**spoiler alert** Recent headlines about the worldwide collapse of bee populations, and the impact that has on apiarists and agricultural interests he...more**spoiler alert** Recent headlines about the worldwide collapse of bee populations, and the impact that has on apiarists and agricultural interests here in the United States, get a full examination in this fun and extensive book.
By "full examination," I mean "full." This book goes on and on and on.
Not without merit, mind you; John Miller, the protagonist and primary source for this book, is an interesting character, and one can't help but be enthralled with the story of how a handful of large operators are fundamentally responsible for keeping flowering crops producing.
Hanna Nordhaus' key points:
-- It is the very nature of large operations, and the profit motives that keep them operating, that are stressing bees, have essentially led to the elimination of feral bees in the United States, and drive significant annual losses that threaten bee populations.
-- There's no clear answer as to what has caused the collapse of bee colonies worldwide. It seems a combination of parasites, pesticides and year-round schedules that don't afford bees the downtime they need.
-- It's hard to make a living as a commercial apiarist. Commercial and practical pressures are plentiful; operating margins are tight.
-- There are some fascinating characters involved in the bee industry, and even more fascinating efforts afoot to preserve bees from what seems to be their perennial wont to die off en masse.
I felt this work was too long by half. It is an extraordinary piece of journalism, and had it been presented as a magazine article, I would have felt cheated. But at 291 pages, it occasionally wanders; and points which could have been made succinctly were needlessly drawn out.
That said, I'm not at all sorry for having read this, and would recommend it to anyone interested in science, nature, biographies and just good reads in general.(less)
I'm glad I chose to read this book first, as verification of the hype over David Foster Wallace before taking on "Infinite Jest."
General observations:...moreI'm glad I chose to read this book first, as verification of the hype over David Foster Wallace before taking on "Infinite Jest."
-- "David Foster Wallace is a genius" is a tired cant. It's also hyperbole. But not by much.
-- The man can write. A lot. A lot more than he needed to write. What therefore makes him a genius is not his ability to expound on a vast menagerie of topics, but that he manages to avoid making a complete fool of himself, no matter how long he rattles on. That's impressive.
-- There's no question of his intelligence, and he's not arrogant about it. My Kindle's dictionary was left in the dust every time I called on it, which was frequently.
-- "Silly" is his favorite word, evah.
-- As others have noted, there's a final essay missing from the Kindle version. Probably because the Kindle has a finite memory store, and again, this guy is long-winded.
Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Very much, especially the chapters about the modern usage dictionary and the McCain 2000 campaign.
Has it served its purpose, of verifying whether Infinite Jest is worth the struggle? Maybe. I'm not disinclined to read it now, but I am not sure I want to do so.
There were times during "Consider the Lobster" that I felt as though I should move on to the next essay. But I stuck with them, and generally was rewarded for doing so.
Will that be the case in "Infinite Jest?" I'm not sure I'm willing to test that yet.(less)
I've long had "Just My Type," Simon Garfield's book on fonts, on my wish list. After reading "On The Map," I'm convinced it should be read.
Not that "O...moreI've long had "Just My Type," Simon Garfield's book on fonts, on my wish list. After reading "On The Map," I'm convinced it should be read.
Not that "On The Map" is a magnificent work. It's a pretty good, fairly entertaining, rather informative collection of essays about maps.
It has problems.
Garfield's definition of what constitues a map is a bit broad for my taste, so his essays cover a lot of ground that might have been better served expanding on those which deal with the traditional understanding of paper, geographic representations.
Also, Garfield occasionally wanders into the speculative, especially at the end of the book, and some of his conjecture -- for example, his dabble into debunking sexual stereotypes -- can border on intellectually offensive, if not absurd.
Others have taken Garfield to task as a wanting emulator of Bill Bryson, a comparison that's hard to avoid. I've only ever read one Bryson book, so I'm hardly an authority, but I found him longwinded and occasionally pretentious, two things Garfield is most certainly not.
To each his own, of course. This was entertaining enough a read, consumed easily as nightstand reading, and well worth a look if you aren't religious about maps, but simply curious.(less)
Full disclosure: The publisher of this book asked me to review it and sent it to me for free. To their credit, they requested an unvarnished opinion.
T...moreFull disclosure: The publisher of this book asked me to review it and sent it to me for free. To their credit, they requested an unvarnished opinion.
This is essentially a history class textbook. That might not have been the publisher's intent, but that's the way its presented, both in terms of content and formatting.
As such, while the content is fascinating, the presentation makes it exceedingly difficult to consume.
Which is a real shame, because the content is, in a word, shocking.
