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A. Volk (Canada)
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Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
by Sam Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.20
24 used & new from CDN$ 15.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A guide to consciousness with some philosophy and Buddhist and Hindu "religious" practices, Sept. 15 2014
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I enjoyed Sam Harris' previous books on morality and free will, so it was with significant interest that I bought this new book. Unfortunately, I don't think it's for me. It is a guide to meditation (under a largely Buddhist philosophy) that does not seem to me to be particularly without religion. To begin with, I find the word spiritual to be problematic. What's a spirit? How do you measure it? It smacks of the infinite soul. And it's not what this book is about. This book is about one's consciousness, and whether it is good to try to alter or escape that consciousness. Harris believes it is good to alter it and it is possible to alter it. He even suggests drugs as a possibility for doing that (albeit with some cautions and as a second-class solution compared to meditation).

But where he really lost me is during his early discussion of consciousness/self/"I" when he suggests that it may be impossible for us to ever study it scientifically. As a scientist, I just don't buy that. If it's not infinite (as a "soul" would be), you can measure it. It doesn't last forever (it starts and ends with your death) so it is, by definition, finite and therefore measurable. Science has allowed us to measure stars billions of light years away using light that is billions of years old. Modern physicists believe that it might even be possible in the future to make scientific statements about other universes (that we can't directly enter and observe) if we happen to live in particular multiverses! These are things that would have earlier seemed impossible, so for him to immediately cop out and claim that it can't be done really tainted the book for me.

The rest of it is largely a discussion of the self/consciousness/"I" from three viewpoints. The first is scientific, and it's interesting (albeit without much new information) to read about the research on how our consciousness is tied to specific brain activity (e.g., split brain/corpus callosum). As a neuroscientist, Harris does a good job reviewing this evidence. Four stars for this because it's very good, but not very new to anyone who follows neuroscience.

The second is applied, regarding the health benefits of meditation. That's also interesting and worth thinking about. It's a growing area of scientific research that has generally received a fair bit of press, so I would give this four to five stars too.

The third is a mystical, spiritual, philosophical, whatever-ical look at how best to alter one's consciousness. Harris reviews various schools of Bhuddist and Hindu meditation along with their pros and cons. This is, for me, moderately interesting at best. He doesn't give enough practical instruction or detail to inform someone who's completely new to meditation (like I am). This would almost certainly be more interesting to someone who knows and/or practices meditation, but I found it like describing the pros and cons of various hockey teams to someone who doesn't know anything about hockey or those teams. Combine this with Harris' heavy reliance on anecdotes and personal thoughts makes me give this section 2 stars.

Overall then, I didn't experience any great epiphany here. I know that consciousness is important, and how we filter the world's input can greatly impact our quality of living. Cognitive psychology therapy has taught that for decades. I know that there are some real benefits to meditation and that science is increasingly supporting training of the mind. I find it intriguing that training one's mind can yield concrete benefits. But I must admit that I find very little strength behind his arguments that knowing your consciousness is a crucial key of spirituality that we should all embrace, especially when it's mostly based on anecdotes and untested differences between various forms Buddhist/Hindu methods of meditation.

Introspection, sure. Training yourself to have a quiet mind at times? OK. But altering consciousness as the key to it all? Sorry, I just don't get it. Maybe I needed to (as Harris suggests is true for some people who don't "get" his message) have had taken more drugs so I could recognize how cool an altered state of mind can be, but I actually rather don't want to do that thank you. In fact, I actually find a quote from Conan the Barbarian (the 1930s book, not the movie) to be more appropriate:

"Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."

OK, I don't do any slaying (beyond food), but the rest rings home to me. As a scientist and a human, I am interested in what we do know and figuring out what we don't know. Harris suggests meditation can reveal new truths about consciousness, but he does so at the same time as he denies that such truth can be measured scientifically. Meaning you have to take it on faith, which is starting to sound awfully religious to me. So I can only give this book 3 stars. It's a good philosophical discussion of consciousness, but not scientific enough for my tastes.

For the sake of being a more complete and helpful review to all readers (versus just those who share my point of view), I should say that if you feel a longing for something "spiritual" in your life without organized religion, or if you practice or want to know more about meditation, or if you are deeply intrigued by largely philosophical (vs. purely scientific) debates about the self/consciousness, then this book is almost certainly going to be a 4- or 5-star book for you.

