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NCAA Purdue Boilermakers Laser-Cut Chrome Auto License Plate Frame
NCAA Purdue Boilermakers Laser-Cut Chrome Auto License Plate Frame
Price: $19.99
15 used & new from $14.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Design is lacking, December 7, 2012
I wanted a nice sturdy plate frame with high contrast, simply and boldly lettered homage to my alma mater. The frame itself is fairly sturdy. The look of it is good. Nice gold on black, strong letters. However there should be more flexibility in terms of the anchoring points matching the vehicle. I have a Hyundai Accent. I got the plate frame screwed onto the back but it was not exactly smooth. When people make these frames they need to actually try them out on a variety of car models and state license plates to see if the holes line up or if key parts of the license plate are obscured. Rico has not done this enough. Even more annoying, the gold letters are individual plastic pieces inserted into a black section that has been etched out to hold them. Weird, I figured it was all one piece molded with a color differential or something. Why does it matter? Well because the more moving parts you have in any design the more trouble you will have. In this case, the individual letters count as moving parts. Two of them have disappeared in less than 7 months on the road. Who knows how much normal road jarring it will take to pop out others. Should have used stronger adhesive with this sort of design.
***UPDATE***It is now Jan 2015 and there are about half or less of the original letters remaining.

NCAA Purdue Boilermakers 62-Inch WindSheer Hybrid Umbrella
NCAA Purdue Boilermakers 62-Inch WindSheer Hybrid Umbrella

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Staying dry in style, December 7, 2012
The umbrella looks great and performs very well. By that I mean it is sturdy and large, not too heavy, with a good grip. It is easy to open and close. It has two layers so there is less wind resistance, making it easier to hold steady in wind. It won't flip inside out the way those wimpy umbrellas do, well not short of a Cat III storm I am guessing. There is a plastic collar at the base which is supposed to catch all the tips of the support arms when it is folded. However this thing became disengaged from its spot. It hasn't broken off the pole, but is no longer fixed, so it doesn't do its job. This happened after only a couple uses. However, it really doesn't affect the umbrella performance. Hammer down, Boiler up.
***UPDATE*** It is now Jan 2015 and the umbrella still works and looks great. Its big enough even to sort-of keep my dog partly dry during a walk. Well at least enough to minimize the towel-off when coming back in the house.

From Dusk Till Dawn
From Dusk Till Dawn
DVD ~ Harvey Keitel
76 used & new from $0.01

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Salma Hayek gets an "A" but the movie is an "F", February 28, 2011
This review is from: From Dusk Till Dawn (DVD)
Potential viewers be warned: It is quite apparent from the rating distribution that the ballot box has been stuffed by die-hards. For there to be so many "5" ratings is just ridiculous. Essentially the movie has become a cult classic and thus one cannot expect much in the way of objective reviews. Cult classics by definition have a core constituency in love with the movie. It is a "5" to them no matter the flaws. This is apparent in many of the positive reviews written; they either make excuses for various aspects of the movie or acknowledge that your average viewer may dislike it.

I won't waste words describing the story since that has been laid out in rather excrutiating detail by many reviewers already. Things start out very promisingly, with characters that are compelling due to good acting (except for often annoying Juliette Lewis who is well, annoying) and taut atmosphere, and a well-paced plot. That lasts for maybe 30-40 minutes, then all hell breaks loose. And I don't mean just the vampires, although that is the point in the storyline. The plot, characters, dialogue, motivations, etc fall apart and the movie just keeps going downhill until the ending mercifully arrives (though with a cool graphic novel-ish panoramic zoom-out/fade scene).

Really, I think as soon as Danny Trejo appears it is pretty clear that things are taking a turn for the worse. Fred Williamson and Tom Savini are the equivalent of "B-grade cliche" roadsigns as well. Yeah, Tarantino probably cast them on purpose cause he loves the 70s exploitation and zombie stuff. Whatever. If you want to clamber onto the Tarantino self-indulgency bandwagon, that's your call. Either that or if you are addicted to all things vampire, you may like it. If you want to watch a truly well made thriller-horror film that successfully twists from the everyday normal to the mind-bending horrific, try something like "Audition."

