyway, this book is the best all-round guide to each of the world's penguins I've seen and the drawings are superb as well. If you want a general introduction to all the world's penguins this is the book to get!
Tyson Nurture of the Beast
by Ellis Cashmore
The life, times and trials of Mike Tyson are relatively well documented and will undoubtedly provide ample biographical fodder and analysis in the years to come. Cashmore's book takes a socio-political look at Tyson's life as a boxer, starting when he was discovered as a teenager up to his loss to Lennox Lewis. There's not much about boxing really in this book (not really one for boxing fans wanting a blow by blow account) but rather it's a more academic work looking at Tyson's behaviour and how this fits African-American stereotypes, and whether his behaviour was the product of society or society produced him. Quite dry and thought-provoking. More one for sociologists than boxing fans and ultimately not really my brand of whisky.
The Final Call
by Leo Hickman
The author is a journalist on green and environmental affairs for The Guardian and has written a couple of books about living in a environmentally friendly way. In this book he looks at the global travel industry and what effect this has on, amongst other things, environmental affairs. The gist of his message is multi-national hotel chains etc focus on producing identikit resorts and put little back into local communities and pay crap wages and that flying isn't good for the environment isn't good either. He effectively advocates travelling less far less often and ideally not flying and once at a destination doing things were the local community will benefit. At the same time he warns of the effect increasingly affluent Chinese and Indian people are becoming and how they are increasingly willing to travel. On the whole I have sympathy for his view; if one wants a sunny break for 5 days it's common sense to go as near to home as possible I suppose, and inevitably an identikit all-inclusive resort is likely to do little than nod in the direction of the culture of whatever country the resort is in. Sadly, I find the author's views somewhat simplistic and idealistic - yes, I'd like to have more environmentally friendly holidays, yes I'd take the train more in the UK...except the train system is not conducive to this. And will the masses who want a cheap, stress-free holiday want to pay extra to go to, say, a local beach on the Caribbean and be pestered by beggars, peddlers etc.? And would they want their children to be exposed to that?
As it happens I bought this book because I'm concerned about my carbon footprint - I fly a lot with work (in the 12 months from July 2006 to July 2007 this included 2 trips to the Falklands and back, one trip from the Falklands to South Georgia, a return flight London-Toronto and several trips between the UK and Norway and Holland). I don't bother carbon-offsetting (I think this is lip-service and simply masks the underlying problems anyway). Ideally if flying was more expensive less people would fly, but even if the price of my flights were 3 times what they were I'd have still made all the journeys, especially the work ones. Interesting points did come out of the section about flying, amongst other things how Single European Skies, changes in the path of descent and more efficient aircraft would help reduce carbon emissions, but it rather sounds like this would still be a drop in the ocean compared to the increasing volumes of air traffic. The book quotes the personal carbon footprint in the UK as being about 10 tonnes and needing to come down to 3-4 tonnes; by way of comparison, the book quotes a plane flying London to Dubai as emitting 180 tonnes CO2. The book also quotes fuel efficiencies of planes being such that flying emits about the same amount of emissions as if I drove to the same destination on my own. In other words flying to, say, Aberdeen from where I live would be just as bad for the environment as if I drove on my own.
So what I am going to do about it; I can't say I won't fly, there are places I want to visit and things I want to do and I don't want to waste days of my holidays travelling. I know that when I get there more than average of my holiday spending will trickle down into the local community. Instead I'll seek to reduce my carbon footprint in other ways to offset a degree of flying. Personally food miles and waste packaging on food annoy me and this is an area I can look at.
The Naming of the Dead
by Ian Rankin
At the time of writing (summer 2007) this was Ian Rankin's latest (and penultimate) Rebus novel, Rebus being the grizzled, veteran maverick Edinburgh detective who solves crimes slightly unorthodoxly. I shan't go into details to avoid ruining the plot, but frankly I don't think this was one of the better Rebus novels; I thought the plot was thin and not terribly easy to follow (certainly compared to some of the other Rebus novels) and the ending was a bit weak too. A Question of Blood, Set in Darkness and Fleshmarket Close are much, much better.
Wish You Were Here
by Mike Gayle
This bloke-lit novel is about three thirty-something friends all with things on their mind who seek some escapism, and in one case attempt to capture lost youth, on a 18-30 holiday. Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, they endure some fall-outs and some trials and tribulations. The ending is happy (to be fair they usually are in Mike Gayle novels), which I found rather weak and not especially believable. All in all I found this novel a little weak and disappointing. It's his seventh novel; the other six are much, much better.
The Best a Man Can Get
by John o'Farrell
The first John o' Farrell book I read (May Contain Nuts) was really funny. This one isn't quite so funny, but nevertheless it's pretty good. The 'hero' has a double life...a stable home with his wife and kids and lad's flat. Inevitably the two lives meet, don't like what they see and there's fall out, which then comes to a conclusion. The ins and outs are amusing (and not noted so as to spoil things).
Sexual Behaviour in Penguins
by L E Richdale
I like penguins, and decided to find out more about them. L E Richdale was a penguinologist in the middle of the 20th century, and this study is the product of a lengthy spell of intense fieldwork, mainly with Yellow-Eyed Penguins in New Zealand, amongst whom he pretty much lived for a time, and contains comparative notes taken from existing literature about other species. The book is principally the annual life-cycle of Yellow-Eyed Penguins with notes comparing their behaviour to that observed in other species (I think the title is slightly, erm, sexed up!), and it's a dry but quite informative read. I'm sure there are better, newer penguin books about, but I'd imagine it's a read for the real enthusiast.
The Reggae Boyz by
Earle and Daniel Davies
I watch the World Cup religiously and attempt to prevent nothing from stopping watching most games. One of my abiding memories of the 1998 World Cup is Robbie Earle putting Jamaica into the lead against Croatia. In the 1990s I really rated Robbie Earle. He looked like a really good player, and maybe one of the big English teams should have gone in for him before he retired and became a broadcaster. Anyway, all things considered it's pretty incredible Jamaica made it to a World Cup and this book is the story of how they did it, and what happened when they got there. Basically a chap at the Jamaican Football Federation decided he wanted Jamaica to get to the World Cup so he brought in a relatively unknown Brazilian coach who tapped into a combination of natural talent on the island and Jamaican descendents playing in the UK to get them to the World Cup. This book charts the highs and lows from the perspective of the journalist/writer looking in (Davies) and the player (Earle). Davies' bits are rather dry and a bit heavy on the politics in the squad, Earle's bits are pretty much par for what I'd expect a footballer to write. What stands out in this book is that in spite of their colourful fans and media attention generated by being plucky underdogs Jamaica's World Cup started with boundless optimism but ended up soured by divisions and arguments in the camp. Anyway, in the end this book was intermittently interesting and that's about it.
A Soldier's Song by
The author was a para who fought in the Falklands War. He saw action at most of the major battles during the war and saw and did some fairly unspeakable things. Obviously the war affected him deeply (how could something like that not?), and writing was one of the ways he chose to try and get what he saw out his system. Being involved with working on the Falklands I've read a fair amount of stuff about the Islands, and this was one of the first things I found written by an 'ordinary' soldier as opposed to a senior military figure. Consequently I was quite interested in what he had to say. The book comprises of a series of short, and often poignant and occasionally funny, observations as the war progressed. This book is different, and it certainly makes you think about war and what people fighting in the Falklands War went through.
A Clergyman's Daughter
One of George Orwell's earlier novels, and one of his least favourite. One of my least favourite too. I must have started this book about 6 or 7 times, but found it very difficult to get into. Once I got into it it wasn't too bad though. Basically the book is about, erm, a clergyman's daughter leading a lonely, dreay life of docile, survitude to her father who suddenly amid torrid (but false) rumour disappears and ends up down and out in London but not Paris (here Orwell clearly draws from his experiences in The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in London and Paris), before a rich relative 'rescues' her and finds her work in a run-down public school where. Here she finds some enthusiasm for educating until this is beaten from her by the school's overlord. She then loses her faith and one can sense the will to continue draining from her and then she gets sacked and ends up going back home to her old life. It's a pretty sad book really.
interesting thing about
Orwell's early novels is that as well as obviously drawing heavily on
own experiences (he did some teaching!), if his novels are read
one can see how his views develop and how 1984 is
ultimate expression of his views on where the world is going.
Life and Limb by
Trapped in the Alps for several days by a blizzard the author lost his hands and feet to frostbite whilst his best friend and climbing partner died of hypthermia next to him. This book is the story of events leading up to the blizzard and Andrew's subsequent battle to return to something like a normal life. The book doesn't skimp on details about what losing limbs feels like and the struggle to adapt. What shines through is his positive mental attitude which in turn has enabled to learn how to use prosthetic limbs and return to adventure sports and pasttimes. He demonstrates what can be done if one puts one's mind to it. It's a gripping and inspiring read.
Back from the Brink by
Paul McGrath was a top footballer in England during the 1980s and 1990s and played in a couple of World Cups for Ireland. Unfortunately, he is also probably better known for his drink problem and knee injuries. This book focuses mainly on his drink problem, and how he was able to fit his football career around it. He had a difficult upbringing (being a black Irishman living in children's homes) which, one imagines, would go some way to explaining things. The book is fairly graphic about the extent of his problems, including suicide attempts, and a lot of the problems are attributed to being shy, uncomfortable with fame, low self-esteem and a belief that he's not as good as people think, which is a real shame because the various contributions from colleagues and managers dotted through the book tell the reader how highly thought of McGrath was (and still is) by his peers. Ultimately this book is something of a macabre yet sad and gripping book I suppose and the honest, matter of fact way that McGrath discusses his problems sets this book apart from most other sports biographies I've read.
Robbo My Autobiography
Better known as a Manchester United legend and England captain, Bryan Robson also managed my team, Middlesbrough, through a fair part of the 1990s. Largely because of this connection I bought this book; as Middlesbrough manager he took them to 3 cup finals and 2 promotions and managed them through their most succesful period in their history up to that point. There were also some controversial moments, and I was curious as to Bryan Robson's take on them, or at least the take he would be willing to admit to in an auto-biography. Anyway, as far as footballer's autobiographies go (in my experience they're often fairly bland) it was OK...nothing too controversial (not surprising really seeing as though he's still involved in the game!) but at the same time fairly interesting. Ulitmately probably only of real interest for people with an interest Robson's been involved with though.
Crossing Antarctica by
Steger and Jon Bouwermaster
During the Austral summer of 1989-90 Will Steger led a six man multi-national team by dog sled from the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to the South Pole and then eastwards across the zone of relative inaccessibility to a Russian base on the eastern edge of Antarctica. This 3741 mile traverse of the Antarctic was one of the more difficult traverses that could have been attempted and the first crossing of Antarctica on foot.
This book is basically Steger's diary of the expedition. The tough conditions encountered en route and logistical problems keeping the party supplied (a previous expedition had set down supply caches, and some supplies were flown in) stand out in the book, as does, to a degree, the monotony of polar travel. This stands to reason really...day after day of skiing across a relatively featureless, white landscape with weather conditions the only variable is going to be monotonous.
book is OK. Some of the
bits are quite interesting, especially the bits about Antarctic
and what different Antarctic research bases are like. For the rest it's
pretty similar to other post 1970-ish Antarctic trek diary I've
In a way this is almost inevitable; early polar expeditions (eg those
Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen) were much more a voyage into the
and this tends to come across in their books. This said, I thought this
book was better than similar books I've read.
Cinderalla Man by
This book is the story of boxer James J Braddock, a story popularized by the film Cinderalla Man. Basically Braddock is a top boxer, gets on a losing streak then the Wall Street Crash and subsequent depression hit him hard but he manages to make a boxing comeback, strings some good wins together and wins the World Heavyweight Title in a huge upset. A nice, feel good sports story where the nice guy underdog does the business against the odds...in heavyweight boxing history I would suggest only Leon Spinks beating Muhammad Ali and George Foreman regaining the title aged 45 are bigger upsets. Tailor made for Hollywood I suppose.
As it happens I find heavyweight boxing in the 1930s a particularly interesting period in boxing history. There's so much going on...the desire for a charasmatic champion like Jack Dempsey in the 1920s, at least one champion seems like he was mob controlled, another was seen to represent Nazi Germany, another chap sought to become the second black heavyweight champion of the world, and possibly only got his chance out of establishment fear of the afore-mentioned German (a lesser of two evil things). All this is set against the socio-politico background of post-depression times and build up to the Second World War, all of which influenced heavyweight boxing history at the time. Boxing was also much more popular then than now, so the champions and big fights had, I suppose, more significance.
Anyway, the book itself, well Cinderalla Man, is one of a number of books released about James J Braddock in the light of Hollywood knocking out the film Cinderalla Man. The book didn't tell me much more than I already knew about what Braddock did in the 1930s but did have a fair bit to say about his early career. The book really focuses on the period 1928-1935, ie up to the point where Braddock became champion, and has a fair bit to say about Max Baer the media-darling who Braddock beat for the title. The stuff about Baer was interesting, especially as in spite of Baer being a popular champion and media-darling no recent biographies about him seem to exist.
this book was OK really.
Quite interesting, although I suppose I'd have liked to have seen more
about what Braddock got up to after winning the title.
Death and the Penguin by
This book is in a way rather difficult to describe. On the face of it not a lot happens, and the exciting bits, like mafia killings, are alluded to and left pretty much to the reader's imagination rather than being described in detail. Yet at the same a lot does happen because our hero - a lonely, struggling writer living alone with his pet penguin - sees his life change as he finds work writing obituaries, ostenibly for a newspaper, then acquires a child and a partner. He gets slowly and subtly sucked into the criminal underworld, cottons on and escapes. This might not sound a winning formula, but this is a gripping, dark and quite moving book really, especially the relationship between the penguin and our hero...I like penguins and didn't want anything bad to happen to him!!
