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Doctor Who: The Invasion (Story 46)
Doctor Who: The Invasion (Story 46)
DVD ~ Patrick Troughton
9 used & new from $184.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't believe I waited this long to see it, September 5, 2013
I should start with a confession: for a long time the Cybermen were my favorite "Doctor Who" villains from the classic era. This seems surprising to me in retrospect, given the poor quality of the Cyberman stories available back then: while Earthshock is truly excellent, Revenge of the Cybermen disappoints and the less said about Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis the better. It was the novelizations of The Tenth Planet and Tomb of the Cybermen that really made them such interesting foes, which stripped away the dodgy effects and questionable accents to present the Cybermen as the dehumanized cyborgs that they were. When The Tomb of the Cybermen was released on DVD, watching it proved a real joy, even in spite of the straitened production values of the time.

Absent from my experience was this story. While I had seen the stills of the Cybermen stomping around the famous City landmarks, I never read the novelization, nor did I see the releases of the remaining episodes in the special collections during the 1980s and 1990s. When the story was released on DVD, I disdained it, mainly because the idea of animating the missing episodes seemed cheesy.

But then I acquired a copy and watched the story for the first time. And when I did, I realized how wrong I had been.

"The Invasion" offers an example of the best of "Doctor Who" in that era. A great story, a suspenseful plot that never lags or feels padded, quality performances, and Don Harper's music all come together to provide a first rate viewing experience. Though the Cybermen themselves are used sparingly, this is one of the hidden strengths of the story, as it adds to the suspense and gives greater room for Kevin Story's great performance as the industrialist Tobias Vaughn. But what proved especially surprising was the quality of the animation. While not a detailed frame-by-frame rendering of the lost episodes, they convey the action nicely and make it possible to bring the entire story to life visually. Short of a CGI process or a discovery of the missing episodes, this is the best version of this otherwise incomplete classic, one that every "Who" fan should see.

One Summer: America, 1927
One Summer: America, 1927
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.72
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A most extraordinary summer", July 29, 2013
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In many respects, the 1920s were a pivotal decade in American history. The midpoint in our transformation from a predominantly rural to primarily urban nation, it also was the point at which the United States first enjoyed an unchallengeable dominance in the world economy. Domestically it was a decade of achievement and transformation, as many Americans undertook new challenges and attempted to push the boundaries of what was possible. It is this sense of transformation and achievement that underscores Bill Bryson's new book. In it, he focuses on a five-month period from May to September 1927, describing the dramatic events that took place during that time and showing how they embodied that point in time and dramatized many of the changes that were taking place in the nation.

The central figure in Bryson's account is Charles Lindbergh. Leading off with the much-publicized effort to cross the Atlantic that summer, he portrays Lindbergh as the embodiment of the national moment - a reluctant presence on the public stage, yet eager to demonstrate what was possible for Americans to accomplish. Lindbergh's triumph, Bryson shows, came at a time when Europeans rather than Americans were seen as the leader of the new field of aviation. With the success of his flight, the perception reversed itself overnight, and was further underscored by the subsequent flights made in the weeks that followed by other Americans.

Yet Lindbergh is just one of the large cast of characters in this book. His account ranges widely to include politics, sports, crime, and arts and literature. Bryson uses their experiences to describe the many events of that summer (the great flood of the Mississippi River, the home run race between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the succession of bombings related to the impending execution of Sacco and Vanzetti), as well as the broader developments taking place in both America and the world. Through it all he makes some excellent arguments for the significance of these months, which he details in a narrative that is never less than enjoyable. While Bryson occasionally gets some of the details wrong (Clara Bow's career, for example, was not ended by the arrival of sound films, while the U.S. Navy had been launching planes from ships at sea years before Clarence Chamberlin flew off the SS "Leviathan"), the book overall is a superb account of an extraordinary time in American history, one that readers will find both enlightening and entertaining.

Charles V: Elected Emperor and Hereditary Ruler (Men in Office)
Charles V: Elected Emperor and Hereditary Ruler (Men in Office)
by Manuel Fernández Alvarez
Edition: Hardcover
20 used & new from $0.66

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful introduction to an important monarch, July 27, 2013
Charles V stands as one of the greatest monarchs in history. As king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, he ruled over an empire that stretched over four continents to total over 1.5 million square miles. His reign included innumerable wars, dynastic struggles, and the growing challenged posted by the Protestant Reformation to the religious stability of Europe. Yet while excellent biographies of Charles are available in German and Spanish there are few works available on him in English, leaving readers with few options when it comes to studying the life of this fascinating figure. This problem only enhances the value of Manuel Fernández Álvarez's short study, which provides a concise description of Charles's life and reign for interested readers.

