If you've ever sat around in a late night session and asked "what if...." on something related to science, you're going to find this book enjoyable. SIf you've ever sat around in a late night session and asked "what if...." on something related to science, you're going to find this book enjoyable. Sure, sometimes things can get more technical than you want, and the answers are never simple, but you're going to find new ways to look at the world around you. One nugget mined from Munroe's work - we know that the North American and European tectonic plates are moving away from each other, but it's hard to visualize how quickly this happens. From a topic asking if you could build a bridge between New York and London made out of LEGOs, it turns out the plates are separating at the rate of one LEGO stud every 122 days. Puts a topic into a much more relatable manner. The sections are short, with numerous illustrations (some of which help illustrate the points being made, some less so) and generally easy to read. Overall, very enjoyable and geeky....more
I will preface this by saying I'm not part of Beck's normal audience, but I do try to read a broad base of material to understand what people are sayiI will preface this by saying I'm not part of Beck's normal audience, but I do try to read a broad base of material to understand what people are saying.
From a story point of view this is a snoozer. It is a decent idea for a short story that is spread out into a short novel length. It is set in a distopian near future where a nameless "Authority" rules America autocratically (now "The Republic", people are relocated into work camps where they live in square cement buildings, exist on rationed food cubes and are, for the most part, assigned to walk treadmills to create renewable energy for the Republic. The individual does not question authority, follows orders, is joined with the opposite sex as soon as they are sexually mature and are expected to reproduce. No machines are used (transportation is a vehicle pulled by a team of citizens instead of horses), and everyone lives an existence to serve the state. In many ways the story borrows to create a conservative version of the Handmaid's Tale - autocratic rules, color coding based upon jobs, there is no reading and writing, there are problems with reproduction and women are expected to produce babies in excellent health (otherwise the infant is sent to Recycling). The big difference from Atwood's book is that there God ruled everything and here it is emphasized to be a Godless environment. The novel follows one 18 year old woman who begins to look around her and rebel against the system.
The problem is that the story doesn't go anywhere. Larger themes are hinted at, but never really followed through. The whole story of how we got to this world is touched upon but never really explored in any depth that helps flesh out the world. Oh, and in this world humans exist to slavishly serve the state, but also nature. There's emphasis on hungry humans and fat, well fed squirrels. I completed the book because I wanted to see if it goes anywhere, and unfortunately it really doesn't.
It is almost as if the co-authors had an idea for a story of a autocratic society and it was shoehorned into a warning parable on the dangers of the U.N.' Agenda 21. I don't even think it to be a cautionary tale because it is so over the top and has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I'm sure that if I was one of the target audience I'd love it, but as a curious reader, it went nowhere for me. ...more
The ending of the Passage was so abrupt and ambiguous that it was maddening. At the time I didn't now that it would be the first of a a proposed triloThe ending of the Passage was so abrupt and ambiguous that it was maddening. At the time I didn't now that it would be the first of a a proposed trilogy. Here the second of the trilogy appears and picks up explaining some of the ambiguity of the first book's end - where things were characters' fate were left unexplained, the book explains it or at least puts some context into what happened. You have to have read the first one to really follow what is going on and who people are and even if they are given some background and context from the first book, you're not going to jump in and understand what is up, but if you haven't read the first installment in a couple of years, the book brings you up to speed. The novel tells another set of stories taking place in this post-viral dystopian future, but somehow despite all the build up the end action was underwhelming. You can see where the author is setting up for book 3, but it could have been stronger. It pulls you along, and you hope for more in the end, but the result is that you get a lot of words signifying less than you hoped. If you enjoyed the first installment, go with it. I was underwhelmed, but not disappointed. ...more
All the time we hear talk about “teenagers today just have their face in their phones all the time,” or more kindly talk about them being “digital natAll the time we hear talk about “teenagers today just have their face in their phones all the time,” or more kindly talk about them being “digital natives.” But are they really all that different than teenagers from earlier generations? Danah Boyd seems to think not. Her insightful book opens with an observation of teenagers at a high school football game in Nashville, where all the students are using mobile devices at the game, and then putting them away to interact face to face – contrasted with the parents in the stands who are glued to their devices, with no difference if they were there or somewhere else. Basing her book on numerous interviews conducted over the past 5-7 years Boyd comes to a rather startling conclusion – teens want to socialize (no surprise there) and want to do it face to face, but they can’t whether due to highly structured time constraints or parental