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corblimey has got too many books

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  • 8. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Paperback (Larson). Like the last Larson book, there's no major plot twists in this book about the sinking of the Lusitania off the Cork coast in 1915, the skill comes in constructing the story leading up to that point. Focusing on the ship and its passengers (possibly a little too much on the passengers), the captain and crew of the submarine (as it stalked the waters around Ireland and UK) and the men back in London listening in on everything going on, it moves along at a fair old pace.

    Since the sinking only took 18 mins, the actual meat of the book takes only a few pages towards the end, and then there's the aftermath and the recriminations, along with a quick synopsis of what happened to the main survivors. Great book, thoroughly recommended.




  • 9. To the Edge of the World: The Story of the Trans-Siberian Railway (Wolmar). Well researched and well written account of the planning, execution and the subsequent trouble the line caused, as the country of Russia went through a massive upheaval (the end of the tsarist era, the beginning of communism, 2 world wars, etc). The events do tend to take some of the focus off the story, and it seems that the author was trying to shoehorn in the use of the railway during these turbulent times, not wholly succesfully. When he concetrates on teh railway, it's pretty damn good.

    Finally though, and always the sign of a good book, it made me scamper off to Amazon to add some Russian Revolution based books to my basket. It's fun to learn!




  • 10. TV, the Book (Sepinwall). How do you pick the 100 greatest (American) (scripted) TV shows of all time and write something interesting about subjects that have been milked for years, perhaps decades? Answer, you can't, as this book illustrates. Quite apart from the fact that I didn't agree with a lot of the choices nor the order in which they appear, the short essays amount to little more than Wikipedia cut n paste and add very little to the understanding of each show. Pointless.




  • 11. Fascinating Footnotes From History (Milton). Note to self: contact Mr.Milton to exaplin what 'fascinating' means, because there's no evidence in here that he's altogether sure. Overall, it's basically sub-QI stuff, the sort of thing that would spark a question from Stephen Fry "how many English women did Hitler impregnate?" - that sort of thing. Is Stephen Fry still doing QI?




  • 12. Worst Hard Time (Egan). Well researched and very well told account from the turn of the 20th century when homesteaders arrived in the areas of land around the Texas panhandle, that area of the US in between Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, etc. As the price of wheat hit all time highs, the land was stripped bare of any nutrients and quite quickly the soil was completely eroded away. As the depression hit, and the land suffered from a prolonged drought, events known as 'dusters' start occurring on a regular basis, getting worse each time.

    I knew next to nothing about the eponymous 'dust bowl' before reading this book, and the tragedy and consequences are made all too clear by the author. How people hung in there for so long ius either a testament to their bravery or their hubris, I really can't decide. Great book.


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  • 13. Dumbing Us Down (Gatto). Not a history of compulsory schooling as I expected, but a treatise on why it doesn't work. Interesting enough in places, I guess, but overall not very compelling.




  • 14. Information is Beautiful (McCandless). I'm torn on this: the graphic design is gorgeous (or 'beautiful', I guess), but the information isn't that interesting. I also got the feeling of sanctimony from some of the pages, like the author was criticising me for not caring more about my carbon footprint, paticularly when displayed as a bar chart.

    PS: for those of us off the eighties, this is the same Dave McCandless who used to write for Your Sinclair and those sorts of magazines. Still can't recommend it though.




  • 15. Betrayal (Boston Globe). The book behind the movie Spotlight, this is a distressing and upsetting tale of abuse in the Catholic church, focussing mostly on the Boston dioceses as exposed by the Globe. The litany of abuse, the cover ups, the small steps of restitution made by the Church as the cases became public, it's all fairly depressing, even for a lapsed Catholic like myself. The book itself is well written, although it jumps around a lot and gets itself tied in knots - it might have been better to focus on a few of the worse offenders.




  • 16. Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey (Hewitt)
    I picked this up based solely on the blurb, and the fact that a history of map making in the British Isles could be fascinating. It isn't. It's either the subject matter or the author, but this is a deathly dull trawl through the ages. After several false starts that seem to be there only to thicken the book out, the history finally gets started with a whimper rather than a bang. To be fair to the author, how interesting can you make triangulation anyway? The answer is zero interesting. Shame.




