Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.


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Donald #Trump. Really? My take on the upcoming US elections.

“Unhinged”. 

“Outrageous”. 

“Offensive and outlandish”. 

“A race-baiting xenophobic religious bigot”. 

All Republicans denouncing one – at least in name – of their own.

Donald J Trump is not backing down over his call for Muslims to be barred from entering the United States. Donald J Trump has elbowed his way to the top of the political agenda with two huge assets – money and belligerence. Continue reading


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Having fun learning “How to Speak Money”

I really enjoyed meeting author John Lanchester in the TV studio last night. I thoroughly enjoyed the insights of his novel “Capital” into the different tribes of modern Londoners. Now I can also recommend “How to Speak Money”, after speed reading the book in 24 hours, learning a lot, and laughing out loud at a surprising number of entries. Here are a few of the nuggets…. Continue reading


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Our Virtual Bookclub

The headlines are gloomy.  The newspaper industry is contracting; print publishing is suffering at the hands of Amazon’s low prices and the e-book alternative.  There is a justified pessimism about the traditional mechanisms of delivery.

And it’s thrown up very big questions.  What about the appetite for news and the appetite for reading?  What’s the impact of our expectation, in the early 21st century,  that it’s not just comment but content that comes free?

The gloomy wisdom, again, is that serious Reithian news provision is suffering. It costs money to staff foreign bureaux, to cover town halls, to mount a lengthy investigation. It’s easier to offer news-lite, news you can use, news that shades into light entertainment. And as for reading, some of the most remarkable growth is in the softer options, like teen reads for adults,  and guilty pleasures, like Fifty Shades of Grey on your Kindle on the tube.

But what do we make of the silver lining? These comments are purely anecdotal, no science.  I’m just enjoying the new enthusiasm about reading that seems to have been sparked by our new ability to share.

All the world’s a virtual bookclub. And anyone can start a conversation.

A blogpost book review gets an echo – whether it’s picked up by algorithm or another blogger with a human face.

Hashtags on twitter can create a global bookclub that forms and disperses within hours, like a literary flashmob.

A recommendation brings rewards: if at the end of a Kindle read, I post an appreciative tweet, a fellow-reader’s find often bounces right back – “if you liked that, you’ll love this” – or “try this one, it’s much better!”

Here are just three of my  online discoveries; I’d like to know yours.

A hashtag – #Fridayreads. 

A website – Brainpickings. 

And a weekly email from The Browser. 

They’ve made my reading broader, more prolific, more fun. And so far, they’re all free. Though I’ve enjoyed The Browser’s eclectic offerings of long reads so much, I’ve just responded to their polite invitation to become a subscriber for more.

It’s as if we’re all wandering within an enormous virtual bookshop, not as strangers wrapped up inside our own heads, but neighbours immersed in a hum of civilised conversation.

If you love to read – and like to make connections – this is one way in which you’ll never be lonely again.

I’m not ignoring the hard part – the harnessing of that enthusiasm to a willingness to pay the price which keeps authors (and journalists) in business.  I’m trying to see the bigger picture.

Could the rise of apps like The Browser lead to the end of my local library, or make it more likely that my child will get the library habit?  Does a rising tide float all boats? Or am I failing to see what’s struggling to survive : not waving, but drowning?


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With the families in London on #sept11

The Stars and Stripes flew at half mast from the roof of the American Embassy.  In the green square below, the families took turns to lay a  single white rose in the Memorial Garden. The motto inscribed there reads  “Grief is the Price we Pay for Love”.  Underneath are the names of the 67 British citizens who died.  It’s a simple, peaceful space, wreathed with wisteria and lilies, roses and rosemary. Continue reading


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PJ Crowley on why he “went rogue”

I still remember the pause – two or three seconds – between me asking State Department spokesman PJ Crowley whether he was ‘on the record’ with his scathing criticism of the Pentagon’s treatment of Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning, and Crowley’s one word answer. “Sure”. Now Crowley has talked to Ben Smith at Politico about that moment, why he felt the need to speak out, and his strength of feeling about US foreign policy and US national values.

As Smith puts it, there were “few more unlikely candidates” than the tight-lipped Crowley to become a free speech martyr. I doubt Mr Crowley cares what I say here – but he’s clearly a very decent man who chose his moment to talk frankly about a matter where he believed (still believes) this administration is doing itself harm.


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Facebook empowering patients with rare diseases

Here’s another example of social media making a difference – well beyond the “feel good” boost of knowing you’re not alone out there. I helped fix up this piece for Nancy Shute of NPR on the way that patients with rare diseases are sharing information, advice and contacts online. Only last week, women with the rare lung disease LAM or lymphangioleiomyomatosis, came together via Facebook to help a very scared young woman with little English and a new, terrifying diagnosis. If you listen to her story and want to know more, do visit the LAM Foundation. I’m biased. I have LAM, and I want a lot more people to have heard of it, so more women are diagnosed early, and get to live.