Wells was a socialist but this bleak novella does not speak of a very strong belief in the innate goodness of human beings. The book’s protagonist GriWells was a socialist but this bleak novella does not speak of a very strong belief in the innate goodness of human beings. The book’s protagonist Griffin is a scientist who has a discovered a way to make himself invisible, by refracting light (or something, not that it matters), and he then proceeds to use this power to wreak havoc – beating people up, stealing, and generally terrorising them (and ‘terror’ is indeed the word he uses). Eventually, he is undone by this immoral behaviour and the secret to his invisibility is locked away by his friend Kemp, presumably for the benefit of humanity. The moral lesson of the tale is clearly that humankind needs to be, to some degree, made to behave in a moral way, be this by social mores or, quite possibly here, by planned socialism’s elimination of want. A good 21st century analogy might be the invisibility cloak bestowed by Twitter, which enables some sad souls to believe it is OK to threaten to murder or rape, and generally to viciously abuse anyone who might express a different opinion online, given that their identity is hidden to all, much as the Invisible Man’s was. And we know what happened to him....more
Full disclosure - I didn't really like Bowie at all the first time around (i.e. in the 70s during his protean pomp), and the first 'record' of his I rFull disclosure - I didn't really like Bowie at all the first time around (i.e. in the 70s during his protean pomp), and the first 'record' of his I really liked was Scary Monsters, which was probably his last decent one up until the revelatory Blackstar released this year. Anyway, in my teens I thought he represented a calculating and more pretentious version of glam or even prog rock, overlooking his enormous influence on all the music of the time that I did like, such as new wave or 'alternative' (hard to imagine any of that without him now).
This book, written by an ex-Mojo editor, has many of the faults of rock bios, in that it borders a little too often on hagiography and is not quite as interested in the music as his diet of class-A drugs (mainly cocaine, which he took in massive quantities it seems), but it is at least quite well written. The most interesting part for me was David Jones' upbringing in suburban Bromley (after being born in a bombed-out Brixton, then home of the music hall, it seems) and his gradual ascent to rock stardom, which was slow and halting - he was a mod, then a hippy and had multiple bands and was not particularly talented, but, it says here, was always possessed of an unquenchable self-belief and drive to succeed, which kept him going through all the lousy pub gigs and failures. He was also, as the author tells us many times, good-looking and very very charming, qualities which would morph into star quality in due course. It was in these years, it is clear, that his ruthlessness was to be seen as he ditched musicians as better opportunities came along, which would be a feature of his later career. Funnily, his first break came with the pop novelty single Space Oddity, which was partly written with a stylophone and marked the space age - his last great record self-referenced this song as well, for convenient career bookends.
His great string of 70s albums (Hunky Dory onwards) are dealt with in some detail, as is his personal life, and he emerges above all as the very prototype of the modern, calculated career artiste, albeit one that, en route, managed to change the face of rock music and make some half-decent films as well. Worth reading but probably better to listen to his Berlin-era music, I think.
This is the first of another LA quartet, which contains some of the characters that will figure in great works such as LA Confidential and The Big NowThis is the first of another LA quartet, which contains some of the characters that will figure in great works such as LA Confidential and The Big Nowhere (murderous cop Dudley Smith in particular). The action all takes place just before and just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and features fifth columnists, local Nazis, psycho cops and, to top it off, Bette Davis being Herself (and doing so with the Dudster, fgs).
As usual with Ellroy, the plot is almost totally incomprehensible but centres on a seemingly ritualistic murder of a Japanese family in LA on the eve of the attack on the US navy, and then spins out of orbit into an assortment of fairly mad plans by local (crypto-Nazi) cops and crims to exploit the fine opportunities offered by imminent war with the Axis (which quite a few people seemed to have seen coming, it seems). For some reason, Ellroy allows one of the key protagonists to explain his whole dastardly plan, in Scooby Doo fashion, to another cop but this seems a redundant tactic after 700pp of complex machinations, all delivered in his trademark bullet-like sentences. Ellroy loves to use the same slangy tropes over and again to create an immersive effect and yet, at the same time, often has his characters talk with a very heightened articulacy (the Dudster, and the Japanese cop almost always talk in epigrams, like they are in a 1940s noir film).
