Book Review : The trial

The Trial (53)

by Franz Kafka

There’s only a handful of authors who get their own adjectives. The most famous is probably one of my favourite authors, George Orwell and the term ‘Orwellian’ which describes a policy of brutal control (usually by a government) usually including propaganda, misinformation, surveillance and ‘doublespeak’.

Franz Kafka is one of the only other authors who have their own adjective…however ‘Kafkaesque’ whilst often confused with ‘Orwellian’ means something totally different. You see whilst the techniques used in Orwellian novels are clear…in Kafka it’s never particularly clear whats going on!

It’s why Kafkaesque means ‘having a nightmarish, illogical or bizarre quality’ and “The Trial” optimises the Kafka style.

It’s about a man who gets accused of a crime. Throughout the story the man (or the reader) never finds out the specifics of the crime.

Not only does the man receive any clarity about his crime, there’s also a massive amount of confusion about how he defends himself and how to prove his innocence. Whilst there are apparent laws (and courts and judges) in this dystopia the main character never works out how to navigate a legal system which seems to have rules, but where so much remains unclear…

The book is a darkly comedic look at a world where bureaucracy reigns, the ‘powers that be’ are unknown. Think of dealing with your local council but far far worse.

It’s also a book which paints a picture of a society where all too often dictatorships have used to control the populous. It’s disturbing that this was written and published before the rise of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia where ‘Kafkaesque’ techniques were used in both countries and in many more dictatorships across the world even today…

So, whilst Kafka ‘The Trial’ isn’t always a particularly easy read it’s a darkly amusing interesting book worth a few hours of your time.

Book Review – Socrates defence

Socrates defence (52)

by Plato

Socrates, one of the fathers of western philosophy, was an interesting man. He was considered to be wise, but also controversial and his demise came when he started to question fellow ‘wise men of Athens’ only to realise that, erm, they wasn’t as smart as they said they were…

His argument was a plain one. Many of the men in Athens considered wise thought they knew it all. Socrates on the other hand said the reason these rich powerful leaders of Athens were far from being wise was because they failed to admit that didn’t know everything and still had much to learn.

This upset a bunch of people in Athens and suddenly Socrates found himself on trial for ‘corrupting the youth of Athens’ but seemed like a thinly veiled attempt to ensure that the ‘wise men of Athens’ got their revenge.

This book, written by student of Socrates and fellow philosopher Plato, tells the story of Socrates’s trail using the words of the man himself as he mounted a defence for the crimes he’d been accused of.

What’s interesting about this little book (on of Penguins ‘little black books’) is how modern it sounds and then you realise that this actual speech was given over two thousand three hundred years ago.

This could be a modern story set in a courtroom but instead it’s the story of one of our greatest philosophers sentenced to death due to the fact that he’d annoyed and upset a couple of ‘VIPs’.

The other thing that surprised me was how insightful this small book is. From it you can clearly understand why Socrates was such a big influence on the people of Athens and such a threat to the elite and powerful.

At the end, just after he is sentenced to death Socrates remains pragmatic and philosophical and jokes that it might have been more efficient at the grand old age of 70 to wait for him to die than force him through the courts.

However the book is well worth reading a provides an insight into one the great ancient philosophers.

Book Review : The automatic millionaire

The automatic millionaire (51)

by David Bach

There’s plenty of books about how to improve how we manage money. From how to invest and what to invest in, to what you need to consider when you divorce (or get married) all the way through to some of the non financial factors you should consider when building your financial plan.

However many financially related books I’ve read often suffer from a fatal flaw…

They don’t recognise that often we’re our own worst enemies.

You see we might have the best of intentions to save for our financial futures but often if it’s even remotely difficult we don’t take action which our future selves will thank us for…so that we can satisfy ourselves today.

Interestingly whilst the ‘pay yourself first’ concept in David Bachs book isn’t particularly new, what is useful about ‘the automatic millionaire’ is the way that David recommends you automate the processes of saving.

This can be done in a number of ways including direct debits and automatic transfer. You see the authors absolutely fair point is that the less we need to think about saving the more we’ll do it and making the process of saving easy (as well as saving before we pay all our other costs) is the logical first step.

In the book David also explores how to repay debt early and what you should consider when paying down debt.

I like this book.

It’s insightful, simply written and contains straightforward easy to follow tips designed to improve your financial future.

The only challenge I had was the fact that (for some strange reason) the version of the book which I purchased was the Canadian version,so whilst I learned a decent amount about the strategies, some of the more practical steps were specific to Canada. (the lesson – ensure you get the copy of this book designed for your particular company)

However there’s plenty to learn in the automatic millionaire, particularly if you want to put in place automatic habits in your life designed to improve your financial situation.

Book Review : The great fire of London

The great fire of London (50)

by Samuel Pepys 

In a bookshop near you (or alternatively on Amazon) you’ll find a bunch of books available for the bargain price of 80p.

