Our ability to access, process, and analyze large quantities of data has been increasing at a dizzying pace over the last few years. This data-drivenOur ability to access, process, and analyze large quantities of data has been increasing at a dizzying pace over the last few years. This data-driven revolution is fundamentally changing many professional and academic fields. Many people, especially the long-term practitioners in humanities and similar disciplines, find this change worrying, and in many ways exactly contrary to the spirit of these disciplines. Pouring over long and demanding texts, while internalizing them and becoming personally immersed in them, seems to be at the very core of what these disciplines are all about. And yet, as both a lover of humanities and a die-hard techy, I find this latest development incredibly exciting.
The title of this short book makes it eminently clear who the intended audience is: students of literature who are interested in using R for textual analysis. R is a very powerful programming language used for statistical analysis. Textual analysis is a very prominent aspect of modern data science, so there are many well-known and established tools and techniques that can help one with this task. However, the aim of this book is neither to teach R or programming, but to give the Literature students just the most basic tools needed to do some relatively straightforward textual analysis. The book jumps straight into the examples almost from the very first page. The obvious virtue of this approach is that you can start doing some interesting work rather quickly, and as long as your own research doesn’t depart dramatically from the examples given in the book you should be able to use the books as a reference and a primer for your own work. However, if you have some slightly more demanding problems that you are trying to work on, then after finishing this book you might want to go to a specialized book on R programming that will give you enough foundation to work on a larger variety of problems.
The book takes the freely available text file of “Moby Dick” and runs a variety of textual analysis on it: simple word count and word frequencies, correlations between various “special” words, context analysis, etc. In the latter chapters it moves from a single book to a corpus of books for more interesting look at themes across many texts. I found the last chapter on topic modeling especially fascinating, but way too brief. I guess I will now have to take a look at other sources to learn more about this line of analysis.
This books is very pedagogical in its style. Oftentimes the author would present two different solutions to a particular problem - one using a very simple yet hard to understand R command, and another broken down into several self-contained chunks. I find this approach very educational and helpful.
Even though this is primarily a book intended for literature students, I would actually strongly recommend it to anyone interested in text mining, text analysis and natural language processing. It is a very gentle and approachable introduction to the whole world of textual analysis.
**** Electronic version of the book provided for review purposes. ****...more
Artificial Intelligence is by now a relatively old field, having originated in the early days of the digital computer revolution. However, it has hadArtificial Intelligence is by now a relatively old field, having originated in the early days of the digital computer revolution. However, it has had a very rocky and turbulent history, going through several cycles of overblown expectations followed by almost equally dramatic swings towards disillusionment and skepticism. In recent years, though, it has matured into a very solid and practical discipline that exercises an ever growing importance across a wide breadth of technologies and professions. We increasingly take speech recognition, handwriting recognition, and natural language search for granted. Basic familiarity with what Artificial Intelligence is, and what tools and techniques fall under its domain, are becoming ever important aspect of a variety of professions and occupations.
There is no shortage of books and resources on Artificial Intelligence. However, most of them fall squarely into two main camps: discursive overviews for the general audience, and highly advanced textbooks requiring deep familiarity with many advanced technical concepts. Ertel’s “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence,” even though it’s pretty technical in its own right, is still fairly accessible introduction to this field for anyone with solid grasp of basic college-level math and computer science concepts.
The book is organized somewhat chronologically along the lines of topics that have historically formed the main organizing principles for the study of Artificial Intelligence - first and second order logic, propositional calculus, PROLOG, machine learning, neural networks. Some of the earlier chapters’ material is a bit dated, and in some cases unfamiliar to students and practitioners in North America. For instance, it seems that PROLOG never quite got a hold on this side of Atlantic. There are a few more or less amusing examples of how quickly technology ages, such as references to Google Video links, which haven’t been around for a few years now. I would have also liked a substantially more material on machine learning and neural nets, maybe at the expense of the earlier chapters. These topics have a lot of practical applications today, and seem to be the guiding paradigms for Artificial Intelligence as a whole for a foreseeable future. Nonetheless, the book overall is very readable and relevant.
