The Age of Unreason

Registered by BookGroupMan of Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on 9/17/2003
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Handy is a business writer with a heart & soul, he sees the world of work, and the working man, as a product of his age; a victim of corporate whims, global sea changes in culture, fashions & ideas. You can forgive him the jargon, and inventing fatuous names for his ideas, cos they are (normally) spot on, well observed & articulated, and he gives real insight into changing your life to meet these new challenges...

Journal Entry 2 by BookGroupMan at Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, January 02, 2019
This journal entry is being re-purposed for my 2019 book reading diary.

Read 1/2019
Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping Our Future by Ashlee Vance (not registered)

This is a fascinating book. It was interesting to see where Musk came from (early troubled childhood in South Africa) and his motivations and drivers. He is a complex character, part tech genius, part obsessed slave-driver, probably on the spectrum somewhere (Ed. aren't we all!) Who’s to say he won’t define and build the future for the whole human race as a multi planetary species. More to follow in a dedicated blog post.

Read 2/2019
Enigma's Coda by Mike King (n/r)

*Spoilers* I saw Mike King speak at the Ipswich unconvention in 2018. He lives and works locally and has a diverse range of scholastic and ‘lay’ interests including books about screenwriting and the Quakers and economics! This is his first fiction book - I think - but is set squarely (well maybe not squared-away!) in a recognisable world, notably mathematical research and mental illness in the modern-day segment, and Alan Turing’s Enigma code-breaking and flying boats in the split personality/past-life segment. The plot is contrived but not overly complicated and just about works in IMHO.

Enigma’s Coda is a, ‘Two Cultures campus novel’ (who knew there was such a thing!) which follows the mental, personal and professional unravelling of brilliant mathematician William Strange … and eventual redemption. He is haunted by dreams and apparent links with Alan Turing (‘Are you, or have you ever been Alan Turing?’) and wartime flying boat missions from Lake Windermere. Although, strangely he experiences the historical dreams and later multiple voices in the persona of engineer Peter and not Turing. And in both worlds there is an inappropriate girlfriend, both of which fail for different reasons. I don’t know if the psychology and psychiatry are realistic, or are we to believe in reincarnation or some distortion in time between the 2 periods?

I enjoyed the book, especially the geeky bits about Turing and his early works on AI, but it may not be to everyone’s taste - that said I have someone in mind to get it next!

Read 3/2019
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (book group) (n/r)

I only managed to read Volume 1 - which, to be honest, was enough; even the scholarly essay at the back of the book defeated me! For example, in the long evolution of the novel, ‘[the] crude antithesis of the original structure were never fully overcome’, i.e. the ‘schematic separation of qualities’ alluded to in the title. However, ‘…Marianne has plenty of sense and Elinor is by no means devoid of sensibility’. And so on. I guess this is typical Austen, all contrived dialogue, manners and overt & secret manipulation and positioning for marriage (position), property and power, played out in a lost world of Devonshire and Somersetshire manor houses and 'town' (London) parlours. The alternative themes of ‘secrets and sickness’ might be more interesting, if only I could get through the turgid rounds of high teas, visits, dances, country walks, entrances, exits, gossip, soul-searching ... there was not (in the first 130 pages) even any bodice-ripping to add some interest! I will unfortunate miss the book group discussion - which is probably a good thing.

Read 4/2019
Artificial Intelligence from A to Z - Raggett & Bains

This was recovered from the closing Coleg Harlech library - I should have got other AI titles while I was there :( Although nearly 20 years old this is still relevant as it introduces a lot of diverse topics and background in an interesting format. I am mining this heavily for a blog post about Artificial Intelligence.

Read 5/2019
Bill Bryson's African Diary (n/r)

This is a small charity book about CARE projects in Kenya with some glimpses of the BB humour and insight. However, the format and worthy cause means this is not great on either count, sorry :(

I'm ready for a full-form Bryson book now though!

Read 6/2019
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Read 7/2019
A Wanted Man by Lee Child

Read 8/2019
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Read 9/2019
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (not registered)

I have had this book for a long time and just hadn’t got around to it. However, it eventually floated to the surface of my to-be-read pile! I was really struggling with this huge, and at times turgid and surprisingly dull book, but was motivated to finish as it was a book group choice. Most people found it too long but others in the world claim it's the best book ever - not a patch on The Secret History IMHO.

