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Profil für Patrick McCormack > Rezensionen

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Beiträge von Patrick McCormack
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Rezensionen verfasst von
Patrick McCormack (New Brighton, MN USA)

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Kaaterskill Falls: A Novel
Kaaterskill Falls: A Novel
von Allegra Goodman
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 23,60

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Smooth writing, good story telling, plot a bit tedious., 25. Juli 2000
The vacation community of Kaaterskill Falls is dominated by townies and the Kirshner community of Jews, who leave Washington Heights every summer and spend the summer in this lovely New York town. This book chronicles the lives of the Kirshner Jews, intertwining stories of the Rav, the leader of the community, and his struggles with his two sons, with stories of a Jewish woman, Elizabeth, who struggles with the operation of a store and the unexpected birth of a new child. Minor characters flesh out the feel of a Jewish community in the 1970s.
The writing and story telling is so smooth that you come to enjoy each character, and to look forward to their exposition. Characters are vivid -- even if they do not develop much.
The book falls short on several levels. First, you do not learn anything useful or telling about Jewish life in America. The Kirshners are in many senses a fringe community, but not a particularly interesting one. Their struggles with acculturization are not well told, and their conflicts with the townies are muted and uninteresting. Second, you do not learn anything fun or useful about vacations in America -- this very much wastes the backdrop of Kaaterskill Falls. Some plot elements seem forced -- a mysterious car accident seems to have no real plot purpose.
This book is ultimately about relationships -- sons and fathers, brothers, husbands, wives, kids. It is about orthodoxy and rule bound religion and what it means to be a good person. The book is a good read and fun, but stops short of penetrating any great questions or developing any character too well, too deep, with too much meaning.

The First World War
The First World War
von John Keegan
Preis: EUR 16,84

3.0 von 5 Sternen Long on Details and Short on Strategic Overview., 27. Juni 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The First World War (Taschenbuch)
This book mirrors Keegan's one volume history of World War II. As general histories, both books are steady droning compendiums of endless details. Keegan is understated about strategic situations, and fails to viscerally capture the turning points of the battles and wars, leaving the reader slogging through battles and decisions with too little context.
The maps are inadequate. The reader becomes quickly lost in left flank and right flank and one french village after another, losing the mental picture of events in Keegan's droning narrative.
I would reccommend Keegan's other excellent books, the Face of Battle and the Mask of Command. There Keegan exercises the narrative story telling of a master historian. This history reads like an encyclopedia article. It is comprehensive but uninformative. One feels that one has read all about the war, but absorbed little.

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
von Alasdair Macintyre

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Book is Worthy Attempt to Restore Fragmented Moral Debates., 21. Juni 2000
This book captures the nature of modern moral debate: shattered, fragmented, with pieces of concepts bandied about in bad faith by people substituting arrogance for erudition.
Macintyre describes the emotivist nature of modern moral thought, the attempt to relegate moral discussion to a "personal" matter. He argues that this is the nadir, the deep dark hole we have fallen into -- moral thought was once clear and precise, offering real choices. His view depends on Aristotle, and attempts to show the wrong turns of the Englightenment.
The book is sweeping, which makes for some jumpy reading. He asserts some points which he does not want to bother to prove. There is almost a rushed feeling to some of the arguments, as if he wants to get them on the table very fast.
The argument boils down to an attempt to begin a restoration of moral debate, by picking up pieces and polishing the shards. His attempt is to show a historical nature to moral arguments, sited within social contexts, and to show that this in fact offers a strength to moral debate, rather than a weakening through relativism.
If you wonder why everyone seems to be talking past each other, and why moral discussion is nigh unto impossible to sustain, this book offers answers. It is a worthy beginning, or maybe a last diagnosis before the curtain falls. Read it to understand why we are what C.S. Lewis calls "men without chests".

Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996
Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996
von Seamus Heaney
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Heaney's Natural, Witty, Brilliant Poems In One Volume., 18. April 2000
Seamus Heaney is a master poet who connects nature, emotion, and even plot, in a brilliant and particularly Irish poetry. These poems are accessible to non-English majors. I read them out loud to my wife at night. They elicit a reaction that begins at emotional imagery, veers into thought, and ends up touching your soul. One of the immortal greats of the English language is writing and publishing now, and this book is indispensable.

