Category Archives: Non-fiction

My review of Martin William’s ‘Parliament Ltd’…

I have a strong interest in politics and I enjoy reading well researched and informative books so Martin Williams ‘Parliament Ltd: A Journey to the Dark Heart of British Politics’ sits very well alongside books that I have previously enjoyed including George Monbiots ‘Captive State’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/zevxd7g) and Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/grg36v8) as well as James Rickard’s ‘The Death of Money’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/y9zfj6tf) and I would recommend that you hunt out and read both. In ‘Parliament Ltd’, Williams sets out to investigate the financial affairs of MPs, who they work for (besides us) and how much they are paid to do so. It examines the arguments both for and against MPs having second jobs and also looks into the influence that these might have on the way that MPs vote. It is an indictment of our political system that Martin had to invest time and money to research this information which should be freely available for public consumption and this only adds to the feeling that politicians have something to hide.

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‘Parliament Ltd’ makes it clear that, even if Parliament cannot be expressly accused of corruption (despite the best efforts of the author to find some!), the way in which MPs are allowed to work second jobs fosters the perception that they might be less than honest especially when allowed to speak on matters that directly affect those who employ them. It also states that a great many MPs, whom the author spoke to, have an entitled attitude that prevents change from occurring in a system so desperately in need of this change. MPs even seem to be resentful of what limited has improved since the expenses scandal (you’d think they’d want to stop that happening again!) and are resistant to anything that might prevent them from being seen in this light. They can claim for meals they might need following a vote in an evening, even if their residence is around the corner, clearly annoyed the writer and costing the public money that really needn’t be spent and this is only one of the ways in which we subsidise their living (Parliamentary canteens and bars are insane for this!).

 

Parliament Ltd is a thoroughly enjoyable read, a book that covers a dense subject in an accessible and enjoyable way with a light (though sometimes also angry) tone that facilitates a rapid read. It is well researched and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in politics and how our political system got to the point that it currently stands at with trust in the system and MPs continuing at a low ebb. It also makes the case that change is still desperately needed but without pressure from within the system to push thing this is unlikely to happen. I suspect that another crisis such as the expenses scandal or the collapse of our two major political parties would need to occur for anything to actually come of this and I guess we shall see.

 

 

‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers including Amazon UK here: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Finally, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of James Rickards ‘The Death of Money’…

As a writer of science-fiction stories, along with atheist comedies, I have a keen interest in the shape of the future and in the changes that appear to be coming to our world very soon. Things like the creation of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), the loss of jobs due to automation and driverless cars that are being rapidly developed and thus the need for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to offset the loss of these jobs, as well as the impact of humans on our world interests me. I read books like Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/grg36v8) to inform me of what is to come and how I can incorporate it into my writings but also because I have a genuine interest in this subject and ‘The Death of Money: the coming collapse of the international monetary system’ by James Rickards fits squarely into that category.

This book details some of the events that the author thinks are likely to occur and that will shape our world and society during the coming decades, most notably a collapse of the US dollar, but Rickards also covers many other topics including the rise of China, along with the expected fall of that country’s economy, the use of gold by Central banks, and the manipulation of the markets by terrorists among other things. One of the implications that intrigued me most was the way in which countries like the US manipulate their own interest rates to pass inflation onto other nations, something that strikes me as deceptive but, given the number of ways that the US maintains its dominance of the world, this is actually pretty tame. And given that we have been living in a period of exceptionally low interest rates, combined with quantitative easing on a massive scale, also not the biggest issue we face.

 

This book was published in 2014 and the signs that Rickards thesis is correct continue to mount. Recently, several Chinese companies were downgraded by Moody’s leading to fears of a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/24/china-credit-rating-downgraded-moodys-debt). The UK housing bubble and economy looks set to collapse should we actually go through with the whole Brexit debacle. And the effect of having Donald Trump as US president, and all of the insanity that appears on a daily basis, are yet to really be seen and felt. I was convinced before reading this book that we were heading for a financial meltdown and now I am even more certain that this will happen in the near future.