Includes spoiler
The Goldfinch is a very valuable picture that haunts Theo Dekker from the time he steals it from the New York Met(!) and most of his life until it stolen again (secretly) and recovered. There are extenuating circumstances as his mother dies in an explosion at the gallery; he takes the picture on a whim and keeps it with whilst living as an orphan with friend Andy, his estranged father and his new wife in Las Vegas, back to Manhattan where he becomes an antiques dealer, and then a strange criminal exchange/scam that goes wrong in Amsterdam. To be honest even these bare bones sound implausible and uninteresting as a synopsis without wading through 750+ pages of detail! There are glimpses of Tartt’s keen eye for prose and philosophy, but it absolutely needed more editing. Apparently there is a feature film on the way in 2019 … maybe this will make a better film than a book?

Read 10/2019
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch (lib)

This picks up nicely from 'Rivers of London' above - so not really stand-alone for a new reader. Apprentice Wizard Peter Grant gets quickly embroiled with the lovely Simone, the other woman on the periphery of the murder of a jazz musician. Of course she is fishy, and eventually we find out she is one of 3 'jazz vampires' feeding off musicians, something to do with a bomb in the Cafe de Paris (real) during the blitz. There is further bonkers-ness with a black magician - maybe even a rogue cell(?) - and experiments on chimeras. Last but not least, Peter's special 'friend' Lesley, who lost her face in the first book, is still around to pick up the pieces when he gets a bit carried away and is finished sleeping with the prettiest supernatural beings in London Town! I'm loving this series :)

Read 11/2019
Milkman by Anna Burns (book group)
Review as written for the U3A magazine:

'We chose this book from a short-list of recent prize-winning novels, this won the Booker prize in 2018, the first by a Northern Irish writer. Anna Burns was born and bought up in a staunch Catholic part of Belfast during the height of the troubles. The book is set in the 1970s, and it provides a vivid and intense first-person account of an 18-year-old girl growing up in a bitterly divided community. There is a constant threat of malicious gossip, exposure and violence.

“There was an awful lot of shaming that went on in the place. That was why everybody read minds - had to, otherwise things got complicated.”

One of the unique features of the book - Burns’ style is compared to James Joyce - is a strong vernacular but avoiding names; the narrator starts as ‘middle sister’ and ‘maybe-girlfriend’ - as she tries to keep her boyfriend away from her domineering mother and the ‘pious women’. The Milkman provides a more sinister threat to her mental health and wellbeing, which leads eventually to a more-or-less happy ending, “I exhaled the light and for a moment, just a moment, I almost nearly laughed.”

The group mostly enjoyed the book, although some found the language, convoluted plot and complicated family trees difficult. The heavy subject matter was relieved by some light touches from the ‘wee sisters’ and dark humour form a number of secondary characters, the ‘tablets girl’ (a local poisoner!), ‘the real milkman’, ‘third brother-in-law’ and ‘Somebody McSomebody’. I really enjoyed the book for the history, rich language and pathos of middle daughter’s personal troubles.'

Read 12/2019
Never Go Back by Lee Child

Read 13/2019
Karl Marx by Francis Wheen

Read 14/2019
Autumn by Ali Smith

Read 15/2019
The War That Ended Peace by Margate MacMillan (book group)

I got as far as p206 in this monster tome, less than a third of the way through. I hope to pick up again (hopefully a lighter pb copy) and persevere!

Read 16/2019
Rebel by Bernard Cornwell

Read 17/2019
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Read 18/2019
The Reader by Bernard Schlink (book group)

I have read this before, but luckily couldn’t remember much, if anything, the second time around! Briefly, the story revolves around an illicit affair between the young Michael Berg and the older Hannah Schmitz. He becomes ‘The Reader’ for Hannah as a teenager and then, years later, when he sends cassette recordings to her. In the middle of 3 quite different sections we find out about Hannah’s past during the war when law undergraduate Michael and his peers observe an Auschwitz trial (no spoilers!) One of the central themes of this short novel is the shame of the German post-war generation for the ‘sins of their fathers’ and the nature of collective guilt and collective responsibility. On a more personal level, we see the impact of the Berg’s affair on his later relationships. I enjoyed the book but was frustrated by Michael’s coldness and lack of detail about his family relationships and large parts of Hannah’s past which may have explained their subsequent behaviour. Without this context it is not clear whether both, or neither, of the leads are innocent victims of circumstances or cruel and distant individuals (sociopathy/psychopathy?) - or even whether such polarised labels are valid for the complex human condition? Reviews and interviews with the author hint that this was at least a semi-autobiographical novel, but whether Lawyer Schlink and his theologian/philosopher Father play their parts in the book, or if the teenage Bernard had his own ‘Hannah’, we don’t know!

