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Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate, and the Throne
Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate, and the Throne
by Christopher Andersen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.66
113 used & new from $3.14

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A family of emotionally stunted individuals under the microscope, June 13, 2016
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For decades the royal family provided a steady stream of titillating scandal, but things have been quiet lately. What is an author to do, when he specializes in writing about the royals?

The answer is this book, which covers the broad sweep of history from Elizabeth’s ascension in 1952 up to the present (2016). The tired old stories are rehashed once again – the loves of Princess Margaret, the saga of Charles and Diana, Camilla’s search for acceptance, Kate’s elaborate maneuvers to lasso William – it’s all here yet again.

There are some new morsels, such as the inside information that Elizabeth will abdicate after her 90th birthday or when Phillip dies. Everyone recognizes how unpopular Charles will be as king, and that the only hope of preserving the monarchy is to ensure William becomes king before he enters his elderly years. But in a family where nearly everyone lives into their 90s, there is no way for a young person to become king.

The book’s strength is that it conveys the flavor and atmosphere of life in the royal family so vividly. It’s not a pretty picture; everyone seems to be emotionally stunted and dysfunctional. Except for Elizabeth herself, everyone is promiscuous. We’re told that Charles has had over 2,000 sexual partners, some below the age of consent, and doesn’t use condoms. Anyone who marries a royal has to accept the reality that your spouse will sleep around; it’s just the way it is. (Obviously, Diana didn’t get the memo.)

More disturbing is the information that the Queen and Charles regularly interfere in policy making and the legislative process. The notion that the Queen never exercises political power is simply false. At least the Queen doesn’t leave a paper trail, whereas Charles writes hundreds of letters to government leaders each year to push his various pet peeves. The reader is left wondering what possible justification there can be for this costly, dysfunctional, eccentric family. When Charles becomes king, the questions will be even louder.


Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis's Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican
Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis's Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican
by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.04
101 used & new from $2.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Vatican office politics is a bloodsport, January 9, 2016
Nuzzi’s exposé is one of many books about life inside the Vatican, but it’s the first to document office politics under Pope Francis. The emphasis here is on financial scandal. Francis has appointed a task force of financial experts to bring proper auditing controls to the Vatican, but priest-bureaucrats stymie his attempted reforms at every step. At one point, the pope’s task force discovers their offices and residences have been bugged. The inner politics of the Vatican is more of a bloodsport than outsiders would guess.

This is not exactly riveting reading, and it’s difficult to keep the characters and names of agencies straight. On the other hand, the author has access to secret documents and recording of meetings, at times publishing exact transcripts of key conversations.

Some of the bad behavior is fairly benign, such as officials getting luxury apartments for token rents, or the practice of buying cigarettes at the Vatican commissary and reselling them. More important is the fact that ordinary accounting controls are simply absent.

The Vatican’s failure to take the child sex-abuse problem seriously is documented here, a point that other Vatican writers have also commented upon. Some Vatican officials who like young boys put their procurers (party-goers who know where to find willing boys) on the payroll in cushy jobs at inflated salaries (p. 198). Faithful Catholics who contribute to the Vatican budget through “Peter’s Pence” would be horrified to see where their money goes.


A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom
A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom
by Felix Abt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.60
59 used & new from $5.81

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a propaganda piece for the Kim regime, July 12, 2015
While other writers portray North Korea as the ultimate hellhole dominated by famine and death camps, Abt's description is so upbeat that it's hard to believe he's talking about the same place. As a Swiss businessman who lived in North Korea for seven years, one would think Abt would know what he's talking about, but he has lost all objectivity -- perhaps because he has so many investments at stake.

In Abt's worldview, the problems of North Korea are either myths, exaggerations, or can be blamed on economic sanctions. At times, the book reads like propaganda for the Kim dynasty.

Despite these faults, the book is highly readable as Abt describes in detail what it's like to be a western capitalist in Pyongyang. He describes the day-to-day hassles of operating a pharmaceutical factory and chain of pharmacies. He explains that market reforms are already happening as government administrators look for ways to earn more profit for their agencies (and for themselves) by scouting out entrepreneurial opportunities. Through countless anecdotes, Abt portrays the North Koreans as ordinary people who work hard and enjoy life, including the occasional luxury such as fashionable clothes or British cigarettes -- not as cowering slaves of an evil regime.

Is this the same Pyongyang where, according to Jang Jin-sung's "Dear Leader," a starving mother sold her small daughter on the street for the equivalent of ten cents? To some extent, Abt's rosy outlook is understandable because he arrived after the famine of the 1990s. Nonetheless, in the interest of balance, it would be ideal to read Abt's book alongside Jang's book or another refugee account.


