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Reviews Written by
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)

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Mona Lisa Is Missing
Mona Lisa Is Missing
DVD ~ Vincenzo Peruggia
Price: CDN$ 19.98
21 used & new from CDN$ 16.21

5.0 out of 5 stars Now We Know, Nov. 25 2015
This review is from: Mona Lisa Is Missing (DVD)
A very clever and compelling piece of modern sleuthing that gets to the heart of history's most famous art theft. All theories as to why the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 by an obscure Italian stonemason are thoroughly examined here by the filmmaker and his team. The film looks at a vast array of clues from archives and testimonials from members of the Peruggia family, and arrives at one inescapable conclusion. This production is a lively and entertaining production that still manages to retain a sense of the serious as it looks for truth.

Kissinger: A Biography
Kissinger: A Biography
by Walter Isaacson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.29
32 used & new from CDN$ 11.43

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Better Accounts on the World of Realpolitik, Nov. 25 2015
This review is from: Kissinger: A Biography (Paperback)
Anything by biographer Isaacson is going to be exhaustive and great in its understanding the subsurface forces at work in his subject's life. With Kissinger, as later with Einstein and Jobs, Isaacson very carefully builds a character profile or matrix by which to test out some very popular assumptions as to his role in history. While I knew that Kissinger was a secretive, conspiratorial type who always wanted to be managing circumstances to his ultimate advantage, this book reveals where this self-serving, megalomaniac attitude likely originated. Using some highly respected sources, the author pieces together a fascinating narrative that traces the life of every complex Machiavellian character who was determined to leave his mark on modem times by influencing the shape and direction of American foreign policy. Kissinger is portrayed as a person greatly affected by his past, his ethnic roots, and a compelling need to make the world a safer place for all. The reader should pay particular attention to Kissinger's journey to the top, as he continually sought opportunities to demonstrate his command of challenging situations. Moving to America in the Dirty Thirties, in advance of World War II, posed all kinds of social and economic challenges that only a young and intent immigrant like Kissinger could surmount. His success became a combination of developing a view of a new world emerging from the ashes of war based on a Metternichan concept of maintaining a balance of power among the superpowers. The Cold War became a time when Kissinger succeeded in inserting himself into high-level think tanks, the White House, and Harvard University faculty in very influential positions where he could determine the best course for a world locked in a serious nuclear arms race and ideological conflict. The highlight of this work may very well be the chapters dealing with Kissinger's often-underhanded efforts to achieve a conclusion to the Vietnam War while handling a dangerously erratic Nixon. While this unauthorized account is not flattering when it comes to dealing with Kissinger's often brusque and conspiratorial manner, it does make a good case for seeing him as a credible champion of pragmatic diplomacy in a time when it seemed the world was on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Having now read this book, I am not confident that the Kissinger Doctrine would still command the same respect in the post-Cold War era of globalization and radical Islamic terrorism.

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
by Peter Hopkirk
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.95
39 used & new from CDN$ 6.60

5.0 out of 5 stars To Those Who Would Seek to Play the Great Game, Nov. 24 2015
Every so often somebody writes a history that brings geography, culture, and people together over time, and the results are nothing short of profound. Hopkirk has produced such a work in "The Great Game". It covers the high-stakes, geopolitical unofficial extended war between the Russians and Great Britain in the nineteenth century for control of Central Asia. For nearly a century, both empires conducted a lengthy campaign of low-level covert activities to gain the upper hand. When the conflict became overt, the results became very nasty.The book looks at this whole concept of international brinkmanship from several important angles: the changing nature of the Russian-Anglo conflict; the confounding tribal presence in the Parmirs; and the numerous diplomatic efforts to achieve a breakthrough in the region. The backstories that make up this epic narrative are ones of gallantry, stealth, tragedy, and recklessness, and speak to the overwhelming wildness of the area. It became an impossible struggle because the two superpowers could never quite achieve an ultimate victory that granted them territorial control. For the Russians, it would be establishing a launching point for taking over India; for the Brits, it would be absolute control of extensive trade routes into China as it related to the sale of opium. That last fifty miles were never effectively closed in the nineteenth century because the international scene shifted to other more pressing imperialistic concerns. This is a historical study that is written in a very informative, high intelligent, and passionate style by someone who has obviously committed a good part of his life to understanding the nuances of a strange and wild land that occupies the top of the world and still to this day defies any true comprehension of its enigmatic tribal ways. If only George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had read this book before 2002 they may not have been so quick to treat Afghanistan as a game worth winning.

