Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father

bookshelves: winter-20152016, biography, politics, published-2016, non-fic-feb-2016, nonfiction

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from February 12 to 19, 2016



Description: In the middle of the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin spent almost two decades in London – at exactly the same time as Mozart, Casanova and Handel. This is an enthralling biography – not only of the man, but of the city when it was a hub of Enlightenment activity.

For the great majority of his long life, Benjamin Franklin was a loyal British royalist. In 1757, having made his fortune in Philadelphia and established his fame as a renowned experimental scientist, he crossed the Atlantic to live as a gentleman in the heaving metropolis of London.

From his house in Craven Street, he mixed with both the brilliant and the powerful – in London coffee house clubs, at the Royal Society, and on his summer travels around the British Isles and continental Europe. He counted David Hume, Matthew Boulton, Joseph Priestley, Edmund Burke and Erasmus Darwin among his friends – and, as an American colonial representative, he had access to successive Prime Ministers and even the King.

The early 1760s saw Britain’s elevation to global superpower status with victory in the Seven Years War and the succession of the young, active George III. This brought a sharp new edge to political competition in London and redefined the relationship between Britain and its colonies. They would profoundly affect Franklin himself, eventually placing him in opposition with his ambitious son William. Though Franklin sought to prevent the America’s break with Great Britain, his own actions would finally help cause that very event.

Episode 1:
In November 1724, aged 18, Franklin is sent to London for the first time to buy printing equipment for a Philadelphia newspaper.

Episode 2:
After spending over 30 years in America, Franklin returns to London – not as a humble printer, but as a leading politician.

Episode 3:
Franklin’s achievements in the field of physics, and specifically that of electricity, have won him an international reputation.

Episode 4:
Franklin’s opponents in the Pennsylvania Assembly are preparing poisonous attacks to greet him on his return to America.

Episode 5:
It is 1775, and Franklin is no longer of any political use in London. He becomes Ambassador to France in the days before the Revolution.

Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse by John Mallett


Description: Brewers often call malt the soul of beer. Fourth in the Brewing Elements series, Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse delves into the intricacies of this key ingredient used in virtually all beers. This book provides a comprehensive overview of malt, with primary focus on barley, from the field through the malting process. With primers on history, agricultural development and physiology of the barley kernel, John Mallett (Bell s Brewery, Inc.) leads us through the enzymatic conversion that takes place during the malting process. A detailed discussion of enzymes, the Maillard reaction, and specialty malts follows. Quality and analysis, malt selection, and storage and handling are explained. This book is of value to all brewers, of all experience levels, who wish to learn more about the role of malt as the backbone of beer.”

Opening: Harry Harlan—the “Indiana Jones” of Barley: A strange and winding path led me to the basement repository of the Kalamazoo Public Library to read about the Ethiopian people. Physically, the journey was just a quick walk down a set of stairs, but intellectually the trail was long and complex, sown with seeds of barley. I was in that book-lined basement on a mission to locate the 1925 National Geographic article “A Caravan Journey through Abyssinia” written by Harry Harlan. Harry had become a bit of an obsession for me, and I was trying to find out as much about him and his life as I could.

Ever since a visit to St. James’s in Dublin xx years ago, I have been rather drawn to aspects of the brewing industry. I would like to track down Harry Vaughn Harlan’s, he sounds fab!

circa 1924

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

bookshelves: published-2016, philosophy, net-galley, e-book, winter-20152016

Read from February 14 to 15, 2016


Description: Rabih and Kirsten meet, fall in love, get married. Society tells us this is the end of the story. In fact, it is only the beginning. Over the years this ordinary couple will miscommunicate and misunderstand each other, will worry about money, will have first a girl and then a boy. One of them will have an affair, one will think about it. Both will have doubts. This will be the real love story. Twenty-first century depictions of love and marriage are shaped by a set of Romantic myths and misconceptions. With his trademark warmth and wit, Alain de Botton explores the complex landscape of a modern relationship, presenting a realistic case study for marriage and examining what it might mean to love, to be loved – and to stay in love.