The penguin ‘little black classics’ collection include short stories from the likes of Jane Austen and HG Wells, Ancient tales from Homer (no, not that one!), Philosophy from Voltaire, Neitzsche and Plato as well as diary entries from across the ages including snippers of the diary of Charles Darwin and the one I’ve recently read…

The diary of Samuel Pepys.

For those of you who are little sketchy on the background of Mr Pepys he was an avid 17th century diary writer who whilst living in London and working for the navy wrote about his experiences in London, the 2nd dutch war, the plague which was spreading across the country at the time and vivid descriptions of the great fire of London…

This small 50 odd page book shares some of the diary entries from Pepys and talks about all of these things but focuses the last half of the book on his experiences during the fire which in the 1666 bought much of his knees.

Whilst this book is short and the language often tough to understand it’s an interesting read…especially if you spend any sort of time in London. Many of the London streets and locations Pepys visits on his travels will be familiar to those who call London home and it’s a salutatory reminder of the history of the place many of us love.

It also paints a picture of a city in Chaos with buildings being intentionally demolished to try to stop the fire spreading, individuals (including Pepys) burying their valuable possessions in their gardens for ‘safe keeping’ and the boats of the Thames full of people and possessions running from the fire.

Overall, and despite being a little dull in parts, it’s well worth spending an hour or so with this particular book, especially if you know London and want to have a greater insight into the history of our fantastic city.

Book Review : Habit Stacking

Habit Stacking – 97 small changes which take five minutes or less (49)

by S.J Scott

Whilst 2016 has been a bit of a rubbish year when you view it from the prism of political instability or celebrity deaths…I must admit I’ve loved 2016!

My health has improved, I’m reading (and writing) more than ever before, I’m loving the time I spend with my family and the business is evolving as it should (although on all of these counts I’m working hard to ensure we remain on track)

Whilst I can’t put my finger on one thing I’ve done which has meant that I’ve enjoyed 2016 so much…one of the things which springs to mind is the fact that I’ve improved many of my habits. I exercise early in the morning virtually every day, I read every night and I try to continuously see what small changes I can make to make improvements.

That’s why when Cassie purchased ‘Habit Stacking – 97 small changes which take five minutes or less’ I was intrigued and picked it up.

This book, written by seemingly prolific self publisher and blogger SJ Scott, didn’t rock my world. It didn’t contain any ‘game changing’ ideas but instead was full of practical tips into potentially improving specific areas of your life.

From tips about health, relationships and money all the way thorough to a technique on making gradual improvements by ‘small chunking’ habits it’s a useful book as a reminder of some of the things you might want to adopt as habits in your own life

It’s also short (I read it in a couple of hours) so it’s worth picking up if you’ve got a couple of hours you might want to fill (I’m thinking a train or plane ride somewhere over Christmas!)…

So whilst ‘habit stacking’ isn’t a classic by any means and won’t change your life…it will be a nice reminder of how you might improve some aspects of your life today.

Book Review : On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing (48)

by Stephen King

If you’re going to get good quality advice you want to get this advice from someone who really knows their stuff. Now there are plenty of writers you could approach to get decent advice on how to write however without a shadow of a doubt Stephen King is one of those writers.

If you don’t know Stephen King my first comment would be to ask “where have you been in the past 30 years?”. My second comment would be to explain the fact that Mr King has been responsible for not only some of the greatest horror fiction of the past three decades (Cujo, The Shining, Carrie) but has also shown incredibly versatility by being able to write cross genre (with stories like The Shawshank Redemption, The Running man and The Green mile)

In this particular book Stephen shares what ‘works’ for him when he writes. However before the book gets to share the tools, tips and tricks Stephen uses to write his books he first shows how much of a great storyteller he is.

You see the book starts with a mini biography. In this biography Stephen talks honestly and straightforwardly about his childhood, his upbringing, his family, his addictions, his successes, his failures and everything in between. Now I’m not sure if it was designed to be this way but I felt like the author was, in this particular section of the book, showing us how much of a great storyteller he is instead of just telling us throughout the book and regardless of whether this was intentional or not…it works!

It means that when you get to the section of the book containing the tips, tricks and tools of Stephen Kings trade you are already sold on his skills as a storyteller even if you wasn’t a fan before. Even if you are it’s still a masterclass in solid storytelling.

In the second section of the book, Stephen talks about writing specifically and whilst I don’t want to share anything specific (if you’re into writing you should read the book!) he provides useful nuggets in a bunch of different areas including the writing environment, writing with your audience in mind, editing, simplicity, swearing, grammar and use of language. It’s a testament to the book that as I write this I’m finding myself thinking about how to apply much of what’s shared within the pages of ‘in writing’.

In the relatively small third section of the book Stephen shares an incident which occurred whilst he was writing this particular book. Whilst walking near his home he was hit by a truck and suffered pretty severe injuries.

Stephen tells the story of the incident with undeniable style and flair but also shares his perspective on life since the accident which offers additional insight. For me the fact that his love for writing as well as his resilience and determination shine through.

