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Japanese in Action: An Unorthodox Approach to the Spoken Language and the People Who Speak It
Japanese in Action: An Unorthodox Approach to the Spoken Language and the People Who Speak It
by Jack Seward
Edition: Paperback
45 used & new from $0.75

4.0 out of 5 stars Japanese, de-nerded, September 6, 2014
For those who are struggling to learn Japanese, this book is somewhat helpful. It's more than somewhat amusing for those who aren't learning Japanese, as well as for hose who are. The book is just enough *about* learning the language to keep it useful in a language study program, but not so much that it's unreadable for someone who just has a general interest in Japan. The latter readers will, of course, need to have a keen interest in the country and be accustomed to paying close attention to cultural data, including linguistic. If not, why not just watch some Hollywood rubbish about Japan?

More orthodox Japan hands have rubbished Jack Steward, for among other things, reading book and after book after book, and still, he says, not managing to learn Japanese. Professors, it's a "shtick". Not everybody is as bent on maintaining gravitas as you are. The rest of us need some consolation, now and again.

Good book, mostly in the comic relief section. But frequently edifying as well.

Only four stars because there's proof out there that not all the nerds get it, and, if you're learning Japanese, you're probably a nerd.

Australia: The Unique Continent
Australia: The Unique Continent
by Jocelyn Burt
Edition: Paperback
10 used & new from $2.57

5.0 out of 5 stars Australian fantasies, September 4, 2014
This short book, 136 pages of full page color photographs alternating with brief texts, is a beautiful introduction to being in Australia and having the luck to travel about the country outside urban areas. The author concentrates on nature, the natural scene including flora, fauna and landform. She covers some agricultural scenes as well, not just those places that would appear to have been unaffected by European meddling. She is a gifted photographer, easily the equal of most you will encounter doing this sort of thing in Australia, America and elsewhere, to be compared to Eliot Porter. The reader is aesthetically pleased, learns something about the place and has the sense they have been there, a trick that's hard to pin down. Her brief accompanying texts are informative and personable.

I've never set foot in Australia, unfortunately, so I don't know how Aussies would feel looking at the book, but a number of these places were new to me, and those which weren't were seen afresh. Very much worth getting hold of for anyone who would like to travel about Australia, especially if they have a keen interest in nature.

The Maori: Heirs of Tane (Echoes of the ancient world)
The Maori: Heirs of Tane (Echoes of the ancient world)
by David Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
37 used & new from $0.71

4.0 out of 5 stars They grabbed it before you did., September 4, 2014
Thor Heyerdahl wasn't the only one. The author, David Lewis was a "small-boat navigator". There's nothing critical about this text. The author is a believer. In any event, now just about everybody admits the Polynesians were incredible navigators, by intent and by accident. What they didn't do, they could have done. Argue about something else.

This is a book about the Maori, their land (after they conquered it, for a while), their history and their culture. It's compiled from histories of all origins, European and Maori, apparently, though the author makes little attribution. Really only poetry translations are attributed. As are most books, these days, about non-European cultures, it's heavily illustrated with sculpture and other objets d'art which pre-date, stylistically anyway, the European invasion, which occurred about as late as any major aspect of European expansion.

BTW, Tane is Tane-mahuta, "the father of forests, trees, and birds, and the god of craftsmen". The author allows that fifty percent of Maoris were living in urban areas by the time of publishing (1982). Little discussion of current Maori life, whether in the city or out on what is left of New Zealand, and how their lives compare to non-Maori, or, the question any American would ask, to indigenous people in America and elsewhere. This is really a history book, and good for grooving on for those of us who live in the zero-present, without identity or exploit.

U.S. Army In World War II War Atlas War In The Pacific
U.S. Army In World War II War Atlas War In The Pacific
by Natioanal Historical society
Edition: Paperback
2 used & new from $38.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Good maps, September 4, 2014
Significant US Army engagements in the Pacific, from the fall of the Philippines through Okinawa.

Roughly 15" by 12" paperback, about 117 maps.

Topography (elevation contours sometimes, others generalized elevation shaded), roads, bldgs.

Military works and movements.

Very clearly represented, easy on the eyes.

These are drawn from the US Army's Center of Military History series: "United States Army in World War II", cut-outs assembled by the National Historical Society.

