Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer


Rating: WORTHY!

I haven't read anything by Germaine Greer since I read The Female Eunuch a long time ago, which I thought was interesting, educational, and insightful, but not anything spectacular. This book was along those lines, too. I have taken to avoiding books which have a title which makes a woman an appendage of a man in the title. By this I mean books of the form, "The ________'s Daughter or 'The ________'s Wife, because they're abusive to women. Women deserve better than to be an afterthought!

So why read this one? Well, apart from the fact that I found it to be engaging, well-researched and entertaining (and filling me with ideas!), and while the author had a choice in the title and I would expect a woman with Germaine Greer's credentials to do better than to name it this way, I have to wonder if she deliberately rendered the title in this form because it realistically portrays the reality of the situation disturbingly well.

The sad fact is that the content is forced to relate to Agnes Hathaway in the same way that the title does - as an appendage of someone else rather than a person in her own right precisely because there is so very little history available about the older woman who married Shakespeare and then was practically abandoned for twenty years. Had she not been married to Shakespeare, and had he not become famous, she would probably have been lost to history altogether.

The book is really detailed! Sometimes it's too detailed for me. Yes, it's a welcome addition to see something of what life was really like back then for your average citizen, but on the other hand, we don't need so many details about so many things, with Greer going off on long tangents into displays of how well the author researched the book, rather than displays of what we know or can reasonably deduce about the woman who is central to it. Fortunately this is quite well-balanced by Greer's take on the story as we've all-too-typically had it fed to us: that history is made by men and the little women must of necessity be confined to the sidelines. Well, I call bull's-pizzle on that one!

Greer deftly redirects us, at every reasonable opportunity, to reconsider the standard story and ask: could it possibly have been this way rather than that way (where 'that way' typically demeans and/or impugns Agnes (pronounced Annis, and shortened to Anne)? She very often, but not always makes a strong case for her view. One problem is that Agnes all-too-often is lost under the rain of research details with which Greer pads this book. Less of that and more of the realistic look at what is known and what are reasonable assumptions based on what's known would be welcome, but then we're simply back to how little is known. I think Greer does a sterling job with what's available, but she need not have padded it just because it's available, especially if it had little bearing on what Agnes may or may not have done, thought, or felt.

This is why her story, as opposed to history, is an important one, because the idea that Shakespeare is this lone genius who is isolated from, and above his world - as he is in most of his worshiper's minds - is nonsensical. All of his ideas and inspirations came from somewhere (often from someone else's work that he'd read and appropriated!). He was not living in a bubble, and part of his world was his roots, and his kids, but a huge portion of it was his loyal wife, expertly holding down the fort while he was off playing in London.

Tammy Wynette's song, Stand by Your Man could have been written about this couple, and you cannot isolate him from her (Agnes, not Tammy!), no matter how much it superficially looks like he chose to do so himself. Unlike Shakespeare's plays, this is actually a true story that's worth thinking about, and this book is worth reading.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Handbook of LGBT Tourism & Hospitality by Jeff Guaracino, Ed Salvato


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is the second non-fiction book tied to the LGBTQIA community that I shall review today and it gets a 'worthy', too, despite problems I had again with the formatting of the ebook. Clearly this is intended as a print book, with the e=-version getting short shrift, in that it looks like ti was pretty tossed together to get it out before reviewers, but just as this book advises those who wish to take advantage of the spending power and willingness to travel of a particular community to prepare well and know your market, I'd advise publishers to send out better review copies if they don't want to irritate reviewers and get lower grades!

That said this is an important book, and formatting problems aside, it offers a detailed and thoughtful approach to how businesses can position themselves to take advantage of the current boom (which I dearly hope continues) in how the LGBTQIA community is looked upon by the rest of us, and I thought it deserved to have the shortcomings of the e-version overlooked in the hope that if this ever does get released as an ebook, it will look a lot better than the sorry copy I got to review! The rainbow community deserves better, too!

It may sound a little mercenary to talk about a community of people who have had enough crap to deal with already, as a marketing opportunity or as a rising segment of disposable income, but that's what this book is about, and businesses wouldn't be in business long if they didn't make money, so what are they going to do? Ignore this community? They're morons if they do. Meanwhile the smart ones are going to be looking for ways to work with an in this community and this is where this book shines. The authors have done their homework and talked to the people who know.

I list below a more detailed contents than you might find elsewhere (and frankly, I deserve a medal for managing to extract this from Kindle's crappy app!):
THE FOUNDATIONS OF LGBT TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY
Your “elevator pitch”: The importance of developing a segment-specific program for LGBT tourism
Sizing the LGBT segment: Buying power
The importance of the LGBT segment in the travel industry
Tips before launching your LGBT marketing campaign
Success in the LGBT travel market: Top ten tips from Jeff and Ed

BUSINESS ESSENTIALS: UNDERSTANDING THE LGBT TRAVEL MARKET
Understanding key segments and focusing your resources
Lesbian travel: Women first, then lesbians
Bisexual travel: Identifying an elusive population
Putting the T in LGBT travel: Introducing the trans traveler
LGBT family travel trends
The top ten trends in LGBT travel
Training, staff, business policies, and employee resource groups

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES
LGBT tourism and hospitality businesses
LGBT events, festivals, and sporting events: An overview
LGBT sports to drive revenue and visitation
Pride festivals
Tailoring your mainstream product with an LGBT twist
Welcome signs and symbols
The cruise industry
LGBT tour operators
Gays and the motor coach
Airlines: Putting more butts in seats
Hotels and lodging
Meetings, conventions, and business groups
Milestone celebration travel: Weddings, honeymoons, and other celebrations
Navigating controversies and turning them to your advantage

MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS
Setting your marketing goals, budget, and staff
Getting your advertising history straight
Strategies for building an effective marketing campaign
The changing media landscape: The rise, fall, and rise of LGBT publications
Great content in context is your foundation
Communications, public relations, and media relations
Smart press trips
LGBT print advertising and gay-inclusive creative
Online and digital marketing
Marketing through mobile phone apps
Ten tips to keep your LGBT campaign and your destination competitive
The ten classic principles of successful LGBT marketing

THE GLOBAL VIEW: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Asia: The most gay-friendly destinations
Argentina: Five tips for your LGBT business
Brazil: A strong LGBT tourism market
Canada: New ways of marketing using content in context
China: A market opportunity
Colombia: Five tips from an emerging destination
Europe: Tips on the lesbian market
India: Cultural, religious, and societal challenges
Israel: Marketing LGBT tours in Tel Aviv
Japan: Welcoming international LGBT guests to a conservative country
Mexico: A gay-friendly but macho country
United Kingdom: Reaching LGBT travelers is always a challenge
The United States: Beyond New York and San Francisco

TRENDS AND INDUSTRY RESOURCES
Market research: Companies, data, surveys, and reports
Associations and conventions
Advocacy organizations
Conferences and expositions
Further reading
Annotated bibliography
Discussion question
Notes
Index

I'll mention a few of the problems with formatting I encountered which will hopefully be cleared up before any ebook is released. need to mention. There were items like this: "For exam2A ple, an LGBT traveler in the United States," where some sort of numerical marker had become embedded in the text. This was quite common.

There's a table, Table 2.2, featuring "Terms Used by Trans People to Describe Themselves" which is so screwed up that it's completely unintelligible. The phrase, "3d 3D PRIDE FESTIVALS" was not only repetitive, it was in three different font shades/colors!"

But as I said, I am not rating it on the crappy Kindle app(earance). I'm not a fan of Kindle (or Amazon!), so ignoring that, I rate this a worthy read and a valuable asset to anyone who wants to attract LGBTQIA business, because take it from me, we're never going to be over the rainbow!


LGBTQ-Inclusive Hospice Palliative Care by Kimberly D Acquaviva


Rating: WORTHY!

