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The Way of the Pathans
The Way of the Pathans
by James W. Spain
Edition: Hardcover
23 used & new from $2.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Description Of The Pathans Circa 1962, August 30, 2014
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This review is from: The Way of the Pathans (Hardcover)
James W. Spain's "The Way Of The Pathans" is a thoroughly enjoyable little book capturing the lifestyle of the Pashtun (aka Pathan) peoples of northwest Pakistan and southeast Afghanistan during the 1950s and early 1960s. At the time (and probably still today) the Pashtuns constituted the largest tribal society in the world. When, over the past thirty-five years, news reports mentioned Pakistan's northwestern tribes (in the context of first the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, later the Taliban, and more recently the American invasion of Afghanistan), the stories concerned the Pashtuns.

The author was a distinguished US diplomat (cf. his biography on Wikipedia). He lived in the region for several years. He had both the appropriate scholarly credentials (a Ph. D. from Columbia) and the requisite personal experiences. He did his homework reading the available literature and traveling through much of the area. Repeatedly he illustrates his account with references to such popular items as Kipling's stories and poems. Spain treats his subject with both sympathy and critical distance.

The book is an excellent picture of life in that region in the fifteen years after the departure of the British and the partition of colonial India. Some of the events that he describes reflect survivals from the departed British (e.g., silver tea services, officers dress messes, and British trained military and civil elites). Spain manages to condense a great deal of information into this slim volume. In addition to describing the landscape itself, the Pashtun people, their tribal social structures, their interactions with government officials, and Spain's own experiences, the book is filled with numerous stories and anecdotes. The stories illustrate Pashtunwali ("the way of Pathans") in its many aspects, e.g., tribal rivalry, life, love, revenge, and betrayal.

To illustrate with but a single example: Spain describes an incident in which members of rival tribes were on opposite sides of a road. One tribal group, seeing Spain, taunts the other that their British grandfather has returned. The two groups are about to come to knife point when some Pakistani soldiers intervene, shouting that Spain is not British but American. So a tense calm is restored.

His description of the annual migration of certain Pashtun tribes between Afghanistan and Pakistan is particularly significant. Spain depicts an ancient nomadic world that is no more. (In 1961 / 2 the border was closed to the migration.) As I read this chapter, I could not help but think of certain passages in Genesis describing the migrations of the Jewish patriarchs and of the classic documentary film "Grass: A Nation's Battle For Life" (1925).

To the sensitive reader this book is not just a quaint piece of exotica. Rather it provides background to understanding numerous events over the intervening decades and is well worth the investment of reading time.

As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Escape from a Siberian Labor Camp and His 3-Year Trek to Freedom
As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Escape from a Siberian Labor Camp and His 3-Year Trek to Freedom
by Josef Martin Bauer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.57
70 used & new from $1.49

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Fraudulent Story Contradicted By Hard Evidence, March 11, 2014
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Recently discovered documentary evidence apparently shows that this story did not happen and really is eine Faelschung (= a fake or a fraud).

I read this book several years ago. It is a dramatic, moving story of World War II German POW Clemens Forell's three year trek to freedom from the furthest eastern end of Siberia all of the way to Iran. Dozens of reviews on this book page attest to the book's impact. The book purports to be historically accurate and it is just that which makes the tale so riveting. At the time that I read it, I believed that the story was true and had been verified.

Alas, apparently I was seriously mistaken.

I have just discovered that seemingly fatal questions have been raised regarding the veracity of the story. Please refer to the Wikipedia article on Cornelius Rost (the real name of the Clemens Forell):

"Comprehensive researches, condensed in 2010 into a three-hour radio feature by radio journalist Arthur Dittlmann for the Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting Company), left serious doubts about the authenticity of the events told in Rost's original story. For example, no prisoner of war camp existed at Cape Dezhnev in the Far East of Siberia at the time claimed in the book; Rost was not a Wehrmacht officer as depicted in the story; the German Red Cross, with headquarters in Munich, never received any inquiry about his whereabouts, which is unusual for a ten-year imprisonment; and Rost had been released from a Russian prisoner of war camp on 28 October 1947, about two years before his alleged escape in 1949-1952, which he therefore could not have accomplished."

