Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain

This isn’t my usual sort of book but it was recommended to me so I thought I’d give it a whirl.  The sub-title of the book is “adventures in the culinary underbelly” and it is a sort of autobiography into how Anthony Bourdain got into cooking.

I have to start by saying that Bourdain comes across as an arrogant prat in the book.  He isn’t someone I’d want to meet.  However, his obvious and genuine love of good food makes the book readable and at no point did I consider not finishing it, despite throwing the book across the room a few times!

This is a classic tale of someone finding their purpose in life quite by chance; a friend was sick of Bourdain sponging off him and others so found him a job as a dishwasher.  From dishwasher to food prep and hey presto something clicked.

The early part of the book tells of the author’s fairly privileged upbringing and then his life spiralling out of control through drugs and bad career choices.  It then moves on to a clean Anthony and his rise as a renowned chef.

The book doesn’t hesitate to describe the appalling things that happen in restaurant kitchens, which is a bit off-putting to someone who regularly eats out!  It also helps you to understand how professional kitchens work and to understand what you should and shouldn’t order and when from a restaurant menu.

I probably won’t read any other books by Anthony Bourdain but, on the whole, I’m pleased I read this one.


Seven Deadly Sins: my pursuit of Lance Armstrong – David Walsh

I remember reading David Walsh’s early articles in The Sunday Times, at first with disbelief and then with a growing sense that there might be something in what Walsh was saying.  I’m not sure anyone was really surprised when the truth finally came out that Armstrong had been doping for years and had, essentially, bullied others into covering up what was happening in the sport.

This book is the story of David Walsh’s transition from Tour de France fan to cynical journalist to crusader trying to expose the corruption at the heart of the cycling fraternity.

Walsh tells not only of his own consignment to “troll” status within the TdF press pack but also of the terrible pressure and horrible stories spread about the Andreus, the LeMonds and Emma O’Reilly when they tried to expose the cheating going on in the US Postal team and by Armstrong particularly.  I am left with enormous admiration for Betsy Andreu for continuing to stand up against Lance Armstrong when he tried to destroy her and her husband for exposing him as a cheat.

The book isn’t just about the pursuit of Armstrong though.  It also tells the story of how doping affected the health of other cyclist.  One story that sticks in my memory is about a 21-year-old cyclist who damaged a leg during the Giro and needed an operation.  When they opened him up in the operating theatre they found his blood was thick sludge from the performance enhancing drugs he had been taking.  I find it shocking that people are prepared to do this to themselves.  Perhaps I’m naive or just not very competitive but I can’t believe that any race or sport is worth damaging your health to that extent.

It was good to read the book as it brings together all Walsh’s articles and research into one place to read at one time, rather than The Times articles that I read over a number of years.

It’s dispiriting though to find that Walsh feels the story of doping in cycling isn’t yet finished, especially on top of the recent allegations about Wiggins and Froome.

The Bugatti Queen: in search of a motor racing legend – Miranda Seymour

This is a book about Helene Delangle, aka Helle Nice, provincial child, exotic dancer in 1920s Paris and pre-WWII racing driver.

Helene Delangle was born at the end of the 19th century, the daughter of a rural French postmaster who died when she was young.

As a young woman she went to Paris to pursue a career as a dancer, changed her name to Helle Nice and seems to have existed on the seedier edges of the glamorous roaring 20s although she gradually rose through the ranks to become a headline dancer until she damaged her knee.

Her second career was as a racing driver, entering all the main races and competing against male drivers as well as in women’s races.  Although the book is entitled “The Bugatti Queen” she wasn’t exclusively a Bugatti driver and left to Ettore she may not have driven Bugattis at all.  Fortunately for her Jean Bugatti took an interest and she went onto set a speed record for them.

Helle had a talent for publicity, probably from the highly competitive dance world, and went on a tour of USA, successfully racing on dirt tracks as well as racing ovals until she had a serious accident in South America which stalled her career.

She remained in France during WWII and afterwards expected to take up racing again.  Unfortunately, Louis Chiron (the man the new Bugatti Chiron is named after) publically accused her of working for the Gestapo during the war and this finished her career although the author of this book notes that she could not find any documentary evidence to support Chiron’s claim.

Helle Nice lived until 1975, forgotten in the increasing male dominated world of motor racing and increasingly living in poverty.

I really enjoyed reading this book as it brought together several things I’m interested in: the jazz age, motor racing and the part played by women in motor sport during the 1920s and 30s.

Helle Nice is colourful character and, along with the other serious women drivers between the wars, does not deserve to languish in oblivion.

I think the author does a good job of pulling together the strands of a life shrouded in the mist of time and also subject to several revisions by the subject over her lifetime.