This review is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This amazingly-named author is a tenured associate professor at the George Washington University School of Nursing, and evidently knows her stuff. I'm not a health-care professional, but I have worked closely with nurses in two different hospital environments, so I was familiar with the kinds of things she discusses here, and the importance of getting them right. She's also a doctor - of the PhD variety (in Human Sexuality Education) rather than the MD variety - and has a master's in Social Work and a BA in sociology (all from UPenn). She's also been a Fulbright scholar, so clearly she's on top of her game when it comes to the material she goes into here, and she pretty much covers the gamut of required learning when it comes to the treatment (in the broadest sense) of people from the LGBTQIA community.

The chapters cover these topics:
Self-Awareness and Communication
Sex, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Behavior, and Health
Understanding Attitudes and Access to Care
The History and Physical Examination
Shared Decision Making and Family Dynamics
Care Planning and Coordination
Ethical and Legal issues
Patient and Family Education and Advocacy
Psychosocial and Spiritual issues
Ensuring Institutional Inclusiveness
But what was really impressive was how often the author steps outside the box to point out areas you might never even have considered might be relevant or important. She's definitely given this topic some considerable thought, and I doubt there are many questions you could come up with which aren't at least touched on here.

The book is written for academics, but it's very accessible and straight-forward throughout. It contains a glossary, references, and an index. Overall I recommend it. If I had a reservation about any of this, it was that, as usual, this type of book seems to have been written solely with a print version in mind, and the e-version coming in a poor second, so while I am sure the presentation and formatting of the print version is excellent, the e-version which I got left a lot to be desired! I am hoping, as I write this, that the advance review copy I had was a quick and dirty conversion for reviewers, and that if there is to be a ebook, it will be a lot better than this, because frankly the e-version was awful!

The errors and poor formatting of the e-version made for a really irritating read. You may call me a prima donna if you wish, since I don't care what you think of me, but my expectations are low when it comes to the quality of e-versions of ARCs. Even so, there really is no excuse for a sloppy review copy like this. Reviewers aside, it's an insult to the LGBTQIA community, and any reviewer would be perfectly justified in failing a book in this condition. I know Amazon offers a truly crappy Kindle app, but even it can do better than this would lead you to believe!

I'm not a professional reviewer despite the shields with which Net Galley has honored me, and I realize that we amateurs can't expect to be treated like professional reviewers and get a pristine copy, much less a print copy, but we do deserve a certain minimum level of respect, especially if we're expected to enjoy a book and be persuaded to feel inclined to review it favorably! personally, I ditched Smashwords as a publishing platform because they're insanely anal and too-often inconsistent for my taste, but I have to agree in principle with their approach to pristine ebooks, because it does matter!

However, for me what's most important is the overall book - not the cover, the gloss, the blurb, or the hype, but the interior, and what it says (or what the author clearly intended it to convey in the version they worked on!). What saved this book for me was that it's far too important to fly off the handle over poor formatting in review copy, so while I recommend it, I am going to point out examples of the main flaws I saw here for the record in the hopes that they will be fixed before any e-version is published.

Tables are not represented well in this version. Some of them appear right in the middle of the text with no separation, such as table 1.1 in the self-disclosure section. The result of this is that the table appears as though it's a part of the text, causing some sentences to end right in the middle, and then resume later, such as "...wife, though her eyes were dry..." in Chapter I step 5. There was a really bad example at location 593: "If you notice the patient appearing agitated or impatient each time a family My dad moved in with me over the Christmas holiday in 2012." 'Family' was completed three paragraphs later with 'member'. The 'My dad' portion was evidently an insert for a side bar or something like that.

There were also other oddball mixtures, such as Location 679 where there was a book reference and copyright notice to this book and author right in the middle of the text with what looked like a page number (38), but it's hard to tell what that was since there are no easily discernible page numbers in this e-version of the book. I don't read introductions (or prologues, prefaces, etc). I think they're antiquated, but as I was swiping past the intro to get to chapter one, I noticed that the lower case Roman numerals for the page numbers were in the middle of the screen rather than at the top or bottom. Some text was randomly in red "ink" such as " What are your goals related to the treatment and prevention of adverse effects of treatment?"

So, while I was disappointed that the presentation was not better, I was delighted with this book, which from my non-professional, but not uninformed PoV, looks to be an invaluable addition to resources any health care professional can call upon to enable them to do a better, more empathetic, and more caring job. The rainbow can only get brighter.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Rogues' Gallery by Philip Hook


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

It was also a fascinating study of art dealership over the centuries (yes, centuries!), focusing on some of the main characters of the last two or three hundred years, and their modi operandi. It's also, in parallel, a study of greed, avarice and capitalism at its worst. I found it engrossing, and was pleased to see that one of my pet peeves about scholarly works like this: that they have margins far too wide, and text lines far too widely-spaced, and are thereby abusive to trees, circumvented in this case, because the margins were not ridiculously wide and the text was quite finely spaced, so you see? It can be done! Kudos to the author and publisher for achieving this.

Of course, none of that matters if the book is only to be released as an ebook, but usually these works are not, so this is important. In fact, one of only two complaints I might make is that this book it did not work as an ebook because it was in PDF format which is not ebook-friendly unless you read it on a reasonably large tablet or on a laptop or desktop computer.

On a smart phone, the text is far too small to read comfortably, and if you try to "stretch" the screen to enlarge it, it takes forever to get the fit right, and then you can't swipe to the next screen without reducing the text again! It was a real irritation. Another issue was that the PDF format did not lend itself to reading in "night mode" wherein the screen colors are inverted so the text is white and the page is black.

This is actually my preferred mode to read, and it's a great way to save energy (by reducing battery use so recharges are required less frequently), but it doesn't work with this because what happens is that the screen colors are quite literally inverted - not just the text, but also the images, so instead of looking at gray-scale photographs of people or art works, you're looking at photographic negatives. I think publishers have a long way to go before they can say they're in the ebook book business - and have that claim sound intelligent!

The other complaint I originally had was circumvented in one away but exacerbated in another! It was initially to be that the biggest problem with the book was that, for a work which talks about paintings, it was curiously lacking in pictures of them! In fact there are pictures, and in color, but they are set together in the middle of the book rather than appearing close to the text that references them. Again this is because the book as designed as a print book, not as an ebook.

There are also pictures of some of the characters brought to life here, but these are in gray-scale imagery. When I also saw a couple of pictures in that format too, I had feared this was all I would get, and not even at their best because of the lack of color, but I need not have worried because between pages 160 and 177 there is satisfaction to be had. It only served to leave me wanting more though.

If there is to be an ebook version of this, then it would have been a real joy to have had links directly in the text to an online source for color images of the paintings which are discussed. This would be a perfect use of an ebook, especially since I am also greedy when it comes to wanting to see everything that's talked about. Again this leads me to believe this was produced solely with thought to the print market and not to the electronic market, which begs the question as to why the review copy is being distributed in electronic from? It made little sense to me and did no justice to either the print version or to the e-version if there ever is to be one. But I have to blame the publisher, rather than the writer, for this! it did make me decide not to request any books of this nature for review in future. I don't think it's possible to adequately review a book designed for print by means of an electronic version of it when it contains art work as this one does.

But let's look at the writing because to me, that's typically far more important than anything else. This book focuses on the last four or five hundred years, becoming more detailed as we get into the twentieth century, but it reaches even as far back as ancient Grecian times, so it is very wide-ranging.

Art dealing is nothing new, but those dealers from yesteryear can scarcely have imagined the kinds of sums that modern art dealers routinely deal in, not when a dealer sells a picture in the USA and immediately claims $300 is the highest price that will ever be paid for a painting in America! LOL! Even in Victorian times, there were large sums of money exchanging hands in one direction as paintings moved in the other. Some of these characters, such as Joe Duveen, were both notorious and well-liked, others were merely notorious. For at least one character, his love of his partner's wife evidently exceeded his love of art, and this queered his pitch in a serious way in time.

Another dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, who almost single-handedly brought Impressionist works into the spotlight when no one else gave them the time of day was an intriguing guy. The names of the people he personally knew are impressive: Degas, Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Renoir, and so on. It's pretty odd to think someone knew all of those guys and such a relationship would be a lot harder to have today, when artists names are not so legendary as those past masters.