One of the most valuable aspects of this book are the worked out examples and numerous (solved) exercises. Working through problems is, by far, the best way to learn any new material, and this book provides the reader with numerous and wide-ranging opportunity to do exactly that.
Overall, this is a very well written and pedagogical book that fills an important niche in the Artificial Intelligence educational literature. Highly recommended.
**** Electronic version of the book provided by the publisher for review purposes. ****...more
“Data Science” is the most exciting research and professional fields these days. It is creating a lot of buzz, both within the academy as well as in t“Data Science” is the most exciting research and professional fields these days. It is creating a lot of buzz, both within the academy as well as in the business world. Detractors like to point out that most of the topics and techniques used by people who call themselves Data Scientists have been around for decades if not longer. However, has often been the case that a combination of topics and methodologies becomes important and concrete enough that a truly new subfield emerges.
Predictive Modeling is a particularly exciting subfield of Data Science. Thanks to the few recent high profile news grabbing success stories (the 2012 US presidential election, the Netflix prize, etc.) it has attracted a lot of attention and prominence. Thanks to the increased use and availability of data in all walks of life we are increasingly able to make reliable predictions and estimates regarding topics and issues that affect us in very substantive ways. This ability may sometimes seem almost magical, but behind it lay some very accessible ideas and techniques. “Applied Predictive Modeling” aims to expose many of these techniques in a very readable and self-contained book.
This is a very applied and hands-on book. It guides the reader through many examples that serve to illustrate main points, and it raises possible issues and considerations that are oftentimes overlooked or not sufficiently reflected upon. For instance, the way we model as simple of a data as a calendar date can have a significant impact on the kind of analysis and predictive model we choose. This is the kind of information that is often not discussed in other modeling books and can sometimes take years of practical experience before its impact is fully appreciated.
The book has a fairly low access bar, but it is definitely not intended for a complete novice. It assumes a fairly decent background in statistics, R language, and at least a passing understanding of machine learning. Many of these techniques are covered in this book, but mainly as summaries and refreshers. Each one of them could use up a book of its own, ore even a whole collection of books.
One of the best features of this book is that the authors understand that predictive modeling is not just a bunch of statistical and computational techniques. Understanding the data, how to obtain it, manipulate it, and format it, are some of the most crucial steps for predictive modeling (and other data-driven fields), and are often overlooked and not sufficiently explained in many other books and papers that I have come across. The same can be said about the model selection - the choice of a model and its predictive power will crucially depend on the kind of phenomena that we are predicting, as well as on what exactly are we trying to predict. This book does an excellent job in guiding the reader along these paths and installing the necessary intuitions required for successful predictive modeling. Here too, like with most things in life, there is no substitute for years of experience working with actual real world problems, but going through this book will ensure that you don’t have to stumble too much with your first steps.
**** Book provided for review purposes. ****...more
At the center of Christian life and ministry is the Bible, and at the center of the Bible are the Gospels. These powerful narratives of birth, life, dAt the center of Christian life and ministry is the Bible, and at the center of the Bible are the Gospels. These powerful narratives of birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus were written by the first century Christians in order to inform and instruct the new and aspiring followers about the essential aspect of Jesus’ unique message and mission.
Among the four canonical Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is usually assumed to be the earliest one written, and a source and inspiration for the other two “synoptic” Gospels. It is the shortest and in many respects the rawest of all the Gospels. It uses very direct and even unrefined language and narrative structure. The Jesus that Mark presents to us can sometimes seem very rough. This is not the “nice” Jesus that has pervaded many modern sentimentalist ideas about Him, and influenced much of the “moralistic therapeutic deism” that passes for Christianity in many circles these days.
In “Face to Face with Jesus” Bruno Forte takes Mark’s Gospel as the starting point for his more intimate exploration of Jesus and what a genuine encounter with Him means for our lives. This very short book is not meant to be a commentary on Mark’s Gospel. Forte uses several passages from this Gospel in order to illustrate his points and evince insights, sometimes quoting the passages at length. The familiarity with Mark’s Gospel is of course desirable, but not necessary, for full appreciation of this book. Rereading it would probably be a good idea though. The book reads like a very well written extended homily. Forte’s style is very erudite and yet approachable - this is by no means a recondite theological thesis. “Face to Face with Jesus” makes demands on us to take Jesus’ work and ministry very seriously and open ourselves to the possibility of radical inner transformation that He asks from us.
