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Review: To Have and Have Not

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway My rating: 4 of 5 stars This Hemingway adventure is set in Cuba and involves a wily sailor who is involved in the murky smuggling business between Havana and his home port in Florida. Harry Morgan is a man in conflict with his morals. He is a family man, fully supportive of his wife and daughters and he aims to put food on his table. But, how he does this, is with a selfish immoral attitude. After a chartered fishing expedition goes wrong and his client fails to pay, Harry is left to make up his income in any way possible. The dark episodes in the story are sudden and explosive and the murky world of criminals, murder, revolutionaries, smuggling and rummy alcoholics jumps out of the pages at you with venom. There is a contrasting world of high society where things aren’t so desperate, but equally there are sinister undertones here too. The main tale ends in tragedy though one can tell that Harry has been riding his luck for a while. To Have And To Have Not is a vivid tale and makes one question morals. Harry, the antihero, goes from bad to worse, yet, as a reader you are always looking our for him and hoping he gets through and achieves salvation. View all my reviews

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Review: Through the Language Glass – by Guy Deutscher

Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher My rating: 5 of 5 stars This book was a fantastic read. It was quite different to how I initially imagined it to be. As you follow the story is constructively builds a cohesive, rational scientific argument as to exactly how and why different language users perceive the world differently. It is thoroughly thought-provoking and addresses issues that I had never previously pondered about but which are clearly important. There is a clear difference between language speakers across the world, but how does this manifest at a biological level? From colour perception to spatial awareness to use of gender, our language constrains us, in effect imprisons us to perceive the world in predetermined ways. I think that by reading this book I am more aware of the difference in languages and by being aware of that difference it assists one to break their own shackles of a restricted mind. At the very least I have a sturdy amount of scientific examples of linguistic studies with which to embellish my work on the Translation degree I am studying. A good read. View all my reviews

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Review: Through the Language Glass

Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher My rating: 5 of 5 stars This book was a fantastic read. It was quite different to how I initially imagined it to be. As you follow the story is constructively builds a cohesive, rational scientific argument as to exactly how and why different language users perceive the world differently. It is thoroughly thought-provoking and addresses issues that I had never previously pondered about but which are clearly important. There is a clear difference between language speakers across the world, but how does this manifest at a biological level? From colour perception to spatial awareness to use of gender, our language constrains us, in effect imprisons us to perceive the world in predetermined ways. I think that by reading this book I am more aware of the difference in languages and by being aware of that difference it assists one to break their own shackles of a restricted mind. At the very least I have a sturdy amount of scientific examples of linguistic studies with which to embellish my work on the Translation degree I am studying. A good read. View all my reviews

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Review: The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy – by Marifeli Pérez-Stable

The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy by Marifeli Pérez-Stable My rating: 3 of 5 stars I’m doing a university essay question on the Cuban Revolution so felt that this was a good text to read ahead of doing my assignment. The book certainly covers the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath in a lot of detail. It is a modern history of Cuba. However, whereas other works on the Cuban Revolution focus on perhaps the more glamorous side of the actual taking of the island and the chief protagonists, this book delves a little deeper and assesses the actual politics of the revolution and its real implications. Every finding is backed up with real data and the author, who initially was very supportive of the revolution, is clear in her latter condemnation of its impact. Cuba is, for sure, an anomaly among world states. I found the impact of ‘Fidel-Patria-Revolucion’ and the development of Cuban ‘conciencia’ very important in the whole ideology of the new Cuba. The anti-imperialism of the regime is clear, but Cuba’s almost solitary dependence on sugar left it open to all sorts of fundamental problems. It cosied up to the Soviet Union during the Cold War but this left its own impact as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union broke apart. It is very bizarre how Cuba the revolution has survived intact but what future lies ahead? This book gave me a lot greater understanding of what the revolution meant specifically to the Cuban people and its lasting legacy. It’s a thorough read and though occasionally it does bog you down in detail it is an academic text and this can be expected. View all my reviews

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Review: The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy

