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Gordon Eldridge (Brussels, Belgium)
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Tutankhamen: The Life and Death of the Boy-king
Tutankhamen: The Life and Death of the Boy-king
by Christine El Mahdy
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meticulously Argued, 15 Nov 2007
El Mahdy's argumentation is detailed and meticulous. She presents the reader with an overview of the evidence in the form of the artifacts found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. She also outlines the `traditional' view of the Amarna period and proceeds to refute many of the traditional arguments using the evidence she has laid out. Her presentation of the so-called traditional view (Akhenaten as radical heretic, forced out of Thebes by the priests of Amun) is somewhat exaggerated and melodramatic, but it does provide a useful background for the presentation of her own views.

Many of the arguments she puts forward are cogent and persuasive. Evidence is carefully analyzed to suggest that Akhenaten's beliefs were in some respects not as radical as they appear, that the reign of Tutankhamen saw a co-existence between Atenism and more traditional religion. The possible events surrounding the succession on Tutankhamen's death are also methodically reconstructed from the evidence available.

Some of the major arguments in the book remain unconvincing, however. Akhenaten is supposed to have shifted the capital of Egypt to Akhetaten because he `wanted a place of his own'. After claiming that the priesthood of Amun could not have forced Akhenaten out of Thebes, whatever role they did play is left unexplored. El Mahdy rails against others who have speculated on the events of the Amarna period on the basis of mere shreds of evidence or have used modern concepts to interpret events in the past, but occasionally falls into the same trap herself. Her claims that Nefertiti was intent on establishing a female dynasty to succeed Akhenaten, that Akhenaten `lived for peace and brotherhood', that Ay and Horemheb made a power-sharing agreement on Tutankhamen's accession to the throne are largely speculation, but are presented as fact. This is unfortunate, as it tends to undermine the painstakingly thorough argumentation she presents in other areas.

All in all, the book is a fascinating engagement with the evidence available for the period. I thoroughly recommend it.


Lords of the Horizons: History of the Ottoman Empire
Lords of the Horizons: History of the Ottoman Empire
by Jason Goodwin
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Informative but incredibly dry, 23 Oct 2007
This book was quite informative, but exremely dry. I am an absolute history freak and read history books constantly. This is one of the few that I was actually tempted to put down and never pick up again. I persevered to the end, but didn`t find it rewarding.


In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran
In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran
by Christopher de Bellaigue
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking but somewhat scattered, 23 Oct 2007
The book opens and closes with descriptions of scenes from an Iranian festival celebrating the martyrdom of the Imam Hossein, hero of Iran's Shia Islam. Sandwiched in between are snippets of the country's history, snatches of the personal experiences of the author's life as a Westerner in Iran and descriptions of the lives of ordinary Iranians and their experiences of the Revolution, the Iran-Iraq war and life in post-revolution Iran. The theme of martyrdom seeps through all of these encounters and experiences, and we are presented with an assortment of attitudes to the sometimes senseless, sometime noble aspects of martyrdom in Iranian history. The book has moments of thought-provoking brilliance as the author presents us with some of the dilemmas and paradoxes faced by ordinary Iranians. It also has moments where things become disjointed and it is easy to lose the thread. In the end, the idea of martyrdom is not enough to hold together a loosely structured narrative that jumps back and forth in history and alternates historical explanations with the anecdotal stories of a large number of diverse characters.

De Bellaigue never claims to have no personal opinions on the issues he is writing about and in fact he presents his own biases plainly on occasion. This does not prevent him from offering up alternative points of view, however, and these are the moments that become thought-provoking. It is a struggle to give this book a star rating. At some points it deserves 5 and at others 2. The author's masterful command of language rates a 5 throughout. All in all though, I would say it is a worthwhile read.


Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt
Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt
by Rosalie David
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.35

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dry and disconnected, 21 Oct 2007
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This book contains a huge volume of information about ancient Egypt, and I am assuming that this is the reason that other reviewers have awarded five stars. I would estimate that less than half of the information is in any way relevant to the topic of religion and magic, however. Instead of being a discussion of religion and magic, the book attempts to provide a sweeping history of the entire span of ancient Egyptian civilization. Unfortunately, this history is presented as an endless succession of often unrelated facts with no attempt to draw out interesting patterns and relationships and scant attempt at analysis and explanation. The lack of connection and analysis makes the writing at times almost incoherent. The style of writing can be seen in the following extract from the beginning of a paragraph `Although weak or foreign dynasties tried to revive the myth of the god-king in order to support their own royal status, the political power of the king continued to decline, along with his influence on religion. However, there appears to have been an increased association between the temples and lay people.' After reading the first sentence of the paragraph, I expect it to be further developed with an explanation of the ways in which the power of the king and his influence on religion declined and some explanations of why this might have been so. Instead, the paragraph goes on to discuss some completely unrelated customs involving lay people in temples. Though the book does have some moments where interesting analysis takes place, for the most part it is not even attempted.

