Review: Introducing Freud by Richard Appignanesi

Introducing Freud
Introducing Freud by Richard Appignanesi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to figure out what this book is trying to achieve and what audience it’s trying to pitch to but it’s a good springboard to jump from.

Pros
– Easily the best part of this book is the artwork, it keeps the text engaging and adds a nice touch of humour to the whole thing (plus the many subtle penises hidden everywhere kept it interesting!)
– It can be read in under two hours making this a bite-size way to get a little more familiar with the topic
– The ‘Little Dictionary’ at the back was brilliantly helpful but it should’ve been at the beginning!

Cons
– This is an overview rather than an introduction, I found it quite hard to access and needed a bit of help from dear old Google
– The explanations could have done with more/better examples, I found them confusing rather than helpful
– I get a strong impression that this book is aimed at a psychology/sociology student audience rather than a layman or someone with a casual interest in psychology, despite its title

I found the title of this book misleading – it wasn’t so much an introduction to Freud but a brief summary of his ideas accompanied by very brief examples of them in action and the tiniest mentions of his personal life. Unless you already know what’s going on, it just doesn’t make all that much sense as the explanations and technical terms come at you hard and fast. At the very end of the book, I found the ‘Little Dictionary’ of terms. This added much greater understanding to the book, I only wish the dictionary was at the beginning (or that it was mentioned at the beginning) so I could’ve used it alongside the reading. I do think this would be far more useful as a revision tool rather than an introductory text, there have got to be simpler ways to introduce Freud than this book.
Though the book is short, be prepared to spend some time online digging around for simpler explanations or further examples to the theories that are mentioned.

I’ve now read a handful of books from this series and the comic-book style never fails to disappoint. As I’ve come to expect, the illustrations manage to be funny, entertaining and are a brilliant addition to the text. They really stood out here as the memorable drawings creatively flow with the text to make the whole book more engaging and the complemented the ideas, particularly the more sensitive areas regarding the discussions on incest and the sexuality of prepubescent children as it gave such taboo issues a different degree of approachability. Some of the illustrations were a bit distasteful but if you’re reading anything to do with Freud and you’re not at some point squirming in your chair, you’re probably doing it wrong (or at least, too often!).

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Review: Billy Connolly by Pamela Stephenson

Billy Connolly
Billy Connolly by Pamela Stephenson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Passively interesting but not inspiring, this biography had the potential to be great if it had kept up its pace and had injected just a little humour into Billy’s eccentric life to give it some of the vibrant colour he’s known for.

Pros:
– How much the author, Pamela Stephenson, loved her husband Billy Connolly shone through the entire book, in the more dry parts, it was the backbone that kept the pages turning.
– The book feels heartbreakingly honest.

Cons:
– There was next to no humour in this book.
– The celebrity name-dropping was clunky and felt out of place.
– The book’s pace dropped considerably in the middle.
– The writing can be quite dry and more like reading a Wikipedia page than a biography.
– Though this is very much a rags-to-riches story, I got the impression that all the fame and money was taken for granted, if not resented, by Billy. I’m not sure if this is the accurate impression or just Stephenson’s writing but given her depiction of his youth, I found it disappointing.

Reading this book involved a lot of giving up and returning to it later. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I did, it just felt repetitive and the humour in the anecdotes felt like they were being spoiled by the matter-of-fact writing. Stephenson clearly loves her husband dearly, that shines brightly from the book and is ultimately what kept me returning to the pages after entire months of leaving it on my bedroom windowsill. This can be seen poignantly in the early pages of the book and it any references to Billy’s upbringing, it is dealt with such sensitivity that you can feel the author rooting for everything to be okay.

It surprised me a great deal to learn that Stephenson was a comedian herself as there’s no comedy in this book whatsoever. In fact, even the funniness in the anecdotes wriggles away with the Wiki-style writing. I spent the whole book wanting to feel some of that humour Billy is known for, the humour that the book spends half its pages advertising to us, only for it not to come across in any of the writing, except perhaps, in the very last page. It isn’t advertised as being a funny book in all fairness, but in the back of my mind I just kept wishing Billy was telling his own story instead, or at least alongside, Stephenson’s version as I can imagine him having a far more uplifting take on things. I’d love to see his comments about it or his reactions upon first reading it!

One thing that I did strongly object to was the celebrity name-dropping. It wasn’t so much that it was there, that was interesting to get a glimpse of and the present-to-past chapter openings gave the book some much-needed variety. The problem of it was the specific extracts from their celebrity lifestyle that were chosen – they were dull and a lot of the time you could see that there was so much more to the anecdote that was being shared. This is understandable, everyone needs privacy, but these teasers from the lives of the rich and famous made the text frustrating to read.

On that note, the ease in which Billy suddenly found his wealth and famous friends felt a bit off. It seemed like he took the whole thing for granted and didn’t care much for it. This doesn’t seem quite at peace with his character or background so I get the impression that the issue has either been skated over entirely on purpose or that some ruthless editing was done.
Because of this, the middle of the book is just a complete flop in pace. It gets boring and I was left treading water waiting for it to get more interesting again. Fortunately it does but the lull caused enough damage to put me off rereading this book again or recommending it.