The Wikipedia article's German sources indicate that Bauer's book is based on eight hours of tapes made by Cornelius Rost in the early 1950s. Those tapes are now in possession of the German Institute of Contemporary History in Munich. They show Rost to be a deceitful braggart who repeatedly stretches the truth (for example, in the tapes Rost reportedly depicts himself as the leader of a non-existent trans-Ural commando team). Bauer then edited those tapes, functioning as a novelist trying to extract a successful story rather than as a responsible journalist or historian trying to determine the truth. Apparently Bauer did not even adequately fact check his source material (for example, Rost's report of being marched as a POW through Moscow on the Nevsky Prospect given that the Nevsky Prospect really is in Leningrad / St. Petersburg). So in addition to the just noted hard documentary evidence contradicting the Rost (aka Forell) story, the tapes further undermine claims to the book's truthfulness.

In short, the book appears to be a work of fiction, not fact.
Comment Comments (17) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 22, 2014 3:16 PM PST

Tales from the Thousand and One Nights (Penguin Classics)
Tales from the Thousand and One Nights (Penguin Classics)
by Anonymus
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.83
120 used & new from $2.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Omitted poems, September 29, 2013
While the selection and translation are very good, I would like to draw attention to one feature of N. J. Dawood's edition:

"Here I must also mention that the verses have been left out [of Dawood's translation]. Apart from the fact that they tend to obstruct the natural flow of the narrative, they are devoid of literary merit. Internal evidence consistently shows that most of the verses were injected at random into the text by various editors." (p. 11)

Though I am in no position to judge Dawood's assertion that the poems are later insertions, I question his judgment that they are "devoid of literary merit." While many of the poems indeed are poor, at least several are not. By way of counter-example, consider the following from "The Extraordinary Tale of the City of Brass" (as rendered in Night 340 of the Mardrus and Mathers edition. Also note that Dawood omits this tale from his collection.):

"The drunkenness of youth has passed like a fever,
And yet I saw many things,
Seeing my glory in the days of my glory,
The feet of my war-horse
Drummed upon the cities of the world;
I sacked great towns like a hot wind
And fell like thunder upon far lands.
The kings of the earth were dragged behind my chariot
And the people of the earth behind my laws;
But now
The drunkenness of youth has passed like a fever
Like foam upon sand.
Death took me in a net:
My armies warred against him in vain,
My couriers flattered him in vain.
Listen, O wayfarer, to the words of my death,
For they were not the words of my life:
Save up your soul
And taste the beautiful wine of peace,
For tomorrow the earth shall answer:
He is with me,
My jealous breast hold him for ever.


In the name of the Eternal,
In the name of the Master of Strength,
In the name of Him who moves not!
Wayfarer in this place,
Look not upon the glass of appearance,
For a breath may shatter it
And illusion is a pit for the feet of men.
I speak of my power:
I have ten thousand horses
Groomed by captive kings,
I had a thousand virgins of royal blood
To serve my pleasure
And a thousand excellent virgins
with moon-coloured breasts,
Chosen from all the world.
They brought forth little princes in my chambers
And the little princes were as brave as lions.
I had peculiar treasures
And the West and the East were two heads
Bowing before me.
I thought my power eternal
And the days of my life
Fixed surely in the years;
But a whisper came to me
From Him Who dies not.
I called my captains and my strong riders,
Thousands upon thousands
With swords and lances;
I called my tributary kings together
And those who were proud rulers under me.
I opened boxes of my treasures to them, saying:
'Take hills of gold, mountains of silver,
And give me one more day upon the earth.'
But they stood silent,
Looking upon the ground;
So that I died
And death came to sit upon my throne,
I was Kush ibn Shaddad ibn Ad,
Surnamed the great."

