The original dystopia. As well as being odd, interesting sci-fi, there are some interesting, if slightly out-of-place, insights into Huxley's time inThe original dystopia. As well as being odd, interesting sci-fi, there are some interesting, if slightly out-of-place, insights into Huxley's time in New Mexico. The book seems draws heavily on Rousseau and the early Romantics - this basic fear of science and technology only seems to intensify as the years go on....more
Just got a nice hardbound copy of this for Christmas, so I'm set to read it again ...
My dad is a Barbara Tuchman fan, so I grew up around this book. AJust got a nice hardbound copy of this for Christmas, so I'm set to read it again ...
My dad is a Barbara Tuchman fan, so I grew up around this book. As a small child, I used to ponder with interest the scary cover art, which shows the arrival of the Forth Horseman of the Apocalypse ("and his name was death" for you Johnny Cash fans). I finally read the book when I was in high school, and I have reread it several times since. It is a perfect example of good history writing - absolutely engaging and human.
Among other things, this book, along with "Rats, Lice & History," crystalized my interest in the history of disease and epidemiology (you are right to ask - is there anything I'm not interested in?). If you're ever stuck home with a bad flu, I recommend reading the chapter on the Black Death - it really puts things in perspective....more
This is a poorly written book about an immensely fascinating topic - the discovery of how cholera was transmitted in 19th century London. I learned aThis is a poorly written book about an immensely fascinating topic - the discovery of how cholera was transmitted in 19th century London. I learned a lot of interesting facts from it, but I was just "dying" (ha ha) for a chance to edit it! Still, the book is well worth it if this is an area of interest for you....more
A thought-provoking little collection of essays about nature and culture, wilderness and gardens. Extremely well-researched and clever, these got a biA thought-provoking little collection of essays about nature and culture, wilderness and gardens. Extremely well-researched and clever, these got a bit slow in spots (Pollan can be very verbose), but overall, interesting and worth exploring. I would give this three and a half stars if I could....more
This book has one of the coolest premises ever (Lethem is really, really good at cool premises) - a Western Sci Fi, set on an alien planet. A very evoThis book has one of the coolest premises ever (Lethem is really, really good at cool premises) - a Western Sci Fi, set on an alien planet. A very evocative and disturbing book on many levels, the ending was pure Western, but a bit disappointing to me nonetheless. If you like Westerns, mind you, you might like the ending....more
**spoiler alert** Another absolutely amazing premise from Lethem - an American road-trip ala "On the Road" or "Lolita" set in a post-apocalyptic/nucle**spoiler alert** Another absolutely amazing premise from Lethem - an American road-trip ala "On the Road" or "Lolita" set in a post-apocalyptic/nuclear war (it's never exactly clear what happened) Western United States.
But unfortunately, this one failed to deliver in some pretty significant ways - basically, the ending is baffling to the point of throw-up-your-hands-in-despair. Still, the first 100 pages was worth the cost of the book....more
A word of advice to people considering reading this book: Avoid reviews of this book. This is one that is better enjoyed without spoilers!
Me being meA word of advice to people considering reading this book: Avoid reviews of this book. This is one that is better enjoyed without spoilers!
Me being me, I didn't quite achieve this, but I wish I had. Thus, I'll try to review this without giving anything away.
Never Let Me Go is a creepy, atmospheric novel that fills the reader with a sense of dread. A lot of this has to do with the voice of the narrator, Kathy H., which is meticulous, cold, distant, and infuriatingly implacable at times (Elizabeth - some attachment disorder symptoms here). Kathy tells the story of her childhood at an English boarding school, Hailsham. But Hailsham, and its students, are not what they seem. Then: Twisty, twisty, twisty.
I listened to this on audio and found it extraordinarily tense - if I had had the book instead, I probably would have read it in a day. Extremely compelling, suspenseful writing.
In the end, this is a book about growing up, mortality, loss, and whether one should fight or be resigned to one's fate (is it even possible to fight one's fate?), issues that we all have to address, repeatedly, in our lifetimes. Some very heavy themes, to be sure. Definitely not a cheerful book - rather, chilly and frightening. Nonetheless, I also felt that it was deeply profound and powerful.
