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Content by Peter V. Tamas
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Reviews Written by
Peter V. Tamas (New Brunswick area, NJ United States)

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Mailer on Mailer (Widescreen)
Mailer on Mailer (Widescreen)
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 56.39
7 used & new from CDN$ 35.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Mailer talks about America, Nov. 9 2003
The cover of this DVD describes Norman Mailer as:
- novelist
- journalist
- activist
- provocateur
I'm not entirely certain if this DVD is really about any of these four Norman Mailers. While you are certainly left with the impression that Mailer did well in all of these fields, in the end, he does not spend much time describing himself in any of these areas. Instead, he talks about how he felt about America and American events from WWII through the Clinton presidency.
If you're hoping for some profound insights on being a novelist, you will get a few.
If you teach high school social studies and want to provoke discussion amongst your students, you will get that from this DVD. Mailer comments that we should permit the public to watch executions because either people will grow tired of it or we will learn something about human nature. That should keep a bunch of teenagers busy for an hour or so. There are many other similarly provocative comments.
I enjoyed Mailer's descriptions of the Ali-Forman fight in "When we Were Kings." Clearly, Mailer is capable of an equally insightful and interesting discussion of what made him tick as a writer. But in this DVD you will only see bits of that. I venture to guess that either Mailer or the makers of documentaries about Mailer not quite ready to make such a film.

Appalachian Trail Data Book 2003
Appalachian Trail Data Book 2003
by Daniel Chazin
Edition: Paperback
8 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Just the Mileage without the Verbage, Nov. 9 2003
I've used this little book with great success to help plan hikes for children along the Appalachian Trail. According to the back cover, "It consistently ranks No. 1 among the publications long-distance hikers take with them." I have no doubt this is so. Its is a small book filled with easily accessed information condensed from the 11 official Trail guidebooks.
This book is essentially a long chart listing what a hiker will encounter along the Appalachian Trail with mileage listed to one-tenth mile exactness. For example, in a matter of minutes, you can determine, that the distance along the trail from Pennsylvania route 309 to Hawk Mountain Road is 11.5 miles. If you wish to plan a hike on the Trail in, say, New Jersey, you simply find the NJ border (marked as 97.8 miles from NY/CT border and 63.1 miles from the PA/NJ border) and read down until you find a section that meets your needs. The locations of springs, shelters, privies, roads and other landmarks are listed in the order you will encounter them. For the hikers who need re-supply information, restaurants, stores and post offices (with zip code to send yourself supplies) are included.
Gleaning the same information from a normal guidebook will take much longer. Also, a normal guide book may be geared to day hikes while the reader of this book will be concerned more with multi-day hikes requiring springs and spots that the Trail crosses a road. This guide will help you consider starting/ending points other than that picked by the authors of the day-hike guide books.
On a recent (October 18, 2003) hike, I noticed a group of teenaged boys and a frustrated-looking adult. They had been unable to find the Eckville shelter. Their guide had indicated it was .2 miles along the trail southbound from Hawk Mountain Road. This guide indicated it was .2 miles EAST, rather than associating a specific mileage. The terse but accurate information in the Data Book helped us to find the shelter (its along Hawk Mountain Road east bound, downhill, from the trail).
If you need detailed descriptions of the Trail, you should consider the "Exploring the Appalachian Trail" series from Stackpole books, such as the one covering Maryland, PA, NJ, and NY by Scherer and Hopey. But even with that excellent guidebook, I found I referred back to the Data Book frequently and carried a photocopied page of the Data Book with me while hiking.
Note that this book will not describe the difficulty of a specific section of the trail. For that you will need other sources of information as well. On the other hand, if you frequently hike sections of the Appalachian Trail and will purchase more than one book on the topic, you will find this to be well worth its inexpensive cost.

