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Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)
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Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600-1850
Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600-1850
by Linda Colley
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.16
29 used & new from CDN$ 8.53

5.0 out of 5 stars Demytholigizing History, Feb. 4 2014
As someone who was raised on the notion that the Second British Empire was built on heroism, pluck and industry, it has taken a number of years to disabuse myself of that myth. While the concept of Pax Britannica may be real in terms of its great cultural scope and international impact in history, there is another side to the legend that needs to be addressed in order to achieve accuracy and balance. In "Captives" Professor Colley of Princeton University offers us a very informative and highly critical study about another side of British imperialism that, while not so glamorous, might be more instructive as to who the true heroes were. Over three centuries, the British Empire came together on the backs of English common citizens who often ventured out in the great beyond looking for a new life only to find themselves held captive by circumstances beyond their control: marooned, imprisoned, attacked, exploited, tortured and, ultimately, killed in the name of some great design they often didn't comprehend. The stories here are ones that involve unwitting fortune seekers who showed enormous courage to hang in there under very perilous circumstances until their luck changed. The mark of many of these people - settlers, mariners, traders, soldiers - was that they likely contributed more to the success of the spread of British international influence than any victories achieved in the field or on the high seas. However, as Colley shows, these individuals moved out into an uncertain world where their determination to survive in a strange land would often make them victims twice over: death and privation in captivity and fuel for the propaganda mill back home. Those whose actions, like the pathetic, free-booter Governor Wall, did not match the political ideal of what made for a virtuous and heroic Briton, were often vilified and, ultimately, tossed on the ashpile of history. What has, fortunately, preserved the record of these singularly-minded persons was that their little-known accomplishments often ended up in personal diaries, journals and popular novels of the times. Colley makes an excellent case for seeing the Empire as the gradual outcome of how many different people and groups responded to extraordinary circumstances facing them, governments being no exception. While being born out of an assumption of epic greatness, the British Empire was so much more going on underneath the surface.

The Damned United [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
The Damned United [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Michael Sheen
Price: CDN$ 16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Life of the Other Brian, Feb. 2 2014
This is one blockbuster of a story that crosses four decades of English football from the lowliest of the low in the third division all the way up to the top of the premier table. It involves the irrepressible life of one of England’s most gifted strikers, Brian Clough, as he moved into the role of manager of proverbial basement dwellers Derby City and transformed them into league champions at the very top. His prowess for the game, complemented by the leadership skills of his friend, Peter, were enough to take losers and turn them into winners. The problem with this formula was that it often ran afoul with the establishment in the form of management and that traditional cross-county nemesis, Leeds United, England’s powerhouse soccer team. Clough, as a manager, had a vision that amounted to his way or the highway when it came to people who stood in the way of success because of inflated egos. Success at Derby quickly turned into disaster because of his unwillingness to kowtow to management. The moment of truth in the film comes when Clough inherits the ‘plum’ job of taking over the reins at Leeds without the help of his friend and alter-ego, Peter. The project fails mainly because Clough is deemed to be unable to continue a winning tradition with a successful team. All his dash and cockiness would not save him because he was, in fact, attempting to do something that he wasn’t equipped to do: function outside his own comfort zone. When he realized this, he became reconciled with Peter, his public face, who helped him become the renowned manager for Nottingham Forest and England, finally slaying the dragon from Leeds that had bothered him all those years. There is lots of action in this movie that portrays the game of soccer as it is played at different levels in England and during different periods. This was the era just before the big transfer fees and TV coverage.

