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A bulwark against materialist conformity

5 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-07-2019

This is an extraordinary book. Both in scope and in intellect.

To articulate such an insightful analysis of social undercurrents that have been with humanity now for decades is not just the worthy achievement of this book. It also transcends and recognises emerging societal boundaries to independent thought that are already suppressing and dumbing-down everything from science, philosophy and to religion itself.

For the materialist atheist, what used to be unequivocal theories (such as evolution and abstract cosmology) are supposedly no longer theories but allegedly proofs of a new kind of 21st century science whose 'unprovability' is no obstacle to its success or fame of its authors.

Facts are only facts when they serve the purpose of heightening notoriety and the new 'cult of success' (which thanks to the internet and organs of social networking) has almost risen in the west, as high as the cult of personality once did in the past.

For example, one may not know who Carlo Rovelli or Sean Carroll are but their physicist's version of B-grade (or even C-grade) philosophy riding on the back of their physical theories has no end of admirers. This is the new information food-chain of the 21st century. Where success in any speculative area has to be taken as a context for delivering a new materialist philosophy. 'Einsteinism' has now transcended the physical world; relativity has now moved on include truth, objectivity and even the philosophy of science and reason itself.

Hardly a book or 'TED-style' public lecture from some nullity or hopeful can emerge without doffing it's hat to the materialist-atheist cult in some way, be it circular self-referential assumptions or outright agenda-driven philosophical manufacturing. How cheaply the word 'Professor' goes these days in some endeavours of human intellect, as long as the line is towed.

This book is the antidote to societal monoculture-of-thought and 'intellectual or social relativity'. The power and context of some of the statements, such as the last six lines of part 1, Chapter 7, I find reminiscent of Orwell;

"Only one reliable force stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. Only one reliable force forms the
foundation of the concept of the rule of law. Only one reliable force restrains the hand of the man of power. And, in an age of power-worship, the Christian religion has become the principal obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power".

Peter Hitchens identifies in this book the philosophical roots of the 'materialist/atheistic cult' and shows its commonality with despotic regimes and why it is necessary for them to destroy not just the beliefs in higher moral authorities, but subvert objectivity and 'moral absolutes' to achieve this end. That objectivity, intellectualism and science themselves are a casualty hardly matters as this atheist cult's foot soldiers integrate themselves and their philosophy into the media organs of the times. And why? It's the ultimate irony that the motivation of the materialists is built to superficially resemble the Christianity they so love to hate, while really hiding the true intent which is all about power, moral autonomy and control.

The book also manages to be highly entertaining as Peter Hitchens draws on his on personal history as a journalist, re-evaluated to demonstrate his thesis. The narrative is frequently humorous and poignant at a personal level as he traverses decades of his own travels through tragic regimes such as Somalia and the former Soviet Union.

My hope is that it may some time in the future, the book may be updated to include the new 21st century despotism that has emerged and continues to grow with the help of the so-called 'free world'. The officially atheist China may ultimately succeed where the soviets have failed. Largely thanks to the resources and tools put in their hands over decades by western greed and ecumenical utopian delusion. The Orwellian social credit system, isolationism, destruction of the past and control of the present, (and no-doubt future) together with leadership/strong-man cults such as Xi is an enviable template for a potential neo-utopian.

1 person found this helpful

Gave up

2 out of 5 stars
2 out of 5 stars
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-09-2018

Great story, great concept, interesting idea of a guy going to sea as a one-off but hamstrung by jargon. After a while the jargon became so tedious, you'd have to be a man of steel to keep going.

The narration added to the general sedation being almost like a synthesized voice. The intonation programmed and dead-pan total lack of emotional correspondence. I'm still not completely sure the voice wasn't synthesized.

You'll be finally spiral down to reading this book in smaller-and-smaller doses before you finally give up and move on to more exciting pursuits (like polishing furniture).

The Gulf Between Politicians and Reality

1 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 18-07-2018

When you compare journalistic writing styles there is a. The kind of analytical, fair-minded, deep-thinking and superlative investigative writing style of e.g. John Carryrou in his book "Bad Blood" and b. The superficial, sycophantic and self-deluded writing style of so-called journalists that only understand a political food-chain. i.e. "Shattered".

