Friday, June 17, 2011


The thought this was quite interesting. It's a list of the greatest 100 non-fiction books. It was compiled by the Guardian. I'm mostly posting it so that in the future, I can refer to it and see if I've made an indentation into it. Currently, I'm sitting at a grand total of 4 read out of 100. Which is crap frankly. Better get on the case...


The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes (1980)
Hughes charts the story of modern art, from cubism to the avant garde
The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich (1950)
The most popular art book in history. Gombrich examines the technical and aesthetic problems confronted by artists since the dawn of time
Ways of Seeing by John Berger (1972)
A study of the ways in which we look at art, which changed the terms of a generation's engagement with visual culture

Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari (1550)
Biography mixes with anecdote in this Florentine-inflected portrait of the painters and sculptors who shaped the Renaissance
The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791)
Boswell draws on his journals to create an affectionate portrait of the great lexicographer
The Diaries of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys (1825)
"Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health," begins this extraordinarily vivid diary of the Restoration period
Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)
Strachey set the template for modern biography, with this witty and irreverent account of four Victorian heroes
Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (1929)
Graves' autobiography tells the story of his childhood and the early years of his marriage, but the core of the book is his account of the brutalities and banalities of the first world war
The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933)
Stein's groundbreaking biography, written in the guise of an autobiography, of her lover


Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag (1964)

Sontag's proposition that the modern sensibility has been shaped by Jewish ethics and homosexual aesthetics
Mythologies by Roland Barthes (1972)
Barthes gets under the surface of the meanings of the things which surround us in these witty studies of contemporary myth-making
Orientalism by Edward Said (1978)
Said argues that romanticised western representations of Arab culture are political and condescending


Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
This account of the effects of pesticides on the environment launched the environmental movement in the US
The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock (1979)
Lovelock's argument that once life is established on a planet, it engineers conditions for its continued survival, revolutionised our perception of our place in the scheme of things


The Histories by Herodotus (c400 BC)
History begins with Herodotus's account of the Greco-Persian war
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1776)
The first modern historian of the Roman Empire went back to ancient sources to argue that moral decay made downfall inevitable
The History of England by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1848)
A landmark study from the pre-eminent Whig historian
Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt (1963)
Arendt's reports on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and explores the psychological and sociological mechanisms of the Holocaust
The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson (1963)
Thompson turned history on its head by focusing on the political agency of the people, whom most historians had treated as anonymous masses
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970)
A moving account of the treatment of Native Americans by the US government
Hard Times: an Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel (1970)
Terkel weaves oral accounts of the Great Depression into a powerful tapestry
Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuściński (1982)
The great Polish reporter tells the story of the last Shah of Iran
The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm (1994)
Hobsbawm charts the failure of capitalists and communists alike in this account of the 20th century
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Familes by Philip Gourevitch (1999)
Gourevitch captures the terror of the Rwandan massacre, and the failures of the international community
Postwar by Tony Judt (2005)
A magisterial account of the grand sweep of European history since 1945


The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (1990)
An examination of the moral dilemmas at the heart of the journalist's trade
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)
The man in the white suit follows Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters as they drive across the US in a haze of LSD
Dispatches by Michael Herr (1977)
A vivid account of Herr's experiences of the Vietnam war


The Lives of the Poets by Samuel Johnson (1781)
Biographical and critical studies of 18th-century poets, which cast a sceptical eye on their lives and works
An Image of Africa by Chinua Achebe (1975)
Achebe challenges western cultural imperialism in his argument that Heart of Darkness is a racist novel, which deprives its African characters of humanity
The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (1976)
Bettelheim argues that the darkness of fairy tales offers a means for children to grapple with their fears


Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (1979)
A whimsical meditation on music, mind and mathematics that explores formal complexity and self-reference


Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
Rousseau establishes the template for modern autobiography with this intimate account of his own life
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845)
This vivid first person account was one of the first times the voice of the slave was heard in mainstream society
De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905)
Imprisoned in Reading Gaol, Wilde tells the story of his affair with Alfred Douglas and his spiritual development
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence (1922)
A dashing account of Lawrence's exploits during the revolt against the Ottoman empire
The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi (1927)
A classic of the confessional genre, Gandhi recounts early struggles and his passionate quest for self-knowledge
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938)
Orwell's clear-eyed account of his experiences in Spain offers a portrait of confusion and betrayal during the civil war
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)
Published by her father after the war, this account of the family's hidden life helped to shape the post-war narrative of the Holocaust
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (1951)
Nabokov reflects on his life before moving to the US in 1940
The Man Died by Wole Soyinka (1971)
A powerful autobiographical account of Soyinka's experiences in prison during the Nigerian civil war
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (1975)
A vision of the author's life, including his life in the concentration camps, as seen through the kaleidoscope of chemistry
Bad Blood by Lorna Sage (2000)
Sage demolishes the fantasy of family as she tells how her relatives passed rage, grief and frustrated desire down the generations


The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (1899)
Freud's argument that our experiences while dreaming hold the key to our psychological lives launched the discipline of psychoanalysis and transformed western culture


The Romantic Generation by Charles Rosen (1998)
Rosen examines how 19th-century composers extended the boundaries of music, and their engagement with literature, landscape and the divine


The Symposium by Plato (c380 BC)
A lively dinner-party debate on the nature of love
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (c180)
A series of personal reflections, advocating the preservation of calm in the face of conflict, and the cultivation of a cosmic perspective
Essays by Michel de Montaigne (1580)
Montaigne's wise, amusing examination of himself, and of human nature, launched the essay as a literary form
The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton (1621)
Burton examines all human culture through the lens of melancholy
Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes (1641)
Doubting everything but his own existence, Descartes tries to construct God and the universe
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume (1779)
Hume puts his faith to the test with a conversation examining arguments for the existence of God
Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (1781)
If western philosophy is merely a footnote to Plato, then Kant's attempt to unite reason with experience provides many of the subject headings
Phenomenology of Mind by GWF Hegel (1807)
Hegel takes the reader through the evolution of consciousness
Walden by HD Thoreau (1854)
An account of two years spent living in a log cabin, which examines ideas of independence and society
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859)
Mill argues that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others"
Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (1883)
The invalid Nietzsche proclaims the death of God and the triumph of the Ubermensch
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (1962)
A revolutionary theory about the nature of scientific progress


The Art of War by Sun Tzu (c500 BC)
A study of warfare that stresses the importance of positioning and the ability to react to changing circumstances
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)
Machiavelli injects realism into the study of power, arguing that rulers should be prepared to abandon virtue to defend stability
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1651)
Hobbes makes the case for absolute power, to prevent life from being "nasty, brutish and short"
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (1791)
A hugely influential defence of the French revolution, which points out the illegitimacy of governments that do not defend the rights of citizens
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
Wollstonecraft argues that women should be afforded an education in order that they might contribute to society
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848)
An analysis of society and politics in terms of class struggle, which launched a movement with the ringing declaration that "proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains"
The Souls of Black Folk by WEB DuBois (1903)
A series of essays makes the case for equality in the American south
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949)
De Beauvoir examines what it means to be a woman, and how female identity has been defined with reference to men throughout history
The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon (1961)
An exploration of the psychological impact of colonialisation
The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan (1967)
This bestselling graphic popularisation of McLuhan's ideas about technology and culture was cocreated with Quentin Fiore
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
Greer argues that male society represses the sexuality of women
Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman (1988)
Chomsky argues that corporate media present a distorted picture of the world, so as to maximise their profits
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (2008)
A vibrant first history of the ongoing social media revolution


The Golden Bough by James George Frazer (1890)
An attempt to identify the shared elements of the world's religions, which suggests that they originate from fertility cults
The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)
James argues that the value of religions should not be measured in terms of their origin or empirical accuracy


