Posted by: billpurdue | December 19, 2009

79 Life in the ’70s and Sir David’s Life stories

Are you old enough to remember the 1970s? I have to admit that I remember the ‘70s quite well, though I’m not sure I took as much interest in world affairs as I do now. Perhaps that’s just as well, as I might have been rather worried by what was happening in various parts of the world. In his book Strange Days Indeed [Fourth Estate, £18.99 9780007244270], journalist Francis Wheen takes a look back at all the shenanigans of that decade. Over in the States, Trickie Dicky was caught out by the Watergate scandal, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. He thought everyone was out to get him so he, along with Henry Kissinger and cronies, was out to get them first. Over here Harold Wilson thought that “they” were out to get him, but it was never clear who “they” were, although in a strange way, he was right. Then there were the various guerrilla groups causing mayhem around the world – the Tupamaros in South America and the Baader-Meinhof gang for example – who seemed to want revolution for revolution’s sake. It was also the decade of the three day week and when Uri Geller started bending cutlery and meeting extra-terrestrials  and the most populous country in the world was governed by “a pair of raging hypochondriacs”. For more revelations to whet your appetite, have a look at the three short videos of Francis Wheen on the Amazon website, or read the review in the Guardian.

On reading this book, you are inclined to think “thank goodness things have changed”, but has this decade, which is about to end, been any better? Find out for yourself by reading this captivating and occasionally funny book (yes, we can laugh about it now). I didn’t manage to read it all as it was needed back at the library for another request. I’ll have to request it again or buy it. Or, should I wait for the paperback due in April 2010?

Now to a very different book. If anyone can be described as a “national treasure”, then in my humble opinion, it is Sir David Attenborough. I have watched just about every wildlife series on TV which he has made and I’ve bought several of the books. In fact the book I have my eye on at the moment is Life by Martha Holmes and Michael Gunton, the book of the series which is narrated by Sir David. Life Stories by Sir David Attenborough [Collins £20, 978-0007338832] is rather different. In 2009 Sir David was asked by BBC Radio 4 to write and read a series of short  (10 minute) pieces about any subject he cared to mention. If you were able to catch these talks, you will know how beautifully crafted they were. It isn’t easy to write pieces to fit into a fixed time span, especially if the time allowed is only ten minutes. Sir David seems to manage this task with ease and the stories reproduced in the book are delightful to read. At the end of each story there are photographs specially chosen by him to accompany the talk.

Those of you who like good value for your money may be a little disappointed at the amount of white space in this book as well as the larger than normal type face for each of the stories. The illustrations are not printed on glossy paper, which detracts from their appeal. Having said all that, the book in every other respect is superb, providing as it does numerous snapshots of Sir David’s life filming the natural world.

Finally I’ll mention two books in passing; in Betjeman’s England [John Murray £18.99 9781848540910] edited by Stephen Games, we have the scripts of over sixty television films produced by John Betjeman about the ever changing English countryside. The films were shown about fifty years ago, so the book provides a snapshot as seen by Betjeman of countryside and buildings which might have now have vanished or changed completely. Stephen Games has edited several other collections of Betjeman’s writings.

A spot of trivia to end with; some of the minutiae of world history can be quite amusing if you know where to find it. Now Ian Crofton has collected it for us by compiling History without the Boring Bits [Quercus £7.99 978184243744]. In its edifying pages we can discover that the poet William Wordsworth had the job of Distributor of Stamps for the County of Westmorland, why custard powder was invented and why a dead pope was dug up and put on trial in AD 897. Lots of useless facts to impress your friends at parties?

There’ll be one more posting before the end of the month, so in the meantime, very best wishes to everyone for the festive season.

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