Past Mortem by
I think Ben Elton's books are very good. The majority of his novels involve a generally contemporary theme/scenario being tapped into and taking to an extreme angle (eg someone being murdered in a reality show, the rich clubbing together and doing one as the Earth dies). Past Mortem runs along a similar line...bullying and friends reunited form the theme as a detective and his sidekick investigate a series of sick murders. The plot is well-developed and trundles along nicely with obvious suspects to the murders being neatly eliminated, and the ending is gripping and happy. I've read most of Elton's novels and this is one of the ones I liked best.
My Quest for the Yeti
Legendary climber Reinhold Messner is confronted by a strange bearlike animal unlike anything he's seen before or even heard of before whilst trekking/climbing/exploring in Tibet. Further investigation reveals that a large but shy, nocturnal bearlike creature that walks on its hind legs does live near the Tibetean snowline. Could this animal be behind the myth of the yeti? After all, monsters tend to have their roots in something real. Messner investigates in subsequent trips to Tibet where he explores remote regions talking to local people. He discovers that a bear called the Chemo is a known inhabitant of these remote mountainous regions, and that this creature is known to often stand on it's hind legs, steal goats, yaks etc and is shy, nocturnal and highly intelligent. Messner looks at the role of the yeti in mythology, past research into the yeti and how Tibeteans perceive the yeti, before drawing his own conclusions. And yes, it does seem reasonable that in remote regions animals exist that we know little about, or as yet have even not or barely discovered. An interesting read this one, very much in the vein of the In Search of.. books by Tim Severin.
The hero of the story has a nice enough, stable enough life but an encounter with some old school friends at a school reunion throws his life into turmoil as he gets deeper into a moneymaking scheme than he ought to. I don't want to say too much and give anything away really (always a drawback with a book review I suppose), but the novel is witty and amusing, has some decent twists and turns and a vaguely unexpected ending. Worth reading.
I waltzed through this one day when I wasn't feeling too clever and decided to read something needing little thought. Footballer turned TV commentator Andy Gray's auto-biography was OK, but nothing special. Typical footballer's auto-biography I suppose....he talks the reader through some highs and lows of his career, has a pop at one or two people and shares one or two tame anecdotes. At least having successfully gone into the media Gray has a little more to say than average, but this book as nothing special.
Of Ice and Men
Huge amounts have been written about the 'Golden Age' of polar history when Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton et al. vied with each other to reach the pole. With the Pole reached, there appears to have been a decline in interest in Antarctica between the two world wars, with much less published. This stands to reason with the most publicly appealing goal being reached, although a lot of exploration still went on, and sealing/whaling continued, but the economics driving these industry make stuff being published about it less likely. Post-Second World War Antarctic literature has focused on scientific discovery and individual personal acheivement. However, much of this work seems to be relative recent. Being interested in Antarctic history I was keen to find out more about Antarctica between this Golden Age and the present day. Fuchs' book addresses this gap
Fuchs' book is basically the history of British government-backed interest in the Antarctic between 1943, when interest was revived through military necessity during the Second World War and Operation Talabin, ultimately the forerunner of the British Antarctic Survey, came into being, and 1973 when Fuchs retired as head of the British Antarctic Survey. The book covers how British interest went from military reconnaisance to protected and establishing a political interest under the cover of scientific discovery to purely being able to concentrate on science once the 1961 Antarctic Treaty had been signed allowing political issues to take a back seat.
Parts of the book are, perhaps by necessity, rather dry and something of a chronology. However parts of the book focus on more interesting things and events, and these are nicely, and at times wittily, told....events include the evacuation of Deception Island following volcanic eruption, an occasional 'mild skirmish' with Argentinians (who Fuchs' mentions a number of times were also most helpful towards the Survey), and the inevitable and obviously sad and unfortunate tradgedies. The book ends focusing on what life is like down south, and one can see the seeds of BAS culture being sown by Fuchs and his colleagues.
good book then, and nicely
filled a gap in Antarctic history in my mind.
Fowler My Autobiography
By the standards of footballer's autobiographies Robbie Fowler pulls relatively few punches in discussing his career today, especially when it comes to his acrimonious, drawn-out departure from his preferred employer (Liverpool), which in turn makes this book a good read. There's a bit too much of the twee 'I'm just a kid from Toxteth' for my liking though.
My Autobiography by
Niall Quinn is a bit different to the usual cut of footballer; he comes across as brighter and more senstive than average, and also seems like a decent bloke, for example donating the proceeds of his testimonial game to charity. And since his autobiography was published he bought and is chairman of a football club. Anyway, in the context of football autobiographies this is a good one. Quinn intersperses the history of his career, off-the-pitch anecdotes and his love of Irish sport and horse racing with his view on how the 2002 World Cup went (Quinn was a member of the Ireland squad), in particular his version and some thoughts on Roy Keane's controversial walk-out (made all the more interesting by the fact that Quinn subsequently hired Keane to be manager of the football club he bought). Good read in the context of a football autobiography.
Time for Bed
This books about a pair of slobbish, under-employed blokes. One loses the plot temporarily, the other lusts after his sister-in-law and then goes out with her sister for a while before getting the flick. Given Baddiel is also a comedian it's no surprise to find the book is quite funny, and laugh-aloud-funny at times. However, I thought it all ended rather abruptly and wasn't that good in the end.
The Secret War for the Falklands
This book is about the intelligence operations that went on during the Falklands War in 1982. I'm sure the stuff in the book is pretty interesting to those keen on military intelligence, but I found this book exceptionally hard work...far too many acronyms and people to kepe track of for my liking, and I didn't really feel like I was finding that much out either. Some of the stuff was interesting though, such as the thinking behind a SAS mission on the South American mainland, the role of an Italian banker who was later found dead in some dealings and the stuff about Exocet missiles. This said, I found this book hard work, and Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins' book about the war is much better. With 2007 being the 25th anniversary of the war, I wonder if any new books about the war will be published, and if so what new details they'll throw up.
I think this book can fairly be classed as 'bloke lit'! It's basically the tale of three thirty something blokes with domestic commitments who come up with the concept of 'bloke miles' as a means of doing nice things for their partners in order to rack up time in the 'favour bank' to be cashed in to go to Australia to watch the rugby world cup final. Obviously there's a few twists and turns, principally that things for the three blokes aren't entirely as they seem at home, but it takes a while for this to come out...must be something to do with blokes not being good emotional communicators! Anyway, this book is OK, without being especially great. It's an easy read and I guess many blokes will be able to identify with at least one of the three blokes in the story.
I Don't Believe it but it's
True - A Year in Boxing
The author is a fairly prominent boxing writer, perhaps most noted for a cracking Muhammed Ali biography he wrote 15 or so years ago. Over the last few years Hauser has been producing regular, short pieces for various websites which he then bundles together and publishes in book form every year or so. This book pertains to the period covering late 2004 and 2005. It's an interesting read if you like boxing...there's pieces about somne fighters Hauser clearly has time for and some he doesn't have much time for. The more interesting bits, in my opinion, concern issues in boxing such as problems with passing men medically fit to box, corruption (Hauser only scratches the surface here though) and some interesting stuff about the TV series The Contender, which doesn't come out of this book too well. Not a bad this book, but obviously of limited appeal to those not interested in boxing. And if you are interested in boxing, check you've not already read the stuff online!
The Last Pink Bits by
The author decides to visit some far-flung bits of the British Empire during the mid 1990s and writes about what he saw. Amongst other places he went to the Falkland and Ascension Islands, places I go to with work and this is why I picked up this book - I was curious about what someone else made of places I've been to. Anyway, this book is mildly amusing and peppered with lots of interesting facts. Obviously some stuff, for example what the author has to say about the state of St Helena and politics in Gibraltar may no longer be applicable, but such things are always the case with travel books. There are one or two other books written along a similar sort of vein as this one...Outposts by Simon Winchester (written in the 1980s) and The Teatime Islands by Ben Fogle (written around 2003), and I think I enjoyed The Last Pink Bits better than Winchester's book, but perhaps not quite as much as Fogle's. Either way, The Last Pink Bits is a decent read and if nothing else you'll find out some interesting stuff about parts of the Commonwealth. Sadly reading The Last Pink Bits it's also pretty apparent that the British government perhaps doesn't do a very good job with dealing with some of these small places and seems to fail to learn lessons from things like the Falklands War in 1982.
Penguins of the Falkland
Islands and South America by
I like penguins, either visiting their colonies or happening upon them on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic beaches. Having spent some time watching a group of penguins in a colony on a semi-regular basis one spring I thought I'd better find out more about them. There don't appear to be that many books dedicated to penguins (although undoubtedly there will be significant chunks of more general bird books dedicated to them), but as luck would have it I found this book in a shop in Stanley, and as I see most of my penguins on the Falklands this book seemed tailor made!! The author has worked with penguins for years and spent a lot of time with them on both the Falklands and in South America. The book basically is divided into a chunk about penguins in general, then more specific stuff about the various types of penguins pottering around the Falklands and South America before discussing what wider impact penguins have on the environment. Much of the information in the book was both really interesting and directly pertinent to what I want to know about penguins so I thought it was a great book! If you want to find out more about penguins in the sub-Antarctic this is a great place to start!!
This books is basically a political history of the Antarctic from a British point of view, explaining why Britain has ended up with its own sector of the Antarctic under the Antarctic Treaty. The book also touches on the recent political history of the Falklands. It was a pretty interesting and informative, if rather dry, book written in the style of an academic text book, and if nothing else it brings home what an incredible achievement getting the Antarctic Treaty ratified was.
Looking for George
The author met a Romanian monk whilst travelling round Romania as a student. After keeping in contact for a while the letters, some of which were critical of the then Communist regime, stop. After the fall of Ceausescu in 1989 the author returns to try and find George. It's a sad and pretty moving tale, and sadly I suppose a story some people will be only too familiar with. The personal nature of the book means that this takes precedence over anything more 'travelogesque' and I was left with an image of Romania in the early 1990s being a beautiful place but struggling with poverty and the legacy of a dictator.
A Falkland Islander Till
I Die by
Terence S Betts
I've done a bit of travelling around with work, and in late 2006 spent a couple of months on the Falklands. Having only fleetingly visited the Islands in the past, and knowing relatively little about the Islands I found they challenged my pre-conceptions and really surprised me. They are marvellous. Whilst on the Islands I set about reading books about the way of life etc. Bett's book can be neatly divided into 3 parts - his youth in Stanley and early adulthood working on Camp and in Stanley, then the war which the author spent on Camp (thus providing a nice contrast with books such as John Smith's 74 Days) and after the war his involvement in the Falklands political and business arena. The book was pretty good, and I picked up lots of interesting background information about the Islands and how they worked and now work. Some of the business and politics stuff was a bit heavy going though, but the author's views are interesting - he discusses why the Falklands ought to be independent and was very forward thinking in business. Good book this, but probably rather heavy going if you don't know much about the Falklands to start with.
A Question of Blood
Another Rebus detective book. The unconventional detective walks the tightrope of possible suspension and being a suspect in a murder investigation to solve a few suspicious deaths whilst at the same time a sub-plot of how Rebus managed to injure himself and get himself fingered as a suspect slowly gets revealed. All my earlier comments about Rebus books stand, and I still can't get the image of a Taggart-esque character traipsing around Edinburgh, where all the books are set. And as with the other Rebus books I've read, this one's pretty good.
A Little Piece of England
I worked in the Falklands for a while towards the end of 2006. With half an eye on the task in hand I read one or two books about the Islands before going there, and then once I was here I found plenty more books about the Islands at the library where I was staying. One such book was this one; the author spent about 5 years working on the Islands as Chief Executive of the Falkland Islands Government. This inevitably gave him an insight into all the workings of the Islands as well as ample opportunity to potter around the Islands - it's such a shame the Falklands are synonymous with the 1982 conflict and not better know for their fantastic wildlife and scenery. Anyway, this book reads like a series of short, independent articles about different aspects of the Islands produced for something like a Sunday supplement (almost a kind of 'Letter from the Falklands'), which makes it very easy to dip and out of. Politically the book obviously reflects the time the author was on the Islands (mid to late 1990s) so some of the bits about relations with Chile and Argentina as well as oil exploration need to be placed into context of the times, whilst I could indentify with some of the sentiments expressed in other chapters. Either way I liked this book and found it pretty entertaining - I think it gives a good idea of what an expat's experiences of life in the Falklands is like without attempting to tackle the more complex and immotive recent political history of the Islands.
John Smith is a Falklands Island resident who kept a diary through the 1982 conflict and then published it in this book. The book describes events in Stanley during the conflict from the initial invasion, through having to dig a bomb shelter under his house and seeing his home town ravaged by the invading army to the final surrender in June 1982. A few things stand out in this book....the difference, at times, between what was happening and what was being reported on the BBC (some of this might have been deliberate censorship though), the state of the young Argentinian conscripts sent to Stanley compared to their officers and the occasional snippets of dry humour which pervade through the book and which, I imagine, reflect the pragmatic way one must have to approach life on a remote South Atlantic Island. The book is a short one, but it gives the reader an idea what it must have been like living through an invasion and having to suffer almost helplessly as one's home town is torn apart. What gets my goat about this are the political doings in the 15-20 years before the conflict (see the first chapters of The Battle for the Falklands by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins for details) which could have averted an invastion.