 

Rickards wonders how much longer the dollar will be the reserve currency, not long by the sounds of it, and then the impact on the US will surely be felt. I’m also very curious to see what the resultant fallout will be with the author airing a cautious note in the last few pages about the possibility of America turning into a fascist state with its militarised police, surveillance mechanisms and easily controllable road network. The UK is comparable to the US is a great many ways but personally I am grateful that we have not followed them in adding SWAT teams, drones and APCs to our police forces. And with Donald Trump now in the White House that possibility seems ever more realistic.

 

My feeling is that we are indeed heading for a financial meltdown and that the world that needs to follow it, one where neo-liberalism is no longer the driving force of our economy, AI runs much of our world, UBI is implemented along with shorter weeks, and we put the emphasis on sustainability in a finite world is one possible outcome. Unfortunately, there are other, far more scary outcomes too and there seems to be no way of knowing exactly where we are heading. We shall just have to see. Cheers!

 

‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers including Amazon UK here: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Finally, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

My review of Gary Younge’s ‘Another Day in the Death of America’…

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a non-fiction book on this blog and so this time my post is a review of Gary Younge’s ‘Another Day in the Death of America’, which seems especially poignant given the dramatic result of the US election earlier this week. This book tells the (brief) life-stories of all of the children and teenagers killed by gun violence on a random Saturday in 2013. It was not a special day, just the one that Younge chose at random, and each Chapter of this book is devoted to each of those lives. Younge tells the story of his adopted country (he is British by birth) through the medium of those killed in this manner, which amounted to ten young lives lost to gun violence. These lives were taken in various ways from gangland murders to accidental killings where a loaded firearm went off either though an accident, through a misunderstanding or an act of stupidity, and in each case a young life was lost. Each of their stories are told with care and attention and the loss of these young lives is palpable, the grief caused to their loved ones apparent. This is definitely not light-hearted fare but it is a worthy read, nevertheless.
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It is a sad indictment of America that this is their normal, that the ten children killed on this day, and the countless who will have died before and since, barely warrant news coverage. Some did get attention, but many did not, and even those who did had but the briefest of spotlights. Younge also highlights the disparity in justice served to those who committed these acts, whether by accident or though vicious intent, and demonstrates their varied fates from jail time to the perpetrator never being found. This insane status quo is accepted as the normal and will no doubt continue until something dramatic happens, whatever that might be. And when the death of nearly a dozen children in one day is not considered enough then I do not know what would be. In most other countries these events would justify national coverage, along with a debate to decide on a course of action, but in the US there is only silence.

‘Another Day in the Death of America’ is a remarkable and tragic read. It is thoroughly researched and Younge managed to interview the families of nearly all of the children killed on this day. As he himself says, any other day would’ve produced a different set of stories, but all of them would be linked by the tragedy that continues on everyday in America. Having watched previous presidents try and fail to change the culture that permits this wholesale slaughter, I find it unlikely that the next incumbent will address this problem. I heartily recommend that you read ‘Another Day in the Death of America’ though you may find it a troubling and heartbreaking experience. I know I did but when you are reading how the lives of ten young men were cut short that is unsurprising. What is surprising is that America and its citizens continue to allow this to happen. Eventually, I assume, this will change but with Donald Trump now the incoming President it seems unlikely. For now the killings will continue and many more books like this one could be made. This is a sad state of affairs indeed.

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. It’s sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of Anthony Loewenstein’s ‘Disaster Capitalism’…

A number of books that I have read in the past year have given me a better understanding of the way in which the world actually works and of the future direction it may be heading in, including Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/grg36v8), Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/jo8sekz) and several others besides. All of these have been informative, if a little depressing, to read but none more so than ‘Disaster Capitalism: making a killing out of catastrophe’ from Anthony Loewenstein. Right, onto my review!

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‘Disaster Capitalism’ is an excellently researched and documented work, which covers topics from the way in which private military corporations have profited from wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the stripping of public services in Greece during their crisis (austerity has done the same in the UK, handing public services to private hands), to the way in which private prisons and detention centres are run in the US, UK and Australia in a manner that costs a fortune but achieves little. This book covers a litany of cases where the rich and wealthy maintain their hold on the world by preventing the money that is supposed to help those affected by disaster from reaching them, instead padding their bottom lines.

