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Recent Reviews | More Review Fun

Some Recent Hot Reviews

"Hot" is a compromise between recency and thumbs-up votes.

Being from The Other Side of the Pond, it’s always been hard for me to get a mental map of the British Isles in comparison to the United States; so much history and literature and science should somehow take up a lot of land – maybe everything east of the Mississippi. In fact it with all fit into a medium size US state – Colorado or Missouri, for example (you’d have to do a little rearranging of the bits that stick out, like Cornwall and the Shetlands). That makes it even more surprising to realize that there were once smaller political subdivisions; in the aftermath of the collapse of Rome Dumnonia and Kent, Hwicce and Elmet, East Anglia and Gwynedd, Berncia and Mercia, and half a dozen others were all independent kingdoms.

Mercia was one of these, extant from around the middle of the 6th century AD to the middle of the 9th and at one point controlling most of the middle of England, including London. Eventually Vikings and the rise of the Kingdom of Wessex brought it down; it became an earldom (Lady Godiva was Earl Leofric of Mercia’s wife) and was eventually divided into “shires” to conform to the Wessex system of land organization.

Annie Whitehead, author of Mercia, is primarily a historical novelist; however, this is a serious and very scholarly history. The problem is Mercia flourished during the “Dark Ages” and there’s not much in the way of historical records; some saint’s lives, Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and a number of works written much later (for example, Chronicon ex chronicus of Florence of Worcester, Historia Anglorum of Henry of Huntingdon and Flowers of History by Roger of Wendover, all dating from the 12th and 13th centuries). Whitehead is often reduced to speculating on subtle bits of data from these – is some poorly-attested king of Mercia related to some other poorly-attested king? Was some casually mentioned battle important? There’s not much feel for what life was like for the average Mercian – or even if there were people who thought of themselves as “Mercians”. That’s not Whitehead’s fault, of course, she has to deal with the scanty evidence available.

Instructive for me; I’ve been reading a lot of English history recently and Mercia gives considerable insight into an otherwise obscure historical period. Only one map, and that’s a very general one; a handicap for readers like me who don’t live in the UK and therefore don’t have a good idea of regional geography. A color plate section with relevant illustrations. Lots of genealogical tables. A useful preface with sources and abbreviations. Extensive endnotes bibliography.
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4 vote setnahkt | Jun 4, 2020 |
This was an unread book that has been lurking on my bookshelves for about 25 years. It would have been bought in a charity shop (the pencilled in price on one of the front-piece pages gives the game away) after I had read and enjoyed Byatt's previous book: the much admired Possession published in 1990. This book published two years later is in fact two novellas both classified in the genre historiographic metafiction or in more simple words; in the same style as Possession. The reader is therefore plunged back into a Victorian Britain where Byatt introduces characters who mix with or are inspired by historical figures most commonly from the literary world. I was a little skeptical as to whether I would enjoy the reading experience of books written in such a similar fashion, but I needn't have worried both Morpho Eugenia and The Conjugial Angel work their magic despite their "Hollywood Endings."

Morpho Eugenia is the most straightforward of the two novellas in that the completely fictionalised characters operate amongst a background of historical figures. William Adamson has returned from a ten year exploratory trip to the Amazon basin and survived a shipwreck where most of his worldly goods have been destroyed. He had managed to save a couple of extremely rare mounted butterflies and had been welcomed into the rich family of the Alabasters, where Harald as the head of the family invites him to stay to teach his children about the natural world and help him with a book he is in the process of writing. William Adamson falls in love with Eugenia: Alabasters eldest daughter, but dare not approach her because of his lowly social rank and lack of money. Adamson begins a study of the local ant population in an attempt to fine tune his skill as a naturalist, he is encouraged by Matty Crompton who sees the publication of a book as a way out of their financial dependency on the Alabasters. The story takes shape as a romance with many allusions to the workings of the ant colonies that exist in parallel to the numerous staff employed in looking after the Alabaster family. Byatt skilfully draws the reader into the life of the Alabaster household and gives a lecture on the social life of ants at the same time.

While I was entertained by Morpho Eugenia I found the second novella; The Conjugial Angel much more interesting. Here Byatt successfully introduces her characters into the lives of the poet Alfred Tennyson and his family, while also seamlessly providing a mini critique of the poetry. We are in the world of the Victorians enthusiasm for seances as a means of contacting the dead. A medium Sophy Sheekhy and her friend Lilias Papagay arrive at the house of Captain Jess for an arranged seance. Captain Jess's wife Emily is the sister of Alfred Tennyson and she was engaged previously to Arthur Hallam who was also a very close friend of the poet. Arthur died young at 22 and Alfred mourned his death for a number of years and wrote one of his most successful poems "In Memoriam" to the young man who had made such an impression on him. Mrs Emily Jess is hoping that the seance will enable her to communicate with Arthur beyond the grave and Lilias Papagay is also wishing to find out the truth of her husband reported missing at sea some ten years previously. Many prominent Victorians were serious in imagining that they could receive messages from the dead with the aid of a medium and Byatt describes the seance with due reverence to her subject. The seance also allows her to read between the lines of Tennyson famous poem and imagine the relationship between the poet his sister and the handsome young Arthur:

"Alfred had taken Arthur and bound him to himself, blood to blood and bone to bone, leaving no room for her. It was true that late in the poem, reference was made to her love and her loss, but that too was painful, most painful. Alfred had allowed his fantasy to imagine Arthur's future, Arthur's children, Alfreds nephews and nieces , mixing their blood."

