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Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)
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Voices from the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland
Voices from the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland
Price: CDN$ 14.13

5.0 out of 5 stars The Strange Defusing of Urban Terrorism, June 27 2014
Ed Moloney's book takes us inside the notorious Long Kesh or the Maze Prison of Northern Ireland in the 1970s and the back streets of East Belfast. Based on extensive interviews that Boston College conducted with two prominent urban terrorists, IRA Brendan Hughes and UVF David Ervine, the reader gets to see how these two killers played important roles in bringing peace to Ulster. Belfast and the Long Kesh prison (soon to become the infamous Maze) were places where these two assassins slaughtered Catholics and Protestants either out of revenge or suspicion of treachery. This was a time when hunger strikes were conducted behind prison walls with deadly consequences. These were the years when internal turf wars played out on a daily basis that would eventually alter the course of history. Hughes, as part of the West Belfast IRA scene, played a key role in organizing the first real hunger strike as a protest against prison clothing regulations. Several IRA inmates, including Hughes, embarked on this extreme course of action meant to tell the world about the inhumane conditions of their incarceration. The extent of their grandstanding was nothing short of appalling: human waste piling up in their cells, et cetera. When they finally got concessions from prison officials, they quickly learned that they had been double-crossed. Even with that setback, Hughes, as a supporter of Gerry Adam’s more moderate leadership, rejected subsequent strikes because, as a political strategy, that didn’t work. His hard stand, unfortunately, was unable to prevent other prisoners, like Bobby Sands, from eventually starving themselves to death as martyrs for the Republican cause. Hughes backing Adams’ leadership from inside prison likely paved the way for a change of tactics that would involve Sinn Fein launching a campaign to win legitimacy through the ballot box. The David Irvine story as an Ulster Voluntary Force paramilitary has an eerily similar ring to it. As one of the front-line bombers in the UVF, Ervine, too, found his way into the Long Kesh. Here, he fell under the spell of Gusty Spense, a former leader and lifer who had repented of his evil past. It was discipline that this man imposed on the UVF prisoners that made an indelible impression on Ervine and turned his life around. Like the IRA gunman, Brendan Hughes, in the same compound, Ervine turned his back on violence and took up conventional politics when he was released. Moloney looks at the singular decisions of these two men who, in fact, knew each other from their lengthy incarceration and have helped end the Troubles.

And the Mountains Echoed
And the Mountains Echoed
by Khaled Hosseini
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.81
28 used & new from CDN$ 2.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Stories Wrapped Up in an Uncertain Times, June 20 2014
While many readers choose to see this novel strictly as a complex set of interconnected short stories that form the amazingly rambling fortunes and misfortunes of an Afghan family over several generations, I tend to see so much more. For Hosseini, life is a comedy of on-the-spur of the moment decisions made in relation to evolving characters, changing circumstances, altered landscapes and conflicting views, none of which can be controlled. Not to be compared with the very contrived and sentimental storyline of "The Kite Runner", "And the Mountain Echoed" is a moving tale in its own right that goes in many uncertain directions to find that common thread called family. It is a multi-layered story that depicts the intergenerational adventures of an Afghan peasant family as they make their way through the maze called modern times. The precarious existence of each child in this family is traced as it transitions from the harsh and primitive environment of rural Afghanistan into the promise of the big cities of Kabul, Paris, London, and San Francisco and beyond. In order to survive, the older brother, Nabi, does the unthinkable and arranges for one of his twin sisters, Pari, to live with a rich, childless couple in Kabul, whom he works for. Such a move, while meant to improve their chances of survival, only adds more turmoil and suffering to the plot. Nabi will then become locked in a life of service to this man whose highly intelligent wife will leave for Europe, taking Pari with her. Their younger brother, Abdullah, who is very close to Pari, will be devastated by the loss. With these rising fortunes come tragic moments that must be overcome as the children become adults and start to think of their own chances in the outside world. Reading this free-wheeling novel reminds me of many changing fortunes of a modern state called Afghanistan as it struggles to make sense of a war-ravaged past in preparation for taking on a troubling future. Destiny lies in moving forward into the great unknown with only fading memories of old customs and practices. The echoes of life, originating in the mountains of bygone times remind us that even when long-separated family members become reunited, it will never be the same. Gone is the old familiar sights of home and the tender embraces of earlier times. Abdullah and Pari have truly become the unfortunate victims of life’s many fates that pull apart and uproot and, ultimately, prevent one from returning to the virtues and simplicities of the past.

