Not exactly a great read if you're looking to be inspired. Dry and dull would be a closer description. It spends too much time describing the faults w...moreNot exactly a great read if you're looking to be inspired. Dry and dull would be a closer description. It spends too much time describing the faults with other socialist movements and too little expounding the benefits of Communism.(less)
I bought Little Brother back in 2010 some time, planning 'giving this Doctorow fella a go'. For some reason I got distracted, or bored, or just picke...moreI bought Little Brother back in 2010 some time, planning 'giving this Doctorow fella a go'. For some reason I got distracted, or bored, or just picked up another book and kinda forgot about it (this was before Goodreads). Fast forward three years, and I also seem to have bought an ebook copy of the book as part of the second Humble eBook Bundle. Two paid-for, but unread, copies of a book that I could download for free from the author's website – not bad going at all. Instead I read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom as my first Doctorow and popped this one on the shelf to try again later...
Little Brother is the story of a group of school friends in San Francisco, caught up in a terrorist attack against the city. In the wrong place at the wrong time they are scooped up by the Department of Homeland Security for questioning. The department's approach turns out to be a little extra-legal, and before they know it they are being held in a secure – Guantanamo-like – facility in the bay. Having already been held, without even telling their parents, for several days they can't just be released, and they are threatened further to keep them quiet. Once out, the San Francisco they are released into is one they barely recognise. With the DHS running and influencing almost everything there is no freedom to question anything anymore. Luckily, our hero Marcus, is determined to fight the DHS and get things back to the way they were.
Doctorow is an obvious Libertarian, and this novel is a good, young-adult, primer. The Department for Homeland Security is the over-powered evil authoritarian regime. The rest of the city are easily duped into accepting the occupation of their city – because, you know, Terrorism! Marcus and his friends are the hackers, free-thinkers and underdogs; determined to overthrow something for what was done to them: to right the wrongs. The perfect teenage rebellion fantasy. Not only does Marcus have the ideal organisation to rebel against, but he has the skills and tools to do so. While the politics gets a little obvious in places, Doctorow is obviously trying not to make this just a libertarian tract. Luckily, he has a pretty exciting story to tell and I still have no idea why I gave up on this the first time...(less)
The challenge was to read the Bible. Specifically the King James Version. I'd read parts before, in various translations, but the KJV seemed to be the...moreThe challenge was to read the Bible. Specifically the King James Version. I'd read parts before, in various translations, but the KJV seemed to be the most 'literary' and therefore the most fitting for inclusion on Goodreads. However, reading the whole thing in one sitting seems like a deliberate attempt to sabotage my reading challenges - while I'm already way ahead of schedule, the whole Bible seems more than likely to take pretty much an entire year. So, instead of reading it as one massive book I'm going to read it as 66 (or 57 if you count the sequels as part of a single work) distinct books, but build the review book by book.
The First Book of Moses: Called Genesis Read from August 25 to 27, 2012
In which God decides to create an entire universe out of nothing but the power of his spoken word. He then proceeds to populate the world, and most of Genesis seems to be not much more than so-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat thing-a-mee. Hidden in amongst this rather dry chronology are the hidden gems of the short stories that you remember from Sunday school – Adam and Eve; Noah and his ark; Abraham and the ram; Jacob and Esau; and Joseph and his coat of many colours (definitely not a technicolor dreamcoat).
I was surprised by how short the actual stories were. I can only assume that the stories I was told at Sunday school were embellished – with characterisation and detail that just isn't there in the original. While that's great for children reading the stories discretely, it did leave me slightly disappointed that some of the stories weren't as rich as I remembered when reading the whole book through.
The phrase – as old as Methuselah – wasn't kidding. He lived to the grand old age of 969! Although, he managed to hold off on having kids until he was 187 – pretty sprightly for an old fella.