Álvarez presents Charles as a devout monarch who struggled to manage such a diverse and far-flung empire. Much of his reign was spent in transit, having to deal with various expensive crises at one end of his European realm or another. Succeeding to the Spanish throne after the death of his grandfather, Ferdinand, he had to address the discontent of many Castilians, which broke out into open rebellion. Winning election to the Holy Roman Emperorship in 1519 proved equally difficult, as Charles faced a challenger in the French king Francis I. Francis emerges in Álvarez's narrative as Charles' bete noire, particularly after Francis broke his oath to the Holy Roman Emperor after his release from Charles's custody in 1526, and the two often struggled for dominance in Europe. Yet for all of Charles's success, final victory was perhaps unattainable, and a series of setbacks led Charles to retire from the throne three years before his early death in 1558.

To summarize such a reign is no easy feat, and it is a measure of Álvarez's ability that he does so as efficiently as he does. Yet the author's narrative suffers from a lack of analysis. There is little sense of his subject's inner life, and his explanation of Charles's motivations, strategies, or broader goals is similarly deficient. Though such an absence is somewhat understandable in a book as short as this one, it is lamentable given Álvarez's expertise on his subject and the dearth of English-language biographies of this fascinating figure. As a result, English-language readers desiring to learn about the emperor might find themselves having to settle for this informative yet ultimately limited study, which serves as a good introduction but has to fill a larger gap than it is designed to.

Two Fronts (The War That Came Early, Book Five)
Two Fronts (The War That Came Early, Book Five)
by Harry Turtledove
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.20
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A better pace than the last volume, but still much of the same, July 23, 2013
The fifth volume in Harry Turtledove's "The War That Came Early" series begins with the two sides dealing with the aftermath of the reversal of the "Big Switch" in the last volume. With Britain and France having resumed their war against Nazi Germany, the German leadership finds themselves facing a drawn-out two-front war with no end in sight. Yet the situation for the British and French is no less complicated, as they prefer to wage a bombing campaign to the bloody and politically dangerous alternative of a ground offensive. Meanwhile, the United States finds itself on the defensive in the Pacific, with Japan deploying a dangerous new weapon in their effort to maintain their hold on their enlarged empire.

The entries in Turtledove's ongoing series seem to alternate between torpidness and something that amounts to a crawl. With the end of the series (and presumably the war) in sight, this volume definitely fits in the latter category; the pace is greater than that of the previous entry, Coup d'Etat (The War That Came Early, Book Four), and some interesting events do take place. That being said, Turtledove still has not addressed the problems with the repetitiveness of the writing and the similarity of perspectives offered by the selection of the characters. Were they better fleshed out this might not matter as much, but the result is a book that mostly offers multiple viewpoints from the perspective of the grunts, which with Turtledove's writing usually means much of the same, regardless of the side.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2013 10:43 PM PDT

Beyond Time
Beyond Time
by Sandra Ley
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
25 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alternate history before alternate history was cool, July 5, 2013
Alternate history has been around for decades, yet it seems that only recently has it come into its own as a genre. Thanks to authors like Harry Turtledove and Eric Flint, people nowadays can't seem to get enough of alternate history. This is one of the reasons why Sandra Ley's collection of short stories makes for such enjoyable reading. Originally published in 1976, it offers a wide-ranging collection of alternate history tales written before the genre became clogged with endless rehashings of the Confederates triumphing over the Union or Nazis winning World War II. While Ley's collection does contain a couple of stories spawned by those settings (such as Ward Moore's "A Class with Dr. Chang"), most of the stories have a freshness of premise that often seems lacking today.

This freshness results in a diverse collection of stories, from Edmund Cooper's "Jupiter Laughs" (in which a troop of Roman soldiers hunts down a young Jewish couple and their newborn baby) to Avram Davidson's "O Brave Old World!" (where the decision to send an ailing Prince Frederick to America to recuperate leads to a very different revolution). A few stories show their age (most notably Lucy Cores's "Hail to the Chief," which comes across as a product of its time), but most make for entertaining reading for fans of alternate history, especially those who are curious to see a different focus than the ones which seem to dominate the genre today.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 4, 2013 1:22 PM PDT

Time Station 3: Berlin
Time Station 3: Berlin
by David Evans
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
34 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars A good premise but poor execution, June 29, 2013
Alan Spector is a man with a secret: though he works as a reporter in 1963 Berlin, this is only a cover. Spector is also a Time Warden, one of the highly trained personnel whose duty it is to preserve the past from being changed by time travelers from the future. With John Kennedy arriving in Berlin, he faces his greatest challenge yet, as someone is seeking to change history by having a KGB agent kill the American president during his visit. Complicating matters even further is the arrival of a graduate student visiting the period for her studies, whose success in getting close to Kennedy puts her in a position to help avert a war that could transform the future beyond all recognition.