Smart Weigh Digital Pro Pocket Scale with Back-lit LCD Display, Hold Feature and 2000 x 0.1g Capacity
Smart Weigh Digital Pro Pocket Scale with Back-lit LCD Display, Hold Feature and 2000 x 0.1g Capacity
Offered by MeasuPro
Price: CDN$ 29.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Remove the Cover, June 16 2014
We are always looking for a convenient weighing device in the kitchen. Once you get over the fact that the weighing platform has an extra plastic cover that, if not removed, will not weigh properly, this small scale is a terrific tool for weighing those small items like 25 grams of ginger peach tea for making bread. Yes, I recommend this scale as easy to handle, when it comes to calibrating, moving around the kitchen, and leaving on the counter. Its one drawback is that it might require a more explicit set of instructions to get the user past that annoying plastic cover issue.

Double Down: Game Change 2012
Double Down: Game Change 2012
by Mark Halperin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.75
46 used & new from CDN$ 4.23

5.0 out of 5 stars Political Strategies at Their Best and Worst, June 13 2014
There were several times in the 2012 US presidential election campaign that President Obama might have lost it but for the fact that he had some highly intelligent boffos running his campaign behind the scenes. As opposed to the 2008 campaign when Obama virtually sauntered across the proverbial goal line, this campaign was vastly different. He was running on a platform that consisted of a lot of unfinished business, both in the economy and on the international front. Halperin and Heilemann, two very seasoned national journalists collaborated to write a book about the five month campaign leading up to Obama's eventual re-election. Every step of the way is covered with rapier-sharp analysis that examines, by way of comparison, the strategies of both the Romney and Obama camps. Though there were plenty of moments when a stronger, more aggressive GOP standard-bearer could have done some serious damage to the president's chances of re-election but for the fact that he had a very well organized team behind him who believed in him and set about to reshape his political persona for this occasion. It didn't hurt that he had the uncanny ability to think on his feet when it came to affirming what he believed in: fulfilling the promises of the previous four years. With the economy still sputtering and the war in Afghanistan not quite over, Obama's task was to show the American people that true national leadership came from the White House and not a gridlocked Congress. Meanwhile, his opponent, Mitt Romney went through a very grueling and divisive primary season just to get the nomination, during which time little preparation was made as to formulating a knock-out strategy for the big one. Romney, the well-heeled plutocrat who owned the investment firm of Bain & Co., fell into the trap of letting the Democrats frame him as a bungler, klutz, liar, and wealthy snob. Every time an issue arose on the campaign trail, it seemed that the Obama team had staked out a winning position that connected them to a key part of the electorate such as the critical independents. Even with the opportunity to administer a serious blow over the Benghazi incident involving a terrorist attack on the American embassy, Romney wasn't prepared to seize the initiative ahead of the debates. It was like Obama was ready well in advance for any challenges Romney might offer him because his team had done its homework. They knew where Romney was weak and attacked accordingly. Nothing was sacred when it came to negative ads in this campaign. The year 2012 would not be regarded as a very civil time on the election trail, but that merciless, unrelenting spirit of beating one's opponent each step of the way worked.

The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America
The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America
by Gregg Easterbrook
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
30 used & new from CDN$ 5.49

5.0 out of 5 stars The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Pathetic, June 9 2014
Easterbrook is my kind of sports columnist: someone dedicated to seeking the truth even if it may not be popular to do so. His latest book on the negative and positive aspects of US gridiron football is both a stinging condemnation of those who put the game ahead of its players and a ringing commendation of those who do the opposite. Unfortunately, this great game has gradually fallen prey to a wide array of forces who are obsessed with making money at all costs: coaches, university presidents and boards of regency, NCAA, the NFL, agents, and even fans. In this mad rush to make billions, the main person in the act - the player on the field - is the one who is most likely being betrayed under the most nefarious conditions: These college athletes are daily subjecting their bodies to some of the most dangerous, bone-crushing, head-pounding impacts known to humanity, all in return for a college education and the prospect of making it to the pros. Easterbrook's research shows that many of these young sports phenoms arrive on campuses across America with a distorted view of their own importance and carrying serious emotional issues that make failure inevitable. Often there is no safety-net by which to save these players from falling through the cracks when pressures start to mount in the classroom and on the field. In their various failings, collegiate football programs quickly and callously dispose of them as if they were just a cheap cut of meat. The record clearly shows that offering a scholarships to undereducated players is a cruel joke the NCAA perpetuates to appear that it is upholding its part of the deal. This book is loaded with stories of badly supported players suddenly being released from teams and discarded to a life of living with the terrible consequences of catastrophic head injuries, drug addiction, and serious crime. As one who feels deeply about the decline of this sport, Easterbrook does serve up a glimmer of hope that there is still some decency in its ranks. A small part of the book is devoted to the heroic efforts of Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech's high-profile head coach, who makes every effort to support his players on and off the field. Here is a man who has stood behind the likes of a very troubled Michael Vick and others and seen him through to the pros. The author muses that the success of the Hokie program is that Virginia Tech is not a glamorous campus where players can be easily distracted by the buzz of the extracurricular. Getting an education is just as or more important than chasing an often impossible dream on the field. Maybe the time has come to measure the real success of a football program - not by the number of scholarships, victories, boosters and the strength of a recruiting class - by how many players graduate in a legitimate program of studies and go on to make a difference in life.

