African magical realism. Entertaining, oral-history-like from several points of view about a couple of fugitives acting as a witchdoctor in a totalita...moreAfrican magical realism. Entertaining, oral-history-like from several points of view about a couple of fugitives acting as a witchdoctor in a totalitarian state. Humorous, entertaining, if long.(less)
(2.5) Perhaps I'm too unsophisticated to handle the style, but why is this great literature?
Now that I read several of the other reviews, I see that I...more(2.5) Perhaps I'm too unsophisticated to handle the style, but why is this great literature?
Now that I read several of the other reviews, I see that I wasn't alone. I'm sure it was a deliberate style choice (or at least interpreted as such by the Man Booker judges), but I couldn't adjust to it. I can't even really put a label on the style (again, my literary/historical unsophisticatedness, perhaps).
As other reviews have stated, one of the most frustrating elements of the style is the ambiguity of speaker. Not only are there many, many characters, but several are often referred to by several titles or names (in dialog and in narrative alike, so it's not just for 'accuracy'). Further, there are many, many instances of egregious over-pronoun-ation. It wasn't till well into the novel that I adopted the rule to assume that any references to "he" were to Thomas Cromwell, barring any exceedingly obvious other choice. But it still felt awfully ambiguous who was speaking or being written about. I think the following is a great example of how awkward this is:
-- "That's better," Audley says. "I knew the air would do you good." He glances up, in invitation; but he, Cromwell, signals he will stay where he is, leaning by the window (p. 462) --
It is illustrative because in most cases, Mantel would just omit the parenthetical Cromwell and leave you wondering what was going on. In this case, she found it so unclear she turned the sentence into something monstrous. I forgot the page number, but she had a very similarly structured sentence just a few pages later. I just didn't get it. The only thing I could think of was that the style may have been supposed to be in the manner of a real-time personal chronicler of Thomas Cromwell's life. Taken down at the moment and never abridged. However, I didn't perceive any clues other than the frustration at trying to follow along.
It was difficult to get beyond the style, as I spent most of my readerly effort trying to decipher the narrative and dialog, and much less than usual on plot, themes etc. (It's difficult to think on a higher level when you're constantly flipping to the list of characters and the royal family trees to identify characters...i say use the narrative to introduce them!). But getting beyond the style, I found an intriguing historical novel. I dont' know my history nearly well enough to know which is history and which is fiction. Therein may lay the 'genius', I don't know.(less)
(3.0) Expected a little more meat, less repetition
I dunno, it felt not that 'inside' the secret world of the Communist Party and its rulers. He did ge...more(3.0) Expected a little more meat, less repetition
I dunno, it felt not that 'inside' the secret world of the Communist Party and its rulers. He did get some frank information and quotes from some (former) leaders within the Party, but this book felt far less revelatory than I had hoped. I did learn from it, but I could've done the same through other channels.
Quick summary (by chapter): * The state IS the Communist Party, at this point pretty much by definition. No surprise here. Leads to corruption. * The Party has direct or indirect control over pretty much every corporation within China. The party hires/fires even in non-government enterprises. In many cases, equity is held directly by the Party, or equity is held by individuals in name only (and are unable to ever exercise options nor sell shares). Interesting examples of CEOs being shifted around in an industry to make sure it's clear top loyalty is to Party, corporation is secondary. Note that this also led to the Sanlu fiasco (melamine in baby formula) because it would have been too much face for CP to lose right before the Olympic Games, so Sanlu decided to skip a product recall. Company was destroyed after coverup revealed, but at least the Games made China look good. This situation as well leads to tremendous corruption. * Shanghai is still very socialist (compared with southern China industrial cities), even though it went through huge economic renaissance. Still very corrupt though, and there's tension between Beijing and Shanghai, Beijing trying to maintain control. * CP (and thus Chinese government) is actually fairly decentralized. Much power is held by provincial and local party leaders. Propaganda: this allows local governments to behave best for that region, avoid centralism that caused USSR failure. Reality: corruption rampant at provincial, local level, Beijing must assert itself from time to time to maintain control. "The emperor is far away. The mountain is high." * Mao was 70% good, 30% bad (that whole famine killing tens of millions of people). Deng then "perfected socialism", identifying that economic success was key to maintaining Party control of the people. Let corporations compete in market, but still keep government control over economy and all enterprises. * The Party maintains control over history. Much like Ministry of Truth, the official history is written to put Party in best light, maintain control. Cultural Revolution, Great Leap Forward are 'fuzzy' periods in official history, described as natural disaster or just glossed over entirely.
I did like that I had new appreciation for the difference in interpretation of party school depending on whether you're talking about the US or China. ;)(less)
(4.0) Less concerned about not participating in the hedge fund charade
From the obscene fee structure to absence of transparency to rigid redemption ga...more(4.0) Less concerned about not participating in the hedge fund charade
From the obscene fee structure to absence of transparency to rigid redemption gates/schedules to outright fraud, Lack walks us through everything wrong with hedge funds. It's a pretty straightforward argument that he makes well (in about ten pages).
He also spends a fair amount of time telling us about his time selecting hedge funds to provide seed funding for...and getting a share of the fees from other investors. We see that this is where the real money is made in hedge funds (and clearly not going to the investors).
