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The Turn of the Screw & The Lesson of the Master (Literary Classics)
The Turn of the Screw & The Lesson of the Master (Literary Classics)
by Henry James
Edition: Paperback
36 used & new from $0.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Both Stories Have Surprise Endings - Read the Reviews Later, September 10, 2006
My review pertains to The Turn of the Screw & The Lesson of the Master by Henry James, published by Prometheus Books (1996). The Turn of the Screw makes up the first 134 pages; The Lesson of the Master is considerably shorter, only 74 pages. There is a short, general overview of the career of Henry James, but no specific analysis of either of the two stories is provided.

The Lesson of the Master (1892): The young writer Paul Overt deeply admires the highly respected novelist Henry St. George, although Overt does recognize that while the latest works by St. George are quite good, they are lacking in that spark of genius found in his earlier novels. In turn, St. George recognizes the potential for greatness in Paul Overt, a potential that can only be achieved if Overt is willing to sacrifice everything - even his growing attraction, perhaps love - for a vivacious, intellectual, stimulating, young woman. St. George himself is married and with two successful sons, and argues that the true artist can never achieve greatness if he becomes distracted by marriage and family. He does not regret his own choice, but he stresses that Overt must make this decision for himself.

The Lesson of the Master is perhaps less complex, and less ambiguous than other works by Henry James, but the ending offers both surprise and irony. The consequences of Paul Overt's choice are unexpected.

The Turn of Screw(1898): A reader new to this classic work should read no reviews, no essays, no forwards, and no prefaces. I made that mistake. Without going into details, my first reading of The Turn of the Screw was unduly influenced by my knowing too much too soon. There will be plenty of time after your first reading to immerse yourself in literary criticism and reader reviews.

The primary interpretation is straight-forward. Henry James clearly intended The Turn of the Screw to be just what it seems to be: a well-constructed, frightening, bona fide ghost story. There is much evidence for this argument including various notes and letters written by Henry James himself. Most readers probably subscribe to this view on their first reading.

A second interpretation challenges the veracity of the story teller, the children's governess, arguing that the ghosts are bizarre imaginings, hallucinations, of a mentally disturbed young woman. While early criticism was founded on newly popular Freudian analysis, later supporters of this interpretation focused largely on inconsistencies in her account. Critics also point to supporting evidence in Henry James's sometimes ambiguous notes and letters.

It is quite remarkable that after a century of literary criticism there is still no agreement among general readers, nor among scholars. The Turn of the Screw is a work of genius, a genius that likely had considerable enjoyment developing this complex tale. James has seemingly done the impossible: he created an exceptionally good ghost story while simultaneously leaving subtle evidence for an entirely different interpretation. The Turn of the Screw remains today among the most read and the most enjoyed works of Henry James.


The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition)  (Norton Critical Editions)
The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions)
by Henry James
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.70
111 used & new from $3.42

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New to The Turn of the Screw? Then Don't Read Beyond the Second Paragraph, September 9, 2006
A reader new to The Turn of Screw should read no reviews, no essays, no forwards, and no prefaces. I made that mistake. Without going into details, my first reading of The Turn of the Screw was unduly influenced by my knowing too much too soon.

My review pertains to A Casebook on Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, second edition, edited by Gerald Willen. (Another good source of interpretive essays is found in the Norton Critical Edition.) The Turn of the Screw makes up the first 94 pages; the twenty essays in the Casebook total some 300 pages and are arranged chronologically. It is best to read them in sequence as later critics often refer to earlier ones, in some cases directly challenging an earlier position.

The primary interpretation is straight-forward. The Turn of the Screw is just what it seems to be: a well-constructed, frightening, bona fide ghost story. There is much evidence for this argument including various notes and letters written by Henry James himself. Most readers subscribe to this view - at least on their first reading.

A second interpretation challenges the veracity of the story teller, the children's governess, arguing that the ghosts are bizarre imaginings, hallucinations, of a mentally disturbed young woman. While early criticism was founded on newly popular Freudian analysis, later supporters of this interpretation focused largely on inconsistencies in her account. Critics also point to supporting evidence in Henry James's sometimes ambiguous notes and letters.

The inherent contradiction in these two interpretations leads many readers to return again and again to this deeply complex, subtlely nuanced, deliberately ambiguous, simple ghost story. It is no surprise that The Turn of the Screw remains one the most read and most enjoyed works by Henry James.

