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The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison
The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison
by Pete Earley
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.98
114 used & new from $0.01

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like you're locked in a cell, April 4, 2001
To write The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth, Pete Earley basically lived inside the walls of Leavenworth and earned the trust of the inmates. These lifers don't trust easily. Earley has done a remarkable job of extricating the most fascinating details of the lives of hardened criminals. He shares their stories of childhood crime and imprisonment, of killing for fun and profit, of escaping, of fighting and murdering in prison. We learn of the self-imposed segregation of blacks and whites in prison, even among friends, and just how thankless a job being a prison guard is.
The material is poorly organized, however. Earley's style is to tell a chapter about one inmate, then not revisit that inmate's tale until later on. This works, but not always. He begins the book with an excellent story about one of the inmates, then inexplicably gives a lengthy history of the prison, then returns to the anecdotes. Earley did the same thing in Super Casino, though it worked in that book.
I hope that Earley continues to infiltrate and study and share with us fascinating stories of unusual people.


Super Casino: Inside the "New" Las Vegas
Super Casino: Inside the "New" Las Vegas
by Pete Earley
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
92 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ding-ding-ding-ding! No more bets!, March 10, 2001
For those of you who have never been to Las Vegas, Pete Earley's SUPER CASINO will give you a good background to the most intense city in North America. For those of you who have been to Vegas, this book will remind you of why you went, why you came back with great memories (though with a lot less cash), and will make you want to call your travel agent and book your next trip there.
SUPER CASINO is a curious hybrid -- half history, half personal anecdotes. The history tells of the Circus Circus company, from its earliest days under weirdo Jay Sarno, to its recent reincarnation in the form of the Egyptian-style casino Luxor and its Strip neighbor Mandalay Bay. The corporate history of Circus Circus is fascinating. Imagine starting out with nothing, buying/building casinos, then gambling enough profits every day to keep a family of four going for a few years.
The anecdotes of the denizens of the Strip breathe life into this book, though they don't really mix well with the Circus Circus material. Really the anecdotes belong in a book of their own. Earley interviewed Las Vegas cab drivers, blackjack dealers, prostitutes, security chiefs, showgirls. Each has a fascinating story of the desert paradise.
Ignore the structural problems with the book and simply enjoy reading about Las Vegas.


The Third Victim: An FBI Profiler Novel
The Third Victim: An FBI Profiler Novel
by Lisa Gardner
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
408 used & new from $0.01

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thin plot, poor characterization, no suspense, March 6, 2001
The Third Victim begins strongly, with a riveting race to the scene of a school shooting. After that, however, this 300+ page novel plods ahead.
Rainie Conner, a female police officer in Bakersfield, Oregon, must push back her own demons and move the case ahead against the son of a friend. Conner, who as a teenager found her mother's dead, dripping body in their living room, must somehow come to terms with this new bloody crime scene while reliving her past. And the real killer, as we're told even on the back of the cover, is out to get her.
Rainie is a caricature -- 110 pounds of rage and savvy, keeping men at bay, keeping her emotions deep inside. Her dialogue is inane. Pierce Quincy, the FBI love interest, besides having a ridiculous name, is perfect -- perfect suits, perfect hair, perfect eyes. Shep O'Grady is Bakersfield's bumbling, drunk sheriff who knows the truth about what happened to Rainie's mother.
Take a pass on this one. Other than in the first and the last few pages, there's little suspense. The Third Victim is part unthriller, part Harlequin unromance. Unlike in typical thrillers, there's nothing -- nothing! -- to keep you reading at the end of each chapter. The characters are empty, the dialogue will make you laugh out loud. I suggest that Lisa Gardner go read a few Hardy Boys novels if she wants to learn about pacing and suspense.


Invisible Darkness: The Strange Case Of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka
Invisible Darkness: The Strange Case Of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka
by Stephen Williams
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
80 used & new from $0.01

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, thorough, disturbing, February 25, 2001
Read this book and you'll find out all you need to know about the two most evil people in recent memory. Stephen Williams covers every detail in his study of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, and the rapes and murders of Tammy Homolka, Leslie Mahaffy, and Kristen French. Every horrid detail. This book is not for the easily disturbed. Williams leaves nothing out, not the details of the rapes and murders, not one iota of personal information -- he even includes addresses of the victims' families. Therein lies the one major flaw of this book -- overinformation. A good editor would have trimmed 200 pages from this book and Williams still would have told the entire story. Still, Williams has proven himself an excellent researcher, and an adequate writer. It's only too bad that our society continues to give writers like Williams fodder for future books.


The Darwin Awards: Evolution in Action
The Darwin Awards: Evolution in Action
by Wendy Northcutt
Edition: Hardcover
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, kind of weird, February 15, 2001
At first I was amazed that the editor of this book had enough stories about stupid people killing themselves in stupid ways to make up a book of this size. But now I'm sure she had to cut some stories -- maybe she's saving them for the second edition. Some of these reports seem too ridiculous to be true. She's right, though -- we should thank these people for exiting the gene pool. How can we address humanity's greatest challenges -- starvation, human rights abuses, cures for disease -- when we kill ourselves trying to get into Metallica concerts for free?
This book's a pretty good bathroom reader, though it isn't without its problems. The introductions to each part are inane, and hardly relate to the material that follows. In some of the stories it isn't clear what happens to the people involved. Also, I think the book would have worked better with the urban legends collected in their own section instead of sprinkled throughout. Somehow, mixed in with true stories, they're given legitimacy.
Anyway, bring on volume II!


