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Latest Reviews

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Propaganda and the ethics of persuasion.
Author: Marlin, Randal, 1938-
Publisher: Peterborough, Ont. ; Orchard Park, N.Y. : Broadview Press, c2002.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 21/07/2021 12:14:14 PM
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We live in an age of information. First came writing, then the printing press sparking a drive towards mass literacy. This was followed by electronic media - the radio, TV and today the internet. So you think you are well informed? Think again. Propaganda and its close cousins, advertising and public relations, are alive and well.

Marlin eases us, in stages, on a journey of discovery. First, a definition. How does propaganda differ from the mere transmission of information or education? The fact that it is deliberate and organised and aimed at a mass audience might not differentiate it, however, its aim, i.e. persuasion (to a cause, belief or behaviour), does. The fact that it usually involves a degree of deception should make us wary. Cicero, in Ancient Rome, was perspicacious when he wrote, in translation, "Honesty may be the best policy, but it is not the best politics".

Marlin's romp through history, beginning in ancient Athens and Rome, through Medieval Europe, the French Revolution and Napoleon, to World War I and the Nazis, is informative. I was amazed at the global extent of British propaganda in WWI. Some of their pioneering methods were instructive for the Nazis a couple of decades later.

In chapter 3, where Marlin introduces us to the tools of trade, the techniques used by propagandists, he warns us of the traps of opinion polls and the use of statistics to substantiate claims and hoodwink the audience.

If propaganda, advertising and the public relations industry do employ deception, or at the very least omission or obfuscation of facts, it raises questions concerning its moral integrity. In discussing ethics, Marlin gives a lot of weight to some of the great thinkers over the last three millennia. Much of his analysis remains theoretical and can be heavy going. I would have preferred that he provided more instances of how these philosophers' theories applied to real-world examples.

As we are essentially talking about the art of persuasion, the real world figures large in the 200-year coverage of advertising and public relations that Marlin expounds.

Another chapter considers freedom of expression. While most prominent thinkers emphasise the right and benefits of such freedoms, they also recognise limits. Some may even support censorship and legal restrictions in exceptional cases. Given that some legislative restrictions on freedom of expression may be warranted, Marlin devotes a further chapter to regulatory controls upon hate speech, advertising and the mass media. His focus is, however, heavily on the Canadian scene. While some of this is instructive and illustrative of the Australian situation, I felt his coverage and examples were too detailed and too exclusively American.

The concluding chapter on the role of the internet, while informative, is dated. This book was, after all, published in 2002. If he wrote today, this chapter would have devoted much to the rise and prominence of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. These were non-existent in 2002.

We are on an almost daily basis assaulted by a barrage of information. It would seem pertinent that we be aware of possible deception and manipulation. Marlin's book is comprehensive and organised. You will learn the history and nature of propaganda, the techniques and ethics, or lack of, of mass persuasion. You will become more alert... Our country needs lerts!

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The half-drowned king / Linnea Hartsuyker.
Author: Hartsuyker, Linnea.
Publisher: London : Little, Brown, 2017. -- London Little, Brown, 2017. -- ©2017
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 15/07/2021 1:30:15 PM
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A promising first novel for a trilogy. The next two are The Sea Queen and The Golden Wolf. Having read the first of the series, I'm ready for the second.

The novels are set in 9th century Norway. At this time in history, Norway is politically like England. Rather than a single nation-state, it is a collection of kingdoms of various sizes and strength, right down to what was little more than glorified chiefdoms. But there is a young, ambitious unifier. The 16-year-old Harald is a powerful king in the south. He has been prophesised by his mother to be the king of a unified Norway. Through negotiation threat and force he seems well on his path to achieve this goal. It is interesting that historically it was a Harald who united Norway towards the end of the 9th century. Likely the author modelled her Harald on the real one.

There are two linked stories running parallel in this novel. Ragnvald is 20 years of age. He is the grandson of a king on the west coast - a map at the beginning of the book helps orientate place names with characters and action. His father lost this kingdom shortly before his early death. Ragnvald was raised as the foster son of Olaf, a friend of his father who had taken over his farming estate supposedly in trust until Ragnvald reached maturity. The novel opens with the attempted murder of Ragnvald while returning from raiding in Ireland. It seems Olaf does not want to honour Ragnvald's inheritance. Throughout the novel, Ragnvald nurses his desire for revenge against both Olaf and the man who attempted his murder. In the meantime, he allies himself with King Hakon - another powerful king allied to the young and ambitious Harald - only to fall out with both of them towards the end of the novel.

