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    The Battle for Christmas
    Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
    Hardcover (05 November, 1996)
    list price: $30.00 -- our price: $30.00
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    Editorial Review

    This scholarly analysis of our modern celebration of Christmas pulls together a thoroughly convincing case for the widely accepted notion that it is a 19th-century creation, indeed a deliberate reformation and taming of a holiday with wilder pagan origins. Christmas was set at December 25 in the fourth century, not for any biblical link with Christ's birth, but because the church hoped to annex and Christianize the existing midwinter pagan feast. This latter was based on the seasonal agricultural plenty, with the year's food supply newly in store, and nothing to do in the fields. It was a time of drinking and debauchery from the Roman Saturnalia to the English Mummers. The Victorians hijacked the holiday, and Victorian writers helped turn it into a feast of safe domesticity and a cacophonous chime of retail cash registers. ... Read more

    Reviews (13)

    5-0 out of 5 stars We can reinvent Christmas - It's been done before!
    Stephen Nissenbaum shows us that there is no "real" Christmas to which we must return to be authentic. While some will find his demystification of our cherished traditions depressing, I found it liberating. Christmas has always been a malleable tradition, according to Nissenbaum. That means that while it may be an "invented tradition", it is one we are free to reinvent for ourselves. Many of us are concerned about the extreme materialism and consumerism that rules our societies and hijacks our family and community life. The Battle for Christmas provides a roadmap of where we have been, and suggests where we might go to recapture the magic of this seasonal festival.

    5-0 out of 5 stars The Battle for Christmas
    Being born into a family of historians, I've heard plenty of discussion about a certain paradox concerning books published in the field.Many historians, including some who are quite intelligent and qualified, lack the talent for writing readable prose, so their works frequently prove inaccessible to a wider audience.On the other hand, many of the most popular and widely read history books are not, by traditional standards, 'good' history books based on solid research.Stephen Nissenbaum's "The Battle for Christmas" manages to bridge the gap by presenting solid historical research in an easy to understand way.

    Roughly, the book covers how the Christmas holiday was experienced by ordinary people in the United States, mostly focusing on the nineteenth century.After an introductory chapter covering the Puritans' somewhat surprising attitude towards the holiday, we get chapters that look individually at various different traditions, such as gift giving, and at various regions of the country.Nissenbaum's major thesis is that our concept of a traditional family Christmas was actually invented around the 1820's, an action that corresponds with the rise of the middle class.He backs this up with a fearsome array of evidence, including personal letters, newspaper articles, and advertisements.However, the text is not merely a recitation of facts and data.Nissenbaum organizes it into a type of narrative, letting us clearly see the progression through time as people's attitudes towards Christmas changed.In addition, he provides detailed portraits of some individuals who played key roles in defining a new type of Christmas, thus making it easier to understand how social trends actually affected people's lives.After reading "The Battle for Christmas", you'll feel like you know people such as Clement Clarke Moore, the author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas".

    4-0 out of 5 stars Christmas Trees, Traditions Taken Down In "The Battle..."
    UMass professor Stephen Nissenbaum's Pulitzer-Prize nominated "The Battle For Christmas" is an engrossing, sober look at a holiday celebration reformed from reaction to drunken revelry. Its 317 pages do not debunk so much as dissect traditions which seemed to "stand outside history." He sees larger points within about 18th and 19th century societal, racial, and cultural divides and Christmas' role in spurring American consumerist society.

    Nissenbaum bookends "Battle" with accounts of New England's "wassail" tradition and of Christmas celebrations in the slavery South. He finds similar tales of pauper (peasant class, slave) trading places with prince (gentry, slavemaster) with wild costumes (German Belsnickle, African John Canoe, Boston-Philadelphia "mumming"), endorsed begging, whiskey-soaked revelry and feasting, bawdy songs, wanton sex, vandalism and violence equal parts Halloween and Mardi Gras. Nissenbaum successfully argues that this role reversal behavior was tolerated, even encouraged to reinforce traditional class roles.

    Nissenbaum builds his unsentimental holiday history between these pillars. He reinterprets beloved, seemingly eternal seasonal traditions (Dickens' "Christmas Carol," decorated trees, St. Nicholas) as creations to refocus the celebration on temperance, home, and family (especially children). He links their manufacture and deliberate spread to 19th century revisionist views: abolition and the role of freed blacks, new child rearing and education theories. Nissenbaum redefines "Twas The Night Before Christmas" nearly line-by-line, showing the social satire within Clement Moore's detailed descriptions and figurative redrawing of the "jolly old elf."These intentionally benign images mask and spur attempts to link a consumer-driven society in a still-new nation with folk traditions generations old.

    Nissenbaum saves his empathy and some of his most descriptive, humorous writing to chart contradictions and hyprocricies within holiday giving. Much like orphaned New York newsboys' food fighting over not getting holiday dessert first, he pokes the motivations behind gifts charitable (Ebeneezer Scrooge's symbolic Christmas turkey, slavemasters' gifts to field hands, Louisa May Alcott's reaction to a children's Christmas dinner, New York's well-to-do buying tickets to attend large charity dinners) and personal (charting the Sedgwick family's gift giving history with problems close to our modern Christmas.) Nissenbaum's epilogue falters comparing antiquity's "carnival" Christmas with today's wild clothes and "boom boxes." His modern parallels come too little, too late, yet his meticulous research and detached writing style form a more factual, critical account than Karol Ann Marling's 2000 "Merry Christmas." (I still prefer that book for its sentimentality, broad scope and author's personal reflections. Marling cited "Battle" as influencing her work).

    Nissenbaum acknowledged "my muse, and my darling" Dona Brown because "she made sure I used the writing of this book as a way to exploring my own sense of what it means to be Jewish." This is worth mentioning because Nissenbaum concludes that "today we wish for a past that has no past" and "there was never a time when Christmas existed ...immune to the taint of commercialism." His statement conflicts with the greatest hit of a Jewish songwriter, Irving Berlin, who made millions worldwide wistful for a Christmas "just like the ones I used to know." Both men understood how distant, near non-existant that idealized Christmas wish was, but the difference between successful composer and truthful, scholarly author lied in reaction and perpetuation. With due respect to the author's heritage and religious faith, anyone wanting "Christ back in Christmas" or the "reason for the season" returned should read this deeply researched, highly recommended history. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0679412239
    Subjects:  1. Christmas    2. History    3. History - General History    4. History: American    5. Holidays - Christmas    6. Manners And Customs    7. United States    8. United States - General    9. History / General   


    Family in Various Cultures
    by Stuart A. Queen, Robert W. Habenstein, Jill Sobel Quadagno
    Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 March, 1985)
    list price: $28.05
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    Reviews (2)

    3-0 out of 5 stars Informative
    This book is a sociological overview of the variety of family types found throughout the world.It describes cultures that practice polyandry (exemplified by the Toda of South India), cultures that practice polygamy (exemplified by the Baganda of Uganda), matrilineal cultures (exemplified by the Hopi of Arizona), patriarchal cultures (exemplified by the Chinese), and cultures with minimal families (exemplified by the kibbutz culture of Israel).For each of these cultures, a detailed description is provided that includes information about family organization, kinship orientation and terminology, mate selection, responsibilities and typical practices of family members at different stages of life (birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age), family controls, division of the family, and functions of the family.The descriptions are based on published anthropological accounts of the cultures in question, and specific details are cited with endnotes that appear following each chapter. The parallel organization of the first five chapters facilitates easy comparison of each feature across the different cultures.

    The second part of the book attempts to explore contemporary (1950s in the 3rd ed) American families by seeking historical roots of family traditions.The authors implicitly assume a Classical Western Civilization source of American family traditions and present a linear history that goes from colonial families to British families, to families of the Roman empire, to early Christian families, and ultimately back to Hebrew families.To me, this part of the book sounds a bit of a stretch, and a closed-minded one at that.I don't think cultural traditions work in such a closed, linear way.I would guess that American families probably have some things in common with other heterogeneous cultures of immigrants, like those found in Israel, Brazil, or New Zealand, in that ties with ancestors and extended family were severed with emigration from the home countries, and may not have been rebuilt by later generations.In addition, certainly Slavic, Spanish and Muslim, and Scandinavian family traditions must all have played some role in creating the culture of the contemporary American family, a role that certainly equaled that contributed by the early Roman or Hebrew cultures.The book closes with a chapter on the American "Negro" family, which highlights some reasons why family traditions in African American families can be so very different from EuropeanAmerican (WASP) families.

