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Odysseas (Portugal)

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Comanches: The History of a People
Comanches: The History of a People
by T R Fehrenbach
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comanches and much much more, 10 Jun. 2012
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The title of this book, Comanches: The History of a People, really does not do it justice. It is nothing short of a history of North American Indians from the plains and mountains of the US and Northern Mexico from as far back as it is possible to trace them; the history of the European invasion and conquest of those lands; the interactions between European and Indians and how they influenced each other; Indian-Indian and European-European interactions, and the effects they had on both peoples; plus geography, natural history, European and Indian horse culture, and of course the Comanches themselves as the central thread of the entire narrative. The scope and depth are astonishing, and although it is far from a short book, I did not want it to end.

Judging by at least one other review, the author's blunt approach appears to ruffle a few feathers. All I can say is that I found nothing at all to be offended by, and as my own Celtic peoples were spoken of in the same terms as the Comanches, I can state quite firmly that T R Fehrenbach just tells it as history and research say it was, with no political correctness or pussyfooting around, and the book is much the better for it in my view. The brutality of Comanches, Europeans and other Indians is laid bare with no punches pulled, and there is no PC attempt to explain away barbaric acts by anybody, where they are nothing more than gratuitous acts of torture and cruelty for their own sake, or for sheer pleasure taken in other people's suffering.

There are some fascinating insights into how Comanche and Plains-Indian culture developed and changed, particularly with the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico. The way in which horse culture took hold and transformed the Comanches' lives out of all recognition was told in a very convincing way, even taking us as far back as the Arab domination of Iberia.

I do not have a single criticism of the book as originally written, because for my money it is one of the most comprehensive examinations of a people - American Indian or otherwise - I have ever read. However, I am a little disappointed that it has never been updated since originally published in 1974. By one of those odd coincidences that happen in life, I stumbled on an article that shows what I mean. Fehrenbach explains how in pre-history American Indians never saw horses as anything other than a source of food, and in fact the horse was wiped out in the Americas, never to be seen again until the Spanish arrived with their mounts. And it was only then that the Indians realized their value as transport. But while reading the book I was also reading a natural-history magazine, and by sheer chance I found an article detailing how new archaeological evidence shows that the horse never did completely die out in North America, and that the "Indian ponies" often ridden by Indians - distinct from the larger Spanish-originated horses - were very possibly their descendants, which the Indians had been riding all the time. It is just one illustration of how discovery moves on over the decades, and who knows how many other recent discoveries could be incorporated into an updated version of the book?

The book is written in a very accessible way, but if you are not a fan of in-depth detail, which includes a vastly bigger picture than just the Comanches themselves, with entire chapters in which they are barely or never mentioned, then you might not enjoy the book as much as I did. But for anybody who wants to understand a vanished culture in as much detail as it is possible to provide, I don't think this book can be beaten.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 23, 2017 9:52 PM BST

Hell Ride [DVD] [2008]
Hell Ride [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Larry Bishop
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £3.89

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Silly Film, 10 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: Hell Ride [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
I loved Hell Ride. It certainly seems to be a film that divides opinion, and I can understand why. It has a story that doesn't make any sense the first time you see it, and when you watch it again (and again, and again) to try to join the pieces up, you come to the conclusion that a lot of it doesn't actually join up at all. Given that Tarantino was an executive producer, and that Robert Rodriguez was also clearly an influence (he also does some of the music), that shouldn't come as a surprise. Add that to the deliberately crappy, nonsensical dialogue and jokey posturing of Larry Bishop as the main character and Vinny Jones as one of the two bad guys, and you have a recipe for deep hate on the part of some people.

But it's the kind of recipe that is just as likely to appeal to another kind of audience, and I suppose I fall into that camp, because I've already watched it four times in the last couple of weeks, and will probably watch it again before too long.