I would have given this only 1 star, but Salma Hayek deserves at least a star all by herself. Tarantino did succeed at least with a truly astounding femme fatale moment for the ages. Hayek's entrance with the snake deserves to be up there with Bo Derek's jog on the beach in "10", Ursula Andress emerging from ocean in "Dr No," and other one-of-a-kind sex symbol/erotic scenes.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 16, 2012 9:06 AM PDT

What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East
What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East
by Bernard Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.66
519 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Valuable but not enough to be the final word, July 12, 2009
Summary: At 160 pages, this is a very readable book and it also has reasonably solid bibliographical notes. There are 7 chapters plus Intro & Conclusion, and a nice map of the chronological waves of Muslim expansion and retrenchment. Lewis writes in an engaging style for the most part. He provides a hypothesis as to the post 15th century fall of the Islamic world after its meteoric rise. Essentially his argument is that Europe had greater intellectual and practical curiosity that fueled technical and organizational advancement while the Caliphate became complacent, maintained a myopic worldview while stuck in a superiority complex, and thus lost its innovative drive. It is a good read with some valuable points, but it doesn't blow you away with comprehensive explanatory power.

Intro & Chapt 1 are a bit slow in the setup. They lay out evidence and cite specific examples of the rise and decline of the Islamic world from medieval to modern times. This is largely gratuitous (though perhaps not uninteresting)because presumably one has the book in their hands precisely because they already know the decline happened. Lets get to the "why" already.

Lewis makes the point early and often, that Europe was interested in traveling outside Europe, learning foreign languages, studying foreign cultures, and adopting foreign ideas. Until the 18th century, the Muslim world was not so inclined, and even then it was sort of a too-little-too-late reaction to try and keep up with the West politically.

Chapt 2 is okay. The focus is that cultural factors were behind advancement of the West, for example, superior education. A detailed explanation of why the West embraced certain such factors, while the Islamic world did not, is generally lacking. It wasn't called the Dark Ages in Europe for nothing! Why did Europe radically alter its trajectory such that it claimed ownership of modernity from the Islamic world? Perhaps there needs to be more structural, Jared Diamond type thinking at this point.

Chapt 3 and 4 are the best I think. Chapt 3 keys on three critical cultural differences that underlay Europe's ascension over the Islamic world: status of women, science, and music. Music discussion occurs in later chapters and is largely unsatisfying in my opinion. The emancipation of women is the most profound difference, according to Lewis, and this also leads to discussion of how attitudes towards slavery and non-believers held the Islamic world back. The science discussion basically says that yes, the Islamic world was the beacon for science at a certain point, but this changed because of the attitude that the Caliphate was supreme and thus further innovation beyond what was known was not worthwhile. Basically a mix of hubris + tunnel vision regarding science. Eventually the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim spheres acknowledged and adopted superior Western technology and processes where it seemed prudent. But what Lewis seems to be trying to say is that the Islamic world either lost or never grasped the institutional importance of science in society. For some reason (Lewis doesn't explain), the West embraced science at a fundamental level for the sake of pushing boundaries of knowledge while also continuously applying it to enhance tools and improve techniques. Though the Islamic world tried to modernize along Western lines in some areas (e.g. military), it could buy guns or whatever, but lacked the underlying societal capacity to design, produce, and improve such. In other words, the West wore well both the academic hat and the engineering hat, while the Islamic world lacked intuitive and strategic vision.

Chapt 5 is pretty good; it tackles secularism. The post-Westphalia move to secular nation-states in Europe is often pointed to as a vital moment in the differing trajectories of West and East. I think the most insightful point Lewis makes is about the attitude of the Christian world versus the Muslim world. Christianity started out as the underdog and this lasted for centuries. Islam was defined and triumphant within Muhammad's lifetime. Lewis says this is why hubris and and a loss of steam was such a factor for the Caliphate. And Christianity, once it did make its way to prominence, provided grievous lessons learned that mixing political and religious administration was a recipe for disaster.

A great conclusion would have really boosted the overall book, but the one presented is merely okay. It talks about scape-goating and whether the important question for Middle Easterners is "who did this to us?" or "how did we let this happen?" It touches on anti-Semitism. The main problem is it doesn't do much to summarize; to wrap up the content of the chapters and lay it out in a coherent unified theme. The main value of this book is that it highlights important insights here and there, which can be considered in the context of regional studies and other structural and multi-dimensional theories, such as put forth by Jared Diamond.
final note: there is a short post 9/11 afterword

Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton Series in Culture/Power/History)
Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton Series in Culture/Power/History)
by Mahmood Mamdani
Edition: Paperback
Price: $33.24
37 used & new from $17.19

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thesis over-reaches but still a very rich and worthwhile tour, March 26, 2009
CONTEXT: Mamdani's starting point is that colonialism caused a profoundly negative impact on African societies, and this impact is evident in the dysfunctional African states of the modern era, wherein governments struggle for legitimacy while civil unrest and low living standards are commonplace.

