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Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Empires Coming Apart, Oct. 18 2013
Adelman, a leading authority on Spanish-American relations throughout history, has written a masterful study on how the Spanish and Portuguese empires of the 18th and 19th centuries attempted to hold on to their colonial posssesion in the Americas. I am presently taking an online course with this very fine historian, and find that much of what he says about global power shifts plays out in this book. Identifying these two Bourbon empires as being in steep decline because of rising debt and diminishing foreign trade, Adelman proceeds to make a strong case for how it plays out between two very key poles: imperial sovereignty and regional revolution. Gone were the days when these two superpowers ruled the waves, dominated trade in the tropics and subdued their foes. The political leadership on the peninsula (peninsulars) had, by royal decree, vainly tried to limit the colonial merchants' burgeoning control of trade revenues abroad. By imposing mercantilistic tariffs on these traders in Iberian colonies like Venezuala and Colombia, the monarchy and Cortez indulged in a desperate tax grab. The main problem here is that Spain had no military means for protecting its trading rights. It was falling more and more into the hands of wealthy regional merchants, operating out of South American ports like Buenos Aires, had defied their Spanish overlords and engaged in open trade with the British at various points around the Americas like the River Plate estuary. The war of liberation in the Spanish colonies in the 1800s was led by people like Bolivar and San Martin who were part of that merchant class that was calling for a radical break with tbe mother country over the collecting of taxes and forced loans for keeping the Spanish monarchy afloat. Part of the book is devoted to why Portuguese Brazil did not experience the same revolutionary unrest over the issue of taxation without representation. Simply put, Portugal went out of its way to encourage Brazil to trade on its own, thus raising much needed trade revenue for Lisbon. Adelman's sholarship is both refreshing in its interpretation and thorough in its examination of the facts.

Burial Rites: A Novel
Burial Rites: A Novel
by Hannah Kent
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.18
41 used & new from CDN$ 3.87

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Complex Tale With a Tragic Twist, Oct. 14 2013
This review is from: Burial Rites: A Novel (Hardcover)
As a fan of top-quality historical fiction, I find Hannah Kent's interpretation of the harrowing life of Agnes Magnusdottir to be one rivetting tale of unmatched passion and feeling. Kent, by extensive research and skillful narrating, introduces her readers to the life and times of a woman who became the last person to be executed in Iceland in 1830. With a vivid and imaginative reconstruction of this young woman's unfortunate and unhappy life, Agnes is no longer a footnote in history who simply lived a hard life and died a violent death. What is truly remarkable is the way Kent very deftly combines a captivating description of Agnes' wretched past, oppressive present and ominous future, mostly in a first person voice. As an orphan, she has eeked out a miserable existence in the Fjordlands of Northwest Iceland for over thirty years. It is a time when poverty covers the land and women are considered nothing more than chattels and child-bearers. Life is cheap and short but Agnes has something going for her other than good luck. She is a smart, charming, self-educated girl which enables her to live as a workmaid on a number of farms in the valley. Unfortunately, she becomes caught up in a double murder, and the rigid, legalistic Icelandic society has condemned her and her partner to death by beheading. For the next six months, she will be lodged with a farming family, during which time Agnes will prepare to die. Bizarre as this situation may seem, Kent uses this time to allow a very special person to enter her desolated life: a young reform minister who has been assigned to guide her into the next life. Through his careful coaxing, she will unpack her story in the hope that she will understand its purpose and that he will understand that she isn't really a bad person. Undoubtedly, Agnes' life is the product of a very cruel and unfair environment, but this does not stop her from seeking somebody who will not desert her in her hour of need. As part of the heroic monument to her sad life, the nation has preserved the axehead that was used in her death. Kent is not only a gifted story-teller but she writes with a convincing grasp of the facts that allows her to fill in the spaces with very conceivable moments.

Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World: From 1000 CE to the Present (Third Edition) (Vol. 2) 3rd (third) Edition by Tignor, Robert, Adelman, Jeremy, Aron, Stephen, Kotkin, Step [2010]
Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World: From 1000 CE to the Present (Third Edition) (Vol. 2) 3rd (third) Edition by Tignor, Robert, Adelman, Jeremy, Aron, Stephen, Kotkin, Step [2010]
by Robert, Adelman, Jeremy, Aron, Stephen, Kotkin, Step Tignor
Edition: Loose Leaf
3 used & new from CDN$ 127.74

5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthwhile Acquisition, Oct. 9 2013
Over the years I have, unfortunately, had to purchase textbooks that had limited value. Once the courses were over, they were usually boxed and stored away in the basement. This book might be one that you want to keep on your shelf as an authoritative and well detailed portrayal of the world as its various civilizations interconnect over time. Though pricey as textbooks go, it offers one of the better treatments of world history from start to finish. After finishing Jeremy Adelman's course, offered through Coursera, I will likely seek out a used copy through Amazon just as a reference. Here are some features that highlight this publication: the text is easy to follow; its commentary top-rate; the findings plausible; the study-guide questions found within the chapters are very helpful; and the supplemental references potentially useful for subsequent research. It also helps that its contents are the combined efforts of a team of respected historians including Tignor and Adelman who have written extensively in their subject area.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (May 7 2013)
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (May 7 2013)
by Jack Gantos
Edition: Paperback
7 used & new from CDN$ 11.63

5.0 out of 5 stars Strange Place to Call Home, Oct. 6 2013
What a neat first-hand account of growing up in Pennsylvania coal country during the early days of the Cold War. Norvelt is a town created by FDR New Dealers during the Great Depression to house unemployed miners and their families while waiting for the economy to recover. I first heard about this Newbery-award winning author when I listened to the Diane Rehm's show on NPR a couple of weeks back. In this story, "Dead End in Norvelt", the reader is introduced to Jack's zany world of adventure where, as a young boy, he either makes his own fun or tags along with a bunch of old foggies as they end their days in a town that is disappearing house by house. Gantos takes every liberty to make sure the reader appreciates the humor of some very bizarre situations a young boy finds himself in as he seeks adventure in the crazy world of a town full of oddballs, rogues, and control freaks. Amazingly, no dark night of soul confessions here. Jack seems to take everything in stride. After all, he is just a fun-loving kid who has no problem entering his father's world of guns, medals, war and flight, and even creates some of his own fantasies as he tries to ward off interfering, controlling types like his mother, neighbours and teachers. When that doesn't work, he finds himself as the gofor cum chauffeur for the town's biggest bully and gossip in the person of ancient Miss Volker, who still acts as the medical examiner and chronicler of local history. Jack becomes her faithful scribe as she gleefully prepares the obits for the dearly departed who have been dying recently in larger numbers than usual. She definitely wants to be the last person to switch out the lights on a town with a lot of bad memories and no future. In the midst of the walking dead, Jack never loses the ability to dream about a coming day when he will, eventually, break free like his father when he took off in his home-made plane from the backyard of their home. Great story in the vein of Roald Dahl's "Boy".

Price: CDN$ 7.87

4.0 out of 5 stars A Credible Whodunnit Political Thriller, Oct. 4 2013
This review is from: Deadline (Kindle Edition)
I have just finished reading Maher's first novel and am satisfied that it contains enough heavy action and intrigue to qualify as a decent political thriller, even without a glowing recommendation by columnist Andrew Coyne of Macleans. The first part of the novel describes our national capital, Ottawa, about to become entangled in a doosie of a political scandal: a lesser-known ministerial aide has been found badly beaten and dumped in the Rideau Canal, and the governing Conservatives are about to become embroiled in a very nasty leadership campaign to replace the retiring prime minister. The assault has strangely attracted the attention of party organizers of one of the candidates for whom the stricken assistant worked. They appear to be more eager than the local police to get their hands on the victim's BlackBerry to review its contents and conduct a security scrub. In the middle of this commotion, a young lead reporter from St.John's, named Jack Macdonald, is doing his own snooping around because he was the last person seen with Ed before he turned up half-drowned in the Rideau Canal and a definite person of interest. Before this story concludes, three hundred pages later, the taint of political corruption will reach well beyond Parliament Hill, touching the personal lives of cabinet ministers, ministerial aides, the RCMP, CSIS, gangsters, journalists, call-girls, and family members, all somehow directly or indirectly involved in a significant breach of national security that involves a foreign oil company and an unsolved murder in Ft. MacMurray, Alberta. The net will be cast very widely on this one. Even those who initially appear the innocent victims of a concerted effort to cover up wrongdoing and impropriety will, themselves, become party to an even more sinister conspiracy of silence in return for reward. This novel is full of surprises awaiting the reader who has never ventured inside the whacky world of national politics Ottawa-style. Information in this setting is only valuable if it can put one at an advantage over one's opponents by leveraging influence. The old boy's network in the RCMP is certainly working overtime in this story; the implications of which, if only partially true in the real world, might pose a serious threat to the future of democracy in this country. I eagerly await Maher's next literary work.

