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Jan 2014
50 People who buggered up Britain - Quentin Letts - Constable, 2008
[It is ten years to the day since the first posts in this blog. Given that my one of my intentions in starting it was to point readers at worthwhile books, it is somewhat ironic that today's review is of one that really isn't. But that's the way it goes...]

Anyone who has perused this blog before will doubtless be unsurprised to hear that I am not a regular reader of the Daily Mail. In fact I consider it one of the more pernicious elements of modern British society. But I am also aware that my liberal biases are not necessarily intellectually sound and sometimes seek out more right-wing and conservative opinions to test my opinions. This applies to humour too. There is nothing intrinsically unfunny about right-wing or conservative humourists - while preferring the vaguely left-wing chatter of, say, The News Quiz, I have read and enjoyed books by the likes of P.J. O'Rourke.

This one, however, left me completely stone-faced. Written by the Daily Mail's parliamentary diarist, it is a series of character sketches of the people who, in the author's opinion, have made Britain the miserable dump that it is today. This would be fine if they were funny or insightful, but they're not. They are merely depressing.

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Mar 2009
The Insider - Piers Morgan - Ebury Press, 2005
In a recent edition of QI, Stephen Fry asked the participants to name a poisonous snake and Jimmy Carr triggered the show’s infamous boring and obvious alarm by suggesting Piers Morgan. That Carr should make such a joke, and that the QI elves should predict that he would do so, says a lot about the opinion in which Mr Morgan is held by the celebritocracy. Which makes reading this account of his editorships of The News of the World and The Mirror a rather bizarre experience, in that a good proportion of the text consists of self-congratulatory vignettes in which famous people from Kate Winslet to Tony Blair ask and then thank him for his wise advice. The disconnect between his popular image and his own world view strongly suggests that we have an unreliable narrator and makes us inclined to doubt his account of the tabloid editor's world. Not that it is that insightful anyway.
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Ridley Walker - Russell Hoban - Picador, 1980
I turned forty recently and have been thinking quite a bit about the aging process and why it is that most of us become progressively more stuck in our ways as we get older. My theory is that it’s to do with reward-to-effort ratios. From our mid-twenties onwards, our energy levels decrease steadily, but the perceived reward for the things that we enjoy remains the same. So we gravitate towards those things that give us a real buzz and give up on those activities which we only quite enjoy. “Life’s too short” has become my frequent muttered catch-phrase when getting up to switch off a trashy television program or annoying computer game. It’s particularly noticeable in old or ill people who often express themselves in a sort of telegraphese which they expect you to understand. The effort of explaining themselves is too great and the reward of being fully comprehended isn’t enough.

Despite the previously mentioned signs of old fogeydom, I still haven’t quite got to the stage where I will give up on a book half-way through. I am selective in what I choose to read and if I start a book I will finish it, even if it turns out not to be very good. It just seems good manners to the author to let them have their say in full - and you never know what you might miss on the final page. However I almost gave up on this one, so great was the effort of reading it, and felt unrewarded at the end.
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14 Mar 2005
Scientific Blunders - Robert Youngson - Robinson 1998
The old saw of not judging a book by its cover is particularly true of this one. The subtitle - "a brief history of how wrong scientists can sometimes be" and the blurb on the back might lead one to assume that it will be an anti-science (and probably pro-religion) rant. This isn't in fact the case - Youngson is quite respectful of science, and actually wrote the book in order to facilitate public understanding. Sadly, the way that he has chosen and organised his material means that he has not achieved his aim.
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