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Children's Encyclopedia vol. 2

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Epic of Kings / Shahnama by Ferdowsi / Levi

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Secret War in Shanghai by Bernard Wasserstein
 - treachery, subversion and collaboration in the second world war

Another book in my collection to further fuel my interest in espionage during the Second World Wall.

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Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

I rarely read fiction, although 1/6 of the books I read last year perhaps show my reading preference is becoming more flexible. However, of the fiction I have read, most of the titles I have turned to because of a reference to them from a non-fiction title. Nineteen Eighty Four had been referred to once or twice in the books I had read on Cold War espionage and eavesdropping governments, and is perhaps increasingly referred to in conversations about our "Big Brother" society and the "Edward Snowdon revelations" - things that already interest me. Read more here...

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Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi
 - The Lost Dreams of my Iraqi Family

I found this to be a charming book about the changing Arab world and the forming of Iraq in the first half of the 20th century.

The picture painted is from the perspective of a family with high standing, so while it doesn't represent the experiences of all during that time period, the perspective was still fascinating and the first half of it reminded me of Charles Darwin's Bleak House which was set in Great Britain but time periods did meet.

I notice also that I read The Arabs, a History by Eugene Rogan earlier this year. That was a long book at over 700 pages (this one being 400) and while Rogan's wasn't hard to read, I remember little of it. Tamara's book, on the other hand, early on painted some lovely and vivid pictures in my mind, which I am sure will stay with me for some time, just like Bleak House.

However, once the book reaches the time just after the Second World War, the tone of the books changes, representing the hardships of the changing times - strifes which the Chalabi family struggled more and more through the Cold War years and through to the years when the region was controlled by Saddam Hussein. At this time the family was forced into exile in both London and Beirut and the charm of the past lost its shine.

Much of the book seemed to revolve around the life of Bibi, but once the time period reaches that when the author herself was born and experiencing the world for herself, the writing slipped more to one of her own perspective and her struggles with making sense of Iraq - a region she knew she had ties with, yet had no first-hand experience with - she still managed to reflect on the family struggles but I think a greater bearing was, by this point, put on the Iraqi's struggles as a whole.

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The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
 - the secrets of perfect decision-making

This small and simple book contains a collection of 99 cognitive biases, as Wikipedia states on the topic, these can lead to "inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality." Dobelli catalogues the biases he has come across and provides real-world examples to aid explanation, he also provides tips to recognise, avoid and counteract these biases. Read more here...

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Treachery by Chapman Pincher
 - Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage. The True Story of MI5

With all of the books that I have read by James Bamford (see below), it was hardly surprising that this book should stand out for me at a local library. Also, it's hard to miss at almost 700 pages. The librarian advised me not to drop it on my foot, and this being the paperback version. I suspected I'd be renewing it a few times, but I only did so once, which it a testimony to how readable I found it to be.

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The Shadow Factory by James Bamford
 - The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America

I have previously read both Body of Secrets (in 2011) and Puzzle Palace (in 2007) by the author of this book. In purchasing this book, written in 2008, I expected Bamford to provide me with an insight into the more recent events of 9/11 (as the subtitle suggests), whereas the previous two titles were more about World War II and the Cold War (which I found very interesting). Read more here...

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Overcoming Anger and Irritability by William Davies
 - A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques

This is one of those books, a self-help guide, that I have picked up from my local library to enable me to gain some further insight into a particular topic. I don't think I feel the need to turn to self-help books to address my own issues as such, but in reading some such books I do put myself into the mindset of that scenario and think "would this book help me". Rarely I think self-help books would help me. I find they oversimplify a topic or issue (or perhaps that's because I'm not actually reading the book in the way it was intended), I find them very repetitive - repeating the same scenarios time and time again - the authors making too big an attempt to think of every possible scenario their readers might actually be experiencing, and at worst, (because of the oversimplified and repetitive approach), come across as condescending. The irony, for this particular title, is that I might come away from this book feeling irritated!

Actually, my empathic abilities meant that in reading each of the scenarios, I connected with each of the people in the repeated cases and was left feeling frustrated by the example reactions and the author's proposed solutions.

