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Author Topic: We Can Do by Moshe Kai with guest Robert Levy discussing Saxon Math.  (Read 408613 times)
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« on: April 27, 2012, 05:42:44 PM »

I'm starting this thread for the above titled book; it's one that I read about in an earlier thread here a few months back, but I've just now gotten around to buying the book and reading it.

For those not familiar with it, the book was written last year by a juvenile student at UCLA that began community college courses at the age of 8, and received his AA degree at the age of 11.

The book appears fairly short and lacks the prolix style prose that I've grown accustomed to in non-fiction books. I guess that's perhaps a good thing.

After getting through the first few pages, I wanted to start this thread to document my thoughts before they drown into the sea of additional content that young Kai will most likely discuss.

Many of us on Brillkids have wondered, either to ourselves or to each other, about what comes next. How do you transition from early learning to school learning? What do you do when you find your child is ahead due to purposeful and manufactured precocity?
While "We Can Do" won't answer this, you will read about how his parents dealt with this issue. There's a lot left out during the critical time between 3 and 6 years old where a massive percentage of his learning was taking place. However, I do believe a savvy reader, especially one familiar with Brillkids, will be able to decipher and fill in the blanks nicely.

My first interesting observation of the book is in learning how it all started for young Moshe. It seems that his success can be traced back to a fortuitous result from repetitive interactions with his father. The father would take his newborn baby outside and because they lived adjacent to LAX, there were constant commercial jets flying overhead. Every time a jet flew over, his dad would point up and say the chinese word for "airplane". At 4 months old, little Moshe pointed up and said an abbreviated form of the word all on his own!

The author, Moshe, doesn't go into detail of just how lucky this was, like I would... but I'll do it here for you. Prior to this, there is no mention to purposeful early learning. Once the mother confirmed that her little newborn infant was capable of actually saying a word and saying it in a fashion that illustrated contextual meaning, they went and attempted to foster this precocity.

In my mind, I immediately thought of The Einstein Syndrome.

The proposition is: how would you respond if someone came to you when your baby was born and told you that your child had "Einstein's Syndrome"? Without question, even the most hardened skeptic of early learning might start immersing their child with learning opportunities.

Effectively, and by chance I might add, this is what happened with little Moshe. Had he not spoken until he was 18 months old, maybe the parents wouldn't have reacted the way they did in such a purposeful manner.

His parents then started him on a Doman-like program of self created picture cards. He knew his first word, so they used that as one of the cards. He started with 4 cards, airplane, helicopter (with his unique spelling because baby Moshe was unable to say the multi-syllabic word), momma, and pappa. The difference between their method and Doman's is that theirs was so much less; the reason being they wanted mastery. Along those lines, they only added a card AFTER little Moshe demonstrated that he could say and read his current library. They would add a card once he mastered an existing card.

Effectively, this was sort of a Doman and YBCR method wrapped in one; but truncated by comparison.

The father, at one point down the road, created computerized flash cards and sentences and phrases... sort of like Little Reader!

A few months back, there was an article posted here on Brillkids that mentioned math fluency as being the greatest indicator of grade school success.

There was another article posted here a few years back, but after an hour, I cannot find it... regardless, this article was about a young kid that was graduating with an engineering degree. The father emphasized mathematics and that propelled his child through the ranks quite swiftly.

Moshe's parents also emphasized mathematics fairly hard;

I'm seeing a pattern that math might equate to more accelerated movement through the grades more than reading does. Moshe was only superior to his age bracket in reading by the time he was 6 but not on a high school level like he was in mathematics.

I will update the thread with more thoughts as I go.

« Last Edit: December 22, 2012, 10:11:09 PM by Mandabplus3 » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2012, 09:13:27 PM »

Interesting, I may read it as well. Somewhere I discovered this site - and have been reading about the founders experience with early learning and after schooling/homeschooling her son who went to college at 13. I keep wondering if she knows about or frequents this forum since there are so many of us teaching early as well. She coaches other parents now. Anyway, it's a good site to check out if you're interested in where an early learner has ended up. I believe her son was also really good at math. She also points out good resources for your children like Stanford's gifted/talented online program that starts with English and math courses as young as Kindergarten.

