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Reviews Written by
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)

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Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
by Joanthan Aitken
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.31
27 used & new from CDN$ 23.24

5.0 out of 5 stars A Well-Tempered Appraisal of a Prominent Public Life, April 17 2014
This review is from: Margaret Thatcher (Hardcover)
“At the beginning of her eleven and a half years at No. 10 Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher’s style of leadership was a perplexing mixture of intuition, caution, angry reactions and courageous initiatives.”
-Jonathan Aitken, “Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality”

I have read enough of Lady Thatcher’s life to know that she was anything but a perfect leader for the times, but who is these days? What Aitken, a loyalist and friend, does here is separate the wheat from the chaff in an attempt to find those qualities that made her a prominent prime minister in her time. That means wading through a lot of material that shows her as downright irritating, abrasive, dominating and domineering when it came to getting her way on issues that needed more consent than force. But having said that, Aitken has no problem giving us reason to respect her determination and courage in implementing much needed national change, even in the face of opposition from colleagues who would rather dither and dare. Britain was certainly in need of strong leadership at No. 10 Downing during the seventies and eighties: the nation was in serious decline, what with perpetual labor unrest and economic stagnation. What I like about this book is that it offers the good and not-so-good about her leadership and produces a credible narrative as to how Thatcher almost single-handedly restored a sense of national pride in the country even though it came with some unintended consequences. This book captures her single-mindedness when it came to revitalizing the country, even though the vision was not without controversy. Her aggressive launching of the Falklands War, while it allowed the country to once more rally around the flag, will be forever seen by some as nothing short of jingoistic. Her plan to privatize government assets as a way of jumpstarting the economy will always been seen as only benefiting the few. Her uncompromising desire to break the trade unions rather than negotiate with them showed a grit that both won her national admiration and loathing. Thatcher’s efforts to make Britain a mover and shaker in negotiations to end the Cold War, while timely, exposed the country as a largely second-rate performer that marched to Washington’s drumbeat. While Thatcher is accurately portrayed as a very intelligent leader who understood the need to effectively use power for the greater good, it was her somewhat ‘flawed’ personality that caused her grand vision of national greatness to get bogged down in party infighting. Aitken covers those tense moments very well because, unlike others, he was there from start to finish and was prepared to acknowledge that her strenghts far outweighed her failings.

Smart Weigh ACE110 Digital Shipping, Postal Scale with Extendable Cord - Backlit Display - Hold Feature - Batteries and AC Adapter Included - High Capacity of 110lb.
Smart Weigh ACE110 Digital Shipping, Postal Scale with Extendable Cord - Backlit Display - Hold Feature - Batteries and AC Adapter Included - High Capacity of 110lb.
Offered by MeasuPro
Price: CDN$ 44.95
2 used & new from CDN$ 39.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Little Device for the Kitchen and Office, April 13 2014
We now have a very accurate, portable, convenient to store and easy-to-set-up electronic scales for a wide-range of items. For us, its decent-sized weighing platform, large-size digital readout, and long cord makes it very easy to handle. No more squinting to get the exact measurement; no more trying to figure out the number of ounces, and no more having to find a space to store your old bulky scales. One little selling feature that has got my wife excited is that with the press of a button it subtracts the weight of the container from the gross weight, giving the net weight of the ingredients. Pretty impressive. Everything about this space-age device indicates convenience. Good value.

