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History Lessons: How Textbooks from Around the World Portray American History
History Lessons: How Textbooks from Around the World Portray American History
by Dana Lindamann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.48
17 used & new from CDN$ 2.71

5.0 out of 5 stars ...to see ourselves as others see us..., July 18 2004
In History Lessons, a philologist and a historian walk us through US history as it is presented to high school children in 28 other countries in their history textbooks. For each of 50 topics that normally appear in US junior or senior high school history books, the authors have located about a page of text from one or several foreign books that address the specified topic.
We start by learning about Viking Exploration as it is taught to children from Norway and Canada, work our way through the American Revolution as taught to the British, slavery as taught to Nigerians, World Wars I and II as taught to Germans, visit Cuba and Vietnam, and end up in the Philippines, North Korea and the Middle East, as taught to young Israelis and Saudis. But this isn't history as Americans are taught it, the land of the free and the brave, the land of Free Trade. This is a country that is positively alien, where Americans are often the bad guys to be resisted and mistrusted. How can this be?
Those of us - from wherever we came - who have read the history of our countries in foreign books have passed through a series of emotions: denial, anger and (if we're lucky) understanding. Every child everywhere in the world is taught at school that he or she comes from the most important, most heroic and most humane country in the world. Our parents and teachers said so, therefore it must be true. The difficulty comes when we leave our home country and find that others don't have the same benign attitude to us. That is a hard enough transition for an individual. When two countries face each other, as the US and Iraq have recently, there is the potential for wholesale confusion and misunderstanding. It is incredibly hard to rethink such basic facts about our identity as those we were taught as children. It is harder still to comprehend how those foreigners could allow themselves to be cuckolded into believing such lies about us. History Lessons won't entirely resolve this difficulty, but it does make a starting point for understanding how people worldwide can have such contradictory ideas about the "facts" of history.
Taking 50 topics from Viking Exploration through New World Order, Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward present about a page of text excerpted from a history book from one or more countries. The entire list of countries comprises Brazil, Canada, Caribbean, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, France, Germany, Great Britain, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, N Korea, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, S Korea, Spain, Syria, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. The authors have restricted their comments to a very short introduction to each section. This minimizes - but does not entirely eliminate - their own biases on the topic and lets us read the excerpts with fresh eyes, just as schoolchildren do.
Although the US is at center stage of this book, there is no suggestion that historical events involving the United States are any more prone to misreporting by foreign textbooks than are events involving any other country. Nor is there any suggestion that US textbooks are any more - or less - accurate than the textbooks of any other country. The authors claim that political correctness has reduced US textbooks to "a series of inoffensive facts and figures," but the excerpts in the book suggest that this is a worldwide failing. Few, if any, of the passages are engaging and only the Nigerian book quoted seems to assume any intelligence on the part of students.
What is not included in History Lessons is any kind of statistical analysis. The authors have not made a survey of world textbooks; they do not claim that the passages quoted are in any sense typical - or atypical - of their continents or political regimes. They do say that most countries have some kind of centralized control over school textbooks, so that these passages come from either the only book available to students, or at least one that meets standardized guidelines. Depressingly, nowhere in the world are children exposed to a wide variety of views. None of the statements in the books seem open to debate, even when their authors piously invite their young readers to "discuss" the topic.
The natural readers of History Lessons are high school history teachers and teachers at schools with immigrant children. But the book will have the greatest value if we can let our children read it at an age when their minds are still open to new and diverse ideas. The aim is not to teach them that US textbooks are "wrong", but that we need to look elsewhere than received wisdom to find what is common to humanity.