Of course there has been speculation about the nature of Alfred and Arthurs relationship: was it a love affair, was it requited? If the example of Byatt's prose sounds a bit like something D H Lawrence might have written then it gets even more so when she speculates about a homosexual relationship.

So from reading theses two novels I have learned more that I need to about ants and have become interested in the thoughts and feelings that inspired one of Tennyson's famous poems. Byatt just about stops short of giving a lecture on either subject and I can forgive her this because of her brilliant evocations of life in Victorian Britain. She tells good stories, romantic stories that fit well with the lives of the characters both historical and imaginary and if she does sound a bit like D H Lawrence in places; well there is nothing wrong with that. When I take down a long unread book from my shelves to read then at the end the decision is: either to put it back on the shelves or put it in the charity book box. This one went back on the shelves and so 4 stars.
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2 vote baswood | 25 other reviews | Jun 1, 2020 |
Before there was Urban Fantasy... there was 1978's Fritz Leiber writing Urban Fantasy. :)

Strangely enough, I was very engaged with certain parts of this novel, how it set itself up as a horror within a horror, a horror writer going through a dark patch that then leads him into a very STRANGE patch where ideas intersect with an almost Lovecraftian (or Clark Ashton Smith-ian) becomes a novel of investigation and eldritch (idea) horror.

Just why did all those old friends, the horror triumvirate (and associated) back in the '20s and '30s, die early or suicide?

There's lots of great literary name dropping and history packed in this novel. And more than that, there is a lot of great collective unconsciousness meets virus meets memes action going on here... ESPECIALLY for the time this novel came out. I'm reminded of some of my favorite modern UFs that play with geek fandom or bibliomancy or the like, but the style is very much a mix between a noir mystery (with drug use) and a simmering 70's horror novel.

In other words... it doesn't quite FIT with the modern view of novels. :)

And for me? I love how strange it is. It might not be the strangest novel ever, but it definitely got under my skin. :)
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2 vote bradleyhorner | 16 other reviews | Jun 1, 2020 |
I hesitate in calling this a satire because it's a highly-charged emotional bomb of a great story IN ADDITION to being some of the cleverest novels of scattershot inversions, sly winks, and outrageously funny situations.

You know, as funny as meeting Jesus in Hell is going to be, serving heroin to the damned in a soup kitchen just before they completely obliterate themselves. Or the realization that Jesus has a sister. A modern one. A true begotten daughter of God. Julie: the one who talks to sponges, gets scolded for performing miracles, gets embroiled in a plot of Satan, and who absolutely ADORES science.

I love Julie. She's so earnest. A good kid. And we get to see her grow up, get into trouble with her alcoholic best friend, save Atlantic City from a conflagration, and send herself to hell for 15 years, voluntarily. Where she gets to know her brother.

The aftermath... ah well, the aftermath is the hard part, emotionally, but what a great read it all is. Almost every line has a freaking SHARP comment to be made on religion and its followers. From the conception of Julie by a Jewish man donating to a sperm bank only to have the authorities freak out because it somehow found an egg in the container, to the anticrucification of the antichrist. Or what God actually turns out to be or where Satan winds up. :)

The text is SHARP.

Sure, we've had a number of classics that skewered religion before, but few do it as regularly and consistently and as cleverly as this one. The real devil is in the details, and this one gets under your skin like the buckshot of a shotgun.

I think, after reading only two of James K. Morrow's books, I've found one of my top favorite authors of all time. :)
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2 vote bradleyhorner | 14 other reviews | Jun 1, 2020 |
The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1901–1959 (1977)

Marlon Brando – Don Vito Corleone
Al Pacino – Michael Corleone
Robert De Niro – Young Vito Corleone

James Caan – Santino Corleone
John Cazale – Fredo Corleone
Talia Shire – Connie Corleone
Robert Duvall – Tom Hagen
Diane Keaton – Kay Adams
Richard Castellano – Clemenza
Abe Vigoda – Tessio
Al Lettieri – Sollozzo
Sterling Hayden – Captain McCluskey
Simonetta Stefanelli – Apollonia
Gianni Ruso – Carlo Rizzi
John Marley – Jack Woltz
Richard Conte – Don Barzini
Lee Strasberg – Hyman Roth
Michael V. Gazzo – Frankie Pentangeli
G. D. Spradlin – Sen. Pat Geary
Tom Rosqui – Rocco Lampone
Bruno Kirby – Young Clemenza
Gastone Moschin – Fanucci
Richard Bright – Al Neri

Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, based on the novel (1969) by Mario Puzo
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Colour. 423 min.

====================================

This fascinating curiosity consists of the first two Godfather movies (1972, 1974) edited in chronological order plus about one hour of deleted scenes thrown in for good measure. It was originally broadcast as a mini-series on four consecutive nights in 1977, but nowadays, in the Age of Freaking Technology, you can watch all seven hours in one sitting. I admit I couldn’t do that. But I did manage in two sittings. The second movie is inferior to the first, and the additional scenes are a mixed bag, but the whole thing still hangs together pretty well and remains consistently compelling. However, I am not going to repeat the stunt with the complete trilogy. Part III (1990) is hardly the same movie at all.