The other storyline follows Ragnvald;s 15-year-old sister. In a curious and uncomfortable, almost unfathomable, twist of fate, she ends up marrying the man who tried to murder her brother. Divided and painfully conflicting loyalties. The author presents this complexity of human nature well.

By the end of the novel, Ragnvald has achieved one of his vendettas. The which, why, and how... well, you'll have to read it to find out.

This is formulaic historical drama. A mix of drama and action, love, friendships and rivalry, ambition and soul searching. If such historical fiction is your genre, it's good. You will detect threads of real-life history, learn of Norse culture during this era and be entertained by the characters and their strivings.
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Secrets hidden below / Sandra Bennett.
Author: Bennett, Sandra D., author.
Publisher: : Peribo, 2018 -- Canberra, ACT : Elephant Tree Publishing Pty Ltd, 2018. -- �2018.
Review by: Moss, Hayley  on: 22/06/2021 6:17:59 PM
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It kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. I read it for three hours in a row during a car trip. H.M. Age 9.
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How to bee / Bren MacDibble.
Author: MacDibble, Bren, author.
Publisher: Crows Nest, NSW Allen & Unwin 2017. -- �2017.
Review by: Moss, Hayley  on: 22/06/2021 6:12:42 PM
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It was one of the best books that I have ever read and I will be hoping for other books about Peony and the farm. I hope that you will like it as much as I do. H.M. Age 9.
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Refuge. Jackie French.
Author: French, Jackie, author.
Publisher: Sydney South, N.S.W. : HarperCollins Publishers, 2013. -- Sydney, NSW Angus&Robertson, 2013. -- Ã2013.
Review by: Moss, Hayley  on: 22/06/2021 6:07:04 PM
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It was very fun and I didn't want to put the book down. H.M. Age 9.
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Tom Hurstbourne or a squatter's life / John Clavering Wood.
Author: Wood, John Clavering. -- Grant, Gloria, Editor. -- Gerard Benjamin. -- Gloria Grant.
Publisher: Salisbury, Qld. : Boolarong Press, 2010.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 21/06/2021 4:14:20 PM
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This novel is the first reputed to be set, written, published and printed in Queensland, although there was almost 150 years between the first two and the latter. The manuscript was written in 1864-65. It was discovered, unpublished by John Wood's great-great-grandson in the early 2000s who, with his wife, researched and published it. The author came from an educated, middle-class, English background and spent substantial time in both urban Australia and travelling, living and working in rural areas as well. This gave him substantial qualifications to capture the nature of the societies in which the novel is set.

The protagonist is the eponymous Tom Hurstbourne, a member of England's landed gentry whose family fortune has been lost due to the supposed fraud and failed speculation of his cousin. This cousin, George, is transported to Australia. Tom, seeking to restore his fortune, also emigrates to Australia to try his luck in sheep farming in central Queensland. By coincidence, his and George's paths cross after George has completed his sentence although Tom, falling in love with George's sister, is unaware of the family connection. But an eye to social standing and reputation may stand in the way of this love. What? Marry the sister of an ex-convict! However, this is but a minor subsidiary plot to the central plot in this novel.

Tom leaves his estate in England in the hands of his trusted solicitor. Unbeknownst to Tom, this solicitor also has a family connection via Tom's late uncle. This connection carries a vendetta which both the solicitor and his mother are determined to avenge. As the solicitor's reputation, wealth and power increases in England, Tom restores his wealth in Australia. But the day of reckoning approaches when both the solicitor and his mother, keeping their connections and motives secret, also cross paths with Tom in Queensland. Is Tom's fate sealed?

This book is filled with colourful characters typical of the historical setting: Emigrants from all parts of the British Isles plus some home-grown colonials. One slightly annoying element is that the author insists in spelling their dialogue phonetically in an attempt to reflect their virtually incomprehensible dialects. That caused a problem for me. Such spelling did make some of the dialogue unintelligible. There is also humour in this story, especially with some of the superstitions and quirks held by the medley of working-class folk in their new colonial environs.

The Aboriginal theme also enters this novel. I was interested to see how an author of the 1860s handled this issue. Early in the story, there is a minor massacre dealt with as a matter-of-fact practical conflict of interests. But later in the novel, the Aboriginal issue rises again. Here, the author exhibits a surprisingly empathetic and humanistic perspective, something more akin to progressive thought of today.

