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Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)
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The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World
The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World
by George Prochnik
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.90
44 used & new from CDN$ 7.32

5.0 out of 5 stars A Lierary Venture Into Death, Jan. 2 2015
In an attempt to make sense of why Zweig, one of Europe's consummate modern writers, along with his wife Lotta, committed suicide in 1942 in the suburbs of Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Prochnik delves into four decades of his many literary achievements. What he finds is both a complex and tortured soul who had a consuming passion for life matched only by a desire to share it with others. Throughout his writing career, as a dramatist, novelist, critic and raconteur the Austrian Zweig was intensely interested in a humanistic way about learning how others lived and celebrated life in all its aesthetic forms - music, theater, conversation, novel, poetry and history. While some of his critics might be justified in calling him a kind of literary stalker cum parasite intent on exploiting the secret joys of others, Prochnik shows a more profound side to the man's character. As a humanist who promoted the importance of culturally developing the most complete and well-rounded individual on which to anchor society's values, Zweig tended to identify with the bon vivant element who were willing to discuss the nobler things in life: national spirit, pathos, courage, ecstasy and tolerance. As a member of a wealthy Austrian Jewish family of immense influence going back generations, he found the old capital city of Vienna as that magical place that best encouraged that freedom of literary and social expression that allowed people at all levels to aspire to being great. He may have naively thought that his verve for life was enough to withstand the cultural radicalization that Nazism brought to the Greater Germany in the 1930s. What he quickly learned was that Hitler and his perversion of national culture was not in the least bit interested in sharing the field with Zweig and his kind. By 1941, he and his second wife were exiles on the run looking for a new home in the West. A good portion of this study is devoted to looking at how difficult it was for the Zweigs to fit into their new life, bereft as they were of traditional props like friends, values, books, and surroundings. They were truly left stranded in a part of the world that did not understand their mission in life to preserve and promote traditional European culture as the most ideal way of creating a truly renaissance man. All the bridges that Zweig burned in the thirties, as he moved from Vienna to the south of France to London to New York City to Los Angeles and, finally, Brazil in search of greater freedom of expression and joie de vivre, represented a journey of no return that could only end the way it did. He divested himself of wealth, books, his first wife, friends, and vision as he sought security from the thing he feared the most would destroy humanity: a petty distrust for individual expression in its most creative forms.

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heroic in History, Dec 27 2014
The ideal way to understand a person's role in history is to define it in the context of key events as they fit together in time and space. Journalist Scott Anderson has done a thorough job in accurately piecing together the complex life and times of one of the early 20th century romantic knights-errant, T. E. Lawrence. To start with, the many myths about his larger-than-life prowess - found in "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" - are effectively clarified rather than discounted. Everything from his harsh upbringing to his masochistic tendencies to his sexuality to his valor to his cruelty are grist for the mill of historical analysis. Yes, Lawrence was a very solitary man with unique ability who really did play a very important part in leading the Hashemite tribes of Arabia in revolt against Turkey during World War I, but that is only part of a bigger story that often doesn't get told because the character of Lawrence gets in the way. Once the reader understands the big picture of how the Allied forces of Britain and France double-dealt the Arabs, through a serious of backroom deals, Lawrence's part in the conflict as the man of the hour becomes less heroic. As part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, Lawrence first found himself out in the Middle-East involved in archaeological digs, always seen as a front for clandestine military activities. His phenomenal knowledge of the Arab world made him an official envoy for the British in the Arabian peninsula. His close contact with the Hussein family led to hatching an uprising that would overthrow the Turks by liberating the region from within and make them the new rulers. The problem here was that Britain and France were not sure how they wanted to pursue a mandate of protectorship for the Muslim world once the war was over. The aftermath to the Sykes-Picot Memorandum of 1916 was evidence that London and Paris had other things in mind than simply living up to a promise to turn over rule to the Hussein family. While fighting intensified on the Western Front in Europe, the Allies were still looking for a way to knock out Turkey by helping the Arabs push out the Turks. Using mainly guerrilla tactics in late 1917, Lawrence and Faisal reclaimed a number of key towns along the Red Sea before moving inland across the desert to knock out key Turkish installations such as railways and forts. Undoubtedly, Lawrence through all this was a brave and inspiring leader who tried to remain loyal to Arab interests wherever possible. Anderson, however, points out that there came a time when British influence in the region shifted to include the future aspirations of Zionist Jews in Palestine at the expense of Palestinians and Syrians. It is at this point in the story that Lawrence becomes a very haunted and driven man who will resort to any tactic - even wanton cruelty - to make sure the Arab people don't get squeezed out when it comes to dividing the spoils of war. To make things even more interesting, this book explores the lives of three other adventurers - an American envoy, a British Zionist spy, and a German diplomat - who were just as important as Lawrence in how this geopolitical drama continued to play out. Decisions were made back then at the highest levels of power that were nothing short of ill-conceived chicanery which continue to play out today as world powers struggle to broker a peace in the Middle-East where no trust exists between the contending factions. This book is worth the read for how it attempts to show that history is a very complex and troubling study especially when politicians attempt to do the expedient rather than the right thing. I see Lawrence today as one of those individuals who did everything in his power - even helping to create the myth of the desert fighter - to keep the romantic cause of freedom and chivalry alive in a century that was quickly turning to mechanized war. In the end, the reader sees Lawrence and the other three 'horsemen' quickly exit stage left once their mission is over.

