Overall: 5*. Combined with the magic of real-life, present-day Andalusia, this was a fantastic book to read. The depth of information, the broadness of cultural reference, and the quality of the writing make for an excellent history of the region. Highly recommended!
Barry begins with an short summary, then continues with a truly interesting and well-written early history of the region, starting with early settlements, then going through Roman to Visigoth Iberia. The book continues with detailed accounts of the main events in the region (conquest by Arabs with Berber and other troops, the Umayyad/Almoravid/Almohad Caliphates, the breakdowns into taifas, the Nasrid Granada and the Spanish Reconquista), and concludes with the long and dark aftermath of the Spanish pogroms and eventual expulsion of Jews and Muslims from the region.
Excellent coverage of important sites (now touristic targets), including Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Merida, and Almeria, but also Malaga, and various fortresses and castles. The book led to the stay of an extra day, and to an unplanned (and worthwhile) visit to Almodovar del Rio and to Madinat Al-Zahra, nearby Cordoba.
I also particularly enjoyed the excellent explanation of the interplay tribe-church-state in dark and medieval ages, in Iberia and (more thinly) elsewhere around it. Equally, I have read with interest the excellent analysis of political game, including religious meaning of various actions. Without these two important elements, the history of the region would be difficult to understand, and, for me, the local culture would remain incomprehensible. Why was the Cordoban Mosque built? Why was Madinat Al-Zahra pillaged and Al-Madina Al-Zahira razed? Why did Christian and Arab kingdoms switch allegiance, and fight alongside the religious opposite? Why were pogroms and expulsions taking place, and what was their cultural and economic outcome? etc.
I appreciated, but could not possibly like, the material on the main atrocities, on both sides. Although occupying a modest size in the book, the material is descriptive, and presents well the different horrors occurring under both Islamic and Hispanic occupation of the land. (Turns out medieval times led to Nazi-like atrocities.)
The writing is truly excellent. It is rare to find a history book that is both accessible and informative, and it is rare to find a good presentation of a history that cover a large geographical areas and time spans (readers like me do not have the spatio-temporal references that would allow following the dry text). This book avoids all these issues. The book is accessible to the beginner, especially in the first chapters. The text is accompanied by images illustrating the architectural and cultural artifacts of the era and region. Barry does an exceptional job sorting out and explaining the different actors in this tragedy, on all sides, including how the figures are connected (by family, enmity, or common roots). Without this, the reader could be simply overwhelmed by the avalanche of relevant political and religious figures. There is good coverage of folklore, gossip, legends, which leads to much better familiarity with the region and, for me, to richer visiting experience.
The only negative points are related to the depth of material on science, which is explainable by the size of the book and by the relative lack of interest in it of the general audience, and the lack of more frequent geo-political maps, especially since the polities in al-Andalus changed hands so often. (Several maps are provided, but I could have used more.)
Enough said. Recommended for everyone with an interest in the history of Europe and Arab people. (less)
I got this during a trip to Berlin, while searching for information about the Communist (East) German regime. Alltag in der DDR: so haben wir gelebt i...moreI got this during a trip to Berlin, while searching for information about the Communist (East) German regime. Alltag in der DDR: so haben wir gelebt is a photo-diary, photo-travelogue covering the regrowth period of East Germany (1949-1971). Manfred Beier, photo enthusiast, collected in spite of the regime an astonishingly large collection of photographs, which he has also meticulously labeled; in total, over 60,000 archived pictures. His son is presenting here a selection, with photos covering family life, school, travel in various places and cities, work, free time, and the capital city (East) Berlin.
Overall, interesting to see, but with too few explanations of what the pictures show and with no analysis. This is raw material of importance, with strong similarities of what one would expect to see in any historical footage of the period in any of the countries and regions part of the Western border of the Communist block.(less)
Imperium is the rare book that can explain Communist regimes, in this case, the Communist regime in Russia. In what starts as a memoir, then turns int...moreImperium is the rare book that can explain Communist regimes, in this case, the Communist regime in Russia. In what starts as a memoir, then turns into a multi-trip travelogue Ryszard Kapuściński captures the essence of the regime: the corruption, the decay, the bureaucracy, the totalitarian state, but also the beautifully diverse (and thoroughly enslaved and oppressed) people. This dystopian journalism, for modern Russia (1930s through 1990s) is a dystopian and failed state, is made palatable by Kapuściński's ability to tell stories, to blend humour and unexpected anecdote in the darkest of tales. How to move an oversized bust of Lenin into your room and why this is a sure way to prison? Etc.