Another one of these Rebus detective books. At the time of typing (autumn 2006) there were 15 of them. I'll no doubt endeavour to read a few more of them as they're quite good....not too taxing and easy to follow with interesting, clever plots....ideal for reading on a long plane journey or something! As all the books are set in and around Edinburgh I can't quite get the idea out of my mind that Rebus is simply Edinburgh's Taggart though. Anyway, The Falls is about a rich student who gets murdered. The murder is connected to a game she was playing on the internet and a handful of suspicious deaths in the 1970s and 1980s. Rebus, and his colleagues go off and solve the mystery. I shan't say much more about the plot as it might spoil it, but I'd say this book was better than Dead Souls but not as good as Fleshmarket Close and Set in Darkness.
Resurrection Man by
This book is another Rebus book. The maverick detective gets 'sent' on a course with some other maverick detectives who are suspecting of being bent, and Rebus' brief is to uncover what he can uncover, whilst at the same time sticking his nose into a big case at his home station. I thought this story turned out to be fairly average really; everything comes together in the end and the good guys (or the less bad buys) win, but I didn't get a terribly really satisfactory feeling about how all the loose ends came together.
Worst book about The Simpsons ever. Well, perhaps not quite, but this one turned out to be pretty disappointing. I really like The Simpsons, so this book discussing aspects of pop culture pertaining to The Simpsons sounded really good. Unfortunately I didn't really think much of it; I found it rather dry, so dry, in fact, that 2 days after finishing the book I'm struggling to recall either anything memorable about the book and what the book was ulitmately about in any degree of detail. Oh, and I was increasingly irritated by having to flick to ends of each chapter to read footnotes. I cannot tell you how annoying this is. Basically I suppose I expected a book that would shed some extra, interesting details on stuff featured in The Simpsons, a little like can be found at The Simpsons Archive but in more detail. I guess this book might interest a fan of The Simpsons, but I think you'd have to be both a big fan and pretty au fait with North American pop culture to get a lot out of this book.
The Life and Times of the
Thunderbolt Kid byBill
Bill Bryson's latest book (Sept 2006) is basically witty nostalga from his childhood, which was clearly a happy one. The book is also written more in the style of Bryson's travel books than, say, his A Short History of Nearly Everything which, inevitably, had a slightly more serious tone. Anyway the reminiscenes are largely entertaining, and it was pretty interesting to catch Bryson's more serious snippets about just how close World War III was during the Cuban Missle Crisis, how Guatemala was manipulated by an American food corporation and some civil rights issues.
May Contain Nuts by
A middle class London couple attempt to 'keep up with the Jones's' by pushing their kids harder and harder to keep up with what their friends are doing with their kids. They go to quite extreme lengths with this before eventually their prejudices are challenged and they realise that it's more important that their kids are happy. The book is witty and I guess reflects reality for some families too! Good read this one.
Forgotten Voices by
In the early 1970s the Imperial War Museum in London, UK recorded the reminiscences of World War One survivors. This book comes from this archive of tapes and is effectively a chronologically ordered series of the day to day experiences of some of these people rather than a military or political history of the First World War. Needless to say it brings the hardships of the trenches (mud, risk of drowning and death) to life (at times rather graphically) and quite clearly all survivors must have seen the most horrific things. It's an interesting read and obviously poignant, but at the same time repeatitive (which I suppose brings the horror of it all home). It also surprised me that there was little criticism of military superiors and political leaders in the book, although I suppose the book may well have been designed at purely giving an indication of what life on the frontline was like.
Skinny Dip by
This novel's about a chap who's convinced his wife has something on him which will ruin a cash scam so throws her overboard on a cruise leaving for dead. And leaving him to his cash scam and mistresses. Unfortunately the wife is rescued by an ex-cop and torments her husband to seek revenge rather then telling the police. A dogged detective also gets in on the case and can see the death is no accident as does a thug acting as a bodyguard and one or two other eccentric characters. The tale is vaguely amusing and mildly surreal.
Beserk in the Antarctic
Whilst travelling around South America the author decides he wants to go to the Antarctic and unwilling/unable to join one of the cruise ships that travel between the Antarctic Peninsula and southern South America happens upon a young Norwegian sailing to the Antarctic alone on what sounds like a pretty basic 27-foot yacht. The author convinces the Norwegian to take him and an Argentinian the author had fairly recently met along with him. The Norwegian agrees and woefully unprepared/unequipped (eg limited cold weather gear and funds) they brave Force 12 storms in the Drake Passage to get to the Antarctic where they spend some time marvelling at the sites and visiting various research bases before attempting to go to South Georgia. In the meantime the Argetinian falls out with them and works his passage home on a cruise ship whilst the author and the Norwegian proceed to then almost get shipwrecked going to South Georgia and limp into southern South America instead. A great adventure and experience, but the way the tale was told didn't really float my boat - it was more like a diary than the sort of travel book that supplements adventure with additional information.
The First Casualty by
I've read most of Ben Elton's books. Stark and Dead Famous are particularly good. Compared to other Ben Elton books I've read The First Casualty is both more serious (and therefore less funny) and somewhat more graphic in terms of describing nasty bits. The blurb on the back describes it as a historical drama, but I'd say it's basically a crime thriller set in the First World War; a renowned dectective jailed for being a conscientious objector (to the war) is taken out of jail (under somewhat mysterious circumstances) to investigate the suspicious death of a national hero of the trenches. The plot is cleverly woven and the hero of the book (the detective) has his morals and conscientious objections severely challenged in order to persue his investigations.
This book is basically the history of Italian football and the author is a British academic specializing in matters Italian. I decided to read this book because I spend 10-20% of my working year working offshore with Italians and I thought as well as giving me some conversational 'ins' this book would give an insight into the Italian psyche. When I flicked through the book in a shop there were bits and pieces about how politics and football were intertwined, which also sparked something - the crossover between sport and other, heavier things (eg politics) is something that interests me, especially as this doesn't seem to happen in the UK.
the book covers all
sorts of aspects of the history of football in Italy including bits
some of the star players, the great teams, the great rivalries (eg
the sprung up from) and, as I've alluded to, how football links into
society and politics (eg why Ultras - responsible for much of the
hooliganism in Italy - politically aligned, why the national team has a
different type of support to clubs and why facist chanting/references
at some Italian matches) and the scandals. In this latter respect the
of the book is most unfortunate, being published just before the
(at the time of writing) football scandal broke in Italy. So, this book
covers a wide range of subjects in fairly brief detail. Most chapters
pretty interesting, but the bits I liked best (scandals, rivalries,
and the 'footballization' of Italian society) weren't as detailed as I
would have liked. The impression I was left with having completed the
is that Italian football is bent as a 9 bob note, but with varying
of subtlety and acceptabilty (eg agreeing to a mutually convienient
is one thing but a betting syndicate bribing players is obviously
not on) and that fairly extreme politics seems to go hand in hand with
The Battle for the Falklands
Hastings and Simon Jenkins
War isn't my cup of tea and neither are military matters. However for reasons of professional development and the need for overtime I accepted work on the Falklands for my employers, and as this work was with the military I decided it might be prudent to read up about the Falklands War. I remember the conflict, but as I was only 9 when it happened my memories are of names of places (eg Goose Green, Stanley) and some images (eg the General Belgrano and HMS Sheffield being sunk, seeing the task force depart live on TV at a friend's house, a soldier being rescued after the war having spent his previous 6 weeks lost and fending for himself).
This book can be neatly divided into 3 parts; the long and short-term build up to war, the war itself and the aftermath. The first quarter to a third of the book concentrates on the long and short term build up to war and is utterly fascinating. Amongst other things it seems that Britain was gradually in a vague process of 'giving' the Falklands to Argentina and that political misunderstandings in Britain and the Argenitinian political situation led to war actually breaking out. The stuff about the battles wasn't my cup of tea. I'm not interested in whether battalion A or B attacked from the flanks or whatever. Military manouvres just aren't my bag. I was curious as to why some battles/points during the war were so crucial so this aspect was interesting. And then of course Britain wins and there's an aftermath to deal with, and this was also quite interesting, although limited due to the book first being published shortly after the war. 20-25 years on the consequences of the war can now be seen in a longer term context, which is beyond the scope of this book.
all in all the book's coverage
of the background and build up to war was absolutely fascinating. The
bit' wasn't my cup of tea, and the 'wash-up' at the end was pretty
I suspect that if you want to find out about the Falklands War this may
be the best book to read!
A Life Stripped Bare by
This book is all about one family's decision to try and live more ethically and how they went about it. Starting with eating increasingly organically and cutting down 'food miles' they progress through all sorts of day to day situations familiar to many which can be dealt with more ethically, eg taking short hail flights on holiday, what sort of paint to buy to do some decorating, whether or not to own a car, using disposable nappies or not etc.
chose to read this book because
I am interested in how it's possible for me to live my live more
and to this end this book gave me some good ideas. Some things are
though...for example, I need a car because I live somewhere lacking in
public transport when I need it, work necessitates me to take short
flights, I dance with the devil and spent 10-20% of my working year in
the offshore industry assisting in the exploitation of fossil fuel and
I could go on. All this leads me to having a simple, but selfish, rule
when it comes to being more ethical - if it's going to cost me a lot of
money it isn't going to happen! However, there is obviously a lot I
do to be more ethical, even on a simple scale. I need some pointers and
this book was good for that. As well as being an entertaining read.
Fleshmarket Close by
I'd heard of this book, but I've no idea why. I'd heard of the author as well, but have no idea where from other than a vague feeling that I might have someone else confused with him. Anyway, when a ten day offshire job suddenly turned into a 40 day epic with no prospect of being able to spin my own books out for the 40 days I had a look at what books my colleague had with him and found Fleshmarket Close. I wasn't thrilled to see 'number on bestseller' plastered all over it; I tend to stay away from bestsellers - I'd rather choose something I like rather than be told what to read by bestseller lists, special offers at bookshops and airport bookstalls. However, this book turned out to be really quite good! It's one of a series of Inspector Rebus books (means nothing to me at the time of writing!) and basically is the story of how Rebus (an old school Edinburgh detective who whilst hardened on the outside has a bit of heart on the inside) solves the murder of an illegal immigrant with the help of his younger, femail sidekick. Of course the murder enquiry opens all sorts of Pandoras's boxes such as a missing teenager, a murdered convicted rapist and two skeletons in a pub cellar, loose ends which all get nicely tied up in the end. I thought it was a nicely crafted tale which held my interest without making me think too much - ideal for killing time working nights on a pipelaying vessel.....I think there may be another one of these Rebus books in my colleagues drawer...
Set in Darkness by
Ian Rankin's written a number of books set in and around Edinburgh featuring fictional detective John Rebus. Rebus reminds of a cross between Taggart and Jack Reagan (from The Sweeney) in that he's cynical, anti-establishment, a bit of a loner, a drinker and coming towards the end of his career. His sidekick doesn't remind me of George Carter as such, but she's keen, willing and younger. Anyway, this book's about the murder of a prospective Scottish parliamentary candidate with sub-plots (which eventually link in) concering a date-rapist, the suicide of a tramp carrying £400,000 in his briefcase and a body found after lying hidden for twenty years behind a fireplace. The sub-plots all get cleverly woven together so it's pretty entertaining, easy to read story and everything falls into place nicely at the end.
Another Rebus detective crime thriller set in and around Edinburgh featuring, amongst other things, a paedophile just released from jail and outed by Rebus in the press, the suicide of a detective, a child abuse trial, the disappearance of a chap after leaving a night club and a killer released from jail and re-offending. Cheery subject matter!! Rebus is involved in solving all these crimes in his usual 'not quite by the book' style making things worse before they get better. I didn't like this book as much as the other Rebus books I'd read simply because whilst the plot is interesting, one loose end wasn't tied up by the end of the book (although reading between the lines I suppose I can work it out for myself) and because Rebus's sidekick hasn't quite grown into her role.
A Long Way Down by
Most of the Nick Hornby books I've read have been pretty good, especially High Fidelity, which is one of the best books I've ever read. His latest (at the time of writing) book is about four very different people who all meet by chance on the rooftop of a building from which they'd decided to commit suicide from. Obviously none of them had expected to meet anyone else up there and the novel is basically about how these four people talk each other down from the rooftop and then meet up and lean on each other a bit to get through the coming weeks in order to get themselves together a bit. This doesn't make the book sound very entertaining and makes it sound very dark and heavy, but it is very entertaining and not dark because the four characters concerned (disgraced TV presenter in disgrace for doing something socially unacceptable and now tabloid fodder, impetuous teenager suffering from teenage angst, failed rock star and mother unable to cope) are poles apart from each other in every way yet have so little to lean on to in life that they end up relying on each other in some way in spite of the fact that their backgrounds, their nature and the 'stages of life' they're at causes a degree of friction and lands them in some mildly amusing situations. I liked this book. They way the characters get built up is interesting and the way they become linked with each other quite amusing. Well worth reading!!
Je Hebt Het Niet Van Mij
Van Roosmalen is a Dutch writer who spends a year writing about the Dutch football team Vitesse Arnhem. Van Roosmalen gets access to the players, manager and behind the scenes workers and details how the 2005/06 season, in which Vitesse underacheived, unfolded. I really like this kind of football book as it provides a slightly more exclusive angle as to how things with a team went and needless to say there aren't that many books like. Anyway, this book was quite entertaining, if short, although I suspect I may have laughed in the wrong places. It's written in diary form, but is slightly staccato because entries aren't made on a daily or even weekly basis, but it nevertheless gives an interesting angle on some of the behind the scenes stuff that affected Vitesse. A good read!
