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Ethan Cooper (Big Apple)

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The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America
The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America
by Russell Shorto
Edition: Hardcover
12 used & new from CDN$ 15.04

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun, informative, provocative, well written, June 18 2004
I have lived in Manhattan for more than 30 years. But until I read this book, I assumed that the character of New York-commercial, contentious, tolerant, and multi-ethnic-was the product of European mass migrations starting, I suppose, with the Irish in the mid-nineteenth century. But, Shorto argues persuasively that this personality took hold much earlier. In fact, he shows how New York's character descends directly from the tolerant and litigious culture of the Dutch, a mighty commercial power in early 1600's, who founded a trading post and village on Manhattan in 1623. I, for one, am convinced.
I also enjoyed this book for its resurrection of Peter Stuyvesant, who, to most New Yorkers, is simply the Dutch governor with a peg leg who retired to what is now the Lower East Side. Thankfully, Shorto fills out this picture and shows Stuyvesant as an autocrat who opposed democratic reforms. These bubbled up from the colony's earliest settlers, who believed such reforms might prevent the misrule that, in one case, lead to a bloody war with indigenous Americans. A good read and highly recommended.

Revolutionary Road
Revolutionary Road
by Richard Yates
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
68 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliance to Banality, June 1 2004
This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Paperback)
Yates is brilliant in the first two sections of this book. In these sections, some of my marginalia reads: "A terrific description of a tender memory experienced through the hazy pain of a hangover." "How a loving conscientious father blows up at the kids." "Terrific paragraph with the well-intended Frank moving from consoling to attacking his wife."
Here is one quick example of the painful neutralizing internal life of Yates's characters. "Frank took two wrong turns in driving Mrs. Lundquist home, and all the way back, alone, he rode with one hand pressed to his mouth. He was doing his best to reconstruct the quarrel in his mind but it was hopeless. He couldn't even tell whether he was angry or contrite, whether it was forgiveness he wanted or the power to forgive. His throat was still raw from shouting and his hand throbbed from hitting the car-he remembered that part well enough-but his only other memory was of the high-shouldered way she had stood in the curtain call, with that false, vulnerable smile, and this made him weak with remorse."
Nonetheless, the third section of "Revolutionary Road" moves from the internal life of the characters to a drama between the characters. This drama, while poignant, wasn't especially involving, at least to me. Even so, read this book if you want to learn about your last fight with your spouse or your behavior in the office.

The Sound and the Fury
The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.96
71 used & new from CDN$ 3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Still Amazing. Still Challenging., June 1 2004
This review is from: The Sound and the Fury (Paperback)
From a narrative standpoint, this novel moves from the disconnected observations of the retarded Benji, to the guilty thoughts of the pathetic and suicidal Quentin, to the deceitful manipulations of the bitter Jason, to a third-person narrative, where we get an objective rendering of the life of Dilsey, the black woman who holds the Compson family together. This is a book with enormous range and a tour de force of a great writer who continues to amaze 75 years after publication.
Nonetheless, the elements of Faulkner's writing that I enjoy the most are his humor and his descriptive powers. Here's one example, with Quentin Compson observing as he meanders before his suicide: "I could smell the curves of the river beyond the dusk and I saw the late light supine and tranquil upon tide flats like pieces of broken mirror, then beyond them lights began in the pale air, trembling a little like butterflies hovering a long way off."
In my opinion, this amazing but challenging novel shows why Faulkner won the noble prize but could not support himself with his fiction.

Night Train
Night Train
by Martin Amis
Edition: Hardcover
37 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Terse, poetic, entertaining, Jan. 12 2004
This review is from: Night Train (Hardcover)
The beautiful Jennifer Rockwell is found dead, an apparent suicide. Mike Hoolihan, a female police, as she calls herself, gets the case. What we, the readers, get is an involving and entertaining exploration of the events preceding Jennifer's death, with the terse and poetic Mike describing her own funny but fragile stability as she tries to unravel the mystery.
Mart's writing in this short detective novel is sheer brilliance. For some cold-blooded perfection, I recommend the autopsy. But here's a more manageable example, with Mike describing Tobe, her boyfriend, as well as offering Mart's first treatment of his night train theme. "One thing about Tobe-he sure knows how to make a woman feel slender. Tobe's totally enormous. He fills the room. When he comes in late, he's worse than the Night train: Every beam in the building wakes up and moans."
I wonder, by the way: Does anyone develop the possibilities in a series of sentences as brilliantly as Amis?

Theodore Rex
Theodore Rex
by Edmund Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.16
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Big Stick, Jan. 5 2004
This review is from: Theodore Rex (Paperback)
In this never-boring book, Edmund Morris puts the man Theodore Roosevelt on the page and shows him shaping the events of his presidency. In doing so, Morris presents Roosevelt as he probably appeared to his supporters, with the President first handling race relations, then strikes, then international relations, then Panama Canal, and so on. Certainly, this chronological approach makes it clear why Roosevelt was a great president, since he had great success in improving international relations, as well as delivering domestic reforms to America. But this approach also has the effect of placing all TR's achievements within the flow of events, making the Panama Canal, international relations, and racism in America parts of the same cloth. Bottom line, I'd say Morris tells the story of America's first great international president. Readers who are more interested in other elements of Roosevelt's presidency might want to read books with narrower focus.

