Book Reviews #49

Book Reviews #49

Book reviews from the past month.

The Unbreakable Miss Lovely by Tony Ortega

year: 2015 | pages: 406 | rating: 4/5

In 1970, Paulette Cooper wrote a critical article about Scientology, which was published in London's Queen magazine; the Church of Scientology retaliated by filing a lawsuit against Paulette. When Paulette published her book, The Scandal of Scientology, a year later, the Church of Scientology became enraged, more lawsuits were filed, and Paulette became the target of harassment campaigns. One campaign included forged bomb threats using Paulette's typewriter and paper with her fingerprints on it, and "Operation Freakout." The goal was to deter Paulette, by any means necessary including having her "incarcerated in a mental institution or jail or at least to hit her so hard that she drops her attacks." Only after 8 years did the harassment of Paulette Cooper finally end.

The Unbreakable Miss Lovely is a fascinating and thrilling read. The book is well-written, thoroughly researched, and a detailed account of Paulette Cooper's harrowing ordeal. Paulette is a strong, likeable woman although gullible and vulnerable at times; she falls for tricks so obvious you feel exasperated yet forever sympathetic of her situation. An absolutely thrilling book whether you know of the Church of Scientology or nothing at all.

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

year: 2006 | pages: 322 | rating: 4/5

The Monster of Florence refers to the perpetrator(s) of 16 murders that took place between 1968 and 1985 in Florence, Italy. Various suspects were arrested over the years but were later released when new murders using the same weapon took place while they were in police custody. At different times, four local men - Stefano Mele, Pietro Pacciani, Mario Vanni, and Giancarlo Lotti - were arrested, charged, and convicted. These convictions have been criticised in the media and the police ridiculed for their inadequate investigations; it has been suggested the real killer(s) have never been properly identified.

Although thorough research was carried out and investigations into the crimes were real, The Monster of Florence is presented as a work of fiction. For the first couple of chapters the writing feels corny, until you settle into the rhythm of the story, which is fast paced and complex. As more characters are introduced, you realise how tightly entwined their stories are and how the history of Florence plays its part in the horrific crimes. The book is split into two parts, the first involving the history, the murders, and the investigation; the final part turns to focus on the author and police investigators. This isn't a simple case of a serial killer on the loose, this is a complex mystery involving murder, mutilation, betrayal, and suicide.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger

year: 176 | pages: 1972 | rating: 3/5

Ways of Seeing consists of seven essays, which focus on how women are portrayed in art and advertisements. The essays were written by John Berger, Michael Dibb, Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, and Richard Hollis, and criticise the traditional Western cultural aesthetic by highlighting hidden ideologies in visual images.

The focus of Ways of Seeing is firmly on the way art and advertising is created and presented; where context and reproduction alters the way we perceive and engage with art, and how women are depicted differently to men. Although written in 1972 much of the book's critical analysis still applies, even today. However, Ways of Seeing is very much entry-level critical theory; with a very narrow scope and condensed chapters, don't expect this book to dig deep into the subject matter. A lot of theories from other writers are borrowed from and presented in a clear, easy-to-understand format, if a little dry to read. If you haven't ever studied art, advertising, publicity, or capitalism Ways of Seeing is a good place to start.