    Overall, I found the book somewhat informative and occasionally even interesting.In places, it seemed that the book focused a bit too much on mating customs and wedding traditions, and didn't delve into the more important questions such as "What is a family in this culture?" or "How do the children view their families in this culture?" In order tofacilitate the discussion, the focus is on the ideal family in each culture, such as a family with a patriarch and 3 or 4 generations living under one roof.What doesn't receive enough discussion is what happens when the patriarch passes away, since although this doesn't meet the ideal for family composition in the culture, it certainly happens within every family, and everyone in the culture at some point is going to live in a broken family.How do they manage then?The authors brush these questions aside, providing at most a paragraph or two about divorce for each culture. Despite these shortcomings, for a cross-cultural overview of family traditions that is accessible to the general reader, this book may nevertheless prove adequate.

    5-0 out of 5 stars An extremely valuable perspective on marriage & family
    I used this book as a supplement to my upper division course, The Psychology of Marriage & Family, which I taught for about 7 or so years. I assigned five chapters and encouraged reading the whole book.

    There is no other text that I know of like this and it gives a perspective which is extremely valuable for understanding functions and changes in marriage.

    There are so many forms to marriage and family historically and culturally that obviously no one book could survey them all.But this one does an excellent job of giving a taste of the complexity, especially concentrating on those antecedent influences on the American (and much of the Canadian) heritage.But it also gives some other examples for contrast, (e.g., the Chinese, etc.), that are not part of the usual heritage.

    The book has chapters on the families of the polyandrous Toda; matrilieal Hopi; traditional Chinese; the Kibbutz; ancient Hebrews; ancient and later Romans; early Christians;Anglo-Saxons; Medieval English; colonial American; modern American; contemporary Black; and Mexican-American to name all but threeor four chapters.

    While written from a socioloigical point of view, anthropologists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and many other students of marriage and family will find it a rich treasure. Most chapters are heavily footnoted so there are ready references to other sources.

    I still look up things in my copy or reread chapters and it's a shame this book is no lonmger in print.Fortunately, there are a number of cheap used copies available and I sometimes order one or two to give as gifts to friends interested in the area.I'm sorry that I've not posted a review earlier.(If you do a Google on the title, you'll see this text is still being used in several upper division courses in the US and Canada.)

    I don't know what earlier editions are like (I think the first edition was published in 1952!) but I suggest anything from the fourth edition (1974; 460 pp.) on will be valuable.As I recall, the edition in which Jill Quadagno joined the original two authors resulted in a somewhat easier reading book; I'm not sure if the book was shortened at all with her addition. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0060425687
    Sales Rank: 1183814
    Subjects:  1. Family    2. Family / Parenting / Childbirth    3. General    4. History   

    Star Names Their Lore and Their Meaning (Dover Books on Astronomy)
    by Richard Hinckley Allen
    Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 June, 1963)
    list price: $14.95 -- our price: $10.17
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    Reviews (3)

    5-0 out of 5 stars The Best Book available on the History of Star Names
    Richard Hinckley Allen's nearly 600-page book Star Names, as written on the copyright page, is "an unabridged and corrected republication of the work first published by G.E. Stechert in 1899, under the former title: Star-Names and Their Meanings."

    This is its great advantage for any student or researcher of the history of astronomy, because it is untainted by the oversimplification which resulted from the artificial fixing of the number, names and boundaries of the constellations by the International Astronomical Union. [...]

    The scope of the book is enormous, covering a breadth of material found, e.g., nowhere on the internet, and that today is saying something.

    Of great value are the extensive (but not perfect) nearly 75 pages of indexes (General Index, Arabic Index, Arabic Alphabet, Greek Index, and the Index to Author and Authorities).

    The history of astronomy goes hand in hand with the manner in which the ancients organized the stellar heavens above them. We have dozens of books on the history of astronomy in our private library. This book is the best - by far - on the history of the names of the stars, and we use it regularly in our own work on the history of astronomy.

    There are no sky maps in this book, it is all text, so that to fully appreciate what one is reading, it is absolutely essential to have 1) the movable precessional historical planispheres of Milton D. Heifetz, 2) a software astronomy program such as Starry Night Pro capable of being set back in historical time plus having an apparently accurate Delta-T value, which e.g. RedShift does not (we unknowingly bought but do not use RedShift for this reason), and (3) a detailed modern atlas of the stars, e.g. such as one by Patrick Moore. All of these can be found at Amazon. To find Heifetz, search "Heifetz Planispheres" at Amazon. To find Starry Night Pro, search just that. To find a good star atlas by Moore search "patrick moore atlas stars".

    5-0 out of 5 stars Amazingly Erudite
    This book is an unusual, carefully crafted look at an unfortunately little-known subject.Richard Hinkley Allen shares with us his research into the ancient names carried by our stars... He delves into the etymologies of dozens, or more likely hundreds of stars, and also of constellations.The book starts out with two brief sections discussing features of the Zodiac as a whole, then goes into great detail about each constellation in the sky, zodiacal or otherwise.He draws upon mythology and folklore from the Chinese, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Old Norse, Hebrews, Celts, many Native American peoples, Assyrians, etc...There are a few problems with nineteenth century terminology for the modern reader, such as calling Mesopotamian peoples "Euphratean," and frequently the spellings Allen uses are no longer accepted, but, well, I for one don't care about that.This just a gem of a book, that's all there is to it.

    If you're like me, you may find yourself startled at how many of the stars carry Arabic names, which Europe adapted in the later Middle Ages.Somehow, that makes me wonder if that obscure fact could somehow help bring about some peace and mutual understanding between the West and the Islamic world...Anyway, I wanted to also mention that if you happen to get really into this stuff, and want to do further research, you could do a lot worse than go online and try to contact a reference librarian at any good divinity school library.That sounds funny, given that this book is about astronomy, and considering the traditional tensions between astronomy and religion, but if you can get access to such a library, you'll be able to leaf through mouldering old dictionaries of many ancient tongues.Especially if the school has offerings in comparative religion.Just a thought.Keep looking up!

    4-0 out of 5 stars A superb scholarly literary reference (but a bit dated)
    This book is filled with ancient and classical literary references andcatalog designations of the stars.At the price, it's an outstanding bargain.Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic, Chinese, and European lore are allthere.I think it's a"must have" for anyone interested inhistorical astronomy.

    The book loses 1 star because the original text waswritten in 1895:before the constellation names and boundaries were fixedby the International Astronomical Union in 1930.So a beginner could getconfused by references to a star being in one constellation whereas the IAUput the star in another. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0486210790
    Sales Rank: 10500
    Subjects:  1. Astronomy - Star Guides    2. Constellations    3. Science    4. Science/Mathematics    5. Stars   


    The Art of Richard P. Feynman: Images by a Curious Character
    by Richard Phillips Feynman, Michelle Feynman
    Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
    Hardcover (01 July, 1995)
    list price: $89.95 -- our price: $89.95
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    Reviews (2)

    5-0 out of 5 stars Another side of Feynman
    The amazing thing about great minds is just how many subjects they encompass. Feynman is known as a physicist and occasional drummer, but he was a fair amateur artist, too.

    These drawings and paintings show how quickly he progressed, once he decided to learn drawing. I suppose it gave him yet another way to enjoy the female form, and yet another reason to habituate "gentlemen's clubs." He had other motivations, too, as shown by some very sensitive drawings of his friends and children.

    This isn't great art. It is, however, very competent amateur work. Most of all, it's another view, from an unexpected angle, of one of the great minds of our time.


    5-0 out of 5 stars What a find!
    This is a really terrific collection. In this book are many of the little-known sketches and paintings of the late, great physicist/folk hero Richard P. Feynman. I sought this book out after reading Ralph Leighton's Feynman biography "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" I'm glad I went to the trouble to do so.

    The book commences with a foreword by Albert Hibbs, whom many Feynman fans will recognize as Feynman's friend and co-author of "Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals." Don't skip over this foreword. Hibbs has a lot of interesting things to say about how visual Feynman was in all his projects, including his style of doing physics.

    After the foreword is a helpful preface by Feynman's daughter Michelle. (Michelle works as a photographer, and was the primary person in charge of selecting these artworks). She describes some interesting features of Feynman family life, such as the fact that many of the models for these paintings became lifelong Feynman family friends. She gives us a fun little window into the experience of "growing up Feynman."

    This book also contains Feyman's wry, interesting essay "But is it Art?" from "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!," as well as a selection of biographical sketches from four of Fenman's friends, including three artists and his biographer.

    The actual sketches are really pretty good, in my humble opinion. There are about a hundred pages of black and white sketches, including charcoal, pencil, and ink wash drawings. Many are quite simple and direct. Others clearly took quite a bit of time.