Hitler's Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss
Hitler's Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss
by Laurence Rees
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.94
30 used & new from CDN$ 20.71

5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Informative Study of Character in History, June 2 2014
In this fast-paced, easy-to-read book Rees, an already successful British writer of wartime history, offers us a well-reasoned and plausible explanation as to why Hitler was able to remain so popular with the German people long after the tide of events had turned against him in late 1941. As a master of creating a national narrative that would match his cravings for unbridled power, Hitler developed a charisma or mystical persona equivalent to that of a Nietzchean superman who, in the eyes of his adoring public, was invincible. Before this lethal fantasy started to unravel on the Eastern Front, Hitler, based on a string of impressive military and economic achievements, had 'single-handedly' restored the German race to its rightful place of world's dominance. In narcissistic fashion, Hitler believed so much in his ability to get it right first time out and invincibility to avoid subsequent failure that he was often seen by his followers as a mythical deity looking down on mere mortals from Olympian heights. Rees very methodically picks this self-adulating view apart by analyzing the paper-thin quality of many of Hitler's key decisions both in government and on the battlefield. Domestically, Hitler was a holder of grandiosely impractical and abhorrent ideas which he allowed his Nazi henchmen to fight over in terms of implementation, such as the Final Solution. Plainly, Hitler made the ideological balls (found in Mein Kampf) and the likes of Himmler and Goebbels fired them. Germans of all persuasions followed this madman into the deep because they saw their success and that of the nation inextricably bound up in Hitler's destructive plan for world control. Internationally, when the rest of the world figured out Hitler, like they did Napoleon, defeat and destruction of the evil genius was inevitable. Rees does a credible job in stripping the Hitler cult of any pretext of prowess. He was a hopeless military strategist, a dishonorable treaty-maker, a poor communicator of his wishes, a ranter and raver, and a lunatic bent on taking the nation with him if his aspirations ever failed him. That was the leader the Germans were tragically saddled with, in spite of seven assassination attempts on his life, because some right-wing politicians back in 1933 thought making Hitler chancellor would stabilize the nation.

Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI
Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI
by Kenneth Weisbrode
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.87
33 used & new from CDN$ 5.49

4.0 out of 5 stars An Alliance of Mutual Respect and Genuine Admiration, May 31 2014
While we all know how important Churchill’s inspirational leadership was for the the British people during the Second World War, Historian Weisbrode goes further in this book to make a compelling case that he would never have been anyway successful without the counsels of George VI, the country’s monarch. It is this informal relationship that bonded a brilliantly headstrong head of government with a mild-mannered, timid head of state in a partnership that put them effectively in touch with the common man at a time when the world was truly coming apart. These two very lonely men needed each other as alter-egos, fact checkers, and confidantes when it came to leading the nation out of one of its tightest corners. Churchill, the politically more powerful of the two, depended on an often tongue-tied, reticent king to refrain from getting carried away by his famous boyish exuberance. This little book takes the reader through four stages of the war where this relationship proved itself repeatedly to keep Britain on the right track to ultimate victory. They knew each other's weaknesses and chose to compassionately work around them. They shared a common enemy, held a grand vision and listened to and accepted each other's advice.

Self-Leadership: How to Become a More Successful, Efficient, and Effective Leader from the Inside Out
Self-Leadership: How to Become a More Successful, Efficient, and Effective Leader from the Inside Out
by Andrew Bryant
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.36
26 used & new from CDN$ 1.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Know Yourself Inside Out, May 28 2014
Many people go through life without fully taking stock of who they are with regards to their belief system. Consequently, they rarely make much of a meaningful impression on the bigger world out there. The authors of this insightful little self-help book offer an extensive methodology by which we can identify and address major needs in our own lives. By taking an inventory of who we are emotionally, relationally, occupationally, creatively and morally we can challenge ourselves to be authentic leaders who make a positive difference in society. In so many words, stand up for those ideas that can inspire others. Some of these factors include raising the bar to be more curious, more knowledgeable, more empathetic, more discerning, and more honest. To that end, the authors provide a lot of handy tools for managing the process of remaking oneself: learning to manage time; building relationships; adapting our voice to fit the situation; establishing healthy behavioural strategies and goals that make us drivers rather than just passengers; and identifying resources that work. Over all, this book gives me the means to take charge of who I am and what I may want to become when it comes to fine-tuning or overhauling my life. Since we often feel helpless when it comes to controlling the bigger picture of life, Bryant gives us hope that we may, at least, have a positive influence if we take charge of who we are.

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
36 used & new from CDN$ 4.75

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$ 18.77
36 used & new from CDN$ 17.75

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.

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