Recommendation: If your time is limited, I suggest that you read, or at least browse, the following selections: Henry James's Preface to The Aspern Papers (1908), The Ambiguity of Henry James (1934) by Edmund Wilson (including his 1948 and 1959 revisions), Mr. Edmund Wilson and The Turn of the Screw (1947) by A. J. A. Waldock, James's Air of Evil: The Turn of the Screw (1949) by Oliver Evans, Henry James as Freudian Pioneer by Oscar Cargill, and One More Turn of the Screw (1957) by Louis D. Rubin, Jr.


Five Victorian Ghost Novels
Five Victorian Ghost Novels
by Everett Franklin Bleiler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.64
75 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars E. F. Bleiler (and Dover) Deserves Thanks for These Overlooked Victorian Gems, September 4, 2006
Many Victorian ghost novels were published in periodicals such as Routledge's Christmas Annual and never reprinted elsewhere. (A Christmas annual may seem incongruous, but apparently ghost stories were especially popular over the Christmas season as evening family entertainment around the fireplace.) E. F. Bleiler compiled these rare stories for this Dover publication, Five Victorian Ghost Novels. I enjoyed all five stories and highly recommend this collection.

The Uninhabited House (1875) by Mrs. J. H. Riddle (a pseudonym for Mrs. Charlotte E. Riddle) is a realistic depiction of a haunted house, one that is increasingly difficult to lease out. Although the property is well-maintained, accessible, and well-priced, one after another enthusiastic family quickly becomes disillusioned with their new home, even forfeiting the annual lease payments to quit the premises.

Riddle's portrayal of law clerks, pensioners, and real estate speculators is sufficiently detailed to create an authentic setting and backdrop for this ghost story. The plot advances somewhat leisurely, but I never lost interest. I remained uncertain for a considerable period as to whether the apparition was real, or was a fraudulent fabrication by an unscrupulous real estate speculator. Mrs. Riddle weaves into the plot a Victorian romance, one that contributes to the storyline, but does not dominate it.

The Amber Witch (1895) by Johannes Wilhelm Meinhold was quite popular among Victorian readers; it was translated twice into English and published in several editions. Written in a chronicle format, many elements in the plot are historically accurate and offer a surprising verisimilitude to this frightening account dating (supposedly) from the brutal Thirty Years War. In that period few questioned the existence of witches. Fewer yet had the courage to come to the defense of anyone accused of witchcraft. Confessions under torture were a matter of course. I found myself more fearful of the legal system than witchcraft itself.

Monsieur Maurice (1873) by Amelia B. Edwards is the tale of an aristocratic Frenchman held captive at the Chateau of Augustenburg. A retired Prussian colonel, Johann Ludwig Bernhard, appointed steward of the Chateau for his service in the Napoleonic Wars, is given no explanation regarding his prisoner, known only as Maurice. This short novel, told from the perspective of the steward's young daughter, focuses primarily on the mystery surrounding Monsieur Maurice; the supernatural elements play a secondary role.

A Phantom Lover (1890) by Vernon Lee is perhaps the most notable in this collection, more for its detailed characterizations and psychological complexity than even for the plot itself. It would not be an exaggeration to compare A Phantom Lover with the literary ghost stories by Henry James. Much like The Turn of the Screw, this short novel engenders multiple interpretations and warrants multiple readings. A Phantom Lover was also published under the title Oke of Okehurst.

The Ghost of Guir House (1897) by Charles Willing Beale is an example of occultism, an immensely popular form of ghost stories at the end of the nineteenth century. Although I generally find tales of psychic phenomena to be less interesting, The Ghost of Guir House is an exception. The mysterious Guir House and its eccentric inhabitants - the attractive, pensive Dorothy Guir, the reclusive, elderly Ah Ben, and their unnamed, mute servant - only gradually yield their secrets, offering the reader much opportunity to speculate on the outcome of this unusual tale.


Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite Numbers (Dover Books on Mathematics)
Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite Numbers (Dover Books on Mathematics)
by Georg Cantor
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.95
68 used & new from $0.01

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed Axiomatic Development of Transfinite Numbers - Not Suitable as Introduction, August 25, 2006
Georg Cantor's final and logically purified memoir on transfinite numbers was published in the late 1890s. This Dover reprint is the 1915 English translation by the mathematician Philip E. B. Jourdain; it also includes a lengthy, technically diffcult introduction by Jourdain.

Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite Numbers is not suitable as an introduction. I unwisely disregarded caution from an earlier reviewer that Cantor's work would not be appropriate for a beginner in set theory. (I thought that I was reasonably acquainted with set theory, but I do admit that I was not a math major.)

