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The Buried Giant: A novel
The Buried Giant: A novel
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.17
114 used & new from $11.84

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Dreadful, March 21, 2015
If you like ugly ogres, savage pixies, a hungry she-dragon, and nonlinear narrative, this book is for you. As you may know, this book has been described as like nothing else the author has written. I disagree. When We Were Orphans also involved a quest, a mystery, and labyrinthine travel. Only it told a clear story. This book does not. It's like floating in a miasma. You feel that, like the characters, you have lost your memory, and now that I have read most of it (I left off 60 pages from the end), I too, have forgotten what it was about. One battle after another, a warrior, a devoted elderly couple, and various fantasy characters. The book was so boring I hastened to dispose of it in the library chute. The prospective reader is hereby warned.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 25, 2015 4:24 PM PDT


Winston Churchill: A Life (Penguin Lives)
Winston Churchill: A Life (Penguin Lives)
by John Keegan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.97
111 used & new from $1.80

3.0 out of 5 stars 90 Years in 192 Pages, February 13, 2015
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The title of the book and its subject so large that the name alone hardly fits the borders of the cover. This is intentional, and indicates how Churchill's life's footprint has been squeezed into a mere 192 pages. I ordered this slim volume because I wanted the perspective of a military historian, the author John Keegan. I was somewhat perplexed that each chapter, representing a portion of Churchill's career, was about 20 pages in length. Hence Churchill's years as Home Secretary were given the same emphasis as his 18 months in 1940 and 1941 when England fought alone and Churchill gave his most memorable speeches.

While Keegan in his introduction describes the impact Churchill's famous speeches made upon him (in a recording) in his youth, and therefore the impact they must have had upon his countrymen, I get the definite impression that Keegan is not a Churchillian. Keegan emphasizes Churchill's mistakes, his illnesses, his so-called depression (only periods of reasonable gloom), rather than his amazing positive qualities. This makes for a rather sour read. This is a debunking of Churchill, certainly not a tribute to a great man. In the summing up at the end, Keegan does make the case that Churchill inspired the English during the war on the strength of his memorable oratory.

Yet he calls his last chapter, Apotheosis, which means (new to me) transformation to the divine. This touch of irony is enough to tell me that Keegan sees Churchill as having been wrongly elevated to godlike status, undeserved. I would not consider this book sufficiently insightful or unbiased. The author has an agenda and it is evident - the reduction of Churchill to 5'6", his actual height. No divinity here.


The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History
The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History
by Boris Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.93
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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, Breezy, Fact-filled, November 14, 2014
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Unlike most Churchill biographies by scholars, this is not a serious, ponderous read. It is witty, entertaining, fast-paced, and full of knowledge. Churchill does not need another biography, and Boris Johnson is standing on the shoulders of Martin Gilbert, Andrew Roberts, Roy Jenkins, John Lukacs, and many more. But he is a journalist at heart, and he reads rippingly well. In an early chapter, he describes the offer to "negotiate" with Hitler which was embraced by Lord Halifax and others, a key turning point in the war that John Lukacs wrote an entire book about. Mr. Johnson is a master of concision. He describes in the next chapter how the world would have looked if the offer had been accepted and Britain in fact surrendered.

The biography breezes easily through Churchill's early life and exploits, exploding myths and disappointing those of us who believed certain apercus were Churchill's, like the "I'd drink it" story. Churchill's writing, his oratorical technique, his "John Bull" personality are given their respective due. There is even a tribute to the woman to whom Johnson attributed Churchill's quality of mercy: his beloved nanny, Mrs Everest.

