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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Financial Crisis by Design?

Crowds outside the NYSE in 1929.

There are rumours about a shady group of bankers who orchestrated the financial crisis.  These people work in league with the IMF, the Federal Reserve, and the World Bank, according to the theory.  This looks like a theory dreamed up by a madman, but hang on.  What if it's true?

John Truman Wolfe, the author of Crisis by Design, used to have a high position in the banking world, and he knows his business.  According to this depressing and rather startling book, there is indeed a secretive group of bankers who are above the law, and the financial crisis certainly didn't happen by accident.  He provides plenty of evidence to back this up.  He also includes a horrifying article about exactly how he thinks that Goldman Sachs brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy for their own ends.

John Truman Wolfe also describes how we all need our fix - our fix of debt.  He tells readers why we're in this unsustainable position, and why the policies of most governments, including the U.S. government, are only going to make matters worse.  And that is probably a hell of a lot worse.  So take a good look at the picture above, and think about it carefully.  We are not out of the woods yet!

The author includes a lot of financial advice, but I didn't agree with some of it.  He emphasizes investing in China and Chinese currency.  There are a lot of financial advisers who would oppose taking this kind of action.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Behind the Scenes at the Vatican. The Vatican Diaries by John Thavis

I enjoyed some of this book which consists of a series of articles about different subjects by a veteran Vatican journalist.  Thavis covers topics such as sexual scandals, gay priests and visits of important people to the Vatican.  Some of The Vatican Diaries is extremely amusing, such as President Bush's efforts to get the silent and intellectual Pope Benedict to talk.  I liked these parts of the book, but I wasn't especially interested in the article about the Legions of Christ.  I also found Thavis's opinion of Pope Benedict rather scathing.

This is a good book to read if you want more of an insight about the Vatican, and working as a journalist there.  Thavis has an excelllent blog, so do have a look at it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

* At Least You're in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life by Jennifer Criswell

When Jennifer Criswell finds that her water heater starts erupting into flames in the bath, she thinks to herself, 'At least I'm in Tuscany!'  A pretty American lawyer with Italian ancestry, Jennifer decides to move to Tuscany and fulfill her dreams of living in Italy and writing.  She finds herself saying this mantra a lot, however, because her Italian life doesn't begin well.

Surprisingly, life in the little town of Montepulciano is not idyllic for Jennifer.  Her misadventures include crying in the street, beging gossipped about, and wearing herself out picking grapes.  She has difficulty making friends and finding work.  Italians love drama, but they apparently don't like people crying in public, so they aren't sympathetic.  She also has trouble learning Italian, and her crush on her teacher doesn't help.

This book might actually make you decide NOT  to move to Italy.  It's not easy, and it's a lot of hard work! But it's the most beautiful country in the world, after all, so Jennifer gives it her best shot.

I read this in Italy, and it was perfect holiday reading.  I loved Jennifer's lyrical descriptions of the countryside and amusing tales of her misadventures.  It was an enjoyable change from reading about Americans who move to italy and write about renovations, or their wonderful lives.

I hope that Jennifer writes more books about her life in Italy!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Secret Gospel ofr Ireland by James and Leo Behan

The Secret Gospel of Ireland is a wealth of information about how Catholic theology and philosophy combined with Ireland's early laws and love of learning led to the great ideas of Western civilisation.  For example, early Christianity resulted in the Law of Adomnan which prohibited violence against women, children, and churches during warfare. Catholic doctrine about penance and confession and Saint Augustine's ideas of heaven were just some of the important doctrines which set the world on fire, according to the authors.

 Irish monasteries played an essential role in preserving Greek and Roman learning, and the monks set up schools which resulted in the founding of the great universities.

The problem is that there is so much information in the book that it gets a bit tiring and difficult to absorb at times.  It's really necessary to buy it in paperback form, rather than an Ebook, if you're not used to Ebooks.  Otherwise, it becomes hard to absorb.

