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At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing

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A tremendous anthology. What is it about boxing that brings out the best in journalists? Far more than any other sport it seems to me. If I have any quarrel with the collection, and really its only a small quibble, its that there is a lot of focus on heavyweights and not much around the lighter weights - only Roberto Duran, Benny Leonard, Archie Moore, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya really get mentioned. Nothing on Floyd Mayweather for example. Or Roy Jones. Or Bernard Hopkins. Or Jake La Motta to name only a handful. Still - I guess the heavyweights have always dominated popular attention. Highly recommend
Me and You

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A rivetting novella or long short story which I read in about an hour and half, never once turning my eyes from the page. Lorenzo is a classic Ammaniti adolescent - clumsy, unsure of himself, and in this case a loner. But he's about to be catapulted into the world of adults. Hiding in the cellar whilst faking a week's skiing holiday with the popular and successful kids at school, he's amazed and distressed when his half sister Olivia, who he's met once, arrives looking for her possessions - and then decides to stay. What follows in the next few days (which is hard to discuss without spoiling it - its only a very short piece) is for Lorenzo a vision and premonition of his own future - he has a moment of clarity in which he can see a different short and long term future to his current miserable lonely existence. Can he take the chance?This is a great piece of work. Lorenzo, Olivia and their parents are brought to life beautifully in a few short paragraphs. Ammaniti is a genius
Me and You

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A rivetting novella or long short story which I read in about an hour and half, never once turning my eyes from the page. Lorenzo is a classic Ammaniti adolescent - clumsy, unsure of himself, and in this case a loner. But he's about to be catapulted into the world of adults. Hiding in the cellar whilst faking a week's skiing holiday with the popular and successful kids at school, he's amazed and distressed when his half sister Olivia, who he's met once, arrives looking for her possessions - and then decides to stay. What follows in the next few days (which is hard to discuss without spoiling it - its only a very short piece) is for Lorenzo a vision and premonition of his own future - he has a moment of clarity in which he can see a different short and long term future to his current miserable lonely existence. Can he take the chance?This is a great piece of work. Lorenzo, Olivia and their parents are brought to life beautifully in a few short paragraphs. Ammaniti is a genius
Bring up the Bodies (HCUK)

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And from Page 1 you are straight back into the Tudor world Mantel has expertly created. I had heard that the style of Bring Up The Bodies was different to Wolf Hall; brisker and more direct. But for me the voice is exactly as per Wolf Hall - and that's all too the good. There is no benefit in discussing the plot - anyone with any knowledge of history is familiar with it. What is interesting is the complex character of Thomas Cromwell as he manipulates the affairs of state, careful to pick winners, not afraid to shed the blood of innocents to further what he sees as the interest of the realm, but until that moment generous, self effacing, and compassionate as well. In Bring Up The Bodies we do see a couple of new aspects of Cromwell's character - the ability to take his revenge very very cold and at a distance of many years, and for the first time some fear at what the future may bring. The final volume of the trilogy should be rivetting
Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary

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An excellent portait of "Old Man" Trotsky and his final days. Regardless of your politics its hard not to feel a great deal of sympathy for Trotsky - hounded remorselessly by the GPU, his entire family either captured, executed or driven to suicide - his world gets smaller and smaller until it consists almost exclusively of his Mexican household. Does he appreciate this shrinking of his world? Probably yes but he doesn't give up. Neither does he make things any easier for himself; In Mexico due to the grace and influence of Diego Rivera he not only quarrels with him, but starts an affair with Frida Kahloe which Rivera is almost certainly aware of. Friends and would be supporters are constantly alienated by his harsh criticism and intellectual rigour. At this distance Trotsky's faith in the establishment of a Fourth International seems hopelessly naive - but perhaps thats just because he doesn't see, as we see, the eventual assassin, Mercader, getting closer and closer to him. Paternaude has written an excellent book - the characters and their motives are well drawn, the narrative witty and pacy, with the foreboding of the inevitability of his assassination lurking just over the horizon. Truely a death foretold.The author also has the capacity to surprise - at this distance the relative strength of the American Communist movement which was providing most of Trotsky's protection is surprising. So is the willingness of well meaning comrades to inform for the GPU. As is the fact that a painter like Sigueros could down his paints to lead an armed raid on the Trotsky compound. Different timesThis book is highly recommended
What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer

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There is nothing much to argue with here. Doctoroff is righter than most in his observations about Chinese consumer culture. Its a solid piece of work - and if there's one thing to take out, its that in China the individual is never the basic unit of society. Its always the group
The Dream of the Celt: A Novel

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Roger Casement was an interesting and complex character and if anyone could bring him to life, surely its Vargas Llosa. And yet, this doesnt really work mainly because it is so repetitive and feels more like a hagiography than a novel, particularly the Congo and Amazon sections which are most of the book. We quickly understand the premise - Casement finds out about and investigates horrible abuses of indigenous people in the cause of rubber harvesting. He goes through great torments and personal sacrifices to attempt to bring justice to these people and to bring the guilty to trial. Nothing happens. He begins to see a link between the oppression of the Irish people and those in Africa and Amazonia. We understand this quite quickly - but the novel gets bogged down in relentless examination of Casement's motives which, fundamentally, don't really differ from his days in the Congo to his somewhat foolish flirtations with the Germany during the first world war. But yet we go over these motivations time and againAlso the novel suffers because no other character really is drawn out in any depth. Alice Stephord Green is invoked time and again as Casement's inspiration - but its very unclear why. But perhaps Casement is meant to be seen as a lonely, focused, driven character.A shame really. Love Vargas Llosa in general but this isn't his best work. And some of the homosexual sex scenes should be a contender for the Bad Sex Award
On the Spartacus Road: A Spectacular Journey through Ancient Italy

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Another book that I really wanted to love. And yet, I couldn't quite come to grips with it. Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS and renowned classicist attempts to trace the steps of the famous Thracian gladiator about whom very little is really known. And so he wanders around the backroads bringing to life now obscure towns and regions. But for me I couldn't quite grasp the thread of the narrative, couldn't quite bring the ancient world to life. So I came away a little disappointed. But I would still recommend it
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City

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The story of Henry Ford's ill fated attempt to raise a rubber plantation and a model American town, on the Tapajos River in Amazonia. And at the same time, the story of Ford's own descent into eccentricity. Many biographers fall in love or admiration with their subjects, but not Grandin; he is merciless on the hubris, nostalgia for an America that probably never really existed, anti semitism, anti unionism and general misplaced paternalism of the older Ford, not to mention his atrocious treatment of his son Edsel. Fordlandia was an ill conceived idea to begin with, made worse by the shower of feckless incompetents sent to build and run it - few emerge with any credit. So badly managed was the whole project that it seems remarkable that this is the same man, and the company, that invented modern industrial production.A fascinating book on a subject I knew nothing about
Thatcher's Britain: The Politics and Social Upheaval of the Thatcher Era

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I've waiting for a good review of the Thatcher years for some time - and this is a good survey. Vinen considers whether there really was such a thing as "Thatcherism" - and decides there wasn't. He is good on Thatcher's response to Europe and of course on the conflict with the trades unions generally and the miners in particular. For those of us were there its a good and clear sighted review of both the causes of Thatcher's policies and their effects
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