Teddy Bear
Teddy Bear
Price: CDN$ 25.82
22 used & new from CDN$ 15.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Falling in Love in Thailand, Jan. 31 2014
This review is from: Teddy Bear (DVD)
This is the second Danish movie I’ve watched in the past year, and each time I have been very taken with a very poignant storyline that deals with big themes in a down-to-earth yet creative manner. In this one, the story is all about Dennis, an over-the-hill champion bodybuilder who still lives at home under the thumb of a very domineering mother. There are stark opposites at work in this movie: Dennis’ imposing frame of an over-juiced body stands in direct contrast to those around him like a domineering wisp of a self-centered mother and a petite loving Thai girlfriend who really feels for him. His physique belies the fact that he is deep down a very shy and ingenuous individual who has never had a girlfriend. The battle for his affections will be fought over by these two unlikely foes from very different parts of the world. Dennis, thirty-eight years old, wants to be loved in a reciprocal and caring way but everything he has tried to date, including prostitutes has failed. Then one day, he gets his inspiration when he attends the wedding of his elderly uncle who is marrying a much younger lady from Thailand. This is where the adventure begins. He will have to plan a secret trip to Bangkok to try out his uncle’s success. This shy teddy bear of a man will have to elude the clutches of his very possessive mother who can’t bare to do without him. When that is done, it is on to Thailand and the search for happiness, with many moments of high comedy awaiting him. All the way through this drama, Dennis encounters people who are willing to take him to the next step. When he finally brings his sweetheart home to Copenhagen, he will be on his own when it comes to facing his narcissistic mother. That will be the moment of truth that many of us have had to face when it comes to making those irrevocable decisions to leave one’s past behind.

Mount Pleasant
Mount Pleasant
by Don Gillmor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.78
21 used & new from CDN$ 2.38

4.0 out of 5 stars The Answer Lies Within, Jan. 26 2014
This review is from: Mount Pleasant (Hardcover)
This is the first Gillmor novel I've read and it certainly won't be the last one. Gillmor, in this lively story, creates a believable protagonist in the person of baby boomer Harry Salter and an equally fascinating plot to go with him from start to finish. One, Harry is a typical late middle-age, dissatisfied Canadian who, as an untenured academic at a local college, faces piles of debt and an uncertain future. Two, Harry has a way out of his troubles, so he thinks. He will inherit the old wealth of his recently departed father, and all will be well. That is, until he discovers to his shock that all he has coming to him is a scandalously paltry thirteen thousand dollars when the will is finally divulged. He knows something has gone terribly wrong, and for the next two hundred pages will launch his own investigation to find the answers. It will entail persistent digging into the suspicious activities of the bank his dad worked for and invested in over the years as he tries to tease the truth out its less-than-helpful officers. Along the way he and his wife, Gladys, will discover that not only are their financial affairs in rough shape but their marriage and family are on equally shaky ground. Things are becoming so critical that if the ever resourceful and determined Harry doesn't recover his inheritance soon, he could be ruined. When his search finally confirms the worst that he and other potential beneficiaries of the will have been royally defrauded, the real answer to his problems suddenly reveals itself in the Toronto housing market. In this morass of human deceit and manipulation is something that can refloat their lives but they have to make an important decision to change. Gillmor seems to be telling his readers that those who overcome their negative circumstances are those who refuse to be controlled by them. The Mt. Pleasant in this novel refers to a decision to return to a lifestyle whose substance is not found in the abundance of things we have or want but in the joy of learning to live with less.

An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts
An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts
by James Tully
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 41.56
18 used & new from CDN$ 33.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Lock on Locke, Jan. 23 2014
Tully, a renowned authority on modern political philosophy introduces us to the complex world of Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. Using Locke’s “Two Treatises on Government” as his main reference, Tully shows how two traditionally conflicting concepts - common and personal property - can be effectively reconciled when it comes to defining our role as individuals in the state. Back during the time of Charles II, Locke advocated the need for a written constitution that would help define the personal rights and freedoms of the individual within the realm. Opposing him were those thinkers like Sir Robert Filmer who maintained that the ultimate authority of the state could only be defined by denying the individual the right to enjoy his natural liberty as a precondition for national sovereignty. The individual’s freedom of expression, movement, ownership and use of property exist only by way of consent of the king. The right to do whatever one wants is severely limited by the need to be loyal to the interests of those overseeing the realm. Like in Hobbe’s “Leviathan", humankind is constrained to obey out of fear of serious punishment. Locke disagreed with this view because it ultimately contributed civil unrest as it pertained to matters of religious and political dissent. His solution to this conflict between natural and juridical rights was to have parliament frame a constitution that recognized the right of the common man to inalienable rights to be himself within the greater context of responsibility to the state when it came to matters of loyalty, taxation, and service. That would mean that people could revolt if the government of the day trampled on their rights to religious freedom, land, and dissent. Though England never got that formally written constitution Locke was angling for, his tempered Whiggish view of a more balanced polity where the will of the people was recognized as a necessary check against tyranny eventually won the day. I found this study to be enormously helpful in encouraging me to take another look at the state of politics in a contemporary setting. It is a well-written, very thought-provoking work that can be applied even to modern political tensions. The objective wisdom of Locke's political empiricism definitely has a place in modern statecraft.