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« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2012, 09:24:34 PM »


Please spill more about that book. I am very, very interested in hearing what the book says.

I first learnt about the book on a thread started on this forum by Ayesha Nicole ('s-book-reveals-life-in-college-at-age-8/msg81703/?topicseen). I then heard Dr Jones quoting extensively from it during one of his Early Learning Seminars. I wanted to buy it, but it was quite expensive, so I gave up. I'm very glad you've read it, so you'll fill me up on what he said. Please spill more about the book; I'm following this thread with keen interest.

The engineering boy you talked about, is it this one? (, who later got two degrees at age 16 (

« Last Edit: April 27, 2012, 10:43:40 PM by nee1 » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2012, 09:37:07 PM »

Interesting, I may read it as well. Somewhere I discovered this site - and have been reading about the founders experience with early learning and after schooling/homeschooling her son who went to college at 13. I keep wondering if she knows about or frequents this forum since there are so many of us teaching early as well. She coaches other parents now. Anyway, it's a good site to check out if you're interested in where an early learner has ended up. I believe her son was also really good at math. She also points out good resources for your children like Stanford's gifted/talented online program that starts with English and math courses as young as Kindergarten.


Ayesha Nicole started a thread on this forum on the boy you talked about:!/msg79554/#msg79554.
And also on this young girl who was preparing for A level maths exams at age 6:

This intrigues me. These early learners have been very good in Mathematics too. Could there be a connection? PokerDad, any thoughts?

« Last Edit: April 28, 2012, 07:00:01 AM by nee1 » Logged
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« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2012, 01:20:29 AM »

Another interesting book coming out - sorry for hijacking your thread a bit -

College at 13 tackles early-entry decisions
Posted April 26, 2012  

Great Potential Press announces the release of its newest book, College at 13: Young, Gifted, and Purposeful, written by Razel Solow, Ph.D., and Celeste Rhodes, Ph.D.
This book describes 14 highly gifted young women, now in their 30s, who left home to attend college at age 13 to 16, skipping all or most of high school. The authors describe what these women were like as young college students, the leadership, idealism, and sense of purposefulness they developed, and their lives 10 to 13 years later.
This inspirational book will help educators and parents understand that gifted kids need academic challenge, that there are colleges with specific programs for such students, that it doesn’t harm them to leave home early, and that keeping them interested in learning is vitally important.
The official release date for College at 13 is May 26, 2012, in remembrance of Dr. Rhodes’s death on May 26, 2008. Dr. Rhodes bravely battled cancer over the course of writing College at 13, but passed away before she could see the stories of these incredible young women published.
Parents and educators considering early college admission for their child will benefit from this fascinating look at the world of early college admission as they follow the experiences of fourteen gifted young women who skipped all or most of high school in order to attend college. Through examining the experiences of these women as young college students and looking forward to how those experiences shaped them into the highly successful women they are today, College at 13 demonstrates how early-entry college programs can provide academic challenge and keep gifted youngsters interested in learning, while creating a positive environment for emotional growth.

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« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2012, 02:51:45 PM »

I've finished reading the book. It's fairly short, and I have some mixed feelings which I'll share.

As a book for a parent interested in early learning, it's a good book. He doesn't get down into too much detail such as a typical day when he was X years old, but he gives an overall look at what he was doing in various years. This is maybe the books biggest weakness from my point of view.

As I mentioned in my first post above, they really focused on MASTERY. He doesn't mention mastery all that much, but it's apparent if you're familiar with the idea. Mastery just means spending time on fewer things until they're mastered, and then slowly adding to it. It does make some sense that the parents chose this route due to their affinity for martial arts. I can see where the martial arts philosophy played a large role.

When he talks about his flash card program, the things that parents do on Brillkids seems robust in comparison. That may not be bad though - I'm just reporting on what Moshe did.

