Saturday, June 30, 2007

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban cassettes 3, 4 and 5 of 7

The appeal is just about to take place at the end of the fifth cassette. I'm always impressed about the number of red herrings in these books. Even after we find out the truth it still makes sense what the characters originally thought knowing what they did. Funny how there's no red card/game misconduct in Quidditch.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban cassettes 1 and 2 of 7

Cassette 2 ends with the potions class involving the shrinking potion. Harry is being particularly headstrong in this opening section. The whole idea of running away at this point even though it sounds like much worse was done to him over time seems a little contrived. The whole opening section before going back to school seems off somehow. I can't really explain it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Abolition of Serfdom in Russia, 1762-1907 by David Moon

The Abolition of Serfdom in Russia, 1762-1907 by David Moon is an introductory style text to this change in Russian life. The first three quarters of the book is laid out in thematic essays describing different parts of the process from the 16th century through the elimination of Serfdom in the 19th and 20th Century's. The various pressures for change from within Russia and without are described. The complex bureaucratic system created to achieve the emancipation is analyzed as well as the eventual outcomes.

There are 40 pages of translated documents that nicely support the text. There's also a further reading, glossary and who's who section, which contains thumbnail biographies of important players. An excellent introduction to this interesting topic in Russian history.


Is available through Abebooks.

The Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas

The Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas is a history describing this conflict that took place from 1936 to 1939. It is considered the precursor to the second world war. The Republicans made up of Communist, Socialists and Anarchists fought the Nationalists the Falange made up of Fascists, Royalists and supporters of the Roman Catholic Church. The story of the conflict is very complex consisting of various political groupings shifting constantly. Thomas provides an excellent narrative that makes the various Machiavellian maneuvers clear and understandable. I'm not an expert on this conflict but I was easily able to follow what was going on.

The support provided by the Italian, German and Russian governments is described. With particular reference to the Condor Legion and Italian ground and naval units. The behavior of the United Kingdom, United States and France is also explained. There is some material on foreign volunteers but it is not mentioned constantly. Only as part of the wider story of the conflict.

This is a big book coming in at nearly 245,000 words. It was originally published in 1961. I'm not sure how much of it has been superseded but it is still a clear explanation of this important 20th-century conflict.

Highly recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets cassette 6 of 6

I like the ending of the book but I'm a little confused about something. I don't understand why it would discredit the protection act. It would be rather ironic for her to be charged under it but it wouldn't cause the act to be dismantled.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets cassette 5 of 6

The teachers meeting just concluded. I quite enjoy how they dealt with Lockhart. Rowling has always been particularly good at creating red herrings but the business with Hagrid isn't up to her usual standards. We don't consider it to be credible that he was responsible. Harry has either the best or worst luck imaginable he's always in the middle of the action no matter what. I hadn't realized just how many coincidences have to take place .

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets cassette 4 of 6

At the end of this cassette Harry was just starting to experience Tom's memory of the last time the chamber was opened. Seems odd that presumably Tom would have been able to include memorys he chose in the diary. Why include material that cast doubt on the genuineness of his claims? Seems rather strange.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets cassette 3 of 6

Dumbledore has just said that the Chamber of Secrets is open. This is in the hospital wing. Harry overhears while recovering from Lockhart's incompetence. It seems rather strange that Madam Hooch would not have noticed the rogue bludger. Significant somehow?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets cassette 2 of 6

Harry has just heard the disembodied voice while addressing fan mail for Professor Lockhart. It's funny how besides the reference to the newspapers and the angry howler there isn't much mentioned of the chaos and nuisance caused by the flying car. So did all the food in Ron's stomach turn into slugs? Some sort of Transfiguration spell?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets cassette 1 of 6

At the end of this cassette the confrontation in the bookstore between the Malfoys and Weasleys is just concluding. At this point we've just been introduced to Gilderoy Lockhart. This starts off one of the rather interesting subplots in the rest of the series that is the cult of celebrity and media manipulation. Considering Rowling's own reluctance as far as media access goes it does make sense.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome by Michael Parenti

The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome by Michael Parenti is a Marxist interpretation of late Roman Republican history. The author a political science Ph.D. grumbles continuously against "gentleman historians" while implying that they still hold sway in academia. This is disingenuous the type of social history Parenti demands has been the dominant field in North America for at least the last 20 years.