Rupert Annual 2016
Rupert Annual 2016
by Alfred Bestall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.36
16 used & new from CDN$ 10.83

5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Collection of Old Stories, Nov. 22 2015
This review is from: Rupert Annual 2016 (Hardcover)
From someone who looks forward every Christmas to the new Rupert Annual, here is my list of ten reasons why it is a great purchase:
A. It offers incredible insights into the culture of times past;
B. Makes for a great opportunity to read to young children, especially grandkids;
C. The illustrations are absolutely priceless;
D. The narrative allows for variations: verse, prose, or ad lib;
E. The book is loaded with games;
F. Solving mysteries and living 'dangerously' are recurring themes here;
G. Loaded with some very interesting futuristic technology that "Wired" needs to hear about;
H. Does homage to traditional values;
I. Well-constructed product that is meant to take abuse. All our many copies of earlier annuals are still in great shape;
J. Every character in this annual is eternal in its creation. They are still who they were forty years ago, with one major difference: they are forever assuming slightly different roles and looks in the landscape of our ever fertile imaginations.

Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler, and the Warsaw Uprising
Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler, and the Warsaw Uprising
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 20.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Dark Yet Heroic Time in History, Nov. 21 2015
There is no other way to describe the late summer and autumn of 1944 in Polish history as the time when the fate of its capital, Warsaw, hung in the balance. So grim were the prospects of its survival against Nazi savagery that it still remains a miracle today that anything was left standing. The historian Richie, with the help of some very reliable sources, has put together a very rivetting and compelling story about how the Warsaw Uprising took place and why it ended the way it did. One cautionary note here is that to properly commemorate the heroism behind the uprising while still exposing the awful truth behind its eventual failure, Richie wades through piles of disgusting detail on the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi occupiers, much of which was never answered for. What you will read here will condemn that evil regime to the fires of hell forever for its attempts to destroy a city and all its occupants. While that part of the book needed to be told in all its fury, the background or lead up to August 1, 1944, is even more revealing as to motive. The Russians, in Operation Bagration, were pushing the German armies back towards the Vistula when they decided to pause and collect themselves in readiness for the final assault on the Reich. While there was never any illusion that the Polish government-in-exile expected Stalin to immediately intervene to oust the Germans and restore Warsaw to the Polish people, what happened instead is a bit of a mystery loaded with cynicism. The Russian military drew back - some might argue for practical reasons - while Hitler ordered the SS in to squash the rebellion and utterly destroy the city. Though it is obvious that Stalin probably allowed the Germans to destroy the Polish AK forces so that he would not meet with any resistance himself when he ultimately captured Warsaw in early 1945, there is another factor worth considering. The Polish resistance force, a highly energized group, misread the signs and prematurely jumped the gun by calling for the uprising against incredible odds. Poor intelligence and bad timing were the immediate factors that made this event go in the direction that it did. It became a massacre that the Russians could have mitigated if they only had Poland's best interests at heart. Having said that, Hitler's maniacal plans to wipe out Warsaw still remain front and center when considering the impact of this incredible event in modern times. I came away feeling that the patriotic and heroic Warsawans of this tragedy were hopelessly doomed from the outset because they were caught between the proverbial rock and hard place: two evil empires set on destroying it one way or another.