I'll give it my best shot to try to explain the storyline. On 4 July 1976 a girl called Kisum who is involved with some members of a bike gang called The Victors has her throat slashed and is set on fire by members of a rival gang, The Six Six Sixers. It turns out that she had been involved in drugs dealing with the Sixers, but had been skimming off the profits, which is why she was killed. Her son is the only person to witness what happened, but he promptly disappears. However, some time before she dies, she tells Johnny "Pistolero" Pistolle, the leader of the Victors, that she has an amount of "treasure" stashed, and that if anything happens to her, then he should make sure that it is passed to her son.

We now skip to 2008. As nobody was aware that the Sixers were the murderers, the Victors took no action, and in the meantime the Sixers faded from the scene. However, out of the blue a member of the Victors is killed in exactly the same way as Kisum. As a result, it soon becomes clear who the original murderers were, and that the Sixers are now back to try to take over the Victors' territory and get their hands on the "treasure". Cue a gang war between the Victors and Sixers, with the added complication that many of the Victors are changing to the other side, leading to a bloodbath within the gang itself, to the point that eventually only four Victors are left. It also becomes clear pretty quickly (if you're able to follow the clues in the plot) that one of the four is in fact Kisum's son. Essentially, the rest of the film involves the war to see which side is going to wipe out the other and get to the "treasure".

The film is violent, and not one for the kids. I think one review referred to "explicit sex" too. He must have been watching a better version than mine, but it is true that there's plenty of nudity, hands on silicone boobs and bums, simulated lesbian sex and the like. It's all pretty tame but, again, not something you're going to want to show the kids.

I thought the actors did a fine job. They must have had a lot of fun making the film, because it should be more than obvious after just ten minutes or so that it's not supposed to be taken too seriously. The dialogue and plot are deliberately daft. Perhaps many of the people who didn't enjoy it were hoping for a film with a lot more gravitas, but that's not what Hell Ride is about. Larry Bishop has come in for a lot of criticism for taking the lead role in his own film, being accused of not being charismatic enough, not leader-like, etc. etc. I can only say I thought he was great, with his silly poses, idiotic one-liners and the like. David Carradine and Dennis Hopper are very enjoyable, Hopper playing an unusual character for him, which might come as a surprise to read, given that he is a biker, just as he was in his most famous film. But if you see the film you'll understand what I mean. Carradine is very charismatic in Hell Ride, but has the briefest of parts to play. Vinnie Jones is like a cartoon bad guy, with a bizarre Anglo-American accent, but he's very menacing and hugely entertaining. He was made for this kind of role. Eric Balfour has also been criticized by some reviewers for his performance as the biker Comanche, but I really thought he was good - likeable, dangerous, and very watchable. Michael Madsen as another gang member, The Gent, is just hilarious. He'll probably look back on his "look I'm an owl" moment as the highlight of his career. Or maybe not. And Leonor Varela is remarkably sexy. She steals every scene she is in.

As for the rest, I loved some of the bikes, especially Vinnie Jones' and Comanche's, plus one or two others that are only seen fleetingly (a few Triumphs, a BSA and a Norton spring to mind). The music is superb, especially CC Rider by Mitch Ryder, and the photography and setting are very watchable. The style is a mix of '60s biker films, Tarantino/Rodriguez, and perhaps I'd go along with one or two other reviewers who compare it to a spaghetti western too, although the similarily didn't occur to me until I read the reviews. If you like a daft film with motorbikes, this could be your thing. It's not a family film like Wild Hogs but, just like that film, it's not meant to be taken seriously and in fact I think Hell Ride works better. I'd love to see a Hell Ride 2.

Just to finish, there's an element of the plot that no other reviewers have mentioned, as far as I can see. The very last line that Pistolero says in the film tells you why he was so ready to help Comanche. It's not subtle, but it seems to have been missed by most people who have seen the film.