The American reader can enjoy the opportunity of learning much British slang, as Johnson is an irreverent correspondent, as well as words that the Oxford Concise describes as Brit., archaic. But the writing is a pleasure to read, the pace never flags. If you have not read a Churchill biography before, this is as good an introduction as any.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 20, 2014 10:40 AM PST


The Girl Next Door: A Novel
The Girl Next Door: A Novel
by Ruth Rendell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.09
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lurid and Bitter, October 12, 2014
I never thought I would give one star to a Ruth Rendell psychological novel, but this book was a clear disappointment. It was not so much that it is depressing, being about old age. It is uplifting in that it shows how elderly people survive and renew their lives even into their 80's. What I objected to were the contrived plot twists, the transformation of a normal housewife into a would-be murderess when her husband leaves her, and what I perceived was an antagonism toward men. The book is unusually sexually explicit, and more lurid than usual. Rendell seems to be telling the reader, "Here. Here's what it's like to be in your 80's. It's no picnic." There is a residue of bitterness, an aftertaste that made it impossible for me to enjoy the book.
Comment Comments (14) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 16, 2015 3:59 PM PST


The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel
by Tom Rachman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.34
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12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Second Book Not Worth a Read, June 24, 2014
This book is endless, so boring I could only make it to page 61. It has little in common with his excellent The Imperfectionists - except that both are set in declining industries: the failing newspaper and the anachronistic vintage bookstore. I think Rachman too quickly published this book. It needs a plot. It needs interesting characters. It needs - to tell a story with narrative structure. I will go back to Trollope, who knew how to tell a compelling story.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2014 11:16 AM PDT


A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
by Nicholas Wade
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.93
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24 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jewish Adaptations, May 6, 2014
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To read and understand this book requires an IQ higher than mine. Therefore I will confine myself to the chapter with which I have some familiarity, Chapter 8, Jewish Adaptations. I am surprised Nicholas Wade fails to mention philosopher Ernest van den Haag's Jewish Mystique, originally published in 1969. Wade attempts to refute what he terms "Jewish folklore", that rich merchants would tend to choose impoverished scholars as husbands for their daughters. He writes that rich merchants would be more likely to see the offspring of other rich merchants as better choices for marriage than poor rabbinical students. This assumption shows a lack of knowledge of the value of Talmudic scholarship in Ashkenazic culture over centuries of the diaspora. It was the goal of merchants to marry their daughters to the best Talmudic scholars. I mention van den Haag because he recognizes this phenomenon as natural selection for intelligence among Jews over a long period of time. Van den Haag also points out that the most intelligent Christians were directed to the priesthood, where they were unlikely to reproduce. In contrast, intellectual talent was the most important qualification for marriage for a young Jewish scholar, and led to having highly intelligent offspring. And the young man needed the rich merchant to support him. I am surprised Wade was either not aware of this analysis, or omitted it. I felt it necessary to point this out.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 12, 2014 12:28 PM PDT


Hitler (Harvest Book)
Hitler (Harvest Book)
by Joachim C. Fest
Edition: Paperback
Price: $20.79
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Insightful and Provocative, April 26, 2014
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This review is from: Hitler (Harvest Book) (Paperback)
Fest, the son of a Catholic anti-Nazi, who grew up in Nazi Germany (but he never alludes to his own life), has written a masterful biography of the madman of the century. I have never read such insightful psychological analysis of Hitler, even in Kershaw's two volume biography. Fest has footnoted many German sources, which although the English reader wouldn't have access to, the author does, so he can draw on sources closed to those who are not fluent in German.

Fest divides Hitler's life into three sections: the first 30 years, aimless and indolent; next, his founding of the Nazi party as a band of ruffians and he discovers his gift for oratory and controlling a crowd, as well as the 1930's where he consolidates his power and cultivates a bourgeois manner to quell English and French suspicions; and third, from 1939 on, when he drops all pretense of civility and returns to his violent roots, impetuous, indolent, tyrannical and fanatical.

The first chapter asks the question, was Hitler a genius? When you read his behavior during World War II, you know he was not at all a genius. He was a criminal who happened to take over most of Europe. When Winston Churchill dubs this "the unnecessary war" in his memoirs, you realize how true that was. The Allies were fighting a genuine madman, ready to destroy Germany as well as himself as he realizes the game is up.

My only reservation is that the book is not very readable. It is dense and requires patience and attention. But that is more than repaid. Among other biographies, the Fest stands out as an important analysis of the madman who almost conquered Europe.


