Saturday, December 28, 2013

Madcap: The half-life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's lost genius by Tim Willis.

Madcap: The half-life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's lost genius by Tim Willis.  Hardcover book published by Short Books 2002, 175 pages with some colour and black and white photographs as well as a few illustrations.

“Beautiful, charismatic, and talented, in 1966 Syd Barrett invented the British Psychedelic scene—founding Pink Floyd—before collapsing into madness two years later. This book traces the history of rock's lost genius, through exclusive access to those closest to Syd throughout his life.”

“…Syd Barrett invented the British Psychedelic scene.”  Really?  That’s a fairly bold statement and I’m sure that there are those out there who would dispute it… but what would I know about 1960s British Psychedelia, for all I know Syd Barrett did invent it.  Regardless if he did or didn’t, it’s a great story to add to the myth and legend of Syd Barrett.

‘Like a plangent wah-wah guitar chord, this book bends the Syd myth in new and exciting ways’ Will Self

I know a few Pink Floyd fans.  Yes, they are still out there in very large numbers.  I’ve even heard Dark Side of the Moon pumping out of my neighbours back door and I know of someone who excitedly bought the recent multi disc reissue of the same album and then returned it a few days later in complete disgust (… his amazon review seems to have disappeared).  I once worked with an obsessive obsessive for whom Pink Floyd and related musics could do no wrong.  It’s hard trying to sound interested in something that whilst of interest is not really my thing.

Syd Barrett only actively contributed to the first Pink Floyd album and then left after indulging in a little too much Psychedelia.  A couple of solo albums and then really, that was it.  Which is I guess where the story, legend and myth really begin to kick in.  Where was he and what was he doing for all those years whilst his former band mates made more music and money than any rock band should ever realistically do?  Was his brain really that befuddled that he couldn’t somehow reignite that spark he once had?  The answer is possibly in this book.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Modern Chairs by Charlotte Fiell and Peter Fiell.

Modern Chairs by Charlotte Fiell and Peter Fiell.  Paperback book published by Taschen 2002, 160 pages with colour and black and white photographs.  Text is in English, German and French.

“That book was my husbands.”
(Me) “Mmmm.  Do you have nice chairs?”
“No. We had children instead.”

Taschen do great books.  They are glossy, colourful, informative, entertaining and very appealing.  They can also be very expensive although the smaller volumes, such as this one, are often more reasonably priced.  The larger volumes can be spectacular (appearance, content and price) and give a whole new meaning to the words “coffee table book”.  I’ve seen Taschen Books that wouldn’t even fit on my coffee table and if they did I don’t know that the coffee table would hold up under the weight. 

This volume is a more reasonably weighted item and should appeal to those that are reference hungry and to those wanting a coffee table design book.  The photographs are of the usual Taschen quality (excellent) and whilst the descriptions are brief, they get to the point… and they get to the point in English, German and French.  Perfect for bilingual homes wanting books (and chairs) that everyone can enjoy.

I like nice chairs and I like looking at nice chairs.  One day, I may even sit in a nice chair.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Echidna: Australia’s Enigma by Dr. Peggy Rismiller.

The Echidna: Australia’s Enigma by Dr. Peggy Rismiller.  Hardcover book published by Hugh Lauter Levin Associates 1999, 128 pages with colour photographs as well as a few colour and black and black and white illustrations, there are also a few black and white photographs.

We have some strange animals here in Australia.  Actually, that’s probably a bit of an unfair comment about our wonderful and unique fauna, as it isn’t really that strange unless you start comparing it to other animals elsewhere in the world.  Here in Australia, an egg laying mammal isn’t really that strange… we have one more*.  The Echidna which as much as it is like a Hedgehog and Porcupine, isn’t anything at all like either of them.  Yeah, it’s got spines and is cute and not cuddly… and that’s really about all that is the same.  I’ve just realised I don’t know much about the Hedgehog or Porcupine, but that’s not really an issue here in Australia as they are not walking around our neighbourhood, unlike: 

I took this photo last week a few kilometers away from Huc & Gabet headquarters.  For those who don’t know the Echidna, they tend to roll up as a defence mechanism against anything they consider nasty, in this case me.  I’m a bit of a fan of Australian wildlife and the Echidna whilst not uncommon, is an animal I rarely see in the wild.  I took the photograph to show some of the locals and wondered how they would react to my amateur wildlife spotting (and photography).  Everyone I’ve shown the photo to has reacted positively… which is nice.

This book features photographs of the Echidnas on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia.  They are different to my local Echidnas as you can probably see if you compare my photograph and the image on the dust jacket.  From what I can gather the four species of Echidna are fairly similar and unless you’re a zoologist seeking the minutae on Echidnas, then one book should fit all.** There lots of Echidna text/information as well as the photographs and there’s even some photographs of a Porcupine and a Hedgehog to help clarify the differences for those of us who want to clarify the differences. 