In a similar manner to Johann Hari’s incredible ‘Chasing the Scream’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/hy8q9gu), Loewenstein travelled the world and talked to many people affected by these policies, and the people and places that he managed to access is impressive. Learning how Haiti has been treated in the time since the 2012 earthquake, seeing how aid is funnelled from the US to non-governmental organisations who then seem to be under no obligation to actually provide the relief that the aid was intended for, is incredibly depressing. Reading as Loewenstein documents efforts by the US to force Haiti to accept the neo-liberalist agenda that prevents the island from allowing its citizens to achieve independence from aid through farming and by other means, and forcing them to work for poverty wages in industrial parks as per the dominant model is awful. And the list of crimes goes on and on.

Now, an awful lot of the problems created in this scenario stem from the inability of the media to actually report on what is happening in the world. Other books I’ve read, such as ‘Triumph of the Political Class’ by Peter Oborne (review here: http://tinyurl.com/jevqp6z ) have made the case that the media are so deeply in bed with politicians that they can no longer do their job properly and I think the case can be made that the same is true of commercial interests. Stories have been recently reported where media outlets, in this case the Telegraph, refused to report on stories that would negatively impact on their sponsors like HSBC. It seems that the media, our primary source of information on the state of the world, has become less than trustworthy and this makes it much more difficult to understand what is broken in and how we fix it.

‘Disaster Capitalism’ is another of those books that, once you’ve read it, your world view will likely be changed. And that’s a good thing. I’m starting to see stories in the media in a different light and I feel I am better able to understand world events as well as how far things need to change, to get away from the current model and towards providing actual disaster relief. And with our ever warming world, the incidence of natural disasters is sure to increase making the need for change ever more urgent.

As with the other, similar non-fiction books I have recently read and reviewed, ‘Disaster Capitalism’ ends on a hopeful note and actually there now seems to be a movement towards change. The tide may finally be turning against this sort of arrangement between private companies and government with an announcement that the US will be reducing the number of privately run prisons (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/18/us-government-private-prisons-use-justice-department https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/18/us-government-private-prisons-use-justice-department). Personally, I’m waiting for the end of neo-liberalism, as predicted in many of the books and articles I read, and for us to finally reach the turning point away from allowing these expensive and ineffective deals and towards something that will actually provide the services intended from the money spent. I can’t wait for that day to come, and hopefully it won’t be too much longer.

Next time, my review of Terry Pratchett’s wonderful ‘A slip of the Keyboard’. Until then…

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TEN reviews with an average of 4.3 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My ‘rambling’ review of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The View from the Cheap Seats’…

In case it isn’t quite clear from my previous ‘rambing’ blog posts, Neil Gaiman is probably my favourite author. I have loved his work for as long as I can remember from reading his and Terry Pratchett’s ‘Good Omens’ in the 90’s as a teenager, to discovering ‘The Graveyard Book’ in my local library many years later, I’ve always read everything of his that I can get my hands on. I’ve enjoyed all of his novels and most of his short-story collections, as well as his excellent comics especially Sandman (which I will be buying in the beautiful omnibus edition when funds allow). I’ve never read anything of Gaiman’s that I didn’t find to be beautifully written and that I didn’t take a lot away from. Anyway, onwards to the review!

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‘The View from the Cheap Seats’ is a non-fiction, mish-mash of many random things such as the introduction to books written by friends of Gaiman, including the late Terry Pratchett, to blog posts taking in such topics as his appearance at the Oscars (from which the title of this book is taken) or a heartbreaking visit to Syria, to musings on friends like Charles Vess or Dave McKean and with ‘View’ Gaiman’s passion is clearly on display. He writes about things that matter to him and that he wants you to care about and everything written by Gaiman is worth reading, in my opinion.

I would always recommend reading Gaiman’s work but ‘View from the Cheap Seats’ is something a little different, something that may be passed over by readers of his due to the fact that it’s not a work of fiction. I would urge people to not do that. Find the time for this sizeable tome, you won’t be disappointed and a lot of worthwhile information will be conveyed to you. I also felt with this volume that Gaiman was almost reading these exchanges to me (as it often feels like when you listen to his audio version of Neverwhere) and that was something I enjoyed very much. He is a writer who is always looking to improve, always striving to be better, and someone who does not want to stay still for too long, nor to repeat what he has already done, something which many writers seem to settle into once a certain level of success and fame is reached. Reading Gaiman always makes me want to be a better writer and I think that is one of the best things about reading his work.

