Profile for Dennis Littrell > Reviews

Browse

Dennis Littrell's Profile

Customer Reviews: 1634
Top Reviewer Ranking: 705
Helpful Votes: 34554




Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Dennis Littrell RSS Feed (SoCal/NorCal/Maui)
(VINE VOICE)    (COMMUNITY FORUM 04)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
The Fracking Truth:America's Energy Revolution: the Inside, Untold Story
The Fracking Truth:America's Energy Revolution: the Inside, Untold Story
by Chris Faulkner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.32
24 used & new from $13.06

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does a good job of presenting the industry's position, June 16, 2014
Chris Faulkner is the President and CEO of his own oil and gas extraction company, Breitling Energy Corporation. That makes him an expert on fracking and so what he has to say is probably very much worth reading. However does this disqualify him from the debate about the merits and demerits of fracking? Maybe, maybe not. Readers should read this book and decide for themselves.

First what is fracking? Faulkner has a chapter on that. I read it twice. I am still not sure about how the gas and/oil gets out of the fissures and into the wellbore. It seems amazing that a wellbore could suck up enough oil from fractured rock to make it viable. Yet this is what happens. With gas it would seem easier. Fracking was and is a great technological breakthrough. It’s not going to go away. Alternative energy stocks (with some exceptions) will be risky investments for probably decades to come.

The central (and very difficult) question that this book attempts to answer is whether the relatively cheaper energy we get because of fracking outweighs the environmental damage that fracking causes. Clearly for Faulkner and Breitling Energy (and Halliburton and others in the business) the answer is clear. It does. Faulkner dedicates his book to the ten million “extraordinary people” in the industry “who are creating the American energy revolution.” For the rest of us (and please not in my backyard nor in Cheney’s nor in Faulkner’s) the answer is not so clear, and will not be clear until some years to come.

While Faulkner urges the industry to reveal what chemicals are used in fracking he doesn’t disclose them directly in the book. Figure 4-3 on page 86 gives the “Volumetric Composition of a Fracture Fluid.” 99.51% is water. The other 0.49% consists of 12 different agents with generic tags like “Corrosion Inhibitor” (which could be hydrazine which according to the article in Wikipedia is “highly toxic and dangerously unstable unless handled in solution.” Another is an “Adjusting Agent.” I couldn’t readily determine what an adjusting agent in this context might be. A third is “Friction Reducer,” which presumably is some kind of polymer of which there are many. Faulkner is being coy. He doesn’t want to use little-understood possibly scary-sounding chemical names. He does make the excellent point that the Keystone XL pipeline will probably be safer than transporting the oil by rail. Another good point is that natural gas is a lot less polluting than coal or oil.

In a sense the “debate” over fracking is really an empty one since, as Faulkner makes all too clear, fracking will go on regardless because of its value in reducing the cost of energy. The US government is not going to outlaw fracking (although some states may) because the relatively cheap energy will be seen as essential to our national security. It is not widely known but World War II was fought largely because Germany and Japan needed fossil fuel energy sources. And of course much of the turmoil in the Middle East is about oil and access to it.

There are many tables, graphs and attractive photos of Breitling fracking sites but for me the tables and graphs are too small to read comfortably. Younger eyes will do better no doubt. And the pretty photos of fracking wells peacefully nestled in snow with bales of hay dotting the surrounding farmland was just too precious for words. But I don’t blame Faulkner for the eye wash since he had to watch the documentary film “Gasland” which showed people near fracking sites lighting up the water faucets in their homes.

Bottom line for me is I am not much worried about fracking and indeed I accept Faulkner’s main argument that the economic good outweighs the ecological bad—for the near future. Ultimately however cheaper energy means the earth can support more people which means a quicker destruction of the planet. At any rate we will use these energy sources until the pollution price becomes too high. Apparently that won’t be for some decades to come. And if Wall Street can’t see past the next quarterly report how can we expect ourselves and our leaders to see decades ahead?

