This Month’s Books (May 2014)

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

William L. Shirer – The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (1961)The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

With a new afterword by the author, this unabridged edition tells the complete story of Hitler’s empire. Famed foreign correspondent and historian Shirer spent five and a half years sifting through the vast paperwork behind Hitler’s drive to conquer the world to bring this definitive record of one of the most frightening chapters in the history of mankind. “One of the most important works of history of our time”.–The New York Times.

Verdict: 4/5

The Scourging AngelBenedict Gummer – The Scourging Angel: The Black Death in the British Isles (2010)

Nothing experienced in human history, before or since, eclipses the terror, tragedy and scale of the Black Death, the disease which killed millions of people in Medieval Europe.

The Scourging Angel tells the story of Britain immediately before, during and after this catastrophe. Against a backdrop of empty homes, half-built cathedrals and pestilence-saturated cities, we see communities gripped by unimaginable fear, shock and paranoia. By the time it completed its pestilential journey through the British Isles in 1350, the Black Death had left half the population dead. Despite the startling toll of life, physical devastation and sheer human chaos it inflicted, Britain showed an impressive resilience. Amid disaster many found opportunity, and the story of the Black Death is ultimately one of survival.

Verdict: 4/5

Andrew Feinstein – The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade (2011)The Shadow World

The Shadow World is the harrowing behind-the-scenes tale of the global arms trade, revealing the deadly collusion that all too often exists among senior politicians, weapons manufacturers, felonious arms dealers, and the military—a situation that compromises our security and undermines our democracy.

Pulling back the curtain on this secretive world, Andrew Feinstein reveals the corruption and the cover-ups behind a range of weapons deals, from the largest in history—between the British and Saudi governments—to the guns-for-diamonds deals in Africa and the imminent $60 billion U.S. weapons contract with Saudi Arabia. He exposes in forensic detail both the formal government-to-government trade in arms and the shadow world of illicit weapons dealing, and lays bare the shockingly frequent links between the two. Drawing on his experience as a member of the African National Congress who resigned when the ANC refused to launch a corruption investigation into a major South African arms deal, Feinstein illuminates the impact this network has not only on conflicts around the world but also on the democratic institutions of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Based on pathbreaking reporting and unprecedented access to top-secret information and major players in this clandestine realm, The Shadow World places us in the midst of the arms trade’s dramatic wheeling and dealing—from corporate boardrooms to seedy out-of-the-way hotels—and reveals the profound danger and enormous financial cost this network represents to all of us.

Verdict: 4/5

What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningHaruki Murakami – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2008)

In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, not to mention triathlons and a dozen critically acclaimed books, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and even more importantly, on his writing.

Equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and takes us to places ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston among young women who outpace him. Through this marvelous lens of sport emerges a panorama of memories and insights: the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer, his greatest triumphs and disappointments, his passion for vintage LPs, and the experience, after fifty, of seeing his race times improve and then fall back.

By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in running.

Verdict: 4/5

Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy – Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus (2012)Rabid

An engrossing, lively history of a fearsome and misunderstood virus that binds man and dog The most fatal virus known to science, rabies—a disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans—kills nearly one hundred percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. In this critically acclaimed exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years of the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies. From Greek myths to zombie flicks, from the laboratory heroics of Louis Pasteur to the contemporary search for a lifesaving treatment, Rabid is a fresh and often wildly entertaining look at one of humankind’s oldest and most fearsome foes.

Verdict: 3/5

FlotillaDaniel Haight – Flotilla (2012)

Flotilla is a book for young adults and fans of Juvenile Dystopian Fiction about the world that is coming to our oceans. Jim Westfield is a messed-up kid thrown into the anarchic community his father lives on where they raise fish on the ocean when they aren’t breaking the law. This is a world filled with strange and dangerous characters that threaten Jim and his family’s lives when a terrorist attack hits Los Angeles. Now Jim must rise above his past if he wants to survive his future. 

This whirlwind experience over two summers paints a vivid picture of risk and hardship. It takes a deeply moving look at the impact of sustainable technology on some hilariously dysfunctional characters. 

Readers and reviewers are calling Flotilla ‘highly original, ‘intense and action packed’ and ‘for anyone who loves adventure.’

Verdict: 3/5

Stephen King – Joyland (2013)Joyland

Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.

Verdict: 3/5

Arabian NIghtsAndrew Lang – The Arabian Nights (1907)

The stories contained in this “store house of ingenious fiction” initiate a pattern of literary reference and influence which today remains as powerful and intense as it was throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin: all make their appearance here. This edition reproduces in its entirety the earliest English translation of the French orientalist Antoine Galland’s Mille et une Nuits (1001 Nights), which remained for over a century the only English translation of the story cycle, influencing an incalculable number of writers. In addition, it offers the complete text or the tales supplemented by extensive explanatory notes and plot summaries, which are particularly vital as these expansive stories are complex and interwoven.

