Red Koi Reviews

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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

‘How to argue with an economist’ by Lindy Edwards

Posted by redkoireviews on 23/06/2007

I bought this is Bowral while on holidays, and read the whole thing through as the rain came down around our little cabin. I’d heard good things about this book, and it deserves it. A lot of people in Australia feel like the economy has too high a priority in politics and society, and that it’s hurting the social fabric of the country. This book explains how Australia has made a transition from egalitarian economic policy to free market economic rationalism.

That is useful in it’s own right, but the book goes further, outlining some ways in which to argue against economic rationalists at work or over the dinner table. Some of these arguments were more complete versions of what I already knew, other were completely new. It really grabbed my attention because a large chunk of my work is lobbying politicians and bureaucrats about climate change, many of whom come from an economic rationalist viewpoint.

Lindy Edwards has worked in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and in the book her arguments are about using the logic of economic rationalism to defeat it’s own arguments. She takes the view that economic rationalism can be modified and changed to make it ‘good’, rather than throwing the whole thing in the bin. This pragmatist attitude will probably rub the more socialist / lefty readers up the wrong way, but I think her work has a lot of value.

This is a great read about what lie behind the changes in contemporary Aussie culture.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

PS, I think the next book on economics will be Frank StilwellsPolitical Economy: The contest of Economic Ideas

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The Tao of Pooh

Posted by redkoireviews on 21/06/2007

I was searching for holiday reading material and discovered The “Tao of Pooh” on the shelves, owned by my partner. It’s a laymans introduction to Taoism, using Pooh bear from the Winnie the Pooh series of children’s books as the western example of what Taoism is all about.

It’s easy to read, and did give me a sense of what this philosophy is all about, but the tone is very anti-intellectual at times, which just annoyed me and put distance between me and the subject. On the upside, the idea that being too busy with detail, facts and figures can distract you from the bigger picture did resonate me. Perhaps that’s a contradictory reaction but that’s just what happened.

I won’t bother trying to explain Taoism itself – wikpedia does a better job than I would, or indeed the ‘Tao of Pooh’

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre

Posted by redkoireviews on 06/05/2007

Constant gardener book 2I saw the movie version of this book quite a while ago, and recently finished the book. Predictably, I think the book is better than the movie. Le Carre is a true master. I love the cynical, gritty atmosphere that his books create, and this one is no exception.

This one takes aim at big Pharma companies and their lack of ethics in Africa and abroad as they try and get new drugs to market in a mad haste. It’s a spy story, a mystery and a love story.

The scene is Nairobi, where British Diplomat Justin Quayle is the unlikely husband of activist Tessa Abbot. When Tessa discovers that a big Pharmaceutical company is putting lives at risk with it’s unethical activities in Africa, she devotes her life to stopping the company. Perhaps to protect him from harm, she tells her husband nothing. Unfortunately, Tessa is not protected from harm, and bulk of the story is about the transition from ‘status quo’ diplomat, to man on a mission to honor his wife and the cause she fought for.

This is what spy novels should be about – gritty, real world and fraught with all the grey areas between right and wrong. The characters are so well developed, you feel you know them by the time you put the book down. The plot could easily be non-fiction, making you think a little wider than the escape created by a good book. Le Carre says it all in his note at the end of the book ‘As my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realise that, by comparison, my book was as tame as a holiday postcard’.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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“Here comes the Sun” by Tom Holt

Posted by redkoireviews on 13/01/2007

divine comedies“Here comes the sun” is the first half of a Tom Holt Omnibus called “Divine Comedies”. My partner loves Tom Holt, and encouraged me to have another go after my disappointment with “Paint your Dragon“. She managed to convert me to Terry Pratchett this way, but the approach has not won me over for Tom Holt.

The book is a kind of fantasy-with- surreal- connections- to- reality. Heaven and Hell are actually gigantic administrative nightmares that have resulted in terrible mismanagement of earth. Even the sun is stolen for a joyride. A couple of the more scheming types in senior management of Heaven and Hell buck the system and recruit a mortal to help sort things out.

The book is riddled with over the top metaphors and similies that are supposed to be funny but just get a bit boring after the twentieth time. I didn’t really love or hate any of the characters and the plot just wasn’t appealing to me, however zany.

Sorry, but Tom Holt is simply a shadow of Terry Pratchett.

My Rating: 1.5 Stars

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“The Mission Song” by John LeCarre

Posted by redkoireviews on 05/01/2007

bookcover for ‘The mission song’Before heading off to a friends house by the beach for a few days, I bought “The Mission Song” by John LeCarre for some summer reading. I was quickly hooked. The plot revolves around interpreter Bruno Salvador and his entanglement in a plot to mount a coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Like a lot of LeCarre’s novels, the central character is not an outright hero. In this case, Salvos ethos that a top interpreter does not pass judgement on the words he is translating brings him into the center of a insidious plan to make war in the country where he was born.

There is plenty of pace, suspense, and even a blooming romance – just what I was looking for in a great holiday read. But it’s not too light either, touching on plenty of current, global issues and problems.

