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Monday, October 23, 2017

Book 85: H is for Hawk

I remember Book 85 H is for Hawk coming out in about 2014 and winning the Costa Award. I probably picked it up in Waterstones and decided not to read it at some point. The library challenge has given me a second chance.

It's a bit of a strange mixture to be honest. Helen Macdonald's grief about her father's loss and her throwing herself into training a new hawk I can just about get. There was also quite a bit about an obscure long dead writer called T H White who had written about hawks in the past and which I just found an irritation. She read book by him and others when she was a kid but it doesn't really add much to this memoir IMHO.

I was quite interested in the parts about Mable the hawk and training her but there was just too much other stuff that cluttered the novel for me.

It's probably my failing, rather than the author's, this book was just a bit too abstract for my literal scientific mind.

Anyway it gets 5/10.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Book 84: Spirals in Time by Helen Scales

Book 84 was the third book about the Natural World. It's subtitle was The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells. Frankly I found it quite dull. The author obviously has a great knowledge and enthusiasm about the subject, which sadly I don't share. Some of the books I have read so far have seen me at least gain a temporary interest on the subject matter, even permanently alter the course of my life on occasions. This one it has to be said didn't really inspire me as I dutifully trudged by way through its 280 pages. It scored 4 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Natural World

Book 82 and 83 saw me turn to the Natural World, a subject dear to my heart. I read Do We Need Pandas?: The Uncomfortable Truth About Biodiversity by Ken Thompson, which argues that trying to rescue individual species is futile and instead we should concentrate on habitat which would minimise the species lost and be most cost-efficient. The rhetorical question of the title is really an extreme example to hammer home the point. The fact is though that fund-raising is probably more effective for large mammals like the panda, the general public are far less interested I suspect in saving insects and plants than they are more recognisable species like the panda. Our zoos are predominately full of large mammals and reptiles.

I followed that up with Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record by Errol Fuller which looks at the animals which the planet has sadly already lost. Most of them were lost in the early years of the 20th century, and nearly all the featured animals had some sort of photograph. The vast majority of animals in the book were birds, reflecting the author's interests I suspect rather than the most common types of species which have been made extinct. Ironically, given the first book, every species featured was a large photogenic animals, not small frogs, inspects or other "boring" animals to be seen.

So much as I agree with the point about habitat, the general public are not scientists and they want to save the most iconic species.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Book 81 - The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan explores a rather tenuous suggestion that some plants use humans to propagate their own genes. This theory is never really explored and is nothing but a bit of light-hearted fun in truth. Consequently the book starts off as being a bit pointless. Pollan then goes through the history of 4 plants: apple, cannabis, tulip and potato. This is a pretty arbitrary set but I suppose it covers the four basic types of plant: fruit, flower, vegetable and drug. He then goes into a lot of florid detail of them all, especially the apple which he waxes lyrical on for ages. A better book for me would have been less plants and more detail. It's interesting to know where our domesticated crops (and animals) come from, and there aren't that many of them that you couldn't cover the lot in one book (minus the waffle). As it it, it's rather a half-baked effort and scores 4 out of 10. It also sees the end of the Health/Well Being section, and the next area to explore is the Natural World (which this particular book could have easily been placed in as it happens).

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book 80 - How to Develop a Brilliant Memory Week by Week by Dominic O'Brien

How to Develop a Brilliant Memory was the first book from the Health/Well Being section. I am pretty good at remembering numbers and dates, and I know all my bank account numbers and most of my credit cards. I even know my library card number off by heart. However I have never tried to adopt any recognised technique. Dominic O'Brien is a master at remembering things and he has loads of different techniques in this book. The big one for me is remembering sequences of numbers and I successfully remembered one of my credit cards I didn't know using this technique. I want to go on and remember more numbers and dates so I am pleased I remembered to read this book!

How to Develop a Brilliant Memory  scores 7 out of 10.

Book 79

Royalty Inc: Britain's Best-Known Brand by Stephen Bates was all about the Royal Family. I admit I am not a fan of the Royal Family at all and would much prefer to have a President as head of state. However the book did open my eyes a bit about what they all actually do and it certainly was very interesting reading how the Queen interacts with government. The chapters about the Queen and Prince Charles were by far the most interesting, I wouldn't say Stephen Bates was the greatest historian ever when he goes back and looks at previous monarchs. However his grasp of the current Royal Family is very good. Rating 7/10.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Book 78

The Eleventh Day by Anthony Summers/Robbyn Swan was a book about the whole of 09/11, starting with the events of the day itself and going right back to the founding of Al-Qaeda in the wake of the Soviet-Afghanistan War. It covers everything in meticulous detail and is very tedious to read in places as there is just too much to take in. The best parts are the bits about the day itself (I have read a few books on this subject, but it still fascinates me) and the audacious actual plan to attack America in this way. It's a bit dated now, being written in 2010 when Obama was a new president (those were the days!). I award The Eleventh Day 6/10, well written but a bit boring for anyone but the most devoted students of the politics of Al-Qaeda.