Engrossing speculative sci-fi from an author who continues to amaze me. This book challenges your perspective on nearly everything, and finds a way to...moreEngrossing speculative sci-fi from an author who continues to amaze me. This book challenges your perspective on nearly everything, and finds a way to roll together traditional sci-fi, alternative history, quantum physics, consciousness, causality, and pretty much everything between.
I found this book moved along easier than Cryptonomicon, which I enjoyed despite being over 1,000 dense pages. It does leave a fair amount to your imagination, and Stephenson is good at leaving only the subtlest hints of things that are developing beyond the comprehension of the narrator. So if you don't like having to figure things out on your own, better to go read something else.(less)
I read this in a single night. I couldn't put it down. It's being billed as a "young adult" novel, but it is brilliantly written and thoroughly engros...moreI read this in a single night. I couldn't put it down. It's being billed as a "young adult" novel, but it is brilliantly written and thoroughly engrossing. Doctorow does a great job of exploring the human response to a government crackdown on privacy, and of explaining some theoretically complex security concepts (like private/public keys) in a very approachable manner.
An interesting discussion of how Gerstner changed IBM's culture and focused the company on what it could do best. It was worth reading, but I think yo...moreAn interesting discussion of how Gerstner changed IBM's culture and focused the company on what it could do best. It was worth reading, but I think you could stop about 70% through and still take away a lot.(less)
This is a good, concise review of the scientific basis for evolution and the evidence behind it. It does a good job of distinguishing between what kno...moreThis is a good, concise review of the scientific basis for evolution and the evidence behind it. It does a good job of distinguishing between what knowledge can and can't be gained through scientific method, shows how the theory of evolution has contributed to a wide array of scientific advances, and debunks (at a level most students should be able to grasp) a lot of common myths around the theory of evolution.
The assault on the theory of evolution, and the underlying belief that scientific knowledge can be cherry-picked and selectively ignored, constitutes a grave threat to America's future as a modern nation. This book is something everyone should read.
My only worry is that those who need it most -- educators in our public schools -- already find themselves in a political environment that discourages even public discussion of books like this. (less)
I found this book amongst the large pile of paperbacks that, having bought and never read them during college, I stashed in my parents' attic and forg...moreI found this book amongst the large pile of paperbacks that, having bought and never read them during college, I stashed in my parents' attic and forgot. I picked it up over my Christmas vacation and plowed through it.
Five stars is a high rating for me, but this book was great. In part, because I think its short length was suited perfectly for this story. Krakauer digs deep into the years that McCandless spent roaming, but not so deep that you lose interest -- or feel you're intruding too far. I think there is always a certain amount of unease we feel when reading about the personal lives of those who tried so hard to hide them.
Funny enough. Less of a coffee-table book, and more of a gonzo comedy spree, akin to John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise. If you like Colbert an...moreFunny enough. Less of a coffee-table book, and more of a gonzo comedy spree, akin to John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise. If you like Colbert and have some cash to spend, definitely pick it up. If you don't like the faux-O'Reilly bit, then you'll probably get bored of it quickly.(less)
Dominic Streatfeild does a masterful job of tying together several thousand years of history into 500 pages. This was an ambitious (and dangerous) pr...more Dominic Streatfeild does a masterful job of tying together several thousand years of history into 500 pages. This was an ambitious (and dangerous) project, and along every step of the way, you feel as if you're walking alongside him. It's a fascinating book, and a cautionary tale about the dangerous road we're heading down. A must-read.
Throughout, Streatfeild writes with a wit and rhythm that defied my expectations. 500 pages about a single drug is a lot, and when 150 pages doesn't even touch the modern era, you might expect to be bored. Yet he manages to make everything so damn interesting, you might think you've been dosed.
The first couple hundred pages is nothing but what you might consider "back story": a history of the coca leaf, its use in the mountainous regions of South America, the perceptions of coca during colonization, all the way through its emergence as a "wonder drug" in the early 20th century. (And for anyone who wants to know just how crazy this stuff made Sigmund Freud, there are a couple chapters devoted to that.)
I found one of the most engrossing sections was on early attempts at cocaine prohibition. The drug crusaders were an odd bunch (saccharin was their next target after cocaine) with dubious ethics and a complete inability to understand the basic science behind the drugs they railed against. It's an interesting parallel to how our modern drug policies get made.
The latter half of the book is where Streatfeild's prowess as an investigative journalist comes to the fore. He digs deep into the modern history of cocaine smuggling, unearthing records and uncovering the connections that turned cocaine into America's super-drug. Anyone who's seen Blow might find the section about George Jung and Carlos Lehder repetitive, but even there I found the author breathed new life into the story.
Beyond George Jung, there is the sordid history of macroeconomic competition between different countries (Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, the Bahamas, Mexico) for supremacy in supplying illicit cocaine to the US. This turns into a violent, almost inhuman narrative on government corruption, organized crime, and savage reprisals. And Streatfeild is there: he smuggles himself into rebel territory in Colombia, visits a coca market in Bolivia, traipses around in the rainforest interviewing coca farmers, the whole time without insurance.
In the end, Cocaine turns into a sad humanitarian tale. Streatfeild interviews, sometimes at significant peril, the rural coca farmers who ultimately pay the price of our anti-drug enforcement efforts. He digs into America's involvement in passing draconian "guilty-until-proven-innocent" laws in Colombia, examines the economics of growing coca versus any other crop, and visits farmers whose fields were destroyed by a genetically-engineered fungus that was dropped from a US crop-dusting plane. It's heart-breaking to hear how many indigent farmers are snapped up by drug enforcement, while the traffickers continue to make money.
