The Art of Deception is one of two books by famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, the other being "The Art of Intrusion". Intrusion focuses primarily on physic...moreThe Art of Deception is one of two books by famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, the other being "The Art of Intrusion". Intrusion focuses primarily on physical or technological hacks, while this book focuses almost exclusively on social engineering attacks.
A number of problems prevented this book from being very good. The main problem is simply that Mitnick did not have enough material to fill an entire book. This book would have been better if it were shorter and simply one section in a larger book about security. A great deal of the book feels like padding, the anecdotes about various social engineering attacks seem repetitive and pointless - reading just one is often enough, but Mitnick consistently indulges himself with identical tale after identical tale.
I'm not entirely sure who the audience for this book could really be. It doesn't seem like it's for technical people, because the book goes out of it's way to define what things like "http" mean. The book claims to be geared toward nontechnical people or businesspeople, but the fact of the matter is that the subtle differences between a lot of the social engineering attacks will be missed by nontechnical people. To your average joe, 20 or so of the stories in the book will seem identical, testing the patience of the reader.
The book is also frustrating in its design. It's constructed as a book to help managers and businesspeople manage security at their companies. Every story about a social engineering attack is followed by a "Mitnick Message" where Kevin explains how to prevent the attack from happening to you. In reality, however, the real focus is the story itself - the attackers are consistently painted as the hero of the story, with the hapless victims being drawn as naive morons. It's clear that Mitnick admires the attackers in these tales, and the "Mitnick Message" feels like it's been forced into the book to keep up the ruse that the book is intended for anyone other than wannabe hackers. Mitnick's advice is a restated form of "verify the identity of the caller" in nearly every instance.
The book is, to put it simply, a bore. Reading it was a challenge, and I had to fight the frustration to skim or skip sections nonstop. The Art of Intrusion is far more interesting, and I recommend it over this book without reservation. There is value for businesspeople to read this book, but I imagine it will present a significant challenge to their patience.
As an aside, Mitnick offers terrible advice regarding passwords. He argues that passwords should not consist of a constant combined with a predictable variable, such as "kevin01", "kevin02", "kevin03". I agree. He also says that users should not write down their passwords and tape the paper to their monitor or under their keyboards. I agree again. He also, unfortunately, argues that passwords should expire every month. Well, that's terrible advice. Passwords need to be something people can remember, or they have to write them down. If they are going to be memorable, they can't change constantly. If they change constantly and must still be memorable, people have no choice but to add some predictable pattern to a memorable portion of a password. In short, of options A) Don't write passwords down B) Don't use a simple increment in a password C) Change passwords monthly, security administrators can pick any two. To try for all three is delusion.(less)
For a book that laments the decline of reason in American culture, this book sure does manage to avoid it's use when making arguments.
Essentially the...moreFor a book that laments the decline of reason in American culture, this book sure does manage to avoid it's use when making arguments.
Essentially the book's real premise is this: Americans are increasingly anti-rational, largely due to the fact that they are reading fewer books. Considering this is coming from a book author, it's hard not to face this argument with some skepticism. Indeed, Jacoby never really provides much in the way of evidence, assuming her claims to be self-evident to the reader.
Much of what she states as unquestionably true are things that, frankly, are questionable, so the fact that she makes no attempt to truly justify her beliefs is troubling.
In the end, Jacoby comes off as an anti-technology luddite, hating technology, television, the internet, and other forms of modernity because they decrease the amount of precious time people spend reading books. She even goes so far as to whine about the decline of reading poetry and fiction, though she makes no evidence whatsoever that these styles of writing contribute in any way to intellectualism.
This book is infuriating to read because there's nothing I hate more than an extremely poor argument in favor of a position with which I agree. Much of what Jacoby says is agreeable, and some of it even intuitive. But she often shifts from the intuitive to the extremist in her belief set, never providing powerful rationale for opinions being espoused from either area.
