Blog Adult July-August. Non-fiction The more stars, the better I liked the book…maximum 5 stars.
***The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman. PB form Scribe. RRP $18.99
This is a true story of a Bible dated from the 10th Century, which had been kept in the Great Synagogue in Aleppo in Syria. After the UN vote in 1947 saw the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, there was a lot of rioting against Jews in several Arab countries, the subsequent destruction of some very long established Jewish communities and the migration of their inhabitants to Israel. The Jews needed to save their own lives, but also where possible to take their priceless historical relics with them. When the synagogue in Aleppo was looted and burnt, the Aleppo Codex, as the Bible was known, was saved and eventually moved to Israel: sadly however, the most important pages of it were found to be missing! This book could almost be read as a mystery thriller; it contains many twists and turns, with fights among various groups of people and a lot of dubious behaviour. I found it a really interesting history of the region. It is to be hoped that someday these missing pages will reappear, to enable comparisons between their content and that of modern versions of the Bible.
*Empire of the Moghul The Tainted Throne by Alex Rutherford. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This is the fourth in a series of books about the Moghul rulers of India. Based on historical facts the stories have been all about the heirs of Timur the Great, Akbar and the others of this great dynasty of the 16th and 17th centuries. When Jahangir became the ruler of most of India, he had to fight his half brothers and was supported in his efforts by his very talented but ruthless wife Mehrunissa. In the next generation their son Khurram, later to be known as Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, also has to fight for the right to be Jahangir’s heir. The story is all action and provides a fair bit of history as well.
****The Great Game, by Peter Hopkirk. PB from John Murray, an imprint of Hodder Headline.
Our copy of this book was purchased in India early 2012, and I am not sure how easily available it will be in Australia.
The term “The great game’ refers to an almost secret war between the two most powerful nations of the mid nineteenth century, Victorian England and Tsarist Russia. The prize for the winner was India. The great game was rarely open warfare: mostly it was about the exploits of young officers from both sides who risked their lives in the high mountain ranges and deserts of Central Asia. This is probably a book which will only appeal to people who are interested in the history of the area and period, or in travelling there. Right up until Afghanistan was invaded by Russia in the later part of the 20th century, and the subsequent breakup of Soviet Russia, Central Asia has been a meeting point of great nations. The Persian and Ottoman empires were always on the point of war with Russia, and Russia was always looking to expand. It is easy for travellers to visit most of this area now, with the exception of Afghanistan. If you have visited the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, or travelled the Karakoram highway north through Pakistan to China, then this book is the best source of history, tales of local intrigue, and just good reading about the whole area that you will ever find.
*What a Plant knows. By Daniel Chamovitz. PB from Scribe. RRP $18.99
This is a comparatively simple book, and pleasant to read, about how plants respond to stimuli. The author has asked questions such as whether particular plants like to be touched, whether they prefer classical to rock music, or even no music, how they respond to gravity, cold and light, and whether there is any evidence that plants have a memory. One of the most pleasant of many interesting and delightful facts in this book is how a market gardener can, by turning on the light for a few minutes each day, ensure that chrysanthemums flower for Mother’s day! The author is a biologist, and he has written a book which is about complicated plant biology, but so that an amateur gardener can understand it.
*Unaustralian of the Year, by Bill Leak. PB from Scribe. RRP $29.95
This collection of cartoons, and comments to go with it, is by one of Australia’s best known political cartoonists, Bill Leak, whose work is found in The Australian. This collection of cartoons deals with the political upheavals and events from when the ALP was elected in 2007 with Kevin Rudd as PM, up to the present day. It is funny, but sometimes with more than just a touch of sadness at all the palavering and bulldust, which emanates from Canberra. There is continuing commentary throughout the book from Leak about where our common sense has gone, and suggestions about the need for it to return so that we can continue to bring up our kids without too much media input and sensationalism. With all the fuss and jockeying for points about asylum seekers and the treatment we mete out to them, it is a delight to see the real humour of the cartoon on the last page of this book, where one Aborigine says to another that they should have shuffled all the whites off to Christmas Island while they had the chance in 1788! A pleasant, thought provoking coffee table or reception room book.
