The Cold War

I picked this up at Dover castle with all the historical enthusiasm of the day still racing through my veins. Since then, it has sat on my book shelf with a foreboding air about it. Before I read it, I worried that I’d gone and picked a stuffy inaccesible and out of date and therefore obselete tome. 

This was written in 2005 and rather than detract from the experience, it actually gave an excellent and unbiased history of the cold war up until its supposed end without the potentially altering context of recent history. The declaration in the prologue that all its troubles were long gone was particularly eye opening and interesting. While the author got that wrong, the rest of it is exceptionally well written. I had braced myself for a rather boring and overly detailed account. Quite the opposite. It is not too long and gives some excellent concise insights into the main events of the cold war, along with some more far reaching observations about how we deal with significant events that we live through.

If you know nothing about the cold war, probably not for you, but if you know the basics, then it builds and adds depth to the whole debacle. A really good read.

White Bicycles

I dived into this without any prior knowledge of  Joe Boyd. I quickly learnt that he variously promoted and produced an intersting mix of music, managed bands and ran a popular club in London during the 60s and 70s. The book itself is his account of his movements throughout that period. It is written in a sort of quick fire, matter of fact style reminiscent of Jack Carouac. I have found that sort of thing hard to get into in the past. It isn’t helped in this case by an avalanche of name drops, most of whom I have never heard of. This did make things a little confusing and at times it felt as if he just started to refer random individuals who he had not previously mentioned, as if that person and the reader were old mates.

While paragraphs could often be open-ended and not necessarily flowing from one to the next, the prose within is clearly written by an intelligent individual. His wisdom and experience shine through and more to the point, by the end, he was able to paint a picture of an era long before my time that gives me perspective on music as a whole. It was an era that really was revolutionary and although the Beatles are not front and centre in this book, it does make me realise more and more just how important their influence was.

But it is the smaller artists surrounding the main stream that shine through here and give the reader an insight into the old guard of deep southern blues and jazz and their influence on the cultural and musical changes that began to emerge around that time. In doing so, it makes one thing about how different our current music is changing and evolving – for better or for worse.

A book that would be an absolute gem for someone that lived through that era and the hippy scene of the 60s. For others, an interesting read that gets better as it goes on.

 

This is Your Brain on Music

This is a book about the neurological basis for our understanding, enjoyment and ability in playing and listening to music. The author is a neuroscientist with a past in music production so is probably as well placed as anyone to write something like this.
There were parts of it that I found interesting but it was extremely technical in places and a little dry. Not quite what I was after. There are, I’m certain, dryer and more techinical books out there, but even so I was a little disappointed. More to the point, I’m not certain I really actually learnt much in reading it. Yes, there were a few interesting sections on perfect pitch and how musicians tend to respond to the unexpected but he does go round the houses on subjects at times and writes in too much detail on paths already fairly well trodden. And it also seems to double as a fairly in-depth music theory text book which was a bit tiresome if I’m honest. I think perhaps it lost its sense of purpose and direction at points.

Not the worst book on music I’ve read, but certainly nowhere near the best.

The Lost City of Z

This sort of thing is my bag. Late 19th Century, early 20th Century. Explorers going to places yet to exist on maps. Mystery. Intrigue. A hint of conspiracy. It’s got all of the above.

This is a journalist tale of the so-called ‘last of the Victorian explorers’ and charts the escapades of Percy Fawcett who held an obsession for finding evidence of a lost civilisation deep within the Amazon. If you’ve been following archeological news recently, you’ll know how timely this read was. Either way, it’s a superbly written account of the life and times surrounding this interesting character.

They made a film which I have thus far avoided so as not to ruin the experience of the book. Its author, David Grann, went on to write Killers of the Flower Moon and The Wager, both of which you can expect to pop up on this blog sooner or later. I will be rationing them as this is a writer who does books well and seems to pick topics on which I have a particular interest.

Unruly

Unruly is a cleverly titled, gag-filled journey through the monarchs of the middle ages. It’s still a history book though, filled with all the necessary information. Just with added irreverent observation and an honesty of opinion that one would not usually find in a normal history book. All of which makes it an enjoyable read. Initially I was concerned that it might be a bit too much and a bit too off piste, but it doesn’t take too long for Mitchell to get things on an even keel and the majority of this book is just pure fun. Interesting fun.

Hopefully he’ll do some sort of sequel.

The Confidence Men

This is a hugely entertaining and well told account of an extraordinary escape (of sorts) from a prisoner of war camp during WW1. It dips into the world of seance, spiritualism and magic, as well as being a detailed and evocative description of the reality on the ground during the Ottoman campaign. In a way, it also highlights the fragility of humankind’s grasp on reality and rationalism and how its collective mind can so easily be manipulated for the gain of others; something that is as relevant now as it ever was. 

The Shortest History of England

Fresh from reading Powers and Thrones, my thirst for history had not yet been quenched. And so I thought a quick recap on some aspects of history would be useful. This book is short and perhaps not quite as good as I had hoped. This really is a whistle-stop tour of English history and one that, I think, could have been executed a bit better. At times, threads didn’t tie together as well as they might have, leaving the text a bit all over the place. Condensing such a vast body of information into such a short book is no easy feat but I still felt a little let down with this one. 

Powers and Thrones

 

This is a big old book and had sat on my bookshelf for quite some time before I decided to tackle it. I’m glad I did. For a subject with the potential to overwhelm itself, Dan Jones writes with a flow and clarity that really brings the period to life and carries you along with ease. At no point did I get a bit bored. It was a fascinating journey that filled in more than a few gaps in my knowledge of the time.

Wild Hope

This is not normally a book I would pick up from the shelves unprovoked. In this case, its author is someone I went to infant school with but with whom I have since lost touch. 

It’s a book exploring the waves made by the Roe vs Wade decision in the context of the world her mother faced during the late 70s. A good example of the cyclical nature of history and all the warnings that humanity seemingly fails to heed with alarming regularity. A good insight for me into how such passionate feminism can develop. Poignant, well written and timely. 

Fake Law

I read his (her?) first book and enjoyed it. Quite dry and necessarily detailed in places and this one was no different. He writes superbly well and paints a detailed but concise picture of the issues surrounding law and the way it is presented and twisted within our media. Evokes a good deal of frustration at the malleability of the fellow human. But I learned more than a little. Most importantly of all, the ‘legal paper’ yellow edges remain a great gimmick.