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Rough Crossings - Simon Schama  

Simon Schama tackles a period in world history that many have tried to sweep under the carpet. This book explores some absolutely new territory. The information is so fresh and novel, that you'll find yourself wondering "why haven't I heard this before?" Blacks running away and joining to fight with the British against the Patriots in droves (80,000 by some counts), slave insurrections, and black troops plundering Long Island and New Jersey . Could this all really have happened?

Iíve read stories regarding black slaves who fought with the Patriots. When you read this you realise that blacks who fought for freedom from Britian were in the minority. Some free blacks may have fought in Massachusetts but in the South, fighting with the Patriots was not in the slave's own best interests. It's clear that blacks were with the British, cheering for them against the Patriots, because they had no interest in seeing their masters free from British law, a law that they were convinced would set them free.

As well as the American Revolution, Schama's segways expertly into the legal cases of runaway slaves in Britain in 1772 and 1773. The fallout for the slaves who were liberated is also fascinating. Details on the colonies set up in Nova Scotia and finally Sierra Leone for the slaves are superbly detailed. Rough Crossings is a story of real villains and real heroes, a great read.



Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions Ė Ben Mezrich  

I admit that Iím a bad maths nerd and found this book ace in nerdy maths type of way. The story regards a team of super smart brainiacs who devised a system to fleece casinos. Bringing Down the House is not a tutorial on how to beat the house playing blackjack, but the story of how smart people worked together to play the casinos' game, on their own turf, and win. The narrative benefits greatly from author Ben Mezrich's experience as a novelist, showing how an MIT student went from working part-time in a chemistry lab between classes to playing blackjack with tens of thousands of dollars at stake in a single hand.

Although the story is excellent, the amounts of cash won and gambled with just donít add up, I am not here to say that this is a work of pure fiction, but it defo reads like one. There are too many uneven ideas in the book for me to believe otherwise. I don't doubt that these people exist, or some of them anyhow, but it just doesn't read right. Still, it is a fast and fun read, just don't take it as gospel.



You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again Ė Julia Phillips  

I expected standard Hollywood dirt-dishing. I was unprepared for the vengeful & venomous whining from a woman who'd once set a new standard for women in 'the industry', yet never saw she'd helped create the viper's nest she later exposed in over 600 paqes of difficult to read complaining.

Yet I read it all. I thought the bitter and mean-spirited texture of the book, with it's raw self-revelation/loathing theme, would have some gentler conclusion, message, or lesson learned by the author. It didn't. As tough as Julia Phillips was, she never beat her addiction...to Hollywood .

Julia lost sight of the fact that though she was singular in a particular era of film making, she was not unique in the battle with the temptations of self-medication, or the quest for happiness we all make. This "but I'm so special as a woman" sexist vein is the glue that held this book together, and would have been acceptable to the reader if we could feel at the end that Julia ever really "got it". I found the book drew me into the nastiness, though it seemed obvious the fine details of every deal or friendship were written for insiders. Name dropping as the weapon of choice.

We all love the movies, have our favourite actors and directors, we like to believe there really is some impossible magic, and that true artistry will win out and be noticed in a flood of wannabes. Julia tells us that's not the case. One must admire the uncompromising dog-fight honesty of her book, if not the mercenary sour grapes.





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