Perhaps most irritating is the constant ad hominem attacks leveled against just about everybody from ancient historians through various figures including the framers of the U.S. Constitution. There are some good ideas here about class conflict in ancient Rome but it's buried under so much posturing it's hard to get at. Parenti seems to consider himself to be an iconoclast but if he actually bothered to do some research he would find that much of his argument has been made by the sort of ancient historians he so clearly detests.

Not recommended!

For more ancient history book reviews Take a look at My Ancient History bookshelf.

Gettysburg 1863:High Tide of the Confederacy by Carl Smith

Gettysburg 1863:High Tide of the Confederacy by Carl Smith is an expanded Osprey publication for this pivotal battle of the American Civil War. This book is 128 pages which is larger than most Osprey titles. It contains all the usual information including the superb summary of the battle, the units involved and their uniforms. There's also extensive order of battle information as well as a further reading section. The book concludes with a discussion of wargaming the battle and visiting the battlefield today. The 3-D battle plans, artwork and photographs are all here.

Smith seems to be trying hard not to blame anyone for the Southern failure. Lee is criticized but this is tempered by pointing out that he did not have proper intelligence about the Northern forces.

Highly recommended for those looking for a superb introduction as well as an excellent summary for the expert.

Is available through Abebooks.

The Coming of Rome by John Wacher

The Coming of Rome by John Wacher describes the Roman invasion and colonization of Britain. The book is laid out in several chapters. The original iron age British settlers are described with reference to archaeological findings. The political history of the Roman invasion and eventual conquest is laid out in nice detail. The day-to-day living of the Romans and their subjects is described. This is done mostly through archaeology as well as graffiti, tombstones and other inscriptions. The book was published in 1983 so the substantial further reading section is probably out of date but there does seem to be some interesting material listed. On just about every page there is more than one picture. Which is usually an item referenced in the text. A very nice introduction.

Highly recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

For more ancient history book reviews Take a look at My Ancient History bookshelf.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cassette 6 of 6

I had forgotten how much the last series of challenges came off like a problem-solving exam. I find it funny that for the poison question Hermione is impressed because it's a logic question not a magical one but then doesn't actually show her work. She just figures it out to herself without explaining to Harry and us how it's done.

I've jumped straight into book two and am already about halfway through the first cassette. Should be up later today.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cassette 5 of 6

At the end of this cassette Harry just discovered that Voldemort is trying to come back. Considering this blog is entitled Strategist's Personal Library a note on operational security. No matter how good your mission went giving up camouflage is spectacularly stupid. For that matter leaving actionable intelligence in a place where others could find it is also stupid. And yes it's happened in the real world just ask Robert E. Lee the Maryland invasion was compromised through his Special Orders No. 191 being left with some cigars. This led to the northern victory at Antietam.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Battle Ready by Tom Clancy with Tony Zinni and Tony Koltz

Battle Ready by Tom Clancy with Tony Zinni and Tony Koltz is the memoirs of General Tony Zinni USMC Retired the American soldier probably most famous for being write about the troop levels needed in post-Saddam Iraq. Zinni was an adviser to a South Vietnamese Marine unit in Vietnam where he was badly wounded from their he moved through various posts in the United States Marine Corps's ranks. Perhaps most interesting was his time running a security detachment on Okinawa [a US base at the time] at the height of the racial troubles in the 1970s. He was involved in the protection of the Kurds after the first gulf war as well as the American involvement in Somalia. He would eventually lead Central Command during the late 1990s then attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The book seems to be based on oral interviews that Clancy ties together. This makes it rather disjointed. The narrative will stop for several first-person remarks from Zinni in italics then continue. The book seems almost like a PR exercise at times. We're being constantly told how outspoken he was but there really isn't anything controversial. He seems to have been on the "winning" side of most arguments.

He glosses over incidents such as the mistaken attack on a pharmaceuticals manufacturer after the US embassy bombings. Shrugging it off by saying it was good intelligence. We don't really learn much about him personally. There isn't even the often brief discussions of wife and family that are normal for military memoirs.

The last 20 pages lays out his perspectives on low-intensity conflict as well as future threats and the necessary changes the military will have to go through. This is excellent I only wish it could have been more of the book.

Recommended with caveats.

Is available through Abebooks.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cassette 4 of 6

I'm so far behind. Anyway at the end of this tape Hermione is now their friend and they've just figured out who Nicolas Flamel is. Through this tape we have the incident with the troll. As well as increasing concerns about Snape. This continues the trend of solid writing from cassette 3. It seems rather odd to me that Quidditch would be a winter sport.