Out of My Depth by
I've read all of Emily Barr's books. I suppose they're probably classed as chick-lit. I've really enjoyed most of her books, especially Baggage and Backpack, but I found this one rather disappointing. The book's about a group of school friends who lost touch after something horrible happened and then, some years later, one of these friends organizes a reunion. Inevitably the 'something horrible' crops up, and there's various other twists and turns, as there are in all Barr's books. This one was a bit disappointing though because the ending seemed to be arrived at pretty suddenly and somehow seemed far less satisfying (and clever) than her other books.
Into the Blue: Boldly Going
Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by
I grew up in coastal areas of the North Riding of Yorkshire. One of the great heroes from this region is Captain James Cook. As a kid I went to several museums or places of interest connected with Cook. The trouble is it was never clear to me then what Cook discovered and so why he was so great (as a child I obviously linked discovery with greatness, a consequence of Britain's empire building past I suppose). I was left with the firm impression that he did a lot of sailing and went to places not many western people had been to before, but it troubled me not really understanding what he did and why he's so great.
So, first things first, Cook was the first European to clap eyes on an assortment of Pacific Islands, such as Hawaii. Note he didn't discover them - their native inhabitants did because they had to come from somewhere. Cook's three voyages took him through uncharted waters and allowed him to make loads of maps which would help future generations of explorers. And which could be used to transfer prisoners to Australia. Perhaps his legacy is that these voyages proved that a) there was no great, lush continent - just the Antarctic and Australia and b) that the northwest passage (which would facilitate trade) was iced up and not really navigable. Cook suspected this and by confirming this made what I suppose are negative discoveries. Another legacy, I suppose, is that Cook's sailors infected a number of Pacific Islands with syphillis and Cook's visit opened the door for their culture to be poisoned by Europeans (although in Cook's defence this isn't his fault - if he hadn't got there someone else would have!). Then Cook got killed when outstaying his welcome in Hawaii. Actually Cook was also pretty unlucky not to be the first to set foot on Antarctica - he sailed into Antarctic bays lying south of peninsulas which he just missed! Cook was also a great Captain in the way he ran his ships. Until he lost the plot a bit towards the end.
so that's Cook, now
onto the book. Horwitz basically travels the world visiting some of the
places which Captain Cook visited (including my home town!) to see what
they're like today and what sort of legacy Cook left (perhaps not
some native populations aren't too keen on him!). He intersperses his
travel tales with stuff about Cook's own travels to these places in a
much like that of Tim Severin (eg In Search of Moby Dick
Search of Genghis Kahn) but wittier, so it saves the reader
to wade through other biographies and primary sources like contemporary
diaries. The author visits Australia, New Zealand, various Pacific
including Niue, Hawaii, Tahiti and Tonga as well as Alaska. The book's
really good - historical details and travelogue are nicely interspersed
and Horwitz visits some pretty interesting places one doesn't normally
A Piano in the Pyrenees
A few years ago Tony Hawks wrote a couple of marvellously funny books (Around Ireland with a Fridge and Playing the Moldovans at Tennis), so I've bought his other books as they've appeared. This book is a departure from Hawks' previous books in that rather than being about fulfilling a crazy bet, this book is the story of how, pretty much on a whim, Hawks buys a house in a small village in the French Pyrenees and how he subsequently assimilates himself into French village life etc. Being a witty raconteur how this occurs is inevitably funny. However, the last bit of the book is all a bit twee as boy meets girl and it seems to go alright; I liked the funny, but I'm not into the twee (although it should be pointed out I'm not so mean as to wish to deny someone a happy ending!), which spolit it a little for me I suppose. In conclusion, most of this book was pretty funny, though not as much as Around Ireland with a Fridge and Playing the Moldovans at Tennis but I didn't think much of the last bit.
Nansen by Roland
Fridtjof Nansen was a legendary Norwegian explorer who as well as becoming the first modern-age explorer to traverse Greenland and setting a 'furthest north' in the late nineteenth century also distingtuished himself scientifically in fields of, amongst other things, neurology and oceanography. Nansen can be seen as a 'father' of the 'Heroic Age' Antarctic explorers in that techniques he researched and tried were then used by others such as Amundsen and Scott. As well as exploring and being a scientist Nansen was also played a role in Norway gaining independence from Sweden in the early 20th century and the country's subsequent striving for international recognition as an independent country before going on to win a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with southeast European and Russian refugees and famine in Russia. Nansen did shit loads. Obviously a talented guy. I'd read stuff about his trek across Greenland and his attempt to reach the North Pole in the late 19th century, but I wanted to find out more about what Nansen did before and after. This book obviously addressed that, although to be honest the latter part of the book (about Nansen's work with the League of Nations, famine in Russia and refugees) was a little confusing at times, which to spoilt the book a little for me. Nevertheless I did enjoy this book, and as one of the great polar explorers Nansen's work deserves publicizing.
At the time of writing I'd read most of Orwell's novels and really enjoyed most of them (especially Keep the Aspidistra Flying, The Road to Wigan Pier, 1984 and Down and Out in London and Paris). Reading a lot of his stuff and seeing how much of a legacy his work has left set me thinking how much of his own experiences he drew on in writing his novels and how auto-biographical they are. The best way of finding out seemed to be to read some biographies of Orwell. Starting with this one. Meyers' book turned out to be a rattling read. The prefaces to many of Orwell's novels that I'd read had already given me a rough idea about Orwell's life (eg Eton educated, policeman in Burma, living rough for a time, Socialist activist, active service in the Spanish Civil War, his realisation that Russian totalitarianism under Stalin wasn't great and so on) and this book more than filled in the gaps and told me more about his life. This in turn allowed me to see where some of the ideas and experiences drawn on in his books came from, espeicially the symbolism used. Particulary interesting was Orwell's socialist thinking and his decision to life rough in order to investigate life in the poorer echelons of society. Orwell also seems to have had a self-destructive streak in that his lifestyle choices jeopardized his already poor health and ultimately led to his premature death from TB. Meyers suggests that Orwell's novel 1984 is effectively his ultimate acheivement in the sense of being the novel that he was working up to and which brought many of his experiences together (rather than being his last novel, which it also was). I found the stuff about the Spanish Civil War a bit confusing (in spite of having studied this war 15 years earlier doing A-Level history), but that's probably me rather than the book. I'll read a different Orwell biography in order to make an objective comparison as to the merit of this book, but I really enjoyed this one.
Antarctic on a Plate by
The author is a former outdoor pursuits camp chef who gives up her real job as a city type in Sydney to do 'something different' and becomes a cook for an Antarctic food camp. I used to be a cook in a hotel, and have been a weather forecaster at a luxurious Antarctic Peninsula research station, so my attention was very much drawn to this book! The book focuses on what life at an Antarctic field camp (which is used as an 'gateway' for explorers wanting to do particularly gnarly stuff like trek to the South Pole), the characters that come and go, the interrelationships between the people on the camp and what life in general in this kind of environment is like. I found this book to be an entertaining read; it certainly matched what I'd heard 'down south' about such camps, and this book is much better than other books I've read about what contemporary life in the Antarctic is like (eg Big Dead Place).
In spite of a surge of interest after the film Twister was released and a frequent documentaries about tornadoes on channels like the Discovery Channel, there are surprisingly few books about tornadoes available. Packed with anecdotes and facts Grazulis' book is a really good introduction to the world of tornadoes; the book discusses tornado safety, debunks some myths as well as containing obligatory superlatives. Where I think the book falls down slightly is on the technical side when it comes to explaining the science about how tornadoes and the storms that produce them are thought to develop (we don't know for certain yet!) - I found this aspect of the book a little confusing, which is a shame really. In short, this book is great for tornado facts and figures, but not so good for the hardcore science, for which readers might like to try something like Tornado Alley: Monster Storms of the Great Plains by Howard Bluestein.
Man Buys Dog by
The author buys a greyhound to explore the world of greyhound racing. Rather than seeking to dish the dirt and scandal at the dogs the author uses his foray into greyhound racing to try and make some money out of his dog and reveal what life at the dogs is like. Unfortunately lack of funds means the author gets off to bad start and rather than buying a young dog which goes on to do really well, he buys a cheaper dog, that sadly doesn't quite cut the mustard. As well as detailing the progress, or lack of progress, with his dog, the author talks a little about the history of dog racing and it's less legal cousins (flapping, hare coursing) and descending into a spiral of gambling addiction. It all comes good in the end though - his dog isn't a success and gets retired and re-housed with a nice lady who confirms what a friend of mine has been telling me for ages that greyhounds make great pets. The moral of the book would appear that greyhound racing is an expensive hobby with low prize money except for the lucky few who have the resources to buy/breed top dogs. Oh, and that betting is a mugs game. Anyway, I thought this book was OK and quite interesting. There's little in the way of betting advice and the bits about the history of dog racing are good. The bits about life in general between the dog racing is a bit less interesting though.
Hawaii 501 Life as a Darts
I'm a bit embarrassed that this is the third sports book in a row here, but it's a bit late for that now! Darts is a great game. Easy to play, and really exciting to watch on the telly. In fact, if I could pick any sporting event to go to in the whole world in one calender year it would be to Purfleet for the semis of the darts world championship. And the player I'd most want to see....Wayne Mardle. This bloke understands sport stars need charisma and need to be entertaining (he wears a Hawaiian shirt, comes out to Hawaii 501 music and dances appropriately - class!!). So it was a no-brainer that I'd read his book when it came out. Mardle's book is basically a diary of a year in the life of a darts pro. Glamourous it isn't; lots of driving around to exhibitions and playing in small tournaments. Mardle's also comes across as pretty honest and self critical of some of his performances, which is interesting. If you like the darts you'll like this book, if you don't, remember the name Wayne Mardle; he'll be world champion one day!
Twenty and Out by
Mickey Duff is one of Britain's most successful boxing promoters and he wrote this book when he felt he was pretty close to retiring. Basically he tells a bit about himself and some of the fighters he's been involved with, especially British world champions. He settles one or two scores and tells one or two interesting tales. On the whole though fairly tame and bland, which I suppose is appropriate really, because I got the impression he isn't too keen on the ever-increasing amounts of hype and showbiz in boxing and would rather be involved with blander, more clean-cut fighters.
I'm something of a sucker for reading footballer's autobiogrpahies, even though the vast majority of them are a bit tame. Inevitably autobiogs of players still playing will tend to be tamer, if nothing else because grinding axes at that point of their careers could well be viewed as biting the hands that feed them. Hasselbaink is, however, more interesting than the average footballer; the Dutch star has never had much of a chance of playing professionally at home and his big break came by moving to Portugal and then onto England. I was therefore interested to find out how his somewhat more unusual career path came about. This book is a cut above the usual footballer's autobiography - it's a bit rambling at times (it read like it was written in Dutch and then translated rather than being written in English), but perhaps, given that Hasselbaink is, at the time of writing, still gainfully employed as a professional footballer, relatively revealing (Hasselbaink was later charged by the English FA with bringing the game into disrepute for some of his comments in this book!). Ulitmately, however, I suspect this book is only really of interest for those interested in the player's career or the clubs he's played for.
Extreme Survival by
This book is about what happens to the human body physiologically when in extreme danger, such as freezing to death on mountains or drowning, and it's written by a doctor who has a lot of experience of working with expeditions. Obviously this means that the science is good, but for the rest this book whilst interesting, isn't as good as a similar book (The Last Breath by Peter Stark I read a while ago.
Big Weather by
A book about a writer who goes tornado chasing. He sees some tornadoes, so he picked his chase partners well. It's actually quite tricky to review this book. As a weather forecaster I can say you're not going to learn much about storms and tornadoes from this book - it's more about what I suppose could be called 'the cult of chasing' with some interesting asides about, amongst other things, the psychological effects of witnessing a tornado disaster on people and the history of the Weather Channel. These asides were interesting and thought-provoking. Much of the rest of the stuff I could take or leave. I didn't enjoy this book as much as I'd have liked, but until I've read similar books.
Frank Fighting Back by
British boxing hero Frank Bruno's 2005 autobiography was published after Bruno had spent time battling with mental illness, and consequently part of the book candidly delves into this, and how difficult it was for Bruno to adapt to retirement from the ring and other changes in his life. The vast majority of his book concerns Bruno's pretty successful boxing career which saw him briefly reign as heavyweight champion of the world. The boxing side of Bruno's story is pretty well-documented, but time that has elapsed since Bruno's boxing career ended allow for a slightly more candid review of his career. This book's OK, if pretty short (I think I read it in about 90 mins). A lot of the boxing stuff I'd read before, but if you hadn't read anything before about his boxing career this book's the place to look. That said, there were 2 or 3 factual errors, which irritated me as they are preventable errors, and a recurring theme across boxing books published in the last 10 or so years.
Big Dead Place by
This book is a book about the Antarctic with a difference. The author has spent a fair amount of time working at American Antarctic bases and this book documents his experiences working there and ulitmately his frustrations with his management. The books is fairly interesting in that occasional interesting snippits of Antarctic information appear, but for the most part this book is about thr frustrations and politics of work, which just goes to show that no matter where you work or what you and in spite of how interesting a job or workplace may be, all jobs carry with them 'the usual shit'. This said some of the author's management decisions seem strange and unjust. Anyway, this book's OK...I guess if you were going to be working at an American Antarctic base it would give you an idea of what life could be like there, but this aside it doesn't tell you a huge amount about Antarctica itself.