The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year
The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year
by A. Lloyd Moote
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 40.50
13 used & new from CDN$ 7.58

5.0 out of 5 stars The Human Side of Plague, July 13 2004
The word "plague" is one of the most dreaded in Europe. For over a thousand years, Europe was the victim of a series of epidemics which decimated the population. One of the last of these epidemics was the Great Plague of London in 1665 that killed probably a third of the population and left few families untouched.
Plagues are a huge subject. Even today there is little agreement between medical experts as to which pandemics were caused by Yersinia pestis (the bacillus almost certainly responsible for the 1665 plague); what was the contagiousness and morbidity of the various strains of plague; and what were all the ways that it could be transmitted to humans. Then there are all the complicated social questions to sort out: What was cause, what effect, and what coincidence? All this has to be carefully determined from the artifacts left by a largely superstitious and semi-literate society in desperate times.
The husband and wife team of Lloyd and Dorothy Moote have pooled their skills in European history and medical research to examine the human side of the Great Plague. By going back to original source materials, they have provided an intimate picture of life during the plague year that is as free as possible from the myths and misunderstandings that have grown up around the subject. Most valuably, their interpretation of events is sensitive to the knowledge and beliefs of the people at the time. This was an afflicted community only three hundred years after the Black Death - one of the world's greatest horrors - and two hundred years before scientists such as Filippo Pacini, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch would connect disease to an "organic, living substance of a parasitic nature."
Other books on the plague have tended to concentrate on the epidemiological and political aspects of pandemics. "The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year" is a very welcome addition to the literature because of its careful and sympathetic treatment of the human side of plague.

The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition
The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition
by James Howard Kunstler
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.71
32 used & new from CDN$ 3.84

4.0 out of 5 stars Notes from a curmudgeon, July 8 2004
In many ways, James Kunstler's "The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition" is simply one long bash against big cities. London is "sordid", Mexico City is a "hypertrophied organism", Las Vegas a "dubious urbanoid organism", Atlanta is a "galaxy of Edge City projects tied together by freeways and gruesome collector streets." Paris, Boston, Berlin and Rome don't fare much better. Good golly, it almost makes you wonder why we city-dwellers have actually chosen to live here.
A book subtitled "Notes" is entitled to be personal, random and subjective. Taken as such, there's a good deal here to inform, entertain and warn: Just don't expect objectivity or sensible suggestions for improvement. Kunstler sees the urban future given over to "tarantulas, buzzards and rats." But many of we city-dwellers live where we do because of the complicated histories behind our places of abode and the disordered messiness of the buildings, streets, parks and people. "The City in Mind" feeds that craving by telling some genuinely interesting stories about the background of these cities.
Kunstler uses Rome to digress on classical architecture, Mexico City to retell the history of Mexican Indian civilization and its effect on modern urban bureaucracy, and Berlin to tie a community's self-image to its choice of architecture. The problem is that, since he concentrates only on a few aspects of each city's development - and usually negative aspects, at that - readers not personally familiar with these cities are going to get a very distorted view of them. I know most of these cities, I've lived in more than one, but I still don't trust the picture presented of the couple I haven't personally visited.
At least one can't accuse the author of a foolish consistency. The chapter on Mexico City describes in some sympathetic detail the possible reasons behind the Aztecs' docility in the face of Spanish assault. But another chapter fails to identify the exact same phenomenon in Atlanta suburbanites who are faced with the carnage caused by automobiles sharing space with humans. He condemns Boston's plan to use the 27-acre site over the Big Dig for a huge "open space", but is as "shocked" as a Victorian maiden when startled by another man enjoying London's Hampstead Heath who steps into his path from behind one of the trees in a "thicket of real woods."
I suspect that most of the negative reviews of this book have come from people who have seen their favorite cities gored by Kunstler. It's fine for us to complain about our cities, is the attitude, but we just don't appreciate visitors from Saratoga Springs doing the same thing. That's unnecessarily defensive. Our cities have burned to the ground (Atlanta and London), been bombed into smithereens (Berlin), and fallen on hard times (Rome and Paris). They will survive a curmudgeon.

