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Posts about bonanza (old posts, page 15)

Travels with Herodotus

Travels with Herodotus

Ryszard Kapuściński

2004


many fabulous anecdotes to a life spent in travel reportage, accompanies and complemented by the Travels of Herodotus. The conjunction doesn't sit quite comfortably for me: not enough Herodotus, and perhaps not sufficiently entangled into the autobiography, but still left me wanting to read the classic.

3/5. Finished 26 May 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Now We Have Your Attention: Inside Britain’s Radical New Politics

Now We Have Your Attention: Inside Britain’s Radical New Politics

Jack Shenker


A very timely exploration of the left-behind of British society and how they're coming to terms (or not) with late-stage capitalism. The actors range across the spectrum, as do the politics the various people embrace.

It's such a current book, written just before the Conservatives' crushing win in the 2019 general election, that it's hard to assess some of the observations. Momentum, the left-wing insurgency within Labour, had a hand in massively improving the party's showing in 2017, and Shenker clearly outlines their goals and strengths. But even with that, Labour didn't win – and went on to lose even more severely in 2019. Perhaps it will take time to assess whether Momentum's integration of party politics and activism can be properly harnessed to win power.

There's also what feels like a curious, sharp, turn in the last chapter to include more consideration of climate change and climate activism. It's closely argued and clearly very important, and that makes it surprising that it wasn't woven more tightly inot the rest of the argument.

4/5. Finished 10 May 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Say Nothing: A True Story Of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland

Say Nothing: A True Story Of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland

Patrick Radden Keefe

2018


As good a narrative history of the Troubles as any you'll find. It skips the broad brush in favour of the effects on three groups of people: the children of Jean McConville, the best-known of the "disappeared"; the coterie around Gerry Adams and Dolours Price; and the authors and interviewers of the Boston College project that captured (and partially revealed) the activities of many of the protagonists on both sides of the divide.

From one perspective this is the right level. The terror campaign – Republican and Loyalist – has had a lot of exposure in terms of the events, but less in terms of the victims (and perpetrators). It's important to realise how many of those intimately involved came to regard "the struggle" as purposeless in retrospect, and to renounce the violence they had once embraced. Martin McGuinness is the best-known example of this, but there are surprisingly many more.

From another perspective, however, it's less satisfactory in that there's a lack of closure, a continuing lack of agreement about who did what, knew what, and decided what. It will probably need another twenty years before there's a consensus, and in the meantime this is the most illuminating exploration.

4/5. Finished 03 April 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

Simon Winchester

2018


An engaging history of engineering through the the lens of ever-increasing precision. starting with more efficient steam engines and ending with spacecraft and microprocessors.

Until about two-thirds of the way through I had a criticism that the book focused on precision solely as a means to mass production the need to components that are exactly the same to facilitate easy replacement, as contrasted against craft-made items. I was contrasting this against one-off, hand-made, but nonetheless precise artefacts such as the turbulence experiment described by James Gleick in Chaos: Making a New Science: a tiny fluid chamber with embedded sensors, still regarded as one of the finest experiments ever crafted. But the discussions of watches more than remedied the omission.

The chapter on Japan as a contrast to the "cult" of precision feels a bit forced. Yes, the Japanese have a sensitivity (wabi sabi) for the imperfect in art while maintaining a reverence for high-precision machines – but so do other cultures and art forms, not least jazz and abstract impressionism, that render the contrast a bit superficial.

4/5. Finished 29 March 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Michael Pollan

2018


Almost enough to make one want to try them, this is a fine description of the history, biochemistry, and cultural significance of psychedelics. It walks a fine line between the materialistic and the spiritual: what do psychedelic trips signify, are they "just" drug experiences or do they connect with something else?

It's a book that's worth reading for any of its component parts. The history sheds light both on the counterculture of the 60's and on the genesis and evolution of moral panics of the sort that resulted in LSD being proscribed. The biochemistry does its best to reflect the latest scientific thinking, but also shows how much of neuroscience is still tied up with speculative and metaphorical models of what's happening in the brain. And the personal history of the author's own trips – carefully supervised and with plenty of trepidation on his part – go some way to showing how influential and persistent the effects of the drugs can be.

The book could do with some better copy-editing: it's repetitive in places. But well worth a read.

4/5. Finished 23 February 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)