*The Platypus
**Ill informed comment by someone who knows nothing about Echidnas. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Get Tough!: How to Win in Hand-To-Hand Fighting: As Taught to the British Commandos and the U. S. Armed Forces by Captain W. E. Fairbairn.

Get Tough!: How to Win in Hand-To-Hand Fighting: As Taught to the British Commandos and the U. S. Armed Forces by Captain W. E. Fairbairn, illustrated by "Hary".  Hardcover book published by Paladin Press 1979, 121 pages with black and white illustrations.

If you’ve ever wondered how to win a fight against a Nazi soldier, then this is the book for you.  Captain W. E. Fairbairn was not a shrinking violet when it came down to instructing the British and US soldiers during WWII in hand to hand combat:

“There will be some who will be shocked by the methods advocated here. To them I say, ‘In war you cannot afford the luxury of squeamishness. Either you kill or capture, or you will be killed or captured. We’ve got to be tough to win, and we’ve got to be ruthless.’”

I’m impressed with this book. The excellent illustrations make it fairly clear that it is only on German soldiers that one should be using these techniques.  I guess this is to make sure that Partisans, Allies, Civilians or Oktoberfest revelers aren’t attacked, one should focus on German soldiers/The Nazis.  You wouldn’t want to


on a Russian, would you?  I’m now wondering if he did a Japanese edition as well.

Today of course there would be no book about all of this.  There probably wouldn’t even be a DVD.  Yep, it would be a phone app so that you could quickly reference it whilst in the thick of it.  So if you’ve got a Nazi problem and no phone, then this book should answer all of your needs. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Chemical Warfare in Australia by Geoff Plunkett.

Chemical Warfare in Australia by Geoff Plunkett.  Hardcover book published by Australian Military History Publications 2007, 733 pages with black and white photographs and a few black and white maps.  

“This meticulously researched book unearths a sixty-year secret. As the Japanese swept south towards Australia in late 1941, they carried with them chemical weapons, already used with deadly effect in China. Forced to counter the chemical warfare threat, Australia covertly imported about 1,000,000 chemical weapons — including 16 types of mustard gas — and hid them in tunnels and other sites around the country. This book tells the story of the importation, storage and ‘live trials’ of the deadly weapons. It reveals details of the chemical warfare agents themselves, Australia’s retaliatory plans, the involvement of the USA, the training of the weapon handlers and, finally, the dangerous disposal of the volatile agents.”

I guess we all knew that chemical weapons weren’t invented by the Syrians.  Saddam Hussein used them not that long ago.  Under International Law it has been illegal to use chemical weapons since 1899*… but obviously the memo never reached Syria… or the United States, Russia or North Korea, four countries that we know still have stockpiles of chemical weapons.  They mightn’t be using them at the moment, but given half a chance… and if they aren’t going to use them, then why have them?

1899…mmmm.  This book looks at “Australia’s involvement in Chemical Warfare between 1914 and 1945”.  Obviously the memo didn’t arrive here either… or if it did, it arrived a bit late.  Before anyone starts messaging me with comments about the wars and Australia being “forced”… or as a deterrent against more recent threats… I am more than willing to admit that this is a complicated subject and one that I am not really au fait about.  But…1899?  That’s a long time ago and there has been plenty of time for everyone to put out the trash.

Geoff Plunkett has written a truly detailed book on this subject.  I guess if you’re going to write about it you should do it properly.  Despite the detail and depth, I can’t imagine this book becoming as big a seller as any book on Gallipoli or Kokoda.  Were there any heroes involved in Australia’s chemical warfare projects?  Somehow I think there are no heroes or winners when it comes to chemical warfare, which is probably why Australia’s involvement remained a sixty-year secret.   

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs.

Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs.  Hardcover book published by The University Of Chicago Press 2009, 280 pages with some black and white photographs and a few black and white illustrations.

Just recently I was pondering the lack of cryptozoology titles that have crossed my path as of the last few years.  There was a time when this stuff was something that I sighted a little more often than legitimate sightings of the Himalayan Yeti, yet after a bountiful few years (of 2 or 3 titles), sightings stopped and cryptozoology became a very rare commodity here at Huc & Gabet.

Strangely, it’s a few short months after this ponderance and I find this interesting volume of information looking at many aspects of Bigfoot and his/her relatives across the globe.  It definitely concentrates on the North American phenomenon in all it’s blurry crypto glory and the author has written the book “with a scientist’s skepticism but an enthusiast’s deep engagement”.  I think the idea is to engage both believers and non believers in what are undoubtedly bizarre and strange stories.

