The Book of Lost Things is a difficult story to categorise, but I suppose it's essentially an adult fairy tale. It's written in a straightforward, easThe Book of Lost Things is a difficult story to categorise, but I suppose it's essentially an adult fairy tale. It's written in a straightforward, easy-reading manner - sometimes feeling like it's pitched at a teenage audience - but the subject matter is much darker and suggests that Connolly had adults or mature adolescents in mind when he penned this work.
The story follows David, a young boy struggling to cope with the slow death of his mother. Jealous and in pain, he reacts against his father's new relationship with a woman named Rose, and expresses his feelings of hate about the half-brother born to the person he sees as a threat to his relationship with his father. Taking the reader through his feelings of adolescent aggression, grief, loneliness and rejection, he increasingly begins to regress into a fantasy world of books to escape the real world. Then one day, the young boy stumbles fully into a different land, brought there by the mysterious Crooked Man whose motives are initially not clear, but from the beginning have the undercurrent of an ugly and sinister plot.
Following David's quest through this alternate world, the book confronts many dark issues aside from the grief of his mother's death and rejection of his new family. It looks at his loneliness as he travels through a strange world, cut off from everything he knows and occasionally reaching the depths of despair; it confronts the fragility of life and how easily it can be taken away, with the story set to the backdrop of World War II in the real world, alongside the other world where torture, pain and murder are commonplace and graphic; and it looks at fear and nightmares, and how we cope and react to them in different ways as we mature.
Aside from the darker issues of death and despair, the book delves into adult relationships. Loyalty is a key theme, as David makes allies and forms bonds with those he meets in this strange new world. He comes to rely on others, although is never quite able to trust many of the characters he meets, and soon learns of betrayal. As well as platonic love and loyalty, Connolly looks at sexual relationships. David struggles to grow and comprehend relationships he doesn't initially understand, when he meets a soldier on a quest to find his male lover, and later is confronted with discovering what the love between his father and stepmother means behind closed doors.
The book's a real page-turner. It effortlessly mixes an incredibly easy read, almost childlike in places, with a dark and adult subject matter. With references to both reality and fantasy throughout, it is - as the inside cover says - 'a book for every adult who can recall the moment when childhood began to fade, and for every child about to face that moment.' A thrilling read, which I can do nothing other than very highly recommend.
Well known for both his stand-up comedy and his human rights campaigning, Mark Thomas uses a combination of his trademark humour and investigative jouWell known for both his stand-up comedy and his human rights campaigning, Mark Thomas uses a combination of his trademark humour and investigative journalism in this polemic about the arms trade. Critically examining the laws surrounding the transfer of weapons around the world – and the abundant loopholes – Thomas takes aim and fires at governments, arms dealers and global corporations.
In an increasingly globalised world, where cross-border trade is inseparably intertwined with the global financial system, the arms trade signifies free trade at its worst. Hopping from one country to another, arms dealers can simply take advantage of different laws in different territories to import and export weapons to just about any regime on the planet. Indeed, in many cases government turn a blind eye to (or actively support) these deals, often worth vast sums of money to their economies. Factor in the bribes to officials, and it's a done deal.
Thomas' book covers an enormous range of scenarios and experiences, many of which are from his own first-hand investigations and sting operations, or interviews with those who have been involved in the arms trade - at both ends of the barrel of a gun. From the Guantánamo torture equipment with ‘Made in Britain’ engraved on it to the Irish schoolchildren who were able to legally import a lethal stone-thrower, the investigations provide some jaw-dropping examples of the scale and horror of the global arms trade.
Giving an incredible insight into the minds of arms dealers, the book demonstrates time and time again the kind of people they are. On discovering he was about to sell a weapon that to a group of kids, for example, the dealer who was demonstrating the stone-thrower claimed that how it was used was none of his responsibility. “It could fire sweets,” he says, as if that is how he believes Israel uses it against the Palestinians.