Most students of U.S. history know that Chinese were long frowned upon, especially as a growing nation imported them but the hundreds of thousands to provide much of the brute labor required for westward expansion.
What is especially shocking, however, is the extent to which Washington went to bar Chinese from citizenship, or even fundamental rights it guaranteed to everyone, beginning -- ironically enough -- with the Reconstruction era after the civil war.
True, there were champions of, if not full equality for Chinese in America, at least citizenship for them. Author Martin Gold plumbs congressional records fully to reveal champions and villains of Far East immigrants extensively. And he also does an exemplary job of noting that many Chinese weren't actually interested in citizenship, as well as what immigrants who were interested in citizenship did to encourage its achievement.
But again, the structure of his prose makes it difficult to appreciate his scholarship, as does the design of the physical pages themselves.
For example, the book is rife with asides and addendums, which are presented directly alongside the topic at hand. This serves as a significant distraction, because they are so ubiquitous. I'm far more used to seeing such materials presented as appendixes or endnotes, so perhaps I am oversensitive to their intrusiveness, but it's very jarring to read a 10-page chapter that's stretched into twice as much space by sidebars.
Also, Gold solves two problems -- the need to provide background / biographical information, and the need to provide citations -- in ways I prefer he hadn't. Namely, he does it inline with the main prose.
For example, if he cites a quote from the congressional record, or a specific piece of legislation, he does so at the end of the statement. This is not formatted specially; it appears as regular body text. As a result, it becomes a full thought stop.
While I recognize that's a common practice in academic research papers, in a book intended for pleasure reading -- which is what I was expecting -- it makes far more sense to use endnotes.
Gold is also conscientious enough to provide basic background information about politicians and the like, as he introduces them. Sometimes, it's not that jarring. But more often than not, I wondered why he bothered to mention some senator's retirement 15 years later or that some other politician had been elected under unusual, but entirely ancillary, reasons.
Again, this is done directly inline with the main text; again, endnotes would have been better.
If I were teaching a 200-level college political science course on immigration, I wouldn't hesitate to include this book in the prospectus.
But for getting up to speed on a shameful, and little-known, part of America's history, I have to balk. The information is most certainly there. But it's tough sledding, and I simply couldn't finish it.(less)
A passable follow-up to the original Freakonomics.
The section on global warming hype was most valuable. It was clear the authors were pulling punches...moreA passable follow-up to the original Freakonomics.
The section on global warming hype was most valuable. It was clear the authors were pulling punches on it -- since the last thing one wants to do, if he wants to avoid a heaping helping of indignant bile, is pump sunshine up the skirt of an environmental hysteric.
The real value in that section isn't so much debunking the doom and gloom of the likes of Al Gore, so much as it is in reminding us that, when someone doesn't have to directly pay a penalty for his bad behavior -- worse, when engaging in good behavior actually costs him something, with no direct benefit -- it's pretty naive, and fruitless, to expect altruism. Or, at least, altruism that consistently affects the bottom line.
The remainder of the book was pleasant enough a read, again more aimed at illustrating basic microeconomic tenants via some simple anecdotes.
It was enjoyable, if not as inspiring as the initial offering.(less)
Billed as an examination of the "parlor game" of rating the presidents, this book is instead -- at least through its first 4 1/2 chapters, which was a...moreBilled as an examination of the "parlor game" of rating the presidents, this book is instead -- at least through its first 4 1/2 chapters, which was all I could tolerate -- a pedantic, plodding treatise over seemingly everything but the merits of any president's position in history.
It reads like a political science graduate student's thesis, and is every bit as difficult to consume.
Given that its author, Robert W. Merry, cut his teeth as a longtime reporter with the Congressional Quarterly, I suppose I should have been on notice that a term paper was exactly what I would get.
Suffice it to say, I'll never trust another book recommendation from History Book Club.
I desperately wanted this book to succeed. I stuck with it past the first chapter, which focuses on Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr.'s polls, its critics and similar polls, considering it necessary groundwork.
I endured the second chapter, which discusses Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s biography of Andrew Jackson, under the presumption that to understand any presidential rating system, one has to understand Jackson. Merry fails to make his case.
I waded through Chapter 3, which establishes the Founding Fathers' ideas behind the presidency. This really should be familiar territory for anyone interested in presidential politics to the extent of deriving enjoyment from ranking the players.
I suffered Chapter 4, in which Merry agrees with the idea that each presidential election is effectively a referendum on the previous administration. Which, if true, renders presidential rankings moot.