The Second Book of Moses: Called Exodus Read from October 2 to 4, 2012
In which God leaves the children of Israel stuck in Egypt for over 400 years before remembering that he'd left them there. As Genesis ended with the death of Joseph, so Exodus began with the same. Joseph has died and his descendants are becoming too populous for the Egyptians. The Egyptians come up with the wheeze of enslaving the children of Israel (as smaller, more powerful, populations do so often love to do to larger ones). Exodus skims pretty quickly over the 400 years of uninterrupted slavery until the birth of Moses (and his story of the Moses basket – very coincidentally named). Moses escapes Egypt and meets a man called Reuel, who almost immediately seems to become Jethro for no apparent reason, before being called back to Egypt by God to free the children of Israel.
God doesn't seem particularly rushing to get the children of Israel out of Egypt. The implication of parts of the translation is that He deliberately sets the Egyptian Pharaoh to keep rejecting the advances of Moses. Whether this was a scheme to ensure that the children of Israel really valued their escape, or to make sure that he got to use all the of the 'plagues' that He'd planned, isn't clear.
Exodus also seems to be the point of change for the children of Israel. They clearly move from being the descendants of Israel the person to becoming Israel the nation. Israelites. Also, this is the first place where God clearly states that the people of Israel are his chosen of the people – if they keep his commandments that is.
Finally, while Genesis tended to get carried away with the named chronologies, Exodus really goes to town with the dimensions for the Tabernacle. The minutiae of the measurements for the design are presented, in excruciating detail, not once, not twice, but a grand total of three times. I understand the value of repetition as reinforcement, but it did make for some painful sections of the book to read.
The Third Book of Moses: Called Leviticus Read from December 16 to 18, 2012
In which we learn how to ritually slaughter several different types of animal in different ways to provide sacrifices for many different situations. Leviticus is a catalogue of the different ways that the Levites were to perform their sacrifices: burnt offerings, meat offerings, peace offerings, first-fruits offerings, etc. Sin offerings for individuals who break the commandments through ignorance as well as for when the whole congregation do so.
The second half of the book deals with uncleanliness. Things that make you unclean, and the sacrifices necessary to become clean again. The dietary restrictions are also covered here: cud chewers are okay – camels, hares and pigs not okay; fish are okay – shellfish and squid not okay; birds and fowl are okay – eagles, osprey, cuckoo, owls and vultures not okay. Childbirth, skin blemishes, plague, baldness, leprosy and menstruation are all categorised. With the respective periods for waiting and the necessary sacrifices.
Additionally, we learn that menstruation can be politely referred to as a woman being with "her flowers"; that the "scapegoat" is the goat that bears the sin of others through its sacrifice; that it is an abomination to "lie with mankind, as with womankind"; and that in the year of Jubilee (every 50 years) debts and ownership of people and property should be cancelled. It's not really explained how somebody goes about raising money in the year before Jubilee though.
The Fourth Book of Moses: Called Numbers Read from February 25 to March 3, 2013
In which we list all the numbers of men in each tribe of Israel; we list the order in which the tribes are supposed to camp round the tabernacle; we list the names of the heads of each tribe; we list the offerings of each of the tribes of Israel; and we list the names of each person each tribe sends out on recon missions. In short we get to learn surprisingly little about each tribe except for a list of names and, wait for it, numbers.
This is the book where the tribes of Israel repeatedly manage to annoy God. God gets angry with them quite a lot. The people that anger generally him get killed or they get plagues (which also tend to kill them). You'd think the people of Israel would learn not to complain, or to lie to Moses — it never ends well. Moses intercedes each time, saving some of them, in fact he starts to develop a pretty good line in calming God down by playing to his reputation. Eventually God gets so annoyed with them that he tells them that they aren't going to see the promised land after all — not this generation anyway. And they turn around and begin their forty-year tramp through the wilderness. Presumably as a further punishment, some extra sacrifices are also introduced – can they produce enough lambs, rams and bullocks to keep the fires burning?
Finally, we're also treated to list of the various campsites that the Israelites visited during their wanderings. The highlights of which were that they stayed in a place called Sin and a place called Beer.