It’s de Botton, so of course this is not going to be a straight forward romance, even though it is, albeit a forensic overview.

I have a soft spot for de Botton, his Schopenhauer inserts when I was suffering were a real boon. This was lovely as a Valentine’s weekend read.

A marriage doesn’t begin with a proposal, or even an initial meeting. It begins far earlier, when the idea of love is born, and more specifically the dream of a soulmate.”

3* The Art of Travel
4* The Consolations of Philosophy
3* The Course of Love (novel)
3* Religion For Atheists

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro


Description: Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who would succeed their aging and childless queen.

James Shapiro illuminates both Shakespeare’s staggering achievement and what Elizabethans experienced in the course of 1599, bringing together the news and the intrigue of the times with a wonderful evocation of how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman, and playwright. The result is an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.

Opening: The weather in London in December 1598 had been frigid, so cold that ten days before New Year’s the Thames was nearly frozen over at London Bridge.

It was weird reading this, where the Irish ‘problem’ loomed large at the Elizabethan Court, and it being the 100 year anniversary of the Easter Uprising. What bastards the English were – truly, and I was amazed at Edmund Spenser: feel that I should go back and wipe that 5* off. Yet hey, that would be as stupid as taking Rhodes’s statue down from Oxford – uncomfortable or not, these things did happen and we should not squirm in the light of past atrocities but make a better world by examining past mistakes.

WHOA – in a **ping** moment of self enlightenment I come across how being PC can help wipe guilt off a subject. That really musn’t happen – let those bad decisions from the past stay and act as a warning.

The main themes in this book:
– bye-bye Will Kemp
– Essex and Ireland
– the Spanish question
– Globe building

Thanks Susanna & Judy

4* A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599
4* The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606

ourneys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha’s Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World’s Oldest Printed Book by Joyce Morgan


Description: When a Chinese monk broke into a hidden cave in 1900, he uncovered one of the world’s great literary secrets: a time capsule from the ancient Silk Road. Inside, scrolls were piled from floor to ceiling, undisturbed for a thousand years. The gem within was the Diamond Sutra of AD 868. This key Buddhist teaching, made 500 years before Gutenberg inked his press, is the world’s oldest printed book.

The Silk Road once linked China with the Mediterranean. It conveyed merchants, pilgrims and ideas. But its cultures and oases were swallowed by shifting sands. Central to the Silk Road’s rediscovery was a man named Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born scholar and archaeologist employed by the British service.

Undaunted by the vast Gobi Desert, Stein crossed thousands of desolate miles with his fox terrier Dash. Stein met the Chinese monk and secured the Diamond Sutra and much more. The scroll’s journey—by camel through arid desert, by boat to London’s curious scholars, by train to evade the bombs of World War II—merges an explorer’s adventures, political intrigue, and continued controversy.

Opening: An unforgiving wind blew clouds of dust and sand as if every grain were aimed at one tired man astride a weary pony. He urged his mount forward, determined to keep a promise. He had set out long before dawn, leaving behind his team of men and pack animals, knowing he would have to cover in one day ground that would typically take three. Traveling through the heat and glare of the Central Asian desert, he now looked on his vow—to arrive that day on the doorstep of friends in a distant oasis—as uncharacteristically rash. But for seventeen hours he pressed on across parched wastes of gravel and hard-baked earth.

You can read the Diamond Sutra online here

Paul Pelliot (1878-1945), a French Sinologist translating.

From 2004: The Diamond Sutra, which bears the date 868 AD, was found in a walled-up cave in Dunhuang, north-west China, in 1907, along with other printed items.

A Raging Calm by Stan Barstow

bookshelves: winter-20152016, britain-england, play-dramatisation, art-forms, under-50-ratings, published-1969, period-piece, politics, eng-yorkshire

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from January 18 to February 07, 2016

Description: Tom Simpkins is a respected public figure in Cressley. He is also the long-time lover of a married woman. But when the husband of his mistress is killed in a car crash, he is forced to re-evaluate his life and relationships.

Episode 1: In 1960s Yorkshire, Andrea meets Philip, a married man. Tenderness, not lust, might be the real enemy. Stars Deborah McAndrew.

