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You won't find reviews of Hike Your Own Hike or The Hidden Europe here (that's a lie: there's one review for The Hidden Europe). Instead, this section is for my review other books, although I may occasionally review a movie or even a gadget.

I've put my best reviews here, but if it's not enough, then you'll find a few more reviews on Amazon.

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Review of Winter in the Wilderness by Dave Hall with Jon Ulrich

Cover of Winter in the Wilderness A Field Guide to Primitive Survival Skills by Dave Hall, Jon Ulrich

In August 2015, I received a preview copy of Winter in the Wilderness: A Field Guide to Primitive Survival Skills by Dave Hall with Jon Ulrich. The book will be available on September 22, 2015. Before sharing my thoughts of this book, I'll share my background and experience to illustrate my expertise, igorance, and bias.

Background on the reviewer

I've spent many weeks backpacking in the winter or in winter-like conditions. For example, when I did a round-trip on the Continental Divide Trail, I walked across Colorado in May. When you're in the Rocky Mountains in May, it sure looks and feels like winter, even though officially it's spring. The mountains are buried in snow and freezing temperatures are the norm.

My most memorable winter trip was when Lisa Garrett and I did a 4-day backpacking trip in Yosemite during Thanksgiving (late November). You can see some photos from that snowy experience.

I've also climbed many snowy peaks, such as nearly all the peaks in Cascade Mountain Range (e.g., Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, Mt. Baker, Mt. Adams, etc...), as well as snowy mountains outside the USA, such as Mont Blanc.

Despite all these situations, I have only once been in a true winter survival situation. That was in late March 2006 when Maiu and I got lost in the Olympic National Park. I've wanted to write about that life-threatening experience for a while years, but until I do, let's just say that we almost died. We spent two nights (one of which snowed on us) in a diabolical ravine. We both ended up with frostbite, but we got out on our own.

Another close call was when I was snowshoeing in Idaho for the day with Julia, my Ukrainian girlfriend at the time. We got lost as the sunset and kept walking until we ran into man running a snowplow at 3:00 a.m. We were walking the wrong way and he took us to  

Therefore, it was great interest that I read Winter in the Wilderness. Here are the pros, cons, and verdict of the book.

Read more... [Review of Winter in the Wilderness by Dave Hall with Jon Ulrich]

Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite eReader Review - a super ebook reader

This is my first ereader and I love it! I've been researching them for years and finally I've found one that worth buying: Amazon's Kindle Paperweight. Here's my review of it.

Kindle Paperwhite technologyPros

  • Super long battery life: it was half-charged when I pulled it out of the box. It's been over a week and I have yet to charge it, even though I've been using it a couple of hours every day. Amazon claims a 2-month battery life, assuming you use it 30 minutes per day, no wifi, and at 40% brightness. That seems reasonable. Yet even if it's half that, it's amazingly good.
  • Multi-touch display: Although it's not as responsive as a iPhone/iPad, you can swipe and pinch all you want. Typing is less responsive than a standard LCD touch screen, but you can certainly type and even use the free to-do-list app.
  • The screen is as bright as you want it: The Kindle Paperwhite targets people who like to read black text on a white background. Ironically, I prefer black text on a gray background. I find it easier on my eyes, so I usually leave the brightness setting at only 5% brightness. That saves battery life and, for my tastes, it's what looks best in complete darkness AND a bright environment. It's only in semi-lit environments where I will boost the front light. Still, it is amazing how bright it can get and that you can have a nice white background even in a bright room.
  • The double helix nanoimprinted light guide technology: It lights up the eink perfectly and evenly, unlike any other ereader in the market today. (See pic on this page.) A few reviewers have complained that there are extremely minor shadows at the very bottom of the reader (see them in the video). It's true. They are there. However, it's so incredibly subtle that only the most picky person would care. If you're one of those, I suggest you go to therapy.
Read more... [Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite eReader Review - a super ebook reader]

Russian Professor reviews The Hidden Europe

Lyubov Fadeeva, Professor of Politics in Perm, Russia, wrote this review of The Hidden Europe in Russian. It's translated below in English (the translation is imperfect). And now Dr. Fadeeva's....

Review of Francis Tapon's The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us

The Hidden Europe book cover

The book by Francis Tapon book The Hidden Europe. What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us is estimated by reviewers as an excellent travelogue or travel book. In my opinion, it is a travelogue only in form; in content it is a profound cross-national socio-cultural study. It offers a comparative analysis of 25 countries based on sociological and statistical data, numerous interviews with both common people and intellectuals, inclusive observation, etc. I will strongly recommend it to my students in Comparative Politics.

Tapon warns: "I am not a historian. I am an explorer". He seems to be a real discoverer of "the hidden Europe".

The author pretends to be simple in his explanation: Eastern Europe is the territory situated to the East of Western Europe. But he warns that "Eastern Europe" as a term has a lot of complications and not very pleasant connotations for the people: "Because the world had such a low opinion of Eastern Europeans" as "losers who were on the wrong side of Iron Curtain nowadays nobody wants to admit that they live there" (P.13).

