Web 2.0 – User Generated Content or garbage?

wastebinSome months ago, an Internet Form that I belonged to was taken offline after an internal dispute….and it never came back.  The upshot of it was that the content of the forum was no longer available – gone for good.  Of course, it wasn’t all pearls of ever-lasting wisdom, but there was some interesting stuff there that’s now gone forever.  A week or so ago, another friend commented on my Facebook profile about the ephemeral nature of a lot of what we put online  as ‘User Generated Content’, and it’s quality, and that got me thinking about just how much user generated content is worthy of any form of retention.

‘Web 2.0’ is very much about user generated content; a Web 2.0 site is essentially designed by the interaction that it offers users of the site – be it the ability to configure the user experience, participate in discussions, real time chat, post articles or images, whatever.   For those of us from the 70s and 80s,  it’s all very reminiscent of the paper based fanzines and newsletters we created, or the BBS systems of the 1980s and 990s – of course, the sheer volume and speed of communication offered by Web 2.0 exceeds the earlier versions of ‘user generated content’.

One might even include things like ‘Letters to the Editor’ in newspapers and magazines – how many of us knew someone who’d had a letter published in the local, or even national, press?  And then you get in to the rarer scenario of having an article, poem or story accepted for publication – and getting paid for it.  I still remember all the details of the first article that I had published in 1982 in the now defunct magazine ‘Electronics and Computing Monthly’.

The further you go back, the more important one thing becomes – and that’s editorial filtering.  Basically, space was limited in magazines, and so you wanted to fill it with what would sell.  And that’s where the quality control of the editor came in.  Even with fanzines, there was a similar need – you had a limited amount of space dictated by the cost of copying, postage and the time taken to type and duplicate it all.

Today, many of these limitations are gone – cost of publication is minimal, distribution is done by the reader picking their copy up form your site, etc.  Anyone can set up a publication in the form of a site, and expect to get a lot of content from users of the site.  In theory, a perfect world of conversation between similarly minded people across the globe, with no editor getting in the way and dictating policy.  It’s a wonderful dream.  And it doesn’t work.

To be honest, most people are just not up to the job of writing for an audience; the editor didn’t introduce censorship – he or she bought along quality control, focus and direction for the publication.  I’m far from perfect myself, but I learnt quite a bit about writing for an audience by having a couple of hundred article and a dozen or so books published in the days of the ‘paper press’.  If we forget the obvious nonsense that turns up as comment on blogs – the spam, the ‘me too’ and ‘I agree’ posts – then much of what does end up online is often poorly phrased rant or loosely disguised ‘advertorial’.   A lot of content on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and the online discussion forums is by it’s nature ephemeral – water cooler discussions enshrined in hard disc space – and the good stuff that you do find is typically drowned in the noise.

Like I said, I’m far from perfect and am conscious enough of my own abilities to know that my blog is simply the 2010 equivalent of a fanzine written by me and with a small audience.  But it’s important that we don’t get fixated on the idea that the removal of editorial policy on the web and the resultant ‘free for all’ for people to provide content is necessarily good.

It isn’t.  It’s removed quality control, and generated a Web that is increasingly full of rubbish.  If you want quality – look for sites with editorial policy or moderation.

The pleasure of the period-piece detective

poirot-suchetI think my interest in what might be called ‘period piece detectives’ started many years ago, when I watched the big screen version of ‘Death on the Nile’ featuring the wonderful Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot.  I stunned my wife (and myself) by actually solving the murder pretty early on.  Since then, I’ve been rather a sucker for TV series such as Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Alleyn – those wonderful amateur sleuths (OK…Alleyn was a policeman but very much one of this crowd!) who seemed to outfox what Holmes would call ‘the official constabulary’ whilst inhabiting their particular period of history. 

And that’s where part of the attraction lies for me – the settings as much as the detection work.  If we leave Holmes out for this article – after all, the fellow is such a phenomenon that he deserves his own blog item at the very least – these detectives all work in the late 20s through to the early 50s.  In his excellent essay ‘Boy’s Weeklies’, in which he discussed the popular boy’s comics of his day, George Orwell wrote about the atmosphere used for some of the ‘School Stories’ in these magazines:

“…There is a cosy fire in the study, and outside the wind is whistling. The ivy clusters thickly round the old grey stones. The King is on his throne and the pound is worth a pound….Everything is safe, solid and unquestionable. Everything will be the same for ever and ever. That approximately is the atmosphere.”