“Chronological order” needs little explanation. The flashbacks from Part II, with the young Robert De Niro nailing the young Vito Corleone on the rise in America of the 1920s, are simply put together in the beginning. They take about 70 minutes overall and make for an excellent appetizer. The scenes work very well as a connected narrative, to my mind better than they do as flashbacks. A good deal of new material here, mostly short but nicely integrated scenes, most notably Vito witnessing some thugs trying to cut Fanucci’s throat, Vito’s first meeting with Hyman Roth, the whole trio (Vito, Clemenza and Tessio) visiting a gunsmith (whose son plays a melancholy song on the flute while the adults do brisk gun business). Many other scenes are extended, most effectively Vito’s meeting with Signor Roberto and the trio’s discussion over spaghetti whether or not they should pay Fanucci.

It is hard to say how much new material was included in Part I. According to my rough calculations, I’d say fifteen to twenty minutes. The scenes are shorter and more uneven, but there are some highlights. I found especially powerful the totally new episode in which the Godfather takes all his sons and Johnny Fontaine to the hospital to visit the dying Genco, one of Vito’s oldest friends and business partners (he made the olive oil in Sicily, Vito sold it in the States, both made a packet). Genco is scared of dying and asks Vito to stay with him because he might scare death. The same scene also contains a brief conversation between the Don and Michael in which the father is rather contemptuous about the “ribbons” his son has received for bravery in the war. This is somewhat ironic considering Clemenza’s later claim (also in the original) that they were all proud with “Mikey” being a war hero and all that (“your father too”).

Other scenes are less memorable, but they do explain some things better. For instance, the little charade with Michael and Kay in bed playing long-distance with Tom is relevant to Michael’s later phone call on the night of his father’s assassination. When he asks (in the original) whether Tom didn’t tell them he called, we have to accept this on faith: here we know he did. More important is the short conversation after Michael’s return from Sicily in which he almost demands vengeance for Sonny. The Don replies that he has given his word at the meeting of the Five Families that he won’t be the one to break the truce. Michael replies that he hasn’t given his word, thus anticipating his final masterstroke during the christening (the Don’s idea in the book, Michael’s in the movie). There is also one brief scene in which Michael, coming to himself after Apollonia’s death, wants Fabrizio to be found. You can guess why, but we are nevertheless shown the assassin’s death, years later, in one of the additions to the next part. It’s a fine touch of poetic justice, but I like better the book version.

Otherwise the new stuff in Part II is not that interesting. I can have enough of Fredo’s trying to control his drunken wife or Frankie’s teaching little Anthony how to drink red wine. The farce with Neri and Klingman in the casino is both unnecessary and embarrassing. I have no idea why it was ever shot in the first place. But there is a charming scene in the beginning in which Michael gives his blessing for the marriage of Sonny’s daughter to a student of fine arts who just happens to be a rich heir. “Make sure her dowry is big”, he confides to Hagen, “he [the bridegroom] comes from a family who think Italian brides go barefoot.” The most important parts of Part II, namely Michael’s explosive relationships with Kay and Fredo, are left pretty much the same as they were in the original.

PS. The additional scenes are summarised on IMDb: Part I; Part II.
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2 vote Waldstein | Jun 1, 2020 |
Interesting survey of controbutions by European ethnic groups --adopts a kind of vrebverse approach, begining with the Eastern Slavs (Great Russian, Ukraiians) and working through most groups ending with the English and Lowland Scots. It does inxclude the Jews as a group though it inaccurately describes Yiddish as broken-down Hewbrewv adulterated with loan words (instead of a German dialect with Hebrew loan words)/… (more)
2 vote antiquary | Oct 26, 2011 |
A very interesting book, telling the story of a brigade of fighters in the Spanish civil war. It is also a story of love, fear, betrayal, courage.
Although it was interesting to read how this specific raid was carried out, at times I was bored with it or did I think it was proceeding very slowly as well. Especially the constant naming of Robert Jordan, at times in every sentence.
On the other hand it showed the emotions and the relations within the group which made it better. All in all I liked it as well as the other books I recently read by this author.… (more)
1 vote BoekenTrol71 | 148 other reviews | Jun 5, 2020 |
A nicely produced overview of historical typefaces, focusing on the particular high spots of type design. Good illustrations and highlights.
1 vote JBD1 | Jun 5, 2020 |
Shaka has always been a controversial figure: a strong, successful African leader and innovative general who created a powerful new nation at the moment when Europeans were beginning to dominate the continent, or a psychotic dictator and mass-murderer who provided colonialists with a convenient stereotype of African depravity?

Mofolo exploits this tension by putting him into the centre of a tragic epic, entirely African and pre-Christian in its idiom, but also heavy with what look like biblical, Homeric and Shakespearean accents. We meet Chaka as a brave, talented, but persecuted youth whose enemies are trying to deny his royal blood. He's driven out into the wilderness, where he meets a mysterious sorcerer-figure, Isanusi, who offers him dominion over the kingdoms of this world: Chaka only pauses to ask "where do I sign?"

With the help of Isanusi's assistant demons, Ndlebe and Malunga, he is able to defeat his half-brothers and inherit his father's kingdom, and then that of his suzerain Dingiswayo. And before we know where we are, he's rebranded the nation. According to Mofolo — who may be letting his Basotho prejudices slip in here — they were previously called "People of the male organ of the dog". MaZulu, "People of the sky," does seem to have a classier touch. And he's built a capital, reformed the army, altered military tactics, killed tens of thousands of his own people and his enemies, and conquered most of the known world. Then Isanusi comes round to collect his fee, and it all starts going horribly wrong.