And Eastern Europe (25 countries) is still hidden not only for Americans, but for most Europeans too. From the beginning Francis Tapon allows himself a sharp jokes like "the only people who don't seem to care are the Moldovans. They are just happy that Moldova exists" ( P.15).

Most reviewers note the author's brilliant humor. I totally agree: I had a great laugh while reading the book, and I tried to pass on Tapon's humor to my friends and colleagues and to my students. His humor is hot and spicy but not offensive. On the other hand, his book is not entertaining fiction. I would estimate his humor as a research tool because it helps him to analyze, to compare different cultures and customs including offences and prejudices. "The main purpose of this book is positive – to learn the best things about Eastern Europeans; nevertheless, we'll also learn about the stupid and idiotic things in Eastern Europe" (P.16).

Read more... [Russian Professor reviews The Hidden Europe]

Difference between Hike Your Own Hike and The Hidden Europe


Hike Your Own Hike and The Hidden Europe are book 1 and 2 of the WanderLearn Series, respectively. Although they're part of the same series and have some common themes, they have significant differences. For example:

  • Hike Your Own Hike has about 84,000 words in 352 pages for $24.99.
  • The Hidden Europe has 330,600 words in 752 pages for $25.99.

Math geniuses will note that when compared to HYOHThe Hidden Europe has twice the page length, but four times the word count, yet costs just $1 more!

As you can guess, HYOH has a big font and healthy margins, while The Hidden Europe has a normal-sized font and small margins. It's the old college trick that we all did - play with the fonts and margins to make the page count where you want it. Anamarija Mišmaš did the layout and did a fantastic job!

What does this mean to you? The Hidden Europe is a bargain! Four times more information, for practically the same price! It's a bad deal for me: I had to work four times as much for the same wage. It's like getting paid a fourth of what you got before. You win.

Moreover, there's no fluff or filler in my writing. It's tight, thanks to my awesome editors, Melissa Finley and Andreja Nastasja Terbos. As one reviewer wrote: "Francis is able to weave humor, history, and himself in such a way throughout the pages that you don’t realize just how much information you’re absorbing." Read more reviews of The Hidden Europe.

Read more... [Difference between Hike Your Own Hike and The Hidden Europe]

The Arrivals Documentary is Complete Bullshit

The Arrivals documentary is dead on arrival. The opening scene doesn't inspire much confidence. It steals scenes from The Lord of the Rings (as it does throughout this seven hour video), integrating them with Islamic doomsday prophecy. This conspiracy filled movie attempts to be serious, but ends up being comical. It's a documentary that feels more like a mockumentary.

Why did I torture myself for seven hours? I have degree in Religion and specialized in Islam. My thesis was on eschatology. Thus, an Islamic documentary about the end of days naturally interested me. However, the more I watched, the more I giggled.

The "arrivals" refers to the beings who will arrive at the end of the time: Satan, the anti-Christ, and God's army. This video attempts to show that these "arrivals" are due any moment. Don't hold your breath.

Read more... [The Arrivals Documentary is Complete Bullshit]

The Drunkard's Walk book review

The Drunkard's Walk book coverI've never drunken alcohol in my life, but I'm drunk all the time. That, at least, is the conclusion I draw after reading The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives.

The book argues that we vastly underestimate how our lives (and most things around us) are a product of chance. Although we know that luck is important, we don't realize just how important it is. By the end of this book, you may end up believing that randomness is the most important factor in life.

Leonard Mlodinow's Drunkard's Walk gets a bit heavy at times, which may turn off people who don't want to hear about the math details or about the obscure history of randomness.

All highly accomplished people ought to read this book for an ego-check. Successful people (and their fans) think they're brilliance made them successful. Reality: luck played a much larger role than you realize. That's a humbling thought.

The book's biggest weakness is that it's a bit short on solutions. Mlodinow advises us to "be aware" and "conscious" of how important randomness is.

That's nice, but should I even try writing a brilliant review for his damn book? Is it pointless to try to write such an insightful review that it will land on Obama's desk? Then Obama learns about me, buys my book, and puts me on Oprah. Or not. So why bother trying if life is so random?

He does give one bit of useful advice in the end: "Have more at-bats." In other words, since randomness is so important, those who eventually do well often just rolled the dice more often. If you keep pulling the proverbial gambling lever, you will hit a jackpot eventually. If you keep swinging at baseballs, you'll eventually score a base-hit. Even untalented people will get lucky if they try enough. So step up to the plate today and swing away. Keep doing that and even a drunk guy will hit a homerun.

BOTTOM LINE: 4 out 5 stars.

P.S. Although I've never purposely drunken an alcoholic drink in my life, I did get drunk when I was eight years old. My mom put rum on strawberries and I secretly ate them all. How's that for random?

This article was first published as Book Review: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow on Blogcritics. I've expanded it slightly for the WanderLearn readers.

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