There are controversial issues discussed here, too, such as how maligned should be those art dealers who dealt with the Nazis? On the one hand, they rescued paintings that would probably have been destroyed, since the Nazis considered them deviant. On the other hand, those who rescued the paintings by buying them from the Nazi art dealers (and others), were helping to fund that evil cult even as they preserved the paintings. Were they good or bad or were they, like the pictures of the people featured in this book - in a gray area?!

The author makes some fascinating observations and interesting points, and he's not afraid to ask awkward questions about dealers or about dealing in general. Does it really make it better to say that pictures are sources and placed rather bought or sold, for example?! It may rob the transaction of its 'filthy lucre' connotations, but does it really sanitize those transactions?

I should probably say before I close out this review, that I'm not widely knowledgeable about art, nor do I consider myself even remotely an expert on the topic. I'm not an artist either, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a book like this or learn something from it.

So while I can very much enjoy works of art, I can also see both sides of this world - the appreciative side, and the cynical side. What I think is that art is a very personal thing, and its most personal for all of course, for to the artist. Anyone beyond that artist who talks about art is doing it purely from their own perspective, not from any objective and authoritative position. Anyone who wants a laugh at the expense of art critics (not the same as dealers per se, but definitely in a parallel line of "business", they should look up Pierre Brassau in wikipedia.

On a related note, When we have a director of a state museum of art, Katja Schneider, mistaking a painting done by a chimpanzee, for a work by the artist Ernst Nay, it serves only to highlight how very personal a world this is, and sometimes i honestly have to wonder if any of these people really have a clue what they're talking about!

That Impressionism, which is today renowned, had to be kick-started against opposition for example, poses questions about what is art, who determines this, how the quality of one picture over another is to be honestly and fairly judged, and how some works get to become all but priceless, whereas others which to someone like me, seem every much the same, cannot even command a price. This book helped with some of those questions (it comes down to trust as often as it does dissimulation it would seem!), but it also raised others, and that's fine with me; ideal in fact!

Overall, I do recommend this for anyone interested in art and art history. It makes for an engrossing insight into the past, and into the world of the dealer, As well as into artists and dealers themselves, and the shifting, often contentious, yet at other times endearing and heartwarming relationship between them, and into people struggling to make a living, and those with more money than sense!


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How to Read Nature: An Expert's Guide to Discovering the Outdoors You've Never Noticed by Tristan Gooley


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was written by a guy who seems quite dedicated to the outdoors and this book is supposed to communicate his love to the rest of us, but I had a hard time with it.

The author is very widely-traveled, I understand, and he seems to know what he's talking about, but for me this book failed to connect or to inspire, and I think it was because he didn’t approach it the right away. It felt to me like a slapdash approach, with scattered thoughts being tossed in almost at random, like the author was merely dabbling here and there without really coming to grips with things. I think he could have done a better job at bringing newbies into his world. He has other books out there along similar lines, and I found myself wondering if this might be a shorter distillation of one of the earlier works.

I kept asking myself who is this book aimed at? To whom is it supposed to appeal? The obvious answer is 'anyone who is interested in nature', which is why it interested me, but the problem is that it’s too invested in 'wild nature' - being out in the countryside - for it to be relevant to city dwellers. Now it’s true that many city dwellers do like to get out into nature, but it’s not so common for those people to be able to devote the time and frequency to getting out into the countryside that it would require for this book to be of any real and enduring value. I kept thinking that a 'Nature for City Dwellers' book might have been of more utility in this case.

For those who reside in, or spend a lot of time in the country, a lot of what's in here will be preaching to the choir, since they already know many of these things. I acknowledge that there's nearly always something to be learned, but it felt like it would be of limited value to them, too.

Is there a segment of the population in between those two extremes which might benefit? I'm sure there is, but how large it is, is an open question. Additionally, the book is very British in its own nature. It’s not that it doesn’t mention other countries and other cultures, and other wildlife, but it’s essentially British at its core, which may limit its appeal.

There is a group of people like me, who are not blind to nature and always willing to learn more. I live on the edge of a city and take care of my own yard, so there is a connection I have that perhaps too many others do not. I don't notice the detailed things he does, because I don't have that kind of time to spend on this, but I do notice things both in the yard, and at times when I do get a chance to be out in the semi-wilds, and to me they're interesting.

On hikes and rambles in the past, I've pointed things out to my kids, but their interest in those things waned as they grew to have other focuses. Maybe that's a failing of mine, but I remain unconvinced that this book, which tries to do the same thing, is a going to draw in very many people who do not already lead, or seek to lead or in some way emulate the same kind of outdoors life to which the author has access. Most people do not have that option very readily available to them.

Yes, these things are interesting, but they’re not critical to most people's everyday life and a lot of the things he talks about are irrelevant or unattainable to most city dwellers. So this begs the question as to why a better connection was not made to the advantages this knowledge would bring, or to the utility it would have or your average person about town (and I mean that quite literally).

A connection with nature is always better - better for the planet if nothing else. If people are made more aware of how critical Earth's health is to us and how delicate aspects of it are, through people being led to feel closer ties to nature, Earth is likely to be better protected, but there are other virtues, mind-expanding ones which, while touched upon here from time to time, felt somewhat glossed over. Which brings me to the photographs included in the book. They are all monochrome, which really divorces them from nature, in its glorious technicolor, so for me they didn’t add anything. More on this anon.

The biggest problem for me though was the apparent random nature of the book. The chapters I thought ought to have been the lead-in: nature's clocks and calendars, all appeared in the second half of the book. This made no sense to me. Starting with the big picture and carefully moving to an ever detailed smaller one would have been the best approach.

To me it would have made more sense to organize the whole book in that way: following the year, and looking at how nature changes during it, with little detours into the other topics he covers as appropriate; in this way, people could jump into the book at whatever season they're in when they get their hands on it, and follow it all the way from there.

Some parts were slightly misleading. For instance, the tale of the Jarawa people who survived the St Stephen's tsunami in 2004 by moving to higher ground before it came. The book implies that they had - not quite, but almost - a sixth sense to read the clues and take action, but the fact is that their folklore told them if there was an earthquake, there often can be a giant wave on its heels. They were merely following word-of-mouth traditions of their people. It was not some magical connection with nature. They would still have moved even if a tsunami had not come, which would have been a waste of their time on that occasion, but still a smart move in the grand scheme of things wherein it’s better to be safe than sorry. Their survival is to be rejoiced and is worth learning of, but it's not worth making it seem like there was something just short of otherworldly going on.

In contrast, other parts of the book were oddly-lacking important details. For example in one section the author makes some observations about how to determine what kind of rock you're likely to find under a piece of land based on the flora that grows on that land. He says pines like acidic soil and beech trees like alkaline, but he doesn't say how to recognize a beech tree! Without that basic piece of knowledge, you’re prevented from anything else in that cascade. That seems like a sorry omission when it would have been just as easy to put it in there. Would a photograph, even a black and white one, of a beech tree have been appropriate here? I think so - or at least a drawing. Such photographs would have made a difference and not at all appeared all-but randomly chosen.

Obviously in these days of Internet searches, you can not only discover what a beech tree looks like, but also feed in a picture of an unknown tree and likely get a result telling you what tree it is, but if you only have the print book to hand, you’re rather stuck! This is part of what I meant when I said this book had a slap-dash feel to it, like a hastily-packed suitcase might be opened at your beach-front hotel to reveal no swim-suit or no sun tan oil! At least most-everyone knows what a beach looks like!

On a more serious note, I do agree that taking a greater interest in nature not only adds to our joy of life, but also helps us become aware of the more important things: that pollution and climate change are real and dangerous. I'm sorry there was essentially nothing about those critical topics in this book. It's a sad omission which brings me to an observation of my own. This book was formatted with very wide margins and a huge amount of white space, and with lines that were not single-spaced. It’s only a hundred-sixty pages but it could have been much shorter, probably a hundred pages or so.

This matters less in the e-version, except in that it still requires energy to transmit all those blank spaces across the Internet. In the print version, however, should this book go to a large print run, it’s an awful waste of trees. I would have thought that someone who boasts a close-connection with nature would have appreciated that and sought to ameliorate it, so this was another disappointment for me.