Take this example case. There is a guy having a drink at a bar. The door war faulty so it wouldn't automatically close after each person came in. When each person came in they left the door open, causing a cold draft. The guy having the drink gets increasingly annoyed and by the fifth person blows his top at that person. The author's rational alternative solution for the guy was to politely ask each person coming into the bar to close the door. Personally I find the prospect of doing that annoying. My solution would have been to mention the problem to the barkeeper/owner of the establishment - perhaps they weren't aware of the problem - perhaps they are, and are awaiting for someone to repair the door. If the natural behaviour of each person entering the bar was to leave the door open then one could expect more of the same, beyond the fifth person to enter, regardless of me blowing my top, so if I wasn't happy with sitting in a draft, and the barkeeper didn't opt to close the door for me after each person entered, I'd either sit somewhere away from the draft, or leave (again making the faulty door the concern of the barkeeper) causing the establishment a potential loss of further trade from myself (if I was to stay for more drinks, or even making me think twice about drinking there again, at least until the door was repaired.)

It's not all bad news and annoyance in the book though. The main reason I picked up this particular book was because of news headlines at the time regarding the links between cynical thinking and dementia. This book was the closest reference I could find - I figured cynical thinking is a form of negative thinking and must have similar effects on the body and personal well-being as being angry and irritable. The introduction also draw links too, in the form of highlighting the benefits of psychotherapy - I figured that the techniques used to overcome the negative thoughts that cause people to become angry and irritated, could be adopted to overcome cynical thoughts - the way people think being the key: "it has become clear that specific patterns of thinking are associated with a range of psychological problems and that treatments which deal with those styles of thinking are highly effective." By treatments the author means 'cognitive behavior therapy' [CBT] and only medical treatment for extreme cases. Davies points out that "The pioneer in this enterprise [CBT] was an American psychiatrist, Professor Aaron T. Beck, who developed a theory of depression which emphasized the importance of people's depressed styles of thinking'"

This backs up my belief that positive thinking is the way forward, and it reflects what I have read in other books. You can read more about this in my blog article which responds to the current news "Cynics more likely to suffer from dementia."

As well as reading the introduction to this book while I was in the library, I also flicked through the index. I noticed 'Caffeine' was mentioned with specific pages on 221-4. I have noticed caffeine to have effects on my own way of thinking and health, both when I was drinking more and when I tried to go without.

In addition to caffeine (and the use of other drugs), some other pointers I am mindful of (while it seems others are not and instead turn to medication to 'fix' a problem) are introduced on pages 66-67 (and discussed in more detail in the second part on pages 215-243, routine, exercise, diet, sleep, and stress:

Routine: it is very important to maintain a fairly consistent routine in terms of times of eating and sleeping, to maintain a steady 'circadian rhythm'. Otherwise you find yourself in a permanent state of 'jetlag', which is very disruptive.

Exercise: humans are built for activity, and during phases when we don't get this we are liable to be that much more irritable.

Diet: some people eat lots of sugar-rich food which sends their blood sugar level sky-high and then correspondingly low. Other people feed themselves so poorly that they are effectively suffering from malnutrition.

Drugs: routinely consumed drugs such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are vastly underestimated in their effect. Recreational drugs can also devastate one's mood.

Sleep: getting insufficient sleep on a regular basis is bad news indeed.

Stress: having too much to do, too many pressures on you, tasks you find difficult to achieve, and other life stresses take a severe toll on your moods.

The author then goes on to include social factors, but I consider these to be external, and, if we can improve all of the above (which are within our control), then we will surely be in a better position to handle challenging social situations with a positive attitude.

Like other self-help books, this one is broken down into two parts. The first part claiming to give you all the background insight or "theory", and the second part largely questionnaires and tasks (such as keeping a diary)... or "bumph" as I tend to perceive it (especially when there are lots of blank lines where you're requested to fill in your own answers... something that doesn't work so well when the book is borrowed from the library). The second part is supposed to provide you with the "techniques for resolving irritability and anger", but the dividing line doesn't seem to be that clear and there is a lot of repetition going on. In fact it took me longer to read all of the information in part two, and I skipped all of the tasks and repeated scenarios.

Typically, and again, I find this approach to be condescending - I like to think that by the end of the first half I've read and understood the topic and can start to, mentally, work out a way forward on my own. The way such books can be presented, especially this one with its 12/14 point font size, well spaced out pages and plain and simple diagrams, makes me imagine the authors have also used the content to produce Power Point slides for presentations on the topic. Such a presentation, I can imagine, might form a series that spans six weeks, with a day for each with irritability-inflicting caffeine laced throughout, but the book, instead, can be churned through in a day (coffee optional).

One such diagram that author provides is the flow chart illustrating Trigger - Appraisal/Judgement - Response. Some of the charts expand on this but these three parts (by including things like Inhibitions, which affect how/if we respond) are the basis for all. While the second half of the book is about "Sorting it out", it does still continue to provide interesting information. The author goes on to list (on pages 110-112) a "number of labels that are given to the different categories of unhelpful appraisals that people make.":

Selective perception - This means ... a person sees part of the story but not the whole story...

