This was a useful book for me to read as a guy who writes a lot of stories taking place in a mega-metropolis. It helps highlight what a highly success...moreThis was a useful book for me to read as a guy who writes a lot of stories taking place in a mega-metropolis. It helps highlight what a highly successful city looks like, why cities succeed or fail, and what they do really well. As a person with an interest in promoting Green lifestyles, this was also an important provider of perspective: the author makes a good argument for why we should be allowing MORE development in the SF Bay Area, not restricting it. The desire to keep things LOOKING green locally often prevents us from BEING green in the more global sense.
One downside to the book is that he repeats himself a lot, which makes it sound like his premise was a little thin to hang an entire book on. He also doesn't have any pictures, graphs or tables of data, at least not in the Kindle version that I read. Perhaps most distressingly for a research piece like this, though, is that none of his footnotes were marked or linked in the text itself. This is the sort of thing that should be MANDATORY in electronic texts, so that the reader can jump back and forth between the author's argument and the supporting data -- just like you would do if you had a paper copy in your hands.
I would recommend this book to people who are interested in the subjects of urbanization and green living, or have a need to do research on these topics. As a book for the general audience, though, there are better and more engaging reads out there. (less)
Nobody does popular science writing like Mary Roach. With her insatiable curiosity, her whimsical sense of humor, and her willingness to ask the quest...moreNobody does popular science writing like Mary Roach. With her insatiable curiosity, her whimsical sense of humor, and her willingness to ask the questions that the rest of us would be too embarrassed to bring up, Ms Roach brings a delightfully human touch to subjects that would otherwise be too dry, too uncomfortable, or too macabre to think about. In this book she tackles the odd and amazing ways that researchers have used those who have given their bodies to science -- sometimes willingly, and sometimes ... not. Along the way she explores such diverse topics as body-snatching, the history of cremation, the search for the soul, the physiology of crucifixion, head transplants (or whole-body transplants, depending on your point of view), and the modern quest for more environmentally-friendly methods of human interment. Some parts of the book are truly ghastly to think about -- the stories about transplant experiments with live animals were particularly disturbing -- but for the most part Ms Roach keeps the exploration of her topic fun, informative and liberally seasoned with humor. Try it, you may be surprised how much you like it.(less)
This is the sixth and last of Nathan Lowell's Trader's Tale series. What began as a Bildungsroman about a young man who finds a life of adventure and...moreThis is the sixth and last of Nathan Lowell's Trader's Tale series. What began as a Bildungsroman about a young man who finds a life of adventure and unexpected friendships among the stars now wraps up with Captain Ishmael Horatio Wong as he wrestles with starting up his own small shipping linen after a lifetime of working for other people.
The story is unexpectedly sad. Between Double Share and Captain's Share (books 4 and 5), the Trader's Tale series stopped being about a young man finding his way in the world and became the story of a middle-aged man who is going through the motions of a life gone stagnant. That feeling is amplified ten-fold in OWNER'S SHARE. Ishmael's world once seemed wide-open with possibilities; now it seems like a void with no center, no foundation, no resting place. Ishmael continues to bless and enrich the lives of the people he comes in contact with, leading them to become better versions of themselves without even realizing that he's doing it -- but this does nothing to fill the yawning chasm in his own life.
Looking back, this has been a series about that most romantic of capitalist libertarian icons, the high-seas free trader: the man with nothing to hold him back, no one to tell him where to go or what to do, free to pursue his fortune wherever his wits and luck may take him. Ishmael has reached the top of this world: captain of his own ship, master of his own destiny, responsible to and for no one but the small group of crew whom he has chosen for his companions. Events of the previous books have left him, if not actually a wealthy man, certainly with the promise of great wealth as soon as the paperwork gets sorted out. Yet, in the words of U2, Ishmael still hasn't found what he's looking for. He can't bear to sit still -- to stay in one place, put down roots and build a life -- but his endless wandering is finally revealed for what it is: running away. One wonders, in fact, if he has ever stopped running away since his mother died. It is a stinging critique of the profit-seeking, adventure-seeking gospel that these sorts of stories are built around, and it creeps up so subtly that you don't realize what Lowell has hit you with until he's done it.