As was the search engine! At one point I was looking back to the beech tree and alkaline reference to verify I had not misunderstood. When I searched for 'beech', the app (Bluefire Reader) found it with no problem, but a search for 'acidic' crashed the book and brought me back to the screen which contained the list of books in my Bluefire library (which in this case was only this one book). That's not a problem with the writing or book layout, but it is a problem if people want to look up something and the search engine isn’t stable. Again this was an advance review copy, so maybe this problem, whatever it is, will be fixed in the published version. Maybe the problem is with Bluefire reader. I can't say. I can say it was annoying.

There's a practical issue to the book formatting, from a purely reading PoV, which is that the text was very small on the screen of my phone, which is more likely what you'd be carrying on a nature ramble, rather than the book or a large tablet computer. It’s possible to enlarge text on the screen, but then the page will not swipe to the next one (and sometimes it jumps back to the previous one while you're enlarging it, which is another annoyance!).

For each page, you have to enlarge the text to read comfortably, then you must reduce it to its original size in order to swipe to the next page, and finally, you must then enlarge that page to read it. It made for an irritating read. This is a problem with distributing books in PDF format. It’s not e-reader friendly unless you have a large screen. As I mentioned, though, this was an advance review copy, so maybe the actual published version will be in a more e-friendly format.

So in short, while I do believe books like this are of value and it’s important that people read them, I think this one could have done a much better job than it did and as such, I cannot recommend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Demagoguery and Democracy by Patricia Roberts-Miller


Rating: WORTHY!

Having battled a few young-Earth creationists in my time online, I can't say there was anything new in this book for me, but I still considered that it was worth the reading. It refreshed my mind, and reminded me of a few things that I might be getting rusty on. The saddest thing about it is that the people who most need to read this are the very ones who are least likely to want to read it, but I hope I'm wrong on that score, because everyone who is registered to vote needs to read this book, especially after the last few elections in the USA, and there is no excuse not to, since it's very concise, very clear, and pulls no punches.

From the blurb, we learn that a demagogue is someone who turns "complicated political situations into polarized identity politics," but as the author points out, it's more complicated and more nuanced than that, and it's all-too-often difficult to spot when the demagogue wool is being pulled over your eyes precisely because we're so used to it. In fact you could make a decent argument that American politics is composed entirely of demagoguery on both sides of the aisle these days. Those who bravely seek to do an end-run around it and stand as independents, are mauled to death by the sound-bites of the two front-runners. The media - which is supposed to be impartial and be wise to these tricks - simply plays along with them.

We can learn from this book what these shameless, grandstanding people say and do to gain and hold power, and what we can do to restore deliberative democracy, because that's the antidote to this poison. The first step is to recognize it, and the next step is to focus on the best way to deal with any given instances of it. This book will help you with both of these issues, because this author knows her stuff and displays it to advantage here. I recommend this book and I sincerely hope more people read it than I fear actually will!

I'm surprised the author didn't use references to creationism or climate change, because demagoguery is rife in the shallow dialog over those contentious issues, too, but if I had a complaint about the book, it's not about the content or the writer's style, but about the presentation, which is in what I call academic minimalism - and it's a style which is wasteful and may even turn-off some readers.

For an ebook, it really doesn't matter that much, but even there, a bulkier book requires more energy to transmit over the internet. From the point of view of a print run, a book like this is far harsher on trees than it ought to be. The pages have wide margins and widely spaced lines. Were the margins smaller and the lines closer, the book could have been probably a third smaller and saved a proportionate number of trees (and perhaps encourage more people to read it since it looks shorter!) I realize my voice is one of a paltry few crying in the wilderness, but at this rate that wilderness ain't gonna be with us much longer and all that will be left is the crying.

Other than that I recommend it unreservedly. Trish Roberts-Miller is a Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley, and teaches in the Liberal Arts department. Though UT is only a few miles from where I live, I don't know this author, but I do know never to get into an argument with her! I wish her all the best with this book.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Arriving at Ellis Island by Dale Anderson


Rating: WORTHY!

At a time when we have a president who seems dedicated to destroying all that the US stands for (apart from rampant capitalism, that is), I think it's important to remember the things it used to stand for: huddled masses yearning to be free, being an important one of them.

This children's book is part of a series titled 'Landmark Events in American History', and it discusses the history of Ellis island, the arrival point of many immigrants to the USA over the years. It was nice to read a book which covers all the bases and is written in an unflinching, yet child-friendly manner. This is an illustrated, but text-based book for older children, and there is a lot to be learned from it. It mentions American Indians (as the first immigrants) and African Americans (as involuntary immigrants during the shameful slavery era), and it does not hide from teaching about the abuses that immigrants underwent, and the struggle and fight they had to endure to finally get free and start a new life. I recommend this book.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Basher Basics: Punctuation by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher


Rating: WORTHY!

Part of a series which covers a wide variety of educational topics from science to writing to music and math, and so on, this small volume looks like a children's book on the outside, but it really isn't - not unless that child is writing intelligently. Once they're ready for a nudge to the next level, this book will get them there. And it wouldn't go amiss as a gift for older writers too - not a few of them published ones!

Again I'm unconvinced of the value of the illustrations by Basher, but younger children might like them. Each page covers a different aspect of punctuation, in some detail, but not too heavily. The text is larger so it makes for easy reading both in seeing it and in following it. I recommend this for anyone who is interested in better using language - which ought to be all of us.


Basher Basics: Creative Writing by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher


Rating: WORTHY!

This is part of a series I'd never seen before. It evidently started out with science books and now has also branched into writing. These look - from the cover - like young children's books, but fortunately my blog has nothing to do with covers, which are all glitz and slick packaging. Mine is about what's between the covers: writing, and if you look past the cover, you'll see why I like this book. These are not for the very young, but any child who has taken their first steps into creative writing can benefit - as can many adults, including not a few published authors!

This book is a how to of getting started, and of understanding all aspects of creating a story. Each topic fills only one page of fairly large text, so there's not a lot of heavy reading, but what is there cuts straight to the chase. Frankly, I am unconvinced of the value of Basher's illustrations, which tend to obfuscate as much as illuminate, but the writing itself is where the value is here. I recommend this but it will be useless without a companion volume which I also review today: Punctuation!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jane Austen's England by Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins


Rating: WORTHY!

Sometimes fortune favors the depraved, so today I have two books to blog which were pure joy to read. The first is this one, written not about Jane Austen's stories, but about her times - not her life, but the time in which she lived, and what life was like back then. It's reasonably-well documented because people were fond of writing letters and keeping journals, and some of Austen's own letters are quoted from here.

Austen was a contemporary (near enough) of Mary Shelley, although to my knowledge, the two never met. Austen was twenty-two and had completed Lady Susan when Shelly was born. She died by the time Shelley was twenty, the year before the latter published Frankenstein, so while Shelley had undoubtedly heard of Austen, the reverse was never the case. Austen as so prim and proper that the two of them probably would not have got along together even had they known each other! The Brontës were all of this era, but they were all born right around the time Austen died, so they never met either, which was probably just as well. By all accounts, Charlotte was no fan of Austen's.

There were other well-known writers alive in this era, too, such as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who published anonymously, Donatien Alphonse François, aka the Marquis de Sade, who died three years before Austen, and Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley's mother, who died as Shelley was born. There was also Sophia Briscoe, and in terms of better known writers, both Charles Dickens and Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot were born around the time Austen died - to within a few years. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known as George Sand, was around treize when Austen died.

Austen was not the only known and read female writer of that time; Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Ann Radcliffe all preceded her very slightly, and she knew of, and liked at least two of these. She disliked Radcliffe. The reason I mention all of these people is that this book surprisingly does not. Despite it being about Jane Austen's England, and despite it quoting many many writers of letters and journals, there are none other of what we might term "professional" writers, even mentioned! We get not a word on their lives or influence during this era. I found that very strange.