Canada in the Great Power Game 1914-2014
Canada in the Great Power Game 1914-2014
by Gwynne Dyer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.91
19 used & new from CDN$ 19.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear-headed look at the motives and roles of Canada in post 1812-wars, Sept. 8 2014
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This book is about Canada's involvement in wars from the late 19th century through to modern times. It essentially questions why Canada got involved in each war and what was at stake for the country. Surprisingly, Dyer comes to the conclusion that essentially we went along to support our friends and that our vital interests were rarely, if ever, at stake. It's an interesting analysis and one that Dyer (along with Tina Viljoen) originally had pretty much written in the middle of the 1980s. It even spawned a CBC mini-series that was cancelled midway through the program, perhaps due to it being politically unpalatable. So it's certainly an interesting book, but is it an accurate book?

In many ways, I do agree with Dyer that we have never been directly threatened by non-involvement. In Word War I, if the Germans had been able to win, it would have been a very narrow win quite unlike the Allies' crushing actual victory. So we probably didn't need to win it to keep our interests safe. In World War II, Dyer correctly points out that it was really a Germany vs. USSR fight, with every other theatre of war essentially a side-show to that biblical conflict where the vast majority of casualties came from. He's also correct that the Allies did little to swing the outcome of that conflict militarily, as it was pretty much decided in 1941 and 1942. So in his alternate history, France and Britain don't pledge to protect Poland, who then allow the Germans to cross through an attack the Soviets directly. Perhaps not the most likely scenario, but it is one in which Canada's involvement is next to moot.

We then get to the Cold War period, which Canada starts off as almost a Great Power (at the end of WWII, we had the 4th largest military on the planet). Quickly though, Canada's influence begins to wane as we get drawn into NATO and into the nuclear cold war of the US. Here is perhaps the strongest argument that Canada was never really in any serious threat. The USSR was never in a position of power over the US, at best they could assure Mutually Assured Destruction. But what is most interesting here is the momentum that the military industrial complex maintains in generating a role for itself even when one clearly isn't necessary. I would offer the F-35 as a perfect case in point. The only countries that have sophisticated enough air defences to require a stealth jet are countries with nukes and/or economies that could cause massive global damage. It just doesn't make sense to attack them.

Dyer also discusses Canada's role in the League of Nations (a destructive role) and in the United Nations (a much more positive role, especially in its conception).

Overall then, this makes for an interesting read about Canada's military history and why we fought and for what purpose. I do think that Dyer seriously undervalues (i.e., ignores) the tremendous importance of supporting an ally. True, even if we were never in any real danger, becoming strong friends with the US and Britain have helped Canada internationally and economically. It's equally true that at times those relationships have been potentially dangerous (e.g., hosting US nuclear weapons), but Canada has generally steered clear of their foolish military adventures (e.g., Iraq II, Vietnam). So I think it's a much more complex issue than simple military strategies and strategic games. But Dyer does make a very good effort at getting the issue at least on the table of why we have a military, why we have used it, and what it has gained us. He doesn't provide all the answers, but he does raise some very interesting questions that make me give this book a strong four stars.

The Rockford Files: Season 3
The Rockford Files: Season 3
DVD ~ James Garner
Price: CDN$ 12.99
25 used & new from CDN$ 12.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Rockford continues strong in Season 3, Aug. 27 2014
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This review is from: The Rockford Files: Season 3 (DVD)
The recent passing (at the time of this review) of the series star James Garner made my enjoyment of this season of DVDs all the more poignant. Once again we have TV's favourite detective back in action as he tries to bail out friends, find missing people, run clever cons, and generally do what's necessary to help set things right. Rocky, Beth, Dennis, and Angel are all back in action, as are a number of other old guests (e.g., Gandy Fitch). The action is good, the plots interesting, and the humor is on point. This is definitely Rockford hitting his stride.

There's some really great episodes, like Drought at Indianhead River, The Oracle Wore a Cashmire Suit, The Trouble with Warren and others. Unfortunately, not every episode hits the mark. I think both of the two-part episodes suffer from at least one poor character in each. Other negatives include the somewhat cheap folding layout of the DVD boxset (that encourages a tab to break and the boxset becoming unwieldly) and a rather useless DVD bonus of an episode from Season 4 (Quickie Nirvana). That might be nice if this was the only season of Rockford you bought, but given how fun these episodes generally are, I can't see too many people starting and stopping their collection with this season. Which makes it poor DVD extra, but as I just implied, the overall quality of this series and its episodes are more than enough to satisfy any fan of the Rockford Files or to encourage any new fans to keep watching the rest of the series. So while it's not perfect, it's more than good enough to get five stars from me.

