Okay, had a much longer review that Goodreads managed to eat. Nice.
Long story short, it had a great premise, I loved the non-western basis for the culOkay, had a much longer review that Goodreads managed to eat. Nice.
Long story short, it had a great premise, I loved the non-western basis for the culture described. But as the series wore on, the author's tics began to bug me. "Grammar" does not mean what he seems to think it means, and the inclusion of a gestural language to modulate the tone of the spoken language winds up being a crutch that tells what characters are feeling instead of showing it.
Ultimately, though, events in subsequent books made me realize that I fundamentally disagreed with the author on the nature of his own world, which I honestly think he didn't fully understand or think through. Moreover, as the books wore on, he seemed to favor one character over another in ways that I couldn't really countenance -- I don't mean in terms of events, but in terms of the implicit endorsement of the authorial voice.
Also, while I didn't pick up on it myself, once pointed out to me I realized some unfortunate patterns in the portrayal of women that turned what I'd originally thought of as strong female characters into actually being kind of regressive.
Still, it had great early promise. If you have the time to read it, it might be worthwhile....more
The book certainly gives you a sense of why working at Amazon was a very crazy prospect in the late '90s. I grew up in SWell, really three-and-a-half.
The book certainly gives you a sense of why working at Amazon was a very crazy prospect in the late '90s. I grew up in Silicon Valley during the tech boom, but I never really understood what it was like from the inside, certainly not in the way Mike Daisey saw it. On the other hand, our narrator is a bit too sarcastic in his views of everything to be entirely believable, and sometimes the humor can wear a little thin. Definitely worth a read; shouldn't take more than a few hours. Light fare....more
This is a lovely book of fairy tale(s) set in an interesting frame narrative. I don't want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but I was very struckThis is a lovely book of fairy tale(s) set in an interesting frame narrative. I don't want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but I was very struck with the way that all the stories blended into each other, as though the Arabian Nights (its obvious and overwhelming influence) were layered like an onion, instead of serial like a pod full of peas.
The book deals with broad fairy-tale-revisionist/feminist themes, such as the nature of heroism, the magic power of the non-beautiful and even the monstrous (pretty princesses may get saved by princes but they're rarely being of power or interest in themselves), and the importance of defying convention and (in some cases) finding sisterly love. Reading this book, it is not at all unsurprising that it was well-received at WisCon. But it treats these ideas in a very interesting way, even if certain points (particularly about the nature of monstrosity) are hammered home a bit too heavily.
It is still a delightful adventure, even if the structure makes it difficult to find good stopping points at times. I would definitely recommend it as an excellent book to read and discuss....more
This is a one-and-a-half-star time management book. Another story of "how to be successful in life" whose main focus is to make sure that you set prioThis is a one-and-a-half-star time management book. Another story of "how to be successful in life" whose main focus is to make sure that you set priorities clearly and that you spend your time doing things that will help you meet long-term goals. This is perfectly sound (if overwhelmingly... corporate) advice, but not always the easiest to follow. And of course, if this were easy to do, everyone would be doing it already.
So, the 21 ways in question are repetitive, but the book isn't without merit; it's the sort of thing that I ought to reread, until I've actually got it drummed into my thick skull that life is finite and I need to spend it doing things that have payoffs (not necessarily at work, but in my life). Ahh, well -- when I get around to it....more
Everything you ever wanted to know about Islam, but were too afraid or too benighted to ask.
This book is a great antidote to the kind of ridiculous rhEverything you ever wanted to know about Islam, but were too afraid or too benighted to ask.
This book is a great antidote to the kind of ridiculous rhetoric we see about "Islamofascism" (essentially a contradiction in terms, btw) as it explores the history of Islam, and how that history is the real subject of the current divide in the Islamic world. The author's central thesis is that the collected textual and extratextual traditions of Islam, like those of any other religion, can be assembled to support either values that we (non-fundamentalist-Muslims) support, or values we don't. What's currently going on (per the author) is a massive intra-Muslim conflict over the basic meaning of Islam, essentially an Islamic Reformation. What is at stake is Islam's image in the world and significance in world affairs. Most of the book is devoted to supporting this thesis, demonstrating that there's plenty for every American to love in the Islamic tradition (such as a rejection of clan and class privileges and of the oppression of women), and that there are Islamic scholars who are well aware of this and arguing for it.
Needless to say, the author also indicates that the US media and government does the world a great disservice by falsely claiming that the fundamentalists are the only legitimate Islamic voices. Really we should be acknowledging Islamic moderates and championing them--even though ultimately the battle for the soul of Islam is one between Muslims, in which the US need have only peripheral involvement (if any). In some ways, the best thing we can do might just be to butt out....more
Without getting into spoiler-level details, there are plenty of mysteries here for the reader to guess at, althouThis is a brilliantly gripping story.
