Reading for pleasure
This month's selection of leisure reading from the Journal's Book Review Editor
"Underneath the Lemon Tree"
Mark Rice-Oxley (Little Brown: £13.99; e-book £6.99)
"Lawyers suffer greater rates of depression and alcohol abuse than the general population, but fear of going public caused many to battle their problems in isolation. The practice of law, with constant conflict and billing pressures, can take a toll. Another problem is the lawyer mindset, says psychologist Martin Seligman: pessimists excel at law, but they are at risk for depression. About 19% of lawyers experience depression at any given time, compared with 6.7% of the general population."
These were the findings of the American Bar Association, and are regarded as being broadly reflective of the position in the UK. This well researched, searingly honest and erudite book is an antidote, reflection, supportive and reassuring book in one. The book is not a "survivor journal", which generally offer little more than a poor insight into another sad and unfortunate upbringing or life experience, shedding little light where much could be shone. The author's intention is "to reach people, to give them hope, to provide the story I wanted when I was in the pits". He has achieved his objective.
Rice-Oxley had all he wanted: family, great job as an editor with The Guardian, and financially comfortable. However at his 40th birthday celebration his world unravelled. He describes the symptoms, and the "alarming detachment from everything around" him caused through a combination of personality, drive and determination to work hard, while also feeling that his "expertise and ability" were "not being fully used", with the result that he found his "life had spun out of control" and there was not anything he could do about it.
Rice-Oxley explores the science of depression, and the medical and psychological aspects of the illness. He describes his own recovery, ending with a record of his conversation with his wife about the impact his illness had on her, as she took on more of what he was unable to cope with. The underlying narrative, that depression can happen to anyone, and that it comes unawares or may be an unforeseen consequence of a "cataclysmic event", serves as a warning. He makes the plea that it is not a condition "that should invite prejudice", although it does, with those who suffer "the unrelenting self torture" feeling shame.
This book is for anyone who has an interest in understanding more about depression, has or is experiencing its effects, and for anyone who cares enough about colleagues and family members to want to understand more of what the other is struggling with.
William H S McIntyre (e-book £1.94)
"The whole book publishing business seems to me to involve sooking up to people who think they are very important." So writes Mr McIntyre on his Amazon blog. This presumably explains why his books are available on Amazon rather than in hard copy, which is a pity as they deserve to be more widely available.
This is a fast paced, humorous story written in the first person of Robbie Munro, defence agent in Linlithgow. Criminal law and its practice are too often seen as the grubbier end of the market, but the cast of characters assembled by Mr McIntyre are undoubtedly based, in part, on those fabulous creatures who inhabit that end of the law and whom he has no doubt come across in practice. Court practitioners from the central belt will have endless fun trying to guess who is the basis for Sheriff Albert Brechin, the stern, hard-hitting sheriff "who thought the presumption of innocence was a malicious rumour put about by defence agents", or Hugh Ogilvy, the old school prosecutor who will not make Munro's complaint of passing a dud £50 note go away!
Mr McIntyre knows his trade and deftly describes aspects of procedure and structure with a light touch. In the best tradition, there are a number of plots and sub-plots, the main one however being his defence of Isla Galbraith, charged with the murder of her husband. There are two more books in this series which I will enjoy reading. A thoroughly enjoyable read!
Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour
Michael Lewis (Allen Lane: £20; e-book £11.99)
Michael Lewis brilliantly illuminates the folly perpetrated by bankers which has led to states taking on the eyewatering levels of debt we read about daily. He travels around a number of countries, from Greece to Ireland and Germany, meeting an impressive array of those who can shed light on the issues, whether it be the finance minister of Ireland, Arnold Schwarzenegger, erstwhile Governor of California, or Father Ephraim, leader of the Vatopaidi monks whose ability to persuade the Greek Government to hand over €1bn of Government property for a lake is staggering.
The story is perhaps best told through the activity in Iceland, which Lewis calls "Wall Street on the tundra". Following the Wall Street finance models, the Icelandic banks set interest rates of 14% and secured deposits from overseas, including €30bn from the UK. Iceland became a hedge fund, with the value of its banks rising from a few billion dollars to $140bn in just over three years. When the three banks collapsed, the state took on the debt leaving each Icelandic man, woman and child with a debt of $330,000. This book is written with a light touch, yet relays the story of the financial collapse in a clear and understandable way. In the words of the hedge fund trader: buy.
David J Dickson
Book Review Editor