The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy by Marifeli Pérez-Stable My rating: 3 of 5 stars I’m doing a university essay question on the Cuban Revolution so felt that this was a good text to read ahead of doing my assignment. The book certainly covers the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath in a lot of detail. It is a modern history of Cuba. However, whereas other works on the Cuban Revolution focus on perhaps the more glamorous side of the actual taking of the island and the chief protagonists, this book delves a little deeper and assesses the actual politics of the revolution and its real implications. Every finding is backed up with real data and the author, who initially was very supportive of the revolution, is clear in her latter condemnation of its impact. Cuba is, for sure, an anomaly among world states. I found the impact of ‘Fidel-Patria-Revolucion’ and the development of Cuban ‘conciencia’ very important in the whole ideology of the new Cuba. The anti-imperialism of the regime is clear, but Cuba’s almost solitary dependence on sugar left it open to all sorts of fundamental problems. It cosied up to the Soviet Union during the Cold War but this left its own impact as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union broke apart. It is very bizarre how Cuba the revolution has survived intact but what future lies ahead? This book gave me a lot greater understanding of what the revolution meant specifically to the Cuban people and its lasting legacy. It’s a thorough read and though occasionally it does bog you down in detail it is an academic text and this can be expected. View all my reviews

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Review: Men Without Women – by Ernest Hemingway

Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway My rating: 4 of 5 stars My journey through Hemingway’s works continues and ‘Men Without Women’ was no let down. The testosterone is flowing in this collection of short stories and the author’s narrative is constantly catching the macho emotions amid the standard Hemingway vivid scene description. We move from bullfighters, to gangsters, to boxers, to road trippers. Often the stories are based in the romance of continental Europe, a place for which, it is clear, Hemingway has a special affinity. very often we leave the story abruptly with a typical open-ended cliffhanger, allowing us to ponder the future development of the characters. Each of the stories could quite easily become a novel in themselves and in that sense ‘Men Without Women’ leaves us thirsty for more. View all my reviews

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Review: The Old Man and the Sea – by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is only a short book and I read it in a couple of hours. The brevity doesn’t, however, take away from it being a great tale. An old fisherman heads out to sea off his native Cuba and endures an epic battle with a Marlin, the first fish he has caught in over 80 days. He is alone at sea, his unsuccessful fishing meaning that his child partner can no longer go out to sea with him. The man faces a battle with his aging body and mind in addition to the fight he has with the graceful, strong fish. After three days of hard labor, he finally lands the Marlin. Unable to fit on the boat he has to strap the fish to the outside and, having drift far too out to sea for comfort, he faces a long struggle home, where his real battle against the elements of the sea begin. Sharks are the danger and, as the dead catch releases its scent and blood into the water, the scavengers of the ocean set out to undo the old man’s work. He repels the attacks using every weapon to hand but they are too plentiful and finally he reaches shore, with just a skeleton remaining of the giant Marlin. He is glad to be home and exhausted, he can face his community with a little more pride as from the skeleton they can tell that he is still a great fisherman. Hemingway weaves his magic, using simple language and colorful prose imagery. He obviously has a deep love for fishing and his knowledge of the sea comes direct from his own fishing experience. The novel captures the reality of ocean-fishing and with the loneliness of the sea offset by the old man’s fondness of baseball and his dreams of lions on the beach in Africa, we read a cleverly weaved tale and it is no surprise to me that Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature as a direct result of writing this masterpiece. View all my reviews

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Review: Translation and Globalization – by Michael Cronin

Translation and Globalization by Michael Cronin My rating: 4 of 5 stars This book, by Irish author Michael Cronin, explores translation studies from a globalization perspective with specific attention paid to the situation in Ireland. Globalization is a trend which is ever-increasing in our world and it is an undeniable fact. How do translators fit into this movement of culture? They are involved whether they support globalization or not and very often they must remain unbiased in their views. As contact increases between different cultures and language groups across the planet the translator is finding himself ever more involved. Technology issues and localisation are covered and this is particularly relevant to Ireland which has set itself up as a hub for the international technological revolution. The book analyses the different cultural conflicts which arise in translation as a result of globalization. What are the relationships between powerful global languages and more minor ones? I found the final chapter on minor languages, looking in detail at Irish Gaelic, most interesting. When one is a native speaker of English it is difficult to overlook the factors affecting translators of minor languages whose working lives and structure and thinking are markedly different to the bulk of translators. The book is very well written and gives a comprehensive outlook on Translation Studies, never veering too far from the underlying topic of globalization. I found it easy to follow and rich in its definitions and examples. I will be using the specific content on Translation History for my next essay. View all my reviews

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Review: Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises – by Ernest Hemingway