Sixpence House
Sixpence House
by Paul Collins
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Books, books and more books, July 2 2004
This review is from: Sixpence House (Paperback)
"Sixpence House" is the name of an old house that was a pub once upon a time. It is some hundreds of years old and stands lopsidedly in the middle of the picturesque old village of Hay-on-Wye on the border between England and Wales . The Wye valley winds green and lush along foot of the brown hills known - with Welsh poetic license - as the Black Mountains. It sounded like an ideal place for a young writer and his artist wife and toddler son to settle down. And it almost was.
Several years ago, Paul Collins was living in San Francisco with a first book ready for publication and a certainty that he and his family needed to move somewhere cheaper and safer. Hay, which he had visited before, sounded ideal. As it famously advertises, it has 40 bookstores serving its 1500 residents, and it considers itself the world's antiquarian book centre. The Hay Festival in early summer attracts visitors from every English-speaking country.
With more modesty than accuracy, Collins claims that he was offered a job sorting out the mounds of books in the American literature section of a rambling bookstore in Wye based purely on his American accent. But Collins obviously knows his books. He has filled "Sixpence House" with snippets from obscure volumes that are by turns bizarre and hilarious. He has also developed a Theory of Dust Jackets:
"There is an implicit code that customers rely on. If a book cover has raised lettering, metallic lettering, or raised metallic lettering, then it is telling the reader: 'Hello. I am an easy-to-read work on espionage, romance, a celebrity, and/or murder.' To readers who do not care for such things, this lettering tells them: 'Hello. I am crap.' Such books can use only glossy paper for the jacket; Serious Books can use glossy finish as well, but it is only Serious Books that are allowed to use matte finish.
Diminutively sized paperbacks, like serial romances or westerns or dieting or astrology guides, are aimed at the uneducated. But diminutively sized hardcover books are aimed at the educated - except those that are very diminutive, which are religious books aimed at the uneducated - and unless they are in a highly rectangular format, in which case they are point-of-purchase books aimed at the somewhat-but-not-entirely educated....."
This book, by the way, has a "matte" cover in a "muted, tea-stained" colour. That means that it is Serious Literature. Oh, surely not that serious, Mr Collins.
The author's theory of house prices was less successful. Assuming that anywhere as far from paid employment as Hay was bound to be a cheap place to live, he went in search of a quaint old home with stone walls, massive beams and a huge garden for his son to play in. This would have been fair enough when Britain's economy really was "sad", but it has developed something of a smirk in recent years. All those affluent townies buying second homes for the weekend have sent house prices in rural England and Wales rocketing out of reach of young families in the countryside. The only houses that are "quaint", but still within the price range of an aspiring writer, come encumbered with entailed land or six inches of water in the basement. Successful writers, as Collins deserves to be based on this book, may find a wider choice.

Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman
Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman
by Alice Steinbach
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seeing the world one class at a time, June 29 2004
Alice Steinach loves traveling, loves writing, and loves learning. So she wrote her own job description and spent a year taking different classes around the world from French cuisine to Scottish sheepdog handling. The result is "Educating Alice", a trip around our planet without jetlag. There are eight chapters, one for each class.
Cookin' at the Ritz: Every woman has dreamed of taking a course in cooking at the Hotel Ritz in Paris. Alice Steinbach actually had the courage to do it. It's absolutely fascinating to be able to see inside the Ritz's kitchens without having to worry that Chef will raise his eyebrows if your mushrooms aren't sliced perfectly.
Dancing in Kyoto: The only way to find out why girls really become geishas is to take a dance lesson from one as Steinbach did. Apparently, the geishas aren't too happy about Arthur Golden's ""Memoirs of a Geisha." Here are the real facts of a geisha's life.
The Mystery of the Old Florentine Church: Steinbach took as her special project investigating the terrible floods in 1966 that turned the narrow streets of Florence into raging rivers. Steinbach found the human story behind the statistics.
Sense and Sensible Shoes: If you're a Jane Austin fan, this chapter is for you. Steinbach visited Chawton House, near Winchester, England - the manor once owned by Jane's brother - along with an all-star guest list of Austin experts.
Havana Dreams: There's so much politics talked about Cuba that it was a relief to see the island as ordinary Cubans experience it. I have a new respect for these endlessly cheerful people thanks to Educating Alice.
The Secret Gardens: This chapter is for gardeners. Steinbach went on a tour of famous gardens in Provence, France. To the French, gardening is an art form and Provence offers the perfect climate for enthusiastic gardeners.
The Unreliable Narrator: This chapter was a new take on a class for writers. Steinbach signed up for a course in Prague, Czechoslovakia. This is another class where you need to be a good sport. Steinbach is one.
Lassie Come Home: If you've ever struggled to teach your dog to sit on command, Steinbach has a challenge for you: Take a course learning to control the Border collies that Scottish shepherds use to herd sheep. They are the most amazing dogs.

