Random things about me

My cricket colleagues call me random. I think that means they don't understand a word of what I am saying. At least that is what my son's friend tells me.

Favourite lists

 

20 Non Fiction Books

History, Philosophy and Science books are what I read most of the time. These are some that I have read and have made an impact on me. If I can do 20 films then I can do 20 books too.

Book Author Description
The Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels A century-defining work combining economics and politics. Much mis-understood and should be seen in the light of when it was published.
History of the First and Second World Wars. Basil Liddell Hart An informed and mostly impartial account of the two World Wars in two volumes produced 40 years apart! Short enough to read easily and touches on enough to give you a sense of where to go next.
10 Days that Shook the World John Reed The events surrounding the Russian October Revolution in 1917. First hand and illustrating the confusion, hope and fears of the time from an outsider who was inside what was happening.
Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee Dee Brown The inexorable decline of the Native American against the tide of European technological superiority. Hints of the culture lost.
The Civil War Shelby Foote An excellent account of the war between the North and South in the now (re-)United States. It is frightening to see how may of the attitudes of these times remain in the North-South divide.
A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking A good readable account of the fundamental issues of modern Physics.
A History of Australia Manning Clark Definitive history of Australia from European times. I shared a table in a restaurant with Manning Clark, his wife and a small group of other people a short time before he died. He was a pleasure to meet.
Hitler and Stalin - Parallel Lives Alan Bullock This book looks at the lives of two of the great monsters of the 20th Century. Both killed millions of people and they were each allowed to achieve power by people who thought that they could manipulate ambitious people.
The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop E.E. Dunlop A remarkable chronicle of the Australian experience of the Japanese prisoner of war camps and Burma Railroad.
Climbing Mt Improbably Richard Dawkins A good primer on alternative ways to understand the world without involving religion.
The Embarrassment of Riches Simon Schama About the Netherlands at a time of colonial powers. Better than his History of Britain because it has something more to say. It chronicles why the people of Holland chose to withdraw from the colonial race, basically because they had enough wealth to live good lives.
The Anzacs Patsy Adam Smith Oral history recorded and supported with historical research covering the ANZAC in World War I. Completed as the youngest participants had reached old age.
Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants DL Jones and WR Elliot A huge undertaking from two of the founders of the National Botanical Gardens in Canberra.
Future Shock Alvin Tofler A very accurate assessment of where the world was heading. The detail is different but the main points are still relevant today.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon 18th century scholarly work that is a benchmark for historical writing. I have the 7 volume version with most of the original text.
The Six Wives of Henry VII Alison Weir This book started me on my reading of renaissance European history. Previously, I had been more interested in the "New World".
Europe - A history Norman Davies A fresh look at the Europe concept taking a broader view than the "Western" one that was presented after WW I. The role of Eastern Europe and the "middle powers" is re-instated.

10 Science Fiction Books

Science Fiction and Fantasy offer the opportunity to explore some "What If" scenarios. That is why I like to read these books - they extend my horizons.

Book Author Description
The Dreamstone C.J. Cherryh A book which draws on the Celtic tradition. Describes a Sidhe sanctuary.
The Galactic Milieu Series Julian May An epic describing the difficulties in integrating the rapacious nature of Homo Sapiens into a harmonious Galaxy. Refers to the Saga of the Exiles, a previous series by the same author.
Stranger in a Strange Land Robert Heinlein Great insight into a "First Contact" scenario. Focuses on the interpersonal issues.
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas Ursula Le Guin A short story about an idyllic society with just one catch! Would you walk away?
Lord of Darkness Robert Silverberg Power and sexual politics in Africa.
Ringworld Larry Niven One of the first Science Fiction books I ever read. Describes an alternative world superbly. Sequels are also good.
Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C Clarke Another superb First Contact story. Sequels are equally good, eventually tracing the life of a woman from childhood in an African tribe to life's end far from Earth.
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever Stephen Donaldson A leper is transported into a parallel world where he is cured. He finds that he is expected to save the world from domination by an evil force but does not believe himself to be the expected saviour. Excellent treatment of guilt and belief.
The Foundation Series Isaac Asimov The life of a scientist who developed a method for determining the future mathematically. Investigates the way that power can corrupt and presents a true utilitarian philosophy.
Incarnations of Immortality Piers Anthony A series which examines life in a parallel universe where mortals take on immortal roles. Death, Fate, Mars, Gaia, Satan and God.

