This is a Swedish Forrest Gump story, and the like the movie, it is great fun, though you can't really put your finger on why.
Allan Karlsson absconds...moreThis is a Swedish Forrest Gump story, and the like the movie, it is great fun, though you can't really put your finger on why.
Allan Karlsson absconds from the nursing home a few hours before his 100-year birthday is to be celebrated. Within minutes, he is on the run with a suitcase full of money, chased by gangsters and acquiring a motley assortment of friends (including an elephant) as he goes. Interspersed with this are chapters detailing his life as a global, slack-jawed globetrotter, forever stumbling in on historical figures at opportune moments.
Great fun - and some of the Swedishness of the humor makes it through the translation as well.(less)
I was lent this by my daughter's history teacher on the assumption that, since I am interested in both basketball and history, this would be interesti...moreI was lent this by my daughter's history teacher on the assumption that, since I am interested in both basketball and history, this would be interesting. I love the premise - an obscure history professor and assistant basketball coach at an Ivy League college gets appointed as head coach, with nobody expecting much. By recruiting disadvantaged youth and reading passages of American history to them, he brings the team to the NCAA finals.
It should work, but it doesn't. The character is not believable, the history excerpts are too long-winded, and the adversities encountered (racist faculty, an NCAA looking askance at the newcomers and plotting against them, etc.) seem contrived. In the end, you start wondering whether the whole story is a figment of the main character's imagination - not just the author's.
Pity, it had so much going for it...watch Danny DeVito in The Renaissance Man instead, it has more going for it.(less)
Sam Fussell, a tall and scrawny son of two writers and academics (Paul and Betty Fussell) started bodybuilding in an effort to remake himself, and suc...moreSam Fussell, a tall and scrawny son of two writers and academics (Paul and Betty Fussell) started bodybuilding in an effort to remake himself, and succeeded, to the point where, 4 years and 80 pounds later, he competed in and nearly won a bodybuilding competition. This is the hilarious story of how he did it and the outlandish characters he met on the way - all in search of size and definition. (Here is a blog post giving a fuller summary.)
A fun read, though there are occasionally too much detail on diet and training regimens - on the other hand, it nicely illustrates the obsessiveness needed. I understand Muscle has become something of a cult read in bodybuilding circles - the author, quitting after realizing the futility in it all, nevertheless leaves you with a feeling that for all the drugs and diets, he did enjoy being something different for a while - still comparatively safe that he had a somewhat privileged position to return to.(less)
A nice (I suppose you could say elegant) little book about why less often is more. Anecdotal, well-written, with at least some examples I found very i...moreA nice (I suppose you could say elegant) little book about why less often is more. Anecdotal, well-written, with at least some examples I found very interesting (the "shared space", rule-free concept of traffic regulation exemplified in the Laweiplein crossing - see it on Youtube - for example, as well as the Nigerian clay pot vegetable coolers,) some I found rather repetitious (the iPhone's elegant simplicity) and others done better elsewhere (Christopher Alexander's pattern language approach to architecture.)
Much to like, some to admire, and the book is summed up in the four elements of elegance: Symmetry, seduction, subtraction and sustainability. A nice little read, recommended.(less)
This is a tour de force history of the birth of the modern computer - and, specifically, the role of Princeton's Institute of Advanced Study in it - t...moreThis is a tour de force history of the birth of the modern computer - and, specifically, the role of Princeton's Institute of Advanced Study in it - their "IAS machine" was a widely copied design, forming the basis for many research computers and IBM's early 701 model.We hear of John von Neumann (who tragically died of cancer at 53), Alan Turing (stripped of his security clearing and probably driven to suicide at 41), Stan Ulam, and many others, some famous, some (quite undeservedly) less so. I continue to be amazed at how far ahead some of the thinkers were - Alan Turing discussed multiprocessor and evolutionary approaches to artificial intelligence in 1946, for example.
On a side note, I was pleased to see that a number of Norwegian academics, mostly within meteorology, played an important part in the development and use of the IAS computer. Nils Aall Baricelli, an Italian-Norwegian, was someone I previously had not heard of, one of those thinkers who is way ahead of his time and (perhaps because he was independently wealthy and led a somewhat nomadic academic existence, hence may have been considered something of a dilettante, though Dyson certainly don't see him as such and credits him with the ability to see a possible way from programmed computer to independently learning mechanism (and, perhaps at some point, organism).
The book is a bit uneven - partly standard history, partly relatively deep computer science discussions (some of them certainly over my head), and partly - with no warning - brilliant leaps of extrapolating visioneering into both what computers have meant for us as a species and what they might mean in the future. It also shows some of the power struggles that take place in academics, and the important role IAS played in the development of the hydrogen bomb.
All in all, an excellent history of the early days of computing - a more recent history than many are aware of. As George Dyson says in his Ted lecture in 2003: "If these people hadn't done it, someone else would have. It was an idea whose time had come." That may be true, but it takes nothing away from the tremendous achievements of the early pioneers.(less)
Elegant little book on bullshit - is it lying, is it humbug, what is it really. The question of whether the whole essay is bullshit, remains in the en...moreElegant little book on bullshit - is it lying, is it humbug, what is it really. The question of whether the whole essay is bullshit, remains in the end unanswered - precisely, methinds, what Frankfurt intended the whole time.(less)
Bill Bryson is one of those writers whose books I buy sight unseen - so I can't really understand how I missed this one. I got it as a very welcome Ch...moreBill Bryson is one of those writers whose books I buy sight unseen - so I can't really understand how I missed this one. I got it as a very welcome Christmas gift and read it in small portions over the holiday - the book is ostensibly a walk through an old English house, room for room, but that framework serves only to very loosely organize a barrage of anecdotes and historical trends.
