Great quotes and other passages are examined in historical and contemporary context.

Vardon’s slim text includes quotations from both prominent male historical figures and those who are, perhaps, slightly less well-known—Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Virgil and MacArthur, but also H.W. Beecher, Viscount Morley and Leo Burnett. The format is narrative, an arrangement unlike established reference sources such as Bartlett’s. Vardon’s approach is to present a quote and then provide “pithy commentary” for a “life altering read.” The author readily acknowledges that the book is “hardly the most comprehensive work” (its 20+ pages make it more like a booklet), but the work’s significance is still elusive. Is Vardon being self-deprecating with his so-called pithy commentary, or is he more serious, as when he states that the reader will be informed and inspired? The author’s opinions on issues such as welfare, feminism, war, capitalism and Nelson Mandela are fairly clear, so perhaps the book’s aim is to state opinions on contemporary issues and use the quotes as a backdrop. The delivery of the quotes and the real-life examples that illustrate them is problematic in several ways. There’s no apparent arrangement regarding subject, quoted figure, chronology, etc. Indeed, dissimilar quotes are included in the same paragraph. One such paragraph speaks of medicine, then quickly diverts to character. Another paragraph has several passages on self-destruction, then awkwardly switches to passages on language. There are also errors in syntax, including the displeasing redundancy of telling the reader what he’s just been told (e.g., “No work of quotations would be complete without quoting the great Nietzsche, and so I’ll quote Nietzsche”). The commentary that follows each quote is often mundane and even bizarrely neutral. Several comments simply assert, “So true. So true.” Sometimes the commentary is far too literal, especially for subjects so potentially and deeply philosophical. It seems a more thorough examination of all of these quotes is in order, one that includes exploring the nature of the quote, context, author’s meaning and various interpretations. No author credentials are given, but Vardon maintains that he is a student of history. The work could be improved with the simple addition of page numbers and an index.  A confusing, dissatisfying assemblage.


Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1466379008

Page Count: 26

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2011

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.


Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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Moving and motivating—a must-read for practicing professionals and would-be musicians.



Inspirational lessons from the life of one tough teacher.

Today’s parents who lament their children stressing over tests may be horrified by the themes of tough love and tenacity offered by this biographical tribute to the late Jerry Kupchynsky, “Mr. K,” a gifted high school strings teacher from East Brunswick, N.J., whose exacting methods helped spawn the careers of generations of musicians and educators. Journalist Lipman and Kupchynsky, a violinist and Mr. K’s daughter, met as children when Mr. K joined his daughter’s exceptional talents on violin with Lipman’s on viola to form half of a string quartet that would also include Kupchynsky’s younger sister, whose disappearance decades later reunited the authors. The bond forged through the intensity of creating music is but one of the storylines running through this engrossing account of Mr. K’s life. Born in 1928 in the Ukraine, Mr. K endured a litany of wartime atrocities before immigrating to the United States as a refugee in 1946. But prior to fleeing to the U.S., it was the sound of a German soldier playing the violin that sparked his love for classical music. Surviving these early hardships helped instill in Mr. K an appreciation of adversity as a motivator, an unflagging belief in the value of hard work and a willingness to fight for the underdog. With a booming Ukrainian accent and “trim” mustache, Mr. K’s battle-ax demeanor and perfectionist drive struck both fear and a ferocious desire to succeed in the hearts of his pupils. One of his more unforgiving approaches involved singling out a section’s weakest player—“Who eez deaf in first violins?”—and forcing the guilty party to play alone with a stronger player until the weak one improved. While tactics like these may not have earned his students’ immediate devotion, they never forgot him and often found they could achieve more than they ever dreamed.

Moving and motivating—a must-read for practicing professionals and would-be musicians.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2466-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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