The Zero Public Library wanted to throw this out, because no one had checked it out and it was unwieldy anyway. One of the local worthies in the American Legion snatched it off a cart outside the Director's Office, saying he believed they were going to throw it out. (This sort of thing has become an issue, recently.) They were in fact going to throw it out, I'm told, but the old guy had no way of knowing it. The Director swore they would keep it, then put it in the de-accession pile anyway. The Am. Leg. man only shows up for Chamber of Commerce meetings, otherwise is never seen in the Library. How will he know? I said I thought they ought to keep it, too, but the Directory just coughed and slammed the door to her office.

The Romans: Their Gods and Their Beliefs (Echoes of the ancient world)
The Romans: Their Gods and Their Beliefs (Echoes of the ancient world)
by Margaret Lyttelton
Edition: Hardcover
45 used & new from $0.34

4.0 out of 5 stars "Is that R E L I G I O N?", September 3, 2014
This is a brief practical history of the religions practiced by the Romans. It is not scholarly, though it was written by a scholar; she was assistant keeper of Greek and Roman antiquities at the British Museum.

The numerous and colorful illustrations, of art and place, are somehow more appropriate than they would be in a corresponding book about Greek religion. The Romans were not intellectuals, generally, and certainly not in religion. Ritual, and, in way that became more striking over time, practical ethics were more their forte; in the latter the Greeks were weaker, in the former, less conservative than the Romans. The Romans taught the Christians ethics, insofar as Christians were teachable. Western Christianity and its practices suggests that they were not.

In any event, this book covers the mists of Roman beginnings, which the Romans themselves misunderstood, willfully, through the Republic and the Empire into the disarray of the "mystery religions". This means Isis, etc. For some reason, the author decided that " the period when Christianity rose to ascendency lies outside the scope of this book". Nonetheless, this short book (125 pages) tells us something substantial about Roman notions of "religio", a word they invented, and sometimes used in our modern English sense, sometimes very differently.

Into the Woodwork
Into the Woodwork
Price: $17.48
49 used & new from $8.17

5.0 out of 5 stars Some old people who learned along the way. Listen to what they learned. Like something a youngster would do, who knows something, September 3, 2014
This review is from: Into the Woodwork (Audio CD)
Steve Swallow and Carla Bley, two veterans of post Jazz-Age jazz music whose creativity has grown into a synthesis over time. They're now, probably, the principal male-female pair in jazz. In truth, I don't know how much Bley had to do with the concept and the scoring in this album; perhaps it's entirely Swallow's gig. But, like many fans, I've come to associate them.

Both are modern masters of the ensemble, and this album has and intensity of interplay that is easily the equal of Ellington's small units, the Thirties ensembles of Teddy Wilson, Mingus, Miles' Coltrane or Shorter groups, Sun Ra in the Fifties, you name it. Control of ensemble architecture and color is what stands out here.

Soloing isn't less striking, though. Swallow is second to none on electric bass, though less in your face than, say, Jaco Pastorius. The counterplay of the bass and the guitar of Cardenas (understated and excellent) is something I haven't heard before, quite. Everyone else is equally good, Bley as always humble, ego unasserted, but memorable. If only all musicians could get out of their own way like she can.

The entire album runs together, and I don't think it's just an engineering gimmick. There's a continuity of mood that at least equals any jazz record I've ever heard.

At least as good as any other jazz album from the last couple of years, and, though it's very ECM, I don't think you have to be an ECM junkie to like it.

A History of the African American People: The History, Traditions, and Culture of African Americans (African American Life Series)
A History of the African American People: The History, Traditions, and Culture of African Americans (African American Life Series)
by James Oliver Horton
Edition: Paperback
Price: $26.32
45 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Another history of black America, another good one., September 3, 2014
This is a popular history of black Americans, from the arrival of Africans in the Americas up into the Nineties. It is heavily and colorfully illustrated, and there is an emphasis on popular manifestations of culture. Art and artefacts from Africa onward, through household implements into the Jazz Era; there was, for example, a lurid poster advertising Duke Ellington's stint in the NYC "Cotton Club", a vivid piece of Ellingtonia I had never seen, and I've seen a lot of it. Then into the Sixties, where we see, for example, the Jackson Five (nebbakh).

Each chapter is written by a different person, mostly professors, but the writing is generally engaging. Academe doesn't necessarily knock the human knack out of people, and the topic is such as to bring out the eloquence in people. This is an excellent introduction to the history of blacks in America, the kind of book that once competed with TV documentaries, perhaps not any longer.