The language and style is pure poetry. It has a formality similar to that of Dickens, Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters. An extensive glossary at the back helps with some of the archaic terms, colloquialisms and slang characteristic of the times.

The plot in the novel contains revenge and skulduggery, ambition and love, and raw, ribald revelry. The earlier style is a refreshing difference from modern style. Read it for a journey into a past Australia, both with the setting, and also with the author's contemporaneous perceptions.
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The chief witness : escape from China's modern-day concentration camps / Sayragul Sauytbay, Alexandra Cavelius ; translated by Caroline Waight.
Author: Sauytbay, Sayragul, author. -- Cavelius, Alexandra, author. -- Waight, Caroline, translator.
Publisher: Brunswick, Victoria: Scribe Publications , 2021. -- ©2021
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 21/06/2021 4:13:23 PM
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This book has to be read to be believed. At times I thought: Surely she's exaggerating. Maybe her's is a slightly bitter perspective of a minority suffering an inevitable discrimination by a majority. But even if half what Sauytbay says is true, even if some claims are on the harsh side or contain elements of supposition, the CCP Chinese Communist Party and government of China is damned for its ethnocide in Xinjiang province in western China. It is guilty of inconceivable human rights abuses.

Sayragul Sauytbay is a Kazakh - a member of the second-largest minority in this farthest western province of China. We have heard of the Uighurs - the largest minority group who are locked up in so-called re-education camps in this province, subject to torture and an inhuman attempt at brainwashing. But the discrimination extends to all non-Han minorities, especially Muslims.

Sauytbay's story starts slowly. She takes us through her childhood and teen years, her education and early career, as first a doctor, then a teacher and finally her marriage. This is important as it gives the reader a grounding in Kazakh culture. It is one that places prominence on a connection with nature, family and community bonds, as well as the Islamic faith. It is central to Kazakh identity and a sense of ethnic independence. It is the Islamic faith and this sense of independence that is anathema to the majority Han Chinese government.

The Han Chinese invasion in 1949, annexation and occupation of what was then East Turkestan, reminds me of the white invasion of Australia and the subsequent degradation of the Aboriginal people and their culture. Although the worst of abuses have only come to light in the last decade or so, it has been ongoing since the beginning of Han Chinese occupation. The discrimination seems to have been low-key, although still noticeable for most of this period but has been ramped up to unimaginable proportions since the ascent of the unrivalled paramount leader Xi Jinping in 2012.

I sometimes look at China and marvel at how far it has moved from Communism economically, at how fast it has grown in terms of wealth and trade since it embraced capitalism 30 years ago. But politically, it remains a Cold-War-style Communist state exercising an authoritarianism that makes Mao's purges and ideological madness seem tame by comparison. For such a modern state, I am amazed at how primitive are the methods it uses to exterminate the Xinjiang minorities cultures. It is one thing for an authoritarian state to ban or change behaviour, but brutal suppression can only embitter minds not win them over. According to Sauytbay's story, it is guilty of illegal and indefinite detention, starvation, torture - both psychological and physical - and murder. Her mindless, sadistic treatment in a detention camp defies any logic or humanity.

Her escape from Xinjiang carries all the suspense of good action novel. Even in neighbouring Kazakhstan her safety is touch and go. She and her family have much support yet they are still intimidated on an almost-daily basis. Sauytbay also has to battle her way through the Kazakhstan court system. Eventually, she and her family gain asylum in Sweden. But even here she is unable to get information on the retribution the Chinese government seems to have imposed on her remaining family in Xinjing.

If you are a Sinophobe, this book will confirm, and exacerbate, your fears of China. If you are a Sinophile, your admiration for China will be seriously challenged. Either way, be prepared to be shocked.
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The king without a kingdom / Maurice Druon ; translated from French by Andrew Simpkin.
Author: Druon, Maurice, 1918-2009, author. -- Simpkin, Andrew, translator.
Publisher: Pymble, A Harpercollins Publishing Aust 2015. -- London HarperCollinsPublishers, 2015. -- Ã1977
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 7/06/2021 4:19:49 PM
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This is the last book in a septet, The Accursed Kings, set in 14th century France. The entire series is as follows:
The Iron King
The Strangled Queen
The Poisoned Crown
The Royal Succession
The She-Wolf
The Lily and the Lion
The King without a Kingdom
You can find my reviews on the first three books on the library catalogue under the listing for each of these novels. I strongly recommend that you read these books in order as they religiously follow history - information in earlier novels will aid comprehension of events in later ones.

