Where does stuff come from? Pick some ubiquitous modern object - say, a toaster - and tear it apart. What's inside? Where did those components come fr...moreWhere does stuff come from? Pick some ubiquitous modern object - say, a toaster - and tear it apart. What's inside? Where did those components come from, and how did it get into that final toaster shape? Could you, armed with all your modern knowledge and technology, build one from scratch?
Thomas Thwaites wants to find out. So after disassembling a $5 toaster from a store, he sets out to gather up materials to build his own version - iron, mica, nickel, copper, and plastic. But he doesn't just want to go buy iron rods or acrylic sheets. He wants to smelt iron from ore and fabricate plastic from a bucket of crude oil. It takes 9 months, a series of trips across the U.K., and over $1000 to collect the items needed to build his own "toaster". Along the way he documents his trips and the things he's learned, providing readers with equal parts travelogue, humorous exchanges with materials professionals, DIY catastrophes, and pontificating about the greater world implications he discovers along the way.
My biggest complaint about the book is its lack of consistent focus. A lot of avenues are explored but quickly discarded. Smelting iron from ore got pages of description of the scratch-built furnace used, material types, historical approaches, etc - while electroplating copper from water was summarized in one page of photos only. Or, for those looking for greater worldview implications, Thwaites might say: "I learned that individuals in a society are now interdependent in such a way that claims of rugged individuality are downright absurd", with maybe a couple sentences to follow up, but not really proving the point before moving on to something else.
In other words, all the people who might have been really interested in this - the DIY crowd, the environmentalists, even humor readers - are likely to be somewhat disappointed with the cursory treatment of what could have been really fascinating in-depth coverage.
On the plus side, it's short and easy to read, and I plowed through it in a couple afternoons.(less)
The important thing to know going into this book is that it is non-fiction. Okay, sure, librarians have put it on the shelf with the "robots and space...moreThe important thing to know going into this book is that it is non-fiction. Okay, sure, librarians have put it on the shelf with the "robots and spaceships" and all manner of other sci-fi trash. Yes, the plot is made up and the narrative devices aren't real. But everything important - the characters, the humanity, the slow but depressingly unwavering descent into helpless self-destruction and a bitter end - that's all bluntly, undeniably true.
You should know this going into it. You should know that when PKD writes about a man who drugged and drugged "until it clicked and clacked like an insect, repeating one sentence again and again. A recording. A closed loop of tape. '... I know if I just had another hit...'"
That's not "good writing", a real "show don't tell" moment. It's a hard and ugly fact which replayed again and again among PKD's friends and relations. Read with this awareness, the novel is an amazing recollection of a time when adults acted like kids who played in the street - trading their lives for a fleeting moment of happiness.(less)
Great piece of nonfiction chess journalism. Paul Morphy was one of the top chess players of all time, certainly ahead of all his contemporaries. The h...moreGreat piece of nonfiction chess journalism. Paul Morphy was one of the top chess players of all time, certainly ahead of all his contemporaries. The high point of his career was his trip from America to Europe to represent his home country against the European masters - all who scoffed at the idea of any real challenge coming from the New World.
If you're looking for games, you should look elsewhere - there are no move sequences in the book. Instead, Edge documents the voyage as a journalist, complete with: a historical rundown of the important English chess clubs at the time, Morphy's impressive feats of skill (playing 8 players, blindfolded, at once), the famous Opera House game, battles against Lowenthal, Harrwitz and Andersen, plus a little background on Morphy's history in the U.S. scene before venturing overseas.
One of the interesting segments is the match that never was, between Morphy and major chess-publicist Howard Staunton. Morphy came to Europe specifically to square off against Staunton, but excuse after excuse prevented the exchange. Clips from newspaper editorials expose the bitter in-fighting of the chess community at the time. It almost reads like a modern-day celebrity vendetta, except in print instead of online.
Highly recommended, if you're looking for Chess non-fiction. I believe it may be somewhat biased (Staunton was, they say, a very polarizing character), the organization was awkward, and the singular focus on the trip to Europe is interesting but doesn't show a full portrait of Morphy's life. Still, I enjoyed the read.(less)
Discipleship is hard. Really, really hard. What I liked most about reading this book is that Bonhoeffer doesn't make it easy, like other popular spiri...moreDiscipleship is hard. Really, really hard. What I liked most about reading this book is that Bonhoeffer doesn't make it easy, like other popular spiritual books (cough The Secret cough cough). You get to work hard, every day, to follow Jesus' example. In exchange, you get Costly Grace. No further reward: no wealth, no happiness, no personal sense of fulfillment, etc. Just grace. It is up to the reader, then, to infer that the value is far greater than any of those other grandiose promises.
I especially enjoyed the chapters on Love Thy Neighbor (forgiveness), and the introductory four or five on Discipleship / Grace. Also liked the section on why it is folly to work to build the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth - a common trap, which should be avoided by remembering that 1. only God can do that, and 2. nothing on this world shall last, work for the next eternal one instead.
The author was a huge proponent of the Confessional Church, and uses that perspective to blast tenets of the Reformation ("No salvation by Good Works"), Baptist ("Baptism without confession amounts to bestowing Cheap Grace on others"), and other sects. Much of it may ring true, some of it perhaps not so much.
What I disliked about the book is that it is tediously, needlessly complicated. Much of it reads as hard religious debate, with a fair amount of scripture-wrangling to prove a point. Biblical quotes are flipped and twisted to prove points that should be blatantly obvious from the start. It's dense text, and tough bedtime reading that often put me to sleep.(less)