Unbearable Lightness Of Being
Unbearable Lightness Of Being
by Milan Kundera
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
60 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Becoming Somebody Other Than Our Old Selves, Jan. 20 2014
This is the story of Tomaz and Tereza as it unfolds in the modern state of Czechoslovakia over three generations. In this complex novel, Kundera looks at how relationships over time can transform individuals as to how they connect with the greater society, the state, the family, lovers, and even animals. All bases in life get covered here as Kundera ponders some of the bigger mysteries of life as to who we are as we grow apart and come together through forces we often don't understand. In all this coming and going, we should not pretend to live to ourselves because that is a sure recipe for self-destruction as seen in the sordid side story about Stalin's son dying in a German POW camp. Freedom comes from allowing oneself to be consumed in the many reshaping vicissitudes of life that involve such tensions as loyalty versus betrayal, love versus hatred, life versus death, and confidence versus fear. Tomas and Tereza's torrid, hot and cold love affair will take them all over Europe, far away from their native land, in a desperate search for happiness. Only in the end will they realize that they must return to the place of least security: a Czechoslovakia in the grips of a Communist backlash. Even with all their accumulated moments of angst and uncertain love in the past, this couple can't exist apart as they look into the future. This book is loaded with Nietzchean views as to what can traditionally stand in the way as we allow the future to remake us in the great march through time. The storyline is an emotional roller-coaster that only makes sense as the main characters move forward in their search for bigger meaning and purpose in a life threatening to pull them apart.

NEW Fightville (DVD)
NEW Fightville (DVD)
Offered by Now Showing DVD's
Price: CDN$ 17.07
21 used & new from CDN$ 12.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Only a Few Succeed, Jan. 17 2014
This review is from: NEW Fightville (DVD) (DVD)
Never being a fan of extreme fighting, I have always wondered why people buy into this sport either as a combatant or participant. It truly strikes me as a blood sport that attempts to combine boxing, martial arts and wrestling inside a cage. This film takes the viewer inside the strange world of ultimate fighting at the local level in an attempt to educate them as to its various pros and cons. The setting is one of America’s poorest, downtrodden postal codes - the swampy Louisiana bayou - and its denizens an assortment of trailer park types trying to eke out a living by whatever means possible. Out of this milieu comes a special breed of fighter who has bought into the ultimate fighter culture: beat, kick and knock your opponent into submission. The filmmaker here looks at several young men who are preparing to fight or brawl locally just for a chance to, eventually, make it to the big time and realize the so-called big pay-off. Each of their lives is examined as to what has motivated them to enter this very demanding pugilistic circuit. What seems to be the common thread here is a troubled youth, the lack of a father figure, grinding poverty, prevalence of crime, and the desperate need to realize the dream and start life anew. Some like Diamond Poirier will make it while others won't. This candid look at the low-end of a controversial sport offers a very entertaining, albeit cautionary, tale that attempts to balance the good with the bad.

Secrets of Highclere Castle
Secrets of Highclere Castle
Price: CDN$ 26.99
25 used & new from CDN$ 17.17

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Look Inside Baronial Majesty at Its Best, Jan. 13 2014
This review is from: Secrets of Highclere Castle (DVD)
For all you Downtown Abbey fans this is a must-see documentary. It takes you out into the pleasant sylvan countryside of southern England to the sprawling country estate of the Carnarvons, the setting for the popular television series on earlier baronial times. I enjoyed watching it for a number of reasons, none directly related, however, to the making of this series. One, the filming is superb in what it captures about the dimensions of this demesne: it is huge, plenteous, well managed, and very prominently positioned both geographically and historically. For the original earl to receive this land from William back in 1689, he must have been very important in the realm. Two, this documentary goes into exquisite detail over the exterior and interior architecture of the main residence back then and the attempts of the present lord and lady to renovate and upgrade. To their credit, they have turned their holdings into a major cash-generating enterprise rather than ceded to the National Trust to cover estate taxes. This way, the property remains theirs and the name lives on. Three, the documentary looks at some of the quaint practices that are maintained to this day: gamekeeping, butlering, and gardening. Four, the history of the last several earls is incorporated into a lively story of charm, intrigue, and valor. This mansion served as an important military hospital during the first world war. For those of us who like a dose of old England from time to time, this well-narrated film should do the trick.