I have to confess from the start that I did not read all of this book. Actually, I gave up after the first three chapters. The deterrent was not the plot or content but the style. The first six novels were typical narrative. They had separate characters who spoke to each other and changed scenes while engaging in the action of the story. I, as a reader, could learn their personalities, predict or ponder their actions and travel through history with them.

However, in this last novel, Druon completely changes his style. It is given in storytelling style. It takes the form of a cardinal recounting the events of the first 20 to 30 years of the Hundred Years' War between France and England, which began in 1337, to his nephew. There is virtually no dialogue from other characters. They are merely elements in the cardinal's story. Now you may find this style refreshing. But for me, if I wanted to be told 30 years of French-English history, I would get a non-fiction book on the history of France. For a novel, I expect escape and transportation into a story, entertainment as well as education.

That scathing criticism (based on personal taste) aside, this novel does cap a turbulent time in French history. At the beginning of the 14th century, France was at the pinnacle of its power. It was the most powerful, most densely populated, most dynamic and richest of the Christian kingdoms. Its interventions were feared, its arbitrations heeded and its protection sought after, in part thanks to the Iron King - see first novel. But this was followed by a period of continuous decline under incompetent, weak and disinterested monarchs, rivalries between leading nobles and mismanaged international relations. The Hundred Years' War merely accelerated this decline that had already been slowly corroding this kingdom for almost three decades.

Regardless of whether you read this last novel or not, I still strongly recommend the first six novels in this series for a story of historical corruption, greed and intrigue.
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Sapiens : a brief history of humankind / Yuval Noah Harari ; [translated by the author, with the help of John Purcell and Haim Watzman].
Author: Harari, Yuval N, author, translator. -- Purcell, John, translator. -- Watzman, Haim, translator.
Publisher: London : Vintage Books, [2015] -- ©2011
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 7/06/2021 4:17:57 PM
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One hundred thousand years ago there were six species of humans (genus Homo) on this planet. Why is there only one (Homo sapiens) now? Why have Homo sapiens been so successful, occupying almost every corner of the globe? Why, at least by some criteria, are we the top dog species of the planet? And don't cop out with the simple answer: Because of our big brain. The answer, to do it justice, needs a whole book. Sapiens by Yuval Harari is that book.

Harari tackles our species history through three pivotal revolutions: the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution and the scientific revolution.

Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago. For about the first 130,000 years of our history, we remained in Africa. Then about 70,000 years ago, we underwent a cognitive revolution, at the same time migrating out of Africa. This revolution of the mind is what gave us a leg up in our competition with other species. Our thinking was no longer restricted to the present. We could review and learn from the past. We could plan for and hypothesise about the future. We could think in the abstract. Our most advantageous abstraction was language. It magnified our evolved trait of cooperation, typical of the social animal we are. We built, shared and expanded our knowledge base. We started creating imagined realities.

About 12,000 years ago, we discovered how to cultivate plants and domesticate animals. The next revolution. But was it for the better? True, we procured more food from smaller areas. We ceased our wandering and established permanent settlements. But was our diet any better? And did we become slaves to our settled lifestyle?

Following the agricultural revolution, our imagined realities came to the fore. As our societies grew into larger and more complex towns, cities, nation states and even empires, we had to invent new abstractions such as money, legal systems, writing, mathematics, gender differentiation, institutionalised religions, bureaucracies and social hierarchies. All these comprise what we call cultures, that uniquely human phenomenon that gives us a leg up on all other species. Unlike other species, which have to wait long term for biological evolution to deal with environmental change, we can use culture to adapt to, and shape our, environment. Many in these new societies, such as artisans, philosophers, rulers, priests, soldiers, scientists and other elites, could be supported by the surplus produced by the great unwashed of peasantry. Freed from the drudgery of hard yakka, they could focus on the imagined realities that bind and define our cultures.

The next great leap forward, the scientific revolution, was a marriage between science, politics (mainly Western imperialism) and capitalism (industry, finance and technology). This symbiotic relationship, together with a new ambitious mindset and worldview, was a game changer for Homo sapiens. In the chapter on capitalism, simple yet thought-provoking lessons explain how modern economies differ so markedly from economies of earlier eras.