He didn't say how he went about gaining calculus ability by 7 or 8 years old. He did mention that his parents had a hard time teaching him the concept of numbers at first UNTIL they combined numbers with items he already knew.
Instead of "two" and showing two of whatever.... they took something he knew, let's say a picture of a tiger. They'd show a card with a tiger and say "one tiger", next doubling the picture "two tiger" and next tripling the picture, etc. This caused him to understand that one, two, three were all descriptions of quantity and not a description of the content per se.

We accidentally run into interference without even knowing, and it slows the learning process as the child has to distinguish the interference for themselves. He doesn't speak of this at all, but it's something that stood out in the one, two, three process.

nee1, that was the article! I was looking for the thread for about an hour and couldn't find it, THANK YOU.

A few more thoughts about math and graduating college early.... not sure how profound this will be, but I've given it a lot of thought and believe I understand the formula for how to recreate it.
First, these kids are all early learners. They don't wait for the education system to kick in; doing this would make it basically impossible for early graduation to happen in such a manner - that's not to discount the possibility someone could graduate a year, two, or three early... I'm talking about the remarkable instances of pre-teens graduating or attending college.
As early learners, they will be ahead in reading and have higher vocabularies in general.
Second, their parents stress mathematics. This is the PIVOTAL part of the young college attendee. There's a reason why, but it took me the weekend to really piece it together.

I'm sure it's happened somewhere, but these examples do not include a ten year old (or otherwise super young kid) attending a 4 year university as a Freshman. There's a reason for that!!


What these kids have in common is that they found the short cut through the education system. That's not to say they didn't work hard; it's to say that they found the quickest path to a bachelor's degree.
In the US, junior colleges exist to benefit the community. That's why they're called community colleges. Any adult can attend a community college. There's no real pre-requisites, but there are pre-requisites for certain classes that are offered. You can't just walk in and take a second year calculus class. This will not be allowed. In fact, any college level (101 or higher) requires that you place into the class.

This means to attend the college as a legit student without restraint, you must first place yourself through an entrance exam. I've only done one community college course and remember the test - don't remember taking an English test, only a mathematics test; anyone with advanced algebra under their belt would most likely pass; if you understand logs and some more pre-calc stuff, you'll place better. When I took the CC entrance test, I passed. A few years later, I took one for the 4 year university and failed! It was because I hadn't used any of that math for so long, but a few tutoring sessions just to remember what I had forgotten, and I passed just fine.

So all colleges and universities will test you before allowing you take 101 math courses.

Moshe had to take an English test as well. This makes sense. In East LA, I would imagine that many in the community aren't very adept at English. Moshe himself was reading at a 9th grade level when he took this test. GOOD ENOUGH!

I'll take a brief moment to add, I can tell that Moshe uses English almost as a second language. He's probably great at reading comprehension, but there's no way he'd ever get an English degree at this point in his life. His writing lacks complexity (as I mentioned in my first post) and frankly he makes grammar and tense mistakes all over the place; it's a style I'd expect from a foreigner. He admits it's a weakness.

Once the Dean allowed Moshe to take the placement tests, the ball was rolling. All he had to do was pass the test, and because he was doing calculus at the time, it was an easy proposition.

The kid that wasn't allowed into public school would experience his first classroom at the college level shortly after being denied public school (he was the age of a first or second grader!)

This shortcut is easily duplicable; well maybe I shouldn't say "easy". It's duplicable, and I'd bet that most of the kids that have done early learning could do it if they spent time gaining ground in math to the degree that they could pass the placement test. Their reading would likely already be good enough to muddle through a text book.

But this brings me to the flip side of the coin. While Moshe received his AA at the age of 11 and is now at UCLA, I'm quite confident in saying that his education is not on par with other seniors at UCLA. There are things that he learned better and stronger than his peers, but there are also things he never learned or learned very weakly. He doesn't discuss this in the book, so I can't tell you what they'd be.

The downside to taking the short cut is that it may cost you that well roundness that is admired of a quality education. The upside is that tick for tick on the age clock, this might be the most productive path possible AND in the current state of the US higher education bubble (where cheap money permeates higher education, causing the costs to rise precipitously) this short cut is also an awesome way to lessen the financial burden on the parent AND the child!