I won't keep going; if you're not interested by now, this book isn't for you. But if you've read up to here, you're probably as interested as I was in learning how our country got itself so messed up with this drug. It's all in here. From start to finish, Dominic Streatfeild finds a way to extract history and data that nobody else seems to have (or wants to talk about), and ties it all together with style and common sense.
Gonzo sci-fi at its best. Quantum computing, networked consciousness, self-aware evolving artificial intelligence. It's easy enough to get through. Bu...moreGonzo sci-fi at its best. Quantum computing, networked consciousness, self-aware evolving artificial intelligence. It's easy enough to get through. But there are a few times when I feel a little too much of deus ex machina, and that the focus of the story is on the technology.
Good writing should always be about the characters, and at some point in "Act III", this book loses sight of the people and you find yourself distracted by how Rucker's technological universe works. That is, until you recall Arthur C. Clarke's adage: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." So if you can suspend disbelief long enough to take parallel universes and quantum-entangled nanotechnology on faith, this is an entertaining story.(less)
Cory Doctorow has a way of writing stories that beat you up before they finish. This is no exception; the plot moves quickly, the characters are sharp...moreCory Doctorow has a way of writing stories that beat you up before they finish. This is no exception; the plot moves quickly, the characters are sharp, and you don't have a clue how it's going to end until it does. When it does, though, Eastern Standard Tribe leaves you feeling a little bit like you've been rushed through the final halls of an exhibit, minutes before closing time.
The book starts out by posing a choice between "happy" and "smart", but I don't think Doctorow really resolves the question. The two parallel stories -- what happened "before" and what happened "after" -- both take on a sense of inevitability by the time they finish up. Plot devices abound, with a number of last-minute coincidences that make the character's vindication more of a fluke of circumstance than a personal triumph.
Still, I'd recommend this for anyone who likes Doctorow's work, or sci-fi in general; you won't find any of the standard pre-singularity cliche that has become pervasive in the genre. The book is saved by the fact that it's a reasonably quick read, and available for free on the author's site, craphound.com. (less)
This was a quick read. Most of it was repetitive, with a handful of anecdotes stretched to fill a very light hardcover. The thesis is interesting enou...moreThis was a quick read. Most of it was repetitive, with a handful of anecdotes stretched to fill a very light hardcover. The thesis is interesting enough: how do you create an environment where jerks aren't tolerated? This book doesn't really have an answer, just a lot of stories; those stories aren't quite enough, I think, for either small or large businesses who are looking for concrete guidance on how to change the way their organizations operate.
At one point I actually caught the author reusing entire sentences -- probably because the beginning of the book reads like an Executive Summary. You get the impression he doesn't really expect most of his readers to get all the way through.
If you want to read this book, go ahead; it won't take you long. But keep your expectations realistic.(less)
This book is filled with classic Matt Groening wit and sarcasm. Not that I really know what "classic Matt Groening" means, since I couldn't even wipe...moreThis book is filled with classic Matt Groening wit and sarcasm. Not that I really know what "classic Matt Groening" means, since I couldn't even wipe myself when this book was published. But it makes me laugh the way The Simpsons did when I was 10, so that's close, right?(less)
I learned from this book that there is a floating 51st US state (no, not Puerto Rico) and that hobos were profiteers of the Great Depression. I've als...moreI learned from this book that there is a floating 51st US state (no, not Puerto Rico) and that hobos were profiteers of the Great Depression. I've also learned that lycanthropes will not always respond well to silver bullets, depending on the moon.
It's an entertaining and quick read, and the kind of book you don't really need to devour from cover to cover. (Though you can, and are encouraged to do so, if you like Hodgman's style of comedy.)(less)
Richard Clarke's strong spot is espionage pulp fiction, and it shows here. He makes a valiant attempt to paint a picture of what a coordinated attack...moreRichard Clarke's strong spot is espionage pulp fiction, and it shows here. He makes a valiant attempt to paint a picture of what a coordinated attack on America's network infrastructure would look like, and he does a fairly good job of staying accurate with terminology. But it all comes across a little too simplistically, with frequent attempts at "geek culture" that don't translate well, and a poor excuse at a "gotcha" surprise ending.
If you enjoyed The Scorpion's Gate, you might enjoy this too. That's why I read it. But if you're a geek, you may feel like a fish gasping for water; I walked away promising not to read another Richard Clarke fiction. I felt I needed to re-read a Charles Stross hardcover to get the taste back.
This book's saving grace is that, at just under 300 pages and with college-style line spacing, it's a quick read. You won't lose a lot of time if you try it.(less)
Truthfully, this one was harder to get through than the first three in the series. I came away with less of a sense of enjoyment, and more just finall...moreTruthfully, this one was harder to get through than the first three in the series. I came away with less of a sense of enjoyment, and more just finally being able to put it down. Perhaps it was because the majority of the characters from the first books aren't prominently featured; or, maybe, because it's tiresome to follow the thrashing of the noble families involved.
Martin ends the book with a promise that it's only half the story, and the other half (which concerns the characters I really care about) is coming soon. I'll probably read A Dance with Dragons whenever it comes out, although it sounds like he's been working on it for quite a while.
That's fine with me, though. This book felt unbalanced, like the author couldn't decide which details truly belonged. As long as the next one in the series closes so many of those gaps that this book didn't cover, I'm willing to set aside the pulp fantasy for a while.(less)