Terry Marsh was briefly a world boxing champion in 1987 and then retired due to possibly suffering from epilepsy. Marsh was then subsequently held on remand for nearly a year for the attempted murder of his promoter/manager (no conflict of interest there then!), Frank Warren in 1989-1990, before being found not guilty. This book is his story of how he became a world boxing champion, the controversry surrounding his retirement and subsequent trouble with the law. Marsh is a pretty interesting, intelligent figure who stands up for what he believes in, and this makes for a pretty interesting book - certainly better than the average sporting auto-biography. Where this book does fall down, in my opinion, is with grammatical errors (notably with confusion between 'your' and 'you're' - get a proofreader!!!), and also in that it ends in the early 1990s - it would have been interesting to see what Marsh has been up to since then, for example his involvement with the Liberal party. Anyway, like I say, better than most sporting auto-biographies.
Brand New Friend by
Mike Gayle has written a few books and all of them are good. If I had to catergorize his books I'd say they were 'chick-lit for blokes' in that they tend to be about relationships but (largely) from the bloke's point of view. This might make his books sound a bit wussy but they are good! Anyway, Brand New Friend is a story about a bloke who has to move from London to Manchester to move in with his girlfriend but other than her knows no-one else in Manchester and has to go and make some new friends, which he doesn't find too easy. He eventually makes a new friend who is a girl, which in turn inevitably tests the patience of his girlfriend.
Two Americans - Robert Peary and Frederick Cook - claimed to have reached the North Pole within a year or so of each other early in the 20th century. Both claims have been brought under substantial question, although for a long time Peary was recognized as being first. Henderson's book looks at both men's background, early exploring career and then their claims to being first at the Pole, and ultimately ends up being pro-Cook casting considerable doubts on Peary's claim. This book is a really good read (better than Fergus Fleming's Ninety Degrees North which covers Peary and Cook as well as earlier, and later, Arctic expeditions) and raises considerable food for thought. The only minor point that I wasn't so keen on is that the book is pro-Cook when I'd have rather read something slightly more obviously impartial. However, this is nitpicking. This is the best book I've read about these chap's race for the North Pole!
The Kon-Tiki Expedition
This book is the story of how legendary Norwegian explorer/archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl built a raft pretty much according to ancient ways and sailed it from the cast of Peru to a south Pacific island in order to demonstrate how some of these islands may have been populated. Heyerdahl's theories were, at the time, very controversial, and this controversey hasn't gone away today. One could argue that his journey proved nothing other than that 6 Scandinavians can build and sail a raft, but equally one could, as Heyerdahl did, that such a primitive craft could indeed have been a means of getting people from South America to Pacific Islands. Anyway, this book is really good....it's part adventure story (the building and sailing the raft bit), part science (stuff about what crazy sea life the craft encountered en route) and finally part archaeology as Heyerdahl puts his theories forward. I don't know enough about this side of things to know whether Heyerdahl was right or wrong, but he makes a very good case for many of his points, and in any case right or wrong fair play to him for taking unorthodox methods to prove his theories - science/academia needs people like this - and he spins a good travel yarn too. Have a read of this one - it's good.
Eight Men and a Duck: An
Improbable Voyage by Reed Boat to Easter Island by
Whilst travelling in South America the author hears about a journey to be made by traditional reed boat from Chile to Easter Island and manages to become a member of the crew. The book then becomes a pretty interesting, and at times amusing tale, about the journey to Easter Island, with a few bits and pieces about Easter Island thrown in. On balance I'd have preferred less travel monologue and more fact etc. about Easter Island, but that shouldn't in any way detract from what is a good book.
Spoken Here by
The author journeys around the world visiting some areas where minority languages are under threat and disappearing, and intersperses his tales of travel with some stuff about languages, like how Esperanto is very logically structured, so it's a shame it didn't catch on. Among other interesting facts readers will learn that a parrot was the last thing to speak one particular South American language. Anyway, the subject matter of this book was really interesting, but I found the style in which the book was written pretty heavy going which spoilt it a little for me. Still, if you're interested in languages it's worth nosing through.
Keep the Aspidistra Flying
Reading this book I couldn't help but wonder how much Orwell's tale of an intelligent man who gives up a good job and middle class existence and goes to work in a second hand bookshop whilst writing poetry draws on his own experience of both poverty and attempts to make a living as a writer. Arguably the 'hero', Gordon Comstock, choses to live his dream, as well as living to his principles, such as not wanting his life to be dominated by the pursuit of money, but it doesn't quite work and he slides further and further into poverty, and upon being paid for a poem, goes on a massive bender which steers him towards self-destruction. As luck, and the benevolence of the author, would have it, our 'hero' is saved, by the real hero, Rosemary, his girlfriend, who puts up with all manner of shit from Comstock and eventually, upon joining the pudding club, convinces Comstock that money and a middle class existence perhaps isn't the route of all evil. Most of this book is gritty and real, and there were a number of aspects of Comstock's character I could empathize with. Can't beleive Rosemary put up with so much shit though.....girls never do that with me in real life! Anyway, I really enjoyed this book, even if most of is a bit depressing as Comstock choses to bugger his life up. Good happy ending though!!
Coming Up for Air by
This novel, set just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, is about a normal sort of bloke who has an ordinary, mundane life who having seen his life altered by the First World War is so worried about the possibility of war and the changes it would bring that he ends up very nostalgic for his old, pre-First World War life to the point that he slopes off to the village where he grew up thinking this would make him feel better about the world. Unfortunately for him, when he gets there he finds this village is pretty much unrecognisable, and the few people he recognizes don't even recognize him. Disappointed he goes home, where the fibs he's spun to his wife to slope off for a week also catch up with him. Bits of this book reminded me of 1984 (which Orwell later wrote), and this tale is really quite a depressing one (either that or there's a moral about pining for the 'good old days'). As a book it held my interest but that's about it. If you want to read some good Orwell, I think 1984, The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London are much, much better.
Broken Dreams by
This book is all about greed and corruption in English football, and whilst some of the stuff in the book I'd read/heard elsewhere, the scale of what can go on with, say, transfer deals and the utrer lack of accountability of clubs with creditors/shareholders, agents with the FA/UEFA/FIFA and managers with boards was nevertheless quite surprising. Bent as a nine bob note some of the deals that go on I tell you! Anyway, whilst the subject matter was quite interesting I did find this book quite dry and a bit heavy on stats.
The Hungry Years Confessions
of a Food Addict by
It's not just females that are interested/obssessed with body image but increasingly men too. This book is all about one chap's struggle with his own body image. He thinks he's too fat and goes through cycles of doing something about it and then not doing anything about it. Interestingly this is something I can sympathize with and so some of the stuff in this book was interesting. For example, the author makes a good case for a low carbohydrate diet (eg the Aitkens' diet) and produced some interesting statistics concerning what happens to people who have dieted and then stopped dieting. However, parts of the book were crap, tedious and unecessary (the rather more confessional and diary-like parts) and would have been better filled with more substance I thought. Interesting at times but nothing special this book.
Our Man in Havana by
A mildly amusing novel about an English vacuum cleaner salesman living in Havana who when short of money gets caught up in a spy ring and spins some seemingly harmless (and unlikely) porkies in order to make his life spying as easy as possible. Unfortunately his naive porkies attract attention and he falls victim to his own web of deceit, but it's not all bad news because he also finds love. I quite liked this book, although it was a little hard to follow sometimes, but it was mildly amusing in places, and it's hard not to feel sorry for the main character (Wormald) who doesn't mean to get himself in deeper than he could possibly imagine!
Racing Pigs and Giant Marrows
A book about trips to northern English agricultural shows sounds rather unlikely subject matter for a book, but the mix of fact and good humour makes this book a pretty interesting read.
Who Runs This Place? by
This book looks at current affairs, eg politics, business etc., in modern day Britain looking at stuff like the accountability of those in power. It doesn't paint the greatest of pictures of modern day Britain, and there's plenty of evidence to suggest the country's going to the dogs. Anyway, whilst there was nothing wrong with this book, the style it's written in made it heavy going and hard work for me.
Catcher in the Rye by
Salinger's classic novel tells the story of a teenage boy having a breakdown and running away from 'it all'. I'd heard/read that this novel was a classic, but I'm afraid I didn't really 'get it' and can't agree with the hoardes of people on amazon.co.uk who gave this book positive reviews. I'm sure it's meant to be very deep and symbolic, but I just didn't get it and didn't really enjoy it. Actually, speaking of these reviews, it was noticeable that people either seemed to love or hate this book. I fell into the latter catergory, which is actually frustrating because I wanted to be able to see what was so good about this book.
Laughing Matters by
I can't quite remember what prompted me to buy this book, but when I got round to reading it it wasn't quite what I expected. Basically, the author decides to become a stand-up comedian and takes us through how he transforms himself to having the bottle to 'get up and do it' (not too disimilar to something from the TV programme Faking It). Fair play to him for having the bottle to do this. I couldn't. But then again I'm not funny either. In the process of becoming a stand-up comedian the author then finds he isn't getting what he wants out of it. The story is readable enough, but to be honest I found it neither particularly interesting or funny. Seeing someone go through the trials and tribulations the author undoubtedly suffered would be better on TV because so many of these trials and tribulations would be visual I guess. Anyway, didn't really enjoy this book.
Bringing Down the House
Bit of an odd choice this one. I bought this out of desperation....the two books I wanted on the day I bought this title were on a buy two get one free offer and this title was the only other book I could find that looked intresting and was part of the same offer - I wasn't convinced it was going to be up to much, but it turned out to be really good. Anyway, Mezrich's true story of how a group of highly motovated and mathematically able MIT students were able to get organised into a unit successful enough to win a lot of money playing blackjack (blackjack is suited to this because it can favour the gambler in that the cards that have just gone influence what is going to come up so if one can remember what's gone one can potentially be at an advantage). at US casinos, primarily in Las Vegas, before getting the frighteners put on them and scaling down their (legal) operation is a pretty gripping tale. A sort of true-to-life and legal Ocean's Eleven, and arguably had they not been quite so greedy and stuck to making more modest amounts regularly, who knows, in the long run they might have done better. The whole tale makes me wonder how professional card players can make a living though. Anyway, just don't get caught obviously counting the cards in Vegas!
The Glory Game by
The author was allowed full access to the Tottenham Hotspur FC first team squad through their successful 1971-72 season in order to produce a book telling 'what it's really like being a footballer'. This was the first time such a book was produced, and to be honest very few similar books have been produced (only Left Foot Forward and Left Foot in the Grave by Garry Nelson, It's Only a Game? by Eamonn Dunphy and Het Mooiste Leven by Kees t' Hart spring to mind as similar examples of this kind of access-all-areas-fly-on-the-wall genre). Anyway, it's a pretty good read really. A number of aspects of football bemoaned by Davis then are similarly lamented by the media these days, proving that some things really never do change. This book focuses very much on what goes on at training and on the pitch rather than revealing any scandalous, gossipy details, and in fact I wonder if pressure to do just that would make such a book unlikely to be written today.
Into the Wild by
This book is the story of a young man with a good start in life who upon graduation effectively shuns society, his family and the advantages his upbringing and intelligence bring him to lead an alternative lifestyle hitchhiking, exploring the wildnerness and, I suppose, finding himself. Sadly the young man dies in Alaksa and his body is found several weeks later. This book pieces together what happen to this young man and attempts to explain why he followed the course of actions he did, and it makes for a pretty interesting read.
Extra Time by
Willie Maddren was a very good footballer at Middlesbrough FC in the late 1960s and 70s whose career was then curtailed by injury. He went on to become Middlesbrough's manager for a while in the 1980s and whilst not always successful results-wise some of the players Maddren brought in were key in Middlesbrough's rise from struggling (old) 3rd division team in 1986 to the top. Sadly, in the 1990s Maddren went on to develop motor neurone disease and die. Maddren's autobiography was written in aid of motor neurone disease when he knew he was terminally ill. Given Maddren wasn't a particularly famous footballer I guess this book has limited appeal, but as Middlesbrough are my 'team' it had considerable appeal, not least because it's one of the few books about the club in the 1970s and early 80s, a time when I was growing up in the Middlesbrough area and very aware of the team. Maddren, it turns out, was a very good player, and the Boro team of the mid 1970s was a little better than I'd thought, and even came closer than I thought to being champions! Maddren's time as manager was punctuated by poor results and little in the way of funds to buy players. Nevertheless he was instrumental in bringing Boro legends like Slavin, Pallister, Ripley, Cooper and Mowbray through the ranks. The book inevitably ends on a sad and poignant note as Maddren learns that he has become terminally ill. I enjoyed this book, principally because of its subject matter, and it is far better written and revealing than most football autobiographies and it is to this standard to which I've judged this book.
Yes Man byDanny
As an author Danny Wallace has specialized in being involved in books where a daft project has been followed to the nth degree. Having helped his friend, Dave Gorman, find 50+ Dave Gormans and then started a cult,. the author decides, following a conversation with a stranger on a bus, to change his life and say yes to everything. Needless to say this leads to a series of crazy adventures, some interesting coincidences and shedding light on what those email scams purporting to be from African/Middle Eastern royalty promising riches for some up front financial assistance are all about! Original idea, and best of all there's an incredibly happy ending. Actually, it's probably the happiest ending since Cinderella and happier than anything Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm brothers could conjure up (oh you sentimental fool Suri).
