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