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway My rating: 4 of 5 stars My love affair with Hemingway continues and Fiesta is the latest work of his that I have thrown myself into and conveniently it is all about a love affair. The tension of the love between Jake and the wild aristocratic Brett builds up in the city of Paris. We see a high life throughout this book. The chief protagonists certainly understand how best to enjoy their time. Washing machines and home cooked dinners are not on the agenda. We flit from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant and the mouthwatering selection of food and drink is so succulently described that by the time Jake hit San Sebastian towards the end of the book I could actually savor the taste of his drinks. Hemingway is rich on description and all of his writing very cleverly conjures up mental images describing in detail the environment his characters inhabit. Fiesta is no different and if anything the landscape described in this book is perhaps richer. We can see that the author knows his terrain well. He is passionate about France and Spain and nowhere does this passion manifest itself more than at the Festival of San Fermin at Pamplona. From ‘Death In The Afternoon’ I know that Hemingway deeply admires bullfighting. The sejour at San Fermin allows this knowledge and love of La Corrida to manifest itself in fiction. Jake, an American, is rare as a foreigner, in that he is an initiate of this cultural sport. The relationship with Montoya, in whose hotel they reside, is poignant in the way Jake and Montoya interact as they discuss the intricacies of the weeks long activities centered upon the bulls. The wild partying of the week long fiesta culminates in an anarchic breakup of the group of friends. the boxer loses his temper, there is an excess of alcohol and Brett, who is the center of attention for all the men, decides to run off with the festival’s leading young bullfighter. They split away and head off in their own directions and it is Jake who comes to the rescue of Brett as she winds up in Madrid. It is obvious throughout that they deeply care for each other but their very lifestyle doesn’t allow them to be together. As the book ends with them travelling down a Madrid street…

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Review: The Language Wars: A History of Proper English

The Language Wars: A History of Proper English by Henry Hitchings My rating: 4 of 5 stars About to embark, in September, on a Translation degree, I thought it a good idea to brush up on my rather lamentable English skills and thoroughly cast myself into the depths of this book. It is a worthy and interesting read in which the history of our language is explored. What gave rise to the way we speak in today’s world and what, indeed, will tomorrow’s English be? The author introduces a multitude of well-spun anecdotes from the most famous of our English language writers in addition to tales of those people who were, behind-the-scenes, most influential on the evolution of our tongue. I found the contrasts between UK English and international English most enthralling and equally the chapters on dialogue and accent were riveting. It is interesting to note how the future of our language will be shaped not by English English-speakers but by the vast hordes of foreign speakers of English. The language’s rise to international prominence means that many of the traditions and histories entailed in the book will be overlooked as we step towards future’s embrace. This book may be a bit mundane and high-brow to the average reader. I found it suitably challenging, intellectual and enlightening. A goodread good read. View all my reviews

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Review: Every Hand Revealed

Every Hand Revealed by Gus Hansen My rating: 5 of 5 stars Gus Hansen is my favourite poker player and in this fascinating book which Gus has painstakingly put together for his fans, we get to see the genuine inside story of one of his big tournament wins. It is a blow by blow account of all the action and we get to see Gus’ poker decision-making at work. Very often, on TV, you see Gus playing wacky cards. He will call with just about any two cards and plays so,me really unplayable hands which the average person will just chuck away. We see in ‘Every Hand Revealed’ some of his mathematical reasoning behind doing this. He is constantly assessing and reassessing pot-odds and he argues with reason about why certain calls should be made and on occasion will make a laydown for the same reason. I found one of the most intriguing facts of the book to be just how many pots he picks up after betting aggressively and holding absolutely nothing. He relies on continuation betting and will raise almost anything preflop. I cannot understand how players do not stand up to Gus more in the live environment and simply dump him out as from reading this book, it can be seen that nine times out of ten you have better holdings than him. Gus Hansen is a poker enigma and this book is thoroughly readable and enjoyable. It is written in a hand for hand format and the various days of the tournament are split into chapters. I flew through the read and was thrilled to see Gus finally pick up the $1.5 million (Australian dollars) cash prize. I’ve read other poker books by hardened professionals and they too are valuable but I feel that Every Hand Revealed definitively displays a professional at work and at the top of his game. If you are into poker and Gus Hansen then this book is a must. Five out of five. View all my reviews

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Review: Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics & the Visionary Experience

Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics & the Visionary Experience by Aldous Huxley My rating: 4 of 5 stars I am a big fan of Aldous Huxley’s work from what I know of this author. A friend in the music business recommended that I try Moksha and I thoroughly appreciated reading it. It is perhaps the logical follow-on read to the infamous ‘Doors of Perception’ as the book covers the period during which Huxley’s great mind was subjected to hallucinogenic drugs. His groundbreaking work with (and indeed coining of the phrase) the hallucinogens, was important for science as a whole. So often drug use can be tainted in today’s society. Huxley demonstrates that he was acting in a responsible fashion and he was exceptionally keen on expanding his consciousness. He saw in the substances he used a visionary future for mankind and Moksha gives us an insight into that world. I found the most enthralling part of this book to be the interspersed personal correspondence between chapters. These letters showed Huxley’s devotion to his cause and gave valuable insight into his personal manners. I felt Moksha to be an intimate portrait of a man with immense brainpower, a true literary shaman and a genius. Huxley’s work should long be remembered and his life celebrated more so than it actually is. I plan to go on to read his novel ‘Island’ next as that has so far eluded me. View all my reviews

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Review: The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge

The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge by Jeremy Narby My rating: 4 of 5 stars I eagerly anticipated this book as I had heard it mentioned as a classic on Ayahuasca and as a good reference point in a number of other books and Ayahuasca and shamanism. The author begins in typical Ayahuasca tourist fashion, and undertakes you on his Amazonian journey with a shaman, partaking in the sacred Yage ceremony. If anything I was a little disappointed with the author’s own experiences and felt that he had perhaps misunderstood his visions a little. I read on, however, and the novel turned into a page-turning thriller. The research done on the twins / dual serpent cosmology myths was fantastic and a revelation to me. It was clear that Narby had done a great deal of research on his hypothesis. I think to anybody studying shamanism, the middle chapters of Narby’s book are essential. As the book moved towards the DNA link with Ayahuasca I was at first sceptical but the author wrote in a convincing manner and I felt that the extremely distant link was well-pointed out and certainly a possibility though I can see the scientists more easily dismissing ‘The Cosmic Serpent’ than perhaps the ancient medicine men who I would imagine would be more open-minded. As an apprentice ayahuasquero myself, who has studied exclusively on my own in the West, I think that there is a lot more to the DNA link than meets the eye. Ayahuasca is a substance which does alter the mind in a tremendous way and I See true possibilities that it is what we call DNA triggering some of the visions. I think the book highlights, not how much we know of science, but how little we know of ancient shamanism. A true understanding of Ayahuasca and the power it harnesses, if well understood could drastically improve our world, if nothing less than to bind Western man back to his natural roots. View all my reviews

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Review: The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages

The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages by K. David Harrison My rating: 5 of 5 stars I found this an absolutely fascinating, inspiring tale that truly opened my eyes to one of the planet’s scariest phenomena… We hear of endangered wildlife and how our modern industrial society is harming the environment. We hear of other worrying global issues. But, often neglected and hardly publicised, is the very real situation of the reduction in global language diversity. (Minor) languages, often spoken by marginalised tribespeople in remote areas of the Earth, are disappearing into the annals of history (or remaining unrecorded) as they fade into extinction. We are losing human knowledge at a great rate. This knowledge has accumulated over a great period of time and has characteristics which simply cannot be translated or encoded into larger, more powerful global languages. We think that in our modern world, we have an abundance of knowledge and have improved communication. The invention of the internet and spread of the English language as the dominant lingua franca for global business gives us a false sense of arrogance and superiority. The erosion of ancient knowledge makes us poorer as a global human society, however… Harrison elegantly argues the case for the desperate need to preserve and revitalise these strange tongues ion far-flung places. I think that one of his most valid points in the argument for preservation of language diversity, is that these languages contain critical knowledge of local environments, usually in places which are at most risk of tipping the scale in the imbalance of climate change and environmental degradation which has been demonstrated to affect us all, wherever we may live, and whatever our chosen first language might be. The book is intellectual, but accessible. It provokes serious thinking and demonstrates the careful study and hard graft put in by researchers and indeed last speakers of the most critically endangered tongues. I have close links to Wales and New Zealand which are both leading the way in the mass revitalisation of endangered languages, ie. Maori and Welsh… The mass education program in schools in both of these countries clearly demonstrates the cultural value inherent in revitalisation efforts and serves as a model to other language hotspots where the loss of culture, knowledge and language is at its most perilous. As a student of language, who aims to continue…