Ninety Degrees North by
Most of my reading about polar exploration has focused on the Antarctic, principally because when I joined the Met Office I knew I would have the chance to go there (and I did, and it really is very pleasant). To my mind the Antarctic is the superior polar region with a number of huge advantages over the Arctic.....lack of land/ice based predators, penguins and most of all the fact that it's on land so is a tangible entity rather than a big lump ice floating and drifting around at the whim and mercy of wind and current. However, as I found out whilst reading this book the Arctic has one redeeming factor - controversy surrounding who got to the North Pole first....was it Cook? Was it Peary? Was it Byrd? Does flying over it count anyway? Fleming's book recounts the tale of the discovery of the North Pole. The bulk of the book focuses on failed mid 19th century expeditions, and occasionally some interestingly gruesome facts come to light (just one of the things I like about polar exploration!) but when Norwegians and Cook and Peary get involved it becomes pretty interesting as they vied to get to the North Pole first. The book then ends discussing the controversy surrounding Cook and Peary's claims to be first to the North Pole (chaps, if you're going to make it up at least try and lie convincingly!) before getting on the next wave of Arctic exploration where Byrd may have flown over the Pole and Amundsen did (in fact Amundsen was the first chap to see both poles!). I liked the last half of this book, but found the first half quite hard going. Good read though, and now I'll have to find out more about Peary and Cooks expeditions and creative compass work!
I misunderstood Jimmy Greaves. I knew he'd been a great footballer and in the 1970s he'd had a battle with the bottle before becoming a TV pundit in the 1980s and 90s. I thought he was a pretty irritating character on TV...too cheerful, chirpy and populist for my liking coming across like a TV version of The Sun's football pages. On reflection, and having read his very good autobiography, it turns out he's a sharp cookie and what he and his co-pundit (Ian St John) set out to do on their regular football TV show in the 1980s and early 90s seems to be something of a succesful forerunner to a current football show (Soccer AM on Sky Sports) which I happen to really like! However, I wanted to know more about Greaves than this.....after labouring through his childhood nostalgia I was curious about Greaves' time in Italy (in his early 20s Greaves went to play in Italy, but didn't last long), why Greaves was a member of England's 1966 World Cup winning squad but didn't play in the final and why he ended up battling the bottle. Most football autobiographies I've read haven't been great and have often been bland. This one, however, is a good one.
Gordon Strachan by
Gordon Strachan has been something of a media darling around 2003-2005 as far as football shows on TV go. Personable with a ready quip always available I thought his auto-biography might prove to be quite witty. Sadly I thought it was a bit bland, apart from the last chapter which was pretty funny in places. Bit crap this one really.
Plan B by
I like Emily Barr's brand of chick-lit. The characters are believable and often people I can, in some way, indentify with, and the plots of her books are nicely developed with some surprising twists and turns. Not surprisingly then I quite liked this book - the story of a woman and who emigrates to France with her daughter and boyfriend only to discover that her boyfriend instigated this move to hide his double life, and another child and partner, in London - but I didn't think it was as good as other books written by Emily Barr. I thought the twists and turns just weren't quite as intricate and gripping as in her other books, Backpack and Baggage in particular. Still a good book mind, but in my opinion not one her best.
Bhoys, Bears and Bigots
This book is about the rivalry between football teams Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow and particularly focuses on the last 20 to 30 years. The book focuses on the sectarian element of the rivalry and on what is being doen to try and kerb this. I found it quite heavy going at times to be honest and whilst the subject matter was interesting and provided food for thought I wouldn't say this was a riveting (or cheery) read.
Eat This Book by
Morgan Spurlock made an award winning 'docufilm' called Super Size Me where he eats nothing but McDonalds for a month to see what effect this would have on his health. Not surprisingly he put on weight, increased his blood pressure, damaged his liver a bit amongst other things. This book is basically partly about his experiment, partly evidence about why fast food is bad for you and partly about what can be done to improve 'the system'. Being written by an American the book is written from an almost totally American perspective, which make some chapters a little difficult to digest (do you see what I did there) and, in my opinion, less easy to follow. Still, the main message is clear.....fast food bad, sensible everything in moderation with some exercise thrown in good. The author's criticisms of the American fast food industry seem pretty fair, and whilst, yes, they're the bad guys promoting their stuff so aggressively I'm of the opinion that people aren't automotons and perhaps should think for themselves a bit more and have recognized that if you eat endless amounts of shit your body will degenerate into shit. Interesting book this one, and to be honest only gets an 'average' rating by being written from an Americacentric point of view....had it been written from an anglo or eurocentric viewpoint I'd be serving up top marks.
The Beautiful Team by
This book is based on an interesting and original idea; the author meets all but one of the surviving eleven men who made up Brazil's World Cup winning first team in the 1970 World Cup. The final has become one of the most iconic football matches of all time, and featured stars such as Pele. Whilst this book is a really original idea, I thought it was a little boring - each chapter is basically a potted biography of each of the players briefly explaining their background before going on to what role they played in the 1970 World Cup before, again briefly, taking the reader through what these players then acheived on the world football stage and what they're doing now. There obviously wasn't room to go into more details. So, interesting idea, but not an especially interesting read in the end....totally different to another 'where are they now......' book I recently read about men who've been to the moon (Moondust by Andrew Smith).
The Dark Heart of Italy
Occasionally I work with Italian people, and in order to understand them better I decided to read a little bit about contemporary Italian. The author of this book is an Englishman who has lived in Italy for a few years and his book is principally a look at Italian current affairs (current as in 2000-2002 ish) with a bit of (necessary) recent political history thrown in. Italian society and politics is complicated so some stuff in this book was hard to follow at times. I found it interesting at times, but not hugely riveting. It is interesting to note how much corruption there appears to be in Italy, and also how, incredibly, the government in 2000-2002 sought to pass laws effectively making fraud and tax dodging easier, quite possibly to protect and serve their own interests!
El Macca by
Generally I have found football autobiographies to be a bit bland and boring. McManaman, however, is an intelligent chap with columns in 'heavy papers' and having spent 4 seasons playing for Real Madrid I thought he might have something different to say. His account of his time in Spain proved interesting and well-written without saying anything terribly sensational. I thought this book was OK, but nothing speical.
I don't normally read showbiz autobiographies but I had some time to kill during a job and Tomlinson's (the bloke who plays Jim Royle in The Royle Family) autobiography was lying around so I read it. Having been a plasterer and big union man until becoming a full-time actor Tomlinson has an interesting tale to tell. The most interesting part was his time as a union shop steward in the 1970's which saw him wrongfully jalied for a couple of years for his involvement in strikes. He paints a pretty vivid description of Britain's crumbling jails. Later he becomes an actor, and to be honest I wasn't really that interested in what he got up to then. The book's nicely written though, and if you're into showbiz it's probably a good read. It wasn't my particularly brand of scotch though.
The Life and Crimes of Don
The dealings of ex-con turned larger than life boxing promoter Don King come under scrutiny in Newfield's book. I like my boxing so much of what I read here I'd read before, if only vaguely, in other books or magazines. Newfield presents a pretty damming inditement of King, but remarkably King seems to be able to get away with quite a lot (literally even more or less murder!!). There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that there are many other people at least a little bit corrupt in boxing (and always have been, eg mob controlled boxers in the 1930s and 1950s), the fact that boxers tend not to speak out too much (presumably unwilling to bite the hand that feeds them, even if it's a disappointing meal) and the fact that unlike many other sports there is no single world governing body (like FIFA in football) or even a single governing body in the USA (like the FA). Ultimately this leads to a situation where at least a degree of corruption etc. is possible. Anyway, read this and you'll be convinced King is guilty of something. Read Jim Brady's Boxing Confidential and you'll see there's a whole load more characters in the game, past and present, at least a little bit corrupt. Not a bad read really, but not brilliant either. And if you don't like boxing I guarantee this one won't interest you.
While the Sun Shines by
Not unlike the author's first novel, What We Did on Our Holiday, this book mixes the witty with the macabre and throws in a bit of surreality before ulimately throwing in some deep and meaningful at the end. The novel is about time (and lies) catching up with an adulteous, drug taking university professor. At times its very funny, like the spirit level incident, but it ends on (to my mind at least) a sad note. I didn't think it it was quite as good as What We Did on Our Holiday, but nevertheless I enjoyed it.
Between a Rock and a Hard
Once, whilst watching a televised football match my mate Chris expressed a desire to 'rip his arm off just to have something to throw' at a player he perhaps wasn't keen on. Obvioulsy Chris didn't. Aron Ralston, however, did. Adventurer/Outdoorsman Aron Ralston hit the news in May 2003 when his hand was trapped by a falling boulder in remote canyon. After 5 or 6 days of being trapped Ralston broke his own arm then cut his hand off in order to escape! This is the story of his escape. He takes the reader through his emotions over the course of his entrapment, which in itself makes pretty harrowing reading, and whilst you know he's going to cut his arm off, nothing quite prepares you for the gory details! I was initially a bit skeptical about this book because I'd read somewhere that the author was an unecessary risk taker and so I'd formed the view that he might have been a bit of an over-confident yahoo, but in fact this book is well written and turns out to be a pretty good read and it's hard not to have some sympathy for Ralston's plight.
All Played Out by
Along with Fever Pitchby Nick Hornby this crtically acclaimed book, telling the story of the 1990 World Cup, was part of a 'new generation' of football writing. The writer is a novelist who had a press pass for the tournament and combined going to matches with spending time with the England squad and FA reps at the World Cup to tell the story of the World Cup from various different perspectives. I watched a lot of the matches from this tournament (at the expense of revising for some exams - the subsequent, and inevitable, poor performance led to me then to check future tournament dates and how they'd fell in relation to important exams, such as my University finals which mercifully ended shortly before the 1994 World Cup started), so it was interesting to compare recollections. On the whole I thought this book was fairly interesting but not all together my cup of tea. I can't really put my finger on quite why, but I wonder if it's because a lot of what's in this book I'd heard or read before. I suspect I'd have enjoyed this book more, and rated it higher, had I read it when it originally came out shortly after the 1990 World Cup. It is interesting to note, by the way, that tabloid journalists have a long history of knocking and bringing down the national team prior to big tournaments - this must have an affect on their performance and willingness to co-operate with the media, so I wonder if it is rather self-defeating.
Starman The Truth Behind
the Legend Yuri Gagarin by
This biography of Yuri Gagarin was also the basis to a BBC TV documentary about Gagarin in the late 1990s which I happened to catch. The book's a pretty interesting read, particularly the stuff about how his life changed after going in space and how a degree of mystery surrounds his death in an air crash in 1968. Reading between the lines I was left with the impression that there is still a lot about the Russian space programme in the 1960s which is yet to be told, but as Russians become more comfortable with discussing their past (bear in mind adults in 1960s Russia will have lived in Stalinist times when voicing thoughts and opinions could lead to imprisionment or death) you can't help but wonder what else will be made known.
This book is all about the eruption of Krakatoa (located between Java and Sumatra) in 1883, and looks at the eruption from a variety of angles ranging from the social and historical background as to what was going on in what is now Indonesia in the two or three centuries before the eruption, to the science of why Krakatoa's eruption was so big and ultimately to what the consequences of the eruption were. I'd read a couple of Simon Winchester's other books before and found them a little dry in spite of interesting subject matter, but I found this book absolutely fascinating and at the same time chillingly prophetic given the events on Boxing Day 2004 in this region....it seems that the Tsumani was a disaster waiting to happen with history showing that cataclysmic volcanic/seismic activity seems to affect the region every 100 or so years in recent times. Really good book this one.
Swahili for the Broken-Hearted
Aussie travel writer Peter Moore crosses Africa from Cape Town to Cairo and has some interesting adventures en route, like failing to climb Kilimanjiro and being an extra in a film. This book is pretty light hearted, and quite amusing and is very Bill Bryson-esque, which is perhaps a bit of a dangerous thing to say given how many travel books which pertain to be amusing are described as 'funnier than Bill Bryson' or something similar. Sadly, as I like Bill Bryson books I have tended to buy books described as being 'like', 'better' or 'funnier' than Bill Bryson. With this in mind I consider myself well placed to vouch for whether or not this is true or not, and indeed bestow such comparisons on other books. So, this book, entertaining and Bryson-esque without being funnier than Bill Bryson.
Captain Scott by
As if coming second in the race for the South Pole having suffered all manner of hardships to get there and then croaking on the way home isn't enough, Scott was well and truly 'bashed' (unfairly in my opinion) in Antarctic literature in the 1960's, 70's and 80's. Fiennes biography is unashamedly pro-Scott but makes a number of good points in Scotts defence. I'd read one or two of Fiennes tales of his own Antarctic adcenture and found them, inevitably I suppose, somewhat self-aggrandizing, so I delayed starting this biography which turned out to be a very entertaining and well written read.
The Coldest March by
Soloman re-visits Captain Scott's journey to the South Pole and discusses where things went wrong for Scott. Solomon makes particular reference to the weather pointing out that the weather during Scott's trek was much worse than average, and much worse than Scott expected. Scott's weather expectations were, quite reasonably, based on the weather reports from previous trips made in the area (by himself and Shackleton), and it's only in recent years since the introduction of weather stations close to Scott's route that it has become apparent how unseasonable the weather was during his ill-fated trip to the Pole. The fatal blizzard, for example, was a very exceptional weather event. Good book this one...I especially liked it because it focused on the weather, but all in all I think Ranulph Fiennes' biography of Scott is the best book about Scott availible at the time of writing (summer 2005).
Waiting to Fly by
When I worked in the Antarctic I discovered that I really liked Adelie penguins and when I got home I decided to find out more about them. Naveen is a penguin expert who regularly visits the Antarctic. His book is part log of the sort of work he does, part history of previous Antarctic expeditions where attention was given over to penguins and part guide to how some species of penguins live. I really enjoyed this, and was pleased to note that from Naveen's description of penguin body language I didn't annoy a couple of penguins as much as I thought I might have whilst once taking photos. This book also tells readers how penguins pro-create!!!!!