It Might Get Loud [DVD]
It Might Get Loud [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jack White
Offered by babsbargains - *Domestic, EU & International Shipping*
Price: £17.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great, but..., 10 May 2011
This review is from: It Might Get Loud [DVD] (DVD)
First of all, congratulations to the film-makers for putting together such an interesting package. I would never have imagined that bringing Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White together would work, but it does. In this film, Page's guitar playing sticks mainly to the riffs that made his name. The Edge shows how he uses electronics to enhance his sound, essentially playing very simply, but enhancing everything with a huge box of tricks. I'm not sure if I like it, but it is a different approach to the other two. The person who fascinated me was Jack White. He talks about how he picks up old guitars in junk shops and finds a way of producing a unique sound from them. It's not the easiest way to go about guitar playing, but coupled with his very committed approach it works extremely well. The only other guitarist I have seen do the same thing is Elvis Costello. Of course, White is the only one of the three who is also a lead singer, and so inevitably this has an influence on his playing, although this is not touched on in the film.

However, truth be told I was a little disappointed with the film overall. To break it down to its bare bones, in essence the film is in two parts: one which goes back in time with each of the guitarists to look at how/why they started and do what they do; and the second part in which the three of them are together discussing guitar playing and jamming together. The look-back into the past was all very well, but for me there was just too much of it, and after a while I just got bored. On the other hand, the part when they were together was great, but there simply wasn't enough of it. I can only imagine that a huge part of this session was left on the cutting room floor when it should have formed the meat and potatoes of the film. A lost opportunity.

Having said that, the idea was great, and I'd love to see an 'It Might Get Loud 2', this time perhaps with Jeff Beck and a couple of other unexpected guests.

Mackenna's Gold [DVD] [1969]
Mackenna's Gold [DVD] [1969]
Dvd ~ Gregory Peck
Offered by Real Satisfaction
Price: £21.28

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh Dear..., 30 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Mackenna's Gold [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
If you approach MacKenna's Gold as a fantasy film, you may well enjoy it, as many seem to. However, if you are expecting a western, as I was, then you are likely to be very disappointed.

The story concerns a suspected hidden valley containing more gold than anyone can imagine. Gregory Peck's character MacKenna stumbles upon a map supposedly showing the way. He destroys the map, but no sooner does he do so than he is captured by the bandit Colorado and his band, who forces him to lead himself and the band to the valley from memory of what he saw on the map.

The basic premise for the film is quite interesting. The aim seems to be to show how the prospect of unimaginable wealth can bring out a hidden side of people's nature, and in fact none of the characters are all good or bad in the film. Even the lawman MacKenna has a dark past, apparently involving Colorado himself. But, in truth, the film is preposterous from the outset, and just gets more and more daft as time goes on.

The "Apaches" who are supposedly the guardians of the gold (an idiotic idea in itself), played by Julie Newmar amongst others, look about as Apache as Meryl Streep, and curiously all of them seem to have lost the power of speech. Weren't there any Hispanics available to play unconvincing Apaches the way they do in every other western? Omar Sharif - not exactly an actor with a wide range - is just a bizarre choice for the role of Mexican bandit Colorado, and makes absolutely nothing out of the role. He appears to be quite lost. It seems that real Hispanics must have been devastated by some terrible plague around the time that this film was made. And then there are several well-known actors playing cameo parts, and who within five minutes or so are all killed. About the only two actors who come out of the film with any credit are Telly Savalas, to a certain extent, and particularly Gregory Peck, whose performance deserves a far better film.

And then, the final scenes involving a rising sun and shadow that manages to move in the opposite direction to every other shadow ever created by nature, and a polystyrene valley of "gold", set the seal on the whole sorry effort. The "shadow" - a shockingly bad special effect - was so bad that I laughed out loud (as I did during another one, where the band cross over a rope bridge). And as Gregory Peck and the obligatory pretty blonde girl try to climb out of the valley, all I could think of was Batman and Robin scaling up the wall in the TV series! If this were a spoof film it would be fairly funny. In a sense, the fact that it seems to be intended to be taken seriously makes it funnier still. Judging by previous reviews, quite a few people enjoy the film, but I can only say that I have rarely seen a more ridiculous and badly made one. But we all have our own tastes, I suppose.

