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An Explorer's Adventures In Tibet: An 1897 Epic
An Explorer's Adventures In Tibet: An 1897 Epic
by Arnold Henry Savage Landor
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.41
26 used & new from $12.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Present arms! .... with a cricket stump, August 19, 2005
Landor's memoirs may be the pulp fiction of Victorian travel writing, but it doesn't come much better than this fast paced account of his quest to become the first white boy in Lhasa. An Explorer's Adventures recounts his stiff-upper-lipped travels in Tweed across Himalayan mountain passes with a ragbag posse of helpers, lepers and bandits who often threatened to mutiny when faced by ugly women and men with long tongues.

There are inumerable tales of scrapes with local chiefs whose goals in life were to keep Johnny Foreigner out of Tibet with the promise of beheading if they didn't succeed. How many of Landor's tales are true we'll never really know, particularly his miraculous escape from beheading, but it's a cracking read and another great glimpse into the minds of men from yesteryear.

A word of warning though. Political correctos with no sense of humour or perspective should steer well clear. This is blatant white man's burden stuff and only those willing to set their moral timepiece to London, 1897 will get anything out of this.

It goes without saying that fans of Hopkirk and Flashman should head straight for Checkout. A hoot!

Southern Mail (Harbrace Paperbound Library)
Southern Mail (Harbrace Paperbound Library)
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.46
52 used & new from $0.03

5.0 out of 5 stars The Sahara viewed from the wings of the stage, May 21, 2005
More soaring and gliding from aviation's greatest penseur. Why we are all here, how our world looks from the sky and how things change as we mature are all examined in the lovely loquacious style that is St.Ex. Another classic.

New Ideas from Dead Economists: An Introduction to Modern Economic Thought
New Ideas from Dead Economists: An Introduction to Modern Economic Thought
by Todd G. Buchholz
Edition: Paperback
126 used & new from $0.01

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars All the great men - well almost, May 10, 2005
If you're after a rough outline of how economics got where it is today, and who the people behind the subject's founding ideas really were, then the Dead Economists is a great place to start. Buchholz kicks things off with the invisible hands of Smith/Hayek, and then breezes through the lives and ideas of Malthus, Ricardo, Mill, Marx, Marshall, Veblen, Galbraith, Keynes and Friedman. The final two chapters get broader and cover Public Choice and Rational Expectations.

Strange as it may seem, there's nothing really on Schumpeter, Frank Ramsey, Robert Solow, Joan Robinson, Irving Fisher or Robert Mundell to name but a few - although, I suppose, these individuals didn't really lead economics off in truly new directions. But Nobel Prize winner Mundell was largely responsible for starting international economics as we know it. It's odd that he's not even mentioned.

Still for non-specialists, there isn't that much theory and what there is comes in easy to understand sketches of where the big ideas came from and what these mean for the world we live in today.

Overall I liked the Dead Economists, although I can understand why some people might think it a bit light. The author likes a joke. Some readers don't. It reads like pulp history. Some don't like that. My view is that if you already know your dismal science, then this is a nice, easy read and it gives lovely insights into the lives of economics' greatest thinkers. Alternatively, if you're a novice and you like a bit of history, then NIDE should suit your needs just fine.

Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood
Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood
by Martin Booth
Edition: Paperback
57 used & new from $0.01

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And Who Are We Today Ken?, March 28, 2005
As a long-term Hongkong resident and sentimental fool, I'm almost bound to say that Gweilo and my adopted home are utter magic. Sadly, I live in London right now and, like me, those with a tendency to homesickness will probably read Gweilo and immediately want to get on the first Cathay flight home.

For Gweilo is a terrific story with intimate glimpses of Hongkong in the fifties seen through the eyes of a curious little boy called Martin and his ill-suited, warring parents. It gets five stars just for the author's enviable ability to conjure up unforgettable images in a splendid pacy style.

`Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood' is only half memories though, with much of it reading like a novel. Yet the plot is extremely simple; young boy and open-minded mother have the life-changing experience of leaving post-war Blighty for somewhere exotic while insecure, racist father does everything in his power to undermine their attempts to fit in with the locals and learn something new.