On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)
Darwin's account of the evolution of species by natural selection transformed biology and our place in the universe
The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynmann (1965)
An elegant exploration of physical theories from one of the 20th century's greatest theoreticians
The Double Helix by James Watson (1968)
James Watson's personal account of how he and Francis Crick cracked the structure of DNA
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)
Dawkins launches a revolution in biology with the suggestion that evolution is best seen from the perspective of the gene, rather than the organism
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)
A book owned by 10 million people, if understood by fewer, Hawking's account of the origins of the universe became a publishing sensation


The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pisan (1405)
A defence of womankind in the form of an ideal city, populated by famous women from throughout history
Praise of Folly by Erasmus (1511)
This satirical encomium to the foolishness of man helped spark the Reformation with its skewering of abuses and corruption in the Catholic church
Letters Concerning the English Nation by Voltaire (1734)
Voltaire turns his keen eye on English society, comparing it affectionately with life on the other side of the English channel
Suicide by Émile Durkheim (1897)
An investigation into protestant and catholic culture, which argues that the less vigilant social control within catholic societies lowers the rate of suicide
Economy and Society by Max Weber (1922)
A thorough analysis of political, economic and religious mechanisms in modern society, which established the template for modern sociology
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)
Woolf's extended essay argues for both a literal and metaphorical space for women writers within a male-dominated literary tradition
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans (1941)
Evans's images and Agee's words paint a stark picture of life among sharecroppers in the US South
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)
An exploration of the unhappiness felt by many housewives in the 1950s and 1960s, despite material comfort and stable family lives
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
A novelistic account of a brutal murder in Kansas city, which propelled Capote to fame and fortune
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968)
Didion evokes life in 1960s California in a series of sparkling essays
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973)
This analysis of incarceration in the Soviet Union, including the author's own experiences as a zek, called into question the moral foundations of the USSR
Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault (1975)
Foucault examines the development of modern society's systems of incarceration
News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez (1996)
Colombia's greatest 20th-century writer tells the story of kidnappings carried out by Pablo Escobar's Medellín cartel


The Travels of Ibn Battuta by Ibn Battuta (1355)
The Arab world's greatest medieval traveller sets down his memories of journeys throughout the known world and beyond
Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869)
Twain's tongue-in-cheek account of his European adventures was an immediate bestseller
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West (1941)
A six-week trip to Yugoslavia provides the backbone for this monumental study of Balkan history
Venice by Jan Morris (1960)
An eccentric but learned guide to the great city's art, history, culture and people
A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977)
The first volume of Leigh Fermor's journey on foot through Europe - a glowing evocation of youth, memory and history
Danube by Claudio Magris (1986)
Magris mixes travel, history, anecdote and literature as he tracks the Danube from its source to the sea
China Along the Yellow River by Cao Jinqing (1995)
A pioneering work of Chinese sociology, exploring modern China with a modern face
The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald (1995)
A walking tour in East Anglia becomes a melancholy meditation on transience and decay
Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban (2000)
Raban sets off in a 35ft ketch on a voyage from Seattle to Alaska, exploring Native American art, the Romantic imagination and his own disintegrating relationship along the way
Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa (2002)
Vargas Llosa distils a lifetime of reading and writing into a manual of the writer's craft

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Generally, I look forward to Thursday's. They are the last day of the working week. In the afternoon, it has been the case that one of two things occur. The first that I have a class taking English tests or I would have nothing specific planned and can spend the time cleaning up or finishing things off. Both of which can be quite relaxing to a certain extent.

However, all that seems to be a distant memory. Take today for instance. I had class at HQ all morning. Then had to travel back to my office. Check on my new staff member, then literally get ready to go back out for meetings. Once the meeting had finished, I could then get back to my office and sit down for 5 minutes. By which time it was officially time to go but not for me. I had things to do. Finally I thought 'enough' and decided it was time to go. I could have stayed and perhaps should have. After a busy week though, it tends to be the case that when you can go, you do. That can be applied to all manner of scenarios, not just work related ones.