    Let me give you a friendly warning here, incidentally. Leafing through this section, you will go through page after page of sketches of young, beautiful women, in a variety of attractive poses. This will lead you to a pleasant, happy, blissed out frame of mind. Suddenly, with absolutely no warning whatsoever, you will turn the page and be confronted by the dilapidated, craggy, wrinkled face of an anonymous, elderly male physics professor, frowning under a ponderously furrowed unibrow, glaring out of the book at you. Be warned, O reader, and try not to have a seizure. Also included among these sketches are occasional other topics, such as Feyman's dog Rufus, and a few "one minute line drawings" (a common exercise in art classes)... Personally, I think Figure 87 is pretty neat. It includes small sketches of various subjects -- a woman, faces, a plant, a sleeping dog, and more. But there's more -- the background is full of Feynman's equations! They wind all over the place, throughout the drawing. It makes for kind of a neat juxtaposition. I could definitely see that sketch making a great poster.

    After the black and white sketches are a small collection of color paintings, including a sketch of a little town, and Feynman's trusty dog Rufus.

    Basically, if you are a Feynman fan, this book will go a long way toward rounding out your appreciation of him. Besides, there are some really terrific pictures in here. Two thumbs up! ... Read more

    Isbn: 2884490477
    Sales Rank: 356622
    Subjects:  1. Art    2. Art & Art Instruction    3. Drawing By Individual Artists    4. Feynman, Richard Phillips    5. Individual Artist    6. Physics (General)    7. Techniques - Drawing    8. Drawing & drawings    9. History of art & design styles: from c 1900 -    10. Individual artists    11. Painting & paintings   


    The Lore of the Unicorn
    by Odell Shepard
    Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (27 October, 1993)
    list price: $12.95 -- our price: $12.95
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    Reviews (6)

    5-0 out of 5 stars Always a Classic
    I recieved my first copy when it first came out!It was one of my first unicorn books, and i was just a kid.I loved it, it got me into history, mythology and helped me understand a lot about the unicorn in general.

    this book is a great reference for unicorn mythology, lore, pictoral reference and anything else you can use it for.I have actually used it in my own artwork , i have done illustrations of all the unicorns in the book, as a kid i had made it a goal, the unicorn, monoceras, kirrin, abath, re'em and everything in between.it was actually a book that got me to get up and do something.it got me to study that mythical beast that is always in my dreams and near me in some way...

    from the mythology of the unicorn's creation, to Jesus, to Satan to whatever else this creature has pranced though

    You can tell so much how dedicated this author was, i have even found references in fiction and fantasy books about this author and his wonderful book (Unicorn Mountain). this book is a must-have, must-read book for anyone who likes unicorns.It is always in the bibliography section of unicorn books, and it itself has a great bibliography, which i love so that i can get those books!!

    i recommend this book above all others if you like the rich history of the elusive and magnificent Unicorn!

    5-0 out of 5 stars First Rate
    If you have any experience with Dover publications, you'll know to expect something terrific.You won't be mistaken.Odell Shepard presents a work of such thorough, painstaking scholarship, it should be held up as a model for what scholarship ought to be.In fact, you get a pretty good sense of the history of scholarliness itself, reading this.If you find yourself sort of hypnotized by the excitement of looking over the shoulders of centuries worth of savants, I recommend you also read anything by Anthony Grafton, who writes about issues in the history of Renaissance scholarship.Another thing -- what a beautiful writing style this Odell Shepard possesses.His prose is characterized by an exacting usage of language (languages, I should say, because he apparently has a fluency with Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and probably other languages as well), and also by a taste for baroque, nineteenth century sentence structure.Really beautiful stuff.He loves his subject, and he loves the way it has been handed down through the ages.Two thumbs up.

    5-0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Superb!
    I've been looking for a while for an all-encompassing, in-depth text on the historical significance and study of the unicorn.This book is it.It is filled to the brim with hundreds and hundreds of facts, accounts, testimonials, examinations and analyses of the unicorn throughout history.I was deeply disappointed in reading Roy Wilkinson's sappy "Are You A Unicorn?" This book compensates extensively where other books about the unicorn have failed.Especially interesting are juxtaposed conjectures and certainties of the unicorn.Wonderfully written and thoroughly researched, this is the truest guide to the Unicorn if ever there was one. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0486278034
    Sales Rank: 619020
    Subjects:  1. Folklore & Mythology - Folklore    2. International - General    3. Reference    4. Sociology    5. Unicorns    6. Social Science / General   


    Phantom Islands of the Atlantic: The Legends of Seven Lands That Never Were
    by Donald S. Johnson
    Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 February, 1998)
    list price: $12.00
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    Editorial Review

    Prior to the discovery of continental drift and the birth of islands by volcanic action, a different sort of movement and birth of landmasses took place: the continual cartographic displacement of approximately 27,000 nonexistent islands reputed to exist in the Atlantic and the ontological displacement of the islands from imaginative "existence" on maps and in traveler's tales. Johnson traces the birth, lives, and deaths of seven of these elusive islands of the Atlantic--including their towns, villages, and exotic inhabitants such as St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgin companions (what a lure this must have been to lusty sailors!)--from maps and ship's logs. In the process, he reveals much about the ways in which imagination becomes reality through social consensus and the authority of the printed document. ... Read more

    Reviews (8)

    5-0 out of 5 stars Geographical Myths Debunked
    This is more for the map and exploration buff than those who like ancient sea lore for its own sake. So if Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu and the fabled kingdom of El Dorado are your fare, this is not the book for you. It is a quite scientific and literal, rather than literary, tour of some Atlantic landfalls that were mis-labelled and badly charted, and how later expeditions relocated, redefined and eventually eliminated the fabled islands. There is more navigation than imagination, but then, the author is a small boat sailor and who can fault him for preferring accurate atlases to tall tales?

    5-0 out of 5 stars quaint little interesting text
    This book is a quaint text that is very interesting.I find the discussion of imaginary lands in the Atlantic to be very fun to read about.The imaginary lands that never really existed were a symptom of something greater within the human condition: our yearning for a better place than we where are currently.

    Of course, most of the lands that he discusses were just secondary discoveries of places we had already been too, and/or aspects of them got misreported, or facts about them garbled.Frisland was probably just a misreported encounter with Iceland by somebody who wasn't aware or Iceland's existence, or thought he was nowhere near Iceland for whatever reason.None of these would be out of the question, since things like accurate measurement of ones Longitude laid in the future and illiteracy was very rampant until relatively recent times.

    To use a quote that Donald Johnson uses, "The power of wish and the power of words are chief gods in the world of fable" - C. B. Firestone.Meaning that sometimes people want to dream things because they want too.And if they decide to believe those thoughts... while, it might not be healthy for them, like other vices, in moderation is probably okay for them.

    Later generations, and most notably British, French and later American navel cartographers removed the mystery lands because they wanted to know where islands really were, like in case you really need to make land fall in an emergency.So, they cleaned up the nonexistent places from the old maps.

    Beliefs in these lands made people feel better about themselves for whatever reasons they might have had.Today people immerse themselves into less healthy systems at times. Was something lost?Not really.We just moved our inherent yearning to other places... many have moved their thoughts to the stars and thoughts of other planets.Some yearning of that nature can be healthy, but it can be carried to extremes.

    I liked this book because it placed some of this kind of thinking into a historical context.

    4-0 out of 5 stars intelligently written
    Having just read - and been greatly disappointed by -"The Riddle of the Compas" by some Amir Aczel, I was very pleasantly suprised by Johnson's book.Where the other book was naive and feckless, this book was erudite and sophisticated in comparison.Johnson easily and concisely covers the navigational and cartographic issues involved, alongside the stories, legends and theology that were involved.As the author puts it so well, these stories represent a brief period in history when "the geography of legend and tradition gradually gave way to the geography of reality."A fascinating new twist on the Age of Discovery.for anyone with a taste for seafaring and history, and anyone who enjoyed Dava Sobels' Longitude, I recommend this book highly. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0380730782
    Subjects:  1. Ancient - General    2. Atlantic Ocean    3. Cartography    4. Geographical myths    5. History    6. History - General History    7. History: World    8. Legends    9. Medieval    10. Sailing - General   

    The Pencil : A History of Design and Circumstance
    Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (10 November, 1992)
    list price: $20.00 -- our price: $13.60
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    Editorial Review

    Like most other human artifacts, the common pencil, made and sold today by the millions, has a long and complex history. Henry Petroski, who combines a talent for fine writing with a deep knowledge of engineering and technological history, examines the story of the pencil, considering it not only as a thing in itself, but also as an exemplar of all things that are designed and manufactured.