An eventful tug of war between cultures and enlightenment, it will undoubtedly invite empty-headed complaints from the usual suspects that these are the memories of a privileged set that lived in a world far above the toil and filth of the great unwashed. But, as always, this would miss the point. Gweilo is a celebration of life through the eyes of a little boy, unburdened by guilt or irony.

In fact, somewhat perversely, the book's only real weak point is Booth's revelling in Daddy-bashing. Even though the tales of Pop's sycophantic attempts to ape the naval officers he would never become are hilarious, it is worth remembering that both mother and boy might never have had their opportunity were it not for Booth senior. (Booth's description of his father dressing up as a naval officer, but without epaulets, is very funny).

Even so, Booth's memories shine with an exotic cast of characters that his parents possibly never knew about - in particular, his slipper-wielding pink gin Dad. Along the way we meet triad gangsters, temple monks, opium smokers, soothing mama-sans, snake charmers, fortune tellers, tram drivers, scary dentists and whitey policemen barking out orders in Cantonese. There are household cooks who could make flans levitate, hotel gardeners with murder on their minds and an English naval officer who even liked Cantonese food (Ye gods!).

There are great little nuggets of colonial and Cantonese culture too; like the horrors of the Shek Kip Mei squatter fire & WW2 resistance, the colourful spectacle that is Cantonese opera and the fabulous beaches, mountains and nature trails that make up 60% of the territory. The cast of characters in the employ of Mrs Booth are a lasting example of humanity at its best, even in the midst of appalling poverty.

Readers also learn why the Booths were responsible for laws which prohibit cars from turning in front of trams or why the lions outside HSBC in Queen's Road, Central are called Stewart and Stitt and how awful it must have been as a refugee after the Maoist coup d'etat in 1947. There are splendid bits on the huff and puff of Typhoon season and all the madness that goes with it. We're regaled with the festival of the ghosts where paper houses and bags of money are set alight for ancestors. And we get glimpses into those never to be seen again expat `hygiene' days on Shek O beach, that magical haven on Hongkong island's southeast coast where my own wife-to-be finally said `yes' in the waves and the moonlight.

But for those who already know Hongkong well, a word of warning. While Gweilo is written in a chatty, amusing style, you'll find your mind wandering as each new situation arises. As I read, I became addicted to getting out the maps and trying to figure out where exactly young Martin had been that day. Many of the experiences and destinations were as unfamiliar to me as they would be to a relative newcomer.

And in contrast to comments in some reviews, much of what Booth describes hasn't existed for a very long time. The hotels that the Booth's lived in disappeared long ago. Boundary Street is notable only for Britain's shameful handover negotiations. The Booth's apartment on Mount Austin lasted until 1998 when it was torn down and replaced with digs more in common with cramped modernity. Rickshaws I've never seen, and the idea that a local might take stick from the white man is laughable.

Despite these distractions, though, I reckon that anyone with imagination will have booked their ticket long before they near the ending. Gweilo may be more time capsule than travelogue, but the magical intensity and groovy weirdness live on, little changed from the days when Booth junior first set foot.

Summing up, Time magazine probably put it best when it said, ` ... this sunny, luminous memoir - along with the three forthcoming children's books the dying Booth also completed - will have to serve as his epitaph, ensuring that he will remain forever young'.

I couldn't agree more.

Rest in Peace Mr Booth.

Viva Hongkong!

The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World
The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World
by Bjørn Lomborg
Edition: Paperback
Price: $26.25
465 used & new from $0.22

22 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely wonderful, February 7, 2005
As a expose on the luddite fund-raiser that is TV-environmentalism this in-depth statistical page turner has very few peers.

I have to admit that as a classically-trained, professional economist I am biased. Man's achievements in terms of wealth creation, poverty reduction and life expectancy over the last hundred years or so leave me utterly awestruck. I have no truck whatsoever with people who claim to have the third world at heart, but whose self-promoting policies would clearly consign Africa and the even less well off to perpetual poverty, endless epidemics and non-genetic crop failure and starvation.

Nevertheless, I try to listen to all the views and Lomborg appears to have done much the same. What made TSE stand out for me was the way the author treats everyone with sympathy & patience - even mindless buffoons who think that food production depends on land mass or that a high oil price spells doom for the world economy.

