Periodic Tales – Hugh Aldersey-Williams

I thought this would be quite a good one. Unfortunately, I’m not a great fan. the concept was great – what the elements of the periodic table do and how they affect us day to day, practically and culturally. 

I was expecting loads of useful anecdotes and concise and interesting histories of the elements involved. Not so. It reads rather like an a-level English lit essay, (albeit an accomplished one) complete with tediously detailed accounts of various chemistry experiments mixed in with assorted quotes from various historical literary works – in fact almost drowned in them. He references all sorts of obscure authors and artists (to me at least) and uses a lot of subjective waffling that is of really no great interest. 

It may be to some people’s taste, but I’m afraid this chap is not for me. He is probably the sort of guy that you would try and avoid sitting next to at a dinner party. Needless to say I won’t be reading his newer book on tides!

His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman

I have been meaning to read these 3 books at one time or other for a long time. I think I started the first one when I was at school but somehow didn’t get on with it and stopped reading very quickly, which is unlike me. 

I went back to them as they ahve garnered so muhc hype that I thought I must give them a read and they were quick reads anyway if I didn’t like them. 

The story is certainly very in depth and incredibly imaginative. It is quite deep at times. They are however, nothing more than ok in my eyes. There are better books for young adults out there. No doubt Pullman is a brilliant writer and brilliantly descriptive but it was all just a bit too wacky for my liking. 

The Money Machine – Philip Coggan

I have never been primarily a numbers man. I am alright at maths, but not brilliant. My times tables,  I am not ashamed to say are sketchy at times. So every now and again I like to read books like this to give a bit of context to every day financial requirements that I might need to consider. Useful read this one. A bit like a text book but I was ready for that. Quite complex in places  – although I’m sure many in the field would find it too simplistic. It didn’t change my world but certainly broadened the horizons a bit.  

For Esme – with love and squalor

This was a bit of a different one – a collection of short stories by J.D Salinger of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ fame. 

In general, I liked it. I would highlight three of the stories, the rest being perhaps a bit odd, a bit rubbish, or a bit over my head maybe. 

The three of note were, For Esme – with Love and Squalor, (the ‘title track’ and genuinely quite moving), The Laughing Man, (a whacky story within a story that also has a poingent twist at the end) and Teddy (about a child genius who gets all philosophical while on a boat.)

You could polish it off in an afternoon if you wanted to check it out. 

The Chestnut Man

This was meant to be another quick and easy filler and again, it fulfilled that perfectly. And then some. I haven’t seen ‘The Killing’ but it’s apparently by the same guy that did that. Suffice to say, I might give it a watch as this book was awesome. It was a classic two-page-a-chapter thriller. Loved it. Although perhaps a little predictable (Ok massively predictable), that did not detract at all from the overall experience. Roller coaster ride from start to finish and genuinely chilling. Probably another one for the poolside. 

Blood and Sugar

This book is as topical as it gets being based around the slave trade in 18th Century London. That certainly was not planned but nevertheless provided an interesting context to everything going on at the moment in the real world.

That aside, this was meant to be a quick easy read after a long non-fiction. That it was, but it was also excellent. A real murder mystery and brilliantly written and imagined. I would thoroughly recommend it – perfect for the sunlounger by the pool as they say, although there’ll be little of that this summer I suspect. 

The History of the Twentieth Century

This door stopper took me a while but was a real pleasure to read. I have not read a Martin Gilbert one before and was impressed with the way he writes. Very easy to read. More to the point, the content was really useful. Although I have covered much of the content before, it gave great context to stuff I have heard or read about in isolation before. It was a bit like fitting the puzzle blocks into the correctly shaped holes in some cases. 

What struck me most was how full of conflict the twentieth century was (the two world wars aside) and how similar the issues we face now are to a hundred years ago. We really do learn nothing do we. As interesting as it was depressing.  

The Body

Now I don’t want to sound bitter at all, but this was the book I had planned to write. Fortunately I got wind of it before planning got out of hand, but still…

Fair play though, Bill Bryson is a master at this sort of thing, and for someone not primarily medical it is a huge achievement. He has essentially taught himself a large proportion of medicine! This is a superbly written and researched book and I love all of the anecdotes and tidbits. Indeed his previous books had been an influence on my own writing in this respect. 

Despite the fact that it has diverted my future writing projects, I don’t mind. I’m glad he wrote it. I’m not bitter. Probably it is something everyone should read. I would even say it should be on the curriculum at schools. 

The Deep

This was written by one of the scientific advisers on the TV series Blue Planet. Alex Rogers is an esteemed marine biologist and, although he’s not the best writer out there, this is an engaging and interesting book. If I’m honest, some of the descriptive passages of the underwater reefs in extreme detail did get a little bit tedious, but when he starts talking about the environmental aspects, he really hits home. This is an important book and towards the end, he gets into the real nitty gritty. 

The impact we are having on the oceans is shocking, something only surpassed with our complicit lack of action. The conclusion is sensible and important and gives the reader a list of things they can do to help change things. Ultimately only time will tell if this is enough.