Overall, a must-read for everyone wanting to understand Russia. Imperium is brilliant analysis coated in excellent writing, a masterclass in realpolitik in understandable terms.
TODO: about Stalin, Beria, Khrushchev,..., Gorbachev. About the population of Siberia. About the planned conflicts in Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc. About the starvation of millions in Ukraine. About the forced migration of millions. About the murder of intellectuals. About the depredation of Turkestan and its split into five countries. About Moscow, Novgorod, Petersburg. About Baltic states and Belorussia. About the tragedy of conflict set in advance by Russia, to enable it to intervene and occupy later.
The brilliant stories. The brilliant analysis. The brilliant feeling of "this journalist gets it."(less)
Part auto-biography, part collection of short columns about cycling (interviews, opinions, the occasional distraction), Gepakt is Mart Smeets' detract...morePart auto-biography, part collection of short columns about cycling (interviews, opinions, the occasional distraction), Gepakt is Mart Smeets' detraction to his own book De Lance factor. Why a detraction? Because Mart Smeets, a respected figure in the Dutch sports media and a long-lasting leading figure in NOS's De Avondetappe, has written kindly about Lance Armstrong just before the latter's admission of systematic doping.
Overall, I found the book too shallow, too opinionated, too poorly structured to like. But, as always with Martje, full of good banter. Too bad the topic is so serious.
Gepakt starts with a discussion about the role of Mart Smeets in the aftermath of Lance's revelations -- retracting the book (from the nomination to a prestigious Dutch literature award, no less), hiding from the media for a while, being subject to criticism and sometimes even aggression for much longer. Mart claims not having known, not having been able to know, and having fallen for the "he looked me in the eyes and told me he has not doped!" This bio theme is recurrent in his writing, sometimes benign, as when Mart emphasizes his own role in uncovering other cases of doping, sometimes in the form of an aggressive "but why didn't the other media reporters find it?" It's all good, but not the reason I bought the book for.
What I did want to read about it Mart Smeets take on the generalized, systemic doping (and other forms of cheating) in the peloton. There is plenty of material there, including short stories on Zabel, Contador, Riccardo Ricco, Mario Cipolinni, Steven de Jongh, Rasmussen and Rabobank, Franck Schleck, George Hincapie, and Lance Armstrong. But nothing out of ordinary, nothing we wouldn't know about. Perhaps only the (unproven) suspicions about the political reason for which Lance was struck down and about technical doping committed by Fabian Cancellara. There is also material that could be a short history of cycling, focused on the Dutch teams, and anecdotes about some of the greater cyclists who were never caught (in particular Indurain, but also Cadel Evans).(less)
I read Game Sound by Karen Collins in a rush, so maybe my review is too harsh: I wanted to understand how sound is produced for (computer and video) g...moreI read Game Sound by Karen Collins in a rush, so maybe my review is too harsh: I wanted to understand how sound is produced for (computer and video) games, how different game genres typical for indie game dev can use sound, what are the typical processes for outsourcing sound production, and what are the main free tools I could use in a start-up or student setting.
Overall, I found answers for roughly a quarter from all my questions, but also found an interesting section on procedural sound generation.
On the positive side, the book covers an interesting and necessary set of topics: Chapters 1-4 set the problem and cover the history of game sound (a bit shallow); Chapter 5 presents the main process for producing game sound (similar but not identical to film sound production); Chapter 6 discusses the inter-licensing of doing between games and the proper music industry (very, very dry); Chapter 7 (mistitled to seem broad, vs the actual content) discussed mainly immersion and why it is not easy to achieve with traditional methods; Chapter 8 (the best, in my opinion) discusses the need for compositional approaches, especially procedural, for game sound, and surveys many previous and current techniques in this area; and Chapter 9 concludes.