The Madness of King George (Widescreen) (Sous-titres français) [Import]
The Madness of King George (Widescreen) (Sous-titres français) [Import]
DVD ~ Nigel Hawthorne
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 115.04
13 used & new from CDN$ 28.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The king is tortured by bumbling doctors� and its fun!!!, Nov. 8 2003
I saw this movie on a business trip in London when it first showed in the theaters and again recently on DVD. I enjoyed it very much both times and I recommend this DVD.
While I read a great deal of history, I don't read enough on this period to comment on the accuracy, but this book certainly FELT accurate. The costumes, scenery, bumbling doctors, scheming politicians and scrambling servants set a historical mood that's half the fun in this very enjoyable movie.
Of course, the screenplay is written for a modern audience, so we would, naturally, see irony in the bumbling doctors. Particularly ironic is one doctor's protestation that a doctor's work is of careful observation and should not be swayed by the color of the King's urine.
The scenes of Prime Minister Pitt in Parliament defending his king certainly reminded me of watching Tony Blair in action on CSPAN. I was also left with the impression that it's a lot more fun to be in British Parliament than in U.S. Congress.
One may expect to dislike the King, but in the end, one can't help but feel great sympathy for the man and not just because of the maltreatment he receives from his doctor's.
Overall, the movie was as enjoyable as I remembered it. Unfortunately, other than the trailer, the DVD did not give us any extras to enjoy.

Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen-Senator
Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen-Senator
by Orrin Hatch
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 4.26
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Reasonable Conservative, Nov. 6 2003
I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning a little about how Congress works. Not everyone who spends a lot of time reading about American politics will find this book very informative, but for someone casually interested or for a young adult, this will be an excellent read.
Hatch describes how a Senator goes about passing or defeating legislation. Particularly interesting is his description of the defeat of labor law reform in 1977.
Senator Hatch comes across as very reasonable throughout his book. His description of his friendship with Ted Kennedy is an excellent example of how and why professionals should be able to work together and even be friends even if they choose to disagree about topics they hold to be important.
Fans of Clinton and opponents of some Republican nominees to the Supreme Court may find this book tiresome in parts. But a liberal who wishes to read the point of view of someone who disagrees on these issues will enjoy this book because of Hatch's reasonable, thoughtful approach. Conservatives will, of course, enjoy this book and may consider giving this book to as a gift to provide a good example to young adult readers.

Erich Maria Remarque: The Last Romantic
Erich Maria Remarque: The Last Romantic
by Hilton Tims
Edition: Hardcover
14 used & new from CDN$ 6.60

3.0 out of 5 stars Impotent on the Western front?, Nov. 6 2003
This is a decent, enjoyable biography of the author of "All's Quiet on the Western Front." I originally acquired this book because I saw quotes from Remarque's "The Road Back" in a book on posttraumatic stress syndrome (Shay's "Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming"). I decided to read about and from Remarque, which led me to this biography.
Remarque wrote "In Westen Nichts Neues" in 5 weeks with the aid of large quantities of caffeine and tobacco. At this point, he was discouraged by the commercial failures of his first two novels and did not realize he had a future in writing. Remarque just put the manuscript away, with "no idea of the bombshell waiting to detonate in the desk drawer to which he had consigned his new manuscript." When he did publish it, it was an immediate success and was published in America under the more well-known name "All's Quiet on the Western Front". (I have read speculation elsewhere that the American title was based on the frequent Civil War era newspaper line "all's quiet along the Rappahannock.")
Remarque is a much better-known author than many realize. The Nazis were forever trying to use him for propaganda purposes. At the beginning, his books were burned. Later, the Nazis offered to give Remarque a prominent government role if he would just move back from Switzerland to Germany. Remarque's not only declined the Nazi's offer, he kept a suitcase packed most of his life so he could leave at a moment's notice.
As the Nazis gained power, Remarque left Europe for America. He worked in Hollywood for some time, mostly as a writer, but also playing a small but significant role in the film of his novel "A Time to Love and a Time to Die."
A large portion of the book is about Remarque's personal life. He dated an astonishing number of Hollywood actresses, and had a friendship with Marlene Dietrich until the end of his life.
My only disappointment is the gossipy feel of large sections of the book. Remarque's alleged impotence is mentioned entirely too often. The author quotes one of Remarque's friends, Luise Rainer: "I don't believe for one moment that he was impotent. It would be just like Erich to say that. A joke. One reason I think he didn't totally go for me in those days was that he liked demanding women and I didn't come into that category. I distinctly remember him telling me, with the greatest glee, how Lupe Valez had... taken off one of her shoes in an tantrum and hit him hard with it, and he thought that was wonderful." Remarque also allegedly impregnated a famous starlet while she was married to someone else. You don't need to dwell on his alleged impotence any more than this.
In contrast, the author mentions that Remarque's childhood friend Kristen Kranzbühler was the model for Western Front's Kemerich. If some effort had been put into describing why scholars believe this, that would have been more interesting and more valuable than explorations of alleged impotency.
I predict that someday we'll have a much better biography of Remarque. This one is an interesting and memorable read and held my attention during my commute. The author does not pretend to write a book on literature. This is written for general audiences and he succeeds. Had the author not dwelled on Remarque's sexual life so much, I'd recommend it for teenaged readers who wanted a biography to dovetail with "All Quiet on the Western Front".