I could not fit these into the 10 but like them too. The Left Hand if Darkness, Always Coming Home and The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin. The Robot books by Asimov. Everything Stephen Donaldson has written. 2001, a Space Odyssey and sequelae by Arthur C Clarke.

10 Fiction Books

Fiction is a good way to "float an idea" that cannot be adequately expressed in a factual context.

Book Author Description
Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad A turn of the century novel describing a journey into the Congo Valley. Deals with the inability of Europeans to understand a fundamentally different culture. Inspired the film Apocalypse Now!
The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien Could be called Fantasy but transcends that.
A Fantasy of Man Henry Lawson Collection of Australian Bush stories by the classic storyteller.
Adolf Hitler, My Part in His Downfall Spike Milligan A part-fictional account of Spike's involvement in WWII.
The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams A hilarious look at the human condition from a warped perspective.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull Richard Bach I enjoyed the gentleness of this book and the allegory which meant much more to me than the formal Christian Doctrines I was taught.
Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength CS Lewis A trilogy which explores God, Good and Evil from an agnostic point of view, written by a devout Christian. Written between the period from 1938 to 1945. A contemporary of Tolkien.
She, King Solomon's Mines and Alan Quatermain Rider Haggard Classic African adventure.
The Divine Comedy Dante The best known part of the trilogy is "Inferno". A renaissance book (in parts) that is still relevant today. The analysis of how human politics and behaviour aligns so well with the religion and mythology is startling. You realise how much of our language and conceptualisation of politics comes from his writing.
Irish Legends Kenneth Flint A series of novelised versions of the Irish and associated Celtic legends.

10 Music Selections

Music has been one of the most important things for me over the last 25 years or so.

CD/Record Composer Description
Requiem Mozart Inspirational melancholy! The Schrier performance is my favourite.
Anti-war songs Eric Bogle The Band Played Waltzing Matilda is well known (in Australia) but all his songs have the power to move me.
Brandenberg Concerti JS Bach I find this music very uplifting.
Unplugged Eric Clapton Eric Clapton is a rock legend of the 60's and 70's who has progressed into the present. This is a gentle, yet powerful album.
Starless and Bible Black King Crimson Some people find this music jarring and depressing. I find it is the most satisfying that I have ever listened to. From the otherwise cultural desert of the mid 1970's. This album is one I bought after drinking more than was good for me one hot afternoon at Melbourne University
If You Don't Fight You Lose Redgum A band that produced some of the strongest political statements in music during the 80's. Australian, of course.
Weird Scenes from Within the Gold Mine The Doors The Doors music has been with me since I was a teenager. Again, I am seduced by the power and emotion of the music and words.
Please to see the King Steeleye Span Good, honest folk music at its raw best. Later albums lost the rawness and with it some of the beauty of folk's simplicity.
Living in the Past Jethro Tull This is music I love for the words of the songs, the sound of the flute and the energy of the band. It captures the spirit of the times an reminds me of the things I thought of then...
The Memory of Trees Enya Soft and melodic. I play this when I need to feel relaxed.

