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Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)

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Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928
Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928
by Stephen Kotkin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.84
45 used & new from CDN$ 25.67

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Man Who Attempted to Write History, Jan. 7 2015
The historian Kotkin maintains that prominent leaders who make their mark in history do so because of their incredible ability to shape the outcome of circumstances by asserting their will. In the first installment of this well-researched study, Kotkin, an important modern Russian scholar, examines how Stalin came to be as a key figure in the Russian Revolution and the emergence of the Soviet state in the 20th century. Growing up in the far-flung, southwestern corner of the Russian empire, Stalin, a Georgian by birth, went through some critical developments in his early years: initially raised by cruel and, at times, indifferent parents, adopted by his uncle, regularly exposed to grinding poverty and gang violence and, ultimately encouraged, based on his academic abilities and interest in church matters, to train to be a priest in the Eastern Orthodox religion. In all this, Stalin is portrayed as a young man looking for something bigger and better in his otherwise parochial existence. He had a strong sense of the need for social justice which brought him together with other seminarians to lead protests against tsarist rule in the region. This rising political consciousness in Stalin brought with it a sense of singularity and purpose that allowed him to act much in the same way as his father did: a law unto himself with a strong, uncanny sense of self-preservation. Stalin could be best seen as a man looking for a group or organization that he could ultimately control without putting himself in too much danger. That would only come when he moved to the big city of Moscow and, eventually, Petrograd in search of organized dissent. His ego was so great that most of his fellow members in the Bolshevik and Social Revolutionary movements found it hard to work with him. Most of World War I, for him, was spent in virtual isolation, as a political exile, in eastern Siberia waiting for the revolution to topple the Romanovs. Unlike his compatriot, Trotsky, Stalin had little time for large-scale war. Rather, he was the plodding organizer behind the scenes who would eventually choose the time and place to insert himself into the obscure but indispensable role as secretary to the Central Committee. This strategic move was made only after Stalin and his growing circle of henchmen were able to determine what was essentially needed to make the revolution succeed on the principle of greatest inclusion of over two hundred million people and the incorporation of dozens of ethnic states. This book offers a useful take on how the man of steel went about, in tyrannical fashion, welding this vast collection of disparate cultures into a monolithic federation meant to dominate the world.

The Longer I'm Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006-
The Longer I'm Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006-
by Paul Wells
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.06
35 used & new from CDN$ 4.17

4.0 out of 5 stars A Critique of Political Power in Action, Jan. 5 2015
Journalist Paul Wells writes a very incisive study of what makes political leadership function at the federal level in Canada. His subjects are the leaders of the three main parties as they faced off in a number of political skirmishes in the first decade of this century. What gets Wells' attention more than anything else is how Prime Minister Stephen Harper gradually became comfortable in the job over an initial period of three hectic years of employing Machiavellian-like tactics and learning by hard knocks. What distinguishes Harper from his opponents like Dion, Ignatieff, and Layton, was that he has learned to think and act like a wily politician who wants to keep the job because of its immense power and influence. He is dedicated to establishing the Conservative brand across the country with respect to his government's economic track record: balanced budgets, job creation, international trade, and tax cuts. Everything else, including the funding of social programs, is secondary. According to Wells, Harper and his advisers have found a way to retain power even though it may mean walking roughshod over the time-honored traditions of parliamentary democracy that make this institution the true embodiment of the people's will. The great coalition crisis of early 2008 becomes one of the main focuses of this book. It is a time when the newly-elected minority Conservative government could have been ousted from office by a coalition of opposition parties including the Separatists, all over a seeming lack of a stimulus plan to help the country through the global financial crisis. The great irony here is that the Liberals had no real leader and the coalition depended on a party devoted to the break-up of the country. Once allowed to prorogue Parliament, the constitutional crisis defused and Harper continued as prime minister and was given carte blanche to launch a big spending program with the help of the Liberals under their new leader, Michael Ignatieff. If this book does anything for me, it serves to remind me how quickly fortunes can change in the murky world of high-stake politics. Understandably, Harper doesn't like Parliament anymore than it can be used to serve his partisan interest in spreading the right-wing creed of corporate capitalism, less government, and fewer taxes. Winning a majority mandate in 2011 has only solidified that point. In Wells' estimation, Harper has reached the zenith of his career in the sense that his persona has become the heart and soul of the party and government. To say the least, Wells, like others in the national press corps, yearns for the day when a leader of substance can rise up and unseat what he believes is a government that certainly doesn't ideally act on behalf of all Canadians. While Harper is a consummate ideologue and politician, Wells does not see him as a national leader which makes me wonder who Wells has in mind for the job given the political landscape in Ottawa these days.

Transformers Age of Extinction Flip and Change Optimus Prime Figure
Transformers Age of Extinction Flip and Change Optimus Prime Figure
Price: CDN$ 21.28
2 used & new from CDN$ 21.28

4.0 out of 5 stars Initially A Big Hit, Jan. 5 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Great toy for a five-year-old child who likes objects that can be conveniently and creatively changed and maneuvered with just a mere flip or a more sophisticated rearranging of a few bots here and there to yield an entirely new form. Our grandson is at that stage where toys need to be something that can be interacted with, and Optimus Prime seems to meet that expectation. I didn't give it a top rating because it is still early days yet as to its durability.

Satechi® Spectrum Mouse Wired Optical 7-Color LED Changing Computer Mouse with 1000 DPI (Silver)
Satechi® Spectrum Mouse Wired Optical 7-Color LED Changing Computer Mouse with 1000 DPI (Silver)
Offered by Satechi CA
Price: CDN$ 33.99
6 used & new from CDN$ 28.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Handy and Smooth!, Jan. 3 2015
Getting this mouse has made a world of difference for me in terms of operating the computer screen. One, the cursor is more sensitive; two, the shape is ideally suited for smaller hands like mine; and three, the setup is as simple as switching from the old to the new. If you like color in your life other than ordinary black, this one comes with a nice backlight showing of seven colors for the cool effect and a convenient lock-in switch for the color of your choice. Overall, a very comfortable and easy-to-maneuver tool that doesn't require a mouse pad.

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$ 20.69
48 used & new from CDN$ 18.50

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
8 used & new from CDN$ 9.99

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
19 used & new from CDN$ 11.64

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 Legacy And Influence Of The Jfk Presidency
The Kennedy Half Century: The Legacy And Influence Of The Jfk Presidency
by Larry J Sabato
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.75
46 used & new from CDN$ 8.99

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.

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