That glaring flaw aside, I enjoyed this book every much; it was well written, well-supported by contemporary account, well-referenced, and fascinating in many regards. It was very much another era back then, with different senses and sensibilities, much misplaced pride and prejudice, and a different outlook on life altogether, with death and disease looming at every stage. There was war, off an on, and many injured ex-soldiers had been left on the scrap-heap with little to their name despite their sacrifices. There was a huge gap between rich and poor, as there is now, and very little hope for - or love of - the latter.

This book devotes a chapter to each stage of life, exploring what it was like for rich and for poor, what customs and habits were, and how things fell together. There was an introduction, which I skipped as I do all antiquated prologues, prefaces, forewords and so on; then comes a chapter each devoted to marriage, "breeding", childhood, home, fashion, church, work, leisure, travel, crime, medicine, and death. Some of it is amusing, much disturbing, some very surprising. Nude weddings, for example, were not invented by Star Trek writers!

Aside from the missing writerly references, this is all-in-all a very comprehensive work, and a must-read for anyone who aspires to write a novel as Austen did. I recommend this as a worthy read, although I must confess curiosity as to why Roy gets precedence in the attribution over Lesley. The names are not alphabetical, so was this done because Roy did the most work? Because it was his idea? Or because even in 2013 when this book was published, even in a book dedicated to a woman and her times, the male still takes precedence as he did during Austen's lifetime, and the woman still takes his name?


Friday, February 17, 2017

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris, London Ladd


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by the curiously-named London Ladd, this memoir is aimed at children and was written by MLK's sister, who wasn't there at the Lincoln Memorial rally in Washington DC that day he made his dream speech, but who had traveled with him on many other trips.

That day, she was home taking care of their parents, but she watched the story on TV, and it's clear from her writing how proud she felt of her brother and how much she loved him. It's depressing to think how she must have felt that day he was shot. There is now a stone marker at the Lincoln memorial identifying the place from which he delivered the speech. It's tragic that two people, one white, one black, and who were so influential in freeing people from slavery should both have been murdered, and are now memorialized in different ways at the same location.

The author writes passionately and very descriptively, bringing the stories to life, and the memories powerfully to mind. I thought it sad that the text of the speech wasn't included here, though, but it's easily found online, at places such as The Martin Luther King, Jr Research and Education Institute, and it's also available on You Tube I recommend this book for young children, to teach them an important piece of history in a struggle that sadly is still forced to continue to this day.


Platypuses by Megan Borgert-Spaniol


Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know of anyone who doesn't love a platypus, although the critters can be dangerous. The have poison spikes on their back legs that can do you up a treat if they stick you with one, although if you have one raised from infancy, it seems that it's not inclined to spike you, because I've seen people on TV handle platypuses without harm.

This book is part of a big series (Blastoff! Readers: Animal Safari) on different animals, but this same author and judged from this one, it looks like this is a fun and educational series. despite being quite short, it's full of informative text (although not too much!) and a bunch of photos of cute-looking platypuses. I recommend it for any kid who is interested in learning about a specific animal. Whether you'd want to get the whole series is another issue! That would be some investment.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly


Rating: WARTY!

I found this best seller to be very disappointing. I listened to the audio-book version which lacked a little something in enthusiasm, but otherwise wasn't too bad of a listen in terms of the reader's voice. The problem was much more with the material, and it got me thinking about what people would be looking for when they pulled this off the shelf at the book store or the library, and whether they would be as disappointed in it as I was. For me, I was looking for what promised to be an interesting and shamefully belated story of the contribution of black women to the US space program. Waht OI got was a rambling family history written by a relative which was more focused on rehashing the shameful black history of the US rather than telling the story of these women.

Though the Russians put a woman into space in 1963 (Valentina Tereshkova), it was really more of a showboat than a space flight, aimed at furthering the embarrassment the Americans, who were continually playing catch-up back then, than ever it was a serious effort to integrate women into the space program. The Americans to their shame, took twenty years to set this right, and it wasn't until a year after the Russians had put a second woman into space, Svetlana Savitskaya.

Sally Ride was a physicist and went into space aboard the shuttle in 1983. It took the bulk of another decade before the first black woman went into space: Mae Jemison, who is an engineer and a physician and went up in 1992, which was a decade after the first black male astronaut, Guion Bluford, had gone up there. Everyone knows Armstrong and Aldrin. They may even know names like Gagarin and Glenn, but few know the names of Bluford and Jemison. No one even remembers the second two men on the Moon (it was Charles Conrad and Alan Bean), so why would they ever hear about black women who helped make it possible for early astronauts to get into space and return safely?

Of course we typically don't hear of the back-room people in these adventures, so this isn't quite as bad as it's painted, but what makes it worse is that white people tend to think that all of those 'unsung heroes' are also white, and so do far too many black people. It's a bad habit that shamefully overdue for correction, so it's a good thing to learn that no, they're not all white! A good many of them are black (and Asians and Hispanics too, for that matter). I just wish the three depicted in this book: Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan, had a better memorial.

The book covers a range of topics and many people, but is primarily about those three women who succeeded despite having to contend with the appalling discrimination which had become so embedded in the nation's psyche so much that it was actually considered normal back then, and in some minds, is still viewed that way today. But let's not mention any recent presidents.

The problem I had is that the book is so intent upon laying the scene that the main characters tend to get subsumed into the scenery, which in my opinion does them a dire disservice. The discerning listener can pick out their dark threads which have been in the dark for far too long before now, finally, being brought into the light, as they run through the story and intertwine, along with other characters, such as the rebellious Miriam Mann, who quietly removed the 'coloreds' sign from the cafeteria table every time a new one appeared until whoever was putting it there finally gave up. A small victory but an important one.

So while I believe books of this nature are important ones, I have to caution potential readers about this one. You should consider what it is you're looking for before you plump for this volume. If it's a book version of the movie you just saw, then this isn't it. This is much longer, and more detailed and in considerably more depth than Hollywood ever likes to go, and more than you (or I) might be prepared for. If you're looking for black abuses revisited, then this will work for you, but if you've been there and done that, and are looking for something a bit different this time like a good real life story that gets under the personal skin of the black female experience, this one might leave you as dissatisfied as it did me.

Hollywood likes it short and snappy, perky and preferably controversial, but shallow and easy and that has its place, but this isn't any of that apart from the controversial bit), and it rambles endlessly and digresses mercilessly, and offers all kinds of details you may not care about or be interested in (such as soap-box derbies).

It doesn't even get to the NASA bit until two-thirds the way through, and then it's a long stretch of John Glenn, a huge leap from there to the Apollo program and the Apollo 1 disaster (from which NASA learned nothing if we're to judge from the subsequent Challenger and Columbia disasters which together robbed us of more than four times as many astronauts as the Apollo One fire did), and then a quick skip to the moon landing and we're done. I confess I skipped tracks increasingly as I plowed through this as the bits that interested me became ever more scarce, but I did want to tackle this before I took on the easy, sugar-coated, and simplified version of the movie. I haven't seen that yet, but even unseen, I'd recommend the movie over this for most people.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Happiest Kids in the World by Rina Mae Acosta, Michele Hutchison


Rating: WARTY!

I requested this book because I thought it would be interesting, and in some ways it was, but I evidently expected too much from it because it failed to make a case for me. It's sad, because I felt like I shared some common ground with the authors. I've never been to Holland, but I grew up in England and went to school there, and now I'm seeing my own kids through school in the US, so I share two of the three perspectives presented here, but I have to say that the picture painted by the authors felt narrow, very biased, and worse than this, there was really nothing offered to suggest how a nation which might want to emulate the Dutch could get from here to there.

The fact that we call them Dutch, and they call themselves Nederlanders, and we call the nation Holland is an interesting mix of etymology which has deep roots. The word 'dutch' just means people, and there were mountain dutch and lowland dutch, but the ones we now call Dutch go stuck with the abbreviated version of that title. Holland was just one part of a group of people who settled together into one nation, and the rest of them got stuck with that name! Nothing to do with the book, but just in passing....