Dorman 13601 Key Fob Repair
Dorman 13601 Key Fob Repair
Price: $5.62
30 used & new from $3.85

1.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't fit at all, May 26, 2015
For the life of me, I cannot get this on at all, even though my key fob is identical to the fob on the package's label (2002 Ford). It is simply too small, no matter how I try to stretch it. A waste of money.


The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church by Thavis, John [2013]
The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church by Thavis, John [2013]
44 used & new from $3.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A critique of the Vatican's dysfunctions under Benedict, January 11, 2015
This highly readable book gives extraordinary insight into the inner workings of the Vatican under Benedict. Thavis's coverage ranges from the silly to the profound; we meet the man who translates the ATM instructions of the Vatican bank into Latin, and in another chapter Thavis delves into Benedict's attitude toward Islam.

Benedict comes across as a pope whose administrative abilities were nonexistent. On the pressing issues of the era -- sex abuse, Islam, gays in seminaries, condom use, financial corruption, the Legionnaires controversy -- the author portrays the Vatican as an airplane with no one in the cockpit. Benedict had a pattern of making shocking, off-the-cuff statements, as when he said lawmakers who vote for abortion rights should be excommunicated, and then leaving it to his staffers to engage in damage control.

Important decisions were bogged down in a web of petty bickering and back-stabbing. Time and again, minor functionaries hijacked important controversies by making pronouncements on their own authority, while Benedict remained passive and uninvolved.

The original (2013) edition is limited to the reign of Benedict. The revised 2014 edition is updated to include the election of Pope Francis.


Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son
Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son
by Penny Junor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.61
68 used & new from $0.01

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Prince Harry presented as all that is good and noble, September 26, 2014
This is essentially an authorized biography of Prince Harry. The author thanks the prince for authorizing staff to talk to her, and the end result is a hagiography that presents Harry as a wonderful man while explaining away the lechery, drunkenness, and drugs as normal teenage hijinks.

Diana is the villain of this book. Without actually using the phrase "bad mother," Junor paints Diana as a bad mother, as well as being manipulative, vicious, and unbalanced. In Junor's view, Charles and the children were the victims.

The book is an over-the-top homage to the royal family, allowing British taxpayers to rationalize why they must subsidize this anachronism from medieval times. Yet even Junor occasionally takes off her rose-colored glasses to take a swipe at Harry. She points out that if the hard-core partying continues much longer, Harry's image will shift from being a lovable ruffian to that of a seedy, middle-aged lech.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 30, 2015 1:07 PM PDT


Hotel monthly (Volume 2)
Hotel monthly (Volume 2)
by Anonymous
Edition: Paperback
Price: $32.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Description is incorrect -- wong volume number, June 9, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The description is incorrect. I ordered this, and instead of receiving Volume 2, I received Volume 24 (1916) or a later volume. (I can't be more specific because I ordered three similar items at the same time.)


Hotel monthly (Volume 7)
Hotel monthly (Volume 7)
by Anonymous
Edition: Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars Description is incorrect -- wrong volume number, June 9, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The description is incorrect. I ordered this, and instead of receiving Volume 7, I received Volume 24 (1916) or a later volume. (I can't be more specific because I ordered three similar items at the same time.)


Hotel monthly (Volume 3)
Hotel monthly (Volume 3)
by Anonymous
Edition: Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars Description is incorrect -- wrong volume number, June 9, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The description is incorrect. I ordered this, and instead of receiving Volume 3, I received Volume 24 (1916) or a later volume. (I can't be more specific because I ordered three similar items at the same time.)


Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
by Barbara Demick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.56
116 used & new from $2.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heart-rending work about North Korea and its famine, July 27, 2010
This heart-rending work of nonfiction traces six North Koreans through their life stories, culminating in each case with immigration to South Korea. One would think this is a happy ending, but the defectors often regret leaving North Korea, even if they were escaping death by starvation.

The book consists of awful first-person accounts of the famine of the 1990s in the North. People would pick through animal droppings looking for grains of corn; one kindergarten teacher watched as her class dwindled from 50 to 15 as the students, one by one, starved to death.

As the author points out, someone who would emigrate from North Korea is a malcontent by nature. When they make it to the South, each following a suspenseful trip that belongs in a thriller, the problems of adjustment to society are even greater than they were in the North. One wonders what will happen when(if?) reunification occurs and millions of northerners migrate south in search of food; this book suggests the omens are not favourable.

Contributing to these individuals' maladjustment is the knowledge that their remaining family members are condemned to the death camps by the North Korean government, following the belief that an entire family bears responsibility for the guilt of any of its members. As one North-to-South immigrant puts it, My sisters died so I could drive a Hyundai. Try enjoying the affluence of the South with that thought gnawing at your conscience.

If you're interested in North Korea, buy it. You won't be able to put it down.


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