    Petroski ranges widely in time, discussing the writing technologies of antiquity. But his story really begins in the early modern period, when, in 1565, a Swiss naturalist first described the properties of the mineral that became known as graphite. Petroski traces the evolution of the pencil through the Industrial Revolution, when machine manufacture replaced earlier handwork. Along the way, he looks at some of pencil making's great innovators--including Henry David Thoreau, the famed writer, who worked in his father's pencil factory, inventing techniques for grinding graphite and experimenting with blends of lead, clay, and other ingredients to yield pencils of varying hardness and darkness. Petroski closes with a look at how pencils are made today--a still-imperfect technology that may yet evolve with new advances in materials and design. --Gregory McNamee ... Read more

    Reviews (13)

    5-0 out of 5 stars The complex relationships of a simple object
    This book takes somthing I always considered simple and took for granted, and shows how it interrelates. Who knew, for example, that WWII lend-lease included pencils?The complete desolation of the red cedar population should be a lesson in the preservation of renewable resources, but probably won't be.

    I would most highly recommend this book.

    3-0 out of 5 stars a vv heavy read...
    The Pencil is jam packed with technical and historical development of the humble pencil.... which is good and reflects extremely good research... however it is not a light read.... that's why i'm giving it 3 stars.... i was practically dragging myself to read the book.... it became a daunting task... i'll give it another go sometime... overall... its an ok book.... i'd recommend borrowing it or purchasing it at a bargain price....

    2-0 out of 5 stars actually kind of dull
    Despite my background as an engineer I found this book rather dull and tough to finish.There are some things that I guess I didn't need to know about pencils. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0679734155
    Subjects:  1. History    2. History - General History    3. Industrial Design - General    4. Pencils    5. Science/Mathematics    6. Social Aspects    7. Technology / Industrial Design / General   


    Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America
    by Theodora Kroeber
    Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 June, 1961)
    list price: $14.35
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    Reviews (9)

    5-0 out of 5 stars AMAZING
    I could write an enormous review, but I want to keep it very simple.
    Just read the book!
    The most intriguing part is when Ishi walked out of nowhere into "civilization".

    5-0 out of 5 stars The last free Native American in California
    This book is one of two I routinely give to people who move to northern California. The other one is The Ohlone Way, by Malcolm Margolin. Ishi was the lone survivor of a doomed tribe of Yahi Indians on the slopes of Mt. Lassen. Other members of his tribe were murdered by a planned campaign of genocide during the settling of the West. When Ishi stumbled out of the hills of his birth in 1911, he landed in the 20th Century, huddled in the corner of a cattle corral on a ranch, dressed in rags, starving, desperately lonely, and probably certain he would be killed. Instead, a wise sheriff in Oroville called on some anthropologists from Univ of CA in Berkeley, and Ishi eventually came under the benevolent but somewhat demeaning (he was made the centerpiece of a museum exhibit) protection of Alfred Kroeber. It is Kroeber's wife who wrote this touching, heartwarming, illuminating and ultimately tragic history of Ishi's life in the 'modern' world.
    Most moving for me was a long middle section that recounted a magical summer when Ishi took Kroeber and his teenage son back to Mt. Lassen and showed them his native territory. They lived together as unspoiled and free Native Americans for the summer, hunting deer, swimming in cold streams, living in huts and caves, building fires, making bows and arrows... An experience that was destined never to be repeated.
    Wonderful archival photographs supplement the imminently readable text.
    Don't miss this very special and quintessentially Californian piece of history. But there's no rush: this book is destined to remain in print forever.

    5-0 out of 5 stars Timeless
    This was one of the most fascinating and thought provoking books I have ever read. It is a beautifully written book that brings with it an entire range of emotions from rage and disgust, to hope and forgiveness.

    I thought that the best part about this book was the look into Ishi's Yahi and Yana culture, and its overview of California indian tribes in general. The myth that the Californian indians were a simple and childlike race subsisting on what they could dig from the ground is thoroughly debunked by this book.

    California's varied geography produced one of the most culturally diverse places on planet earth prior to white settlement. Interestingly, this belief that California is made up of many sub-states still exists, and books have been written about the various regional differences within California. The same was true for the aboriginal tribes, and Kroeber brings amazing facts to light about this. According to Kroeber, California was made up of 250 distinct tribes, many with their own languages, culture, and customs. Of the six super-languauge groups of North American Indians, 5 were represented in California. According to best estimates, these five language groups divided themselves into 113 distict spoken languages. Only Sudan and New Guinea have comparable cultural and linguistic diversity. One fact that floored me was that the Yahi language was bifurcated between a male and female dialect. Males and females used these dialects when they were in groups of their own sex. When a male reached puberty, he was taken from the care of his mother and other women, and lived in almost an exclusively male world were he learned the male dialect and hunting skills.

    Kroeber opens the book with this linguistic/cultural look at California indian culture just prior to white migration, and goes into great detail about Ishi's tribal culture in particular. (We even get a lesson on the term "glottochronology" which is the study of the roots of a particular language). About a third of the book is this background, and I found it to be absolutely fascinating.

    The book also spends considerable time on the extermination of the Northern California indians and Ishi's tribe in particular. Of course, these accounts are horrible and no less disturbing than accounts of the Jewish holocaust. The indians were seen as varmits, and they were exterminated with the same attitude that the wolves, grizzlies, and other unwanted wildlife were exterminated. Of course, this was not the attitude of all whites, but not enough of them stood up to stop the carnage.

    Beyond the stories of human slaughter, racism and genocide, the greatest tragedy was that cultures, which existed with amazing complexity and richness for centuries, were obliterated and replaced with a white mono-culture within 15 - 20 years.

    The last third of the book deals with Ishi's discovery and how he lived his remaining days under the care of the authors husband, an anthropologist at UC Berkeley. The relationship between the anthropology department at Berkeley and Ishi was one of the only beneficial outcomes of the collision between Anglo and Native cultures. Ishi (not his real name, but a pseudonym he adopted after capture) is given a room at the anthropology museum and is made assistant janitor to help cover his living expenses.

    It is during this time that he imparts his language and culture to save it from oblivion and to provide future generations, like myself, the ability to learn about Yahi life. Ishi is also treated with respect and dignity, and despite a life of mistreatment, Ishi shows no resentment or bitterness towards white society.

    I believe the main injustice done to Ishi by Berkeley was that after his death they allowed the removal of his brain for study, in direct violation of his cultural beliefs about keeping the body whole for cremation.His brain was sent it to the Smithsonian Institute where it was kept in storage for almost 100 years. This was unnescesary, and it has taken almost an entire century to return his brain and provide final dignity to this man. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0520006755
    Sales Rank: 313845
    Subjects:  1. Ethnic Cultures - Native Americans    2. General    3. Sociology    4. Yana Indians   

    Short Guide to Modern Star Names and Their Derivations
    by Paul Kunitzsch
    Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 June, 1986)
    list price: $58.00
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    Reviews (1)

    5-0 out of 5 stars Well done!
    I really enjoyed this book.The author(s) have done a great deal of homework compiling their facts and theories.If anyone with a love of this topic happens to have reading ability in German, you should try to track down Mr. Kunitzsch's earlier books on this topic, which this book is distilled from.

    The foreword is really fascinating, and worth dawdling over.There is a helpful little chart detailing the way star names have come down to us from so many ancient civilizations -- Babylonia, India, Greece, Rome, Arabia...The names we use today for most stars seem to have originated, by and large, in Greece or Arabia.Both these groups of names were filtered through the Islamic world during the Dark Ages, when learning and scholarship were almost totally lost causes in most of Europe, and the Muslims, Jews, and Irish kept the old traditions alive.

    In light of recent events, I'd just like to point out that basically EVERY major constellation contains at least a few stars that were originally named by Arab shephards.Somehow it seems like that little fact should have at least a slightly calming effect on people who have taken up hating all Muslims as a hobby, since the events of Sept. 11.Anyway, it's probably better not to get too political.This is a very interesting, scholarly, readable little book.To compare it to Allen's "Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning," I'd have to point out that Kunitzsch's book focuses exclusively on the history of the names we use in the West today, which makes it a lot more focused and to-the-point.Allen's book has many intriguing digressions into the folklore of bygone days, but this book rarely succumbs to the temptation to digress.Just terrific stuff.Two thumbs up. ... Read more

    Isbn: 3447025808
    Sales Rank: 2770607
    Subjects:  1. Constellations    2. Names    3. Sociology    4. Stars   

    The Scientific 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Scientists, Past and Present (100 (Paperback))
    by John Galbraith Simmons
    Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 September, 2000)
    list price: $21.95 -- our price: $14.93
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    Reviews (1)

    4-0 out of 5 stars The Scientific 100 : A Ranking of the Most Influential Scien
    The Scientific 100: A Racnking of the Most Influential Scientists is an interesting book that provided many life facts about 100 interesting scientists.Anyone interested in science should definitely buy this book. It is packed with facts about the 100 most influential scientists inScience. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0806521392
    Sales Rank: 553758
    Subjects:  1. Biography    2. Chronology    3. General    4. History    5. Rating of    6. Reference    7. Science    8. Science/Mathematics    9. Scientists   


    Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States
    by George R. Stewart
    Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 January, 1983)
    list price: $64.50
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    Reviews (2)

    5-0 out of 5 stars Just Plain Fascinating
    In this unusual little book, George R. Stewart has compiled an endlessly intriguing account of the whys and wherefores of American place-names.The book as a whole provides a haunting, curiously oblique perspective on American history, as he delves into the cultural, historic, and (sometimes) military themes behind the names we use every day.The book goes into the names of cities, states, rivers, mountains, streets, and more.

