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Tim Boxer


Getting To Know Egypt

HE RISE AND FALL OF ANCIENT EGYPT is a fascinating account of one of the world’s most enduring national cultures. With the demise of the modern Hosni Mubarak era, Egypt may yet attain its rightful position on the world stage.

Toby Wilkinson, an expert in Egyptology, currently at Clare College in the University of Cambridge, has produced a fascinating history of the 3,000 years of Egyptian civilization until its absorption into the Roman Empire and subsequent subjugation by a succession of foreign empires such as Byzantium, Persian, the Caliphs, the Ottomans and finally the British.

Wilkinson writes with such marvelous detail that you believe he must have known the pharaohs and the Cleopatra personally. This is not dry history like we got in high school. This book is absolutely absorbing and compelling.

As an example of the Nile Valley’s enduring impact on the world, Wilkinson cites ancient Egyptian religion as a fertile source for the development of early Christianity. "For Isis and Horus, substitute Virgin and Child—the iconography (and much of the underlying theology) remained virtually identical."

Ancient Egypt, as a concept and an ideal, is familiar to all of us in this modern day. Have you fingered the pyramid on the dollar bill recently? Have you cut the cards at the Luxor in Las Vegas? Have you seen The Ten Commandments, Cleopatra and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to mention but three films that have fascinated Hollywood with Egyptian themes.

In film and literature, architecture and tourism, "the civilization of the pharaohs is alive and well in the imagination of people the world over. The ancient Egyptians could not have wished for more." (Random House, 611 pages, $35.00, Amazon.com Price: $19.02)


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UARDIANS OF THE REVOLUTION affords some insight on the age of the Ayatollahs. Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, calls for a new U.S. approach. Instead of a proxy war, America should adopt "an engagement strategy" with Tehran. That means turning a policy of militarizing the Persian Gulf with shaky alliances to a vision of a new regional security system with a common market with free trade zones, arms control pacts, and a constructive partnership between the Shiite dominated states of Iran and Iraq.

What impels the Iranians is their perception of historical greatness and superiority in their part of the world. Indeed, people I met when I traversed the country recently expressed their acute admiration of the Persian Empire that still lingers in their hearts. Some bristled at the thought that marauding Arab hordes swept over the ancient Persian civilization, overthrew the Zoroastrian devotion and forcefully imposed a new Islamic religion.

Even though Iranians today are devoted Muslims, the thought that they lost a great empire still rankles. I suppose that’s what motivates their foreign policy in these times. They long to rekindle their ancient glory by dominating the Persian Gulf, again, this time in the form of a Shiite crescent.

Takeyh rebuffs the common conviction that it is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is the basis of Islamist terrorism and Middle East strife. The center of gravity, he maintains, has shifted from the Arab east to the Persian Gulf.

"It is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will decide the future of the Middle East but the failed and failing states of Iraq and Afghanistan, where Iranian power and influence have ample room to expand."

While the Palestinian issue is vital for Israel’s security and stability in the Levant, "it is more likely that peace in the Persian Gulf will bring peace to the Levant than the other way around."

"Ultimately," Takeyh concludes, "security for Arabs and Israelis will be more achievable if Iran is part of the region and is vested in its stability rather than excluded from it." (Oxford University Press, 310 pages, $27.95, Amazon.com Price: $18.45)


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HE LAST JEW OF TREBLINKA is not for the weak at heart. Chil Raichman’s memoir describes the unimaginable deprivations he suffered in this Nazi extermination center. It will difficult to keep reading as your eyes cloud over.

Unlike Auschwitz or Dachau, there was no pretension that this was also a labor camp. It was not. It was strictly a death camp, with the gas running to asphyxiate thousands of Jews, and the fires burning the corpses into a fine dust. He survived a year in this hell by volunteering his services as a "barber," shearing off the hair of the women before they were herded to the gas chambers, and as a "dentist," extracting the gold and silver teeth from the corpses before they were buried or incinerated. Crates of hair and the gold and silver were shipped back to the fatherland (or pilfered by some of the officers).

After a year a revolt broke out and Raichman was one of the lucky few able to escape while many others were machine-gunned as they raced across the fields. He remembered what one woman told him as he shaved off her hair before she was gassed: We are lost but you must remain alive to tell what happened to us. (Pegasus, 160 pages, $22.00, Amazon.com Price: $14.71)

A PROMISE AT SOBIBOR is one man’s brutal endurance in this notorious death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. His harrowing details of day to day slavery to unmerciful and sadistic SS officers aided by Ukrainian guards, leading ultimately to a brave revolt and escape, makes this eyewitness account a real page turner.

The book reads like a movie script. Actually an excellent movie was made about this infamous death camp, Escape from Sobibor, in 1987 that starred Alan Arkin.

Between April 1942 and October 1943, about 250,000 Jews from different countries were transported here to be gassed and cremated. On Oct. 14, 1943, some 650 prisoners, aided by recently arrived Russian POWs, killed SS officers, seized their weapons and escaped through the surrounding minefields and machinegun fire. Only 42 made it to freedom, including the author, Philip "Fiszel" Bialowitz. (University of Wisconsin, 248 pages, $24.95, Amazon.com Price: $17.43)


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MICROSOFT WINDOWS 7 STEP by STEPLearning Microsoft Apps

OW that I’ve advanced to Word 7 with its Office 2010 programs, I looked for help in navigating through my workflow. As you may well expect, Microsoft Press has a series of excellent books to guide you with your applications. Visit www.oreilly.com to see them all.

