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Foucault's Pendulum
Foucault's Pendulum
by Umberto Eco
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.78
114 used & new from $0.01

9 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Simply dreadful. Do NOT waste your time! (And I liked his others!), January 7, 2010
This review is from: Foucault's Pendulum (Paperback)
This is simply the single worst book I have ever read, and the cause of the greatest amount of time I have ever wasted. And I have read quite a few books and wasted a fair amount of time. To be fair, I must admit that there is a finite possibility that it is "over my head," but I emerged believing rather that "there is no there there" (Gertrude Stein), and it might just be a very cruel joke on the Eco's part - "Let's write some superficially sophisticated-sounding, pretentious nonsense and see how many pseudo-intellectuals think it's insightful and profound and meaningful, and then sit back and smirk at them!"
In case it will lend any weight to this opinion, I am tolerably well educated, quite capable of persevering through long and "hard" books, enjoyed and appreciated The Island of the Day Before, and absolutely loved (LOVED!) (Did I mention "LOVED"?) The Name of the Rose (even the non-page-turner parts about esoteric philosophical differences between various monastic orders).
Many others have covered the detailed reasons why reading this book is such an almost unbelievably dreadful experience (and yes, I see that many others have raved about it), so I won't even bother to try to add rational, perceptive, intellectual details.
I'll just add one more personal note that may or may not be emotionally persuasive: This is the ONLY book I have EVER just thrown in the trash can in my whole life. Every other book I have ever read or partially read, no matter how bad in some ways, seemed to have some shred of what the Supreme Court (and that peerless literary critic, Tom Lehrer) once called "redeeming social importance," and I found room in my home or office to keep it, or gave it away to a charity, or someone I cared about or felt kindly towards. Not this one. Giving this one away, or even selling it, would be an act of perverse cruelty inconsistent not only with the Golden Rule but even with minimal common decency.
Yuck. That didn't even feel good. But please, PLEASE do something else with your precious time and energy (like read his other books - this is not personal to Eco!).
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2010 9:46 AM PST


Bloody Confused!: A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer
Bloody Confused!: A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer
by Chuck Culpepper
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.06
145 used & new from $0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imperfect, yes (like all sports!), but highly entertaining and a good education for the uninitiated, January 7, 2010
Although I must agree that almost all of the many negative comments made by several other reviewers are justified in their way (in particular, the central shtick of the relatively "purity" the English soccer experience does wear a bit thin with repetition as the story goes on), I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed nearly every page of this book and also learned a lot about its subject.
I had never heard of the author, had only an extremely superficial familiarity with the top English league in its current incarnation (the Premiership), and still had somewhat of an outdated view of the English soccer world heavily colored by the well-publicized violence of the 80s. For the role I think it is intended to play (an introduction for Americans to how being an in-person, stadium-going, road-tripping fan of this sport/league is so different from the experience of many typical fans of baseball, basketball, and American football), it succeeds admirably. And I think the writing is quite skillful. OK, it's not quite Peter Gammons or Roger Angell (Mightn't it have been amazing if one of them had pursued this project?), but to me it's a real "find."
Yes, the notion that you can CHOOSE your wonderfully irrational attachment to a team is hard to swallow, but somehow Culpepper seems so open and honest and fairly self-deprecating about the perverse thing that he is consciously doing makes it seem OK to me. I am rather conflicted about this myself, having adopted Chelsea way back in 1967 when I lived there for a year, and their team was second-tier in the old First Division, and the whole world was so different, but finding it very hard to root for them today on TV when they are so obviously parallel in so many ways to the Damn Yankees (the baseball team, not the whole nation).
There are so many enjoyable little moments in this book, especially of two types: the breathless narrative descriptions of particular, concentrated several-second intervals (usually, but not always, leading up to goals) that turn out to be turning points in a game or even the entire season, and the accounts, some more coherent than others, of the constant "devotional" chants of the fans and how ironic it is to reflect on where their tunes originated (most often in the U.S., in a very different context and spirit).
This is a book that may seem sophomoric or even naive to an English Premier League expert, but is really worth the relatively short time spent to read it for many others like me. As others have noted, it could very conceivably be read in one sitting, but it is also very well suited to picking up here and there for a short half-chapter at a time (e.g., during those annoying commercial breaks in televised American sports, with their so-un-soccer-like extended pauses!).


