Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fast-food nation (Eric Schlosser)

A complete review of the food processing chain, from slaughterhouses and rendering plants to your local Golden Arches. The author obviously knows his subject, the whole book is extremely well documented and quite stylishly written for its genre - which makes it an easy and informative read. Guaranteed to put you off fast food for several weeks (if not forever). See also the good movie from the book (featuring Avril Lavigne as a tree-hugger).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tout Robuchon (Joël Robuchon & Vincent Noce, Georges Pouvel, Eric Bouchenoire, François Benot)

Tout Robuchon, aka the Holy Bible of French cuisine

If you need only one French cookbook, this is the one. From blanquette de veau to poulet basquaise, from boeuf bourguignon to lapin aux pruneaux, this book brings together everything you will ever need to know to become a good home-style French cook. All the classic recipes are included and there's no daunting long lists of ingredients. Careful though, this is not a book for beginners; despite the fact that it includes quite informative sections about the choice of ingredients and their preparation, this book presupposes some knowledge of basic cooking techniques. If you think a bain-marie was one of the favourite beauty treatments of Marie-Antoinette, this book is not for you.

The picture above features the French edition published by Perrin. The English version is available from here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means (George Soros)

We were used to Soros thinking of himself as a genius of financial markets - he's been pretty successful (read: lucky) at dodging black swans, you can't take that from him... Now meet the Soros who thinks of himself as a genius of economic theory - one step short of a genius full stop. He confesses to having started "reading classical philosophers in [his] early teens" (!) and now rubs his 2 neurons together to try and deliver a holistic theory of financial markets through a rather shallow and messy analysis of the participants' behaviour, their interaction, and their impact on the market. The whole effort is quite laughable - the only thing he clearly demonstrates is an unbelievable megalomania (I would love to see a review of this book by a psychoanalyst...) and a propensity to deliver nuggets like "I contend that social events have a different structure from natural phenomena" (no sh!t, Sherlock ??). I still gave the book half a star (on a scale of 1 to 5...) as the author actually did read Popper (and reminds you so every other page). Now come on, Georgie, just because you coughed up a few half-digested concepts borrowed from some eminent (and far more articulate) thinkers and renamed them with your own concocted terminology does not make you an original thinker, or even a good read - the word plagiarism springs to mind...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dying for a Hamburger: The Alarming Link Between the Meat Industry and Alzheimer's Disease (Murray Waldman)

A well documented book on prion diseases generally, which explores the link between Alzheimer's and meat consumption in particular. What if BSE / vCJD were not the only foodborne encephalopathies ? Chilling - will send you buying tempeh and tofu burgers straight away.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (Leslie T. Chang)

A powerful and touching account of the living conditions, hopes and aspirations of migrant workers in the factories of contemporary southern China. The author's own quest for her roots interestingly collides with these girls' search for a better future - and their move away from their own countryside roots and family values. The book gives a voice to the millions of pairs of hands who are sewing and gluing together luxuries for us spoilt westerners and that they can't even dream of affording for themselves. You will never look at your fancy running shoes the same way again after reading this book.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A good year (Peter Mayle)

The delightful story of a City banker up for a change of scenery... Peter Mayle would almost make me like France again. See also the excellent movie from the book with the charming Marion Cottillard.

Friday, July 10, 2009

21: Bringing Down the House - Movie Tie-In: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (Ben Mezrich)

As entertaining and suspenseful as the movie, makes an interesting read even for people like me who have no interest in gambling (yeah, ok, maybe slot machines and roulette once in a while...). It goes into a little bit more details about how you can actually count cards (which the movie does not, or maybe I'm slow...). It's kind of amazing how much these kids got away with - would almost make me hit Macau next w/e to check if they are using continuous shuffle or not...