While the scale and variety of Thomas’ investigation clearly demonstrates and emphasizes both the need for action and the author’s strong feelings on the subject, it is unfortunately also his downfall. Jumping from one subject to another, and in places simply bullet-pointing examples for pages on end, the whole book feels somewhat cobbled together. While clearly well-researched, Thomas could really have done to limit the scope of his argument and the number of examples. As it is, it feels disjointed and lacks a coherent argument other than 'the arms trade is bad'.
All in all, though, As Used On The Famous Nelson Mandela is a fascinating if depressing exposé about the world arms and torture trade. While anyone looking for a flowing argument should probably look elsewhere, as a 330-page collection of first-hand research into the wrongs of this horrific business it proves a good resource. Had the subject matter not been such a key issue about which awareness must be raised, I would have given Thomas’ book a slightly lower rating. As it is, it gets four stars despite its rambling feel.
David Bodanis' book wins convincing plaudits from Bill Bryson, The Observer, The Sunday Times and The Economist to name but a few - and for good reasoDavid Bodanis' book wins convincing plaudits from Bill Bryson, The Observer, The Sunday Times and The Economist to name but a few - and for good reason. Electric Universe is a fascinating look at electricity in all its forms, effortlessly mixing biography, science, history and humour.
The book is divided into five sections, chronologically detailing the progress of human understanding from 1830 to the present. First, 'Wires' deals with the discovery of electricity, and the first tentative steps of inventions such as the telegraph. Bodanis takes a fascinating look at the way new forms of electric communication changes the world, making it a smaller, more interconnected place. 'Waves' then looks at the increasingly deeper understanding of the way in which electricity worked, covering topics such as electromagnetic fields. The way in which these waves were then put to use are studied in the 'Wave Machines' section, including fascinating biographies of key players in the invention of radar.
Moving away from the discovery and initial uses of electricity to the more contemporary age, the second-to-last section covers Turing's work on computers during the war and his vision for the future, the realisation of the power of silicon, the invention of the transistor and the path to the modern computer world. And finally, 'The Brain and Beyond' looks at the discovery of and science behind the way in which our bodies work, effortlessly and clearly explaining the way in which we are vast, wet computers, with electric charges controlling everything from our nerves to our memory.
Of all these sections, I found two in particular - 'Wave Machines' and 'The Brain and Beyond' particularly fascinating, though more from personal preference and interest rather than any literary reason. In addition to the invention of radar, the former covers a diverse range of people and experiences, discusses the science behind the technology, and touches on the morality (or otherwise) of the way in which technology was used during the Second World War. The latter, 'The Brain and Beyond', is incredibly thought-provoking, illustrating just how miraculous the human body and its inner workings are.
To find any serious flaw with Bodanis' book is difficult. Only two things sprang out at me, and are the sole reason for my dropping the rating a little. The first is that chapter 6, which looks at Hertz's gradual increase in the understanding of electricity, has a slightly cobbled-together feel about it. Composed of excerpts from his diary, I can see Bodanis' point that his own words easily convey his progress in the field. However, page after page of quotes, cut and pasted with little linkage between excerpts, makes for rather bland and disjointed reading.
The second, more of a niggle than a flaw, is that Bodanis includes an excellent appendix detailing further information on points he makes throughout the book, referenced by page number. While it was interesting to reference back to each page and then read the extra information, some linkage the other way would have been appreciated. While I understand that the appendix was doubtless a solution to excessive footnotes, an indication in the main body of the text when further information was available would have allowed for a more flowing reference between the main body of the literature and the array of facts and references at the back.
As a complete package, however, the book is absolutely excellent. Well written, covering an enormous array of time, inventions, uses of electricity, people, human understanding and technologies, Bodanis has done an outstanding job, well deserving of the Aventis Prize for Science Books which it was awarded. It's few and far between that a book manages to balance simplicity with detail, coherence with complex science, man with machine, and fact with imagination. Absolutely worth a read, I'd recommend without hesitation Electric Universe to anyone who wants a great overview of the history of electricity.