I gave up in Chapter 5, during the introductory discussion of Grover Cleveland's two split terms, when it became glaring apparent Merry was never going to deliver on the dust jacket's promise of an objective assessment of the validity of various presidential rankings.
In short, this is "inside baseball." It even has a baseball comparison to politics, right there on Page 61, replete with a reference to his grandfather's love of the game.
Baseball is a game for lawyers and accountants, a game where tradition, arcane rules and statistics are far more important than action.
The same is true of Merry's book. I was hoping for an objective analysis of traditional presidential rankings. It may well be in this book, but it's not in evidence through the first 71 of the 242 pages of narrative.
I simply lack the stamina to endure another of Merry's anecdotes about his reporting career. Or even worse, another of his assessments that come off as the guy at the cocktail party whose only contribution is to say, "that's not necessarily true" any time someone else speaks.(less)
I realize that everything in "The Princess Bride" is a figment of William Goldman's imagination.
And because, simply put, it's a masterpiece of storyt...moreI realize that everything in "The Princess Bride" is a figment of William Goldman's imagination.
And because, simply put, it's a masterpiece of storytelling and plot -- and because it's the basis of one of the most perfect movies ever made -- I have to say, it was worth the read.
What I don't understand is why Goldman decided to absolutely ruin the spell this story and movie cast with his narrative in this book, namely the introductions and in-text notes.
Especially in the introductions, Goldman paints himself as an utter shitheel -- a term I don't use lightly.
Consider: The 30th anniversary introduction tells a story of visiting the (fictional) S. Morganstern library.
The crux: The library doesn't want to cooperate with him. He takes his grandson to the library to do research. A functionary blocks his efforts until Stephen King intercedes on his behalf, but then insults Goldman by calling him a has-been. The grandson protests vehemently, but Goldman still feels badly about the incident.
Admittance gained to the library, the grandson finds a notebook in which Inigo Montoya was going to be killed by Count Rugen. They try to get copies or take the notebook, but are refused. Goldman leaves, dejected, but later, the grandson produces the stolen notebook.
Move to the 25th anniversary edition's introduction: Goldman is in Hollywood. He realizes at the last moment it's his son's birthday. He has promised himself he will get a copy of S. Morganstern's book to his son. So he madly calls a series of booksellers trying to find a copy.
As this goes on, he is wooed by a voluptuous actress who desperately wants a role in one of his films. He considers cheating on his wife, but getting a copy of the book requires too many telephone interruptions and the deal falls through.
Fast-forward to his return home. He criticizes his son for being fat, as his passive-aggressive child psychologist wife makes excuses. The son then says he read the book and liked it, but that turns out to be a lie. Goldman storms off in a rage and broods.
Shortly thereafter, his wife leaves him.
I have no idea what the purpose of the purpose of painting himself as a coward, philanderer and bully serves, but it almost served the purpose of getting me to delete this book from my Kindle.
Fast-forward to the first chapter of the book. Goldman cleverly uses asides about the timing of certain innovations as wry humor, then promptly destroys the device with a margin note that claims he's uncertain if S. Morganstern was being sarcastic or serious with such notes.
Again, what the purpose is behind doing that, I cannot fathom.
It was at that point I resolved to read no further notes, acknowledgements, afterwords or anything other than main narrative.
If only I had started with that resolve.
Let my misfortune be your guide. Enjoy the story you know and love, and ignore the troll at the start of this book, even as he occasionally pokes his head in to interrupt your enjoyment of the story.(less)
I've said before how much I enjoy Cormac McCarthy's prose, both as an exercise in rhetoric and in its lyricism.
But most of his books are exceedingly v...moreI've said before how much I enjoy Cormac McCarthy's prose, both as an exercise in rhetoric and in its lyricism.
But most of his books are exceedingly violent and somewhat difficult to understand on first reading. So I imagine a significant number of people who are new to him, and begin with, say, Blood Meridian or No Country for Old Men or The Road, will quickly find his style not their cup of tea.
To those people, I say, read All the Pretty Horses.
It's not Cormac McCarthy lite. It still has violent scenes. It still deals with uncomfortable situations.
But it's a love story. Not just in the protagonist's love for the girl he cannot have, but the story of a young man whose love is a culture and way of life that's dying.
The plot of All the Pretty Horses is considerably more traditional than most McCarthy titles, and while conventional, accessible, and even somewhat predictable, it's bracing. You do care about the people in this novel, and the good guy does win here.
That's not usual in a McCarthy novel, but it's also not a disappointment, not by any stretch.