This is slightly beside the point but I was a little troubled reading Faulkner’s chapter on climate change. The evidence is overwhelming that we are experiencing climate change but Faulkner “hasn’t entirely” made up his mind on the subject. He goes on to say that a couple of the scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (out of over 800 who worked on the Fifth Assessment Report) disagreed with the vast majority, one of whom disagreed because he didn’t think enough attention was given to the benefits of climate change. If you go to IPCC’s webpage and look at their organization PDF you can see the names, which country they’re from and the institutions they represent. To give you an idea of who these people are here are the first ten listed as authors of the Introduction to the AR5:

1 Cubasch Ulrich Freie Universität Berlin Germany
2 Wuebbles Donald University of Illinois United States of America
3 Chen Deliang University of Gothenburg Sweden
4 Facchini Maria Cristina Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Italy
5 Frame David Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand
6 Mahowald Natalie Cornell University United States of America
7 Winther Jan-Gunnar Norwegian Polar Institute Norway
8 Ding Yihui China Meteorological Administration China
9 Mearns Linda National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) United States of America
10 Wadhams Peter University of Cambridge U

These people are experts and, as Faulkner admits, he is not. It’s annoying that so many people get their ideas about climate change from reading say Forbes Magazine or some of the “education” websites paid for by people in the coal, gas and oil industries. I suspect that Faulkner is such a person. Either that or he is disingenuous or in a kind of denial. In the final chapter in the book, he does tip his hand a bit by making an argument that even though we might be experiencing climate change we need to be careful in our response since making energy expensive can be very painful for humans.

Another thing that Faulkner isn’t sure about is whether gas and oil deposits are biogenic or abiogenic. (p. 37) He does say that if they are abiogenic (which only a few experts think is the truth) then gas and oil are renewable resources!

To sum up, it is important when the issues are complex to hear both sides of the debate. Faulkner does a good job of presenting the position of the fracking industry.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”


Perfect Scissors - Heavy duty for a variety of uses - Home / Kitchen / Garden / Office / Art Craft or Workshop - A professional multi function shears with hardened and curved blades - Razor sharp Stainless steel blades with tension adjustment - Perf3ct Scissors comes with a handy bottle opener - Nut Cracker - Wire Stripper built into the handles and blades - Heavy duty Scissors - Dishwasher safe - All with a 100% Lifetime Guarantee!!
Perfect Scissors - Heavy duty for a variety of uses - Home / Kitchen / Garden / Office / Art Craft or Workshop - A professional multi function shears with hardened and curved blades - Razor sharp Stainless steel blades with tension adjustment - Perf3ct Scissors comes with a handy bottle opener - Nut Cracker - Wire Stripper built into the handles and blades - Heavy duty Scissors - Dishwasher safe - All with a 100% Lifetime Guarantee!!
Offered by The Perf3ct Shop
Price: $12.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite perfect but close enough, June 15, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
There’s a nice feel to these attractive scissors and they do everything advertised; however I didn’t find them handy for cutting finger and toe nails. The bottom blade is a little too thick for that or maybe I need to work on my skill set. I also would not recommend them for cutting cardboard boxes. They do better than regular scissors but not nearly as well as bladed box cutters. The “crush garlic” claim is certainly correct if you realize the idea is to lightly crack the garlic skin and then peel it off. Crushing the garlic doesn’t work for me except in a garlic press. The best way to peel garlic is to use a garlic roll (available at Amazon and elsewhere).

I actually got these “Perf3ct” scissors to cut open the hard plastic that many products come in including these scissors, and to use in my garden. They cut through the hard plastic with relative ease, and they cut through a quarter inch palm frond stem with a bit of effort. Anything smaller was easy.

The real test may come when the scissors get dull and have to be sharpened. Stay tuned.

Regardless of these minor shortcomings I thought they were well worth the coin.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)”


The Neurotic's Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment: How the Left-Brain Plays Unending Games of Self-Improvement
The Neurotic's Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment: How the Left-Brain Plays Unending Games of Self-Improvement
by Chris Niebauer Ph.D.
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.24
23 used & new from $13.23

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and--yes--enlightening!, June 3, 2014
The title of this book is something of a joke. On one level the book is an elaboration on Michael Gazzaniga's discovery in the 1970s that the verbal left brain "interprets" what the right brain experiences as well as rationalizes or denies any cognitive dissidence that might occur. The left brain tells the story; sometimes the story is true, sometimes it isn't. I am reminded of the title of another popular psychology book recently published entitled, "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. The subtitle of that book is "Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts." Here Slippery Rock University psychology Professor Chris Niebauer is concerned with the flip side of their thesis, namely the "mistakes" of self-improvement and enlightenment or rather the impossibility of self-improvement and enlightenment.