I also liked the references, although not so many that I found new (so, my fault). I found really useful material in the chapter about procedural sound generation, so this explains my overall positive rating (which goes contrary to the overall tone of my review).
On the negative side, besides the imbalanced writing style (the dry passages do not match the otherwise good technical writing), the coverage of the subject is imbalanced and often plain shallow. A few examples: a few games, all big-budget and corresponding to AAA titles, are used in most (if not all) explanations; although Chapter 7's title seems to indicate that "genre" will be covered extensively, there is little beyond MMORPG, action, and FPS games; etc. The consequence of this imbalance is that very popular game genres, from casual to action-RTS (MOBAs, including DotA2), are omitted; there is also, for my personal curiosity, the issue of not answering to my main questions.
Other issues, such as the shallow treatment of the material in tables, and the scarcity of quantified elements (sizes, counts outer prettiest, breakdowns of expected durations for various production steps, rates of completion or other metrics of success, etc.) make this text perhaps less suitable for learning about the actual production of sound. It may also prevent even drier text at points, so perhaps it is to much to ask.
To conclude: a good, no-frills, at points dry and at others shallow introductory course.(less)
I've read about high-frequency trading (HFT) when the New York Times started to be interested in them; perhaps around 2009-10. I could not easily find...moreI've read about high-frequency trading (HFT) when the New York Times started to be interested in them; perhaps around 2009-10. I could not easily find much material about them, until Michael Lewis published his Flash Boys, early 2014. This is a tabloid-style book about a truly epic topic: HFT is a tech-based approach for trading, which makes the fastest rich (you would expect the market would reward the smartest, in the long run).
Overall, it's the best material I've found on the topic. There are also excellent references, so even more to find out. If only the writing style was not so tabloid-like!
On the positive side, there is much info about HFT, first from a technical perspective, but also looking at the strategy game of the main investors, banks, and middlemen. We learn about the importance of a microsecond, the way to gain it via fiber and microwave communication, the fast algorithms and the trading software. There is much on infrastructure as a service, which is leased by big banks to HFT irrespective of how this would skew the market (the fastest, here the one leasing the computer closest (in networking terms) to the market's computers, always wins). We see a corrupt world that writes its own rules and a government-appointed supervisor that colludes with the firms it's supposed to supervise (see the cliffhanger at the end, about the owners of the microwave array - - Gizmodo's popular analysis). We see big banks playing against its customers in self-owned trading pools. We learn the basic tactics HFT employ to scalp the market. What I liked most was the rather technical analysis of why HFT actually does not increase the liquidity of the market, at least not in a way beneficial to anyone but the HFT shops. Good stuff!
Now, the writing. Its gripping and the pace is in general quite fast, but this is for me the end of the positives. There's too much speculation (sic!), there's too much hatchet job (all HFT traders are bad... except when they meet with Michael, after which they suddenly become clean because they did not understand what they were doing to the market in the first place), there's too many weak similes and metaphors. I could have enjoyed a shorter, crisper treatment of this story, but I've struggled finding the motivation to finish this one (not happening often to me).
