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The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy
The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy
by David Cannadine
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.47
69 used & new from $4.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The transience of entitlement and privilege, April 21, 2016
The author begins the epilogue of his excellent book with a comment on the 'transience of human life and the impermanence of worldly dominion', and makes use of that chapter to briefly put the decline and fall of the British aristocracy also in context with the mostly swift and brutal demise of continental aristocracies during the same time span.

As he writes elsewhere, the British experience was akin to a 'long revolution', lasting almost a century, and thereby furnishing a vast amount of material to follow this monumental change over time. This is a scholarly work of the first rank, and I don't think the author expects readers to remember every noble name or vignette mentioned in the 700 pages. It is as much a documentary as it is a reference work. Nevertheless, Cannadine's clear organization of the material, his lucid presentation and engaging style of writing keep you wanting to read on, to follow the twists and turns about how a class so certain of its entitlements and privileges gradually lost it all due to the momentous economic and social changes experienced during that time and the rise of the egalitarian welfare state after WWII. Is there perhaps a lesson to be learned here regarding the transience and impermanence of the entitlements and privileges taken for granted by many now from that very same welfare state?

A guide to heraldry
A guide to heraldry
by Ottfried Neubecker
Edition: Paperback
23 used & new from $1.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Taking the mystery out of Heraldry, February 7, 2016
This review is from: A guide to heraldry (Paperback)
As one would expect from a guide on heraldry, the book is full of images and colors, covers everything from the origins of heraldry to heraldic accessories, and yet manages to portray all of it in a handy 'pocket format' rather than through a weighty hernia inducing tome. The author was a noted expert on heraldry in Germany and, judging from some of the sources quoted and samples provided in this book, I suspect there might have been a previous German edition or the present guide at least borrowed from some of his earlier German publications.

Shackleton's Whisky: A Spirit of Discovery: Ernest Shackleton's 1907 Antarctic Expedition, and the Rare Malt Whisky He Left Behind
Shackleton's Whisky: A Spirit of Discovery: Ernest Shackleton's 1907 Antarctic Expedition, and the Rare Malt Whisky He Left Behind
Price: $15.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Slainte to Shackleton and his disciplined men!, February 7, 2016
Naturally (and fortunately!) Shackleton's whisky is somewhat relegated to the background for much of the first three quarters of the book.
The author weaves the whisky, first its ordering and then its presence, skillfully into a portrait of Shackleton the teetotaler and his extraordinary style of leadership, where an understanding of human nature and pragmatism trumped personal preferences every time in his quest to achieve the hitherto unachievable with his men.

Finally the rediscovery many decades later of the cached cases of whisky and the exciting aftermath. What an armchair adventure for the whisky aficionado, and even better when accompanied by a dram of the Shackleton replica whisky!

Turkey and the Arab Spring: Leadership in the Middle East
Turkey and the Arab Spring: Leadership in the Middle East
by Graham E. Fuller
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.95
54 used & new from $2.75

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Turkey - a beacon of light or itself at the crossroads?, October 23, 2015
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Although there is not much spring left in the 'Arab Spring', this book is even more relevant now as it puts Turkey's position and development into context within the turmoil gripping much of what was once the Ottoman Empire's backyard, and which is now too close for comfort even to Turkey itself.

From the time of his stationing in Turkey as a CIA operative, the author has retained and continued to cultivate a deep understanding of that important country straddling both Europe and Asia. Readers will therefore learn a lot about the history of modern Turkey, the blueprint of secularism imprinted by Kemal Ataturk, the country's institutions, the once dominant role of the military, the rise of the AKP party and its reforms to realize the potential of the Turkish economy, its shake up of the increasingly sclerotic Kemalist state, its geopolitical ambitions. Fuller lets us in on the concerns and aspirations of a Turkey beyond just the elites living in Istanbul or Ankara, he informs us about the Gulen movement and its impact. He paints a many-faceted picture and presents his Turkey, where Islamic traditions can coexist with democracy and modernity, as a model for others. In doing so, he does, however, not shy away from also discussing the flipside of concentrated power at the top of the ruling party and its potential for an uncertain Turkish future through a new kind of authoritarianism.