Kunene's translation has a very stately, Authorised Version sort of feel about it, and he has an odd kind of insistence on keeping out Afrikaans words, even when they are very familiar. Veld slips in a couple of times, but that's about it. This is the only Southern African book I've ever read in which a livestock enclosure is called a "fold" instead of a kraal. This perhaps comes from Mofolo's insistence on keeping the presence of Europeans completely out of the story until Chaka's reference to them in his ominous last words. In real life, Chaka had a few Europeans in his entourage, and his strategic situation was very strongly affected by the advancing Afrikaners pushing the Xhosa back towards his territory.

A fabulous epic, which would make a great opera...
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1 vote thorold | 4 other reviews | Jun 5, 2020 |
Years and years ago, I read Hailey's Airport and then Hotel and then Wheels and then I forgot about him. His special insight into the industry of his focus is now turned to the business of homicide. And he does an excellent job. Elroy Doil is hours away from the electric chair. He was convicted of one double murder and suspected of many others. He has requested to talk to Detective Malcolm Ainslie before he dies. The book covers the past and the present of this horrible killing spree. The only downside is that Hailey never writes sequels. I'd like to read about Ainslie again…… (more)
1 vote susandennis | 9 other reviews | Jun 5, 2020 |
Some good provocative essays on bibliographical method and thinking. A bit abstruse in places and a bit fast-and-loose in others, but well worth a look.
1 vote JBD1 | Jun 5, 2020 |
Lots of us have went on school field trips. I doubt any of those were as historic as the one the children of Stromness in the Orkney Islands took on June 21, 1919. From the deck of the Flying Kestrel, they saw more ships go to the bottom of the sea at one time than any day before or since.

There are, of course, other histories of that day. I reviewed one recently, Dan van der Vat’s The Grand Scuttle. Meara covers much the same ground as that book. We hear about the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet, its time in Scapa Flow, its scuttling, and the salvage efforts that raised much of it.

What Meara brings, besides the concision of 96 pages and lots of beautiful photographs and paintings, some in color, is the local angle all but ignored before now – what the Orcadians said about that day.

Meara’s uncle, Leslie Thorpe, was a thirteen-year-old schoolboy that day on the deck of the Flying Kestrel and wrote an account of it shortly afterwards. Meara also presents other local accounts. He’s a clever enough writer not to dump them en bloc into the book but provides the relevant quotes at the right time in the story.

The book includes an appendix with the fate of every ship in the captured German High Seas Fleet and a map showing where they all were at the time of the scuttling.

This book would serve as a good introduction to the history of the Great Scuttle. It should also appeal to those interested in the history of the Orkneys and World War One. As well as the usual pictures of ships, it has several pictures of artifacts retrieved from the sunken vessels as well as the landscape around Scapa Flow and Stromness.
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1 vote RandyStafford | Jun 5, 2020 |
Sometimes E. B. White's writings can bring me calm in the midst of chaos, which was why I picked up this new little volume yesterday afternoon. It didn't work this time. Not his fault, things are just too disgusting right now, and our democracy feels too fragile. The bits about Fred the dachshund in "Bedfellows" still made me chuckle, though, and his letter to the Bangor News rang true. He closes that letter "Your correspondent Mr. Buckley reminded us the other day, via Tocqueville, that democracy is destructible. It is, indeed. It can be destroyed by a single zealous man who holds aloft a freedom sign while quietly undermining all of freedom's cherished institutions."… (more)
1 vote JBD1 | Jun 5, 2020 |
Moments of fun, with an exciting conclusion. (You already know how it ends, of course, but what's not to like about a Culture BOOM BANG POW?) I never really bought into the characters, or cared about the Hell versus anti-Hell plot line. One could also probably skip the first 200+ pages without missing much; isn't it more fun to figure out the setting yourself rather than get it in a lecture?
1 vote breic | 72 other reviews | Jun 4, 2020 |
This is a very fast-paced novel about small-town Midwestern municipal employee slash art collector Becky Farwell, who finds a, shall we say, imaginative way to fund her fancy habits. While there were brief moments where I felt things were a bit one-dimensional, overall I found this a good read, even as I loathed nearly all of the characters.
1 vote JBD1 | 1 other review | Jun 4, 2020 |
As others have observed, the central idea is a strong one - that aliens have visited earth but have completely ignored us, the way we pay very little attention to most other species on Earth most of the time. Like careless humans after a roadside picnic, the aliens have left behind a whole load of dangerous junk, which no one is able to understand (just as human artifacts are meaningless to most other species on Earth). But it felt like a short story padded out to novel length - with insufficient development of that central idea or the characters.

In that respect, I would compare it unfavourably with Lem's "His Master's Voice", which explores somewhat similar territory in that it's about a message from outer space which has sufficient structure that people think it must be from other intelligent life forms - but it proves to be so alien that no one can work out what it means. That,in a nutshell, is the central idea - but it's more of a jumping off point, allowing Lem to take us through various different theories about the meaning of the message (none of which are conclusive) and showing how it leads to various scientific discoveries as a kind of (unhappy) byproduct of the attempts to decipher it. That, for me, made it a much more interesting and satisfying read, even though you end up in a similar place - in the sense that (as in Roadside Picnic) humans' reaction to the alien artifact tells us more about humanity than it does about the aliens who may have created it.