Penguin Lives Napoleon
Penguin Lives Napoleon
by Paul Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 7.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, Sept. 15 2003
This review is from: Penguin Lives Napoleon (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this fast moving and provocative book, which many who are familiar with Bonaparte evidently find controversial. Here is Johnson's summation: "The great evils of Bonapartism-the deification of force and war, the all-powerful centralized state, the use of cultural propaganda to apotheosize the autocrat, the marshaling of entire peoples in the pursuit of personal and ideological power-came to hateful maturity only in the twentieth century, which will go down in history as the Age of Infamy. It is well to remember the truth about the man whose example gave rise to it all." An excellent little book.

The Glorious Cause
The Glorious Cause
by Jeff Shaara
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 27.20
43 used & new from CDN$ 2.97

5.0 out of 5 stars A Glorious Book, Aug. 22 2003
This review is from: The Glorious Cause (Hardcover)
"Glorious Cause" tells the story of the American Revolutionary War, mostly from the perspective of George Washington or those who opposed him in battle. In my opinion, Shaara provides his usual gripping narrative, especially in his battle scenes. Further, he does the great service of setting the record straight. I did not know, for example, that by the summer after Yorktown, the Americans had driven the mighty British army into a mere two enclaves-the cities of Charlestown and New York. Thanks, Jeff, for making the story of our revolution so readable and enjoyable! And, bravo! to George Washington, who Shaara establishes as the father of our country.

God's Secretaries: The Making Of The King James Bible
God's Secretaries: The Making Of The King James Bible
by Adam Nicolson
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and informative, Aug. 22 2003
The intellectual and political climate of Jacobean England is the core subject of "God's Secretaries". Indeed, Adam Nicolson is primarily interested in showing how the leading personalities and issues of the day combined to make this great book possible. This means that readers (such as me) who are looking for a book about the writers and translators of the King James Bible-imagine "Here at the New Yorker" with a biblical twist-will be disappointed. Alas, most of this information is lost.
Nonetheless, there were a few amazing tidbits about the participants in this great project. My favorite is about John Layfield, a writer who actually journeyed to the Caribbean and then contributed to the work on Genesis in this bible. The experience enriched Layfield's prose and perspective, Nicolson claims. He says: "The seventeenth-century English idea of Paradise, a vision of enveloping lushness, was formed by this seduction of an almost untouched Caribbean."

Penguin Classics Great Expectations
Penguin Classics Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
76 used & new from CDN$ 0.36

5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Effort, Aug. 22 2003
It's ridiculous to review Dickens, who is as secure in the Western canon as Shakespeare. Nonetheless, I'll make two points about "Great Expectations", which is the first Dickens novel I've read since my adolescence. (Kennedy was President, alas.)
First, I'll say that the characters in this book are affecting exaggerations and not quite real. For example, Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, is touching in his decency and saintly in his generosity. But Dickens gives him no rough emotional edges, and so he never rises beyond rustic sentimentality. Likewise, Hebert Pocket, Pip's friend, is a lovely young man but exists in friendship with out making any demands. And, there is the resolute and controlling Mrs. Havisham and her pathetic martyrdom. Yes, she was hurt by a man. But, it's hard to imagine a person living in the filth and disorder of her mansion, unless she is crazed, like a modern street person. To sum this up, I'd say that his characters are not really persuasive, even though they resonate emotionally.
Second, I was surprised by the near total lack of visual effects in the writing. Early on, there's a moment of visual writing when young Pip is in the cemetery. But thereafter, this element is all but lacking in the book. Even after several re-readings, for example, I could never quite see Magwitch tumble into the river.
Regardless, I enjoyed the read and did not find it discursive or too long. Go for it!

Money
Money
by Martin Amis
Edition: Paperback
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, Risky, Bawdy, Brilliant, June 25 2003
This review is from: Money (Paperback)
In "Money", Martin Amis shows us John Self, a director of TV commercials who is moving up professionally to direct his first movie. The producer of this movie, Fielding Goodney, treats John as THE key player in the deal, despite John's serious drinking problem and his continuing embarrassing and bawdy misbehavior. Until the book's final section, John lives this crazy can't-be-real opportunity, with hilarious Hollywood-style production problems and apparently limitless funding.
In reading this novel, I kept wondering how Self's producer could overlook-even encourage-his personal shenanigans, which would obviously undermine a movie project in the real world. But in the last section of "Money", Amis explains, as he shifts his focus from John Self's hilarious debauchery to plot analysis. Then, a character named Martin Amis, a writer brought on board to salvage a disastrous script, unravels the mystery and reveals the true dynamic of John Self and Fielding Goodney. At the book's end, the achievement of Martin Amis, the author, is clear. He has written a brilliant, entertaining, risky novel, telling a funny and implausible story that ultimately makes perfect sense. Bravo!

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