This mystery, set in England around 1660, is described four times -- once each from the perspectives of four characters, some based on real personalitThis mystery, set in England around 1660, is described four times -- once each from the perspectives of four characters, some based on real personalities and others fictitious. The biases, motives, and flaws of the narrators are compelling, to be sure, but what really makes this book click is Pears' thorough understanding of the time, place, and cultural flow in which the story reveals itself.
The measured revelation -- and eventual closure -- of what ends up being a complex event, initially disguised as a simple one, really makes this book pop. Pears' comfort and skill at communicating the feel of England at the time, always through the eyes of the narrators, sweeps the reader thoroughly into a different time and place. This is definitely a mystery worth reading, and if your existing knowledge of the political and cultural scene of 17th century England is at all fuzzy like mine, this book will help elucidate and motivate at least some of what was happening in this fantastically interesting time and place in our history. ...more
This was my first foray into John McPhee's work. And a weighty foray it was : This hefty tome consists of four previously-published McPhee books assemThis was my first foray into John McPhee's work. And a weighty foray it was : This hefty tome consists of four previously-published McPhee books assembled into one spine, augmented with a fifth chapter.
McPhee's often staccato prose takes the reader on a tour of the geology of the lower 48, as seen largely in the roadcuts of Interstate 80, separated into five major segments : the Appalachians, the Midwest, Wyoming, Nevada, and California. Although I found myself lacking an understanding of various exotic rock names as I read (serpentine ? gabbro ?), McPhee successfully weaves into his description of the physical world a fantastic, much larger, and more profound story that's compelling and universal. McPhee uses the rock in North America to motivate explorations of plate tectonics, the history of geology, and even to some extent the development of modern science in general. This book is ultimately an exploration of how the world we walk on came to be the way we see it today, and as such it hints at what might come to pass long into the future. The writing is focused almost exclusively on the rock and the processes that surround the rock, so the reader should at least have a passing interest in geology. But McPhee's clarity and enthusiasm show through in nearly every facet of the work, and I think that's what makes it a good read....more
More than a century lies between Slocum's voyage and my reading of it, but I finished the book wanting more details. The sea is an endless fountain ofMore than a century lies between Slocum's voyage and my reading of it, but I finished the book wanting more details. The sea is an endless fountain of tales of human folly and wit, but Slocum's rendering of his voyage sticks to just the facts. Here and there a rare window opens onto the soul of this remarkable tale from the sea, but more often than not I wanted to hear more about the sailing, about the storms, about the island paradises, and about the dolphins ! Slocum's brevity did make the book readable (unlike if, say, Nathaniel Hawthorne had written such a tale), but it was largely the amazing nature of the voyage itself that kept me going. Imagine building a boat yourself, with trees you chopped down by hand, and sailing around the world in it, by yourself ? It's incredible.
Another interesting thing that struck me about Slocum's voyage was how impossible it would have been in another time. He managed to use his 50 years of sailing experience to bring himself around the world, largely by dead reckoning (!), but throughout the tale there are other people on his boat whenever he finds land. The Kokos Islands, Samoa, even St. Helena -- as unlikely as all of these places are, they are all populated by permanent dwellings of people by 1900, which in itself is pretty amazing.
Anyway, the very idea of Slocum's voyage is worth reading about, but I left feeling that the story had been rendered too short and dry for my taste....more
This is the first book I've encountered that I both enjoyed and hated to read. Stephenson's writing makes me laugh out loud, and his choice of using WThis is the first book I've encountered that I both enjoyed and hated to read. Stephenson's writing makes me laugh out loud, and his choice of using WWII characters, scenery, and the defining contradictions therein encourages mental comparison with the best of Catch-22. The book's sheer length is enough to quell even the most enthusiastic reader at times, though, and the numerous tangential explanations of technological phenomena gets a bit tedious for this particular code monkey. Read if you enjoy Stephenson and are willing to put in the time....more
Wallerstein and her colleagues run a family counseling practice in Marin County, and this book presents several case studies of children whose familieWallerstein and her colleagues run a family counseling practice in Marin County, and this book presents several case studies of children whose families were divorced 25 years ago -- hence the 25 year landmark -- to try to chart out the long-term future that children from divorced families might be expected to face. Unfortunately, the case studies and conclusions presented in this book were either composites or otherwise drawn from the population that came through Wallerstein's practice, and, as such, the book presents a set of portraits of people drawn almost entirely from white, upper-middle class Californians. Nonetheless, as a white, middle class child of a divorced family at the 20 year landmark myself, I found many of the stories from the book to resonate significantly with my own experience. In that sense, the book was quite self-serving for me to read, but it was also comforting just to learn that so many other people have experienced similar trauma and have similar responses to it. Wallerstein's general emphasis in the book is on listening to the children during a divorce, because they have much more vested in the system than people think, and because family disruption lasts significantly longer than the parents, court system, and therapists generally anticipate. Although the authors generally emphasize their point of view to the point of suspicion, I think the book is quite valuable for people who have gone through or anticipate going through a divorce....more
This book is a sort of laundry list of quirks in human psychology and information processing. Marcus tries to use this list (in the conclusion) as anThis book is a sort of laundry list of quirks in human psychology and information processing. Marcus tries to use this list (in the conclusion) as an argument against creationism, but from my perspective it comes across as offering a bunch of vaguely related anecdotes. If you've already read something from Kahneman Tversky or Lakoff, I'd say you're safe skipping this one....more