    I think you might get more out of this volume if you are aware of the way it is organized.I myself half-expected this book to be organized by state, perhaps in alphabetical order.This is not the case.Stewart has organized his data by THEMES in naming, and how these themes have emerged in our history.Therefore, the book (very roughly) follows our history chronologically, as various naming trends have come and gone, in the context of various cultural waves.This pattern tends to approximately follow the "peopling" of the continent (by descendants of Europeans) from east to west.Some chapters are mostly devoted to single states, but this is the exception, rather than the rule.

    The chapter titles are not necessarily always very helpful, which is the closest thing I have to a caveat about this book.I'm telling you right now that the chapters roughly follow the settling of our continent, from east to west (and from south to north in the far western states).So, this should help you get oriented if you are browsing around...You might want to think of each chapter as a little independent essay.That might help you break the whole text down into digestible parts.

    Some themes in naming include: the popularity of the name "Columbus," during and shortly after the Revolution; the tendency to adapt feminine names for the Southern plantations; Greek or Latin names; ancient indian names; English town names given new life on our shores; and many, many more.

    One interesting fact I learned, reading this book, is that five of the six states in my native New England should, technically,probably be considered to be spelled wrong.(New Hampshire is the lone, proud exception).Stewart tells the tale of how each state was named, although he doesn't clump the five stories all together.You have to do saome digging...If you happen to harbor an inner, pedantic curmudgeon, who sometimes likes to rail against the stupidity of all humanity apart from him- (your-)self, this is the kind of thing that could give you great, and prolonged, delight.Also, you might be surprised at how many place-names have warm, human stories behind them.This can foster a real sense of human connection to our nation's past -- a connection that is not necessarily to participants in our nation's huge struggles, but simply to quiet, thoughtful people who tried to come up with words that just sounded right.

    I would like to post here a private theory I have about George R. Stewart, which may be of interest to you in this context.Professor Stewart taught English at Berkeley, for much of the twentieth century.Concurrently on the faculty at that institution was the great American anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, who today is perhaps best remembered for his work with the last Yahi indian, Ishi, and also for his status as the father of acclaimed science fiction author Ursula Kroeber LeGuin.This last-named person, Ursula K. LeGuin, would have grown up hearing about Professor Stewart, and his odd hobby of place-names.If you read her young adult fantasy trilogy, the Earthsea Trilogy, you will find there a character called the Master Namer, who is a sort of professor in a school for young wizards.He and his classes exhibit many of the traits that we find in evidence within "Names on the Land." I believe that Ursula K. LeGuin probably based this character upon the fascinating George R. Stewart, and his hobby.Therefore, if you enjoy this book, you may wish to read Ursula LeGuin's "A Wizard of Earthsea," to encounter there a thinly disguised fictional version of Professor Stewart.

    At any rate, this book is really something special.I recommend that you seek out a copy, and if you know a local history teacher, maybe you could lend it to him and suggest that he fashion some lesson plans from its singularly neato contents.Two thumbs up!

    5-0 out of 5 stars A VERY interesting book
    Names On The Land is narrative almostto a fault but it is a FASCINATING exploration into how and why we name the landscape, and how as we name the land, we give it meaning, just as the landscape give meaning to us.

    Anyone that is interested or works with geography (especially historians or natural scientists) will find this book a very powerful perspective.

    A very cool book. I think it is a shame it is out of print! ... Read more

    Isbn: 093853002X
    Sales Rank: 267427
    Subjects:  1. Geographic Names    2. History - General History    3. History, Local    4. Names, Geographical    5. United States    6. United States - General   

    The Golden Yoke: The Legal Cosmology of Buddhist Tibet
    by Rebecca Redwood French
    Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
    Hardcover (01 November, 1995)
    list price: $55.00 -- our price: $55.00
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    Reviews (1)

    4-0 out of 5 stars excellent and interesting anthropological work.
    French provides the first detailed examination of the Tibetan legalsystyem based on research carried out in India (Dharamsala) where sheworked closely with a former Tibetan official. Based on his own personalaccounts of life as an official in central Tibet prior to the occupation byChina and law codes issued by the Ganden Phodrang government of the DalaiLamas and earlier works she provides an interesting, indeed fascinatinginsight into the operation of law and legal processes in a Buddhist state.Using ancedotal evidence and the law codes she divides the book in to twosections. The first outines legal and Buddhist concepts which permeate thesecond part whcih uses a wide range of "ethnographic" ancedotesto show how religious ideals and legal practices were interlinked.

    Thewriting is lucid and although an excellent work for those interested inTibet academically, it is an accessible work which contains manyfascinating details. Perhaps it is unfortunate that it appears to presentTibet as a homogenous society under the hegemoci rule of the Lhasagovernment( which it was not), nor does she really consider law and legalprocesses among non-Buddhist in Tibet, notably she is silent on Moslems andthe Bon-po and perhaps this reflects not only the desire to present theBuddhist aspect of law in Tibet but the prejudices of her own principalinformant. Her presentation of Buddhism also perhaps gives the reader theimpression of it being a monolithic and uniform religion and in particularseems to emphasis the Gelugpa tradition within Tibetan Buddhism. What ofthe other traditions and in particular non-Buddhist practices? On a moreacademic note it would be more useful to scholars tohave properreferences to the sections of the law codes cited that to her own notebooks! Of course Dr French is producing transaltions of these works which will hopeful deal with this minor, but important comment.

    Overall, animportant first step towards developing our understanding and appreciationfor the interconnection between religious doctrineand law in Tibet. Areal labor of love by the author and one for which she must be highlycommended. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0801430844
    Sales Rank: 1189390
    Subjects:  1. Buddhism - Tibetan    2. China    3. Customary law    4. Ethnological jurisprudence    5. Government - Comparative    6. Law    7. Legal Anthropology    8. Reference    9. Religion - World Religions    10. Theocratic Legal Systems    11. Tibet   


    How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics
    by Calvert Watkins
    Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 April, 2001)
    list price: $35.00 -- our price: $35.00
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    Reviews (5)

    5-0 out of 5 stars "Technical" but well written.
    I enjoyed this book although I am best termed a "lay person" and the book is (necessarily and appropriately) written in a technical style.Other reviewers have addressed the content and worth of the book.I will try to give an idea of its "readability" for the non-specialist.
    I frequently found exact understanding somewhat difficult and did gloss a number of passages as just too difficult to be worth the return (to me) of greater effort.Also, at times it almost seemed as if the author was pulling together a series of journal articles and quite possibly the book could have been twenty to thirty percent shorter without much, if any, sacrifice of material.Despite this, I never felt like hurrying nor that my time was being wasted - I found a number of new and interesting ideas that are clearly understandable by an interested reader.Also, the author neither talks down to his audience nor tries to impress with difficult terminology.Furthermore, at several points I sensed the underlying enthusiasm and reverence the author feels toward his work and I occasionally caught the sense of "beauty" as several threads came together.

    This vast tome is a masterpiece of comparative Indo-European poetics. It investigates the nature, form and function of poetic expression and ancient literature among an impressive variety of Indio-European peoples. The author uses the traditional comparative method to identify the genetic intertextuality of particular themes and formulas common to all the daughter languages of ancient Indo-European. The work comprises seven sections and 59 chapters. The first chapters of part 1 explain the comparative method, concepts like synchrony and diachrony and pinpoints the various Indo-European cultures in terms of genre, space and time. The rest of part 1 considers the role of the spoken word in Indo-European society and its preservation across time.

    In chapter 3: Poetics as Grammar, Watkins analyses the expression "Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow," demonstrating how the word order, alliteration and assonance form a perfect ring-composition. This formulaic utterance now functions only to amuse children, but in its essential semantics, formulaics and poetics it must have been continuously recreated on the same model over six or seven thousand years. He proves that is the central "merism" of an ancient Indo-European harvest song or agricultural prayer, by quoting from the Hittite, Homeric Greek, the Atharvaveda and the Zend-Avesta!

