Pink Floyd Fan’s Guide to Cambridge

Took a quick look at a Pink Floyd Fan’s Guide to Cambridge in a bookshop today, and there were some amusingly tenuous links.

  • Trinity College: Isaac Newton studied here, and also discovered the phenomenon illustrated on the cover of Dark Side of The Moon
  • The Regal: The Beatles played here. Syd Barrett bought a ticket, but never made it to the gig because he had an interview.

Review: Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is supposedly a classic novella, or short novel. Well it certainly felt short on plot, yet reading it seemed to drag on forever.

I’ve never given up on a book partway through, but this time it was incredibly tempting. The narrator’s prose is tedious and nothing of consequence seems to happen for ages (perhaps because he is constantly travelling with a fixed goal, and only meets other characters briefly). Only the fact that it was short encouraged me to plough on.

Fortunately later on it did pick up a tad. Actually my favourite part was the meeting between Marlow and Kurtz’s fiancée, something of an epilogue to the actual story.

However I still can’t understand why it’s regarded as a classic. Kurtz, the driving force of the story, exists mainly through reputation and other characters extolling him, rather than any of his actions. “Mr. Kurtz was the best agent he had, an exceptional man…” “I was then rather excited at the prospect of meeting Kurtz very soon…” “I was cut to the quick at the idea of having lost the inestimable privilege of listening to the gifted Kurtz…” It’s as if Conrad had never heard of ‘show, don’t tell’. Then inevitably, finally meeting Kurtz seems like a huge anti-climax. Nor did I find the supposed anti-colonial themes compelling. Perhaps when it was written they were more shocking, but the fact that colonialism was not all sweetness and light hardly qualifies as a revelation these days.

Oh and by the end if Conrad title-dropped the words “heart” and “darkness” one more time I was quite ready to drop dead muttering “the horror! the horror!” myself.

Review: Masters of Doom

Masters of DoomMasters of Doom by David Kushner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say first of all, what a fantastic choice of topic! It’s amazing what an influence ID have had in computer games and beyond, and I was delighted to find a book like this had been written.

And very well written it is too. Kushner has researched his topic in incredible depth, as is made clear from the author’s notes at the back of the book including how many people he interviewed. More than that he strings all the disparate details into a compelling story. Clearly the author is a fan of the two Johns and the other people involved, but he doesn’t shy away from presenting their flaws.

My only quibble is that there could be more detail in places, especially on Carmack’s significant technical achievements.

Review: Starship Titanic

Starship TitanicStarship Titanic by Terry Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had always thought this book was more of a close collaboration (à la Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, one of my all-time favourites). However it turns out that Adams spent his time on the computer game of the same name, with Terry Jones writing this novel based on the setting pretty much on his own.

So it’s somewhat unfair to compare it with other works actually written by DNA. That’s fortunate, because it doesn’t stand up too well. There are a few great Adams-esque elements – the bomb springs to mind. But much of the book is taken up with unexpected raunchiness and dull relationships.

This would probably have been a 2 star review for the book, but it gets bumped up one because I listened to the audiobook version, recorded by Terry Jones himself. He does a great job with that at least, including some hilarious screaming!

Review: Notes from a Big Country

Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson.

I loved the other Bryson books I’ve read (A Short History… and Notes From a Small Island), so had high hopes for this one. To be honest I found it a little disappointing. There are still some hilarious moments (the first encounter of Bryson’s head with a football comes to mind), and witty observations. But I hadn’t realised this book was a compilation of newspaper columns, and they do become a bit formulaic after reading many of them. Still worthwhile, but I’d recommend Notes From a Small Island over this.

3/5 stars.

Review: Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion

I think I’ll start copying my short reviews of what I’ve been reading here from Goodreads. This is the first:

Yes!: 50 secrets from the science of persuasion by Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin, Robert B. Cialdini

I did think that Cialdini’s famous “Influence” was more valuable for studying the underlying principles in depth, and would highly recommend that book to anyone. “Yes!” covers much of the same material more briefly. However this is still a quick and interesting read, with some great examples. One of the chapters in this book helped us boost response rates by around 20% with a simple change to our marketing!

4/5 stars.


Just finished reading The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, a collection edited by Richard Dawkins. Though I’m not too keen on his militant atheism, for once he manages to rein it in and concentrate on the excellent science writing. The extracts selected are all great choices; some from works I’ve read previously, some I wanted to read, and some I wasn’t aware of. The brief comments by Dawkins introducing each are also insightful, and help give valuable context. Best of all it was only £6, bargain!