What is Religion? and Other Writings – Leo Tolstoy

An insight into Tolstoy as there was no dust jacket to amuse you with.

Sat in work’s canteen, I found myself enjoying a bit of Tolstoy, nothing beats having a paid fifteen minute break to sit and read a book.  This book wouldn’t have been my obvious choice for a début work read but it was something I had started and quite simply didn’t wish to distract myself with another book.

I remember picking up my somewhat battered 1902 version from a wonderful second-hand shop four or so years ago and it is worth every penny of the £4.95, I paid for it.  Why somebody would let this go I have no idea.  Tolstoy writes with a simplicity and a logic that whilst sometimes seeming a little repetitive, makes his points with an effective and compelling clarity.

The primary essay centres on Tolstoy asking what is religion and its essence?   He begins by analysing the key message of all religions, what they have in common, the teachings, in particular Christianity (and the teachings of Jesus) and how far the established church has diverted from certain tenets of its own faith.

In this and the other writings, class is a big factor for the author, asking why small groups of powerful people be it in the Church or not are working for their own ends and not for the good of everybody.  Tolstoy also asks us to consider the logic of some of the dogma that surrounds the modern-day state of the church, these are issues that are around today and seem to still be largely ignored. Continue reading “What is Religion? and Other Writings – Leo Tolstoy”



After a very snowy Friday evening, which saw me giving the last of my Christmas presents away, as well as sharing an excellent chip shop meal with Tanya, Kirsty and Adam it was turning out to be a good weekend.  Then with payday also upon me once again and a handy preplanned trip to Sherwood, Nottingham already arranged with another three very good friends, Tom, Loraine and Sue, I took it upon myself to arrive to arrive two and a half hours early to make sure I got a chance to have a thorough search around Geoff Blore’s bookshop.

As I have no doubt mentioned on a number of occasions there are many obscure books to be found over the three floors, but enough of my advertising, I have written of it previously.  Yesterdays haul consists of:


With a smattering of this also: Continue reading “Week(book)end”

Between a Rook and a Hard Place

“Chess is mental torture” – Garry Kasparov

“Checkers is for tramps” – Paul Morphy

Chess art 9

The noble art of Chess, is one I haven’t indulged in for many a year, until recently when I found I had it on the laptop all along,  I’m a bit slow like that.  These last few days I have been satiating a long forgotten love for the game and reminding myself of the ridiculous amount of complexities surrounding it.

There are many reasons why I adore this pastime, the rules that are simple to master hiding the detailed intricacies and endlessly fascinating nature of it, its graceful flow and brutal takings of the various pieces.  There is risk involved of course, the press makes a big thing of a few of the grand masters going insane, so I like to think I am on the threshold of madness.  I like the drama.

To combine psychology, logic, intuition and creativity into a simple game is probably something that won’t happen much in this age of fast thrills and non stop, wall to wall repetitive noise, so it’s nice to kick back with those 64 squares, a board you have to control knowing that any mistakes are all your own doing and adapting your game plan as you go is key to success. Continue reading “Between a Rook and a Hard Place”

The Perils of Shopping

I went to Nottingham again last Thursday and as my local city I think it does a good job. I like the mix of colours and cultures and all that diversity malarkey but why oh why do the people and by expansion the city, want me to get involved.

Perhaps (definitely), it is my cantankerous nature starting up again but as a fellow who likes his own company whilst shopping, I really don’t want to play with the Nottingham people, so after a few hours of fruitless wandering I ran away to a second hand bookshop and spent around two hours going through single every book.

By that I mean reading the title on every spine in the place, apart from the cookery, angling, hunting and foreign language books, four departments of which I understand nothing and am happy to stand firm in my ignorance.  The nature of book shopping means crawling around on all fours across the length of each wall looking for that elusive hidden gem and then realising that there are books behind the books to the depth of the shelves, so another trip around the entire room was in order.

Add into that the ladder I had to get in order to reach the roof (the books are stacked to the rafters) and by doing so completely blocked the entrance, then I deprived a woman of her seat by placing books on it and then topping it all off by accidentally claiming to be an alcoholic

It was a tough challenge but I finally managed to satiate my appetite for all things book, with this huge haul. The day got better though, by meeting Tom and Lorraine playing a hefty dose of newly rebooted XCOM and an amusing time watching decent comedy Spaced.

So anyway onto the books and a brief overview on each; Continue reading “The Perils of Shopping”

Banned Books Week

Welcome to banned books week, the week where there is an absolute free for all on making readers aware of all those books banned or challenged because of differing or unorthodox viewpoints.

Whilst aimed at ensuring the right of any person to have equal access to unpopular or unorthodox literature and viewpoints, it also gives the chance for sane and productive reasoning and argument of the material whilst allowing ideas to be gleaned from the source. Without such dialogue it becomes corrosive not just for young people but for society also.

