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aliled "aliled" RSS Feed (Austin, TX, United States)
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The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century
The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century
by Dickson D. Despommier
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.08
62 used & new from $0.03

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A very flawed piece of writing . . ., January 16, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Like many people nowadays, I am concerned about the state of the planet and the means by which we will correct growing problems or, sadly, ignore them. Many of these problems revolve around our car-dependent culture and the damage it does, our disconnection from our food sources, the sprawl of suburbia and our depletion of crucial resources, including the basics, such as water. You may have seen news articles about "vertical farms" - essentially, a repurposing of tall buildings into what one might call greenhouse skyscrapers. The support of this idea is the basis of Dr. Despommier's book, The Vertical Farm.

While I tend to support a lot of ideas regarded as somewhat loony by many people, and while the idea of vertical farms is, on some level, an attractive one, I have my doubts. Despommier spends too much time getting into the background of the vertical farm idea, going all the way back to the very origin of agriculture. This wouldn't be a bad thing, except for the fact that he dwells on it to the point of nausea, even making such simple mistakes as citing genuinely compelling facts and then stating them again a few pages later, as if he'd forgotten they'd already been mentioned. Part of this may be due to the fact that the book feels like it was written a page at a time, with each page its own essay, as such. The subchapter headings, a page or so apart, bolster this feeling. Much of his argument is disingenuous as well. To cite one example, on page 29, in support of indoor farming, he writes: "The choice is simple: Control everything (indoor farming) or control nothing (outdoor farming)." Most readers will zip right by that "truth" without giving it much thought, but even a cursory examination of the concept will make it obvious that the choice isn't remotely that simple or obvious, and that each system has flaws and merits. But stating things more ambiguously (and thus more honestly) would, presumably take away some of the WOW! factor of the book. Good and workable ideas don't need this kind of help anyway, so when these tactics are employed, I think it damages the credibility of the idea. And, for the record, there are a lot of creditable points made here.

Later in the book, more specifics are tackled and the read improves. But it's a dull slog to get to that point. The book feels like a Newsweek-style article elongated to half the length of a book, tacked on to a more technical manual reduced in length for space. Both works would have value, but here, the implied compromise damages both. Kudos and respect to Despommier, who's tackling an important issue and who makes some unusual - but supportable - ideas come to light. But the book itself? Meh.


Stalina
Stalina
by Emily Rubin
Edition: Paperback
44 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging short novel . . ., January 16, 2011
This review is from: Stalina (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Emily Rubin's Stalina: A Novel tells the story of an older Russian immigrant to the United States, with flashbacks to her Stalin-era childhood in Leningrad, as well as to her final days there, just after the fall of Communism and prior to her departure to America.

Each of these three settings have a slightly different tone. There's relative innocence and hidden horror of the Stalin-era, the world-weary depression of Stalina's final years in Russia and the intractable spirit and humor in her attempts to build a new life in America at a relatively advanced age. Rubin does a find job conjuring up seemingly authentic takes on each of these scenarios while all the while making Stalina's unique and recognizable personality identifiable in each.

The story, as such, is fairly light. The book is much more of a character study, and to that extent it's excellently managed. The sole fault is in the ending, which is a little less than satisfying. It's not that a big climax was called for or anything like that, it's simply that the conclusion reads more like someone stopping their diary entries on a random day, rather than completing a tale of some sort. This, however, is a very minor point and won't distract the reader from Rubin's excellent prose and attention to detail. It's a book well-worth picking up, imminently readable and neither too heavy nor too superficial. Special notice should be given to the accuracy with which Rubin captures the Russian settings, culturally and historically.


Diamond Hill
Diamond Hill
7 used & new from $29.98

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff!, January 9, 2011
This review is from: Diamond Hill (Audio CD)
This is another of Butch Hancock's typically fantastic records - his third. But the reason I'm writing this is to correct Amazon's track listing, which is actually that of his second album. Tracks are as follows:

1) Golden-Hearted Ways
2) You Can Take Me For One
3) Neon Wind
4) Diamond Hill
5) Corona Del Mar
6) Ghost Of Give-And-Take Avenue
7) Some Folks Call It Style
8) Her Lover Of The Hour
9) Wheels Of Fortune


Under The Blue Flag: My Mission in Kosovo
Under The Blue Flag: My Mission in Kosovo
by Philip Kearney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.62
20 used & new from $2.20