Pius XII and the Second World War: According to the Archives of the Vatican
Pius XII and the Second World War: According to the Archives of the Vatican
von Pierre Blet
  Gebundene Ausgabe

3.0 von 5 Sternen A Curious and Interesting But Unsatisfying Book., 10. April 2000
After reading the speculative and often fanciful calumnies of "Hitler's Pope" it is natural for a reader to hope that this work will provide a sweeping response. It does not.
This book is factual -- but not analytical, historical, or contextual. As a result, a reader bogs down in detail. The book does a good job of showing the tiny details that made up the Vatican's work against Hitler and for peace. The book lacks a critical overview.
Given that it is clear and demonstrable that the Vatican was for peace in World War II, the next question is one of effectiveness. Pius was a diplomat. This book does not explore whether a diplomat was the proper and best Church leader during this troubled time.
It is sad that there is any need for this debate, over whether the Vatican helped Jews "to the best of it's ability". The answer is of course, yes and no! No human organization is perfect.
A better question is, did Pius do his best as a man -- and the answer is yes, as this book proves -- and did he do his best as a Pope -- and the answer is no, because his skills and talents were not those of a moral leader, or a symbolically attuned leader. When the Church needed a John Paul II, they instead had a quiet force for good. Sometimes that is enough; here it might have been, barely, for many hundreds of thousands saved by the Church. But it was not enough for millions of others, who were not saved, and probably could not have been short of American armored divisions. That is an unsatisfying answer, but a true one.
This book builds details, in layers, like a bird building a nest. It is a frustrating book to read. The facts accrete, and in the end one is left seeing the disgusting and weak job of character assassination done in "Hitler's Pope". But the reader also wishes for a better story telling style. The reader also wishes for more cogently stated ammunition against the Pope haters, such as they are.
The real word on the Pope, World War II, and the moral obligations of the Papacy -- that story has yet to be told, as a story. This book will be a good resource to some future writer who wants honesty, facts, and can use them to tell the story.

Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
von Robert Wright
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 27,07

5.0 von 5 Sternen Adds more to knowledge than the time it takes to read., 10. April 2000
Non-Zero is an excellent book, because it shows an arc to human (and physical, biological, natural) history. That arc is complexity, and cooperation, through the additive effects of cooperation.
The book is readable, almost chatty. The author fleshes out a truth long known by sociologists. Emile Durkheim stated the thesis most cogently -- the sum of social facts (human society) is greater than their individual parts (given persons). In other words, people who cooperate do big things, like go to the moon, or raise hundreds of bushels of corn, or make movies. The author brings clarity and readability to this thesis. I do not think that the book is terribly original -- the author cites authoritative sources for nearly every insight he presents. What this book gives is scope, a view that has taken a step back from encrusted academic language and simply communicates it's message.
The book is too hopeful. An example: the author describes the social insurance that comes from potlatch and similar ceremonies, the sharing of material wealth. But surely burning the wealth is a degenerative form of this useful insurance ritual? The author could have explored the entire idea of degeneration in non-zero-sumness -- in other words, when cooperative beneficial behavior becomes perverse -- in better detail. He writes off degenerative social behavior as social dead ends -- which does not particularly help 20 million dead kulaks in Soviet Russia, and won't help 200 million dead Americans if there is a smallpox related terrorist incident.
For his next book, or article, I think Wright should explore counter-examples to his thesis in greater detail. But this book is excellent, because it communicates so well, a thesis that is particularly important today: the globalization of nonzerosumness -- cooperate or die!
The most important line in the book, comes when Wright calls for more love, more cooperation, a greater supply of spiritual well being -- as an antidote to terrorists, angry men, those persons alienated from modern society. Isn't this what the Pope fosters by apologizing? If making Serbians feel a bit more appreciated prevents ambushes, murders, a holocaust, why not?
Why not? Well, Wright needs to examine the difference between cooperation and placating the evil, between Neville Chamberlain with the Nazis and Churchill with Stalin. His hopefulness in some ways is an artifact of willful historical ignorance --- or to be kinder, one book cannot cover all possibilities, and a good futurist who wants to make money must stick to his rosy scenarios --- but I grow mean.
It is a compliment to an author that his writing raises these questions. This is the sort of book that entertains, but leaves the reader thinking. That is a high compliment. Wright has gone exploring among the dross and over-written tomes of sociology and anthropology, and mined the gold. The result is a book that is better than the sources it uses. One is left feeling that the author is a bit smug about the analytical wedge he uses to make his points, a bit unwilling to expose the weaknesses his game theory incorporates.
But the reader is also left feeling better educated about, and more aware of, of the questions left on the table. Given that these questions are cetnral to the survival of human kind, the book is a good start to thinking about human survival, spiritual growth, and what humans can do when they embrace complexity and cooperate.