David Evans's "Time Station" series was based on the enjoyable premise that the frequency of time travel required the policing of the past - not an original premise to be sure, as anyone who has seen Timecop (or at least who admits to having seen it) can attest, but one enlivened by both the addition of embedded monitors and Evans's treatment of time as fluid. All of this was demonstrated to considerable effect in his previous entry, Time Station 2: Paris, which was an entertaining romp. Yet with this book Evans's imagination fails him. The premise of the novel itself isn't bad, but the execution is disappointing, with little of the flair the author demonstrated in the previous book. Time travel is hardly even integral to the plot; it's a few tweaks away from being a bland historical thriller. It's especially disappointing as Evans's rich concept could have supported any number of novels, though given the tepid execution of it here perhaps it is for the best that he stopped where he did.

by A. Scott Berg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.66
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103 of 121 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A highly readable account of Wilson's life and career, June 29, 2013
This review is from: Wilson (Hardcover)
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Few presidents have experienced a tenure as momentous as that of Woodrow Wilson. Taking office as the chief executive of a prosperous but somnolent nation, Wilson championed measures that transformed the national economy and the role of the federal government within it, then dealt with international conflicts from which the United States emerged as a world power. In his biography of Wilson, A. Scott Berg seeks understand the man behind such events, giving his readers a sense of who Wilson was and how he shaped the events of such a pivotal point in American history.

Few writers today can match Berg's abilities as a biographer, as readers of his previous works on Samuel Goldwyn, Charles Lindbergh, and Katherine Hepburn can attest. This book demonstrates his skills to full effect; the narrative is lucid, perceptive, and engages the reader. Most of it is focused on his two terms as president, with his long pre-presidential years as an academic and governor occupying only a little more than a third of the book. Yet while Berg provides a good narrative of Wilson's life and career, his examination of the broader historical context is lacking. Here the book suffers by comparison with John Milton Cooper's Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, which offered an insightful analysis of Wilson's life within the context of the larger movements and events of his times. As a result, while people seeking a readable account of Wilson's life will find much to enjoy in Berg's book, anyone seeking a deeper understanding of his significance to American and world history would be better served by turning to Cooper's biography instead.

The Rise and Fall of a National Strategy: The UK and The European Community: Volume 1 (Government Official History Series) (v. 1)
The Rise and Fall of a National Strategy: The UK and The European Community: Volume 1 (Government Official History Series) (v. 1)
by Alan S. Milward
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $198.00
25 used & new from $122.37

5.0 out of 5 stars To join or not to join?, June 7, 2013
There are few issues in postwar British politics that have proven as contentious and as vexing as that of Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe. For decades Britain has wrestled with the question of its place within an increasingly integrated continent, with the very subject of Britain's membership in the European Union regarded by many as still open for debate. Yet for others the problem was not that Britain joined Europe's unification project but that it did not join it soon enough, having passed on what in retrospect seems to have been the priceless opportunity to become a founding member of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. As Alan Milward demonstrates in this book, however, such arguments ignore both the problems and opportunities that faced Britain after the Second World War, ones that he sees as providing a far more complicated set of options for British policymakers than might be seen in retrospect.

Milward begins by looking at the European issues facing Britain after the end of the war with Nazi Germany. Foremost among them was the growing threat of the Soviet Union, and the consequent need (far from guaranteed) to keep the United States engaged with European defense. The Soviet challenge served as an impetus for postwar reconstruction, an effort that helped stimulate efforts towards a combined economic effort, Though Britain encouraged such efforts, her leaders eschewed any sort of long-term commitment, seeing the Empire and the Commonwealth as far more important to the British economy that a devastated and divided Europe- an understandable view given the statistics Milward provides for British trade during that period. Instead, Britain sought to maintain a role at the center of a sort of Venn diagram between the United States, the Commonwealth, and Europe, sharing a role with each yet not being drawn into any sort of isolating commitment with any one of them. It was this attitude which led Britain to opt out of the sort of restrictive relationships entailed in the emerging Coal and Steel Community, as well as the subsequent EEC. That the EEC's emergence coincided with both the European economic boom and growing international competition for Commonwealth markets fueled almost instantaneous second thoughts after 1957, but by the time Britain sought entry into the EEC it faced the implacable opposition of Charles de Gaulle, who vetoed Britain's first attempt at entry in January 1963.