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars insightful, interesting and compelling . . ., November 21, 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"Under The Blue Flag" is the story of an American lawyer's experience tackling war crime legal issues in Kosovo. Frankly, I assumed this would be another "bored rich guy goes slumming" sort of tale, with predictable turns of events. Instead, it's one of the best books about "what's going on over there" with international agencies in a particularly troublesome part of the world? It's far, far more honest than I would have thought, both about the author's own lack of preparedness (though this is clearly not entirely his own doing) and the general bureaucratic mess that seems to prevent nearly anything meaningful from being accomplished, despite good people and sincere effort. In some ways, it will turn your stomach and make you think less of humanitarian efforts such as these. On the other hand, it shows a very embryonic new way that the world is tackling centuries old conflicts. The book is well-written and personal, without getting soppy or egocentric. Anyone interested in the workings of the modern world should give it a whirl, even if this specific p art of the world holds little interest. Highly recommended.


Charmin Ultra Strong, Mega Rolls, 6 Count Pack (Pack of 3) 18 Total Rolls  [Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging]
Charmin Ultra Strong, Mega Rolls, 6 Count Pack (Pack of 3) 18 Total Rolls [Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging]
Offered by TrunkenTreasures
Price: $37.85
8 used & new from $29.10

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a matter of personal taste, for the most part . . ., November 18, 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This new Charmin toilet papet is exactly as described: soft, gentle and with a wee bit of lotion included. It feels like luxury, if that's what your bottom enjoys! In no way does Charmin exaggerate or overstate its claims for this product, so buyer need not beware. Unfortunately, some people will prefer a somewhat less soft, less-moisturized kind of toilet paper. The downside to this new Charmin effort, like many very soft toilet papers, is that they tend to shred easily and leave 'fuzz' behind if used too diligently. Aside from that caveat, fine stuff.

Charmin makes claims as to this product's superior and easier-to-use packaging, and thiese claims are likewise true. But to be honest, i've never been troubled by toilet paper packaging. Your tastes may vary.


Acme Made Skinny Sleeve for iPad (Gloss White)
Acme Made Skinny Sleeve for iPad (Gloss White)
Offered by TopGoods
Price: $4.99
10 used & new from $0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars tough, durable and truly protective . . ., November 18, 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's basically a big white padded envelope for ypur iPad, with black stitching around three of the sides. It's not especially thick, but after having had this for a few months, I can genuinely report that it's thick enough to allow for some accidental drops with no damage to the iPad. The exterior is shiny white vinyl. Sadly, it does pick up stains (in my case, from interactions with ballpoint pens in the bag I carry aroumd with me.) this certainly isn't a deal-breaker. The price is fair, it does protect from drops and from inner scratching (the inside is the same black foamy stuff on the underside of most mousepads. The iPad fits very snugly inside, but there's no problem sliding it in and out. Good product!


Scotch Sure Start Shipping Packaging Tape with Refillable Dispenser, 1.88 in x 38.2 yd (3450S-RD)
Scotch Sure Start Shipping Packaging Tape with Refillable Dispenser, 1.88 in x 38.2 yd (3450S-RD)
Offered by BestSource OfficeSupplies
Price: $7.82
17 used & new from $5.27

5.0 out of 5 stars best packing tape out there . . ., November 18, 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There's nothing bad I can say about this tape. It avoids the big problem of being hard to figure put where the tape begins. It's quite thick and while sticky enough, it's not overly sticky. Despite being a little pricier than other packing tapes on the face of it, there's no waste, no need to "double tape" due to its thickness and durability and so it may actually be cheaper than some pther brands in terms of what you get per dollar spent. Highly recommended.


Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
by Bill McKibben
Edition: Hardcover
111 used & new from $2.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Will anyone pay attention?, June 13, 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I like Bill McKibben's other books, and find him to be a comprehensible, reasonable and logical fellow when it comes to laying out his ideas. Furthermore, I think he's dead-on in nearly everything he posits.

Eaarth is something of a bummer. Although in it McKibben does a phenomenonal job of detailing just how badly we've screwed up out planet, this is not really an attempt to convince anyone of the truth of things like climate change or the dangers of pollution. McKibben's point of view is that - unless you're an idiot who thinks folks like Sean Hannity know more about our eco-system than, say, actual scientists, that there's nothing more to be sad about them. This book says simply that Earth will never be the same. It's already changed, these changes are rapdily becoming apparent, and we're all going to have to adjust to what basically amounts to a different - harsher - planet.