And that’s how it often feels to me in the worlds of Marple, Poirot and Alleyn.  Murder most foul may be committed, but there’s almost always the return to status quo pro-ante– the situation that we started with.  Poirot, supported by Hastings, will use his little grey cells to apprehend the killer and deliver him in to the arms of Inspector Japp.  Miss Marple will intuit her way around the crime; Alleyn and Fox rely on good old fashioned detective work.  Murders have motives – no matter how strange they may appear to be.  Even in Poirot’s ‘The ABC Murders’ or ‘Curtain’, where it appears that there is a random serial killer on the loose, the murders are not what they seem.   Apart from the victims meeting their grisly end, violence is not common.  There’s no soul-searching, alcoholic detectives with deep emotional crises that will impede the investigation, very few shoot-outs.  The denouement delivers the criminal in to the arms of justice, and justice, not law, is seen to be served.

It’s hard to believe that there are wars and depressions happening, fascism is on the rise, then the onset of the cold war at the end of this period.  But that’s fine – I’m after a detective story to keep me engaged for an hour or two.  I have the real world with all these issues to come back to, after all!

In TV detective series that are set more recently, the closest is probably the popular ‘Midsommer Murders’, followed by ‘Inspector Morse’, although these both feature professional detectives rather than the gentleman (or lady) amateur.  But the ‘feel’ is the same – and long may these series continue to take me away from the modern, day-to-day world.

Do No Evil – Ursula Le Guin, The Authors Guild and Google

dr_evilDuring Google’s formative years, the company decided to come up withthe equivalent of a short mission / vision statement that summed up what it was to be Google.  After some serious thinking, the slogan emerged.  ‘Do No Evil’.  Nice…although as someone pointed out – it really is just civilised good manners to do no evil.  Why make such a fuss about it?

Well, the years pass and Google just keep dipping a toe in the muddy waters of naughtiness, with occasional activities that, whilst usually not up there with breeding sharks with head mounted laser cannons, a la the handsome fellow top left, might be construed as being pretty darn close to very bad indeed. 

Take a look at parts of John Batelle’s book ‘The Search’.

Anyway….enough of the history lesson.  Recently Google have been scanning books.  Hundreds of thousands of books.  MILLIONS of books!Some old and out of copyright…other…not so old and definitely not out of copyright.  And they’re going to be scanning millions more.  Their aim is to create an online scanned library of books to equal the scope and reach of national libraries.  Now, various settlements have been agreed and Google take efforts to try and restrict copying of copyrighted materials, but there have been a number of legal blocks to Google based on their breach of copyright.

The US Authors Guild – an organisation that supports the rights of authors in the united States – has recently entered in to an agreement with Google to support the project.  In many ways, this gives the project the apparent support of a large number of authors, but some individuals – like Ursual Le Guin – are quitting the AG in protest.


I can see the point of the author’s protest – after all I’m a published author myself – but at the same time agree that Google seem to be taking steps to restrict the amount of the book that you can read online.  However, my fears are for the future.  This set of agreements seem to have given Googlean incredible’head start’ on what is effectively a large tranche of the world’s written knowledge.  What happens in a few years time when a library or a publisher hits hard times, and that nice friendly Googlecomes along and says ‘Hey, we can help.  Just let us have the rights to display all of each of your books online, and an e-book publishing right, and we’ll buy you out / licence your stuff.’  All of a sudden Google starts becoming the arbiter of what’s published across the board.

At themoment,  Google can effectively make or break web sites the world over by the simple expedient of adjusting it’s search engines or, in some cases, excluding sites directly.  Google currently only takes the latter steps when they’re compelled to by law or someone like the Chinese Government tells them to do so, but the technology is there.  Again, see ‘The Search’.  Now, imagine 2015 when Googlehave the online rights to the book collections of a few major publishers.  And you happen to run ‘Bill’s Books’ – a little shop still selling books the old fashioned way – and you have old stock that might just conflict withthe publisher that Google have just bought up.  You might just find yourself falling off the search results… Conflict of interest, maybe?