The Fifth Book of Moses: Called Deuteronomy Read from June 22 to 24, 2013
In which we recap the previous three books of Moses as he wraps up his life ready for Joshua to take the Israelites into the promised land. Deuteronomy, "the second law", the final book of the Torah/Pentateuch, is Moses reminding the Israelites of where they've come from, what God has done for them, and most importantly all the bad stuff that's going to happen to them if/when they mess it up in the promised land without him there to keep them in line. For, as Moses reminds them several times, they are a "stiffnecked people" and aren't being allowed into the promised land as a reward for their own good behaviour. At the end, Moses hands over to Joshua (it doesn't mention if there was any shadowing or much in the way of knowledge-transfer), before heading up the mountain for a chance to see the promised land – that he isn't allowed into himself – before he dies there.
The Book of Joshua Read from June 29 to 30, 2013
In which Joshua smashes his way around the promised land beating almost every one who stands in his way. Joshua is the shortest of the books of the Bible so far (about half the length of the previous books) and is a book of two halves. The first half describes Joshua finally taking the Israelites into the promised land and the taking of the land – by force if necessary – as they lay claim to the land their forefathers were promised. Including, of course, the famous story of the taking of Jericho by marching round it seven times and blowing their trumpets and shouting. It's actually pretty bloody when you read it, the Israelites aren't big on taking prisoners or subjugating people – only Gibeon managed to cleverly avoid destruction (although they did end up as slaves instead). The second half of the book revels in the Bible authors love of lists: we list the boundaries of the promised land, we list the cities conquered, and we list how the regions and cities are divided up amongst the tribes of Israel.
My dad always liked to joke that Joshua had no parents, because he was the son of Nun!
The Book of Judges Read from July 4 to 5, 2013
In which the Israelites keep forgetting about God, worshipping other gods, getting their arses kicked, then having a judge remind them what they're doing wrong, asking for forgiveness and then finally fighting off the people who just kicked their behinds. Judges feels like something of a transition book. Between the preceding story of Joshua, with its single focus on the one character, and the later major and minor prophets. It's never entirely clear exactly what the job description of a judge is, except that they get to step up every few years when the people have completely turned their backs on God, and they have to get them back on track. Time passes very quickly in this book, each chapter seems to fly through several years and a couple of judges. They are named, but their exploits don't generally seem to warrant much exposition. With the obvious exception of Samson. His story is covered in much more detail, from his being promised to a barren mother, through his wrestling with a lion, his being tricked by Delilah and eventual destruction while a captive of the Philistines.
The Book of Ruth Read on July 8, 2013
In which Ruth demonstrates a lot of loyalty to her mother-in-law. Set during the period of the previous book. Ruth is a short side-story, a little human interest to fill out the otherwise dry lists of disobedience, Judges, attacks and counter-attacks. Naomi leaves Israel because of a famine; her husband dies; her two sons, marry local Moabite women Ruth and Orpah, then they die too – so far, so very lucky!
With the famine over, Naomi returns home and Ruth insists on accompanying her. Once they get back, Boaz, the local landowner, takes a shine to Ruth and a weird sort of courtship ensues, culminating in Boaz buying all of Naomi's family's land and effectively buying Ruth as part of that job lot. This seems to be some kind of honour purchase to recompense Naomi for the loss of her menfolk and now her daughter-in-law too, and Ruth does seem kinda into Boaz too, but it's never clear how much this 'purchase' is something that happens to Ruth.
The First Book of Samuel – otherwise called: The First Book of Kings Read on July 15, 2013
In which, just as Samuel is getting geared up to be the next big judge, the Israelites decide they'd rather have kings. Probably the best read of the books so far, we follow Samuel from pre-conception and the prayers of his barren mother, through his time as apprentice to Eli, though to his becoming a prophet and organising Saul becoming the first King. But actually, although it's the first book of Samuel, it's really a book about David – Saul becomes King a third of the way in and David takes over as the main protagonist for the final third. It doesn't come as a great surprise to the reader that Israel demands a King to be like the neighbouring nations, only to slowly come to the realisation that maybe it isn't really a better deal after all. I expect more such realisation in the remaining Kings books.
Interestingly, I still have my "Lent to the Lord" tea spoon, from my 'christening', although it has been heavily corroded presumably from something I've eaten with it – do boiled eggs corrode silver?