In other words, let's move on from current debates and focus on the problems of simple survival into the future.

Typically for McKibben, it's well-written, very straightforward and actual science is accurately cited. I can't add more than that. I liked the book and got something out of it, but that "something" is neither reassuring nor positive. For that reason, it's a tough book to recommend. It's not going to cheer you up or make you feel positively about mankind! But for people who can look straight at future reality without blinking, it's a book that needs to be read.


The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back
The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back
by Kevin Salwen
Edition: Hardcover
201 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit overblown, but kudos to the family . . ., June 13, 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The book has an interesting premise: what happens when a family decides to radically reduce their lifestyle in order to help the world?

One family did just that, and this is their story. The Salwen family comes across as a solid, very close-knit bunch. The thrust of the story begins when teenaged daughter Hannah begins to think about some of the big questions in life. Among them, why do we have so much and others so little? She decides to do something about it. I won't spoil the evolution of what happened for you, but it culminated in the family seling their house and numerous possessions to live in much-reduced fashion, and then to use what they left behind to help others in a distant country.

It's certainly an admirable thing to do, and interesting to read about. But frankly, the book is a little on the dull side. It's co-written by Hannah and her father, but in reality, it's her father who tells the story. Hannah contributes short essays throughout the book, which are a little on the trite side (though to be fair, these seem geared towards kids or to instigate family activities.) Kevin Salwen shares some of the ups and downs and family disagreements about the evolution of their idea, in particular the resistance of his son, who'd rather just have a good time (at least early on.) There's a sort of upper middle-class veneer in the storytelling. No one comes across poorly here. Unfortunately, that cuts into what one would presume to have been the natural drama, though I can understand how this sort of thing isn't meant to be controversial per se . . . just a bit radical by societal conventions. It's worth noting that the Salwens - even after their lifestyle reduction - live a pretty enviable life, even by American standards. Nonetheless, theirs is a step few Americans would even consider, and more should consider. I applaud them for that.

Two things harm my rating of this book. The first is that the prose and narrative expertise here is a bit dull. The second may be a result of the first, and that is that the "giving back" part - the summation of their actions - feels like a let-down. While those who benefited seem (and I'm sure, are) very appreciative, one doesn't get much of a sense of them or how the Salwens' actions will really affect their lives. In part this is because the family doesn't have much time with the recipients, and they seem wildly out-of-place, even in relation to the fact that they're far from home and naturally somewhat uncomfortable.

This book would be great for your grandparents, kids beginning to develop a sense of social-consciousness and people who aren't too deeply into books. That's not an insult, it's just that The Power Of Half - despite its message - may not hold the interest of heavy readers and deep thinkers.


The Book of Fathers
The Book of Fathers
by Miklós Vámos
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.09
83 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb novel from a great Hungarian writer . . ., May 17, 2010
This review is from: The Book of Fathers (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
One of the best-selling authors in contemporary Hungary, Miklos Vamos has produced his masterwork in The Book Of Fathers. The book's conceit (regarding a pocket watch which allows the first-born male of each generation the gift of visualization of the lives of those who came before) allows Vamos to weave an interesting tale across an astonishing ten generations. But don't be fooled. This isn't magical realism or anything close to science-fiction, but rather a powerful overview of a couple of centuries of Hungarian (and partially, Middle-European Jewish) history. It examines conctructs of identity in the light of personal whim, political and social tides and random chance.

Frankly speaking, it blew my mind. Each chapter deals with the first-born (always a son) of a new generation. In this sense, the book is really a compilation of ten brief novellas. Vamos is such a wonderful storyteller that most of these chapters would work well as stand-alone stories of their own, and in fact, if I could read the book "anew," I'd probably read the chapters in random order to test this theory. Of course, we see glimpses of the previous (and future) generation in each chapter, and various connective themes are woven throughout the book. The book is quite lengthy, but I read it in a few evenings simply because I found it impossible to put down. By the time I'd finished, I looked by at the first chapter and couldn't really perceive how Vamos has managed to create such cohesion and subtle historical transition in a story that spans centuries. The ultra-intense and surprising (yet hyper-realistic) ending stands as one of the most spectacular comments on the illusory nature of both history and human nature. I can't recommend this book enough - absolutely brilliant, awe-inducing and thought-provoking.

I might also add - I can't think of a book more well-suited to book club discussion, if that's your game.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2010 2:37 PM PDT


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