Secrets of Westminster
Secrets of Westminster
Price: CDN$ 26.99
19 used & new from CDN$ 18.71

5.0 out of 5 stars inside a great city, Nov. 19 2015
This review is from: Secrets of Westminster (DVD)
The heart of any great city is a point that people seem to be drawn to on a daily basis, whether it be a historical spot, some impressive old building, or an architectural wonder. Westminster, the heart of Greater London, offers all three for us to enjoy in person. If that is not possible, pick up this DVD and it will take you on an amazing trip around this historical hub that will beat any holiday bus tour. By watching it, I was left with the unmistakable impression that Westminster City can truly lay claim to being a very important world capital, based on a thousand years of earth-shaking history, starting with the Abbey itself. The viewer is taken on a very colorful and informative tour of those out-of-the-way places like behind the altar piece, up in the towers, and across some ancient designed mosaic floors. Along the way, you will get to see where the original parliament of the 13th century was held, where the greats like Edward the Confessor were buried, and the ancient coronation throne. The view from above by looking down on the nave is stunning. Definitely one of the best Gothic perspectives I have ever seen.Then there is the Mother of Parliaments and its intricate layout of buildings along the Thames.There are many intriguing and recurring tales of tradition that go with this grand complex and its earlier edifices, some of which have long ago disappeared. Fortunately, the Great Hall of London - the site of Charles I trial - is still there in all its restored splendor as a reminder of a moment in time when the monarchy finally yielded to the will of parliament. I recommend this resource to anyone looking to be informed, entertained and challenged to look further on the subject.This is a city that knows how to keep its past alive by preserving its history in a big way.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
by Anne-Marie O'Connor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.60
42 used & new from CDN$ 9.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Triumphing over fhe horrors and indignities of a century, Nov. 17 2015
Saw the docudrama first and decided that it was too compelling a story not to read the book that inspired it. O'Connor's intricate account of the tale behind the famous painting, "The Lady in Gold", is fascinating beyond belief. Imagine the power of a masterpiece to affect so many different lives over a century and you have the makings of one whirlwind epic that serves to remind us of the power and charm of great artwork. Everywhere this painting went it seemed to evoke controversy, gossip, greed, scandal but, more importantly, a nagging need for justice. Follow the trail from early 20th century Vienna when a very rich Austrian lady commissioned the consummate painter of the day to do her portrait. Commissioned in a time when Austrian art was turning modern, the work shows a unique brilliance that has made it a favorite conversation piece for all and sundry, even the Nazis who supposedly despised degenerate art. While this portrait did not bring its subject lasting joy - she died in her early forties - it took on a life of its own in the years beyond. As World War II unfolded, her extended family would suffer enormous losses at the hands of the Gestapo, including many of its members sent to concentration camps. While the painting will be stolen and disappear into the secret world of nazidom, something infinitely more precious will survive: a niece and her husband will escape to the USA with the promise of a new life. With them will go the indelible memories of that masterpiece that demand its recovery. I recommend this book to anyone who likes to probe deeper into the great moments in history in search of backstories that clarify the situation. Justice will happen here eventually, but to truly appreciate the magnitude of the tale in its fullness, go back to where it all started: those intimate salons of a by-gone era where vanity and culture became immortalized in fine art.

Poles Apart
Poles Apart
by Terry Fallis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.42
2 used & new from CDN$ 20.42

4.0 out of 5 stars An Important Message Inside a Story, Nov. 12 2015
This review is from: Poles Apart (Paperback)
Weighing in as a somewhat liberated male who wants to be more understanding of the other side, I found this novel to be a refreshing attempt to bridge that gap and create a new understanding. Face it: the feminist movement, as it represents the needs of women in society, will not achieve ultimate success unless it brings more men on side. The story here involves a young journalist named Everett who suddenly finds himself at a crossroads in his career. Living in a world where he seems to simply move from one assignment to another, Everett needs a spiritual change of scenery to shake up his perspective on life. This transformation will take place in the most comical and improbable of circumstances: starting with being talked into going to Florida to look after an ailing dad he hardly knows or really cares for all because his mum has promised to cover all his expenses. It is at this point of departure that Everett's ordinary life takes off with a bang. He has discovered the power of the Internet to make a difference in people's lives. But it is not that simple in the world of unintended consequences coming out of a new technology. It will take a big idea or two, a lot of connecting with some very inspirational people, a dose of courage, and some very curious circumstances to make it all happen. Everett will become a blogger on a mission to fight sexism, male chauvinism, sex abuse and exploitation. What he unleashes in this venture is nothing short of amazing. He has decided to go undercover and declare war on a large strip-joint operation about to open nearby. His attempt to right an obvious injustice will galvanize some very powerful forces on both sides of the debate while creating some humorous moments to lighten up the moment. While his blog creates quite a buzz in social media, he will not achieve a breakthrough until he goes public and squares off with the real enemy. "Poles Apart' is a novel that offers a powerful social message wrapped up in a delightfully funny story line involving disparate individuals looking to understand each other better. The initial victories here, while seeming to be sensational, are nothing more than steps in the right direction in an effort to get the word out to both sexes that women need to be treated fairly and equally.