Anyway, maybe I am just missing something - and I'm clearly going against the grain of the majority of reviews here with my 2 star rating - but this just didn't do it for me.
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1 vote Paul_Samael | 88 other reviews | Jun 4, 2020 |
A remarkable and satisfying novel that I have come to very late and only came across after finding by chance in our local community centre. Lyman Ward is in a wheelchair and is a retired history academic. He is living in his grandparents house and is using their papers to write the story of the first years of their marriage as pioneers in America's west. He bring to life unfamiliar landscapes of mining towns and canyons surrounded by sage bush. His grandmother is a sophisticated woman from the east coast, grandfather is an engineer and from the beginning their life is full of tension but also love. Wallace Stegner chronicles Lyman Ward's own life as he tumbles downward and the lives of his grandparents in parallel. Along the way in what is mostly a family saga, he brings in generational tensions in the late 1960s, when the novel was written, and the complexities of engineering in those pioneering days of the 19th century. A hefty novel that never felt too long.… (more)
1 vote Tifi | 157 other reviews | Jun 4, 2020 |
Why did I choose this book? I have an avid interest in the history, and folklore of the Highlands, even before moving here last year. I am curious about the superstitions and such like surrounding life events of the Scottish people.

What did I like? Oh, everything, but particularly the inclusion of some Gaelic and Scots in the words used by folk.

This book is mostly a compilation of interviews with Scottish folk recalling the procedures for, and celebrations of significant events in the human life cycle: birth, baptism, marriage, divorce, and death. The author has arranged this methodically - if not strictly by region - and transcribed them in the speaker's own words, with accompanying translations if needed.

I have to say there is a broad range of lore, custom and attitude covered in this book. What I found fascinating was how the customs changed over the years, sometimes within less than a decade, and how the culture of incomers might have effected such changes.

It is a good introduction for the lay person, such as myself, despite being a scholarly work. I read elsewhere someone said this is not a book you read cover to cover, but delve into from time to time. I disagree. I read it from cover to cover, savouring every record contained within.

What makes this book a real gem is the extensive endnotes providing the source of each interview, and further explanation of various snippets within them. There is also a long bibliography, and a further reading list for those who wish to learn more. For these two things alone, I am grateful to Margaret Bennett.

Although I have a paperback copy, it was left in storage during my move, so I read this on my Kindle and was able to make extensive notes for future reference, as I am sure to return to this book regularly.

I was happy to find no typographical errors in the Kindle edition, which sometimes seems to happen these days.

What didn't I like? Is it really a complaint that there were too many books in the further reading section that I now want to read?

Would I recommend it? Yes. I highly recommend it.
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1 vote Sile | Jun 4, 2020 |
Het is tijd voor een nieuwe geschiedenis van onze democratie. Francis Fukuyama is als geen ander geschikt om deze geschiedenis op te tekenen: hij schrijft en spreekt er al tientallen jaren over. In dit boek vertelt hij hoe maatschappijen de overgang maakten van een organisatie die gebaseerd was op familie- en stamverbanden naar een meer objectieve vorm van organisatie, gebaseerd op de politieke verhoudingen die we ook nu nog hanteren. De vormen die in de antieke cultuur zijn ontstaan, zijn nog steeds te herkennen in de manier waarop onze maatschappij is georganiseerd, en veel problemen waarmee ontwikkelingslanden en mislukte staten nu te maken hebben nepotisme, corruptie, chaos kunnen verklaard worden uit het feit dat ze de stap naar een moderne organisatievorm nooit hebben gemaakt. In deze omvattende geschiedenis gebruikt Fukuyama niet alleen inzichten uit de politiek, maar ook uit de economie, de antropologie en de sociologie.… (more)
1 vote aitastaes | Jun 4, 2020 |
“Thanks,” said Jimmy, “and I don’t mind telling you that you’re the one man I know whom I’d just as soon borrow from and would like the opportunity of loaning to. You say that you can’t understand me and yet you’re a whole lot more of an enigma yourself! You admit, in fact you’re inclined to boast, that you’re a pickpocket and a safe-blower and yet I’d trust you, Lizard, with anything I had.
The Lizard smiled, and for the first time since he’d known him Jimmy noticed that his eyes smiled with his lips.


If this book hadn’t been played on the sffaudio podcast, I don’t suppose I would ever have read it, but it was surprisingly amusing and enjoyable. It is the story of Jimmy Torrance, who graduates bottom of his class from an Ivy League college and is determined to make it in business without the help of his wealthy father. Along the way he makes friends in high society and among the criminal classes, while working his way through a variety of jobs.… (more)
1 vote isabelx | 2 other reviews | Jun 4, 2020 |
Mankind consisted of 128 people. The sheer population pressure of so vast a horde had long ago filled a dozen burrows.

This novella is a satire in which aliens have conquered earth, leaving the remnants of mankind living in burrows in the walls of their massive buildings like mice or cockroaches, and raiding their kitchens for food and other useful items. As the story begins, the young protagonist, Eric, is about to go on his first raiding party, a rite of passage after which he will become a man. But things do not go as expected.

