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James W. Derry (Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada)

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The Sun King : Louis XIV at Versailles
The Sun King : Louis XIV at Versailles
by Nancy Mitford
Edition: Paperback
8 used & new from CDN$ 27.20

5.0 out of 5 stars MITFORD ON LOUIS XIV, July 2 2016
Written 50 years ago by one of the famous Mitford sisters, this small biography of Louis XiV is as fresh today as it was at publication. Lively, colourful, full of gossipy details of extravagant court life, Nancy Mitford writes a racy history of the Sun King, his wife, mistresses, children, bastard children, and the building of Versailles, the royal palace that blew the top off of privilege and indulgence.
Louis lived and ruled France a long time, so long that he outlived his son, and then his grandson, so that the Dauphins in waiting never got the chance to become kings. (It was his infant great-grandson who was to become Louis XV). He spent most of his time at Versailles hunting when not at war with other European powers, forcing the aristocracy to reluctantly relocate there to be near the king and the court to maintain influence and favour. They hated being away from Paris or their own estates and were bored senseless by court life and intrigues, but to be absent was social death. But it is Nancy Mitford's wonderful style that carries the reader through this ornate and golden ossified society. Here she is describing the Dauphin's new lover: "Ugly, like all his women, she was a fat squashy girl with a snub nose, an enormous mouth and huge breasts on which he would beat a tattoo with his fingers." On the vastness of the palace (which was also a military barracks): "Hundreds of courtiers were crammed into the Nobles' or north wing of the chateau. It was a maze of corridors where strangers lost their way hopelessly. People could live here for years, forgotten by everybody".
The book also contains many prints and colour photographs which helps the reader to get a grip on the enormous size of Versailles and its surroundings, and how this was serviced. Mitford also wrote other historical biographies: Voltaire, Frederick the Great, and Madame de Pompadour.
I look forward to finding these volumes to read.

A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War
A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War
by Victor Hanson
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars OUR CULTURE OF WAR, July 1 2016
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For those reading Thucydides's Peloponnesian War, Professor Hanson's A War Like No Other makes an excellent companion volume. Unlike the chronological histories written by many other authors, Hanson discards this traditional approach and breaks up this ghastly 27 year suicidal conflict between the Greek city states of Athens and Sparta into topics. Because most people familiar or interested in Greek history already know the ending: (Sparta wins and Athens is destroyed) this new approach to a long conflict is refreshing and appreciated.
But how did this come about? Why did Greek peoples fight among themselves for almost 3 decades, liquidating their fighting men and gaining little? What possessed their leaders to risk so much, drag this conflict out for so long, sending wave after wave of its sailors and hoplites to their death?
To help us get a grasp on a war that happened so long ago, Hanson discusses both sides and their shifting allies under blocks of topics such as Fear, Fire, Walls, Terror, Ships, Horses, Disease, etc. It is a brilliant approach and one that grabs our interest.
Athens reached its Golden Age during the early part of the conflict: philosophy, democracy, science, architecture, literature; all at its glorious peak. Pericles, the brilliant leader of Athens under whom this culture flourished, pushed his control of the Aegean to the limit, and as a result inflicted a horrible plague on his walled city due to a siege which took his own life. Leaders after him carried on until the state lost the war to the Spartans under the final marine battles of Admiral Lysander.
And yet, the sad irony is that Sparta the victor faded away and the defeated Athens came out of the ashes of the war as the defacto influential Hellenic culture which spread wide and far beyond the Aegean for a thousand years, even enduring under the Roman Empire. We stand in awe at what the ancient Greeks accomplished and if we wonder what this landmark war really accomplished, and what people learned, we only have to look around ourselves today to witness the present conflicts ragging around the globe.

Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage Of The Flesh
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage Of The Flesh
by John Lahr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 33.12
27 used & new from CDN$ 12.97

4.0 out of 5 stars AMERICA'S MAD POET, Feb. 14 2016
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Everything you ever wanted to know about Tennessee Williams life, his work, and his family. John Lahr has written just over 765 pages of which 165 pages are footnotes and index. It is exhaustive, deeply researched, and fairly balanced between Williams's chaotic career and life of mental illness, drugs, sex, booze, and celebrityhood.
All the major and minor plays are here, how, when, and where they were written and produced. All the madness in his family feeds Lahr's theory of how that went into the making of those revolutionary works such as The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or Sweet Bird of Youth, and extended into his decline with the drama critics. Sometimes the reader gets tired of of yet more psychoanalysis, but that point is that Williams wrote to stay alive, to work out the chaos in his head. Least to say, he was impossible to live or deal with on a professional basis.
Although the last decades of Williams life were not his best, and after his death (and he was tragically not buried where he stipulated) his canon was systematically ruined for years by his trustee Maria St Just, his plays are now performed more than ever, and making the estate greater sums of money than in his own lifetime. His characters, many drawn from his family and circle, are unforgettable, as are their names (think Big Daddy). His best lines have entered the English language: "There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odour of mendacity". But none of this would have happened without Elia Kazan, his director who know how to stage the plays for an audience, and it is to Lahr's credit that he writes extensively about their relationship.

Deep Down Dark
Deep Down Dark
by Héctor Tobar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.59
10 used & new from CDN$ 11.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars MORE THAN A HAPPY ENDING, Feb. 14 2016
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This review is from: Deep Down Dark (Hardcover)
A well written and researched book about the trapped miners in northern Chile, which was later used for the basis of the film The 33. I strongly advise anybody not to bother with the movie, as it leaves out important parts of the story that are critical to understanding what happened in the mine.
Hector Tobar is an American journalist whose parents came from Guatemala; therefor he is bilingual and was able to interview in Spanish all those participants in the story during his trips to Chile.
I have a particular interest in this book as I once owned a farm in Chile and have travelled extensively within South America, by bus, like the miners did to get to their job site. I am familiar with the language, the culture, and the landscape, and Mr Tobar gets this right.
The men endure a horrific experience, both physical and psychological deep down in the dark. But their time buried before their discovery by the surface rescue team is just the beginning. Through a narrow long tube of a lifeline to the daylight above, their lives change, forever. Even before they return to the surface, they become international celebrities, a status most of them do not adjust to very well.
The story of the miners enchants the world via the media, and more directly, Chile itself, for the successful outcome of the mine disaster puts the country and the Pinera government on the world stage. We see the behind the scenes manoeuvring by politicians and companies who want to tag along to the miners star. However, even with the critical help of doctors and the psychologist Iturra (all left out of the film), the men struggle to survive waiting weeks for the borehole to be widened and a rescue possible.
We all know how the story ends, happily, no deaths, all recovered. Fame and fortune rain down on the men, and none of them know how to deal with it. This is the best part of Mr Tobar's story, the forgotten part, the part the world media has no interest in following. After the rescue, after the celebrating, life goes on, and these men continue to struggle with what had happened to them. They do get legal advice, and form a legal entity to deal with such things as this book, but in fact, each has to live with himself and what he said or did far beneath the earth.

Aroma ARC-150SB 20-Cup, Cooked Digital Rice Cooker and Food Steamer, Black/Silver
Aroma ARC-150SB 20-Cup, Cooked Digital Rice Cooker and Food Steamer, Black/Silver
Price: CDN$ 63.92
7 used & new from CDN$ 63.92

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good value for price, Aug. 25 2014
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Very good value for price. Simple to operate and cooks rice perfectly. Like the alarm when rice is cooked and gone into keep warm mode. Similar products sold in local stores twice the price. Also, appreciate the separate settings for white and brown rice.

Ergo Chef 9-Pocket Professional Soft Knife Roll Bag
Ergo Chef 9-Pocket Professional Soft Knife Roll Bag
Price: CDN$ 32.97
4 used & new from CDN$ 27.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Great value. Like how it zips up on all ..., Aug. 25 2014
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Great value. Like how it zips up on all 3 sides and has a separate mesh pouch for sharpener. Knives are all held securely and rolls up neatly.

