Projects: A Very Short Introduction, by Andrew Davies

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In this Very Short Introduction Andrew Davies delves into the world of projects. It may sound like a dry subject, but the history of projects is nothing short of fascinating – and a very long history it is too. By definition, a project is any sort of collaborative mission planned to achieve a particular aim, a temporary measure with a limited lifespan. Throughout history mankind has used projects to reform and transform the natural world, creating innovative spaces for people to work, live and play. Throughout the course of this very short introduction Davies references some of the greatest projects of all time, including examples such as the Erie Canal and the Apollo Moon landing, to highlight how different projects are managed and organised to cope with the changing conditions and immense uncertainties unveiled within any form of breakthrough innovation. Moving forward, Davies presents his own ideas for how future projects can be organised to best address the challenges of modern post-industrial societies. If you are considering a career in project management or are already involved in one or more projects and want to know how to improve the system then let this book become your bible. Projects: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Davies offers a veritable goldmine of insights, anecdotes and analysis of the very basics of project management, showing how it is done, and advising on how it can be done better.

This review was first published online for E&T Magazine 

Frankenstein: The First 200 Years by Christopher Frayling

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“If you could have been around on a single say in the historical past – which day would it have been?” This question, posed by a BBC reporter, and answered in truth by author Christopher Frayling, is the perfect frame within which to set this book. Given a choice, it is incredibly difficult to select a single moment in time. Scientists, artists, philosophers and critics will each have very different choices. History has so many possibilities, but for Frayling, the choice was simple.

The obvious answer, says Frayling, is not a day, but a night. A night filled with boredom and anguish, which ultimately lead to the creation of one of the greatest ghost stories ever told. It was a dreary evening in June 1816 when a young Mary Shelley (then Godwin) first sought to horrify her companions with a tale of science and technology gone insane, a tale that would go on to become one of the best known tales of horror ever written.

Just 18 months later on New Year’s Day 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, complete with a preface by her husband Percy Shelley, was released into the world. The coming days, months, years, and now, centuries, would see this limited-edition fiction become one of the defining pillars of British culture. Frankenstein: The First 200 Years, a new and stunning hardbound production from Reel Art Press, celebrates the 200th birthday of literature’s greatest monster, by tracing its journey from fireside fiend to cultural celebrity.

The last two hundred years have seen Frankenstein’s creation break away from the paper-bound confines of the novel to stalk the stage and screens small and large, creeping into cartoons, comics and even cereal packets. The creature first snuck onto the big screen back in 1910, in a 16-and-a-half-minute ditty for the Thomas Edison Film Company, as a hideous beast with a misshapen body, twisted face and wild matted hair. Since this time, the costume changes have been many and various, occasionally adopting a somewhat ‘cuddly’ caricature afforded by the face of Herman Munster and modern-day Frankenweenie.

Within the pages of this stunning edition, the reader is taken on a journey through literary history, which includes new research on the novel’s origins, reprints of the earliest known manuscript of the creation scene, and a 90-page visual celebration of Frankenstein’s presence within popular culture.

Outside of obvious realms of literature and popular culture, Frankenstein’s exploits continue to roam – in a much less flattering light. If Mary Shelley’s novel held a message, it was surely a warning that manipulating that which you do not understand can only lead to devastation. Today, among newspaper pages constantly splashed with stories of the latest and greatest exploits in genetic engineering, nano-technology and artificial intelligence, Frankenstein’s monster often bares his ugly head.

The yellow-eyed, sallow-skinned being from Shelley’s novel, is indeed a far-cry away from any of the images we all recognise today – the bolt-necked beast made famous by Boris Karloff in James Whale’s 1931 onscreen adaptation being the most obvious. It is somewhat telling, perhaps, that the creature itself cannot be controlled. Just as Victor Frankenstein failed to coerce his creation, Mary Shelley’s tale has proved itself to have a life of its own.

If given the chance to travel back in time, there’s no telling where you might go, but for those intrigued by what occurred on that fabled night back in 1816, the very least you should do is read this book. Frayling has created as close to a time machine as you might hope to get, revealing, not just the humble origins of history’s greatest monster, but a thoroughly fascinating breakdown of all his exploits since.

This review was first published online for E&T Magazine 

The Return of the Young Prince – A.G. Roemmers

A few months ago I came into work to see a news story left on my desk. It was inconspicuous, a small sheet of thin paper roughly torn out of a little pamphlet, and it told me they The Little Prince was coming back. The little golden-haired boy whose story opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking had touched another author enough to be brought back to life.

Then, one evening this October as the weather was just starting to turn, I was walking out from South Kensington tube station when I passed small, independent book shop, lit up against the coming dark with the most wonderful display of hardback books – he had arrived.

28957290Those of you who have read my blog a lot might know of my love affair with The Little Prince. I love French translations, and this one was so wonderfully magical and childish that it took me back to innocent place in the very far reaches on my memory. The golden-haired boy of Exupery’s tale holds a firm spot in my heart, and the idea of seeing him again filled me with so much joy.

I approached the book with a certain amount of caution, aware that it could so easily fall short of my rather high expectations – The Little Prince is a rather hard act to follow. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t have a few reservations while I was reading the book – there were the invariable comparisons to the original – but while I found it difficult at first after some time I realised that the book needed to be different. After all the original book is not just the story of The Little Prince himself, it is the story of the Aviator – that is, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – and how his life was touched by The Little Prince. In the same way, The Return of the Young Prince is a tale of how The Little Prince touched A.G. Roemmers.