I did say that my comments weren't going to be all that profound.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Machiavellian and brilliant

Putin Offers to Join Missile Shield Effort. If they let him in which they don't want to do it can't be used against Russia but would support the US claim that it's not against Russia but if they keep him out it is a provocation. Machiavellian and brilliant!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cassette 3 of 6

At the end of cassette 3 Harry and co. have just made their way into the forbidden hallway on the 3rd floor. Rowling really starts to hit her stride during this tape. Possibly because she can actually get down to telling the story as opposed to cramming introductory material in. The writing seems to flow much better. I had forgotten just how irritating Hermione is. She does provide a nice foil to Harry and Ron though.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cassette 2 of 6

This cassette takes the story up through part of the train ride to Hogwarts. Rowling is occasionally criticized for shoddy world building. Actually the way the Wizard world is described Harry is only learning about information he would have to know at the time. I was going to complain about the description of the monetary system [29 knuts in a sickle, 17 sickles in a galleon] being included but then realized he would obviously have to know this to be able to function. So I actually like it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cassette 1 of 6

OK at the end of this cassette Harry has lived through his experiences with a Dursleys. Hagrid is just knocking on the door of the shack the Dursleys and Harry are hold up at. I haven't been through this series for a couple of years now. I had completely forgotten the preamble of sorts with discussion of Vernon's day. I can understand how this was a hard sell to publishers originally.

Considering my complaining in other places it may be surprising that I do think that Harry should show some symptoms of the emotional abuse he was put through for his first 10 years. This is something that isn't really touched upon in the series perhaps due to the nature of the young adult market.

Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 by Garrison Keillor

Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 by Garrison Keillor is a coming-of-age story of a 14-year-old in a small Minnesota town. Much like Keillor's other writings this seems to be somewhat autobiographical in nature. The narrator must deal with his religious relatives as well as his more than passing interest in his cousin. Along the way he manages to discover pornography and the "deep dark secret" of the family.

It is funny in places but not consistently so. Perhaps a little too much grasping at literature here. I've been grumbling about lazy literature writing a lot recently I'll probably put together a longer explanation eventually, this has many of the hallmarks of that.

If you like his other stuff you'll probably like this otherwise probably not. Ambivalently recommended.

Is available through Abebooks.

It is still coming

Life got in the way. I will hopefully manage to get through at least the first two cassettes today.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Wobegon Boy by Garrison Keillor

Wobegon Boy by Garrison Keillor is a semi-biographical novel describing a small-town boy trying to make it in the real world and dealing with his heritage. John Tollefson our narrator leaves Lake Wobegon to try to make it in New York state as a radio manager. On the way he finds love and a failed business venture. Much of this book comes off as baby boomer whining that their lives were supposed to have been important and exciting but they ended up as middle-management instead. There is the occasional rant in support of public radio and against talk radio format and political correctness. This is at its best when Keillor is telling anecdotes about the various characters. One involving outhouse tipping was very funny.

This seems to be more of a message book than a humorous one so it was slightly disappointing but still a nice diversion.


Is available through Abebooks.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Great Harry Potter Reread

With book seven Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows coming-out on July 27 I figured it was time to start rereading the series. I have books one through six on audiotape so I will post some pithy comments about each cassette as I make my way through. There are 60 cassettes in total so I have to average slightly more than one a day to finish in time. I rather doubt I'll be putting out earth shattering literary analysis but hopefully somebody will find it interesting other than me. So I'm off to start listening to cassette one of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone [I have the US editions].

p.s. I do plan to read other things at the same time so if you're not interested don't be worried there will still be reviews of other things.

Rudy Giuliani gets hammered

Check out this blast against Rudy Giuliani from Rolling Stone. An exert:

Rudy giuliani is a true American hero, and we know this because he does all the things we expect of heroes these days -- like make $16 million a year, and lobby for Hugo Chávez and Rupert Murdoch, and promote wars without ever having served in the military, and hire a lawyer to call his second wife a "stuck pig," and organize absurd, grandstanding pogroms against minor foreign artists, and generally drift through life being a shameless opportunist with an outsize ego who doesn't even bother to conceal the fact that he's had a hard-on for the presidency since he was in diapers. In the media age, we can't have a hero humble enough to actually be one; what is needed is a tireless scoundrel, a cad willing to pose all day long for photos, who'll accept $100,000 to talk about heroism for an hour, who has the balls to take a $2.7 million advance to write a book about himself called Leadership. That's Rudy Giuliani. Our hero. And a perfect choice to uphold the legacy of George W. Bush.