Roman Soldier vs Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD
Roman Soldier vs Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD
by Lindsay Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.40
36 used & new from CDN$ 9.27

4.0 out of 5 stars A good overview of the battles, Aug. 17 2014
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This is a strong entry in the Osprey series of Combat. It details three battles: Teutoburg Pass, Idistaviso, and the Angrivarian Wall. The first battle is the famous ambush that cost Varus his life and his legions (leading Augustus to cry "Varus, give me back my legions!"). It essentially relied on the Roman's allies lying to them and ambushing them. Varus had some very real clues to this happening, but he chose to trust his "allies" instead. Led by Arminius, a former ambassador to Rome (who had experience watching and/or fighting with the Legions), the ambush was devastatingly effective in wiping out 15-25,000 men. Later sources claim that the weather was also perfectly aligned against the Romans, although earlier sources make no mention of this. Which is a strength of this book- it does not take sources simply at face value and tries to instead weigh their likely validity.

The remaining two battles come about a decade later, when the Roman commander Germanicus decides to avenge the humiliation suffered earlier. Original a pretext for maintaining moral within the ranks of the legions, it turns out to be a full campaign where the Romans defeat the Germans in an open battle and then a set-piece battle. The power and flexibility of Roman armies is well displayed here.

The book contains details about the army's equipment and leaders, as well as some tactical details. The illustrations are good but there aren't enough of them to make a major difference in whether or not you should buy this book. I did take off half a star for the author claiming that the war of Germans vs. Romans was essentially a draw. That's a very generous way of looking at it from the Germanic point of view. In reality, they one a single surprise battle based on the complete deception of a formerly trusted ally. In open battle they fell to the Romans and in a set-piece battle, they fell again. What ended the Roman campaign (in a very similar way to which Japan was spared from the Mongols) was a ferocious storm that scattered much of the victorious Roman army when it attempted to return home by sea. It was these loses that gave the Roman emperor Tiberius reason for not wanting to finish off the Germans. So really it was a brilliant, but lucky ambush, then two clear losses, then some great luck on behalf of Mother Nature.

All in all then, this is a four to five star book. Because there are more in-depth treatments of the subject, and with the comments above, I felt that it was probably a four-star book. But I wouldn't quibble too much if someone thought it was five stars, and I do recommend it for providing a good introduction and overview to the two different armies at the time.

German Infantryman vs Soviet Rifleman: Barbarossa 1941
German Infantryman vs Soviet Rifleman: Barbarossa 1941
by David Campbell
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.40
32 used & new from CDN$ 9.05

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good as a basic introduction, Aug. 11 2014
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This is a good, but brief, overview of the basic picture of the German-Soviet conflict in summer-fall of 1941 from the infantry perspective. The size of the book is an indication that it's not meant to be an authoritative guide. Individual diaries/biographies as well as more detailed books about the war would all offer a more comprehensive treatment of the topic at hand. In fact, this book is largely limited to a slice of the German mechanized infantry and their role in three battles during the start of Barbarossa: Zhlobin, Smolensk, and Vas'Kovo. There is a brief discussion of their equipment, organization, and leadership.

Overall, I think this book is useful as a primer to the conflict and the soldiers involved in it. In that regards, it's perhaps 5 stars. But as a more general book on the topic, I found that I learned very little new information from this book. For anyone who knows more than the basics of the Soviet-German war, it's perhaps a 2 star book. The comparison between the two types of infantry are really quite basic and leave out some important details (e.g., that many early Soviet infantrymen were pressed into battle without any weapons). The illustrations are interesting, but there aren't enough of them to dramatically raise the value of the book.

Given that its small size should make it clear who it's intended for (the first group of people), I'm going to give it a generous 4-star rating.

The Walking Dead Volume 21: All Out War Part 2
The Walking Dead Volume 21: All Out War Part 2
by Robert Kirkman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.51
32 used & new from CDN$ 7.26

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In all out war, Kirkman finds his groove, July 31 2014
The series was, in my opinion, starting to drag on with this war versus Negan. It needed a conclusion. We get plenty of action through the battle scenes, as well as some very interesting dialogue between the characters. Kirkman is trying to make a clear contrast between Rick and Negan, and what the two leaders will do to win the war. There's a few good twists in this volume that actually caught me off guard and didn't leave me shaking my head at the writing. So for that reason, I think I can safely give this a 5 star rating for fans of the series. It's not my favorite volume of the series (the early ones win that distinction), but it's definitely one of the stronger recent volumes in the series.