The Way Back [Blu-ray + DVD]
The Way Back [Blu-ray + DVD]
Price: CDN$ 19.77
17 used & new from CDN$ 11.42

2.0 out of 5 stars A Hollywood Action Drama With Some Credibility Issues, Oct. 3 2013
This movie, while billed as a stunning portrayal of human courage, heroism and survival instincts, lacks a credible plot and character development. Having read the controversial book behind the film, I was hoping that Weir would have worked some of his renowned magic and transformed an unwieldy, disjointed and unlikely tale of a mass escape from a Stalinist prison camp deep in Sibera into a fascinating adventure of discovery and triumph. That never happened, as far as I can see. The film simply followed the book, trying to recreate a lot out of nothing, accompanied by small talk and startling moments here and there. Working against this film is the fact that it isn't what it claims to be: it is not based on a true story so out the window goes any chance of learning something about the truth of history. Like the original author, Weir, the filmmmaker, may be just trying to win the viewers' confidence by wowing them with natural scenery, a fantastic storyline, and a feel-good outcome. Without any serious character development where individuals reveal their true human spirit under great hardship, this movie is a flop. Topping up the cast with big names like Farrell and Harris does little to conceal the fact that the movie is just as poorly conceived and loosely constructed as the book itself. The triumphing of the human spirit has to have a solid story to go with it in order to be convincing.

Dorco Pace 6 Plus- Six Blade Razor System with Trimmer - Value Pack (10 Pack+ 1 Handle)
Dorco Pace 6 Plus- Six Blade Razor System with Trimmer - Value Pack (10 Pack+ 1 Handle)

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Product Based On Limited Trials, Sept. 28 2013
As someone who has been looking for a better shaving system for the last while, the Dorco definitely does it for me: clean and smooth cutting action; for someone who sports a very noticeable five o'clock shadow, I need a razor that has stronger cutting power than what is presently available in the stores. The Dorco Pace 6, for me, is a noticeable improvement over the competition but that is only my impression after a few shaves. The product has to be better with an extra couple of blades. My only concern here is that if I buy into the Dorco system what will happen to this introductory price and will I be able to get it locally if the need ever arises?

The Queen of Versailles
The Queen of Versailles
DVD ~ Virginia Nebab
Price: CDN$ 12.99
8 used & new from CDN$ 12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Big Dreams, Empty Bubbles, Sept. 26 2013
This review is from: The Queen of Versailles (DVD)
This docudrama covers the rise and fall of the Siegel time-share empire in Florida over three decades. Here is a man who took the time-share concept from its infancy in the eighties to meteoric heights in the early 21st century. Many of us who visited Orlando during this time encountered the sales pitch - 10% down and the rest on your credit card - that basically promised family affordable digs for one week or more a year while holidaying in one of twenty-eight luxury resorts around the world. While that part of the story is well known, filmmaker Lauren Greenfield shares a less known one with her film. She goes inside the private life of the Siegal family as their empire soared in the nineties only to badly falter in 2008. The film focuses on how David and Jackie came together in the oddest of ways - he a twice divorced man with a grown family and huge ambitions to make money and she a much younger person with a desire to have children and spend lavishly. Working together they came up with a concept of a dream home called Versailles, modeled after the original in France. Nothing was spared in fitting this 90,000 sq. ft. mansion to replicate the original. Jackie and her brood indulge in no end of frivolous and excessive spending on every imaginable bauble: clothing, jewelry, electronics, food, pets and toys. Nothing is spared. When Jackie goes shopping, she is definitely shopholic to the nth degree: twelve of everything and only the very best for this oversized mansion. Everything is sumptuous to the point of over the top. When the viewer has had enough of the good life, the film then switches to the 'awful' downside as the Siegal world starts to crash. Banks call in loans, thousands of telemarketers are laid off, assets are auctioned for pennies on the dollar and the Siegel family lifestyle becomes quickly reduced. While some of this declension is tragic, there are opportunities to have a few chuckles at the Siegels' expense. Since money is their god, they just don't get it when there is a lot less to spend. Jackie definitely mirrors the attitude of Marie Antoinette who can't stop spending even when the treasury is broke and the bills are piling up. This film is an excellent cameo of a family that is in shock, denial, and stupefaction over this sudden reversal of fortunes. The film does a credible job in panning the neighbourhood to give the viewer the true outside scale of Versailles before going inside to show how hollow the dream really is in all its unfinishedness. At least with the Gatsby mansion it was lived in: Versailles II looked like an architectural folly based on some egomaniac's notion of self-worth. Have fun with this movie because, like Donald Trump, the Siegals have survived the downturn and are now on their way back to fame and fortune a little sadder but wiser for the years they faced having to live on less and mingle with the common folk.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel
by Mohsin Hamid
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.87
39 used & new from CDN$ 14.85

