Tag Archives: non-fiction

Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000) by Anthony Boudain is a fun read from the now famous celebrity chef Anthony Boudain. It recounts Boudain’s time working as a cook and chef in New York.

It’s genuinely interesting, gritty and pretty funny in parts. From my limited experience working in a commercial kitchens it also sounds pretty realistic. The places I worked in, while good, were nothing like the incredible places where Boudain has worked, but still, there was the same camaraderie, slander and tough working conditions.

This book really shows just how incredibly tough it is working in a kitchen. The hours and the demands of the job are staggering. It’ll be interesting over the next few decades to see how much of this labor is displaced with automation, if indeed that much is. Human hands and flexibility are perhaps under appreciated.

The book also shows Boudain’s huge appreciation for food as well.It makes you appreciate the skill that goes into the creation of fine bread and other food.

Kitchen Confidential is an interesting, inspiring and amusing look at the restaurant trade and food.


Enlightenment Now

Enlightenment Now : The Case for Reason, Science, and Humanism (2018) by Steven Pinker is a high selling non-fiction book by a famous author that espouses that humanity’s condition has improved dramatically in the past 200 years and also very dramatically in the past 50 years. In addition to that Pinker says that the reason for this improvement is Reason, Science and Humanism. Bill Gates recently said that book is his favourite of all time. Pinker is a Canadian born cognitive psychologist professor at Harvard. He has also written a number of very successful other books.

The fact that the number of people in the world living flourishing lives in the world over the past 200 years has shot up dramatically. This fact is critically important and has been sadly under reported. The recently deceased Swedish doctor Hans Rosling made a big effort with his ‘Gap minder’ website to collate statistics on the well being of people all over the world. His TED talk is fantastic and it has had a huge impact. The data show that life expectancy has shot up in poor parts of the world along with literacy and life expectancy. Max Roser, a German researcher, has furthered this sort of data collection in his fantastic our world in data project.

The book summarises these incredible developments well. Pinker states that the system of markets, science and democracy has worked better than anything in history and that the increase in well being is absolutely staggering. The book does cover much of the same ground that Matt Ridley’s ‘The Rational Optimist’ also does.

The other part of the book is stating that it is the ideas of the Enlightenment that have been furthered with atheism that has caused all this to take place and Pinker starts to take on those he believes are the enemies of The Enlightenment. This part is more problematic. Many of the major Enlightenment thinkers were religious, in particular Kant, as have been many major scientific figures including Newton, Maxwell and others. They were not seeking to put forward new thinking based just on reason but instead to use reason to justify their beliefs better. There have been critiques of the book from academics who study The Enlightenment that point out these issues .

Pinker also makes the point that a lot of the humanities have become heavily left wing and politicised and intolerant. Pinker points out that in many Humanities departments there are as many Marxists as conservatives with the majority being substantially left, and many hard left wing. They have also become intolerant of idealogical diversity. Pinker points out that this is also leading to much of the humanities become irrelevant. Science is seen by post modernists as just another version of truth that is primarily about propagating an oppressive point of view.

Much of the great progress over the past 20 years is also due to China’s rise and it is interesting to ponder if the rise of a nominally Marxist but certainly totalitarian state coupled to a market economy that uses science is a rise compatible with The Enlightenment.

Pinker’s previous book ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ was challenged by Nassim Taleb on the basis that a single modern nuclear war would make the entire thesis incorrect. Pinker responds to this criticism in the book. However, he doesn’t name Taleb which is a bit petty.

The book concludes with a defence of Liberalism and Humanism and references to The UN’s Declaration of Human Rights and a manifesto for a new Humanism.

Overall, Enlightenment Now is well worth a read for the statistics that point out just how much the modern world has improved in so many dimensions. Pinker’s idealogical justification for this rise isn’t as strong and is apparently not as well researched.




The Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars: A Very Short Introduction (2013) by Mike Rapport is another excellent very short introduction. The book describes the wars between 1792 and 1815. The author, Mike Rapport, a senior lecturer of history at The University of Stirling in Scotland. He’s written numerous other longer history books.

The Very Short Introduction books are a bit hit and miss, some of the books that describe vague concepts are not that great, but the ones that have a constrained subject they can describe in more detail than a Wikipedia page but with fewer pages than the heavyweight history books that are more ‘complete’ are often excellent. This is one of the latter.

The wars are divided into two sections, the revolutionary wars and the Napoleonic wars. The book also describes Total War, revolutionary Wars, the impact on soldiers and civilians, the war at sea and ‘the people’s war’.

I really enjoyed the book, learned a lot and am inspired to go and read more about the Napoleonic Wars and to find similar books about The Seven Years War and The Thirty Years War.



