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Reviews Written by
Gordon Ritchie "Woodpusher" (Ottawa, Canada)
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After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam
After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 13.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Superficial Account of a Great Schism, Sept. 10 2014
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Unlike her epic account of the life of the Prophet, this potted history of the great schism following his death provides little insight into a critical period in the history of Islam. A great deal of the first part of the book is the rehashing, often word-for-word, of the earlier work which leaves a sour taste in the mouth of anyone who struggles through both.
The story itself is riveting as the disciples of the Prophet prove to be very human indeed with their vicious infighting and internecine warfare. It has become politically correct to say that Islam is a religion that preaches peace among all men and above all condemns the killing of fellow Muslims. This is, of course, absolute bosh. The Prophet himself led armies engaged in the brutal putting down of his religious rivals during his lifetime, killing the men and enslaving the women. His successors continued in this violent tradition---arguably not unlike other religions, including Christianity in whose name terrible atrocities were committed.
As the rest of the world stands almost helplessly by as the bitterly opposed forces of the two great branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia, go after one another with horrific violence it is important to understand the roots of this great divide. Unfortunately, this book does not contribute greatly to this understanding beyond recounting the weary tales of Aisha and Ali and the other early followers of the great Prophet.

Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 15.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Adds Very Little to our Understanding of the Bush Presidency, Sept. 10 2014
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Peter Baker is an experienced White House correspondent (New York Times) and author of several previous books. In this instance, it would appear that he felt that he could maximize his investment in covering the Bush (43) White House by writing a book summarizing the events of this highly controversial presidency. The subject is already crowded with other works so Baker adopted the device of focusing on the tension between President Bush and Veep Cheney. The book opens and closes with perhaps the most painful difference between these two close collaborators, over a possible pardon for the Veep's disgraced chief of staff, Scooter Libby. (When Bush declined to pardon Libby, Cheney snarled that he had left a good soldier wounded on the battlefield.)
The result is not very satisfying and the literary device simply cannot stand the strain of tying the narrative together. Instead, what we read is a rather disjointed and rambling account of the Bush years adding little if anything to the recounting or interpretation of this momentous period of American history. It is not badly written but nor is it of the quality we would normally expect from a journalist and author of Baker's caliber. He does make the case that while Cheney's influence in the first term was remarkable, Bush remained "The Decider". By the second term, the relationship had cooled as Bush became more confident in his own expertise (one is left to wonder why after the fiascoes of Iraq and Lehmann's) and Cheney became more marginalized, displaced by Condi Rice and Stephen Hadley among others. This is very much "inside the beltway" stuff and adds very little to our understanding of the dynamic.
Left barely touched and then only as an afterthought in the Epilogue is the fascinating relationship to the Obama presidency now half way through its troubled and disappointing second term. Obama, as Baker notes, came to office in no small measure as a reaction to the disastrous Bush administration, as Obama managed to outdo even his Republican rival, John McCain, in castigating Bush for his failures in foreign policy and the management of the economy. As Obama now returns American firepower to Iraq it is looking increasingly like "Bush's fourth term" as some commentators have quipped. From the return to Iraq to the bail-out of the banks to the failure to make any progress on immigration reform, Obama has found that the facts on the ground overwhelmed the election rhetoric and he has come to chart a course very similar to that laid out by his much reviled predecessor.

ChessBase Complete: Chess in the Digital Age
ChessBase Complete: Chess in the Digital Age
Price: CDN$ 16.63

5.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Guide to an Indispensable Tool for the Competitive Chessplayer, Sept. 10 2014
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Jon Edwards is one of those rare birds, a correspondence chess master. He is also a consummate expert in the use of ChessBase, the software tool of choice for most players, and has used it to publish a number of quickie (and inexpensive) e-books. As an over-the-board chessplayer who is a heavy user of chess software, I was not sure what value I would find in Edwards's latest work, "ChessBase Complete." I need not have worried. This is an excellent manual for deepening one's expertise in the indispensable use of the software. Contrary to at least one review of the hardcover version, I did not find that it simply covered old ground. It very significantly added to my understanding of the most effective use of many features of the application. I highly recommend this book, in paper or electronic format. (I opted for the Kindle version.)

The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad
The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Price: CDN$ 10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars illuminating, Aug. 18 2014
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In large measure, the charm of this work resides in the idiosyncratic, highly didactic style Hazelton adopts to tell the extraordinary account of the life of one of the most influential figures in world history. An illuminating introduction to a highly relevant subject.

Science, Kasparov, and Fischer
Science, Kasparov, and Fischer
Price: CDN$ 1.39

1.0 out of 5 stars drivel, March 25 2014
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This bizarre effort is pure, unadulterated drivel. The title is highly misleading. This is absolutely not recommended at any price.

Kindle Paperwhite 3G, 6" High Resolution Display with Built-in Light, Free 3G + Wi-Fi [Previous Generation]
Kindle Paperwhite 3G, 6" High Resolution Display with Built-in Light, Free 3G + Wi-Fi [Previous Generation]

5.0 out of 5 stars Revolutionary, March 8 2014
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What remains to be said about this product or should I say system since it is inextricably intertwined with the Amazon bookstore. It is a near flawless implementation of the ebook revolution. Highly recommended and much appreciated.

Building the Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the Historic Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP
Building the Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the Historic Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP
by Brad Lavigne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.91
21 used & new from CDN$ 21.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading, March 8 2014
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In one of the most remarkable political achievements in any modern country, Jack Layton led the NDP from a position of perennial also ran in Canada, but especially in Quebec, to an electoral sweep of that province that vaulted the party to the official opposition. Tragically, Layton, whose personal charisma had played a huge role in this success, succumbed to cancer before he could enjoy the fruits of his labours.
This account is by one of the key organizers in this extraordinary campaign. It is workmanlike and explanatory without giving away the party secrets. It is required reading for anyone interested in Canadian politics.

Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy
Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 17.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Overtaken by Events, March 8 2014
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Pollack is an excellent writer and insightful observer of international affairs. Regrettably, this book has been badly overtaken by events. I cannot recommend it.

Spanish Wine Guide (Wines of Spain)
Spanish Wine Guide (Wines of Spain)
Price: CDN$ 5.24

2.0 out of 5 stars Superficial, March 8 2014
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I cannot recommend this product. It is extremely superficial and generally unhelpful. There are much better resources freely available on the Web.

The Best Laid Plans
The Best Laid Plans
by Terry Fallis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
54 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, March 8 2014
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This review is from: The Best Laid Plans (Paperback)
With very few exceptions (notably House of Cards in its original British and current American versions), attempts at political fiction fall flat. They are either strictly by and for insiders and are poorly written; or they are written by authors who have no real appreciation for the intricacies of modern politics and settle instead for cardboard cutout characters.
This is a remarkable exception, doubly exceptional in that it is Canadian. I can think of no other Canadian political fiction that achieves the same quality. It is very well written and, in places, absolutely belly-laughing hilarious. Yet is does bear a recognizable resemblance to actual goings on in Canada's capital.
I first came across this in the form of a very well done CBC miniseries of the same title which I very much enjoyed. That led me to the book on which the television production was, at least in part, based. The book was, in its own way, excellent and the quality was continued in the highly entertaining sequel, High Road. I cannot remember when I have laughed so hard at any account of the tragi-comic world of Canadian political shenanigans.
I highly recommend both these excellent books to Canadian readers.
(I am afraid much of the humour will be missed by those "from away".)

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