restrictions on movement and gathering. So they increasingly have turned to social media as an outlet. Falling ahead of the curve, teens use social media to negotiate interpersonal interactions and do so without the prying eyes of parents who understand and use more “mainstream” social media such as Facebook and instead using Twitter, Snapschat and other services. Their postings are often encoded, expressing their feelings for those who understand, knowing that their every utterance is being watched. As Boyd explains, Teens and Social Media are In a Relationship, and “It’s Complicated.” A heart there is an almost love/hate relationship with technology and social media – it’s a chance to interact with others, but it can also be the great boogie man with parents instilling fear in teens, and themselves, with stories of online sexual predators and bullying. But it does not keep the teens from using the Internet; rather it keeps many of them hiding it from their parents. If there is a negative in the book, it is that while the author deals with the issue of technology (which can change week to week), she is relying on interviews that were conducted mainly between 2007 and 2010 – a lifetime in Internet time. While the bulk of the research probably would bear out the same conclusions, many of the stories and references can seem dated, making the reader wonder what might have changed in the intervening years. Despite this lag time, the book is an interesting view into wired teens today and certainly adds to the complicated reality of their world. ...more
We know the old aphorism that “History is written by the victors,” but for a good majority of people, history is really written by those who present iWe know the old aphorism that “History is written by the victors,” but for a good majority of people, history is really written by those who present it to popular culture – in this case the curators of our museums. What the powers at “America’s Attic” – the Smithsonian – decide to exhibit, and how, affects both how the audience sees history but also how the stakeholders of that history react. Using stories such as the kerfuffle about the Enola Gay on the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and how the heirs of Alexander Graham Bell objected to displays regarding rival telephone inventors’ work, Post delves into how history is molded by those responsible for designing exhibits, approving them, sponsoring them and the politicians and our national museum. Is it the mission of the Smithsonian to display only that which celebrates America or to use its collection as a mirror upon ourselves, showing our history, warts and all? That question has plagued a stream of officials in the museum since its founding. Focusing on the Museum of History and Technology, and to a lesser extent the National Air and Space Museum, Post, himself a former curator at the Smithsonian, looks at the ups and down of the history of presenting history, and how the view has changed over time. Post introduces us to a long stream of movers and shakers of the museum – curators and directors, over the past half century plus. He looks at various experiences regarding the philosophies and execution of history exhibits both successful and aborted. The problem of the book is that it is presented semi-chronologically but contains the fabled cast of thousands. Curators weave in and out of the narrative, making it hard to keep track of who was who and what he or she did. There seems to be a lack of focus in the book, taking an almost scattershot approach to the points he wants to make. I found myself interest wandering at times. He’s written a fine institutional history for his slice of the Smithsonian, but for the casual reader, a lot of this is lost. It would have been nice if he focused down more into a few specific people and incidents, examining them fuller in their time and place of the museum, and American politics. There is a lot of valuable information in here, but you need to want to find it. I learned a lot about how the philosophy of how to develop museum exhibits has changed and I know the next time I am in a museum I will look at the layout with a different eye, but I left the book without as much understanding of the battles in the name of history that have occurred than I would have hoped. ...more
A product of its time, the story is a textbook example of the lost cause mythology, overwritten prose and an almost incomprehensible "dialog" spoken iA product of its time, the story is a textbook example of the lost cause mythology, overwritten prose and an almost incomprehensible "dialog" spoken in what passes for uneducated slave/African-American manners of speaking. While considered one of the great american historical novels, it creaks under its own weight. ...more
Interesting story but a bit heavy on her family, who all have problems to begin with and turn out, more or less, to be only somewhat sympathetic playeInteresting story but a bit heavy on her family, who all have problems to begin with and turn out, more or less, to be only somewhat sympathetic players in the story. Good at looking how medical ethics have changed, in terms of patient's rights and medical responsibility have evolved, by looking at one person's story. Just a bit disappointed - I think I expected a bit more. ...more