Performing This Week - Live At Ronnie Scott's [DVD] [2006]
Performing This Week - Live At Ronnie Scott's [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Jeff Beck
Price: £13.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!!, 3 Nov. 2010
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Jeff Beck isn't everyone's cup of tea. Everybody agrees that he is technically excellent, and you often hear the old "guitarist's guitarist" cliché rolled out, but few people seem to want to listen to him or buy his CDs. Part of this may be down to the jazz-rock approach he has favoured for so many years, which has a narrower fan-base than the rock he was known for when he played with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, and previously in the Yardbirds; and it probably doesn't help that a large part of his work is purely instrumental - again, that tends to bar him from mainstream popularity. As a decades-long (run-of-the-mill) guitarist myself I've always recognized him as technically brilliant, but once he turned to instrumental music I often found his records a bit hard going.

So when it comes to this performance at Ronnie Scott's, all I can say is that I was absolutely stunned. What sometimes sound like electronic effects on record turn out to be Jeff Beck with a barely modified Strat., playing without a pick and with almost no effects whatsoever, creating remarkable sounds apparently out of nowhere. The range of music runs from blues to jazz-rock to rock to a beautiful instrumental version of A Day in the Life, and so on. The breadth of sounds he produces is beyond belief. I have never heard a guitarist get so much variety out of such a simple instrument. He is also joined on stage by Joss Stone, Imogen Heap and Eric Clapton, and in all cases he demonstrates his great sensitivity as a sideman to their vocals (and playing in EC's case). And then he finishes off the evening with a short piece that is breathtakingly beautiful. What a performance!

I have been referring to Beck alone so far, but of course he is accompanied by a band out of the very top drawer: Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, whom JB says is the best he's every played with for the way his style blends with Beck's own; Tal Wilenfeld on bass, 21 years old at the time and simply superb; and pianist Jason Rebello on keyboards, who is a perfect match for the other three. There is more talent on the stage that any one band has a right to!

Then there is the venue. The very intimate Ronnie Scott's club means that the audience can see every single hair on Jeff Beck's head, and every single mistake. But for all that, JB is prepared to take chances, and try things that may or may not come off - they don't always succeed, but he pulls things around in an instant, and before you know it he's flying again and taking you with him. It certainly didn't help his nerves to see the likes of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in the audience, but he still played on a knife-edge, and the results are astounding. The atmosphere is almost tangible.

Extras are just an interview with Jeff Beck lasting about 15 mins or so, talking about the venue, how he got involved, comments on the rest of the band and the guest performers; and a few shorter interviews with the rest of the band.

Note, this is not music that will appeal to everyone. It requires active listening, and stylistically it may leave some people cold. But if you want to see the man that many (myself included) regard as the greatest living electric guitarist playing at the very top of his game, then this is the DVD. My own tastes tend to be centred more on the Stones, the Who and suchlike, and like many music fans I have a few of their gigs on DVD. But I have no hesitation in saying that Jeff Beck Performing This Week Live at Ronnie Scott's is the best music DVD I have ever seen.

Once They Moved Like The Wind: Cochise, Geronimo and the Apache Wars
Once They Moved Like The Wind: Cochise, Geronimo and the Apache Wars
by David Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, 29 Aug. 2010
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Along with other reviewers, I found this account to be an outstanding study of the last years of Apache resistance to the Europeans moving into or already occupying northern Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico. It deals with the period from Cochise's fight against white Americans and Mexicans starting in 1861 to the final surrender of Geronimo and his last group of fugitives in 1886, although key events prior to 1861 are also covered. The epilogue details their subsequent fates as they are removed from Arizona, firstly to Florida, then Alabama and ultimately to Oklahoma (although many decades later, some survivors and their descendents are at last allowed to return to Arizona).