Forte is also very clear in promoting a very strong emphasis on the radically different and supernatural nature of Jesus’ message and life. Many Christians, even the most faithful ones, fall into the trap of conceptually and rhetorically sacrificing Jesus’ divinity in order to make him more accessible and intelligible in terms of modern social and cultural categories. “Face to Face with Jesus” is, fortunately, not one of those books.
Even though this is a very short book, the reader should really take his time to go through it thoughtfully and deliberately. Anything else would not do it justice. As a spiritual nourishment I highly recommend it to everyone wanting to grow in their faith.
**** Book provided by the publisher for review purposes. ****...more
The Antarctic is perhaps the strangest and most fascinating place on Earth. The last continent to be discovered and explored, it is still politicallyThe Antarctic is perhaps the strangest and most fascinating place on Earth. The last continent to be discovered and explored, it is still politically a unique and peculiar geographic entity. Its extremely harsh climate makes it uniquely inhospitable and unwelcoming place for humans to visit. And yet, like many such remote and mysterious places it has been drawing explorers, adventurers and visitors for as long as it has been known.
This is a very well written and pretty detailed book about the Antarctic. It explains well what is usually meant by the terms Antarctic and Antarctica, and how these entities are usually treated in international law and politics. The book spends quite a bit of space explaining the geography and climate of this remote region. However, the book’s unique strength lays in its treatment of the political nature of The Antarctic. Ever since it was discovered various nations had laid claims on the vast regions of the Antarctic. Oftentimes these claims overlap, and have resulted in contentions that have not been properly resolved to this day. Since the 1950s, though, Antarctica has enjoyed a very unique status in international law thanks to the treaty that made the whole continent into one great scientific lab.
The book covers several interesting scientific investigations that have been going on in the Antarctic for years. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mention any of the really cool Physics and Astronomy experiments that have been performed there in recent years.
Another topic that I wish the book explored was the treatment of The Antarctic in arts, literature and film. There is a mention of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”, but it was only mentioned in passing as an example of early misconceptions about the Antarctic. Due to its “alien” nature the Antarctic has been a source of inspiration for quite some time, and several of my favorite movies are set over there.
The author also mentions in passing several topics and social concerns that seem to have become the focal points of all academic writing these days, but are completely at odds with a book of this nature. They feel very out of place and even grotesque when talked about in a book about the Antarctic, but fortunately they don’t take up much space and can be safely skipped.
Overall, this is a fairly interesting and well-written book. Despite the few shortcomings I noted, I still think it’s probably the best short introduction to the Antarctic, and one of the better books in this Very Short Introduction series. Recommended. ...more
As a long time Murakami fan I was really excited to see this “new” book pop up under his name on Amazon. It turns out that this is a reprint of one ofAs a long time Murakami fan I was really excited to see this “new” book pop up under his name on Amazon. It turns out that this is a reprint of one of his very first prominent stories, adapted to a look and feel of an illustrated comic book. In fact, the well-crafted and richly illustrated book is a wonderful publishing gem in its own right. In the age where more and more books are consumed in the electronic format, it’s a wonderful sensory experience to enjoy the book as a physical artifact again. This is one of those books that you definitely want to get in the hard copy.
After the disappointment that I’ve had with 1Q84, I decided to go back and reread some early Murakami. “The Strange Library” contains many of the themes and narrative elements from Murakami’s early works: the longing and loss, strange subterranean buildings, mysterious animals and strangers, and, of course, the Sheep Man. The story/book is part allegory part modern fairy tale. It’s a very dark and brooding tale that may leave you saddened and perplexed. It still has a lot of insight into the intimate corners of our nature. Like most other Murakami stories, it is also replete with plot twists and embellishment that don’t seem to lead anywhere, but, like a true labyrinth, are necessary for the whole to function following its own inner logic.