Bird Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species
Bird Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species
by Mark Elbroch
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 41.38
20 used & new from CDN$ 24.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Great gift for that serious birder, Nov. 6 2003
This is a guide to identifying bird families or individual species by clues they leave behind of their presence. The title may appear, at first glance, to be a typo. It is not. As the authors explain on the first page: "Sign refers to all the possible signs of their passing: sign of feeding, gathering material for nesting, the nests or cavity holes themselves, pellets, droppings, feathers lost during molt, or kill sites."
This book appears to be packed with too much information for a beginner to digest. But its actually quite good for anyone who is interested in birds and would use such a book more than once or twice. The information is organized by types of sign - tracks, feathers, feeding signs, droppings, nests and roosts, etc., rather than by species. This allows you to read about whichever subject you're interested in and to take in the basics behind, say, interpreting signs of feeding, rather than getting bogged down by details specific to a certain species.

Due to the nature of the topic, the squeamish may not enjoy all the pictures. However, the pictures are certainly not as gruesome as they could have been.
In the introduction, one of the authors writes: "real tracking is bigger than one lifetime. Tracking, as our ancestors knew it, was a body of knowledge handed down from generation to generation. Each person added to this knowledge..." The authors clearly see themselves as a continuation if this process, referring to and giving credit to other excellent books, such a Rezendes' "Tracking and the Art of Seeing".
To my knowledge, this is the only book like this specific to birds. I feel this would be an excellent gift idea for that hard-to-buy-for bird watcher.

Road Atlas Usa 2003large Scale
Road Atlas Usa 2003large Scale
by American
Edition: Spiral-bound
6 used & new from CDN$ 7.02

5.0 out of 5 stars the road atlas I use most, Nov. 6 2003
This is the road atlas I use the most. I wish I had had a copy on my cross-country trip earlier this year.
The large scale and large type edition gives a lot of detail without being cluttered or overwhelming. Even wayside stops (picnic areas) are marked. This balance was achieved by giving a lot of pages for every state. Even Rhode Island and Delaware have two pages each.
In addition to the master index and national mileage chart, every state has at least a local mileage chart and index printed next to the map. Almost every right-hand page has one. The large type makes it easy to read in a moving car, even if its dark outside and you're reading by the car's light or a flashlight.
Thanks to the spiral binding, this atlas is easy to handle. Now that I have two road atlases with spiral binding I wonder why I bothered with road atlases without spiral binding. Not only is it easier to use, wear and tear is less because I'm not folding it back on itself.
There are also descriptions of "travel adventures" provided by Not necessarily very practical, but does inspire a little day-dreaming. This is the same exact set of descriptions that's in the smaller American Map Road Atlas of US, Canada and Mexico.
Because of the ease of use of this large-type edition, this is the atlas I keep in the car. My other atlas, the American Map Road Atlas of US, Canada and Mexico, which is also good, has been moved from the car to the bookshelf.
I highly recommend this road atlas.
This atlas does not cover Canada and Mexico.