Keep It Pithy: Useful Observations in a Tough World
Keep It Pithy: Useful Observations in a Tough World
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Straight-Shooting and No-Nonsense, April 13 2014
Bill O’Reilly, the famous commentator for FOX News, has recently released his twelfth book on all things conservative and libertarian. As one of the main voices of the American political right, this man is one of those outspoken and articulate individuals who has no trouble being understood for what he has to say about American culture. You might not always agree with him but rarely will you find it hard to understand where he is coming from. He speaks as a critic of all that he feels is significantly wrong out there. Based on a collection of musings from columns and op-eds written over the years, O’Reilly has compiled this book as a call for people to take back their culture - in other words, their lives - from the forces of liberalism and big government. Each of the sections here looks at a part of traditional society that is being eroded by the creeping forces of materialism, atheism, socialism, consumerism, greed, political corruption, and hypocrisy. Parents, if you want to raise good children, you have to be exemplary role models to them. Adults, if you want to avoid addiction, avoid temptations like porn, alcohol, infidelity and drugs. He also has a timely warning for those on the Christian Right: don’t try and fight God’s battles against all that seems to be wrong in society. Instead, get on with living out what your religious convictions teach you about virtue, self-control and compassion. If O’Reilly’s public life is anything to go by, don’t try and live according to how the world would like you to live. Core values are not up for negotiation, nor should they come with big-winded explanations. What counts is all from the heart after it has been processed through the mind.

Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study
Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study
Price: CDN$ 10.70

5.0 out of 5 stars Coming to Grips With Our Mortality, Men!, April 9 2014
I always knew there were longitudinal studies out there that looked at the aging process over time, but discovering the epic Grant Study from Harvard just blew me away. Vaillant, as a faculty member of that school's psychiatry department, takes the opportunity in this book to review and explore the updated results of this mammoth study of Harvard grads as it deals with surviving participants, many of whom are in their eighties and nineties. While the criteria for assessment is simple to follow - a list of ten general accomplishments or satisfactions including parental and spousal relations, the follow-up analysis is complex, instructive, revealing and profound. Based on extensive interviews with more than fifty survivors, Vaillant saw some interesting trends and correlations. Many of the individuals - all men for an obvious reason - demonstrated a significant maturation tendency over their respective lives that reflect an ability to change for the better and overcome life's many challenges. Much of the findings support the famous psychiatrist Erik Erickson's claims that we go through various stages of growth on the road to more fully appreciating our mortality. There was a very telling relationship between effective parenting in early childhood and an ability to live a stable and fulfilling life. The subjects who grew up in a dysfunctional family, on the whole, took longer to adjust and become fulfilled beings. If my life is anything to go by, the love of a very affirming father and a wonderful spouse are important forces in establishing how we males often come to grips with our inevitable mortality by learning to positively influence succeeding generation.

Dirty Wars
Dirty Wars
DVD ~ Jeremy Scahill
Price: CDN$ 21.98
18 used & new from CDN$ 17.11

5.0 out of 5 stars Doggedly Chasing the Truth, April 8 2014
This review is from: Dirty Wars (DVD)
Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill is one of those rare persons who makes a habit of daring to go where even angels fear to tread in order to get the story in all its ugliness and notoriety. Danger hardly begins to describe what the author of “Blackwater” is prepared to accept in order to expose a great wrong. In the last six years or so, the US government has set up a secret organization named JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) that is answerable only to the National Security Agency. As the American military leaves Afghanistan and significantly downsizes, a smaller, more mobile fighting force is taking over that takes control of the deployment of missile-equipped drone attacks against terrorist targets mainly in the Middle-East. Tenaciously pursuing a number of leads in places like Afghanistan, Yemen and east Africa, Scahill has been able to establish that the White House and Obama have introduced a new and deadlier game of counter-terrorism. Gone are the conventional feet on the ground and in its place are drone attacks strategically targeting Al Qaeda camps. Tragically, many of these strikes have resulted in the loss of innocent lives from faulty intelligence. The few top-level contacts that Scahill has been able to maintain back in the US choose to see this as the price one has to pay to keep terrorism in check: collateral damage in other words. His efforts to bring this terrible injustice to light has compelled him to take to the airways, the talk shows, and the halls of government in search of answers. Each time, he has become frustrated by the dumbfounding reality called the proverbial wall of silence, which secret operations such as this tend to hide behind.

Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples
Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples
by Francis Chan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.64
38 used & new from CDN$ 7.90

5.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of Christianity, April 6 2014
As a Christian writer and church builder, Chan has never held back in declaring that the heart of Christianity is found in a covenantal relationship between God and his creation. This book is primarily meant as a course to help those new disciples who are learning for the first time the implications of being part of this supernatural relationship based on God's promise to those who follow him in this new life. However, I found it a very clear reminder of how God faithfully moves through history, seeking those who want to be part of his heavenly kingdom. Easy to read, "Multiply" outlines what it means to be a follower of Christ and honor the call of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18. As an evangelist and visionary, Chan believes that the New Testament church, as it exists today in innumerable local forms, is the all-critical manifestation of how God and His Son, with the help of the Holy Spirit, are building a universal church of transformed lives given to worship and service. This can only happen if we go out into the world sharing with others what God has done for us, namely giving us a sure hope that God is true to His word. Accompanying this heavenly command is the historical record that Chan reviews in detail. It shows God as always interested in re-establishing an intimate relationship with a fallen creation even though it may not always be responsive to his wooings. The power of evangelism that Chan envisages is as simple as one poor sinner saved by grace and led by the Spirit telling another the good news of salvation. That is how God makes an eternal difference in our present lives.

12 Years A Slave / Esclave pendant 12 ans (Bilingual)
12 Years A Slave / Esclave pendant 12 ans (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Chiwetel Ejiofor
Price: CDN$ 19.97
2 used & new from CDN$ 19.97

5.0 out of 5 stars Fighting for One's Freedom, April 5 2014
I can well appreciate why this film received top billing at this year’s Academy Awards. While the storyline is not a complex one to follow, its characters all play vital roles in support of a time-honored theme: finding the courage to fight for one’s liberty against incredible odds. From the outset, this tale has a huge wrong that must be righted. Back in the 1840s, before the issue of slavery drove a wedge between the North and the South, it was not uncommon for freed blacks in states like New York to be abducted by criminal gangs intent on selling them as slaves in New Orleans. Based on the personal trials and tribulations of one such victim, Solomon Northup, an accomplished musician, we see a remarkable tale of human misery, matched by incredible courage and tenacity, as he tries to survive in hope of regaining his freedom and all the blessings that go with it. We are not spared the many moments of wanton cruelty and human degradation involved in perpetuating the evils of slavery. This production shows this culture for what it is: corrupt, wretched, disgusting, atrocious, wicked and immoral. But like a lot of bad things in life, this brand of tyranny has to get a whole lot worse before the forces of good come to the rescue. The success of this movie comes in its many poignant moments when evil is confronted and stopped in its tracks by men and women willing to suffer for their convictions. After watching this film, I once again marvel at what the human spirit can endure in order to be free from oppression. To think that such bondage still exists today in various forms around the world makes me think that we still have a long way to go before all humankind is equal under God.

The Kraus Project
The Kraus Project
by Jonathan Franzen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.92

3.0 out of 5 stars A Prophet Not Honored In His Own Country, March 31 2014
This review is from: The Kraus Project (Hardcover)
If Franzen's purpose for writing this book is to evoke the long-forgotten genius of one of Austria's more controversial cultural critics, in the person of Karl Kraus, he certainly did not succeed with me. While reading this book, based on an annotated translation and critique of two of Kraus' easier-to-read essays on the works of Heine and Nestroy, we are treated to a grand view of a 19th century literary world being hijacked by political and nationalistic forces intent on destroying individual creativity and freedom to criticize. The lyrical poetry of the German Heine and the satirical barbs of the Austrian playwright Nestroy do not fair well here. For Kraus' money, both men, while admittedly popular in their time, failed to openly challenge what was starting to set in across a greater Germany: a rising jingoism, a growing nationalism, an emergence of statism, and the appearance of pulp novels. This lament of things gone bad is full of hate for all that does not measure up to Kraus' high standards of literary freedom. According to Kraus, no writer should ever be tempted to cater to popular whims when it comes to telling the truth about what is going wrong in society, unpopular as that may be. Heine waxed poetic on things that were false, while Nestroy failed to use his rapier-like wit to expose the rot of a decadent society that refused to reform. For those who follow and endorse these writers, Kraus roundly condemns them as the easily duped, unsuspecting public that look to be entertained rather than intellectually challenged. While I read everything in this book except Kraus in the original, I would be more tempted to seek out the many other works of Heine and Nestroy to see how warranted Kraus' concerns really were. If Franzen, as a very popular novelist of works like "Freedom", has suddenly become uncomfortable with his sudden success, I guess he has found confirmation for his doubt in the grumbling pronouncements of a prophetic voice from the past.

Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris
Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris
by David King
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Complex Case With a Simple Solution, March 26 2014
Here is one of those ghoulish stories that is meant to give you the shivers any time of the day. It is the account of a Parisian doctor named Petiot who, in the space of three years during the German occupation, murdered an estimated sixty people. King has done considerable research in an effort to uncover as much of this grim tale as possible so that his readers can begin to understand motive, means, and opportunity. Petiot was one of those bluebeards who saw an opportunity to entrap his unwitting victims - mostly Jewish refugees looking to escape - and clinically dispose of them in the most heinous fashion under cover of a very tumultuous time in French history. When the readers fully absorb what King lays out in this book as to the forensic background to these serial killings, they will have to agree that they happened because of a significant breakdown in law and order that allowed evil to go unchecked. The book takes a close look at who Petiot was as a competent doctor and a less-than-honest citizen, how and why he masterminded this crime, and how he managed to cover it up for so long. The book devotes a lot of attention to the often frustrated but dogged detective work to apprehend Petiot. Besides compiling a list of the numerous victims who could only be identified from pieces of clothing, notes and jewelry found at the apartment of Le Sueur Street, the Metro police had to fan out into the countryside to follow a tangle of leads that involved Nazi, Resistance, and Jewish connections. The subsequent trial became, at times, a circus in which Petiot and his lawyers tried to show that what he did was simply eliminate traitors. Mention is made of how, years later, authorities learned how he killed his unwitting victims. There is enough information here to help us determine why Petiot committed such dastardly offenses. What might be missing is any evidence that would point to an underlying psychosis or sexual aberration, because the man, during his trial, definitely came across as deranged. It would seem that France, in the closing months of the war, wants to dispatch with the embarrassment of this monster as quickly possible. I recommend this book as good historical drama that brings a badly divided nation together in a common cause.

Crazy Town
Crazy Town
by Robyn Doolittle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
37 used & new from CDN$ 8.12

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dirt on the Fords, March 23 2014
This review is from: Crazy Town (Hardcover)
Talk about turning things upside down in a jiffy. It is 2010 and Torontonians are preparing to elect a new mayor. One moment it looked like four more years of the same staid, middle-of-the-road soft civic leadership from the centre Left, and then it all changed. Councillor Rob Ford from Etobicoke threw his hat in the ring, and life in Canada’s largest city has never been the same. Doolittle has written a candid crackerjack of a book covering a large part of Ford and the family name from the mid-20th century on what helps to explain why a loud-mouth, obnoxious, bombastic individual like Rob Ford can find himself in a place of political prominence in a city known to despise conservative politicians. While her account reads like a cautionary and sensational tale with a wicked twist, it is much better than that. Doolittle actually wants her readers to understand that Ford is as much a creation of the culture he and his brothers grew up in the eighties and nineties as he is a terribly flawed individual. The fact that Ford and his clan have manipulated the counter-culture media into seeing him as a tough, no-nonsense populist of a politician speaks volumes about his abilities as a modern plutocrat. With the libertarian crowd behind him, Ford can basically be anything, say anything, and do anything he wants because he’s the boss, including his regular use of profanity, slandering his opponents, doing drugs, drinking in public, and hanging out with the criminal element. When faced with the evidence that he is committing reprehensible actions, he and the rest of the Fords go into denial mode. Through controversial year after year in public office, both as a councilor and mayor, Ford continues to hold his popularity which has Doolittle musing what next. As an investigative reporter, she has definitely earned the right to be regarded as an authority on all things Ford.

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