OVERALL: Ultimately Mamdani does not succeed in proving his thesis, and for this 3 stars might be appropriate, but the educational value is so high and the sources so comprehensive that I give 4. The writing style is somewhat dense and occasionally opaque, the volume is a little more than it needs to be to impart the message. The worst of this is the introduction, which may be best to skip. The conclusion is a bit tinged with the short-lived post-Cold War idea that democracy is the answer for everything.

Mamdani identifies the "bifurcated state" as a result of calculated colonial policy to most efficiently rule African colonies. In urban centers, individual liberties were defined and enforced, as in Western civil law. Customary law held sway in the hinterlands, however, and it was the key aspect of Indirect Rule, imported by the British from Asia. It dictated what claims the state had a right to make on individuals. Thus customary law was a means of controlling society, including land, women, animal herds, water, forest, etc. It was disguised as traditional practice because it was administered by the Native Authority - African "chiefs" acting as colonial agents. In reality it was malleable so as to ensure achieving colonial ends, which were essentially maintaining order, tax revenue, and labor supply.

Historically, there were significant institutionalized cultural restraints on the power of chiefs. The colonials liberated the chiefs from these by "fusing" all administrative power and bequeathing it to the Native Authority positions. As long as the chiefs kept the colonials satisfied, they retained unprecedented coercive power over society that they could exercise for their own agendas. Mamdani terms the result of this arrangement "decentralized despotism." His charge is that this structure was so robust as to remain intact even after colonial departure. Mamdani's solution is essentially democracy, though without specifics on how to implement effectively.

The main failing is trying to explain all of Africa while actually focusing on South Africa. The colonial experience was very different in various regions and Mamdani is unable to align this fact with his model. His example of Liberia does more to refute his theory than support it. Ethiopia lies completely outside the model, and North Africa is ignored. Authors like Philip Curtin do a better job contrasting regional differences.

Mamdani tries to examine Africa in a Petry dish, but it is part of a global dynamic, which Jared Diamond (for one) has more to say about. Mamdani does not acknowledge broad inertias that shape societies outside the particular African colonial impacts. This includes geographical and logistical factors, for example. There is also little acknowledgment of economic factors having much to do with keeping Africa down after independence.

There are some fantastic insights in this book, for example, regarding the evolution of a norm of violence in Africa, the inner workings of Indirect Rule, the role of clientelism in Africa's bloodthirsty domestic politics, the vicious cycle of colonial budget desires driving repression of Africans and incurring further costs.

This book is not a light read. There is so much of the content that is worthwhile, it just doesn't add up to the grand unifying explanation for Africa that Mamdani wants. Africa is so vast, vibrant, and diverse that it should be no surprise that the pieces don't all fit nicely together. Yet Mamdani's audacious attempt succeeds in another way by making the reader a lot smarter about some important elements of modern Africa, not to mention providing quite an extensive trove of sources for exploration.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2015 6:55 PM PDT

The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-state
The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-state
by Basil Davidson
Edition: Paperback
40 used & new from $5.82

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too ambitious but still rich and worthwhile, February 12, 2009
Davidson's starting point is that colonialism caused a profoundly negative impact on African societies, and this impact is evident in the dysfunctional African states of the modern era, wherein governments struggle for legitimacy while civil unrest and low living standards are commonplace. Overall, the writing style is very agreeable, the volume is a little more than it needs to be to impart his message, and the conclusion is poorly supported by the main body.

Davidson's ambition is to describe an elegant model wherein the colonial importation of the nation-state model for political organization so distorted African societies that they became structurally locked into a path towards failed statehood. The explanation is that the colonials uprooted traditional institutions that had governed societal behavior. European bureaucracy took their place and created a situation whereby Africans competed with each other for government jobs and the attendant elevated social status and revenue stream. A gap between urban elites and rural peasants developed. Independence only exacerbated the divide and the environment of opportunism. African nations were thus predatory states, as elites jousted for political power while ignoring, at best, or exploiting the rural majority. The response to the lack of state security was creation of "kinship corporations" that became patron/client networks. Western excuses often (incorrectly) blame this and the associated corruption on primitive practices of "tribalism."