I’m afraid I don’t trust anyone withthe sort of control that Googleis getting over the world’s knowledge and information.  It’s an extreme idea, but could Google end therevolution of available knowledge started by Gutenberg.  If all knowledgeis increasingly online, and access is directly or indirectly arbitrated by one corporation, that is a Hell of an opportunity for censorship of the sort last practised in the Middle ages by the Catholic Church or by the Totalitarian Governments of the 20th Century.

Like most of us – I use Google quite extensively.  I’m just not quite sure that the spoon I’m using to sup with is long enough anymore.

A Merry Christmas to you all!

Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

And so the ghost of Jacob Marley begins Ebeneezer Scrooge’s journey of redemption.  It was already too late for Marley; he was cursed to be able to see things in the world that he could once have influenced – the hungry poor, the cold homeless – but as a spirit was unable to intervene in any way to help.  His gift to his old business partner Scrooge was this warning; ‘Act now in the true business of man; you have less time than you think.’  And it was certainly a better present than a tie pin, ink well or whatever else Marley may have bought Scrooge whilst he was alive.

I’ve always been a sucker for stories of redemption; I guess that idea of a second chance, right up to the very last second of the last minute, is something that runs deep in all of us.  But the thing that appeals to me about ‘A Christmas Carol’ is that at the end of it all, Scrooge isn’t just spiritually redeemed – he’s also got the wherewithal to make a difference in the world, to try to right some of the wrongs in the world (which he has contributed to wholeheartedly in his single-minded pursuit of his money).

‘A Christmas Carol’ seems to be one of those stories that gets repeated makeovers in film and TV to suit the age; I’ve seen ‘classic’ versions, versions set in the world of a TV Executive, set in the 1930s depression, in a Noughties East End housing estate.  Then there are the many films influenced by the idea – ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ spring to mind.  Irrespective of the age, the dress or the story, the theme is universal – a selfish man on the road to perdition is redeemed by making the business of mankind his personal business. 

The first gift of Christmas was a child, born to make mankind his business.  Let’s see what we can do to follow that example.  And, in the words of Tiny Tim, ‘God bless us, everyone’.

Slow and easy does it!

harrogateI have a client in Harrogate who I visit every couple of weeks, travelling by train.  I went up there a couple of days ago, and as I’d had a particularly hectic couple of days before hand was able to reflect on something that I’ve thought about occasionally in the year that I’ve been visiting Harrogate.  And that is that it’s really pleasantly slow compared to Sheffield.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Sheffield – probably not as much these days as I used to do but it’s still my favourite city.  I don’t particularly like the bustle of cities; I’ve always commented that London is great to visit but I’d hate to live there.  A few days in London used to leave me exhausted – mainly due to dodging the oncoming streams of pedestrians – wherever I walked I always seemed to be heading in the opposite direction to everyone else!  But now I find Harrogate has the same relationship to Sheffield that Sheffield has to London for me, and I love it!

I think the busiest place I’ve encountered recently in terms of lots of people squeezing through a gap has been the exit to the railway station, where for the last month or so there have been about half a dozen railway staff checking tickets when we leave the train from Leeds.  after that it’s typically pretty plain sailing.  The best thing for me about walking through Harrogate is that most people seem to be walking at a pace that allows me to avoid them easily if necessary and for them to change direction without the figuratively speaking ‘squeal of shoe-leather’ and rapid stumbling out of your way that has started to be the way of getting around major city thoroughfares.

Things just go slow in Harrogate – an I mean that in a nice way.  I’ve yet to experience ‘after dark’ but the daytime progression around Harrogate is made easy by a combination of heavily pedestrianised streets and a one-way system that seems to work – from a pedestrian point of view, at least!  The local coffee shops seem to have a different pace as well.  Basically, don’t expect the speed of service to be the same as Sheffield or London.  It isn’t – the chilledness also works in the shops as well, along with a friendliness that seems to be disappearing from Sheffield. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with slow.  I’d started to forget that over the years.  I was born in a small town, lived for a while in a city as a student and then moved to Sheffield – a smaller and slower city – to make my home.  Trips to London and Edinburgh reminded me that city life is faster than I expect.

