August Reviews: part 2

And I returneth with a small number of book reviews. I hadn’t planned to post this set of reviews yet but I managed to read two fairly long books yesterday and thought it would be sensible to post them rather than waiting ten days.

The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi

Cambridge University Press
2nd June 2014

Price:40.00 (USD)



We may be watching the rise and fall of our own civilization.

We’ve built up a flourishing global society, but those same efforts have put us in jeopardy. Global warming caused by our modern industries and inventions threatens to put entire countries underwater. Expanding urban centers bulldoze the ecosystems we once relied on for natural resources. Medical advancements that have led to longer, healthier lives and a booming population are also to blame for overcrowding and food shortages. It turns out everything really is connected.

Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi offer radical solutions to our twenty-first century challenges by focusing on connectedness and examining life through its inextricable systems. Debates over key issues from climate change to energy to financial security are more intertwined than we previously thought: if the biological, cognitive, social, philosophical, and ecological dimensions of these problems are examined at once, creative new solutions emerge. The Systems View of Life breaks new barriers, with implications and solutions from climate change and public health to law and economics. This sweeping view of science and policy is a practical and essential tool that gives us a systemic understanding of life vital to building a sustainable future.


I read this book with interest and impatience. Interest because the authors bring together in one volume a wide range of subjects and show us how they’re all connected. Impatience because a lot of this stuff is elementary history, and basic science.

This book is explicitly aimed at professionals and post-grads, as well as sciences and humanities undergrads. It’s an ambitious aim to write a technical book that appeals to specialist and non-specialist alike; I congratulate the authors on an almost successful effort. The basics I found frustrating are essential for the non-scientist. Unless you understand how we came to be where we are now, in terms of scientific thinking, and indeed where we are, then you can’t understand why systems thinking is such a paradigm shift. If you’re a science professional or well read none of the information is new. In the context of the book it is useful to some of the target demographic.

The science we learn at school is all mechanisms and equations,when you get down to the bottom of it. But life, the universe, everything, isn’t a machine, it is greater than the sum of its parts. You can determine exactly what elements make up the molecular structure of every protein but that won’t tell you why the lifeform it comes from acts as it does. That information can only be gleaned from understanding the interconnections between all of the constituting parts, the external environment and other factors.

The authors try to cover a lot of ground, mathematics, physics, biology, society, psychology, ecology, and largely succeed. This book, helpfully internally cross-referenced and with an extensive bibliography, is an essential read if you want to understand this new paradigm.


The Table of Less Valued Knights

Marie Phillips

ISBN: 9781473513020
Price: 16.99 (GBP)
Edition: Other Format
Published: 7th August 2014

Sir Humphrey du Val of the Table of Less Valued Knights – Camelot’s least prestigious table, boringly rectangular in shape and with one leg shorter than the other so that it always has to be propped up with a folded napkin to stop it from rocking – has been banned by King Arthur from going on quests, and hasn’t left the castle in fifteen years. He’s tempted out of his imposed retirement by Elaine, who is looking for her kidnapped fiancé. But is she really the damsel in distress that she appears to be?

Across the border in Puddock, the new young queen, Martha, is appalled to be married off against her will to the odious Prince Edwin of Tuft. She disguises herself as a boy and runs away, but doesn’t get very far before the Locum of the Lake – standing in for the full-time Lady – intercepts her with some startling news: Martha’s brother, the true heir to the throne of Puddock, is not dead as she believed, and Martha must go on her own quest to find him.

The two quests collide, entangling Humphrey, Elaine and Martha’s lives, and introducing a host of Arthurian misfits, including a freakishly short giant, a twelve-year-old crone, an amorous unicorn, and a magic sword with a mind of her own.


I howled with laughter, I giggled with glee. It took me the first ten chapters to get in to this book but I finished the rest in one sitting.

Fantasticly well written, with great humour and lively characters, I recommend this book to fans of Tom Holt and Terry Pratchett.


Right after I finished reading a comedy I thought I read a tragedy in the form of the post-apocalyptic

Station Eleven
Emily St. John Mandel

Pan Macmillan
10th September 2014
Price:16.99 GBP
Format: Other


DAY ONE The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb. News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%. WEEK TWO Civilization has crumbled. YEAR TWENTY A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe. But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild. STATION ELEVEN Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan – warned about the flu just in time; Arthur’s first wife Miranda; Arthur’s oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed ‘prophet’. Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything – even the end of the world.


I could not put this book down. I read it in a single sitting, totally engrossed in the story. The intertwining of events and characters’ lives as they live through a pandemic then rebuild their worlds in the ensuing years, are all pulled together by the invisible thread of two comic books and their creator. Absolutely love this book, it’s definitely one of the best of the apocalypse narratives about at the minute.

It makes a change for there to be no zombies in sight.


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