Category Archives: Non-Fiction

The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

This book is based, loosely, around the Florida orchid thief, John Laroche. Susan Orlean is a journalist who hears about his story and attempts to discover why he has become so obsessed with these flowers, and one in particular, the Ghost Orchid. Laroche is a fascinating and complex character. Susan Orlean is both attracted and repelled by this man and her description of him is amazing in its detail and ruthless in its honesty. Continue reading The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean


Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje

Coming through Slaughter, book review by Ruth LivingstoneThis is an interesting book, first published in 1976. It has a weird structure and, initially, I was completely bemused by it.

The subject of the story is Buddy Bolden, a black American musician living in New Orleans at the beginning of the twentieth century. Buddy was famous for his cornet playing and for being one of the early pioneers of jazz music. Continue reading Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

In-cold-blood by Truman Capote, book reviewLast year I was given a list of four ‘must-read’ books by a friend, David Milnes, who is an English teacher and a novelist.

  1. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  2. Fiesta or The Sun Also Rises, by Hemingway
  3. The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
  4. Middlemarch, by George Eliot

I ordered In Cold Blood from my local library. When it arrived, I was dismayed by the sheer size of the book. My dismay was quickly followed by relief – when I realised I had ordered the Large Print edition.

What I liked about the book: Continue reading In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things RightThis is a great book. Primarily designed to provide compelling reasons for creating and abiding by checklists, especially in the field of medicine, the author manages to turn a non-fiction book into a literary gem.

What I liked about the book? The way Atul Gwande held my hand and took me behind the scenes in areas I would never normally venture – construction sites, for example – to demonstrate how other industries deliver complex projects in a safe and efficient manner. The way he managed to create a page-turning book. The way he kept me reading to the end.

What I didn’t like about the book? Maybe it would benefit from a crib list of simple rules for creating checklists? This book was more about persuading you to accept the importance and /or value of the actual concept of a checklist. If you want to create your own, you may need more guidance than this book offers.

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

This is what I wrote about Blink on the Shelfari review site, a few months ago:

‘Interesting book and very readable. It explores the role of intuition in our thinking (the blink being that sudden feeling or understanding; rapid cognition) and how this may contribute to great decision making, but can also lead us astray.

I would have, personally, found the book more useful if there has been some guidance on when to trust the “blink” and how to develop the ability to “blink” more successfully. ‘

Continue reading Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

On Tana River by David Livingstone

Just finished reading this book, written by my father in the early 1960s. If you are interested in a vivid description of the early work of missionaries in this remote area of Kenya (on the Tana River), then this book will be of interest.

My father, who died recently, was commissioned to write this book by the Methodist Missionary society.

What I liked:

The book really consists of a series of self contained anecdotes or episodes. This which led me to think this would be really suited for publication as a web blog – if such a thing had existed in the 1960s!

My father brings each anecdote to life, often beginning by writing in the present tense. I love the way he paints pictures with words and he chooses words with care – neither too complicated, nor too simple.

He refers back to historic events, neatly citing the sources of his information, elegantly and without interrupting the flow of the narrative.

Most importantly, he writes about the Africans with affection and respect. His enthusiasm for his ministry is very evident.

What I didn’t like:

The book reads as a series of articles (indeed, this is how it was commissioned) and, athough there are linking themes, there is little sense of progression or development.

The stories, often beginning in the present tense with a lively, active voice, tend to end with passages written in the past tense and with a passive voice. I believe my father used this technique deliberately in order to deliver a generalised, evangelical message at the end of each section of the book. This is, of course, a typical preaching technique. But, as someone more interested in the stories than in the theological content of the mission work, I found this deadened the impact of some anecdotes.

I would, of course, have been very interested in how the conditions affected my father, personally. And how did my mother cope with life on the mission station and with three young children – myself and my two brothers? None of this is touched on. My father mentions my mother once, in passing and we don’t feature – except one line with the fact that the youngest of us nearly died from diarrhoea!

On Tana River (A Story of Kenya's Tana Church)