Categories
Uncategorized

The End of Bias by Jessica Nordell

Bias is a interesting subject. While some people try to remove bias from their lives, which is the main topic of Jessica Nordell’s End of Bias, others are embracing it. Fox News, social media, etc, polarise society by reinforcing bias and prejudice. So while it’s great that many of the case studies in the book are taking positive action, it seems society as a whole unfortunately is moving in the opposite direction.

I disagreed with some sections, such as the use of IAT tests to predict prejudice. Having done a test, it’s pretty obvious you can get whatever result you want by the ordering of the questions. I felt the book focused too heavily on racial bias, but I suspect the volume of research and the active projects tackling it help to demonstrate biased behaviours. The end sections were interesting, with suggestions of living an examined life to remove your own biases.

The book is certainly worth a read – well researched and clearly written – highly recommended.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: Chief of Staff: Notes from Downing Street

Gavin Barwell, the author and narrator, was a Conservative MP and housing minister who after losing his seat in Theresa May’s snap election, was brought deeper into the government by being appointed her Chief of Staff. My political views aren’t entirely aligned with his – I’ve never voted Conservative and am very unlikely ever to do so (I’m more of a liberal – centre-left on society and centre-right on the economy), but we are both unionists and Remainers.

Though not a Tory voter, I’ve always felt Theresa May was a principled and fair leader, values mostly missing in modern politics. She was a good Home Secretary, standing up to the police federation, and would’ve made a decent prime minister – she just happened to have the top job at the wrong time. During the Brexit negotiations, too much politicking and lack of cross party compromise ensured she was holding the poisoned chalice.

The book mostly covers the scheming during the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The EU had to ensure Brexit was a failure to deter other states from leaving. The House of Commons was split three-ways: between those who wanted a second referendum, those who wanted a soft Brexit with close EU ties, and those who wanted a hard Brexit with a clean break from the EU. And those factions were again split on party-lines. Plus the speaker of the house wasn’t being the impartial chairman that the role required. All this together meant that any vote would fail, as there was never enough consensus to pass a bill. Gavin covers this well, giving opinions from both sides, and gives that behind the scenes view that the mainstream media is unable to deliver.

He also covers the Salisbury attack, Trump, the weaknesses of Corbyn, and a bit of gossip along the way.

The most interesting section is the conclusion, where he covers the what-ifs and the summary of where we are with Brexit. May was keen to ensure that the union survived, and all her negotiations centred around that. But polls amongst the Tory party reported that over 60% would still want Brexit even if it meant Scottish independence, with a similar percentage not caring about disruption to the Northern Ireland peace deal, and the same again wanting Brexit even if it meant the breakup of the Tory party itself – to them, all that mattered was getting Brexit done. Paradoxically, if the Scots do hold a second independence referendum, Johnson and Sturgeon would campaign inversely to their Brexit campaigns – in Brexit, Johnson demanded sovereignty and home rule while Sturgeon argued we’re better together!

A detailed account of a disruptive time in British politics, with Theresa May coming across as a genuine civil servant who cares about societal inequalities. It’s telling that when losing the premiership, she didn’t go into the private sector to earn big bucks like other politicians who are more concerned about their brand than the nation they served – she remained, and still remains, a back-bench MP. Well worth a listen (it comes across as a discussion rather than a reading), and a solid 5 stars!

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: Somersett: Benjamin Franklin and the Masterminding of American Independence by Phillip Goodrich

This is a beast of an audiobook – 14 hours of dense facts, made easier to digest with some well acted dramatisation. The book follows the schemes of Benjamin Franklin, how he manipulated the North and the South, the British, the French, and the Dutch, all because of his dislike of the Penn family and his desire to give the colonies independence and a slave-free society.

The book is very focused on the political, how the schemes were planned and enacted, the military aspects of the war were mostly passed over. If you’re interested in Machiavellian scheming, this will be right up your street!

A very impressive book, well deserving 5 stars.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: The High House by Jessie Greengras

The High House is another climate change fictionalisation – better than most, but still with its flaws.

Better because the writing is gorgeous. Sparsely written bite-sized sections, the prose exudes urgency and desperation. That stylisation worked well, the characters racing towards the impending doom, but it worked only up to a point. With writing that sparse, it’s good for the drama, but it limits character development, and becomes a song with a single beat. This would have been more powerful if the rhythm occasionally changed, allowing the emotions to rise and fall.

The main flaws for me were with the plot

The book is based in an unnamed, northern hemisphere coastal village. In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, based in America, the survivors deal with armed cannibals. In Maja Lunde’s The End of the Ocean, based in Europe, fights were common with fists and sticks. In The High House, they saw refugees in the distance, but no-one seemed to be pillaging, and no defences were considered. For the end of the world, it seemed very safe.

Likewise, in one season, the store stopped delivering their groceries, but the local vicar was still able to drive to their house. It seemed society was breaking down, but with pockets of normalcy.

Still, minor complaints for an otherwise very enjoyable read.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: Tomorrow by Chris Beckett

What an excellent novel! Tomorrow follows the life of an unnamed protagonist, through his student days debating left-wing politics, to his isolation in the wilderness to write ‘the book’, to his kidnapping by left-wing guerrillas and his escape, and finally his demise. ‘Following’ isn’t entirely true, as the narrative jumps throughout to different times of his life.