For the really negatives... The most annoying was the story of Serge Aleynikov, the Goldman Sachs programmer who got jailed for stealing Goldman trading code (software secrets, I guess), then got acquitted, then got in trouble again for the same facts, then... As a fellow developer (a decade ago, but still there as an arm-chair amateur), I can sympathize with Serge's plight. I can even put up with the "monstrous conspiracy" theory; after all, Serge did spent years in prison for something that got blown over at the trial by Goldman's conniving lawyers and company henchmen. But the argument that stealing the code could not have helped Serge, should he have tried to capitalize on it? Hmhmhm. And it's not the only time when Michael gets the tech world wrong, dead wrong. Because HFT is mainly about tech, this greatly diminished for me the pleasure of reading the book and the credibility of its bank-related claims.(less)
TODO: +++ what a truly amazing book! +++ the comprehensive survey of over a hundred years of scientific progress is pure delight (250 pages of fast-pac...moreTODO: +++ what a truly amazing book! +++ the comprehensive survey of over a hundred years of scientific progress is pure delight (250 pages of fast-paced discovery) ++ the coverage of a complex, time- and space-distributed, engineering project, which culminated in the routine production of nuclear weapons ++/- the characterization of so many important scientists, politicians, and army officers (perhaps less the Freudian analysis) ++ the excellent analysis of scientific, political, and military events, fortuitous and planned +++ how the atomic bomb was made in the US +++ how the Nazi failed ++ how the 'race' went on in other places ++ the analysis of the misunderstanding, by the US Army, of the science behind the bomb (and the implications of this) + the interplay between politicians and scientists + why Hiroshima, of all places? Why Nagasaki, for the second blast? +++/--- the description of the way the US took the decision to drop the bomb: so many dry, cynical arguments, culminating in the inhuman "we have to justify the immense cost" - (the book is indeed not perfect) I would have liked to know what happened afterwards with the main protagonists (at least the leading 10-15 scientists) -- the book drags on and on in its second half, when dry process meets cynical politics and army stupidity. --- the description of the horrors of the atomic bomb. I'm not sure all the raw and gory accounts were necessary for this book, when so many of the alternatives were relatively glanced over.(less)
As a fan of Minecraft, I've been looking forward to this one -- A year with Minecraft behind the scenes at Mojang by Thomas Arnroth. Based on the pers...moreAs a fan of Minecraft, I've been looking forward to this one -- A year with Minecraft behind the scenes at Mojang by Thomas Arnroth. Based on the personal experience as an invited journalist inside the Minecraft makers Mojang, the book covers the crucial year 2012 (I think, see negative comments in the following), right after Minecraft became an IGF sensation, earned over 50 million players, and just as Mojan was voted the ``world second best game studio in the world by influential game magazine Edge.''
Overall, the only thing saving this book is that it's about Minecraft. Other than this, A year with Minecraft is too short, is too badly written, and adds too little material to the official documentary Minecraft: The Story of Mojang (2011). Did I mention there is not even a reasonable interview with the members of the crew or Markus "Notch" Persson? (What did Arnroth do the whole year?! Just watched the news, the tweets, and the documentaries others made?! Only picked up 1-2 quips, while being in the studio, to be churned into interviews?)
On the positive side, there is a history of Mojang (hint: Wikipedia and MinecraftWiki have enough about this), a history of Minecraft (hint: there are better sources online, both written and video), a description of Minecraft uses in education and for humanitarian reasons (this was really nice), and some high-level information about programming and other technical issues. There is also some material on the other projects of Mojang, including Scrolls (and the related trademark fight against Bethesda -- legal fights are the bane of tech these days, so this was useful) and the elusive 0x10c.
On the negative side, although I was turned-off primarily by the low amount of interesting (new?) material, I will mention here the presentation. The book is edited by Paradox Books, who did less of a passable job in editing it: the timeline is all mixed up, the quality of English is rather poor, the translation of idiomatic Swedish expressions into English is incomprehensible, and the similes are often broken. For me, the most insensitive moment is when Arnroth picks up a quote from the Internet, comparing the ``hundreds of thousands, or rather millions of young game loving people wanting to express themselves and their gaming through videos'' to ``the lost boys of L.A.'' . Perhaps Thomas is not aware that, after Peter Pan, ``lost boys'' has become a term for refugees in Sudan, many of whom have been orphaned by war and also been forced to fight from an early age. Anyway, the presentation is very poor.
 Arnroth, Thomas (2013-06-26). A Year With Mojang: Behind the Scenes of Minecraft (Kindle Locations 185-186). Paradox Interactive. Kindle Edition.
The making of Karateka is the memoir of Jordan Mechner (better known as the guy who made Prince of Persia). Chronicling the period 1982-1985, this boo...moreThe making of Karateka is the memoir of Jordan Mechner (better known as the guy who made Prince of Persia). Chronicling the period 1982-1985, this book starts when Jordan is about to start the design of Karateka and ends with the aftermath of its publication. (There's no doubt he will finish it, especially for 1980s gamers, so no spoilers in this description.)
