Booklog: The Little Drummer Girl, Silverview & The Whitehall Effect

John Le Carré was an author of widely acknowledged talent and impact. Personally I far prefer his writings to the screen adaptations, though perhaps ‘The Constant Gardener’ was the most faithful adaptation in my (very) amateur opinion.

Most authors I can enjoy reading (or not) but with Le Carré I enjoy, admire and feel a deep frustration at how incredibly good he is at writing. Almost to the point of wanting to never write a word again. There is total mastery in the way he captures moral ambiguity in the little moments which uncover deeper truths whilst highlighting the deceit so fundamental to statecraft.

So I am on a completist drive to read everything he has written, but not read everything about him as a swathe of new memoirs on him and his love life have begun to emerge. To that end, my thoughts on two of his works I had yet to encounter until Kent Libraries came good:

The Little Drummer Girl – John Le Carré

A remarkably finely balanced piece which somehow manages to expose the hypocrisies and moral relativism of the British, Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East. It also is a deep look into the psychology of recruiting and training ‘civilians’ to espionage, with his female lead providing, to my mind at least, a compelling narrative of her divided loyalties and motivations.

There are dream-like qualities to elements of the book as it flits between the female protagonist’s perspective and those of the agents working for each side. It delivers a satisfying ending yet one closes the book not sure who ‘won’ and if anyone really deserved to win.

Utterly astonishing and global in scope, though of course with good dollops of Germany and England as we come to expect.

Silverview – John Le Carré

At the time of writing, this was his last book, published posthumously from an essentially complete manuscript. In an afterword his son suggests that the manuscript had stayed in a drawer for some time not due to concerns over its quality, but because Le Carré feared it was ‘too close to the bone’ in its critique of his former colleagues in the British intelligence services. Personally I didn’t think it took a major detour from his usual critiques.

The usual quality is there, and many common themes are used from his previous works – the English seaside town, retired spies, the sense of British decline. Still, this is undoubtedly a new story, one told with care and grace as he delivers a final rebuke for the failings of international diplomacy as well as of ‘the Service’.

The scale is smaller than other of his tales, but this does not in any way diminish the emotional impact of its conclusion. He was just an amazing talent.

The Whitehall Effect – John Seddon

In many ways what John Seddon wrote in 2014 is well trodden ground for those of us steeped in the ways of system leadership and agile working. But he brings interesting examples and a helpful perspective to the question of why so many government programmes fail to deliver on their promises.

His argument is that the programmes are often poorly defined and led by people without the right skills who aren’t focussing on the right things. Harsh but often fair! He then shows examples of teams doing ‘study’ as he calls it, or discoveries in my world, which then roots teams into the lived experience of service users and staff before iterative work begins. To many that may seem obvious, yet others still aren’t sold so another strong book making the case can’t hurt!


Listenlog: Satanic Panic, WeCrashed, The Clock and the Cat, Hunting Warhead, Unexpected Fluids

Uncover: Satanic Panic

In the early 1990s a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada is rocked by allegations from swathes of children that they are being horribly abused by a satanic cult. Teachers, police officers and others are accused and charged. The trials and appeals grind on for years. Eventually, with the exception of two lesser charges, all the accused are freed or have their charges dropped. Was there ever a satanic cult out there or did the judicial system mess up?

Another superb podcast from CBC which explains how mass hysteria and lots of well intentioned individuals unintentionally created a nightmarish scenario where innocent people nearly lost everything in the face of panic fed by intense media coverage. Utterly fascinating.

Hunting Warhead

Also on the topic of child abuse is this joint series by CBC and Norway’s VG. It starts with how a two man investigative unit at a Norwegian paper who had been successfully uncovering child abusers stumbled on a complex international Police sting operation. The heart of this operation had been the arrest of ‘Warhead’ who ran a string of major dark web sites for trading child pornography.

The series explains what the Police operation did: How they managed to infiltrate the dark web but also explores in a genuinely informative and careful way the story from the perspective of the victims and the abusers. Treating child abusers as ‘evil’ doesn’t stop the crime happening, and hearing the challenges involved in even discussion of treatment or prevention strategies is well handled and thought provoking. An excellent listen.


WeWork is the biggest corporate crash since Enron. But instead of fraudulent accounting (as far we know) this story is more about ‘excessive exuberance’ where a charismatic CEO along with international venture capital desperately chasing returns willingly entered into a mutual hallucination that a property rental business could be valued just like a tech unicorn.

On the basis that we can learn more from failures, this short series of 6 episodes is definitely worth a listen, even if just for the anecdotes of the wild ways money was being spent.

The Clock and the Cat

I don’t think I’ve ever met Mark Foden, but I’ve been enjoying his blogs and tweets for a long time. He’s now got a podcast exploring his favoured topic of complexity. Hence the title with clocks being complicated and cats being complex. If you’re interested in systems thinking, complexity, public service and organisational change then I think you’ll like this. Depending on your existing level of knowledge you may want to skip some of the episode but you’ll definitely find something of value in there with a fascinating array of guests coming on.

Unexpected Fluids

I suspect this one might be a bit marmite for my readers. It’s a BBC Radio 1 produced NSFW podcast built around listeners submitting their funny stories of sex going wrong. Many of the tales of sexual woe are snort-out-loud-on-the-train funny. Which is what hooked me in – a dose of bawdy comedy. But it’s much more than that as the presenters Alix and Riyadh deftly interview guests who have expanded my thinking on the wide range of human sexuality, how we discuss gender identity, consent and so much more. A fab series – well done to the BBC for using the podcast format for exploring more explicit and risky programming than they could on their radio stations.


Migration complete

In recently wanting to make sure this site used https by default I had the long overdue realisation that I no longer have the time nor inclination to be worrying about my WordPress and server settings.

So I’ve migrated to (and a touch of Amazon S3 as it was easier to fix some broken links that way) pretty smoothly, I hope (touch wood etc).

The export and import process is very impressive capturing comments, users, posts and pages pretty much all without a hitch. So onwards and upwards.

I do want to acknowledge Futurequest who I have hosted with for almost exactly 17 years now. Without them this site but also the many sites I ran for businesses, schools and charities would never have been possible. They have always been a joy to work with – if you need great hosting I can’t recommend them highly enough.


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