Cities and Civilizations
Cities and Civilizations
by Christopher Hibbert
Edition: Paperback
21 used & new from CDN$ 3.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 21 CITIES AT THEIR PEAK, Dec 29 2013
Written over 25 years ago, this is still an interesting book about 21 cities at their peak of influence and power. Christopher Hibbert groups these cities into the Ancient, the Developing, and the Modern. Although most of these places still exist today, he describes them during their most important era, such as Athens in the days of Pericles or Toledo during the reign of Philip II. This makes for fascinating reading, for we see how these places looked when they were great capitals or seats of power and how people like Peter the Great could simply make a city come into existence by sheer will.
These places were formed when most of the population was rural, so the city became the concentrated site of culture, government, and what we think of as civilization. Some cities grow to be even greater, such as New York, in terms of economics, and some ceased to exist altogether, such as Cuzco. St Petersburg was the capital of Russian under Peter but Moscow became the capital under Lenin. New Orleans was a mighty engine for the expansion of the USA, but it went into a steep decline that persists to the present. Amsterdam was once the centre of an empire, as was Vienna and Rome.
Well illustrated, but not lavishly, this is a good overview of our great cities, of how they came into existence, why they lost importance on the world stage, and why people still live there today.

Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan
Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan
by Edmund Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 23.76
61 used & new from CDN$ 4.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A NOVEL TAKE, Dec 8 2013
This book has received a bad rap. Since its much anticipated release in 1999, Dutch did not meet with a kind reception. Critics were perplexed and Republicans hated it. Book reviewers were wondering if it would ever be published since it took Morris so long to finish writing the book.
What everybody seems to miss, including most reviewers here, is this is not a Biography of Ronald Reagan. It is a Memoir. Just like it says in Edmund Morris's title. A memoir is a personal remembrance. For a conventional biography read Lou Cannon's book.
Although following the fictionalized characters in the early part of the book is disconcerting at first, I think I understand why Morris took this route. In biography, "the early years", birth, childhood, and youth is quite frankly, boring. We want to cut to the "good stuff" in the person's life and gloss over the formative years. And although Morris was the official biographer who followed the President around for over three years, Reagan was less than articulate about his childhood, his family, his ex-wife. What Reagan was, above all, was an actor who played a part and once the scene was over, he moved on to the next scene. No introspection. No doubts. So after much rewriting, it must have come to Morris to use the same device to relate Reagan's past.
So the short version is: Lifeguard, Radio Announcer, Contract Actor in Hollywood, Union President, Spokesperson for General Electric, Governor of California, President of the USA, Retirement.
It is during his second term as President that Morris writes directly on his subject and it has the greatest interest to us. This is the man who made America feel good about itself again after Carter's humiliation in Iran. This is the President who stared down the Soviet Union and dared it to top his fictional Star Wars defense plan. The coverage of the Summit Meetings with Gorbachev is probably the best eye-witnessed writing of these events anywhere. Although stage-managed, and there were not many people to see it, Reagan's "Tear down this Wall Mr Gorbachev", rang around the world. Reaganomics boosted the USA economy out of the doldrums, but it dumped a debt load onto the following presidents. Ronald Reagan was a nice man who loved to tell a joke, and much to the chagrin of his handlers, could not resist launching into yet another Hollywood reminiscence. Even an intellectual like Francois Mitterrand saw something powerful in Reagan.
It says something that after spending countless hours researching at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Morris found that he seemed to be the only person there. In fact, this facility is the least used by scholars of all the presidential libraries. Reagan seemed like an idiot to many, and he was no genius, but up until the end of his second term, he wrote almost all his own speeches and was an excellent speaker. His training as an actor gave him a good memory for names, which came in handy when campaigning. And a sense of humour, which also helped to endear him to millions. (Wheeled into surgery after the assassination attempt on his life, and near death, Reagan quipped: "Can we re-shoot this scene, starting at the hotel?).
Dutch also has wonderful character sketches of the powerful around Reagan, in the White House and around the world. Although the temptation to dish on Nancy Reagan must have been difficult to suppress, Morris keeps his focus on Reagan. However, Nancy's chilling personality does come through, such as in a priceless interview he has with George & Barbara Bush as Reagan leaves office. A twisting Barbara Bush does everything but sit on her hands to keep herself from revealing how much she loathed the former First Lady.
Dutch has many photographs and drawings that support the various chapters and their unusual titles, such as On The Beach with Ronnie and Jane or Explosions or Celluloid Commandos. Some parts of the book are written like a script, others like a letter. There are poems, a few written by Reagan himself. This is a very different kind of book about a personage of historical importance. I suggest you just enjoy it.