My 'favorite' part of the book was when Jacoby rambled on about the Harvard president that supposedly claimed that the reason for few female professors could be genetic. Jacoby is infuriated by this claim, and the feminist in her takes over the chapter that discusses this matter. I found this entertaining primarily because it was also discussed in the last book I read, 'Super Crunchers', which explains that the vast majority of people didn't understand the president's real claim because people don't understand the difference between average and standard deviation. Super Crunchers discusses this issue at length, explaining what the president ACTUALLY meant and providing citations of studies which back it up. It turns out there's nothing sexist or demeaning about the statement that the president actually made, but the public's grasp of statistics (Super Cruncher's main focus) is so weak that it has been misunderstood by many.
Having just read that, reading Jacoby rant on about how offended she was by his claim, revealing that she belongs in the "bad at math" category, was nothing short of hilarious.
This book is downright embarassing, I've lost nearly all respect I gained for Jacoby while reading Freethinkers.(less)
Richard Dawkins makes as much of a concession toward the notion of "evolution moving toward humanity" as he'll ever make in The Ancestor's Tale. While...moreRichard Dawkins makes as much of a concession toward the notion of "evolution moving toward humanity" as he'll ever make in The Ancestor's Tale. While some argue that evolution has always been moving towards homo sapiens, Dawkins spends a chapter dispelling the myth, then concedes that looking at evolution as if that were true is still somewhat interesting.
The Ancestor's Tale is Dawkins doing something similar, in a way consistent with his science. He takes a pilgrimage back to the very first organisms, starting at human beings and working backwards, stopping at various points to examine our common ancestors with other organisms.
The book is interesting, though much less so than many of Dawkins's other books. Other books by Dawkins have made me view the natural world as majestic and amazing in a way that I never appreciated before reading his work. The Ancestor's Tale is a bit more factual, a bit more scientific than other books by Dawkins, and in a weird way lacks this property.
There were definitely some eye-opening moments, in particular Dawkins's rant about the curse of a brain that cannot see in gradual differences, but for the most part the book wasn't as enthralling as his other work.
I recommend it for fans of Dawkins, but I wouldn't start here.(less)
This book starts as a simple biography of George Tenet, director of CIA during part of the Clinton and Bush administrations, but it becomes much more....moreThis book starts as a simple biography of George Tenet, director of CIA during part of the Clinton and Bush administrations, but it becomes much more.
Detailing operations at CIA in the years prior to, during, and after 9/11, the book provides valuable insight into a world that the average person simply has to access to.
The book is extremely interesting. George Tenet gives us far more than a tome of facts, he provides an actual narrative where he is the main character. The book talks not only about CIA, but people he knew and worked with, how he felt about events, and conversations he had with members of various presidential administrations.
The book does an excellent job of sucking you in. It starts a bit slow, but after a few chapters Tenet really hits his stride, and the book becomes difficult to put down.
I learned a great deal from this book. In fact, many times fundamental assumptions I had about terrorism and 9/11 were challenged by the book, and I was forced to revise a few of my opinions. One thing that fundamentally changed was my view toward the possibility of preventing 9/11. In light of memos sent to Condoleeza Rice titled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike U.S." I had been of the opinion that the administration could have done more to prevent 9/11. I am no longer convinced that is the case - that warning looked like hundreds of others that wound up going nowhere. I am also now convinced of the intelligence of terrorist organizations, whose actions described in the book paint them as far more clever than the "us vs. them" mentality otherwise affords. Before reading this book, I felt that terrorists are dangerous because they are happy to die. Now I view them as dangerous because they are happy to die and they are very smart.
Tenet is often a tad too autobiographical in his writing, getting into personality details that don't seem entirely relevant. He also suffers from what I can only imagine is a common attribute among people in his field: acronym poisoning. Tenet uses acronyms for nearly every organization and person he discusses. As the book goes on, the rate of acronyms per page increases. There is even an appendix in the back of the book, which I found myself having to flip to frequently.
Tenet occasionally jumps all over the place. For the most part, the book is structured as a chronological narrative: first this happened, then this happened, etc. Occasionally though, he will delve into relevant details of events that happened months of even years later, but then go back to the "present time" in the narrative. This can get somewhat annoying.
The worst thing about the book is also one of the best things. There is one chapter in particular that talks about Al Queda's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. If your view is that people in caves do not have the money or ability to acquire a nuclear weapon, this chapter will change your mind (it changed mine). This chapter was extremely difficult to get through, simply because it's so terrifying.