I'm open to the notion that the Dutch can teach us some things, but I was neither convinced that they have a world-beating handle on things by this book, nor that what was presented here offered was anything more than what intelligent and common-sense parents are doing anyway. In this regard it was rather insulting because the authors seemed intent upon translating a lot of personal perceptions into a generalized diagnosis of, and prescription for everyone, so that all Dutch were painted the same color - and a very bright one, whereas all Brits and all Americans were each panted their own dull and muddy shade of grey. This struck me as entirely unfair.

In 2013, a Unicef report rated Dutch children as the happiest in the world, so something seems to be working there. Two writers, a Brit named Michele Hutchison who moved to the Netherlands in 2004 with her Dutch husband, and an American, Rina Mae Acosta who is also married to a Dutch guy, are raising their kids in Amsterdam and they explored why it is that Dutch children are so happy. This book is the result. In that same survey, Britain ranked 16th and the USA ranked 26th, which was just above the three poorest countries in the survey, so I can't help, but ask why that is. Why did the Dutch do so well, and the Americans and Brits so poorly? or is it not quite so black and white as is portrayed here?

While I initially felt that I might like this book, and rate it positively and encourage others to read it, the more I read of it, the more disillusioned I became. It is truly important to widen our perspective when it comes to how we live our lives, and in particular, how we relate to and raise our children, but I had serious qualms about the validity of the conclusions the authors were drawing.

The first of and most obvious of these is that the Unicef report was only one survey, and a recent one, so I have to say I'm skeptical about basing any long-range planning on a single narrow study. The study did cover five dimensions: material well-being, health and safety, education, behavior and risks, and housing and environment, but the idea that the Dutch do it best is based on that single snapshot. I'd have to ask: were Dutch kids also the happiest five, ten, fifty years before? If so, then we have something to build on, if not, then what's changed and how reliable is it? We don't know from what we're told here, and that question isn't asked in this book.

There was one part of this book which related how the principal of a school, who liked to greet each child as they came in through the door, mentioned that this was not always the way it was done: kids came piling in chaotically when she first arrived. This is a change she has made herself to this one school. There was no mention of whether this same polite, stress-free organization existed in other schools or whether it was just this one principal's peccadillo. To me this was a failing, and it was one which ran like a thread through the book. There is no grand plan here or any deep survey, just a lot of anecdote and opinion. It's not something I'd want to base my kids' futures on.

This book does cover raising children from conception through schooling, so in that regard, it's comprehensive, but the authors haven't finished putting their kids through high school, and since this is based so much on personal experience, that end of things was a bit bare; however, it was at the beginning of that path of life where I encountered another instance of confusion or conflation. At one point early in the book the authors praise the Dutch for their having babies at home as opposed to in the delivery ward of the nearest hospital, but later we learn that only 25% of Dutch mothers-to-be actually do this.

Now that's higher than in other countries, but I'm unclear what the point was that the authors were trying to make here. If the number of moms (even though it's relatively large) is still in the minority, can we make any valid claim that this materially contributes to anything beyond the personal, much less to kids being happy?

This was further confused later when I read of moms in the US and Britain, who do give birth in hospital, being kicked out after a very short stay. This was mentioned like it was a problem, but If the idea is to have a safe birth and then get mom home as soon as is practicable, how is this problematical as compared with those quarter of Dutch moms who stay home for the birth? I didn't get the point of those portions of the book which were like this.

What bothered me is that the authors clearly are starting out with the conclusion that the Dutch do it better than anyone and the Brits and the Americans do it badly by comparison, yet we never get any questioning of whether this is really true on a widespread basis. The odd survey will only tell you so much, yet the Dutch get endless praise here to the point of it being tedious and irritating. Frankly this praise felt like fan-girling. We never got an unbiased perspective with the same kind of detail on how things are done elsewhere, except for frequent and very negative sniping which was as unfair as it was inaccurate.

Worse than this, we tend to get a lot of personal anecdote from one or other author including a three-page-and-a-half spread about the high-school experiences of one of the authors. While it's sad that anyone should have to go through what she did, the fact remains that it's her personal subjective experience. So far so good, but the thing is that after a revelation like this one, the authors generalize and talk as though their own personal experiences, interviews and opinion apply to everyone equally!

No, they don't. My school experience in Britain was far removed from hers, and my kids' experiences are likewise far removed from the ones depicted here as being representative of the USA. You cannot generalize from the personal or blandly take your own experience and treat it like it speaks for everyone. It was things like this which made me quickly lose all faith in this book's message, turning me from a potential convert to an adverse critic.

The vista over which this book looks is disturbingly narrow. We get a lot of author opinion, and we get second-hand interviews and comments made by Dutch women, but for a book about children's happiness, we get precious little from the kids. We don't get a significant number of kids views, and the few we do get are anecdotal Dutch ones. We almost never hear from other kids in other countries, and the authors make no effort to try to seek out views which might actually oppose theirs, to give some balance to the presentation.

It's this lack of adequate comparison with other countries in a quantifiable way which lets the book down. We hear a lot of opinion, but precious little to back it up. One thing that's mentioned, for example, is suicides in Silicon valley, but if we look national suicide rates in Wikipedia, the Dutch do not come out best! A lot of Middle-East countries are lowest, with the Dutch appear halfway down the list, beating US citizens, but not doing as well as the British. It seems to me if the kids are extraordinarily happy here, this certainly doesn't seem to permeate into adulthood, and the authors never address this or ask why. They simply keeping on pointing to the shiny Dutch way and praising the bright colors of the Dutch lifestyle, conveniently ignoring the fact that it's a rather thin veneer of paint in many places.

One of the odd things which are praised is how tall Dutch men and women are. This point was made over a dozen times in one way or another, but I fail to see how it relates to happy children, unless being happy somehow magically makes a person taller! Dutch men average the tallest in the world at five feet eleven inches in the survey I read, although the authors cite one which quotes them at six feet one inch. Dutch women came second to Latvian women for tallest, but the fact is that eight other nations in the survey I saw were within two centimeters of the Dutch, so I kept asking, "What's your point?" I still don't know! Nor do I know how tall the authors are, talking of perspective. If they're relatively short, then perhaps the Dutch men did seem particularly tall and this is why they kept returning to this. Again, it felt like fan-girling. Other than that I have no explanation for the repeated references to it!

This was one of a many digressions which took us away from the main topic (if we assume from the book title that the main topic is childhood happiness). It's for this and related reasons that I have questions about the approach this book took. If we put aside the Unicef survey for a minute, the entire rest of the book consisted of observations and some interviewing, but there was really nothing offered to support a causal relation between A and B - it was simply assumed.

At one point, for example, the book began talking about biking adding six months to life expectancy. It rambled on about how the Dutch have taken to bikes and how children learn to bike independently to school at an early age, and while I can see that this contributes to children gaining confidence, I don't see how it's any different from other activities pursued by children in other countries which contribute equally to child welfare and confidence. It was just tossed in under the untenable and unsupported assumption that this very Dutch activity was quite different from anything any other nation does and therefore must somehow contribute to this unique Dutch happiness!

The most amusing thing to me about this whole story of children biking to school was that the author complained of how busy the bike lanes were, yet the school was only a half mile away! Why were the children not walking, and getting their exercise and building their confidence that way? It was one more confusing episode that made no sense at all.

Meanwhile, the dangers of cycling were swept under the rug. A report discussed at DutchNews.nl (April 2016) shows that 25% of those who die in a road accident in the Netherlands are cyclists, compared with a European average of 8%. Denmark and Hungary are next on the unsafe cycling list; in both countries, 16% of the people who die in road accidents are cyclists, so to pretend there is no problem with cycling safety or that dangers are low and controlled is simply dishonest.

With regard to child mortality, it's the same in the Netherlands as it is in the U.K., with the US being about twice that. other numbers do not put the Netherlands out there as a shining and unique exemplar. This is not to run the Dutch down but to put things into a perspective which the authors of this book seemed somewhat loathe to embrace in their gushing prose. There's a report online which numbers 2,375 children as victims of human trafficking in the EU in 2013 and 2014, and most come from Bulgaria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania. This did not fill me with confidence that the Dutch system is so much better or safer. These are just a couple of examples which I found quickly and which are glossed over or ignored here.