MICROSOFT WINDOWS 7 STEP by STEP is where you should take your first step in exploring the new Windows. The book presents everything you need to know about Microsoft’s latest operating system upgrade. And there’s much to learn between the covers. To make sure you learn well, every chapter ends with a list of key points, to summarize what you’ve learned so far. What you’ve learned covers quite a gamut, from taskbar, control panel, system files on to managing user accounts and your network, to navigating Windows, managing folders and files to managing Internet Explorer and experiencing the Web. (O’Reilly, soft cover, 492 pages, $24.99, Amazon.com Price: $14.77)

MICROSOFT WORD 2010 INSIDE OUTMICROSOFT WORD 2010 INSIDE OUT is an in-depth reference volume geared for the advanced person already familiar with the basics. Some of the areas covered included translating text and working with languages, making professional tables and charts, adding text boxes, sharing documents and co-authoring in real time, working with long documents, preparing tables of contents and indexes, creating mailings, blogging, and working with macros. There’s much more, but you get the idea if this book’s for you. (O’Reilly, soft cover, 871 pages, $49.99). However, if you want help in a more basic rendering, then you’ll be more comfortable with Word 2010 Step by Step (O’Reilly, soft cover, 493 pages, $49.99, Amazon.com Price: $30.77)

MICROSOFT OUTLOOK 2010 STEP BY STEP is perfect for the wary learner. The instructions are succinct. The illustrations are clear. Following along is like holding an instructor’s hand as he escorts you page after page, chapter after chapter. There is so much material to learn, but it’s pretty basic, and you have to learn it. A list of keyboard shortcuts alone takes 12 pages. (O’Reilly, soft cover, 543 pages, $29.99, Amazon.com Price: $19.79)

MICROSOFT OUTLOOK 2010 INSIDE OUTIf you’re ambitious and seek a more comprehensive guide, then consider MICROSOFT OUTLOOK 2010 INSIDE OUT. It offers everything, yet more. There is much more information on working offline and remotely. There are more chapters on making Outlook mobile. This book takes you deeper into the application. Actually it’s for the advanced user and the IT professional to aid them in understanding the bigger picture. You can tell it’s a high-end volume from its slick stock. (O’Reilly, soft cover, 1075 pages, $54.99, Amazon.com Price: $34.64)


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PIRKE AVOTPage Turners

IRKE AVOT is a compendium of ethical guidelines that Jews customarily read every Saturday in the spring. This edition of a classic, translated as Ethics of the Fathers, provides the original Hebrew with an English interpretation plus a keen-edged analysis pertaining to modern life by William Berkson. Each maxim comes from a noted "father" (rabbi or scholar). Shemaya declares, "Love work, hate domination." After praising the value of labor, he cautions not to dominate others. Abraham Lincoln put it well: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master." Perhaps ultimate adage comes from from Rabbi Eliezer who advises, "Let the honor of your colleague be as dear to you as your own" — great career move — "do not be easy to anger, and repent one day before your death." I leave you to contemplate on that last gem. (Jewish Publication Society, soft cover, 228 pages, $28.00, Amazon.com Price: $21.28)

NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHYNIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY by Lance Keimig, who teaches at the New England School of Photography in Boston, will teach you smoothly how to captivate cool images of the dark. The photos he presents as examples are truly stunning. If you follow his guidelines on how to shoot at night, you can be sure you’ll create pictures you’ll be proud to show. He especially advises to use the RAW mode instead of JPEG, use your camera’s native ISO setting, manual exposure mode, enable both the RGB and luminance histograms, enable the blinking highlight indicator, and reduce the LVCD brightness on par with the ambient light level and to save battery power. (Focal Press, soft cover, 251 pages, $34.95, Amazon.com Price: $22.52)

The Art of Photography

THE ART OF PHOTOGRAPHY is Bruce Barnbaum’s approach to personal expression. Following a career as a mathematical analyst and computer programmer for missile guidance systems, he has sensibly turned his immense talents to teach the rest of us the magic of light and how to use it to communicate through photography. He delves into hands-on technique as well as the art of captivating color. It’s easy to make pleasant images, he says. "To create an image in color that is truly expressive—one that breaks away from the scene—requires a great deal of thought and dedication, as well as rapport with and deep understanding of the subject. None of this comes easily, but when it is achieved, the results can be breathtaking." This is a book for the sincere, deeply dedicated photographer. (RockyNook, large size soft cover, 352 pages, $44.95, Amazon.com Price: $29.67)

DIGITAL LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHYDIGITAL LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY guides you, the photographer, in the footsteps of Ansel Adams and the great masters. Michael Frye explains Adams’s Zone System that helped produce his iconic views of the national parks. Frye shows how we, in the digital age, can replicate Adams techniques to produce similar stunning images. His attention to detail is valuable, giving us an understanding of such basics of the craft as depth of field, filters, white balance, histograms and everything else you need to understand to create beautiful photographs. Fully illustrated with the author’s own work which attest to his own remarkable craftsmanship. (Focal Press, soft cover, 160 pages, $24.95, Amazon.com Price: $16.47)

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