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Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)
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A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination
A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination
by Philip Shenon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.20
34 used & new from CDN$ 5.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Investigation Botched From the Start, May 25 2014
Over the years I have taken considerable time sifting through many of the conspiracy theories out there on the Kennedy assassination. Everything from a Cuban connection to the single-bullet to the Grassy Knoll to a Mafia plot to Oswald as the lone gunman have been published but none seems to have been plausible until recently when lab re-enactments showed that one shooter likely killed the president. Reading Shenon’s recent work on the role of the Warren Commission in uncovering and making sense of the key facts of the case, I get the feeling that America and the greater world were never meant to know the complete truth. While LBJ called for an official inquiry weeks after November 22, 1963, this was an investigation that was never really meant to work, so it would seem. Too many egos at stake here to get a clear take on events and their key operators: the Kennedy dynasty, the Oswald family, the power and influence of the CIA, the Secret Service and the FBI; the credibility of Chief Justice Warren; medical examiners; informants; Dallas police; lawyers and prosecutors; and publicists like William Manchester. Everyone to a person was shocked and devastated by this ‘cruel’ act but few were prepared to go all out to discover why President Kennedy was put in such a vulnerable position in the first place. This book does a decent job in showing how the Commission faltered and stumbled badly in discharging its mandate. Most of its problems were due, in large part, to a lack of cooperation in getting at the evidence through comprehensive interviews and incisive testimony. While Shenon doesn’t question Oswald’s central role in this crime of the century, he is critical of the Commission’s woeful inability to get at the events leading up to and away from the main incident. One thing for sure, the FBI had Oswald in their sights up to four years before and was tailing him only months before the tragedy. This agency unequivocally knew that Oswald was a crazy man who was openly talking about killing Kennedy and only needed some nefarious group to sponsor the evil deed; the Mexican connection gets excellent coverage here. Some people saw him hanging around Mexico City in those fateful months but because evidence in the form of notes and diaries has been destroyed the trail has gone cold. From what Shenon provides me as a reader, I believe that Oswald, a disaffected political crazy who was a good marksman, likely acted alone because the Cubans, the Mafia (New Orleans connection), and the Soviets did not want anything to do with his mad ways. While Castro may have known about Oswald’s gun for hire scheme, he chose to use it as an occasion to convey a veiled threat to the US that its attempts to assassinate him could blow up in their face. The essence of many of the national secrets surrounding this assassination is that they may have contributed to the growing swamp of conspiratorial theories that have only bogged down efforts to discern the truth.

The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia
The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia
by Andrei Lankov
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.96
43 used & new from CDN$ 17.92

5.0 out of 5 stars The Reality Behind a Failed State, May 22 2014
Professor Lankov's view of political, social and economic life in North Korea is one that attempts to get past the Cold War stereotype of an evil regime and learn what really makes this nation tick. What he has discovered over the years of extensive research within its borders is that this former Stalinist state is not a despotic monstrosity that, Washington would have us believe, threatens world peace. Rather, it is a rare kind of monarchical-communist petty kingdom that has been unable to modernize and reform because it refuses to put the past behind it. Hatred of all things American goes back to the time when the US had the annihilation of North Korea as a major plank of its foreign policy in the region. The country that Lankov describes now is one that has learned to survive by cleverly obtaining unconditional aid from any number of neighboring countries through the use of diplomatic blackmail. In other words, shore up the regime in Pyongyang or else it might militarily destabilize the region through conventional or nuclear weapons. North Koreans are people - especially the 386 generation - that continue to accept the Juche rule from the Kim Sung II era because they know basically nothing else except the need to stay alive. According to Lankov, they've managed that quite well under some very trying circumstances like famine and poverty. I found this book to be very insightful in how it portrayed a failed nation that just doesn't know how to shake its brutal past as it contemplates remaking itself in the future. The question remains as to how long North Korea can continue to live off fear and paranoia as its way of doing business inside and outside its borders. It all comes down to the current leadership fearing any reform that could potentially topple the regime. So, until that attitude changes, the status quo remains where a semblance of middle-class black-market economy continues to hang out just below the surface.