I liked it, and I think I’ll be buying or borrowing more of his books.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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“Chart Throb” by Ben Elton

Posted by redkoireviews on 17/12/2006

Chart ThrobI’ve read a few Ben Elton books before, including ‘Dead Famous‘ – a comic crime novel set on the set of a ‘Big Brother’ program. “Chart Throb” draws it’s inspiration from reality TV music shows such as ‘Australian Idol‘. The novel is great satire, poking a sharp barb into the glamour of today’s glorified talent quests. Clavin, The show’s machiavellian leader and master judge is revealed as a shallow, manipulative prick. The other judges fair little better, narcissism being their dominant personality trait.

If you love ‘Australian Idol’ and want to stay a fan, do not read this book. If you where always a bit (or a lot) suspicious of the shows credibility, reading this book will definitely confirm all your worst fears, then add in a few extras.

The plot of ‘Chart Throb’ is more distrubing than ‘Dead famous’ becuase it’s more believable – you can imagine everything that the judges and directors do as actually happening, whereas ‘Dead Famous’ was entertaining but not really . . . real.

Ben Elton has done it again – delivering great satire that draws on our current life and times. Excellent.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Freakonomics

Posted by redkoireviews on 16/12/2006

Freakonomics bookcoverI picked this up at the airport, after hearing about it on the radio. Economist Steven Levitt teamed up with journalist Stephen Dubner to write about what economics can tell us about human behavior and society.

They use a variety of interesting example to make some surprising conclusions: legalised abortion reduced crime 20 years later, good parenting is more about your life before being a parent, and the relationship between names and socio-economic status.

I really enjoyed it – it’s not what most people will think of as economics so don’t dismiss it as a dry read. Statistics is the foundation of the book, with some discussion of incentives, and some crude guesses at other social phenomena.

Like most economists I’ve met, Levitt argues that incentives are what drives almost everything about people and society. I’ve always found that argument to simplistic – like hedonists who say the only thing that drives people is pursuit of their own happiness (the two are almost the same). It assumes that people respond rationally to the size of any ‘incentive’, which most people don’t. It also assumes people are good at comparing different outcomes on an equal basis over time, which they don’t. Levitt also has that tendency to make a complex system into a nice, simpler one where cause and effect is a more straightforward affair. Perhaps that comes from having to turn it into a saleable book rather than an academic paper.

Finally, it shits me when people blur science and conjecture. Levitt presents his statistical findings and then hooks his own opinion on without much distinction.

But for all that the case studies are an interesting insight into human and societal behavior. I’d love to see more, and more involvement of psychologists. You can get a flavour of the book and the authors at their blog.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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“The lovely bones” by Alice Sebold

Posted by redkoireviews on 31/08/2006

The Lovely Bones bookcoverI’m having a good run of books at the moment. “The lovely bones” is one of those rare books that takes a grim plot and somehow manages to weave golden threads through it.

It tells the story of 14 year old Susie Salmon, who is raped and murdered by a local man. She finds herself in her very own heaven, able to watch the aftermath of her death. There is something very human about the struggles of her friends and family as they try to remember her, forget her or re-build lives cracked open by her.

Sebold doesn’t hide the grim nature of Susie’s death, but she doesn’t make it the central premise of the book either. In a similar fashion, the grief and pain in those who loved Susie is brought right into the heart of the reader, but so are the small flowers that grow in amongst the cracks of broken lives.

“The Lovely Bones” is most definately a compelling read. The sort of book you’ll want to read in one sitting, or well into the night.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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Dirt Music

Posted by redkoireviews on 24/08/2006

Dirt Music BookcoverThe night before last stayed up late into the night re-reading “Dirt Music” by Tim Winton. It was even better than the first read. Set in a rough fishing town on the West Australian coast, it tells the story of Georgie, her husband Jim, and the mystery that is Lu Fox. Georgie is a passionate woman stuck in an apathetic relationship with Jim Buckridge, a widower trying to escape his violent past. Lu Fox has lost his whole family to deaths. Now he hides out on a disheveled property, scratching out a living smuggling fish and abalone.

When Georgie and Lu they find things in each other they didn’t know they needed so badly – they fit together. But their tryst is discovered in the small town, and retribution comes quickly and violently. Lu heads north – a very, very long way north. Up past Broome and into truly wild territory, and lives by his own hand, wrestling and dancing with the wild country of the far north.

Jim and Georgie head north to find Lu, and the three meet in a vortex that may make or break the personal trials of each person. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Posted by redkoireviews on 17/08/2006

Wyrd Sisters bookcoverI’ve given up on reading all the Guards series of discworld novels, but am still enjoying re-reading lot’s of other books by Terry Pratchett. Wyrd Sisters is a kind of Parody of Macbeth. King Verence of Lancre is killed by his cousin Duke Felmet. Verenece’s son (Tomjon) is given to Lancre’s three witches, who send him off with a troupe of theatre performers to keep him out of harms way. Everyone hates Duke Felmet and so the witches take destiny into their own hands and re-arrange things to speed up the progress of the Tomjon to the throne.

The plot is not one of Terry’s best, but that’s made up for by the witches themselves. Their personalities are larger than life, very funny, and at times rather dark.

If, like me, your life is a just a bit to real, Wyrd Sister will help you escape for a little while.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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