The Riddle of the Labyrinth (Margalit Fox)

“This is the true story of one of the most mesmerizing riddles in western history and, in particular, of the unsung woman who would very likely have solved it, had she only lived a little longer”, begins Fox’s telling of the decipherment of Linear B. As with so many of the early, imaginative theories of the meaning of the Linear B script, however, this is less accurate and more enticing than the truth. Alice Elizabeth Kober’s role in the solving of this mystery was overshadowed, but not ‘unsung’ as was Rosalind Franklin’s role in the decipherment of the structure of…

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The Power Broker

(Robert Moses and the Fall of New York) (by Robert A. Caro, 1974) That this brick of a book (well over a thousand pages) about public infrastructure is so compelling is due to, first, its traverse of key decades in the rise of America (1920s to the 1960s); second, the author’s awesome depth of research and keen grasp of his subject; and third, the subject himself: the most famous public official in New York (perhaps America), Robert Moses (18 December 1888 – 29 July 1981), a humanities man, without engineering qualifications, who yet singlehandedly matched the Pharaohs and the Romans in…

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A Bigger Picture

By Malcolm Turnbull (2020) To re-tell a recent joke, with apologies to Frankie Boyle, Turnbull’s memoir is not like Turnbull the man, in 2 respects: it has a spine, and you may not want to put it down. Yes, we’re on record as not being Malcolm fans, for whom this pretty well written and interesting book is designed, though it holds wider interest in following the August path of destiny for Australia’s 29th Prime Minister, a path strewn with garlands and fleeting triumphs, told in a voice of peerless self-confidence, well described by Jonathon Green in the Sydney Morning Herald…

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Bohemian Rhapsody (by Lesley-Ann Jones)

“Bohemian Rhapsody.  The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury” (by Lesley-Anne Jones) (1997; recently re-issued) This biography (not to be confused with the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody – click here for our review) is a sympathetic look at the life of the Queen front-man, from his lonely boyhood as Farrokh Bulsara, diligent Parsee schoolboy at an Indian boarding school, to his lonely death at age 46 as Freddie Mercury, adored British rock star. Some of those from his Zoroastrian background do not see this as an upward trajectory – his cousin Diana said, “He gave up his family name.  He did not…

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Leonardo da Vinci

(by Walter Isaacson) (2017) We picked up this heavy tome in Washington DC and carried it all the way home. It’s well put-together, beautifully illustrated, and fairly well organised. Whilst Leonardo the Man remains opaque, this book manages to avoid drowning in the sea of speculation, as a disastrous recent work on Beethoven does not. Leonardo da Vinci lived and died 500 years ago, and left behind a tantalising body of mostly incomplete work, in particular, some startlingly radical and luminous paintings, fanatically detailed drawings, and thousands of pages from inspired commonplace books.  Although his siege engines and tanks and…

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