For my nickel, this is not "devoid of literary merit."

Apparently Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles shared my opinion of these lines. A modified abbreviated version of the above was part of the original script of "Citizen Kane" (cf. [...] ). Though the scene was eventually cut, had it remained it would have provided a fitting penultimate statement in that cinematic masterpiece.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2015 10:57 AM PST

Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived
Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived
by Chip Walter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.62
44 used & new from $2.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unfortunate factual error, May 25, 2013
In an otherwise well-written interesting book, "Last Ape Standing" is marred by the following factual error. The author Chip Walter favorably reports the story that in planaria memories can be transmitted to other planaria via ingestion: "Planaria can pass along their personal experience to other flatworms in the oddest way. Untrained flatworms that eat the ground-up brains of other planaria that have been trained to perform specific tasks will quickly exhibit the same knowledge that the dead flatworms acquired in life. R. Joseph, The Naked Neuron, 15." (p. 187 - 188)

Unfortunately this assertion was discredited decades ago. The following summary is from Wikipedia's Planarian article:

"In 1955, Robert Thompson and James V. McConnell conditioned planarian flatworms by pairing a bright light with an electric shock. After repeating this several times they took away the electric shock, and only exposed them to the bright light. The flatworms would react to the bright light as if they had been shocked. Thompson and McConnell found that if they cut the worm in two, and allowed both worms to regenerate each half would develop the light-shock reaction. In 1962, McConnell repeated the experiment, but instead of cutting the trained flatworms in two he ground them into small pieces and fed them to other flatworms. He reported that the flatworms learned to associate the bright light with a shock much faster than flatworms who had not been fed trained worms.

This experiment intended to show that memory could be transferred chemically. The experiment was repeated with mice, fish, and rats, but it always failed to produce the same results. The perceived explanation was that rather than memory being transferred to the other animals, it was the hormones in the ingested ground animals that changed the behavior.[15] McConnell believed that this was evidence of a chemical basis for memory, which he identified as memory RNA. McConnell's results are now attributed to observer bias.[16][17] No blinded experiment has ever reproduced his results of 'maze-running'. Subsequent explanations of maze-running enhancements associated with cannibalism of trained planarian worms were that the untrained flatworms were only following tracks left on the dirty glassware rather than absorbing the memory of their fodder."

Better fact checking would have disclosed this mistake.

Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life
Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life
by Thomas Geoghegan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.95
63 used & new from $0.03

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mistitled and disappointing, November 15, 2010
While I have much sympathy for the overall views of the author, I was disappointed by this volume.

Though the book asks whether you were born on the wrong continent, almost the entire focus is on certain aspects of German social democracy. Interesting as Geoghegan's discussions of Germany are, Germany is only one European country and, given the title, more extensive discussion of other nations would have seemed to be appropriate. Alternatively the book should have been called "Should You Have Been Born in Germany?" Only limited passages address how other European countries adopt economic models differing from those of the United States and Germany. A knowledgeable reader might well wonder who has governed Denmark, Norway, and Sweden for large portions of the post-WWII period and how!

To my mind, more disturbing is that the author does not present a well-argued consistent case for a social democratic approach to the economy so much as present a large number of personal impressions, stories, incidents, etc. aiming to show the advantage of such policies. Many of these stories are very interesting and mind opening. They clearly contrast the economies of the United States and Germany. To most Americans, hearing how Germany, the economic power of the EU, runs its affairs ought be very thought provoking. Still, anyone wishing to construct a coherent case concerning such an economic approach, one that could be offered in a point-by-point argument with a supporter of the American style free enterprise approach to economics, will struggle. Basically you will have to read the book and formulate the pro and con arguments yourself.