Because its outlook was so cynical, this may never be a "favorite" of mine, but I'm very glad I read it nonetheless. I can tell I'll be thinking of this for some time to come....more
I read Basin and Range while driving through the basins and ranges of the Western U.S. a few years ago. This is a great piece of lay science, althoughI read Basin and Range while driving through the basins and ranges of the Western U.S. a few years ago. This is a great piece of lay science, although the prose is at times over the top. Still, what I gleaned from this book has stuck with me, and informs my passion for that well-kept-secret - the ups and downs east of the Sierras and west of the Rockies. ...more
Laugh out loud funny. My dad read this outloud to us when we were kids - I'm guessing at the exact year - and the whole family literally cried with laLaugh out loud funny. My dad read this outloud to us when we were kids - I'm guessing at the exact year - and the whole family literally cried with laughter many times during the performance.
Feyman's other memoirs are good too, but this is the funniest. I still think of it often. For instance, every time I use a combination lock, I think of his safe-cracking phase, and how it's every child's dream to learn how to crack safes and get at all that secret and valuable stuff. Which really sums up this book - Mr. Feyman approached life with the curiosity and glee of a small boy. He never lost that childlike sense of wonder or mischief.
My only caveat - Mr. Feyman was quite the ladies' man, and there is a certain old-school misogyny in his style of writing about women. Looked at in the most charitable light possible, it's a reminder that he was human, as well as a genius physicist, and frankly, not always right. It doesn't make him any less of an amazing physicist, but it does remind us that he was mortal too.
And after reading all of his memoirs, I began to suspect that his cavalier attitude towards women arose at least in part from his grief at the loss of his first wife, who died of cancer at a very young age (her early 20s, if I remember correctly), while he was busy working on the nuclear bomb in Los Alamos. She is the only woman he writes tenderly about - after that, the talk shifts to conquests and getting girls naked. His descriptions of his subsequent marriages lack the warmth of that first marriage, even if there is more fodder for humor. Something about it rings hollow even in Feyman's warm, humorous, self-deprecating voice. There is a real tragedy written between the lines here....more
This novel takes place in the far distant future, when humans have settled the whole galaxy. The origins of humanity, on the legendary "Earth," have bThis novel takes place in the far distant future, when humans have settled the whole galaxy. The origins of humanity, on the legendary "Earth," have been all but forgotten. The Galactic Empire is dying, and a small colony of scientists (the "Foundation") are struggling to survive the subsequent dark ages.
First, the bad news: The book is, in some respects, very dated. In this distant future, women all but do not exist. Asimov could imagine a radically changed society, but apparently not in this one respect. There is one female character in the entire book, a nagging wife, who gets less than a page of dialogue. Because of this, I could never entirely forget the 1951 publishing date. Apparently, in 1951, the possibility that women might participate in scholarship, science, politics, and business seemed more remote and unlikely than the accurate prediction of history through the mathematical science of "psychohistory."
The truth is officially stranger than fiction.
(Foundation is further evidence that midcentury 20th century culture was markedly more sexist than the previous Victorian era, when women were at least acknowledged to have interesting personalities worth writing about.)
That aside, this is clever, fun, appropriately scary sci-fi, and I recommend it. The history of Foundation eerily echoes European medieval history - the fall of Empire, followed by dark ages, the rule of religion and superstition, the advent of early capitalism, making this a strikingly intelligent read. But again, this book is a product of its time, as can be seen by Asimov's derisive dismissal of religion and borderline-worship of science and free trade - or maybe that's just sci-fi. But the fact that it is clearly an ideological child of its time does not make the book less interesting - rather, it makes it more so.
I second other reviewers who note that this is not exactly an emotionally-engaging read. The generational parade of clever male politicians are not exactly relatable. But as a plot/idea based novel, Foundation is good fun and well worth a read....more
This was very, very interesting, at times quite profound, but a bit uneven overall.
The narrator's voice ranges between that of a cowboy or noir detecThis was very, very interesting, at times quite profound, but a bit uneven overall.
The narrator's voice ranges between that of a cowboy or noir detective and a philosopher or theologian, and neither is quite convincing. The scientific descriptions of the intelligent ocean are long and skim-worthy. The characters are one-dimensional. It's carelessly sexist - Kelvin's wife has no personality beyond being submissive and suicidally depressed, and yet, with little explanation, he loves her? That sort of thing.
And yet, the idea - how would you react if your lost loved one returned to you, only to be lost again in almost the same fashion? - was perfectly executed. It would have been more touching had the characterization been better and the emotional range of the novel larger, but the poignancy was still there, at least in the abstract.