Given that hedge funds are only available to qualified investors, you'd think they'd be shrewd enough to do proper research into these investment options. But it seems pretty clear that you're hardly doing better than treasuries unless you're really lucky...but if you're not able to see the positions, have to just trust the NAVs you see, can't get your money out, and give over half the profits over in fees (in a great year!), it just seems like far too much risk and illiquidity for modest gains. It's just surprising the industry is still around. Perhaps a decline is in the making?(less)
(4.0) Kind of a travelogue mixed in with semi-nostalgic childhood memories in Nigeria
Noo (pronounced something close to "gnaw", apparently) returns to...more(4.0) Kind of a travelogue mixed in with semi-nostalgic childhood memories in Nigeria
Noo (pronounced something close to "gnaw", apparently) returns to Nigeria, her birth home, from London, where she moved to as a child. She returns to places she visited while growing up and approaches many of the locations from both aspects. A very honest and in-the-moment account of her several weeks' trip to Nigeria (the specific purpose wasn't clear...perhaps it was primarily to write this book while also visiting her brother and aunties). She had visited Nigeria annually with her father until he was murdered, presumably for his political activism.
She certainly paints a colorful picture of Nigerians, including the great diversity of culture to be found in different areas. She touches on so many things: Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, evangelical Christianity, animism, corruption, politics, economics, jagga jagga....I definitely learned a lot.
I in particular enjoyed her interaction with Ruth, a woman unafraid to speak out against corruption, and who encourages her compatriots to vote even though they view it as little more than futile to do so. It turns out that Ruth knew (of) Noo's father and praised his efforts, saying, "Your father's blood speaks!"
Oh, I also think the cover is totally rad. :)(less)
(3.5) Well-written history (emphasize history) of Black-Scholes
Traces the history of the formula to value stock options from the very beginning (issui...more(3.5) Well-written history (emphasize history) of Black-Scholes
Traces the history of the formula to value stock options from the very beginning (issuing of stock, development of futures, tulipomania etc.). All good stuff, but for a few glaring typos, particularly in chapter 16 or 17 (missing words, use of a subscript instead of superscript on a particular term in text describing the formula). Some careless stuff in there.
So good history, well-told and enjoyable. But we're really light on the math here. I understand...we all want to sell books, so it's more accessible to the general public, but most of the math is at best hand-wavy. I enjoyed, but want something in between the original paper and this 'soft' version of the development of the formulation of the PDE and its solution.(less)
(4.0) The 'sexual revolution' from 17th century up to Victorian England
Reviews and description seemed to suggest a more broad treatment of sexuality i...more(4.0) The 'sexual revolution' from 17th century up to Victorian England
Reviews and description seemed to suggest a more broad treatment of sexuality in society, but turns out it's almost exclusively about England. That's fine, but should've been able to see that earlier. The book tackles a few perspectives on sexuality and trace them through the transition from the 17th century through mid-19th century (at times touching on 20th).
We see how marriage begins as completely controlled by the church, but can be as simple as consensual sex after betrothal to a more formal institution. We spend a lot of time learning about adultery and prostitution, how more formalization of matrimony led to more commission of adultery with the same behavior...how the Church became lax in enforcing moral behavior and Protestants (esp. Puritans) took it upon themselves to protect society from adultery (and God's ensuing wrath)...how enforcement transitioned to the state, and when the state became lax, vice societies took over until society eventually lightened up.
Dabhoiwala points out an interesting contemporary argument for permitting prostitution: that it prevents more violent crimes by giving men an outlet for their lesser desires. Initially women of ill repute are blamed for their 'chosen' profession. Later on, people blamed poverty or even over-education (!) of women for their descent into prostitution.
Much less time is spent on other areas of sexuality including homosexuality, self-pleasuring etc.
This book turned out to be quite dense, but interesting. It relied heavily on literary citations, especially for the older decades, which felt a little indirect, perhaps because there are fewer sources to pull from.(less)
I was a little nervous when I saw how small the book was, how little text was on each page. And then when Harden insert...more(2.0) Not much substance at all
I was a little nervous when I saw how small the book was, how little text was on each page. And then when Harden inserted himself in the narrative. And then when he started glossing over periods in Shin's life telling a sparse and unengaging (though still amazing, remarkable, frightening etc.). Harden then goes and inserts lots of odd background material, referring to other escapees that he has interviewed. There's just very little here at all. I'd be embarrassed to put my name on this book.
I think the root of the problem is actually revealed within the text. Shin says he doesn't want to talk about what he had to do to survive and to escape. So he probably didn't. And he wanted to be left alone. It's an amazing story, no doubt, but doesn't mean it has to be told if he's not opening up and elaborating the narrative.
(2.5) I guess it serves its purpose, but it's not for general audience
It feels like a draft of an international court case against the North Korean re...more(2.5) I guess it serves its purpose, but it's not for general audience
It feels like a draft of an international court case against the North Korean regime. Most of the world pretty much accepts that they perpetrate nearly every imaginable crime against humanity, so spending the effort to lay out the case is not going to enlighten the citizens of the world. There was some organization of the testimony of defectors from North Korea, sometimes by prison camp, sometimes by person. Not sure what purpose there was to changing that midway through the text.
Most helpful were the earlier sections describing the various types of prisons and camps, the Korean names and lengthy translations with proper connotations of them. The stories of the prisoners were powerful but very brief. Far more enjoyed Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which everyone should read.
Not sure what value the satellite photos had for anyone. Difficult to interpret, but I suppose there may be governments and organizations who'd be interested in the locations and in having closer looks.... ;)(less)