View from a Sketchbook: Nature Through the Eyes of Marjolein Bastin
View from a Sketchbook: Nature Through the Eyes of Marjolein Bastin
by Marjolein Bastin
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 2.17

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A year on the prairie with Marjolein Bastin, June 16 2004
"View from a Sketchbook" is a lovely album of watercolors by Marjolein Bastin, the illustrator of the children's books starring Vera the Mouse, and Tovah Martin, who kept a journal of Marjolein's nature walks during a full year from spring through winter. They spent the year at the Bastin's home in a carefully tended patch of Missouri prairie, visiting the Bastin's old home in Ede in central Holland, and on vacation on Grand Cayman.
There are three dozen full-page illustrations and numerous little sketches, sometimes just a single bumblebee or eggshell. You can see the love and care that goes into every little detail. Even the list of contents is terminated with a tiny ladybug. And the cover of the book underneath the dust jacket is decorated with a frieze of Canada geese with a family of chicks. This is an exquisitely beautiful book from the rabbit on the first page to the Giant Swallowtail on the last.

The Offshore World: Sovereign Markets, Virtual Places, and Nomad Millionaires
The Offshore World: Sovereign Markets, Virtual Places, and Nomad Millionaires
by Ronen Palan
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 29.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Postglobalization and the demise of the nation-state, June 15 2004
In slightly under 200 pages, The Offshore World contains an illuminating summary of the global "offshore" system, which comprises offshore banks, export processing zones (EPZs), international banking facilities (IBFs), offshore financial systems (OFCs) or tax havens, flags of convenience, the Euromarket. Note that if you want to do business with one of these entities, you will do better to head for London, Tokyo, Liechtenstein or New York than anywhere outside territorial waters. "Offshore" is a virtual space defined by its exemption from taxes, regulations and other annoying features of the nation-state.
Ronen Palan brings an outstanding depth of knowledge of his subject to this book. He traces the roots of the offshore system to the late 19th century, when the concept of sovereign states was developing in ways that often presented obstacles to international traders. The result today is a system of non-sovereign states that has grown in parallel to, and generally with the support of, nation-states. Most of that growth has occurred since the late 1960's, at the time of the profitability crisis and the collapse of the Bretton Woods system. Today an estimated $2 trillion per day passes through the offshore foreign exchange market and 20% of total private wealth is parked in tax havens. And those figures are growing.
Aside from the breath-taking sums that flow through a system outside tax or regulatory control, what are the political implications of offshore? Palen's thesis is that nation-states have lost control of the monetary system: The offshore tail is wagging the sovereign-state dog. Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations can simply pick up their financial assets and take them offshore if nation-states don't lower taxes and regulatory requirements to their dictates. And without sufficient funds democratic states are in no position to provide either their populations or offshore facilities with the services and security they expect. The paradox is that offshore has been an inevitable outgrowth of the division of the world into sovereign states.
Professor Palan sees the growth of offshore accelerating. Sooner, rather than later, its dark matter will dramatically impact our visible world in ways we cannot yet foresee. "Offshore can end only when either the state system has ended its long half-millennial journey or capitalism itself has been replaced by another system."