This may not be the best Murakami story, but it is still an immensely satisfying reading experience. Especially for his die-hard fans. ...more
In popular culture hormones are considered chemicals that cause a lot of disruptive or unwanted behaviors: from a teenager’s acting out, to rampant prIn popular culture hormones are considered chemicals that cause a lot of disruptive or unwanted behaviors: from a teenager’s acting out, to rampant promiscuity, to drug abuse in professional sports. In this view hormones are thought as something of an “add on” to your normal bodily homeostasis. However, hormones are an essential part of our biological makeup, and without them we simply couldn’t function. They are the overarching “signaling” chemicals, generally secreted in one part of the body and carried by the bloodstream to the other parts.
This is a very well written and thorough book on hormones. It gives a short historical account of their discovery and the evolution of our understanding of these important substances. The book covers the biochemistry of hormones, and the physiology of their secretion and action. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the book deals with human hormones and the associated physiological conditions that accompany them.
The book gave me a new appreciation of the incredibly subtle and complex role that hormones play in our bodies. It also managed to dispel certain myths that I’ve had about hormones. (For instance, both testosterone and estrogen are present in both sexes. They are not THE sex hormones as conventionally understood.) I also learned how much interaction there is between different hormones, and that this is still an area that is not completely well understood, where a lot of current research is going on.
As an aside, just like with any other book written for the general audience that contains “medical” information, there is a danger that a fair number of readers of this book may be tempted to self-diagnose after reading it. Don’t. You will most likely misdiagnose yourself, and make yourself unnecessarily worried. If you suspect that you might have a medical condition that could possibly be related to hormonal imbalances, you should consult your doctor.
Overall, this is a pretty good book that taught me a lot of new things about hormones and human physiology in general. Highly recommended. ...more
Python is a very popular and very powerful modern programing language. In terms of its syntax and style it might be one of the “cleanest” programmingPython is a very popular and very powerful modern programing language. In terms of its syntax and style it might be one of the “cleanest” programming languages out there. Yet, its deceptively simple code often belies the underlining power and efficiency. In terms of professional development, knowledge of Python is right now probably one of the most sought out technical skills. Learning Python is very learning for many technical professions, and this small books is a very useful resource to have for exactly such purpose.
The best way to learn any new skill is to do a lot of exercises and solve a lot of problems. This workbook provides 174 relatively straightforward excises that cover most important programming topics. The exercises are dived into eight different sections, such as “Loop Exercises,” “Dictionary Exercises,” “Recursion Exercises,” etc. The statement of the exercises/problems is very clear and well explained, and it’s usually covered in one or two paragraphs. The exercises also state if they are solved or not, and how long in terms of lines of program the solutions are.
As is to be expected from an workbook of this kind, many of the exercises come with a solution that is provided at the back of the book. The solutions are very to the point and concise, with a minimal amount of comments and explanations. Comments are given in the form of commented-out lines of code, while the short explanations are given on the side in grey boxed areas. All the code is properly and cleanly formatted. It is also color coded, which is a nice bonus and greatly helps with readability.
The content and the difficulty level of this book are both very accessible. The book is suitable for a gentle introductory college level course, or even a solid high school intro to programming course. None of the exercises require more than a few dozen lines of code to implement, and thus are not too demanding on your time and effort. A book like this one might in fact be ideal for someone aiming to learn programming or Python on his own. It can also be a very good supplementary material for an online course, which is in fact how I have been mostly using it. After a few weeks of going through these exercises I find that my Python fluency has greatly increased, and I am able to think in Pythonese and code much more efficiently. The book is a great resource for acquiring the basic coding fluency, but for more advanced programming skills you will need a more substantial reference....more
For as long as humans have been occupied with agriculture and raising of cattle, concern with selecting the best crops and the best farm animals has bFor as long as humans have been occupied with agriculture and raising of cattle, concern with selecting the best crops and the best farm animals has been an important intellectual topic. However, only with the work of Gregor Mendel in the late nineteenth century have we started to get a better quantitative picture of how heritability really works. Remarkably enough, most of the deep insights that Mendel came up with have survived subsequent major revolutions in our understanding of molecular nature of inheritance.
