This was a fun read that tickled the nonfiction part of my brain in pleasant ways. It felt a bit repetitive in parts, and I found myself wondering how...moreThis was a fun read that tickled the nonfiction part of my brain in pleasant ways. It felt a bit repetitive in parts, and I found myself wondering how various chapters (such as the chess chapter) related to the whole. In the end, I'll take from this book the need to think probabilistically in life, and Bayes' theorem, about which I knew little. The chapter on terrorism was an excellent ending to the book, as it not only tied the concepts together, but it also made apparent the stakes in predicting the future. The McLaughlin Group, for instance, gets to keep coming back each week, even though their predictions are laughably bad. When you're trying to guess whether a terrorist might nuke New York...well, you kind of have to be more right about that.
Still, I'm not sure this book quite added up to the sum of its parts. For instance, after reading about the super-skilled sports gambler, I didn't have any better idea how he did what he did than I had before reading the chapter. Perhaps he wouldn't tell Silver his secrets, I don't know. I doubt my predictions will get much better from having read this book, either (though I wonder whether that was the goal of the book or now). I'd still recommend it to anyone with a love of charts, a thirst for interesting data-driven nonfiction, or anyone looking for something to shake up their reading list with something a little different.(less)
I've worked in the book business, on and off, since 2000, but I've never worked for a publisher (unless you count my own brief foray into publishing,...moreI've worked in the book business, on and off, since 2000, but I've never worked for a publisher (unless you count my own brief foray into publishing, which I'd imagine is as similar to working for a major publisher as fly fishing in an Idaho stream is to working on an industrial fishing boat off the coast of Norway). I've learned something of how they operate by working in bookstores and then working here at Goodreads, but it's an outsider's view. So I came to this book wanting to know more about how the publishers work, how they see the business, and how they became what they are today. Thompson's book delivers on all these counts, and if it can be a bit academic and dry at times, it makes up for this with its depth of knowledge.
The early portions of the book were the most illuminating to me, as I was admittedly ignorant about much of the history involved in the book industry. I didn't really understand that the uber-powerful literary agent is a relatively recent phenomenon, and while I knew a lot about how bookselling had changed in the past fifteen years, I didn't know a lot about the 50 or so that preceded them. I also appreciated that Thompson, and the people he interviewed, seemed to understand that the value of a publisher is no longer producing the books (though the recent craze for Fifty Shades of Grey shows the value that the distribution arm of a major publisher provides), but rather in making the book visible, making it read, and getting people to discuss it. That's the real challenge now.
I recommend this book for anyone looking to get a deeper understanding of the publishing industry. For those with a deep knowledge of the subject, much of it may be repetitive or even remedial. I would imagine that many will find value in the brief sections detailing the UK publishing business, or at least I found value in that, having no knowledge of that side of the business at all.(less)
A life-changing book, comparable to The Omnivore's Dilemma in how it reshaped my thinking on a subject. Highly recommended for anyone interested in ho...moreA life-changing book, comparable to The Omnivore's Dilemma in how it reshaped my thinking on a subject. Highly recommended for anyone interested in how the web is impacting social interaction. While Shirky can drift into techno-utopianism from time to time, he seems to always look at the world with fresh eyes. Unlike other writers on the subject, Shirky's prose is clear, and his examples are quite convincing.(less)
Required reading for anyone who wants a layman's history of the financial meltdown of 2008. Lewis does an admirable job of making sense of the many ob...moreRequired reading for anyone who wants a layman's history of the financial meltdown of 2008. Lewis does an admirable job of making sense of the many obscure financial tools that led to the failure of Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns, as well as the government bailout of AIG. While you might think sifting through the many acronyms (CDS -- credit default swaps, etc.) would be tedious, Lewis uses metaphors to give a relatively clear (as clear as possible, I think) view of the landscape.
We discussed this book for the Goodreads, Inc. book club, and we all seemed to agree that there is no good guy in the book. The heroes of the book -- Mike Burry, Steve Eisman, et al -- are merely the smart guys, not the "good" guys. They made money when everyone else collapsed. Good for them, I guess. Throughout the book, I felt a kind of righteous anger. In fact, if this book elicited one response from me, it was anger. Anger and disbelief that something like this could happen. But at some point, I just sort of stopped being angry and started laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Anyway, your level of anger may differ from mine.