The author also helpfully provides an appendix of characters at the end, showing who appears in which of the future (already written) books in the various quartets. It could be that Ellroy is aspiring to respectability here but we can only hope not. ...more
This is both is certainly quite well written (in a series of short vignettes from the imagined life of the great composer Shostakovich) and most definThis is both is certainly quite well written (in a series of short vignettes from the imagined life of the great composer Shostakovich) and most definitely heavily researched (we have some evidence at the back), and has a very tasteful cover (in hardback), and you feel like you have done yourself some good in reading it, like imbibing a literary kale smoothie. But, really, I was mainly just wondering what was the main motivation for writing a Soviet-bashing English literary novel in 2016?...more
This was a fairly disappointing book that was really an over-extended essay - would have been fine as a 20,000-word article but feels very padded-outThis was a fairly disappointing book that was really an over-extended essay - would have been fine as a 20,000-word article but feels very padded-out at this length, with too much extraneous and boring detail and over-written 'colour' (and these guys are not that interesting, tbh). As Michael Lewis himself says in the book, he is more interested in the 'characters' here than in the rather dry technicalities of the high-frequency trading scandal itself - one which is, it seems, not yet fully resolved. Much like, I imagine, Moneyball, this is essentially the Revenge of the Nerds, but on 'Wall Street', which is no longer on Wall Street, as such. Rather, it is all in the tubes now.
Basically, HFT is about using milli-second speed advantages to be able to 'see' the electronic stock market quicker than anyone else and then to 'game' this into profit - I am not really clear why this was allowed at all but from 2007 onwards, it was very common though, as the author says, no one except a few nerds (the heroes of this book) really understood it and no one, except for the key figure Brad (who, though a Wall St trader himself, and a Canadian, becomes the leader of what we might call the HFT-resistance movement) . In a kind of Nerds' 'Oceans 11', Brad gets together the king geeks on Wall St, the guys who really get the coding that enables the big banks and HFT companies to, basically, totally rig the stock market in their favour, without anyone really knowing. Bravely, Brad leaves his job and sets up his own, non-HFT rigged, stock market (IEX) and eventually convinces the big banks, like Goldman Sachs, to work with him.
This is all very laudable but not that exciting and the technical detail is quite abstruse and in the end, it seems that the practice of 'Invisible Scalping' that front-running stocks leads to is still prevalent. Not to mention that a few thousand people control the financial future of he whole Western world and are constantly looking to game the system and stretch the law to make even more obscene amounts of money (from us, in the end). That is a bigger story perhaps....more
The title is slightly misleading as the book is actually not about spymasters but about the agents they run ('spies') and the value, or unreliability,The title is slightly misleading as the book is actually not about spymasters but about the agents they run ('spies') and the value, or unreliability, of what is technically known as 'humint' (human intelligence). It is certainly not a 'searing history' of modern espionage, though, blurb writers, but more of a series of somewhat disconnected journalistic essays on various well-known historical cases of undercover agents (such as Steak Knife, within the IRA) and then some more up to date stuff on the GWOT and the difficulty of penetrating the current terrorist groups and thereby countering their threats. The book is well written and readable but seems to lack a major theme or argument....more
It is great that a book like this (basically, high-class genre fiction) can win the Booker prize and it is undoubtedly a very good read. Similar to ElIt is great that a book like this (basically, high-class genre fiction) can win the Booker prize and it is undoubtedly a very good read. Similar to Ellroy's American Tabloid, the work centres around an assassination attempt - JFK in Ellroy's historical reimaging and the 1976 shooting of Bob Marley in this version of Jamaican history (though Marley is never named here, but referred to as 'The Singer'). The underlying story is about the US covert operation to undermine the socialist party's attempts to take power and change social conditions in Jamaica, which was seen as a potential second Cuba by the CIA, we learn here. In this telling, local gangsters are hired to carry out a hit on Marley to destabilise the burgeoning peace movement and, somewhat incredibly, fail to kill the superstar; the same shooters then all go on to meet their own grisly deaths, as the book progresses. The first third of the novel is focused on the leadup to this pivotal event, and is just brilliantly written, with each chapter being voiced by a separate character and each as convincing as the next, from ghetto gunman to American journalist. These are short, snappy chapters, which move things on briskly and give the book a certain rhythm.