20 Film Selections

I am not disciplined enough to limit it to 10 so I have done 20

Film Description
Apocalypse Now! An anti-war war film. I loved the imagery and the intensity of this film. The fact that it was based on "Heart of Darkness" just added to the enjoyment for me. "The End" from the Doors was superbly appropriate.
Proof A blind man has photographs taken of him as proof of the fact that he was there. Pathos and humour combine to make it a very watchable film. Hugo Weaving and Russel Crowe in one of their early films.
Being There A film that can be enjoyed at several levels. It is uncertain whether Chancy Gardener is an idiot or simply wiser than everyone else. The way that everyone (mis?)interprets his actions and words to match their own expectations is the thing that makes this film great.
Citizen Kane Superb film making and a (then) controversial story line tracing the ascent and subsequent decay of a media empire and its owner. Tells more about The American Dream than most films.
Chinatown Film Noir style with a storyline that surprises at each twist and turn. The acting performances and filming are all you could want. References to pre-war official corruption and the inability of police to understand the political intrigues set the scene for the ending - in Chinatown.
Dr Strangelove Peter Sellers played several parts but the Colonel and his "Precious bodily fluids" epitomised the paranoia of the military. The final scenes are a reminder of how we can glorify horror so easily by associating it with beauty.
Twelve Angry Men A jury of 12 men locked in a single small room and in subtle conflict that exposes deep held prejudices in men who are confronted with their own inadequacies. The Jimmy Stewart role ranks with Atticus Finch as a hero of the common people.
Mr Smith Goes to Washington Honesty in politics? The American Dream? Confronting and hopeful in the face of the stark reality that the events of the film cannot happen in the power hungry world of politics.
Rear Window The performances of Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in a confined space and the way the limited view of events allows you to interpret them in so many ways makes this film so much better than your average thriller.
Psycho The shower scene. The feeling that something bad will happen all the time. A sense that these people are pitiable and yet so able to exercise the power of life and death. Dominated by a mother or just unprepared to take responsibility?
The Blues Brothers This is what I call a musical! Love the music and the references to everything throughout the film. Carrie Fisher is so good. The nuns. Cab Calloway. James Brown. Aretha Franklin. Ray Charles.
The Godfather I,II & III The first film was confronting and eye opening. The second showed how a system and culture can create monsters who are really nice people when you get to know them. The third is an outstanding excuse to show us the final scene.
Jurassic Park I like Dinosaurs! This film realised one of my childhood dreams - to see a real Dinosaur. Who cares about plots? At least the corporate lawyer gets chomped and the kids are scared but safe. All is well with the world.
Das Boet A German film about a U-Boat in the latter part of WWII. It takes an intensely personal view of life and death in the boat and contrasts that with the high life of the political masters. Sustained tension and the Captain's obvious affection for his crew make this film memorable.
The Last Wave A huge wave hits Sydney as foretold in an Aboriginal legend. The native culture is asserting itself again. An early Peter Weir film that had a major impact on me.
Death in Brunswick A comedy about a down and out man (Sam Neill) who takes a job as assistant cook in a seedy nightclub. He falls in love with a (much) younger woman who is the head bouncer's girlfriend. In a long chain of events, the other cook gets killed by misadventure and then the fun starts. I like it because it is set where I lived and the characters are straight from the streets of inner Melbourne.
Kiss of the Spider Woman About a homosexual prisoner in a South American country who is made a cellmate to spy on a political prisoner in order to get information. A friendship develops between the two leading to the fateful ending. What really matters in life and passion? Is the big picture always the most important? What would you give your life for?
All Quiet on the Western Front The 1970's version with Ernest Borgnine is marginally better than the 1930's version for me. The enthusiasm for war shown by young boys and old men placed squarely against the reality. The humanity and the inhumanity. And grasping a butterfly on a quiet day in Flanders.
2001 A Space Odyssey I don't care what the ending means. It makes you think and that is what is important. After seeing this film I was talking about it with friends for days. The idea of consciousness, logic and emotion. Mission or ethics? Why is this theme of "god" so prevalent in human thinking?
The Deer Hunter The Russian Roulette scenes remind me of how self-destructive people can be. The images of working class industrial suburban boys being sent off to a war they did not understand or want are haunting.

Films I wanted to find a place for but could not:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch and children confronting reality.
  • Malcolm. Just good fun and a reminder that we should judge less and accept people more.
  • The Great Dictator. Brutal Satire and doing what Brecht could not by getting the message out to everyone.
  • Modern Times. Humour disguising a message again.
  • Donnie Darko. Haunting music and a reminder that we need to listen to adolescents.
  • Missing. A parent's nightmare and only the surface of what happens behind closed borders.
  • Dr Zhivago. The Russian revolution turned into a love story. What might have been.
  • Bridge on the River Kwai. The British and their honour.
  • Casablanca. The vicissitudes of war and what might have been.
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The character studies and latent violence.
  • A Clockwork Orange. I read the book and sneaked into the film.
  • The Gods Must be Crazy. I have never laughed so much at a film.
  • This is Spinal Tap. Subtle and cutting humour. Mine goes past 11!