‘The Anarchists’ by James Joll

First things first: this took me far too bloody long to finish. That’s not a criticism of the book itself – far from it – but more a reflection that I didn’t give it the attention I perhaps should. There’s various reasons / excuses I could make for that, but it mostly boils down to it not being the easiest of reads, and therefore only attracting my attention when I felt I could dedicate half an hour to it without wanting to fall asleep. Time for some fiction now I reckon!

As for the book though, despite the above paragraph, it’s a very interesting read. Effectively a run-down of Anarchism and ‘key’ anarchists throughout the centuries, culminating in their role and defeat into obscurity in Spain in the mid-to-late 1930’s. It covers characters such as Kropotkin, Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Malatesta and Goldman, to name but a few, and also spends a good portion of its time explaining and exploring the somewhat strange relationship between the various anarchists and the communists as were springing up around the time of the First International.

All in all then, lots of things I had – at best – only the slightest of grips on, and it certainly paved the way to making further reading into the different areas more appealing.

It flows well, it’s well written, and spans the periods of time chronologically (as you may expect), often recalling characters that had been introduced earlier on and how most of the main figures knew each other, personally or otherwise,  as well as fairly carefully analyzing some of the failure points and successes at various times in the movement.

One of the things that was perhaps most pleasing about it as a read was the seeming lack of bias on behalf of Joll. As ever with books surrounding the political arena, I’m always a bit wary that the author will be approaching the subject from one side or the other, which usually comes across in the writing and can get a bit tedious. So it was nice to not have that to contend with!

Don’t know if I’d go as far as to recommend this to anyone, but if anarchy / history of political thoughts is your ‘bag’, then you could do worse.

‘Deep Black’ by Andy McNab

I’ll be honest. Moderate at best.

I found it entertaining enough, and it was a pleasant ‘light read’, but I’d have to say that’s all it is.

If you enjoy action / shooty-shooty type books and are about to go on a relaxing holiday then it’s worth a go, but don’t arrive expecting an epic.

I’d still like to get hold of a copy of Bravo Two Zero to see how that is, but I wouldn’t rush out to read another piece of fiction from him.

‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ by Arthur Golden

No, I haven’t seen the film and, to be honest, before reading the book, I wouldn’t have really wanted to. Now, however, I don’t think I’d mind giving it a try.

The novel is very well written, extremely descriptive, and very vivid, all of which combine to make something that I find fairly difficult to relate to (having never been to the ‘Far East’, let alone Japan before, and it being set a good 50 years before I was born) accessible and approachable. The descriptions used conjure up very clear images and really set the tone for the novel.

Whilst I can’t say how accurate his descriptions of the Geisha culture is, it strikes me that he knows his stuff and is very confident in the way he writes. There’s little bias. Every time you read something that would make me stop and think ‘wow, that’s a bit different’, Sayuri counteracts by adding a point that makes it seem not quite so horrific as it might seem to an outsider.

Written from the perspective of a young girl who is removed from her family and placed into what can only be described as the ‘Geisha Program’, Golden does a superb job of relating things from is character’s perspective and I have to admit that every few pages I was finding myself impressed with his work.

It’s not a book I imagined I was going to enjoy greatly, but I ended up really getting into it and, like I said, it provided the impulse that would make me happy to get a copy of the movie. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.

‘Moab is my Washpot’ by Stephen Fry

This could easily be described in just two words: good vocab.

A great read, with lots of amusing (to my – the passive reader’s – eyes) little tales and analogies of things that happened, and raises some excellent arguments based on his experiences whilst growing up.
Extremely interesting, light-hearted at times, thought provoking at others, everything you could want in an autobiography, even if it does only cover his first 20 years.
I will definitely seek out his other titles.

Thanks should go to Ed who left this with us a few weeks ago.

‘The Weeping Women Hotel’ by Alexei Sayle

Side-splittingly funny. I don’t think I’ve read a novel that made me literally laugh out loud quite as much as this since reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Sayle’s descriptions and comparisons are hilarious due in part to their vividness, and partly due to their absurdity – yet at the same time they provide reason to stop and reflect upon the points being made.

Certainly a book I would recommend everybody should read if they get the chance, and I should thank Zog for leaving it out here with us – highly entertaining!

I look forward to getting hold of some of his other books at some point.

‘Use of Weapons’ by Iain M. Banks

The third sci-fi novel that I’ve read by Iain M. Banks, and the second one that is a part of the ‘Culture’ set.

And my opinions on them stay the same.

