Interesting collection of essays, reviews, introductions, and other small pieces that DFW wrote after Consider the Lobster was published, along with sInteresting collection of essays, reviews, introductions, and other small pieces that DFW wrote after Consider the Lobster was published, along with some earlier b-sides that didn't make it into his first two non-fiction collections.
The standouts here are the two tennis pieces, the titular essay on Roger Federer and the US Open piece. The Federer story is among the greatest things he ever wrote. And I'm not sure why the US Open essay, which was written in 1996, didn't show up in either A Supposedly Fun Thing or Consider the Lobster. It's a DFW-as-journalist story, similar to his state fair, cruise ship, and AVN awards essays, and while it's not quite on par with any of those it's still excellent.
The reviews are a mixed bag. He really liked Wittgenstein's Mistress, for example, but I'm not sure that it warranted 40+ pages here right up front. But the Prose Poem review is a joy to read and more than makes up for it. I enjoyed his review of the 'math melodrama' novels too, and not just because I love to read his thoughts on math. He actually brings up my biggest problem with most of the science books I've read lately: does the target audience actually exist? (See my reviews of The Number Mysteries or Brian Cox's The Quantum Universe for more of my thoughts on this.) So it was nice to see that DFW had the same problem too. Plus, it warmed my heart a little to read that he liked Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I also enjoyed his takedown of the Borges biography and its insistence that all fictional works have motives that can be traced back to specific events in the author's life. Sometimes a good story is just a good story.
If I had one complaint it would be the pacing in the first half. The book gets off to a great start with the Federer essay only to grind to an immediate halt with the Fictional Futures and Wittgenstein's Mistress pieces right afterwards. Especially Fictional Futures - it's not bad by any means, but he grew significantly as a writer after 1988 and following up the Federer piece with it is jarring. Not that the essays all needed to be in chronological order, but that particular transition didn't work.
If you're going to read a DFW collection, definitely start with A Supposedly Fun Thing, then Consider the Lobster, and then read Both Flesh and Not. It's good, but it's not as consistently great as the first two....more
Fascinating look at the human mind. Subliminal is a sequel of sorts to The Drunkard's Walk in that both books look at our most basic assumptions and eFascinating look at the human mind. Subliminal is a sequel of sorts to The Drunkard's Walk in that both books look at our most basic assumptions and explanations of the world and the people around us and then proceed to systematically show how wrong they are. It's a bit dry in places and is really more of a short overview of several research studies, but I'd recommend it....more
Pete Townshend is probably my favorite all-time rock and roll musician, both on and off stage, so take the 4 stars with a grain of salt. As far as rocPete Townshend is probably my favorite all-time rock and roll musician, both on and off stage, so take the 4 stars with a grain of salt. As far as rock biographies/memoirs go it's pretty tame, and huge sections of his work are skipped over or only mentioned in passing (such as Chinese Eyes), so it's kind of hit and miss. And as much as I love him, I don't really connect with most of the work he's done in the last two decades or so. His zeal for these projects (Psychoderelict, Iron Man, his Faber stint, etc.) definitely comes through but he devotes a lot of space to them and they didn't hold my interest the way the rest of the book did.
But on the whole it's an enjoyable look at his life with a lot of cool stories and behind the scenes memories of the British music scene of the 60s and 70s. I listened to most of this on audiobook, which he narrates, and would highly recommend it. ...more
Overall this was an interesting, informative read. If you've read many pop cosmology books (and I guess I have) you've already read about these ideasOverall this was an interesting, informative read. If you've read many pop cosmology books (and I guess I have) you've already read about these ideas many times before, but this book is unique in that the author doesn't just describe what current science tells us about the history of the universe, he also actively debunks alternate theories and philosophies (mostly religious) along the way. To be honest, he beats that dead horse maybe a little too much, but he's probably earned that right throughout his career so I cut him some slack. ...more
I wasn't too impressed with this. I feel like the authors pandered too much to their intended target audience, who I'm not sure actually exists. Are tI wasn't too impressed with this. I feel like the authors pandered too much to their intended target audience, who I'm not sure actually exists. Are there really people who are terrible at math and don't know anything about science that would be interested in reading a couple hundred pages about quantum theory? I doubt it. I would guess most people who read this are like me: know a little about it, would like to know more, and don't like being talked down to. So on that level, this book is annoying. Also, the authors introduce a "clock" method that just tangles everything up and makes it more confusing. Is it really that hard to discuss probabilities? I get that it's sometimes counter-intuitive, but again: the people who may need the clock explanations are not the ones who will read this book.