It is obvious that Bryson enjoyed this book - perhaps more than any other he has written. As one reviewer noted, it seems written in the pajamas. Many, if not most, of the stories he retells I have read before, but that doesn't take away any of the pleasure of hearing Bill Bryson tell them again.
And sometimes you find a local connection - I currently live in Brookline, MA, and liked the story of John Longyear, who moved his whole 65-room house from Marquette, Michigan to Brookline in 1904. Longyear, of course, is the same business magnate who founded Store Norske Kulkompani and gave his name to Longyeartown at Svalbard. The enormous house is just a few blocks up from where I live, now part of a condominium complex.
Like his "Short History of Almost Everything", this book is neither short nor a traditional history book, but it is immensely enjoyable. Preferably at home, with your feet up in front of the fire.(less)
Very straightforward and practically oriented - with lots of good examples. Search log analysis - seeing what customers are looking for and whether or...moreVery straightforward and practically oriented - with lots of good examples. Search log analysis - seeing what customers are looking for and whether or not they find it - is as close to having a real, recorded and analyzable conversation with your customers as you can come, yet very few companies do it. Rosenfeld shows how to do it, and also how to find the low-hanging fruit and how to justify spending resources on it.
This is not rocket science - I was, quite frankly, astonished at how few companies do this. With more and more traffic coming from search engines, more and more users using search rather than hierarchical navigation, and the invisibility of dissatisfied customers (and the lost opportunities they represent) this should be high on any CIOs agenda.
Concise and well-written (like most O'Reilly stuff) book on basic social network analysis, complete with (Python, Unix-based) code and examples. You c...moreConcise and well-written (like most O'Reilly stuff) book on basic social network analysis, complete with (Python, Unix-based) code and examples. You can ignore the code samples if you want to just read the book (I was able to replicate some of them using UCINet, a network analysis tool).
REAMDE is a techno-thriller in the traditional sense, i.e., technology plays a part, but so does gunfights, teamwork and hardship. Not one of Stephens...moreREAMDE is a techno-thriller in the traditional sense, i.e., technology plays a part, but so does gunfights, teamwork and hardship. Not one of Stephenson's strongest (that would be Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Trilogy), it has some of the nomadic quality of Anathem but, since it is not a science fiction book (the events take place in modern times, the only technological stretch maybe the quality of the T'Rain World of Warcraft-like multiuser game, which differs from WoW primarily in that it is designed with a working economy (again, one of Stephenson's fascinations - who do you establish a currency in a virtual world.) This means that a lot of what happens stretches the limits of what is possible - you get a bit of the feeling that you get in a run-of-the-mill detective show or war fil, that the bad guys can never shoot straight unless they are aiming for one of the less central characters, preferably those with already life-curtailing afflictions.
The plot is convoluted and centers first on the hunt for some hackers holding important documents hostage (through cryptography), but an inadvertent stumble on a bomb factory in China turns it into a fight between a Jihadist band of terrorists and a collection of technologically astute, well balanced (in terms of gender, ethnicity and geographical starting point) group of hackers, mercenaries and survivalists. Fun, but if you are looking for Stephenson's best stuff, start with the other books here. Or just relax and treat this as a bit of a diversion, not to be taken too seroiously.(less)
Lent to me by my daughter, and like her, I admired the writing and story-within-story interconnectedness, but was left with a nagging wonder - what wa...moreLent to me by my daughter, and like her, I admired the writing and story-within-story interconnectedness, but was left with a nagging wonder - what was really the point? Siri Hustvedt, Paul Auster's wife, has written What she loved, and that is really a better book for this kind of intertwined, dramatic New York story, where violence and mystery happens in a chamber play of mysterious and sometimes amoral characters. But by all means, a good read.(less)
Matt Ridley, science writer and commentator, delivers a blistering attack on the pessimists of the world, who extrapolate their way to doom and gloom,...moreMatt Ridley, science writer and commentator, delivers a blistering attack on the pessimists of the world, who extrapolate their way to doom and gloom, whether it be a new Ice Age, overpopulation, markets rather than hierarchies, energy crises, food scares and epidemics. He shows, with a wealth of examples (not always well referenced - especially the statistics) that the human race, due to its unique in its ability to trade goods, services and ideas with people outside the family or other small group, will succeed in overcoming challenges - including global warming.
For someone who grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation (I remember thinking, as an 18-year old, that there would be little point in getting an education because we were all going to die in an atomic blast anyway) this is another of those books (Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, Dan Dennett's Consciousness Explained and David S. Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations being others) that convincingly reinforces by trust in science, innovation and knowledge's worth and ability to create the future - a future we have not chance of extrapolating ourselves into.
Enjoyable - a simple premise, well argued and organized. Recommended.(less)