    Selected text analyses an case studies from Anatolian, Celtic, Greek, Indic and Italic are found in chapters 7 - 11 of part 2, followed by the analyses of inherited phrasal formulas, stylistic figures and hidden meaning through chapters 12 to 16.

    The remainder of the book presents the evidence for a common Indo-European formula in the expression of the dragon - or serpent-slaying myth. Over thousands of years this formula occurs in the same linguistic form as it existed in the original mother tongue. This formula is the vehicle for the central theme of a proto-text that has endured for millennia, a precise and precious tool for typological and genetic investigation in the study of literature and literary theory. It is thus of immense value to literary historians, literary critics and philologists.

    I found chapters 50 - 59 of particular interest, as it deals with the application of the formula to the medicine of incantation in a variety of Indo-European traditions, and includes a discussion of the poet as healer.

    This work is an opus magnum, and it took me months to read it. Even so, I cannot claim to have grasped all the complexities of the fascinating text in which more than 30 familiar and obscure languages are quoted. I strongly recommend this masterpiece to those interested in ancient history, language and its structure, and to literary critics.

    The book concludes with 27 pages of references, an index of names and subjects, an index of passages, and an index of words quoted from the various Indo-European languages.

    4-0 out of 5 stars Prodigiously learned; but does he make his case?
    Your first impression will involve picking your jaw up off the floor.Here we have examples from Vedic Sanskrit, Old Irish, Greek, Latin, Old English, Hittite, and dozens more obscure, ancient, or dead languages like Umbrian and South Picene, all marshalled in support of the argument that it is possible, not only to reconstruct the language spoken by the ancient Indo-Europeans, but also to reconstruct some of their oral literature, and the cultural role of ancient bards in the courts of nameless chieftains.

    The marshalled evidence of the rhetoric of these ancient literatures is indeed impressive.Many parts of it --- specifically, the parts that discuss the various metres of the ancient poems, and suggest ways in which the sound changes of which we have evidence may suggest that these verse forms stemmed from common ancestors --- are convincing.

    But the difficulty in parts of the book's argument is its failure to exclude other possibilities --- such as borrowing, loan-translations, or simple independent invention --- of the phrases and images it argues are inherited.Some of them, like the inherited phrase meaning "everlasting fame," are more convincing than others, if only because not only the idea, but the root words themselves, are inherited.We know from comparing Classical, Hindu, and Germanic mythologies that some god-names were inherited.

    But when the book argues in favour of an inherited myth that says "a hero kills a dragon (or some other foe)," we're dealing with subject matters that are known to exist in literatures other than Indo-European ones.After all, this is what heroes do.It is unclear even whether these motifs are commoner in Indo-European literatures than elsewhere.Some attention needs to be paid to the possibility of other explanations, and why the hypothesis of inheritance is the likeliest among them. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0195144139
    Sales Rank: 73029
    Subjects:  1. Ancient and Classical    2. General    3. Literary Criticism    4. Poetry    5. Europe    6. Hellenic languages    7. Historical & comparative linguistics    8. India    9. Poetry & poets   


    Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Marthas Vineyard
    by Nora E. Groce
    Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 April, 1988)
    list price: $19.95 -- our price: $19.95
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    Reviews (4)

    4-0 out of 5 stars An interesting look at a unique deaf cultue
    "Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language" is a look at the effect of a large deaf population on Martha's Vineyard.Though a dry read at times, this book gives an interesting look at how for once in the history of deaf culture the *hearing* adapted for the deaf instead of vice versa.While most people might assume that the large deaf population would force a hefty amount of deaf people to adapt to hearing life, the opposite was actually true; the brilliance of Martha's Vineyard was that nearly all hearing people knew sign language to some degree.

    The book analyses cultural impact of the large deaf population within the Vineyard's communities, which was biologically caused by the genetic predisposition for deafness.The book, largely written like an anthropological study, focuses on both physical and cultural aspect of the deafness in the communities.However, the most interesting implications within the book are those discussing deaf and hearing interrelations.

    5-0 out of 5 stars Inspiring and interesting
    This is one of my favorite books of all time.Originally written as an ethnographic study, it is also completely readable for a non-professional popular audience.Basically, it is the story of the islanders of Martha's Vineyard, a large island off the coast of Massachusetts.The islanders originally came from the same 2 or 3 boatloads of colonists from England, by way of Boston and Scituate, from a region in Kent which already seems to have had a high incidence of hereditary deafness.Due to the geographic isolation of the island, recessive genes for deafness, which were already prominent in the original Kentish colonists, came increasingly to the fore.As the proportions of islanders who happened to be deaf gradually increased, what was the islanders' answer?Not shunning the deaf.Far from it.Rather, atradition arose that EVERYONE on the island, deaf or hearing, simply learned sign language as children!

    This book is full of fascinating little anecdotes, about how island society worked to include its deaf members.For example, we learn about families and friends, some deaf and some hearing, who would regularly sit next to each other in church.The hearing members would sign the sermons to their deaf friends.Or, sometimes groups of people who could hear perfectly well might be together, for whatever reason, and they might happen to converse by signing just as much as in spoken English.Everyone spoke both languages.

    Some of my favorite parts of the book focus on the benefits of signing.For example, perhaps two neighbors wanted to converse, while being separated by 200 yards of noisy space, made vocally impenetrable by sounds of surf and sea.Whether they were deaf or hearing, they could get out their spyglasses (this was a 19th century whaling community, where spyglasses were in every household) and sign to each other across the distance while viewing each other through the magnification afforded by the spyglasses.One entertaining anecdote tells of two young men, who could hear perfectly well, who would use their signing ability to pick up girls off-island.They would pique the girls' interest in them by signing amongst themselves, and would claim that one of them was deaf.After they had secured the girls' interest, they would put on a lengthy, well-practiced charade of deafness to keep the gils curious about them.Do they ever let on that they can really hear?You'll have to read the book to find out!Bwa ha ha haaaa ( that's the sound of an evil laugh).

    Those are a few minor anecdotes.The whole book is packed with stories like that, and it's endlessly amazing.The last couple of chapters make excellent, general points about the human issues raised in the book, and about how we as a society think about the "handicapped" -- perhaps, as Dr. Groce points out, we should not use the term in the first place.

    Anyway, I'm really pleased to call attention to this book.I wish it were more widely known.If you're reading this because you linked to my reviewer's page from my review of "Jeepers Creepers," or something at a similar level, then, well, I'm just happy you're reading about this valuable story as well as "Jeepers Creepers."Two thumbs up.

    5-0 out of 5 stars Acceptance ofindividuals who are "diferent"
    An extraordinary presentation of how indidivuals with significanthearing deficits on a genetic basis were accepted and integrated into the community ofMartha's Vineyard for many generations. It interesting to discover that many of the original settlers in Martha's Vineyard in colonial times had significant auditory deafness due to hereditary factors . They and their decendants many of whom were deaf became vitally important members of the community . ... Read more

    Isbn: 067427041X
    Sales Rank: 203185
    Subjects:  1. Deaf    2. Deafness    3. General    4. Genetic aspects    5. History    6. Martha's Vineyard    7. Massachusetts    8. Public Policy - Social Services & Welfare    9. Sign language    10. Sociology   


    The Thread: A Mathematical Yarn
    by Philip J. Davis
    Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
    Hardcover (01 May, 1983)
    list price: $14.95
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    Reviews (1)

    5-0 out of 5 stars Well written and very funny.
    I read this book some 10 or more years ago. It's very interesting and very funny. The story starts when the author reads a glowing review of hisdoctoral thesis. There is, HOWEVER, a catch, and it leads the author on aquest for the correct spelling of the mathematician Chebychev's name. Ihaven't read any of the author's other books, but I'd say he does prettywell, and would expect good and humorous things from him. ... Read more

    Isbn: 376433097X
    Sales Rank: 1673627
    Subjects:  1. American Essays   

    Writing Systems of the World: Alphabets, Syllabaries, Pictograms
    by Nakanishi Akira, Akira Nakanishi
    Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 October, 1990)
    list price: $16.95 -- our price: $11.53
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    Reviews (10)

    3-0 out of 5 stars A good, brief overview
    This book serves well as a compact catalog of the major writing systems in the world. It's not the reference I was looking for, however. It's quite brief, and the examples are almost always newspapers. The other issues I have are:

    1. It's kind of out of date - the information is all from the eighties. There's been some redrawing of the borders and changes in fonts and conventions since then.
    2. The quality of the reproductions is poor. Many of the beautiful scripts in here are not shown in their best light. The plain fonts and photocopy-quality examples just don't do the scripts justice.