The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution
The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution
by Sidney Kaplan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.73
53 used & new from $1.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Black in America, early on, September 3, 2014
This is a very fine book for those who still have the taste, in these unlettered days, for "Black History". History here is construed as represented by persons, with personalities still discernible. This is a popular version of history, and effective for teaching those who aren't yet schooled in the subject. It is nonetheless unimpeachable in terms of scholarship, as far as I can tell. The book was associated with an exhibition of the same title at the National Portrait Gallery.

Many walks of life are represented, from the fortunate few at the top, such as it was in America, then, to the slaves, at least when they ran away. Quotations run heavy, as there is a certain bias toward the articulate and the literate, a near necessity in writing history. It is relentless realistic, as history, without a lot of exploration of what these people left. For example, I would have liked the author to follow out, in his excellent article on Prince Hall, the enormous effect of Black Freemasonry on American urban life, something few white Americans are aware of. But he is content to stick with Hall's lifetime.

Really a well-chosen array of personages, an excellent introduction to African Americans before blacks were identified with chattel slavery or other negatively stigmatized statuses.

Nota bene: "the Era of the Am Rev". It isn't just the usual Crispus Attucks. The book follows the century out, and even heads west, far from the inter-European violence on the Eastern Seabord of what is now the United States. An example : in the section "The emergence of gifts and powers", we find Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the founder of Chicago, by any reasonable standard of founding, though he was later pushed out by the white Kinzie cult.

A couple of minor points: though this isn't a coffee table book, rather a book meant to be read by readers, it's beautifully though rather sparingly illustrated, with many document facsimiles as well as portraits and the like. And an oddity: quotations are printed in brown print, amidst the black. Attractive, I thought, but it might be a problem for people with vision impairment.

The Italians: History, art, and the genius of a people
The Italians: History, art, and the genius of a people
by John Julius---Edited by NORWICH
Edition: Hardcover
51 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Italy by the erudite, for the erudite, September 3, 2014
This is (was, publishing date: 1983) another one of those florid histories of Italy. As was common back in those olden days, and as one would expect from a book published by Abrams, the compiler (the book was written by several authors) seems to have believed that the Italian genius was expressed most remarkably and characteristically by visual art. But Italian literature and politics are part of the story, as well, in this diachronic account of the country. Oddly, music figures in only here and there, with many major composers not even mentioned, something I've noticed in other generalized diatribes about Italy, whether popular or scholarly. Film isn't mentioned until the last page.

As always the case with Abrams books, and almost always with Italy, the book is heavily illustrated. It begins with Rome (the ancient one), so "Italy" is construed rather broadly. If a unifying theme is possible in a book written by a collection of academics (Oxford, U of London, U of Chi, with a German, and yes, an Italian getting in there), it's that intellectual culture drives other development, rather, you might say, the opposite of Marx or the Americans. But everybody seems to have believed it, at one time, about Italy, not just Mussolini and rich people. Did real Italians, non-crazy ones, believe it? Did Augustus believe it? Did the Italian in the street believe it, when he listened to Mussolini? It's not that kind of book.

Nonetheless, the compiler, JJ Norwich, starts off the book with the take of the tourist, though the tourists are more of the Goethe type than Frances Mayes or Rick Steeves, certainly not your mothers' friends who last year went on a cruise after getting tired of Vegas and Branson. Appropriate enough. We're all tourists, if we're not Italians, right? It's not even a country you can marry into, whatever fantasies some people may have.

The Moors: Islam in the West
The Moors: Islam in the West
by Michael Brett
Edition: Hardcover
44 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars The Moors = Muslims composed of Arabs and Berbers, in Africa and Iberia, September 2, 2014
This book is unique, as far as I know. It covers the intrusion of Islamic forces into what is now called the Maghreb, i.e. NW Africa and the culture that developed there from the synthesis of Arab and Berber cultures, and it covers the further intrusion of these united forces into Iberia. The culture was of course, to last in the Maghreb and would be driven out of Iberia by Christian civilization.

The geographic combination is unusual, in my experience. and the book is heavily illustrated (necessary for any book that means to portray Muslim culture in a positive light), and written in a way that makes it more or less accessible to a popular audience.

Poetry is important in this book, too, and a lot of it is quoted, in translation of course. There is an interest pairing of "the Muslim mind" and "the Arab mind", each with its own chapter.

Overall, this is a book of society conceived in religious terms, as the subtitle suggests. Its the history of a society as an idea that brought power, not peace. It's not an attempt to prove that a multicultural paradise existed in Iberia. The idea is that a culture was potent enough to hold Iberia for several hundred years, and the Berber northwest permanently. There were reasons, even though they might not appeal to any sane modern.

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