Book Reviews I

See all reviews By Wayne Engle

Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy: The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy

5.0 out of 5 stars – Our boys, in a different light, May 9, 2009

When I first began to read Simon Louvish’s book about “our boys,” I found the style a little awkward and strange. But after a chapter or so, it started to go more smoothly. This was the comedy team I had read about before — the greatest movie comedy duo, in my opinion.

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The Black Death: A Personal History

5.0 out of 5 stars – The 14th Century comes to life, April 9, 2009

John Hatcher has taken us back to the horrendous bubonic plague of 1348-49 as if he possessed his own personal time machine. Working carefully with existing parish and town records for Walsham, in a rural area northeast of London, Hatcher brings the people of the English countryside of the 14th Century vividly to life.
Fictionalizing where necessary, but also utilizing the unusually detailed historic records for Walsham, Hatcher uses the selfless parish priest Master John as a human pivot around which his story turns.

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America, 1908: The Dawn of Flight, the Race to the Pole, the Invention of the Model T and the Making of a Modern Nation

5.0 out of 5 stars – America surges to the top, February 22, 2009

Jim Rasenberger does a superior job of showing how the United States in the period of one, identifiable year, surged to the front of the pack among the nations of the world.

Within a few months time, just 100 years ago, Wilbur and Orville Wright proved that their “flying machine” invented five years before would revolutionize both world travel and war.

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State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America

3.0 out of 5 stars – It’s a mixed bag, January 19, 2009

In a book that is a collection of essays like this one, I suppose it is inevitable that the quality — and the appeal of various chapters to various tastes — will be uneven. That’s true of this book. Some of the 50 writers appear to have a genuine affection for “their” states. To others, including some who confess to being neither natives nor residents, their essay seems like a grim duty to be gotten over as soon as possible.

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Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia

5.0 out of 5 stars – Portrait of a complex, unique culture, October 14, 2008

You may think you know a fair amount about Russia, but think again: This book will open your eyes to things about that huge, fascinating country that you never even suspected.

Specifically, this gives you a long, deep, vastly detailed picture of Russian culture, from its founding as an amalgam between the original Slavic inhabitants and their conquerors, the Mongols under Genghis Khan; to the first effective uniting of the Russians under Tsar Ivan the Terrible; to Russia’s first prolonged contact with the culture of the rest of Europe in the reign of Peter the Great.

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Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song

5.0 out of 5 stars – Magnificent obsession, October 6, 2008

Author Ted Anthony admits cheerfully at one point in recounting his pursuit of a song that the chase became an obsession for him. It is one that a reader can easily fall victim to also, listening to Anthony describe the search for his personal Holy Grail.
Where did “House of the Rising Sun” come from? England? Appalachia? From an imaginary place Anthony terms “The Village”? Perhaps it takes one to raise a really memorable song.
In his fascinating, world-wide search, Anthony meets about as many people as you could imagine, all different, but with one similarity: All of them have performed the song, or know someone who did, or collected recordings of people who did, or were transfixed by it just as Ted Anthony was.

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King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War

4.0 out of 5 stars –  Fascinating history — but biased, August 16, 2008

“King, Kaiser, Tsar” gives a fascinating, up-close and personal look at George V of Great Britain, Wilhelm II of Germany and Nicholas II of Russia and the key roles they played in the 30-odd years that led up to World War I. Especially enthralling are the differences between the responsibilities and personalities of a constitutional monarch, an autocrat in an empire with a parliament but little real democracy, and an absolute monarch totally unsuited for his role.

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Hitler in Colour

4.0 out of 5 stars – Third Reich, humanized, July 29, 2008

Adolf Hitler and the people of the Third Reich are seen here as we’ve never seen them before — not only in color, but laughing, clowning, having a good time.
Well, the German people were, anyway. Hitler always seemed to be too aware of his position as the stern, implacable warlord to loosen up whenever he even suspected a camera was focused on him. To see Der Fuehrer smile, laugh or appear even moderately light-hearted, you have to watch for the moment when he happens to be looking partially away from the camera, to have momentarily forgotten its presence.

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The Abuse of Innocence: The McMartin Preschool Trial

3.0 out of 5 stars – An informative book — but a flawed one, March 11, 2008

The Eberles have shone a much-needed spotlight of analysis on one of the worst miscarriages of justice in U.S. history: the McMartin Preschool case. After a brief introductory section to tell of how the fiasco all began, they give a detailed, blow-by-blow accounting of the trial, often with lengthy, word-for-word quotes of the lawyers’ questions and the witnesses’ responses. This is a good journalistic technique if not overdone; I often used it in reporting on criminal trials during my 39 and one-half years as a daily newspaper reporter.

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Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice

5.0 out of 5 stars – A courageous widow keeps the faith, January 12, 2008

Maureen Faulkner and Michael Smerconish describe in this book the 27-year nightmare that has followed the murder of Faulkner’s husband, young police officer Daniel Faulkner, by a radical Black Panther named Mumia Abu-Jamal on a dark Philadelphia street, Dec. 9, 1981.
Notice that I didn’t say “allegedly killed by Mumia Abu-Jamal” or any such legal nicety. Abu-Jamal killed Daniel Faulkner. After reading Maureen Faulkner’s book, there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that this sly, manipulating savage is as guilty as Judas, and should have been executed according to Pennsylvania law years ago.

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Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles

5.0 out of 5 stars – The Beatles, by one who knew them, December 16, 2007

This is not so much an analysis of the Beatles’ unbelievable career or their music as it is a rather breezy, first-person account of the segment of their lives that Tony Bramwell shared. He knew John, Paul and George growing up in Liverpool (he didn’t meet Ringo until they were both adults), and he gives us many insights about the three founding Beatles and of how they grew into rock’s greatest band. Bramwell also worked for the Beatles all during the years of their greatest popularity.

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Understanding Human History

5.0 out of 5 stars – Proving an inconvenient truth, October 18, 2007

Do IQ averages tend to follow racial lines? No! Cry the multi-culturalists, who label any suggestion of such a thing “racist” and “bogus science.” But author Michael H. Hart begs to disagree.
Going back to the beginning of traceable human history, Hart offers a convincing hypothesis backed up by copious chapter notes. His theory: While mankind originated in Africa, the segments of the human race that gradually traveled out of that continent to other, colder and harsher climes, over time developed higher mental capacities than those of the people who remained in the tropics of the Dark Continent.

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