Mind-reading - ... [jumping to conclusions, assuming someone is thinking a certain way, in the case of becoming irritated by someone, you guess their thoughts to be negative ones. This negativity, in the case of 'mind-reading' is a reflection of negative thoughts and tendencies being reflected on others.]

Awfulizing - ... whereby, when we don't get what we want, we will see the situation as 'awful' [ie through the eyes of negativity. There is a wonderful German word I have discovered, weltuntergangsstimmung, which basically means behaving like a situation is "the end of the world"].

Use of emotive language - ... when we make our appraisals and judgements [often] ... the 'conversation' is with ourselves. This being the case, the language can be even more emotive. [The concept behind the book Every Word Has Power, is that our language has power, and I think it is important for a healthy person to speak, and think, positively.]

Overgeneralization - This is where we notice a particular observation which is true ... and then make a sweeping generalization from that fact. [again, to affirm negative thoughts.] Overgeneralizations are very common and usually very destructive.

The author spells out these unhelpful appraisals, as do I, to show readers that, yes there bay be a bad situation that happens which we have no control over, which irritates us or makes us angry, but by employing any of the above within our mindset we paint the picture in a darker light, which doesn't help anyone or ourselves (and this is something we go have control over.) Obviously, it can be difficult to change our habits of seeing things in a particular way. However, a concept the author mentions that I find particularly fascinating, and one that is really the key to improving things is that "as far as the brain is concerned it doesn't really matter much whether you do things in reality or in imagination. What this means is that simply reviewing thing in [a positive] way ... and simply imagining thinking in the most cost-effective way is ... as good as actually doing it at the time of the event - in terms of changing your patterns of thinking..."

It is mentioned that you have to do this lots of times, like when you practice any new task, because you are essentially rewiring your brain, or opening up the neural pathways that reflect that new attitude or behaviour. The author likens this to beating a path through the jungle.

I think the power of thought is a great one, but the author follows this 'reviewing' phase with 'cementing'. I agree in large because it's all well and good thinking positively, like praying or meditating on a scenario, but you need to act on it and put those thoughts into practice. Self-help books that talk of some magical way of getting all what you desire in the world (perhaps like The Secret) rely on this tactic. You first plan your highly positive approach in your head, imagining what it is you want, and then when you talk to people you speak and act as if those things are actually reality. The author call this approach 'AA' - Alternative belief, and Action. Of course some people could potentially go from one unhealthy extreme to another. On page 199 the author points out that "we have to recognize that there's no law that says we should get wheat we want, any more than other people always get what they want."

It's good to review a situation that didn't go so well, and to be mindful of it. But the key is not to repeatedly think of how it went, but how you would have liked it to have went, because again, you train your brain for the latter in doing this. (p.163) On p.210 the advice is to "relive the situation, but give it a better ending. This, technically, is known as 'cognitive rehearsal'. It is very effective because, as mentioned before, the brain can't really tell whether you're doing things in reality or in imagination. So you are treading the path through the [neural] jungle, preparing [it] so that the next time a similar situation arises you're more likely to respond in the way you want rather than in a way your habit or your anger tells you."

Why we might be prone to thinking negatively are discussed in chapters 11 (Beliefs), 13 (Inhibitions), and 15 (Mood). Indeed our upbringing, probably specifically growing up around people with negative attitudes or not having our negative tendencies addressed early on, will mean we have to consciously address how we think about things once we mature to a point where we are capable of this.

Role-models: page 161-162

"Following a good example: page 207-208

In conclusion, the advice given in this book is based on professional experience and there is little doubting that the advice is sound and logical. I'm pleased to have noticed a lot of causes and I have developed a lot of the techniques on my own, like keeping a good sleeping pattern and routines, getting regular exercise and not drinking too much coffee.

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Vulcan Test Pilot by Tony Blackman

As a child, say, some twenty years ago, I would stay with my grandparents for a while during the summer holidays. They lived in Coventry (in the UK) and one of our outings was to the Midland Air Museum at Coventry Airport. My most distinctive memory of my visit is climbing up inside the cockpit of the Vulcan Bomber on display there.

The photograph I took when I visited the Vulcan Bomber on display
at the Midland Air Museum, many years ago.

My souvenir, a bookmark, still in my possession from my visit!