"It was as if French cooking had finally succumbed under all the social aspirations that for so long it had been made to carry. A shift in perception...more"It was as if French cooking had finally succumbed under all the social aspirations that for so long it had been made to carry. A shift in perception was needed to revive it. That shift would occur in California, in the most unlikely of places: across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, in a restaurant with a collective philosophy located in a building that had once been plumber's store. It had a honeysuckle hedge and a monkey puzzle tree in front and it was called Chez Panisse."
This paragraph typifies the best and the worst of this book, and indeed, of nonfiction writing of this type in general. If I'm reading a history of something, -- and I think this book is fundamentally a history -- I want it to do two things: to give a context to each event, explaining why each thing happened when it did and where it did and what the significance of the events were and to make the actors of history come alive. On the first account, Kuh succeeds admirably. His writing is clear and concise, and his conclusions follow logically and fluidly from the facts. He traces the story of fine dining in America from Prohibition through the age of elite French restaurants like Le Pavillion and La Caravelle, places where the maitre d' used an application for a house account as a means of vetting the applicant not only of financial standing but also of social status, through the California cuisine revolution sparked by Chez Panisse, the celebrity chef phenomenon (personified here by Wolfgang Puck), and into the age of mass-produced fine dining, such as is currently on display in Las Vegas, in Danny Meyer's Union Square group restaurants, and, to a lesser extent, in the Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. Along the way he gives well-crafted portraits of M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Alice Waters, and, most of all, Le Pavillion owner Henri Soule.
It's here that the book falls short, often quite literally. In the chapter on Chez Panisse, for instance, Kuh deals with Alice Waters more as a phenomenon than as a person. There is no real sense of Waters and Tower as people, and as a result, it felt to me that he came to somewhat stock conclusions about why Chez Panisse became, well, Chez Panisse. Same for Wolfgang Puck. The more I read the book, the more I felt frustrated by its lack of depth. Here is a 235 page book that probably would've been perfect at 400 pages. It's well-written, it's compelling, it's conclusions are often sound, but it feels sparse, as if the author either didn't have access to some of the people he wanted to profile, or he simply didn't have the time. This is most evident during the section on Lettuce Entertain You. Kuh travels to Chicago to interview LEY president Richard Melman. Melman keeps him waiting in his office for several hours, then gives him a brief and fairly shallow interview. At the end, he offers the aphorism that all restaurants are hot dog stands. While this is interesting, and Kuh does fine work riffing on the Disneyfication of fine dining (even giving credit to Thomas Pynchon for coining the term), it feels slight. It feels like Kuh got screwed out of the interview he wanted, and instead wrote a stub of a chapter. Too many chapters in this book feel that way.
Nonetheless, this is a fine book on the history of recent gastronomy in the US. I recommend it to anybody who has ever wondered why every restaurant they go to suddenly offers small plates and has distressed plaster walls, antique photographs, and tea candles on every table. (less)
I'm going to be slightly unfair with this review, as I think in reality this book is much better than a "two star" book. That rating means "It was oka...moreI'm going to be slightly unfair with this review, as I think in reality this book is much better than a "two star" book. That rating means "It was okay," and for what I was looking for, that's precisely what it was. It isn't fair to the author, who is probably reading this and developing a slow-boiling rage (or, more likely, not reading this at all), but this wasn't the book I thought it was going to be. I wanted a book that focused primarily on contemporary Americana music, and this book is much more of a history. That's not the fault of the book, it's entirely mine.
As a history, it's successful, although I've read other books that cover similar territory and do it a bit more extensively. What those books lack is Petrusich. Her authorial voice is very appealing in this book, as she travels America, from Tennessee to Mississippi to Kentucky to Vermont to Brooklyn, searching out archivists, musicians, and historians in search of the roots of Americana, as she calls it. Along the way she drives, listens to music (duh), and eats. I loved her descriptions of meals and eating, and I think she's got a second career as a food writer should she want it.
The last chapter of the book, which deals with the contemporary Freak Folk movement, was more what I was looking for, and, not coincidentally, I liked it best. I think this book would be perfect for someone who hasn't read a lot about country music or the blues. It's a fun read, and Petrusich does a nice job of connecting the dots (some of which resist connection) that lead to where American music is today.
Forgive me for under-starring your book, Ms. Petrusich. I'll definitely read your next one.(less)
This is a fascinating and thorough look at the contemporary social/political scene in Holland, where a massive influx of rural Moroccan immigrants, so...moreThis is a fascinating and thorough look at the contemporary social/political scene in Holland, where a massive influx of rural Moroccan immigrants, some of whom practice takfir, a particularly extreme form of Islam, challenges the ulta-liberal government's policies of tolerance and multiculturalism and the country's traditions. This issue came to a head in 2004 with the famous assassination of filmmaker and provocateur Theo Van Gogh.