4.0 out of 5 stars The Fallacy Behind the Dream, Sept. 26 2013
India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its success, in the digital information age, is due to a large, well-educated workforce being available to push product, run computers, and promote new ideas. This new influx of workers consists of young, energetic and hopeful individuals who believe they have left poverty behind for a future of wealth and prosperity. Hamid's novel is about this middle-class journey that involves an evolving story of one man's dreams as they emerge from the aridity of abject poverty, flourish for a time in the fertility of a growing marketplace, only to flounder in the cruel world of colliding interests and unintended circumstances. The world Hamid describes is fast-paced, full of opportunity and risk, with no guarantee of ultimate success. Paralleling the narrative is an ongoing reference to the self-help book industry that attempts to sell Indian youth on the prospects of becoming wealthy if they only learn to take charge of their own lives. As the main character buys into the mantra of believing leads to achieving, he quickly learns that he has moved into a very dangerously competitive world full of dreamers like himself prepared to push the envelope at all costs. While he builds his water purification company by encroaching on the competition, he is forever haunted by somebody in his past that got the whole dream started in the first place: a young, "beautiful" aspiring actress who is chasing her own dream. Though they have feelings for each other, there is no chance of love here because everything revolves around getting ahead. I would classify this novel as an important psychological statement about what is happening in the new India as it wrestles with economic success. There are no quick ways to success in this very ancient and complex society that is currently going through a major growth spurt of modernization.

1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West
1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West
by Roger Crowley
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.24
36 used & new from CDN$ 7.62

5.0 out of 5 stars Holding Out Against Incredible Odds, Sept. 22 2013
Amateur historian Crowley has done a first-rate job in presenting the full dimensions of the siege and battle preceding the fall of Constantinople in May, 1453. This book is worth a read if for no other reason than it lays out in graphic detail the intense preparation involved on both sides in mounting the attack and withstanding it. There are plenty of stories of personal bravery, cunning and duplicity emerging from this conflict. The reader is apprised each step of the way as to why the Turks, under Sultan Melmet, were intent, to the point of desperation, on seizing this Byzantine giant of a city tauntingly sitting out there on the cusp of the Ottoman Empire. Built back in the time of the first Emperor Constantine, Constantinople was seen as the eastern capital of the Roman Empire. As the Roman influence in Anatolia declined, the Byzantine Empire replaced it and became the defender of western Christianity against the onslaught of infidel Islam. It grew to become a major entrepot linking trade routes between the Orient and Levant. Finally, in the 1430s, the Ottomans got serious about capturing the city. Helping them was the fact that the city itself, while naturally protected against a conventional invasion, was seriously undermanned and under provisioned to withstand a long siege. In the months leading up to the eventual capitulation in late May, much of the time was spent trying to outsmart the other side by trying to breach the walls or lift the siege. Nothing is spared in this book as to the savagery of war. Those unfortunately caught were usually summarily executed by hanging, impaling or beheading and their bodies left to rot out on the ramparts for the enemy to see. Those who failed to carry out the wishes of the Melmet met a similar fate. Crowley makes a strong case for believing that Constantinople may have been saved if Rome and the various Italian states sent reinforcements at a time when the attacking Turks were waning in their resolve. In the end, the city was doomed for a combination of reasons: superior firepower on the other side; the lack of an effective counter-offensive; lack of coordinated support from Genoa and Venice, its two major trading partners; and the persistence of the sultan to gain the city as launching pad for attacking Europe. A couple of facts discussed in this study deserve mention as to the size and practicality of sieges: over a critical four day period in May, 1453, it was estimated that the Turkish Janissary had to dispose of thousands of gallons of urine and thousands of tons of solid waste. If the Greeks had been able to wait out a little longer, an outbreak of cholera could have effectively done the trick and saved the city.

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