So, if you’re into writing or want a fascinating insight into the life of one of the most prolific author of our time ‘on writing’ is well worth reading!

Book Review : The paradox of choice

The paradox of choice (47)

by Barry Schwartz

If you live in a modern western country (like the UK) there is an assumption that extensive choice is a positive thing.

After all in free democratic societies the fact that I’ve got the freedom to vote for tens of politics parties can choose hundreds of places to eat, drink, socialise and visit as well as having a choice of millions of products and often hundreds of variations of said products has to contribute rather than detract from our lives.

However in this book Barry Schwartz argues that choice is often a debilitating force as opposed to a positive one and too much choice can often lead to depression and feelings of loneliness.

The arguments contained within the book are framed with decent amounts of evidence on the impact of choice by leading psychologists.

However as well as talking about the impact of too much choice there are also practical insights into how we all might improve how we make choices and the systems we can put in place in our own lives in order to manage choice more effectively.

I really enjoyed this book and whilst many of the findings contained in the book are a duplication of what you might read in other prominent social psychology reads it’s still framed in an interesting way.

There’s also plenty of practical take aways you can use to improve and simplify your choice making today.

I’d recommend The Paradox of choice…but with so many books to choose from will you select it as your next read?

Book Review – High Rise

High Rise (46)

by J G Ballard

Anyone who spends any sort of time in particular parts of London know that in recent years there has been a trend to head skybound.

The shard, One Canada Square and Heron Tower (the 3 tallest buildings in London) have been constructed in the past 25 years with two of these buildings being completed in the past 5 years.

High rises of the present are awesome constructions of glass and steel things were different a few years ago.

When I was growing up in the mid 80’s most high rise buildings consisted of council flats. Now if you want to live high up in London, especially the closer you get to the city or canary wharf, you’ll need an relatively high income…

‘High Rise’ is in parts incredibly prescient.

It predicts the rise of the tower block as a place where high earning professionals might choose to live. It also predicts that living in the sky as an aspiration, despite this book being written in the mid 70’s  when this may not have been the case.

However the dystopian future this book predicts hasn’t come to pass…yet!

It tells three separate stories. A filmmaker who lives on one of the lower floors of the tower block, A doctor who lives near the middle and the architect of the building who lives on top.

The story starts with relative harmony but quickly moves into discord and violence. Before long the people living in the high rise are an insular and feral community where murder and robbery are regular occurrences.

The building itself seems to hold a peculiar power over the residents and many find themselves leaving the building less and less despite the deteriorating conditions and where nobody residing on the building notifying the authorities of the goings on.

As dystopian novels go whilst this wouldn’t rank as highly for me as 1984, Fahrenheit 451 or Brave new world however it is a darkly comic and highly readable novel worth spending a few hours with.

Book Review : Scared of something different

Scared of something different (45)

by Keith Churchouse

Having read a couple of Keith’s’ books I was pleasantly surprised to receive a copy of his new tome, ‘Scared of something different’ through the post earlier this year.

You see whilst his previous books, ‘Sign here, here and here…the journey of a financial adviser’ and ‘The recession is over – Time to grow’ were about the past and present.

His new book is more about what Keith sees as the future of business and shares insights into what he has done in his own business to innovate, change, develop and grow.

There’s plenty of useful and practical tips in the pages of ‘Scared of something different’ and lessons Keith has learned from both the development of his financial planning practice and his online financial planning offering

It’s also a surprisingly honest book. I for one understand the cathartic nature of writing however sometimes the most revealing elements of my writing get lost in the editing process. I like the fact that Keith has kept some of the mistakes he has made in the journey of business ownership and particularly throughout the process of innovating his business in the pages of this book.

On the whole I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it. It provides an interesting perspective on the factors businesses large and small will have to consider to survive in the next few decades and part of the blueprint to get there.

Book Review : This is London

This is London (44)

by Ben Judah

Everyone who spends enough time in London has their own unique perspective on the capital. For each of us the way we see this complex and interesting city but it’s always going to be informed on how and where we’ve spent our time in Town.

You see I love London but my perspective is informed by seeing much of what makes London great. However this book explores a different side of London life often informed by the people who make London their home from other countries.

From beggars, to tube workers, to women in the sex trade, to the domestics of the mega wealthy, Ben often paints an intense, dark, depressing vision of London.

The book often describes how poverty and desperation neighbours affluence and wealth in London.

It also has a number of running themes. One theme is how different the perception and reality of a life in London truly is for so many who call this town their new home. Another is how manipulation and exploitation is prevalent in the shadows of London.

The stories Ben tells are spread far and wide, from East to West, North to South and scarilly in places I’m hugely familiar with like Ilford, Barking and East London.

There’s also glimmers of hope. In particular a love story so sweet it made me cry despite the rest of the book being so dark

I found this book incredibly insightful and interesting.

It’s well researched, intricately described and provides real insight into how many people in London who you might never meet live their lives.

If you’re from London, or even if you’re not, and you want a fresh perspective into a City you think you know well…This is London may be well worth reading.