If you are a Billy Connolly fan, you may want to read this if you see it in a dentist’s waiting room or abandoned in some hotel room on holiday. I don’t recommend you actively go out and buy it though, the writing just doesn’t match up to the wonderful charisma of the subject and that’s a downright shame.
If you do read it, it’d be wise to miss out a chunk in the middle, of course you’ll probably end up doing that naturally anyway as your eyes glaze over.
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Review: Victorian Sensation: Or, the Spectacular, the Shocking and the Scandalous in Nineteenth-Century Britain by Michael Diamond

Victorian Sensation: Or, the Spectacular, the Shocking and the Scandalous in Nineteenth-Century Britain
Victorian Sensation: Or, the Spectacular, the Shocking and the Scandalous in Nineteenth-Century Britain by Michael Diamond

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The research in this book had the potential to make a great read but the actual writing was a let-down.

I constantly found myself confused at what was happening and the general thread of each passage as everything was so jumbled together. It was as though the author was so excited about sharing everything that they’d researched that they ran away with the stories without really involving the reader. This was especially the case when the author was trying to sum up a fictional plot or the basic details of a murder as they’d often leave out the essential parts such as who was murdered and by whom altogether or leave them right until the end so the reader had no idea what they were really talking about. I tried to ignore this as the research is tackled admirably and some of the cases gave real insight into Victorian culture but even in cases where I already knew the background of the content from other reading I was confused at who or what the author was talking about. This was further confused when the author tried to connect stories/cases together with fairly tenuous links – rather than seamlessly going from one ‘sensation’ to the other by tackling them chronologically or thematically, it feels like the author is clutching at straws to make everything link together. The book would be so much better if each chapter was divided into subsections so we could see which details belong to which story – it would make figuring out the basic ‘who, what, when, where’ ten times easier.

My only other criticism, but a pretty big one in my view, is some of the language used by the author to describe the cases. In particular, there was an instance when Diamond describes the relationship between two homosexual men as having ‘filthy details’. This just didn’t seem appropriate at all and though I guess (and hope!) it was an attempt to poke fun at Victorian attitudes towards homosexuality, it really should have been pulled up and corrected during editing.
This isn’t just nit-picking, there were multiple cases when the author used questionable word choices to describe people, particularly contemporary marginalised groups e.g. unmarried women. It seems out of place in the text and forced as though the author is trying to make the ‘sensational’ even more sensational which doesn’t work and feels plain awkward when translating stories that were shocking to audiences in 1800s Britain into the context 21st century Britain.

Still, this is not a bad book. While the structure is messy and confusing, it is an interesting read once you begin to get your head around what’s going on. The author manages to give a decent context to most of the tales and goes out of his way to include why a particular thing would have been a cause for ‘sensation’ in Victorian society which is not only helpful for placing the stories but also for imagining the experiences of Victorian life from the perspectives of a range of social groups.

The book isn’t an easy read thanks to the structure but if you can get past that, the language and content are pretty accessible and interesting enough to give some historical background without taking on any sort of academic dryness.
I reckon it’d be a decent read for anyone with a passing interest in Victorian Britain that doesn’t know too much about the period. Instead of, or alongside this, I’d recommend reading the likes of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (if you’re interested in Victorian poverty or criminal justice) or Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin (basically a gritty, seedy account of gender issues in Victorian London), while both fictional and very different in style, will give a much juicier introduction to the Victorian period.

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Review: Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

Stuart: A Life Backwards
Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Intensely emotional, this biographical book is like a puzzle with each piece of new information more agonising to read than the last.

It made me laugh, cry and view the world in a slightly different way once I’d reached the end all the while teaching some valuable yet hard-to-hear lessons about humanity and struggle.
Alexander Masters tells the life story of Stuart, a difficult character with a fascinating story and background, by starting at Stuart in the present and working back to his childhood, chapter by chapter. This rare set-up provides insight into how life’s turns can take us down very different paths and is a haunting read that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it. Its simplicity and somewhat misleading beginning draws the reader into a journey they’ll never forget, stick in with this book through to the very end and it will be one of the most life-changing novels that you will ever read.

This book isn’t a light-hearted read by any means and should be picked up with caution as it has some harrowing scenes.
Definitely a book everyone should read at some point in their lives.

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Review: The Illustrated History Of The Nazis: The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler by Paul Roland

The Illustrated History Of The Nazis   The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler
The Illustrated History Of The Nazis The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler by Paul Roland

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to know quite where to start with reviewing this book. It’s like going up to a someone who has lived their life swamped with WWII propaganda and asking them to tell you everything they’ve seen graffittied on the back of a toilet door about why Hitler was bad. I’ll give you an example here, at one point early on in the book the author delves into his own theory that Hitler was evil because he was emasculated by having one testicle. Given that a great amount of debate has been had over the controversy of Hitler’s genitalia, it seems far-fetched for the author to state this as fact and, even more ridiculous, to say that the Holocaust was solely caused by Hitler’s psychological reaction to his rumoured missing testicle. This was one of many problems I found with the author’s rants but it was one of the most notable due to the lengths the author went to try and back-up his theory.

Overall, this book is a pretty useless buy unless you want to look at the photographs (which, I’ll grudgingly admit, it does carry a half decent collection but there’s little there that you won’t be able to find on the internet). It’s the mental equivalent of asking a pub full of drunks at closing time that you’ll buy them a round if they tell you everything they know about Hitler and the Nazis. The whole thing is dramatized and fraught with inaccuracies (for instance, the author has also apparently figured out the mystery of who started the Reichstag fire, something again, that is often debated on by historians).
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