Starting with the inability to answer the most basic question such as, 'why a country as wealthy and powerful as the United States' can only come up in the end with these two 'finalists' is for us, non-Americans, an eternal enigma.

But given that this may be conveniently beyond of the scope of the book, what is not beyond the scope is the failure to recognise (sic) any contribution of any international geopolitical trend (apart from Bill Clinton loosely mentioning it), the total detachment of US and international politics from the democratic reality of grass-roots self-determination (and aspirations) and the utter capitulation of politics to 'special interest' and lobby groups that has hijacked not just US politics but the entire global political agenda.

Whether it's so-called 'man-made global warming' or 'gay marriage', or 'social engineering' or business interests, the part played by the gulf between your leaders and the people who's standard of living is spiraling downwards out-of-control that drove Trump's success was barely explored. The comparatively few who prosper at the cost of the many who lack of their own champion after the demise of Sanders. Mind you, even the latter as a choice strikes an outsider as bizarre when you tally up the outbursts and eccentricities.

Instead, the time spent on the endless conveyor belt introducing one-political-nullity-after-another, portrayed as 'gifted geniuses' I guess doesn't just demonstrate how cheaply the word genius (or gifted) goes these days but seems to gives the book (laughingly) the feel of a 'celebrity roast' where everyone's in on the joke and everybody wins a prize. I'm sure everyone who got their name mentioned bought a copy.

Serious national issues were hardly touched. For example the outcry of alleged electoral fraud over the Sanders/'Hillary' primaries as outlined in documents (globally available and read I assure you) 'electionjusticeusa', 'A Report on the Fatally Flawed 2016 Primaries'. While an allegation (and apparently a well-thought-through allegation), voting irregularities played no part in this book while paradoxically, plenty of so-called irregularities are now being leveled at your president thanks to 'an ex-red under every bed' new political terror.

Sadly, all this replaces any serious analysis or understanding that should have been the object of why Hillary's campaign failed through all three lenses; local, national and the influence of international geopolitical trends. Instead, this book is a lightweight political 'wake' with little in the way of objectivity, understanding beyond the political food-chain and it's also downright boring. It finally refuses to say those 'three little words'. It's her fault.

Not for history buffs

1 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-04-2018

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?


Any additional comments?

I had just finished reading the historian Frank Dikötter's ‘Mao's Great Famine'. An outstanding diligently produced work, scientifically researched and humanely written.
I was looking for corroborating 'grass-roots' accounts and came across this book and was initially excited at the idea of such an auspicious cross-generational account.
This book is filed in the Amazon store as [#4 in Books > History > Asia > China], [ #5 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > History > Asia > China] and [ #15 in Books > History > World > Women in History].

In reality, to me this is a 'movie script' with the usual cliché proviso, 'based on real events'.
After enthusiastically launching myself into the book, by the end of the first third I had had enough. This humourless, tedious book obviously bypassing any editorial competency had by then established itself to me as an utterly self-serving contrived account targeted towards a perceived market niche. I forced myself to throw in good-time-after-bad to finish it in the vain hope it would turn eventually get better. It didn't.

The preposterous level of detail of second and third party accounts, not just in actions but in 'what they were thinking and feeling' smacks of a level of embellishment that probably works well in the English Chardonnay-drinking post-modernist scene where anecdotes are inseparable from factual history.

You would probably enjoy this book enormously if you knew nothing about China, its history, people, their past-and-present education systems, their culture or language and always had that fascination with red flags, bicycles and fanatical pictures of Mao (and a penchant for women's magazine articles).

If on the other hand, you were middle-aged, lived and worked and taught there, married into the culture, had a good grasp of the language, had an extended family of in-laws many of whom had lived through this period who were now in their 80's, had spent numerous hours interviewing them, you might be a bit more circumspect in separating detail from spin.

The underlying unlikely self-importance of the writer's family and herself written in a neo-Charles-Dickensian tone, the constant equating of her Chinese life to English cultural and literary clichés is laughable. It almost makes me doubt the authorship. While being careful to portray and translate her and her family's 'model Chinese values' within the context of the madness of the time, the noble monocular interpretation of her accounts (such as that of her father's fanatical stupidity) is a frustrating read, despite understanding her cultural need for filial piety.

