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Beiträge von Philip Greenspun
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Rezensionen verfasst von
Philip Greenspun (Cambridge, MA USA)

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Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
von Seamus Heaney
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 21,95

5.0 von 5 Sternen read it to your kids, 22. Mai 2000
Heaney's translation makes this undergrad lit classic readable for your kids. There is a significant character/morality tale underlying the dragon-killing action. I read the whole poem on an airplane from Guatemala City to Dallas and it held my attention. It takes a great writer to turn a college essay subject into an airplane read.


Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt (Kodansha Globe)
Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt (Kodansha Globe)
von Philip Turner
  Taschenbuch

4.0 von 5 Sternen hunting versus supermarket vegetarianism, 1. Mai 2000
I met Ted Kerasote in Katmai, Alaska, while writing Chapter X of Travles with Samantha. Here's what I wrote...
As it happens, I wasn't the only PowerBook addict in camp. Ted Kerasote, a writer for Sports Afield and Outside magazines, was here writing about bear management. We happened to be sitting next to each other around the lodge fireplace and he'd already heard all about me.
"You must be that guy from Boston."
Ted beautifully illustrated the mellowing effect that living in a Wyoming town of 90 for years can have on someone born on the Lower East Side. In a patient soft voice, Ted summarized his new book Bloodties, about animal rights and hunting.
"Hunting in one's bioregion can be ecologically more sound than being a supermarket fossil-fuel vegetarian, i.e., someone who has plugged-into America's factory farm system which has destroyed so many different types of wildlife. Remember that the wheat field used to be a buffalo range, pesticides kill animals, and combines kill all kinds of small animals. Exploration for the oil that powers the combines and makes the pesticides displaces and kills animals."
What about Prudhoe Bay? It is only a 250-square-mile outpost on the Arctic Ocean and produces all of Alaska's oil. With millions of square miles of identical wilderness all around, how could this tiny settlement make a difference?
"Good point, but think about the Dalton Highway that was built to service Prudhoe Bay. That opened up those millions of square miles of wilderness to hunters who go in and kill moose and wolves.
"My book calculates the fossil-fuel cost of different diets. A guy in Wyoming expends 79,000 K-calories to shoot 150 lbs of elk meat. The equivalent amount of Idaho potatoes costs 150,000 K-cals. Rice and beans from Northern California 477,000 K- cals."
That's great, but I hadn't seen too many elk roaming around my Boston suburb, whereas we are well-supplied with supermarkets. Can a significant number of Americans really live off game?
"There are more white-tail deer now than when Columbus landed because the forest has been opened up and they flourish on the edge of timber land."
[Reviews of Ted's book spoke volumes about the difference between East and West Coasts. The New York Times review read much like this synopsis, focusing on his argument and its numerical underpinnings. The Los Angeles Times review started and ended with a discussion of the similarities between hunting and sex.]


Microserfs
Microserfs
von Douglas Coupland
  Taschenbuch

5.0 von 5 Sternen everything that is important about engineering culture, 30. April 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Microserfs (Taschenbuch)
After reading Tracy Kidder's acclaimed (by the New Yorker crowd) Soul of a New Machine, I thought to myself "here's a guy who spent 12 hours/day with engineers for an entire year and learned nothing about engineering, nothing about what matters to engineers, and nothing about the hearts and minds of engineers. After reading Microserfs, I thought "here's a guy who seems to have spent a week with engineers and effortlessly absorbed everything that is important about engineering culture, everything that matters about working at a big company, and everything that matters about working at a startup." Coupland's writing is better crafted here than in his earlier books, e.g., Generation X.


Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography (Anchor Books)
Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography (Anchor Books)
von Robert Graves
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 12,25

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4.0 von 5 Sternen How do two 18-year-olds go about killing each other?, 30. April 2000
Written because Graves was out of money and threw in everythingfrom his life that he thought would make the book sell (e.g.,anecdotes about T.E. Lawrence), this is a great book for understandingthe terrible gulf that separates a public's enthusiasm for war and a soldier's actual experience of war. Trench warefare in World War I is different from a ground war in Kosovo but the basic idea is the same: a bunch of old guys in suits lead a cheering public to send their young men off to die. What is a clear-cut moral case to someone reading a newspaper at the breakfast table isn't so clear-cut to two 18-year-olds who are supposed to try to kill each other in the field.
The book also has some interesting portions about the life of a poet and a writer (hint: don't try it unless you were born rich and aristocratic) and a particularly funny anecdote about how Oxford wouldn't accept a thesis from Graves because it was not written in standard academic style.