Overall, I liked this book very much. It's not the best of writing, it's at times as superficial as a journal written only for yourself can be, and perhaps you may not like Jordan's personality (rather dark, very materialistic, and self-centered), but the journal sounds true, the depiction of life as a young student is funny, and overall the book makes me remember my own days creating games (not one as successful as Jordan's). The best part? The guy is 18, and bits and pieces of his logs sound like it; he's also a good game designer, even at this tender age.
I liked how Jordan picks apart his mood swings (expected from a Psych major, but even that is not so certain after a point):
I often quit now mid-game. Is it the effect of an achievement-oriented attitude (it’s not worth it if I can’t break my high score)? Is it the effect of playing similar games with the same themes, over and over again? Or is it me?
Mechner, Jordan (2012-11-27). The Making of Karateka (p.42-43). Kindle Edition.
There's also much about the psychology of creating and selling games, such as:
I wish I could work on the game like I did at the beginning — innocently, happily, without this stomach-churning anxiety and rush to get it finished, make it good, get it out, get rich off it.
Mechner, Jordan (2012-11-27). The Making of Karateka (p. 104). . Kindle Edition.
I enjoyed the numerous bits about game design, such as:
Most games just have a static view – PacMan, Asteroids, Space Invaders – that they keep for the whole game. But cinematic techniques have been used as far back as Lunar Lander – that game had not only tracking to follow your LEM, but also a cut to a close-up when you start to land. There have been subjective-POV games like Night Driver, Star Fire, Tail Gunner, Battlezone. But nobody’s really played up the cutting. Karateka is the first game to do cross-cutting.
Mechner, Jordan (2012-11-27). The Making of Karateka (p. 144). . Kindle Edition.
I've already mentioned what I dislike about this book. (less)
I got this book as a gift for giving a keynote, back in 2012, and have been wanting to read it ever since. Finally! Atlas of Science Visualising What...moreI got this book as a gift for giving a keynote, back in 2012, and have been wanting to read it ever since. Finally! Atlas of Science Visualising What We Know is a science-artsy book about the representation of the way scientists are inter-linked (through co-publishing, citing, co-citing, citing across strands and domains of science, etc.) The authors act as cartographers of science, that is, they draw and depict rather than do statistics and show numerics.
Overall, this was an excellent book -- it was inspiring and changed my way of looking at science. (And I'm a scientist by trade.) I loved the innovative designs, the intro to the science of cartography of science, the discussion about bibliometrics and science performance-indices, the artsy presentation. I got a visual expression of how my own trade relates to others. Thumbs up, up, up! (Next to Edward Tufte.)
One of the things that I expected to find but still was overwhelmed by the quality and quantity, is a thorough list of references to techniques, tools, and major publications and books. The book covers a few hundreds, but the selection is excellent and I was quickly into learning mode. (Again, I'm a science professional, yet rarely have I heard my peers going to this technical level.)
I enjoyed the listing of computer games related to representing science and its evolution, among which the authors mention SimCity, Spore, Civilization (Sid Meier, wink! wink!). Good stuff.
I was surprised to hear about the museum exhibitions, one of which even happened to occur in Amsterdam (missed it).
I liked the idea of a future, cloud-based (disclaimer: cloud computing overlaps with my domain of expertise, distributed computing systems) Daily Science Forecasts. This idea is well built, well argued for, perhaps lacking some of the critical detail but overall very good.
Perhaps the only thing I disliked is the heavy self-citation: the main author Katy Borner and her team take about 30% of the entire set of lengthy presentations. Good stuff, but not sure how fair. (less)
MetaMaus is exactly what its title says: a book about another book, which turned out to become a classic (Pulitzer 1992) after a decade-long (and more...moreMetaMaus is exactly what its title says: a book about another book, which turned out to become a classic (Pulitzer 1992) after a decade-long (and more) gestation. Why who would ever want to read a book about a book about ...? And ... how can a meta thing be more than just ridiculously pompous, see perhaps the What's the Meta? article in the NYTimes, Dec 2005? Well, just like for The Complete Maus, it turns out Art Spiegelman, with the help of associate editor Hillary Chute, can deliver. This is a meta-book, in the sense that is, in the words of Kate Sekules, ok whom I've first heard about in the aforementioned NYTimes article, a book "among, after, behind, and especially beyond" Maus. I'll explain in just a sec.
