Articles about books

A book is a present you can open again and again.

300 Arguments – Sarah Manguso

Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages

That’s one of the “arguments”, which neatly describes the book. It’s easy to review a book like this: all I have to do is quote a few of the aphorisms.

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A Children’s Bible – Lydia Millet

One of the blurbs describe this as a “funny dystopia” and I can see why, though I feel that would be a misleading way to describe the book. The setup is not dystopian – it seems to be the present day, with a large group of families taking an extended holiday in a country house. Maybe the children would consider it a dystopia though – the adults seem to be various combinations of stupid, selfish and feckless. They seem a bit cartoonish and unrealistic to me, but maybe I’m just lucky to have mostly avoided such people in my life.

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The Gift of the Gab – David Crystal

This is a pretty good guide to effective public speaking – its centrepiece is a very detailed analysis of Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech from 2008. Actually I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would – somehow I was expecting something less prosaic from the author of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, “the most exciting, readable and comprehensive book on language ever written”. Still, this book does have lots of good advice and some useful tips if you are giving speeches or making presentations. But if you’re not, maybe just dip into The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language instead.

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War and Peace — Leo Tolstoy

The War is Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, which disrupts the Peace of Russian high society in Moscow, Petersburg and various country estates. We follow several aristocratic families as the war begins, gets worse, turns around and finally ends. Lots of characters, but mostly in the upper classes so everything is viewed through that lens.

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The Anomaly – Hervé Le Tellier

This speculative fiction is set in the present day just as we know it now. One day, an inexplicable and apparently impossible event happens; this novel is about how this affects the people involved, but also governments, media and everyone else. I thought it was all handled plausibly, which is essential in this kind of story. I could nitpick a few plot points, and especially the response to the final twist, but still I enjoyed this book. I could definitely see a sequel or even a multi-season TV show.

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The Situation is Hopeless, But Not Serious – Paul Watzlawick

The situation is hopeless – but not serious.

I just love this phrase. It does seem true to me that it applies to many situations in life, big and small. Sometimes yes, the situation you are faced with is hopeless. But often, it doesn’t really matter that much. I find it helpful to remember that.

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How Free Are You? — Ted Honderich

Science tells us that determinism (or near-determinism) is very likely to be true. Yet we feel as if we have free will. How can these be reconciled?

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How to Lie with Statistics – Darrell Huff

This book explains the many ways that people can misuse statistics to mislead you. Maybe a more descriptive title would be, “How to Tell When People are Lying to You with Statistics”. It’s a bit like being shown how a magician does a trick – except that at least with the magic trick, you already know you’re being fooled.

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Making Money – Terry Pratchett

Brilliant. This book took me some time to finish: many times I found myself re-reading sentences just because they were so clever and funny. I had several chuckles on each page, to the amusement of my family.

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The Night of All Souls – Philippa Swan

Several different narratives, two interwoven tales of deception and intrigue, and a few good tips on landscape architecture. Maybe overcooked in parts but overall a fun read.

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