So, following the above comments, why not at least 4 stars? Chiefly, because during the build-up in the first half of the book to Turkey's present geopolitical position, I detect a marked bias toward the widespread narrative accepted in that part of the world that, whatever ails the Middle East today is predominantly the result of Western colonialism. A thread which weaves itself also somewhat through the same author's 'A World without Islam', but to a lesser degree. What is missing, is a thorough discussion and evaluation of the role played by strict adherence to uncompromising religious traditions, let alone the footprint left by the many centuries of Ottoman domination on Middle Eastern societies and how Ottoman imperial ambitions - finally checked before the gates of Vienna at the closing of the 17th century - may also have shaped European perceptions about it. Instead, the former empire's reach and legacy - with Turkey at its core - is sometimes treated too benevolently as the basis upon which to rekindle Turkish influence in the region, something President Erdogan no doubt would share as well, but probably not so much the empire's former subjects.

Aside from that, if you are interested in learning more about what makes today's Turkey 'tick', this is a deeply informative and worthwhile read.

All Days Are Night
All Days Are Night
Offered by Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Price: $9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating theme morphes into a boring litany of banalities, July 13, 2015
Although I became aware of this novel through a positive review in 'The Economist', both as to content and Hoffmann's translation into English, I read the book in the author's language - German.
I was hoping for a fresh exploration of Kafka's theme in 'Metamorphosis', with the important difference though that unlike Gregor Samsa, Gillian had to continue living her new identity. Unfortunately, turning page after page one hopes in vain to become engrossed by either the tale or the characters. Banality follows banality and had me finally simply scan the pages to at last make it to the end.
Gillian really did not have to loose her face for this kind of 'restart', loosing her position as a TV-moderator through job cuts or some other circumstances as well as the latent possibility of her divorce from Matthias would have sufficed. What would be left is merely the hum-drum of life, without the least effort to explore any of its more profound aspects.
I understand that Peter Stamm is known and praised for his minimalist, yet elegant writing style and his ability to draw readers into his stories. 'Style over substance' would be the verdict for this novel, a view also shared on by even some proclaiming to be fans of his other novels.

Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American's crisis of conscience in Pakistan
Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American's crisis of conscience in Pakistan
Price: $9.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roller coaster through a mine field of human emotions., March 26, 2015
A roller coaster not just through the emotions of the finely honed characters in this book, but just as much through the ones of readers. This novel about a spook and spying does not follow the usual path of romanticizing the craft with edge-of-the-seat heroics and wizardry, but instead paints a much larger tableau and has the spy himself become ‘collateral damage’ in the end.
Throughout the book, the reader is engaged with the multifaceted realities faced by the protagonist and, through the voices of the latters contacts as well as other players, is confronted with views and actions which can be both infuriating and disturbing, no matter through what agency they were created. The writer does not give the reader the luxury to remain an impartial observer, he forces him to weigh, to evaluate and to search his/her own convictions with all the discomfort such may produce.
Breaking Faith’ is a juxtaposition of cold and abstract geopolitical calculus with being caught as a mere human in a maelstrom of conflicting messages and emotions as told by someone ‘who has been there’, knows the field. The questions raised in this fine novel resonate long after reading the book. A timely and worthy rejoinder in the spirit of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’.

Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Cave on Earth
Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Cave on Earth
by James M. Tabor
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.98
67 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unbearable hype, February 18, 2015
As someone who in his youthful years spent most weekends in caves and is also familiar with expeditions and longer than one week stays underground in a Western European 'super-cave', nostalgia for times long gone attracted me to this book.

What a disappointment! It is one thing to recognize and write about the obvious dangers of caving, but must it be taken to the point of morbidly wallowing in it as does this author? Then there are the constant and exaggerated comparisons of caving to other fields of exploration or physical feats, the author's infatuation with Bill Stone's super-macho persona plus the relentless hyperbole of typical adventure-magazine journalism. I finally had to bolt to the surface after 18 chapters and then fast-forwarded to the source notes for each chapter at the end of the book. They only confirmed that reading the remaining chapters would have brought more of the same - mostly stuff regurgitated from articles as well as interviews and presented in a forced sensationalist style. Where is the balance of letting the reader also know of the many treasures of natural beauty encountered in caves, the solemn solitude experienced in a great subterranean cavern, the warm glow of carbide lights and the camaraderie at camp underground, of the deep silence in some places or the soothing dripping of water into a crystal clear pool elsewhere, the feeling of oneness with the surroundings, even in low or narrow passages?