It later became the first of three parts of the novel Of Men and Monsters, which I have added to my wish list, as I would like to find out out what happens next. Will the supporters of Alien-Science prevail over the Ancestor-Science regime, and will either brand of science be any use in the struggle to expel the aliens from the Earth?
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1 vote isabelx | Jun 4, 2020 |
Okay, yes, this novel could have been a bit tighter, but it had a large story to tell. Or a small story on a large canvas. Or a large story on a small canvas. Or all of the above.

I read Simon the Fiddler as a kind of ode to the quest stories of old, to heroic ballads and fairy tales and epic romances (in the old fashioned sense), all set within the frame of the American story – conflict and persistence and belief in a dream. You have the Quest, the Girl, the Bad Guy, the Obstacles To Overcome, and you have the ideal of land of one’s own, an honest and simple life, and the love of a good woman.

It’s an excellent piece of historical fiction, as well, bringing to life the Texas frontier in the years just after the Civil War, with the landscape and the people well drawn and fully developed. Jiles' writing is strong, her characterizations sharp, and her love for her characters and their story evident.
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1 vote katiekrug | 37 other reviews | Jun 4, 2020 |
If Noam Chomsky is willing to plunge into the Green New Deal (GND) debate, I am certainly willing to read it. Unfortunately, Chomsky’s comments are mostly the same as in his political criticism. He defers to experts for environmental issues. Robert Pollin is that expert, and the two of them answer questions about the Green New Deal from Chronis Polychroniou in Climate Crisis and Global Green New Deal. Sadly, the questions are softball lobs meant only to advance the narrative, and no three-way argument ever takes shape. The book never heats up beyond tepid on the GND.

Chomsky is no fan of Donald Trump. In one of his first answers, he diverts to Trump in language he normally saves for linguists who disagree with his theories of language acquisition or generative grammar, where he is, to put it mildly, biting. “The Chief is an infantile megalomaniac, and very effective conman, who couldn’t care less if the world burns or explodes, as long as he can pretend to be the winner as he two-steps over the cliff waving his little red hat triumphantly.” That sets the stage for Chomsky’s criticisms of the US government’s activities in things environmental.

Just one example: In 2018 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a 500 page environmental impact statement on vehicle emissions. It said that since temperatures will rise by more than four degrees Celsius anyway, the amount of emissions from vehicles will make no significant difference. “If one can find a comparable document of similar malevolence in the historical record, I would be interested in knowing about it.” Classic Chomsky. Classic Trump administration. But he is not nearly as sharp, informed or focused on the Green New Deal, and that’s what the book is supposed to be about.

Pollin is more on topic. In fact, the whole nub of the book is his analysis of how to pay for the Green New Deal. It appears halfway through, and he is able to show it is most doable. If there is the political will.

The four funding sources are:
1, A carbon tax in which 75% of the proceeds are rebated to the public, and 25% into clean energy projects.
2. A transfer of funds out of the military budgets globally
3. A Green Bond lending program from the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank
4. The end of all fossil fuel subsidies, with 25% of amount channeled into clean energy projects.

Pollin backs them up with stats. In 2019 Credit Suisse calculated the total value of global financial assets at $317 trillion. The Green New Deal requires $2.4 trillion a year (at first). This is just 7/10 of one percent of those financial assets. He says the $1.3 trillion from public contribution net investment is all of 2.5% of GDP. That would allow the world to reach zero emissions by 2050, without breaking the bank. He does this for all four sources. Getting governments to agree however, is out of scope.

Sadly, rather reducing the 33 billion tons of carbon dumped into the ecosphere annually, we are still increasing. We’re now looking at 38 billion tons a year. With perhaps a temporary dip from the coronavirus pandemic.

In other words, there is no political will to accomplish anything at all. All of the Paris COP21 nations have failed to live up to their commitments. What is needed is a Franklin Delano Roosevelt to implement the New Deal by directing the entire government to focus on it. FDR mobilized the country to climb out of the Depression and then again to produce everything needed to win World War II. Both Chomsky and Pollin consider the ecological disaster to be an emergency of at least the same magnitude as the ones FDR faced. Like his program, the Green New Deal will create jobs and increase wealth – just not in fossil fuels. But short of an FDR in charge, this book shows no path to avoid oblivion at all.

If all it is is the four funding sources, this would have been better much received as a magazine article. It is not enough for a book.

David Wineberg
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1 vote DavidWineberg | Jun 4, 2020 |

Recent Firsts

"First" are first reviews for previously-unreviewed works.

LIBRONIX SOFTWARE
  abdiel91 | Jun 3, 2020 |
McCauley writes a wonderful, funny, breezy novel and this one is no different. Clyde Carmichael is a man with issues who is surrounded by a wild cast of characters who also have issues. This is the simple story of how they all interact and face life. It's just a nice, easy, fun read.
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  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
O mal não pode ter início a não ser pelo orgulho, e não ter fim a não ser pela humildade. A verdade é esta: o orgulho tem de morrer em você, ou nada dos Céus poderá viver em você.
  BIBLIO-CTM | Jun 3, 2020 |
Quick, fun read.
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  FooBoo732 | Jun 5, 2020 |
Lots of interesting tidbits and anecdotes in here about New York, past and present. Though take it all with a grain of salt, as the Reader's Digest-style condensed format often requires omitting contextualizing information. Overall, an enjoyable read.
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  FooBoo732 | Jun 5, 2020 |
The Essays consisting of Neither Victim nor Executioner contain Camus' economic and political ethics. His apoliticism is interesting but haphazard; it is the brackish water that results from revering Dostoevsky but also being an Atheistic Materialist. Dostoevsky was the reason he did not become an advocate for Marxism and the Soviet Union, unlike his friend Sartre who argued no human rights would ever be violated under The Great Experiment in the North. It seems like this is one of the reasons Camus is widely read and Satre is not today; Camus was vindicated in many of his political views he gained from Dostoevsky.

