Tuesday, June 18, 2013

{review} islands of privacy & african millionaires

Lately I seem to be spending my time reading (with considerable enjoyment and great sabotage to my own reading plans) other people’s reviews and not writing any of my own. What have I been reading?

Grant Allen An African Millionaire: Episodes in the Life of the Illustrious Colonel Clay (1897)

"He is a Colonel, because he occasionally gives himself a commission; he is called Colonel Clay, because he appears to possess an india-rubber face, and he can mould it like clay in the hands of the potter. Real name, unknown. Nationality, equally French and English. Address, usually Europe. Profession, former maker of wax figures to the Museé Grévin. Age, what he chooses. Employs his knowledge to mould his own nose and cheeks, with wax additions, to the character he desires to personate. Aquiline this time, you say. Hein!”
The African Millionaire in question, Sir Charles Vandrift, is a peer freshly minted for his services to industry (mostly exploitative mining projects in faraway corners of the British Empire). It is his bad-luck to have become the target of a wonderfully quick-witted con-man, and a master of disguise, one Colonel Clay. The ‘Colonel’ has decided to fleece the Sir Charles of as much of his fortune as he can – on the surface, not an easy task, given Sir Charles’ reputation as a cunning financier. But the Colonel plays audaciously on Sir Charles’ great weaknesses: a love of a good deal and the even greater love of an unscrupulous good deal.
The fact of it is, sir, your temperament and mine are exactly adapted one to the other. I understand you; and you do not understand me—which is often the basis of the firmest friendships. I can catch you just where you are trying to catch other people. Your very smartness assists me; for I admit you are smart. As a regular financier, I allow, I couldn't hold a candle to you. But in my humbler walk of life I know just how to utilise you. I lead you on, where you think you are going to gain some advantage over others; and by dexterously playing upon your love of a good bargain, your innate desire to best somebody else—I succeed in besting you. There, sir, you have the philosophy of our mutual relations."
From the glamorous hotels of the French Riviera, to the wilds of Scotland, to the plush clubs of New York, Sir Charles appears helpless to thwart his cunning opponent (and his extremely lovely sidekick: “However, a man of the world accepts what a lady tells him, no matter how improbable…”). Will Sir Charles ever understand that it is his own ethical shortcomings that have caused him to fall into Colonel Clay’s hands?

This is a very funny book, filled with a number of rather clever con jobs, set among a group of people, not one of whose morals can withstand too close a scrutiny. I thought it quite as good as the other Grant Allen book I have read, Miss Cayley’s Adventures, about the exploits of a strong-minded, educated young woman determined to make it in the world using her own wits (do read the reviews by desperate reader and tbr13). Both Allen books can be read for free thanks to Project Gutenberg.


And now for something completely different, but very relevant at the moment:

Christena E. Nippert-Eng Islands of Privacy (2010)

Gorgeous cover! 
…for the people I interviewed, it can be quite difficult these days to claim any place, time, or activity as well and truly private. There is a general feeling now that the condition of privacy has become relegated to rather tiny islands of one's existence, few and far between, scattered across the vast ocean of accessibility that dominates so much of our lives. 
This was a fascinating read: Nippert-Eng is interested in how we can maintain an acceptable level of personal privacy (“privacy is a condition of relative inaccessibility”) in a world gone mad for sharing and interrupting and demanding instant responses. How can one carve out a space, establish boundaries, and choose what we disclose and what we conceal? 

One thinks immediately of the Internet in this context, but a number of Nippert-Eng’s case-studies are of much more intimate territory – a woman’s handbag; the sanctuary of one’s bathroom or yard or verandah/porch; the secrets of other people which we must keep (medical history, for instance); when we choose to take phone-calls (during sex? 14% in one survey said that they would do this!); email vs. more instant communications, and so on. “Interruptability is a key measure of how much privacy one has.” 