Verdict: 4/5

Edgar Allan Poe – The Cask of Amontillado (1846)The Cask of Amontillado

A classic tale of vengeance and betrayal from the murder’s perspective. Montresor has born a thousand insults from Fortunato but now there will be a reckoning. 

And what better way that by appealing to Fortunato’s pride in his discernment in wines?

Verdict: 4/5

The VampyreJohn William Polidori – The Vampyr (1819)

The Vampyre is a short story by John William Polidori. It is based on a fragment written by Lord Byron in 1816 during a gathering of author friends who, trapped inside due to bad weather, decided to write ghost stories. At the request of a friend, Polidori wrote a complete story from the premise outlined in Byron’s fragment. Without either author’s prior knowledge, the story was published in the April 1819 issue of New Monthly Magazine as “The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron”; despite immediate protests from both Byron and Polidori, the attribution stuck, for a well-known author such as Byron attracted a much better audience.

The Vampyre was the first vampire story in English prose, and as such had a wide-ranging influence, almost singlehandedly creating the now-popular image of the vampire as an aristocratic seducer.

Verdict: 4/5

Jon Ronson – Frank (2014)Frank

In the late 1980s Jon Ronson was the keyboard player in the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band. Frank wore a big fake head. Nobody outside his inner circle knew his true identity. This became the subject of feverish speculation during his zenith years. Together, they rode relatively high. Then it all went wrong.

Twenty-five years later and Jon has co-written a movie, Frank, inspired by his time in this great and bizarre band. Frank is set for release in 2014, starring Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Domhnall Gleeson and directed by Lenny Abrahamson.

Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie is a memoir of funny, sad times and a tribute to outsider artists too wonderfully strange to ever make it in the mainstream. It tells the true story behind the fictionalized movie.

Verdict: 4/5

The Vietnam WarNeil Smith – The Vietnam War: History in One Hour (2012)

Know your stuff: Read a concise history of the Vietnam War in just one hour.

‘War, what is it good for?’ THE VIETNAM WAR: HISTORY IN AN HOUR gives a gripping account of the most important Cold War-era conflict, fought between the United States and the Viet Cong, the Vietnam People’s Army and their Communist allies. It was one of the most traumatic military conflicts America has ever been involved in – and provoked a backlash of anti-war protests at home.

Here are the key events leading up to the Vietnam War, the deadly guerrilla warfare of the Viet Cong, the domestic anti-war movement and the fall of Saigon. THE VIETNAM WAR: HISTORY IN AN HOUR is essential reading for anyone interested in post-war history.

Verdict: 3/5

Matthew Quick – Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (2013)Forgive Me. Leonard Peacock

How would you spend your birthday if you knew it would be your last?

Eighteen-year-old Leonard Peacock knows exactly what he’ll do. He’ll say goodbye.

Not to his mum – who he calls Linda because it annoys her – who’s moved out and left him to fend for himself. Nor to his former best friend, whose torments have driven him to consider committing the unthinkable. But to his four friends: a Humphrey-Bogart-obsessed neighbour, a teenage violin virtuoso, a pastor’s daughter and a teacher.

Most of the time, Leonard believes he’s weird and sad but these friends have made him think that maybe he’s not. He wants to thank them, and say goodbye.

Verdict: 4/5

The Russian RevolutionRupert Colley – The Russian Revolution: History in an Hour (2012)

In 1917 the world changed for ever. One of the most influential and contentious events in recent history, the Russian Revolution unleashed the greatest political experiment ever conducted, one which continues to influence both Eastern and Western politics today.

‘The Russian Revolution: History in an Hour’ neatly covers all the major facts and events giving you a clear and straightforward overview: from the circumstances behind the rise of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, to the consequences of their struggle for a new socialist utopia. ‘The Russian Revolution: History in an Hour’ is engagingly written and accessible for all history lovers.

Love your history? Find out about the world with History in an Hour…

Verdict: 3/5

Cormac McCarthy – Child of God (1973)Child of God

In this taut, chilling novel, Lester Ballard–a violent, dispossessed man falsely accused of rape–haunts the hill country of East Tennessee when he is released from jail.  While telling his story, Cormac McCarthy depicts the most sordid aspects of life with dignity, humor, and characteristic lyrical brilliance.

Verdict: 3/5

South AfricaAnthony Holmes – South Africa: History in an Hour (2012)

History for busy people. Read a concise history of South Africa in just one hour.

South Africa is a nation that has been ravaged by oppression and racial inequality. After years of concentrated violence and apartheid, Nelson Mandela led the country to unite ‘for the freedom of us all’ as the country’s first black President.

SOUTH AFRICA: HISTORY IN AN HOUR gives a lively account of the formation of modern South Africa, from the first contact with seventeenth-century European sailors, through the colonial era, the Boer Wars, apartheid and the establishment of a tolerant democracy in the late twentieth century. Here is a clear and fascinating overview of the emergence of the ‘Rainbow Nation’.

Love your history? Find out about the world with History in an Hour…

Verdict: 3/5

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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