Read 19/2019
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Read 20/2019
The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch (lib)

I thought this was a standalone 'Rivers of London' novella, but it's not! However, it was a quick and easy read following ghostly clues on the Met commuter tube trains back to a modern-day kidnapping at the end of the line. We also meet young Chester 'Chess', the newest of the river Gods. The normal team of Peter Grant, Nightingale and vampire housemaid are joined by young Abigail and Sergeant Jaget Kumar with footnotes for an American 'Reynolds'. I'm looking forward to picking up the series proper in the full-form soon :)

Read 21/2019
Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

Read 22/2019
A Wicked Deed by Susanna Gregory

Read 23/2019
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (not registered)

*Includes spoilers*
If this book wasn’t fact-based I would moan a little about the ending! This is a ripping boys-own story about Louis Zamperini, from ‘incorrigible delinquent’ to incredible American runner and beyond. His career was cut short with service in WW2, after the Berlin Olympics in 1936 he was destined to break the 4 minute mile a decade or more before Roger Bannister. The bulk of the story is about his training and service in the airforce as a bombardier after Pearl Harbour, his plane crash and survival adrift in a small raft in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days, and then a brutal 2 1/2 years in Japanese captivity. The last, shorter, section follows his attempts to build a new life back home, including his obsession with hunting down and killing his main tormentor ‘The Bird’, but also recovering from nightmares and subsequent drinking and relationship problems. As I say, the post-war last 60+ years of Louie’s life follow less of a predictable arc, without neat tie-ing of loose ends, i.e. no cathartic meeting with The Bird (although he does go to a prison camp for guards), no successful return to running (although he does carry the Olympic flag) … and an odd transcendent religious zeal, inspired by preacher Billy Graham. All the above accepted, this is a rather fine, inspiring and though-provoking biography.

Read 24/2019
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

Read 25/2019
Personal by Lee Child

Read 26/2019
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Read 27/2019
The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks

Read 28/2019
Factfulness by Hans Rosling et al (not registered)

Includes spoiler … of course re-reading the biographies at the back of the book it does say, ‘Hans Rosling was a medical doctor, professor international health, and renowned public educator. [He] … devoted the last years of his life to writing this book.’ I didn’t really notice this until the book’s ‘Outro’, which is very sad. Factfulness is indeed a life-times work, insight and wisdom, and deserves a wide and informed readership and advocacy; let’s hope the co-authors from Hans family will carry the torch!

Factfulness is a great mixture of the technical (data analysis, global economics and public health management, to name a few topics), with a more subtle analysis of human nature. We are not very good as humans in understanding numbers on the own, in relationship with other factors, and exploring trends. And we also seem hard-wired to dramatise, generalise (stereotype), and be fearful and negative about the state of the world. At its best this is debilitating as individuals, but as nations it means we don’t always put the right resources in the right places at the right times to fix the biggest problems. Rosling examines each of 10 instincts, as he calls them, or reasons why we don’t understand the data. Even me who mostly ‘gets’ the underlying logic of this worldview can see how daunting such a task is, to rewire our thinking and behaviours.

The authors underplay the deliberate(?) juxtaposition of Factfulness with the self-help fashion of the moment ‘Mindfulness’. So while everyone is living in-the-moment, it is a good opportunity to be wary (cynical and questioning) about the latest headline, eye-catching disaster or foreboding. Think about the underlying issue (probably more complex and nuanced than it appears), any comparisons of trends to put the scary numbers into context, and think about your own prejudices and solution-orientation before making your mind up. This is a great book with important ideas, RIP Hans Rosling.

Read 29/2019
Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

Read 30/2019
Conundrum by Jan Morris (not registered)

I was warned in advance that this was quite a challenging book, which I assumed was due to details of the sex change operation itself. But no, it’s all relatively tame, but still quite challenging!

