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The Romancers: A Comedy In Three Acts...
The Romancers: A Comedy In Three Acts...
by Edmond Rostand
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.98
12 used & new from $9.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Seed for Thought, October 15, 2012
Of the thousands of people who saw the Fantastiks performed over its 23 year run Off Broadway, how many knew that the inspiration was a play written in 1899 by Edmond Rostand? Yes that Edmond Rostand, of Cyrano de Bergerac fame. Originally titled Les Romanciers, this translation by Mary Hendee is an economically presented play in three acts over 43 pages. Audiences of The Fantastiks will find the plot very familiar. The fathers of two neighboring lovers feign a feud in order to induce their children to fall in love and marry. When the kids find out that their dreams have been carefully choreographed by their calculating fathers, they split up and go their own ways. Each discovers the hardship of life and decides to return to the love of their lives. It is a very, very sweet story. Upon completing the final page the reader is awed not only by the creativity of the original but by the work yet to be done to create the world's longest running musical from such spare and ancient roots.


Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins (MacSci)
Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins (MacSci)
by Ian Tattersall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.85
84 used & new from $3.35

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...the Distillation of a Longish Career...", April 9, 2012
"Our narrative-loving species," as Ian Tattersall characterizes Homo sapiens, has long searched for the quintessentially human feature - that which unambiguously denotes our kind. Throughout history several unsatisfying candidates for that keystone feature have been offered up, including, inter alia, bipedalism, brain size, tool use, and language. For Tattersall, who has spent a career devoted to the question, that quintessential element is H. sapiens' use of symbolism.

In the early chapters of Masters of the Planet Tattersall introduces the reader to the practice of paleoanthropology, its essential vocabulary, and the state of the science. The reader gets just enough information about early hominid cranial shapes, dental wear patterns, skeletal variations, tool use, and geochronology as is absolutely necessary. We visit Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa as fossils and their strata are carefully unearthed, dated, and interpreted. We learn about early hominids' toolkits, their social lives, and survival mechanisms. We also get a refresher on genetics and geology.

It is only in the last thirty thousand years of the two and a half million year panorama of successive hominid speciation and extinction that our use of symbolism is unequivocally documented. It is only when cave art appears at Chauvet, Lascaux, and Altamira that we are entirely satisfied that our ancestors have become as cognitive as we. This transition, Tattersall points out, would be utterly unbelievable if it had not actually happened. For the first hundred thousand years of our species' existence we were unaware of our brain's latent capacity for symbolism.

When such new applications for already evolved anatomical features are introduced they are called "exaptations." Tattersall suggests that human exceptionalism is the result of one particular exaptation, the use of our brains (specifically the angular gyrus) for symbolic thought. That symbolism leveraged our tool kit, empowered us with language, and made us Masters of the Planet. Tattersall's thoughtful "Coda" entreats responsibility in our custodianship of that planet, now that we are its masters.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2012 1:14 PM PST


Mystery Writers of America Presents The Rich and the Dead
Mystery Writers of America Presents The Rich and the Dead
by Ted Bell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.99
116 used & new from $0.01

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nine Great Stories, February 9, 2012
This is a collection of twenty short stories based loosely on the mysterious, exciting, sensuous, and occasionally bloody lives of the rich and famous. Nine out of the twenty rate 4 or 5 on my Amazon scale. Read only those nine and the book is a 4.5 overall. Many of the weaker stories rely on the stereotype of the rich as conniving, amoral, and venal; the better stories don't. Do not neglect the author bios at the end. Some of these contributors have had remarkable careers outside letters. Hats off to Nelson DeMille for his editorial contribution. Here are my individual story ratings.