The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses
The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses
von Alan Kors
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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4.0 von 5 Sternen For whom is it written? Ask yourself., 30. April 2000
University administration grows even when faculty size remains constant (at MIT, the administrator-to-faculty ratio doubled in the 20 years from 1969 to 1989). The obvious result is a rise in the cost of university education. The less obvious result is that university administrations begin to do all kinds of things that they aren't qualified to do. Kors and Silverglate focus on administrators limiting freedom of speech, starting with rules that are poorly drafted and ending with internal court systems that afford defendants very few rights.
The famous University of Pennsylvania "water buffalo" case is here. MIT puts in a fairly impressive showing, notably our decision to pay administrators to watch porn movies to decide whether they were obscene. Under this policy, proposed in 1984, Dean James Tewhey prosecuted an MIT undergrad for showing Deep Throat, a film held by the Massachusetts courts to be acceptable under Cambridge's community standards. Under MIT rules, the undergrad, Adam Dershowitz, was not entitled to legal representation before the MIT Committee on Discipline (COD). However, he could bring a relative, so he asked his uncle, Alan Dershowitz, to come down the street from Harvard Law School. This resulted in an acquittal for young Dershowitz and some changes in MIT policy. COD hearings would no longer be open to the student press, students would no longer be entitled to bring a relative, and it would henceforth be forbidden to tape-record proceedings.
[Note: Tewhey is actually my favorite MIT administrator of all time because, after years of giving students lectures on how to run their romantic lives, his own affair with another MIT employee turned sour. They were both married (to other people). She accused him of following her around and harassing her. They both got restraining orders from the Massachusetts courts against each other. She asked MIT to fire him for harassing her. With about as much due process as Tewhey had ever given any of the students, MIT fired him. Or we said that we did. But then it turned out that we were paying him for not working for about a year after we'd allegedly fired him. And then he sued MIT in Middlesex Superior Court for wrongful discharge. And then we sort of lost track of James Tewhey.]
Kors is a scholar and Silverglate is a civil rights lawer. So the book differs from what a journalist might have written in the provision of philosophical and legal underpinnings for all of the newsworthy cases. Most interestingly, the roots of speech limits on campus are traced back to Herbert Marcuse (the only philosopher ever to appear on the cover of TIME Magazine). Marcuse argued that as long as society was oppressed by the powerful, free speech does not help the weak. True toleration and liberation could only be achieved by withdrawing "toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the gorunds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medicare care, etc."
I was recommending the book to a friend and she asked "Who is it written for?" We thought about it for awhile. It can't be the administrators because they presumably enjoy the status quo. It can't be the students because they are just passing through the university in order to pick up a credential. It can't be the professors because they've mostly abdicated control of the university to the administrators. Most faculty see themselves either as employees of a bureaucracy vastly more powerful than themselves or as low-grade autonomous entrepreneurs only loosely connected to the university.
In fact, there might not be anyone in the United States whose has both the power and the inclination to redress any of the wrongs outlined in the 400 pages of The Shadow University. That is a thought much scarier than any in the book itself.


High Fidelity
High Fidelity
von Nick Hornby
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 11,69

4.0 von 5 Sternen do people think your obsession is stupid?, 30. April 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: High Fidelity (Taschenbuch)
Good airplane reading for any single person who pours all of his or her energy into an obsession that the rest of society thinks is stupid. In Rob Fleming's case, the obsession is music. He and his friends won't talk to anyone who owns fewer than 500 records, who owns a Tracy Chapman or Beatles CD, or "who goes 'Woooh!' to the fade-out of 'Brown Sugar.'" His girlfriend Laura grills him: "There is no greater crime than that, as far as you're concerned, is there?" There isn't, for Rob, just as my friends get apoplectic talking to anyone who thinks Bill Gates or Microsoft invented anything.


