Thursday, 20 March 2014

54: Last 5 Books, and more.

    At last, I've finished my 60 books, and a few more, but as I have lots of time I'll keep on mentioning ones I have enjoyed.

    Howell: Daughter of The Desert is the biography of Gertrude Bell, the exceptionally bright daughter of a wealthy family, born in 1868, who became a Middle East explorer, making contact with many nomadic groups, then coming back to work in the first world war tracing missing soldiers. Initially only officers were tracked, there were no records of ordinary soldiers. She then went back to Baghdad working for the government and apart from mapping the whole unexplored area, was instrumental in setting up King Faisal and the first independent Arab governments. She was also friendly with Lawrence. Quite a character for a time when nice girls stayed at home to look after the family. I think my enjoyment was a bit hampered by lack of background knowledge of the politics of the area, but a must for historians.

           Wilson:Art&Science Now Is another book on the crossover between art & science. Lots of interesting  and beautiful images, but in my traditional old fashioned way I wouldn’t call very much of it Art!

Solomon Northup 12 Years a Slave is another bookclub one, I haven’t seen the film but will sometime.  The book is brilliant, a fascinating insight into slavery and the total loss of all freedom, control and self-respect. The slightly old-fashioned language isn’t a problem, just fits with the times. The characters are all real with the quirks you might expect. Even with some knowledge of the subject I was horrified by the wanton cruelty and sadism. How can anyone remotely sane regard humans in such a way?

Jodie Picault: The Storyteller is a brilliant intertwining of strange fiction with the tale of the Upior, a sort of vampire, with the heroine, Sage’s family and rather chaotic life. Her grandmother survived the Holocaust, so there are fairly harrowing descriptions of this. She befriends Joseph who turns out to be an ex-Nazi wanting to be forgiven by a Jew, apparently any Jew, then to die. There are many twists which I shouldn't reveal, but I’ll definitely read more of her books.

Birkhead: Birdsense Someone lent me this as ho thought I might be interested, quite right! It goes through the usual senses from a bird’s point of view, and adds the curious magnetic sense by which they navigate on their massive migrations. It’s easy to read, but not dumbed down, a rare combination and full of fascinating stuff including past misinformation. The South American Oilbird navigates by a series of clicks and echoes, kiwis have a phenomenal sense of smell, and ducks feel for food with the insides of their beaks so can tell what to swallow. Several birds in new Guinea have distasteful or poisonous feathers, the fascination goes on. Read it!

RHS:Botany for Gardeners sounds like my ideal book, it’s good but not brilliant. It’s too disjointed with little bits on botany, horticulture & people, not quite making the grade on any of these. The illustrations are from their huge archives, so mostly old and sadly some are unclear as the reproduction isn’t of top quality. I think it suffers from not have a single author to give a coherent style. There’s an accompanying volume “Latin for Gardeners” which I’ve just started and looks better.

Marsh:Do No Harm has to be compulsory reading for all aspiring doctors as well as those anywhere on the career ladder. He’s the Senior neurosurgeon at St George’s whom I know and referred patients to. He is not much loved by “The Authorities”! The book is a remarkably honest insight into our fallibility. My only criticism is that it could easily have been twice as long and still gripping. Each chapter looked at an individual patient or condition but could have been more detailed. The personal disasters reinforced the idea that doctors really aren’t gods, just people trying to make the best of the cards dealt.

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