Friday, June 12, 2009

The God delusion (Richard Dawkins)

Mandatory reading for anyone who has not given up on the existence of god yet... and for all the others. A rational and well argumented criticism of faith-based religions. Add "Totem and Taboo" by Freud and you have the right toolbox to spend the rest of your life as a happy atheist.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Great Delusion: A Mad Inventor, Death in the Tropics, and the Utopian Origins of Economic Growth (Steven Stoll)

Now here's a controversial (if not fresh) idea - unending growth as a modern myth at the service of the capitalist system, trying to save it from self-destruction and to overcome its internal contradictions. This book is clearly not going to make it into the top 20 bestsellers in economic and financial circles - nor is it going to go down in history as a major piece of economic writing. The chapters on Etzler's ventures in South America drag on a bit too long without really bringing anything to the argumentation, yet the book manages to totally upset the contemporary framework in which we think about growth, progress, economic and social development and the environment. Disturbing - could have been revolutionary if the author had drawn a correct conclusion from his findings instead of wrapping up his theory on itself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prisoner of Tehran: The End of Childhood in Iran (Marina Nemat)

Vivid memories of a teenage schoolgirl jailed in Iran for "anti-revolutionary" activities. There are many books out there about the condition of women (and human rights) in muslim countries, but this one is clearly a cut above the rest - if only for the strength of character of the author. It is incredibly brave of her to revive these memories and tell her story (hope she found some sort of peace doing it) and yet you feel throughout the book there is a lot left unspoken. A necessary read, just to remind ourselves freedom of speech & freedom of thought should never be taken for granted.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Christopher Hitchens)

An eye-opener on the true motives and nature of Mother Theresa. A witty piece of polemic which shattered one of the great myths of the 20th century. Must read.

City of Darkness (Greg Girard & Ian Lambot)

A great book about one of the now long disappeared "landmarks" of HK, which was also a truly unique piece of history. The interviews of the residents are just transposed almost without commentary, giving the book a genuine feel, very well supported by an amazing array of portraits. The sterile & soulless park that has been laid where the City once stood does little justice to its heritage. I wish someone would write a similar book on Chungking Mansions before some overzealous government official decides to tear the whole place down to make one more shopping mall...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists (Neil Strauss)

I have to admit I bought this book out of pure curiosity and with very low expectations. Any NY Times bestseller normally sets my mediocrity alarm bell off, all the more when it comes with a positive review from GQ and Esquire... And yet I have to admit it is quite a witty piece of writing, very entertaining, genuinely funny and at times downright hilarious (I particularly enjoyed the bit where the author says men get excited by anything, even half a pitted avocado - just to quote one among many nuggets...). Except for the last few chapters, which I found frankly boring and way too conventional for my taste, this is a hugely enjoyable book - even though I am not planning to buy the sequel. The author writes unusually well for a journalist. Gentlemen, a word of warning - the "sarging" & pick-up techniques explained in this book work only (as the authors himself admits) with "nightclub chicks with an attention deficit disorder". Don't try these on any woman with half a brain, at best it will get you ignored - you don't wanna think about the worst...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cityboy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile (Geraint Anderson)

A most entertaining read, hilariously funny and sadly very close to the truth - many situations will sound strangely familiar to anyone who has worked in the Square Mile. This book got me laughing out loud on a plane, which earned me disapproving glances from fellow City-types sitting in buz class - yes I was the only chick in there and yes, I had the bad taste of being seen reading something else than the FT in public... Some will say it's a little bit too easy for the author to be spitting in the soup after having "enjoyed" the system for so long, I would still give him a few brownie points for opening is eyes, albeit a bit late... The book can be summed up in one quote - to become a big swingin' d!ck, you have to become a d!ck in the first place...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Blind Faith (Ben Elton)

Another good read by Elton, who proves once again to be reliably funny and dyspeptic. The theme itself is nothing new, and was visited much more brilliantly by Orwell in 1984 - that said, Orwell's masterpiece was a work of fiction, which this book is not, and this makes it all the more disturbing. There is more to Elton than just the public entertainer we know, and he clearly has a gift for social satire. Which gets me thinking that some of his books may well pass down in the history of 20th/21st century litterature and end up in school programs in a not-so-distant future...