When Moshe became the youngest AA graduate and did so with a 4.0 GPA, he set himself up for a very affordable university experience.

If you or I go out and get our AA and get a 4.0 GPA, we will likely be able to transfer to a school like UCLA but it's not guaranteed. Also not guaranteed (and far, FAR from it) is getting any sort of financial assistance that doesn't need to be paid back.

Moshe, however, is unique in that regard. He was recognized by the California State Legislature, the Governor, the Mayor, etc etc. When someone is capable of graduating that young with such a strong academic performance, schools will begin to salivate at the idea of taking in such a student. Moshe didn't mention which two schools turned him down, but my guess would be Stanford and USC (but I don't know if he applied to USC). Which schools are beside the point though. The important thing to remember is how a school will view such a child - perhaps as a rare gift to human kind; a rare breed of academic superstar that has the potential to change the world. Perhaps this is true of Moshe, but perhaps he'll turn out more ordinary when he's 40 or 50 (though far more educated than most). What I'm saying is that it doesn't mean he's going to cure cancer or win a Nobel prize in physics or any other subject.

The schools, on the other hand, will likely view him in such a way!!!

And for that reason, they will throw money at a child like this, just to make sure he achieves his potential and maybe even so that he'll achieve that potential at their institution.

What am I saying?

I'm saying that for the meager cost of an associates degree at a community college, you could buy your child a top tier degree at a prestigious university. That's a big deal for people.

The flip side is that I think the overall education will lack. If you waited until they're 16 to go the shortcut route, weaving an interesting story line filled with the ideas of unmet super potential just won't have the sizzle that the same story would have with a 12 year old. In my mind, taking this shortcut or not is really a matter of what's important to you and important for your child.

nee1, to give a quick answer to your question about high performance and math - I think reading is the most fundamental skill because it leads to more useful and profound knowledge; and writing correlates well with a productive work life. It's harder to take a short cut in these skills.
In math, if you spent 5 hours per day on it as a home school student, before long you'd wind up many years ahead of your peers. Math is correlated to quality of thinking. If the thinking is strong, learning can be strong as well.

The one thing these kids had in common is their high math achievement. I don't think this is by chance for reasons I stated above. It does help in thinking, and obviously will make it possible to catapult the student through the ranks like no other subject matter can do.

But, there are plenty of educated people that are weak in mathematics. Universities in particular, graduate a massive percentage of students that are effectively innumerate (when judging from a college level that is). There are countless degrees that require very little math to graduate; and the math needed to graduate is not very advanced or difficult. My business degree would fit this. I imagine English degrees or writing or such would require even less!

I can't, in good conscience, say that the people who graduate with low math requirements AREN'T educated; therefore, math and education are not synonymous, even though I can draw a correlation between ability in math and ability in reasoning and logic.

« Last Edit: April 30, 2012, 03:19:06 PM by PokerDad » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2012, 09:17:56 PM »

Thank you for that thought-provoking synopsis. I find your ideas on the 'roundedness' or not of early graduaters interesting and it really highlights the need to go for breadth as well as depth when doing EL.

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« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2012, 10:16:03 PM »


Thank you so, so much for your summary of the book and the very interesting insights you've shared. I'm very grateful.

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« Reply #8 on: May 02, 2012, 06:23:21 PM »

I wanted to add a bit about David Levy from Houston, since nee1 posted the article that I couldn't find... several months ago when I first found the thread with the article in it, I'm not sure how I found this (maybe it was in the thread?), but I was looking at saxon math books and discovered that his father had left some reviews on several saxon math books. In reading the comments, I really had a good grasp of what David Levy (the young engineering student from Houston) had done to achieve his college feat (basically graduated with an engineering degree at age of 16).

As my "shortcuts" section highlighted, there's a common theme and one that can be replicated simply by doing early learning in math and reading, and then in the early years (6+ especially) hitting the math really hard! Once you can place into a community college level math course, I don't see how they can stop your child from attending classes... and once you have college experience under your belt, transferring is given. It's fairly difficult for a university to say that your child isn't ready to attend classes, when they already have a successful college record. And so, you shortcut the system... bypassing high school (though this strategy is also used by high schoolers, and perhaps started there around 20 or so years ago when I was in high school).

