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Sergio Angel Verbo (Madrid, Spain)

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History of Japan (Blackwell History of the World)
History of Japan (Blackwell History of the World)
by Conrad Totman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £28.79

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Some strange approach, 17 Jan. 2010
For anyone somewhat familiar with Japanese history wanting to deepen their knowledge, the first striking thing in this book is the way the historical eras of Japan are divided. For example, the consensus is to divide Japanese history in the Heian period (794-1185) and then the Kamakura period (1185-1333), since the different political changes that take place around 1185, such as the rise to power of the warrior class, are important enough factors to make them distinct periods. However, Mr. Totman chooses to divide Japanese history from 400 BC to 1250 AD, a seemingly random choice, as there was no important event in the history of Japan in 1250 AD.

The choice seems to be based on the relationship between the environment and its resources and society. I cannot agree with this approach. It may be fashionable in the academia, but it was very misleading. The author downplays too much political events and motivations, and since he decides to divide each period in a "political narrative" and then gives an explanation of different issues (with an exaggerated emphasis on the environment), it is often not clear which political event was linked to this or that development, since there is often no sense of chronology.

For example, since he chooses to give the name of "Age of intensive agriculture" to the period from 1250 to 1890, it is never clear if the Heian period ended in 1185 or in 1250, and the fact that from 1185 power shifted from the court to the military class is completely downplayed, instead paying attention to the relationship of society with natural resources. Maybe an interesting choice for those in the academia, where breaking with tradition is often the most fashionable choice, but not for the layman who wants to know about the history of Japan, often in traditional terms, since that is the way the Japanese themselves know their history.

A similar random choice, again based on the relationship with resources is choosing to set the beginning of the modern era in 1890 rather than at the beginning of the Meiji reformation in 1868. It makes sense from the author's point of view, since it is in the 1890s when Japan started to industrialize, but it completely ignores the political events of the 60s, with the end of the shogunate and the (to some, limited) restoration of Imperial power.

On the other hand, it's one of the few books dealing with pre-Meiji Japanese history and the analysis of some economic, social or environmental developments is deep and thought-provoking, but clearly it's not for beginners or for people who prefer a more traditional approach to history.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2013 9:51 AM BST

Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary
Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary
by Jack Halpern
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful and easy to use, 2 July 2008
This dictionary is a really good choice for the beginner and even for the not so beginner. To begin with, the SKIP method to look up kanji is really good. Instead of relying on the user identifying which is the radical of the compound, which can be easy in certain compounds but in others it's both very difficult to guess and time consuming, it relies on the user identifying 3 patters (left-right, top-down, or enclosed, apart from others that can't be classified that are given a group apart) and then counting the number of strokes in both parts. So for example if the component to the left has 3 strokes and to the right 5, you look it up in the left-right section, 3-5.

Once you get used to this, it really makes it easy to find any kanji. Sometimes, admittedly, the choice of, for example, considering one stroke as being on top or not is at least a little arbitrary, but in general this method is much better than the traditional reliance on identifying the radical.

Nonetheless, it's also indexed by radical index, and by readings, so it's a very complete dictionary.

All main readings, both ON (Chinese origin) and KUN (Japanese origin) are included, as well as some irregular/non-standard ones when they are important, and a great deal of compounds are also included.

The layout is good, it gives information on how to write each individual character apart from a myriad of data.

The only snag is that it is limitted to the joyo list kanji + some kanji used for names. The problem is that in Japanese there are some characters that are used frequently (including one kanji to write the name of the city of Osaka) that aren't joyo kanji so you can't find them in this dictionary, which is a pity. I think that adding some non-joyo frequently-used characters would have been useful, even for the begginer, because I have a feeling that sometimes the joyo lists are a little random and some characters are left out that should be and others included that aren't that important.

Mrs Dalloway (Everyman's Library Classics)
Mrs Dalloway (Everyman's Library Classics)
by Virginia Woolf
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic masterpiece, 27 Feb. 2007
This is a classic, Modernist masterpiece. From a stylistic point of view, it experiments on what's known as "stream of consciousness", that is, trying to reproduce in language the ways of the human mind.