The Great Escape: A Canadian Story
The Great Escape: A Canadian Story
by Ted Barris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.31
20 used & new from CDN$ 14.81

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Escape Stories Ever, May 19 2014
As someone who has taken an avid interest in this story over the years, I always wondered how much of it was actually true and how much was the masterful creation of Hollywood screenwriters. Along came Canadian historian/journalist Ted Barris with his own well-documented, well-searched monogram on the subject, and I no longer wonder about the veracity of the Great Escape. What makes Barris' account of one of modern history's big escapes is that it presents the event in a very lively narrative that delves into the various conflicting roles of both captor and captured. In providing us with this accurate version of an amazing feat of engineering under the most trying of circumstances, Barris is able to show us how the unlikely and even the impossible can be achieved when people work together for a common goal: freedom. All the intricate detail of how this huge escape was hatched is available here: tunneling, stooging, designing maps, making survival kits, stealing resources, disposing of soil, managing the project, and providing security were all part of the grand scheme. More important than just the various operations in this process are the faces of the many operators, the majority of the key ones being Canadian airman. I had no trouble getting into the minds of these very brave and ingenious men who tirelessly devoted themselves to making it all happen, even though the chances of it ever succeeding weren't great from the outset. That is the bittersweet note of this book. Freedom was momentarily gained at a terrible price. By doing his bit to set the record straight, Barris has not only honored the men who sacrificed their lives for such a noble cause but successfully claimed it as a truly great Canadian moment in time. For anyone interested in getting the real scoop on what happened back then on that fateful night in March, 1944, in a German POW camp, this is the book for you.

A Secret History of the IRA
A Secret History of the IRA
by Ed Moloney
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.33
22 used & new from CDN$ 12.00

5.0 out of 5 stars The Nasty Details Finally Come Out, May 16 2014
During the nineties and beyond, the name Gerry Adams became a household fixture in Northern Ireland politics. As the official face of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Belfast-based IRA terrorist movement, Adams seemed to have his hand in everything involving the future of the province. He always claimed that he had severed his ties with the IRA and was strictly a man of peace dedicated to serving the nationalist interests of Irish-Catholics in Ulster in the capacity as a Westminster MP for West Belfast. He played a major role in negotiating the Good Friday Accord in the late 20th century where Catholics and Protestants agreed on a power-sharing formula for governing the province. Oddly enough, it was at this high point that Adams’ role as a mover and shaker in the North diminished. Since then, he has shifted his political interests south to serve as an elected member of the Irish Dail in Dublin, while still maintaining a home in the Falls Road area of Belfast. This past week, something terrible in his past has come to light that may alter his political aspirations once again. The Ulster police have just recently interviewed him to determine his part in the disappearance of Mrs. Jean McConville, a known informant for the British security forces back in 1972 when Adams was a leading figure in the IRA movement. Prominent Irish Times journalist Ed Moloney has written a very thorough account of the modern IRA, in which he attempts to disentangle and disaggregate the many secrets of this organization’s recent political and terrorist history. Key to his analysis is understanding Adams’ involvement during the seventies and eighties when the fight against Britain and Protestants really escalated. This book is a complex account of how a raw youth became a seasoned leader of a terrorist group that was able to re-invent itself as a nationalist movement that dominated the political landscape of Northern Ireland for over thirty years. His success was founded on his canny ability to combine the terrorist agenda with a political one in an unrelenting campaign to get the British out of Ulster. He re-invented himself as a politician committed to finding peace while still encouraging the fight to oust a foreign power. Through this transformation the violence continued unabated but with the secret help of figures like Father Alec Reid, a self-acclaimed Catholic peace emissary, the involvement of President Clinton, and a Labor government committed to power-sharing in the province, Adams realized his goal of giving Ulster Catholics an effective voice in government. Though he continued his politics, it is not hard to understand why a man of his bloody past would not have been acceptable to the new power-sharing arrangement coming out of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. For those who are still looking for a more complete picture of these terrible times, Moloney offers the best view possible of a cause that had to morph over time if it wanted to be remembered for being just another urban terrorist group.

