Tag: book review

Review – In Miniature

Posted November 26, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – In Miniature

In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World

by Simon Garfield

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 335
Rating: four-stars

Simon Garfield writes books that shine a light on aspects of the everyday world in order to reveal the charms and eccentricities hiding in plain sight around us. After beguiling fans with books about everything from typography to time, from historic maps to the color mauve, he's found his most delightful topic yet: miniatures.

Tiny Eiffel Towers. Platoons of brave toy soldiers. A doll's house created for a Queen. Diminutive crime scenes crafted to catch a killer. Model villages and miniscule railways. These are just a few of the objects you will discover in the pages of In Miniature.

Bringing together history, psychology, art, and obsession, Garfield explores what fuels the strong appeal of miniature objects among collectors, modelers, and fans. The toys we enjoy as children invest us with a rare power at a young age, conferring on us a taste of adult-sized authority. For some, the desire to play with small things becomes a desire to make small things. We live in a vast and uncertain world, and controlling just a tiny, scaled-down part of it restores our sense of order and worth.

As it explores flea circuses, microscopic food, ancient tombs, and the Vegas Strip, In Miniature changes the way we perceive our surroundings, encouraging all of us to find greatness in the smallest of things.

I rather love small things myself — small ereaders (please, please, Onyx Boox Palma, fall into my hands somehow!)*, small books, etc. When I was little, I used to make tiny books for my teddies, and there was a whole miniature library as a result, with multiple bookcases for different genres. So I was attracted to the premise of this book by Simon Garfield, though the nature of the miniatures it discusses are heterogeneous.

I didn’t actually love the chapter on miniature books, because the super, super small stuff you can only appreciate with a microscope does not appeal. I like books that are tiny but readable, so the books in Queen Mary’s doll’s house and the chapter on that appeals more.

It’s a bit of a random collection of anecdotes in the end, but it captures some of the magic of miniature things, some of the motivation that leads people to make them and look at them. I wouldn’t mind a look at some of the described exhibits, myself.

* Since I wrote this review, it did! Or, you know, I bought it, like a sensible person. And yes, it’s really awesome.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Borgias

Posted November 2, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Borgias by Christopher HibbertThe Borgias, Christopher Hibbert

I have to confess that my interest in the Borgia family comes from playing the Assassin’s Creed games — I love knowing what has been cleverly included in the games, where things diverge, etc. So I knew both that the Borgias were a pretty colourful family, and that Assassin’s Creed probably emphasised that, and was definitely biased against them (other than in acknowledging Rodrigo Borgia’s cleverness, I can’t think of anything else positive about him or Cesare in the games).

Still, this book made them feel rather dry and lifeless, and not because they were actually any less turbulent and power hungry than the Assassin’s Creed games depict. Instead, it’s Hibbert’s style that kills it: rather than analysis, he presents lists of facts. It’s not even that his prose is boring, because it’s perfectly clear and easy to follow. It’s just that lack of analysis, and even a certain impartiality — I have to confess that when a historian writes a pop-history book about a particular figure or family, I want to feel their bias coming through, their interest in the subject. I know I’m fickle, since I do turn my nose up at some books which do too much guessing about what so-and-so was thinking of feeling, but there it is. I don’t just read for the information: I do also want to be entertained. The Borgias rather failed on that, for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – A Natural History of Dragons

Posted April 24, 2015 by in Reviews / 11 Comments

Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie BrennanA Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan
Review from April 12th, 2013

It took me a while to get round to finishing reading this, even once I was a decent way into it and knew I wanted to finish it. It’s a slow sort of book, one I suspect you will either get on with or not based on the narrator and setting. The idea is of a Victorian-era analogue in which dragons exist, and in which one young woman has the opportunity of a lifetime to go and study dragons scientifically after having obsessed over them all her life. The conceit is that it’s narrated by her in the form of memoirs, in a very Victorian sort of style.

It’s fascinating in its attempts to place a female character realistically in a society that is a Victorian analogue and have her still free enough to have this sort of story happen to her without it sounding far fetched — it mostly works, I think. Unfortunately it’s also pretty slow, and relatively uneventful when compared to so many other dragon books. I did get into it (or rather, back into it) eventually, but I can see it won’t be to everyone’s taste. I did, after all, also love Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

The illustrations are, by the way, perfect. I spent quite a while examining each one in detail. And the world built up around this story is both frustrating in its close and quite naked similarities to ours and tantalising in details that aren’t comparable, or at least instantly placeable.

Rating: 3/5

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