The Second Book of Samuel – otherwise called: The Second Book of Kings Read from July 22 to 23, 2013
In which, the titular, Samuel gets no mention at all. Instead, as with the first book of Samuel, this is mostly about King David – the most famous of the Kings of Israel? Having taken over the job of king from, the now dead, Saul David had a few insurrections to deal with as the house of Saul feel it should have remained with one of them. His total reign is forty years, and if the previous book covers his rise to power (and presumably the next two Kings cover his descendants), this book covers his reign. David doesn't appear to have had a particularly peaceful reign – with successful campaigns against the Philistines and the Moabites amongst others. In between all his ruling, wars, and his own wives and concubines, he still manages to find time to have an affair with the wife of one of his officers – and get her pregnant – and kill her husband to cover it up!
The First Book of Kings – commonly called: The Third Book of Kings Read from August 2 to 3, 2013
In which David, God's favourite King, gets old and dies and is followed by Solomon. Of course, being Israel, this isn't a simple accession, Adonijah also believes he should be the next King. Zadok the priest comes to the fore here, guiding Solomon's ascension to the throne as David's successor – obviously this was sometime before his successful music career with Handel. Solomon was the wise King – the gift he was granted by God – you'd think though, that with that wisdom, he'd have realised that not just building the temple, but removing all traces of other religions would have been the best course of action, but instead he doesn't and ends up falling away from God himself (of course it was all the foreign women that caused this – 700 wives no less) and splitting the kingdom into two – with Judah ruled by Rehoboam and the north ruled by Jeroboam (of the wine bottle fame). Unfortunately the house of Jeroboam is cursed by God, to be cut off from "him that pisseth against the wall", a beautifully evocative phrase that presumably just means the menfolk?
The Second Book of Kings – commonly called: The Fourth Book of Kings Read from October 4 to 8, 2013
In which we rush through the rest of the kings that just weren't as awesome as David. Again, the bad ones are pretty bad, and even the good ones always forget to tear down those high places. So the people can still fall back into their bad habits. Picking straight up after the previous book, with the death of Ahab, we rush briefly through Elijah's handover to Elisha – as Elijah (the only person in the Bible not to die?) is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Each king is detailed with the same template: came to power, was good or bad, reigned x years, died. I'd say that I was done with the chronology of kings, but each king ends with the reminder that "the rest of the acts of ..., are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel/Judah?".
The First Book of Chronicles Read from October 29 to 30, 2013
In which a lot of men beget a lot of other men (presumably with the help of some women), and then there's more begetting, and so on. The first book of Chronicles is pretty much a recap of everybody who's anybody in the Bible universe so far. We start with Adam and his children, all the way down to David, and Solomon, through all the Kings that we read about in the First Book of Kings.
The Second Book of Chronicles Read from December 24 to 25, 2013
In which the recap of the history of Israel and Judah is brought up to date. The continuation from The First Book of Chronicles with King Solomon requesting his gift of wisdom. Then his son, Rehoboam, takes over and so on. Each time a king is taken to sleep with his fathers and (generally) the son takes over. As with the books of Kings referencing the books of Chronicles, so these books reference other books – Nathan, Shemaiah etc. – that appear to be lost books according to Wikipedia. Eventually we are left with some very short reigns – down to the months and days – before the final loss to the king of the Chaldees and Babylon. Only the cliff-hanger ending gives us hope as the Lord stirs up the heart of King Cyrus of Persia (but peeking ahead suggests that's a story for the next book).
Ezra Read on December 29, 2013
In which Ezra doesn't make an appearance in his own book until a good two-thirds of the way through. Just as you thought the history listings were over, Ezra throws a few more in there. Following on from the previous book, we begin in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia, and head straight into some lists and numbers of children. Unfortunately, by this point, the Israelites had been intermarrying a little too freely with their captors and Ezra was on clean-up patrol. Unfortunately, for the foreigners anyway, the resolution is to 'put their wives away' – which presumably meant a lot of divorces.
Nehemiah Read from 23 to 24 January, 2014
In which Nehemiah retells the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem from Ezra, but with the focus more on his role in the building work rather than Ezra's focus on the ways that the people had gone astray. There's more detail this time about who built which gate, their sons and daughters, and so on with special mentions for those nobles who felt they were above the work. But it does seem a bit like both Ezra and Nehemiah are taking credit for the rebuilding in their respective books.