And that is why this book did not satisfy me. With a little more care and effort, the author could easily have combined his narrative style with a summation clearly stating the case for and against German social democracy. Yet he did not. Such a summary chapter at the beginning or end of the book would have provided a clear statement, a concise argument, to readers. It would provide a walk away precis of the book. Sadly, Geoghegan did not do this.

Hypatia of Alexandria (Revealing Antiquity)
Hypatia of Alexandria (Revealing Antiquity)
by Maria Dzielska
Edition: Paperback
Price: $21.01
56 used & new from $10.62

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting edit of an excellent book, July 4, 2010
The other reviews highlighting the quality of scholarship are correct. It is an excellent book.

Still, I have a story that I would like to share. The copy that I read was borrowed from the local public library. What merits mention are the edits performed on the book by a previous patron. That person had systematically changed every occurrence of "pagan" with a lower case "p" to "Pagan" with an upper case "p" and penciled out "St." every time Dzielska referred to some personage as "Saint X." Whatever my annoyance at the defacement of the library's book, the result demonstrated to the subsequent reader how apparently neutral linguistic conventions can be construed as embodying a certain Christian religious viewpoint.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 27, 2013 8:58 AM PDT

Canon PowerShot SD850 IS 8.0 MP Digital Elph Camera with 4x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom (OLD MODEL)
Canon PowerShot SD850 IS 8.0 MP Digital Elph Camera with 4x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom (OLD MODEL)
Offered by Electronics Club
Price: $349.95
21 used & new from $34.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two limitations of Canon PowersShot 850 IS, January 5, 2008
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
(1/5/08) Recently I purchased this camera. While the camera itself is nice, other customers ought be aware of two significant limitations:

(1) As it ships the package only includes a 32 MB memory card. This is absurdly inadequate. To provide minimally adequate camera storage you need at least a 2 GB memory card. So unless you get a free memory add on , you must also immediately plan to purchase such an additional card.

(2) More serious is that the Canon camera memory card download interface appears to be incompatible with the Microsoft Vista Windows Image Acquisition software. This week I wrote and spoke with Canon support. Neither resolved the problem. Basically the only way in which I can access my pictures is via my older backup system, a Windows XP cpmputer. After some time Canon told me that others had reported a similar difficulty and finally indicated that the recommended solution was that I should purchase a separate memory card reader! While the additional cost would be minimal, that solution is quite inconvenient. It would require removing the camera memory card every time an image transfer is performed. Some solution.

(1/11/08 update) I just spoke with Canon customer care again, and again was told that the Canon Microsoft Vista USB port incompatibility problem could not be fixed. While the support person was courteous and knowledgeable, it was a waste of time. I was told that other Canon users with other Canon camera models did not have this problem. I said that that was not relevant to me with my Powershot Canon 850 SD. I had a problem and I had duplicated the problem on other MS Vista computers.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2009 11:52 AM PDT

Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery
Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery
by David Warsh
Edition: Hardcover
71 used & new from $0.01

56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment, February 16, 2007
Most of the reviewers of this book apparently found it to be impressive. Sadly I did not.

Too little time is devoted to offering adequate clear explanations of the economic ideas and theories being addressed, too much time is devoted to irrelevant social asides. The non-economist reader seeking to understand the economics as opposed to learning a great amount of academic gossip and politics will probably be disappointed. I wanted to understand growth theory. I did not and do not care that the reason why Paul Romer left Chicago for the Bay Area was that his wife had a disagreement with her lab manager or that Paul Romer has developed software to teach economics. I found such digressions to be unnecessary and distracting.

To cite just two of the book's specific limitations:

(1) The book lacks referential footnotes and a bibliography. Readers not already familiar with the subject wishing to pursue a topic further will be at a loss.

(2) The book lacks a glossary. Throughout the book numerous technical terms are introduced and, at best, briefly described. It would have been nice to have all of these key terms explained in one place for easy reference.

Small efforts on the part of the author would have remedied both of these deficiencies.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 17, 2011 7:36 AM PST

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