This little book aims to cover all of the major topics in the study of genes and genetics. It has a short historical preamble which is followed by the attempt to give the best definition of what genes are. The book deals in some detail with the biochemistry of cells and cellular development. It also goes into some detail to cover the human genetics, and human pathologies that have genetic component in particular. It contains a lot of interesting information in its very short format.
To its credit the book does not shy away from some more controversial topics in human heritability and genetics, such as the existence and nature of races and group differences. The book tries to present all sides of such debates fairly and equitably. (A bit too equitably for my taste.) It leaves it up to the reader to form his own conclusions, or to seek out additional resources and information on these matters.
One of the biggest insights that I’ve gained from reading this short book is that the very notion of a “gene” is not as well defined on the most fundamental level as I had previously thought. The notion of a “gene” is best defined and most useful for single well defined characteristic of an organism that is due to a very precise single region of the DNA sequence. (Even there there are many important caveats.) For heritable characteristics that are far less well defined in terms of their determination by the DNA code the very notion of a gene becomes much more dubious. Nonetheless, our main macro insights about genes and genetics are still largely valid, but we need to keep our expectations from the molecular genetics somewhat in check.
The book is very well written, and it is organized thoughtfully and comprehensively. It still uses quite a bit of scientific jargon and more advanced concepts that many general readers may be unfamiliar with. Nonetheless, all of that should make for a more educational and informative book. I really enjoyed reading it and would strongly recommend it to anyone who has any interest in genetics, biology, or science in general. ...more
Biology is a fascinating discipline and one of the oldest scientific subjects. Fascination with the living world is deeply ingrained in the human psycBiology is a fascinating discipline and one of the oldest scientific subjects. Fascination with the living world is deeply ingrained in the human psyche - we do depend on the knowledge and understanding of other organisms for our survival. However, for most of the human history the systematic study of biology focused almost exclusively on macroscopic organism. Only with the invention of the microscope were we able to study the tiniest organism - the unicellular organism that predominate the Biosphere.
This short book covers all of the known microorganism in a more or systematic way - bacteria, archaea, unicellular eukaryotes, and it even briefly goes over the viruses. (There are a few very good Very Short Introduction books that cover some of those biological entities in their own right.) The book gives you a remarkable amount of information about microbiology for its size. It covers the evolution of microorganisms, and their biochemistry. Unsurprisingly, it gives a lot of space to microorganisms that cause various diseases, especially in humans. Historically this was the primary motivation for studying the microorganisms, and it’s still a very relevant medical issues. Unfortunately, however, it has biased us to think of all microorganisms as harmful. The vast majority of them are either neutral or beneficial. Human body in terms of the sheer number of cells is more microbial than multicellular. Our guts alone are an incredible microbiological ecosystems, and we are only now starting to understand how many of them affect our well being.
One of the issues that I have with this book is that it is pretty dense in terms of jargon and concepts that it covers. The writing style and the presentation are very fluid and well organized, but you still have a lot of very high-level scientific concepts that might be unfamiliar to most readers of this book. If you are willing to be challenged, though, this could be an ideal small book to get you acquainted with the up-to-date science and biology lingo.
The book seems very fresh and up to date with the latest insights and developments in the field of microbiology. One of the more interesting insights for me was the recent prevailing theory of the tree of life which postulates that the eukaryotes evolved from archaea. Thus, it seems to upend the three-pronged tree of life picture (bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes) that has been around for just a few decades. Another interesting thing that I’ve learned from this book is that the vast majority of microorganisms cannot be cultured in the lab, and are thus not very well studied or understood. This puts in perspective the amount of knowledge that we have about the natural world.
Unfortunately, this book will not bring you any closer to the understanding of the ultimate origins of life. This topics remains an enduring mystery, and for its resolution will likely require much more powerful analytical, experimental and computational resources than we have today.
This is a very interesting and well written little book that I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in biology or science in general. ...more
Our eyes are some of our most precious and prized organs. We receive more information about the world using the sense of vision, than all of the otherOur eyes are some of our most precious and prized organs. We receive more information about the world using the sense of vision, than all of the other senses combined. Eye is also a very complex organ, and its complicated structure has fascinated biologists for as long as we have been studying the natural world in a systematic way.
