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Dr. Bojan Tunguz (Indiana, USA)
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American History: A Very Short Introduction
American History: A Very Short Introduction
by Paul S. Boyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.76
26 used & new from CDN$ 3.47

2.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Informative, But Extremely Biased, Dec 10 2013
America is one of the most fascinating and influential countries in the history of the World. For a while now it has been recognized as a singularly important country in the World, be it in terms of its economic and military power, its cultural influence, or its remarkable scientific and technological advances. This is that much more remarkable considering that America is a relatively young country – as a nation it has only existed for close to a quarter of a millennium, and as an distinct political and cultural entity for perhaps a couple of centuries longer. This pales in comparison to any other major nation in the world, some of whose histories extend for several millennia. Nonetheless, America boasts of a rich and interesting history.

This very short introduction to American history aims to give a highlight of all the major historical developments over the last four centuries or so. It is for the most part a very accessible and digestible account. People who are already well familiar with American history will find a lot of information in here that they had already been exposed to in other settings. The first two thirds of the book or so is just a very straightforward and clearly written rehash of the main events and developments in American history.

Unfortunately as the book progresses it becomes increasingly tendentious and ideological. This is first manifested by the choice of topic covered (more and more space given to special grievance groups beloved by the liberal academics), then by the tendentious characterization of events and policies (liberal ones are always virtuous and “progressive,” while the opposition to them comes from the misguided conservatives), to the downright falsehood and lies that have been discredited many times by all objective sources, but have become articles of faith by the left (Bush himself never declared “Mission Accomplished,” there was no torture at Guantanamo Bay). The latter parts of the book read like a laundry list of highlights from the editorial pages of the New York Times or Huffington Post. They are not serious works of historiography by any measure. This is why I am unable to recommend this book to anyone interested in getting an objective and serious account of American history.

Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic
Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Price: CDN$ 15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Rotten to the Core, Oct. 16 2013
The premise of this book is rather simple. In any democratic political system political parties that aspire for the control of the body politic will invariably attract various clients and interest groups with very limited and specific agendas. However, if a politician or a party is aspiring for a broader level of support necessary for a victory in election, that party or politician will need to make a broader appeal based on the sense of general good of the country. This constant tension between special interests and common good is nothing new, and it’s not limited to any particular party or a politician.

Jay Cost takes a closer look at the Democratic Party over the course of roughly the last century and a half, and tries to illustrate how various Democratic leaders have dealt with this tension. The account is very detailed, based on thorough historical research. This books gives one a much more realistic view of the American political history, especially as it pertains to the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, this is not a scathing and cynical account of either the Democratic Party or the American politics in general. Cost aims to give a very neutral and balanced view of politics as it really is.

The book’s true agenda becomes evident at the very end, in the chapters and sections dealing with Barack Obama. Cost paints a very grim picture of the 44th president, not in relation to Republicans or conservatives (who barely feature in this book to begin with), but in comparison to other Democratic presidents. Cost makes a very convincing case that Obama, unlike Clinton and Carter for instance, had no desire to stand up to the Party clients, and had completely built both his political career and his presidency around the unabashed and unrestrained support for all of his Party’s special interests. Obama is truly a transformative political figure, but not in the way that he or his apologists would like you to believe.

CyberStorm
CyberStorm

5.0 out of 5 stars Solid and Realistic Apocalyptic Thriller, Oct. 15 2013
This review is from: CyberStorm (Kindle Edition)
As our lives and interactions are increasingly based in and around the online world, a whole different level of security and safety concerns opens up. We have been living with the threat of computer viruses and identity theft for quite some time, but in recent years the sophistication and the reach of “cyber” threats has increased dramatically. It is not hard to imagine that at some point a malicious government with the right kind of know-how, or a very resourceful and malicious non-governmental organization might launch a devastating online attack that can cripple or seriously damage much of the important infrastructure in the US and the rest of the developed world. In fact, as many of the recent newspaper headlines can testify, NSA and many other high-level security agencies take this kind of threat very, very seriously.