  • 17. Invention of Paris (Hazan)
    A fascinating history of and guide to the nooks, crannies and passages of Paris. It has 2 problems:
    1. It makes brief mention of important Paris-based historical events and people in a way that suggests you're a fool if you don't understand the literary references.
    2. It made my inner reading voice go a bit poncy as it tried to properly pronounce the multitude of sometimes unnecessary French words.
    On the good side (maybe), I added about a million things to my itinerary for my forthcoming trip to Paris.


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  • 18. Stiff (Roach)
    Had no idea what to expect, and the blurb at the back which spoke to 'What Happens to Your Body When You Die' had me a little worried, but this is a fun book, nonwithstanding its rather macabre theme. The author trundles through the history of corpses, from grave robbing through cannibalism and onto decomposition with tongue firmly in cheek along the way. If you think burial is the only option for you, read this book.




  • 19. Travelled Far (Foskett)
    A short book filled with short chapters describing various hikes the author has undertaken. It sounded like it might be right up my alley, as someone who loves day hiking and is always looking for ideas. Unfortunately, despite its length it needs some editing, and it's almost completely charmless in its descriptions of the walks, reading more like blog posts than an actual novel. Terrible.




  • corblimey wrote: »
    19. Travelled Far (Foskett)
    A short book filled with short chapters describing various hikes the author has undertaken. It sounded like it might be right up my alley, as someone who loves day hiking and is always looking for ideas. Unfortunately, despite its length it needs some editing, and it's almost completely charmless in its descriptions of the walks, reading more like blog posts than an actual novel. Terrible.

    I'm enjoying this blog of yours. Retire and then you can read a book every day or two like me (sometimes). Also I found a way of recycling - Coffee shop at Nutgrove have a shelf of books and I often leave one or two there - unfortunately I'm inclined to borrow a good or interesting one when it catches my eye.
    I'm currently looking for a book that would give me a feeling, taste, impression of what overall America is like; more aptly what the different parts of America are like. I suppose if I was to write about Ireland Id say its like Gaul '... divisa in tres partes' - Dublin, rural and other towns like Limerick, Cork etc.
    Enjoy your reading. I wont recommend any since you have enough on your plate. However if you want a good book on Africa I can provide - bit ponderous though.




  • 20. Working the London Underground (Pedroche)
    Another history of the London Underground, doesn't really add anything more to the story that I didn't know already, but recommended as a starter book on the topic. The second part where it details some of the work done by the staff, and how it's changed down through the years was better, but not indepth enough for my liking.




  • 21. The Daily Show (the Book): An Oral History (Smith)
    I stopped watching the Daily Show when John Stewart left (although I hear the chap in charge now has his moments) so this history of the Stewart era is quite interesting. It goes year by year, but focuses on some particular aspect from each year (2001: 9/11, 2008: Obama election) and describes what happens behind the scenes, etc. Everything is done through the filter of talking heads, so there's a fair bit of "x did this" and then x saying "no, I didn't" that could have been done away with a more objective narrator, but pretty interesting nonetheless.




  • 22. Ticket to Ride (Chesshyre)
    Years ago, when I planned my travel bucket list, train journeys featured strongly on it, but as I've gone to actually plan trips involving train travel, I've been less sure of how I would enjoy them. This book goes some way to confirming my fears. It's nice to read about the author enjoying long distance travel in far off countries (and France), but everything he writes about the actual experience makes me sure that while I won't avoid train travel, I won't be planning with the sole objective of train travel again.

    I guess that's a good thing. Good book, although the last chapter feels like a bit of filler lobbed in at the last minute and not wholly connected to the rest.




  • 23. Disrupted (Lyons)
    This should've been fun, 50-something journalist let go from Newsweek finds a new career in a tech startup. Hilarity ensues. Except it doesn't. The book is about 80% "tech startups are cray-cray" and 20% "curmudgeonly old man has had it up to here with you millennials." Nobody leaves the book looking good including the author, who seems constantly surprised by the inanity of his chosen tech startup, something called Hubspot(?). "They have candy in the kitchen and everyone sits on bean bag chairs, the ridiculousness!!" Meh. Made me miss 'Microserfs' and nobody misses 'Microserfs'.




  • 24. Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Boo)
    Not sure why I picked this up, but thought I might enjoy it once I got into it. Well, I didn't get into it before it ended. It's a fairly non descript book, the crippling poverty and day-to-day survival masking a rather trite tale about.. well about nothing really.