Reflections on the Psalms
Reflections on the Psalms
by C.S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.97
49 used & new from CDN$ 7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts from the Heart of God, Nov. 7 2015
If you really want to enjoy the Psalms, first read this little study by the eminent Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis. In it you will find a wealth of information that helps explain what this book is really all about. To begin with, the voice of the psalmist, as expressed by a number of prominent persons of the day including King David, is one of petition, complaint, praise, or sorrow, all very emotional at that. In the Psalms you will find all that is weak, potentially vengeful, idyllic, and praiseworthy, which does not shock Lewis in the least bit. He sees this range of feelings as part of a human condition that comes from recognizing one's utter dependence on Jehovah as the eternal judge, the good shepherd, a shield and buckler against the arrows of the enemy, and a mighty fortress in time of trouble. The Psalms are not theology but a collection of beautiful poems that underscore a pregrace relationship between the Creator and his creatures, big or small, righteous or sinful, rich or poor. Praise abounds here because any despair and fear that may initially exist because of trying circumstances quickly gives way to a banquet of sweet communion, abundant thanksgiving, and great comfort. Bound up in the Psalms is the wonderful truth that God delivers his people whether it be during the time of Moses, David, Jesus or modern man. What gives the Psalms a special place in the canon of Scripture is that it contains very unmistakable references to Christ's birth, death and resurrection hundreds of years later. It is jon this basis that Lewis believes that the Psalms mirrors the rest of the Bible as it encapsulates the entire story of mankind - Creation, the Fall, Redemption and Glory.

A Special Providence ,by Yates, Richard ( 2009 ) Paperback
A Special Providence ,by Yates, Richard ( 2009 ) Paperback
by Richard Yates
Edition: Paperback
8 used & new from CDN$ 14.90

5.0 out of 5 stars The Reality of Attending the School of Hard Knocks, Nov. 6 2015
I have become a recent fan of Yates' literary school of American realism, which portrays life for what it is: an unbroken litany of failings based on individuals trying to pursue their dreams while coping with a personal flaw. The main affect of these stories is to remind the reader that while nothing changes in the fateful lives of Yates' protagonists, at least they do serve to remind us that in the end life is not kind regardless of how much we struggle to alter its predestined course. Such unhappy endings do not preclude an interesting and engaging adventure, full of suspense and drama, along the way, "A Special Providence" is a case in point. The main character is Bobby Prentice, a young boy seeking to enjoy his childhood while living under the thumb of a very domineering mother. Making the challenge even more difficult is the fact that Bobby's parents are divorced - a growing phenomenon in the Roaring Twenties - and his mother, Alice, doggedly and impractically insists on becoming an accomplished sculptor, regardless of the odds stacked against her. As this tragicomedy unwinds, Alice is so wrapped up in fulfilling her own needs that her son grows up unsure of who he is and what he wants to become. Yates is a powerful storyteller who fills his tales with vivid detail and defining moments that move the plot along to its inevitable conclusion: one dream must give way for another to emerge like a phoenix. War will play a major role in becoming that great divide between the fading away of the old and the beginning of the new, as Bobby grows up and finally becomes a man under very tough circumstances. There is no substitute for learning about life by experiencing adversity with all its savagery first hand. What he'll discover is that he is now in charge of his own uncertain destiny, no longer needing to stand in his mother's gathering shadows.

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