On another level this book is a kind of tongue-in-cheek dissertation on the Buddhist idea of no-self, although Niebauer uses the term "ego" instead of self. We get a clear hint about Niebauer's satirical intent from the drawing on the cover of a not exactly serene Buddha with his left eye comically popped open as he sits in meditation. The subtitle of the book, "How the Left-brain Plays Unending Games of Self-improvement," highlights the fact that you can't be something or somebody you aren't. If you practice some form of self-improvement and you improve, well you were that person anyway and couldn't have done otherwise. Niebauer's real thesis is there is no such thing as free-will. There is no self; instead we are a collection of neurons and brain modules and flesh, blood and bone that act like swarm intelligence. We think we make decisions but in fact the brain modules come to a swarm consensus and act. We imagine that "we," whoever we might be, made a decision and acted.

Another way to express the subtitle is to realize that what we do most of the time in our lives is rationalize, deny and pretend while imagining that we are acting. Another way of saying this is "We don't do; we are done."

The point about avoiding enlightenment and any kind of self-improvement is part of the joke. To repeat: how can you improve yourself in any way if you do not have free will? Indeed how can you improve yourself when there is no self to improve? And furthermore how can you improve yourself when brain modules are initiating the action, and improvement and enlightenment are illusions. This, by the way, is a very Zen kind of position. No philosophizing, no intellectualizing, no sutras to study and glean. Instead drank water, light fire, cook rice.

In reading the book there is a bit of jargon and some technical vocabulary to get used to such as "law of opposition," "pattern perceiver," "left-brain interpreter," "neural representation," etc. But Niebauer writes well and concretely for the most part (although he needs to work on the typos, missing words and missing apostrophes). I come from part of the tradition that he presents, that of Zen Buddhism, yoga and Taoism, and I'm familiar with the kind of terminology used there but not with that of contemporary psychology which is what Niebauer uses extensively. Instead of his "egoic" self, in Buddhism there is just self, or actually no-self. In yoga there is atman and anatman.

I wonder if part of the reason for some of the obscurity and cuteness of Niebauer's expression is due to the disagreeable fact that few people including the institutions of society want to believe that there is no responsible self and that we do not have free will. It's the kind of awkward truth that is socially and political incorrect since society demands that people be held responsible for their actions.

Now I happened to agree with most of what Niebauer has to say although I express these ideas in a different and more straight-forward way in my book, "The World Is Not as We Think It Is," which naturally I recommend. I also write more tersely than Niebauer although perhaps not as cleverly. Niebauer is writing a symphony on a theme while I'm just interested in the theme.

A strange thing is that I almost didn't read this book. I'm glad I did because it is paradoxically enlightening (despite Professor Niebauer's best efforts!). He reinforced something that I learned some years ago that has given me comfort with, and insight into, the human condition. His "no improvement" mantra strongly suggests that we accept ourselves and reality as they are and live as much as possible in the here and now.

His sometimes inexact expression (at least to my mind) is what at first put me off. Here are four examples of what I mean:

On page one he asserts that the "me" that we are all familiar with doesn't exist in "the way we were taught it does." He adds, "Rather, there is only the thought that it exists."

But I don't think this is correct. Something more than the thought does exist. What doesn't exist is our mistaken idea of the self; however something does exist that we see as the self, and that entity is made of atoms of various elements configured into something we call a human being which of course is part of a larger community and so on.

On page two he writes, "...nothing is really scary or problematic if you are in the now." This makes sense only if we could actually exist in the now, that is in no time. Of course nothing could be scary or problematic since nothing could be discerned at all! In the eternal now there is no movement, no neurons firing, not even the movement of photons of light.