Flash Boys
Flash Boys
by Michael Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.50
43 used & new from CDN$ 12.56

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploding the Myth of Invincibility on Wall Street, May 13 2014
This review is from: Flash Boys (Hardcover)
Lewis is one of those highly intelligent writers who opens up and explains complex subjects to his readership. All the books I have read of his have effectively introduced me to the fantastic and shady world of high finance and business in an entertaining and instructive fashion. For the relative newbie like myself, Lewis explains the arcane practices and secrets of the bond market, Wall Street banking, professional baseball, the 2008 meltdown and short-selling. Much of his success can be attributed to being able to systematically grasp big economic issues as they impact our everyday world. He begins by presenting a key question that his detailed and open-ended investigation will then answer in the form of a very compelling narrative. His latest study looks at how the phenomenon of high-speed trading works in the global stock-exchange system and why it initially posed a serious threat to investor confidence. The story starts with Lewis describing the building of a communication ditch from Chicago to New Jersey around 2009. This curious construction turned out to be the conduit for nearly a thousand miles of optical fiber cable through which stock market quotes and orders could travel at millisecond speeds between a secret cartel of banks, brokerages and exchanges. Against this background, Lewis introduces us to a fascinating story on high-speed trading. While I knew the tactic existed back in 2009 because I had read about it, I certainly did not appreciate its scope. Here was a group of financial operators - traders and investors - engaged in creating an unfair market situation where they could buy and sell stocks without ever losing money because they had, essentially, rigged the system. Using dark pools or personal reserves of stock and a very fast trading program, these people could legally learn - though not ethically - what the competition was bidding on a certain stock by offering small bids themselves. This information would then form the basis of a new stock offer that could be executed privately between an exchange and trading house before the conventional bids took hold. Consequently, the little investor, represented by smaller operations like the Royal Bank of Canada were losing big money on market volatility resulting from stock price manipulation. This tale quickly takes an important turn when this Canadian bank allows one of its chief investment experts, Brad Katsyuma, to investigate the American stock exchange system to determine why these losses were happening. The rest of the book is dedicated to how this man and his dedicated team of clear-thinking computer wizards identified the culprits - Wall Street banks and trading firms like Citadel - and established an effective way of breaking their grip on market trading while disproving the myth that speed is the only way to make money in this business. This is one satisfying account of how the rogues got their comeuppance in a way that also protected the little guy whose pension funds had already suffered big time from the 2008 meltdown.

Kyasi New York Laser/Pen/Stylus Combo - MicroFiber ULTRA stylus -Premium-White
Kyasi New York Laser/Pen/Stylus Combo - MicroFiber ULTRA stylus -Premium-White
Offered by Kyasi Canada
Price: CDN$ 46.97
6 used & new from CDN$ 28.53

5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Three-in-One Device, May 10 2014
Yes, this is a great tool for anybody wanting the convenience and luxury of doing so much more with your tablet with a lot less. In the form of a sleek white stylus, you get a neat little laser pointer to help you explain those YouTube demonstration videos. Additionally, you get a handy retractable rubberized tip for changing your screen (no more smudge marks), and, finally, a smooth writing instrument for copying down notes. From someone who often does all three tasks together, this is a great gift idea at good value.

Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I. 1914-1918 by Mosier. John Published by NAL Hardcover (2013) Hardcover
Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I. 1914-1918 by Mosier. John Published by NAL Hardcover (2013) Hardcover
by Mosier. John
Edition: Hardcover
4 used & new from CDN$ 34.18

5.0 out of 5 stars A Bloody Battle Fought But Never Won!, May 7 2014
I admire historians who revisit history with the idea of setting the record straight. They are the ones who are willing to take a more in-depth look at the so-called facts of the case and determine if there is a different pattern to their interconnectivity. What may have originally been viewed as a need to suppress inconvenient details in the interests of promoting a false sense of national glory and honor, suddenly becomes exposed as a national shame. A case in point is Mosier’s work directed at establishing the truth of what really transpired on the protracted bloody ‘killing fields’ of Verdun between 1914 and 1918. His monograph makes for a fascinating read because, unlike other historians of the past century like Alistar Horne, Mosier takes the whole battlefield apart to find out what the real story was behind the unrelenting carnage: till now the ability of the French and Allied forces to hold off the Germans at this key point on the Western Front for over three terrible bloody years allegedly played a pivotal role in ultimately winning the war. Not so quick, Mosier would argue. His research points in another direction. The French army of the day was incompetent, ill-prepared, and outrightly dishonest in its defence of the homeland against a very sizable and well-trained German opponent. Much of the author’s attention is focused on how various French armies defended the Meuse Vally and its many forts, especially in the Verdun region, taking advantage of an existing fort system and mountainous terrain to prevent the Germans from breaking through to Paris. To make this plan work, the GHQ, led by a very dominating General Joffre, increasingly felt the need to control the deployment of troops, artillery and armaments. Because the French were at a serious disadvantage over fire power, the onus fell on bringing more infantry into the mix. To keep the government conscripting more soldiers as cannon fodder, the military intentionally suppressed the number killed and missing in action. In effect, the military was ‘bleeding the nation white’ in an effort to create the impression that it had a plan to hold the lines against a ruthless German invasion. Mosier deconstructs this myth very quickly by looking at the Verdun scene unfolding over three years. One, while the Germans had a significant upperhand, what with better fighters and superior weaponry, they were equally inept when it came to pressing the advantage. If they had only concentrated on one part of the front, such as the more vulnerable Argonne Forest, in search of a key breakthrough, the war might have ended much sooner. Instead, the Germans chose to take on the heavily fortified Verdun region by trying to bomb its many impregnable forts into submission.

All My Puny Sorrows
All My Puny Sorrows
by Miriam Toews
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
10 used & new from CDN$ 12.21

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compassion, the Essence of Love, May 2 2014
This review is from: All My Puny Sorrows (Hardcover)
Canadian author Miriam Toews has written another passionate account of her life growing up in a southern Manitoba Mennonite community. This time her novel takes us inside the life of a small family that becomes severely fractured and torn apart by social forces at work in their community at large. The rigid, often hypocritical and loveless, traditionalism of the Mennonite elders squares off against the rising tide of youthful independence and rebellious living. Yolandi and Elfrieda are two free-spirited sisters who, early on in their lives, form a sororal bond to withstand the pressures of traditional authority. These two siblings will be there for each other throughout life as tragedies befall the family in the form of suicides, serious illnesses and marital breakup. Even though they will often be separated by great distances and different lifestyles, they will be drawn to each other when the need arises. The older sister, the promising violinist, will suddenly become clinically depressed, with suicidal tendencies, and have to return home for extensive convalescence. While obviously successful in her career, she has carried a great sense of guilt from being shunned by the town she grew up in because she left it at an early age to pursue her own interests. Meanwhile, her younger, happy-go-lucky, university-educated sister follows her out into the world as an aspiring writer but with a different outcome. Her marriage is on the rocks, she is broke, struggling to write her next novel, in the eyes of the church a loose liver, and desperately in need of holding things together. All the hardships in her life, however, are nothing to compare with her big sister's, her idol while growing up, so home she must go. There, very quickly, she discovers that Elfrieda has lost her will to live, and is already considering an assisted suicide. At this point Yolandi consciously decides to support her sister's plans because nothing seems to alleviate the pain of her self-loathing. Elfrieda has become yet another victim of growing up in an unkind and forbidding society that refuses to accept people for who they are. All Yolandi can do for her now is honor her desire to be free in death. I found this story to be a poignant reminder of what it was like to grow up in a religious community where human relationships were quite often controlled by the church. In the end, this will not be the case with this story.