And in contrast to what Lomborg's many detracters would like you to believe, it appears to me that he has a reasonably good grasp of the issues involved. Reasonably. This is probably what lies behind the many distastefully rabid denouncements by his former friends. Had TSE been written by policy wonks at the Cato Institute, it would hardly have been mentioned in popular circles. But Lomborg is a former card-carrying environmentalist who had the courage to risk reputation and career by announcing, 'I was wrong. We really are in great shape.'

It wasn't until he actually looked at all the numbers that he realised things aren't getting worse .... but only if you do your numbers properly and put realistic timeframes on your projections. TSE is worth reading just to see why - although it's worth noting that Lomborg is no raging libertarian. He's a European social-democrat who believes in public/private co-operation and long-term policy plans.

Criticially, BL focuses in on the main obstacles to bettering mankind's lot and what can best be achieved by using cost-benefit analysis and long-term data trends - rather than starting with a thesis and choosing 'friendly' data points. The end result is a very readable - if occasionally dry - trot through our world and its state of being.

So if you are open-minded, in search of ideas and believe in our ability to invent and adapt through market-based choices, then you'll probably like this book. Alternatively, if your world is full of storm clouds, a paranoid fear of debate and a love of authoritarian bureaucracy, then keep your money. You'll hate its breezy open-minded outlook on life.

Lastly, to our environmentalist brethren, please, please, please stop telling us all to wake up. Thirty years ago you shouted about the coming ice age. Now it's global warming/dimming. Virtually all government interference results in 'solutions' that create problems far worse than the original. And in our world, where climate/living conditions are changing, but in ways that are not properly understood, the thought of mixing scientific uncertainty with bureaucratic bunglng is frightening to say the least. For this reason there is nothing more healthy than informed, open-minded debate where all the facts are laid bare. That way everyone can make choices and changes can come about naturally.

Five stars to Mr Lomborg for helping us all to do just that.

The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics
The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics
by William Russell Easterly
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.88
139 used & new from $5.89

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bono is the devil, January 11, 2005
It's January 2005 and the media is awash with calls for long-term aid & debt relief for the 'poor' countries hit by the Sumatra Tsunami. You don't need much of a brain to work out who means well and who (once again) is showboating. For those who genuinely want to know how best to help troubled peoples, this book is an indispensable set of ideas - although, Sri Lanka aside, the rapidly growing countries that were hit by the tsunami aren't actually poor at all.

In his quest for growth, William Easterly takes us through all the interventionist strategies (like debt-relief and international aid) that have been tried in the past 60 years to drag poor nations up from the gutter and he conclusively shows that all of these non-market based solutions have failed. Not failed to hit the targets aspired to by their proponents. But failed utterly to make even a dent.

Easterly then goes on to bring two trends to light. One, that there are dozens of reasons why countries remain poor - bad government, corruption, natural disasters, socialism, war, polarised societies & disease to mention a few. And two, that democratic countries which protect property rights, uphold the rule of law and have good quality services that allow private sector investors to flourish tend to become richer over the long-term - if progress isn't derailed by unforeseen disasters that wipe out large swathes of the active population.

There are also splendid bits on why aid very often harms countries since a large amount of it is political or budget spending & most ends up in the pockets of repressive/corrupt regimes who waste it and use the funds to stay in power. Or why debt-relief is normally only prescribed as a `solution' by people who either don't understand finance or who don't like rich people.

And in contrast to a previous reviewer, I though Easterly was particularly clear on the best way forward. That is to offer individuals a stake in their future by giving them every opportunity to succeed on their own without aid, government dependence or corruption - whether through tax incentives, small business schemes or microeconomic aid that is only allocated to countries which state clearly, in advance, how and when they will use it (subject to checks by independent third parties).

In all, The Elusive Quest for Growth is terrific and after reading it again over Christmas I'd recommend it to anyone thinking seriously about how the world might be made a better place for everyone. Aid addicts & debt deflators beware though, this book makes it clear that you are partly to blame for world poverty. Five stars.

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money - That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!
Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money - That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!
by Robert T. Kiyosaki
Edition: Audio CD
39 used & new from $4.96

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Money is free.....or, is it?, November 29, 2002
This is probably the worst personal finance book I have ever read. I almost gave up after page 20. The style and flow is horribly kindergarten and the ideas so rudimentary that it's hard to believe anyone agreed to print it.