Though this is the last of the Trader's Tales, Lowell has said that this will not be the end of Ishmael's story. I'm glad, because while the book is deftly written and has unexpected emotional depth, this would just be too depressing of a place to stop. I want to see how Ishmael finally finds home, whatever home turns out to be for him. He has spent most of his life in the isolation of space, touching on civilization but never really a part of it. He's done a fine job of making a living, but I'd like to see him finally make a life.(less)
This book was loaned to me by a fellow teacher who hailed from Scotland, where Richard Holloway once served as Bishop of Edinburgh for the Episcopal C...moreThis book was loaned to me by a fellow teacher who hailed from Scotland, where Richard Holloway once served as Bishop of Edinburgh for the Episcopal Church. Holloway stepped down from that position because of doubts about his faith; he didn't feel like he could honestly continue serving in a position of religious authority when he wasn't sure if he believed what he was teaching. There is a level of integrity to this that impresses me greatly, even though it also saddens me a bit.
Holloway set out to explore the topic of forgiveness from a secular or post-religious point of view, and I was immediately curious to find out what he would say, since the whole idea of forgiveness is so strongly associated with religious thought and imagery. Is there any basis for the idea of forgiveness if we take God out of the picture? If so, what is it? Where does this concept come from, and why does it hold such power in the human psyche? Is it possible to embrace a post-religious, or pan-religious, theory of forgiveness that does not depend on divine command as its foundation? Is there even any reason to do so?
Holloway addresses these questions from a descriptive rather than prescriptive approach. He does not set out to tell people why they MUST forgive, but to explore the ramifications when we do (or do not) forgive. At the heart of the book is a quote by Jacques Derrida: "There is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable." Holloway explores this paradox from many angles, delving into the probable origins of the human qualities of empathy, compassion, justice, and mercy, and how the need for forgiveness and the need for justice have necessarily evolved side by side. Along the way he draws on the wisdom of such diverse voices as Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt and George Steiner. He uses religious imagery and parables but presents them in a way that is sensitive to a secular audience, and with context that even many religious readers may not have heard before. His writing style is poetic and deeply engaging, and puts me in mind of C.S. Lewis at his best.
This is a short book -- fewer than 100 pages -- but an intensely powerful one. For the non-religious, it is a powerful exploration of forgiveness that empowers the reader to think about it in a way that makes sense in a secular humanist worldview. For people of faith, this book reveals common ground on which we can engage our fellow humans who do not share our beliefs, but who nevertheless must share our world; and it shows how forgiveness has an inherent value for humanity, beyond satisfying the commands of God. I think that the book's greatest value, however, might be for those who have been raised in a religious life but subsequently lost their faith, because it shows a way to hold on to the best of what that faith has taught us within a broader, post-religious context that is not dependent on belief in scripture. I strongly recommend it for anyone who has never needed to forgive, or ever needed forgiveness ... which, of course, is all of us.(less)
This book was transformative for me. Bonhoeffer's life is richly inspiring -- I see a lot of my own personality traits reflected in him (I'm sure he w...moreThis book was transformative for me. Bonhoeffer's life is richly inspiring -- I see a lot of my own personality traits reflected in him (I'm sure he was a Myers-Briggs INFJ), and it's amazing to see how he took those strengths and weaknesses and placed them in the hands of God. Truly, this was a man who lived the Abundant Life that Christ and Paul talked about: full of compassion, purpose, dedication and courage, and able to find the joy and humor around him even in the midst of terribly dark circumstances.