Behan and Behan imbue the book with lots of myths and legends.  I really enjoyed these more than the rest of the book, I think.  I especially liked the story of  St. Aquinas fighting off a prostitute.  When his wealthy family discovered that he wanted to join the Dominicans, they kidnapped him and took him to their castle in Italy.  His brothers sent a prostitute to his room to tempt it.  Thomas drove the woman from the room with a firebrand, and burned the sign of the cross in the wooden door to protect him from further temptation.

Later that night two angels promised him a life free from carnal desire and lust.

This is an excellent book to read if you want to learn about the importance of Catholic doctrine and Irish learning to the West.

A Lovely Successor to Jane Austen. A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym

A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym 
is a lovely successor to Jane Austen's novels.  Pym shares Austen's capacity to amuse, tart observations and character summations, and her famous use of irony.  I even laughed out loud sometimes when I read this book.  (I was told that this was very rude by my husband!) Anyone who can make high Anglican priests and FabergĂ©
eggs funny deserves a big clap!

The story concerns Wilmet, an elegant English woman in her thirties, who is a little bored with her husband and yearns for her exciting life in Italy during the Second Word War.  Wilmet goes to an extremely high Anglican church and takes a great interest in the priests.  Once she meets handsome and disreputable Piers again, however, she starts taking even more of a n interest in him!

I really enjoyed this book, so I'm looking forward to reading more of Pym's novels.  However,  her heroine, Wilmet, isn't nearly as likeable as Jane Austen's heroines, and she might really annoy some left-leaning people with her snobblishness and old-fashioned attitudes.  (It must be remembered that this book was written in the Fifties).  Her thoughts upset me at times, but I found her endearing when she decided that she was too judgemental and snobbish, and tried to improve! 

Wilmet changes her attitudes during the book, and becomes a somewhat 'softer' person.  It was a pleasure to share the journey with her.

Open Road Media has released a collection of  Ebooks by Barbara Pym, available to U.S. readers.

Here is a charming excerpt from A Glass of Blessings:


Monday, March 11, 2013

The Art of Betrayal by Gordon Corera

I am still reading and enjoying this book about the secret history of MI6. I like spy novels, so I am pleased to find that the real world of spying is just as exciting as the fictional one. It's full of exciting escapes, safe houses, and strange and innovative ideas.

The terrible story of the long cover-up of Kim Philby and the betrayal of the agents sent into Albania was especially fascinating.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Dickens in Love

I haven't finished this yet, but I am enjoying it.  This beautifully written book brings the great writer and his loves to life. It also shows how his loves affected his writing.

There is the beautiful Maria who flirted with Dickens and finally rejected him. She became the silly, flirtatious Dora of David copper field in her shining blue dress. He had a more spiritual relationship with his sister-in-law, who influenced characters such as the meek heroine of Bleak House. I have just got up to Dickens's relationship with his actress mistress, which should be interesting.

This is wonderful reading for anyone interested in Dickens.

Dinner with Churchill

There are a plethora of books about Churchill. Does Dinner with Churchill by Cita Stelzer add anything important?

The answer is emphatically 'Yes'.  This is an excellent study of how the great man used dinner parties to persuade, impress and pick the brains of diplomats and politicians. The book is especially interesting about Churchill's war conferences with Stalin and Roosevelt.

Don't read Dinner with Churchill when you are hungry, however! The descriptions of Pol Rogers champagne, caviar, fillets of sole and succulent roasts might make you too envious

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

New Book about King Arthur. King Arthur's Battle for Britain by Eric Walmsley

In King Arthur's Battle for Britain, Eric Walmsley deftly imagines King Arthur's famous twelve battles, using sources such as Gildas and Nennius.  He makes the courageous war leader come to life.  Detailed descriptions of Arthur's probable war strategies and t he feasts and ceremonies of his times ensure that this is vivid reading.  However, I did feel that the romance and the dialogue were a bit flowery.

This is an interesting book for anyone who loves British history.. It is probably advisable to read it with a map.