Its themes are manifold: from the social persona to feminism and repression, colonialism, sexuality, madness, etc, all set in postwar London, in the 1920s.

Now, this is no easy read. I'm aware that many will find it boring and pointless, so unless you're assigned to read it, think about your literary taste. There is no introduction -the novel really begins with "Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself"-, there's no real plot -just a party thrown by an MP's wife and a lot of thoughts about her youth-, and there's no ending -it just ends as the party ends-.

For example, Woolf spends quite a long time analyising, from different perspectives, how different people percieve what a plane is writing with smoke in the sky, or how all of them had reacted when a car loudly stopped with someone important inside. Or, for example, Peter Walsh just follows randomly a girl around London, reflecting about his own past, until the girl gets into a house.

There's literature and literature. This is no adventure novel, there's no action, no plight or peril, no quest or objective. It is a work about life, about the human being, about the mind.

The Study of Language
The Study of Language
by George Yule
Edition: Paperback

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easiest read on this out there, 27 Feb. 2007
This review is from: The Study of Language (Paperback)
This book is an amazing read for those wanting to learn about linguistics. It has clear examples and explanations, it covers every topic, from the theories about the origin of the language, phonetics or phonology, on to pragmatics, discourse and the like.

Obviously, it is not a thorough linguistics manual, it is for beginners, so to speak. But there's no better starting point than this. Every concept is introduced with really helpful examples, so it's easy to grasp everything. As an analogy, this is like a "popular science" book: it does not use special vocabulary without introducing it first, it assumes little prior knowledge fromt he reader, etc.

The choice of colour and font is superb as well. It always helps reading the book.

Oxford-Duden German Dictionary: With FREE SpeakGerman Pronunciation CD-ROM (available to UK, US, and Europe only)
Oxford-Duden German Dictionary: With FREE SpeakGerman Pronunciation CD-ROM (available to UK, US, and Europe only)
by Oxford Dictionaries
Edition: Hardcover

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best English-German / German-English dictionary out there, 29 Dec. 2006
This dictionary is, simply put, superb. It covers a staggering range of words and compounds, it gives really thorough information about the grammar of most words listed (such as collocations, prepositions that go with verbs or adjetives and so on) so it is really what any learner who is beyond the beginner stage will need.

Also, a lot of examples are given, with the most usual idioms, sentences, etc.

Finally, the layout and the use of the blue colour are useful, and it seems to help somehow look for headwords more quickly.

I can't but recommend this dictionary to anyone learning German; dictionaries, particularly this large, are a must for people wishing to learn a language in a serious way, because not only do they give information about the translation of a particular word, but also how different phrases or sentences are translated, and how a word that goes in a particular sentence in English may not be translated with its usual translation in the quivalent sentence in German.

This dictionary, I must insist, fulfils all of these needs, and the price is OK for a dictionary of this kind and quality.

Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology (Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics)
Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology (Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics)
by John Clark
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative introduction, 2 April 2006
This is a very good introduction to phonetics and phonology. The explanations are clear and straightforward.
The only real drawback is the way things are arranged. I have the feeling that what is important is not emphasized. Even though important concepts are in bold, I think that a paragraph should be devoted only to the introduction of a concept, instead of suddenly mentioning it and moving on to a wider explanation.
Thus, the reader must be careful for it is left for them to decide (and find out) what is important, to find the definition, etc. Somehow, I think that, even if it is an introduction, it is not for a beginner in linguistics.

The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners (Penguin Handbooks)
The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners (Penguin Handbooks)
by Nicholas J. Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.49