RDPD contains a very basic thread which tells you to maximise your asset growth to cover your outgoings (duh!) and then goes on to tell you something about how Kiyosaki became a millionaire. Exactly what is true and how one should start geting rich is pretty hazy. Financial details are thin and his methods vague at best.

It's more of a motivational perk-me-up than a useful guide to making money and achieving financial independence. If there is something positive to come out of the book, it's Kiyosaki's constant preaching that a house is just as much a liability as an asset and buying the family home early on in life can seriously impede your ability to achieve financial independence through leveraging your balance sheet.

The MacLehose Trail
The MacLehose Trail
by Tao Ho
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from $9.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous memories and wonderful views, October 11, 2002
This review is from: The MacLehose Trail (Hardcover)
Like many, I spend my weekends away, up in the hills and along the trails of Hong Kong's wonderful country parks. There are rugged mountains, beautiful beaches, shady & forested valleys with deserted little villages and the occasional stunning view of Victoria Harbour. One of the best-loved trails is the Maclehose Trail, named after Governor Sir Murray Maclehose who headed the 1970s project to maintain and preserve Hong Kong' stunning landscape while allowing the necessary economic development to carry on apace.

This book is a fabulous collection of photographs from along the 100km trail. Each of the ten stages is described in words, photos and delightful Chinese calligraphy. It's more coffee table than some might like, but for those of us who know what it's like to climb Ma On Shan, reach the top and look out over the small expanse of Hong Kong and its many islands, the book's images will bring back many hard-won memories. For those that don't, well, buy this book and get out there.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 10, 2007 3:26 PM PST

The Great Bull Market: Wall Street in the 1920s (Norton Essays in American History)
The Great Bull Market: Wall Street in the 1920s (Norton Essays in American History)
by Robert Sobel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.36
52 used & new from $0.22

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Into the heads of the manic crowd, October 11, 2002
While many stock market books have lots to say about parallels in financial history, this one is very different. The Great Bull Market is not really about the stock market at all. It's about the factors that led to the market mania of the late 1920s. Changes in social patterns, dramatic changes in the economy and living standards and a liberalisation of financial laws all led to the belief that life had really changed for everyone for the better.
Of course, there are wider things to consider than the rather simplistic and sometimes left-wing views put forward here. Even so, The Great Bull Market does take you away from the now perfunctory trawl through margin statistics and takes you into the heads of those who were actually parting with cash. For that it's a great read.

Wind, Sand and Stars
Wind, Sand and Stars
by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Edition: Paperback
108 used & new from $0.01

8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wind-swept Whimsy, April 16, 2002
This review is from: Wind, Sand and Stars (Paperback)
I'd been meaning to read Antoine de Saint-Exupery's 1939 tale of his early flying days for many years. It's only a little book, some 120 pages long, and you can read it easily within a day. Overall, I sort of enjoyed it and the introduction by the English translator. (I read the new 1995 translation published by Penguin Paperbacks).
Antoine de Saint-Exupery was an aviation pioneer and he and his friends' many crash survivals are retold in lurid detail. There are tales of fantastic escapes following mountain-side crashes in the Andes. There is also lament for those free-spirited pioneers who never returned. Even so, I wouldn't say this is the classic that many have made it out to be. It's fairly entertaining. His earlier works are supposed to be better and more fluid and I'll give them a go at a later date.
But for now, the main problem I found with Wind, Sand and Stars is that it is more a collection of shorts inter-woven with Saint-Exupery's philosophical musings on life and death behind the joy-stick. As such, it isn't a tale that begins, gains momentum and races towards a final frenetic conclusion. It reads more like a series of diary entries with orders to the existential milkman thrown in between.
The biggest disappointment for me was the so-called classic account of his miraculous escape from the clutches of the sandy Libyan desert. Try as he might de Saint-Exupery's writing didn't inspire the same dry-mouthed anticipation made marvellous by Camus in his shorter works.
Overall, Wind, Sand and Stars is great for a lazy day in the garden when you want a bit of escapism. The world of de Saint-Exupery's, in his early pioneering days, was very different to the cushy world most of us inhabit. Where Saint-Exupery and friends risked life and limb heading off into mountainous terrain in little more than motorised kite, the biggest risk most of us ever take is deciding which stocks to buy to where to go on holiday. For this reason alone, I'd recommend giving Wind, Sand and Stars an afternoon's attention.
Three/four stars.

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