180 Degrees South [Import]
180 Degrees South [Import]
Price: CDN$ 29.95
7 used & new from CDN$ 21.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Adventure Really Begins When Things Go Wrong, Dec 24 2014
This review is from: 180 Degrees South [Import] (DVD)
I thoroughly enjoyed watching this documentary cum travelogue of Jeff Johnson's recent journey to the bottom of the world. For someone who is well acquainted with outdoor adventure, this voyage to the Chilean side of the southern-most tip of the Patagonia offered Johnson and his team incredible opportunities to view some extraordinary scenery, travel across challenging landscape, visit with indigenous people, spend time with two renowned mountaineers of the area, and enjoy some major surf along the way. This is a land of jagged mountains, coastal fjords, pleasant river valleys, wide plateaus, and lonely beaches, and the ultimate goal was to get there in time to climb one of its more difficult peaks: Cerro Corcavado. To get there was not easy: for Jeff it meant sailing thousands of miles of rough seas through the South Pacific via Easter Island, while his partners drove an old Westfalia down the west coast of South America through all kinds of rugged terrain. When they finally arrived at their destination, after surviving numerous misadventures, they met their heroes Chouinard and Tompkins who were the first to climb the mountain back in 1968 and now reside in its shadows. Their time with these two famous ecologists/mountain climbers, before ascending the mountain and trying out the surf, was a real eye-opener as to what people can do to help preserve pristine wilderness from further man-made encroachment. This fragile environment, if the Chilean coastline to the north is anything to go by, could easily have been threatened by the construction of hydro dams and logging operations but for efforts of these two individuals and supporters around the world to buy up land and have it designated as wilderness park. I would recommend this film to anyone who wants to see how globetrotting should be handled both as a learning curve and an opportunity to enjoy the majesty and power of the great outdoors.

Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on thePla net
Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on thePla net
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Price: CDN$ 12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Tribute to the Natural World Around Us, Dec 20 2014
As an aficionado cum authority on everything to do with the realm of the honeybee, apiarist Susan Brackney provides us with a lively and colorful description of life inside the hive. Every last imaginable detail gets covered as to how bees in their millions perform the critical role in society both as pollinators and suppliers of honey. Each member of the hive - queen, workers, drones - is described in very human terms as to their specific and collective responsibilities in insuring things follow a natural order. To make sure that the hive is sustainable as a unit, there is the time-honored position of beekeeper who must be alert to any internal or external threats that might shorten its life. The plan is deceptively simple yet very complex when analyzed: building the hive is a labor of love; gathering the nectar by many miles of travel, producing offspring is an involved mating routine, feeding the young is very engrossing; making honey and wax is an anatomical science; and keeping the place clean is a matter of meticulous dedication. You can't get more basic than that when it comes to being a busy bee. But here comes the rub: There are those of us who are so taken with this little winged insect that our curiosity wants to know more - such as: If we eat their food can we also eat their larvae? How do honeybees compare to their many cousins? Can we discover what is actually killing them off by the millions and do something about it? Is it possible to understand their language of communication - sonic signature - inside and outside the hive? Are there bee-related properties that we have yet to tap that could help us live healthier lives? What the author succeeds in doing with this study, more than anything else, is setting us up to investigate firsthand the world of bees, with the goal in mind of making us more knowledgeable and sensitive to their fragile environment. I certainly have bought in long ago to her appeal because I tremble at the thought of what my world would be like without the honeybee.

