Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Quotes: Colds are caused by viruses

I haven't read this book (beyond a short excerpt), but I thought people would like to know this short quote from AH-CHOO! by Jennifer Ackerman from pages 14-15:

[Colds] are not [caused by] bacteria, as some of the boys seem to think, but viruses. This is why antibiotics have no effect on colds. Zip. Nil. Antibiotics kill bacteria by preventing them from building their cell walls. Viruses are not cells and have no cell walls, so they're utterly unaffected by the drugs. This is also why those antibacterial soaps, shampoos, and lotions have no effect on cold germs. Promotional claims notwithstanding, these products will do nothing to protect you, your friends, or your family from contracting a cold.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism by Antoine Sfeir

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The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism
by Antoine Sfeir

ISBN-13: 9780231146418
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Released: 2007, Nov. 2009

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover (slightly modified):
This volume features more than two thousand entries on the history of Islamism and Islamic countries. It provides a balanced account of events and organizations, as well as philosophers, activists, militants, and other prominent figures, and offers a window into a movement that has irrevocably changed both Muslim and Western societies.

The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism includes entries on the roots of Islamism and jihad in Africa, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, the Balkans, and the United States, among many other countries and locations. It profiles such key individuals as Louis Farrakhan; Tariq Ramadan; Abu Hamza Al-Masri; Algeria's Hassan Hattab, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; Egypt's Hassan Al-Banna; and the leader of the Afghan Jombesh-i Melli Islami movement, Abdul Rashid Dostum; historical events such as the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and Syria's Hama massacre; organizations and religious movements such as the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, Morocco's Justice and Development Party, and Iran's Association for the Defense of the Values of the Islamic Revolution; and groups including Tablighi Jamaat (the Society of the Message), the World Association for Muslim Youth, and Lebanon's Al-Ahbash.

The dictionary uniquely examines this antimodern incarnation of Islam and its efforts to claim (or reclaim) Muslim society, families, and professional environments. The volume considers such questions as whether activist Islam is "terrorist" and if it can coexist with Western societies; whether terrorism can be justified by the Quran; and what are the components of an international Islam. Antoine Sfeir, internationally renowned for his scholarship and expertise on this subject, remains sensitive to the differences between Islam and Islamism and approaches the ideology from geopolitical, sociological, and historical standpoints.

My Review:
The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism is an encyclopedia focused on Islamism and has entries for people, countries, groups, religious denominations, major terrorist acts, and more. I've been using it mainly as a supplement to the news. As in, if I see a person or place mentioned in the news in relation to Islamism, I look it up in this book and learn more. The key here, though, is to realize that his definition of Islamism is "a broad intellectual, religious, and political school within contemporary Islam whose adherents cling to the doctrine that the faith is indivisible, and base their actions on its fundamental principles. Islamists fear modernity, which they regard as a threat to the integrity of their faith." So he mainly focuses on militant Islamic organizations and/or those wanting the Quran as the country's constitution.

If you look up a country, you usually get a listing of the Islamist groups that exist in that country and their history (including how the government viewed them and the group's major terrorist acts). If you look up a prominent Muslim, he won't be in here unless he's an Islamist. If he is, then you get a biography on him. And so on. So this book is excellent at giving extensive information about the topics it covers, but I suspect it has a rather limited audience due to the limited focus.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King

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Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling
by Ross King

ISBN-13: 9780142003695
Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Released: 2002, 2003

Source: Bought at a library book sale.

Book Description from Goodreads:
"In 1508, despite strong advice to the contrary, the powerful Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel in Rome. Four years earlier, at the age of twenty-nine, Michelangelo had unveiled his masterful statue of David in Florence; however, he had little experience as a painter, even less working in the delicate medium of fresco, and none with the challenging curved surfaces of vaults. The temperamental Michelangelo was himself reluctant: He stormed away from Rome, incurring Julius's wrath, before he was eventually persuaded to begin."

Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling recounts the fascinating story of the four extraordinary years he spent laboring over the twelve thousand square feet of the vast ceiling while the power politics and personal rivalries that abounded in Rome swirled around him. Contrary to legend, he neither worked alone nor on his back. He and his hand-picked assistants stood bending backward on a special scaffold he designed for the purpose. Battling against ill health, financial difficulties, domestic and family problems, and the pope's impatience, Michelangelo created scenes - including The Creation, The Temptation, and The Flood - so beautiful that, when they were unveiled in 1512, they stunned onlookers.

My Review:
Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling is a history book about the famous works of Michelangelo (with a focus on the Sistine Chapel ceiling) with details about the activities of Pope Julius II, including his military campaigns and the other artists he had busy at work for him, like Raphael. The author used quotes from letters penned by Michelangelo and biographies written about him at the time to help give a personal note to the story. The writing was fairly entertaining and full of drama, but it also had a strong scholarly tone. The author covered information like how frescoes were created, paints acquired, techniques used, and who assisted Michelangelo. He also gave details about the Pope's military campaigns.

Included were some black and white pictures of various pieces of art mentioned in the book, including some pictures of the completed Sistine Chapel ceiling. I would have liked a few more up-close pictures of the ceiling, though. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in this period of history and in detailed information about Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
The Piazza Rusticucci was not one of Rome's most prestigious addresses. Though only a short walk from the Vatican, the square was humble and nondescript, part of a maze of narrow streets and densely packed shops and houses that ran west from where the Ponte Sant'Angelo crossed the Tiber River. A trough for livestock stood at its center, next to a fountain, and on its east side was a modest church with a tiny belfry. Santa Caterina delle Cavallerotte was too new to be famous. It housed none of the sorts of relics--bones of saints, fragments from the True Cross--that each year brought thousands of pilgrims to Rome from all over Christendom. However, behind this church, in a small street overshadowed by the city wall, there could be found the workshop of the most sought-after artist in Italy: a squat, flat-nosed, shabbily dressed, ill-tempered sculptor from Florence.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was summoned back to this workshop behind Sanata Caterina in April 1508. He obeyed the call with great reluctance, having vowed he would never return to Rome.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Long Road Home by Kim Yong

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Long Road Home:
Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor
by Kim Yong
with Kim Suk-Young

ISBN-13: 978-0-231-14746-0
Hardback: 184 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Released: May 2009

Source: Electronic review copy from publisher through Netgalley.

Book Description, my take:
Long Road Home shares the remarkable story of a former North Korean military official who served six years of a life sentence in a penal camp before managing to escape.

When Kim Yong was three years old, his father was executed as a spy for the United States. The stigma of the father's guilt would forever limit his son's future, so Kim Yong's mother placed him in an orphanage for war orphans by giving him a false background. He was adopted by a high-ranking political official, entered the military, and eventually became a lieutenant colonel in the national security police. His job gave him unusual freedom of movement throughout the country, and he encountered corruption at all levels.

He married, had children, and enjoyed access to luxuries others were denied. But when he was recommended for a promotion which required a meticulous background clearance check, his true identity was uncovered. He was imprisoned in two different penal camps over a six year period and forced to do hard labor on a starvation diet until his amazing, narrow escape in 1999.

My Review:
Long Road Home is a biography written by Kim Suk-Young using transcripts of interviews with Kim Yong, but the book is written in first person like a memoir. It was a well-written, amazing story that kept my interest throughout. Kim Yong's story gave insight into many aspects of life in North Korea as well as describing what the penal camps were like and why people were sent there.

The introduction explained how Korea ended up as North and South Korea and other necessarily background information. The first part of the book (up until he got married at age 28) gave a broad overview of that period of his life with only a few, life-changing events told in detail. Afterward, much more detail was given, including graphic descriptions of how bad the suffering was.

There were black and white maps showing his escape route and the location of the two penal labor camps, including satellite maps of the camps. Overall, I'd highly recommend this memoir to those wanting to know more about life in North Korea.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Four
In North Korea, everyone knows that a labor camp is a place where life is suspended. One does not live there, one slowly dies there. I was simply another dead soul in Camp No. 14.