When my wife and I recently saw Gaiman and Amanda Palmer in a New Statesman event, several things stood out. One is how unbelievably talented this pair is (but also how hard they work) as well as how much they adore each other. Second, they obviously give a shit about the world around them and want to do what they can to improve said world. Gaiman’s visit to Syria, and subsequent appearances on news networks, as well as his blog post (which is included here) demonstrate that he would very much like to contribute to both the conversation and to finding a solution to the problems of the world. And given the state of the world, I think most of us know how he feels.

I got the copy that I read from my local library (something I’m sure Gaiman would like) but I may at some point pick up a copy of this book if only to, hopefully, get it signed (along with my hardcover copy of Graveyard book, which I treasure) as well as to work my way back through the frankly ridiculously long list of authors that Gaiman talks about. From Ray Bradbury to Brian Aldiss and many other names along the way, the book could potentially provide you with an impressively long reading list. I will be endeavouring to find the time to add some of these authors to my to-read list, though I have no clue when that will happen, given the stack I seem to permanently be attempting to tackle

I think it’s fair to say that Gaiman is an influence on my writing, probably my biggest influence, and I strive to one day write as well as he does. Maybe if I keep going that will happen. Eventually. ‘Only an atheist’ has already been compared to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett by a reader who reviewed it and I hope that something I write will be compared to Gaiman. Until then, I shall also strive to be the best writer I can be, to aim to keep improving, and to repeat myself as little as possible. In this, Gaiman provides a role model and for that, as much as for his writings, I am grateful. Cheers!

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of Johann Hari’s ‘Chasing the Scream’…

This week I am reviewing Johann Hari’s remarkable non-fiction book, ‘Chasing the Scream’. I have been a fan of Hari’s for a long time, since he first worked for the Independent newspaper in fact, many years ago. His column was always excellent and an essential read for me and when he left that paper, under something of a cloud, I feared that he would leave journalism for good. Fortunately, he did not, instead spending the intervening years writing and researching this stunning non-fiction book about how pointless and futile the drugs war has been and will continue to be until it ends. Anyway, onto my review…

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Chasing the Scream starts with an account of the beginnings of the drugs war that few of us will be familiar with. The tale begins with the person who really started the whole thing and a name that few will have heard: Harry Anslinger. The actions of this man, as head of the nascent Federal Bureau of Narcotics, laid the basis of all that was to come. He also relentlessly hounded Billie Holiday until he caused her death, as Hari recounts in heartbreaking detail. From there we spend time with another notorious drug war name: Arnold Rothstein, the legendary booze-runner and gangster and learn of his contribution to everything that has followed. Then, having laid the groundwork, Hari moves onto the real victims of the drugs war: everyone who has, in some form or other, been forced to participate.

In the next part of the book, Hari visits and talks with people from all sides of the drug war from a former drug dealer undergoing gender reassignment surgery, to the man forcing people in Juarez to see the victims of this war, to a woman murdered for wanting to know what happened to her daughter in Mexico. All of this puts a human face on the cost of this fight and help to show both the reality and the futility of these policies, a fight that Hari shows has been forced upon the world by the US. It also demonstrates how little choice many of the people caught up in all of this violence had during the course of their lives.

Hari also deals with a great many myths that surround drug usage. He explains that the use of mind altering substances is common throughout the animal kingdom and not something unnatural. He demolishes the idea that the reason that most people use drugs is simply because they are addicted. They are not, they use because they enjoy doing so. But for others, it is more complicated and Hari relates the stories of some of their lives. Some use to escape trauma that has been inflicted upon them and we make matters worse by marginalising and criminalising them and making it harder for them to return to any sort of normal life. And for this small minority what is needed more than anything else is our understanding, our help and our compassion. But that is the last thing that they currently get, at least not in most countries.