But this just goes to show - my usual reading is very character-driven, and this just is not. It's plot-driven, and idea-driven. Given this, you have to admit: the premise of the book is brillant. And it has moments of dark philosophical intelligence. Very thought provoking.
I'm glad I read it, although I don't feel it's a "must-read" by any stretch....more
This is the book on water politics in the West. It is one of my all-time favorites, and rarely a week goes by that I don't think of some aspect of itThis is the book on water politics in the West. It is one of my all-time favorites, and rarely a week goes by that I don't think of some aspect of it in my work or in my driving around California and the West....more
Despite my recent decision to stop engaging in the increasingly vicious atheism vs. religion blood bath, a recent Salon interview with this author cauDespite my recent decision to stop engaging in the increasingly vicious atheism vs. religion blood bath, a recent Salon interview with this author caught my interest. (The letters section? Still scorched earth.)...more
I keep coming back to the clarinet solo ... the one transcendent moment in a dark, dark novel. As the week wears on and the existential pain fades, whI keep coming back to the clarinet solo ... the one transcendent moment in a dark, dark novel. As the week wears on and the existential pain fades, what's left is the near-poetic brilliance.
Dangit: five stars. ___________________________________________
Five stars for near-poetic brilliance, great one-liners, and the skillful crushing (in less than 200 pages!) of my last remaining hopes in God and humanity, minus one star for completely ruining my week.
(Needless to say, this is anything but a light read.)...more
I spent the first half of this book noting the similarities between I, Robot and Foundation. Short vignettes that build on each other - check. CleverI spent the first half of this book noting the similarities between I, Robot and Foundation. Short vignettes that build on each other - check. Clever but gruff lead male characters - check. A central philosophical conundrum presented in puzzle form - check. Pointed references to religious belief as a lower form of intelligence - check.
These are the only two Asimov novels I have read, but based on what I know so far, I would venture to guess that Asimov used this "formula" in other novels as well. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Once I recovered from my initial "This is Foundation, but with robots!" reaction, I really started to enjoy I, Robot, for the same reasons I enjoyed Foundation: It is really smart and also really fun. A geeky good time. Asimov is no Vonnegut, but neither is anyone else (besides Vonnegut)....more
This little introduction to "ethnopediatrics," the study of child-rearing across cultures, is by no means a how-to manual, but nonetheless may be oneThis little introduction to "ethnopediatrics," the study of child-rearing across cultures, is by no means a how-to manual, but nonetheless may be one of the better parenting books I've read to date. This is a well-researched, thought-provoking survey of parenting styles among non-human primates and human cultures throughout the world. The conclusion? It is Western child-rearing practices that are "weird."
I loved the indictment of our cultural obsession with "independence" and getting infants to "sleep through the night." Small's observation that American parents rely on pediatricians, who have no training in child development, rather than other mothers, for parenting advice, stopped me in my tracks. I may think a bit more deeply the next time I pick up a book on parenting written by a pediatrician.
Make no mistake, there is a definite agenda here. This is an advocacy piece, and should be read as such. Small is promoting a high-response style of parenting, which may not be possible for everyone (and is probably not 100% workable for anyone in an industrialized country), and you have to take some of her conclusions with a grain of salt. There are also some moments of naivete, as when Small claims that colic doesn't exist in traditional cultures. I'm sure that there is some truth to this (there may well be less colic in cultures where babies are carried and breastfed 24/7), but I know many attachment-parented babies who still meet the definition for colic. Guilt-tripping parents of colicky babies (parents, if you were just more responsive, your baby wouldn't cry so much), doesn't do anyone any good. I believe that there are physiological reasons for colic, and that it is unfair, as well as insanely unhelpful, to blame it on the parents. "Attachment parenting" has gotten a bad reputation because of these kinds of claims.
Finally, readers may legitimately complain that Small surveys relatively few cultures overall, oversimplifies "traditional" cultures, underestimates the differences between traditional cultures, etc. This book is a summary, and it has some real limitations. But I thought it was an excellent, thought-provoking summary.
A side note: The title is terrible. Everyone seems to think this is somehow associated with Our Bodies, Ourselves, when in fact they have nothing to do with each other. At best, the title is painfully unoriginal; at worst, it seems like an attempt to piggy-back onto a better-established brand. Either way: annoying....more