I think this is going to be a useful book as I progress through this doctoral process. Because I am just getting started here, the first couple of chaI think this is going to be a useful book as I progress through this doctoral process. Because I am just getting started here, the first couple of chapters were the most interesting to me -- formulating a research question, finding a general direction, and articulating the whole are all skills that the book helps form in the reader. Later, I'm sure the chapters on writing and proofing will come in handy. It's not a satisfying book, but I think it will help me navigate academia. (On that note, compare this book with Disciplined Minds, another guide to navigating academia.)...more
Here's a great example of a book Seinfelding itself---so many of the ideas in here were so good that they've become standard, at least in the "beautifHere's a great example of a book Seinfelding itself---so many of the ideas in here were so good that they've become standard, at least in the "beautiful graphs" community. In the decades since, Tufte really put more polish on the idea that graphs should be beautiful, and now with more flexible plotting software we can do a lot of things that make graphing more attractive. (I'm thinking of things like alpha blending for error regions.) So though this book seems quite dated now, the central concepts (use consistent scales, use log scales to separate overlapping data, small multiples, etc.) remain solid....more
I've never thought much about the parallel lives of Buddhism and psychology, but Epstein does a great job of finding common ground in the two traditioI've never thought much about the parallel lives of Buddhism and psychology, but Epstein does a great job of finding common ground in the two traditions, using the theme of "desire" to tie things together. Desire is a slippery concept in its own right, and under the harsh light of Buddhism everything can seem to recede rapidly into nihilism, but Epstein provides several interesting examples from his own experience to tie things down to real life. I am a bit annoyed at the application of "female" and "male" to the dichotomy of desire's manifestations in the world, but I nonetheless enjoyed reading Epstein's ideas about the emptiness of meditation and the gap between desire and its satisfaction. I also quite enjoyed his references to the Ramayana, a story that I've heard little about before now. More to read !...more
Sometimes reading McPhee is like eating a bowl of Grape Nuts with one piece of strawberry : all hard fact, with just a few bits of amusement to keep ySometimes reading McPhee is like eating a bowl of Grape Nuts with one piece of strawberry : all hard fact, with just a few bits of amusement to keep you happy. This book, however, somehow communicates more of McPhee himself, along with some beautiful and striking prose. There are still a lot of facts mixed in there, but this mixture has energy and spirit....more
This book is filled with example chess boards that demonstrate some closing patterns in the endgame of chess. The book presupposes to some extent thatThis book is filled with example chess boards that demonstrate some closing patterns in the endgame of chess. The book presupposes to some extent that you know how to get to this point in the game (which I am light years from being able to do, personally), but the patterns and approach seem interesting and valid nonetheless....more
This was an interesting book, for two reasons. First it discusses in great detail the general idea of flow, which is something of an anglo approximatiThis was an interesting book, for two reasons. First it discusses in great detail the general idea of flow, which is something of an anglo approximation of the concept of zen, but tighter and less guiding. Second, it serves as a fantastic example of an attempt to stake out academic and intellectual territory. Overall, I found the book to be three stars, but along the way these two aspects of what a (nonfiction) book does kept on jumping out at me.
Most of the studies reported in the book come from American and European psychologists who're actively looking for flow in their subjects. They typically determine whether or not it's "there" by reading a short passage of text that describes the flow experience qualitatively -- an intense focus on the task at hand, to the point of blocking out distractions, with clear feedback about progress toward a clear goal, as skills and challenges are evenly matched. People in these experiments typically respond that they've experienced this sort of "flow" feeling before, and then the psychologists start with their slicing and dicing : under which conditions, what time of day, what were you doing when you experienced this flow ?
Flow is tantalizingly similar to "being in the moment," but in the hands of these authors it loses any potential new-age religious baggage and instead focuses primarily on the relationship between environmental challenges and the skills of the individual. For instance, surgeons and mountain climbers are used in almost every chapter as prototypical examples of people in flow. Individuals in these disciplines tend to put themselves in situations that present a significant challenge, but one that they are capable of addressing with significant skills that they've developed. Once in such a situation, individuals report confidence, control, and happiness, even when the situations (e.g. clinging to a cliff) could easily get out of hand in practice. Somehow flow, the authors argue, is a positive state of consciousness.
There's a lot to recommend this idea, I think, if only from an intuitive point of view. Flow, from my perspective as a programmer, is indeed a desirable state of consciousness, and there's a lot left to study in this general region of science. Seen from that light, this book kept grabbing my attention as an example of academic thought waging its own battle for survival. Clearly, the small community of authors who contributed to the book all think flow -- the intellectual concept -- is a good way to address problems in psychology, sociology, etc. Hidden between the lines, then, is their battle against whatever other ideas were occupying the minds of colleagues at the time. Over and over, this book attempts to drive home the point that the flow concept is important, worthwhile, valuable, etc. in understanding why people make the choices they make, what makes them want to do certain things over others, and so forth. Csikszentmihalyi himself is a veritable freight train behind this concept, having published more than four separate books on the subject, and generally interpreting almost any phenomenon that comes his way using this flow model. I marvel at this intellectual battle, having seen for myself a little of the ebb and flow of ideas in a small subset of the computer science literature. The general lesson, from both vantage points, is that good ideas don't just take hold by themselves ; instead, there are people behind them, pushing at every opportunity to convince others of their veracity, whether for political profit, prestige, stubbornness, or goodwill....more