The notion of the author, a teenage culturally enlightened red guard 'Scout Finch' ignorant of and isolated from the monstrosity and brutality around her while secretly occupying herself in 'Chekov' and writing poetry (none of which seems to have survived) may go a long way to (shall we say) 'abstract' her from those and the events that happened around her.

As an aside, a Chinese teenager brought up in the fanatical environment of xenophobic Chinese countryside of Sichuan during the 70's passionately reading Chekov is somewhat akin to a 70's teenager from say, the mountains of 'Arkansas' claiming to understand the collected works of 'Li Bai' and then putting that on their CV. Actually, banning Li Bai in advance would be necessary to make it closer to the book.

The problem books such as this that mix embellished anecdotes with known factual general knowledge is that they dilute, cast doubt and get a 'free ride' over the hard-won historical accounts. The painstaking researched accounts and records that belong to humanity and deserve preservation and should instruct and warn humanity never to make the same mistakes. in China's current climate, the re-emergence of isolationism, xenophobia and communist conservatism coupled with tendencies towards nationalist policies, deification of 'Xi think' and massive use of technology for control should indicate that China has 'peaked-out' in its own version of post-Deng 'perestroika' (if there ever was one).

One area avoided at the end of the book which had my curiosity aroused more by its omission than by any expectation of a meaningful account was why and how she 'jumped ship' to stay in the west. Perhaps it might have been hard to fit that into the train of 'idealised events'.

If this book wasn't put forward as so-called history, I wouldn't be as indignant in my review. If a similar book emerged from some turnip-boy escaping a communist backwater of post-war Europe, it would hardly have been held in such high historical regard. But because it’s China, we want to believe almost anything because ‘they are so different’.

If you're only looking for a story, or a 'ripping yarn' I guess this book would be fun. Sort of like 'Memories of a Geisha' or Tony Blair's biography which I once saw a shopper mercifully drag over from the 'biography' section and put on the 'fiction' shelf at an airport bookstore. If on the other hand you're looking for objective accurate researched history and lasting meaningfulness to society, read something by Frank Dikötter instead.

2 people found this helpful

Outstanding book ruined by bad narration

2 out of 5 stars
1 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-02-2018

What disappointed you about Mao's Great Famine?

The book was outstanding but its historical value was virtually rendered useless by the narration. With the narration as it is, a complimentary written version should be handed out as a courtesy to unsuspecting buyers.

What other book might you compare Mao's Great Famine to, and why?

The book has some small overlap with 'Mao: The Unknown Story' by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. Both books deal with controversial historical subjects with proofs that have emerged comparatively recently and have led to the ongoing rethink of the entire Mao period.

What didn’t you like about David Bauckham’s performance?

Performing a book with difficult people, place and historical names has to be treated with extreme care and patient preparation. Particularly when dealing with a tonal language such as Chinese where the entire meaning changes depending on the tone of the pronunciation.

While the pronunciation can be researched and learned even if the text is in English, this narration suggests no preparation at all, judging by the dozen or so different pronunciations of just "Zhou En Lai" as one paltry example, let alone more obscure names readers may not be familiar with. If the narrator kept at least one pronunciation per name, we could have eventually worked out who that was.

Native and non-native speakers relying on narration will be largely confounded and non-speakers will simply insert 'blah blah' when an name in it's tenth pronunciation variation occurs. I would rather have had 'Jackie Chan' narrate this and mess up the English rather than mess up the Chinese names, people and places throughout the entire text which rendering it virtually useless apart from the events themselves.

Of lesser but significant annoyance is the occasional straying into a sanctimonious tone which resembles a children's bedtime story. It's distracting and irritating.

You didn’t love this book--but did it have any redeeming qualities?

As mentioned previously, without the written text, this audio book is a waste of time. Buy the printed version instead.

Any additional comments?

A complimentary written version should be handed out as a courtesy to unsuspecting buyers.

4 people found this helpful