On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
by Simon Garfield
Edition: Hardcover
39 used & new from CDN$ 2.11

3.0 out of 5 stars OFF THE CHART, Dec 8 2013
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For map nuts, this is a must read book. Simon Garfield takes on an interesting subject, but, unfortunately, will not meet these readers expectations. Great to read in some chapters, but lacking in spark in others, this book needed a better editor.
That said, Garfield obviously loves maps. From crude early maps that were mostly best guesses to the modern world of GPS, the history of maps and mapping is all covered.
Those who have read the author's Just My Type will probably be disappointed with this book. It starts off with promise with the controversial Mappa Mundi sell-off by Hereford Cathedral to raise maintenance funds and the early maps of the New World are interesting for their errors. We learn a lot, but really, not enough. Antique maps are poorly reproduced in black and white making them difficult to see clearly. Chapters such as Mapping The Brain, are pretty boring. The mapping of the London Underground could have been expanded, as this was such a great achievement of creating a diagram of what could not be seen or put to scale.
To be expected, Google Maps is covered, but its privacy issues are not examined. The total dependancy of people in our age to rely on Google to navigate their way in the world is rather sad, for the ability to read a simple reliable folding map has been lost.
The best part On The Map is the inside cover plates of Mark Ovenden's brilliant map of the world with the London Underground overlaid to show cities on the planet with metro systems. Too bad all the illustrations were not of this quality. A book about maps, after all, must have beautiful maps to study.

A History of Roman Britain
A History of Roman Britain
by Peter Salway
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 23.27
25 used & new from CDN$ 4.49

5.0 out of 5 stars BRITANNIA IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE, Nov. 28 2013
I have always wanted to find a good book describing the period of Roman occupation of Britain, and it is safe to say that Peter Salway has written it. Dense with detail, yet quite easy to understand and read, this single volume traces the history of Roman conquest until the withdrawal of troops and colonists shortly before the sack of Rome. Almost 400 years, more if one includes the failed attempt to invade by Julius Caesar, of being under the great empire's influence.
Salway, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, allows us to understand how the imperial state functioned in Britain, how "civilization" brought swift roads, communications, engineering, high culture, mass produced goods, trade and stability to this remote island from the Saxon coast to Hadrian's Wall. Great political upheavals and events in Italy are followed as they relate to Britannia, from the golden age of the 4 good emperors, to the various periods of persistent civil wars between generals. And the people of Britain, the Druids, the Welsh, the many mini kingdoms, for the most part live with their new masters in harmony, at least, appreciate the benefits of being a part of this astonishing empire.
At one point the empire became to big to manage and with "barbarians" nipping at the weakening borders, Roman government left the island after its long occupation. And with it went an efficient system of roads and forts, villas and farms, and the population declined, never to recover until possibly a thousand years.
This book contains many helpful maps but no illustrations. A good companion book to Salway is Guy de la Bedoyere's Roman Britain, which is lavish with photographs, charts, illustrations, coinage, and archeological sites that bring to life Rome's achievements in Britain.

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