2/10: town councillor Tom discovers unsettling news about his lover Norma’s husband.

3/10: with their affair still a secret, Andrea meets Philip’s wife, Kate.

4/10: The tragic news of Norma’s husband draws Tom closer, but at what cost to her kids?

5/10: can Andrea and Philip, a married man, keep their affair a secret?

6/10: Tom plans for Norma’s future, while Andrea’s future is very much threatened.

7/10: Andrea faces a battle, while Shirley is shocked by her brother’s news.

8/10: after finding out Tom is actually her father, Shirley has gone missing.

9/10: Election Day draws closer with Philip and Tom as rivals.

10/10: Election Day and Andrea and Philip’s wife, Kate, clash

4* A Kind of Loving
4* A Raging Calm

1916: What the People Saw by Mick O’Farrell


Description: When the rebellion of 1916 had ended, more than 400 people were dead and over 2,000 wounded. More than half of these were civilians, but even for those civilians who were not direct casualties, the rising was one of the most momentous experiences of their lives. The accounts that Mick O’Farrell has collected come from letters, diaries, extracts from otherwise unrelated biographies, and contemporary magazine and newspaper articles.

Some common themes are present in the accounts. For instance, a fear of going hungry, which resulted in constant, and dangerous, attempts to stock up with supplies. There was also a grim realisation (despite two years of World War) that war had arrived on their doorstep: ‘We know a bit what War is like now’. For some, there was even an undeniable element of excitement – one witness writes that ‘now that it’s over, none of us would’ve missed it for the world’. After watching a woman shot in the street, another witness notes that he ‘saw a man rush out and take a snapshot’. Elsewhere, there are ‘crowds looking on as if at a sham battle’. For most, however, it was the kind of excitement they could do without:

Complimenting the many historical accounts of the rising and statements from the participants, this book gives a real flavour of what it was like to live through history in the making.

Author: Mick O’Farrell was born in Dublin in 1966, the year of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. He has been studying the history and locations of the Rising for some years.He is the author of ’50 Things You Didn’t know about 1916′ and ‘A Walk Through Rebel Dublin 1916’.

Apart from some small actions, the 1916 Rising lasted seven days, from Easter Monday to the following Sunday.

Easter Monday, 24 April 1916: Beginning of rebellion. Main body of rebels muster outside Liberty Hall – conflicting orders result in a turnout much smaller than hoped for. From about midday on, the following locations are occupied by rebels:

• GPO and other buildings in O’Connell Street area;
• Four Courts, Mendicity Institution;
• St Stephen’s Green, College of Surgeons;
• Boland’s Mills and surrounding area, including Mount Street Bridge and nearby houses;
• City Hall and several buildings overlooking Dublin Castle;
• Jacob’s biscuit factory, Davy’s pub by Portobello Bridge;
• South Dublin Union and James’s Street area;
• Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park.

Proclamation of Republic read by Pearse outside GPO. Lancers charge down O’Connell Street. Looting starts. That afternoon the British counterattacks begin.

Tuesday, 25 April 1916: City Hall retaken by military. Shelbourne Hotel occupied by soldiers and machine-gun fire forces rebels to retreat from St Stephen’s Green to the College of Surgeons. British reinforcements, including artillery, arrive. Martial Law proclaimed.

Wednesday, 26 April 1916: Liberty Hall shelled by Helga, backed by field guns. Artillery put into action against buildings on O’Connell Street. Kelly’s Fort evacuated. Metropole Hotel occupied by rebels. Troops marching from Dun Laoghaire halted by rebels at Mount Street Bridge. After many hours of intense fighting and terrible casualties, the military gain control of the area. Clanwilliam House burns to the ground. Mendicity Institution retaken by the British.

Thursday, 27 April 1916: Military shelling of O’Connell Street intensifies. Fires on O’Connell Street begin to rage out of control. Hopkins & Hopkins and Imperial Hotel evacuated because of the inferno.