What really threw me off was his "law of invincible opposition." He doesn't define it but he gives many examples of the law at work. When you try not to worry, you worry more; nice people turn out to be nasty, and vice-versa; "if you are a jerk the world loves you. Love the world and one way or another, it will crucify you." (p. 7) I think this "law" is far from universal and is indeed false for most people.

In another example he asks on page 49 "whether the images in a movie are in the film or rather on the screen..." and answers ..."neither, they only exist when an awareness is watching..." However the images actually do exist independent of an observer. Their patterns of light and darkness can affect molecules in the air however minutely. What he should be saying I believe is that the interpretation of the light patterns toward some kind of recognizable meaning such as people walking on a beach or trains being blown up, etc. is in the mind of the observer.

This way of writing is probably just hurried or perhaps Niebauer is being cute. I can remind him that the left- brain interpreter is just an artificial abstraction, but that would not mean that it doesn't refer to something real. What is real is the behavior of the neurons and modules in the left brain that direct us toward certain behaviors while avoiding others. Call it what you will. I call it left-brain module swarm intelligence (or sometimes lack thereof).

Some other issues and insights:

"Categorized" means in the context of this book and in Niebauer's thought the opposite of a continuously, inter-connected reality. Realizing that everything is "one" is the opposite of seeing "categories" or differentiations. Categories are parts. They are things. They are nouns. Reality, which we can never experience directly, is infinitely connected. Reality is an event. Reality is a verb. We only experience a representation of reality as presented by our senses processed by our brains and nervous system.

In the chapter entitled "Myths as Grand Patterns across Time," Niebauer talks about living in the moment without thinking about the past or the future. He notes, "Unless you are in physical pain, it is likely that your response will be nothing is wrong...There is nothing to fix, nothing to work on nothing to attain, no grail to search for and no place to go." He adds, "In this practice we can experience the stillness of things being fine as they are." (p. 59)

This is true, although not so easy to attain; in fact, what I find especially interesting is the fact that earlier in the book Niebauer writes that he failed at meditation or "didn't get anything out of it" (p. 2) not realizing that the stillness of living in the moment is what meditation is all about, and in experiencing the pure moment without fear or pain or any kind of urgency, one experiences the bliss. The trick is to actually be aware of what you are experiencing and to stay in the moment.

Here's a nice one: Niebauer mentions a "jerk" in front of you "going too slow." (Precursor to road rage?) Then he asks, "Can you see it is just the universe dancing?" Ah, yes, we all need to just see the pure perception without any complaining, which brings me to this thought: Reading the chapter entitled "A Day Without Complaints" might lead to some good personal psychology, no complaining--maybe even self-improvement and enlightenment!

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)"
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 4, 2014 2:16 PM PDT


Organic gardening in Hawaii: With methods and principles applicable to mainland gardens
Organic gardening in Hawaii: With methods and principles applicable to mainland gardens
by Richard L Stevens
Edition: Unknown Binding
2 used & new from $11.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and harmonious introduction to the subject, June 3, 2014
Part art and part science, partly spiritual and partly down to earth, this little book captures well what tropical organic gardening is all about. It is about being close to the earth in a lush environment in which bugs and weeds proliferate like explosions. It is about how to cope with this rich environment without the use of noxious chemicals.

Gardening as I have discovered is hard work. Organic gardening is even harder work. But in the long run organic is the only way to go. This book will show you how to grow your plants organically and why you should. You will learn how to build soil and compost, how to protect your plants from pests. You’ll learn which plants do well in which Hawaiian micro climates and which do not. You’ll learn something about Hawaiian culture and how it relates to growing fruits, flowers and vegetables.

Author Richard Stevens has a PhD in history and is an expert on the flora, fauna, soil and history of the Hawaiian Islands. His love for the islands and his love for gardening are part of what make this book such a pleasure to read. Of course it is not encyclopedic but introductory, yet for most gardeners it covers everything you will need to know.