Without getting into spoiler-level details, there are plenty of mysteries here for the reader to guess at, although all will eventually be revealed. The characterizations and the author's use of narrator's perspectives manipulate the reader's emotions and attitudes towards the characters deliciously well.
The plot, in addition to the writing style, is immediately engaging. You won't want to take breaks in reading this book (though parts do benefit from the reflection)....more
This book is an interesting look at a number of phenomena that aren't as curious as the author makes them out to be.
The book focuses on instances of "This book is an interesting look at a number of phenomena that aren't as curious as the author makes them out to be.
The book focuses on instances of "spontaneous order-seeking" in nature. Cases where things start irregular, but tend towards an equilibrium which is ordered. Now, before you go jumping about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, he's claiming this for living systems, and at the macroscopic level -- he's talking about things like certain species of fireflies which spontaneously synchronize their flashes, or about how women will begin to cycle together if they live in close proximity. So there's agency involved in here, he's not claiming that some types of pottery shards, when dropped, will spontaneously rearrange into a dish.
He doesn't get terribly in-depth into these subjects (it's not a journal article), but he does have lots of interesting examples, and discusses the kinds of information/communication problems that have to be overcome for this kind of syncing-up to work. I'd recommend this book....more
This is an absolutely fascinating, dreadfully boring book.
If you're at all interested in how dominant languages have spread and evolved, and how theyThis is an absolutely fascinating, dreadfully boring book.
If you're at all interested in how dominant languages have spread and evolved, and how they impacted the linguistic development of all other languages in their regions, then stay away. If you're REALLY interested in small details of this subject, then this might be a good book for you.
Nick Ostler has this tendency, also, to latch on to small bits of evidence and make much of it. He's usually clear that he's doing this; he says, "We don't really know, but this is the way that I think makes the story most interesting, and there is some evidence for it, so I'm going to choose to believe it was this way." That's fine, and he's clear about it; and it's not like the book is poorly researched (there's hundreds and hundreds of footnotes). But he does recognize that the needs of a coherent story/worldview require that we take a few things on less evidence than we'd like.
Finally, the book is peppered throughout with lots of source-language citations for pretty much every language that he talks about. It opens up with an extensive passage in romanized Quechua, for instance. I thought this was awesome; although I wasn't entirely convinced that his (or his advisors) had written everything precisely right, and trying to get one's head around the numerous different romanization systems (to get a sense of what the languages actually sounded like and how they worked, his stated point in including these quotes) got really difficult. It's an admirable goal, but I don't think that it really worked as intended.
All that said, this was a dry book about a totally fascinating subject, and if you're interested enough in the subject, you'll put up with reading the book....more
A fascinating look at the life of an interesting historical character, as well as what it was like to live in the Cambridge of the '20s and '30s, andA fascinating look at the life of an interesting historical character, as well as what it was like to live in the Cambridge of the '20s and '30s, and the China of the World War (the one that was actually fought worldwide). Of course, I've got some personal interest, since my senior thesis topic actually would not have existed without Needham and, more importantly, the rediscovery of science in China which he prompted.
I wish it had discussed more of the content of Needham's books. Oh well, there's only so much space, and the "scenery" of this biography is truly excellent; one really gets the sense of the world in which the main character moved....more
Continuing in the same vein as The Omnivore's Dilemma (also an excellent book), this book is an interesting and engaging look at the best in current wContinuing in the same vein as The Omnivore's Dilemma (also an excellent book), this book is an interesting and engaging look at the best in current wisdom about what to eat. Unsurprisingly, that best current wisdom doesn't come from scientists or nutrition-publicizers, whose careers are based on the one hand on an incomplete view of what makes food nutritious, and on the other, on making sure that people keep buying new advice.
Instead, Pollan argues that the best food knowledge is the food wisdom of traditional eating cultures, which have mostly been displaced by a "scientific" (or, better yet, scientistic) perspective that fails to identify all of the correct variables of food's effects on the body. For instance, the pairing of foods into meals, the amount eaten, and the social role of food in traditional cultures, Pollan argues, are part of a package that makes certain foods healthy, and gives them a place within a balanced diet; while the scientific-nutritionist perspective might identify only the macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) of which we are currently aware, plus a subset of the vitamins in food. Perhaps, Pollan argues, there is more to the food's value than simply the compounds we know about.
This is not meant as a critique of the scientific method of inquiry (of the sort embraced by too many self-impressed postmodernists) but of the current state of nutritional science, and if anything, it voices a respect for evolution: in this case, the evolution of sustainable food cultures, those which evolved over hundreds of years of people discovering ways to eat well with the materials available. Pollan would like those entire areas opened up for exploration--and preservation in the face of the food-industry-driven displacement of an entire body of knowledge about food.