In CyberStorm Mathew Mather makes a very detailed and gripping thought-experiment in which he imagines what would really happen if a very devastating computer attack were in fact to happen. He weaves a gripping and persuasive narrative around a group of families living in Manhattan. (For some reason all the worst disasters in fiction always hit Manhattan.) The story follows day-by-day events and paints a very painful picture of the deterioration of all civilized behavior and norms of conduct in the face of such a devastating catastrophe. Some parts of the book have a feel of an episode of The Walking Dead, a scene from The Road, or any number of other post-apocalyptic movies or novels. Nonetheless, CyberStorm is very unique in terms of its subject matter, especially of the details concerning the workings of the technological infrastructure on which we depend.

The only big issue that I have with this book is that the last part felt pretty rushed, and the ending was rather abrupt. I got the sense that the author was getting a bit tired of writing, and wanted to hurry up and finish it all up. Granted, some parts were a bit too drawn out, but a more balanced rewriting could have cut a few scenes or developments from the first part of the book, and replaced them with more detail in the latter parts.

This is overall a solid thriller that can feel a bit too disconcerting at times. In my book that is a good thing.

The European Union: A Very Short Introduction
The European Union: A Very Short Introduction
by John Pinder
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.76
36 used & new from CDN$ 4.18

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars European Union: Institutional View, Oct. 4 2013
European Union is one of the most ambitious and expansive political projects in history. Its ultimate goal, it is now quite clear, is the unification of almost all of Europe into a single political entity. The project has grown from its rather modest origins from a purely economic organization into what is now one of the most important political and economic unions in the World. However, both the path to this point and the future ahead are beset by numerous challenges.

I’ve been eying this short introduction for a long time. As someone who is originally from Europe and who still has the majority of the family members living there, I cannot really afford to be ignorant of the events on that continent and its political structure. However, I am now glad that I’ve waited to purchase this book in its third edition, since it now includes mentioning of Croatia. Since I am now officially an EU citizen, I have even more reasons to try to understand it the best I can. After reading this book I certainly have much more appreciation for all the intricacies of the EU’s political mechanisms.

This is a very detailed book with a lot of information and facts strewn throughout its slim 150 pages. It takes a largely chronological approach to the Europe’s integration, and goes into some detail in explaining various policy decisions. The book assumes a fairly neutral point of view, aiming to inform the reader rather than to shape his or her opinions. The third edition is thoroughly updated and includes all the major developments up to 2013. However, as witnessed by the tumultuousness of the ongoing economic crisis, all of the European institutions are still in the state of flux, and it is very likely that the fourth edition of this book will be in order before too long.

Even though the book is well written and extremely informative, it is still a pretty dry read. Various policies, political and economic maneuvers can feel rather esoteric, technical and opaque. The book’s view of EU is highly institutional, without much scope for deeper ideas or relevance to the daily lives of most Europeans. This is probably the reflection of how most Eurocrats view their project: as an ongoing bureaucratic venture that is almost an end in itself. There might be many virtues to this attitude, but it sure doesn’t manage to inspire.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar board book
The Very Hungry Caterpillar board book
by Eric Carle
Edition: Board book
Price: CDN$ 10.79
177 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Educational Board Book, Oct. 3 2013
We are huge fans of Eric Carle and all of his works. This board book is a welcome addition to our growing collection. The illustrations are simple and artistic at the same time, as is the text. Unlike all of the other Carle books we've owned so far, this one actually has a single linear narrative that spans the entire book. It is also written entirely in prose, so some people who enjoyed his rhyming books might be a bit disappointed. This book also features a fun and unusual formatting - several pages vary in length, and they feature the small holes through which the caterpillar has presumably burrowed. This is innovative, but sometimes it can make it tricky for the small hands to turn those pages - our toddler is still getting used to this. However, the small annoyances are nothing compared to all the fun that we all get out of this beautiful little board book.

Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution
Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution
by Mary Eberstadt
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 5.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well Intended but Poorly Argued, Oct. 2 2013
Let me make one thing clear from the outset: I am extremely sympathetic to the idea that the sexual revolution has had some truly appalling consequences, and it is responsible for a lot of pain and suffering in the modern western world, especially among the weakest members of society. Furthermore, as a very devout Catholic I am fully committed to the ethical teachings of the Catholic Church on matters of sexual morality. So my fairly negative review below is coming from the point of view of a "fellow traveler" on these social and moral issues.

