vguy_6

Reviews
More
The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939

by

A tragedy, excellently told. Good not only on the battle fronts but the social context and the plotting and posturing. Every detail is there down to the weaponry and logistics, the sad mistakes, the viciousness on both sides, the wetness of the rest of the world. At times i wept.Intriguing is how the Communists were effective about encroaching on power but hopeless at military strategy, being only concerned for propaganda victories, ie suicidal frontal attacks. But behind it all is Stalin who didnt want them to win anyway - was it deliberate? That's not made clear. My own reflection: Franco's Africanista army was the steelier part of the Spanish armed forces, but can't have been that good. They had the Nazis Condor airpower to soften up the Republicans who were barely professional, under-equipped and inwardly eroded by the Communists. Should have been a walk over for the fascists.
Nada que temer

by

Wonderful wandering essay on Death. Packed with insight irony and surprise. Provokes many a dry laugh and the occasional shudder. Wide reference to lives, and more particularly deaths, anticipations of death, graves and epitaphs, of mainly French literary figures including much of Jules Renard (new name to me). Also fine reflections on art, the (non) existence of God, the pitfalls of personal memory and of course, the art of fiction. Bonus in listening to Barnes own voice delivering it - he whispers in your ear and seems to tumble afresh on his apercus.Particularly liked his reflections on the last person to read this book, who might be a totally different kind of being and who, by definition, will fail to recommend it. Not me.
A Man of Parts

by

I'm a convinced D Lodge fan. This was slightly different in being a bio-novel rather than novel of ideas and also on a somewhat sprawling scale. A bit like wells' own war in the air which I read immediate after, it has a personal and a public strand; they don't quite gell. The tale of HG' sexual adventures is brilliantly done, funny, dramatic, full of twists and turns, delightful, never mind how much is true or invented by Lodge or even by HG.. The account of his public life and ideas is interwoven and pales by comparison. The wranglings of the Fabian society are given in exhaustive detail - who gives a damn? His striving for recognition as a "literary" writer particularly in competition with Henry James, come across as sad and ultimately doomed ( though we do get some amusing quotes from James' tortuous letter-writing style and wells' parody of it). His utterances as a world prophet seem dated and irrelevant now, even though a surprising amount of it, both good news and bad, came true (didn't know he'd predicted nuclear weapons and the tank, as well as the NHS). In the end the public Wells fails to justify that much writing space and makes for an overlong and somewhat un-unified novel.So a first class novel and a rather boring biography in a single set of covers - odd.
Music & Silence

by

Wonderful poetic language, vivid scenes and characters, villains and heroes, sensual vivid images and even a happy ending. Plot slightly confusing , partly due to multiple narrators, AND a narrator proprement dit. Also some jumps in the story, and unconcluded lines ( what happened to the poor king? ) or did I miss something. But very enjoyable moment for moment, which is how I tend to take novels, especially in audio. Nicely recorded, including music! From "one click".
I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay

by

Fairly light trot through the recent financial crisis. Clear and explanatory with some good jibes and personal touches here and there, along the "Would you credit it?" lines. Makes clear how the thing got out of control because of the abandonment of personal interaction and the consequent collapse of trust. A striking part is the mathematisation of finance and the unreality it led to, eg the leading financier describing the collapse as a something-sigma event, meaning a i in umpteen trillion chance where the trillions are more than the seconds in the history of the universe, whereas the guy had in fact seen half a dozen fairly major financial fold-ups in his own lifetime. I found this especially interesting after Cox's "e = mc2", where the largeness and smallness of the working parts of the universe are indeed factual but unimaginable.
The War in the Air: Revised Edition of Original Version

by

Read this online. Intriguing and slightly odd that Wells chooses and is able to write this as a mix of small-time comedy and world catastrophe scenario. It sort of works, perhaps like Chaplin's Dictator or the film Life is Beautiful. Schweik is another. There are two perspectives though: the catastrophe is mostly seen from a distance in documentary style, sort I'd pseudo non-fiction/historical voice, while the innocent bumbler caught up in it is seen close up in anecdotal manner. The personal story is great fun whereas the world historical passages, though elegantly expressed don't really catch light and one is always comparing the prophesy to reality of the 20th century. As prophecy it does have quite a bit going for it. The great powers bumbling into war presages August 1914, 7 or 8 years after he wrote. Aerial bombardment, specifically carpet bombing, didn't get going till Guernica and WWII but his descriptions are convincing.the flu of 1918 can stand in for Wels' pestilence The regression to the Dark Ages hasn't happened yet but who knows? Less convincing is the idea that a mechanic with a stolen set of blueprints can overturn the power of scientific warmongering, though perhaps Vietnam is a case in point. Prescient amid this is the way populations go on resisting as the bombs rain down, London in the blitz, Germany 1945, as well as Vietnam have shown the truth of that.
Will

by

Affected, artificial, boring. Much of it written in pseudo-quotes from the plays, much as an unwilling schoolboy might write on his way to school. I found it hard to screw my courage to the sticking place and gave up
The Elephant to Hollywood

by

Unexpectedly delightful. Warm, moving, funny, sentimental, innocent but not naive. Comes across as a likeable, sociable bloke with a steely core that he doesn't need to flaunt. Could be accused of name-dropping, especially of a previous generation of Hollywood honchos, but he clearly enjoys their company and is generous to those who've helped him. Story of his falling in love (which I heard him tell before) is wonderful. Story of discovery of his disabled half-brother brought tears to my eyes. He's well aware of the media and jealous rivals snapping at his heels but seems to have little trouble from them; perhaps his mix of charm and toughness keeps them at bay. Simple but graceful style which we are led to believe is his own.
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

by

Interesting enough but as I read/listened through I felt the lack of a theoretical/interpretational framework. Narrative history fair enough but all too easily edges into "one damn thing after another". The framework all comes along in a lump at the end with numerous concepts pretty much in list form and rather indigestible. some of his "pop history" analogies and phrasing can be annoying or trivialisiing, eg "Chimerica". Choice of topics also sometimes favours the sensational: eg, John Law is a colourful enough rogue but surely only a symptom of the absolutist distortions of the bourbon monarchy. What comes across strongly is how finance has become eve more complex to the point of incomprehensibility at least to this reader. i can just about keep up as far as consols and the Rothschilds, but once we get to the late 19th C and beyond it becomes bewildering. I wonder how much this is a weakness in the writing and how much a matter of reality. LTCM for example, as a bunch of Nobel economists went spectacularly down the toilet; did they understand how it all worked? or was their mistake to think they understood it? Soros, by this account, seems to have some grasp, not only of how to beat the market, but how it actually works: the effects of expectation upon expectation. What is not really examined is how, despite fluctuations, crashes and con men, the real economy does overall move forward. In the long run, we're not all dead; most of us are at least slightly better off.Ferguson does paint the dismal science in bright, if occasionally gaudy, colours, and tells good stories. He comes across as more intelligent and reasonable than one might expect from some of his political positions
Jamrach's Menagerie: A Novel

by

Starts well enough with scene of urchin being seizes in the jaws of an escaped tiger, well observed and detailed. But then the story seems to wander with too many scenes and characters, all somehow over described, striving for the exotic or the wretched, too many lists, not enough insight or point. I could see the pictures, but didn't care about the people or what might happen to them. When the cliche ship's captain with a whip appeared I gave up. Contrast with Tremains "Music & Silence" which is also a rich diverse historical/exotic tapestry, but engages the reader in its story and offers insight into the characters.
scribd