At 5:00 a.m. everyone was awakened. By 6:00 a.m. the prisoners had finished their meager breakfast and marched toward the workplace. Since the mine shafts were hidden in deep valleys, nobody could see the sun light. At 7:00 we were already busy at work. Between 12:30 and 1:00 p.m., we had a quick lunch underground in the mine shaft. In order to go to the toilet, the prisoners had to wait to form groups because there was little light and they had to share one bulb to move around. One person had to carry the lamp and lead the way. Then we came out of the shaft around 11:30 p.m. and ate supper outside in darkness. According to the rules, the work was supposed to end by 8:00 p.m., or by 9:00 p.m. at the latest. However, no guard bothered to enforce this. The only real rules in Camp No. 14 were the guards’ decisions. After work, we marched back to our barracks and stayed up another hour for political struggle consisting of mutual and self criticism. At 1:00 a.m., three hours later than the camp regulations, everyone went to sleep. Before my arrest, I used to sleep eight hours a night, on the average. At the camp, that was cut in half.

Even by notoriously subhuman North Korean camp standards, No. 14 was the worst of them all. To my knowledge, no human being had escaped it alive. Prisoners were beyond the point of feeling hungry, so they felt constantly delirious. But what was really killing us was psychological and emotional torture. No family members were allowed to stay together. Upon arrival at the camp, husbands and wives were separated. Children were allowed to stay with their mother until they turned twelve; then they were segregated according to sex and kept in separate barracks. Once families were separated, there was no way of knowing whether other members were dead or alive. The only chance they might have to see each other was during the public executions when all prisoners were gathered in the courtyard.

Read more of the excerpt.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Old Merchant Marine by Ralph D. Paine

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The Old Merchant Marine
by Ralph D. Paine

Hardback: 214 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press
Released: 1919

Source: Bought in a library book sale.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Written in 1919 and a part of the Yale Chronicles of America series, this book takes a look at America's merchant marine in the age of the sail. Covering the end of the colonial days to about 1870, this book talks about coastal fishing, whaling, trading with Europe and the East, and privateers during the Revolution and the War of 1812.

My Review:
The Old Merchant Marine contained "romantic" (to use the author's term) stories about the adventures to be had at sea for brave Americans in the 1700's & 1800's. The stories were exciting and contained quotes from sea journals. Some general information could be gleaned from the stories about trade routes, crew sizes, ship types, and profits, but that wasn't the focus. The author assumed that the reader knew about sailing ships, so he freely used technical terms without explaining them. The book was written in a "popular" rather than "scholarly" style. I'd recommend the recent re-releases of this "classic" to those who enjoy reading about adventures at sea.

Chapter 1 was about American seaman and pirates in the 1600's. Chapter 2 was about the 1700's up until the American Revolution and talked about merchants, whalers, and privateers. Chapter 3 was mostly about the American navy and privateers during the American Revolution. Chapter 4 was about captains of merchantmen after the Revolution, especially those out of Salem Port. Chapter 5 was about merchantmen out of other ports after the Revolution. Chapter 6 was about the post-Revolution perils faced by sailors on merchantmen and the Federal legislation passed to help promote and protect the American sea trade. Chapter 7 was about American privateers during the War of 1812. Chapter 8 was about packet ships and the early days of steam ships (covered 1816-1859). Chapter 9 was about clipper ships (covered 1832-1869). Chapter 10 was about fishermen and domestic shipping from colonial days to 1919.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
The story of American ships and sailors is an epic of blue water which seems singularly remote, almost unreal, to the later generations. A people with a native genius for seafaring won and held a brilliant supremacy through two centuries and then forsook this heritage of theirs. This period of achievement was no more extraordinary than was its swift declension. A maritime race whose topsails flecked every ocean, whose captains courageous from father to son had fought with pike and carronade to defend the freedom of the seas, turned inland to seek a different destiny and took no more thought for the tall ships and rich cargoes which had earned so much renown for its flag.