The 82-page introduction by Jourdain assumes that the reader is reasonably familiar with the work of key nineteenth century mathematicians. While it is possible to skip the introduction, Jourdain's context setting is quite helpful. Cantor's transfinite numbers are so innovative and so unexpected that it almost seems as though they spring forth in a vacuum, but Jourdain shows that the earlier work of Dirichlet, Cauchy, Riemann, and Weierstrass helped point the way for Cantor.

Cantor's memoir (that is, his two-part discussion of transfinite number theory) comprise the remaining 125 pages. The difficulty with Cantor's axiomatic presentation is two-fold. First, the material itself is not easy - despite Cantor's careful approach. I even bogged down for awhile on his early discussion of the exponentiation of powers and how this leads to aleph-zero. And second, much of his terminology is outdated and unfamiliar. For example, there is no mention of sets, just aggregates and parts. Another example is that Cantor speaks of reciprocal and univocal correspondence. I have yet to complete Cantor's work, but I am continuing to plod along.

A recommendation: A much better starting point for readers new to transfinite numbers is a fascinating book by Mary Tiles, titled The Philosophy of Set Theory - An Historical Introduction to Cantor's Paradise. This work targets mathematics and philosophy majors, but is accessible to others.


Fast Reactions (Oxford Chemistry Series ; 23)
Fast Reactions (Oxford Chemistry Series ; 23)
by John N. Bradley
Edition: Hardcover
26 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction - Good Background Reading Before Tackling Current Literature, August 20, 2006
Fast Reactions (ISBN 0198554567) by J. N. Bradley is a concise, well-written introduction to a wide range of experimental methods used to study reactions completed in durations ranging from a second to nanoseconds. The target audience includes advanced chemistry undergraduates and researchers who need a comparative assessment of the varied techniques.

Bradley emphasizes the principles underlying the different methods and the types of results that can be obtained, but he goes easy on the mathematics. I was particularly interested in flash photolysis, but I soon found myself reading Fast Reactions in its entirety. Fast Reactions (1975) may not be a new text, but it still valuable as a quick introduction prior to tackling the current literature on ultrafast processes (sub-picosecond and femtosecond techniques.)

Most of the methods measure overall rates. Bradley grouped them by their degree of perturbation of the reaction system: none (equilibrium methods), weak (direct relaxation and periodic relaxation techniques), medium (flow techniques, low intensity photolysis, and electrochemical methods), and high perturbation (flash photolysis and shock waves).

Some techniques - like flash photolysis, shock waves, and crossed molecular beams - are especially useful for studying details of collisions, including the transfer of energy between translational, rotational, and vibrational energy states.

Fast Reactions is fast reading; this short text has only 120 pages. Fast Reactions offers more detail than found textbooks like Physical Chemistry by P. W. Atkins, or Physical Chemistry by Gilbert W. Castellan, but it is not any more difficult. Fast Reactions is publication number 23 in the Oxford Chemistry Series.


Epicoene or the Silent Woman (New Mermaid Series)
Epicoene or the Silent Woman (New Mermaid Series)
by Ben Jonson
Edition: Paperback
40 used & new from $1.21

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Notable for Its Surprise Ending - Has Not Perhaps Weathered As Well as Volpone, The Alchemist, or Bartholomew Fair, August 18, 2006
Ben Jonson's Epicoene, or The Silent Woman, was first staged in late 1609, or early 1610. Epicoene is difficult to characterize. It is essentially a comedy with an element of sexual wit, and yet it has a surprise ending, one that is markedly non-comedic and leaves a bitter taste. Despite the sharp ending, the surprising twist in the final scene is critical to Jonson's play and I strongly suggest you avoid any discussion of the plot until after your first reading of Epicoene.

In general, I had less empathy for the upper class characters in Epicoene than I did for Jonson's lower class, bawdy rogues that populate The Alchemist and Bartholomew's Fair. The characters in Epicoene are not terribly disagreeable; they are largely dilettantes that have little concern for morality or ethics. For example, the character Truewit, speaking of some promiscuous ladies who live apart from their husbands, says: "Why, all their actions are governed by crude opinion, without reason or cause; they know not why they do anything; but as they are informed, believe, judge, praise, condemn, love, hate, and in emulation of one another, do all these things alike."

I had difficulty understanding the intent of some dialogue on my first reading. My second reading was much easier, perhaps helped a bit by my now knowing the unexpected ending.

Epicoene was staged frequently for nearly 150 years, but its popularity declined after about 1750. Apparently, performances in 1752 and 1776 and 1784 were unsuccessful, and it did not reappear until 1895. There were few performances in twentieth century.