Ultimately Davidson is unsuccessful in his broad explanatory goal; the various regions of Africa had sufficiently different colonial experiences to resist a unifying explanation for modern Africa's malaise. His argument focuses on West Africa but largely sidesteps northern and southern regions. He spends a good deal of effort trying to show (eastern) European parallels to African difficulties in making the nation-state work. On one hand he decries the nation-state as alien to Africa and untenable, yet he acknowledges the existence of African states before colonialism and external factors after independence that would be difficult for ANY developing people to deal with, nation-state or not.

The conclusion section comes across as dated and rather illogical. It seems to be tinged with the post-Cold War spirit of democracy ascendant, most famously expounded by Fukiyama's "End of History." The solution to the alien imposition of nation-state is an equally alien commodity: Western democracy (with an emphasis on federation, as in Germany). Never mind that Western democracies are ensconced as nation-states to begin with. However, Davidson's attempt is worthy in that it provides the serious reader on Africa many quite valuable insights about the colonial-African experience, including the slave trade from West Africa, the trajectory of early African intellectuals, lasting European efforts at neo-colonialism, tribalism as a manufactured tool of Western "divide and rule" strategy, and a close look at the die hard end of colonialism with the Portuguese. He deserves particular credit for at least mentioning intertwined ecological problems ahead of the greater Homer-Dixon wave.

A final caution: Davidson was an elder statesman of African studies by the time he published this book in 1992. He provides little in the way of academic references in the text; basically he tells the reader that he's studied Africa for 40-plus years, and take his word for it. Perhaps this is suited to a former British military officer who served during WWII and has "been there and done that."

A Man of the People
A Man of the People
by Chinua Achebe
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.46
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably my favorite Achebe, November 8, 2008
This review is from: A Man of the People (Paperback)
I haven't read all of Achebe's works, but so far this is the best. There are two main reasons: storytelling and insight to Nigeria, and by extension, Africa. If you're going to read one Achebe book, it should be this one (unless you're specifically interested in pre-colonial/early colonial setting which would be "Things Fall Apart").

Storytelling: Achebe's strengths are highlighted and weaknesses hidden in this tale. The plot is well-paced, taut and compelling. The style is sharp with a masterful balance of attention amongst setting, characters, and action. In short, "readability" or "page-turnability" is high. The pidgin English conversation may cause a few stumbles for the reader but overall it is more value-added than obstacle. Female characters are still rather more flat than males, which is usual for Achebe.

Insight: The beauty of the storytelling is matched by the contextual insight. In fact, this is the most important aspect of the story for me. One can look up Nigerian history and read that the First Republic lasted from 1960 to 1966, fraught with social unrest and ended by coup and Biafran Civil War in '67. Achebe fills in this time and place with living color - insight as to splits in society, individual motivations, and the legacy of colonial ideas mixing with traditional. He wrote the story real-time, that is, without big picture hindsight of the coup so as to align historical details. However, this makes his prescience all the more remarkable.

Specific observations:
- The single most profoundly insightful scene I've read by Achebe occurs with the post sex-with-Jean drive around Bori (a made-up name - all locations are thus as a means of self-preservation vs Nigerian state censorship and punishment). Though succinct, so much is illustrated about the contradictions inherent in post-colonial Nigerian society as people wend through the frustrating amalgamation of Western and traditional practices.

- Underlying themes are important. It is evident that things are getting worse economically only a few years after independence (1960). There is implication that Nigeria is living partially on the dole as colonial firms still have an important role in the economy. There is also an anti-intellectual movement underfoot. This may be a backlash from the lack of meritocracy and obsession with titles, status, and civil service wealth identified in Achebe's previous story, "No Longer At Ease."

- Achebe tells us that essentially, the second "Scramble for Africa" is INTERNAL. Nigerian elites are grabbing for positions of power and dedicating themselves to consolidating their status while giving lip service to nationalism. The ideals of democracy are trod underfoot by the traditional tendency towards "big man" patron-client apparatus development. The intensity of the struggle over power stems from the rigid assumption of a zero-sum game and lack of true national public interest.

- In Shakespearean tradition, the characters are vibrant and flawed. Hypocrisy abounds as personal agendas and ideological principles intertwine. The most cynical actors of all are the common people. They are so jaded about their leaders and politics that they have no expectations. Indignation about governance inadequacy is bearable; certainly there is no motivation to mobilize and force change - instead everyone remains preoccupied with myopic survival strategies to secure what crumbs that are available from the national "cake." However, this is no "Goodfellas" (the 1990 movie that most people think is brilliant but I absolutely hate because there is not a single redeeming character in it that one can empathize with). Achebe's characters cause head shaking but empathy at the same time. In particular, Eunice is perhaps a Weberian "ideal type" that provides sharp contrast - thoroughly admirable and uncompromising to the end.