This little book gives a surprisingly detailed glimpse at the nature of eye. It provides the reader with a fairly extensive information about the evolutionary development of the sense of vision, and the variety of eye shapes and mechanisms found in nature. The bulk of the book, unsurprisingly, focuses on mammalian eyes, and human eyes in particular. It covers the nature of vision - how the image is formed in the eye, and the cells and biological mechanisms of vision. It also covers the visual system as a whole, especially how the visual information is processed in the brain. The book also covers the vision defects and impairments, many of which are associated with the aging. I particularly appreciated a brief overview of some of the more advanced technologies that are now helping people with visual impairments see. I wish I could learn more about such topics, and am going to seek out further reading resources that deal with this issue.
The book is overall very informative and written in a very systematic and clear way. however, the prose tends to be a bit cut and dry. This is not the most scintillating popular science book that I have come across, but have nevertheless learned a lot from it. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the eye in a systematic way. ...more
Science is a wonderful thing, and it has contributed so much to our modern lives. Even more importantly, to those of us who have dedicated our lives tScience is a wonderful thing, and it has contributed so much to our modern lives. Even more importantly, to those of us who have dedicated our lives to careers in science, it has been the means of providing us with ever more intriguing insight into the fundamental nature of the Physical world. Unfortunately, as a consequence of its success, it has become increasingly hard to keep track of even a small sliver of scientific writing and discoveries these days. I try to read, when time permits, as much of the “popular” scientific writing outside of my field of expertise. There are quite a few good books that I come across each year that really excite me and enlighten me about many fascinating scientific topics. This “Best American …” collection of essays is most definitely not one of those books.
One of the fundamental things that I look for in science writing is, well, very clear exposition of what the basic science issues are. In most of the essays that I’ve read in this collection that is far from clear. The problem is compounded by the fact that the editors seem to fall pray to the common attitude of treating science and technology as pretty much the same thing and interchangeable with each other. This, in the story on our overreliance on autopilots I am not sure if the “science connection” is the autopilot technology or the psychology of the pilots.
Second, most of the essays in this collection seem to be written from the perspective of some social, political or economic issue that has a “science” component, and not the other way around. In other words, science is never written about or appreciated in its own right.
Finally, all the essays I managed to read are incredibly depressing, even morbid. The species are changing or becoming extinct, airplanes are falling from the sky, fruits are dying, political prisoners are being tortured, and lonely people are dying because their immune system is getting messed up. I finally gave up reading this collection when I came across a story that was all about euthanasia. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more depressing book.
If you are interested in reading some interesting and fun essays on the latest scientific discoveries and developments I’d strongly recommend that you look elsewhere. Any other source would do....more
Most of us use our teeth on a daily basis. However, unless we have a toothache or some other serious dental mishap we don’t give much thought to teethMost of us use our teeth on a daily basis. However, unless we have a toothache or some other serious dental mishap we don’t give much thought to teeth and their structure. On those occasions when we do, we realize how intricate and sophisticatedly shaped teeth are.
This short book will probably give you more information about teeth than most of us thought possible. It gives an evolutionary perspective on the development of teeth, and a lot of information on the difference in tooth structure between different species. It shows how truly structurally and mechanically remarkable teeth are. I doubt that even the best mechanical engineer would be able to design anything of comparable complexity.
The most relatable parts of the book are, naturally, those that explain the structure and the function of human teeth. Nonetheless, in order to appreciate their uniqueness it was necessary to contrast them to those of other animals, including those of primates – our closest relatives. The book offers some important insights, including the reason why has orthodontry become such a big issue in the West. Our modern diets feature prominently foods that are very preprocessed and soft, which puts far less pressure on our jaws during their development. Hence they become smaller, while still accommodating teeth of the same size. On the positive note our teeth don’t wear out as quickly as those of our ancestors, but the tradeoff is that many more of us now have to wear braces at some point.