So in essence Thursday's should be enjoyable. But they are not. Next Thursday is the final day before I go on holiday. I'd love to say that I'll be out on time but I just can't see it. Oh the joys of working.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I do like statistics. Up to a point of course. When they are on your side for instance.

Exhibit A

Recruitment give English tests to potential new recruits. Those that pass go onto the next part which is usually the interview stage. Should they get through then they get a job. Seems fairly straightforward. Now, when they join their test result should be passed on to our department so that we can record it and keep the data in their Training file. Again, so far so good. The trouble has been that Recruitment aren't the best at sharing information. Finally though, we now have access to their files. In the files it gives details of the new joiner along with their English test result and corresponding percentage. I was checking over the data for a certain test. This particular test has a pass mark of 70%. In total there were 68 entries on the list. Of the 68, 31 of them had scored exactly 70%. I felt that was 'unusual'. Nearly half had scored the exact pass mark. I think it works out at 46% of them had scored the pass mark.

Exhibit B

I have been using a very similar test to the test that had generated all those 70%'s mentioned above. In fact, I have a record of all the scores from 2009 and 2010. So, I checked all the people who had taken that particular level of test and what they had actually scored. In total, 587 people had sat the test. I dug a little deeper and found that of those 587 people, 27 of them had scored exactly 70%. That works out at 4.5% of the test takers had scored exactly 70%.

Of course statistics can be manipulated to suit any purpose or any argument. However, how can it be that 31 out of 68 scored that exact score, whilst over a period of 2 years only 27 out of 587 had scored the exact score of 70%.

You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes/Columbo/Rebus/Poirot/Inspector Morse/the CSI team * to figure out that something ain't quite right.

* delete as appropriate.

So, the question has been asked. What's going on?

I'm patiently waiting on the answer. If they are legitimate scores then all well and good and I certainly stand corrected. Necessary apologies will be made. If however something else is going on, well, let's see.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Two stag parties have been 'arranged'. When I say 'arranged', I mean, I know how one is going to pan out bu I don't know how the other will. In fact, I don't really know what's going to happen full stop. I know where it is and when but that's about it.

I'll start with what I know. The Dubai one. This one is relatively straight forward. I organised it and I have decided what's going on. It has a Bollywood or Hollywood theme. Basically invitees have to dress up as a famous Bollywood or Hollywood character. Dead easy, you would think. At least I'm not the only numpty dress up. Mostly that will be for people at work. They have been warned. No attempt to dress up and get into the spirit of it means that I will make no attempt to open the front door - the party is at my place. I hope everyone does make an effort. I've given 6 weeks notice so really there is no real excuse at all.

The second one is the 'home' one i.e. Scotland, somewhere. I know it's on but what, I don't exactly know. There are activities during the day and most likely boozing at night. As I say, I don't really know what to expect. I know for sure that I'll get well and truly stitched up. Somehow. I'll have to keep my wits about me. That will be the hard bit. I'm not expecting the Hangover part 1 or 2. No tigers. No Mike Tyson. No naked Chinese bloke. No casino's. I think.

Either way, I hope they go well. I don't particularly like having something for 'me' but needs must. I just hope all my hair remains and I retain some dignity.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


Oh yes, the food. As I mentioned, we were at the Burj Al Arab for afternoon tea.

Now, I thought afternoon tea was simply tea (or coffee) and scones and jam. How wrong was I?


It started off with a glass of champagne. Clearly, if you are offered a glass of champers you're not going to say no are you? I only had one though. I was being disciplined.

Whilst we were given our champagne the menu was explained to us. It was 7 courses long. What the hell?! Seven courses?! I don't even eat 7 times in a day let alone in one sitting. Being the man I am I took it in my stride and thought 'I can do it'. And I did to the best of my ability.

First up was the fruit. A nice place to start. It made me feel healthy particularly given that 6 more courses were to come.

Then the sandwiches. Often I would take sandwiches to work for my lunch. Mostly because there is not a lot of selection at work. My sandwiches are generally either chicken or turkey. These sandwiches were lush however and infinitely better then my own pathetic attempts. They even had different coloured bread!