The middle section loses its way a little and gets bogged down in some over-extended interior dialogues as the post-shooting aftermath unravels - this is the least interesting section of the book, for me, and was a little like listening to one of Lee Perry's more indulgent dub mixes (I love Lee Perry's music but still...). The final section moves things on to New York City, in the mid-80s coke era, as the Jamaicans move in on the local drug scene and the shooters continue to fall. This section is also a little weak as it does really add much to the underlying narrative but it does allow the author to bring in some new characters, such as Colombian narcos and to show the Jamaicans dealing with local gangsters. Overall, it is a virtuoso display of writing talent, which can be compared to Ellroy in its ambition and skill. ...more
This may well have been coruscating satire in the 19th century, but it is very gentle stuff in my view, although it does not hold back on the overt anThis may well have been coruscating satire in the 19th century, but it is very gentle stuff in my view, although it does not hold back on the overt anti-Semitism of the characters (it is hard to tell if this is being satirised or endorsed here?). Over 100 long and quite baggy chapters (many of which contribute little to the narrative, such as it is), we come to see that the Victorian upper classes were a feckless bunch living in fear of losing their privileged position in English society to sharp business types (and, even worse, foreigners). Rather than considering working, the aristos are here generally scheming to marry into money and are easily led astray when a seemingly minted businessman (the Ponzi-merchant Melmotte, who may or may not be Jewish) appears in London, selling shares in an American railway company (which was a famous fraud of the era).
Melmotte steals every scene he is in and it was a matter of great sadness to me when he was finally exposed and, having just been elected to Parliament, decided to take his own life - I was rooting for him all along. Other than this central story, of the new money (firmly set against the ruling old money), the book is mostly a merry-go-round of amorous non-adventures, as effete Englishmen of a certain class chase ladies, usually motivated by sheer lust for financial advancement. The only characters here with any real gumption are, it has to be said, Marie Melmotte and Mrs Hurtle, the admirable American lady, while the (posh) males are almost universally pitiable or insufferable (Roger Carbury). The book lacks the narrative and characters of a Dickens, the intelligence of Eliot or the dark poetry of Hardy, but it has a certain mundane charm (John Major's favourite apparently). He wrote another 46 novels as well....more
This was something of a disappointment, given how good Lanchester's LRB journalism on the crash is - I was hoping either for an astringent satire of fThis was something of a disappointment, given how good Lanchester's LRB journalism on the crash is - I was hoping either for an astringent satire of financial capitalism or something sprawling and Dickensian, displaying the increasingly insane grip that London property values have over the psyche of the capital city. Rather, we get a fairly incoherent narrative with some quite clichéd London types and some flat-as-the-economic-recovery writing which really failed to engage me. In fact, the only characters that came alive at all for me were the fallen banker and his agreeably appalling wife. The book had no real moral centre except for the banker, and his scenes were by far the most convincing (probably because the author knows these people and their world quite well), and the book would probably have been more interesting if the book had focused more on his rise and fall. The book feels written for a TV adaptation and, guess what, one starts on BBC on 24 November, so I needed have really bothered. ...more