What is the connection between privacy and status? Does a decrease in privacy through an increase in ‘cross-realm communication’ actually result in a more ‘integrated’ life? Given the recent brouhaha about the NSA leaks, it is interesting to consider Nipper-Eng’s comment that, 
…privacy violations also remind us that privacy is seen as an entitlement for any respectable citizen in this country - an empowering symbol of one's good social status. When others deny us privacy, they also deny us status. 
This is a nicely accessible book, with some theory applied lightly and unmystifingly, and written in a very (sometimes overly) colloquial style. It is mostly drawn from interviews in Chicago. I thought Nippert-Eng rather pushed her metaphor about islands (“As John Donne reminds us, no man (or woman) is an island”), beaches, sand, etc. a bit too far, but it did function as a readily understandable image for how she viewed privacy and its concerns. One criticism relates purely to the e-book: there are a lot of very small tables to back up Nippert-Eng’s research, and they don’t blow up very well electronically. That might be a problem is, unlike me, you were reading this book for serious reasons! 

So, do you let others look in your hand-bag?


  1. Nobody ever wants to look in my bag, so that's a moot point! I'm not on Facebook or any of those sites, just twitter & blogging. I've noticed a real difference on blogs, in how much personal information is shared amid the book reviews. I know mine is pretty strictly bookish, not personal. Not being as connected, via FB, or even having a smart phone, is a deliberate choice for me, keeps me a bit islandish at least at home.

    1. I have levels - FB is 100% private, real people; twitter is middling but more persona than personal; blogging was impersonal until I felt comfortable about using a reasonably 'real' voice. Luckily I have a job that has no out of hours expectations that I could be contacted.

  2. Not much of interest, but I'd rather not have anyone see the mess.

    An African Millionaire sounds entertaining!

    1. Nippert-Eng makes her subjects empty out their bags and place everything into either a 'private' or a 'public' pile. It was interesting to see how that was interpreted - does something with a home address and issued by a government and that you would also use a fair bit for ID (drivers licence, say) go in a private or a public pile? Fascinating, I thought.

  3. Fascinating. I used to carry a purse and sometimes I will if I need to be away long enough to need dental floss. Mostly I stuff my pockets. But my wallet has my credit cards, a little cash, the receipts I need to save for taxes and the ever-important eyeglass cleaning cloth!

    In the rest of the way, I'm pretty darned public -- sort of. Half my world is on the blog and I'll link it to my FB. I don't tweet. My phone is unlisted because of all the television I do, but I kind of live my life out there. And yes, there is private stuff... I know it when I see it, but I'd have a hard time figuring it out when asked!

    1. One of the interesting questions in the book was whether, if you happened to find someone in trouble and they couldn't tell you who they were, would you feel able to look in their purse for ID, or would you consider that too invasive? I thought humanitarian responsibility rather overruled privacy in that case! It really is a very interesting book for making one consider that there are a lot of people out there far less relaxed than us!

  4. The Nippert-Eng one does seem to offer much food for thought. Sounds like a fascinating read!
    I do consider myself to be a rather private kinda person. Blogging for me, is in a way both public and private. Public, because whatever I choose to post will be put out there for one and all to view. Private, because nobody (save one) from my 'real' life circle knows about my blog. This gives me the freedom to use whichever 'voice' I choose, without the pressure of having to conform to the preconceived expectations of those who already know me.

    1. Well put! I was just thinking again about privacy today at work, as I work with someone who I rather think has a sort of pathology of question asking. My work life is, by choice, totally compartmentalised from my home life, social life and blogging life, but it can be remarkably tricky to set the boundaries when someone just doesn't 'get' that there are boundaries.


{READ IN 2018}

  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
  • 116. The Scarlet Button - Anthony Gilbert
  • 115. He Came by Night - Anthony Gilbert
  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 109. The Midnight Line - Anthony Gilbert
  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
  • 104. Murder has no Tongue - Anthony Gilbert
  • 103. The Man who Wasn't There - Anthony Gilbert
  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
  • 79. The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham
  • 78. Murder Underground - Mavis Doriel Hay
  • 77. No Man's Land - David Baldacci
  • 76. The Escape - David Baldacci
  • 75. The Forgotten - David Baldacci
  • 74. Zero Day - David Baldacci
  • JULY
  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
  • 72. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth
  • 71. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth
  • 70. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth
  • 69. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth
  • 68. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth
  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore
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