Seeing Red
Seeing Red
by Graham Poll
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.13
95 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good "behind the scenes" insights into English and International soccer, January 7, 2010
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This review is from: Seeing Red (Paperback)
This is from the perspective of an American who has played soccer since the 60s but never really became a regular spectator until the past couple of years, when English Premier League games have become available weekly on TV here. Before this book I knew of Poll only from the headlines of his 2006 World Cup gaffe and the ridicule to which he was subjected in one of the final anecdotes in Chuck Culpepper's book Bloody Confused: A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer (a gem of a book, by the way - I'll have to write a review of it very soon).
As has been mentioned by an earlier reviewer, the most impressive part of this book is the description of the degree to which soccer refereeing is a very serious calling that requires quite a high level of cardiovascular fitness as well as the mental aspect of making judgments, knowing the game itself and its rules, and maintaining a subtle, qualitative sense of the personalities and the changing emotional state of the players during a game. My two strongest reactions were: 1.) Top-level officials are people, too ("Duh!") and 2.) I would love to see baseball umpires as closely and constantly evaluated and (especially!) assigned to the most prominent games and series on a largely meritocratic basis, as Poll describes for English and international soccer. (Yes, he also describes cases in which politics or personalities were a consideration, but that seems really to be a relatively minor issue.)
Since reading this book I now fairly regularly read his column on the Daily Mail web site, which partly just rehashes some of the points made here but includes many new and insightful comments as well. (The typical responses also show how much a certain segment of the English public seem never to tire of putting down the substance of anything he says with the shopworn witticism "You can't even count to two." Gee, maybe Americans don't have a complete monopoly on boorish and self-righteous comments about sports and the people involved in them!)
Also as mentioned by an earlier reviewer, the flow of the book is a bit disorienting, since a large part of it is chronologically arranged, but a large part is not. This is a fairly minor quibble, however. I learned a lot from this book as a whole, and it was nearly always enjoyable page-by-page as well.


Horatio Hornblower - The New Adventures [VHS]
Horatio Hornblower - The New Adventures [VHS]
VHS
12 used & new from $2.18

5.0 out of 5 stars Only regret that this seems to be the end, January 7, 2010
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This is the third installment (2 episodes/tapes) of the made-for-TV movies based on the first 3 of C.S. Forester's novels (The second 2 episodes are "The Adventure Continues," the first 4 simply called "Horatio Hornblower" - note that the whole set of 8 is available on DVD as "Collector's Edition" and that the DVD entitled "Boxed Set" is, misleadingly, only the first 4). The whole series is superbly done and I only regret that they stopped producing them at this point, as there were plenty more good books left.
The costumes and settings are very well done and the casting and acting are wonderful - Hornblower, Captain/Admiral Pellew, Maria and Bush are just as I pictured them from the books. The actors playing the "foremast jacks" are also great, and the characters of the two most prominent, Matthews and Styles, are very well developed, really even more so than in the books, I thought. By the accustomed standards of books-made-into-movies, these videos take very few liberties with the original story lines (as is typical, a few subplots and minor details are dropped), although the screenplays do change the specific dialogue in a few noticeable scenes, and the tone/style of voice is a bit different than I envisioned for some characters, notably Bush and Wolfe.
As for the obvious and frequent comparison to the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian and the more recent movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, I would have to agree with most people that the Hornblower books are not nearly as good but these TV shows are probably better than that movie. (I haven't seen the old Gregory Peck movie, which I understand covers roughly the same period of fictional time as this entire set.) It is pretty rare that people who have read the book(s) actually think that the movie is not only OK, but actually better - in my case, the only other instance of this I can cite is the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Overall, certainly very highly recommended!


Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign (UNABRIDGED)
Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign (UNABRIDGED)
by Shelby Foote
Edition: Audio Cassette
27 used & new from $21.90

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His reading makes it even better, if that's possible., November 17, 2009
First, I heartily agree with the rave reviews of the book (actually, as the other reviewers point out, only one long chapter of one of the three volumes of his whole narrative history), and the view that this chapter, combined with Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels and the Ken Burns videos, may be the single best way to get introduced to (and very possibly hooked on!) Civil War history.

Second, I would like to especially recommend the audiobook version, with Foote himself reading his own work, which came out on cassette tape in the mid-90s and, sadly, as far as I know, has never been issued on CD (but is currently available used on Amazon). If you liked the little Foote vignettes on the Ken Burns series and/or Foote's book(s), you are in for an unbelievable treat if you still have a cassette player and can get a hold of these tapes (and have a LOT of time on your hands, e.g., while commuting). Hearing Foote's voice (inflection, pacing, moments of irony and even subtle sarcasm, including soft but audible breaths and even some occasional little smacking mouth-sounds) greatly enhances the already absolutely masterful prose. Gee, I suppose this is bordering on "literary idolatry," but it's just incredibly great. I now find that when I occasionally re-read other parts of the trilogy (which, in common with one of my friends/colleagues, I actually do at pseudo-random once in a while - it's that good), I enjoy it even more because I can semi-consciously "hear" Foote pronouncing those words and sentences in the back of my mind.

By the way, the preceding chapter in the second volume of the trilogy, about the lesser-known but also crucial Vicksburg campaign (what Grant was up to while his future opponent Lee was at Gettysburg), entitled The Beleaguered City, is also fascinating and I also own it on tape. Unlike the Gettysburg chapter it does not seem currently to be available on Amazon but if it ever shows up I would recommend snapping it up, too.

BTW2, although I have now been living in the South for almost 20 years, I am still a Yankee (New England, not New York!) and I thoroughly disagree with those who see Foote as having an inappropriately Southern historiographic bias on the war as a whole. I find him to be remarkably even-handed, much more so than, for instance, Bruce Catton in his own (Northern-oriented) trilogy.

Enjoy! It's a real pleasure!


No Title Available

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute gem for the baseball fan with a sense of humor!, January 29, 2009
I remember getting this book when it first came out in the mid-70s and absolutely loving it. I still have it, somewhat warped and yellowed, and I occasionally still open it to a random page, knowing that I will be smiling when I put it down (and that I can't possibly stop after one page)! If you are a baseball fan, have a sense of humor, and especially, of course, if you collected baseball cards during the "golden days" of "real" (issued one series at a time, not readily available as complete sets) Topps cards anytime in the interval from their beginning through 1973, I've got to believe you would love it, too. I am a bit younger than the authors, and so most of the cards and players I was already familiar with were more recent than many of their examples from the 50s, but oh, such great stories and such witty humor! If you can find this used somewhere, it is really worth the hunt. :->


Great Thinkers, Great Ideas: An Introduction to Western Thought
Great Thinkers, Great Ideas: An Introduction to Western Thought
by Vincent J. Falcone
Edition: Paperback
23 used & new from $0.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest course and greatest teacher I ever had!, January 26, 2009
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This book is essentially a formalization of the notes from a course that Mr. Falcone gave for many years as a high-level senior elective at my high school. Although it is not the same without the outwardly sarcastic (but actually friendly and constructive) commentary, pointed questions, and general banter with which he accompanied the presentation of these ideas in person to often-too-smug but nevertheless impressionable 17-to-18-year-olds, it is still great. As the previous reviewer said, open it up to a random page and you'll learn something interesting. This puts it in a league with the annual Baseball Prospectus volume, which is high praise indeed from me, and Mr. Falcone manages to do so with a subject on a considerably higher intellectual plane. :-> Seriously, I am now a professor, and not of philosophy, and over 30 years removed from Mr. Falcone's class, and I still find new ways every year to weave the insights in this book into research projects and class sessions on a surprising number of topics. Be the first on your block to discover this gem of a teacher!