Independence Day
Independence Day
von Richard Ford
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 10,89

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4.0 von 5 Sternen there may be nothing to control, 30. April 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Independence Day (Taschenbuch)
The most impressive page of this Pulitzer-winning novel would be numbered "-2". It is where the author thanks two foundations for paying him to stay home and write it. A great gift for your engineer friends, they'll think Richard Ford novelized the science fiction movie Independence Day. Actually the book is about a long uneventful weekend in the life of Frank Bascombe, a divorced real estate salesman in Haddam, New Jersey. Don't read it for the plot!
"Unmarried men in their forties, if we don't subside entirely into the landscape, often lose important credibility and can even attract unwholesome attention in a small, conservative community. And in Haddam, in my new circumstances, I felt I was perhaps becoming the personage I least wanted to be and, in the years since my divorce, had feared being: the suspicious bachelor, the man whose life has no mystery, the graying, slightly jowly, slightly too tanned and trim middle-ager, driving around town in a cheesy '58 Chevy ragtop polished to a squeak, always alone on balmy summer nights, wearing a faded yellow polo shirt and green suntans, elbow over the window top, listening to progressive jazz, while smiling and pretending to have everything under control, when in fact there was nothing to control."
I think that with those two sentences, Ford managed to say what his book was about. So I'll shut up.


Bookshop: A Novel
Bookshop: A Novel
von Penelope Fitzgerald
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 10,07

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Edith Wharton meets East Anglia, 30. April 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Bookshop: A Novel (Taschenbuch)
That this novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1978 is incredible because the thing is only 115 pages long, has a well-defined linear plot, and is starkly realistic. Such is the state of modern fiction that nobody bothered to publish it in the United States until 1997. Edith Wharton meets East Anglia.


West: Novels and Other Writings (Library of America)
West: Novels and Other Writings (Library of America)
von Sacvan Bercovich
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 21,81

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5.0 von 5 Sternen hard work by Harvard grad students, 30. April 2000
Thanks to the efforts of a bunch of Harvard grad students, this is the only book you need to become a cocktail party expert on Nathanael West (born Nathan Weinstein, 1903; died in Hollywood in 1940). My favorite part of the book is the capsule biography in the back. He drops out of high school (like me!) and alters his transcript to get into Tufts. He flunks out of Tufts but gets hold of a transcript for another Nathan Weinstein, who was apparently a pretty good student. He uses this to get into Brown and becomes an Ivy League graduate in 1924.
Oh yes, the writing... West's prose could easily pass for a New Yorker story circa 1985. Furthermore, his characters behave a lot like our contemporaries. None of this struck me as remarkable but I think it accounts for why he was so widely admired by good writers of his day and so roundly ignored by readers during the 1930s (perhaps 6,000 copies of his books were sold during his lifetime). Even if his writing style hadn't been so modern, releasing the bleak Miss Lonelyhearts in 1933 cannot have been an inspired marketing idea (the publisher went bankrupt just as the book was released).
If you want to read just one West novel, my personal choice would be Day of the Locust (1939), his last work. It is about the people destroyed by their dreams of California and Hollywood, seen through the eyes of a journeyman studio artist. He's obsessed with an aspiring actress, Faye Greener: "Her invitation wasn't to pleasure, but to struggle, hard and sharp, closer to murder than to love. If you threw yourself on her, it would be like throwing yourself from the parapet of a skyscraper. You would do it with a scream. You couldn't expect to rise again. Your teeth would be driven into your skull like nails into a pine board and your back would be broken. You wouldn't even have time to sweat or close your eyes."
The strangest novel in the collection is A Cool Million, wherein a Candide-like young man, Lemuel Pitkin, goes out to make his fortune in what a variety of Panglosses keep telling him is the Land of Opportunity. As in a Horatio Alger story, Pitkin meets a lot of rich and powerful men who are in a position to help him. West departs from Alger in that Pitkin is cheated and mutilated by all of his encounters with the rest of humanity.


The Information (Vintage International)
The Information (Vintage International)
von Martin Amis
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 12,90

4.0 von 5 Sternen good for MIT kids, 30. April 2000
MIT kids graduate with a profound sense that the world is and should be a meritocracy. There is always then that horrible moment when they are forced to confront the fact that the best things in life go to the ass-kissers and incompetents with big PR budgets. This book is for them. It is about Richard Tull, a brilliant writer of modern fiction. His books are so great that that they are not only unreadable but actually make readers too ill to finish. He starves while watching his friend Gwyn Barry make millions writing tripe with a sentimental appeal.


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