I'd have been a lot happier if their survey of childhood happiness had gone wider and crossed a greater range of social classes. This is why I had questions about whether the authors of this book are correctly diagnosing the situation. Perhaps they are. Perhaps everything they have discussed is measurably a contributor to their conclusion and explains why Dutch children are happier, but I never felt convinced of it by what I read. It was all too loosely wrapped, too rambling, too repetitive and disorganized.

The authors offer a lot of suggestions, but nowhere was there any discussion about whether or not other parents in other countries were already doing these things despite not being Dutch, or whether it was even practical to advocate 'the Dutch way' when so much of it is inextricably tied to Dutch culture and Dutch laws, and government and national attitudes. You can't simply move those things to another country, and even if you could, you can't expect them to work as they do at home. Also conspicuous by its absence was any survey of Dutch ex-pats, who are living in other countries, but adhering to the Dutch method. Does it even work abroad? How do their kids fare? The book is silent on this perspective.

There was some talk of stress. One the one hand we're told that the Dutch lifestyle avoids stress and this is a contributor to happiness, but then the authors turn right around and tell me that there's a special world in Dutch, Faalangst, which is exactly what it sounds like: fail angst. The very fact that such a concept exists and has a special word for it presupposes that there's stress and attendant measurement of it, which are the very things we're told don't exist! This evident hypocrisy was not an isolated incident.

One section of the book covers bullying, and Britain and the US are given a poor commentary here, yet a quick look online again reveals that this is not a fair picture. World Atlas doesn't show Britain or the US in the worst 10. Even in this older study more UK students (42%) said they were happier in school most of the time than on average in the rest of Europe (33%). Most of the bullying seemed to be tied to racism and religion, and nothing to do with pressure of school work. This study reports the Netherlands and the UK almost neck-and-neck with the US not far behind, so there appears not to be a huge discrepancy.

Google really screwed me over yesterday when I began writing this! I must have hit some oddball key combination while typing, and my entire blog edit screen went blank! I'd never encountered this before, nothing I did would bring it back, and my last save had a half-hour before because I was so focused on writing this! Google doesn't do backups or undo in its blogger environment.

More fool me for trusting Google, whose motto is "don't be evil"! Thanks Google. That's a half hour of my life I can't get back! I decided to quit for the night because I'd spent so long on this. The rest of my review, below, is more of a summary so I don't end up spending a large portion of yet another evening on this when I need to be doing other things!

So let's get going. On another tangent, the book delved into antibiotic use, and yes, the Netherlands does commendably have the lowest human antibiotic consumption rate in Europe, but what this book doesn't reveal is that between 2005 and 2009 The Netherlands also was among those nations with the highest sales of antibiotics for veterinary use of 10 European countries investigated! It's the antibiotic use in animals which is really the issue in the form of germs building resistance to the drugs, and which is becoming a chronic and dangerous problem, so once again we had a biased perspective which favored the Dutch.

Anecdotal stories of kids being too tied up with "building up their resumes" instead of playing outside that were related here neither described my childhood in England, nor that of my own kids' childhood here in the US. I'm guessing they don't represent a whole host of other kids either, judged from what I see in my neighborhood, so once again we had a personal perspective being generalized and applied as though everyone else was the same. It's not the case, and it's misleading.

At one point the authors gush about how Dutch moms never get depressed, but dutchdailynews.com reports that "The Netherlands, U.S. Have Highest Depression Rates in World"! Another web site, iamexpat.nl, agrees: "... new study has found that the Dutch have very high rates of depressive disorders compared to the rest of Europe." The nltimes.nl website agrees: "Eight percent of the Dutch population aged 12 years and older admitted to suffering from depression in 2014. That is more than 1 million people."

So once again we get a different view outside of the book to the one we got inside it, and the one inside both favors the Dutch and appears not to have been well-considered. The more of these instances I encountered, the less confidence I had that this book was being fair or was telling it how it really is!

One of the things mentioned more than once was the Dutch habit of making a "breakfast" out of chocolate sprinkles on a slice of bread and butter. That sounds yukky to me, but apparently it's quite popular; however, as dutchfood.about.com explains, it's not the only thing they have for breakfast and I think it's misleading to go on about it like it is.

This lack of a reliable and comprehensive coverage of the facts was disturbing to me, and I found it over and over again. For example, the chapter on PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) fails to mention how close most results are, giving a false impression. It does show that the Netherlands is in the lead (except in science, where the U.K. came ahead, but the book mentions only the ranking, without recognizing that the rankings can be misleading. Look for yourself, here.

In this chart, for reading, the Netherlands is placed 11th, the UK comes 27th, and the US a "shocking" 41st! But if you look at the actual scores, the Netherlands gets a 512, the UK a 492, and the US a 470. This is a less than a 10 percent difference. So yes, the Netherlands is ahead, and yes, the UK and the US need to do more, but the actual difference is smaller than we're led to believe when we're told only the rankings. This same mis-perception applies to reading, where Netherlands scored 503, the UK 498, and the US 497. That's a one percent difference, but to hear only the ranking, we learn that the Netherlands came fifteenth, while the UK and US were 22nd and 24th. That makes it sound so much worse and it's misleading. This also applies to the science scores, where there's only a two percent difference.

So yes, the authors made their point about the Netherlands having a decent education system, but need that have been done at the expense of unnecessarily dissing the US and the UK? No, it needn't, and worse than this is the studied ignoring of all those nations which appeared above the Netherlands in the scoring, such as for example, Norway, which scored well in PISA and also did well in the happiest kids ranking, as did Finland (except in science!), Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium to name five. None of these other countries come under the microscope in order to determine what it is they're doing right and whether or not it compares or contrasts with the Dutch system. Again, I found this lack of a wider perspective to be glaring and regrettable.

There was a chapter on discipline which showed a Dutch bias too: even as we're told Dutch kids are badly behaved (as in running around in restaurants, and so on), we're expected to accept that and not find any real fault with it. Again we're given no comparative examples except for one anecdote of quiet French kids on beach! These quiet kids were taken as representative of the entire French nation and contrasted with the Dutch kids who were exploring and so on.

For all we knew, the French kids had been exploring, and were tired and wanted to rest. Maybe they'd been to that beach many times and were bored. Maybe they'd been brought to the beach against their will and resented it because they'd rather be doing something else. The fact is that we don't know, and even if we did know, it was entirely wrong and completely unfair to make a comparison like that and generalize from it. These two chapters were really the final straw for me, and they lost whatever remaining goodwill I'd harbored for this book, because this type generalization was rife: taking a few stories, or an interview or two, or a personal opinion, and extrapolating it into a grand argument favoring the Dutch way.

In the final analysis, we have only a narrow viewpoint from two writers who are apparently quite comfortably-off as judged from the text (occupations, lifestyle, friends, etc.). One of the things they discuss is owning cargo bikes and tandem bikes which can cost several thousand dollars, but my point here is that their perspective is not necessarily representative of everyone, and I didn't see any serious effort to expand their viewpoint beyond their circle of friends and acquaintances or to seek out contrary points of view for the sake of presenting a balanced argument. It seemed like the only things they were reporting were those which upheld their preconceived conclusion, and they were downplaying or ignoring anything which might sabotage that apple cart.

Finally, I have to say a few words about the technical aspects of reading this book. The advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher, was available only as a PDF, and it felt to me like it was written for the print edition, with no thought given to reading it as an ebook. If you can read it on a tablet or a desktop or laptop, and see it pretty much full size, then it makes for a decent read.

I read most of it on my phone, because it was more convenient for me, but it made for a very annoying read! The screen on my phone is larger than most, but if I tried the read the book as single pages, the text was annoyingly small. I could turn the phone sideways and read the text in a larger format, but then I had to contend with sliding the page up and down to read all of it. This would not have been so bad had it not been for the tendency of the app (BlueFire Reader) to get confused. Often when I tried to slide the page down or up, the screen would switch to the previous page or to the next page, There didn't seem to be any reliable way to swipe the page up or down without triggering a page change and it really was annoying. In the end I put up with the tiny text and read it as single pages. Just FYI!

