Book Reviews 2011, Part 1

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Continuing the tradition

I’ve certainly been packing away the books this year. It’s probably a combination of things: 1) I’ve got free time. 2) I’m becoming a better developer (maybe), so that takes less mental energy and I’m looking for other outlets. 3) I own an iPad which at least removes most of the overhead of having to go out and buy physical books (and eBooks are cheaper). But really: Who knows.

And so, here’s a selection of reviews I’ve left on Shelfari the first three months of this year:

The 25th Hour by David Benioff

“It’s good. I like the set-up: Monty’s last 24hrs before heading off for a stretch in federal prison. And the characters are very well-painted. But it fizzles a little bit at the end and doesn’t wrap things up in a totally satisfying way, which is a bit disappointing. But I like Benioff’s style. City of Thieves is definitely a better work of his, though.” ✭✭✭✭

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

“I don’t know… I kind of hazily cruised through this one. I liked the character of Pnin and the depiction of Waindell but wasn’t really gripped by the story.” ✭✭✭

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

“Hm. So I read this simply because I’m working on a project where we’re throwing around the term “whuffie” quite often. I wanted to make sure I understood where the term came from. And Magic Kingdom is a short read — and free — so why not?

“Overall: I like some of the ideas. I like exploring what happens when people live in a world of total abundance — when they don’t die, they don’t starve, they can totally remake their bodies at a whim, etc. But this book kind of suffers from existing in this universe where Nothing Really Matters: Magic Kingdom is way too light. There’s almost no substance to it. The central plot feels utterly inconsequential. The hundred-plus year-old characters have the wisdom of teenagers. And the moments when the story should take us aside and really explore some of the implications of all of this life-extension, social-currency (“whuffie”) economy, etc stuff — it doesn’t. Which is a shame.

“Anyway: It’s a fun read. A quick read. Just lacking in substance.” ✭✭✭

American Splendor by Harvey Pekar

“This is really the kind of storytelling I like best, the sort of slice-of-life stuff. I guess it’s the depiction of the little moments of beauty or epiphany in plain life… It helps me step back and appreciate the details in my own mundane world a bit more. Good stuff.” ✭✭✭✭✭

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

“Just a guy talking about life and stuff. A mellow read. Good for getting a little perspective.” ✭✭✭✭✭

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson

“I enjoy reading about physics and astrophysics. And while I don’t have much of a mathematical background in those sciences (beyond the basics), I took enough classes in high school and undergrad (and have read enough books with interest) that I feel like I know a thing or two about what goes on up there.

“Tyson (whom I find utterly charming on television) doesn’t break any new ground in science — this isn’t a book about string theory or any other single cutting-edge topic. (Most of it’s not even about black holes.) What this book is, rather, is a series of science essays, each one tackling one specific piece of the astrophysics puzzle and explaining it in a very approachable, understandable way. In doing this, Tyson builds up a fairly detailed picture of how the universe works without ever getting too complicated or dull.

“So while I felt like I had been exposed to much of this information in the past (in a liberal arts sort of way), I really appreciated the science refresher and I appreciated being taken away from my mundane day-to-day back to a place where I could appreciate space and science. It’s something I used to enjoy — but it’s hard to find the time to fit into an otherwise rather busy life.

“My only criticism is about the last two sections, which were mostly about earthly concerns such as lack of public scientific literacy and the place of religion and intelligent design in science. Tyson and I are on the exact same page on these issues and he, of course, can make his arguments much more elegantly than I could. But. I really don’t need to be convinced of these issues and I really just wanted to hear more about the actual science. And it ended the book on a kind of oddly combative note.

“So: Great book! It’s a relatively quick and easy read given the subject matter and Tyson’s almost as charming on the printed page as he is on TV.” ✭✭✭✭✭