Esther Read on 18 February, 2014
In which we learn not to disobey your husband if he asks you to turn up to his party. This is not a tale to make feminists feel satisfied. The disobedient wife is executed, then a parade of virgins is arranged to find a new queen. Esther is chosen as the replacement queen, and presumably she knew enough about her predecessor to make sure she did what she was asked. Ultimately though, it didn't seem that anybody really came out of this story smelling of roses. The king was easily influenced, first by his courtiers and then by his wife. Mordecai is proud and stubborn to the point of putting his entire race in jeopardy. Esther plays a bit of palace politics to get the kill-order against the Jews rescinded, and then goes on an apparently quite extreme bit of revenge killing herself.
Job Read on 21 March, 2014
In which Job, who is obviously far too holy for his own good, is used by God to win a bet with Satan. Although not the first mention of Satan (I think it's the second), this is the first time that Satan is presented as a full character – almost an equal to God – able to challenge and rile him into even taking the bet. Briefly: God thinks Job is the perfect follower; Satan says that Job is only so loyal because God has given him so much. Cue God letting Satan strip Job of first his wealth, his health and even his children, to test if he will turn against God. Instead Job's friends sit around trying to convince him that it's all his fault really.
Eventually God shows up, chastises Job's friends for being such bad friends, completely forgets to explain himself to Job at all and restores all Job's wealth, health and family. I was confused though, did Job get new children or the same children back again? Either way, that seems a bit weird...
It seems this is now as big as a review is allowed to be on Goodreads. The rest will be as comments below.(less)
A series of articles by John Campbell, editor of Analog magazine from 1937 until his death in 1971. Each is an editorial from an edition of the Analog...moreA series of articles by John Campbell, editor of Analog magazine from 1937 until his death in 1971. Each is an editorial from an edition of the Analog science-fiction and science magazine, and this collection was pulled together by the late, great, Harry Harrison in 1966. While many of the editorials from the magazine would have been about the content of that month's magazine, the purpose of this collection is to gather together the more strident opinion pieces instead.
Each piece strikes at somebody's cherished talisman. Whether he's arguing that the US FDA should have approved the use of Thalidomide in-spite of the destruction the drug went on to cause; that segregation (by ability) in education is a good thing, even though it will cause segregation by race as a by-product; that some poor people are just lazy – because after all, some successful people used to be poor until they worked hard to escape it; that black Americans and Chinese Americans have resulted in very different success levels in immigrant populations; and so on. Not all his articles are political – many are about science-fiction the genre or about science as fact – the two key subjects of the magazine, Analog, itself. But, by and large, these editorials are of a political bent, with a right-of-centre and pro-science ideology. Many of the articles are deliberately antagonistic in style, often narrowing or widening the definition of certain loaded words. While most of the editorials are from the early 1960s, many are from the 1950s, and two date back to the 1940s. Their age dates many of the ideas heavily, and makes many of the editorials, especially the ones that touch on race, awkward, if not downright painful, reading. I would assume they were still fairly incendiary even when they were written. Campbell doesn't seem to ask that you agree with him, or even that you shut up and listen – but he does ask that you think about the beliefs you already hold and allow them to be challenged.(less)
Part instructional essay, part political treatise, but ultimately I've got no idea who it's aimed at. It's Neal Stephenson's explanation as to why he...morePart instructional essay, part political treatise, but ultimately I've got no idea who it's aimed at. It's Neal Stephenson's explanation as to why he believes the command line interface is the 'best' way to interact with a computer. That the GUI is only a metaphor for controlling the computer, a mediated experience that removes too much of both the control and the power that the command line interface allows. Stephenson doesn't go so far (as some reviews have suggested) as pushing for the removal of the GUI and a complete return to the command line. He believes that the GUI is a useful metaphor for some people and some applications. However, for a power user, the GUI is a broken and mixed metaphor that hasn't lived up to it's promise.