An absolute joy to read. It's The Shawshank Redemption meets True Grit meets The Notebook, and because it's McCarthy, it's genius.(less)
**spoiler alert** I'm the kind of person Susan Cain aims to bring out of the quiet corner of the room: Not meek, not asocial, but infinitely favoring...more**spoiler alert** I'm the kind of person Susan Cain aims to bring out of the quiet corner of the room: Not meek, not asocial, but infinitely favoring his own company, small groups, thinking over acting, reserve over drama.
Why, then, did I not care much for this book?
Perhaps it was the repetitive prose. Really, you can boil down this entire book into three points:
-- Introverts are just as good as extroverts as leaders, salesmen, negotiators, etc. They just do things differently.
-- Because they are quiet, the value of introverts is often lost, even when evidence clearly shows them to be the right people for a job.
-- The entirety of modern Western culture is to blame for the low value placed on introversion.
Perhaps it was the anecdotes she chose to make her points.
Her very first is herself, which is never a good sign.
Early in the book, she spends considerable time discussing Harvard Business School's hyperactive methodology to leadership, making several good points, then flogging them well past death. (Protip: If someone is willing to pay $90,000 a year for an education that virtually guarantees a lifetime of wealth and success, whatever that school is doing is probably spot-on.)
Throughout the book, each example is that of some poor introvert coming out of the woodwork, fighting against the forces of the cults of personalty, quietly getting things done. And it's BORING, because it's the same thing she's said 100 times already, only different.
Perhaps my objections are due to the lack of scientific support and citations.
Cain admits that not much research has been done in these areas, which serves to dilute some of the conjecture and guessing that's at the heart of this work.
She's not saying anything shocking, and she's saying things that are, at worst, sophisms, but just because we can believe something as probably true and generally what we see doesn't mean we understand it to be so, or how it can be.
No. I believe my problem with this book lies in the base smugness of her prose.
I already mentioned her use of herself -- a Harvard Law graduate -- as her opening anecdote to prove how an introvert can outperform an extrovert in a negotiation.
But the problem runs deeper, and throughout this book. As she writes about extroverts, you can just feel the condescension oozing from the page. When she writes about introverts, you have to scrape the frosting off her prose with a trowel.
For someone so resentful of what the modern era has made of us -- in her mind, a nation of jabbering, self-promoting idiots, which (once again) is fair enough an assessment, if not backed by numbers and research -- Cain comes off as yet another hipster who knows better than everyone else, cares more than everyone else, and was knowing and caring about it way before anyone else.
I often test as an introvert in Myers-Briggs (which Cain talks about, early and often), so I know she was trying to make the point that "introvert" is a sliding scale, and more about one's desire to be alone in general, and thoughtful as a rule, than some sort of shut-in. Like Cain -- and like most other introverts I know -- most people wouldn't call me an introvert, but that doesn't mean I'm not.
So I appreciate what she's driving at with this book, especially when she bemoans someone who's naturally quiet getting short shrift from a more boisterous person.
But that's nature. Cain may claim it hasn't always been that way, but I disagree. Even her vaunted age of character, which gave us Abraham Lincoln, also gave us James Buchanan immediately before and Andrew Johnson immediately after, neither of whom could be considered by anyone reasonable as exemplars of character but both notable for their bombast.
Maybe that's more conjectural proof of Cain's point. I am not sure. What I am sure of is, I didn't need 300 pages to tell me that it's OK to prefer my own company. (less)
Really more a biography of Nicolaus Copernicus than a specific treatment of his scientific work and discoveries, with a primary focus on the preparati...moreReally more a biography of Nicolaus Copernicus than a specific treatment of his scientific work and discoveries, with a primary focus on the preparation and publishing of "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres."
Don't get me wrong: Dava Sobel most certainly covers Copernicus's ideas, as well as their impact not only on contemporaries, but on Johannes Kepler, Galileo and later scientists, too.
But this is not a scientific treatise. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
The book is in three parts. The first chronicles Copernicus's life, up to the publication of On the Revolutions. I found it a bit slow going, but not boring; rather, a touch dry.
The second is written as a play, and is an imagining of the collaboration between Copernicus and Georg Joachim Rheticus to produce that book. It's a fascinating way to treat what Sobel admits, later, are unknown details from general facts.
The third section discusses the legacy of On the Revolutions, from its influence on others to its censure by the Catholic Church, of which Copernicus was a canon (and which had effectively given its blessing to the creation of the work).
My criticisms of this book are solely related to its Kindle edition.
Most annoying is that several passages, especially quoted material, are underlined. I am not sure what the underlining is supposed to accomplish, but it is quite distracting.
There are also several minor editing / grammatical errors within this edition; individually little more than a distraction, but prevalent enough to warrant note.