Extreme Medicine

This one missed the mark for me unfortunately. It markets itself as a book looking at how exploration transformed medicine and even has a polar explorer on the cover. I had envisaged exciting accounts of expeditions to dangerous corners of the earth in which people had to draw upon medicine to help them out. Think jungle medicine to treat gangrene or the account of a polar doctor having to perform his own appendectomy. In reality it mentions people like Scott  only in passing as a way to justify the title and then goes off in completely different directions. It lacks a focus, darting between different areas of medicine with basic text book-like physiology lessons alongside scattered and padded out anecdotes. The space bit towards the end is the only bit that really fits the bill but, for me, is only mildly interesting.

There are better books out there on exploration and medicine. This falls through the cracks of both. 

Lessons from the Edge

I’ve always loved natural history TV and tales of exploration and hence I thoroughly enjoyed the Steve Backshall series ‘Expedition’. During that series, he has Aldo Kane along for the ride and turns out he is a very interesting and likeable chap also. 

I devoured this one in a day or so. It’s a nice account of his life and quite inspiring. In parts, a little depressing but only because Kane quite rightly highlights the dire straights our natural world is in and the inherent political machinery in place that makes it feel as if to fight that is all in vain. However, the more people that read this the better if only to raise awareness. I guess that’s all one can do. 

In another life, I’d love to think I might have gone down the adventuring route so by following the likes of Kane, I get to do that vicariously. Cool job. Good guy. 

 

Snow

This book is perfect in a way. But only as an example of the dangers of judging a book by its cover. The picture, the wording and the reviews written across it are all exceptional. The Times calls the book itself superb, the Daily Mail refers to it as exquisite and the Financial Times think it is hypnotic. How cheap words have become to these so called newspapers. 

In reality this book is absolute trash. I can’t believe someone has read it and thought, yep, that’s publishable. The detective investigating the murder that happens at the beginning is surely the most incompetent of all time. He knocks about for a day or so before asking any real questions. There are clues early on that hint there may be a more sophisticated plot at hand. Not so. They are never really addressed and the plot is as one dimensional as it could possibly be. It is a short book but, due to the total lack of substance (you could sum up the whole ‘mystery’ in a short sentence) the author has had to pad it out with pointless detail of such boring irrelevance that, if I ever was placed next to him at a dinner party, I would rather go hungry. 

It should be studied by writers as an example of how not to write. At one point, the main character’s colleague goes missing for an hour or so and, for some incredible reason, the main character ‘knows’ that he is dead. A classic example of telling the reader rather than letting them discover for themselves. 

One of the worse books I have ever read.

Play It Again

I picked this up out of interest having been learning the piano (recently did my grade 4 in piano) and also due to my general interest in music. 

This is a real gem. It documents the author’s year or more learning the notoriously difficult Chopin’s ballade no 1, all while he acts as editor of the Guardian during a very busy news year (what year isn’t I suppose). It is both a brilliant memoir and behind the scenes look at the life of a newspaper editor and a fantastic exploration of music and the amateur’s role within music as a whole. Brilliantly written as you would expect, it is one that I didn’t was a little sad when it ended and could happily have read on and on. Perhaps only for those with an interest in piano so it is a little niche but I absolutely loved it. 

The Book of Trespass

Thought this looked interesting on the shelf so I took a punt on it. Essentially this book is about land. More specifically, the author has stumbled upon the surprisingly interesting subject of who owns the land and who has access to it in the UK. The answer is not that many to both questions, at least as far as he is concerned. 

Having read his book, I am inclined to agree with him. I say he has stumbled across the topic but clearly this is a life long passion of his. He is clearly an outdoors type with clear sympathies with all manner of protest groups to the extent that you can almost smell the mustiness coming from the pages. I don’t mean that in a bad way. The book is exceptionally well researched and referenced. The legal research he must have had to look into would not have been for me. 

It is quite incredible how little land we as the public have access to. It becomes ever more heartbreaking when one considers what our landscape used to look like before we swarmed across it and that the last bastions of the wild are now the trophies of only a very exclusive few. It reminds me that we live in a very unequal society. The last page of the book made me almost tear up. 

It would be interesting to hear a balancing reply from the land owning perspective. In some ways this book was superbly and eloquently argued and yet I can’t help but think he lets himself down when he admits at least on 2 occasions to trespassing on properties in order to take class A drugs. This book needs to be taken seriously and that was perhaps a mis-step. Nevertheless, a powerful piece of writing and deserves to be listened to. Whether it will be or not is another matter. 

Piranesi

I bought this having read her other book Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell only very recently. 

This one is as short as her first book is long. However, it is just as unique. An unbelievably imaginative story that is beautifully written and will keep you enthralled all the way through. There was a magical quality to the book that I can’t put my finger on but it seemed to lighten the soul whenever I delved into it. I really can’t explain it. A real rare talent. 

There’s no point me going into the story as it’s all just very fantastical but it is is both melancholy and uplifting all at the same time. No wonder it’s won awards.

Eight Detectives

As you will see from the sticker, this was a buy one get one half price. I was forced into buying this with three other books by the checkout lady as this would ‘effectively be free’. 

I’m always wary of impulse buys but this was actually quite good. Another original concept in that it essentially takes the form of 8 short stories, each of which is a short murder mystery. Rather than a collection of very good short murder mystery stories, it tries to tie them together. The suspense that keeps you reading is how the author might do this. The ending doesn’t quite live up to the suspense it builds, not quite as clever as you imagine it might be. As such it won’t be a real classic but that’s not taking away from the fact that it is very nicely and concisely and confidently written. And it is quite clever in places. Worth a read. 

Breath

This was recommended to me, so I thought I should read it. It turned out to be very interesting. The author goes into all sorts of detail about breathing techniques, ancient and modern, all the while threading it together with his own experiment – for a week he breathes just through his mouth and another just through his nose. As might be expected, he feels rubbish after breathing just through the mouth but much better after the nose week. Sorry if I’ve ruined it for you there. 

The science seems well researched – although there is always that nagging feeling things have been cherry picked a bit – and there is some interesting stuff about the developed of our jaws etc but the take home message is fairly simplistic. Breathing is good for you and doing it through the nose is a bit better. An enjoyable read, accessible and interesting.