More and more I think it’s more than time that the motor sport fraternity gave due recognition to the women drivers who more than held their own during the inter-war years.  If you want more women in motor sport, start celebrating those who were successful at it in an era where gender roles were supposedly much more rigidly defined than they are today.

I am, I am, I am: Seventeen brushes with death – Maggie O’Farrell

This isn’t a book I would have chosen to buy but when a friend recommended it and left his copy of the book with me it seemed churlish not to read it.

The book is made up of 17 chapters, each about a near death experience mostly by the author but the final chapter about her daughter.

Some of the chapters are enough to give you nightmares if you stop and think about them too much; an encounter with a creepy man who is later arrested for the murder of another young woman, a plane nearly crashing when you’re a passenger, being held up by a machete wielding man in Chile.  Other chapters tell of difficult periods in O’Farrell’s life with a down to earth matter of factness.

As a memoir it gives one an insight into the author that a more traditional autobiography might not.  I feel I have learned something about her from the way she writes of her reactions to the memory of these events.  It would, however, be good to know how she reacts to the more positive events in her life.

The most harrowing chapter of the book is that about her daughter and the horrible things the family go through with the daughters severe allergies, eczema and anaphylaxia.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to have to watch a beloved child suffer in this way.

I can’t say I enjoyed this book.  I prefer a full, more in-depth biography and, preferably, one about someone I’ve heard of.  I still wouldn’t choose to buy a book like this.  But it was an interesting experience and I believe we should always try something different one in a while.

Reading People: secret tips that reveal the truth behind body language – Jo-Ellen Dimitrius & Mark Mazzarella

The main author of this book, Jo-Ellen Dimitrius, has a job that absolutely fascinates me. Her role is to find the right people to be jurors for major trials in USA.  An example she often quotes is finding people for the OJ Simpson trial.

The premise of the book is that if you can “read” people effectively you can work out whether they are being truthful, what their beliefs are and how they are likely to react to certain events and situations.  Also, if you are reading other people you consider how they might also be reading you.

The book goes through a process, chapter by chapter giving ideas on how to build ones ability to read other people.  The chapter headings give a good idea of what to expect: Reading Readiness, Discovering Patterns, First Impressions, Scanning the Environment, Hearing More Than Words, ASking the Right Questions, Actions Speak Louder Than Words, Spotting Exceptions, Listening to Your Intuition, Understanding How Others Are Reading You and Making Snap Judgements.

I don’t think there is anything particularly new in this book that I haven’t come across in the past reading books by Alan and Barbara Pease for example.  It was a useful reminder of everything I’ve been taught about body language, mainly to look at groupings, context and consistency.

I also really enjoyed the stories and anecdotes the authors used to illustrate the points they were making.  They brought the ideas to life and helped to make sense of what I was reading.

The downside of the book is that it was published in 1998 and some of the ideas stated reflect out of date fashions, ideas and behaviours.  Whilst I think the basic tenets of this book remain true our digital 21st century has changed the way the react to people and events and we have other ways of finding out about people as well as by reading them.  Some of the Americanisms are also a bit annoying to a British reader.

I’d recommend the book as readable and interesting if you are interested in improving your communication skills.  It isn’t “un-put-down-able” but I did look forward to my morning read on the train.

KL; a history of the Nazi concentration camps – Nikolaus Wachsmann

An interesting book but, if you decide to read it, know that you’re in it for the long haul.  This is not a lightweight book in any sense of the term.

The book sets out to tell the full history of concentrations camps in Nazi Germany; a wider context than the Holocaust, which most histories tend to concentrate on.

It covers the early camps, the SS camp system, expansion, war, mass extermination, holocaust, anus mundi, economics and extermination, camps unbound, impossible choices, death or freedom.

The book gave me a better understanding of the different camps and the differences of purpose as well as a wider understanding of the different groups who were sent to the camps.  I hadn’t previously understood how small a proportion of camp inmates Jews were until quite late on nor how many Russian POWs were sent to die in the camps.

I also learned quite a lot about how the camps were run and the key players in the development and administration of Himmler’s camp empire.  It is horrifying to hear about how quickly most of the guards became normalised to the casual brutality of the system.

The level of detail in the book meant that it took me a long time to read; this was both because it took a lot of concentration to follow and because of the horrific details one is reading.  There were times when I had to put this book down and read something frivolous before I could go on with it.

Overall, I think there is a lot in this book that people should know more about, particularly in a world where certain segments of society are being radicalised and demonised; don’t think this style of camp couldn’t happen again!  However, it isn’t an easy or comfortable read.