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Review: Is That a Fish in Your Ear? The Amazing Adventure of Translation

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? The Amazing Adventure of Translation by David Bellos My rating: 5 of 5 stars I am starting a degree in Translation at Cardiff University next year and I thought I would try to get to grip with this new endeavour by learning a bit more about the art and science of Translation Studies. David Bellos is a professional with an obvious passion for languages. His book is most interesting and covers a very wide range of areas, neatly categorised into concise chapters which flow together seamlessly. The history of Translation opened my eyes and really build on the often misconceived notions a non-specialist may have on Translation. The book was full of very interesting and educated anecdotes which were often humorous and always memorable. I found the development of machine translation most intriguing and the different roles of translators in the modern world was well-covered. It is very surprising how the English language is represented globally and its dominance as a global lingua franca produces some bizarre skews for the world of translation. there is a dearth of foreign language speakers with English mother-tongue which is one reason why I am studying the Translation degree. This introductory book has really inspired me and convinced me that I am on the right course. I feel motivated by the wide range of possibilities further study in this area could bring. I think that it is a most wise study and I can see that this book will become well-thumbed as a reference-point for me in the future. I don’t reread many books but I can certainly see me repeating this work. View all my reviews

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Review: The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha My rating: 4 of 5 stars This book gives a unique perspective on North Korea as it is written by a man who held a senior position in the White House as an advisor to the President on East Asian affairs. Victor Cha’s experience extended to a an official visit to Pyongyang but perhaps the best insights can be gained from his direct meetings with DPRK officials to discuss the various international concerns on the Korean Peninsula. Obviously, one has to take account that there is a potential bias as it is written ‘by the enemy’ of North Korea. It seems clear to me, however, that the author has a deep concern for the Korean people and I think that his judgements and analyses are fair and educated based on what I have already learnt about the global anomaly that exists in this far east region. Nuclear provocations are covered in detail and I found the insights into the human rights situation in the DPRK to be invaluable. It was quite surprising to hear about George W Bush’s genuine concern for the victims of the human rights abuses in this isolated state. I found that the author has some very interesting ideas on how to resolve the whole situation. He stated some of the problems that reunification faces but his views were in general quite positive. I think he sees a transition to peaceful unification as being a possibility and the regime seems quite likely to be undermined by the gradual dispersal of information about the world to the North Korean people. I’d recommend the book as essential to all those who share an interest in developments in North Korea. View all my reviews

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Review: The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation

The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation by Mark Kurlansky My rating: 4 of 5 stars I live in Wales and there are similar issues here as in the Basque country – We have a certain regional autonomy after devolution, there is a strong national feeling and independence movement, it is an industrial heartland and there is a strong tradition and language, populated by a fiercely proud people. I felt that it would be interesting to study the Basques as their struggle tucked in a small borderland between France and Spain is most certainly an interesting one. This book is well written and has a lot of variety, covering history, culture, traditions, political events and even cookery. The more ancient history of Euskadi I found particularly thrilling and most of the information was new to me. As a language student I found the details on the Euskadi language and its history and development fascinating. The struggles against in particular the Spanish state are well-documented and the independence movement culminating in the rise of the infamous ETA can be understood from a Basque perspective, though without being overly biased. Franco’s commitment against regionalism is contrasted with the autonomous areas which came about through democracy and accession to the European Union. The differences and similarities between the French and Spanish sides of the region are well covered, with their great historical characters such as Ignacio Loyola well mentioned. The importance of their land as an industrial and commercial centre from its days as a great fishing community to its rise through the industrial revolution. The occasional Basque recipes thrown in for detail are pleasant interjections and show that the author is a accustomed to writing about this topic in his other works. It’s a shame the book hasn’t been updated to cover the last decade where there have been developments in the Basque land, with more autonomy granted and ETA having declared a permanent ceasefire. The book is a great overall study and introduces plenty of further cultural refeneces which I may take an interest in researching. View all my reviews

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Review: Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya. Nicolai Lilin

Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya. Nicolai Lilin by Nicolai Lilin My rating: 4 of 5 stars I really enjoyed Nicolai Lilin’s first book and was keen to get stuck into this follow-up. It is really quite a different story and focusses on his career as a Russian soldier in the Chechnya war. The same vivid, friendly writing style is eminent and the reader becomes attached to the colourful characters Lilin describes. The first-hand horrors of war are very striking and there are some really gruesome scenes. The story flows from battle to battle whether it be mountain warfare or more typical urban warfare. Lilin’s military comrades seem as tight a crew as the criminal gang from his youth and their dark adventures are really exciting and quite gruesome and dark. He has a clever way of seeing light in even the darkest of scenarios, an existential view on his predicament. The writing is paced quickly and the descriptive detail gives a clear image of the author’s wartime adventures. It’s a great read and I truly hope that Nicolai Lilin goes on to write further stories of his interesting life. View all my reviews

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Review: The Real McCaw: The Autobiography Of Richie McCaw

The Real McCaw: The Autobiography Of Richie McCaw by Richie McCaw My rating: 5 of 5 stars Richie McCaw is the best rugby player of all-time. He is the most capped All-Black, and has had such an influence on the game of rugby during his playing career that this claim contains much truth. This autobiography surprised me when it peered out of the shelf at a Welsh bookstore in Abergavenny as part of the closing down sale. As a New Zealand citizen, All Black supporter and former wing forward, it was essential reading for me. I think that autobiographies of any top sportsmen are worth reading and Richie McCaw’s story is similar to other sporting greats in how he has dedicated himself to his passion. He seems such a well-balanced individual, a good all-rounder, with a nice temperament and a very rooted, down-to-earth personality. I loved the way that the rugby stories of such high achievement are interspersed with the glider tales. From tours he immediately hits the Southern Alps to relax in his glider. It just sums up how a man at the top of his game is driven. To see the sport of rugby from Richie’s eyes is a great honour and from his youth days to his super 12 club days to the test matches for the All Blacks, culminating in the winning RWC final in 2011, the description of the matches are truly intriguing. Everything is broken down to basics, beginning in preparation. His view on the game seems so simple yet at the same time is so rich in detail and complexity. I found this book truly exhilarating and it was a real page-turner. My only disappointment is that it could have been a lot longer and more detailed. I am also a bit sad that I cannot keep reading as I’m sure the next four years in the build up to World Cup 2015 will be a true journey also and where Richie should gain his second captain’s Cup Winning medal. I class this book alongside the autobiographies of other sporting heroes of mine such as Steven Gerrard, Ian Rush, Jonathan Davies and Joe Calzaghe. It is truly inspirational and any rugby aficionado will enjoy turning the pages in it as fast as I did! View all my reviews

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Review: The Holy Kingdom

The Holy Kingdom by Adrian G. Gilbert My rating: 4 of 5 stars As an inhabitant of South Wales with a fascination of local history, I found this book truly enlightening. I was aware of the links King Arthur had with local places such as Caerleon and I found that this book built well on the histories I had already heard. To learn about the suppression of British history at various times and how our Roman-centric history is currently favoured was truly a shock. It was nice to see how Gilbert linked up with two serious scholars of early British history and the story that was presented is quite believable and realistic, if at times it sometimes could be found guilty of over-reaching conclusions, perhaps being over-dramatic. I’ve read other books bY Adrian Gilbert and enjoy his style and he always covers interesting topics. The whole story of Arthur is fascinating and has intrigued me to study the legends more. I think the conclusions were a little weak, and find the Joseph of Arimethea links with Britain a little too speculative. It’s a great book and is one that I will be sharing with other friends interested in Welsh history. View all my reviews

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Review: The New Spaniards

The New Spaniards by John Hooper My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a well-written detailed study of Spain and the Spanish and in particular covers the period of change from Franco’s dictatorship into the modern Spanish democracy. The idiosyncrasies of Spain are examined in contrast with the rest of the EU and world. What makes Spain and its people tick? The history and culture are examined and I in particular enjoyed the accounts of the Basque region’s history. There is a lot of political detail, perhaps a bit too much, but it is all explained and leads well on for the author to make good valid points in summarising Spain’s current state. It’s rapid growth and development are apparent and its recent history combines with the desarrollo period to make Spain unique among its contemporaries. The attitudes of the Spanish to themselves and indeed foreigners can be quite eyeopening. I found the cultural chapters to be exceptional and in particular enjoyed the penultimate section which covered Flamenco and bull-fighting. The book is well-written and a student of castellano I found it to be very informative, relevant and enlightening. Anyone who has even the vaguest of interest in Spain should add this to their reading shelves. View all my reviews