Something inspiring came from that experience and I still think of the Vulcan Bomber fondly. Thanks to some recent documentaries on the BBC I know a little more about the Avro Vulcan and the other two V-Bombers, the Victor and the Valiant. I also know more about the history surrounding them and their raison d'etre - things I didn't grasp in my childhood.

TV snapshots of Vulcans on display back in the day.

The web and Wikipedia have been a good source of further information. I have enjoyed reading about how the Vulcan developed, first with the 'true delta' Mk1 and then the Mk2, and the issues of 'buffeting'. Reading about disasters and watching video clips of craft disintegrating in flight has been entertaining too - it is a strange thing to find entertaining, like watching the Formula One racing only for the crashes.

It was when I was visiting a client that I noticed this book on his bookshelf - Vulcan Test Pilot by Tony Blackman. I started a conversation with my client on the topic and he kindly lent me the book to read. Having now read the book from cover to cover I can say it really is a great insight into not only the Vulcan itself, but also the history of the time and test piloting new aircraft in general, especially back in the 1950s before computer-aided-design, computer simulations and their use combined with wind tunnel technology. Today it seems we turn to computers for everything, but the engineers and designers back then showed what was achievable with the right skills.

I found it a little remarkable that it is unlikely that a Vulcan ever reached the speed of sound/Mach 1 - perhaps my naivety of the capabilities of jet-powered aircraft led me to assume all could reach and exceed such speeds, after all, Concorde could achieve Mach 2. The Vulcan would start to 'buffet' at close to Mach 1, a problem that was discovered with the Mk1 and persisted with the new wing shape in the Mk2. I did like reading about how a Vulcan, being a large bomber, could actually outmanoeuvre an F-15 at high altitude. Aircraft have their limitations and of course the Vulcan was no exception - I have learned that from the book.

The last chapter of the book is dedicated to the last flying Vulcan, XH558. This particular Vulcan was actually the first Mk2 and it seems quite fitting that it should be the last one capable of flying. I have learned that the stresses and strains (or fatigue) that an aircraft (especially of this type) suffers throughout each flight cause its deterioration. This deterioration is something that is predicted, monitored and calculated so that an aircraft can be grounded before it becomes unsafe. This will become a reality for XH558, it may fly for its last time this year (or next), something I find strangely emotional. I have yet to see a Vulcan fly (except from video footage), so I'm keeping an eye on the Vulcan to the Sky project to make sure I get my chance.

Tony Blackman has done a good job of recounting his experiences as a test pilot and making what turns out to be very much a technical topic, quite readable for the lay-person. Now I only wonder if there are similar books for the Vickers Valiant and the Hadley Page Victor so that I can compare!

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Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett

It just so happened that I was moving into my own derelict castle in Wales just as discovered this book in a library!

Ok, so I'm not actually living in a castle, although an Englishman's home is his castle, even if I'm living in Wales. And there are leaks. But this book did feel very fitting, and it was an entertaining read. I may well pay Gwydir a visit one day and have a nosey at how things have progressed since the book was from

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Brian's Little LibraryFast-forward now to 2020, and I found my very own copy of this book.



The Arabs: A History by Eugene Rogan

Considering this book weighs in at over 700 pages, while I was reading it I thought how easy it was to read. I have read long history-based books before and often find the process a hard slog. I don't think there was anything particularly gripping about it, but I found it interesting enough.

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Greed by Richard Girling


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The Chilling Stars by Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Calder
 - A Cosmic View of Climate Change

This book basically explains how it is actually solar activity which is the cause of climate change.

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The Atlantis Blueprint by Rand Flem-Ath and Colin Wilson

The Atlantis Blueprint

I read this book back in 2007 and now decided it was time to re-read it.

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The Sphinx & The Megaliths by John Ivimy

The Sphinx and the Megaliths

I read this book back in 2006 and now decided it was time to re-read it.

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The Children's Encycolpedia by Arthur Mee

Many years ago, when I was a child, I inherited a ten volume set of Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopedia. I had never read more than one or two articles over the years, but I had always liked the idea of one day reading them all - it looked to be quite a feat! Well over the course of 2013, in between reading other books, I read my way through Volume One. Only nine more to go!

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Because some of my reviews on books have increasingly included vast notes and quotations, I would like to point out that I do recognise that these books are protected by the Copyright act. I put my views online to share with other internet browsers in the hope that little snippets of information may be useful and my views interesting. I have always included links to the online retailer Amazon and encourage anyone that finds any title particularly interesting (thanks to what I have to say) to either buy a copy or borrow one from their local library.


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