Given the supposed subject matter - finding the world's deepest cave system - the author should also have been expected to give the reader a bit of a background and overview about the world's giant cave systems, both vertical and in total length, the progression of exploration, the science about it, in short something to serve as a reference point. Alas, the only constant reference point in this book is Bill Stone. Pity.

San Francisco Encore
San Francisco Encore
by Junior League San Francisco
Edition: Hardcover
99 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Now here is a 'First Class' cookbook, January 29, 2014
This review is from: San Francisco Encore (Hardcover)
No recipe in this book has ever disappointed, quite the contrary, the response from guests is usually accolades. In fact 'San Francisco Encore' has been my cookbook of choice for many years when entertaining. The recipes listed are easy and with instruction that are straightforward. In addition you don't need a professional chef's kitchen and paraphernalia or a pantry full of strange and expensive condiments to make them. A bravo to the Junior League San Francisco!

Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy
Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A timely warning?, January 28, 2014
'A timely warning for the shape of things to come' according to Fay Weldon in her book recommendations for Christmas 2012 in the UK's Daily Telegraph. Why so? Does she see similarities with the confident pre-revolutionary Russian aristocracy and today's self absorbed consumer societies of the rich world? What could follow, if the gulf between haves and have-nots is allowed to grow or if other calamities should cause serious social disruptions with all they could bring?

While this book's aim is neither meant to explore all of the socio-economic and political conditions or reasons for the Russian revolution nor to offer lessons for the present and future, - that is covered in many other books about that period - Douglas Smith nevertheless weaves historical events and what led up to them skillfully into the narrative of experiences of his aristocratic subjects, which leads to mental association with them and contemplation about our own times.

As the author points out, it was not just the Russian aristocracy, which was singled out as 'class enemy', the aristocracy was only the most prominent and visible one, but included as class enemies were also the petty bourgeoisie, tsarist bureaucrats, intellectuals, trades people and anybody else not fitting into the Communist mold. The fate of the Golitsyn and Sheremetev families stands therefore as a proxy for the many others who perished and will forever be unknown. Douglas Smith provides us with a documentary human drama of the 'losers' on the stage that hitherto has been occupied chiefly by the protagonists of the revolution and how they shaped things afterwards. Despite this different perspective, the book never descends into what it could have become under a less accomplished pen: Facile accusation and generalization. One also reads about commissars and other officials, such as Yekaterina Peshkova, first wife of Maxim Gorki, who were approachable to help ease some of the plight of 'former people' as much as it was in their power to do so. Not always possible when it was often far from clear whether events were shaped by policy from above or from the street below, particularly in the early years.

Some reviewers' criticism of the book centers around the many names the reader is introduced to. Some feel they therefore 'loose track' of the characters without referring often to the family trees at the beginning of the book. Does it matter? Since this is not a novel, but primarily an account of and about individual members of the families mentioned, their fate does not loose in drama even if they cannot be placed instantly.

'Former people' is an epic story about the 'old Russia' and what became of it. The author lets these people emerge from the shadows of history, brings them alive as human beings with loves, hopes, joys and pain, suffering quietly and with dignity their cruel turn of fate. It is a book long overdue.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 6, 2014 5:18 PM PDT

The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life
The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life
Price: $9.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A dog's breakfast of trivia, January 28, 2014
Maybe a coincidence, but Timothy Ferriss seems to have it in for the number 4 - the hard cover issue weighing just under 4 pounds on my kitchen scale. Unfortunately this fact does not make the book any better. What is it supposed to be anyway? Reference? Collected Ferrissian wisdom cum self indulgence? Random trivia made into a stew for self actualization? He cobbles together such diverse fields, one wonders why there isn't also a treatise on the finer points of Kama Sutra, but please, this is America, - much safer to give plenty of room to guns! In case you wonder how they make their appearance: Well, in a section on huntin' and 'survival', of course. While Ferriss' trivia-runaway through 671 pages obviously has to offer some useful tips on the various subjects he covers, most could be obtained much easier through a simple web search.

I utterly fail to see the purpose of this book, even less so why it should be a bestseller. There is, astonishingly, a UK edition. A French edition? Mon Dieu, impossible!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2014 6:05 PM PST

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