There is a wider sense of scale to the week though, as internationally it seeks to focus on countries such as North Korea, Azerbaijan,  Myanmar etc, where individuals are persecuted for their writings.

The most (modern) extreme censorship that comes to mind though, would have to be the Nazis and their book burning and also that dude in America who spent his time burning the Koran. Tantalizingly literature has its own reflective examples of book burnings, the ones that come to mind most readily for me being in Farenheit 451,  The Name of the Rose and the ‘memory hole’ alluded to in 1984.  It’s a bibliophile’s nightmare.
Continue reading “Banned Books Week”

The Second World War – Antony Beevor



‘In several places they had hung out their washing on lines between trees as if it were normal to have a washing day in this desecrated no-man’s land’

 So why should you choose this WWII book over the many hundreds of other books devoted to the subject?

The short answer, is the exhaustive depth of scale that is covered here. As well as the European conflict which is understandably the main focus of British history books, this tome also devotes itself to the Far Eastern theatre of conflict and the lesser known stories of Greece, Holland, Norway etc.

In truth, I’ve battled through this book for almost three weeks before finishing it today, and even if you minus the hours that have gone on an unusually buoyant social life of late, it’s still taken a lot of time to get through (for me at least).

Anyone who has ever read an Antony Beevor book before will know the style of writing, relentless facts lightly sprinkled with anecdotes from survivors, eye witnesses, journalists,soldiers and other sources, all melded together in an easy to read narrative. However due to its nature and wide ranging scope, this doesn’t feel as fluid as his earlier works, most notably Stalingrad and Berlin.  there are plenty of maps though to help you follow the action and a list of abbreviations in the back, although there aren’t that many so it’s not too daunting.

This, though, is not a criticism. I shall be giving away a few other WWII books, as I believe this is the definitive book that I will be referring too from now on. The beauty of its structure is the overlapping chapters detailing campaigns, operations, etc,these don’t suffer from a staggered account but manage to flow without becoming a structural mess and a readers worst nightmare. Really it’s a book designed to be easy to reference as well as read straight through. Continue reading “The Second World War – Antony Beevor”

The Rebel – Albert Camus

 ‘I proclaim that I believe in nothing and that everything is absurd, but I cannot doubt the validity of my own proclamation and I am compelled to believe my own protests.’

I could have just made a list of fascinating quotes from this book (and then let you dwell on them), instead of a review, but I’d be here all day as this essay has them by the cartload, so you are stuck with a brief overview of this book instead.

Having previously read and been fascinated by Camus’ fiction, I rifled through my somewhat over dusty piles of books to get at this brilliant work on rebellion, an attempt to understand and define the many contradictory stances of the values, beliefs and morality of the rebels that have shaped history.

Published (in English) in 1953, Camus writes :

‘One might think, that a period which, within fifty years, uproots, enslaves or kills seventy million human beings should only, and forthwith, be condemned. But also its guilt must be understood.

‘Slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or the taste for the superhuman, cripple judgement. On the day when crime puts on the apparel of innocence, through a curious reversal peculiar to our age, it is innocence that is called to justify itself’.

The human race have attempted legitimizing murder for freedom since before sliced bread, but the sheer magnitude of the attempts in the 20th century were and forever will be simply breathtaking in their audacity, Camus, in an attempt to comprehend the ideologies of the rebel, defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against Continue reading “The Rebel – Albert Camus”

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

 ‘At a glittering society party in St Petersburg in 1805, conversations are dominated by the prospect of war. Terror swiftly engulfs the country as Napoleon’s army marches on Russia, and the lives of three young people are changed forever. The stories of quixotic Pierre, cynical Andrey and impetuous Natasha interweave with a huge cast, from aristocrats and peasants, to soldiers and Napoleon himself. In War and Peace (1868-9), Tolstoy entwines grand themes – conflict and love, birth and death, free will and fate – with unforgettable scenes of nineteenth-century Russia,to create a magnificent epic of human life in all its imperfection and grandeur’.

At 1444 pages, War and Peace may seem a daunting size, yet the book isn’t a difficult read, unlike Crime and Punishment, War and Peace(or at least the Penguin classics edition)  dispenses with the Patronyms and multiple characters of the same name that were prevalent in the aforementioned title and leaves you free to explore the characters lives and emotions. Despite a large ensemble of characters, Tolstoy introduces them all steadily avoiding confusion, in fact apart from two pairs of characters none of the other 496 characters that are mentioned have names similar enough or the same as each other to cause any befuddlement.

Humanist and existentialist issues are tackled against a backdrop of war with Napoleon and the French. Battle scenes are juxtaposed with the frivolity of Russian high society, leading characters to question their choices in life and their world vie Continue reading “War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy”

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