All of this Milward describes in a narrative characterized by erudition, insight and wit. His command of the sources is impressive, and he is generous enough to direct readers in his footnotes to books offering opposing viewpoints on the more contentious issues. Together it makes his book essential reading not just for those interested in Britain's relationship with the developing institutions of united Europe, but anyone wanting to learn about this pivotal point in defining Britain's postwar relationship with the world.

Garfield: A Biography
Garfield: A Biography
by Allan Peskin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.48
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first-rate presidential biography, June 3, 2013
This review is from: Garfield: A Biography (Hardcover)
Earlier this year the Washington Post published a Presidents' Day op-ed that sought to make the case for James Abram Garfield as possibly "the best president we never had, or hardly had." Their claims for Garfield as "a president of conviction and conscience" were based on Garfield's inaugural address, as well as his appointment of a few African Americans to positions within his administration. What their claims were most assuredly not based on, though, was a reading of Allan Peskin's biography of Garfield, which offers a thorough understanding of the man based on a comprehensive examination of his life and career.

Born in Ohio, Garfield attained success almost in spite of himself. Drawn to the sea, a period of illness cut short an early career as a canal driver, as he was drawn to more academic pursuits. A member of the Disciples of Christ, he made the most of the educational opportunities they provided, returning after college to teach at the school he attended as a youth. A gifted public speaker, Garfield began a career in politics that was cut short by his decision to serve in the Union Army, where he rose to the rank of major general. While still serving he won election to Congress, where he eventually emerged as the leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Peskin sees Garfield as a capable figure, yet one whose ambition was tempered by a degree of fatalism about the outcome. Thus while serving as John Sherman's floor lieutenant at the 1880 Republican convention, he did nothing to discourage consideration of him as a "dark-horse" candidate. A narrow election won him the presidency, and he had only just resolved the party struggle over patronage when he was shot by a deranged assassin and suffered a slow descent towards death.

Peskin's book is easily the best biography of Garfield, thanks to its combination of judicious analysis and enjoyable writing. He is blunt in his assessment of Garfield, going past the superficial explanations to provide a convincing cataloging of his strengths and weaknesses. The result is an excellent biography, one of the best ever written about a president and one that likely will stand the test of time for decades to follow.

The Children of Henry VIII
The Children of Henry VIII
by John Guy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.74
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5.0 out of 5 stars The question of the succession, June 1, 2013
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Though ostensibly about Henry VIII's offspring, John Guy's new book is really about the succession question facing the king and his heirs. As that question was inextricably tied to his progeny, Guy has looked at Henry's marriages and the upbringing of his children - both legitimate and illegitimate - to understand their successive efforts to secure the throne and turn their very different visions of the kingdom they ruled into reality.

This Guy describes by the shifts in fortune that Henry's children experienced over time. Upon her birth, his first child, Mary, was showered with gifts and given an entourage befitting her status. Yet even at an early age that status was in question, as her illegitimate half-brother, Henry Fitzroy (born three years after Mary) posed a threat simply by virtue of his sex. Catherine's inability to father a son of her own (likely due, as Guy argues, to Henry's probably Kell-positive status) made Fitzroy a potential successor; acknowledged by his father, the boy was given a royal education and paraded around as proof that the king could father a son. Anne Boleyn's emergence and the divorce battle jeopardized both of their statuses, and the new queen exploited every possibility to diminish their status. Boleyn's own failure to produce a son, however, contributed to her downfall, with her daughter Elizabeth soon on the same roller coaster of status. Edward's birth finally gave Henry the son he wanted, yet his young age meant that Mary and Elizabeth remained possible successors. After succeeding Mary and Edward, Elizabeth passed on marriage, thus avoiding much of the family turmoil she experienced growing up, though at the ultimate cost of the demise of the Tudor line.

Guy recounts all of this in a book that is both perceptive and clearly written. Drawing upon both the contemporary documents (from which he makes some impressive observations not just in terms of their content but their form as well) and the rich historical literature of the Tudors, he provides a fluent and enjoyably readable account of what was perhaps the dominant political issue in sixteenth century politics. It demonstrates why John Guy stands as one of the leading Tudor historians working today, one whose books everyone with an interest in Tudor England should read for the insights they contain.

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