The writing also contains a fair number of contradictions. At one point the author claims that priests were not allowed to wear animal skins and then two pages later she describes a priest wearing a panther skin. There must be a logical explanation for this contradiction, but the author offers none. The Pharaoh Akhenaten is described as revolutionary because he introduces monotheism to Egypt and allows no other gods to be worshipped. Within a few pages we suddenly find out that a second deity, the goddess Ma'at was supposedly retained. Once again, no explanation for this contradiction is offered.

The lack of analysis also means that there are occasions when problematic or disputed information is offered up as fact. The author mentions the discovery of Minoan-style paintings in tombs in Egypt and claims this to be unusual since in Minoan civilization wall painting were reserved for palaces. In fact, many scholars would argue that the so-called Minoan palaces were actually mortuary complexes.

In general, the dry, repetitive, disconnected style makes the book a difficult read. History books do not need to be dry. The substance of history is fascinating, but only if the various pieces of information are connected through analysis and explanation into a coherent picture of the subject being portrayed. This book unfortunately does not succeed in achieving that.


How People Learn: Expanded Edition: Brain, Mind, Experience and School
How People Learn: Expanded Edition: Brain, Mind, Experience and School
by Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning with additional material from the Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice
Edition: Paperback
Price: 16.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Succinct and practical, 17 Oct 2007
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The beauty of this volume is that it takes a vast quantity of research on how people learn and organizes it in a way which is readable, practical and accessible for educators. The authors distill the findings of numerous studies into three key principles of learning: (1) Teachers must work with student preconceptions and prior knowledge, (2) Teachers must teach in depth, providing multiple examples of the same concept and (3) Teachers must help students develop metacognitive skills so that they can take control of their own learning. These principles are developed and expanded with numerous references to research and practical illustrations. It should be noted that the book is predominantly about conceptual understanding and does not spend a lot of time on how we learn skills such as playing a musical instrument or learning a language. That said, it is an extremely important contribution to discussions of pedagogy and if the advice contained in the book is heeded by teachers, curriculum writers and policy makers, it has the potential to transform many shallow classroom practices into powerful tools that will enable students to develop deep understanding. The accelerating pace of change in the 21st century means that the ability to transfer skills to unfamiliar situations as well as the skills of lifelong learning have become more important than ever. The principles contained in this book will help us prepare students for a changing world.


The Hummingbird's Daughter
The Hummingbird's Daughter
by Luis Alberto Urrea
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A rich tapestry of a story with flat characters, 13 Oct 2007
Urrea is a virtuoso in the use of descriptive language. His story brings to life a rich tapestry of life in the Mexico of Porfirio Diaz. The book oscillates between the rational outlook of Tomas, patron of the estate on which the story is set and the world of magical realism which Teresita, his daughter and the protagonist of the novel, inhabits. Magical realism in Latin American literature can sometimes border on being inaccessible to readers of different cultures, but here it is essential to the storyline and effectively draws the reader into the world of the local people. Unfortunately, the characters in the book are decidedly flat. Despite the marvelous descriptions of the physical world in the novel, Urrea fails to portray the inner lives of his characters in a convincing way. This leads to key junctures in the plot becoming almost uninterpretable. We are left wondering what has motivated the sudden decision by the promiscuous Tomas, who has previously been completely heedless of the fate of the children he has fathered, to adopt one of them while rejecting another. The reader's surprise at this turn of events becomes astonishment when later in the book that same son who was rejected is suddenly given charge of the estate. Many of the events of the book take the reader by surprise because of a lack of character development. Nevertheless, the story is an enjoyable read, and a fascinating window into the world of 19th Century Mexico.


Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet
Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet
by Nicholas Reeves
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.49

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly balanced but sometimes extreme, 8 Oct 2007
Akhenaten has to be one of the most fascinating characters in Egyptian history and the deliberate destruction of much the documentation of his historical legacy by subsequent Pharaohs often leaves the Amarna period open to the wildest of speculations. Nicholas Reeves presents a wealth of information in this book, often including many quotes from original sources and photos of original art work so that the readers can judge some of his conclusions for themselves.

The book is carefully researched and the general argument that Akhenaten used his religious beliefs to legitimate his power is well supported by the evidence quoted. This does not of course preclude the notion that Akhenaten was sincere in his beliefs and Reeves does not suggest this. In fact it seems far from illogical that a ruler of ancient Egypt could have believed he was the son of god.