Minstrel in the Gallery
Minstrel in the Gallery
18 used & new from $0.90

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best Tull album of all, March 31, 2004
This review is from: Minstrel in the Gallery (Audio CD)
Jethro Tull's music is so complex and indiosyncratic that 1) it is impossible to classify or even characterize; 2) it is rather an "acquired taste;" and 3) at its best, not only do you never get tired of it, but it gets better with every hearing. This disc is all of those things in spades. This is one of the 7 or so Tull albums I owned and played incessantly back in the mid-70s. Recently, when my turntable finaly reached the point that I couldn't patch it up any more, there were very few albums of that vintage that I bothered to replace with CDs, but this one was at the very top of the list. As much as I love Tull, on reflection I realize that many of the other albums were mixtures of some real gems and quite a few clunkers. This one is uniformly superb, and not just because it is a fairly coherent "concept album." In particular, the mixture and balance of the various contrapuntal sounds, including the string section as well as the famous quirky flute and the usual rock instruments, is outstanding, and this stage in the evolution of the lineup surrounding Anderson and Barre (Barlow, Hammond-Hammond, Evan) was the one with the best synergy. Anderson's vocals and nonsensical-yet-profound lyrics were never better, the quality of the flute playing is by far the best, and the flute is integrated into the overall flow of the songs as it rarely was elsewhere. While the title track and One White Duck probably got the most semi-popular play back when it was released, to me it might be Cold Wind to Valhalla and Black Satin Dancer that wear the best now. Baker Street Muse remains an amazing example (even better than the epic Thick as a Brick) of an extended, medley-type assemblage that somehow clearly hangs together. My only regret is that I am somewhat reluctant to introduce these gems to my nearly-teenage daughters because they might listen a bit too closely to the words! They also might well, like most people, have to have the patience to listen about 10 times before getting over the quirky rhythms and the not-always-hummable melodies and beginning to appreciate how great this stuff really is. In my middle age I recently had the same experience with the Shostakovich string quartet #8, so I know how it feels.


Hilary Hahn plays Bach
Hilary Hahn plays Bach
Offered by Treatspree
Price: $29.01
26 used & new from $4.98

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure beauty - different from, not inferior to, Milstein, March 31, 2004
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This review is from: Hilary Hahn plays Bach (Audio CD)
I do not know what Bach expected or envisioned in a performance of these pieces. But it is awfully hard to imagine him not appreciating this recording. Yes, I do grant what several people have said about Milstein's Chaconne (in particular) being deeper in emotion, etc., but the pure, plain beauty of the sound produced by Hahn and recorded so cleanly by more modern technology (and evidently in a remarkably resonant space) has it own inherent value. It makes me focus on the genius of Bach's very notes themselves, especially in the opening E major Partita. And if you listen carefully, I don't see how anyone could characterize this performance as lacking in creativity - the dynamic range is fantastic, and along with the pacing seems to me to represent a real thoughtfulness about each phrase. I also find that the relatively relaxed tempi add to this effect of simplicity, purity, and beauty, and allow the composer, rather than the virtuosity of the performer, to take center stage. A great recording, in a different, not inferior, sense, when compared to the Old Classics.


Nathan Milstein: The 1946 Library Of Congress Recital
Nathan Milstein: The 1946 Library Of Congress Recital
Price: $15.67
29 used & new from $8.86

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally amazing, despite the crude recording, March 31, 2004
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I basically buy and listen to violin recordings with my daughter, the violinist, when she begins to learn each new piece. We bought this one for the Vitali Chaconne, and before hearing it we frankly did not have high hopes - my daughter tends to turn up her nose at the noise on older recordings, and neither of us liked Milstein's recording of the Bach Partita #3, but...Wow! The expressive sound that comes through the snap, crackle, pop, and hiss of the '40s recording technology is wonderful! The live-performance energy that you can sense on this disc makes you forget feeling "spoiled" by crystal-clear, heavily edited, DDD CDs. The Vitali is wonderful, and the totally unexpected piano-accompaniment-only version of the Mendelssohn concerto really makes you appreciate the solo violin even more. This is one to seriously consider even if you have the prejudices that we did at first.


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