I recommend the New Mermaids edition (ISBN 0393900401) edited by Roger Holdsworth; there have been multiple printings and it should not be difficult to find a copy. The footnotes are quite helpful. The introduction is lengthy, almost 50 pages. There is also an appendix containing the play's music and some of Jonson's classical sources.

Another source: Epicoene is often included in collections of Ben Jonson's plays, like the inexpensive World Classics edition published by Oxford University Press.

Epicoene or Epicene? Both versions are found. And Jonson's play also goes by the title, The Silent Woman. Good luck in your title searches


Gödel's Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to Its Use and Abuse
Gödel's Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to Its Use and Abuse
by Torkel Franzén
Edition: Paperback
Price: $35.95
59 used & new from $19.74

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable Counterbalance to Widespread Misconceptions and Nonsense in Print and on the Internet, August 13, 2006
Torkel Franzen has created an immensely valuable, deeply fascinating examination of misunderstandings, misconceptions, and outright abuse of Godel's theorems frequently found on the Internet (and occasionally in print). He does so in a cogent, non-confrontational style that makes enjoyable reading. Godel's Theorem - An Incomplete Guide to Its Use and Abuse warrants five stars.

A word of caution is appropriate, however. Chapters 2 and 3 will be heavy going for readers not familiar with formal logic. Although Franzen avoids the details of Godel numbers in his explication of Godel's proof, he does delve into topics like self-referential arithmetical statements, Tarski's theorem, Rosser sentences, weaker variants of the first incompleteness theorem, computably decidable sets, Turing's proof of the undecidable theorem, and the MRDP theorem.

Furthermore, the appendix offers both a formal definition of the concept of a Goldbach-like arithmetical statement and comments on the significance of Rosser's strengthening of Godel's first incompleteness theorem. (Any reader that stays the course with the early chapters will be able to handle the appendix discussions. The short chapter 7 is also more technical as it discusses the completeness of first order logic.)

A word of encouragement is equally appropriate. Chapters 2 and 3 can be browsed, even skipped outright. The later chapters are much more accessible and don't require that the earlier chapters have been mastered; instead, they focus on examples of the misuse of Godel's theorems - from the merely technically inaccurate to the humorously nonsensical. It is these later chapters that makes this book special.

Although words like consistent, inconsistent, complete, incomplete, and system have been carefully defined within the context of formal logic, in normal discourse these words have varied meanings, often leading to vagueness and confusion in discussions of Godel's theorems. Furthermore, Godel's theorems often serve in an inspirational fashion, that is being used as analogies and metaphors in which the essential condition that a system must be capable of formalizing a certain amount of arithmetic is largely ignored.

Invocations of Godel's incompleteness theorems in theology, in physics (like the theory of everything), and in the philosophy of the mind (the Lucas-Penrose arguments) are found in chapters 4, 5, and 6. Chapter 8 addresses the widely publicized philosophical claims of Geoffrey Chaitin on the relationship between incompleteness and complexity, randomness, and infinity.

Godel's Theorem - An Incomplete Guide to Its Use and Abuse may be too much too soon. A reader new to Godel's work might consider starting with Godel's Proof (by Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman) or Incompleteness - The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel (by Rebecca Goldstein).


The Dragon's Teeth  and Calamity Town
The Dragon's Teeth and Calamity Town
by Ellery Queen
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
27 used & new from $0.02

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Little Romance, a Reclusive Millionaire, and Murder, August 8, 2006
The Dragon's Teeth (1939) dates from a transition period, roughly 1936 thru 1939, in which a romantic element often intrudes upon the murder plot itself. Another common feature of Ellery Queen mysteries of this period is a fascination with millionaires (perhaps due in part to the lingering economic depression).

In this story, The Dragon's Teeth, Ellery's partner in his detective agency (that's right, Ellery has gone commercial) has an on-off romance with a murder suspect. The murder victim is a Howard Hughes-like millionaire that has remained in hiding for nearly twenty years at sea on his yacht.

Calamity Town (1942) is the first of four mysteries that take place in Wrightsville. The setting is in upstate New York, although the exact location of Wrightsville remains unclear.

Ellery Queen, hoping for anonymity and some quiet time for writing, has rented a house in Wrightsville under the name Ellery Smith. The town appears ideal - attractive homes, friendly people, and little crime. The writer Ellery Smith is quickly embraced by the community, especially by the founding family of Wrightsville. All is tranquil, that is, until a series of arsenic poisonings earns Wrightsville the name Calamity Town.