My Droving Days, by Peter and Shirley Moore. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
This is a series of stories about the adventures, and many accidents experienced by Peter Moore, when, at 21, he left Sydney and became a drover, mostly in Northern NSW and Southern Queensland during the early 1960s. The stories read as if Peter is actually talking—this in fact happened, because once his wife discovered what a good storyteller he was she started to tape his reminiscences, and later wrote them down, colourful language and all. Peter seems to have been accident-prone though—and after 10 years and a really bad accident, he returned to the city, and found other work. This is an amusing and interesting collection of yarns about the road, the people he met, the stock and of course the dogs.
*From Eskimo Point to Alice Springs. Anne Watts. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99
This autobiography relates the author’s amazing and varied career as a nurse among several of the most underprivileged groups in the world from the Inuits in northern Canada to the Australian aborigines, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East and Asia. The story begins in the 1960’s, and there was a follow up trip around 2000, to see where and how conditions had changed—this was not always for the better, particularly with the increase in drug use, and the need for med e vacs for teenager and others, as she found on her return visit to northern Canada. However, this is a well written and easy to read story, with lots of human interest stories, and for the reader to marvel and the intrepid nurse who has now turned writer. What a fantastic career of serving various communities!
*****The New Graded Wordbook for Australian Schools. Foster and Bryant. Facsimile edition from Scribe. RRP $19.95
This is a reprint of a most marvellous book for students from the age of about 9 years on. It contains lots of questions about general knowledge, and exercises in the correct usage of words, sentence construction and lots of good stuff for trivia nights as well as for kids at school. I have been a teacher for more than 40 years, and this has always been one of my favourite books to use to expand children’s vocabulary, as well as to encourage them to use words correctly. I am thrilled that now it is available for parents to buy for their kids. Thanks Scribe Books!
***The Rough Guide to Social Media. By Sean Mahoney. PB form Penguin. RRP $16.95
The subtitle for this neat little volume is “Getting started with facebook, Twitter and Google+” ad it is a gem of a book. I did not dream that all of these sites were so complicated, but this book has been wonderful in explaining each of them, and what is involved in joining up, and then using each site. I now have started this blog of my book reviews. Really, for anyone over about 25 years old, this book offers heaps of reassurance and information to help demystify all of these social media sites. An excellent little volume, and one which I expect to have beside my computer for some months to come.
*Bandaid for a Broken Leg, by Damien Brown. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $$29.99
Damien Brown is a young Australian doctor who decides to work for Medecins sans Frontieres. The subtitle of the book is ‘and other ways to stay single’, and you can certainly see why this is so from the content. He has had three postings, in Angola, in Mozambique and the Sudan. It’s a moving story of desperate medical work in very difficult situations; these countries have been war zones for many years. The people can be stoical, and often charming but at times irrationally subject to local customs, and likely to be fighting over cattle which they see as more important than themselves. The doctors learn to cope with hospitals which have little in the way of resources, and with injuries and illnesses that are never seen in Australia. The book is very readable, but makes you realise that there are parts of the world you really do not want to visit.
**The Unfair Trade. By Michael Casey. PB from Scribe. RRP $22.99
The global financial crisis of the past five years or so has made life difficult. People do not know who to blame, what to do, or for how long it will continue. At first it appeared to be just greedy bankers in the USA; at present it is the situation of sovereign debt in Europe which is the main issue. Michael Casey has made a complicated world situation a little easier to understand. The combination of too much debt, poor credit control and China’s reluctance to revalue or float its currency are all factors and a euro without an overall policy or budget has caused enormous problems. Countries like Greece have expenditures without enough income. It could never be an easy topic and two of the questions—what to do and how long the crisis may continue– may take years to answer. A comment in the book that I enjoyed was that northern Europe has a Lutheran focus on personal responsibility, while southern Europe has a Catholic or Orthodox ingrained belief in absolution for one’s sins! The book is excellent, thought provoking reading.
Antarctic, by David Day. HB from Random House. RRP $45
This is a very comprehensive biography of the discovery, exploration and the more recent use of scientific research to strengthen claims for territory in Antarctica. The early explorers, including Cook from England, Bellingshausen from Russia, plus whalers and sealers from America, all hoped to find land that could be settled and exploited. This is a history book, not a novel. It presents an enormous number of facts, which Day has compiled through extensive research in libraries and archives around the world. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 has helped to control the rivalry among countries and to prevent or limit possibly unattainable exploitation of resources. Australia has had a long involvement with Antarctica and this book connects the efforts of the explorers and scientists from Australia and many other countries. Good reading if you are interested in the topic.