No punches are pulled regarding the brutality and duplicity of people on both sides of the war, and the author does a fine job of trying to identify the source of so much cruelty and bloodshed. It is a harrowing book, but it also leaves one with a strong sense of admiration for so many of the individuals unfortunate enough to be involved in the war. It also includes a number of very interesting photographs of the main protagonists, most of which I had never seen before.

For anybody not familiar with how the Apache wars fit into the overall scheme of the conflict between Europeans and Native Americans, I would strongly suggest reading Dee Brown's seminal Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to gain an overview, and then Once They Moved Like the Wind, which provides a genuinely in-depth look at the Apache tragedy, including fascinating studies of most of the personalities involved. I recommend this book whole-heartedly.

Fort Apache (John Wayne) [DVD]
Fort Apache (John Wayne) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Henry Fonda
Offered by Sluagh62
Price: £8.63

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine Film, Poor Transfer, 5 Aug. 2010
Fort Apache is a very fine film by Hollywood standards. Normally I am not a Western fan, but if they were all as good as this I would devour them all.

The story concerns an embittered army colonel (Henry Fonda), who against his will is posted to a remote fort to fight Apaches, a people whom he despises. Despite the sensible advice he receives from his more experienced subordinates, he threatens the safety of all of them thanks to his inflexibility and ambition, and his unwillingness to take advice. Fonda plays the part extremely well. His character is far from one-dimensional, and one can see his internal struggle as he tries to deal with his own competing impulses. He is supported by an outstanding cast, including Wayne, Victor McLagan, Ward Bond, Shriley Temple and numerous others. And for once, I am happy to say, the Indians are not just there for target practice. All in all a very good film, with an intelligent script and plot, although effectively without any extras on the DVD.

Unfortunately, the quality of the images lets the whole package down. On my version the studio shots are perfectly ok, without the graininess that others have mentioned. However, the outdoor scenes in Monument Valley suffer from such high contrast that they are virtually in pure black and white - almost no grey tones whatsoever. In fact they are quite unpleasant to watch. This is a pity, because the location is absolutely stunning. I have never seen any other version of this film, so I cannot say whether the original film suffered from this drawback, but I find it unlikely given John Ford's vast experience in filming at this location.

It is a great shame. This is without doubt a five-star film, but the image reproduction is one- or two-star at best.

The Hunt for Rob Roy: The Man and the Myths
The Hunt for Rob Roy: The Man and the Myths
by David Stevenson
Edition: Paperback

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "Real" Rob Roy, 19 April 2010
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This book is an attempt to get to the heart of who Rob Roy MacGregor really was, rather than the mythical creation he has become over the last three centuries. In some ways, it also seems to be a reaction to the book Rob Roy by W.H. Murray.

David Stevenson explains in his introduction that Murray's biography suffers from many inaccuracies. These seem to be based on less than careful checking of sources, and even defence of his subject in defiance of the evidence, but there is also the fact that far less documentary evidence was available to Murray than to Stevenson. It was only after Murray's book inspired the Hollywood film Rob Roy that the National Archives of Scotland compiled a guide to records about Rob Roy, enabling historians carry out research in much greater depth. Stevenson explains this progression, and he has taken full advantage of that new resource.

In his introduction, he calls Murray's book "the case for the defence", and so rather inevitably any book which goes against the trend by showing evidence that Rob Roy was not a wronged and persecuted "little man", but instead an accomplished conman who got what he deserved is bound to seem like the case for the prosecution, whether the author intends it to be so or not.

Certainly that is how the book feels, at least for the first half. The approach it takes to Rob Roy's early life is remarkably similar to that taken by Murray. As we know nothing about the man's childhood apart from the baptism record and a few related facts, both books give a fascinating and quite detailed account of what a young highland man's typical life would have been at this point in history. Stevenson also provides an extremely interesting overview of the situation of Clan Gregor in particular.