Here are one or two more brief notes that I missed yesterday(!), in this and the next two paragraphs. A paper on Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) noted that "The incidence of STI-consultations and diagnoses increased substantially in recent years, both at GPs and STI centers" so again, not everything is as perfect as it might seem with Holland's child-rearing practices. A reason for this STI increase might be that Dutch do not employ condoms as frequently as some other countries in Europe, such as France, for instance. Maybe those French kids on the beach were soberly contemplating that?!

On this same sexual score, the incidence of teen pregnancy in Holland is almost the same as in Germany, and HIV infections and abortion rates are higher in the Netherlands than in Germany, so here we have another case of another country doing equally well, without a hint of recognition from the authors, or any hint of questioning whether the Germans do things the same, or differently, and what that means in either case. Again it's biased reporting.

There's a comment at one point on the wearing of school uniforms, which isn't the practice in Holland. The problem with this is once again that the authors don't look at the other side of that coin, either. School uniform is not just about identity and belonging, it's also about not being singled-out for one reason or another, and one of those reasons is that poor families, who cannot afford to dress their kids the way wealthier families can, do not stand out in an adverse way from everyone else who might be wearing designer clothing and the latest fashions otherwise. This is another example of where this book failed in not seeking out a broader sample base than merely the authors' own opinions, or the personal acquaintances of the authors.

So to conclude quickly, while I'm by no means trying to say that there's nothing we can learn from the Dutch, I have reiterate that this book failed to convince me that there's any more we can learn from them that smart and caring parents haven't been doing all along. Much of what's advocated here is simply common sense, and it's insulting to continually suggest that parents elsewhere, particularly in the UK and the US are not doing these things or are clueless about them.

Worse than this, though, is that their conclusion, grandly titled "Let's Start a Revolution" offered no way to start this revolution! Yes, individuals can adopt best practices, but a lot of what was discussed here was dependent upon the Dutch government, Dutch laws, Dutch culture, and so on. You can't pick that up and drop it into another country and expect it to be accepted or to work.

The authors' failure here, was in their offering absolutely no suggestions as to how other countries, even assuming they buy the authors' Dutch is best philosophy, could go about embracing the Dutch way, and if it's not possible, then what was the point of discussing all of those things? The book too often felt that it was much more interested criticizing British and American child-rearing than ever it was in trying to offer suggestions as to exactly how those societies might facilitate changes which could bring these supposed benefits of the Dutch way into those other countries, and for these reasons I cannot recommend this as a worthy read.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Gangster Women by Susan McNicoll


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a book about the women who hung out with the infamous mobsters and gangsters, mostly during their heyday in the early thirties, but also covering one from the fifties. it tells an unflinching tale of the ruthlessness and brutality, and of the love and loyalty. The book begins by covering the quartet of Billie Frechette, Marie Comforti, Jean Delaney Crompton, and Helen Gillis. Frechette was John Dillinger's girlfriend, and Delaney was one of three sisters, all of whom took up with gangsters. Helen Gillis was the wife of Lester "Baby-Face" Nelson, who died in her arms with nine bullets in his body after an insane shootout on a back country lane in late November 1934.

That turned out to be a banner year for renowned gangsters flaming out. It saw the deaths of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in May, Marie Curie and John Dillinger in July (one of those might not be an outlaw), and Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd in October. Ma and Fred Barker only just escaped that watershed year by 16 days, dying in a gunfight with police in mid-January 1935. There were lesser names, too, such as Ford Bradshaw, Robert Brady, Tommy Carroll who was an associate of Dillinger's and who was the boyfriend of Jean Crompton, Aussie Elliott, an associate of Floyd's, Fred "Shotgun" Goetz, of Valentine's Day Massacre fame, Joseph Moran, an associate of the Barker gang, and last but not least, Wilbur "Mad Dog" Underhill. Also on the list are five more associates of John Dillinger: Eddie Green, John Hamilton, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont, and Homer Van Meter. Clearly it wasn't safe to be a member of the Dillinger crew!

The book covers Bonnie and Clyde, of course, and Clyde's brother Marvin Barrow aka Buck, who was wounded with his wife Blanche and died in July 1933. Blanche lived to a ripe old age. Bonnie and Clyde's career seemed like ti was laways on the downhill slope. They were petty thieves and violently resisted arrest. Their spree lasted only two years, all of it spent on the run, and often wounded. Bonnie was injured severely in a car accident and never recovered, spending the last year of her life in pain form an injured leg. They both die din their mid-twenties.

The last story in the book is of Bugsy Siegel's abused girlfriend Virginia Hill, who looked like a movie star and who evidently was a petulant and avaricious girl. She was apparently murdered in the mid-sixties, but she outlived a girl who as a kid, resolved to emulate her, and who ended up 'collateral damage' in a hit job on the guy she was traveling with, Little Augie Pisano. Janice Drake left behind a thirteen year old son.

It had to be infatuation. No one who wasn't blinded by love of some variety or another would be seen dead with these people. Or maybe they would....


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lise Meitner Pioneer of Nuclear Fission by Janet Hamilton


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a great book for young readers. It's clear, concise, informative, and pulls no punches. Lise Meitner was an Austrian who made amazing strides as a woman through a man's world of science and education. She earned herself a doctorate, became a professor, and importantly, was key to understanding the process of nuclear fission in uranium caused by the absorption of a neutron.

Born in Austria, Lise moved to Berlin in Germany to pursue a physics education, and she worked there for thirty years on the forefront of nuclear physics, fighting sexism by means of leading by example, rarely getting the distinction and recognition she earned, sometimes betrayed by those she worked with and trusted, and because she was Jewish, falling afoul of the brain-dead and psychotic Nazis who were destroying their own world-domination plans by chasing-off and killing the very Jewish scientists who could have won the war for them had they been enabled and inclined to do so! Morons.

Lise barely escaped Germany with her life and had to kiss goodbye not only her lab and equipment, but also pretty much everything she owned. First Holland and then Sweden took her in. Of all her calculations, her biggest miscalculation was her failure to move to Britain when she had the chance. World War Two broke out and she was trapped in Sweden for the duration, but she continued her work, her blind pursuit of science inexplicably helping her former colleague Otto Hahn who remained in Germany.

During World War One she had worked as an X-ray technician (pioneering the medical science with her own physics knowledge!), and as a nurse, and was so disturbed by the horrors she experienced there, that in the Second World War, she refused to contribute her expertise to developing the atomic bomb because she hated war so much.

In her later years she finally did receive much of the recognition she had been denied for much of her life, and led a quiet life in science, teaching and continuing her research. She died in 1968 at the ripe old age of nearly ninety! This is a great book for young girls to learn how much they could contribute if they decided to pursue a life in science as Lise Meitner had done.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

The History Puzzle by Susan Provost Beller


Rating: WORTHY!

This book doesn't offer a heck of a lot for the adult reader unless they're extraordinarily ignorant about historians, but it is a great middle-grade and lower high-school book which is where I donated it once I'd read it. The subtitle is "How we know what we know about the past." It's heavily biased towards US history, but it does not neglect historical and archaeological questions elsewhere, so we get coverage of Stonehenge and other such henges, of the so-called great wall of China, Roman ruins in Italy, and even cave paintings in France. Sadly, Africa gets no coverage.

That said, the author does offer some engaging stories about historical misunderstandings, such as that over the Battle of Little Big Horn, and who really did discover the Americas. The chapters are brief, each covering a different historical event or people, so we learn about gunboats in Lake Champlain, The Edmund Fitzgerald on lake Superior, which is big enough to be a sea if only someone would dump enough salt in there, Martin's Hundred, Mesa Verde, Herculaneum and Pompeii, and even Noah's ark! The Old Testament has it wrong! Who knew?!

I think this is a great introduction for young people to history, which is a subject that's all too often overlooked or under-served, and I recommend it. And it's written by a provost!