A friend recently reminded me of the ‘slow food movement’ after I grumbled about poisoning myself with yet another take-away meal, and perhaps it’s the time for a ‘slow-life’ movement to come out of the current economic slowdown.  Does saving 10 minutes really matter that much?  Can’t you just organise your day to leave a little earlier, get there a little later, loiter and lurk, smell the roses, look at the buildings, watch children play. (OK – I appreciate that in Paranoid Britain the latter has it’s own difficulties…) 

There is a famous poem by WH Davies:

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

Let us join the go slow and stand and stare.

Book Review – ‘Fantasy Island’ by Dan Atkinson and Larry Elliot

fantasyislandNo, nothing to do the 1970s TV series with Ricardo Montalban as a bloke who made wishes come true on an Island with a combination of technology, actors and smoke and mirrors.  Although…..  Nope, this is a review of a book by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson,  published by Constable in 2007, ISBN Number 978-1-84529-605-6.  Before the NuLab apologists come scuttling out to bleat that Dan Atkinson is a writer with the Daily Mail, and so is biased, I’d suggest they read the book anyway and follow up on the statistics therein.  One final warning – this is a scary book for anyone who cares about the state of the UK after 12 years of NuLab Governance and it will almost certainly make you very angry indeed.


The book is well written – I digested it in two sittings – although the statistical bits (not too many) and the explanation of why the economy is going to crap out may require a couple of readings.  It’s worth noting that this book was written before the recent financial meltdown, which it predicts to a great degree.

In the book, the authors examine the rise to power of the new Labour philosophy, and then highlight in 7 chapters the ‘big lies’ that have turned Great Britain in to the ‘Fantasy Island’ of the title, where we can have endless debt with no comebacks, enjoy highly paid jobs for which we are unqualified, have limitless growth without environmental impact and where the state machine is apparently being made leaner whilst increasing in size.  All being paid for by jobs in the ‘creative economy’.  Oh, and how we can project military force around the world and play the part of a super-power whilst cutting back on defence expenditure.  Some of us have been banging on about the impossibility of this for some time now – I wish that I’d encountered this book a couple of years ago as it pulls together all the material one needs to take a good hard swing at New Labour and the Blairite nightmare.

The 7 core chapters deal with the following issues:

  1. Britain’s debt timebomb – well, that one went off in our faces around the time this book was published.
  2. Reliance on the Creative Economy – some statistics on the true value of the ‘creative economy’ to Britain make it clear that it was indeed bullshit to rely on it.  Having spent time working in the film industry in the early 2000s, I can definitely concur – the UK film industry, for example, is one where, in 2000, over 60% of films made in Britain stayed unreleased after being finished and where film-makers made films that they thought punters should see – the cultural colonialism of North London.  By 2004, the balance of payments credit due to film was a paltry 160 million.  At least it was a credit – that due to TV was in deficit to the tune of over 300 million.  Music is also in a mess.  If we follow the NuLab plan we may be relying on ‘The X Factor’ winners to get us out of the hole….
  3. Shrinking Prices AND increased living standards – the fantasy being that we get our cheap toys and non-essential goodies at the EXPENSE of our standard of living. 
  4. Failing Public Sector – deals with issues such as educational ‘grades inflation’ and how the PFI has allowed the private sector to cream off lots of money without any real improvement in productivity.
  5. The Workforce – attempting to keep unemployment down whilst ploughing in lots of new legislation – resulting in a highly exploited workforce with lots of outsourcing. 
  6. Defence – increasing military commitments as the US’s bagman, whilst reduction in real terms of defence budget to suit New Labour doctrine.
  7. Environment – trying to con us all that we can have everything AND not screw up the planet.  Although New Labour aren’t alone here.

fantasyislandtvNot very pleasant reading – although there is a chapter that offers a couple of alternative paths to take.  Learning to be frugal is something we’re likely to have to get used to over the next few years, anyway, so that will be easy medicine to take – the vast majority of us have no real alternative.  And one other thing after reading this book – it reinforces the old saw that Labour are not fit to govern – which is a dreadful thing for those of us who once had such hopes for the Left in the UK.

It’s a worthwhile book to get a feel for how we in the UK have been royally screwed in the last 12 years.  Regard it as a companion piece to Nick Cohen’s ‘What’s Left’ – but please don’t read them both in the same sitting and blame me when your head explodes…

At least on the TV show, all ended well for the people who’d bought their fantasy.  Just where are the two guys in the white suits when we need them?