I found myself putting down the book very frequently during this chapter, simply finding it too difficult to stomach.
The chapters about the lead-up to the Iraq war are equally difficult to get through. According to Tenet, the CIA essentially was forced to take the fall for the pre-war intelligence, even though the CIA under his watch was well aware of the realities of Iraq's WMD programs. These chapters were infuriating to read.
But since these feelings are partially the point of the book, it's hard to hold these facts against Tenet. These chapters are difficult to read, and they should be.
If you're interested in an "inside look" at government and the intelligence community during the middle east peace process negotiations under Clinton, September 11th, and the Iraq war, you'll greatly enjoy the book. It rarely (but occasionally) comes off as Tenet trying to shift blame off himself and his staff, and the book is inherently one-sided, but it's an extremely informative and interesting side.(less)
Only Richard Dawkins could take Paley's Watchmaker argument against evolution and devote an entire book to dismantling it in a way that's such a compl...moreOnly Richard Dawkins could take Paley's Watchmaker argument against evolution and devote an entire book to dismantling it in a way that's such a complete joy to read.
To be fair, the book includes quite a bit more. A good deal of it is devoted to explaining the process of natural selection - those who already understand the Darwinian view of the complexity of life won't find any shocking revelations here, but Dawkins has a great ability to make even information that the reader already knows fascinating to read. His joy and passion for the subject oozes from the pages, making the book a very enjoyable read.
The basic idea of the book is to take a number of misunderstandings about evolution, and explain how they misunderstand Darwinism. I say misunderstandings, and not arguments, because Dawkins has devoted many other books to argumentation, and this book isn't really one of them. Here, he takes a number of common misconceptions and corrects them, nothing more.
I particularly enjoyed how thorough this is - an entire chapter is devoted to analyzing non-creationist alternatives to natural selection, such as Lamarckian evolution, and dismantling those as well. No stone was left unturned: if it's been said by a misinformed anti-evolutionist, Dawkins takes great care to address it in a tone specifically tailored to the misinformed.
Though it occasionally wandered into "too much detail" territory, The Blind Watchmaker is, all in all, an excellent book that I'd recommend to any Dawkins fan.(less)
Dreaming in Code is a book about software development. As a software developer, I cannot tell you how many times I completely related to the proceedin...moreDreaming in Code is a book about software development. As a software developer, I cannot tell you how many times I completely related to the proceedings. All of the mistakes, all of the problems, all of the concerns, all of the date slipping, everything. It all felt so familiar, so "been there, man". To some extent, that's the problem with the book.
I've tried to read Dreaming in Code on 3 separate occasions. The idea sounded interesting, and the title alone piqued my interest, so I purchased the hardcover book when it came out. I tried reading it, but simply was unable to get into it. A few years later, I acquired the ebook, so I could read it any time like on the bus or on my phone. I got a bit further, but still lost interest. Finally, I made it through the book by buying the audiobook version of it and listening while driving or working out. It somewhat perplexed me that I had such a hard time getting into the book, considering that I found "Masters of Doom", a very similar book about the struggles of a series of software projects (Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, etc) to be one of the best books I read in the last year.
The difference between these two books lies in how they were written. Masters of Doom was written after the fact, by interviewing people associated with the projects and assembling an historical narrative from these accounts. Dreaming in Code was written by an embedded journalist, who was actually IN the offices where the software was being written, writing about it as it was being developed and eventually picking an arbitrary point in time to cut the book and release it. The difference is important, for one simple reason. Masters of Doom was allowed to be about some of the most groundbreaking games ever created, with the full knowledge of history at the disposal of the author. Dreaming in Code is about the development of a personal information manager called Chandler, which I never heard of before reading the book.
Masters of Doom was fun not only because I could relate to so many of the trials and tribulations of software development that it discussed, but also because I was familiar with the software itself and interested in its history. Chandler is just some Outlook-esque type program, some boring office software meant to emulate Lotus Agenda (which I had also never used). As such, there is nothing interesting about the software itself or its history, so all that's left in Dreaming in Code is the process of development software, and the issues that arise.