Burt's Buzz
Burt's Buzz
DVD ~ Burt Shavitz
Price: CDN$ 19.78
15 used & new from CDN$ 15.06

5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderfully Warm Look at Mortality, Dec 19 2014
This review is from: Burt's Buzz (DVD)
Talk about bearing one's soul for all to see. This documentary takes us inside the life and times of one of the co-founders of Burt's Bees, none other than the irrepressible hippie, Burt Shavitz himself. What I like about this production is that Burt lays out for all to see who he is as an individual whose character has been shaped by the most extraordinary of circumstances. Always a very talented loner who is committed to pursuing his own interests on his own dime and time, Burt went from initially being an accomplished urban photographer to eventually becoming a lay-back, backwoods hobby farmer in upper-state New York. While there he met an artistically ambitious woman who became his partner. She drew from Burt critical skills necessary for turning his beehives into a very lucrative business in healthcare products which she eventually sold for over a hundred million dollars after she divorced him. This film goes well beyond that point in time when Burt was squeezed out with what some would consider a naked power grab. It looks at how this iconic man has, in his old-age, come to grips with the injustices of the past and moved on. He still has a small equity in the company and an opportunity to modestly live out his back-to-the-land lifestyle. Yes, he comes naturally by his obstinate and somewhat cantankerous ways but the camera in this real-life study manages to catch this very private man showing a caring and compassionate side as he reaches out to people and, no, naturally he hasn't completely forgiven and forgotten. There is still a twinge of regret and anger in his voice whenever the loss of the business comes up. But his son, the narrator in the film, is there to act as his adviser and handler when it comes to encouraging him to focus on enjoying the now. I found that this remarkable old man, with all his eccentricities, has a lot to teach me about how to handle the adversities of life, much of which can be summed up in the wisdom of always staying connected with others even when the temptation to run away and hide is very real.

The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy
The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy
by Larry J. Sabato
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.95
45 used & new from CDN$ 5.93

4.0 out of 5 stars A Monumental Study on the Historical Impact of a Politician, Dec 18 2014
Obviously the best way to define a person's place in history is to examine their social and political impact on succeeding generations. Sabato has done just that with the JFK legacy in a way that serves to remind us who this man was as a politician and an individual as viewed by Americans in the years following his assassination in 1963. The then and now perspectives help readers like me determine what ingredients have gone into the making of the legacy, and what is fact as opposed to legend. Along the way, Sabato, who offers a very illuminating online course on the subject, attempts to answer some very important questions that continue to haunt us to this day: was there a conspiracy behind the assassination? if he had lived, would JFK have pulled the US out of Vietnam? and what was really substantive about his short-lived administration other than a lot of style points? After plowing through this lengthy account of the Kennedy record, I find Sabato has answered those questions as best as possible, given the reality that evidence has become lost in the fog of history. To reach this point, Sabato does a credible job in accurately recreating the Kennedy rise to power starting from the 1950s on. His ascendancy is viewed as a complex process by which he was groomed to become not only the fulfillment of his father's dreams but the standard bearer for a new generation of Americans who were yearning for something new and bold. If anything, the Kennedy personae did just that by taking the Cold War to the Soviets in a separate showdown over Berlin and Cuba. On the domestic front, JFK's administration gave hope that the country would finally come to grips with the issues of racial segregation and the rights of blacks. Yes, Kennedy did set the standard for achievement very high in those years of the sixties. While we will never know if Kennedy would have actually succeeded in making the world a better place to live if he had not been assassinated, at least the author gives us reason to believe that those core values are still there fifty years later, which probably explains why some of us still retain some admiration for his aspirations. While I have put to rest any questions about who did the foul deed back then, Sabato's work still allows us to explore such issues as the growing importance of style in politics and the waning influence of political dynasties as opposed to political legacies over time. In Kennedy's case, the impact of his family, with respect to his political coattails has virtually disappeared. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a really objective view of the man before closing the book on his life.