Fire and Fury; inside the Trump White House – Michael Wolff

Yes, I succumbed and read “that” book!

For anyone who hasn’t heard the furore the book has generated, this is a book about Trump’s presidential campaign and his first nine months as President of USA.

The book purports to have been written with the cooperation of Trump insiders.  It attempts to define Trump’s personal style and to show the chaos this creates via the bitter in-fighting between the various factions within the Trump White House.

Wolff describes the three camps as being centred around Steve Bannon, Jarred and Ivanka Kushner and Reince Priebus.  It was interesting reading about these groups knowing that neither Steve Bannon nor Reince Priebus still work for Trump.

The book suggests that Trump and his campaign team didn’t expect to win the presidency, that Trump didn’t want to be President and isn’t interested in the day-to-day necessities of the job.  It also suggests that the various groups around the President are more interested in scoring points against each other than in presenting a unified view of the President and his policies.

I think that, like a lot of this type of book, this is a broad overview of what is likely to be happening.  The events are too close and current to be viewed rationally and clearly.  At this point we don’t know what will happen during the Trump Presidency, what the pivotal moments will be and how the presidency will end.  Only once the dust has settled will we be able to draw certain conclusions.

I take the book with a pinch of salt but, nonetheless, an interesting read.


The Russian Revolutions – David Footman

This is a book I picked up at a charity shop that looked interesting.  It was originally published in 1962 and the author, born in 1895, was a diplomat and spy for the British as well as being a historian.

The book is an overview rather than being a detailed account of the various revolutions, or attempted revolutions in Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries.  It feels as though it was written for 6th-formers needing a superficial picture of Russian history.

The book starts with an overview of Russian society, which is useful to set the scene for what comes next.

The book goes on to look at various revolutionary movements, the February revolution, the abdication of Nicholas II and the road to power for the Bolsheviks.

The most interesting thing for me is wondering what more David Footman knew about the Soviet Union and its road to existence; he headed the MI6 unit responsible for procuring, processing and analysing information from the Soviet union during World War II.

It’s also quite interesting to read history books written about the Soviet Union before the thawing of the cold war.  This one manages to be reasonably neutral about communism and Stalin.

If you know nothing about the Russian revolution you could do worse than start with this book.  If you know something I wouldn’t bother with except as a curiosity.

Click here to find out more about David Footman


Flipnosis; the art of split-second persuasion – Kevin Dutton

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for ages; one of the books I’ve been saving and savouring the thought of reading.  Unfortunately, this one fell under the weight of expectation.  I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting to.

The book is about the psychology of persuasion.  It looks at the science behind why some people are better at persuading people than others.

The book uses a lot examples and stories about an interesting mixture of people; some who use their skill lawfully and others who are con-men.  There are also a lot of scientific experiments cited.  I loved reading about the people and the experiments.  They give a fascinating insight into what makes some people tick.

The model created by Dutton proposes that the art of persuasion is SPICE; simplicity, perceived self-interest, incongruity, confidence and empathy.  If you and your proposal meets these criteria you are more likely to persuade people to accept or adopt whatever you are proposing.

The book does a good job of exploring the different aspects of the model but it doesn’t really give any advice, suggestions or tips on how an ordinary mortal might improve each of these skills to become better at them.

I also finished the book with a niggling feeling that there were questions left unanswered.

If you’re going to read this book I’d suggest tackling it as an interesting psychology text-book rather than expecting it to be a self-improvement book.

Life to the Limit; My autobiography – Jenson Button

My latest 99p from Amazon choice and one that I enjoyed reading.

Button comes across as mostly being a nice bloke and someone who is passionate about racing.  He confesses to having been a spoilt, pampered child and one can see how this sometimes spills over into his adult life.

I enjoyed reading about how a driver – and it could be any driver really – starts in karting and works their way through the various stages.  I can also understand that it is a weird sort of life constantly travelling to races at weekends and can empathise with how Button struggled to be a “normal teenager”.  I guess this is where a level of natural selection occurs and separates those who are willing to make sacrifices to succeed from those who aren’t.

There is a lot of detail in the book about Button trying to break into Formula 1 and then his career.  It was interesting reading and interesting to get Button’s account of how he sees himself and my perception of him as a good driver but one who doesn’t quite have the killer instinct to be a great driver.

The key thread running through the book is the relationship between Jenson and his father.  I would say this book is Button’s way of publically acknowledging just how important his father was and how much he relied on him.  The sad part of the book is the feeling that Jenson hasn’t yet found a way to grieve for his father; he still comes across as a little boy lost.  I hope he finds it.

Overall, this is a lightweight book but interesting enough to while away a train journey.