Book Review – ‘Mere Christianity’

Mere Christianity cover from Wikipaedia

Mere Christianity cover from Wikipaedia

When I used to commute between work and office I used to do a regular(ish) item on here called ‘The Bus Book’ in which I reveiwed the book I’d been reading whilst on the commute.  One book I intended to review as part of that series, but never managed it because the commuting finished, was C. S. Lewis’s ‘Mere Christianity’.

C. S. Lewis is probably best known for his children’s classic ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, part of the ‘Narnia’ series of stories about a fantastic land in which magic has true power.  The books are also deep Christian allegory, reflecting Lewis’s great abilities as a writer on the topic of Christianity and Christian apologetics.

‘Mere Christianity’ grew out of a series of radio lectures that Lewis was asked to do in the Second World War.  The BBC approached a large number of writers and artists to develop radio programmes in the war – Orwell and Priestley were amongst Lewis’s fellow contributors to the literary war effort – and Lewis contributed a series of programmes describing the ‘guts’ of Christianity – the common issues that the Christian Faith of all denominations has to deal with.  And these programmes, after the war, became the basis of ‘Mere Christianity’.

I’ve often commented that the mental processes that led to my eventual Confirmation in to the Church of England were started by two men – Johnny Cash and C.S. Lewis – both of whom came to their belief via what’s best described as a ‘non-standard’ route – Cash through feeling the presence of God when he’d decided to give up and die in a cave, and Lewis coming back to belief after many years as an Atheist.

‘Mere Christianity’ is a relatively slim book, but heavily laden with ideas.  Stylistically it hasn’t aged well in the 60 years since the material was originally written, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The style is best described as ‘no-nonsense’ and the book approaches Christianity from, in my opinion, a very Anglican perspective, although the theses within are applicable to all Christian denominations.  The Anglican faith is often said to be based on three cornerstones – Faith, Tradition and Reason – and it is this statement that Lewis uses as the basis of his ideas in the book.

The book is split in to 4 sections –

  1. Right and Wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe
  2. What Christians believe
  3. Christian behaviour
  4. First steps in the doctrine of the Trinity

Central to the arguments of the first part of the book, where Lewis puts the case for Christianity, is the idea that there exists a general ‘law of morality’ – a rule about right and wrong known almost implicitly by all humans.  Whatever our beliefs, most people would argue that the Holocaust was wrong at any number of levels, that child-murder is abhorrent, etc.  (This was written 60 years ago – I guess it says a lot about the changes in morality in the last 60 years that I had to think hard when writing that last sentence!)  Lewis argues that for such a universal rule of right and wrong to be known to people irrespective of culture, there must be something above and beyond us to impose such a rule.

Lewis then posits what is now known in theological circles as the ‘Lewis Trilemma’ – an argument that is now a little dented by modern theological studies but that stated that Jesus was either divine, lying, or insane.  As His behaviour didn’t seem to indicate insanity, and his works did not indicate the moral turpitude associated with lying, Lewis was left with the conclusion that Christ was indeed divine.

He explores the virtues and the sins – I have to say that on reading this book for the first time the idea of  ‘pride’ being a sin – maybe THE sin -came as something of a shock to the system but when Lewis explores the idea that extreme pride is often at the back of the other sins, such as gluttony and lust – then perhaps it’s not such a long shot.  He then points out that Pride was what separated the Devil from God in the first place, so that rather put the hat on it!

Lewis’s exploration of virtue, sin and morality from a Christian perspective are interesting and well grounded.   He states very clearly that his intention with the book is to bring people who might be intrested in becoming Christians in to a sort of spiritual ‘waiting room’ where they can determine which particular branch of Christianity their calling will be for.  And it works very well on that level.  he does not intend the book and the ideas within it to be a doctrine of their own.

I think the only issue I woudl take with the book is the language and general style – it’s a little ‘stuffy’ and in a couple of places distinctly politically incorrect – and whilst that doesn’t bother me one jot I can see some people being put off.  My advice would be to persevere – the book was written 60 years ago by an upper-middle class male academic, but the issues it deals with are eternal.