    Still, it does contain reproductions of a lot of alphabets. It would be really handy in identifying an unkown sample of writing, for example.

    4-0 out of 5 stars A nice sampler
    I liked this book, though finding it incomplete. It provides samples of the scripts used for most of the important languages of the world, but not all. There are some errors (a newspaper illustrated to show the Hebrew alphabet used for writing Yiddish is described as being published in the wrong place, as I, who can read Yiddish, could easily determine) but it is more accurate than a lot of other books on the subject.

    The book is slim, and talks of writing systems more than languages. Thus "Russian script" really means Cyrillic and includes all the languages that use Cyrillic script. It is not a book to learn a language from, but rather a reference on alphabets, and for that purpose, I think a good but not great one.

    The author does appear to be somewhat obsessed with newspapers. If a script is used for writing newspapers, it is important to the author; otherwise not. And for every script, the author gives an approximate count of the newspapers published using that writing system. But this is hardly a serious flaw.

    This is not a perfect book on the subject, but it is one I liked. So I certainly recommend it.

    3-0 out of 5 stars Charming but Needs an Update
    This delightful, short (116 pages, including glossary) reference book is a good read and a useful, quick tool to look up what is on that stamp, coin or maker's mark you want to decipher. It is frustratingly out of date. The Japanese original, of which this is the 1980 translation, predates major events like the fall of the Soviet Empire and the birth, rebirth or change in government of many countries and their subdivisions with consequent changes for official languages and scripts. Much scholarly work would require changes in the material. For example, linguistic analysis in the 1980's calls into question whether Thai should be classified as Sino-Tibetan. The recent Yale discoveries of early Semitic graffiti and much archaeological work in Central Asia, the Near East and elsewhere needs incorporation in a revised volume. Some detail known at the time of publication was omitted that would be of interest, like the alphabetic core of the Egyptian hieroglyphic system. The lack of mention of "Cretan" [it was found in profusion at Mycenae on the Greek mainland, also] Linear B being a syllabary used to write early Greek is another puzzling omission. So is the relationship of Etruscan writing to the Germanic runic alphabets not to mention the Roman alphabet. The statement on page 106 that there was no contact between the Americas and the "Old World" before the 15th century was known to be inaccurate at the time of publication and much more evidence of contact has been discovered since. In short, this is an enjoyable book with a delightful presentation. As should be clear, I want to see a new edition with a few corrections, some short elaborations and modernization of the material. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0804816549
    Sales Rank: 267988
    Subjects:  1. General    2. Handwriting    3. Language    4. Miscellaneous    5. Reference    6. Writing   


    The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History
    by Michael H. Hart
    Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (01 October, 1992)
    list price: $22.50 -- our price: $15.30
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    Reviews (60)

    1-0 out of 5 stars Blasphemy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I am appalled.Mr. Harts (If that is indeed is real name) book is a poorly researched load of tripe.Not only does he fail to recognize Gary Coleman as the most influencial human being in all recorded history, he doesn't even mention Coleman once in his book!!!!I'm not joking.Read the book yourself if you have to, Coleman's not in there.The horror.

    4-0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, IfFlawed
    I am so intrigued by Michael Hart's book: The 100, that I had to buy one! Every time I go into the library I have to check it out. He presents a very intelligent, and compelling case for each of the persons listed. Of course, I have to take issue with his relatively low ranking of Jesus Christ, since his influence on the world is hardly confined to the religious.
    Do the trillions of dollars of annual revenue Christmas bringsthe world mean nothing? And what about the numerous charities that have improved the lifestyles of nations? These are all inspired by Christ's passionate teachings about helping those in need. And what about the 600 years between Jesus death and the birth of Islam? 600 years of influence on the world before Islam was even thought about! I must also take issue with Lincoln being listed so low, since the United States would not be the superpower it is today if he had not kept the Union together, that's if the United States would even exist at all, as I'm sure other European nations were just waiting for it to divide up into little weakened states so they could conquer it for their own profit. Still, I would recommend this book to anyone just on the basis of its educational value alone.

    1-0 out of 5 stars JFK and not Lincoln and FDR?
    It would help if such a historical list were written by a historian.Mr. Hart's degrees are in science, and his bias toward scientists in the list is overwhelming. He lists JFK because of his starting the mission to the moon. Certainly Lincoln, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, and Reagan would rank as more influential U.S. presidents.And Madison as Father of the Constitution and the U.S. government has certainly had significant and long-lasting influence given the number of democracies in the world today.The effort to create such a list is certainly interesting, everyone will have different opinions, and the discussion promotes historical learning which is in such short supply today. But it would be better for an accomplished historian to create such a list rather than an author so taken up with scientific efforts to the detriment of other areas of human achievement. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0806513500
    Sales Rank: 96273
    Subjects:  1. Biography    2. Biography/Autobiography    3. History - General History    4. Reference    5. World - General   


    Crusades Through Arab Eyes
    Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (29 April, 1989)
    list price: $16.00 -- our price: $10.88
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    Reviews (47)

    5-0 out of 5 stars The TRUTH about the crusades
    Attacked by Mongols - the Tartars - in the east and by Franj the Europeans - in the west, the Muslims had never been in such a critical position. God alone could still rescue them.

    The book takes you back in time repeating these events from the arab point of view - the slaughters they witnessed, the destruction and uprooting of their lands, etc.

    A great read for anyone and everyone no matter whether you're into history or not.

    4-0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, and actually quite fun, read
    Like many other reviewers, I picked up this book fearing it might be another "white devil screwed us over, thanks a lot Europe" kind of narrative. On the contrary, the reader will find no such thing. For one, Amin Maalouf is never afraid to explain the faults of the Arab leaders both militarily and personally - in fact, halfway through the book you'll wonder when the Muslims are gonna get their act together! An interesting part is at the very end when Maalouf points out that it WASN'T the West's fault the Arab world declined after the Crusades. From pages 261-264 he discusses how the Arab governments were poorly designed to handle transition of power - resulting in many civil wars and internal strife - while the European form of government was much more organized, hence why the Christians continually held their Middle Eastern provinces intact while the Muslims fought each other just for leadership positions. Maalouf also points out that while the Crusaders took what was good about Muslim society and made it their own (thereby improving their own way of life) the Muslim world did the exact opposite: closing their doors from what was good about Western life and even becoming much more isolated, defensive, and sterile and "even today we can observe a lurching alienation between phases of forced Westernization and phases of extremist, strongly xenophobic traditionalism." (page 265)

    The book itself is a great read for any one interested in the Crusades, even if you've already read a good bit on the subject. Starting with the failed Crusade of Peter the Hermit, it goes on to the much larger effort to capture Jerusalem, the scuffles along the border between the "Occidentals" and the Muslim rulers, all the way to Saladin finally unifying the region and taking Jerusalem back for Islam, and even stretches on into the Mongol invasions. Maalouf's narrative often switches from purely facts to getting into the personality and character of the individual leaders and historians, and does so quite well. As a result I found myself reading this like I would any great action/fantasy adventure. From the charismatic Shirkuh to the determined Shams al-Dawla to Saladin himself, the history of the Arabs in the Crusades is a cast of character almost worthy of its own mini-series!

    As pointed out by other reviewers, this book is pretty much entirely from the Arab point of view, and almost exclusively from Arab historians. To explain the latter first, it is true that many personal accounts and historical text are taken from Arab sources, but to compare it to Al-Jazeera is a bit extreme. At the end of the book in "Notes and Sources" Maalouf explains who these people were, what they did, and whether or not they were right or wrong or if other sources agree with them. It should also be noted he looks to many western/European scholars for Crusade facts and interpretation, such as the claim of cannibalism done by Crusaders (he quotes on page 39 a direct letter to the Pope from Christian officers, and cites Chrsitian scholars who have written the incident). But of course, who better to use as the eyes to see the Crusades through than the ones who saw it and are indeed Arab? This brings me to my next point, which is why this book is almost exclusively from the Arab point of view. I believe part of this was the point of the book - it is called "The Crusades through Arab Eyes." I've very rarely come across anything this detailed about the Crusades that exclusively deals with the Muslim side. More often than not, the Muslims are merely stated on equal with the Christians and more emphasis is put into events, or the account is taken entirely from the Christian point of view. The latter is all too real when one learns about the Crusades in history class - just as Maalouf presents the Christians as some mighty army that erupted from Europe and moved into the Middle East, so too did we learn about the Muslims in school merely as that culture that was in the way in the conquest of the Holy Land.

    It is true that I would have liked to have learned more about certain topics, including the battles with the Mongols and the clashes between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, (the section on Richard is nearly brushed over) what we have here is good enough even for a one-time read. I would heartily suggest this book for any one interested in either military history, the Crusades, or Muslim history. It's well worth it.