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Review: Siberian Education: Growing Up in a Criminal Underworld

Siberian Education: Growing Up in a Criminal Underworld by Nicolai Lilin My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is an exciting tale of a youth living in the Transnistrian underworld. His society, a Siberian criminal society has its own strict laws. The tales of violence and crime are quite horrifying but there is a sense of justice in this honest criminal’s life. The rules seems to provide a cohesive society and it is interesting to see how the people of Bender survive, resisting the government and mainstream authorities. I particularly enjoyed the tale of the police raid at his grandfather’s house where the laws of not addressing the police directly were explained. The most horrific part of the book described his experiences in a youth detention centre where other boys were subjected to horrifying rape ordeals. The story runs swiftly and is narrated well. At the end as he strives to move away from the criminal underworld the way is paved for a new career in the army. I look forward to reading the follow-up book about Nicolai Lilin’s life as a sniper in the Chechen war. View all my reviews

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Review: Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a well-written gripping journalistic account of North Korean defectors, describing their lives in the DPRK. I have to question whether the accounts are completely truthful and genuine as so much information which emerges from North Korea tends to be biased. However, the accounts make good reading and describe a truly Orwellian culture that is very unlike our own Western lifestyles. To a romantic socialist, some of what may appear is idyllic, but as is often the case, the horrors of famine and gulags are all too apparent. There is much quaintness in many of the stories, of simple love, of familial ties, of the teaching of children. The emotions felt by North Koreans are just the same as elsewhere in the world. However, it seems as though the state control of all aspects of life is extremely strict. The failure of the food supply system and the healthcare that was a real high point of the earlier years of the DPRK, is all to evident as the communist world collapsed in the late 1980s. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is the way in which the defectors adjust to their new lives in South Korea. If ever the two Koreas are united, there is a massive gulf between the cultures which I don’t think can be bridged too easily. Overall, the book is quite disturbing, but still very gripping. I think it should be studied in context alongside other texts on Korea. View all my reviews

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Review: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick My rating: 5 of 5 stars I’d read some Philip K Dick before and this was certainly in a fast-flowing writing style. It only took me half a day to read the book from start to finish. It was totally gripping. The story is about the strange happenings to celebrity Jeremy Taverner, a genetically engineered TV host, He is catapulted into anonymity and left to face the police state brutalities that occupy the lower, less-known classes. There is a tide of colourful characters, mainly women, to whom this good-looking ‘6’ has lots of charm. The power and corruption of the police with their futuristic technologies is a scary concept and Dick tackles some concepts which are still current and in the process of being introduced such as ID cards. The way in which Taverner’s life is glued back together is cleverly done and is very mysterious. He has somehow warped through a portal in time, entered an alternate reality. The book touches on some really provocative themes. There are drugs, sex and rock & roll as well as racism, incest, violence. I love the way the story winds furiously and progresses. You get attached to the characters and really feel Taverner’s emotions. Do we feel sorry for the policeman? there are touches of humanity still there but he is also devoid of his integral humanity. I love the way the book neatly concludes, if it is a little sharp. An excellent read and I cannot wait to tackle my next Dick title. View all my reviews

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Review: Catch-22

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a 20th century classic novel I had to read. It is a fascinating story of the Second World War which grows ever more absurd as Yossarian proceeds on his quest to return home. The characters are fantastic, especially Milo, the entrepreneurial head of the syndicate. The horrors of war can be seen from the ever-increasing list of casualties which disturbs Yossarian as, enveloped in catch-22, the missions he is required to fly, before his tour of duty ends, keep increasing. At times, there is joy, when the men are recuperating from their flights, enjoying themselves in Rome or relaxing at the mess hall. There is always wit and humour although most of the stories have very dark conclusions. The novel jumps from character to character and from scenario to scenario but it is all wonderfully woven together and it builds to a final crescendo where the helplessness of Yossarian’s situation has built to a farcical outcome and he bids his attempt to escape the inescapable catch-22 which constantly revolves around every situation invoked in the tale. It’s a great read and I’m sure must have really appealed to those who were present in the battles of the war itself. A very good book. View all my reviews

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