Without exaggerating too much I believe that the principle "argument" of this book can be summarized as follows:

1. Some time around 1960 easy and accessible effective birth control became widely accessible.

2. Today we have a lot of societal ills that are either sexual in nature or caused by various forms of sexual activity.

3. It is OBVIOUS that 1. has caused 2.

4. Therefore let me offer some of my own musings on this topic.

My biggest beef is with the point number 3, but both 2 and 4 have a lot of problems as well. First of all, if the causal connection between 1 and 2 was as exclusive and conclusive as the author implies, the obvious question would be why is this not more obvious to everyone. The author tries to address this issue by appealing to the analogy of the Cold War. During that period many intellectuals in the West (perhaps even a majority) were, if not quite communists themselves, then very sympathetic to the communist block. Aside from the issue of how accurate this analogy really is (I grew up under communism, have lived and worked in the American academia for the most of my professional life, and I am not entirely persuaded) the problem with this approach is that it's just an analogy. It helps illustrate the situation, but doesn't really explain it. I would really like to know HOW exactly does 1 cause 2. This is the bare minimum that I would expect from a book-length development of this “argument.”

Mary Eberstadt is really fond of analogies. She dedicates two full chapters of the book (one on food and another one on tobacco) on the analogies with our treatment of these substances and the way we treated porn in the past. Again I am not entirely persuaded about the analogies. The moralistic obsession with food is still VERY restricted to certain elite circles - most of Americans struggle with being overweight and eat pretty much whatever they want. But with the food analogy my reaction is one of "So what?" How does that help me understand the moral hazards of sexual permissiveness and, even more importantly, what to do about it? In the case of tobacco the purpose of analogy is clearer. Eberstadt advocates the introduction of policies and restrictions on pornography that were similar to those that were imposed on Big Tobacco. This is something worth considering, but the nature of the difference between the two products (physical goods vs. digital files nowadays) makes the difficulty of this approach obvious to anyone who is familiar with the history of futility of trying to regulate anything online. (If even the NSA can't keep their files secret, good luck trying to regulate porn.)

Another big issue that I have with this book is that it overwhelmingly relies on popular articles and essays for its main source of information - both positive and negative. Furthermore, instead of analysis more often than not we are offered little more than an opinion. It is reasonably well-informed opinion for the most part, but Eberstadt has a tendency of becoming preachy where probing would be much more called for. This book might have been intended as a form of preaching to the choir, but even the choir needs some rigorous analysis every once in a while.

I had high hopes for this book, but it turned out to be a big disappointment. It is very poorly argued, and it doesn't offer any substantially new insights. For a more incisive book on the failure of the social norms in the US I would recommend Charles Murray's "Coming Apart," and for a look at the impact of the sexual revolution on the falling birth rates I suggest "What to Expect When No One's Expecting."

Risk Communication: A Handbook for Communicating Environmental, Safety, and Health Risks
Risk Communication: A Handbook for Communicating Environmental, Safety, and Health Risks
by Regina E. Lundgren
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 74.36
20 used & new from CDN$ 73.21

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Written Resource, Oct. 1 2013
When a few years ago the new particle accelerator was scheduled to open at CERN one of the journalists asked a certain CERN Physicist about the rumors that the new powerful machine would create a tiny black hole. The Physicist, being the exact science type of guy, gave the journalist the estimate of such an event, which turned out to be so small that the exponential notation was required to express it. Unfortunately, most of the public is not familiar with such a notation, and even those who are have hard time conceptually grasping numbers that are so small. Under most circumstances this does not create much of a problem in our day to day lives (such numbers are, almost by definition, entirely outside of our normal experience), but as black holes have become a part of our intellectual culture, this entirely true but largely irrelevant statement by the honest Physicist became a cause of a lot of alarm and even panic in the popular press. This lead CERN to require of its entire staff to from then on say that the chance of a “black hole event” happening was exactly zero. The moral of this story is that risk communication is a very important subject, and there are the right ways and the wrong ways of going about it.

Most of the high-risk situations and circumstances don’t involve such exotic objects as black holes and particle accelerators. They primarily involve environmental, safety and health risks, and this handbook is an excellent source of ideas and best practices involving those risks.