On the plus side, there are some very beautiful sections that show how elegant (and completely foreign) quantum theory can be. I also appreciated the methodical historical approach they took, showing how our picture of the world has been built up and added to over time. But in the end, when I want a refresher course on quantum physics I'll stick to Feynman and Deutsch and Penrose. ...more
Interesting but superficial and the subject matter is scattered enough that it's ultimately forgettable. I'm never sure who the targets audience is foInteresting but superficial and the subject matter is scattered enough that it's ultimately forgettable. I'm never sure who the targets audience is for books like this--it's obviously geared towards someone who is terrible at math, but those aren't the kind of people who are willingly going to read a book about math. And anyone who has an average understanding of math will be constantly bored by the junior-high level explanations. It's a mystery to me....more
Fascinating book about what the real drivers of success are. It's very similar to The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow and Black Swan by Nassim TalFascinating book about what the real drivers of success are. It's very similar to The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow and Black Swan by Nassim Taleb in that it shows how wrong many of our base assumptions of the world are.
I did have a few minor quibbles with the book. Most of Gladwell's points were made anecdotally, to the point where the book seems almost needlessly superficial. I also felt that some of his points, especially the "why Asians are good at math" chapter, were too underdeveloped. After spending pages on hockey players and garment workers, I would have liked to read more than a passing mention about, for instance, the significance of the number of syllables in Cantonese numbers. It almost felt like he ran out of steam towards the end of the book.
Complaints aside though, I think the author succeeds (albeit in a light, breezy way) in communicating his point: luck is a significant, if not the greatest, factor in success. ...more
One of the most Important books I’ve ever read. The book is basically an extended discussion of how we can improve as a species, and the challenges weOne of the most Important books I’ve ever read. The book is basically an extended discussion of how we can improve as a species, and the challenges we face trying to do that. It’s not necessarily focused on detailed specifics on what we should do (although there are several), but is more focused on how we need to think so we can apply those principles to any situation. While I think that Deutsch may be overly optimistic in some areas (e.g. government reform), his optimism and his ultimate faith in humanity is contagious and exciting. This book won’t change the world in my lifetime, but I think the ideas he puts forward will keep us going in the right direction.
My favorite passage, which discusses the suppression of creative ideas (i.e. optimism) throughout history (note: "optimism" is defined by Deutsch as the belief that "all evils are caused by insufficient knowledge"): "The inhabitants of Florence in 1494 or Athens in 404 BCE could be forgiven for concluding that optimism just isn't factually true. For they knew nothing of such things as the reach of explanations or the power of science or even laws of nature as we understand them, let alone the moral and technological progress that was to follow when the Enlightenment got under way. At the moment of defeat, it must have seemed at least plausible to the formerly optimistic Athenians that the Spartans might be right, and to the formerly optimistic Florentines that Savonarola might be. Like every other destruction of optimism, whether in a whole civilization or in a single individual, these must have been unspeakable catastrophes for those who had dared to expect progress. But we should feel more than sympathy for those people. We should take it personally. For if any of those earlier experiments in optimism had succeeded, our species would be exploring the stars by now, and you and I would be immortal."
Those last few sentences give me goosebumps.
