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Book Review of: Escape from the Land of Snows

The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom

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Review of Escape from the Land of Snows, by Stephen Talty (Hardcover, 2011)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This book would make a great movie. It tells a great story in a compelling way.

Because the Notes section shows interviews with people who were there and the bibliography reveals a significant number of source books, I began reading this book with the impression that it was documentary in nature.

Unfortunately, it's not. Some of the details didn't seem right, but I thought maybe the author was just "filling in" to make things more interesting while still presenting something historically accurate. Then I came to where the author referred to Mongolia as having been taken over by China. Mr. Talty should have done a little research about the whole Chinese-Japanese-Russian intrigue around 1936. Mongolia has been an independent nation since 1945. That's not a good detail to get wrong.

As noted, some other details struck me as perhaps incorrect. Experts on the subjects this book touches may wish to go through the effort of vetting those details. As for me, I just wanted to enjoy the story. In terms of accuracy, I would advise the reader to filter out "facts" that didn't arise directly from interviews with participants in the Tibetan uprising and the Dalai Lama's flight to India (which facts these happen to be is obvious as you read).

Many of the details come from the Tibetan victims, as the Notes in back indicate. This book doesn't present details from the Chinese viewpoint, rendering the Chinese a bit stereotyped as brainwashed civil rights abusers. Then again, the Chinese government has demonstrated such a "personality" in other venues. That said, the United States contains half the world's prison population and China has more than four times the population the USA does. And the IRS is an American, not Chinese, travesty.

I would have liked to see more balance, though probably that would have been very difficult to achieve. The author could improve this book by some judicious editing to remove material not directly related to the core story. That would improve the overall accuracy, or perception thereof. It would also make the story move along a little faster, though the speed of the story wasn't a problem.

Even with some errors in it, this book does present a well-written account of what probably happened. It's a good human story, even if it doesn't quite make the grade as an historical one. I felt I benefitted by reading it.

The version I read was the uncorrected proof in paperback. I don't know how many pages the final version in hardback will have (I am writing this the month before its schedule release date). The version I read contains sixteen chapters and an Epilogue, occupying 264 pages.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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