This book is also highly valuable for its portrayal of the rise of the Nazi Party as it was seen inside Germany, particularly from within the church. It is fascinating and scary to see how many opportunities there were to oppose Hitler and his regime before they were unstoppable, and the many reasons why the Germans failed to do so. Particularly sobering is the plight of the German church, which was locked in a battle for its soul between Bonhoeffer's allies and the so-called "German Christians", a clandestine arm of the Nazis that looked to dispose of everything "soft", "weak" and "Jewish" about Christianity so as to make it more useful to the Reich. The "Confessing Church" movement that Bonhoeffer helped establish seemed to have won battles against the German Christians several times, only to lose in the end because they did not act decisively in opposing the Nazis in the political sphere. Bonhoeffer rightly points out how often we back away from what we know to be right because of a fear of making waves or being seen as too "radical". It is a lesson that is as applicable today as ever.(less)
This one is a short little book, barely more than a novella. I finished in ~6 hrs. Reportedly that was intentional, as OSC is testing the idea of shor...moreThis one is a short little book, barely more than a novella. I finished in ~6 hrs. Reportedly that was intentional, as OSC is testing the idea of shorter, cheaper books as potential impulse-buy items. I think it was worth it.
This is a classic Card story -- spookily brilliant children, wonder, exploration, moral dilemmas, grappling with growing up and learning responsibility, seeing things from new perspectives, all that good stuff. It is also the end of Bean's journey, and is worth reading purely for that reason. There's some real tear-jerker material in here, especially toward the end, and some tantalizing secrets about the Formics and their society.
Ultimately, though, this is not a "big idea" book in the ways that, say, SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD and CHILDREN OF THE MIND were, and it lacks the depth and sophistication of the ENDER'S SHADOW series. It's fun to see Bean again and what has become of his little "leguminotes", but this isn't a book that's going to change anybody's life.
This second book in the Abhorsen Trilogy leaps a good distance into the future (about 18 years or so), neatly skipping over all of that messy business...moreThis second book in the Abhorsen Trilogy leaps a good distance into the future (about 18 years or so), neatly skipping over all of that messy business of rebuilding a political system in the Old Kingdom and regaining the people's trust in the monarchy after its 200-year absence. (Good thing, too, because that probably wouldn't make very good material for a YA novel.) Touchstone and Sabriel seem to have done a bang-up job of it, all things considered, though they've clearly made some sacrifices in the parenting department in order to do so. We pick up the story with Sam, Touchstone and Sabriel's son who has been saddled with the title of Abhorsen-in-waiting whether he likes it or not (and he doesn't); and with Lirael of the Clayr, a painfully shy and socially maladjusted teenager who was Emo way before Emo was cool.
The contrast between the two books' protagonists is striking. Sabriel at this age was warm and personable, and had no trouble taking charge over others; Lirael is self-pitying and so antisocial that the only person she can carry on an easy conversation with is her dog. Sam has some courage and charisma that comes out early on, but after a badly traumatic encounter with a necromancer, he is clearly suffering from PTSD and its attendant effects (including depression, bouts of irrational anger, paralyzing anxiety, shame, self-loathing, etc.). Just as clearly, nobody in the Old Kingdom has ever heard of PTSD or psychotherapy, because everybody just goes on expecting Sam to become the Abhorsen-in-waiting despite having just come through an obviously horrifying experience. Even Touchstone, who sees that his son has lost a piece of his soul in the ordeal, apparently has no idea how to help him get better, and Sabriel is almost criminally oblivious to her son's trauma and his inability to fill the role she expects him to fill. The common YA trope that "Adults are useless to help us" is unfortunately in effect here.