French Revolutions by
Travel write Tim Moore cycles a Tour de France route and offers witty insights into life in France and the Tour as well as some reflections about the Tour and cycling. I really enjoyed this book and it was pretty funny too.
Rough Ride by
Candid autobiography of a profressional cyclist in the 1980s. Kimmage was not one of the top cyclists on the tour and had a tough time competing and this makes his book a revealing read, especially when the subject of drugs in cycling comes to light.
Put me Back on my Bike by
The author tells the story of British cyclist Tommy Simpson who died on Mount Ventoux, France during the 1967 Tour de France. Simpson was one of the best British cyclists ever, and the first Briton to ever wear the yellow jersey in the Tour. However, he was also involved in race fixing (in order to make a living) and admitted to using banned substances. Interesting and well written book. Sad ending though, and Simpson's never appeared to have the recognition he deserves as one of Britain's top atheletes.
In Search of Moby Dick by
Tim Severin has written a number of fascinating books whereby he travels an area (or in this case the world!!) providing both a travel log of where he's travelling, and details about the history behind something (in this case Moby Dick) many will have heard of. In this book Severin travels the world looking at whaling today and discussing what truths lay behind Moby Dick (the author worked on whaling vessels). Absolutely fascinating this book. Really enjoyed it.
Seeking Robinson Crusoe
Tim Severin travels the Carribean/South America discussing how the tale of Robinson Crusoe developed from real life tales of castaways. Interesting reading.
In Search of Genghis Kahn
The author travels through Mongolia showing the reader what modern day Mongolia is like and telling the reader some stuff about Genghis Kahn. There wasn't enough gruesome stuff about Genghis Kahn for my liking, but my word did he have a big empire at one stage! The historical stuff was interesting though, but Severin's comtemporary journey through Mongolia was a bit tedious. This book's not as good as In Search of Moby Dick and Seeking Robinson Crusoe, but I still thought it was OK.
Frank Skinner by
I don't like showbiz books really, but my mate Tony told me this book was really funny and lent it to me. Turns out Tony was right......this book can be seen as a string of amusing anecdotes strung together in such a way that they happen to tell Frank Skinner's life story. Very, very funny.
Seize the Moment by
Helen Sharman was the first British citizen in space - she went up into space as part of a joint Russian-UK flight in the early 1990s. Her tale is quite interesting and the overiding impression that I was left with was how much training and medical tests were necessary to get her up into space! This books wasn't quite as revealing as I expected it to be - maybe this is because it was written in the early 1990s when autobiographies were, perhaps, less candid and revealing than they are now, but perhaps I expected too much from the book. I thought it was OK but nothing special - there are many better astronauts biographies about in my opinion.
A Time to Die: The Kursk
One of my main tasks as a weather forecast over the last few years has been making marine forecasts used by the oil industry, marine engineers, sailors and marine salvage experts. With this in mind I was interested in the operational background of raising the Kursk (a Russian naval submarine which sunk in the Barents Sea in 2000, killing all on board) in a difficult environment. The human aspect of the tragedy is, of course, the thing that sticks in people's minds (rightly so) and this book presents a pretty harrowing tale as to how the submarine sank and how the crew could, perhaps, have been rescued. Not an easy tale to tell really due to the subject matter, but it's a tale well told I thought.
Che Guevara by
I knew very little about global icon Che Guevara, but I was intrigued as to why an Argentinian was involved in the Cuban revolution and then why he went on to die fighting in Bolivia rather than remaining in Cuba. This short biography provides brief answers to these, and other, questions, and this book turned out to be a quite interesting, if brief, read. On the back of reading this I bought a much weightier biography about his life.
We Did on Our Holiday
A tale about a husband and wife with their own problems on holiday with on set of parents, with their own problems, in Malta.....a long lost interloper then complicates the scene in what turns out to be an often funny, and occasionally sad novel. The tale is really well put together though and this is a really good read!
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable
I met the author during an orientation week organised by the British Antarctic Survey prior to going to work in the Antarctic for them for a while. This book is Jon's first novel and it is outstanding. The tale of how a number of people's seemingly ordinary lives are brought together by one tragic event is very cleverly told. This book was the best book I read in 2004, a year in which I reckon I read about 40 books. My friend Rose liked it as well.
I've read most of Iain Banks' books. Some I like, some were too surreal for me and some I thought were a bit crap. Complicity is, by far and away, my favourite. The book is about a Scottish jounalist who gets framed for a series of brutal murders which he is invesigating. The story is full of interesting twists and turns, and I could actually imagine the turn of events in the book happening. Really good this book!
Autobiography of infamous ex-footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones. It was OK but nothing special. I had hoped for some slightly more juicy details and better tales of tomfoolery, but sadly none were forthcoming. This book passed a few hours but was 'only alright' to be honest.
This book is all about how nasty and horrible large supermarket chains in the UK and what lengths they go to to make money. Nothing in this book really shocked or surprised me, although I imagine it would others. but it was interesting to find out a little bit about what goes on. This book was an interesting, if slightly depressing, read and it definitely made me more likely to go out of my way to buy stuff from local butchers, farmer's markets etc than shop exclusively at the large chain supermarket of my choice.
Shepard and Deke Slayton
This book written by two former US astronauts (Shepard was the first American in space and played golf on the moon and Slayton was part of the joint USA-USSR mission in the 1970s) is basically a history of the US space programme from the late 1950s through to the mid to late 1970s. It's pretty interesting and factual rather than anecdotal - for something more anecdotal I recommed Moondust by Andrew Smith and Two Sides of the Moon by David Scott and Alexei Leonov. Anyway, I was into space travel when I was a kid, and this book added much 'meat' to what I'd read when I was younger.
Like many children of the 1970s (I guess) I was really interested on space travel when I was a kid and read what I could about it. Just as the Antarctic has a romantic, heroic age of exploration (the late 19th and early 20th century) culminating in reaching a 'big goal' (the South Pole) followed by decades of not much happening (because the 'big goal' is reached), so space travel seemed to follow a similar path with early flights in the 1950s and 60s culminating in landing on the moon. Landing on the moon being difficult (and expensive!) to top, space travel is much less well publicised these days, but like the Antarctic scientific interest will no doubt be piequed again someday. Anyway, this book is a cracking idea - the author interviews all those who have landed on the moon and are still alive. He discusses how each of them became involved in the space programme and then what they are up to now as well as discussing their thoughts on going to the moon. For some astronauts life hasn't always gone smoothly after going to the moon which is a shame, although not necessarily surprising because considering how intense and life-changing stepping on the moon must be. Anyway, Smith executes an original idea nicely and has produced a very readable book, especially if you like space travel. Having read this book I went out and bought 10 books about space travel!
Another football autobiography. Ultimately most football autobiographies are destined to disappoint I think. Libel laws and the desire to remain working within the game ultimately prevent many footballers from perhaps saying what they'd like, or, more accurately I suppose, what punters want to hear and consequently many are rather bland, even if the reader happens to be a fan of a team the player played for (in which case aspects of the book ought to be a little more personal). As it happens, this genre of book is becoming increasingly candid but often I find them a bit bland. Stuart Pearce's book, however, is a pretty interesting read, largely because he's an interesting character who has bothered to make interesting use of his time, and consequently this book's not a bad read.
Left Foot Forward by
Writing in the twilight of his career Garry Nelson's diary of his season lets readers in on what life's like in the then First Division in the mid 1990s. Like most professional footballers Garry Nelson didn't play at the top level, but was good enough (and lucky enough) to have a lengthy career in the lower divisions. This is his diary of a season, and reads very differently to the life of high-paid Premier League stars. And this is exactly what makes this book so interesting - Nelson's thoughts, views and worries reflect those of many other players and provide a much more realistic, yet rarely seen, view of what the life of a professional footballer is really like.
One Hit Wonder The Jimmy
Glass Story by
Professional footballer Jimmy Glass is a goalkeeper who has primarily been involved in the lower leagues. He briefly rose to fame scoring a goal that kept his then team Carlisle in the football league. His career has many ups and downs and his book tells a story that is typical of many footballers struggling to continue playing at the highest level possible, and more typical of footballers than tales of what life's like at the top of the tree. Not a bad read this one, although you most definitely won't like if you don't like football.
Odd Man Out by
Then Manchester United star Brian McClair's diary of a football season. McClair's clever, dry wit and intelligent commentary makes an otherwise fairly mundane dairy quite funny.
Super Mac by
Malcolm MacDonald was a legendary goalscorer in the 1970s and during a phase of being keen on reading football autobiographies thought he'd have a good tale to tell. Turns out I was wrong and I thought this book was a bit crap to tell the truth.
The late Brian Clough was most definitely one of football's more colourful and controversial characters, and with this in mind I expected a pretty interesting and candid read. Sadly I found his autobiography a pretty tame and dull read. Bit disappointing really.
Ruud Gullit My Autobiography
Ruud Gullit's piece of self promotion written in the mid to late 1990s wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. The book is written primarily to appeal to British readers so I found details regarding his career in Holland mnore glossed over than I'd hoped, especially the more controversial moments. Bit tame this one really.
Tackling My Demons by
Ex-footballer Stan Collymore courted controversy on and off the pitch and isn't shy about it in his autobiography. Consequently this book's a good, entertaining read. Some of Stan's points of view are interesting, for example about depression and the football establishment, and he grinds axes where necessary. I've read quite a few football (auto)biographys and love him or hate him this is one is one of the best I've read!
The Power by
Phil Taylor is the greatest darts player ever. The greatest player ever to take up the tungsten. His dominance in darts extends more than 15 years and no-one has come close to consistently beating him. In any sport this is incredible. His autobiography is a bit boring though. There's nothing per se wrong with it, it's just not a particularly exciting tale that's all.
Apsley Cherry-Garrard was the youngest member of Captain Scott's ill-fated second expedition to Antarctica in the early 20th century. A lot has, of course, been written about other more notable member's of this expedition, but Cherry-Garrard's tale is nevertheless quite interesting. Cherry-Garrard wrote a popular account of his travels (The Worst Journey in the World) which, amongst other things, details a lengthy winter trip to collect penguin eggs. Sadly his post-Antarctic life didn't go too well, largely because he tortured himself about whether or not he could have saved Scott's party before they died having reached the pole.
I wonder if I'll ever learn with football autobiographies. I didn't think this book was anything special for the most part, and in fact much of what Gazza has to say has been documented (in many cases well-documented) elsewhere, particularly in the tabloids, so most of the tales of tomfoolery were nothing new. Gazza does, however, reveal aspects of his character not so well documented in other media, for example discussing his thoughts on his ex-wife, depression and addictions. The Gazza of the 1990 World Cup and Euro 96 fame is only one side of Gazza it seems, and to be honest you can't help but feel a little sorry for him when he talks about other sides of his character. Other than that this book's pretty mediocre really.
Betting for a Living byNick
Best not to ask why I might want to bet for a living, but something has to pay the capital on my house. Anyway, the writer offers tips and insight on how to bet on horses. Some interesting ideas. The fact that he's making money out of these ideas of course means bookies are aware of their weaknesses and his ideas are probably now less lucrative. Still, gets the reader into the right mindset.
Successful Football Betting
Tips and insight on how to bet on football. Some interesting ideas, some of which I may even apply.
Profitable Football Betting
I like to have a bit of a flutter on the footy, and like so many things in life I figured that if I did some research I may become better at this and consequently I bought a few books. This book had some interesting ideas and suggested and analysed some betting systems and ways of picking results too. Sadly I don't believe that systematic betting can actually work, partly because of the inherent unpredictablity of the game, but also because the odds are loaded in the Bookies favour. The author also includes a diary of how he made money, so there is obviously some substance behind his methodology (which basically involves using 3 ways of analysing what the result may be and picking the teams looking good according to all systems - it's the same methodology I have been known to use to forecast thunder!!!!!). The methods he advocates I think are rather time consuming to calculate and to be honest weren't explained terribly clearly in my opinion, so whilst this book had some interesting ideas, it could have been better. If you want to research betting on the footy, I wouldn't bother with this book.
Lay, Back and Think of Winning
This book discusses a number of tactics one might want to employ using betting exchanges, as opposed to conventional betting shops, to make money out of gambling. Some interesting ideas here, all revolving round two ideas - protecting ones stake and winning often and little. If you want to make money out of gambling this book is a good start!
I like watching boxing, and the history of boxing throws up some interesting stuff. My favourite era is the 1930s, principally because of the fascinating social history associated with boxing at the time. Lots has been written about some of the key players in the 1930s, eg Joe Louis, Max Schmeling but some characters remain shrouded in a degree of anonimity. James Braddock, aka the Cinderella Man, has been one such character although he's soon to be immortalised in film. Anyway, this book is the first recent biography of him I've found. Basically, Braddock is a successful boxer in the 1920s and invests his money wisely. Then loses it all in the Great Depression and has to keep fighting. He then hits an incredibly rich vein of form and ends up becoming World Heavyweight Champion. It's a great story, but sadly this book doesn't even come close to doing it justice. Instead the author knocks out a fairly dry tale in this mercifully brief autobiography. I was pretty disappointed with it to be honest.
Two Sides of the Moon by
Scott & Alexei Leonov
Two top spacemen tell the tale of the space race in the 1960s and 70s. Scott’s side of the story is well documented in other publications, eg Moonshot, but obviously gives his take on things. Leonov’s tale is less revealing, and in places contradicts with some already published details, but nevertheless quite interesting, not least because not all that much seems to have been candidly written from the Russian point of view of the space race.