Harari devotes a chapter each to gender, religion, money, empires and capitalism. His definitions and analysis are vivid. He calls a spade a spade with some of his unexpected and non-standard perspectives. It was stimulating to be challenged by, and to challenge, some of them.

The industrial revolution, in itself a part of the scientific revolution, is seen by many as a major upheaval in human history. Key to its success was energy. With science, we learnt new ways of converting new sources of stored energy (eg. fossil fuels) into more useful forms (eg. heat and mechanical). But it was more than just scientific advancement and economic explosion, it also changed the fundamentals of our lifestyles, our social organisation and our emotional outlook.

So after all these revolutions, are we happier? Harari explores this ill-defined and elusive concept.

Harari concludes with a crystal-ball gaze into our future. He postulates on three nascent fields of development viz. biological engineering (genetics), cyborg engineering (combining organic and non-organic parts) and engineering of inorganic life (artificial intelligence).

This book is a concise and quintessential history of Homo sapiens from our emergence 200,000 years ago through the present, then speculating into our future. Harari posits some truly revolutionary perspectives, ideas, hypotheses and exposés. This book's tight, logical organisation and Harari's lucid presentation make it well worth five stars.
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The lily and the lion / Maurice Druon ; translated from French by Humphrey Hare.
Author: Druon, Maurice, 1918-2009, author. -- Hare, Humphrey, translator.
Publisher: London HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014. -- Ã1961
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 31/05/2021 4:05:17 PM
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This is the sixth book in a septet The Accursed Kings set in 14th century France. The entire series is as follows
The Iron King
The Strangled Queen
The Poisoned Crown
The Royal Succession
The She-Wolf
The Lily and the Lion
The King without a Kingdom
You can find my reviews on the first three books on the library catalogue under the listing for each of these novels. I strongly recommend that you read these books in order as they religiously follow history - information in earlier novels will aid comprehension of events in later ones.

The last part of the previous novel The She-Wolf spent its time in England with the forced abdication of Edward II his replacement by his 15-year-old son Edward III and his murder at the behest of his wife Isabella of France and her lover Lord Mortimer. The English theme continues in this novel. Lord Mortimer, initially celebrated for the unseating of an unpopular king, is becoming increasingly unpopular himself. With the support of Queen Isabella, he had assumed the regency for Edward III, still a minor, and become de facto ruler of England. However, he and Isabella overstep their mark. You can read of their fate in a history book but it is much more exciting and enjoyable to read of it in novel-form in this story by Druon.

Back in France, Charles IV has died without male heir. Due to the Salic Law enacted by his elder brother Philippe V, females cannot assume the throne. This, then, is the end of the Capet dynasty. Count Robert of Artois is instrumental in having Philippe of Valois, from another branch of the royal family, placed on the throne. This is the best chance he has of righting a wrong perpetrated upon him almost 30 years ago. When his grandfather died, instead of the County of Artois going to him, King Philip the Fair, four monarchs back, gave it to his aunt. He has be fighting through four kings and over 20 years to get it back. This intrigue, with shifting loyalties, plots, murder and forgery, constitutes the French plotline of this novel. Robert is on the cusp of success but his skulduggery, an act of frustration and despair, is his undoing. But, like the proverbial phoenix, he rises from the ashes to sew major discord. He proves more danger to the French court in exile in England than he was in France, being a key architect in the second 100 years war between these two kingdoms.

In the epilogue, the story jumps forward 16 years and moves to Italy. In earlier novels, Druon followed a subplot involving a young Lombard banker and his secret marriage to the daughter of a minor noble. This lady becomes the wet nurse to Queen Clemence's newborn son. This son is heir to the throne, to succeed his recently deceased father, Louis X, three monarchs back. At three weeks old, he dies, allegedly poisoned. But did he? Druon writes it so that the wet nurse's three-week-old baby was substituted. Only three people know this secret. Now, the 38-year-old Giannino, having thought himself a member of a Lombard banking family all his life, discovers that he is the legitimate heir to the French throne. But who will believe such a wild claim? What powerful people might help him?

Druon's vivid descriptive scenes and the medieval milieu he creates are such that I often felt drawn into his novels to walk alongside the characters. However, I'm unsure whether I'd rather be a peasant whose existence was threatened by overwork and hunger, or a noble whose fate was the mercy of the Machiavellian machinations of his/her peers.

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