Moving Toyshop
Moving Toyshop
by Edmund Crispin
Edition: Paperback
46 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A classic from the Golden Age of mystery fiction, June 13 2004
This review is from: Moving Toyshop (Paperback)
The Moving Toyshop takes the classic puzzle of the locked room and turns it inside out. A struggling poet, defeated one stormy night by British Railway's unfathomable time-tables, takes shelter in an old toyshop, only to stumble upon the body of a woman inside. But when he returns there with the police, the toyshop has gone and in its place is a grocery shop. It sounds like a story from Ray Bradbury, but this mystery is caused by very common human greed.
Edmund Crispin was the pen-name of composer Bruce Montgomery. British movie fans will recognize his name as the creator of the music for the Carry On comedy series. Crispin is one of the mystery writers from the Golden Age of mystery fiction between the wars whose works have stood the test of time. It's a pity that so many of them are currently out of print.
Where American writers specialized in hard-boiled detectives, like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Dashiel Hammett's Sam Spade, the British fiction of the period preferred its heroes to be languid, educated and world-weary. It goes without saying that they spoke several languages, including French and Latin, were familiar with classical music and literature, and hedonistically fond of cigarettes, whisky and good port.
The Moving Toyshop has remained a favourite of classical mystery fiction fans, because it incorporates all of the best features of its genre. The amateur detective is Gervase Fen, a disarmingly eccentric professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. The narrator in this story is a querulous, but biddable poet, a cross between Conan Doyle's Dr Watson and Douglas Adams' Arthur Dent. The conversations concern bad literature and Oxford dons, and usually take place in a comfortable Oxford pub. And the villains escape on bicycles.

Going Nucular: Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times
Going Nucular: Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times
by Geoffrey Nunberg
Edition: Hardcover
28 used & new from CDN$ 0.34

5.0 out of 5 stars Typos and thinkos: language clues in political speech, June 12 2004
Geoffrey Nunberg is, amongst other things, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University, but he's better known to most of us for his witty and perceptive commentaries on popular language usage. Going Nucular is a collection of 65 articles, each one based on a word that is commonly used in political speech. It's an eclectic list: terrorism, vision, freedom, régime, hero, torture, capitalism, postmodern, fascist, google. Then, of course, there's nuclear.
I had a momentary fear on receiving this book that it would be yet another diatribe against (or for) the current president, who is well-known for his tendency to mispronounce nuclear as "nucular." But the author reminds us that this word has tripped up a series of presidents from Dwight D Eisenhower to Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton. Nunberg's point, as usual, is more subtle. He notes that some of the people who talk of "nucular weapons" have no difficulty pronouncing "nuclear family." So are they really stubbing their toes on a hard-to-say word or are they indulging in faux-folksy speech?
Warning to grammarians: Nunberg has no patience with the dictionary police. In his opinion, English is at its best in creative hands - just think of Shakespeare. How we use and change words gives those with the ear to hear a wealth of information about how we think. Consider how the media describe those folk in Iraq who oppose US policy. Terrorists? Insurgents? Freedom fighters? Rebels? Patriots? Whichever word is chosen reveals a bias.
All the articles in "Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times" originally appeared either on National Public Radio's Fresh Air or one of several major newspapers over the past few years. Together they illustrate how much more words reveal than their dictionary definitions.

The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale Of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon
The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale Of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon
by Robert Whitaker
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from CDN$ 1.47

5.0 out of 5 stars Scientific Exploration in the Andes during the 18th Century, June 10 2004
A century after Galileo had been forced to publicly recant his heliocentric model of the solar system, Western Europe was engaged in frenzy of global exploration and scientific investigation. Explorers urgently needed better maps and navigational systems. Scientists were competing to accurately determine the shape of the Earth. Add in a little political intrigue and you have the subject of The Mapmaker's Wife: a 1735 French mapmaking expedition to Peru that lasted a decade.
The European Enlightenment was an extraordinary time for all intellectuals. France was the center of scientific research: Spain concentrated on exploring - and occupying - the new world. When French scientists suggested a journey to the Andes to measure the lines of latitude and longitude there and settle the question of the shape of the Earth, King Louis XV saw a chance to get information on the closely guarded Spanish empire.
Robert Whitaker has won acclaim for his scientific journalism and he brings all his skills to The Mapmaker's Wife. The real story of 18th century mapmaking is more exciting than any fiction and the characters involved are full of life. As part of his research for the book, the author traveled to South America. Although he doesn't mention his own travels in the book, the detailed descriptions of what travelers encountered could only have been written by someone who knew the region.
The mapmaker's wife only appears towards the end of the book. Isobel Godin was a Peruvian who had married one of the younger members of the mapmaking expedition. After waiting twenty years for him to return, she set out east across the Amazon jungle to find him. Her journey became one of the great survivor stories of the century and nicely complements the experiences of the French mapmakers in their journey west.

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