Friday, 28 April 1916: General Sir John Maxwell arrives in Dublin. Metropole Hotel evacuated. Rebels evacuate GPO. New HQ established in Moore Street.

Saturday, 29 April 1916: Non-combatants murdered in North King Street. Rebel leaders in Moore Street decide to surrender. Four Courts garrison surrenders.

Sunday, 30 April 1916: Rebels in remaining outposts surrender – College of Surgeons, Boland’s, Jacob’s and the South Dublin Union. Deportation of prisoners.

Wednesday, 3 May – Friday, 12 May: Fifteen rebels, including the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic, are executed by firing squad.

History from the bottom up is always to be preferred over traditional recording methods and you won’t get closer to the truth of the impact of the Easter Uprising than from the letters etc from the people there at the time, trying to survive, feed their families, and stave off impending viruses and stray bullets.

Take a wander through, it is interesting and supplements a FutureLearn course I took a few months ago.

Stop the Clocks by Joan Bakewell

bookshelves: winter-20152016, autobiography-memoir, published-2016, nonfiction, non-fic-feb-2016, moral-high-ground, those-autumn-years

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from January 25 to February 07, 2016



Description: Since she reached the age of 80, Dame Joan Bakewell has been working harder than ever – campaigning, writing and sitting in the Lords. Now the former journalist takes a moment to reflect on the passage of time, and the changes she has witnessed in her lifetime. Her theme is ‘thoughts on what I leave behind’.

Stop the Clocks is a book of musings, a look back at what Joan Bakewell was given by her family, at the times in which she grew up – ranging from the minutiae of life, such as the knowledge of how to darn and how to make a bed properly with hospital corners, to the bigger lessons of politics, of lovers, of betrayal.

At times joyful, at times pensive, she contemplates the past without regret, and looks to the future without fear, but with firm resolve. Once the ‘thinking man’s crumpet’, Joan remains outspoken and outrageous.

1/5: the former journalist takes a moment to reflect on the passage of time, and the changes she has witnessed in her lifetime. Her theme is ‘thoughts on what I leave behind’.

2/5: Remembering the extra-marital affair with Harold Pinter

3/5:Dubbed as ‘The thinking man’s crumpet’

4/5: Pondering over what will become of her body after death

5/5: Lost friends, and life affirming friends

Marianne Faithfull As Tears Go

How to Flee from Sorrow by Frank Cottrell-Boyce

bookshelves: winter-20152016, music, published-2016, radio-4, play-dramatisation, italy, italy-rome, italy-venice, historical-fiction, italy-turin, art-forms

Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Laura
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read on February 07, 2016…

Description: Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682) conjured music of sublime formality out of a life of chaotic violence. At a time when composers were expected to abase themselves before their patrons, Stradella swindled his, and seduced their mistresses before falling foul of hired assassins. Our central characters are all real historical figures, brought back to life by Frank Cottrell-Boyce.

Stradella enjoys enormous success in Rome but has to flee to Venice after he and his sidekick, the hunchback violinist Lonati, get a rich man drunk and then con him into marrying a poor, old woman of ill repute. Incapable of settling into a comfortable life at court, Stradella becomes one of the first truly freelance composers – juggling commissions, scrabbling after money, fleeing from scandal. The number of midnight flits he has to make give the story a comic tempo, but one story gives the drama its heart, the love story between Stradella and Agnese, the ‘niece’ of the Doge of Venice.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce (who includes the London Olympics opening ceremony in his many credits) has researched the original historical letters to create Stradella’s fiery, funny and charismatic voice and uses Stradella’s beautiful and innovative music to tell this story. The Director of Music, Dr Alberto Sanna, is one of the leading interpreters of Stradella and Corelli. How To Flee From Sorrow is based on an original idea by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Dr Alberto Sanna.

Alessandro Stradella Trystan Gravelle
Arcangelo Corelli Harry Treadaway
Agnese van Uffele Alice St Clair
Lonati Ralf Little
Cardinal Cibo David Hounslow
Contarini, Doge of Venice Chris Pavlo
Duchess Maria Giovanna Amelia Lowdell

Violin ….. Dr Alberto Sanna