If you're so inclined, one of the more robust commentaries left by his father can be found here:

EDIT: a similarity that I find is that the Levy's also focused on "mastery"... that's what saxon math is about. I think you sort of do daily scheduling, and repetition is built in so that you don't forget how to do older stuff... example, you want to remember that Columbus set sail in 1492.. you would periodically revisit this fact to em blaze the memory. There's a whole thread in here about memorization techniques... this particular idea is spaced repetition, and from what I've read, the early saxon math concept used this idea, by revisiting former concepts periodically so as to serve as refreshers... but in looking at Levy's comments, he had the similar "mastery" approach that Moshe took to.

« Last Edit: May 02, 2012, 06:28:31 PM by PokerDad » Logged

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« Reply #9 on: May 02, 2012, 08:18:46 PM »

I agree that mastery is super important when it comes to math.  I think students have a really difficult time learning higher math when their grasp on the basics is limited because math concepts build on each other.  This is a common complaint of high school teachers too. 

I do think that reading may be different though.  Patricia Kuhl from the University of WA talks about how babies "take statistics" of the language they hear around them when learning language.  If you look at learning to read as learning a language (in my view it is), you would want to expose them to lots of language rather than wait for mastery.  For example, we don't wait for babies to be able to produce all sounds of their mother tongue before talking to them or even saying complex sentences to them.  The babies themselves don't wait either.  My son said "dall" instead of "ball" for the longest time.  He didn't care that he couldn't pronounce the "b". 

Doman makes the point that it is better to expose your child to 1000 words and have him learn 50% than to expose him to 20 words and have him learn 100%.  Babies can learn to intuit phonics just like they learn to intuit grammar.  But for this to happen they need a lot of exposure and you can't get a lot of exposure if you are waiting for mastery.  Does that make sense? 

As for mastery of basic math concepts I am first starting early with my son.  When he is a bit older and can play games I think math games are the way to go.  I just bought a game called 7 ate 9 from Amazon for my nephew and I have seen other games you can make up for young kids.  For example, playing bingo by rolling two dice, and adding the sums of the dice.  Making it fun I think is very important, so that they can get a lot of repetition and stoke the fire for learning more. 


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« Reply #10 on: May 02, 2012, 10:11:02 PM »

Yes, what you say makes a lot of sense. I have felt the same way too.

Thanks for posting the link to that review of Saxon Math left by Robert Levy. I'd followed some of his reviews AND his comments on other people's reviews on, and realised how and why his son turned out so bright. Check out as many reviews of his as you can find, most especially his comments on other people's reviews, and you'll understand what I mean.

I remember a reviewer on who had given Flesch's best-selling 'Why Johnny Can't Read' a 1-star rating. Robert Levy commented on this review, telling how he had taught his son phonics, leading to him reading Hamlet at age 3. I also remember Levy's positive review of the controversial 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' and his comments on reviewers that had given the book low ratings. So reading his reviews, and especially the comments he leaves on other people's reviews will give you most of the information you need.

And he has a  great sense of humor LOL  Have you read this one?:

« Last Edit: May 02, 2012, 10:30:46 PM by nee1 » Logged
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« Reply #11 on: May 02, 2012, 11:26:36 PM »

Thank you nee1 ! I do remember reading that review a few months back, LOL... I won't ever show this to my wife, but I find it absolutely hilarious:
we learned the great names in math, like Pythagoras, Newton, and Euler, who had made great discoveries contributing to the field. I noted that my kid's name was not among them, so I decided that it was probably best to leave the discoveries to those people


You see, my wife is big into "discovery" and yes discovery has merit; I just don't think you have to revolve the entire education around it (FWIW, my wife would agree with the "entire" part of my comment, but she's still big into it; me, not so much.) Here's a math concept I learned from Euclid: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line! Pretty simple. I think straight directive learning will usually be the quickest route (but not necessarily the most engaging, fun, entertaining, memorable, etc)