Back in 2009, humor author Christopher Moore took on the Bard of Avon himself and put his own spin on the tale of King Lear, now from the point of vieBack in 2009, humor author Christopher Moore took on the Bard of Avon himself and put his own spin on the tale of King Lear, now from the point of view of (the now very bawdy) court jester or fool. The Fool, named Pocket, took the original character’s role as the voice of common sense or conscience and expanded it with hilarious results. Now both Moore and Pocket have returned to take on two more Shakespearian dramas – the Merchant of Venice and Othello. With both plays set in Venice, and both have a fool character already part of the action, Moore takes this vein and produces a mash-up of the stories, throwing a lusty dragon who has taken a protective shine to Pocket into the mix. The two stories never really merge – the book feels almost reminiscent of the sitcom trope of the main character caught between two different groups, running back and forth so each does not know of the others. This is fine though and does not detract from the enjoyment. And the book is extremely enjoyable. I felt that Fool tried a bit too hard, taking the characters over the top, and the resulting mix did not gel as well as it could. Maybe with the moving into new territory, both literarily and moving to Italy from England, but the story this time just hilariously rolls along along with little letup. Pocket becomes one of Moore’s most rollicking characters mixing clear eyed politics with bawdy humor and touches of the absurd that often evokes the image of Austin Powers in the mind’s eye. It is an example of Moore in high talent, and you can’t help putting the book down at the end and wonder just what play(s) he will mine next with his own off-kilter eye and our be-belled Fool. ...more
Cracking open one of the Tales of the City books is like slipping into fuzzy slippers and sitting around chatting with old friends – the literary equiCracking open one of the Tales of the City books is like slipping into fuzzy slippers and sitting around chatting with old friends – the literary equivalent of comfort food. Author Armistead Maupin has given us the ninth, and supposedly last, novel in his series starring the diverse circle of friends, family and lovers that were, formerly, denizens of the magical house at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco. Ever since the start, back in the 1970’s, the heart of the series has been the irrepressible transgender landlady, and spiritual mother of the group, Anna Madrigal. While Anna was present more in spirit than in body in the later books, she was always a presence. And in the latest, The Days of Anna Madrigal, she moves front and center for this last outing. Now a regal 92 years old and living with her caretaker Jake Greenleaf, she doesn’t fear leaving this world (though those around her do) but rather takes the time to reflect on her past, and unfinished regrets from the past involving people around her as a 16 year old boy being raised in a brothel in Winnemucca, Nevada during the depression. Taken under the wing of one of the prostitutes at the establishment, he starts to realize the feelings of expressing his true gender and start to think of escape – escape from Winnemucca, escape from being a boy, and the escape yearned by all teenagers. In the modern time Jake and others are hoping to celebrate Anna as a transgender pioneer and give her the laud that she deserves by feting her at Burning Man, the annual free spirit celebration in the Nevada desert. We’ve never known much about Anna before we meet her in the first book, other than her name, Anna Madrigal, is an anagram of “A man and a girl” but her name has a much deeper meaning to her. Swirling around the story are the other main characters, and they are all here – original residents Michael, Brian and May Ann as well as newer additions Brian’s daughter Shawna (and his new wife, a character we met many books ago), caretaker Jake and Michael’s husband Ben. And a giant rideable mechanical butterfly. The story is as readable and enjoyable as previous books. A problem with having a palette of so many wonderful characters is that, short of writing a tome the size of Les Miserables, most characters have to share the spotlight for a bit while someone gets the focus. Here the spotlight is shining on Anna, with some nice side stories. It’s about time that Anna got the spotlight and I relished her being able to have it and share her story with us. I just wish there was a bit more with some of the threads that, for a final book, were left ambiguous. Some readers may quibble with the ending quarter of the book, where the characters are moving rapidly towards a grand collective climax, which never really happens. But this is probably more satisfying and appropriate, because the series was, if nothing else, simply about life, and in truth life is never that neat. And life doesn’t end with the last page – it continues on with or without us. And that is what Maupin leaves us with – a story that we visited, but one that continues on past last period. I fervently wish this is not, as billed, the last visit to our aging characters, but if it is, at least we got to have the time together with them all. ...more
It took a bit to get going but the lyric quality of the stories of Dutch traders in Feudal Japan was a sweeping look into a world changing as empiresIt took a bit to get going but the lyric quality of the stories of Dutch traders in Feudal Japan was a sweeping look into a world changing as empires shift and a country still under lockdown at the dawn of the 19th century. ...more
It took a while for me to warm up on this book, partially because the author mixes English and Spanish (and lots of Spanish slang) in his writing. WhiIt took a while for me to warm up on this book, partially because the author mixes English and Spanish (and lots of Spanish slang) in his writing. While I could infer what was being meant, it just made it harder for me to enjoy the book and get into it. Once I did though I was glad I did. A wonderful muse on life and love (and a good helping of Dominican Republic history also). ...more
A nice conclusion to the Oz series started with Wicked. Pulls the threads together well and brings about a satisfying conclusion. A bit slow to start,A nice conclusion to the Oz series started with Wicked. Pulls the threads together well and brings about a satisfying conclusion. A bit slow to start, but picks up as you go along and draws the reader in. ...more