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Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

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I've rated it highly for its value in starting a debate, not because I agree, or because it is a particularly great read.In some ways there is no overarching theme to this book - reflected in the fact that it is broken into discrete subchapters, none longer than 3-4 pages, and several coming in at half a page or less. As a stimulus for a series of discussions in a philosophy classroom it would be brilliant. As a book to read...well, it depends. Not that this lack of structure would worry the author, as the book is about challenging some of our more deeply held convictions - progress, modernity and human exceptionalism in particular.Parts of it I found more convincing than others - I am not a biological determinist at all, and parts of the book leant that way. For me it was on much stronger ground in the musings on the challenges society faces and the way it will (and won't) tackle them. Also worth noting is, unlike much philosophy, his writing is extremely accessible in terms of the language used.It will make you think, but it will enrage progressives; indeed, it will make some people realise they are progressives. Nonetheless you should read it, because it will certainly make you think about why you agree or disagree. It demands self-reflection. I have no doubt I will read it again shortly.
Space

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It didn't go where I was expecting this book. After the first few pages I was unimpressed, the middle sections I found very gripping in parts, and then it veered off into the fantastical quite a bot towards the end. It is a story of first contact set in the near future, and tackles head on the question of why the aliens aren't here. It raises some interesting questions about the life-expectancy of a space faring species (or any species). We tend to assume resource scarcity is limited to Earth - maybe not so much if you think about it logically...Not bad at all if you like hard science fiction, but I didn't find the characters particularly engaging. The bibliographic data here suggests it is part of a series - I wasn't aware of that reading it, and I can't really imagine how...
Perdido Street Station

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An ambitious novel. It is also exceptionally grim, and New Crobuzon is possibly the most unpleasant fictional city ever created. It is fair to say that power has corrupted anyone who has any (from crime bosses to the city's rulers). You genuinely feel for the characters and incidentals who clutter this story. The creatures who provide the nub of the plot are horrific, but frankly, less so than many of the city's other residents.It starts with what seems a leaden pace (other reviews compare its heavy description with Gormanghast, which I only survived 5-6 chapters of before giving up in frustration), but by a third of the way through you are gripped in a plot that rattles along nonetheless. The ending is...well, poignant probably doesn't give too much away. It is fair to say that New Crobuzon is grim and is not a city designed for happy endings.Would I recommend it? If you've got a strong stomach, maybe. It is epic, but I have yet to summon the courage to read another of Mieville's novels.
Snow

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I was disappointed by this book. The background (and foreground) topic of religion, secularism and politics in a small Turkish town seemed extremely promising, and seeing it through the the prism of a local coup was a novel idea. Unfortunately I found the knowing first person narration by someone we never met extremely irritating throughout the novel, which marred my enjoyment.More importantly however I never cam to identify with any of the characters, and thus, as they went through some terrible traumas, you felt you were reading the book, not a story you were caught up in.
The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

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I'm a big fan of Jared Diamond. Given the publication date, I'm not sure how up to date some of the historical anthropology necessarily is, and, equally, readers of some of the author's other works will be familiar with some of the arguments put forward here. The book charts humanity's evolution from apes, and asks too, what makes us different (and what doesn't) why, and how it effects the way we live. The book covers everything from finding your partner to genocide, and perhaps because of this breadth seems to lack an overarching theme at times. You may well disagree with some (or much) of what is written here, but it is an interesting and thought provoking read and raises vital questions about what it is to be human and how we relate to one another and the world.
The War in the Air: Revised Edition of Original Version

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It's dated in style, but the chirpy Cockney narrator bumbling through the end of the world is a gimmick that works surprisingly well. The plot manages to be both ridiculous and yet believable enough to be extremely unnerving in time. If you ignore some of the racial prejudice, bits of this book are surprisingly pertinent; the dangers of technology and the problems disruption to society via a major conflict could cause are admirably explored in this novel.
Space Race: The Battle to Rule the Heavens (text only edition)

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This tells the story of the Space Race, primarily through the eyes of Korolev and Von Braun. It starts with an exceedingly grim account of Von Braun's role in the German V2 rocket program; grim not for the destructiveness of the weapons, but for the slave labour conditions of production.Perhaps as a result I found myself sympathising with the Soviets for much of the rest of the book, as Korolev did little short of tricking the government into letting him have a space program (obviously what they really wanted was missiles).Either way the contrast between the regimes which pioneered this technology (and the military drive behind the space race) and the outcome of putting people into orbit (which I still regard as one of the greatest technical feats we have accompanied a species) is extremely thought-provoking. It would have been nice to see it explored further, or for the book to have brought the story up-to-date.It is a thorough account of the period it covers from the perspective it chooses though, and an enjoyable read.
The Silver Pigs: A Marcus Didius Falco Mystery

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It does what it sets out to do. The central character is a private investigator in Rome, and investigating a bullion scam takes him to the slave mines of Cornwall and back again. Personally I could have done without the love interest, but I'm a cynic, so I don't hold it against the book. An entertaining mix of genres, and not a bad story holding them together either.
What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable

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I found this much less interesting than I imagined. It is incredibly bitty, which perhaps I should have expected, but this also means it is a bit repetitive - for example, many of the contributors address similar concerns, but utterly disconnected from one another, which can be repetitive, and far less informative than a more selective / synthesised approach might have been. Personally I was also expecting more political / social / economic discussion, whereas the book was much more philosophical / scientific in the balance of topics raised. Personally I think the dangerous ideas we have to worry about most in the next, say, fifty years, will be more the former, than the latter. However if the latter does interest you, this would be an interesting book to dip in and out of (but not to read through).
The Wanderer

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Another charity shop bargain - after the first few pages I thought it was going to be an uncomfortably dated novel, but in fact it had an original idea, and moved fast enough that the interludes with less central characters seemed to pass by rapidly enough.Worth a read.
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