Overall, this is a very interesting and well-written book that will provide you with a lot of new information. After reading it you will never think of your teeth the same way again. ...more
I am not really someone who gets excited about books on poverty, poverty alleviation, and “social” work in general. Not out of callousness or unconcerI am not really someone who gets excited about books on poverty, poverty alleviation, and “social” work in general. Not out of callousness or unconcern with those affected by these issues. I just find most writing on this subject very intellectually shallow, and filled with do-good rhetoric without any concrete realizable effects. In fact, the total lack of success of all well-meaning and over bloated poverty reduction programs, both in the West and the Third World, have made me a bit cynical about the prospects of investing any measure of intellectual effort into trying to understand these problems and appreciate the solutions that really work. So with all that in mind, I was quite amazed with how interesting, educational and inspiring “Out of Poverty” turned out to be.
There are two main features of the book “Out of Poverty” that make it stand out compared to all the other poverty and poverty relief accounts that I’ve come across. The first one is that this is a very hands-on down-to-earth approach to understanding and working with poor people. The author is not a first-world think tank wonk who spends most of his time immersed in the library of some ivory tower institution. He spent a considerable amount of time talking to, and most importantly listening to poor people from around the world. Every page of this book exudes the sense of trust that people who are most affected by poverty are the ones who understand their predicament the best and are able to provide the best insight for the possible solutions to their problems. Which brings me to the second distinguishing feature of this book: its unwavering belief in the enterprising spirit of every human being. There is no stronger antidote to the patronizing cynicism that permeates thinking and discussion of the global poverty than reading this book. The author gives examples, in page after page, of the ingenuity and willingness to try new things exhibited by the small farm owners from all corners of the world. This is a welcome and refreshing alternative to the often bleak outlook that many of the World organizations and institutions often exhibit when it comes to actually believing in ability of the poor to uplift themselves out of poverty by the dint of their own efforts.
The book is not without its shortcomings. It feels repetitive and overly focused on just a few topics and products that the author is intimately familiar with (treadle pumps and drip irrigation). There are a few attempts to extend insights from these very successful programs to dealing with poverty in other settings, but they seem naive and not well thought out. (Most of the poorest of the poor in the West have some social and psychological issues that would make them inadequate candidates for an enterprising approach to wealth creation.) Nonetheless, I still think that the insights gleaned from this book are very valuable and an important step in the right direction even for those situations....more
Russia is a sick country. It has been a country on a downward spiral in terms of all aspects of human and social development for decades. The collapseRussia is a sick country. It has been a country on a downward spiral in terms of all aspects of human and social development for decades. The collapse of the Soviet Union only accelerated those trends, and the recent spate of relative calm and prosperity only slowed down the decline. However, the country remains very badly run and destined for further decay. A total implosion is only a matter of time.
In “Implosion” Ilan Berman gives a fascinating account of the current state of Russia’s national health. He gives a well-documented account of some of this nations greatest political, demographical, and economic problems – undiversified economy that is heavily dependent on exploitation of natural resources, abysmal birth rates and even more disastrous mortality rates (especially for men), rapidly rising and assertive minorities (especially Muslims), and encroaching threat of Chinese territorial pretensions in the Far East. Any one of these problems would be almost insurmountable to overcome for any nation on its own. Their combination does seem to forebode very difficult days ahead.
One issue that I have with this book is that it feels too journalistic and fragmentary in its approach. The book reads like a series of well-informed and interesting articles. However, there is a lack of the sense of coherence and the overall picture of Russia that is portrayed here never raises above the sum of different parts. Many points are repeated throughout the book. I would have in particular liked a more detailed and comprehensive prediction of what the nature of the upcoming “implosion” will be like, and the consequences it will have on Russia and the rest of the World.
In the light of this book, one can see that the recent Russian military aggressiveness and adventurism stems more from the sense of weakness and vulnerability, than confidence of an ascending power. This, if anything, makes Russia’s actions even more unpredictable and dangerous. It is very likely that Russia’s coming implosion, if it indeed transpires, will have devastating consequences on geopolitical stability. This should make all of us worried and this makes “Implosion,” despite its shortcomings, an immensely important book to read. ...more