With Grant and Meade from the Wilderness to Appomattox
With Grant and Meade from the Wilderness to Appomattox
by Theodore Lyman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 38.95
16 used & new from CDN$ 6.08

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best First Person Accounts of the Civil War, Oct. 11 2003
First-person historical accounts can be a lot of fun for the frequent reader of history. Details that did not make their way into the books that summarize campaigns (or the entire war) pop up like Easter eggs. When you read a particularly outstanding account, like this one, there's also the pleasure in reading often-quoted descriptions in their original context.
This collection of a Union staff officer's letters to his wife is a primary source of detail about the Grant versus Lee period of the American Civil War (1864-5). The author, Theodore Lyman, was on Meade's staff for roughly the last 18 months of the war and his letters give us an insider's view from the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac.
A Civil War buff interested in this period of the war will find this book not only very interesting, but a fun read as well.
Lyman, a biologist, met Meade, an engineer, in Florida, where Lyman was collecting specimens and Meade was building a lighthouse. They remained friends and during the war, after one of Meade's promotions before Gettysburg, he offered Lyman a position on his staff. Lyman joined immediately before the Mine Run campaign. His letters comment on the period of the Army of the Potomac's impotency in the months after Gettysburg to Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. He writes about Grant's arrival, the Wilderness campaign, Petersburg and the Appomattox campaign.
Lyman, well educated and well traveled, makes many interesting observations and passing references that add color to the reader's knowledge of the period. I was under the impression that "doughboy" originated in WWI, but Lyman uses it in 1863: "There was a piercing cold wind, the roads were frozen, and ice was on the pools; but the night was beautiful, with a lovely moon, that rose over the pine trees, and really seemed to me to be laughing derisively at our poor doughboys."
Lyman's extensive travels with his wife before the war led to his making many interesting comparisons. For example: "Our people are very different from the Europeans in their care for the dead, and mark each grave with its name; even in the heat of battle."
Most enjoyable for me is Lyman's clever and often amusing phrases, such as this reference to Shakespeare's MacBeth: " I was up at 4:30 - rain pitchforks! Dark as a box - everything but 'enter three witches.'"
Lyman's letters are sprinkled with mentions of secondary Civil War figures such as this of the man who later teamed with his father to build the Brooklyn Bridge: "Captain Roebling, from General Warren's staff, galloped up. He is the most immovable of men, but had, at that moment, rather a troubled air. He handed a scrap of paper. General Meade opened it and his face changed. 'My God!' he said, 'General Warren has half my army!' Roebling shrugged his shoulders."
Lyman's descriptions give a lot of color to the war. Here are two more examples of what you can expect from this book:
"The houses that have not actually burnt usually look almost worse than those that have: so dreary are they with their windows without sashes, and their open doors, and their walls half stripped of boards."
"Headed by General Webb, we gave three cheers, and three more for General Meade. Then he mounted and rode through the 2d and 6th Corps. Such a scene followed as I can never see again. The soldiers rushed, perfectly crazy, to the roadside, and there crowding in dense masses, shouted, screamed, yelled, threw up their hats and hopped madly up and down! The batteries were run out and began firing, the bands played the flags waved. The noise of the cheering was such that my ears rang. And there was General Meade galloping about and waving his cap with the best of them! Poor old Robert Lee!"
Lyman's letters have been a gold mine for historians. Someone well read in civil war histories will recognize at least a few some of his descriptions, such as this one of Grant: "He habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it." His description of Custer is also memorable: "This officer is one of the funniest looking beings you ever saw, and looks like a circus rider gone mad! He wears a huzzar jacket and tight trousers, of faded black velvet trimmed with tarnished gold lace."
Its very difficult to find the perfect gift for the fanatic. After all, what could you get a fanatic that he doesn't already have? When I am buying a gift for a Civil War buff who has not yet discovered first-person accounts, this is my first choice. I am writing this review in the hopes that someone will give this book (sections of which I've reread many times) to that hard-to-buy-for Civil War buff on their gift list.

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