The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary
by Simon Winchester
Edition: Paperback
650 used & new from $0.01

11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A thorough, if overwrought, true tale, January 1, 2001
Simon Winchester writes of James Murray (the Professor) and W.C. Minor (the Madman) and their unique relationship, which led in part to the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Minor, suffering from paranoia, kills a man in Lambeth, London, in a fearful panic, and is placed in an asylum. He finds a life preserver in a published request by Murray, editor of the dictionary, asking for submissions to the great tome. For decades, Minor descends further into madness while feeding supporting quotations for word definitions to the OED staff.
Winchester draws the story slowly, exceedingly so. He seems to admire the long length of Dickensian texts because this book is as verbese, suffering from the weight of its wordiness. Repeatedly you'll find yourself asking the author to get to the point. Why spend numerous pages explaining the etymology of a single word within the story? Even Winchester's acknowledgements plod on for seven pages.
Curiously, Winchester hasn't included any photos in the book. He could have saved us some of his lengthy descriptions by providing photos instead. He has not included an index either, a strange omission for a book about the creation of perhaps the greatest index ever compiled.
Many will undoubtedly enjoy the saga of Murray and Minor, though few will enjoy it (or Winchester) as much as Winchester does.


In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
by Nathaniel Philbrick
Edition: Hardcover
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A splended historical account, though a bit dry, December 26, 2000
In the early nineteenth century, the whaleship Essex sailed from Nantucket for the final time. The ship encountered a giant sperm whale in the middle of the ocean. The whale attacked the ship, disabling it, sending the men into the whaleships, where most of them would live, and die, for eighty-odd days. This is a rich tale of courage, starvation, cannibalism, and racial politics.
Nathaniel Philbrick's account of the ill-fated Essex is thick with history. Philbrick has meticulously researched his book, evidenced by the extensive notes and bibliography. Still, In the Heart of the Sea lacks the heart of Erik Larson's excellent Isaac's Storm, in my mind the book of the year. For all of Philbrick's keen facts and thoroughness, his writing is often academic-sounding, and he does not boldly follow historical tangents as Larsen does so well. Don't get me wrong, In the Heart of the Sea is a remarkable book, well deserving of the National Book Award. I think, however, that Larson deserved it more.


Fitzgerald's Storm: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald's Storm: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
by Joseph B. MacInnis
Edition: Paperback
40 used & new from $0.01

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You can find a better book about the sinking of the Fitz, December 21, 2000
In November 1975 a storm on Lake Superior ravaged the Edmund Fitzgerald, an "unsinkable" laker, and took the life of more than two dozen men. MacInnis's book seems lost in this same storm -- it jumps here and there and gets caught up in the waves of controversy. Only thirty pages or so deal with the actual sinking. The rest of the book covers the construction of the ship, the aftermath of the sinking, the telling of the families, the investigation, the scabs who harvested the Fitz for cash, and, of course, Gordon Lightfoot's famous song. The book tries to be everything and ends up being little.
MacInnis writes in an overwrought style, mixing metaphors and making poor analogies. Still, if it wasn't for his purple prose, the book would have come in far short of its 126 pages.
MacInnis obviously has a vendetta against the poachers who salvaged the Fitz. He writes about them with fury, calling them heartless thieves, which they probably are, but he loses objectivity here. Much like the Edmund Fitzgerald on that stormy November night in 1975, MacInnis falls off course and grounds himself on a shoal of confusion.


Disgrace
Disgrace
by J. M. Coetzee
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.45
516 used & new from $0.01

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, drab, dripping in futility, December 3, 2000
This review is from: Disgrace (Paperback)
Coetzee's novel is as dry and barren as its setting, the burnt landscape of the East Cape of South Africa. DISGRACE is a difficult read from beginning to end, but a satisfying one.
David Lurie, professor of communication of a university in Cape Town, has an affair with a 20-year-old student, and when their relationship falls apart, he pays dearly for his misuse of power. He cooperates with the university's authorities, who want something more than he can give, and banishes himself to his daughter's farm/kennel at what seems to be the edge of the world.
Father and daughter suffer a brutal attack, and though the pain and shame of the event should bring the two together, they're driven apart -- she by his fathering, he by her wish to keep the attack quiet and remain on the farm.
I admire much in this novel, especially the character of David Lurie. He pays out far more than he owes. The image of fire engulfs him, in the poetry of Byron, the fire during the attack, and the burning of dogs. Unlike the phoenix, however, Lurie is unable to rise again. He can save no one, nothing. The ending is pure heartbreak.
Coetzee skillfully weaves his tale without hammerhanded comment on racism and class, though, like the poor people living in the shanties not far from the Lurie farm, they're there.


Hoopla: Inside the Raptors' First Season
Hoopla: Inside the Raptors' First Season
by Jack Batten
Edition: Paperback
15 used & new from $4.65

3.0 out of 5 stars Quick read, great interviews, but not comprehensive enough, December 3, 2000
A capable and often engaging account of the Toronto Raptors. The subtitle -- Inside the Toronto Raptors' First Season -- is misleading. Jack Batten discusses the team from before they were even created until the end of their second season. The most interesting stuff in the book lies in the discussion of schmoozing with David Stern and the other NBA bigwigs in trying to lure the NBA to Toronto. Batten covers the usual expansion woes -- bad players doing bad things -- with flair. He interviewed all of the key people involved.
The drawbacks of this book are many: no index, no stats, only eight pages of photos (and black-and-white ones at that), and the ending just hangs out there, with the drafting of Marcus Camby. The book tries to be a little too much, and ends up being a little less.


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