There is an updated version of this book published in 2001 entitled “Tropical Organic Gardening Hawaiian Style.” It is essentially the same book but augmented with a glossary and some inspiring quotes about gardening and the earth.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”


Tropical Organic Gardening: Hawaiian Style
Tropical Organic Gardening: Hawaiian Style
by Richard Stevens
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.95
21 used & new from $5.28

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and harmonious introduction to the subject, June 3, 2014
Part art and part science, partly spiritual and partly down to earth, this little book captures well what tropical organic gardening is all about. It is about being close to the earth in a lush environment in which bugs and weeds proliferate like explosions. It is about how to cope with this rich environment without the use of noxious chemicals.

Gardening as I have discovered is hard work. Organic gardening is even harder work. But in the long run organic is the only way to go. This book will show you how to grow your plants organically and why you should. You will learn how to build soil and compost, how to protect your plants from pests. You’ll learn which plants do well in which Hawaiian micro climates and which do not. You’ll learn something about Hawaiian culture and how it relates to growing fruits, flowers and vegetables.

Author Richard Stevens has a PhD in history and is an expert on the flora, fauna, soil and history of the Hawaiian Islands. His love for the islands and his love for gardening are part of what make this book such a pleasure to read. Of course it is not encyclopedic but introductory, yet for most gardeners it covers everything you will need to know.

By the way, the book is an updated version of “Organic Gardening in Hawaii” first published in 1981.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”


Shadow World
Shadow World
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In part a realistic variation on "The Matrix" theme, May 22, 2014
This review is from: Shadow World (Kindle Edition)
I know that Chris Impey (Professor of astronomy and cosmology at the University of Arizona, by the way) had a lot of fun writing this novel because it was so much fun to read. He explains how and why he wrote it in the Preface: …twenty-five hundred words a day, twenty-eight chapters; basically just write and don’t look back; put it in a drawer for six years and then take another look; and then edit. I used to write like that. I think I did some of my best fiction just winging it on a daily basis and letting my imagination carry me.

The shadow in the title is an allusion to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in which prisoners from birth see only the shadows of things and therefore believe that the shadows are reality. But on a deeper level Professor Impey’s novel explores in a psychologically compelling way what it would seem like to really live in a world in which we are all just simulations produced by some superior intelligence. There would be incongruities, gaps between events, memories lost and some kind of inexplicable strangeness in how life unfolds. What I found most interesting in Impey’s treatment is the subtle way in which we are gradually drawn into this world and the realization that something is not quite right. The sophisticated reader may realize that the protagonist’s memory problems are software glitches or something similar. Everything is not quite as it seems.

The novel begins in the southwestern desert of the United States as Impey’s hero, Scotsman Ian McEvoy, who is 19-years-old, meets Night Owl, a Native American desert guide and mystic. This is about the Native Americans of the Southwest, the Hopi and their ways. Part of this is a short course in a way of life that is mostly gone. This is an adoration of Canyon country. It is vivid and atmospheric including a Mormon named “Jessop” and a naturally air-conditioned Hopi building. Here’s a bit of the first person narrative as McEvoy tries to fathom his guide, Night Owl:

“’Are we lost?’ ‘No.’ He looks around like he’s in an unfamiliar place. ‘But we are very close to the underworld. The energy unsettles me.’ I try to feel what he’s feeling but can’t. No doubt my finer senses are dulled by lifelong ingestion of sugar and fried food.”

Note, incidentally, that McEvoy doesn’t recall how he got there.

This is adventure number one. Six more follow. In each of the adventures there is danger and a mesmerizing woman with whom McEvoy becomes intimately entangled, or perhaps just tantalized. Most of the adventures involve McEvoy in something either rigorously scientific such as an archaeological dig or something cultural such as a tour with a controversial (and beautiful!) female artist. McEvoy’s personality is apparently quite winning and his skills impressive despite his lack of formal education since people keep inviting him to join them in what it is they are doing. McEvoy is a two-fisted hero when he needs to be and a passionate lover of not only women but of knowledge. He is my kind of hero. 

A nice feature is the scientific discussions that McEvoy has with the scientists he meets in his adventures. Since Professor Impey is the author of a number of popular scientific books you can be sure that the science is real. Another nice feature is the sharp, witty dialogue.