Camus, like Dostoevsky, saw Marxism, whether expressed in Communism or Socialism, as the result of a radically desacralized society that made itself the object of its own adoration; a blind self-deification. It is a metaphysical revolution, not merely political and humanitarian as it sees itself as. This is thoroughly Dostoevskian. Dost developed in him a recalcitrant suspicion of Marxism which was embraced by his contemporaries. His fascination with Dostoevsky is what saved him from falling into the popular insanity of his time. His apoliticism and critique of Materialism and subsequent Socio-Political ideologies of his time made him unpopular in the Liberal press at the time, but history has vindicated his suspicions. Consider his clear condemnation of Utopianism, clearly taken directly from Dost:

While advocating for a trans-national advancement past Westphalian sovereignty, he does see the problems with Internationalism as it can maintain no democratic basis. He does not really take dogmatic political stances; he simply regurgitates Dostoevskian politics into his contemporary revolutionary debates. He writes;

"The goal, in short, will be to define the conditions for a modest political philosophy, that is, a philosophy free of all messianic elements and devoid of any nostalgia for an earthly paradise... Whatever the desired end my be, as noble and necessary as it conceivable is, and regardless of whether or not it seeks to bring happiness to humankind or to establish justice and freedom, the means to that end represent a risk so conclusive, so disproportionate to the likelihood of success, that we objectively refuse to run it."

He talks about the Marxist underpinnings of all types of Socialism, including deeply Democratic Socialism:

"Therein lies the problem faced by French Socialists. They have discovered that they have scruples. They have seen violence and oppression at work, after having had only a fairly abstract idea of what those things were... Indeed, hope resides in this contradiction itself, because it is forcing or will force the Socialists to Choose. Either they will admit that the end covers the means, hence that murder can be legitimized, or else they will renounce Marxism as an absolute philosophy and limit their attention to the critical aspects, which is often still valuable.

His opposition to political violence has a lyrical foundation, not a moral one. He argues that the goodness of an individual must be rooted in an Absurd adherence to an illogical extemporal fantasy that they must stay in. Camus' writings are a nice thought experiment, but really have no philosophic value. He writes in Neither Victim nor Executioner:

"All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murders, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being. Since this terrible dividing line does actually exist, it will be a gain if it be clearly marked. Over the expanse of five continents throughout the coming years an endless struggle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion, a struggle in which, grated, the former has a thousand times the chances of success than that of the latter. But I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward. And henceforth, the honorable course will be to state everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful and munitions"