Beware of Pity
Beware of Pity
by Stefan Zweig
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.99
44 used & new from CDN$ 12.45

5.0 out of 5 stars A War for the Minds and Souls of Young People, Dec 17 2014
This review is from: Beware of Pity (Paperback)
People of the younger generation need to know that Stefan Zweig is still available for a good read, both as a biographer and a novelist. I am just getting into his novels, and what I have discovered is nothing short of brilliant and captivating story-telling about everyday relational experiences that cut across generations. You could say that Zweig not only tells an emotionally packed tale full of intrigue, suspense, angst and conflict but he also gives his readers something to chew on when it comes to handling the bigger issues of life as he personally confronted them. The one covered here deals with why we might be well advised to not indulge in pity or the feeling of sympathy for the suffering. The plot line involves a young Austrian lieutenant living in pre-WW I Vienna and the daughter of a local Jewish businessman. They have come together under very awkward circumstances: he mistakenly asks her for a dance at a regimental ball, not knowing that she is a cripple. Feeling embarrassed about his 'gaffe' and the shame it has supposedly brought Edith, Hofmiller will agonize for days as to how to atone for his undoing. It will not be long before she very wily insinuates her way into his life by using her father to invite him to visit her at her schloss. She desperately wants someone who can take care of her emotional needs without drawing attention to her physical impairments. Hofmiller, a good natured person, becomes entrapped in a relationship where he caters to this 'crazy' woman's needs for affection while not being allowed to show pity or care for her suffering. Edith is obviously in a serious state of denial as will become apparent by the efforts of her doting father who is prepared to do anything to insure her happiness and well-being, even if it means denying the truth. I can't help but feel that this story, with all its ups and downs, is not only a microcosm of Zweig's struggles with his own uncertain existence but a metaphor for what was going on in Europe leading up to the war. The continent was becoming overrun by self-centered, egotistical, narcissistic monarchs who were vainly trying to get whole nations to follow them into the abyss. If the old order was to survive, in all its sickness, those called to defend it must ignore its debilitating sickness. Fortunately for Hofmiller, he is able to extricate himself from this honey-trap of emotional blackmail, similar to the phony swirl of ultra-national overtures at work in 1914, by answering the call to war.

Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True?
Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True?
by Charles Seife
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.83
45 used & new from CDN$ 1.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us Big Time, Dec 16 2014
Charles Seife is one of those big brain people who like to expound on ideas outside the realm of every day life. His rapier-sharp mind has the ability to both explore and explain the wide-ranging powers of the natural and man-made world. His latest book on making sense of the Internet, "Virtual Unreality", is just one of a number of studies he has written on why we should or shouldn't believe everything we're told or see. As a regular user of a number of websites over the years, I have built into my online rationale a number of important filters and cross-references by which to process information, some of which are recommended in this book like double-checking to make sure that the virtual reality conforms with the greater reality out there. From what I can see, fact-checking often takes second-place when it comes to readily accepting opinion as the gospel truth. In a collection of very informative and analytical essays, Seife, a renowned journalist with a science background, challenges some prominent misconceptions that have got many people in a lot of trouble because they failed to think before they acted. One such stronghold of so-called Internet knowledge and ideas is Wikipedia and its ongoing efforts to verify, validate and disambiguate the information that is published on its site. In the interests of democracy, this well-intended project to make knowledge the property of everyone has run into a number of snags over the years, one being the inability to bring academic authority or credence to its millions of entries. Seife also attacks the notion that the Internet brings people together in virtual community to explore new ideas. Since there is so much information and data out there to assess, there is a growing tendency for users to seek associations or user groups that best reflect their values, essentially confirming already existing ignorance and prejudice. For example, I would likely feel more at home on certain websites because they affirm my values, i.e. a moderate and compassionate conservative who believes in less government. What investigation of the Internet is complete without a look at scams like the Spanish Prisoner or 419 version. The proliferation of the e-mail function has made spam or junk mail so much more prevalent as a tool for those who want to dupe people of their savings. Simply by mailing out thousands of letters to individuals who may be vulnerable to get-rich-quick schemes, these hucksters have capitalized on what the Internet can't control: the illusion that it can generate wealth for all and sundry. Take the Farmville social media game. Innocent as it may seem, it has been intentionally rigged to encourage players to buy stock so they don't have to aimlessly click all day long in the hope of growing their imaginary farm. If anyone needs to gain a clearer perspective on how the Internet works, I recommend this collection of essays as a good starting point for learning about its shortcomings and failings.