As a longtime software developer, these issues were so familiar to me that I found it almost boring. I was so familiar with these woes that it didn't feel like I was really learning anything or gaining new insight. There were occasional passages that I found enlightening, and I wound up definitely taking a handful of "look this up later" type notes, but they were few and far between in light of the book's considerable length. The book almost would be better suited for someone who was NOT familiar with the process of software development, but as countless conversations about my workday with my wife have indicated, nonprogrammers tend not to give a flying rat's fuck about the process of software development.
I would recommend this book, but not to developers, nor to people with no connection to development. I'd recommend it to anyone who works at a company that develops software, but who is not actually on the development team. Salespeople, customer support, maybe even high-level managers, those sorts of folks. I think the book sheds a lot of light on what goes wrong with development projects, and people whose lives are affected by development projects may well find it very interesting and clarifying. It might also be good for those who are interested in becoming software developers, or college students majoring in Software Engineering or Computer Science (but be warned, the Chandler project is particularly dysfunctional, and I recognized its problems mostly from the worst jobs I've ever had, not the best). Those who live this life will find it boring, as will anyone whose interactions with software are limited to its usage.(less)
Christopher Hitchens, author of "God is Not Great" has assembled something of a bible for atheists. There are many similar books out there, often with...moreChristopher Hitchens, author of "God is Not Great" has assembled something of a bible for atheists. There are many similar books out there, often with names like "The Atheist Bible," and all of them essentially set out to create a collection of inspirational writings about nonbelief.
Many of these have a humanist slant, or a morality slant, or a stress on the logic and reason of nonbelief. Hitchens, however, seems far more slanted in favor of criticism of religion. Most of the writings he has selected for his compilation criticize religion for its various failings.
Now, before I say what I thought about this book, I want to say a bit about my beliefs. I'm not a particularly religious person. I am usually reluctant to use the word "atheist" because that word's definition differs between people so greatly that using it does little more than fail to communicate anything useful to others. The word I prefer is "nonreligious" as it correctly conveys that I do not adhere to any organized religion or dogma. I am largely open minded but remain skeptical, and I demand evidence to prove things true before I accept them as fact.
I have read Dawkins's "The God Delusion", Harris's "The End of Faith", and Hitchens's "God is Not Great" and I found all three to be excellent books, which I would rate and recommend highly (though of the three, I found Harris's to be the most disappointing).
You would expect, then, that I would find a great deal to enjoy in this book. However, you would be wrong.
I absolutely hated "The Portable Atheist." And when I say hated, I mean I really, really hated it. Getting through this book was an absolute chore, and I likely would have given up on it if not for the fact that I felt I needed to read the entire thing to be qualified to write a review of it here.
The Portable Atheist is incredibly, unbearably boring. It may be one of the most boring books I've ever read in my life.
What Hitchens has deemed "essential readings for the non-believer" would be more accurately described as "a random collection of essay fragments and quotations that have something or other to do with nonbelief."
There appears to be no cohesive point to the book at all. It's not a series of writings that, together, make any kind of point. It's literally just essays, generally the most pretentious-sounding possible, that relate to nonbelief in some way or another. Some Einstein quotes, a chunk of a Bertrand Russell essay, and so forth, make up a book that could have been reorganized into literally any order without any noticeable effect. Any number of the essays could have been replaced with any number of other essays by notable nonbelievers and the book would have the exact same message: none at all.
The idea that this book is somehow "portable" like an atheist might carry it around with them as a source of inspiration when needed is laughable and embarrassing. Virtually none of the essays say anything positive about atheism, nonbelief, agnosticism, or humanism. Almost every essay is simply an attack on religion, usually Christianity.
Every single chapter of this book, and I mean every single one, would be better read as part of the original book in which it was published. This book is essentially a "greatest hits" collection, but like many greatest hits collection CDs the reader is often left wondering just what in the hell was the rationale behind the inclusion of some tracks. The book felt, to me, like an atheist blog, consisting of "I found this random essay interesting, here's an excerpt" style posts, published in no discernible order or with any discernible organization. It's as if Hitchens simply picked essays out of a bag and threw them together.
This book is positively dreadful, and I can't imagine any atheist enjoying it unless it's the first and only book about nonbelief they have ever read.(less)