Death Benefits: clever, economical, wry, 5
The Pirate of Palm Beach: meritless, 0
Thank God for Charlie: weak story, 1
The Sadowsky Manifesto: extremely creative; bravo, 4
Kiddieland: terminally enigmatic, 2
Addicted to Sweetness: clever, bizarre, pointless, 3
Blood Washes Off: weird, satisfying, but still weird, 2
The Gift: creative techno-tale, 4
Bling, Bling: do the right thing, redux, 1
Murder in the Sixth: Paris? Yes. Interesting? No., 2
The Precipice: creative, tense, 5
The Itinerary: two or three coincidences short of excellent, 4
Lamborghini Mommy: well told, realistic, scary, 5
The Controller: truly outstanding. Wow. 5+
Poetic Justice: clever but stereotypical, 3
Happiness: one trite phrase after another, 0
Iterations: wha? 0
Richie and the Rich Bitch: sweet, quick, tight, 4
Paparazzo: clever, cute, creative, 4
Daphne, Unrequited: rambling, confusing, 1


The Lion
The Lion
by Nelson DeMille
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.99
214 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrifyingly True to Life, January 27, 2012
This review is from: The Lion (Paperback)
The genius of the plot in Nelson DeMille's The Lion is his shrewd linkage, in a single antagonist, of the deranged homicidal maniac and the well-funded jihadi. Set a couple of years after the attacks on the World Trade Center, The Lion features retired (or is he?) New York cop, John Corey, against his archrival, Asad Khalil, in a gore-soaked thriller. This is the sequel to The Lion's Game, published pre-9/11. In retrospect it's uncanny that DeMille would have the foresight to select an antagonist from among the Islamist barbarians. But now that his readers better understand the nature of the Islamist threat to Western Civilization, it's far easier for DeMille to populate our imaginations with an all too lifelike killer like Khalil. This book is not only an entertaining read, but it's an introduction to the totalitarian non-state entity which is, in real life, out there trying to kill you. And since they're getting more arrogant every passing day, and with our government is cozying up to them, I'd be amazed if DeMille didn't find material here for a future book.


Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States
by Albert O. Hirschman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.65
85 used & new from $8.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Atrophy of Voice, August 1, 2011
"The central point of this book," writes author Albert O. Hirschman, is that "the presence of the exit alternative tends to atrophy the development of voice." In Hirschman's world "voice" is shorthand for talking things out. Exit is shorthand for getting out of Dodge. While these actions refer to how individual "members or customers" deal with organizations or firms in decline, it may help to consider their personal counterparts, namely conflict resolution (voice) and conflict avoidance (exit). Another way to view the distinction is Defection versus Engagement. The author makes the case that since we are a nation of people who voluntarily exited other countries (except for native Americans and slaves) we preponderantly prefer flight. The conclusion of the book is that "the two reaction mechanisms need an occasional injection of the other... [or may even require] regular cycles in which exit ad voice alternate as principal actors." Hirschman's argument is persuasive and thought-provoking.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2014 8:04 AM PDT


Something Missing: A Novel
Something Missing: A Novel
by Matthew Dicks
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.37
147 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Most Exceptional Thief, July 21, 2011
"Something Missing" is a quirky, heavily character-driven book, and an exceptionally tense page-turner. It's about a likable thief, Martin, who robs the same homes over and over. He calls the owners his "clients" and he develops a one-sided kinship with them. Martin steals items they're not likely to miss or suspect having been stolen, e.g., groceries and household supplies. If he needs money he'll steal one diamond earring. The key to Martin's success is his meticulous planning. Compulsive, actually. A rare moment of spontaneity sets off a chain reaction of events which dramatically changes his life. Readers will be amazed how quickly and thoroughly they become empathetic with this most uncommon of thiefs. Considering the extraordinary research that author, Matthew Dicks, undertook in order to accurately portray his thief protagonist, one can only pray that he's never tempted to go over to the dark side.


The Phipps Family and the Bessemer Companies
The Phipps Family and the Bessemer Companies
by Richard R. Davis
Edition: Leather Bound
8 used & new from $56.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Henry Phipps, His Genius, and His Foresight, July 19, 2011
"The Phipps Family and the Bessemer Companies," by Richard Davis, is an incredibly ambitious book. First, Mr. Davis provides a summary biography of Henry Phipps from his earliest days, including his fateful collaborations with Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. It was the quietest of the three, Phipps, who was the nuts and bolts steelmaker, creating efficiencies, building capacity, and perfecting metallurgical technologies. Mr. Davis shows us, too, that while Mr. Phipps' industrial prowess was legendary, his greatest legacy would be in conserving his fortune, rather than making it. The formation of the Bessemer Companies, named after the steel-making technology which produced Mr. Phipps wealth, was his crowning achievement. In recounting the history of Bessemer Trust, Bessemer Securities, and their related entities, Mr. Davis, is on familiar ground, for he served as the companies' General Counsel until his retirement in 2008. The Phipps-Bessemer story has a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction ring to it and this book, with its elegant binding, historical illustrations, and shiny steel title plate, will serve as an enduring memorial to the man, his genius, and his foresight.


