Prior to being handed this book, I'd never heard of the Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. It was a bizarre debacle chronologically located adjacePrior to being handed this book, I'd never heard of the Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. It was a bizarre debacle chronologically located adjacent to Nazi Germany's opening plays in World War II, and amounted to very little: Stalin's Soviet Union tried and failed to invade Finland, a country whose military strength paled in comparison to the red industrial giant. Although this engagement achieved significant popularity at its time (it's hard to dislike a bona fide David vs. Goliath story with such blatantly polarized combatants), Finland's later Nazi associations cost it much of its love on the world stage. Even so, William R. Trotter's account of the war is enjoyable and easy on the novice historian, and the war itself expresses in painful detail some of the do's and don't's of arctic warfare, as well as emphasizing just how crucial a role sound tactics can play in any engagement. I wouldn't call this a must-read by any means, but if you'd like to hear about one of history's odder brutalities, consider picking this up....more
When I asked my family Civil War enthusiast to recommend a book to introduce me to one of America's most tragic chapters, I was handed Company Aytch,When I asked my family Civil War enthusiast to recommend a book to introduce me to one of America's most tragic chapters, I was handed Company Aytch, the collected memoirs of Samuel Rush Watkins, a non-slave-owning Confederate soldier.
Written more than a decade after the end of the war, this is not a respected historical work. It contains no reliable quotations, facts, or figures. It doesn't even pretend to be unbiased. Instead, it is a surprisingly personal account of the military career of one of the little people caught up in a great, ugly, and largely unwanted political crisis. Narrated by a likeable, grandfatherly author, scenes of comic absurdity and heart-warming camaraderie (Yankee and Rebel soldiers ignoring their differences to share news, cigarettes, and an unfortunate bit of livestock they came across and cooked up, for example) are placed next to brutal scenes of violence and disfigurement. This all-too-human Confederate soldier simultaneously leads the reader to question his understanding of the war (states' rights are of far more importance to the author than the legality of slaves) while dropping occasional comments that leave the reader shaken and uneasy. All told, this is an excellent time capsule revealing an aspect of their culture most Americans aren't even aware existed....more
Patton Oswalt's first attempt at writing a book matches his stand-up style perfectly. Although the majority of the book is autobiographical in one wayPatton Oswalt's first attempt at writing a book matches his stand-up style perfectly. Although the majority of the book is autobiographical in one way or another, he changes medium rapidly, switching between essays, poetry, comics, bizarrely enthusiastic movie reviews... the list goes on. Even with some slow stretches, it's still often hilarious, occasionally tragic, and usually interesting. A worthwhile first effort from a man who is madly in love with the written word....more
Along with providing a gleeful, gruesome look into the seamy underbelly of the restauranteur's trade, Kitchen Confidential is also a casual, cynical pAlong with providing a gleeful, gruesome look into the seamy underbelly of the restauranteur's trade, Kitchen Confidential is also a casual, cynical psuedo-autobiography of Anthony Bourdain, acclaimed chef, world-traveller, and self-proclaimed asshole. The man has a gift for storytelling about the topics he's passionate about (primarily food, but there's a surprising amount of truth and beauty and culture in there as well), and I was pleasantly surprised to find what amounts to an origin story for the TV persona from No Reservations I'm much more familiar with....more
While I love Scott Adams' writing, generally speaking, this has been the weakest of his books I've read so far. While all his cynical, bitter ramblingWhile I love Scott Adams' writing, generally speaking, this has been the weakest of his books I've read so far. While all his cynical, bitter ramblings are out in full force, it lacks his usual tendency to include his own harebrained thoughts, crackpot theories, and general ruminations. Instead you get a self-deprecating tiny bald man from Californian telling you about all the ways people are sneaky to one another. It's funny of course; he's still got a real talent for his brand of humor, but the material is not especially brilliant or insightful. Worth the read if you already own it, but he's done much better work....more
A very solid collection of stories, An Anthropologist on Mars is an assortment of some of author and neurologist Oliver W. Sacks' more interesting patA very solid collection of stories, An Anthropologist on Mars is an assortment of some of author and neurologist Oliver W. Sacks' more interesting patients and their unique cases. Each chapter is the story of an individual diagnosed with an unique psychiatric condition, covering issues familiar to (but generally misunderstood by) the public such as Tourette's Syndrome and autism as well as more unusual cases, such as a painter who suddenly finds himself incapable of comprehending the idea of color or a man who, blind for decades, discovers that surgically granting him the gift of a sight is a terribly double-edged sword. Oliver Sacks has spent years of his life working with these people, and across the board makes it clear he considers them all, if not exactly friends, worthy of respect and admiration. The most central tenet of the book is, essentially, that these conditions are not dehumanizing; in spite of the shocking and unfamiliar differences, the stories in this book are about people who you may find intensely familiar, not simply intriguing articles in a medical magazine. Mr. Sacks' greatest virtue in writing this book is his unwavering belief in this. His talent for guiding the reader enthusiastically through normally stale, clinical and oftenties depressing material (at the cost of all those unnecessary details, perhaps) certainly doesn't hurt though.
I found it an excellent book to throw on the car floor and pick up now and again when stuck somewhere, waiting for a dentist's appointment or getting carwork done. Mostly episodic, feel free to read at your leisure on whichever topic most tickles your fancy, though the last two chapters are best kept as the last two chapters. An interesting read for any casual psychiatry buff and probably not harmful to anyone suddenly confronted with a friend or loved one (or self) suddenly diagnosed with a new mindset that you just can't wrap your head around....more
4,000 Days was offered to me as an excellent way to get myself out of a reading slump. I'd burned myself out on 400 page novels with brilliant writing4,000 Days was offered to me as an excellent way to get myself out of a reading slump. I'd burned myself out on 400 page novels with brilliant writing and needed something a bit less involving. While I'm not entirely happy with the book, the recommendation was spot on and I found myself finishing it in one sitting.
Telling the story of Warren Fellows, 4,000 Days is more-or-less exactly what the cover promises. Told in a simple, straight-forward style, it is a loose and hurried account of a man's experiences being ruined in the Bangkok prison system. While it is certainly gruesome from cover to cover, it is not a collection of unbelievably horrible things. It is instead a collection of perfectly credible horrible things, and although the author never forces details down your throat, he manages to get the point across of just how much time passed before he was finished coping with the abuse piled on him daily.
All in all, it's a bit more nihilistic than I'd hoped, and the gloom and doom does not make for especially light reading, but it managed to keep me gripped the whole way through nonetheless. I'm not about to start recommending it left and right, but there are much worse ways to spend a cold winter's afternoon....more
Without providing too much by way of spoilers, Jeff Hawkins provides a surprisingly well-developed theory on what actually goes on as we think, imaginWithout providing too much by way of spoilers, Jeff Hawkins provides a surprisingly well-developed theory on what actually goes on as we think, imagine, and generally behave in a civilized manner. He does away with the generally accepted belief that brains are just overgrown, overly-complicated computers and gives his reasons as to why he believes "Intelligent" machines will be popping up in the next century.
While his theory kept me intrigued for the first half of the book, he eventually sinks into a less peppy pace for the second half and ends with a brief FAQ that, by that point in the book, I could have worked out myself. Even with a sagging finale, On Intelligence is an exceptionally interesting read right up to the point where it stops being one. Well worth an attempt, especially if you can borrow it from someone else and aren't the sort who HAS to finish a book that clearly isn't going anywhere....more