“I think this planet would be a lovely place if everyone on it greeted each other with a smile when they met”

In The Return of the Young Prince, a solo driver, setting out on an expedition across the mystical land of Patagonia, finds a young, starving teenager asleep at the side of the road – none other than The Little Prince, now grown, who has returned to earth in search of his friend the Aviator. The pair embark upon a journey of a lifetime, the man with a destination in mind, and The Young Prince, as he is now known, hoping that along the way he will find what he is looking for. The Young Prince and the driver speak, they are philosophical, quizzical, educational and at times humorous, the conversations passing between the pair serving to highlight, as in the original, the wonderful difference between the adult and juvenile brain, and that there are things in life that you cannot put a price on.

“I can tell you with certainty that your friend gave you the loveliest sheep in the world – the one that you imagined in your fantasy, the only one you could look after and that could go with you to your little planet. Didn’t you enjoy his company as you watched the sunsets? Didn’t you go to him in the night so that he wouldn’t feel alone and that you too wouldn’t feel so alone? Didn’t you think that he belong to you because you had tames him and that you belonged to him? There’s no doubt that he was more real, more alive, than the one you saw in the photograph, because that one was just a sheep, whereas the one inside the box was your sheep.”

There is so much I could say about this book, so many anecdotes I would love to pick apart and ponder over the hidden metaphors and morals. There are so many messages one could take from the story, though, that it would be unfair of me to do so and to taint your own experience of the book. Assuming of course that you are willing to give the book the time of day – I thoroughly recommend it.

It’s important to approach the book with an open mind. Do I prefer it to the original? Of course not. It’s a very different book, but while it changes some of the themes of the original, it does not detract from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s work. This is a book which speaks of how The Little Prince touched the life of the author, a man who has dedicated years of his life into researching and studying Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The book does not try to pick up where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry left off. Rather, just like The Little Prince, it serves as a tale told by a man whose life was changed by his encounter with the golden-haired child of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s past.

 

“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.” ― Oscar Wilde

Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all

Brideshead Revisited ― Evelyn Waugh

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Brideshead Revisited is the first contact I have had with Evelyn Waugh, and I now find myself completely overwhelmed with the desire to explore and read more of his work. I enjoy a book that is a challenge, so that I can feel I have achieved something when I finally shut the cover for the last time, and this is how I felt having finished Brideshead. Waugh’s style was a little difficult to get used to with at first, but I soon found myself reading as though from book I had read many times before, whose words knew so well.

Waugh’s writing was once described by Gore Vidal as “so chaste that at times one longs for a violation of syntax to suggest that its creator is fallible, or at least part American”, and when I first read this it struck me as an almost perfect sentiment, I don’t feel I can fault the style, while it is in many ways different to what I am used to, it works, almost perfectly.

Something I found most striking, and indeed satisfying, about Waugh’s style is his trademark use of rapid dialogue, unattributed but with the effect that the reader knows exactly who is speaking. This had such a profound effect that I felt as though I could actually hold a conversation with many of the characters in the book.

Brideshead Revisited is a nostalgic look back on post war England, through the story of Charles Ryder, a captain in the British Military during WWII, who returns to a place he once knew so well – the home of the Marchmain family. The novel serves as Charles’ reflection on a time when his life became intertwined with that of the Marchmain’s, a highly privileged, catholic family, one of the few remnants of a rapidly vanishing world.

Charles original contact with the family was during his time at Oxford University, attached to the hip of the youngest son Sebastian, a charming, lovable figure, with an inability to let go of his childhood, as shown by his constant companion, Aloysius the teddy bear. Charles seemed so infatuated with every aspect of Sebastian, his profile, his conversation, his home, that the relationship seemed to me transcend that between just friends, and become almost romantic.

Charles found himself enchanted next by Sebastian’s family, bemused by their religion, charmed by the forgiving mother, and even the rogue father. Before finding himself engaged in a short but passionate love affair with the elder sister Julia, a girl so alike Sebastian in so many ways. Despite the apparent closeness that Charles is said to have shared with the family, there was a single dividing factor mentioned throughout the novel which seemed sure to separate these lives which at first seemed so inextricably linked.

It was not the Marchmain family’s position in society that sets them apart from Charles Ryder, but rather their religion. The presence of the Catholic church in the Marchmain household which was often a matter of contention during conversation between Charles and the Marchmain family. It was Catholicism which eventually reclaims even the shamed Lord Marchmain, who lived for years with his mistress, before proclaiming his belief during the last moments of his life. Finally it was Catholicism which drove Charles and Julia apart, when she realised that she could no longer commit to a life of sin.

Such are the memories that pass though Captain Charles Ryder’s mind as he stands in the closed chapel of the Marchmain family home upon his return in the midst of WWII. It seems as though his life will forever be drawn back towards this family, a family with whom he shall forever be spiritually distanced.

While I enjoyed the story itself very much, what stands out the most is that I feel almost as though these could be my own memories, and that I only have to open the book to be transformed once more to a carefree summer afternoon on the terrace of Brideshead.

I cannot claim to fully understand the writing of Waugh from reading just one novel, needless to say there will definitely be more Waugh reviews to come. I’m sure when I’ve read more I will look back on this one with a more educated eye. Until then, watch this space.