I enjoyed the first half or so of this very long book, concerning the early settlement of America, the War of Independence, wars against the native peI enjoyed the first half or so of this very long book, concerning the early settlement of America, the War of Independence, wars against the native peoples, slavery and Civil War, which were illuminating and interesting. Zinn's Marxist take is a useful antidote to the usual rose-tinted myths about the freedom-loving Founding Fathers of this country and it is hard to see how much of his analysis could be contradicted, given the events he sets out (the country was founded by the rich elites, for the [white] elite, and has always been run by them...fairly clear to see in 2015). Unfortunately, the book falls off a cliff stylistically after covering the civil war period and becomes a fairly tedious litany of strike actions, protests and social movements - all of which are hugely important issues but fairly boring to read about when simply listed one after another, with little analysis. There are huge chapters on 20C industrial unrest, for example, that could have been very engaging (e.g. the stuff about the IWW, or 'Wobblies') but read like laundry lists of sit-in actions and arrests - this is very much in the sledgehammer repetitive style of Chomsky (seen as necessary to make points often ignored by mainstream accounts) but it is quite mind-numbing stuff. The later chapters are on familiar territory and offer standard accounts of such issues as Vietnam, Civil Rights and the National Security State. The comments on Goodreads are worth reading, though - apparently, Zinn 'hates' America for daring to mention that, just maybe, it is not quite the perfect city on the hill that the mythmakers would have you believe....more
This is definitely a literary memoir (like Amis' Experience) rather than a boring old autobiography, and comprises a series of essays about people andThis is definitely a literary memoir (like Amis' Experience) rather than a boring old autobiography, and comprises a series of essays about people and ideas that have been important to him. The best of these, for me, were the early chapters about his childhood and, in particular, his parents, referred to as 'Yvonne' and 'The Commander' respectively. They provide the yin and yang of his future life course it seems from this reading (the book's title implies that he wanted it both ways, as he freely admits). His rebellious and bright mother seems to have been a huge influence and he writes movingly about her suicide (with her lover, having left his father); his father comes over as a dour, straight-bat Englishmen of a certain era (and possibly something like Peter, his tory brother). Other chapters focus on figures such as 'Martin' and 'Salman', both of whom he was in awe of, and later Edward Said, with whom he fell out over 9/11 (as he did with much of the Left) and about whom he writes a somewhat score settling chapter.
There is a huge amount of litterateur name-dropping (James, McEwan, Conquest, Fenton, Sontag, etc etc), which can be a little tedious and after-dinnerish, but he is more in his element in the chapters about his ideological conversion from Cambridge Trotskyite (member of the International Socialists) to post-9/11 ardent supporter/apologist of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. There are a number of steps in between these poles and there was clearly a gradual falling out of love with the left over the actual practice of state socialism in Eastern Europe and Cuba, and then over post-Cold War issues such as Bosnia, so it was not such a clear break. But it is still a surprise to find someone who had been so critical of US foreign policy for so long (he wrote a whole book vilifying Kissinger as a war criminal) suddenly praising Paul Wolfowitz's plan to invade Iraq, given the lack of WMD and any real plan - he devotes a whole, very long chapter to 'Mesopotamia From Both Sides', in which he offers his case for the prosecution of the war, which involves going back to the many evils committed by the Saddam regime but does not really offer a strong casus belli for invasion (he does imply that there really were WMD, though...). This view of the Iraq war seems to be that it was, as the neocons claim, a great moral and just cause (to rid the world of the evil Saddam, whom the US had propped up for years of course), which seems to hard to square with his tough questions over the years about US foreign policy goals around the world.
His other big bête noire is of course religion (he wrote another book entitled God is not Great) and he misses no chance to attack organised religion, most especially the rise of militant Islam, which is possibly the key to his odd view of the Iraq debacle (previously in the book he spent much time on the Rushdie affair and he seems to link the two somehow). Interestingly, he also reveals in the book that his mother was Jewish and he devotes a thoughtful chapter to the 'Jewish question' as well.
This is not as beautifully written as Amis' Experience, and seems to leave many things out (very little about his personal life, as if work were the only thing he lived for), but it would be worth reading for anyone who has any interest in politics or ideas (even bad ones). ...more