I think the part about mastery wasn't that they held back necessarily, or that anyone ought to hold back. Rather, I was commenting on their flash card program. It was really simple at first and built out from there, whereas Doman goes for 10 and then adds in more perpetually while lopping off (so that there's ten in a bunch). I was merely comparing the two. And perhaps my comment about Levy was equivocal in the sense that I sort of changed the definition while using the same word. Still, Moshe definitely seemed to have a "mastery" approach and I think it stemmed from his family's experience with martial arts (which is all about repetition until you get it right)

I do think you make an excellent point. Kids learn to talk just fine through mere exposure (that is repeated constantly though). Never underestimate plasticity I suppose!  smile


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« Reply #12 on: May 03, 2012, 02:44:45 AM »

this is a very interesting thread. thank you for the inputs.

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« Reply #13 on: May 03, 2012, 04:29:19 AM »

I think it is interesting in his reviews how he talks about not having to make math fun.  I had posted that you needed to make it fun  LOL .  Of course I was referring to my son who is 19 months old and kids not yet in school.  Even for older kids I think if you can make it fun than why not? But, I do understand what he is saying.  Mastering anything to an expert level takes lots of “deliberate practice” to steal a term from the other threads.  This is often hard and painful but there isn’t really anyway to shortcut it.

 I have read that the best predictor of math skill in higher grades is not a child’s math ability in lower grades but rather a child’s ability to focus and self control.  This makes a ton of sense to me because they do need to be able to sit down and pour through very difficult concepts and that takes a lot of self discipline.  Ideally, I hope my son has self discipline and a solid math foundation from a young age. 

Did anyone read the book “Nuture Shock”?  I read it after the other post on the harmful effects of praise.  One of the chapters talks about how children develop “executive function” and self-control through (I forgot the word) purposeful? play.  He talked about the program “Tools of the Mind” based on Vygotskian theory.  I found it so interesting I am now reading the actual book “Tools of the Mind”.  I think I am barely on page 17 but so far I find it very interesting. 
Here is a quote from the book Tools of the Mind, “When children have mental tools, they are no longer reactive learners.  They can take more responsibility for learning on their own because learning becomes a self-directed activity.  The teacher no longer has to take total responsibility for every aspect of the learning process.   Tools relieve teachers of this unnecessary burden, and more important, they can be applied across the curriculum, from reading to math or manipulatives to dramatic play.”

I think this goes along with what the dad is saying.  In other words a teacher does not have to stand on their head to try to make it “fun” because the child has the self discipline to do the work and stick out the painful parts.  For me this is important because truly the thing I want for my son is not to be a super math whiz but to have the capacity to excel at whatever he chooses.  No matter what thing he chooses, he will need to be able to work hard even when it is not fun.
With that said, I think even though it may not be “fun” the kid probably did have a great deal of satisfaction for the work he did.  Sticking it out through the difficult can be very rewarding.  I was a swim coach to young kids and every year we had the kids swim a mile for time.  I am talking about kids as young as 8.   I am sure they wouldn’t say this was fun, but they all felt such satisfaction for completing it.  It was always a very emotional and inspiring day.  This is what I want to teach my son. 


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« Reply #14 on: May 03, 2012, 12:25:59 PM »

we learned the great names in math, like Pythagoras, Newton, and Euler, who had made great discoveries contributing to the field. I noted that my kid's name was not among them, so I decided that it was probably best to leave the discoveries to those people

That was the bit that got me laughing and laughing and laughing. And I am still laughing. Completely hilarious!

PokerDad, do you know how one could check up all comments made by someone on other people's reviews? I'm trying to check all of Robert Levy's comments on others' reviews. He seems to have a systematic method of doing things.

For example, check out his comments on this review: Read the review, then scroll down to the comment section lower down the page, and you’ll see all comments, including his own and that of 'CrazyHorseLady'. Then check the 2nd page of comments, and you’ll see more of what they had to say.

Amazon allows you to check his own reviews but I'm searching for all his comments on others' reviews. Any ideas of how I could check this?

« Last Edit: May 03, 2012, 12:31:00 PM by nee1 » Logged
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