17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for complete beginners, 24 Dec. 2005
This book claims to be a complete course for beginners. It is not. The grammar is well dealt with; the order in which it is introduced is, in my opinion, not as productive as the author claims. I like to get things done as soon as possible. Studying the prepositional case in singular first, and then finding, after several units, the same case in plural is counter-productive. The explanations are nevertheless very good.
Now, the book tries to deal with vocabulary as well... unsuccesfully. Anyone interested in buying this book should be aware that they will also need a book that introduces vocabulary. At least a dictionary may be necessary. The author's understanding of what basic vocabulary is seems to be quite bizarre. I learnt what "borsch" (beetroot soup) or "kefir" mean, or the russian for "entrance hall", even before it taught me how to say "nearly", "to read" or "Merry Christmas".
Therefore, this book is not a very good starting point for someone with no knowledge whatsoever of Russian. The book lacks vocabulary, and when learning a language, there are some expressions and words that must be learnt prior to even learning some more complex grammar. Traditionally, the emphasis in teaching languages has been put on grammar. It is no use being able to build complex sentences if you can't say anything because you can't find the words to express what you wish to communicate.
All in all, this book is useful, above all, as a reference grammar book, or as a way of complementing other books, or of brushing up, but a rather confused knowledge of Russian grammar and random vocabulary may come of using this book alone to learn Russian from scratch.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2016 4:26 PM BST

The Pacific War Companion: From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima (Osprey Companion)
The Pacific War Companion: From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima (Osprey Companion)
by Daniel Marston
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, smooth and ejoyable to read, 24 Dec. 2005
This book is highly recommened for anyone who is interested in the Pacific campaign during WWII. It is a smooth read (unlike many books by Osprey which, albeit sublime, may overwhelm the reader with too many facts, names and numbers in too few pages), and informative, nonetheless.
Perhaps they should have included more diagrams, tables and maps with facts and figures, as they usually do in their regular books, to help the reader ascertain quickly the situation, developemnt and outcome of the battles and campaigns. Someone wanting to know the names of the Japanese carriers sunk in Midway or their commanders' will have to read the article in order to know them. In the Campaign Midway 1942 Osprey book, however, the Order of Battle is present, making things easy.
Apart from that, I recommend it.

Mastering German Vocabulary (Mastering Vocabulary)
Mastering German Vocabulary (Mastering Vocabulary)
by Gabriele Forst
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really useful, 17 Dec. 2005
In this book you will find thousands of vocabulary items in German, sorted thematically. This means that you can look up words related to any topic that you may be interested in. It is particularly useful if you are learning German on your own (that is my case) and don't want to buy a school text book. Obviously, you may want to buy a book on German grammar as well, to complement this one.
The main adventage is the thematic approach. For instance, under "Living" you will find lots of sub-topics like parts of a house, buying or renting, etc. The phonetic transcription is very useful, and it has what should be a must in this kind of books: many examples. Furthermore, you are given the gender of nouns and the conjugation of irregular verbs. The only real drawback (inexplicable as it is) is that you are not presented with the plural of the nouns. Given the nature of the German language, this may be a problem, since you are required to look them up in order to ascertain the plural.
Nonetheless, this is a very good book, especially for those who have already a basic level. I recommend using it in conjunction with a notebook or flash cards, so that you may get the utmost of it.

The Oxford Starter Russian Dictionary (Oxford Starter Dictionaries)
The Oxford Starter Russian Dictionary (Oxford Starter Dictionaries)
by Della Thompson
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good dictionary, which could be improved, 15 April 2005
The idea -and the dictionary on the whole- is excellent. The layout is good. The entries are short and concise, dealing only with what a beginner may be looking for: not the rarest meaning of a word, but the most usual meaning in order to gain a basic knowledge of the language. This dictionary achieves this. Moreover, the grammatical tables at the end of the book are superb: each russian entry -except for irregularities- has a number, which corresponds with a grammatical table. Since Russian -unlike English, French or Spanish, to put forward a few examples- has cases and quite a complex verbal system, this is most useful for a learner.
On the other hand, this dictionary does lack some things. For instance, there is no phonetic transcription whatsoever. Even though Russian pronounciation is fairly straightforward -at least compared to that of English!-, the transcription (in phonetic characters) would have been a nice addition. Also, this being a beginners' dictionary, it lacks examples . Some words have no examples at all, and it also lacks a lot of explanations on the usage of words, their collocations, idiomatic uses, and other particularities, above all those in which Russian differs from English. Finally, verbs which are not totally regular should be given full tables.
That is why I am rating it with 3 stars. This is a very useful -and recommendable- dictionary, but it could be better. A learner needs lots of examples and information on the usage of words, and the phonetic transcription should be there too. Nonetheless, this book is small and concise, making it easy for the beginner to look up words quickly and efficiently.

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