Strange to say as I was reading this I became more and more estranged from the earlier chapters, so much so that I actually read the first chapter again. I think this had something to do with my identification with Impey’s hero.

Another way to look at this novel and interpret it is to imagine that McEvoy, a denizen of the future, has been given a choice of virtual realities in which to live. He has many choices as everyone has. This is the one he has chosen. It is not just a life of pure pleasure but a life of adventure and challenges and a life that is seemingly worth living in which the high points and the good experiences outnumber the bad.

—Dennis Littrell, author of “[...]” and other works.


Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind
Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind
Price: $9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Night soil, anyone?, May 12, 2014
I don’t want to do a full review of this very interesting, readable and informative book, partly because as a neophyte gardener I am not qualified. Instead I want to concentrate on what I think is the most important part of the book. That is, the proper use of human waste.

Logsdon’s position as he outlines it in the concluding chapters is that we desperately need to take human feces and human urine and get it into the soil where we grow crops and stop flushing it down the toilet. He makes it clear (and most educated people already know this) that we have the ability to treat human waste so that disease-causing pathogens are destroyed making recycled human waste as safe as any natural, “full service” fertilizer. (Artificial fertilizers consisting of just nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are lacking in trace elements necessary for healthy plants. Manure and urine have those trace elements.)

He points out that not only do we waste human manure and urine we also incur a huge expense in doing so. Furthermore we use massive amounts of water getting rid of the stuff. He advocates using dry toilets in rural and farm areas, even outhouses. In the cities the entire method of dealing with human waste needs to be redone so that the waste is returned to the farmland. Problem here, as Logsdon points out, is that there is no way at present to insure that nobody is dumping poisonous chemicals and discarded pharmaceuticals down the toilet. People do it, and it is impossible stop them or to know who they are. Consequently recycling waste from human sewer systems may include recycling poisons and such.

Logsdon also points to the “Yuck” factor in the minds of some people who have been taught that human excrement is something to be avoided at all costs. Consequently our politicians who make the decisions about what to do with human waste aren’t going to step up and change the system. What is going to change the system is the fact that with so many people on the planet at some point not too far in the future fertilizer will become so expensive and the soil so depleted of trace elements that there will be no place left to go but to human manure and urine.

Our sense of disgust at using our waste (and that of our dogs and cats) on our farmland is based on the fact that without treatment pathogens will set up shop in fields and bodies and cause disease. We know this from vast human experience and have evolved to practice avoidance. However the world has changed and we can no longer throw the chicken bones over our shoulders, nor can we relieve ourselves at the river’s edge nor can we just pick up and move when our midden piles grow too large and smelly. We must perforce recycle everything and realize that what may seem disgusting to us is really manna from heaven to a plant.

—Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is” and other works
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 20, 2014 5:50 PM PDT


The Collection of Heng Souk
The Collection of Heng Souk
Price: $2.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful novel of redemption and forgiveness, May 2, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I don’t know who Simon Wilsher is and I have no idea how he could write such an extraordinary novel. What I do know is that this is the best novel I have read in many moons. His sense of character and his ability to bring people to life is remarkable. He uses interior monologues (or introspections), dialogue and, most of all, action to allow the reader to discover the personalities of his characters. But more than this (and creating character is very much of what novel writing is all about) is Wilsher’s sense of plot, of the necessity of structure, which all art has, and the necessity of maintaining a narrative tension that makes the reader turn the page until there are no more pages to turn.

So what is this book about? It’s about the brutality of power, the raw horror of the Vietnam War as experienced by both the Americans and the Vietnamese. It’s about love and the dignity of life and the horrible things that humans do to one another. It’s about redemption and forgiveness, and how time can change so much.

The title character is a onetime professor at the University of Hanoi who becomes during the Vietnam War an interrogation officer of the communist forces. Wilsher explores his contradictory character beginning with him as a dying old man and then traveling back in time to when he tortured and killed American prisoners of war. His niece, Sun, who is the central female character in the novel, is a doctor married to a controlling and violent man. Against her husband’s wishes she goes to find the old man to give him something and in doing so opens wide the past of his life. The reader along with Sun begins to learn who this man was and why he did what he did; and because of Wilsher’s skill and deep understanding of human emotions we go from loathing to a kind of understanding, although in my case not to the point of forgiveness.