In the Garden of Iden
In the Garden of Iden
von Kage Baker

1.0 von 5 Sternen Wasting Good Ideas With Bad Writing., 6. April 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: In the Garden of Iden (Taschenbuch)
There is no greater sin than to waste a good idea with bad writing. The author creates a world where time travellers working for a mysterious organization can find themselves in any era of the past. This opening novel moves from the prisons of the Inquisition to Phillip II's Spain, to England just before the Elizabethan era. These are great settings.
Then it is ruined. The main character, Mendoza, is a troubled retiring sort, precisely the kind of character least likely to show off the settings. The love story is prefunctory. The writing is slow. The historical research and descriptions are bland and shallow. If an author is going to take you to neat places, the story has to open those places up!
This book is a great dissapointment, and not worth buying.

Everybody Dies (Matthew Scudder Series, Band 14)
Everybody Dies (Matthew Scudder Series, Band 14)
von Lawrence Block
Preis: EUR 7,64

4.0 von 5 Sternen Great Fun; Some Small Flaws But A Grand Read., 3. April 2000
Scudder is the most fresh and original detective in ongoing fiction. He out-grits Spenser; he has a place in New York that provides an endlessly interesting landscape. In this episode, Spenser is facing the violence associated with his good friend Mick Ballou, which has bled into his life. A friend is killed; a gang war breaks out, he is dragged into the mess, and to save himself is forced to move one step closer to the blurry line between criminal and detective. This is a grand story.
There are a few problems -- Scudder acts a bit un-Scudderian. For example, he suddenly wears a bulletproof vest. Some convenient little plot devices move him around into one too many coincidences (wearing the same clothes as his friend!) But these small rough spots do not marr the final product.
This episode is a bit more of a shoot-out and a rollicking adventure than it is a mystery or a whodunit. That is OK, it is good to alternate within a series.
Scudder is growing closer to the edge, becoming more criminal and less clearly on the side of the law. The dynamic tension this creates should yield several more good books. Will Scudder's view of justice lead him over the line into law breaking? Will he be seduced into thinking that convenience for himself is a form of justice? What does a tired ex-alcoholic criminally inclined detective do next?
Buy the book, read it, enjoy the story.

An Exaltation of Larks
An Exaltation of Larks
von Robert Reed

2.0 von 5 Sternen Well Written Twaddle; Leaves Reader Curiously Dispirited., 3. April 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: An Exaltation of Larks (Taschenbuch)
The plot is a gloss on a silly time travel/transcendence of Universe theme; a half-smart quasi-Buddhist shtick that leaves one feeling empty and cheated when the story finally unfolds. Along the way we get some generic and purposeless sex, and a story that is supposed to be mysterious and edgy. I give the book a second star because the author writes well, and phrases his silly plot in good style. Perhaps a good rule for science fiction that dips into quasi-crystal channeling mysticism might be to embrace some final meaning, either dark or light. This book leaves one muddled and unhappy, not thoughtful or uplifted. I cannot reccomend the book, but the author writes well enough to deserve more chances.

To Say Nothing of the Dog
To Say Nothing of the Dog
von Connie Willis
Preis: EUR 7,50

3.0 von 5 Sternen Mild wit and gentle story telling, tends to run long., 30. März 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: To Say Nothing of the Dog (Taschenbuch)
The classic, Three Men In A Boat (to say nothing of the dog) is the inspiration for this mildly funny book. The classic is better, being written in a past era, rather than about a past era. This book is a work of gentle wit and slow story telling, which seems to match the pace of a slow boat ride up a lazy river. At times the central love story seems contrived, and the time travel is not well plotted.... arbitrary jumping around instead of clever construction. I like the book, but it does not jump out and bite you. A good read for slow days.

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