West of Memphis (Sous-titres français)
West of Memphis (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Jason Baldwin
Price: CDN$ 21.97
22 used & new from CDN$ 12.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Justice Arkansas Fashion!, April 30 2014
This documentary takes an in-depth look at the case of three Arkansas youth who were wrongfully convicted of the 1993 grisly murder of three young boys in West Memphis. It became apparent from the start that local law enforcement got the wrong guys on this one. They went for the Satan ritual killing scenario and excluded any other incriminating evidence available to them if they had only been more thorough in their investigation. One person of interest that didn’t get a thorough going-over was Terry Hobbs, the step-father of one of the victims. In order to free the wrongfully convicted teens, their defence team had to show that someone else did the crime. DNA evidence, strangely enough, wasn’t going to do it. It would take a strange twist of circumstances for the truth to come out: Hobbs sued a member of the Dixie Chicks for defamation of character. During this civil hearing, he had to depose or give evidence that started to show that Hobbs had motive and opportunity to commit this crime. The film covers twenty years of valiant work to put new evidence in front of the Arkansas appeal court. It is a powerful testimony to a concerted and persistent effort to seek justice even in the apparent absence of evidence and the many legal roadblocks along the way. What resulted in the end was a compromise that allowed the convicted to make the Alford plea where they could maintain their innocence while still being considered guilty but, at least, get their freedom after so many years of incarceration. Every part of this case is controversial enough to generate more questions than answers. In the end, the state got its pound of flesh, the three got their freedom, and the real murderer gets to go free. Only in Arkansas could a miscarriage of justice like this happen where the state is able to legally cover up forensic incompetence and judicial mismanagement.

149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe: (So You Can Ignore the Others)
149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe: (So You Can Ignore the Others)
by Julian Porter
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 23.51
14 used & new from CDN$ 23.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Source of Expertise on European Masterpieces, April 25 2014
While I profess to have a wide interest in paintings that ranges over a few centuries, I have never really developed a particular taste for the works of one artist over another. Sure, I have some favourites that range from the zaniness of Bosch to the surreal vision of Kurelak to the bleak and rude of Brueghel to the sinister of Goya to the intensity of Rembrandt to the perspective of Colville, but none of them really capture my imagination enough to allow me to hold a critical point of view on what makes them special. After checking out a so-called great piece of art at a gallery or online, I usually seek out some renowned critic like a Kenneth Clark to get his perspective. After reading this book, however, I now feel more confident to offer my own perspective on great works of art without crossing swords with the so-called connoisseurs. Porter, for starters, critically narrows the field of great works that everyone should see close up if they happen to be near a big-name collection in Europe. Of the 149 listed and analyzed, I have personally only seen about twenty. Interestingly, Porter's choices do not include the Mona Lisa. Accompanying his list of 'great' paintings is a brief background with respect to inspiration, production and content. As an extra, Porter delivers a pithy assessment of the paintings as he sees them with loaded and punchy words like severe, straggly, weary, screaming, fleshy, fun, heavy, loose, and mad. What the author has done here, after many years of hanging out in galleries during his spare time, is incorporate these works into his very soul. He likes them because they have evoked a unique feeling in him. According to him, paintings like “The Ship of Fools” and “The Garden of Earthly Delights” - two very allegorical scenes - deserve to be called great because they show how potentially more dangerous an artistic creation of horror can be than the real thing. Porter says about one of Brueghel's country scenes that he can actually feel the weight of the hay and in another a collection of dogs reminds him of a veritable pound on the loose.

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