I agree wholeheartedly with Anthony Burgess’s comment about the book : “…the idea persuader for the half-convinced, for the good man who woudl like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way.”  It’s a great and useful book – I wish I’d come across it earlier in my personal spiritual journey.  An excellent companion for Lewis’s religious novel in ‘letter’ form, ‘The Screwtape Letters’.

Reflections on “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”

I read this short story again recently; it’s by Ursula Le Guin and is one of the most haunting short stories that I’ve ever read.  The only short story that sticks with me more than this one is Parke Godwin’s ‘Stroke of Mercy’, which is stunning.

I’d suggest you go and read ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ before you hit the link below, but, if you can’t, to save the plot summary, here we go:


I guess the question for me is whether I would choose to be one who walked away; I suppose that in our heart of hearts we all like to think that we have in ourselves the courage and self-knowledge to ‘do the right thing’.  For several years after I first read this story – which must have been in the mid 1980s – I guess at one level such thinking was hypothetical and rhetorical; it wasn’t the sort of world we lived in, after all.  But today I’m not so sure that it is rhetorical anymore, and also I’m not sure I’ve got the guts to walk away.

We in the ‘developed world’ live a materialistic and consumer driven lifestyle, which has had an increasing amount of impact on the state of the world.  For us to have many of our goodies, it could be argued that somewhere else in the world someone else’s lifestyle takes a kicking.  We have an oil-driven economy; if you’re cursed enough to live above rich oil fields then start running now.

We want high-technology equipment; if you’re a young, female, circuit board assembler in a sweat shop then be aware that some of the processes that are involved may expose you to fertility affecting chemicals.  In order to provide us with cheap electronics, some of the safeguards that we adopt in the developed world are ignored.

Have a think about it, please.

I guess my hiking boots and rucksack are still in the store cupboard right now, and I sincerely doubt that I’ll be walking away real soon.  But I do wonder whether I should at least dust the rucksack down and polish the boots, figuratively speaking, for the day when I too start looking to the distant hills of a less consumption oriented lifestyle and choose to walk away from Omelas.

The Bus Book – w/c 7th April – The Templars, Piers Paul Reid

The things I knew about the Knights Templars – OK, the things that I’d picked up along the way and thought they were true to varying degrees – were as follows:

  1. They wore white smocks with a red cross on and were a martial order who were created to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land in the Middle Ages.
  2. They were violently supressed by the French King who wanted their land and money, and the story goes that one reason that Friday 13th is considered unlucky is that this purge took place on Friday 13th.
  3. Finally…they’re supposed to hold the secret of the Holy Grail and also are supposed to be related to the secretive ‘Priory of Sion’ who, according to various conspiracy theorists and Dan Brown, have protected the secret of the Merovingian Heresy.

Well, of these, this great little book gives me the facts on (1) – the knights did indeed wear white smocks with red crosses.  As for (2), well, the purge did happen on Friday 13th….as for (3) – nothing said.

This book is a good introduction to the historical facts behind an institution which has passed over from fact in to myth and legend.  I have to say that the main reason I bought it was that I’d always been interested in the myths and legends surrounding the Holy Grail, which led to an interest in the various Crusades.  It’s not a thick book but I would say that it sometimes gets a little heavy in terms of the relentless facts – who was who between what times, so to say.  In parts it reminded me a little of those books of the Old Testament of The Bible which detail who begat who – vitally important for those interested in Biblical bloodlines but something of a shock to the system for the rest of us. 

It is well researched and thorough – I would have liked a little more detail about the day to day running of the order, it’s military tactics, etc.  – but it was a little ‘dense’ in places, and I found a few sections hard to get through because of the occasional sections in the book where you’d follow one arc of the story for a few years, so to say, then suddenly find yousrelf back in time and starting another arc of the story that overlapped in time with the first.  I appreciate that this sort of thing is incredibly difficult to write (hey, I wouldn’t even try!!) but it might benefit from a few timeline diagrams showing who’s reign overlapped with who, etc.

Overall I enjoyed it – it taught me a lot, and I’d certainly recommend the book to anyone who wants to get the historical background to this group of men at this point in history.  I was actually surprised at how relatively small the Order was for the first decade of its life – something that the conspiracy theorists love to go on about – and how wealthy and influential they quickly became.  And it was the latter that eventually led to their downfall.

Not an easy read for the reasons I mention, but a satisfying one.