Painting the Sand by Kim Hughes. Memoir by a British bomb disposal expert focussing on his time in Afghanistan. Quite tense and interesting, seems realistic and down to earth.
What I'm Reading 2
Making a Success of Brexit and Reforming the EU by Roger Bootle. Updated 'Brexit Edition' of "The Trouble With Europe" by the same author which got quite favourable reviews all round as a sensible critique of Europe: I doubt it would get such good treatment post-Brexit.
Bit of a mixed bag really. Bootle acknowledges some successes of the EU, in particular the incorporation of and assistance to of the Eastern European states. He has a pretty good summary of the problems of the creation of the Eurozone without sufficient mechanisms to deal with imbalances. He highlights some problems of EU governance like the inefficiency of rotating chairs, and the lack of skilled staff from some of the smaller nations.
He makes a reasonable stab at some of the problems of democracy, for instance the weakness of the European Parliament, though I think Peter Mair's "Ruling the Void" did it better.
The economic side is less convincing. He makes some good points in there, like the lack of evidence that EU membership boosts growth, though it's very hard to find evidence that anything boosts growth. He points out that some of the claims for the benefits of EU membership are just down to time and place, and non-EU members have done as well or better. However he buys strongly into the idea that over-regulation is an economic problem without citing much evidence. From blogs like Flip Chart Fairy Tales that's probably because the evidence doesn't exist. He also makes his own misleading comparisons occasionally, comparing developed economies to the growth rates of countries in catch-up growth.
Bootle points out that the EU has surprisingly few free trade deals with large economies outside it: there are smaller countries that have much more free trade. He also points out that catch-up growth over the next few decades will mean the EU is relatively much smaller that emerging economies like India and China. This is the only plausible economic argument I can see for Brexit, that over the long term we could benefit from turning towards these growing markets.
Overall, a fairly good book covering a lot of material with some interesting insights, but one that needs to be read with some skepticism.
What I'm Reading 3
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer. Science fiction set a few centuries in the future. Physical nations have been replaced by virtual nations called Hives because of a network of flying cars that makes distance obsolete. Within these virtual nations people live in "bashes", of extended groups of families. Society is based on the principles of the Enlightenment and the prose is written in a ponderous 18th century style.
I started out really enjoying it. The worldbuilding is well done, the central character is interesting. But the plot is grindingly slow-moving and I found it hard to keep the large cast of supporting characters straight: we're told that they're interesting and remarkable but don't actually seem to do or say anything very memorable. It doesn't help that it's the first volume of a series and not a whole lot happens to advance the plot or resolve anything.
As as result I got less and less interested until it felt like a grim chore to pick up the book again. Not sure whether to try other volumes in the hope the plot starts going somewhere or give it up. There's enough daring and original stuff here that I'd like it to work. Review, review.
What I'm Reading 4
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga. I wasn't expecting too much from this: it's apparently a tie-in with a BBC documentary series and I thought it would be fairly superficial and familiar. In fact though it has a lot of information that was new to me, and unusually it doesn't shy away from the complexity of the way the British interacted with others.
The slave trade is a good example. When Britons first encountered it in Africa theyw were horrified. Then when it became clear how much money was invovled, they became the most enthusiastic slave traders around. When the movement to abolish the slave trade (but not slavery, as is carefully noted) started it rapidly went from an eccentricity to a powerful movement regarded with horror by the establishment. But a couple of decades after abolition, the controversy was forgotten and it became a great source of patriotic pride. That in turn gave many white Britons the idea that being racially tolerant was a great British virtue.
This tolerance started to fade in the 1850s with the growing prevalence of "Scientific Racism". Black visitors noted that Britain was less welcoming. I think histories of imperialism can sometimes miss the turbo-charging of imperialism around this time, driven by the Maxim gun as well as ideas.
Other interesting things. There was controversy in the abolition movement over the Dolben Act, which attempted to impose better conditions in slave ships: was this a useful amelioration or would it undermine abolition? It seems like a similar issue to the ones that crop up today. (Apparently hostorical opinion is divided over whether the act did any good). Women were important to the abolition movement. And West India Wharf was renamed Canary Wharf as part of the general tendency to airbrush out the slave trade. Between the abolition of the British slave trade and the American Civil War, Britons found themselved feted in America, much to the annoyance of pro-slavery Britons. After a revolt on the American slave ship Creole the slaves sucessfully took the ship to the British Bahamas and obtained their freedom: apparently "the largest successful slave rebellion in American history".
Overall, a fascinating book, well worth a read for its detail.
What I'm Reading 5
This Love by Dani Atkins. Weepie about a woman haunted by the death of her brother as a teen, learning to love again. Bit formulaic but seems reasonably done.
What I'm Reading 6
Mind Games by Pamela Kole. Short book about the techniques abusive partners use to keep control. Makes a few interesting points, in particular about how their fear of being exposed can be a weakness. Most of the techniques are just slight variations on "if criticised attack viciously with something irrelevant" though. Not particularly good.
What I'm Reading 7
Ashes of Candesce by Karl Schroeder. Final volume in the Virga science series, set in a weightless sphere of air where a device prevents the advanced technology of the rest of the universe from working.
Pretty slow starting, with a lot of political manoeuvring and not as much action as usual. Things pick up pace in the second half as the conflicts come to a head. The remaining questions that have been waiting from the start are resolved, with Artificial Nature finally explained and the factions from outside the universe revealed.
Overall, a solid and rewarding finale to the series. Well worth reading for science fiction fans.
Survived Christmas in Germany. Kid seemed OK, managed to transport enough presents to keep him happy, and he survived the not very child-safe house. Rained a lot and I had a horrible cold and lost voice. Felt a bit imprisoned: being stuck out in the countryside is a drag when incessant rain means you can't leave the house. Very glad of the Kindle.
The Last Jedi. Paleography of the Jedi texts. Lightsaber battle. Why So Many Men Hate the Last Jedi But Can't Agree on Why.
Politics. What Putin really wants.
Reminder. I posted my Books I've Read This Year 2017 later than usual.
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