Many of the conundrums of Amarna history are argued in a very balanced way in the book. Reeves effectively debunks the theories that Akhenaten was homosexual or that his appearance in statuary was due to Froehlich's syndrome. He provides interesting evidence in relation to suggestions that Akhenaten may or may not have suffered from Marfan's syndrome and that Nerfertiti may or may not have been promoted to the status of co-regent. At times, however, Reeves takes fairly extreme positions based on somewhat flimsy evidence. He claims that Akhenaten's 'dictatorial rule' led Egypt to the 'brink of disaster', that Akhenaten's rule involved 'wanton destruction' and 'deliberate neglect'. He describes the later years of Amarna as a 'terror' and suggests that Pharaoh's lover Kiya had an evil personality and may have been pulling strings behind the scene. These extreme positions are supported with arguments based on evidence where the author and purpose of the documents quoted is often ignored. One document marshalled in favor of the sorry state Egypt had descended into was written by a priest of Amun, who would obviously have had a significantly biased agenda.

Overall though, the book is extremely readable and paints a fascinating picture of power politics in Egypt, where priests, generals and the Pharoah himself vie for power and influence in a manner so typical of politics throughout the history of mankind that it certainly rings true.


Akhenaten and the Religion of Light
Akhenaten and the Religion of Light
by Erik Hornung
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but missing something, 1 Oct 2007
As the previous reviewer has said, the work serves as a very useful overview of the historical progression and the basic tenets of Akhenaten's religion of light. The author punctiliously lists the sources on which his statements are based, which provides a useful reference for the reader who wants to check the ancient sources for themselves. Some of these references, however, assume that the reader will already have some familiarity with the events being narrated and though this is not a major problem, the reader with little knowledge of Akhenaten is sometimes left wishing for a little more background information. The main reason I have given the book only 3 stars ( though its information value certainly warrants at least 4), is that Horning scrupulously avoids making any kind of inference as to the reasons behind Akhenaten's abrupt break with Egypt's traditions until the very last page of the book. In a way, this avoidance is praiseworthy, since Egyptologists often infer too much from too little. On the other hand, I believe that this is precisely the point that most readers are interested in exploring. The avoidance becomes problematic on the final page. Here, Horning suggests that Akhenaten was perhaps the world's first fundamentalist, trying to explain the entire human world based on a single principle. He claims that such a fundamentalist viewpoint will always be doomed to failure and thus we have much to learn from Akhenaten's example. I would have found the book much more interesting and enjoyable if this hypothesis had been introduced from the start and then developed throughout the book. As it is, it is tacked on as a kind of coda, and the reader is left to decide whether any of the evidence given in the book actually supports such an inference or not.


Stirring the Head, Heart, and Soul: Redefining Curriculum and Instruction
Stirring the Head, Heart, and Soul: Redefining Curriculum and Instruction
by H. Lynn Erickson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 21.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every teacher should read this book, 16 Sep 2007
If you are serious about teaching for deep understanding this is perhaps the most important book you could ever read. It has influenced my teaching more than any other book I have ever read. Lynn Erickson explains how to place concepts in the centre of your lesson planning in a way which ensures that you will be planning experiences for your students that have the highest probability of helping them deepen their conceptual understanding of the world around them in a way that lends itself to generalizing and conditionalizing knowledge. Knowledge learned in this way is more likely to be transferable, and what more noble goal for teachers in the 21st century could there be than transfer. The speed of technological change and the exponential growth of information mean that our students are going to face a world that we cannot even begin to imagine. Teaching facts for their own sake should have ended years ago, but sadly is still common in our schools. Lynn Erickson is a veritable goddess when it comes to helping teachers move forward in learning to teach the thinking skills and understandings necessary for the 21st Century. If you read one book about creating curriculum for your students, make it this one.


The Carpet Wars
The Carpet Wars

4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Perspective, 16 Sep 2007
This review is from: The Carpet Wars (Unbound)
Christopher Kremmer was a journalist in the 1990's in Afghanistan and across Central Asia. This book is an account of his travels in the region during a period when momentous events were commonplace. His uncensored accounts of the happenings of that time related via moving and personal anecdotes of real people experiencing them bring the Islamic world in all its extraordinary beauty and violence to print in a way that is rare. This book is a vivid depiction of the human condition. On the brink of the abyss of horror he also finds hope and dreams. This is about the power of individuals to endure. Kremmer has a journalist's gift for making situations that most of us can barely even imagine come to life. The newspaper The Age^wrote "If you read no other non-fiction book post-September 11, don't miss this one". I wholeheartedly agree.


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