    5-0 out of 5 stars Through Arab Eyes: Crusades Retold
    Amin Maalouf attempts to present the Crusades from an Arab perspective, and he's done a brilliant job.

    Relying on Arab historians' eye-witness, first-hand accounts (most of the time, at least), Maalouf presents to the readers the other side of the 'popular story'.

    I would certainly recommend this book to those who are interested in reading about Christian confrontation with the East, Islam and the Arabs. Also, to those who are interested in topics, such as "clash of civilizations". ... Read more

    Isbn: 0805208984
    Sales Rank: 6469
    Subjects:  1. 750-1258    2. Crusades    3. History    4. History - General History    5. History: World    6. Islamic Empire    7. Medieval    8. Middle East - General    9. World - General    10. History / Middle East   


    Lost Cities of Africa
    by Basil Davidson
    Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
    Paperback (1959)
    list price: $21.99 -- our price: $21.99
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    Reviews (2)

    3-0 out of 5 stars Sorely needed and with great promise, but lacking....
    Davidson's contribution is masterfully presented and I came away with the impression that he is a leading authority.However, this book is lacking in two area.First, there is a stunning dearth of illustration, in a book that should be replete with maps of trade routes, city outlines, and illustrations of artifacts.The reader is left wondering where just where did all of these event happen?Second, the text is too obviously derived from lectures, in that it often repeats and reasserts points that the reader has likely accepted several chapters ago. This makes for dull reading.I have long awaited such a book, knowing that such a history had only to be revealed.Although I learned a great deal from this text, I was on the whole disappointed by the presentation because it detracts from what the book has to offer.A new edition could easily remedy these shortcomings.

    5-0 out of 5 stars Lost Cities
    An excellent source of information on ancient civilizations in Africa.Since so energy has been focused on Ancient Egypt, the civilizations across the rest of the continent have often gone unseen.Basil Davidson touches on many areas with the expertise of a scholar who is highly familiar withAfrican culture and history. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0316174319
    Sales Rank: 500768
    Subjects:  1. Africa - General    2. Africa, Sub-Saharan    3. Civilization    4. History    5. History - General History    6. Social Science    7. Sociology    8. Sociology - General    9. Sub-Saharan Africa    10. History / General   


    The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero
    by Robert Kaplan, Ellen Kaplan
    Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
    Hardcover (15 October, 1999)
    list price: $40.00 -- our price: $40.00
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    Editorial Review

    The publisher says The Nothing That Is is "in the tradition" of Dava Sobel's bestselling Longitude, presumably because it is both lyrically written and underillustrated. It's more accurate to describe it as in the tradition of something old enough to have a tradition: the cabinet of curios, a natural history in the old sense.

    Robert Kaplan is a mathematics teacher, and he organizes his cabinet around--nothing. How did we come to have a symbol for zero? Who used it first? Usually the invention (or discovery) of zero is given as occurring in India in about the year 600 CE. Kaplan gives much more shrift to Sumerian, Babylonian, and Greek experiments with abacuses, counting boards, positional notation, and abstract thought. He acknowledges that his approach will be controversial:

    Haven't all our dots funneled back to India? Were zero and the variable not truly born here, twin offspring of sunya and what seems the singularly Indian understanding of vacancy as receptive? But like an hour-glass, the funnel opens out again and the dots stream down to ancient Greece.

    Kaplan's meditations on zero are not confined to its origin. He muses on the "zero of self," on infinitesimals, on the Mayan zero, and on the nothingness of suicide. Throughout, he shows "a sensuous delight in syllables," a love of words as well as numbers, that makes the book a feast for both halves of the brain. --Mary Ellen Curtin ... Read more

    Reviews (41)

    2-0 out of 5 stars get Seife's book instead
    If for some reason you're jonesin' to read a history of the number zero, I would hie thee away from this book.Read instead Charles Seife's peerless "Zero:The Biography of a Dangerous Idea," a very similar book (published around the same time, too) that is much more interesting and far more competently written.

    Kaplan's book, while not atrocious, is nevertheless poorly brought off and demands a much stronger math background to enjoy -- despite what the blurb on the cover says.

    I will admit, though, that, in addition to being a capable mathematician and scholar, Kaplan has organized and researched his tale well.Fatally, however, the guy can't seem to write in a natural, lucid way.

    Here's a sample of the kind of opaque, gummy prose you're in store for if you tackle this book [p. 144]:

    "Only selective forgetting of the past lets us move on, taking what was once dubious as the most banal of certainties, what was gained through struggle as our birthright.So with zero.The sermons it spoke in place-holding shrank to a letter of our thinking's alphabet, its volumes on solving equations to a sentence in mathematical primers."

    And this is quite typical.Trust me:Seife is much more engaging, useful, and memorable.His book is considerably shorter than Kaplan's, however.

    3-0 out of 5 stars The prose overwhelms the mathematics
    While the origins of the number zero and several of the different forms that it takes are covered in this book, the manner of the coverage is unlike most other popular mathematics books. Kaplan uses a style of prose that some would call unique, others might consider it overdone, but the consensus would be that it overwhelms the mathematics. For example, on page 177 after an explanation of a theory that the universe is made of extremely tiny particles that damp out light to make the background of the universe black, he writes: "O' Archimedes, this is wondrous strange! Where are your poppy-seeds, and Buddha, your motes that danced in a sunbeam, now? A universe in which the void has disappeared . . ." Kaplan is using this to make the point that zero is another form of nothingness. This quote also gives a bit of the wide range of people and circumstances that Kaplan uses in his coverage of the zero.
    I tend to disagree with much of what he says. While it took some time for zero to be accepted as a number, it also took some time for the much more efficient Indian-Arabic numerals to replace Roman numerals. Furthermore, zero, as a number is much easier to understand than negative, irrational and complex numbers. Nearly all people understand zero as a number but a lot of people cannot fathom irrational and complex numbers. Therefore, I consider some of the statements about how difficult it was for zero to be accepted as a number to be overstated.
    I also disagree with some of the "equivalence's" that are used for zero. I fail to see the correctness of the analogy between zero as a number and the emptiness of a vacuum. There are statements about the zero points of the Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin temperature scales, which I do not find significant. Using a zero point for any scale of measurement is a relative thing, something we always do when we use an initial point of reference. We are always so many miles from home, so many feet from the goal and so forth. All of these use implicit zero points of reference.
    Some of the statements really stretched my credibility quotient, sounding like some of the absurdity that emanates from numerologists. For example, on page 200 we read, "We have gone from valleys and peaks of nothingness, from despair to exhilaration, as zero changed its emotional sign. But could zero ever have been thought of as infinitely valuable, not the nothing out of which God made the world but Godhead itself?" If you understand these two sentences, you are ahead of me. I don't.
    As I read this book, I understood the historical references to zero and its' importance in the development of mathematics. However, some of the statements lost me as I was often unsure what message the author was trying to send.

    Published in the recreational mathematics e-mail newsletter, reprinted with permission.

    4-0 out of 5 stars What is nothing?
    It may be hard see the problem now, but the concept of zero was a tough one for people to accept. How can I do anything with something that is, by definition, not something?

    This is a history of zero, the mathematical concept. As with most great ideas, it had no real beginning. Instead, Kaplan presents a patchwork where parts of the concept appeared, traveled, vanished, merged, and re-emerged many times. Persia, India, Greece - all have some claim to some part of zero's heritage. Europe was the latecomer, accepting zero only after declaring it the work of the devil or the devil himself!

    There is no, or almost no math here. That shows remarkable restraint on Kaplan's part, since he clearly knows the mathematical history at least as well as the social history presented here. The low-math style keep the tone light, and makes it easy to appreciate Kaplan's far-ranging and amusing style. In fact, a few of the very last chapters are so far-ranging and draw so many distant analogies that they contain near-zero amounts of zero itself. That isn't a problem, though, since Kaplan's whirlwind tour of history, astronomy, literature, theology, and more is entertaining by itself.

    It's a fun read and full of amusing facts, but comes across a bit 'lite'. Kaplan is explicit: weaving a whole historical cloth from these many threads would be demanding enough to kill the pleasure of the story. Academic rigor is clearly a choice open to Kaplan, and he declined.

    This is a good beach book for anyone, but especially if your tan usually comes from the glow of a CRT. ... Read more

    Isbn: 0195128427
    Subjects:  1. Arithmetic    2. History    3. History & Philosophy    4. Mathematics    5. Number Theory    6. Philosophy & Social Aspects    7. Science/Mathematics    8. Theory Of Numbers    9. Zero (The number)   


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