A Pillow Stuffed with Diamonds: Tanka on La Vida Mexicana/ Una Almohada Rellena con Diamantes: Tanka sobre La Vida Mexicana
A Pillow Stuffed with Diamonds: Tanka on La Vida Mexicana/ Una Almohada Rellena con Diamantes: Tanka sobre La Vida Mexicana
by Margaret Van Every
Edition: Paperback
2 used & new from $11.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Verses Stuffed with Contemporary Mexican Life, July 7, 2011
This crisp little book comprising 116 brief verses economically relates poet, Margaret Van Every's, perceptions of Mexico and it has a very personal and contemporary feel. The bilingual edition will have gringos looking up the words for shoes, trucks, cops, love. Tanka are unrhymed, unmetered verses of five lines, originated in Japan during the Tang Dynasty. My favorite:

In my wallet
only as many pesos
as I care to lose.
Wanting their share: thief, beggar,
and law enforcement officer.


Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.40
751 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Human Side of Lincoln, July 5, 2011
Team of Rivals is simply remarkable and Doris Kearns Goodwin's scholarship is staggering. The book opens with the Republican convention of 1860, and the struggle for the presidential nomination. Abraham Lincoln was no one's first choice, but by deft political handling, became everyone's second choice, and the rest is history. Lincoln rose to the occasion and it is difficult to imagine the Civil War and the struggle for emancipation without him. The title refers to Lincoln's incorporation of his rivals for the nomination into his administration. William Seward became his Secretary of State. Edwin Stanton became his Secretary of War. Salmon Chase became the Secretary of the Treasury and, subsequently, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Edward Bates became Attorney General. Watching the progress of the Civil War from the vantage of the White House puts the political and military elements in perspective. Adding the struggles of family life and the often grudging support of former rivals into the mix provides insight into the challenges Lincoln faced on a day to day basis. Goodwin illustrates how Lincoln grew into the job and how his political acumen sharpened with the passage of time. Goodwin depicts not only the man in the top hat but also the family man. We meet him in all his complexity and in all his simplicity and we empathize with him in his raw humanity. Admirers of Mary Todd Lincoln will want to steer clear of this book because of Goodwin's warts-and-all depiction of her. For most readers, though, Lincoln's lack of support at home only makes his achievements the more impressive. For readers who read one five pound book a year, it would be hard to make a better selection than Team of Rivals.


Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
451 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Frightening Then, Terrifying Today, May 30, 2011
It's clear why Ray Bradbury didn't care to have his novel compared to Orwell's 1984. Orwell's antagonist, the totalitarian state, was effectively one dimensional. Bradbury's protagonist, by the time the novel opens, is ourselves, infected by omnipresent fear. Early in the story, when Montag meets Clarisse, he finds her to be somehow uninfected. In modern parlance, she hasn't drunk the Cool Aid. "I'm anti-social, they say, I don't mix. I don't think it's social," she says, "to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? We never ask questions, they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film teacher. It's a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom and them telling us it's wine, when it's not."

Fahrenheit 451 is a very frightening book, and the reader is drawn in immediately. When Montag goes home, he faces the other end of the spectrum from Clarisse; he faces his wife, who has been thoroughly brainwashed into submission. The tension rises dramatically, reaching a climax when Montag is forced to torch his own home. When he turns the torch on his boss, Montag becomes a fugitive and eventually settles with the hobos along the railroad tracks, all of whom has memorized a book in order to preserve it after all the physical copies have been destroyed.

At 50 thousand words it's what would today be called a novella, meaning no agent would touch it. And an editor would have problems with some of the more egregious loose ends, including the characters of Clarisse and Faber. But it has struck a chord with an American public which fears the encroachment of the government in our daily lives. And it is always fascinating to compare the futures envisioned by writers of science fiction with the way things ultimately turn out. Bradbury's inclusion of mural-sized TVs and people mesmerized by reality shows displayed remarkable foresight. And that, too, is terrifying.


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