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Vol. XI No.5 May 1 - May 31, 2012


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Book Review: by Lang Reid
 

Life - the Autobiography of Keith Richards

I will own up right at the start.  I have been a fan of the Rolling Stones since the early 60’s.  I have been to a Stones live concert.  “Jumping Jack Flash” has been one of my favorite numbers since the mid-60’s.  As regards a book written by Stones guitarist Keith Richards, you could expect that I would be biased.  Let me assure you, I did not need to be kind in this review.  Life is one of the best books outlining the era of rock music (ISBN 987-0-316-03441-8, Back Bay Books, 2010).

As both Richards and Mick Jagger have grown older (now in their late 60’s) they look just as you would imagine what sex, drugs and rock and roll does to a human body.  And you are quite correct.  They have lived that sex, drugs and rock and roll style, but that is just a facile skim of the surface.  Keith Richards turns out to be quite the philosopher as he recalls the events in his life, from schoolboy to legend.

The book describes his life and attitude to life with a refreshing candour.  As a schoolboy he reminisces that “One half are losers, the other half bullies.”  He then extrapolates that to the Dartford tunnel toll booths.  “It’s legal to take the money and the bullies have uniforms.  You pay, one way or another.”

Keith Richards takes you through the musicians and musical times which began to influence him.  Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane, Little Richard, Fats and of course, Radio Luxembourg.

He describes the feeling on playing their first real gig, “That feeling is worth more than anything.  There’s a certain moment when you realize that you’ve actually left the planet for a little bit and that nobody can touch you.”

The tie-up between himself and Jagger is interesting.  Richards came from the ‘wrong’ side of town, whilst Jagger actually came from reasonably well-to-do parents who could afford to send him to grammar school and then the London School of Economics.  Despite the disparate backgrounds they immediately hit it off.

Richards shares an affinity with black music which extends to black musicians and even to black women, who he finds are much more accepting than the British women.

To garner their ‘bad boy’ image, the Stones management used the media to the band’s advantage, setting up the band to be thrown out of a hotel at a particular time, so the press could be in place waiting.  Richards remembers this with all the cynicism that it deserves - but it got the Rolling Stones the publicity that was needed at that time.

Groupies get their mention, Rastafarians, a son dying aged two months, the bust-up with Jagger, broken strings on stage and a recipe for bangers and mash.  It is a frank, warts and all book.

B. 545 for about the same number of pages.  This book is for anyone who has lived through the post-war era, and especially post-war Britain which gave birth to the Rolling Stones.  In reading this book, you will even find how a gardener ended up as “Jumping Jack Flash”!


Deadly Animals

One of the most eye catching covers, Deadly Animals by Gordon Grice (ISBN 978-0-241-95129-3, Penguin, 2012) just had to be taken home to read all about “savage encounters between man and beast”.

Author Grice has collected an enormous data bank and comes up with some very interesting statistics.  For example, the most dangerous large animal in the US turns out to be the dog, with 4.7 million dog bites inflicted on humans in one year.  In the UK 5,000 posties are nipped each year.

Grice explains that the domestic dog is merely part of the wolf family and belong in a dominance hierarchy.  Seeing themselves as fairly lowly members of the human clan, a dog will try to dominate weaker humans, especially children, and goes on to describe the deaths and injuries inflicted upon children by the family pet.

The narrative tends to be somewhat ghoulish, with for example the tale of a young girl kept in after school in Belarus who then had to go home alone.  When she was late, the father went looking for her.  “On a stretch of snow darkened by blood and marked by the prints of wolves, he discovered her severed head.  He later killed the teacher.”

Bears are dealt with in detail and the most dangerous to us humans is the sloth bear, racking up 735 attacks on humans with 48 fatalities over a five year period in Central India.

The big cats, lions, tigers, leopards, pumas all have a record of killing humans (tigers having killed 12,599 in the last century), and the job of a lion tamer is definitely hazardous.  Wild animals are never domesticated, but will seize the upper hand one day.

Aquatic creatures get their mention, with sharks certainly near the top of the bill, but other swimmers such as the orca (killer whale) are much more dangerous.  And do not forget the box jellyfish and its fatal stings.  Interestingly, one of Thailand’s prominent business people was attacked by a dolphin, requiring operation for a ruptured liver.

Many other chapters follow, with reptiles and birds, arthropods and worms, other mammals (including elephants, which anyone living in Thailand knows are dangerous) right down to rodents and bats.

At B. 430 it is not an expensive book, but I felt the encounters were more between beast and man, than between man and beast.  I felt that Grice goes into gratuitous detailing of the deaths of some unfortunates and how the muscle was ripped from the bone, or skulls crushed and the eyes popping out.  Really, all I needed to know was that the person was killed.

Once again, I also wish to complain about the paper stock used by Penguin.  After a couple of reads, the letters will have worn off the pages, and the reproduction of the photographs is dreadful, with smudgy grey on grey.  The interest provided by the text then gets diluted by the poor reproduction.  Penguin has been publishing since 1935, and I expect better after 77 years of being in the game.  I realize that times are tough, but please do not lower your standards, Penguin!


The Complete Encyclopedia of Flight (1848-1939)

Many years ago I had a Maiden Aunt who had been a member of the WAF (Women’s Air Force), who gave me a wonderful book on aviation, and she inscribed it with the words, “Hoping you enjoy planes as much as I have done.”