The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America
The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America
by John F. Kasson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.93
109 used & new from $9.80

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shirley Temple and FDR, April 18, 2014
I read Shirley Temple Black's memoir Child Star in 1988 when it came out. Since then an entire generation has grown up without the background on ST that this new book provides. The author begins with a description of the suffering caused by the Great Depression, and made it real for me in a way no other account has. He describes FDR in contrast to Hoover; that FDR imbued the nation with hope, epitomized by his broad smile and folksy manner in his fireside chats. (It was more than that, FDR created jobs that helped ease the Depression, though it wasn't until WWII that there was enough government spending to lift the nation out of the Depression.)

What's a brilliant idea is to link FDR and the effects of the Depression with the phenomenon of Shirley Temple, whose bright smile and optimistic films were an essential part of the "fight" against the Great Depression. Kasson describes her pictures and often cites to Child Star - but I read it many years ago and the new generation never read it. While an academic, Kasson writes clearly and on the reader's level, though the intelligent reader. He describes the trajectory of her unprecedented fame, the effect she had on the nation, and how she had to move on after she became a teenager.

I recommend reading this book in conjunction with Child Star. Shirley Temple's generosity of spirit shines through in both.


The Custom of the Country (Penguin Classics)
The Custom of the Country (Penguin Classics)
by Stephen Orgel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.05
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4.0 out of 5 stars Admirable Plotting, Voracious Protagonist, April 2, 2014
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This is certainly one of Wharton's great works. It depicts Undine, a Midwestern social climber who moves to New York, with the intention of making her mark on society. She marries Ralph from an upper crust background, but her narcissism and materialism doom the marriage. Undine Spragg has no interest in her husband, just in his admiration of her beauty. She is totally indifferent to her child. And so it is with everyone she touches. Her female friends are collected to help her entry into society - and before you know it, she is conquering Paris and becoming a Countess, then a Marquise, even better. When the Marquis realizes her character, centered on the voracious collecting of gowns, furnishings, and furbellows - he is alienated from her and shifts his attention to cultivating his estate. And so it goes, from one man to another. An Elmer Moffat keeps popping into her life. He is the one man she cannot deceive and who sees through her machinations, for he is as vulgar and grasping as she is.

Nonetheless, Undine was to me a Carmen - a creature with a sociopathic craving to ruin men, and extracting as much money as she can from them to finance her enjoyments. It is only her beauty that attracts. My revulsion at her decadent character prevented me from giving this cleverly written book five stars. I wonder how many Undines are currently plotting how to land a socially advantageous husband in New York.


Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood
Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood
by Joachim C. Fest
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.60
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important Memoir with Reservations, March 26, 2014
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I have a number of histories by Joachim Fest on my bookshelf, so it was with interest that I ordered Not I. Much of the book concentrates on the author's father's opposition to the Nazis and the effect upon the family. Fest Sr. is immediately dismissed from his position as headmaster of a school because of his anti-Nazi beliefs. The father was a devout Catholic and I can assume his strong sense of rectitude, of realization of right and wrong, with its origin in religious morality, made him determined not to yield even when begged by his wife to do so for opportunistic reasons. For the Fests were now poor, and Joachim was forbidden by the Nazis to go to a private Catholic high school and went to apparently what we would call a public high school. Their 70 year old grandfather went to work as employee in a bank to support the family.

This was an educated, upper middle class family. The text is filled with references to Goethe, Schiller, Kant - the basis of the German Enlightenment. I found the many detailed accounts of family life a bit excessive. But then there is a passage that shows how Nazism impinged inexorably on the Fests. For example, they learned of the murders of Jews in Russia after the Russian invasion from soldiers returning from the Eastern Front.

They had to be careful of everyone they spoke to, as Fest Sr. explained to the two older boys, 10 and 12, one of whom was Joachim.

This is a fascinating account of a German childhood in the Third Reich and the treacherous ground upon which the family stood. The parents had Jewish friends, some of whom left suitcases of valuables with them which they buried in their backyard. Their friends, who beieved this too would pass, never returned after the war. Although overcrowded with somewhat tedious incidents, like the escape that was not, it is nonetheless important for the character of the father and what life was like for an anti-Nazi Christian in Berlin during "interesting times".


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