mattparfitt

Reviews
More
Solo en Berlín: La recuperación de una obra maestra de las letras alemanas.

by

This is an amazing book, thoroughly engrossing. I'm not a fast reader, but I was more than 150 pages into it before the weekend was out. It's as if Dickens were writing in Nazi Germany: there's a light touch and a humor (albeit black humor) about it, even though the subject matter is relentlessly dark. It gives one a sharp sense of what it might have been like to have lived in Berlin in the 1940s. Not pretty -- but a few managed to hang on, desperately, to some humanity.
Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World

by

I love Mahler, but I'm no expert, so take this review as a dilettante's pronouncement. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and learned a great deal from it. At times, though, it does irritate a little: I found his use of the present tense for all the biographical narrative to be mannered and ineffective, and some of the criticism needs more explanation to be persuasive. He's at his best with anecdotes like the ones about Klaus Tennstedt or Gilbert Kaplan. At his worst when he makes doubtful declarations about Christianity. (The Wandering Jew is a core element in Christian theology? Not really. In anti-Semitism, maybe.) But these are just quibbles: this is a terrifically readable, lively book. Lebrecht rekindled and increased my enthusiasm for Mahler's works, he's given me a much more informed appreciation of them, and -- best of all -- given me a lot to think about whenever I listen to them in future.
The Art of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill

by

Brilliant! Though he takes a Buddhist perspective on happiness and ethics, Ricard discusses them in relation to recent developments in psychology, sociology and neuroscience, and to the Western philosophical tradition of ethics -- Kant, Bentham and Rawls, for example. I found his arguments persuasive and insightful. One of the best and most far-reaching books on happiness that I've read.
The Kids Are All Right: A Memoir

by , , and

Full disclosure: the authors are my partners' cousins. But I'm still recommending it! It's a compelling story, wonderfully told in four very distinct voices (Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" initially inspired this form). You get a good sense of the very different personalities of the four, but you can also see why they became so close, despite the separation. Some of Diana's passages are amazing: up there with the best memoir writing I've ever read. But all the writing is excellent: vivid and heartfelt and courageously honest. I found the book hard to put down, even though I knew most of the story already.
The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember

by

I thoroughly enjoyed this book -- though I don't entirely buy an argument that rests on such a narrow view of what "the net is doing to our brains." Even the introduction of the iPad seems to have changed the way that we use the net -- and it's not entirely for "surfing." Nor was it ever -- at least, not for everyone. Many people, perhaps most people, will typically spend 10-15 minutes or more, perhaps much more, reading long form pieces even while surfing. Surfing is one of many activities that we do on the net. Carr's concerns about loss of brain functionality seem to me overstated and misplaced.Still, I will concede that there's a real concern here, at least for those who simply submit to the temptation to surf and allow themselves to be continuously distracted and never get deeply absorbed in anything. I'm not sure if that describes "most" of us -- but it does describe some of us. At least, some of the time.
El poder del ahora: The Power of Now Spanish

by

One could quibble, perhaps, with this or that. But when it comes right down to it, it's the simple truth.
Winnie and Wolf: A Novel

by

If you're interested in Wagner's operas -- and especially if you're troubled by their association with Nazism and anti-semitism -- this is a fascinating book. I won't claim any expertise concerning the historical realities behind the story, but I will say that as a fiction this book is absorbing and hard to put down. The central character (the narrator) is sympathetic, despite his Nazi allegiances, and in reflecting on his past, on the Wagner family, and on the operas themselves, he offers a great deal of insight.
Kitchen Confidential

by

Enjoyable, breezy book. Bourdain's style is engaging, but it has its limitations: this isn't a book that will stay with me for a long time. I was glad to have such an easy-to-read memoir with me on a recent trip, however. Made time fly during the dull moments.
Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives

by and

Interesting and timely ideas, though the authors sometimes belabor the obvious and their style is plodding.
The Architecture of Happiness

by

I enjoyed reading the book: de Botton is an insightful and skilled writer. His style tends to be somewhat uniform: articulate, careful, always bordering on fussiness and pretentiousness. His range of reference is truly impressive. I hoped to learn more about architecture from this book, but it's more a meditation on aesthetic principles than a study of architecture as such. A good book, but not a really memorable one.
scribd