I did find planes interesting, but they never caught my imagination as much as some other boyhood interests.  However, when I saw The Complete Encyclopedia of Flight (1848-1939) (ISBN 13: 978-90-366-1600-3, Rebo International, 2006) on the Bookazine shelves it rekindled my interest.

The Complete Encyclopedia of Flight (1848-1939) was illustrated by John Batchelor and the text from Malcolm V Lowe.  When the Wright brothers were the first to make a powered flight with a pilot, I was somewhat taken aback that this encyclopedia should start in 1848.  Only by reading the introduction you are introduced to people such as John Stringfellow, who made steam engine powered gliders (but no pilot) and Sir George Cayley who made some very advanced gliders in the mid-1800’s, which carried a boy, and later another one which carried his terrified coachman, the first recorded flight of a man in 1853.  So, the book reveals many people who pre-dated the Wright brothers, but did not manage powered flight, under the control of a pilot, as did the Wrights in 1903.

After the introduction, the individual planes are examined and there are notes covering the builder, any war experience with the plane and other items of interest including specifications.  This covers details such as Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris in 1927, 4,210 nautical miles covered in thirty three and a half hours, solo.

Many of the planes and their manufacturers I had never heard of, which made the encyclopedia even more interesting. For example, Breguet, Cierva Autogyros, Caudron, Santos-Dumont, Friedrichshafen, Hansa Brandenburg and even an Albatross.  Of course there are makes which most of us have heard of, including the German Junkers, Caproni, Dornier, Fokker, De Havilland, Hawker, and of course the Spitfire gets its rightful place, as does Von Richthofen, the Red Baron, with his famous ‘dreidecker’ Fokker triplane.

Fascinating history such as Boeing, which began making planes in 1916, and how when the rudimentary planes went to war in 1914, the machine gunner could saw off his own propeller until natty machines were invented to time the bullets to go between the blades.  There was even one idea which deflected the bullets at 45 degrees, to miss the prop, and probably missed all the enemy planes as well.

The book looks at sea planes as well as the more usual undercarriage, and I did not know that Amundsen tried to reach the North Pole in a Dornier Wal seaplane.

At B. 630 this is an excellent reference source.  Gloss pages, beautifully printed, hard cover - everything an aviation enthusiast would want.  It is as promised on the front cover, a comprehensive guide to aviation between 1848 and 1939.  My Maiden Aunt, long since departed to the airfields in the sky would have been most impressed, by both the book, and my enjoyment of it.


A Night to Remember

We have been going through a nostalgic wave of Titanic proportions with the 100 year anniversary this month of the sinking of the “unsinkable” ship.  That being the case, I felt the Book Review column may as well follow on, and Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember (ISBN 978-0-141-39969-0, 1956 but reprinted 2012, Penguin Books) the classic best selling account of the sinking of the Titanic beckoned from the local Bookazine shelves.

It is a very easy book to read.  Walter Lord’s prose in not one full of flowery adjectival phrases, no judgments, no hyperbole, but just well written from his interviews with survivors.  The events leading up to and the eventual sinking itself do not need dramatic staccato phraseology to convey what happened.  The real-life stories tell it all without embellishment.  The irony of the second class passengers having a choir practice on the sinking Sunday night, which ended with the hymn “For those in peril on the sea,” could not have been made up.  Leonard DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were not needed.

There are two sets of photographic plates, with even one photograph of the iceberg which holed the Titanic, leading to its sinking.  The others show the opulence of that class of liner.

At the back of the book is the complete passenger list, with those who survived in italics.  Those were very different days.  Amongst those who perished were Colonel J.J. Astor and Manservant, but Lady J.J. Astor and Maid were saved.  Very few people today would be traveling with a manservant and a maid!

The rescue of the survivors and the handling of the (mis)information by the media of the day ranged from banner headlines to say everyone saved and the Titanic being towed to port to total loss and then the survivors began embellishing their experiences, as well they might.

One observation that one cannot help making is the stoicism of the passengers aboard the ill-fated Titanic.  Those that were left without lifeboats were not storming the davits or abusing the crew.  Walter Lord wrote, “Down in the engine room no one even thought of getting away.  Men struggled desperately to keep the steam up, the light lit, the pumps going.”  Compare that with today and the pandemonium that can ensue even at a football match.  The “Me” generation seems to have forgotten how to keep emotions under control.  Or perhaps modern culture thinks self-control unnecessary and works on the “Pull the ladder in Jack, I’m aboard.”  Mention is made of the Costa Concordia which foundered on January 13 of this year.  Comparisons between the Costa Concordia’s captain and Captain Smith of the Titanic are odious.

At B. 385 this is a bargain.  It was meticulously researched by the original author Walter Lord, who unfortunately died in 2002, and we have now a foreword by Julian Fellowes and an introduction by Brian Lavery.  If you have more than just a passing interest in the events of that fateful night, you will enjoy this book.  The New York Times reported this book as “Stunning, incomparably the best on its subject.”  I concur.


 
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Life - the Autobiography of Keith Richards

Deadly Animals

The Complete Encyclopedia of Flight (1848-1939)

A Night to Remember
 

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