OVERALL, and to my surprise, MetaMaus was excellent. The art, the memoir, the Holocaust stories, the references, the how-to guide, the raw material (transcripts).
I cannot do justice to this book by explaining each and every of its parts, yet keeping this review short. Instead, I'll include an overview, then just bits and pieces---not a refined selection, just what stuck into my notebook's last page.
This is art: multi-media, well-bound, well-lettered, a mix of text and imagery (the cop-out that Spiegelman self-confesses to have avoided in Maus). And Art: a memoir, a search for past and current family, an explanation about his uncompromising relationship with comics. There is much about the Holocaust, as seen from the eyes of thousands of its survivors, then digested. Art lets us know much about the process of making comics professionally, from thought to planning, from drafting to camera-ready, from showing it to friends to answering to that reporter, in Germany, who asked (p.155):
"Don't you think that a comic book about Auschwitz is in bad taste?" I liked my response. I said, "No, I thought Auschwitz was in bad taste."
Perhaps this answer is also a clue as to how the mostly unknown Art Spiegelman had gotten to publish a book about Holocaust in the (at the time much more than now) one of the most disreputed media---there are several pages in MetaMaus showing letters of rejection---, and started a genre.
The Holocaust, which is one of the two main topics of Maus (the other is the father-son relationship, when the father is a derelict survivor), features prominently in this book. The approach is again two-fold: the memoir and the struggle to build it as a comic. About the memoir ... it's not difficult to understand how difficult it is to write it: it's difficult to understand the all, the oxymoronic notion of life in a death camp (p.188); it's also difficult to take in all the gory details, from the apparently banal notion "the optimal place to stand on a line" (where to sit in the queue, p.211). About the comic (chosen because this is what Art does best, and, Freud hat on!, perhaps because of the need to prove to his father that comics can be serious---btw, this is also the first comic I've read in my adulthood and that would make me think I should read more created in this medium; thank you, Art), how to depict this without being gory? (Spiegelman has an interesting discussion about how he learned to trim down from Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985).) How to depict it without making a parade of swastikas? How to condense all the details---because, in a death or even a concentration camp, every detail counts, remember standing in line?---in just 300 pages, mostly without much text? Perhaps most importantly: How to express clearly when a moment was witnessed or (just?) heard-about?
The creative and technical processes are well described. Turns out Art has prepared a detailed explanation, and graphical charts and illustration for the most delicate elements. I was looking for a map of the survivor's time, including a day in the life of a prisoner, and I got it (p.210 and in the transcript of Vladek's interview, at the end); same for understanding the process of condensing explanations about so many horrific experiences in so few pages, without making the whole seem overloaded. There is also an extensive explanation about the raw material used for this book (Anja's bookshelf and pages 44-70 include references to The Book of Alfred Kantor An Artist's Journal of the Holocaust; to Mieczyslaw Koscielniak, perhaps easier to find in Glenn Sujo's Legacies of Silence The Visual Arts and Holocaust Memory); to Art of the Holocaust--this one actually referenced as a side-note in one of the panels, on p.212--; etc. There are also numerous non-graphical references; Art has also visited several of the important sites in Poland and Germany, although perhaps not all in time to use the impressions in the first part of Maus. The art was drawn at real-life scale (so no scaling tricks, which would make the work look more crisp and, in today's market, more professional.) The coarse graphics have been deliberately chosen, as has been the sparing use of visual metaphors---Maus touched our hearts not because it used tricks of imagery, although the crossroads leading nowhere (p.127 in Maus, p.185 in MetaMaus) are simply brilliant. Hillary asks the right technical questions, and Art gives interesting explanations.
To conclude: Yes, (and also to my surprise, if I may repeat myself), I liked it all. And, iff you have read Maus, would recommend it to you as well.(less)