The whole point of writing the book is perhaps to be found in chapter three, which gives an account of Rob's downfall from successful cattle trader to harassed debtor and ultimately man on the run. It is crucial to the story, because it is here that the author argues that rather than an innocent victim of a nobleman (the Duke of Montrose)'s vindictivness, Rob Roy set out deliberately to defraud him and other creditors. He provides a range of documentary evidence to support the case and also mentions that many of the arguments in support of Rob (e.g. the "MacDonald" who supposedly absconded with the duke's money) do not arise until much later, often long after Rob Roy was dead.

If I have a doubt about the argument, it comes back to Mr Stevenson's court-case analogy. Yes, the written evidence seems quite convincing, but who can say if other evidence may yet come to light, and just as importantly there is no way of cross-examining the witnesses to put some flesh on the bare bones of the documents. But the evidence that the author has produced is quite fascinating.

A second key "prosecution" argument against Rob Roy concerns his spying for the Hanoverian government against his Jacobite friends and colleagues, and here the case against him seems pretty water-tight. It will not make comfortable reading for anyone who prefers to see him as the all-virtuous Jacobite and patriot.

The last 70-odd pages of the book are quite a departure from the usual biography. Rob is already dead, but the author continues with four further chapters. The first is very helpful, explaining why so many of the events that we all take for granted as part of the true Rob Roy story do not appear in the preceding chapters. Then comes a chapter on the fate of his sons after his death. Their tale is interesting and none too edifying, but has nothing to do with the life of Rob Roy himself. There then follows a chapter on Rob in fiction - print, plays, film, etc. I confess that I found this a bit pointless, but I may well be in the minority. And finally there is a summing up, which I really do think is masterful.

My general, but possibly mistaken, impression is that David Stevenson did not really like Rob Roy MacGregor as he wrote the first few chapters, but gradually warmed to him as the book progressed. The result in my view is a book of two halves. The first half can sometimes seem rather legalistic, and I found it hard to summon up any feel for Rob Roy as living flesh and blood. But this changes as the book moves forward, and the end result is a highly readable and enjoyable portrait of a real man, not a caricature. I would recommend reading W.H. Murray's book first, and then this one. In this way you will have the cases for and against Rob Roy MacGregor, and can make up your own mind about him. I suspect that romantics will prefer Murray's work, and will prefer to overlook its apparent inaccuracies and bias. It is a highly enjoyable read, after all. But those, myself included, who hope for a more insightful investigation into who Rob Roy MacGregor really was are more likely to prefer David Stevenson's portrayal.

Wolf Almanac
Wolf Almanac
by Robert H. Busch
Edition: Paperback

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reputed to be the best, 31 Jan. 2010
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This review is from: Wolf Almanac (Paperback)
Several sources cite the Wolf Almanac as the best general overview of the world's wolves. I cannot challenge that statement, not having read any of its rivals, but in many ways it is quite an absorbing and interesting book.

The chapters begin with the evolution of the wolf, its distribution, its anatomy and physiology, behaviour and activities, and then move on to more human-related matters: the wolf in human culture, the wolf as predator and how humans control that predation, the wolf as a "furbearer", big-game animal and pet. The final two chapters are on conservation of the species followed by the conclusion, which provides a brief overview of the wolf's status throughout the world.

Rather than a tome of original research, for the most part the Wolf Almanac is a compendium of research, especially from the United States. As a result, I found the first part of the book in particular somewhat frustrating. The chapters on anatomy and behaviour feel like an ad-hoc list of observations made by field biologists, often amounting to just a sentence or two, sometimes with reference to a book on the subject. As a result, it felt as if I had bought a book that tells me what other books I should read if I want to learn about wolves. At times sections of the book take the form of a brief introduction to a subject followed by bullet points listing scattered observations related to the theme in question. Reading one or two other reviews of this book, such an approach could well be what many readers are looking for. For my part, I found it too lightweight, just skimming the surface, especially when dealing with behaviour and physiology, and I must point out that I am certainly not a biologist or naturalist.