Buruma is very balanced, examining the issue from many sides and never taking one side as "right" and the other as "wrong." He's uniquely situated to write such a book, as he is Dutch by birth, but has lived abroad for the past three decades. This gives him an insider view with a bit of a detached gaze. The fundamental question of the book -- can a liberal society, one that believes in the value of diversity and of tolerance for other cultures, accept and incorporate a culture that doesn't share certain of its most important beliefs (in this case equality between men and women, acceptance of homosexuality, and separation of church and state) or are there certain things that are non-negotiable? -- seems to be something that must be addressed if we're to understand how Islam is changing Europe.
Indeed, reading this book as an American who's never been to the Netherlands, I felt I was getting half the picture, and a distorted one at that. The American idea of immigration is so different from the Dutch one, especially for this reader, who lives in Los Angeles and takes for granted that Spanish shares nearly equal footing with English in the public sphere. But Holland is different, as it harbors a level of guilt for its relative complacency during the Holocaust (Anne Frank continues to be the ultimate Dutch trump card, her name ending all debate in a moment of shamed silence), and its more recent role as colonial oppressor in Suriname and Indonesia.
This book is a fundamentally European book, just as the author argues, at one point, that Islam is now a European religion. One of the people Buruma profiles in the book, explains that "The heart of Islam is in the Middle East, but its head is in Europe," meaning that liberal European culture has given Muslims the intellectual space to feel out how it will interact with the West, with modernity, and with itself, the freedom to decide whether it will grow to reconcile life in a modern, multicultural society or whether it will ultimately reject it.
The reason I give this book only 3 stars is that it felt repetitive at times, hammering home the same lessons about the "Dutch character" over and over, and in the end, it offered little in the way of a solution. While it isn't the author's job to find an answer to such an enormous question, I would've liked to have seen more than what he eventually concludes, that giving young Muslim men more economic opportunities to succeed and a chance to feel more accepted in Dutch society will curtail the spread of extremism. This seems like the typical leftist response to social ills, "All political strife and all crime is the result of economic disparity." It's not that I don't believe this to be true (it certainly couldn't hurt to give them greater economic opportunities, for example), but I would've liked to have seen something a bit more forward-thinking from a book that so often surprised me. (less)
Like many books of its kind, this suffers from a "then they recorded this. then they recorded this. then they recorded this..." repetition. Still, I l...moreLike many books of its kind, this suffers from a "then they recorded this. then they recorded this. then they recorded this..." repetition. Still, I loved reading about the early years of Sonic Youth, back when Richard Edson was their drummer (long before he played Vito in Do the Right Thing), when Paul Smith was hanging around the band, and before Kim Gordon became an uber-fashionista. A good read about one of the more interesting bands of my time. (less)
If I were allowed to read only one cookbook (that's read, not necessarily make the recipes) this one would be it. Bourdain has that rare ability to co...moreIf I were allowed to read only one cookbook (that's read, not necessarily make the recipes) this one would be it. Bourdain has that rare ability to condescend to you and motivate you to try something new at the same time. It's a mix found in the finest drill instructors, high school math teachers, and apparently, celebrity chefs.
As a side note, I went to Les Halles in NYC in June of this year, and my meal SUCKED! My steak was tough, the fries, about which he rhapsodizes for page after page in this very book, were underwhelming, and the place had all the ambiance of a Denny's. I hear he isn't around there anymore. Too bad. Still one of the people I'd like to have a meal with. (less)
I like Chuck Klosterman. I think it's hip not to like him now, but I don't really give a shit. His Wilco profile was fun, as was his Radiohead piece....moreI like Chuck Klosterman. I think it's hip not to like him now, but I don't really give a shit. His Wilco profile was fun, as was his Radiohead piece. I wasn't crazy about some of his "theories," but his terrific profile of the Rock Cruise (a Carnival cruise featuring performances by Journey, Styx, and REO Speedwagon) had me giggling like crazy.
As I read this book, I started to think about how the entire magazine industry exists solely to prop up the entertainment industry, featuring profiles of whoever has a new movie or album out. Without one, the other would likely crumble. I suppose that if I must read another piece probing the inner-workings of some hack rock band, I'd prefer it be Mr. Klosterman doing the probing. (less)