Whilst I’m by no means a sci-fi expert, I find Banks’ books entertaining, amusing, thought-provoking, imaginative, and vivid. Simply put, I can’t fault it.

Even for those who don’t think Science Fiction is their ‘bag’, I would thoroughly recommend trying one of these novels out, although from what I’ve read so far I would probably use Consider Phlebas as a starting point.

The story line here is engrossing, and brings up some important analytical points, but it does at times come across as a little confusing!

Go on, do it for me. 😉

‘Donnie Brasco’ by Joseph D. Pistone

After all the hassle with misprints that I suffered to this book earlier in the year, I was glad to finally get a chance to read it fully at long last.

It didn’t disappoint.

I first bought the book having watched the film version multiple times and truly loving it, and have to admit the book is fantastic, if a little different from the film. Clearly for the purposes of ‘Hollywood’ it was decided to make Lefty the main mob-link for Donnie throughout the operation, whereas in the book and fact Sonny Black was the pivotal link in the end, with Lefty only serving any real purpose as introducing Donnie to the crowd.

For those unaware of either the book or the film, it is based on a true story in which an FBI agent, Joseph D Pistone, infiltrated the mafia undercover over several years in the 1970’s , resulting in a number of succesful convictions for the Government over the Mob.
To this day he still has a $500 000 bounty on his head (apparently) and lives under various assumed identities.

His book brings up a number of issues and solutions he found whilst on the operation, which at the time was a completely novel situation for the FBI, having never had any agents under ‘deep cover’ before.

It’s entertaining, interesting, thought-provoking, and question-raising and provides a great insight into many key areas of the mob at that time.

Read it.

‘Amazon Watershed’ by George Monbiot

Superb.

I had already been impressed by Monbiot’s style of journalism / investigating from what I’d read before of his travels in ‘No Man’s Land’ and ‘Poisoned Arrows’.

I enjoy greatly the way he writes, with clear concern, but at the same time clearly articulating a very concise and accurate picture of what he believes needs to be done to solve the problems raised. He’s realistic in acknowledging what’s feasible and what’s impossible, and states very simple common-sense solutions that could be implemented easily if the people who have a say were prepared to look the other way.

Out of the three travel books of his that I’ve read (this, ‘Poisoned Arrows’, and ‘No Man’s Land’), I would say this is a good place to start with what he’s setting out to do, although I would recommend buying the most recent prints of it – the copy I read was an early one, so the only ‘status update’ of the current situations was from 1991. From reading the other two titles from a more recent print, these more recent progressions and updates are much more accurate.

For people interested in such matters as the state of the Amazonian Rainforest (of which I personally know very little) I would think this has established itself as necessary reading. Monbiot’s thoughts and questions probe deeply for important and sometimes glaringly obvious answers which appear to not be answered.

‘The Righteous Men’ by Sam Bourne

I guess it was because I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code, combined with the fact the the reviews bill this as the greatest challenger to it, that prompted my mother to buy me this book a while back, although it has taken me a while to actually getting around to reading it.

I enjoyed it a lot. As with the Da Vinci Code, I have a tendency to read it for what it is – a work of fiction – and try not to get caught up in the whole ‘but it’s a distortion of the truth theories’ – if I wanted to find out the facts behind the theories mentioned in any of these books I’d go and read non-fictional titles about them, but as it is, I just enjoy the storyline… Sorry.

Having read all four of the Dan Brown novels and enjoying them, I guess it was a reasonable assumption that I’d enjoy this, and I did. In honesty, I actually preferred it to the Da Vinci Code or any of the other Dan Brown novels I’d read – the story was more engrossing, a little bit more realistic (if that’s the right term) and with slightly more ordinary characters. Although perhaps half the reason I enjoyed it more is that I have only read this one of Bourne’s novels – by the end of the fourth Dan Brown novel I was noticing the same trends in all the stories – hopefully Bourne won’t fall into the same trap with his future novels.

However, as with Dan Brown’s novels, The Righteous Men did bring some interesting ‘real-life’ societies / beliefs to my attention that I didn’t know about and would like to read more about. The direction towards useful reading sources at the end of the novel definitely helps point me in the right direction. Find my Amazon wishlist if you want to buy me a gift… 🙂

Definitely worth a read, and very addictive once you start, but I don’t know how quickly I’d go back to read it again – just like with Brown’s novels. I think it needs a substantial break from it before going back and seeing if it gets any better second time around, which my guess is it won’t, and I don’t want it to disappoint!