In spite of these failings in the characters, the book still works remarkably well. Because the protagonists are so different from Sabriel, their story doesn't feel like a retread of hers, even when there are distinct parallels (such as a talking animal companion who is more than he or she seems). Despite all odds, Nix makes Sam and Lirael likeable enough that you care what happens to them (though I lost some respect for Sabriel for the cluelessness mentioned above). The world of the Old Kingdom is still only sketchily defined, but we get some important new clues about the nature and origins of the Charter and the world it circumscribes and upholds. The bad guys are more mysterious this time around, working in shadows and from multiple angles to undermine the peace and stability that Touchstone and Sabriel have brought to the Old Kingdom. This is still a small story with a limited cast of characters, but one gets the impression of a rich, deep world lying just beneath the surface.
The audiobook is read by Tim Curry, who did a great job as in the first book. (He did run into some trouble defining his voice for The Disreputable Dog, though, especially after Mogget rejoins the cast.) I'm very much looking forward to listening to ABHORSEN, the third and final book in the series. (less)
This is a thoughtfully-organized and beautifully-written examination of some of the most pervasive and under-examined ideas in our culture. Pinker doe...moreThis is a thoughtfully-organized and beautifully-written examination of some of the most pervasive and under-examined ideas in our culture. Pinker does a great job of exposing the role that intellectuals' beliefs about human nature (or its nonexistence) have played in shaping the last several centuries, and the ways that those beliefs have gotten us into trouble. He then examines what science actually tells us about human nature, about the deep-seated foibles, weaknesses, follies and flawed perceptions of reality that are rooted in our evolutionary history. Lastly, he examines the social implications of human nature, and how it is not a cause for despair of a better world (as many have feared it would be), but an opportunity to work toward a better world based on a realistic understanding of ourselves and our potential, rather than a misguided belief that human beings are infinitely malleable. While Pinker is clear in his materialist perspective on reality and his skepticism about the need for a human "soul" that is separate from the brain, he is remarkably even-handed in his political analysis, doling out equal scrutiny to conservatives, liberals, and Marxists alike.(less)
Nix set us up for an epic conclusion to this trilogy, and he doesn't disappoint. The heroes' desperate struggle against the Destroyer is filled with r...moreNix set us up for an epic conclusion to this trilogy, and he doesn't disappoint. The heroes' desperate struggle against the Destroyer is filled with real tension and drama, as it becomes clear that they are not going to get out of this mess without it costing them something. Lirael and Sameth are both far more likable here than in LIRAEL, and it's satisfying to watch them grow into the roles that they've been unwillingly thrust into. Sabriel and Touchstone are nearly absent from the book, but they get a couple of nice moments. Unsurprisingly, it's Moggett and the Disreputable Dog who steal the show.
Taken as a whole, this is one of the better fantasy series that I've read. It's written at a level that will be approachable for YA readers, but it has enough substance and heart to be satisfying for adults, as well.(less)
This is YA with teeth. Collins has built a post-apocalyptic world with shades of ancient Rome, as the struggling, contentious peripheries (the "Distri...moreThis is YA with teeth. Collins has built a post-apocalyptic world with shades of ancient Rome, as the struggling, contentious peripheries (the "Districts") are oppressed and lorded over by a tyrannical and decadent metropole (the "Capital"). The whole concept of the Hunger Games, in which the Districts supply teenagers as cannon fodder for a gladiator-contest-cum-reality-show, is very calculated in its degradation and brutality. Collins has paid attention to both human nature and the nature of autocrats: keep the rabble squabbling with each other, distract the wealthy with entertainment, and make sure everyone dehumanizes everyone else. The real "game" doesn't happen in the arena, but in the way that unrest is deflected, displaced, and diminished through this divide-and-conquer strategy.
