E-book and audiobook reviews: Anthony Russell, James Woodall, Atul Gawande

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 January, 2015, 10:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 January, 2015, 10:20pm

Outrageous Fortune
by Anthony Russell
St Martin’s Press

Fans of Upstairs, Downstairs-style period dramas about the British aristocracy should enjoy this memoir by Anthony Russell of the privileged lifestyle into which he was born in 1952. Ingrained in him from an early age was the “castle way”, an “allencompassing, all-powerful, semi-feudal- system-meets-benevolent-dictatorship”. With his siblings, he learned this at Leeds Castle – a 1,100-year-old pile with a moat – that his maternal grandmother, Lady Baillie, owned. Russell, who later became a musician, remembers his mother fondly, his father as a distant man who rarely visited the children’s floor, and nannies catering to their every need. Most interesting is the case of the virgin birth (of Russell’s father), which has to be read to be believed: his grandmother claimed to have fallen pregnant despite still being a virgin. Also thought-provoking is the way in which the British blue bloods were slow off the mark in becoming industrialists. The last chapter, which takes Russell back to the heritage-listed Leeds Castle in 2009, is a fitting cap to a fusty way of life.


The Story of The Beatles’ Last Song
by James Woodall
Amazon Digital Services

Only avid fans of the Beatles will enjoy the level of scrutiny James Woodall gives their last song, I Want You (She's So Heavy), mixed in August 1969. Woodall says it reveals much about what the Fab Four were thinking at the time even though its lyrics consist of just "I want you, I want you so bad; it's driving me mad" plus the chorus of "She's so heavy" to break things up during the track's seven minutes and 44 seconds. Woodall, author of a previous book on John Lennon and Yoko Ono, says no one involved knew that song would be their last. In this Kindle Single, which looks at circumstances surrounding track six on the album Abbey Road, we hear how the song took eight months to put together, amid drug, management and financial problems. I Want You was the "finale to a year-long sequence of songs celebrating 'johnandyoko'," he writes. He then dissects the song, giving times (such as 2:34) at which something important happens. Woodall tries to create a literary crescendo but not all readers will stay the course.


Being Mortal
by Atul Gawande
(read by Robert Petkoff)
Metropolitan Books

If you're looking for a good introduction to the subject of growing old and dying, this is it. American surgeon Atul Gawande approaches the topic with humility and sensitivity, easing into his message by relaying the story of his father's demise. Also a surgeon, Gawande senior developed a tumour in his spinal cord his doctors wanted to remove immediately. But he chose to wait, enjoying what mobility he had until such time when he was more afraid of what the cancer would do to him than the outcome of surgery. Being Mortal, read by Robert Petkoff, offers many other examples of difficult choices the elderly face and asks how well equipped doctors are to enable well-being as opposed to pushing the limits of medicine. "I have seen the damage we … do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite." Gawande argues that society should think harder about the final phase of life, which could make life worth living in nursing homes for those who can no longer be independent. He also asks that we accept geriatricians' demand that we accept our mortality.