Humankind

Humankind –

A Hopeful History

By Rutger Bregman

Bloomsbury Publishing – £18.00

In a ‘democracy,’ shamelessness can be positively advantageous. Politicians who aren’t hindered by shame are free to do things others wouldn’t dare. Would you call yourself your country’s most brilliant thinker, or boast about your sexual prowess? Could you get caught in a lie and then tell another without missing a beat? Most people would be consumed by shame – just as most people leave that last cookie on the plate. But the shameless couldn’t care less. And their audacious behaviour pays dividends in our modern mediacracies, because the news spotlights the abnormal and the absurd.

(‘How Power Corrupts’)

Does the above sound familiar?

Does the above not quintessentially underline the division (and hatred) that is currently rampant throughout the UK, which may partially underline the cold, callous murder of the MP David Amess last week?

I say this because there are now two very distinct sides in the UK: those who stand for what is morally decent and correct (those with a conscience). And those who don’t give a fuck (those in government – who do not have a conscience – presided over by the most dishonest, blatantly shameless and greed obsessed Prime Minister to have ever held office).

As such, does the above not depict the soon to be devolved United Kingdom’s current government, almost pristine perfectly?

Surely anyone with a beating heart will already know the answer, which is where this overtly important book comes into psychological power play.

Eye-opening, refreshing, brave, coherent, to the point and altogether socially valuable, Humankind – A Hopeful History, is the sort of read that will hopefully catapult the Dutch author and historian, Rutger Bregman, unto the topper-most annals of acute philosophical acknowledgement. And given where the United Kingdom is socially as well as economically heading (might disaster be the most appropriate term here?), its informed analysis is the only form of sought after hope left:

‘’This is a book about a radical idea.

An idea that’s long been known to make rulers nervous. An idea denied by religions and ideologies, ignored by the news media, and erased from the annals of world history.

At the same time, it’s an idea that is legitimized by virtually every branch of science. One that’s corroborated by evolution and confirmed by everyday life. An idea so intrinsic to human nature that it goes unnoticed and gets overlooked.

[…]

So what is this radical idea?

That most people, deep down, are pretty decent’’

(‘A New Realism’).

So there you have it: ‘’most people, deep down, are pretty decent.’’

Good to read, good to hear, and good to decipher by way of Bregman’s thoughtful, well structured and detailed explanation.

A place where science and morality intrinsically collide head-on.

The cathartic result being ‘’when we think the worst of others, it brings out the worst in our politics and economics too.’’ A quality, given Boris Johnson’s recent rancid – vacuous and disgraceful – speech at the Tory conference in Manchester, may well be considered to have been subliminally responsible for the appalling (and totally unnecessary) death of Amess.

Admittedly, this may be understandably hard to bear and assimilate, but it is what it is. Simply because Boris Johnson has no morals, no scruples and no shame.

Qualities which, according to Humankind, one ultimately needs in order to be decent.

Let alone run a country (into the ground).

David Marx

Wales

Wales

By Walker, Dragicevich, Kaminski & Waterson

Lonely Planet – £14.99

Vacillating between gritty and glitzy, the Victorian and the voguish, Cardiff is a master of reinvention. Wales’ capital since just 1955, it has embraced the role with vigour […]. Cardiff’s creativity and confidence is embodied in the radical transformation of Cardiff Bay from unsightly mudflats to Europe’s biggest, boldest waterfront development. Come weekends the area buzzes as shoppers hit the Hayes, rugby supporters’ roars resound through the centre and revellers relish the thriving nightlife.

(‘Cardiff’).

For such a small country, it has an almost obscene amount of wilderness, not to mention ravishing beaches, a one-of-kind culture and epoch-defining history.

(‘Why I love Wales’)

Considering tiny Wales borders much larger England, it really does deliver a rather mighty large, cultural punch. From vigour to vibe to the epic-esque poetry of Dylan Thomas and all things in-between, the country really does seemingly have something to offer everyone.

A quality made abundantly clear in this altogether fine travel guide from Lonely Planet.

Wales kicks off with the usual ‘Why I Love’ section (followed by a map of the country), where immediately after, readers are endearingly treated to the Top Ten Experiences; which, as one might expect, is predominantly rural: ‘’Soon after crossing the English-Welsh border, the Brecon Beacons raise their mighty fins in welcome. Further north in Snowdonia National Park things get wilder and more mountainous still, with gnarly peaks to climb. Choose a clear day for a ramble and enjoy views that will set your spirits soaring higher than the country’s red kites. Or for more of a challenge, join fell runners to sprint to the Snowdon summit’’ (‘Mountains of Myth’).

That said, there’s a fair number of pages devoted to bustling Cardiff (‘’the name Cardiff probably derives from Caer Taf (Fort on the River Taff), which invariably includes everything from Sights to Activities, Tours to Festivals & Events, Sleeping, Eating, Drinking and Nightlife. Also included is the Vale of Glamorgan, Penarth and Barry (Y Barri).

