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Quick Kant-er through (Western) Philosophy

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-08-20

Anyone who has more than a passing interest in philosophy will know that any study of the subject is effectively a history of philosophy and the philosophers. Monty Python famously devised an amusing ditty that espoused the propensity to consume alcohol of, among others Hume, Kant, Plato, Wittgenstein and Hobbes. This short book goes a little further to inform the reader of interesting things to remember about each of them. Socrates, apparently, never wrote anything down and we only know what we know today because of his student Plato. This is very much centred on Western philosophy and the great thinkers of China, India and Japan are largely ignored.

It is all a rattling good fun listen as we hear of the ancients through to Locke (realism), Barclay (materialism), Hume (design argument against God), Kant (metaphysics), Bentham (a pleasure seeker), Hagel (so difficult even he did not understand it), Mill (better to be a sad human than a happy pig), Nietzsche (God is dead), Betram Russell (is the current King of France bald?), Satre (existentialism), Wittgenstein (use of language) right up to date with Popper (interested in scientific definition). We also hear of some none philosophers including Marx, Darwin and Freud. This is as good as any introduction to philosophy and it leaves the reader / listener wanting to find out more. Recommended.

Graham Greene's classic tale from Vietnam

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-08-20

The Quiet American is perhaps best known for the Hollywood film adaptation staring Michael Redgrave and Audie Murphy. This novel on which it is based is darker and more critical than the film of both the French colonization of what was to become Vietnam, and the USA's involvement that would rumble on for almost two decades and result in a humiliating defeat for the American forces. At its core, this is a story of a love triangle involving the narrator who is an English journalist, and American CIA agent and a young Vietnamese girl. It is set against a backdrop of opium houses, alcohol and war and covers despair, morality and lust. This is, quite rightfully, considered to be a classic and the narration by Simon Cadell in this audio version is exceptional. Five stars.

Classic story that spawned a million imitators

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-08-20

Written in the 1940's and set in the 17th century this short novel spawned a genre of romance adventure that has filled the imagination of scores of Mills and Boon writers. We hear of a bored society wife who is swept off her feet by a dashing French pirate who thwarts a jealous husband through his daring feats and dastardly cunning. Though perhaps not as well known as Daphne du Maurier's earlier works Jamaica Inn and Rebecca, this is a rattling good read that must have gone down well with its wartime readers. It's all good fun, if a bit silly.

Don't believe the hype

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-08-20

It is reasonable to expect any book about marketing to make strong claims about its ability to assist a budding entrepreneur to grow their business. The author of this book, Brendan Kane is not shy when it comes to bragging about his credentials which include being a former "digital strategist" for Taylor Swift and an first blush the title of this book "One Million Followers - How I Built a Massive Social Following in 30 Days" appears too good to be true.

So what is the secret? Well, according to Mr Kane it is important to have good content that is in context; funny animal videos always go down well apparently, and the rest of it seems to be centred around "return on investment" i.e. pay to promote your messages so that they reach the largest audience. And that's about it in a nutshell. The book focuses on FaceBook with short passages on Instagram, SnapChat and LinkedIn (none of which are recommended) and nothing at all on Twitter.

There are some inspirational quotes for those starting out such as "chase your dreams otherwise someone will hire you to chase theirs" and several recommendations to visit Mr Kane's website for further information which, unsurprisingly has many endorsements by prominent YouTubers and influencers, most of whom have similar endorsements from Mr Kane on their own websites.

I would prefer to take the advice of Public Enemy and Don't Believe the Hype around this book. But then again, maybe Brendan Kane really is a genius; after all he persuaded me to part with my hard earn coin to download this book.

Don't hesitate to meditate

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-08-20

Author of this book Henepola Gunaratana is Theravada Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka. Mindfulness in Plain English was originally published in 1992 and has become a standard text for novice westerners wanting to learn about the subject of meditation.

This book points out to the reader / listener that meditation is more than relaxation and the underlying principle is to develop awareness and the objective is to live ones life based on morality, concentration and wisdom. It also gives some top tips on how to deal with distractions whilst attempting to meditate; apparently it is expected that your legs will go numb at some point and this will cause no lasting harm.

There is also and afterword covering the subject of love and friendliness which are qualities that we should all strive for in ourselves, our nearest and dearest and, our enemies. Plenty to think about here.