While I am on the negatives, there are a few other features that left me disappointed. The book measures 19 cm by 24 cm, and is about 270 pages long, so it seems quite substantial. But upon opening the book I was saddened to find it written in a large typeface, with a huge blank margin down one side of each page, meaning that the contents are far more meagre than I was expecting. But to counterbalance that, the photos are kept to a reasonably small size. Also, the book is American, and as such focuses almost exclusively on research etc. in the US and Canada. This is not to be taken as a criticism, but it is something to be borne in mind by readers from the UK and the rest of Europe. The final chapter does provide a brief overview of the "current" situation in every country of the world with wolves, but the book was published in 2007, and for at least three of the countries the information appears already to be quite out of date. Other than that, the world outside of North America and Mexico is barely mentioned. For example, my own part of the world, Iberia, merits about three or four lines in the entire book before the closing chapter, where it gets another page or so.

In some respects, I feel that the author has been let down by the publisher. One example will suffice: in the concluding chapter there are three maps showing how the range of the Iberian wolf has shrunk. This is great, until one notices that the maps are undated, and consequently it is impossible to tell if the shrinkage has occurred over the last 10 years, 50 years, 100 years or whenever, which makes the maps fairly useless. There are numerous similar examples. All measurements are in pounds, feet and inches, etc., and some of them were quite meaningless to me. The book is squarely aimed at an American readership, but it would still have been helpful to have the metric equivalents.

Probably the best chapter in the book is the penultimate one, on wolf conservation. It is here that the author gets across his obvious love of his subject. The chapters on the relationship between wolf and man are harrowing in the extreme. Although they are an essential part of any wolf overview, they are not easy reading for anybody who feels any affection for these animals.

This review has been largely negative, and yet I have given the book four stars, which may seem a contradiction. The reason is that I found the book a good starter for anyone without any previous knowledge of wolves and who perhaps does not want to delve too deeply into the subject. However, in my own case I was expecting more. Permit me to make a comparison that may be of some relevance to UK readers. While reading the Wolf Almanac I was also reading the Collins New Naturalist: Dragonflies. There are clear similarities between the approach taken by both, but every time I picked up the Wolf Almanac I felt that I was reading a "New Naturalist lite". Perhaps it is time for somebody to provide a more in-depth view of wolves, and one which genuinely covers the whole world.

The Long, The Short & The Tall [DVD]
The Long, The Short & The Tall [DVD]
Dvd ~ Richard Todd
Price: £12.99

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who is the enemy?, 25 Aug. 2009
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This black and white British film takes an intriguing approach to soldiers' view of the "enemy". Set in Burma in WWII, it involves a group of British rear echelon soldiers led by a couple of more experienced NCOs who unexpectedly encounter and capture a Japanese soldier when they think they are safe behind their own lines. They then face the dilemma of whether to bring him back to base with them or kill him in cold blood, with the added complication that he may not be alone. The interplay between the soldiers is well-portrayed, especially as their views towards their "enemy" change as circumstances develop.

The film is based on a stage play, and certainly has the same feeling, both in the acting (Laurence Harvey in particular) and the sets, which are clearly sound stage sets. But this does not really detract from the film. Instead, the result is a claustophobic energy much in keeping with the supposed jungle setting.

The line-up of actors is top-class, including Richard Todd, Richard Harris, David McCallum and Ronald Fraser, but Laurence Harvey totally steals the show from start to finish. It is not an action war film of the usual kind, and I doubt that many of those who fought in 14th Army would recognize themselves or what they went through here, but it deals with a moral question that certainly must have been faced by many soldiers in Burma and no doubt other theatres of war. Overall, it is a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking film. The DVD itself contains no extras other than scene selection.

Incidentally, if you have ever seen the very good Hollywood film The Hook, starring Kirk Douglas, set in the Korean War, then effectively you have already seen this film: it is the same story, although I have no idea if The Hook acknowledged its original stage-play inspiration or simply plagiarized the story.

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