All delivered in a most easy going manner, these 352 pages pack a very reasonable punch of their own, and this includes a hefty mention of one of my all time favourites poets, the ever so great and influential, Dylan Thomas: ‘’[…] a towering figure in Welsh literature, one of those poets who seemed to embody what a poet should be: chaotic, dramatic, drunk, tragic and comic. His work, although written in English, is of the bardic tradition – written to be read aloud, thunderous, often humorous, with a lyrical sense that echoes the sound of the Welsh voice […]. Whether you’re a fan or just interested to know what all the fuss is about, you’ll find plenty of sites in Swansea to stalk the shade of the maverick poet and writer’’ (‘Swansea, Gower & Carmarthenshire’).

I’m off to Wales myself in just over a week, replete with camera, curiosity and this fab’n’informative travel guide.

David Marx

The Art of Parsi Cooking

The Art of Parsi Cooking –

Reviving an Ancient Cuisine

By Niloufer Mavalvala

Austin Macauley Publishers – £17.99

Recipes are not to be used as perfect, exact tools, but rather guidelines resting in our kitchens to be balanced and steered toward our taste buds. The spice, the salt, the sweet, and the sour in or dishes can be fine-tuned and perfectly set-up for our family and friends, only through our personal kitchens. The love and affection with which a dish is made makes it even more perdect.

(‘The Art of Parsi Cooking’)

With the exception of About the Author and the Dedication, the 109 pages of this altogether tantalising publication offer the taste buds a resounding nuance of gourmet difference.

Broken into eight distinct sections: Appetizers (Pehli Vani), Side Dish (Beeji Vani), Main Dish (Teeji Vani), Rice Dishes (Chawal Nu Bhonu), Rotli Dishes (Rotli Nu Bhonu), Desserts (Mithoo Monu), Tea Time Snacks (Chai Ni Satheh) and Sparsi Cook’s Spice Island, The Art of Parsi Cooking – Reviving an Ancient Cuisine is an eye opener with regards the surprisingly differing textures that go into Parsi cooking.

For instance, Dhansak (Meat cooked with lentils and rice) on page 54, consists of not only Toor/tuar lentils, but also red masoor lentils, which goes some way in underlining the subtle variations within the cooking of said meal: ‘’There is no right or wrong to cooking Dhansak, and each family has its own ingredients and methods for this historic dish. Love of Dhansak just seems to endorse one’s ‘Parsi-pannu’ or ‘Parsi-ness’. Serve this with a chilled beer or shandy for the ultimate Parsi eating experience.’’

Conveniently laid-out and displayed, along with a fine repertoire of colour photographs to both invite and invigorate ones’ hungry belly, this conveniently sized cookbook is a more than tempting, literary addition to the kitchen.

As Denise Landis, publisher and editor in Chief of The Cook’s Cook has since written: ‘’The Art of Parsi Cooking fills a gap in the world of cookbooks.’’

But hey, don’t just take our word for it, because if you’re into rustling up something different, do endeavour to investigate further…

David Marx

Street Legal

Street Legal –

Bob Dylan’s Unpolished Gem From 1978

By Jochen Markhorst

Independently Published – £9.99

Dylan is 43, Flanagan is a serious, interested writer, and anyway: the days a quicksilver Dylan fools journalists with nonsense and smoke screens are over […]. What remains then is the poetic expression of a fictional break-up, interspersed with film noir cliches. And with Johnny Cash.

(‘Hardin Wouldn’t Run’)

The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.

(‘In the Pines’)

Cheap? Why, certainly. Effective? Very.

(‘Time regards a snarky bacterium’)

As is the norm with Dylanologist, Jochen Markhorst’s many writings on the bard Bob Dylan; we are more oft than not re-introduced unto a suave saga of shimmering poetic hearsay – as if to say what once reflected the substantiation of lyrical interpretation, is now the reverse.

Or the inverse.

Or an entirely new verse altogether.

To many Dylan fans, this may well have been the case all along.

To others, all’s well that invariably ends well, especially within the high-octane canon of Dylan’s vast repertoire of lyrical persuasion.

As much appears to be somewhat qualified, when just preceding the third of the above quotes in the passage ‘Time regards a snarky bacterium, Markhorst writes: ‘’The beauty of Dylan’s reflection lies in what he does not do; Dylan’ avoids the antithesis, does not juxtapose two opposing concepts to illustrate how insensitive Time is, as Nietzsche, Kant and Goethe all do, and, in variants, even Plato does. Dylan plays with this expectation, but then places beauty and folly, an aesthetic qualification and an intellectual one, opposite each other. Both human and both cultural-bound (…].

