Book Reviews

Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down: How One Generation of British Actors Changed the World
Robert Sellers
Last edited on: 07/08/2011 - 13:04

The late fifties and the early sixties heralded a seismic change in society; the country was coming out of the post war austerity years of rationing and 'making do', the advent of rock and roll music was hitting our shores and empowering the country's youth hitherto overlooked and marginalised. At the same time a new brigade of writers, tired of the upper-middle class french-windows and tennis club plays written by the likes of Terence Rattigan and Noel Coward, were exploring working class issues and relationship politics.

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Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder
Kate Colquhoun
Last edited on: 22/07/2011 - 22:15

On the evening of July 9 1864, well-to-do elderly banker Thomas Briggs became the unwitting victim of Britain's first railway murder, struck down in his 1st class compartment by a blunt object as his train approached Hackney from Fenchurch Street. The perpetrator of this crime made his getaway, stealing Briggs' silk top hat and gold watch and chain, whilst accidentally leaving behind a less well appointed soft hat.

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Extreme Measures
Martin Brookes
Last edited on: 12/03/2011 - 15:41

The Victorian polymath Francis Galton: Medic, mathematician, statistician, gentleman adventurer, inventor of eugenics and promoter of the use of fingerprints, has been cropping up frequently in my reading.

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The Diary of a Nobody
George Grossmith et al
Last edited on: 05/03/2011 - 11:57

George and Weedon Grossmith's seminal classic The Diary of a Nobody is as pertinent today as it was when written in the 1880s in Victorian London. Like many great Victorian works, such as Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes adventures, and Dickens' Mr Pickwick, The Diary of a Nobody was published in magazine serial form, and in its case, the fledgeling Punch periodical.

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The Drunkard's Walk
Leonard Mlodinow
Last edited on: 05/03/2011 - 11:17

I'm rapidly becoming addicted to purchasing books in the 'Popular Science' shelves of my local bookstore. Or rather, I flick through them, make a decision, and then order online for a fraction of the price. The latest to adorn my burgeoning collection is The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow. Mlodinow has crafted an intriguing work on the day-to-day randomness that affects all our lives. In many respects there are similarities with the hugely popular Freakonomics, but this is a disservice to Mlodinow who's book far eclipses that of Levitt's.

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Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain
Matthew Engel
Last edited on: 26/02/2011 - 11:27

The thought of a purchasing and travelling the length and breadth of the UK with a week-long rover ticket (1st and 2nd class access) to most people would be anathema, yet this was the challenge Financial Times journalist Matthew Engel set himself. His fixed schedule was to journey from the most southerly station, Penzance, to the most northerly, Thurso. Beyond that his itinerary was flexible and he wandered on a whim.

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An Utterly Impartial History of Britain
John O'Farrell
Last edited on: 20/02/2011 - 11:08

This was Grumpy Old Man John O'Farrell's first foray into chronicling the history of these fair isles, and this publication pre-dated his subsequent whirlwind tour of post war Britain An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain.

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An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain
John O'Farrell
Last edited on: 13/02/2011 - 12:10

John O'Farrell came to public prominence as one of the droll middle-aged vox-poppers on Grumpy Old Men. Having enjoyed the show, and O'Farrell's contribution in particular, it was with great anticipation I got hold of a copy of his An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain or 60 Years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes. As the title may suggest, this is an irreverent look at the events that have shaped British life over the last sixty years.

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A Lot of Hard Yakka
Simon Hughes
Last edited on: 13/02/2011 - 11:10

In the words of Terry Malloy, “I could've been a contender” - or at least those were my delusional thoughts back in the late70s. As a teenager I was obsessed with cricket and harboured big ideas of making it into the cut-throat world of the professional county cricket circuit. In reality, I had neither the talent nor the aptitude, and had actually already found my metier at village green level. At the same time 200 miles south of me, Simon Hughes shared my aspirations. He was cutting a swath with his fast swing bowling whilst juggling his education at Durham University

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The Unfixed Stars
Michael Byers
Last edited on: 06/02/2011 - 11:08

Michael Byers has crafted a fictionalised account of the discovery of the planet Pluto in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. Like many other recent works of fiction, including my reviewed Red Plenty by Francis Spufford, Byers has woven a tale of fiction around living characters. Also like Spufford's work, the characters are a long while deceased, enabling greater freedoms and literary license. Unlike Spufford however, Byers doesn't take the trouble to signpost to the reader where fact ends and fiction begins.

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