I know of Jan (previously James) Morris as a local celebrity in Criccieth, the nearest town to his beloved Llanystumdwy, and admired her travel writing. This is a step into a more human and emotional subject matter, which she likened to fiction. It is a very honest book, from the earliest stirrings of ‘otherness’, through his work and family life, and gradual trans-sexual change. The book tells this story as a natural transformation to her true gender, about her thoughts and feelings at each stage, with more prosaic matters of sex being secondary. The version I read had a new prologue but it’s still the very dated 1970’s view, without the modern multiplicity of genders and very public acceptance, if not outright celebration, of personal choice. Morris’s fascinating life as a reporter is, in my opinion. slightly reduced by his yearning to be something/someone else and to deliberately ‘use’ his maleness in younger life to gain access to the privilege of the officers mess, private members clubs and male-dominated newspaper offices. And of course to have his family with Elizabeth, still her partner post-op. So challenging, but of course well-written, honest and erudite. Now, back to the non-fiction!

Read 31/2019
Copperhead by Bernard Cornwell

Book no.2 and we are settling into a pattern. Starbuck has developed some battle ‘smarts’, but he’s no Sharpe! What he is, is a likeable rogue (to most people), lucky, opportunistic and loyal to ‘his’ company in the Faulkoner Brigade, however much the newly minted General Faulkoner dislikes him. In this book the civil war in 1962 also settles in for the longer-term that me know, with 2 slightly disjointed battles. But that all takes a back seat to spies and secret services on both sides. We meet the cautious rebs ‘Granny’ Lee, who must raise his game as the war progresses, the yankee spy master Pinkerton (yes him) and General ‘Young Napoleon’ McClelland who must soon lose his reputation after such a poor pyrrhic victory on the Peninsula … when he manifestly failed to beat a much smaller Confederate army protecting Richmond.

So, as before, really interesting history, but patchy characters and plot ... but i'm darned if i'm going to stop reading the series now!

Read 32/2019
A Long Way Home ('Lion') by Saroo Brierley

Read 33/2019
White City Blue by Tim Lott

Read 34/2019
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Read 35/2019
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Read 36/2019
One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson

Read 37/2019
When We Were Rich by Tim Lott (not registered)

*Contains spoilers* This is a fitting excellent sequel, 20 years after Lott’s debut novel White City Blue, but picking up events a short time after the shock ending; the massive falling-of the White City 4. During the course of this sequel we follow Frankie Blue, newly outed Nodge, Colin, and to a lesser-extent the estranged ‘Diamond’ Tony. Lott does these books very well weaving in human lives and bigger real events - in this case the starting with the millennium celebrations, via the Blair years, the 7/7 bombings in London and ending with the crash at the end of the naughties property boom & credit bubble. Also, Lott doesn’t pull any punches, all 4 of the leads suffer their own personal demons and tragedies, and we also see a bit more from wider family and partners. Not least, you know that Frankie’s credit-fuelled buy-to-let business is doomed to fail, but Tony, Nodge and Colin have some bleak times of their own. In hindsight there is more dark than light, maybe reflecting the current political and social malaise, but still an excellent chronicle of our life and times. Here is a phlegmatic passage from trainee therapist/counsellor Veronica, which I think sums it up well, although maybe in some cases people also do cruel selfish and vindictive things;

‘We are all in the dark … If things go badly, we think we have been stupid and foolish. Sometimes we have been wise and clever. Sometimes we have been stupid or foolish. But more often or, not, it’s just luck, good or bad. Things just happen and then other things happen and there’s not much we can do about it.’

Read 38/2019
The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz

Read 39/2019
The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith (not registered)

Finished - review to follow

Currently reading
Make Me by Lee Child

Journal Entry 3 by BookGroupMan at Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Thursday, January 03, 2019
Wish list - new for 2019

To help me keep track of wanted books

We Don't Die of Love by Stephen May
Read Never Go Back by Lee Child
Read Autumn by Ali Smith
The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
Read Milkman by Anna Burns
Read Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Read The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Make Me by Lee Child
Read Rebel by Bernard Cornwell
Read Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch
Read Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
Read The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith
Read 1927: One Summer by Bill Bryson
Read Copperhead by Bernard Cornwell
Read When We Were Rich by Tim Lott
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

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