Facts are stubborn, statistics are pliable

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-08-20

It takes a brave man / woman to contemplate scripting an audio book on the subject of statistics that will engage and educate its audience as, statistically speaking, most people are turned off by this subject. They should not be. As author Charles Wheelan is at pains to point out through this book, probability theory can be applied to numerous aspects of life from gambling odds, to opinion polls and even whether it is worth buying an extended warranty on consumer electrical devices (it isn't by the way).

The author rattles through the fundamentals of statistics that will be a distant memory to anyone like myself who has studied this subject in the past. We hear of standard deviations, regression analysis, sampling theory and probability distributions and it is all delivered in an upbeat chirpy way with some humorous anecdotes thrown in. The problem with this audio book for a British listener, however, it that too many of the reference points are analogies with US sports such as NFL football, and that game they play with a bat and ball that is a bit like rounders. I have recently listened to Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellios that I would recommend which has a section on statistics that is more relatable that this.

Math is a wonderful thing

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-07-20

"Math is a wonderful thing", as Dewey Finn said to his class in School of Rock whilst impersonating his friend and real life teacher Ned Schneebly. Author Alex Bellos knows this too and has written a book all about it in a similar enthusiastic vein to the Manchester teenager played by Paul Whitehouse in the Fast Show who espouses the virtues of milk in an excitable manner.

Unlike other areas of academic study, the mathematics we learn at school has not changed since the 17th century and even undergraduate degrees in the subject are based on ideas that were formulated in the 1920s and before. Alex Bellos tells some fascinating stories about the characters who were the founders of mathematics right from the ancients through to Decartes, Euler and Gauss. This is not nearly as dull as it could have been and it is the author's obvious passion for his chosen subject that makes this a captivating listen.

We hear of the wonder of the parallels between the Fibonacci sequence and nature and the golden ratio of Phi that is enough to convince any non believer. Towards the end of the book Alex Bellos meets the father of recreational maths Martin Gardner who, to the author's dismay describes himself as, first and foremost, a journalist rather than a mathematician. Perhaps Dewey Finn was wrong and maths is not cool after all?

An outstanding and brilliant tale

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-07-20

I had heard a lot about The Secret History but was daunted by its length and have put off reading / listening to it until now. I prefer it when audio books are narrated by the author and it is great to hear Donna Tartt read this. This is a dark tale set in New England where a group of odd ball Classics students become absorbed in their own world that centres around an eccentric academic with unorthodox teaching methods. The story is told against a backdrop of alcohol and substance abuse that would even make Withnail squirm and this, combined of the group's detachment from normal society, results in them to developing an alternative moral compass that leads them to dastardly deeds including murder. This is a fantastic story and reminded me of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment with the group of students collectively assuming the role of Rodion Raskolnikov. This is an outstanding and brilliant book and I absolutely loved it.

There is more to Chekhov than his plays

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-07-20

Chekhov considered medicine to be his lawful wedded wife and literature to be his mistress. As well as the plays for which he is most celebrated, Chekhov was a prolific writer of short stories and this collection contains six of the best of them. The character descriptions are strong and we hear about simple hearted but dim witted peasants, dying men who are visited by phantoms and physicians in asylums who are as deranged as their patients. Apparently Chekhov wrote these works late in his life when he was suffering from consumption and this is surely reflected in the characters he creates who are stoic and crave the natural world.

The collection is expertly narrated by the actor Richard Armitage who explains in the prelude that having acted in Chekhov plays he wanted to find out more about who he was and I would recommend this to anyone who ponders the same questions.

1 person found this helpful

The solemn atmosphere of forced patriotism

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 27-07-20

Economist journalist and historian Anne Applebaum has written a very personal account chronicling of her experiences of the rise of popularism and the impact it is having on the Western world. The book begins at a new years party in Poland at the dawn of the 21st century and charts the changes in the political viewpoints of some of the attendees over the next two decades in which we see the impact of a pre-disposition to authoritarianism which leads to people admiring demagogues and the erosion of democracy. As a previous colleague of Boris Johnson at the Spectator we hear first hand from Applebaum her analysis of how he, and Trump, have used "restorative nostalgia" to fuel nationalism to force through their personal agenda eg Brexit, and wall with Mexico. Applebaum considers how a nation is defined and how leaders use a "moral equivalent" argument to justify that meritocracy is the same of democracy and this encourages further authoritarianism.

There is, of course, nothing new with this tactic and we hear how, in 1890s France, the Dreyfus treason trial was used as a scapegoat for the failings of the state. Applebaum brings her analysis up to date with the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic that has lead to increased powers for the state that certain world leaders will find it hard to relinquish.

1 person found this helpful