Saturday, October 14, 2017

2017 books, #31-35

Another day in the death of America, by Gary Younge. London: Guardian Books, 2016.

Gary Younge picked a random 24 hours in the US, and the stories of 10 random children and young people killed by guns in that period.  The kids range from 8 to 20 years old, from a variety of backgrounds and ethnic origins; and in many cases, the deaths didn't even make the local news. The individual stories are heartbreaking; but the sheer banality of death by gun violence, and its acceptance by many families, is the most horrifying aspect of this book. Younge interweaves the history of, and attitudes to, firearms into the separate stories as a powerful howl of rage against the situation.

The absence of guilt, by Mark Gimenez [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: ISIS, 2017.

The Super Bowl is due to happen in Dallas, and the authorities uncover a plot to use a weapon of mass destruction inside the stadium.  A hate preacher is arrested and the president announces "We won!" on national TV.  Unfortunately, there's one snag: there's no evidence of a connection between the plot and the preacher.  That problem falls to new US district judge A. Scott Fenney; is he holding an innocent man, and if so, who are the guilty ones?  This is extremely well plotted with a good reveal towards the end.  It's also really quite hawkish and strays from anti-extremist to anti-Muslim an uncomfortable number of times.  Rather like the Vince Flynn books, it's slightly "know your enemies". Having said that, Judge Fenney is a good guy, and so are the characters immediately surrounding him.  I'd try another by this author, if Jeff Harding were reading it...

Blazing saddles: the cruel and unusual history of the Tour de France, by Matt Rendell. London: Quercus, 2007.

Matt Rendell's wild sense of humour is in evidence here; but he's also put together a great year-by-year history of the Tour with some anecdotes and a lot of fact (and some seriously good photos).  You get a really good sense of the different eras.  What comes over most, though, is the sheer lunacy of Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour and its first director, a man who said that the ideal Tour would be one only one rider could finish.  Obviously it's slightly dated now, but still an excellent read.

Presumed guilty: the British legal system exposed, by Michael Mansfield with Tony Wardle. London: Mandarin, 1994.

Michael Mansfield looks at miscarriages of justice in the British legal system, after his experience of representing the Birmingham Six and other high-profile cases.  The case he examines, though, is the murder of a man in a High Wycombe caf√© in 1989, and the trial, conviction and subsequent acquittal of a man called Talat Sarwar.  Mansfield presents a compelling case for the adoption of the juge d'instruction system used in France, and includes a detailed description of how French prosecutors work with investigators, something I've found quite difficult to understand in the past.  Some of the things Mansfield recommends have been adopted in the 23 years since this book was written; some of the things he deplores have been reinforced.  A very interesting read, anyway.

Re: cycling: 200 years on two wheels, by Michael Hutchinson. London: Bloomsbury Sport, 2017.

An immensely entertaining history of cycling, from the earliest machines to the present day.  What I particularly like about this book is the social history element - the amount of freedom which cycling was able to give people, particularly women (and the kerfuffle about appropriate cycling attire for women is a sad and hilarious section), and the class perceptions of the activity at different periods in history.  There's also a thread running through which explains why the phenomenon of the competitive British road cyclist is relatively new, and includes Hutchinson's own history as a champion time-triallist.

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