A theme throughout is why we do what we do. You may want to help others, but is talking about it helping, or is even doing something helping, or is it just what it is and nothing can and ever will change. You may have your plans, but in the end, whether we sabotage it or not, the world just trundles on with or without you.

Intelligently written, and gorgeously plotted, this is highly recommended!

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: Walk With Me In Sound by Marc J. Francis

Thich Nhat Hanh is the father of Buddhism in the West, and I was expecting this audio book to detail his life and his teachings. Unfortunately, it didn’t hit the mark for me.

The first section, which I was hoping would explore Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, mostly focused on the author’s journey into Buddhism, rather than Buddhism and mindfulness itself.

The soundscape, a ‘relaxing’ mindfulness journey consisted of a few bells, a bit of chanting, Benedict Cumberbatch narrating a few quotes and lots of silence.

It was all very pleasant for free, but I’m sure I’d feel different if I’d paid the cover price.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: Outraged: Why Everyone is Shouting and No One is Talking by Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles

These days (a phrase that suggests an oldie harping back to a non-existent golden era!) it seems outrage is being commercialised. Clickbait use targeted headlines to raise the emotions – emotional topics are more likely to be shared, and get more eyes on those all important ads. But this has always been the case – Fleet Street had the rule, “If it bleeds, it leads” long before the internet – outrage sold newspapers too.

Dotty makes good points that if people get outraged over everything, events that merit genuine outrage will be diluted or lost in the noise. The problem is that outrage generates clicks and follows, important for influencers and media companies, so the emphasis for change isn’t on the content creators, it’s on us, the content users, to define our own criteria on what’s important, what justifies outrage, on what should be shared.

I felt the book was pretty well balanced, but Rachel Dolezal’s inclusion was too long, and, for me, off topic. She scammed her way into jobs and positions of trust on a lie – a white girl pretended she was black. Dotty argued that 10 million Americans changed their race category in the last census so Dolezal wasn’t unique in identifying as a different race, but it’s one thing to change from “Black” to “African American”, and a whole other thing to change from “White” to “Black”.

My final point is that Dotty claims this outrage is vast, but outrage is limited to certain mediums, i.e. Twitter. Yep, Dolezal hit the tabloids and Twittersphere for days, but serious newspapers with serious themes and a serious audience, gave it less credit – they reported the facts and moved on. Part of the problem is that Dotty is immersed in outrage, she seeks out those videos, she responds to tweets from Piers Morgan or Katie Hopkins, so she will see more outrage and fuel more outrage than people who don’t.

I left the book feeling that Dotty keeps standing in the swamp, keeps returning to the swamp, and then complains about being in a swamp…

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Daniel Pink’s Drive is an easy read – for one, the writing is nicely done, but secondly, it’s very sleight on content, which is then repeated, and then summarised. The first two-thirds describe his Motivation 3.0 theory – which is basically you need flow, which is generated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Then the final third, with much repetition, gives examples on how to do it for parenting, team leading, weight loss, etc.

It’s interesting stuff, worth a read, but you’d get the same information from his 18 minute Ted talk – with some decent jokes thrown in too.

See review on Goodreads.

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road has been sat on my ‘shelf’ for seven years! I started it once, got half way through, and then got distracted by something shiny. I found it again recently, and as I did enjoy it the first time, started again from the beginning and this time, I made it to the end!

Looking back, I can see why I stopped the first time. Most of the writing is excellent, but it often becomes sentimental and airy, attempting poetic but incomprehensible sentences.

The story however is solid. Dorrigo Evans is the most senior POW in the Japanese Death Railway, where thousands of diseased and malnourished Australian soldiers cut through ancient teak forests to connect the Japanese supply route. The story bounces around times and characters, taking the perspective of the slaves and the masters. This is where the book is the most powerful, and worthy of the 2014 Man Booker prize – you do get an understanding of the motivations for the Japanese torturers.

An excellent, though flawed book, an easy 4 stars!

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: When America Stopped Being Great: A history of the present by Nick Bryant

Nick Bryant discusses how America went from having a solid democracy with cross-party collaboration to a dysfunctional nation ruled with the mindset of tribal adolescents. He follows American politics of the past 50 years, praising and admonishing each President on their actions and how they affected the trajectory of American politics. Many of the problems discussed also relate to other nations and aren’t specific to America, such as the consolidation of businesses and how that effects communities, especially in the media world, and how the dumbing down of society causes a rejection of science and reasoned debate.

This book focuses on the political decline, but I found it reads well with Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire”, which tackles society and religion with equal quality of research

This is very well written – incredible writing with phenomenal research, though the first few sections were often too dense with facts, and not enough commentary, making it feel like reading an encyclopedia entry rather than an analysis. Likewise in the first few chapters, the flowery language often distracted from the message – phrases such as ‘the president triangulating with Pythagorean glee’, while nice takes you away from the prose.

An excellent book, and should be read by anyone with an interest in politics.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.