I really can't recommend this book highly enough. There are flaws, sure. The Socrates chapter is a little too contrived, and sometimes his thought experiments get bogged down in weird mental gymnastics. But the reach of this book is so grand and the message so exciting that it's easy to forgive the missteps. I can't remember the last time I read something that made me proud to be a human and proud to be alive. One of the quotes on the back cover expresses my opinion of The Beginning of Infinity perfectly: "I almost cannot believe this book exists."...more
Overall I was pretty disappointed with this book. The first half or so is historical background, the next few chapters set up the science, and then whOverall I was pretty disappointed with this book. The first half or so is historical background, the next few chapters set up the science, and then when he finally gets around to directly focusing on what I thought the twin points of the book are (M-theory is the only candidate for the Theory of Everything, and a divine Creator isn't necessarily needed for the universe to have been set in motion), he literally devotes a page to each of them and the book is over. This would have worked much better as a magazine article.
But having said all that, Hawking and Mlodinow do a great job of simplifying concepts without seeming to dumb them down too much, and despite all its problems I still enjoyed the brief time I spent reading it. I would definitely recommend The Cosmic Landscape by Leonard Susskind for anyone wanting a more in-depth look at these questions. ...more
I initially heard of this book from a post the author made on the Infinite Summer website, and I can (predictably I'm sure) say that the David FosterI initially heard of this book from a post the author made on the Infinite Summer website, and I can (predictably I'm sure) say that the David Foster Wallace chapter is wonderful. I never had the pleasure of meeting him or seeing him speak, and I think I would love to read a book that was nothing more than people reminiscing about him.
Overall though, Dorkismo is kind of a mixed bag. I liked the format (several short chapters) and the variety of subjects keeps things interesting, mostly because if I hit a segment I didn't care for I knew it would be over soon. I enjoyed being exposed to subjects I probably would never have otherwise read about, such as otaku or the story about Jane Eyre. A few of the connections do seem a little forced though. Chief among these is a chapter on $3 million watches, where the author seems to say that buying expensive things is wrong and you should be more socially responsible with your money instead. For the most part I agree with the idea behind this, but it seems shoehorned into the book and more in the vein of a political editorial than "a celebration of the dork."
I was also particularly puzzled by the Woody Allen chapter, where the author basically just rips on Stardust Memories the whole time. Granted, Stardust Memories probably doesn't even make my top 20 list of Allen's best, but as funny and great as most of his films before it were, I think he could be indulged if he wanted to make a weird Fellini homage no matter how unfunny or hostile you choose to see it. That actually seems to me to be very dorkish--doing what he wanted to, regardless of what other people would think--and the whole chapter seems counter to the theme of the book.
On the whole, Dorkismo is mostly interesting and fun to read, and I'm interested in seeing what Ms. Bustillos decides to write about next....more
Fascinating collecion of essays. The real standout here is the title essay, which is one of the most engrossing and well-written pieces of nonfictionFascinating collecion of essays. The real standout here is the title essay, which is one of the most engrossing and well-written pieces of nonfiction I've ever read, with "Getting Away..." coming in a close second. With the possible exception of "Greatly Exaggerated", a (mercifully) short book review that doesn't really seem to belong in this book, every piece here is top-notch.
I read the Premiere magazine article on David Lynch recently and it's interesting to compare it to the unaltered essay here. For instance, DFW's criticism of Balthazar Getty makes it in the article intact, while lines like "Ms. Patricia Arquette has been bad in everything since True Romance without this fact seeming to have hurt her career any" were cut. Also, whereas the Premiere piece was edited to by and large focus on Lost Highway, the complete essay delves a lot more into Lynch's career as a whole, and is one of the better pieces on filmmaking I've read.
It was also interesting to see how DFW, through the 5-6 year span covered in this book, slowly became the central figure in his own nonfiction. The essays aren't about going on a cruise or to a movie set or a state fair; rather, they're about how DFW experienced going on a cruise, etc. This may seem like a worthless distinction, but trust me, it isn't. (This progression happens to coincide with his heavier reliance on footnotes, which I'm sure is no coincidence.) As a result, I think the reader feels more of a connection and closeness with DFW than with most other writers, which may go some way to explain how ardent and rabids his fans are. Myself included....more