This book will inspire you to eat better than you do, even if it is not necessarily an easy task for those of us who have grown up isolated from traditional food cultures....more
This is a lengthy, but very detailed, discussion of how the modern political landscape came to be. Writing too much about it would rehash the book, buThis is a lengthy, but very detailed, discussion of how the modern political landscape came to be. Writing too much about it would rehash the book, but the author comes from his background as an analyst of Barry Goldwater's effect on the FDR-Truman consensus to discuss how Nixon leveraged, and extended, social divisions and the rifts in American public consciousness to create his political career.
If you think you fully understand the modern culture wars, and everything that went on in the 1960s, you don't... until you've read Nixonland.
Surprisingly, the book does actually acknowledge Nixon as a pitiable, if not exactly sympathetic, character. He did seem to believe in himself as a man with a higher calling--setting the correct international policy and stance towards the world--but it's hard to take this too seriously when you consider everything else he did, from the dirty tricks and crimes to his widely migrating domestic positions and even manipulation of foreign affairs (e.g. the prosecution of the Vietnam war), in order to ensure he could grasp the reins of power. At some point you have to question your status as divinely ordained charioteer if you feel it's necessary to crash into rocks to keep your hold...
As for the book itself, Perlstein's writing style is personable, interesting, and engaging. He treats his narrative voice self-consciously, frequently presenting events speaking from Nixon's perspective (or that of his prejudices), giving us a certain insight into the man's psychology (while disavowing that this book is meant as a psychobiography, which it definitely is not). However, his narrative voice may be a bit too glib and winking for some readers. One habit I found particularly annoying was his insistence on referring to major political figures by diminutive versions of their first names, even when those are not the names by which they are famous, and in one or two cases where this introduces some ambiguity. Also, he's quite ready to throw in references to some famous figures as asides, with no explanation. This poses less difficulty for the reader who is already a political junkie with a good knowledge of the last forty years' history, but I can imagine, in fifty years' time, that it might make the book unreadable in parts. And I swear I'll scream if I see another politician described as "glad-handing," whatever that even means.
In all, this book is highly recommended. One word of warning: if you care about politics in America, it will likely be quite depressing, or at least make you want to tear your hair out. Sadly, no matter how much dramatic tension the narrative pulls together, we all know that in the end the bad guys won this one. Steel yourself for it....more
This was a skillfully written biography about two very interesting people who substantially shaped the politics of the 20th century.
The biggest messagThis was a skillfully written biography about two very interesting people who substantially shaped the politics of the 20th century.
The biggest message that I learned from this book is that their contributions were not necessarily positive, either one of them. People are fallible; great people are greatly fallible. Gandhi's campaigns, with the exception of perhaps the Salt Satyagraha, were almost exclusively failures (or at least, minor, ho-hum successes). This portion of the book could be considered the story of why non-violent protest (even the one that actually worked!) doesn't actually work. Couple that with Gandhi's ridiculous faddishness (subsisting on goat's milk and oranges??) and his political maneuvering (in the heart of every idealist there's a calculating politician) and one begins to appreciate him more as a human being, and less as a by-word for saintly morality.
Churchill, similarly, was an admirable leader in World War II. He is remembered for this. But this was his third or fourth political reincarnation, after some woeful defeats (that were not, to be fair, entirely his fault). At the same time, reading about his whole career, one gets a much more nuanced picture of the stubborn English bulldog of the Blitz. His pedestal is shorter, so he has less distance to fall; yet reading this, one begins to understand why voters took him out of office shortly after V-E day.
Regarding Herman, the author, he turns a phrase reasonably well. However, his position as a narrator keeps shifting -- it's hard to nail down his prejudices exactly to get a sense of the book's bias. Nevertheless, over the course of the book I began to find him progressively more irritating. Ahh well.
Given the enormous cast of characters, it would have been helpful had this book had a better index, or even an appendix listing the major players in the various political movements discussed in the text. There is a glossary of Indian words used in the text, but it is woefully incomplete; phrases that appear often are often not defined, leaving one to hunt futilely for their first appearance in order to understand the meaning of the text. It's this kind of editorial decision, coupled with inadequate bread-crumbs in the text to remind the reader who the people are, that makes it less approachable--particularly as this is a text that basically has to be read over a long period of time....more
An excellent graphic novel that really challenges the conventional superhero world-view by raising the serious sociological issues associated with actAn excellent graphic novel that really challenges the conventional superhero world-view by raising the serious sociological issues associated with actual vigilantism, not least the self-appointed right to act (lawfully or not) for what one personally considers the greater good. Four stars only, because I wasn't such a fan of some of the artwork (it's a perfectly fine western-comics style, just doesn't look all that interesting to me, even though I appreciate a lot of the interesting view angles, the leitmotifs, and the decisions taken in representing the fantastic), and because I was left underwhelmed by parts of the ending....more