Socio-politically, he is trying to return to a Hellenistic political ideology, but disagrees with the search for Goodness itself; he selectively applies the Platonic logic he likes, and uses The Absurd as an excuse to dismiss any Platonic logic that contradicts his semi-Nihilism. This tension in his thinking leads him to political aporeticisim. While Neither victims nor executioners is my favorite non-fiction from Camus, his writings are nice thought experiments but have no real value in moving these philosophic or socio-economic debates forward beyond what Dostoevsky already argued.
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  tnewcomb | Jun 5, 2020 |
LIBRONIX SOFTWARE
  abdiel91 | Jun 4, 2020 |
A major discussion of justice and rights from leading Reformed political theologian and philosopher
  ajgoddard | Jun 5, 2020 |
When John Feinstein is at his best, he can be giving the play by play of a game I saw live, and I still find myself completely riveted, hanging on his every word with the irrational thought that maybe it will end differently this time around.
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  FooBoo732 | Jun 5, 2020 |
Jerry Ford and I shop in the same bookshop and I knew him back when he was teaching school and complaining at the shop that 'I can write a better book than these guys' and then he did! His first 6 books featured Detective Leo Waterman. Honestly, I was getting a little tired of Leo. But this book has a new hero - defrocked journalist, Frank Corso. Both his new hero and his new book are top drawer. Full of meaty story and fabulous characters. This is the book that he was talking about originally and he was right.… (more)
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  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
One truth is that when you pick up a novel by John Nance, you are guranteed a great read. While this isn't my favorite Nance, it's still a long ways from disappointing. Ben Cole is working on a scheme that would essentially enable unmanned fights but at the 11th hour a snag that makes no sense is causing him great worry. Meanwhile an expert private pilot out with his wife mysteriously crashes and the FAA slams him with negligence. Nance makes every bit of all of it fit together in a thrilling story.… (more)
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  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
There's a lot of interesting information in here for someone seeking a quick and dirty overview of the history of baseball. The structure is somewhat disorganized, however, and the book is sometimes repetitive and other times leaves out large chunks of information. All told, it reads like a selection of essays about the author's favorite (and least favorite) aspects of baseball history. Interesting, but not as good as it could have been.… (more)
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  FooBoo732 | Jun 5, 2020 |
Another excellent installment in this series. Can't wait for the next.
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  FooBoo732 | Jun 5, 2020 |
A very accessible (though clearly for US audience), thorough and wide-ranging introduction to key concepts from within the Roman Catholic tradition which is focussed on the 7 virtues and includes 4 case studies (on alcohol, war, sex and euthanasia). Developed from teaching students and helpful layout and questions with each chapter.
  ajgoddard | Jun 5, 2020 |
Not my favorite Pearson, but still really good mystery - set in Carmel, CA.
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  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
The full text of the Summa Theologica is on the web in English translation and Latin. Particular questions relating to ethics are in the First Part of the Second Part and the Second Part of the Second Part (Secunda Secundae Partis). This concise translation is probably the best way to engage Aquinas and the main ethics is found in Part Two, pp167-324. The discussion of natural law and law more widely is at pp280-307.… (more)
  ajgoddard | Jun 5, 2020 |
This second thriller by Boris Starling is as good as his first. DCI Kate Beauchamp is on a ferry when it sinks. This would be traumatic enough but now her estranged father is now investigating the disaster. She plunges herself into work in hopes of fighting off survivor's guilt and comes up against a horrific serial killer. There are actually more credibility leaps in this story than in his first, but Starling's story telling is compelling enough so that I forgive him totally.… (more)
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  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
Hannah Keller was the public information officer for the Miami Police Department on the day her parents were murdered. It was also the day her first novel was published. It was two years ago and now the case, never solved, has come back to haunt. I love all of James Hall's books and this one is nearly as good as the rest, but it does have a nearly fatal flaw. I am so weary of children being used as plot toys I could spit. You know from the first minute the kid is introduced that the plot will turn on the kid's safety. Kind of knocks the surprise element in the gut.… (more)
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  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
Major study of the place of natural law in the Reformed tradition (note that the thesis it is based on is free online - see online resources): Karl Barth and the displacement of natural law in contemporary Protestant theology -- Development of the natural-law tradition through the high Middle Ages -- John Calvin and the natural knowledge of God the Creator -- Peter Martyr Vermigli and the natural knowledge of God the Creator -- Natural law in the thought of Johannes Althusius -- Francis Turretin and the natural knowledge of God the Creator.… (more)
  ajgoddard | Jun 5, 2020 |
Another of the older titles that has been on my reading list too long. Some of this history is important to consider again, as the SATs were in theory going to be revamped again in 2019 before public backlash put the kibosh on the planned "adversity score" that test takers would also get. You can learn from this title that this feature was first devised in the middle 20th century! And some of what feels backwards about standardized testing as a student or a teacher did make more sense with detailed background about its inception. Still, it was a bit too fussy about including a play-by-play of the ETS Corporation when we didn't need that to get the overall point.… (more)
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  jonerthon | Jun 5, 2020 |
A good discussion from an evangelical perspective, introducing key concepts and different schools of contemporary Christian ethics from a Christian worldview perspective and also engaging with pluralism and postmodernity
  ajgoddard | Jun 4, 2020 |
An exciting discussion of the fruit of the Spirit which relates the virtues to the contemporary world.
  ajgoddard | Jun 5, 2020 |
Perhaps the best theological analysis of political concepts and institutions in recent decades. Also includes a helpful survey of Christian thinking on conscience (pp 301-8) which develops his earlier writing on this.
  ajgoddard | Jun 5, 2020 |
Judy W says very good
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  kingwoodbible | Jun 3, 2020 |
بغض النظر عن الكتابة باللغة العامية و التشبيهات التي تستحق [ الحرق ] لكنها رائعة !!
كنت هاستخسر فيها آخر نجمة بسبب الالفاظ و التشبيهات لكن تستحق !
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  Reem.Amgad | Jun 3, 2020 |
Strictly a no frills Marine Corp sniper book about action in Iraq. Though there are a couple good stories in the book, I found it to be a bit repetitive in a folksy way. I like a little more background in my books. I am quite familiar w Anbar Province, but it needs a couple maps for perspective. If perspective and insight is your thing, you won't find it in this book.
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  delta351 | Jun 3, 2020 |
This is one of the best books I haven't read in a long time! Seriously. I listened to it - on CD on my commute and towards the end, it was hard to get into work and hard not to sneak a listen in the middle of the day. This is Simon's first and I sure hope it isn't his last. New York native, Dan Reles is a detective on the Austin, Texas police force. The story is set in 1988 and Reles picks up the case of a drugged up hooker part of who's body was found in the woods. Those body parts started a wild story that was beautifully read by an actor named Scott Brick. It's a good thing I take the bus to work - driving and listening to this would have been dangerous to all.… (more)
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  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
The only downside to this book is that I cannot find any other books that A.J.Holt has written! FBI agent and experty computer hacker, Jay Fletcher is living happily in the witness protection program in Oregon learning glass blowing. Until the prey who put her there escapes and the chase is on again.
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  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
A textbook which distinctively combines both philosophical and theological approaches to develop a "matrix of Christian ethics" from authors based at Leuven.
  ajgoddard | Jun 5, 2020 |
Really great content! It's definitely showing it's age at this point (copyright 2006) but you can fill in the gaps pretty well by following the information provided here. Screenshots are outdated and the applications are different but the functionality is the same.
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  ehussong | Jun 3, 2020 |
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