The next most important person in the story is the American soldier Ephraim Luther who appears via a notebook he kept during his captivity. He is brutally beaten and forced to dig graves for his fellow American POWs all the while being interrogated by Souk while he wonders if the grave he is digging today is his.

But most of all I think we see the story from the point of view of Ephraim Luther’s son Thomas who was born into the generation following those who fought in Vietnam. He goes to Vietnam long after the war is over to find out what happened to his father.
What Wilsher does that is so hard to do and so very rare among aspiring novelists is to fashion a meld of character and plot in an artistic and emotionally compelling way. There is nothing fake about the story or anything dictated by contrivance. Wilsher thought this out very well (and/or has a rare gift for plotting) so that what happens is seen by the reader as compelling psychologically and realistically. Part of this is due to foreshadowing which, by the way, is almost a lost art these days. What happens when you foreshadow events as Wilsher does is you include the reader in the discovery so that when something happens the reader either thought it might happen (guessed) or the reader feels that what happens is exactly right. But of course the author must employ a deft and light touch, which Wilsher does.

A case in point is the position that the General occupies in the novel. Notice that he doesn’t just serve as window dressing or background color: he is an intricate part of the plot. He begins modestly as a chess partner to the title character, advances to the status of a powerful man, and before the novel is over that power is called into play. Another neat plot point (and a means of leveling cultures) is the fact that two of the characters in the novel—one Vietnamese and the other American—come to find that the man they thought was their father was in fact not their biological father.

Finally I would say there is a deep cultural underpinning to this novel emphasizing both the differences between Vietnamese ways and means and those of Americans and the similarities born of the fact that we are all human beings. In the final analysis the story is redemptive among the melancholy remembrances and we experience a sense of catharsis which is part of what literature is all about.

—Dennis Littrell, author of “Teddy and Teri” and other works.


Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming
Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important and eye-opening book that could use some editing, April 24, 2014
The most important thing about this book is the thorough and unmistakable way that Dr. Rozich documents and explains why global warming is just the most obvious "inconvenient truth" that we humans are facing. Global warming is in a sense just a symptom of other inconvenient truths such as depleting ancient aquifers, polluted rivers and lakes, soil erosion, threatened fertilizer supplies and mushrooming landfills, not to mention too many people on the planet. Cleaning up pollution and pumping water from deeper wells requires the use of more energy which results in burning more fossil fuels which results in climate change.

The terrible thing about these other inconvenient truths is that some of them are likely to happen sooner rather than later. The looming water shortages in many places in the world are more likely to cause catastrophic human suffering before global warming becomes hellish. The pollution in our water supplies in the form of "endocrine disruptor compounds" from the pharmaceutical industry as Rozich documents can disrupt the hormonal systems in humans and other animals. Those effects could be devastating long before the rise in global temperatures becomes intolerable.

Food shortages due to the diminishing reserves of phosphate rocks and soil erosion are on the horizon and are actually happening in many places in the world already.

Rozich explains what is happening worldwide in these areas of deep concern. He explains the science and documents the findings. He makes the jargon and the specialized vocabularies intelligible.

All and all this is an outstanding piece of work, a textbook on what humans are doing to the planet and what can and cannot be done about it. However there are two problems one minor and just annoying and the other so serious that it will cost Rozich many readers and that's a shame because this is he kind of book that all of humanity needs to read and understand (in particular, heads of state and other politicians.)

One, there are far too many typos in the text mostly in the form of words left out of sentences. Often these words are prepositions that are easy to overlook but when missing require the reader to reread the sentence to figure out what is meant. Additionally some words are misused, causing some confusion. I counted something like a dozen before I gave up; there might be a couple of hundred in the book.

Two, there is far too much needless repetition. Repetition for emphasis or to shine light from another direction on the subject can be valuable; but most of the repetition in this book is the sort that comes about because the author is using material written at different times and hasn't done the admittedly painstaking task of cutting out what he has already said.