Calamity Town falls chronologically in the middle phase of the Ellery Queen canon and differs considerably from his earlier mysteries. Several chapters are devoted to an extended courtroom scene that, I believe, is unique to this EQ story. Ellery himself even takes the stand.

Ellery's somewhat one-dimensional character is now more fully developed, more complex, more realistic. Unexpectedly, Ellery even becomes romantically involved with an attractive, quick witted, and independent young woman.

This atypical Ellery Queen mystery makes good reading. Calamity Town has often been reprinted and should not be difficult to locate. Likewise, The Dragon's Teeth can be found in various paperback editions. I have an older, somewhat yellowed, 1971 reprint by Signet Book from New American Library. I also have a May, 1980 paperback, a Signet Double Mystery containing both The Dragon's Teeth (1939) and Calamity Town (1942).


Maigret and the Man on the Bench (Maigret Mystery Series)
Maigret and the Man on the Bench (Maigret Mystery Series)
by Georges Simenon
Edition: Paperback
32 used & new from $0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Tale with Continual Surprises, August 6, 2006
Simenon is said to have described his stories as sketches, somewhat like preliminary drawings by an artist. This is not to say that the Maigret mysteries are unfinished, but that they perhaps lack decorative elements. However, this particular story - Maigret and the Man on the Bench - has a noticeably abrupt ending that does suggest a somewhat hurried conclusion. Nonetheless, Maigret and the Man on the Bench offers continual surprises and will appeal to Maigret's fans.

Maigret and the Man on the Bench reminds me of an early Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Man with the Twisted Lip, a tale of an apparently successful businessman, Mr. Neville St. Clair, that secretly poses as a beggar as he is in actuality unemployed. Similarly, Maigret's latest case involves a murder victim that is recognized as a man that was often seen sitting for hours on a public bench. His family proves unaware that he had lost his job a year earlier. What has been the source of his substantial income?

Maigret slowly peels back each layer of this puzzle, revealing a double life, duplicity, blackmail, theft, and murder. The sudden twist in the final section is disconcerting, even though such events do occur in actual investigations. Perhaps Simenon assumed that the astute reader would have considered this possibility (or something similar) as all other leads had proved untenable.

Maigret and the Man on the Bench was published in France in 1953, but was not available in English until 1975.


The Crooked Hinge
The Crooked Hinge
by John Dickson Carr
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
30 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr. Gideon Fell encounters a potentially fraudulent baronet, an eighteenth century automaton, and an impossible murder, August 5, 2006
John Dickson Carr's popular mystery, The Crooked Hinge (1938), is often found on lists of the greatest classics of detective fiction. Nonetheless, the solution is bizarre, Byzantine, and implausible to the extreme - and thus a rather typical Carr explanation to an impossible murder. The Crooked Hinge is the eighth novel featuring Carr's popular investigator, the corpulent lexicographer, Dr. Gideon Fell.

The setting is the manor Farnleigh Close near Mallingford village in Kent. The year is 1937 or 1938. The baronet, Sir John Farnleigh, is accused of being an impostor, a masquerader, and a fraud. The challenger claims that he himself is the actual Sir John Farnleigh, and that the fraudulent Farnleigh had left him as a young boy for dead years ago on the Titanic. A contentious evening ends unexpectedly in death. Was it suicide or murder? And is the true Sir John Farnleigh now alive or dead?

John Farleigh is found face down in a shallow pool with his throat slashed. Independent witnesses claim that no one was near him. No weapon was found. Complicating matters, a thumbograph, an early fingerprint record that would have identified the true Sir John Farleigh, was stolen during the confusion.

As the investigation proceeds, supernatural elements intrude, that is, rumors of a local witches coven as well the appearance of a repulsive, hag-like, mechanical contraption - an eighteen century automaton - that had been locked away in an attic for many years. In keeping with the rules of a Golden Age mystery, Carr's solutions do not rely on supernatural events, but he does enjoy creating a suspenseful atmosphere that clearly hints at the supernatural.

The Crooked Hinge was reissued in 1976 in hardback (ISBN 0891630260) by The Mystery Library, a publication of the University of California, San Diego Press. The introduction and end notes by Robert Briney are interesting, but what makes this edition valuable is its extensive checklist of the numerous novels and short stories by John Dickson Carr (as well as those published under his byline, Carter Dickson).

I always have difficulty ranking John Dickson Carr's mysteries. I thoroughly enjoy the stories, but the solutions are often so convoluted as to be implausible. And yet, I always come back for more. The Crooked Hinge is among Carr's best, along with The Burning Court and The Three Coffins (also titled The Hollow Man).


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