  • 25. Alibaba's World (Erisman)
    I'm on a bit of an early 2000s Internet kick these days, with The PayPal Wars and ... er that's it. And I read The PayPal Wars back in January. Still, they share the common link of making eBay the enemy, which I guess was the thing in early 2000s Internet. However, this book is not good. The author joins Alibaba when it's small, leaves for a year, and comes back when it's big. And then things happen, and it becomes bigger and bigger, while the author apparently sits and watches, waiting for his shares to divest. It's just very very dull, like I wrote a book about my business - we have meetings most days and one time, somebody brought in a dog. Dull.




  • 26. I'm Not with the Band (Patterson)
    Part personal memoir, part rehashing of interviews the author had with various pop 'types'. The memoir part didn't interest me at all, and the interviews were for the most part pretty bad. She started working in the industry in the last 80s, which everyone agrees was the worse era for music, and then continues through the grunge years, the navel gazing years, the 'mad'chester years, Britney, etc etc. It's not entirely terrible, with a few shining moments, but on the whole, not great


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  • 27. We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy (Gaines)
    I enjoyed this, with plenty of behind the scenes information, talking heads - actors of course, but also crew - and various trivial knowledge about the only trilogy I like all 3 movies of. More time is spent on the first movie than the other 2 combined, and it loses its way in the final chapter which is about its legacy (the fansites and conventions, and that sort of nonsense), but exhaustively researched and a very entertaining and easy read.




  • 28. Dog Company (O'Donnell)
    I visited Normandy on a tour recently, and one of the stops was Pointe du Hoc where our guide regaled us with the story of the Rangers who attached Pointe Du Hoc on D-day in an effort to silence the guns there. I'd never heard of that story, so picked up this book on my return. I may have picked the wrong book. While the feat is still immense, this book is terrible. I hate sound effects ("BOOM!") in novels, and its get very confused with itself (probably a by-product of the confusing day itself, but could still be organised a bit better). I'm still impressed by what the Rangers did, and am happy to have learned something new, but this isn't the right way to learn it.




  • 29. It's on the Meter (Archer, Ellison)
    It sounded like fun, 3 "mates" go on a round the world trip in a knackered black cab. It should be like those car challenges they do on Top Gear and hilarity must ensure. It does not. To be honest, I gave about half way through, as it seemed to be just an endless sequence of 'got to x, got absolutely sh*tfaced in a local bar, slept for y hours, got up and left x'. For page after tedious page. For all I know the second half was an hilarious tour de force, but I've got better things to be doing.




  • 30. 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea (Franklin)
    This is a slightly unbelievable tale of a fisherman who's boat is damaged in a storm and he ends up drifting 9000 miles across the Pacific, washing up on the Marshall Islands. It's a true story, but since the fisherman is on his own for most of the journey, his account of how he survived gets a little bit implausible at times.

    The last "incredible survival" book I read was Miracle In The Andes, and this pales in comparison to that one.




  • 31. Heyday: The 1850s and the Dawn of the Global Age (Wilson)
    Quick, what's the best ever decade? 1980-1989? 1430-1439? 100-0 BC? Nope, you're all wrong, because according to the author it was 1850-1859 (and slightly later, apparently). Actually, this is a great book, although the concept is a bit flimsy. It's a potted history of things like the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, the settlement of Australia and NZ (via the first gold rush in Oz in 1851), slavery and the American South, and the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858. I guess he makes a decent case, but I felt the idea that this all happened in one decade is a little flawed. However, the histories themselves are well written, well researched and interesting, so I'll buy into the notion entirely.




  • 32. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (Acemoglu, Robinson)
    Well we find out on about page 17 (spoiler:
    the people in charge are generally d*cks
    ) and the rest of the 400 pages just serves to drive that point home. The "nations" chosen as example are a mixed bag, and basically it's a speedy clatter through the history of the world. Not bad, but not great.




  • 33. Word by Word (Stamper)
    Fun little book, equal parts history of dictionaries in general (and Merriam-Webster specifically) and history of English language. The author has a keen sense of humour and doesn't take the art of lexicography too seriously. Not much more to add, if you like words, you should read it. And who doesn't?




  • 34. Room (Donoghue)
    The movie has been on my to-watch list since release, but I thought I'd check out the book first. Like most works of fiction these days, I just didn't care for it. It's an interesting story but there are too many cutesy framing devices for my liking. I won't ruin the ending, but suffice to say that I've crossed the movie off my list aswell. Maybe I shouldn't read movie books until I've see the movie movie.


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