I think that all writers can appreciate this quote from Blaise Pascal (also attributed to Mark Twain and others): "I have made this...longer...only because I have not had the time to make it shorter. "

Dr. Rozich would be wise to take the time and hire a professional text editor who could easily reduce the size of this important book by a third thus making it more focused, readable and accessible to more people and save readers a lot of time.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 30, 2014 2:02 AM PDT


A Counterfeit Priest
A Counterfeit Priest
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vatican Thriller, March 31, 2014
Torn from today’s headlines!

Well, actually I was persuaded to read this Vatican caper tale after watching Frontline’s “Secrets of the Vatican” which aired on PBS in February. In a sense author (and actor/director/documentarian) Paul Cross literally does take us inside the Vatican with a story that reads like a thriller but without the usual violence and gratuitous sex. “A Counterfeit Priest” reads like a young adult novel that could easily be made into a “G” rated Hollywood film. In fact that is Cross’s idea, since this novel was adapted from his screen play of the same name.

And therein lies a problem, a minor one. Cross needed a text editor. There are some (experimental?) tense changes in the narrative that I found distracting along with too many typos; but more than that there are a couple of places in the story where the motivation of the characters is not to my mind sufficiently explained. For example why would Rosa suddenly and inexplicably do something for Cross’s hero Henry Hawkins that went against her beliefs? And why would the very smart and sophisticated Cardinal Silvio Contini take on a new secretary without some investigation into his background and a bit of close cross-examination, especially when the narrative makes it clear the Contini didn’t like Henry at practically first sight?

I think that what should have been made clear up front was to reveal that Henry was a very attractive man that people usually liked immediately. His attractiveness would help explain why Rosa went against her beliefs in helping him. It would also explain why Alessandro and others so quickly befriended him.

But Cross’s ability to weave a tale of suspense replete with interesting and believable characters in a vivid and exotic setting easily overrides these concerns. There is a real sense of being inside the Vatican with the pope and the cardinals and the various priests. I am in awe of the research Cross must have done to make it seem as though all this actually happened or could have happened. Cross knows the Church very well and he knows the psychology and the politics of the Vatican players from the pope to the newly arrived priests. Contini, for example, is exactly the sort of greedy, narcissistic villain that I’ve always believed occupied the Vatican, while Pope Leo XV seemed like the sort of man Catholics believe should be and is the rightful successor to Saint Peter, so we have a kind of balance that makes for psychological veracity, or at least we don’t feel that the well is being poisoned either way.

I like most of the coincidences that move the plot but there is an old Hollywood feel to some of the contrivances, reminding me of many a “B” movie I saw as a kid at second and third-run theatres in the forties and fifties. A bit hard to believe (but possible) is how Henry actually got inside the sanctum sanctorum—letter fallen on the sidewalk, Henry’s chance physical similarity to the actual priest, getting the secretary’s job, etc. But coincidences happen in real life and chance often plays out its hand.

The dialogue inside the Vatican among the Pope, the cardinals and priests seemed carefully constructed with a sense of what these very holy men would and would not say while revealing what they thought of themselves in relationship to God and the truth of Catholicism. It is not an easy thing for a lay person to imagine the thoughts and private words of the Pope and the high-ranking members of the curia. I recall when I was an undergraduate at UCLA many years ago we “sophisticates” used to argue things like does the Pope really believe in God? We concluded that anyone who could be elected pope would be far too sophisticated to believe in God.

Now what is this novel about? It’s about electing a new pope and about an attempt to document and film the inner workings of the Vatican. Cross obviously is in sympathy with the work that the Catholic Church does throughout the world but he is not oblivious to the Church’s many faults. I think he was fair to the extent that this novel delved into the issues confronting today’s church. Mostly this is a very interesting story with the emphasis on character not doctrine. By the way, this novel suggests that the pope really does believe in God and that the election process leading to the white smoke is nonetheless a flawed and very human affair.

At any rate, this would indeed make a terrific film.

—Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is” and other works
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2014 5:01 AM PDT


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20