Naturally, ‘both cultural-bound,’ which is where the 232 pages of Street Legal – Bob Dylan’s Unpolished Gem From 1978 (excluding Sources, Notes and Thanks) fundamentally come into what many might consider to be occasionally perplexing play.

But that’s Dylan for ya.

Closely and revealingly followed by Markhorst’s suave saga of aforementioned re-introduction: ‘’The baroque exuberance of the text fascinates and invites to take a stand, that much of a trip through the fields makes clear. In addition, many clarifiers remain stuck in the – not always admiring meant – conclusion that the lyrics are so ambiguous. That is euphemistic; in the vast majority of analysis, the reader is taken along a few more and less far-fetched associations, to discover at the end that the analyst is unable to produce one single interpretation, let alone more interpretations. And those few Dylanologists who bravely attempt to capture ‘Changing Of The Guards’ in one conclusive interpretation, go down struggling’’ (‘Changing Of The Guards’).

Many would indeed go down struggling, although with a little help from Jochen Markhorst – who really does knows his Dylan more than most – the depth(s) to which one will plummet may not be as tumultuous and unforgiving as one might at initially imagine.

Which is why I once again, highly recommend the reading of his ever increasing body work.

Street Legal being no exception.

David Marx

Germany, Austria & Switzerland’s Best Trips

Germany, Austria & Switzerland’s Best Trips –
33 Amazing Road Trips
Lonely Planet – £15.99

Grandiose cities, storybook villages, vine-stitched valleys and dreamy Alpine landscapes that beg you to toot your horn, leap out of the car and jump for joy – road tripping in this Germanic part of western Europe is a mesmerising kaleidoscope of brilliant landscapes and experiences […].

(‘Welcome to Germany, Austria & Switzerland’)

With eleven contributory writers, this particular Lonely Planet Travel Guide takes a slightly different slant to that normally expected. Prime reason being the different approach each individual writer choses to focus and embark upon; thus procuring an altogether approach.

That said, these 405 pages (excluding Behind The Scenes, Index & Our Writers along with a Pull-Out map of the area) cannot help but remind the inquisitive reader of just how stunning this particular part of Europe truly is.

Riddled with maps, colour photographs and immense inspiration, Germany, Austria & Switzerland’s Best Trips – 33 Amazing Road Trips might be considered a breath-taking read in and of itself.

Just the following on the Rhine Valley alone, almost takes you there: ‘’The romance along this stretch of the Rhine is timeless. Poets and painters including Lord Byron and William Turner are among those who have been inspired by this castle-crowned, forest-and-vineyard-cloaked valley. A fabled stop on the original European Grand Tour, the river-scape here is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. It doesn’t get more classic than that’’ (‘Romantic Rhine’).

Likewise, this excerpt on the Carinthian Lakes: ‘’On this multi-lake trip in the country’s summer playground, dubbed ‘Austria’s Riviera,’ water babies of all ages can swim, boat, water-ski and wakeboard, as well as scuba-dive high up in the Alps at Weissensee, the country’s highest swimmable glacial lake. Along the way, you’ll discover a wealth of cultural attractions too, from Roman archaeological finds to medieval castles, a splendid Benedictine abbey and cutting-edge contemporary art galleries (‘Carinthian Lakes’).

Unlike (most) other Lonely Planet guides I have reviewed, there is also a section referred to as ‘Stretch Your Legs,’ which essentially entails discovering the many great cities on foot.

For instance, Munich: Start: Marienplatz. Finish: Englischer Garten. Distance: 4km/2.5 miles
Duration: Three hours – ‘’This walk follows a route around the main sights in Munch’s historical city centre. It takes in some of the Bavarian capital’s finest churches, its top palace and its busiest piazzas, passing some of Central Europe’s best shopping opportunities along the way.’’

As is made clear in the aforementioned section ‘Welcome to Germany, Austria & Switzerland’: ‘’The 33 trips in this book take you for a spin from Germany’s edgy capital to its bracing northern coast and fabled Rhine and Moselle Valley vineyards, from Bavaria to the Black Forest, and beyond to the sparkling shores of Lake Constance and into Austria and Switzerland.’’

As such, you’ll be rather hard pressed to find a better motoring trip and accompanying travel guide.

David Marx

An Armchair Of Dissent

An Armchair Of Dissent

By Richard George

Austin Macauley Publishers – £18.99

Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.

John Stuart Mill (‘Shield and Spear’)

God help England if she had no Scots to think for her.

George Bernard Shaw (‘The Auld Enemy’)

A barbarous country must be first broken by a war before it will be capable of good government; and when it is fully subdued and conquered, if it be not well planted and governed after the conquest, it will eftsoons return to the former barbarism.

Sir John Davies (‘Plantation’)

Simultaneously real and regal, this isn’t a publication to be taken lightly.

