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The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Canto)
The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Canto)
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, readable, superior scholarship, 29 Jan. 2005
This is one of Lewis's more difficult-to-find academic works. However, if you find it and read it, you will not be disappointed. I read the book on my own initiative while taking a master's class in Medieval literature. I probably learned as much from his book as I did from the whole class, and it opened up countless delightful possibilities for future enquiry. It also gave me a great idea for my final paper, which I'd been lacking the inspiration to write.
What's more, this work is still respected in academia. Recently I was reading a Cambridge thesis on the subject of early printing (The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein) and came across a quote from _The Discarded Image_ (an uncited quote, which was annoying, but that's another story). Eisenstein quotes most authors in order to disagree with them, but she didn't disagree with Lewis (added to him, qualified him, but didn't disagree), which was unusual. Lewis was one of the few authors in her field that Eisenstein did not attack! I also passed _The Discarded Image_ along to one of my previous college professors and he decided to include ideas from it in his Survey of English Literature course.
If you want to know how medieval men and women saw their world - their belief in supernatural beings intermediate between angels and devils, their admiration for all kinds of organization, their heavy reliance on the snippet of Plato to which they had access-read this book. You will never see the Middle Ages quite the same way again.

The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Canto)
The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Canto)
by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein
Edition: Paperback

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the last 2 chapters were my favorite, 29 Jan. 2005
This is an excellent book to read if you are interested in the history of printing. Eisenstein's thesis is that the advent of the printing press is the most logical point at which the medieval period of European history ends and the Renaissance begins. She shows how many so-called innovations in science, religion, and politics were directly related to the ready availability of books - not necessarily to increased brilliance on the part of mankind.
Eisenstein disagrees with scholars who point to the lag between the press and the beginning of the Renaissance as proof that the press did not make an appreciable difference. Books, Eisenstein says, had to accumulate in order to make their presence felt. The lag was due to a sort of scholarly catch-up. First the printers rushed to issue the volumes that many people wanted but had been unable to afford previously. Once those were printed, disparities could become apparent. Scribes freed from the tedious process of copying books had the leisure to notice errors and disagreements among authors which had not been apparent when books were scattered and rare. This process caused a deceptive lag between the advent of the press and real improvements in cartography and science.
The last two chapters of the book were the most interesting to me. Among other things, Eisenstein talks about the way early Protestant printers beefed out their catalogues by referring to the Catholic Index (the list of books forbidden by the Pope). Once Europe became split into Catholic and Protestant nations, the Index had the unexpected effect of boosting sales for books listed on the Index, making some protestant printers their fortunes. Not only were Protestants eager to read whatever the Pope had banned (and Catholic priests obligingly cited chapter and line of objectionable material, with the result that the protestant scholars were able to cut right to the chase), but many early scientific books on the Index were much sought after in Catholic countries, and with their printers under heavy pressure to forbear, Protestant printers just over the border made a fortune in black-market books.
Eisenstein's style is somewhat pedantic (which was to be expected; this is a thesis, after all). However, I give the book 4 stars instead of 5 because quotes are frequently uncited - a nearly unforgivable sin in a research book. We are frequently given rather large blocks of quoted text with absolutely no way of connecting this material to any given authors in the bibliography. The fact that the book is an abridgement is no excuse.

Nickel and Dimed: Undercover in Low-wage USA
Nickel and Dimed: Undercover in Low-wage USA
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Edition: Paperback