The author goes behind the scenes in the world of bodybuilding and follows the ‘tour’ (such as it is) around. Interesting in that I knew little about bodybuilding, bit disappointing in that I was left with the impression that there is a tale to tell but the author focuses on the people (and kissing arse a bit) rather than what goes on. He does make one very interesting point about drugs though and that is along the lines of the wannabes tending to be the main users rather than those at the top.
The End of Oil by
A book about the future of the energy industry, and in particular oil. The book’s written by an American chap, so is predominantly from an American perspective. The author makes a number of good points, but I found the book pretty dry and heavy going, so much so that a few weeks later I could barely remember anything about this book. Almost didn’t persist with it, in spite of being interested in the subject matter.
To the Poles Without a Beard
Tale of a 30 year old lady who walks to the South Pole. And then goes to the North Pole. Mildly entertaining tale, but diaries of early 20th century explorers are far, far better.
Taking on the World by
I thought this was a bit boring, although I have to admit I principally read it to see what she had to say about the weather and her sailing. I found it a bit repeatitve to be honest...Ellen decides compete in a race, struggles with boats or sponsorship, meets some people she thinks are nice, gets some help, completes the race and so on. I think she's a bit of a tart as well. Nor does she say much about the weather!!
The Last Breath by
A bit macabre this one...basically each chapter brings up a different, unpleasant way of meeting one's maker (eg scurvy, drowing, hypothermia) and discusses the physiology of what's going on and illustrates this using a fictional victim. Some survive, some croak. I liked this book, but I have to admit to feeling rather ghoulish for liking it!
Stupid White Men by
Entertaining book full of alternative views (although in view of the fact this book is a bestseller I guess the views aren't that alternative anymore!) and conspiracy theories. I found it pretty entertaining, if a little extreme at times. Still made me think, which can't be a bad thing.
Dancing Shoes is Dead by
All about boxing in politics in South Africa in the 1970s and 80s. Funnily enough the asides about politics proved more interesting than the stuff about boxing. I thought it was a reasonable read, but I wouldn't bother with it if you don't like boxing.
Life of Pi by
I read this novel offshore, which given the subject matter (the tale of a boy and a tiger trapped on a raft in the Pacific Ocean) probably wasn't the best place to read this one!! I quite enjoyed the story, although parts of it towards the end were too surreal for me and went way over my head. I think there was some metaphor/symbolism that I missed here.
Beer and Britanniaby
Disappointingly boring tale of the history of booze in England. The chapter about the 18th century was good though.
My Dam Life by
Tale of an Aussie who lived in Amsterdam for three years. Not a bad tale, but too much detail about his social life and not enough about the actual living in Holland, which is what I wanted to read about.
King of Commentary by
The author is a legendary boxing journalist and broadcaster and this book details a series of amusing anecdotes gathered from his lifetime involvement in boxing. A mildly entertaining read, but really one for boxing fans only.
Parallel Lines by
Marvellous tale of a writer's views and experiences of train travel in the UK and Ireland. The author does a bit of spotting, some line bashing and generally addresses, in an amusing way, some of the problems and issues concerning British railways. Good book this one.
The Lawnmower Celebrity
The fictional diary of an 18 year old boy coping with the pressures of love, finding and keeping a job, losing his mother and having a father with famous friends. Quite funny but also quite sad. Good read though….kind of an Adrian Mole for the 21st century.
Mission Impossible by
The story of how Lennox Lewis became World Heavyweight Champion. The book goes into all manner of details about the behind the scenes politics that went on as Lewis became the dominant heavyweight boxer of the late 20th century. Good read if you like boxing. Gavin Evan's more up to date biography of Lennox Lewis is better though.
Now this is what a football auto biography (or, more accurately, ghost written biography) should be all about. Keane's infamous (auto)biography is pretty candid and he doesn’t come across as a spoilt, pampered star, so his book makes a welcome change from the usual bland sports biographies! I don't like Man U, but enjoyed this book.
Prison Diary by
Simon Winchester was working as a journalist at the time of the outbreak of the Falklands War. His employers sent him down to the Falklands just before war broke out and he got there just in time to witness war breaking out. He was subsequently captured and held on spying charges with 2 other journalists in an Argentinian jail for a few months. This book started off well, and I liked the stuff about the war breaking out. However, much of the book dealt, not surprisingly, with his time in jail which I found rather dry and boring. Good bits and bad bits with this book then.
Where Did it All Go Right
This book had been selling well and came well recommeded, but I thought it was a load of bollocks. I'm not nostalgic for the 70s, not for my childhood, and whilst I could relate to some of the stuff the author wrote about (he's only a few years older than me) this book didn't conjure up any heart warming pangs of 70s nostalga. Quite the opposite in fact because this book actually made me feel miserable (although I accept the author didn't mean to make me feel this way!). I didn't like this book, but if you want to re-live a 70s childhood you'll probably like this book. Quite frankly my childhood wasn't happy enough to have nostalgic pangs about the 1970s.
The Damage Done byWarren
I read this book whilst doing an offshore job. On the same trip I read Simon Winchester's Prison Diary...this might say something about my mentality on that job!! Anyway, Fellows was banged up in a Thai jail for drug smuggling. Remember the Thai jail scene in the second Bridget Jones film? Well Thai jails aren't like that. They sound like real shit holes. This book was quite candid and mildy entertaining. Not the greatest read ever. The bit about the feverish French guy's lump on his neck still makes me gag though. Words and a thousand pictures anyone???
McCarthy's Bar by
I saw this book for sale at every airport I went into for what seemed like years. I like to think of myself of being slightly different to average and have always been put off buying airport bestsellers. Nevertheless, I gave this book a go, and bloody hell it was funny. McCarthy details a trip round Ireland and it's really a pretty funny read. I'm loath to say 'a bit like Bill Bryson' because such comparisons are made on covers or in reviews of almost every amusing travel book these days (or so it seems), but this book is very Bill Bryson-esque. But slightly funnier.
Ajax Barcelona Cruyff The
ABC of an Obstinate Maestro by
Barend & Henk van Dorp
To commemorate Johan Cruyff's 50th birthday these two journalist published a series of interviews with Cruyff between the 1970's and 1990's. To get the most out of the interviews you need to know a bit about Cruyff, what he got up to and why he did certain things (for example why he chose to leave Ajax, not go to the 1978 World Cup, not become the Dutch national team coach etc). I think the need to know some background information makes the book a bit less accessible than it otherwise would be which is a shame really. I think it would have been nice if the authors had included some of this background information prior to each interview. In conclusion, if you know a lot about Johan Cruyff and Dutch football you'll probably enjoy this book. If not I suspect you'll find this book a little bit disjointed and confusing and perhaps get the wrong idea about Cruyff.
One Hit Wonderland by
Fresh from tennis against Moldovans the author takes up another challenge, this time to make a hit single. Our hero's quest for a chart topper takes him from Nashville to Albania via Sudan, the Netherlands and Romania, a rather unconventional route to muscial superstardom you might think. This is a nice tale and again wittily written. It wasn't as funny as Playing the Moldovans at Tennis though. Still worth a read!
Down and Out in Paris and
In his early days as a writer Orwell studied, for want of a better phrase, the poorer classes and in order to do so spent time living amongst tramps and people struggling to find work in both Paris and London. Like The Road to Wigan Pier Orwell gives an excellent insight into what being poor and homeless in the 1930's was like. I really enjoyed this book. Orwell writes in a nice, easy to read style and is really quite witty. Definitely worth a read!
It's Not About the Bike:My
Journey Back to Life by
Already a great cyclist, Lance Armstrong battles back from life threatening cancer to become one of the greatest cyclists ever. The tale of how Armstrong battles back is heart warming in the sense that you realise how close to croaking he was, how lucky he is to be alive and how much effort and determination he had to put in to win at cycling again. This alone makes it one of the better sports auto-biography's I've read and it makes for a pretty inspiring tale.
A few years ago Emily Barr used to write a witty column in The Guardian sports supplement on a Friday in which she banged on about how much her bloke put sport before her and how she got increasingly interested in the sports he was watching. The column was so good I used to read it first, before the real sports news which I really wanted to read. So, I was really rather pleased to find that she'd written a novel. The novel is about a girl who fakes her own death to get away from a rather serious situation at home and runs away to Australia. Incredibly some years down the line she's discovered by an old friend who inadvertently attracts a media circus to Australia. I thought this was a great book with one or two nice twists at the end.
Stamping Grounds by
Charlie Connelley's book is a tale about going to watch World Cup 2002 quailfying matches featuring Liechtenstein. In order to do this the author spends some time in Liechtenstein, and this book will probably tell you more about the country than you'll find anywhere else! It's a pleasant enough read, but if you don't like football this book will have very little appeal. Similarly, if you don't want to find out anything about Liechtenstein you won't like it either. It's not a bad idea for a book, but the premise of going to Liechtenstein is based on doing it for the hell of it, rather than something more pressing, like, say a bet, which I reckon would made the book a bit better in that the author would have more of a sense of urgency.
Wyatt's Hurricane by
This suspense thriller is a bit old, and the fact it was first published in the mid 1960's. I'm not sure if it's still in print, but you can definitely buy it at Abebooks. Anyway set on a politically unstable Carribbean island against the background of a military coup just getting underway, our hero, a meteorologist, attempts to convince his own superiors, government officials and eventually the leaders of the military coup that a hurricane is on the way and set to cause death and destruction. Inevitably the hurricane strikes (so our hero gets his weather forecast right - oh how I wish would life imitate art Ha Ha Ha!) and mayhem follows. The author spins the tale nicely, the hurricane descriptions are very well put and there's even a happy ending (he gets the weather right and gets the girl....I hate him!). The fact that the book was written in the 1960's shows in the style of language which reminded me a bit of a Biggles book I read when I was a bairn.
Are you Experienced?by
As someone who has proved to be less than succesful with the ladies I quite enjoy tales of other people's misfortune with the supposedly fairer sex. So when I read in The Guardian that William Sutcliffe's book was a good read about this very subject I was quite happy to pay over the odds to buy the book in Holland. Briefly it's a tale about a bloke on a year out after his A Levels going to India for a few months with his mate's girlfriend who he'd quite like to have a bit of how's your father with. Sadly I didn't find his tale particularly funny (although The Times claimed that it is 'very very funny'), and I suspect this was because I couldn't help but think that I would hate to spend any time whatsoever with any of the characters in the book. On the plus side the book made me glad I never had a year out to go travelling and meet wankers like the characters in this book! Also on the plus side is that although I didn't like this book it kept me interested until the end which leads me to the conclusion that if you can like or at least empathize with the characters you might enjoy this book.
Playing the Moldovans at
The author takes up a crazy bet that based on the fact he's quite good at tennis he should be able to beat 11 international footballers from Moldova at tennis. The footballers clearly have the athletic prowess, the author the tennis technique. Which will prevail? And might at least one of the international not have picked up a tennis racket before? This tale is very well spun, wittily written and has a cracking twist in the plot towards the end. Definitely worth a read!
The Road to Wigan Pier by
At the time this was a bit of a departure from the normal sort of stuff I read, but nevertheless Orwell's brief study of the working classes in the UK in the 1930's makes very good reading. The book is divided into two parts. In the first part Orwell travels to various parts of the UK meeting and mixing with the working classes, and this part is, to my mind, quite wittily written and gives a bit of an insight into what life was like then. You also realise that to a certain extent some things haven't really changed either which is perhaps a little bit alarming! In the second part of the book Orwell discusses socialism, how he, as a middle class Englishman, feels about socialism and how his views towards socialism have changed and developed over the course of his life. Putting in bluntly Orwell basically tries to justify his socialist views. I enjoyed the first part of the book; it gives the reader a good impression of working class life at the time and his descriptions amused me (althought I suspect this should be seen as a bonus rather than taken as an intention of the writer!). The second part of the book bored me. I don't really care if a middle class Englishman has socialist leanings, and in any case considering some of Orwell's other works eg Animal Farm, Down and Out in London and Paris and the fact he fought for the left in the Spanish Civil War I was aware that he had socialist leanings. On the other hand I can understand that in the 1930's it was unusual for middle class Englishmen to be socialist so some justification of his views would have been necessary. I think this is worth a read, and on the basis of this book I'll probably read some more of Orwell's non-fiction works. Oh, and by the way Orwell never got to Wigan Pier.
Are you Dave Gorman? by
Dave Gorman & Danny Wallace
This book's absolutely brilliant. It's got almost everything; an interesting, original plot, it's well and humorously written and it doesn't take too much effort to read! It's the best book I've read in ages. The writers strike an elaborate bet to meet 54 people named Dave Gorman and then set about meeting them, Dave very enthusiastically (perhaps not surprisingly!) and Danny with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Well worth buying.
Yakking Around the World
Simon Hughes is a former professional crickter and now a writer/journalist. I'm not a massive cricket fan but this book charting tales of what Simon Hughes got up to whilst 'wintering' in foreign climes during his cricker career is nevertheless an entertaining read. He doesn't delve too much into the ins and outs of cricket nor does he go into too many sordid details about what he did and didn't get up, but the book flows along quite nicely and every now and again hints at what life in general is like for a professional crickter plying his trade just below the top echelon.
Almost Heaven by
Martin Fletcher is a journalist for The Times who after working in the USA for a few years travelled across the USA via some rather strange and out of the way places rather than via the main tourist stops. He meets a number of interesting people with a tale to tell and gives the reader a flavour of what 'real America' is like away from the big cities and tourist traps. The book's quite wittly written and in the vein of Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent (only not quite as drole). Worth buying.
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Dan Suri, 3 September 2009