As such, to say this book is a read of profound (British) historical evaluation and revelation, would perhaps be something of an understatement. It cuts to the non-ambiguous chase upon a factual premise of telling it as it needs to be told.

Surely the above three quotes alone, clarify as much; although at 546 pages, there really is so much to both digest and devour.

Yet, where An Armchair Of Dissent truly beguiles the reader is within the parameters of knowledge and finesse, as seen through the ‘nothing to prove’ eyes of its author, Richard George; who himself writes: ‘’This book is a journey into my past. Britain’s past, by someone – me – who is profoundly uncomfortable with it and with the present in which it has resulted. It is selective, quirky and ordinary, using information openly available to anyone via the internet.

To say he is not alone in feeling ‘’profoundly uncomfortable’’ with the present day Britain, would again, perhaps be something of an understatement; especially when he continues with:

‘’It reveals a story of the triumph of arrogant superiority and brutal expediency in defence of a morally indefensible regime of minority domination. Its realities have been fictionalised into a tale of institutionalised glory and civilised advance of human society that denies the frailty of the human psyche and the deadly savagery, self-seeking greed and single-minded pursuit of power that is my inheritance.’’

Replete with several black and white photographs within the middle of the book, George has herein written and compiled a work about the meaning of historical Britishness, that is by far more substantial and comprehensive, more trial, tribulation and testament, to that which it claims to (honestly) be about; than a menagerie of Tommy Robinsons’ and Nigel Farages’ – were they somehow to live several thousand years each.

To be sure, they, along with their wretched consortium of racist, misinformed bigots, would be more than wise to read An Armchair Of Dissent from cover to cover (SEVERAL TIMES OVER).

David Marx

Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page –

The Definitive Biography

By Chris Salewicz

Harper Collins – £10.99

A different sort of story began to emerge about Led Zeppelin on this tour, of an act whose libidinous pursuits were elevated sometimes to the level of an art form. Not least when Page, covered in offal, was wheeled on a hospital trolley by John Bonham into a Los Angeles hotel room filled with groupies, who proceeded to devour him.

(‘Whole Lotta Love’)

Although they liked to think of themselves as muses, most of these girls were little more than trinkets, abused victims. And, as their circumstances dictated, many of them were also hard as nails and capable of being considerably vicious. Jimmy Page would later tell how one of his girlfriends from that scene had once bitten into a sandwich to discover it contained razorblades. ‘I’d been on the road with Hawkwind or whoever, writing for the NME, and we’d sneak into the Hyatt and Zeppelin would be there,’ said Nick Farren. ‘And the whole place was full of the stinkiest fucking groupies. There was something very unclean about the whole deal. Rod and The Faces sort of kicked it off, but it went to some kind of zenith with Zeppelin… with Zeppelin it just seemed to be running in semen and beer and unpleasantness and old Tampaxes.

(‘City Of Angels’).

The renowned, hedonistic exploits of Led Zeppelin are not only notorious, but have somehow traversed the ever changing decades since the sexually charged seventies. It is as if the likes of feminism and some sort of sexual correctness, let alone healing, never took place. And if you are of the persuasion that it did somehow descend upon the likes of Messrs. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, then you need to read this occasionally telling, yet revelatory book by Chris Salewicz.

Jimmy Page – The Definitive Biography is clearly of the no-holds barred, kiss’n’tell design, wherein page one already/immediately alerts the reader as to just what sort of literary journey one is about to embark upon: ‘’Mired in his Cracked Actor phase, Bowie was known to be living on milk and cocaine, and on the edge of madness. He had been inspired to devour the writings of Aleister Crowley, whose philosophy he had first dabbled in during the late 1960s: Bowie believed that Page’s deep knowledge of Crowley had enhanced the guitarist’s aura until it was rock hard and ringing with power.’’

Rock hard and ringing with power might well in this instance, be considered something of a shimmering sexual metaphor. It might also be considered a rather apt description of Led Zeppelin as a whole, who were indeed, musically rock hard and ringing with (acute) power. To the degree that such behaviour as that described in the second of the above opening quotations was the norm.

Not questioned.

In fact, on open parade and openly promoted – as were bouts of vitriol and violence, already/immediately regaled on page three (Introduction): John Bindon, Led Zeppelin’s security guard, had stagehand Jim Matzorkis pinned to the floor of a backstage trailer at Oakland Coliseum. Bindon, a sometime actor and London gangland heavy who had reputedly once bitten off a man’s testicles and would stab another man to death the following year, was viciously pummelling Matzorkis with his fists and feet. But it was only when Bindon started trying to gouge out the stagehand’s eyes that Matzorkis fully appreciated the danger he was in.’’

Within the realm of the aforementioned quotations, one will hopefully be able to fully appreciate the literary company one is in – and what sort of book this is – without the need for further description nor overt critique.

David Marx