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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Schmidtberger, Paul: Design Flaws of the Human Condition

  Amazon  

4 stars

Paul Schmidtberger's Design Flaws of the Human Condition is a book about relationships. Ken, an adjunct professor of English slash reference librarian slash proofreader, is living with an actor, Brett, who even as the book starts is grunting out their relationship's last gasps. Iris is a--well, her work doesn't much matter--who's been living with Jeremy, the sort of self-confident, take-charge, leader type that everyone finds immediately likable. They were meant for each other--Ken and Iris, that is--and they immediately become friends after the two of them are (unjustly in both cases) required to take the same anger management class.

Design Flaws of the Human Condition is a clever book, as is immediately apparent even from the title of its first chapter: "Chapter One. In Which Ken's 'Really Great Day,' as Preordained by a Starbucks Employee, Fails to Materialize." It's also nicely plotted, which is to say that all the little strands of story are tied up by the book's end, often in ways that are not predictable but which are apt. The most noteworthy aspect of the book, however, is its dialogue. Schmidtberger's characters like to talk, and they're all reasonably intelligent and they invariably say clever things. It's all very cute in a Gilmore Girls-ish sort of way:

"I know. It's like a toy. It's like getting a little yellow metal bulldozer for Christmas when you're a little kid and you switch the bulldozer on and it creeps forward. You switch it off, it stops. And sooner or later you turn it on and your mind wanders or it's dinnertime or any one of a billion things happen to grab your attention and you forget about it and the little yellow bulldozer creeps across the room and it eventually runs into a wall somewhere and it bounces back a fraction of an inch and goes--grrrrnn, grrrrnn--and then it tries again, and it runs right into the wall again, and then bounces back again. Again and again and again. Until the batteries are dead."

The problem is that ultimately the dialogue is unrealistic. People don't really talk like this, at least not all the time, at least not all people. Schmidtberger's main characters all sound the same. They're also--and this too is unrealistic--apt to interrupt someone else's delivery of a really important piece of information with a clever story of their own, a comment like the one quoted above, when in real life they would wait anxiously to hear what the other person has to say. Realistic discourse, that is, takes a back seat to clever banter in this book. After a while, the dialogue becomes tedious, and one wishes the characters would just shut up now and then.

Still, while I would have preferred the book shortened by the excision of some dialogue, Design Flaws of the Human Condition was a fun and, yes, clever book.

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