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Posts about bonanza (old posts, page 7)

The Outrun

The Outrun

Amy Liptrot

2015


A story of city addiction and island recovery.

This the second study of addictive personalities I've read recently This is a much more satisfying read than So Sad Today, partly because of its outcome and partly because of its setting. The author leaves the Orkney of her youth for London, where she falls into an alcoholism that's only really relieved when she returns to the island to detox. It's impossible to avoid the suspicion that city life itself was the cause, both its anonymity (which can be positive after time in a small place) and its restricted spaces. She returns to Orkney and experiences a range of environments, culminating most powerfully in an extended period on Papa Westray, one of the smallest islands. It's here she re-discovers herself, really: find the sense of self and self-sufficiency that was missing during her time in the city.

It's an interesting question whether a dedicated city-dweller could replicate Liptrot's journey: could someone used to the 24/7 lifestyle thrive in such quiet with just themselves for company? (Of course you're never actually forced to have only yourself for company: there's always the infinite distant company of the internet, even on the outer isles.) I suspect the answer is "no", at least for born or adopted city-zens; for people (like me) with a closer relationship with solitude and a need for just their own company, then it's tantalising.

2/5. Finished 21 December 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Nathaniel Philbrick

2000


What was it like to be a sailor in the mid-nineteenth century? This book provides an evocative and compelling story. From the way in which Nantucket Island was once the centre of the world's most valuable commercial trade, to the privations and hardships associated with whaling, the detail and contextualisation is impressive – and that's before we even get to the main events, a whale turning and sinking the ship hunting it, the crew's subsequent wandering the eastern Pacific in small open boats, their resort to cannibalism to stay alive, and the aftermath of their rescue. On the way we also encounter some wonderfully out-of-the-way islands, as well as a time when people – even sailors familiar with the waters – could reasonably (if inaccurately) fear murder and savagery on the various Pacific islands.

4/5. Finished 04 September 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

Randy Shilts

1987


It's hard to sum-up this book: part history, part in-depth analysis of gay society in the 1980's, part polemic against the Reagan administration. Randy Shilts lived through it (and eventually succumbed himself), and he wonderfully captures the frustration, the fear, and the final sense of creeping inevitability as more and more in the core social circle fall away.

It's also a fascinating study of how governments listen (or not) to their own scientists, as well as of the political in-fighting between science groups and the ways in which reality is so often shaped by the perceptions of those reviewing the evidence: obvious in hindsight, perhaps excusably resisted at least in the early stages. There are plenty of examples of more recent "epidemics" that actually were not as devastating as they were at first warned to be (SARS and nvCJD spring to mind) – which isn't to excuse the quite despicable inaction later when things became clear. There's a lot here to be learned about how to respond to news of impending devastation.

One advantage of writing this review late is that I can include recent events: the exoneration of one of the main villains of the piece, Gaetan Dugas, who was reviled as "patient zero", deliberately spreading the epidemic more rapidly and widely. It turns out that, whatever Dugas' actions, they didn't give rise to as much secondary infection as was thought when Shilts wrote his book, and just goes to show how science is always a provisional activity.

5/5. Finished 04 August 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Henry Marsh

2014


A deeply felt and insightful – if sometimes over-personalised – view of medicine, neurosurgery, and working within the UK NHS. It's at times terrifying: some cancers are benign, some are malignant, but anything that recurs will basically kill you no matter how well you treated it the first time. It also doesn't reassure to think that neurosurgeons hone their skills by operating, and by failing – and this by definition leaves damaged patients behind. But it's also comforting to see the professionalism and skills on display, and to learn the surprising variety of perfectly treatable conditions from which one might suffer. Not for the fainthearted, though.

4/5. Finished 23 July 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Who Owns the Future?

Who Owns the Future?

Jaron Lanier

2013


A fascinating, if ultimately incomplete, exploration of the alternatives to the current web architecture that prioritises the needs of companies over those of consumers – or producers, if the truth be told. Lanier approaches the problems strictly from the perspective of information and information processing, with a clarity that I, even as a computer scientist, find refreshingly complete: it's as though he's willing to encompass some of the logical consequences that even professionals shy away from.

The central argument is that internet users, and especially users of social networks, are providing too much information for free to companies that then profit from it. Lanier suggests some alternative approaches to this, where content and expertise give rise to micro-payment compensation in cash or some other medium of exchange. The problem is that this is a tall order against the structures that have already grown up, and it's unclear that it's now possible to change tack as radically as would be required. Still, in many ways that makes this work all the more important, and it's a great contribution to the broader literature on e-commerce and digital living.

3/5. Finished 18 June 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)