The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories
The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories
by Robert W. Chambers
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.96
27 used & new from CDN$ 9.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great, collection of weird fiction stories, July 27 2014
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As I suspect many people will, I bought this book because of my interest in HP Lovecraft as an author and understanding his source materials. The book is billed as a series of horror stories, but in my opinion it's more like a series of weird stories. Some of the stories are in fact horror stories (Maker of Moons was my favorite, and very HPL-like, Yellow Sign, Harbor Master, and The Messenger were also good) while others are simple strange stories (e.g., The Mask, The Demoiselle D'Ys). Overall, the quality of the writing is good, but not great. Almost all the stories start off with the plot device of someone recounting an implausible story in a note or article. The writing is also interested as a turn of the 20th-century piece of writing, but it's definitely not perfect. Taking all of that into consideration, I think this is a good, but not great collection of weird fiction that will moderately appeal to fans of HPL, weird fiction, or turn-of-the 20th Century writing. 3.5 stars rounded up

One Renegade Cell: The Quest For The Origin Of Cancer
One Renegade Cell: The Quest For The Origin Of Cancer
by Robert A. Weinberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.78
30 used & new from CDN$ 5.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Explaining cancer and the science behind it, July 23 2014
I love this book for two reasons. First, it clearly explains (albeit in technical terms) what cancer is. It's not an infectious disease. It's not a foreign agent invading our body. It is, quite simply, a cell who's DNA gets damaged or mutated to a point where it ignores an important rule of multicellular life: don't keep reproducing yourself. Unlike bacteria, who can grow unchecked, if cells within a multicellular organism keep growing, the organism does too. If the cells in your fingers kept growing, your fingers would grow like your finger nails do. Clearly, that's not a viable way to "build" a body. So our cells are programmed to only grow under the right conditions, and to turn off growth (and even commit suicide) when they receive the right chemical signals. When you have cancer, the ability to respond to those signals, as well as the internal settings to stop growing, all go out the window. Which is one reason it's so hard to treat- you are literally trying to target and kill a part of your own body that's just a little bit different from the rest. Deadly different, but it's still essentially part of you.

All of that is fascinating to read, and clearly illustrates the nature of cancer. But there's another reason I really enjoyed this book. It's a brilliant science book. The importance of basic research is clearly stated here. Who would have thought that studying sex amongst tiny worms was worth spending research dollars on? Well, it was because it illustrated some of the crucial mechanisms that underlie cell growth and death. Without that knowledge, a deep understanding of cancer (and its cure) would have been impossible. So this book not only educates about cancer, but about basic science in general. It's not aimed at an audience who lack some understanding of cellular biology as it discusses actual mechanisms in a way that could lose a casual reader. Even there though, I think it's analogies are good enough to grasp the basics of the facts even if the details elude the reader. So for the general reader, this is a four star book. For those with a bit of a background in biology/medicine/science, this is easily a five star book.

Applied Multiple Regression/Correlation Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences by Jacob Cohen Stephen G. West Leona Aiken Patricia Cohen 3rd (third) Revised edition (2002) Hardcover
Applied Multiple Regression/Correlation Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences by Jacob Cohen Stephen G. West Leona Aiken Patricia Cohen 3rd (third) Revised edition (2002) Hardcover
by Jacob Cohen Stephen G. West Leona Aiken Patricia Cohen
Edition: Hardcover
2 used & new from CDN$ 215.60

5.0 out of 5 stars A classic stats book, July 23 2014
This book is one of the tools that helped me really understand the mechanics (i.e., the guts) of multiple regression. A classic when it was written decades ago, it remains in print because it is one of the most authoritative guides to multiple regressions. It begins with a thorough review of correlations, including formulas where required (I still hand-calculate the significance of a difference between correlations with these equations). The remainder of the book (75% or so) deals with multiple regression in all of its various forms. It includes recommendations for what kind of regressions to use with what type of data, a detailed discussion of assumptions (and their violation), a discussion of effect sizes, and of course a detailed description of how regression actually does what it does. The Venn diagrams within are instrumental in understanding the concepts surrounding explained variation.

So at what level is this book best pitched at? I used it, and suggest its use for, graduate students in the social sciences who are already familiar with basic statistics and who are now interested in looking under the hood of the engine so to speak. It should instill a much greater understanding of, familiarity with, and use of regressions and correlations. It's absolutely not a book for beginners, but I think the title alone makes that clear. It's not my absolute favorite amongst statistical books, but it's definitely in the Top Five, so it gets 5 stars from me.

Superman Classic: The Superman Reusable Sticker Book
Superman Classic: The Superman Reusable Sticker Book
by Alaina Sudeith
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 7.59
20 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Decent, but not great, July 16 2014
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This is a simple book of stickers that are broadly reusable. The children I gave it to had a hard time reusing the stickers more than twice, reducing its overall value. Still, the backgrounds are interesting and there are a variety of settings to put the stickers in. They work best on the specially surfaced paper in this book, but can also be applied to other surfaces (although that reduces their reusability). Overall then, it's an OK book for kids 3, maybe 3.5 stars out of 5.

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