Saturday, October 15, 2011

Books read in October 2011

1. Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer

An historical thriller with some artistic license. Mallory and Everest makes a great story. They go not seem to make Englishmen anymore in the Mallory mould. But he is not presented as a man with the prejudices of his age. He is the opposite; a socialist and feminist. But above all a hero and a most faithful romantic one. Did he get to the summit? We will never know unless the camera is found with film that can be developed. But for me the missing photo of his wife is enough for me to hope mission was accomplished.

Overall a good review of the last two centuries of the history of Africa. My perspective in this review is influenced by 12 years in Nigeria. This account starts with slavery and a good account of the triangular trade. It is also informative on the Arab Muslim dominated slaving from East Africa but silent on the Barbary Corsairs' white slaving which continued into the first decades of the 19th century. There were frequent references to humanitarian concerns in suppressing the Triangular Trade when the major influence stemmed from Christian compassion. I did not find the author giving sufficient credit to the missionary enterprise both in education, health and critique of colonial abuses. In Nigeria it was the missions that brought education and health care, not the colonial government. Also I believe the positive and negative practical effects of Pax Britannica are under reported. There were places where before colonial peace local people would never travel more than a few miles from their birth place until they died. Indirect rule in Nigeria meant Hausa/Fulani rule was confirmed in areas that had never really converted to Islam and enabled Islam to spread and consolidate. Another omission is the migration of Indians to Africa and the ill treatment of Asian minorities since independence. I also think the depletion of Africa's wealth by corrupt politicians deserves more attention. But overall this is a good survey which does inform. Where else will you learn there was slave ownership allowed in the British Empire until 1936?

3. No Balls and Googlies: A Cricket Companion by Geoff Tibballs

There is no sport to match cricket for myriad records, statistics and odd tales. There are lots here to amuse and inform. Not to be read cover to cover but dipped into and savoured, perhaps as or with a night cap.It is particularly informative on historical aspects of the development of the great game.


The origins of words are interestingly researched with fine cartoons by Larry. A book to dip into, not to go from cover to cover as there is too much to take in. Recommended as a bed side read with a night cap.

5. Wordstruck: A Memoir by Robert Macneil

The author is a very distinguished journalist whose story starts in Halifax, Nova Scotia before WWII. His father was often away at sea and his mother's story reading was the start of a love affair with words. To his father's great disappointment he failed the entrance exams for naval officer training and while studying to try again realised his love was for literature, not the sea. He tried to make a career in acting but realised he did not have the gifts so studied for a degree in English and became a radio announcer then a journalist.

His account of his schooldays is delightful and I can identify with him having a father who failed to tell him the facts of life which he learned from seeing a friend's mother's Gray's Anatomy. His account of his love for cricket, explaining it for Americans and the story about his first over caught and bowled of a pretentious school master are a gem from the great game. One thing of his youth that has now changed so much is that there are no sexual adventures before marriage. His affection for his mother and his father are well told and moving.

One learns some new things about English from this author who so delights in our language. I never knew the rhyming slang origin of 'Bristols' nor how Shakespeare broke the rules of grammar. A book to delight all who delight in our mother tongue and something of a modest part biography. He does not tell us about his part in the drama of President Kennedy's assassination.

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