- The violence and manipulation dominating elections is far from anachronistic; these details resonate as if written only a few years ago. Elections in Nigeria have changed little, even since the return to civilian rule after Abacha in 1999. The 2007 election, in fact, was judged to be arguably the worst EVER in post-colonial history. Achebe shrewdly and poetically shares with the reader the hints as to "why" the country has been this way.

Happy reading!

No Longer at Ease
No Longer at Ease
by Chinua Achebe
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.43
159 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful African story that transcends Africa, November 2, 2008
This review is from: No Longer at Ease (Paperback)
As a post-graduate student preparing for diplomatic assignment to Africa, my African history curriculum includes a number of Achebe stories. I particularly appreciate "No Longer At Ease." While many point to "Things Fall Apart" as the masterpiece, I find Achebe's later works more engaging due to deeper character colorization.

Style-wise, "No Longer At Ease" has strengths and weaknesses. The dialogue is alive, the descriptions are vivid, the flow generally smooth. However, the pacing is a tad slow and I'm not sure if the non-linear sequence is the best (story opens with endgame and then flashbacks the preceding events that lead up to it). Female characters are shallower than male, which seems to be consistent in Achebe's earlier works.

Substance-wise, there is a universality to the story that makes it very powerful. The timeless themes of individual will vs mainstream collective, love vs cultural/conventional taboo, opposing pulls from different societies, and tragic fall from grace; all would make Shakespeare proud. Thus, while the setting is southern Nigeria a few years prior to independence, the story is as much a statement(s)about human struggles as it is about African struggles. Not that the latter is neglected. The beauty of this story is that today in 2008, the same contradictions, challenges, and problems are just as relevant as they were pre-1960. In fact that is what makes this fiction more than fiction for those seriously interested in Africa and West Africa in particular.

Some additional comments & observations:
- Globalization didn't just start in the 1990s. The dynamics of modernism from the West merging with urbanized and rural societies of Africa is starkly prevalent. Different segments of society take the changes in stride to vastly different degrees. This phenomenon is in no way restricted to Africa in the 1950s. My own family has varying levels of comfort with technology and communication changes over the last decade or so.

- The Africans in the story place an incredible premium on status. Education is valued not for intrinsic reasons (e.g. become an engineer in order to build things) but as a vehicle to elevated social status - which translates directly to opportunity for prosperity via civil service. "To occupy a 'European post' was second only to actually being European. It raised a man from the masses to the elite..." Africans apparently learn the lessons of the West all too well, that is, with an unhealthy over-emphasis on how "learned" someone is and what credentials one has, rather than practical ability to do productive work. Perhaps it is purposeful Achebe brilliance in that characters (African and European) in the story are perpetually busy with work yet they never seem accomplish anything meaningful; there is merely a ballet of self-supporting bureaucracy.

- The main character, Obi, is a trailblazer reminiscent of Jackie Robinson. His gifts don't free him to simply play the game, but burden him with special wider responsibility. Obi never does succeed in reconciling the traditional demands of his people and those of the colonial establishment and modernizing world. This is in fact the root of his tragic fall.

- Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the story is the reminder of the intelligence and sophistication on the part of the Africans. Isn't it easy to observe the end product - corrupt and dysfunctional governments in Africa today - and "logically" work backwards to deduce that the reason must be personal/individual inadequacy? This self-attribution error is hard to avoid. Don't we think in this vein about our own earlier generations? We imagine them as less shrewd and capable. However did WWI spark off, for example? It's too hard to imagine - people must have been more ignorant or less clever then, no?

The Eudaemonic Pie
The Eudaemonic Pie
by Thomas Bass
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.96
44 used & new from $4.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not perfect narrative, but one-of-a-kind experience, November 20, 2007
This review is from: The Eudaemonic Pie (Paperback)
- Love this story! There is some validity in the reviews that critique the pace/style of the writing. However, I read it back in the early 90s, and the fact that it is still a vivid recollection counts for something. The advantage of time passage in analysis is better context and objectivity. Of course the disadvantage is that the details are not fresh. Probably I have forgotten minor irritations with style, while the strongly positive impression lingers. I do not give 5 stars lightly; though in this case the rating is more for the intrinsic wonder of the tale more than the technical adeptness in the telling.

