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Posts about bonanza (old posts, page 4)

The Hidden Persuaders

The Hidden Persuaders

Vance Packard

1957


The classic exposé of advertising. In many ways this book remains fresh, perhaps because of the popularity of Mad Men in bringing 50's advertising culture back to prominence. In others, it hasn't aged well and is clearly a product of its time. If you can get back the casual sexism and references to tobacco's "cancer scare", however, it's still a great read.

I found it impossible to read this book without thinking of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, another exploration of how to affect people's behaviour "for their own good". It's hard to decide which is more insidious. While advertising has undoubtedly had long-term effects on our behaviour in the half-century since Packard wrote, it's also true that many of the techniques being espoused are now so obvious that they've ceased to be effective: I sometimes wonder whether advertising now almost has to be ironic just to get past people's media filters. As a thoughtful introduction from a time just starting to show the complexities of the modern world, though, this book is hard to beat.

3/5. Finished 24 April 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Shackleton's Whisky: The extraordinary story of an heroic explorer and twenty-five cases of unique MacKinlay's Old Scotch

Shackleton's Whisky: The extraordinary story of an heroic explorer and twenty-five cases of unique MacKinlay's Old Scotch

Neville Peat

2012


Two biographies for the price of one! – of an heroic adventurer and a classic whisky.

The book is in two parts. The first is the history of Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition of 1907. Peat manages to convey the emptiness of the Antarctic and the struggles and successes of the expedition. He does an excellent job of combining the adventure, the science, and the hardship that the away team underwent – and indeed those that happened on the long trip from England to Antarctica via New Zealand.

The second part is the story of the whisky's temporary recovery back to the distillery to be tasted, tested, and re-created by blending modern whiskies. Anyone with any interest in whisky will find this fascinating, both the processes involved and the taste of the resulting dram. The very idea that it's possible to re-create an old Scotch so faithfully is quite remarkable, and I'm very tempted by a bottle.

The link between the two parts is a little tenuous in places, not least because Shackleton, as a teetotaller, studiously avoided talking about the drinking habits of the expedition in his books, so Peat is reduced to pointing out what isn't mentioned. That's hardly his fault, and it's a limitation that doesn't really reduce the pace of the story or the centrality that century-old whisky has for Antarctic exploration's human side.

4/5. Finished 09 March 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Travels in West Africa

Travels in West Africa

Mary H. Kingsley

1897


A great insight into a period now long in the past. Mary Kingsley was clearly ahead of her time, not only in her independent travel but also in her perceptions of indigenous cultures in Africa and the coastal islands. But she was also distinctly of her time in the casual assumptions of sex and race that at times get rather wearing. The sensation is somewhat like reading a Rider Haggard novel: the same sense that the author means well and is impressed by the cultures being described while at the same time feeling they're both intrinsically inferior and unbridgeably different.

3/5. Finished 04 December 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Jerusalem: The Biography

Jerusalem: The Biography

Simon Sebag Montefiore

2011


A real page-turner of a "biography", as much of religion as of the city of Jerusalem: the two are essentially inseparable.

The author has done an amazing job covering so much history in a consistently interesting and engaging style, from the earliest occurrences of Jerusalem in the historical record up to (nearly) the present day. And in all that time Jerusalem has been at the central nexus of history, as empires have flowed past it despite its inconvenient location.

What makes this book most fascinating to me is the cast of familiar characters who turn up, but out of the place in history you generally associate them with. There are Franz von Papen, Rudolf Hess, and Rudolf Hoess there during the First World War, before their rise to power in Nazi Germany; Charles Warren, who later achieved notoriety hunting Jack the Ripper; Rasputin, on leave from the Tsar's court. (There's also a walk-on part by a man called Fulk the Repulsive, who I wanted to hear more about just for his name.) The same is also true to some extent of the architecture, where each new building is constructed from the spolia of a previous age, re-used and re-purposed in a way that lets the alert scholar find Crusader inscriptions hidden on Muslim walls. A book like this illuminates sides of the city that no ordinary visitor, even one with a detailed knowledge of some historical period, could ever extract for themselves. It's enough to make one want to visit, with this biography as a guidebook.

5/5. Finished 23 August 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)