Tag Archives: facts

Book Review: Who, or Why, or Which, or What? by John Oldale

Title: Who or Why or Which or What?: A Global Gazetteer of the Instructive and the Strange
Author: John Oldale
Publisher: Particular Books
ISBN: 978-1846143366
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Who, or Why, or Which, or What? is a strange book. It literally is. It is a book full of curious facts and amusing short anecdotes. Something you would like to talk about at a party or when you are just bored. The book is a cross between a global gazetteer (it also looks like one when opened – the illustrations and the facts reminded me of Ripley’s Believe It or Not) and a compendium of bizarre facts.

There is one page covering one country on the face of the earth and with that come various tidbits to chew on. John Oldale has archived these details in a very interesting manner. It is a lot of things put together – funny, informative and educational. A lot of fact-oriented information, which one can discuss with colleagues and friends at the same time.

The graphics sit perfectly with the text and that’s one of the other aspects that get the reader going with the book. You cannot read this book in one sitting. The reader would have to keep it down and come back to it once in every while to lap up more facts.

I normally would not have read this book. I would have in all probability shrugged it away like another useless information manual. However, the book is a lot more than that. It presents information in a funny manner and that is what is needed while writing or editing this kind of book. A good book to have in your bag or while travelling.

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The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

The Report: A Novel

What is the language of Grief? Does it even have a language of it’s own? It must be sad for sure and haunting and would bring back residue of memories that one decides not to touch. May be, that is grief – in its form – absolute and never-fading. At the same time, it does little to help conjure the strength to get to a point when it does not remain grief any more. I know I may not be making any sense right now – however to get my point, you have to read The Report by Jessica Francis Kane.

During the Blitz in London in 1943, an extraordinary event took place in Bethnal Green. On March 3, 1943, when air raid warning sirens went off, thousands of people, as usual headed to nearest bomb shelter, the local Tube Station that could shelter close to ten thousand people at one time. Some had come here many times and knew that they could reserve cots and places to sleep for the night. Others just took their chances, hoping that the emergency would not last long and that they would be able to return home soon afterward. On this night, something unique happened. One hundred seventy-three people died of asphyxia within a minute of their arrival, all suffocated in the crush on the first twenty stairs of the entrance. Ironically, “not a single bomb had fallen in the city that night.”

Author Jessica Francis Kane, who studied the original government inquiry into the reasons for this catastrophe, draws on the facts of the real Bethnal Green case to create a fictionalized version of what went wrong. The actual facts, gathered and put into a report by Sir Laurence Dunne within three weeks of the events, had been hushed up by the government so as not to alarm the people or create questions about the government’s ability to handle crises. Wanting to avoid placing blame on people who might become scapegoats, he had written his report with a concern for human feelings and for what humans need in order to deal with disasters during fraught times such as war. “Perhaps,” he suggests, “we should only sometimes be held accountable for the unintended consequences of our actions.”

At the same time Ms. Kane maintains the balance of why people behaved the way they did and forms thoughts to their actions. The characters elicit sympathy, and when all the details are known, the reader feels the same sorts of conflicts that Sir Laurence Dunne felt when he wrote his report.

She avoids the flights of sentimentality while writing the book and brings out the true character of people in a situation like this – what they do and how they become. She shows you the bigger picture of morality and issues at hand.

I commend Graywolf Press for publishing this book. It made for some captivating reading and most of all another view of looking at things – from not just one eye, just from beyond what is there to be seen.