- The story is ultimately not about the goal, not about winning or losing or beating the house. Its really about the journeying. A unique shared human experience of some ordinary yet extraordinary people in ordinary yet extraordinary times. The ordinary draws the reader in with a continual reminder that it's a true story, magnifying the extraordinary nature of events. Somehow I found it intensely compelling to follow the characters and realize that in the same month I was, say, starting a newspaper route or trying to make the varsity soccer team, these offbeat-yet-practical, idealistic-yet-enterprising, brilliant-yet-sidetracked, anachronistic hippie-tinged grad students were mathematically modeling a roulette table in their central california bungalow or troubleshooting a shock-giving computer taped to their body in a casino bathroom hoping security won't find them out. Its a human story because its about about creativity, determination, curiosity, fear, motivation, joy, friendship and pain. Its a techno-geek-as-hero story as they blaze trails at the forefront of computer technology before you could even think about buying a TRS-80, much less a Commodore 64. I think Azeel's review quite accurately hints at a successful fusion of eclectic but fascinating elements.

- Is the book too long? Should the pace be quicker? Perhaps, but the bottom line is it works. Some other stories may be generally comparable as far as being in the category of true story of a group on some venture (e.g. Fullness of Wings by Dorsey) but Eudaemonic Pie is different than anything else I've read. Partially this is because the slice of time and place in the silicon valley spanning the era of post Vietnam-disco-hostage crisis-Reaganomics is different. It's not for everyone, if you don't give it a try you may miss out on a flavor not to be served anywhere else.

A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People
A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People
by Steven E. Ozment
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.77
133 used & new from $0.01

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, overall successful, May 13, 2007
3 stars is too low and 4 is actually too high, but this book is above average so I generously went with 4 stars, given a context of contemporary and accessible writing on Europe.

The scope is overly ambitious for the length, but overall Steven Ozment is successful because of good organization, well chosen areas of focus, an even-handed approach, and solid references. The scope is basically to trace German history from roots to present and dissect what it is to be German. That is what I mean about overly ambitious. Emphasis is placed on continuity of cultural experience, that is, logical connections of events, themes, and behaviors over the long term, versus a more segmented view.

Ozment's even-handed approach, particularly in the 20th century, clearly follows from requirements of reality and objectivity as opposed to a bias towards either vilifying or exonerating the German people.

This book is not the best one for those brand new to Germany or those who are quite well-versed in German history. Ozment seems to assume that the reader has at least a basic grasp of German evolution and key historical events. At the same type, the book is to short to delve far into any one area. However, this leaves probably the middle 50% or so interested in the subject matter who will appreciate the book.

Some specifics:

-The Roman era thru middle ages is a decent though quite abbreviated rendition of the important events and figures. Since maps are provided of various chronological snapshots of central Europe, I could argue for more of them to more clearly track territorial developments. A strength is Ozment's identification of experiences that appeared to shape later German decisions and cultural identity. Readability is pretty good - pleasant lack of force fed references to tribal names, places, etc that are immediately familiar only to scholars.

-It is somewhat hard-slogging through some of the middle section where the Reformation is analyzed. Ozment obviously considers Martin Luther to be a key figure and tackles this era in somewhat more detail than others. Perhaps some re-read would be useful, but I found myself working harder than I like to pull out the salient points that are "keepers."

-I think the Bismark and pre-WWI era receive mostly appropriate coverage, but of course the overall brevity limits this. It would have been useful to look further into some the pseudo-anthropology going on internationally at the time, and Germany's role in that, with particular focus on the colonial scramble for Africa. In addition, Germany was making incredible scientific gains and these are lightly noted.

-WWII, Cold War, and post-Cold War discussions are certainly a strength of the book. Ozment walks a delicate path. There is a lot of inertia in 20th century history writings that starts with Nazi Germany as the ultimate realization of evil and then works backwards to show how this catostraphic conditions was the inevitable end result of German traditions and overall psyche. Ozment debunks this at multiple turns, yet does not push for some kind of revisionist view that the holocaust was just another bad thing in recent history.

What Ozment does well is convey the remarkable nature of German history in the large view, and the relevance and vitality of Germans and Germany in the 21st century. The most valuable insight discussed is the nature of duality in the German identity and the experience-based shift of priority given to security and thus central authority. There is a uniquely German philosophical balance between individual liberty and disciplined adherence to rule of law that is an important contrast to the US and other western societies.

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