The two major problems though, are firstly, complaining about a metaphor using another metaphor to do so, while ignoring the fact that the command line interface is also a metaphor (just an older one that is potentially less mixed and broken, but no less a metaphor) is just too many metaphors too many. And secondly, that the essay has no real audience. Either readers are 'trapped' in their GUI mediated experience but are unlikely to read this, understand it, or care. Or readers are already convinced that the command line can be a more elegant solution to many problems but still aren't quite sure what the point of the essay actually is.
That said, and I fall quite definitely in the second camp of readers, I did enjoy reading it. It's dated and flawed, but for a certain group of readers worth reading. Just don't really expect to learn anything. I think if this appeals to you it'll be because you've pretty much thought it all through yourself already though...(less)
Euan Semple was the guest speaker at our (not exactly) annual work conference, earlier this year, where he gave an excellent talk about his experience...moreEuan Semple was the guest speaker at our (not exactly) annual work conference, earlier this year, where he gave an excellent talk about his experiences with social computing at the BBC. Semple was the guy who introduced social computing to the BBC – initially mostly under the radar – consequently he's one of the best placed people to talk about the potential benefits to both companies and employees of embracing social computing (and more open knowledge management practices in general). At the end of his talk he, quite sensibly, had a little plug for his book: Organisations Don't Tweet, People Do.
The book is a series of 44 'thought essays' rather than a single work as such. Each essay is a variation on a number of themes. That companies, managers and employees shouldn't be scared of social computing; shouldn't fear the loss of control. That blogging, tweeting, just the act of writing down your thoughts provides both valuable business benefits and valuable personal benefits – as a form of self-expression, increasing your worth in both your current role and the next, forcing you to think about your actions and helping you to understand, and even shape, the world around you. That openness and honesty in your writing are the key to both success in social computing and not making (or recovering from) mistakes. That conversations between real people are more important than marketing and 'knowledge management'. That you can't easily have a strategy for something like social computing as it's still developing and changing too fast. And, that sometimes the inanity of the online can help cement the relationships. There is a subtext running through the book as well – many of these essays hint that they are also talking about changing the way you run the business in a social computing world rather than just how your current business should 'do' social computing.
Each essay is short, generally less than half-a-dozen pages each, engaging and well written; easily read during a visit to the executive bathroom (he says 'restroom' in the introduction, but I refuse). Unfortunately, while they are short, 44 is a lot of essays for a book on such a narrow topic. Many of the essays feel like different riffs on the same themes as previous ones. In part, maybe that's not such a bad thing: if we haven't grasped Euan's message yet, maybe he needs to repeat himself. But, as a reasonably seasoned Internetphile, I didn't feel I was getting as much out of the repetition as I had hoped. For somebody who is less experienced, or less convinced, about the benefits of social computing in a work context, it's probably a much more useful collection of writings and, hopefully, might change some hearts and minds.(less)
An impassioned plea for Goodreads to stop the madness. To stop arbitrarily deleting 'reviews' just because they aren't simple book reports. To stop ch...moreAn impassioned plea for Goodreads to stop the madness. To stop arbitrarily deleting 'reviews' just because they aren't simple book reports. To stop changing the rules of reviewing without actually telling Goodreads members. To stop refusing to explain, discuss, or entertain the possibility that they might have messed up a bit here.
What started as a "complicated prank" has become a collection of essays, deleted reviews, parody reviews, personal stories and saddest of all goodbye letters. Exposing and discussing the censorship, the inconsistency and even trying to drill down into some of the data to see if there are any patterns (spoiler: there doesn't seem to be). The ebook is available from Lulu for the cost of production only, also some contributing authors have posted free to download links for the book. Download and read – it won't take that long.
I have voted for this book as a write-in vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2013 in both the Non-Fiction and Début Goodreads Author categories. Apparently Goodreads uses the average rating of the book to 'weigh' the validity of write-in votes (presumably as part of their decision to censor those votes - but I digress) so I've also rated the book five stars. I encourage others to do the same (even if you feel the need to re-rate the book after the awards have closed).
I leave the final word to the (former) owner of Goodreads:
"I hope you’ll appreciate that if we just start deleting ratings whenever we feel like it, that we’ve gone down a censorship road that doesn’t take us to a good place." — Otis Y. Chandler, Goodreads CEO(less)