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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beggars and Thieves: Lives of Urban Street Criminals Beggars and Thieves: Lives of Urban Street Criminals

Beggars and Thieves: Lives of Urban Street Criminals Beggars and Thieves: Lives of Urban Street Criminals
by Mark S. Fleisher
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press (August 15, 1995)
  • ISBN-10: 0299147746

Yet another book in the line of "stuff Rory Miller recommends". The last one was psychology. This one is anthropology.

Beggars and Thieves is the culmination of a multi-year anthropological study done by Mark Fleisher. Fleisher, a former prison administrator, spent an enormous amount of time with street criminals, both inside and outside of prison, working to construct a picture of how these criminals are created, and perhaps, to start looking at how they might be treated (or how their criminal tendencies might have been prevented).

After an introduction and overview, the book follows a fairly straightforward pattern, beginning with the childhood of the street criminal, and tracing that life forward until it culminates in old age (provided the criminal gets there). In each chapter, Fleisher includes numerous quotes, stories, and other bits of evidence from his study to help bolster his argument, but also to help create a better picture of the mindset of the people that he's working with. The final chapter of the book brings Fleisher's studies into focus, with a detailed explanation of how Fleisher believes public policy needs to be altered to better address urban crime in America.

While the book is clearly aimed at policy makers, it has a great deal of value for anyone interested in enhancing their personal safety. Fleisher's evidence reinforces the idea that most criminals simply do not think the way the average law abiding citizen does. they are not operating on the same set of values, or even variations on the same set of values, that the non-criminal does. Understanding this mindset, and how it works, is something that everyone working to better the safety of those around them should look into. Definitely worth the read.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910
by Alan Moore

I really, really, wanted to like this.

For those not familiar--the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was an interesting idea in which Alan Moore took a number of characters from various stories that were all roughly contemporaneous in their setting, and meshed them together in a sort of "Victorian superhero team". So you had Mina Harker, Alan Quartermain, Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, and the Invisible Man all teaming up to, well, fight crime. It's a bit more complicated than that, but that was the basic idea. The second series pitted the same group against the martians from War of the Worlds, and was also cool in it's own right. The Black Dossier deviated from the original group by telling two stories; one, set in the 1960's, about a group related to the original league attempting to recover the titular Black Dossier. The other 'story' was really just the text of the Black Dossier itself, which explains a lot about where the League members came from, places them in a greater historical context, and contains a stupid amount of sex. Really. A STUPID amount of it. It made the framing story feel not only disjointed, but a bit weird, and I didn't entirely enjoy it.

This one though, seemed to just tell a single, straightforward story, and so I had high hopes. Such high hopes that I read it twice, just to be sure.

But even after a second read through, I found I really didn't like this. Mostly because this story lacks two things; engaging characters, and an interesting plot.

To the first; some of the characters are familiar (Harker and Quatermain, as well as Orlando for those who read Black Dossier). Others, like Carnacki, and the other guy, who I cannot remember at all, are new. It doesn't matter, because they are indescribably dull. This is the first story about the League where I absolutely, completely, and totally did not care about the members of said League at all.

Of course, there are plenty of other characters in the story; well, some, anyway. Unfortunately, they are all equally dull. Janni, daughter of Captain Nemo, has some potential, but her story arc is so grossly cliched as to just be somewhere between silly and dumb. I would think that someone so interested in pushing social boundaries (as Moore seems to be) would be able to come up with a story about a woman becoming strong in a way that doesn't follow such a ridiculously cliched path.

As for the plot; there isn't much of one. I gather from reading some other review that this is intended to kick of a series, so I suppose that could be forgiven, except for the fact that I don't really even know where the story is supposed to go from here. Or rather, this installment of the story was so boring as to make me not care enough to figure it out.

While I've read much worse in the graphic novel department (anything done by Rob Liefield comes to mind), this one ultimately just isn't up to the standard set by it's predecessors. It's not even close.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Have I Mentioned?

That I have an Amazon store?

If not, I have now. So if a review I write convinces you to buy something, and you're in the habit of buying off of Amazon, please consider buying it through my store. It will help me get more books to recommend to you, thus perpetuating a vicious literary cycle.


1776 1776
David McCullough

Once again, I find myself not entirely sure how I ended up with this book. I know it's from the time when I worked in Waldenbooks, but beyond that, I have no clue. Up until relatively recently (the last two or three months), American Colonial History has not really been my thing. I've generally preferred periods before gunpowder.

But, as I said, this was on my shelf, and having recently listened to a series on American history courtesy of the Teaching Company, I figured I'd give it a shot.

This is a very excellent book, but a bit strange. I didn't realize until I was almost done that this was actually written as a companion piece to McCullough’s acclaimed John Adams, which I have not read, but which might make this one flow better. Not that this is bad...on the contrary, the writing is excellent. Engaging, thoughtful, and well balanced, McCullough takes the events of one of the most pivotal years in U.S. history and turns it into a fascinating story. His focus leans more heavily towards the American point of view, rather than the British one, but the British get their time in the spotlight too. Nor do the Americans come across as perfect angels fighting for all that is good and right; even "his Excellency" George Washington is shown with all of his doubts, fears, and mistakes (of which he makes a number). The British are not painted as vile villains; even king George comes off reasonably well, all things considered.

So what makes the book so odd? Mostly that it's a book that tells the story of a year with very little context, and very little follow up. McCullough simply jumps into the story at the end of 1775, tells it through to the beginning of 1777, and then stops. There is very little in the way of detail on the beforehand or afterward, which makes a certain amount of sense for a companion piece, but which I found a bit startling reading this as a stand alone work.

Still, that's a quibble about a book that is overall, engaging, fun, and interesting. For those who enjoy American colonial history, this is an excellent choice. Those looking for a simple overview of the revolution should probably look elsewhere.