Then came the scones and the cakes. The best part and the bit you want the most. Three different kinds of jams as well: Strawberry, orange and passion fruit. It would have been rude not to try each. So I did.

Oh hold on, did I mention the carvery between the sandwiches and the scones? And the raspberry sorbet to cleanse the palate?

Finally came the sweets. I honestly couldn't manage them. I did what I could but really, I was so full. But in a good way.

All washed down with green tea and a cafe latte whilst in the background a pianist did his stuff on the grand piano. As well as belting out Happy Birthday to an unsuspecting better half who heard it and thought 'oh, it's someone's birthday' yet did not realise that it was actually her birthday. The fool!

Money well spent. Not an everyday thing but definitely as a special treat. Easily 9/10.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


Saturday saw us head to the Burj Al Arab for afternoon tea.

It funny because everyone knows of it but I have not met anyone that has actually been in it. The reason is because it's on it's own island and there are big security gates on the mainland to prevent people getting to it. This time though, I had code. The code that would let me through the security gate.

The first 'great' thing was getting into the taxi and announcing to the driver 'Burj Al Arab please'. I didn't need to say anything else. He knew. And so did I.

Once there we were directed to the 1st floor. It's kind of a strange place because it's open right to the top of the building. It's essentially a big 'cave'. A nice one, granted but that's the feeling you get. It's bright, colourful and definitely not understated. I was really sure of the 'theme'. It's part Arabic, but part glam. It's almost a mish mash of styles. It's like they couldn't really decide so incorporated everything.

Take the floor, it was essentially a roman mosaic. 

I kind of felt slightly out of place in my suit but I need not have been. There were a few ordinary Joe's in. In fact we did see a footballer - Kolo Toure of Manchester City. He was on the same floor as us, in fact he walked past us. He then took the escalator down but immediately upon getting on decided he didn't want to go down. He tried to run back up it but couldn't. So, off he went all the way down, only to come all the way back up. All that money and he can't even use an escalator.

I'll write about what we actually had for afternoon tea later, but after it we headed up to the Skybar on the top floor. You know, just for peek and a cocktail. Fairly steep prices for a cocktail, let me tell you. But the view was something. Not really to look at, but in terms of the height. You don't realise how high up it is.

Given it is likely that it's the only time I'll be there, we went to the lobby and then outside and got a bit touristy. Took some photos blah blah. Well, you would wouldn't you? I had no qualms about it. I wasn't the only one.

I thought they might offer to drop us home in one of the Rolls Royce's sitting near the front door. Alas, it wasn't to be and we had to settle for a Toyota Camry i.e. a taxi home. Oh well.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


Yes, the missus' birthday was a success. Thankfully. Getting appropriate gifts isn't always my forte but I do what I can. This time, I have arranged a little trip to the Burj Al Arab for afternoon tea this coming Saturday. You can't even get close to the Burj as it is on it's own little island. The security gate is on the 'mainland' and generally that's as close a you get. This time though, I've got a firm booking and a special code that will let us get past security. I hope. Needless to say, we'll be getting dressed up - for afternoon tea! - and I will not be driving up in the Yaris. I don't think that will go down too well. Alas, no helicopter to drop us or for that matter, the white Rolls Royce that escorts VIP's there. We'll need to make do with a  regular taxi. Oh well.

I wonder if we'll stick out like sore thumbs. Probably. Although, surely the trick is to fake it. Fake the fact that you are meant to be in such a high class place. Look as though you know what you're doing, where you're going and that you know what all those knifes are for. Don't act like a tourist which might be hard given I'll want to take photos. Most of all, don't look or act like a div. Hard, I know but it can be done.

Back to her birthday though. A lovely curry and a bottle of wine at the Cellar round the corner. Can't argue with that. And on a school night.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

1st June

The missus' birthday.


She'll not like that, but there you go. I have a couple of things planned and of course the required birthday card. I did what I could and hope she's likes everything. If not, there will be trouble.

More will be revealed later.