The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House
The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 20.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Artful Man Behind the Throne, Jan. 11 2014
This is a major political study that has been around for quite awhile; I’ve just not the time to read it though it comes packed with some incredible insights into the Nixon years as seen through the eyes of Henry Kissinger, consummate statesman, astute politician, and international strategist. From this seminal work on the role of one man on the operations of modern government comes some very well-made points. First, Kissinger never did anything on behalf of the country that didn’t help him put his own irrevocable stamp on policy and determine the direction in which the country was going internationally. Hersh casts Kissinger as that Napoleonic opportunist who had the uncanny ability to survey the political and geopolitical landscape and know where to insert himself as a big player in a timely fashion. One such moment came with Nixon’s election as president in 1968. By a lot of self-promotion and micro-machinating, Kissinger, a prominent authority on US foreign policy, got the plum job as National Security adviser to what many considered a very mentally unbalanced president. This well-researched, in-depth study takes us through six turbulent years in the White House where Kissinger was busy trying to manage a number of key international files like Vietnam, Israel, Chile, China and Salt II in a way that solidified his place in history as a great negotiator for peace and someone committed to neutralizing Nixon’s sinister designs on foreign affairs wherever possible. Those who work with Kissinger in a very dysfunctional White House never knew where they stood when discussing options for making the world a safer place for America. Over the course of this man’s role as Nixon’s alter-ego, the country struggled to get out of Vietnam, to force the Soviets to agree to meaningful nuclear arms reduction, and maintain the status of honest broker in middle-east peace talks.

Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945-1965
Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945-1965
by Michael Burleigh
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.83
40 used & new from CDN$ 1.31

4.0 out of 5 stars The Little Foxes that Spoil the Vine, Jan. 8 2014
This former academic-turned-popular historical writer likes to spice up his take on history with lots of his own less-than-flattering editorial comments on the actions of the big operators or greats. Converting the abstract and complex ideas of his favourite topics of totalitarianism or anti-colonial wars into a readable tale seems to be Burleigh’s new modus operandi. Over the past decade I have traced his transition from being an ivory-towered theoretician at the University of Virginia to becoming a decent popularizer of modern history, and I have noticed several things happening. One, his use of florid language and purple prose to make a point have become considerably restrained; two, as he assumes his new role of writer of history for the common man, his comments are blunter and punchier. The analysis of earlier works is now replaced by a lot of imperial judgments that appear to go beyond the context of the story: Eden’s mental health, Bevin’s purported ugliness, DeGaulle’s iciness, Roosevelt's naivete, Truman's obstinacy, MacArthur’s silliness, and on and on it goes. Burleigh has definitely freed himself from the traces of academic rigor and charted his own course for bringing history down to street level. In this book, he does not shy away from selling us on what he believes is a big idea whose time has come: for too long, historians have looked at the Cold War from a top-down perspective. That meant always seeing world events through the filters of the super-powers, namely the USA and the Soviet Union. He quickly points out that, while the events that transpired at this level were really anything but earth-shaking, the main actors behind them weren’t. Global movers and shakers like Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, Attlee, Kennedy, Truman, Khrushchev, Mao, and Eisenhower were really men with clay feet, largely controlled by the ideological and economic systems of the Cold War that divided them and the tinpot dictators whose backing they craved. Burleigh would like us to believe that it was the ongoing sideshow of anti-colonial conflicts such as Korea, Congo, Philippines, Cuba and Vietnam that did more to define where history was going than any nuclear showdown between Washington and Moscow. The world during the fifties and sixties, as the author sees it, was a badly fractured affair with the forces of anti-colonialism having a heyday playing for the affections of the superpowers. While I appreciate Burleigh’s efforts to create more balance in our understanding of history, he tends to do it by taking, at times, character swipes or cheap shots at its main players in order to make his point.

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