Outside the Box: A Statistical Journey Through the History of Football

Outside the Box: A Statistical Journey Through the History of Football (2017) by Duncan Alexander is a season by season statistical trip through the history of the Premier League. Alexander works for the statistical service Opta.

Each season gets a chapter that has various stats about the season included at the end. There are also interludes on Liverpool and each season of their failure to win a title, title defences, Arsene Wenger and various other topics. The book is a bit like a series of Opta tweets joined together. It’s actually a bit taxing to read as it doesn’t really flow.

For anyone interested in the Premier League it’s worth a read, it’s not as good as ‘The Mixer’ but it is well worth a look.


Fire and Fury

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (2018) by Michael Wolff is a very successful book that provides something of a glimpse inside the Trump White House. This week the book has featured in 4 out of 5 days of NPR and BBC World News. If Donald Trump had been signed up to publicise the book he could not have done better.

Wolff says he got unprecedented access to the White House because it was so disorganised that he was allowed, for months, to wander around and talk to people. The book seems to support this idea. It fits with the other facts that are known about the Trump White House.

The first third of the book was fantastic. I laughed out loud regularly. The account of the Trump team’s transition is really funny. According to Wolff Trump and his team didn’t really expect to win so a lot of planning that is normally done was simply not done. In addition to that Trump had very few people with real political experience at the top of his team.

The middle third of the book drags a bit, it’s a detailed tale of a complete mess. Wolff portrays the White House as eventually dividing into a Ivanka an Jared Kushner faction and a Bannon faction. The two parts battled it out for supremacy which ultimately resulted in Bannon being fired.

The end third of the book describes the end of the fight, the firing of Comey and the appointment of Mueller as special prosecutor along with all the other chaos involved of the Trump White House. It also describes the hilarious appointment and dismissal of Scarramucci.

A quiet figure on the side line, Mike Pence, gets a few pages and is seen as someone biding their time, waiting for their opportunity.

I really enjoyed the book. It tied together all the things the news has been full of about Trump. Most of the figures are presented quite sympathetically. It is an alarming but somewhat reassuring book. It describes a group of people not full of malice but who are simply not up to the job at which they find themselves. Had the book been sent back through time to the start of the century people would have found it hilarious but too far fetched. We truly live in strange, televised and tweeted times. Covfefe to you all.


Sheilas, Wogs & Poofters

Sheilas, Wogs & Pooters: An Incomplete Biography of Johnny Warren and Soccer in Australia (2002) by Johnny Warren, Andy Harper and Josh Whittington covers Warren’s great career as a very successful football player and Australian soccer manager, commentator and promoter and provides a simultaneous history of Australian soccer from the late 1950s until the early 2000s.

Warren was in Botany on a street that would, incredibly, provide three representatives of Australia in various sports. He somewhat randomly started to play soccer and was superb at it from a young age, playing in much higher divisions as a junior. As a young man he played for St George-Budapest and encountered European and South American players and styles which had a big impact on him. He also met Les Murray, the great SBS broadcaster while playing for them.

The book goes through the era of clubs made by post-war migration in Australia. The state based competitions were dominated by ethnic Italian, Greek, Hungarian, Jewish and Macedonian based teams.

Warren went on to represent Australia from 1964 until 1974, playing as an attacking midfielder. He also captained the team and was later part of the team that qualified for Australia’s first World Cup, that of Germany in 1974.

After playing he went on to manage and then promote soccer and helped the establishment of the NSL in the late 1970s. He coached Canberra and also helped to bring the New York Cosmos out for exhibition games in Australia.

Warren had written as a soccer journalist since the 1960s. He then joined up with Les Murray and became part of the soccer broadcasters at SBS that did so much for the game in Australia.

As well as being autobiographical the book successfully intertwines a history of the game in Australia, Warren’s love of the game as an international game and a history of the Australian national team in Warren’s era.

For anyone interested in Australian soccer this book really is a must read. In conjunction with The Death and Life of Australian Soccer it provides a great view of Australian soccer in the post war era. As well as providing the autobiography of Warren the book provides more details of the teams while Warren played and highlights the huge role that SBS played in popularising  soccer in Australia.



Balancing on the Blue

Balancing on the Blue : Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (2015) by Keith Foskett is the story of Foskett’s tale of doing one of the great American trails. The Appalachian Trail (AT) is amazing trail from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachians.

Foskett had already done the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) so the AT was arguably a bit easier for him. He’d also already written books about hiking the Camino and the PCT so he’s also more experienced author.

If you like reading these sorts of memoirs this book is definitely worth a read. If you haven’t tried any of them it’s still possibly a good read. It certainly gives some of the feeling of what a long distance hike must be like. Foskett writes good portraits of his fellow hikers and also provides quite a bit of detail about the trail itself and the hardships he had to endure.