The world Collins has envisioned is clearly vivid in her mind, but in this book we see things solely through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, a traumatized and emotionally hollowed-out teenage girl. Katniss isn't trying to be a revolutionary or to defy the system she's trapped in. She doesn't have any aspirations of being a hero. She isn't even sure that she's capable of loving anyone anymore, except for her sister Prim. The slow, grinding banality of the Capital's evil has taken away her father, her relationship with her mother, her hope for the future, and now what little freedom she has is gone, too. Katniss is a shell of a human being, and her narration reflects this. It will be interesting to see how she is awakened from this deadened state as the series progresses; there are hints of it in this book, but it's clear that her story is not yet done.(less)
This book amps up the intensity of the Hunger Games series, as Katniss is caught between two factions who want to use her as a political tool: Preside...moreThis book amps up the intensity of the Hunger Games series, as Katniss is caught between two factions who want to use her as a political tool: President Snow, who wants her to help quiet things down in the querulous districts, and the Resistance, which sees her actions in the Hunger Games as a symbol of defiance against the evils of the Capitol. Katniss, as always, just wants to protect the people she loves, and finds herself in possession of influence she never asked for and responsibilities she wishes she could escape.
Collins does an admirable job of portraying Katniss's sense of confusion and claustrophobia, as her options close in around her and the districts slide inexorably toward all-out rebellion. There are some particularly heart-wrenching moments, such as when Katniss realizes that Snow's latest ploy to quell the rebels will almost certainly result in death for either her or Peeta. Collins understands psychological/emotional trauma, and conveys it in ways that most YA writers never come close to touching. Katniss is not a brave young hero embracing adventure and learning positive moral virtues in the face of struggle; she is a tortured and damaged human being, desperately trying to hold on to the few things and people that give her life some sense of purpose and sanity in an insane world, and willing to cross any line she has to in order to save them. It is this sense of authenticity, of real suffering by real people, that gives the Hunger Games books such an intense impact. (less)
The Hunger Games trilogy comes to its devastating, brutal conclusion. The games are over, and the war is in full swing, but Katniss is still caught be...moreThe Hunger Games trilogy comes to its devastating, brutal conclusion. The games are over, and the war is in full swing, but Katniss is still caught between people who want to use her as a pawn in their political maneuvers. Katniss has become the Mockingjay -- the symbol of the unintended consequences of wielding power, the brilliant plan that didn't turn out the way its authors intended, the stubborn entity that clings to survival when its creators intended it as a tool to be used and discarded. This is a theme that pops up again and again throughout the book, as Katniss pursues her own objectives and lays waste to the careful designs of those who would fence her in, cage her, manage her, or use her.
Collins' message seems to be two-fold: (1) Nobody can use you without your consent. (2) If you resist being used, expect to go through hell for it.
And Katniss does, along with everyone around her. The price that she and her loved ones pay for their freedom is staggering, and no one escapes unscathed. The trauma that Katniss endures in this book, both directly and by proxy through her loved ones, is as real and horrible as fiction gets. I hurt for Katniss in ways that I have seldom hurt for a character in a book -- hell, ways I have seldom hurt for real life people. I can't even say it was cathartic; like Katniss, I felt scarred and exhausted by it. This is masterful writing, and riveting, but it's not always fun.
Collins does throw Katniss and the readers a bone at the end of the book, as she finds a new life in the world she changed and slowly comes to a measure of peace and satisfaction. The scars, though, remain; like Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings, she has been hurt in ways that will never fully heal, in ways that those around her will never fully understand. Unlike Frodo, she cannot escape into the West; she has to learn to live with the wounds, to defy their power over her by finding joy in spite of them. Collins doesn't spend a lot of time on this process, or the painful details and setbacks it involves. Perhaps she realizes that her YA audience wouldn't really understand it, or perhaps it is a process that she hasn't completed herself. Perhaps you never can complete it, really. For Katniss's story, she both acknowledges the emptiness of telling a suffering person that things will get better, and then reaffirms that things really DO get better -- though never all the way better. Those who are reading this story in the midst of their own adolescent turmoil will probably find little comfort in that, but those with a few more years' experience will nod knowingly as the adult Katniss talks about the joys of her new life, the nightmares that never really go away, and the rituals she goes through to remember the fallen. It's a fitting end to the series about The Girl Who Caught Fire -- eventually, however deep the ashes, life can grow out of them once more.(less)