Being Mortal
Being Mortal
by Atul Gawande
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.68
4 used & new from CDN$ 15.68

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Compassionate Doctor, Dec 15 2014
This review is from: Being Mortal (Hardcover)
For those of us who periodically consider the growing prospects of our mortality, Gawande has written a very informative and sensitive little book on how to navigate these often deep and troubling waters when it comes to health issues. For starters, as a prominent surgeon he does not prescribe a lot of specific courses of action to make aging more palatable. Too much of that presumptuous attitude already exists in the medical system to the point of possibly making the last ten years of our lives more miserable than they have to be. Rather, Gawande is a compassionate and intelligent person who wants to reach out to others who are seeking an effective way to work through debilitating diseases, infirmities, and physical pain. Doctors like himself should be informative and interpretative when counseling their patients as to what is available in the way of realistic treatment - natural, holistic, palliative, assisted, curative - but, in the end, the choice remains with those seeking guidance. Do a good job on explaining the ins and outs of therapies and models of geriatric living, and the patient invariably finds what he or she wants and needs to extend life for whatever reasons. Getting the patient to take ownership of the plan, with the support of family, is something that requires building a relationship based on trust, patience, and compassion. This study talks about a number of models out there that Gawande considers worth looking at in making these final years worth living. Nothing is ruled out as long as it takes the patient to the next stage of the journey. His or her description of assisted/independent living in a community setting, as an alternative to traditional nursing homes, really got me thinking. Why not develop social housing along the lines of establishing places where the elderly or informed have only as much collective help as they need to live productive lives! His many poignant anecdotes about cancer treatment regimens that have worked are especially useful in pointing out how complex this whole subject is. There is not one-size-fits-all approach that works here. What many of his clients have discovered when coming to grips with their mortality is that dying is made up of many stages that yield their own particular insights into the interconnectivity of life. Only a brief mention of doctor-assisted suicide here because I believe Gawande has something bigger and better to share with his readers: the means of coming to grips with one's destiny while yet living.

Kennedy Half-Century
Kennedy Half-Century
DVD ~ Not Available
Price: CDN$ 19.99
20 used & new from CDN$ 14.20

5.0 out of 5 stars The Legend Lives On as the Man's Legacy, Dec 13 2014
This review is from: Kennedy Half-Century (DVD)
For many Kennedy followers who are still looking for real clarity and closure to all of the many lingering questions about JFK's legacy, Professor Sabato's documentary attempts to fill in the gaps and join the dots as a way of solidifying his place in history. This film looks at how Kennedy's legendary charm and sense of national greatness played out in the years after his assassination. Every subsequent president, in one way or another, shaped their administration to conform to the Kennedy personae or at least acknowledge its uniqueness in modern American politics. For over fifty years, American leaders have been paying their respects to what they perceived as key parts of the Kennedy short-lived presidency in history: lofty goals, glamorous lifestyle, made-for-television public image, a tragic death, and a sense of destiny. While some of his successors embraced his style of being a man of the people, others like Nixon and Johnson remained haunted by their inability to achieve a similar popularity. Sabato, in his commentary, reminds us that while later presidents may feel compelled to recognize the singular influence of the JFK years in power during their time in office, this enduring influence is not the same for the Kennedy dynasty. Kennedy's role in history will be forever preserved in time because there is no way of ever knowing how it would have played out if there had been no Dallas. Such is the power of legends, especially those that accentuate the promise of unrealized ideals while glossing over the less 'inconvenient truths'. What the author offers here is basically the only standard by which to gauge the Kennedy legacy: his presidential style of image over substance.

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