Towards the end of the book, Hari visits Portugal and then Uruguay, two countries that offer an alternative approach. In Portugal they decriminalised drug use in 2003 and focus their efforts instead on helping addicts. In Uruguay they went one step further and legalised marijuana and both countries have seen remarkable progress and made significant strides since then. They have not descended into anarchy and chaos as some feared, and Hari actually found that neither country wants to go back to the way they were. Now, with the legalisation of this drug in several US states, it feels like things may finally be changing. I really hope they are.

Chasing the Scream is an incredible book that deserves to find as wide an audience as possible and one that will hopefully contribute to the discussion that ends the toxic culture surrounding drug use and criminalisation. This futile fight achieves nothing except hand the drugs trade to criminals and criminalise people who need our help more than our disgust. As with other non-fiction books that I have read and reviewed recently (particularly Paul Mason’s ‘Post-Capitalism’ and George Monbiot’s Captive State) it also offers hope for future that things can change. We have seen the signs that the US may be willing to consider a new approach and I hope this continues.

Personally, my opinion has swung back and forth on this issue. After reading Peter Hitchens ‘The War We Never Fought’ I briefly considered whether prohibition could actually work. Now I do not think that it ever can and that decriminalisation and possibly legalisation is the only way forward. We have had a long, destructive and expensive war that has failed and it is now time to try something new. And Hari is showing us the way. Bravo!

 

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’…

Recently I’ve read and reviewed a short list of non-fiction, mostly politics books from Laurie Penny’s ‘Unspeakable Things’ (http://tinyurl.com/jl5trzc) to Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’ (http://tinyurl.com/jo8sekz) and George Monbiot’s ‘Captive State’ (http://tinyurl.com/zevxd7g) as well as a few others. This week I’m reviewing Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’, a book that is a little different than my other recent reads in that it not only explains how Capitalism got to the point where the author thinks that it will soon collapse, but he also details what might be to come and it is a fascinating read. Onwards to my review!

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In clear and accessible language, Mason talks us through the history of Capitalism and how this economic model, especially the current form of Neo-Liberalism, has driven our world economy to the brink of its own destruction. He explains that this system must inevitably end and that something else take its place. Mason challenges the assumption that Capitalism will always be our economic model, starting from the point that it has not always been so, and moving onward to the changes that are to come. The Postcapitalism model, as seen by Mason, is driven by the rise of information technology, the fall of Labour as the driving force behind value in the production of goods and the desire of information to be free. The internet and the ever increasing connectivity of the next generation is a key part of this coming change and something that, now in place, will be extremely hard to undo. Impossible, I would say.

As someone who has an interest in politics and in the future, I found this a fascinating read and I feel that I can already see much of what Mason addresses becoming reality. Reading this book during the upcoming EU referendum also makes for a fascinating experience. Mason makes the claim that the end of Capitalism and Neo-Liberalism will likely be caused by an outside shock of exactly the sort that the UK leaving the EU might cause. Although that scenario currently seems unlikely, should the UK remain in the EU there is still the possibility that other countries, like Greece , Italy, Spain, may decide that they would prefer not to accept the conditions of remaining and their leaving may be the shock that hastens the end of our current economic model and the move forwards to postcapitalism.

One of the aspects of this coming revolution that fascinates me is that this ongoing change is being driven not by my generation but by the next. I already have an interest in how those younger than me engage with and consume media and, having talked with my younger sister and her friends, it seems that there is a clear difference. I am still stuck buying and owning DVDS, and watching television, though the means by which I access these shows is via the internet. But my sister and her friends don’t own or watch their TV except to have games consoles and internet connections attached to them and all media is consumed through this medium and via streaming services like Netflix. As a result the model for this particular part of their lives has shifted and I only see this change becoming more dramatic. It also changes how her generation access their news, bypassing conventional sources, and pushing them towards different agencies and I find this to be a very interesting thing indeed!

Postcapitalism is a superb book that is accessible and well written and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I can’t recommend it highly enough and if you have any interest in the future, in the end of Capitalism and Neo-liberalism, and in what might replace it in the years to come, then you should read it. I’m glad that I did! Up next time I hope to review either be ‘The Hollowing of Democracy’ or Johann Hari’s ‘Chasing the Scream’. I just have to find the time to actually read them both! Cheers!

 

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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