Books I've Recently Read

Here's a run down of some books that I've recently read:

The Spin Doctor's Diary: Inside Number 10 with New Labour by Lance Price

This book has been sitting on my to-read shelf for a while as it has been out since 2005.

The main insight I got from this book was the extent to which Tony Blair, in his first terms as PM at least, was obsessed with the media. It seems that everything that was ever written about spin was true. He really did try and control the story, manipulate the media and twist facts to suit 'the official line'. He was also very thin-skinned, obsessed with what journalists were saying about him in the papers. From what I can understand he got over that after a few years as PM but even so it's pretty scary to see the extent to which government policy was, and perhaps still is, led by the media, and Rupert Mordoch (News International Corp owns 42% of the nationals in the UK) in particular.

I've now started reading The Blair Years: Extracts from Alistair Campbell's diaries. All 800 pages of it.

Blind Faith by Ben Elton

This is another excellent satire by Ben Elton. Yet again he really seems to be able to capture the zeitgeist of modern day culture.

Blind Faith is set in a post-apocalyptic London where half the world seems to have flooded due to global warming. It's a society where Christian (of sorts) religious fundamentalism reigns supreme and where privacy is a sin. A world where everyone is virtually naked and obsessed with sex, or at least pretends to be obsessed with sex, because not doing so would be to disrespect the body that 'The Love' i.e. God, has blessed you with, which in turn would be disrespecting 'The Love'.

The story follows Trafford Sewell as he begins to discover what's hidden behind the curtain of the society that he knows and realises that he's not alone - he's not the only one who actually craves a little privacy and has doubts about the religious teachings.

It's a bit like George Orwell's 1984 but with a modern spin. Everyone is required to blog and add entries to their 'face page' (read facebook) about every single aspect of their lives, and being (famous) is more important then doing.

As the blurb on the back of the book says - 'A chilling vision of what's to come? Or something rather closer to what we call reality?

The Ghost by Robert Harris

The Ghost follows the story of a professional ghostwriter who is given the opportunity to ghost the memoirs of Britain's former prime minister. Soon after starting to work on the book he realises that not all's what it seems.

The Ghost is yet another intelligent thriller from the author who penned one of my favourite books - Fatherland. The fictitious former prime minister is clearly Tony Blair - a man who is on the verge of being indicted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes after authorising CIA rendition of British Citizens suspected of being Al Qaeda terrorists.

As well as being an excellent thriller, with twists and turns aplenty, The Ghost is clearly a damning examination of Britain's foreign policy since 2001.

The Utility of Force by Rupert Smith

The Utility of Force is basically a long essay by a very distinguished British General.

The books charts the history of warfare from the rise of Industrial Warfare during the Napoleonic wars to the conflicts of today. Moreover, the book examines the importance of the trinity (the military, the state, and the people) in winning wars and argues that today's western armies have to substantially adapt to face the conflicts of the future.

The book is a tad long and repetitive but he makes some very good points, and his analysis of the relationship between politics and warfare is excellent, particularly when he examines the 'wars-by-proxy' which were the Korean and Vietnam War.

Playing with Fire by Gordon Ramsay

After really enjoying Gordon's first autobiography 'Humble Pie', I couldn't wait to read this follow-up.

Whereas Humble Pie focuses on his early days and his extraordinary culinary skills and successes in the kitchen, Playing with Fire focuses on the business side of Gordon Ramsay Holdings.

Playing with Fire is a fascinating insight into both the 5 star restaurant business but also the commercial life of a celebrity chef.

He's very frank and honest in the book, to the extent that he even discloses the fees he earned and amount he paid for property, and his obsessiveness and determination are clear throughout. There are some excellent lessons in here about business and life in general.

Facing Up by Bear Grylls

Facing Up was first published in 2000 and I didn't even know it existed until I came across it in a book sale a few months ago, which I was surprised about as I'm a big fan of the work of Bear Grylls.

Facing Up is Bear's own account of his successful attempt, at the age of 23, to be the youngest person to reach the summit of Everest.

It is an inspiring account of what it takes to do what still only a relatively small number of extraordinary people in the world have achieved. As well as being a breathtaking read, it was a real eye opener to why climbing Everest is still the ultimate test for man.

Here's a few interesting facts I learnt from this book:

  • There have been over 200 deaths on Mount Everest
  • It costs roughly $25,000 to climb Everest. A good proportion of the cost is attributed to the permit and the fees for obtaining daily meteorological reports for conditions around the summit.
  • There's only two periods during the year that an attempt on the summit can be made. This is due to the hurricane-scale winds that swirl around the summit during the monsoon season (the size of Everest means it actually creates its own weather system).
  • In the book Bear explains how Everest is one of only a few places still left in the world which can only be reached by human endurance only, as Helicopters can't reach that high because the air is too thin for the blades to grip. This was written before the 2005 helicopter landing by Frenchman Didier Delsalle in a Eurocopter AS 350 B3.

If you're a fan of his TV programmes you'll certainly enjoy this book.