The book is very well written and it has primarily practitioners in mind. It provides many useful and to-the-point tips and suggestions, including several checklists and other practical materials. Throughout the book there are many important examples and case studies designed to help the reader with the understanding of this subject. The book can be used as a reference, stand-alone resource, or as a textbook for a class on this subject. It covers a lot of material and it references an impressive amount of primary material. The book can even be of some use to all public relations officials and practitioners, even in the areas that are far removed from its intended audience.

American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History (Values and Capitalism)
American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History (Values and Capitalism)
Price: CDN$ 1.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Insightful, Oct. 1 2013
There is very little doubt that America occupies a very special, and many people would argue preeminent, place in the World affairs today. Even in its early years this nation was recognized by many of its contemporaries as being very different from all of the other nations on Earth. America has always had and continues to have a lot of admirers throughout the world, but it also has a fair number of detractors. It was in fact one of its biggest detractors – Josef Stalin – who coined the very term “American Exceptionalism,” primarily to denounce it.

The term “American Exceptionalism” has been in the news a lot lately, primarily in the context of America’s foreign policy. However, what has always been the main concern of pundits and intellectuals when discussing this issue has more to do with America’s special internal culture and politics that set it apart from the other nations. It is precisely reclaiming of this original understanding that Charles Murray sets out to accomplish in this slim e-book.

Readers of Charles Murray’s oeuvre will readily recognize in this book many of the themes that he has often reflected upon in his writings. Individual integrity and industriousness, honesty, shared system of values and ideals, and social responsibility are all big part of what made America so special. There are also geographical facts of America’s position that uniquely contributed to its makeup – separated by two oceans from the rest of the world and spanning a vast, rich and sparsely populated continent with plenty of resources to help everyone who wants prosper.

The book challenges many of the misconceptions that have over the years formed about American Exceptionalism. The most important one is probably that the exceptionalism implies some kind of superiority. This may indeed often be the case, but as already noted it’s usually America’s detractors who are the most eager to point out its uniqueness and distinction.

Like most of Murray’s writings, this book is exceptionally well written. It manages to inform, provide insight, and even inspire. I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in American culture and politics.

Dorco Pace 6 Plus- Six Blade Razor System with Trimmer - Value Pack (10 Pack+ 1 Handle)
Dorco Pace 6 Plus- Six Blade Razor System with Trimmer - Value Pack (10 Pack+ 1 Handle)

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gets The Job Done, Sept. 28 2013
I've used Gillette razors and blades and have generally been very happy with them. However, they keep coming up with the more sophisticated blades every few years, and the cost of those seems to be only increasing over time. So I was curious about other shaving options out there, and decided to give Dorco Pace razor a shot.

At a first glance this looks like a solid, well-designed product. The shaver handle is well-built and sits comfortably in your hand. Both the shave and the blade look and feel slightly bulkier than my Gillette system.

In order to test Dorco Pace in action I decided to do a test. I shaved half of my face with Dorco Pace and the other with my Gillette Proglide (NOT the Fusion type). This literal side-by-side comparison is probably the most fair test I could come up with. My first impression was that the Dorco Pace did not quite get close enough to my face as much as the Gillette system did. It would take me an extra stroke or two for the comparable result. After finishing the shaving both sides of my face felt and looked really smooth, so in terms of the final outcome both of these shavers are comparable. However, when it comes to the amount of effort invested the Gillette system was a clear winner.

If you are looking for a decent, economic razor that gets the job done then Dorco Pace is a great option. However, in my experience it's not quite as good as the Gillette shaver. There is definitely a tradeoff between these two options.

Elephant
Elephant
11 used & new from CDN$ 0.34

4.0 out of 5 stars Real Elephant Noises, Sept. 16 2013
This review is from: Elephant (Hardcover)
This is a small and moderately educational book that will probably amuse your toddler and drive you nuts in the long run. There is not much of a story to this book - it consists of several vignettes in the life of an elephant as she goes around from one set of jungle friends to another. What distinguishes this board book from many others is the prominent protruding button that makes elephant noises when pressed. I can tell you from experience - children (especially the really young ones) really LOVE to press buttons and listen to these noises. The elephant noise is genuine, and in that regard this book has some educational value. However, listening to an elephant noise - over and over and over again - can be taxing on the parents. Just make sure you don't take this book with you on a road trip.

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