Non-Fiction - Shastrix Books


Recently reviewed

Bond on Bond

Bond on Bond

Roger Moore

17th June 2017

This book is a fascinating insight into the Bond movies from someone on the inside - Roger Moore, the third actor to play tha main character in the Eon Productions series of films. I was given the book as a present a few years ago, and inspired to read it by the recent death of the author.

It's interesting that this is a book documenting the whole of the Bond film series, including those not part of the Eon cannon, and so covers the full history from the 1950s up to 2012's Skyfall. It's by a bond actor but the twist is that he's writing about the whole thing, not just his own involvement.

The tone of the prose is something I have mixed feelings about. It is written in a casual manner, as if Moroe were telling anecdotes to you rather than documenting something in seriousness. He is happy to make jokes, but there's a fine line between taking the mickey out of oneself and coming across as egotistical, and in some places it feels like he's falling on the wrong side of this line.

Moore's personal insights, memories and anecdotes make this a pleasure to read. Most of the details I already knew from watching the films many times and reading other tomes, but this presentation certainly made for an entertaining weekend's read.

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The Norm Chronicles

The Norm Chronicles

Michael Blastland & David Spiegelhalter

6th July 2013

The Norm Chronicles is a fascinating look into the study of risk, comparing the purely statistical view with how real people think. Blastland and Spiegelhalter create a compelling set of characters to place into risky and often humorous situations, and follow this up with a discussion of how risk is calculated and perceived.

It's an entertaining if numbers-heavy read, though the authors do well to put the statistics into context and break through some of the obfuscation that often stops the simple comparison of risks. As a reader with a mathematical background, I found it straightforward to follow, but I'm not entirely convinced it would be as clear to someone with less of an affinity for numbers.

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The Innocent Man

The Innocent Man

John Grisham

6th February 2012

John Grisham's first foray into non-fiction has me torn. It is clearly a good book, a lot of work has gone into it, and it makes a very important point about the quality of a judicial system that can allow such miscarriages of justice to occur. However I'm not convinced that it made for a good read.

The book tells the tale of Ron Williamson - every word of which is true - who was arrested after two local police officers decided that he must have committed the murder despite the lack of evidence and without bothering to follow up any real leads.

It is a shocking tale, and does nothing to bolster my current lack of trust in any foreign legal system, particularly one with such an obvious lack of checks and balances. The treatment that Ron gets is awful and it is absolutely right that Grisham has chosen to use his popularity as a fiction author to highlight the problems.

However, it's not always an engaging read. The first two thirds move quite slowly, with a lot of repetition, which partly comes across like a lawyer trying to reiterate a point to a jury. Perhaps that's the point, but to my usual style of fast reading it felt a bit like lazy editing. The style is quite dry and clinical, and I found it hard to gain an emotional connection with the people portrayed.

The nature of the events makes the book hard to read as well. It's not an easy tale to take in, and knowing where it was going made it more difficult. At times I wanted to take out my anger at some of the people portrayed on the book itself. It was hard to motivate myself to keep reading because of this.

However I'm glad I've read it - it even makes some of Grisham's fictional works seem far more believable. Perhaps it is one that everyone should read - after all, anyone could be picked to serve on a jury, and need their eyes opened to the possibility of such travesties.

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At Home

At Home

Bill Bryson

13th June 2010

While this is an interesting read, I'm not entirely convinced that it does what it says on the tin. From Reading the blurb and product descriptions on websites, the impression I got was that it was literally a history of his house. Okay so that doesn't sound like too attractive a proposition, but I expected a little more focus on the house.

Instead, it's a social history of the last 150 years, using the house as just a structure for telling the anecdotes and factoids that Bryson has selected. The focus of the history is an odd mix, jumping back and forth between the UK and US. Despite that, I still found it an accessible read without having to know too much American history. I'm not sure whether the same would be true for an American reader.

As the content goes, it's presented in a manner that reminds me of schoolbooks for young children. Details are presented a fact with little or no discussion of how much evidence there is or dissenting views. I think it might just be that wikipedia has tuned me into thinking differently - and after every factoid I was thinking 'and what's your source for that?' Particularly as a lot of the claims seemed implausible, such as Thomas Jefferson being the inventor of the french fry.

Overall it was an entertaining light read, but I can't honestly say I took away anything I would call knowledge. I was disappointed that the history if the actual house was sidelined, and some areas were gone into in too much detail. I'm not sure I would actually recommend it.

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An Utterly Impartial History of Britain

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain

John O'Farrell

21st July 2008

This one was quite long, but then when it has to cover two thousand years I suppose it has to be. The only issue was that I felt there was a lot more space spent covering the twentieth century... surely not the most important in British history, but possibly the most documented.

Another common complaint I suspect would be the fundamental lie in the title: "British" history... Up until union the only focus of the book is on English history, with very little mention of the other parts which make up Britain: Wales and Scotland. I'm not saying it's a bad book, just that I would have appreciated more detail on these other areas, as every history book, and all my school history education focussed on England.

This read started off awkwardly, and it took me a while to get comfortable with the somewhat irreverent style of the writing. Particularly the use of sarcasm - sometimes brilliant, comparing the issues of the time with the way we're repeating them today - but sometimes it was hard to spot whether O'Farrell was being serious or not.

All in all it was an interesting and humorous read, but I'm not sure I've come away from it having learnt anything. Back to fiction next I think.

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Unreviewed books

All the Other Things I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek The Next Generation
Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia
James Bond: The Legacy
Lost for Words
Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities
Quotable Star Trek
Star Trek Paper Universe
The Continuing Mission
The Essential Bond
The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
The Making of Star Trek
The Nitpicker's Guide for Classic Trekkers
The Nitpicker's Guide for Deep Space Nine Trekkers
The Sea Hunters
The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion
The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion
The Star Trek: Voyager Companion
The Trouble with Tribbles

Top books

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  2. The Norm Chronicles
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  4. Bond on Bond
  5. Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
  6. At Home
  7. Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
  8. The Innocent Man
  9. An Utterly Impartial History of Britain