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars confusing the issue, 29 Jan. 2005
First, I must say that, for all its faults, this is a book worth reading. It needed to be written, and I applaud the author for doing what she did-an attempt to support herself on minim wage jobs for a year. She shares many telling details of life among the desperately poor, including the highly questionable practices of such employers as Merry Maids and Wal-mart. She makes astute observations regarding human behavior and quality of life in this under-studied group of Americans.
I do, however, have some serious gripes with Ehrenreich's book. Mainly, I feel that she weakened her own arguments by her inability to stick to her subject. Ehrenreich takes frequent detours onto topics that are not really related to being poor.
Ehrenreich is, in fact, experiencing at least two kinds of culture shock in the course of her experiment. The first culture shock, which she recognizes and intends to write about, is going from her upper middle class income to at or near poverty level. The second, equally significant culture shock, of which she seems only dimly aware, is going from a self-employed journalist to a wage-earner.
In order to achieve maximum impact with her book, Ehrenreich needs to stick to the topics specific to poverty, because this is what she purports to be writing about. However, she continually branches off into complaints involving issues that are true of _many_ wage-earners at all economic levels. These two states-poverty and wage earner-are _not_ the same. Ehrenreich, however, doesn't seem to make the distinction.
For instance, she spends considerable time griping about "chemically Nazi America." She feels that drugs should be legalized and is very angry that she must undergo drug testing. This would, perhaps, make a suitable topic for another book, but it is _not_ an experience specific to minimum wage workers. Drug testing is very common among many classes of wage earners in America-a fact that she briefly acknowledges, but then goes right on to speak about at length. Ehrenreich is angered particularly because she has been using marijuana and must undergo a self-imposed cleansing before she can pass the test. This, again, is not an issue specific to minimum wage earners. She is confusing her issue and giving her opponents ammunition-something I find distressing, because I do sympathize with her purported topic.
Another item Ehrenreich finds infuriating is that she's not allowed to curse at work. Ehrenreich does not seem to realize that, as a journalist, she is in a very linguistically privileged class of workers. Even most self-employed people can not afford to use lots of four-letter words in the course of their business day if they wish to maintain their clientele, and most wage earners at any level will find foul language frowned up at work. Journalists have a linguistic freedom that goes well beyond most other Americans at work. This is not closely related to the plight of minimum wage workers.
Aside from her periodic forays into matters non-poverty-related, the other serious flaw in the book is that it makes no attempt to address the most serious argument against raising minim wage-how will you keep all other costs of living from not simply escalating as well? Without at least attempting to answer this question, I feel that the book's conclusion lacks conviction and punch. This is too bad, because the topic is important, and the observations in the book are worth reading-so long readers are willing to sift the material with a critical eye.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 14, 2013 10:55 PM BST

This War without an Enemy: History of the English Civil Wars
This War without an Enemy: History of the English Civil Wars
by Richard Lawrence Ollard
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a good starting point, 29 Jan. 2005
Richard Ollard's work is a great starting point for exploring the English Civil War. The text is accessible and engaging, even amusing in places, and the book is not overlong. Ollard manages, in a fairly short space, to capture many of the complexities of the war, including Charles I' charming, yet maddening personality.
In addition to compact, well-written text, the book is beautiful. It contains many maps, paintings, pamphlets, and other artwork of the period, illustrating the people, battles, and issues of the war.
Ollard's book does have a few faults. For one thing, I think he is a bit too enamored of Clarendon. Ollard obviously has great respect for this clever statesman and justly so. However, he seems to accept some of Clarendon's statements without much analysis. It is true that Clarendon's history of the war must constitute a major source for any serious historian of the conflict. Clarendon is a firsthand witness, after all. However, he is not remotely non-biased, and he did write his history long after the completion of the war. He had personal quarrels with some of the major characters, including Rupert, and no reason to represent them fairly. Clarendon's heavy political involvement both before and after the war also makes him suspect for ulterior motives in his text. In addition, Ollard admits in several places that Clarendon was a talented propaganda man - a 17th century spin doctor. To accept his statements without analysis seems unwise. In addition to his Clarendon-worship, Ollard provides no bibliography for his book. This is a serious offense in a academic work, even one designed for lay consumption. He does, at least, acknowledge the sources for his pictures.
In spite of its faults, Ollard's book has much to recommend it. If you are interested in the English Civil War, this one is worth a read.

