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Book Reviews: Autobiographies & Biographies


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A Mighty Heart: The Inside Story of the Al Qaeda and Kidnapping of Danny Pearl by Mariane PearlBook Cover of A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl

Read by Natalie 2008

Natalie recommends this as great reading, although it is sad.

This is Mariane's tribute to her late husband Danny, an investigative journalist for The Wall Street Journal, who was kidnapped and tortured in Karachi, Pakistan. Although we know how this all ends, I was still turning the pages somehow hoping this would change. Mariane has detailed the complete account of his abduction and the effort that went into rescuing him. Mariane's positivity and determination to find him and bring the men responsible to justice is both amazing and inspiring, particularly as she was carrying their first child at the time. Sadly Danny never gets to meet his son or see his wife again, but Mariane displays amazing courage that leaves you feeling she will ultimately be ok and life will go on. Also provides an interesting insight into the struggle between the West and the Al Qaeda organisation.

Mariane van Neyenhoff Pearl is herself a freelance jouranlist and report, so would have understood exactly what her husband was going through when he accepted the assignment to cover the war on terrorism.

Their son, Adam Daniel was born in Paris three months after his father was murdered.

Angelina Jolie plays Mariane Pearl in the movie tie-in.

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A Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson MandelaBook Cover of A Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Read by Tracy 2008

Tracy recommends as a truly inspiration read

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his opposition to South Africa's apartheid regime and this book highlights the difficulties Mandela faced through his long journey to freedom. This book captivated me based on Mandela's sheer perseverance and his desire to see a united South Africa. The book details Mandela's life and how his past drove him to become a resilient leader that is still loved today. The book provides hope that individual citizens can create change if they believe strongly enough in their cause.

"No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion". People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom

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Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon HallidayBook Cover of Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

Read by Tracy 2008

Tracy recommends if you suffer insomnia or need a door stop

I loved Wild Swans by Jung Chang, but this biography of the life and times of Mao was extremely challenging and unfortunately at times boring. I felt that Chang and Halliday provided a bias account of Mao and limited insight into what really drove Mao to become "Mao". My impression from the book was that Mao blundered his way to the top of the Communist Party to the exclusion of his personal life. I felt the story of his rise up the ranks of the Communist Party did not delve into the infighting and corruption that must have seen him become a world-class strategist who surrounded himself with loyal defendants and yes men. Mao started some horrific campaigns, Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward (just to name two) to force any opponents into submission and in the process he became one of the world's biggest mass-murderers.

A chapter that highlighted the continued grip of the ruling Communist Party and how any sign of defiance, even today, is subverted would be a good segway for a sequel.

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Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John PerkinsBook Cover of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

Read by Natalie 2008

Natalie recommends this as unbelievable

This story is really quite amazing. Perkins says he attempted to write this book at least 4 times, but after numerous bribes and threats he stopped. Eventually 9/11 inspired him to finish and what he tells is the story of his life as an "economic hit-man". Perkins used to work for a strategic consultancy firm based out of Boston, but eventually he learnt the true nature of the his job, which was to effectively buy and sell poor nations to the advantage of America. Essentially these men went in to poor countries on the brink of collapse and offered something that was too good to be true - American help. Of course this came at a price, and that was to forever remain in bed with America, the only country that would ultimately end up benefiting from the deal. The stories he tells are both amazing and disturbing. I would like to think that this is not a world I live in, but the cynic in me thinks it has to be possible. The number of things that people in power get away with is simply unbelievable and this book will shock you with the tales it has to tell. Perkins eventually realised what his job really was and for the sake of his daughter, he got out. He readily admits that he has basically destroyed some countries, but his redemption is in telling this story. While this is admirable, the fact that this kind of behaviour still exists, is worrying.

Check out the John Perkins website .

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Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara by Jorge CastanedaBook Cover of Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara by Jorge Castaneda

Ready by Tracy 2008

Tracy recommends as a fascinating portrait of someone that seems to be an enigma in our consumeristic life

I was heading off for three months to South America and picked this book to provide me with an insight into the life of Che Guevara. It was very interesting and depicted Che as someone fervently passionate about his cause, albeit sometimes too idealistic which ultimately lead to his demise. I managed to travel in his footsteps in several countries and he is still recognised through monuments and the ubiquitous t-shirts. Guevara has become a synonym for revolution everywhere and his symbol and marketing have seen him become larger than life in death. Castaneda has collated a huge amount of historical documents and interviews with Guevara's family and compiled them into a logical book. I did not realise that Guevara was brought up in a middle class family - for someone to be such a committed revolutionary I thought it was due to a background in the lower classes, it all seems to contradict what I thought I knew, which is the perfect idea of a biography in challenging your perceptions.

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