Not far from here (Clunes) we have our own crypto beast (?) that has been able to elude all credible verification.  I once casually mentioned this cryptic carnivore to a resident of that particular area and they did smile at my smart arse comment, but then quickly claimed to have seen something that they are still a little puzzled about way off in the distance.  People here in Victoria take these and other sightings very seriously, so much so that the Department of Environment and Primary Industries wrote a report on the issue after some prompting by our state government... The conclusion was that “The available evidence is inadequate to establish that a wild population of ‘big cats’ exists in Victoria.” 

Cryptozoology is not just a North American thing, it’s all over the world.  From the Himalayas to just around the corner from my house, there are:

“…known knowns; there are things we know that we know.  There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know.”  Donald Rumsfeld

…which has nothing to do with cryptozoology but is such a great speech that I thought it was appropriate to include some of it here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The First Crusade by Steven Runciman.

The First Crusade by Steven Runciman.  Hardcover book published by Book Club Associates 1980, 240 pages with black and white photographs and illustrations as well as some colour photographs and illustrations.

“When Pope Urban II rose to his feet to address the multitudes gathered before him at the Council of Clermont in 1095, his appeal was simple: let Western Christendom march to the aid of their brethren in the East. The enthusiasm with which his call was met was overwhelming and extraordinary.”

A number of years ago I acquired a lovely worn and aged 3 volume set of Runciman’s A History of the Crusades*.  Not surprisingly and not unpredictably, I then read all 3 volumes over a number of months, with a break between each volume.  I seem to remember the break was intended as a bit of a rest in between page after page of bloody confrontations between Europe and the Middle East.  I don’t remember all the gory details and at the time I figured it wasn’t that important to remember everything.  What I felt was important was to get a general idea of the whole thing.  I do remember that there was lots trickery and nastiness and that behind all the religious zeal there was lots of other stuff that had very little or nothing to do with the Holy Land.  Probably the one event that shocked me the most was the Childrens Crusade, of which according to some, Runciman may have got the wrong end of the stick.

“Steven Runciman gives an account of the Children's Crusade in his A History of the Crusades. Raedts notes that "Although he cites Munro's article in his notes, his narrative is so wild that even the unsophisticated reader might wonder if he had really understood it."  Wikipedia

“Unsophisticated reader”… that’s me.  If you look around on the interwebs, people do say nice things about Runciman but there are also questions about how accurate his meisterwerk is.  Whether all or part of Runciman is accurate, there’s enough in his books to give an idea of some wild and crazy times not all of which were as Kosher as some would like to think.

This particular book dealing only with the first crusade is a little more glossy… OK, it’s a lot more glossy… than any of my volumes.  The illustrations do add to the text and it is nice to be able to look at the images relating to the events.  This particular edition is a Book Club edition, which doesn’t detract from the overall appeal of the volume.  Sure, it would be nice to find a lovely vintage three volume set such as the one that sits comfortably on my personal shelves, but until then this Book Club edition of the first volume will do.

The Crusades are without a doubt an important part of world history, which is I guess why I read Runciman in the first place.  Whether others are in interested in the blood and guts of many years ago, I don’t know.  

*Cambridge at the University Press 1954.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pedal Power: In Work Leisure, and Transportation, edited by James C. McCullagh.

Pedal Power: In Work Leisure, and Transportation, edited by James C. McCullagh. Paperback book published by Rodale Press 1977, 133 pages with black and white illustrations and photographs.

“How to produce your own energy from a stationary bicycle—with actual building instructions for a newly designed energy cycle!”

After deciding to write about Pedal Power, I have been unable to find the video that I wanted to insert with this blog entry (youtube has let me down).  Yep, I have been unable to find a video of Edward G. Robinson peddling hard to create electricity in the film Soylent Green (… it’s people).  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe Edward wasn’t peddling away when Charlton Heston came home to their small apartment after a hard day doing whatever he was doing.  Maybe it’s a different film.  Can anyone out there confirm any of this?

So I see a book on Pedal Power and all I think about is Edward G. Robinson peddling hard whilst everyone is eating Soylent Green.  The scene was not a positive one and I can’t remember feeling joyous at the end of the movie, so when I associate Soylent Green with Pedal Power it doesn’t necessarily bring back warm friendly memories, it’s more of a grim future where demand of all things exceeds supply. 

This book which has nothing to do with Soylent Green and is a great and positive DIY manual for the environmentally conscious peddle pusher.  It has all sorts of information on harnessing the power of pedals in all forms, which is not a new idea and indeed the book doesn’t claim that it is.  Heaps of interesting and informative examples of older forms of pedal power are shown and the book then goes on to demonstrate modern uses and how to construct the bits and pieces.  With rising electricity prices and global warming terrorising us all, this book could have some of the answers that we need… whether we like it or not.

Maybe peddle power is the answer to the grim future.  Maybe we should “watch TV from electricity produced at home!”… or maybe we should read a book... that is if there are any more books.