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)
by George R. R. Martin
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars simply the best, 24 July 2003
If there are ever textbooks written for fantasy literature, this book (or a part of it) will be included. The writing is brilliant. Each word counts. Phrases that are supposed to be witty actually ARE. Events that promise to surprise you DO. Characters who are supposed to be clever do genuinely clever things. In addition, Martin produces countless unique turns of phrase with the casual ease of a master.
As for plot, this book represents the very best of a budding genre. To call the book high fantasy and compare it to Tolkien is not quite fair. Tolkien based his work on myth. Martin bases his primarily on history, and his work should properly be called a fantihistorical. Although the series has elements of myth, the most astonishing facts are nearly always historical. The Targarian habit of marrying brother to sister to preserve the bloodlines, for instance, was practiced by the Egyptian pharaohs. You will actually learn real things about history if you pay attention in this series. Martin’s meticulous details are dazzling—types of cloth and food, details of trade and political agreements, a proper proportion of elderly, mentally ill, and sickly people in society, and realistic process of infection from wounds. His medicines are also well-researched, many of them used in some society at some time.
Many of these elements are not apparent at the beginning of the story. Perhaps intentionally, Martin throws the reader off the scent in the prologue. Although the book contains magical events, they are rare. So rare, in fact, that when they occur, the reader may find herself skeptical, looking for a logical explanation and wondering if Martin really means us to believe magic is afoot.
Like a skilled swordfighter, Martin is constantly weaving and ducking our guesses. He frequently starts a typical thread of plotting, only to turn the whole thing on its ear and take the story in an unexpected direction. And he does all this as naturally and skillfully as a dancer. If you enjoy fantasy, history, or just really good writing, this book is a must-read.
…and I dare you to read this one and not read the next two! Only one word of caution: this book and the next two are really all one story with no major break. _A Storm of Swords_ ends in a cliff-hanger where you’ll be waiting with the rest of us on pins and needles. If you’re very impatient, you should perhaps wait for the series to be completed before you begin.

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events No.1)
The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events No.1)
by Lemony Snicket
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars light reading; very different from Harry P., 24 July 2003
A charming little book! I read it in one sitting, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. For one thing, these have been sold along side the Harry Potter books and this one, at least, had no magic in it. On the contrary, it was very down-to-earth. The children’s solutions to their problems did not seem particularly far-fetched. Although the books are “dark” in some ways, they do not teach a helpless outlook. On the contrary, the kids usually solves their problems by either reading books (law books, in this case) or by using their minds to come up with technological solutions. Their plans are frequently thwarted, and they have to start over again, but they don’t give up.
The plot is simple: three orphaned kids must deal with a malevolent guardian who’s after their money. The fun part is the witty, entertaining prose. My only criticism is that frequent explanations of word meanings get old. As a child, I derived most of my word definitions from context and figured things out quite neatly. This author stops the dialogue to define words, which is cute the first few times and gets a little annoying towards the end. However, this is a children’s book, and perhaps children like that sort of thing. At any rate, I will definitely read the second one.

Jingo: A Discworld Novel: 21
Jingo: A Discworld Novel: 21
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of his best, 24 July 2003
This is one of my favorite Pratchett books! If you've never read Terry Pratchett before: Welcome to a thinly veiled version of London in which social classes and races are represented by various fanatic creatures: gargoyles, humans, trolls, dwarves, etc.-all trying to live together and get along. Uberwald is Germany. Klatch is something like the near east. You'll recognize other places. Disc World is basically earth with London at the center and a few weird twists.
For those who are familier with Pratchett: This is one of the books featuring the Night Watch, but it's a somewhat mixed media performance with a lot from the Patrician (who is my favorite) and Lenard of Querm, also a bit from the wizards. A mysteries island rises out of the sea and both Klatch and Ank-morpork claim ownership. Some people in each country are willing to go to war over the island...but do they have ulterior motives?
In the confusion of a visit from the Klachian prince, Angua is kidnapped (want to know how to kidnap a werewolf? Read the book!) and the whole Watch sets off after her to Klatch, where they unravel a cunning conspiracy. The book has plenty of depth, makes a number of valid points about war, politics, racial prejudice (both prejudice against a minority race AND prejudice in favor of a minority race), and is just superior all-round storytelling. This is one of the few Pratchett's I've read twice.

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