Weinersmith’s Book Club #7

Damn, I really need to start doing this monthly so it can be done with more care. Here will be my rating system:

A: Wonderful.
B: Solid Work
C: Not to my taste
D: Very much not to my taste
N: Written by a friend or acquaintance, so I choose not to rate it here
?: Don’t really remember. This can probably be taken as a sign it doesn’t merit mention
L: It’s by Stanislaw Lem and therefore great.

If I feel like adding commentary, I will.

Okay, here goes:

Nov 30 – The Cyberiad (Lem)

Rating: L

Dec 1 – Seeing Voices (Sacks)

Rating: C

I really enjoy Sacks, but I get the sense he’s just got in the habit of writing books, even when he doesn’t have the expertise he once brought to the table. Fortunately, he got in that habit prior to the age of the Gladwells and Lehrers, so there’s no BS in this one. It’s a fine book to read idly, but nothing magnificent.

Dec 3 – Parkinson’s Law (Parkinson)

Rating: A

Wonderful, especially the first few chapters. Caveat: There’s a rather racist chapter in there, which is a general problem of any comedy books older than, oh, ten seconds ago.

Dec 3 – Bailout (Barofsky)

Rating: B

Great info, not terribly well written. Sometimes reeks of personal ire, though that’s not surprising since the book is really a memoir.

Austin Trip

 

Dec 6 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain)

Rating: A

Dec 12 – Letters from the Earth (Twain)

Rating: A

Dec 14 – Homage to Catalonia (Orwell)

Rating: A/B

I have the ambiguity because I’ve come to like it more in retrospect. One should really have a bit of knowledge of the history of Spain in the last 150 years before trying this one on.

Dec 15 – The Book of Merlyn (White)

Rating: A

It took me a long time to read this book, for the same reason it took me a long time to read the last Sherlock Holmes book. However, unlike the Casebook, White is good from beginning to end. The tone changes and the subject matter grows larger and larger, but in that sense it’s perhaps the recapitulation of life.

Dec 15 – The Futurological Congress (Lem)

Rating: L

Dec 17 – Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Brown)

Rating: A/B

Probably deserves an A, but was perhaps in some ways out of date. This is a common problem for classic works of non-fiction.

Dec 19 – To Have and Have Not (Hemingway)

Rating: A

 

Christmas Trip

 

Dec 31 – The End of the Affair (Greene)

Rating: ?

Well, that’s embarrassing. Can’t strongly remember the plot of a famous book. Must’ve been a little fuzzy getting back from that trip.

Jan 1 – Alas, Babylon (Frank)

Rating: A

Like a lot of golden age sci fi, it’s a bit sitcom-ish. But, still a great early post-apocalypse novel.

Jan 2 – Jefferson: The Virginian (Malone)

Rating: A/B

Jan 5 – Last and First Men (Stapledon)

Rating: A

A very strange book, but I’ve never read anything else quite like it.

Jan 6 – The Impotence of Man (Richet)

Rating: B

Ha! Mostly amusing for the level of pessimism, most of which turns out to be wrong.

Jan 7 – The President’s Club (Gibbs, Duffy)

Rating: B/C

Mediocre pop non-fic. Nothing new here, and I’m generally a bit dubious of books that are overly fawning of the executive.

Jan 8 – African Mole-Rats, Ecology and Eusociality (Bennett, Faulkes)

Rating: A

Awesome book.

Jan 11 – The Strangest Man (Farmelo)

Rating: A

One of the best science biographies I’ve read recently. Wish there were more like it.

Jan 14 – The People of the Mist (Haggard)

Rating: C

Oof. Bad formulaic Haggard. Guilty pleasure.

Jan 20 – Alan Turing: The Enigma (Hodges)

Rating: A

Also great science biography. In particular changed my understanding of Turing’s suicide. It’s quite a bit more mysterious than I’d imagined.

Jan 21 – Economics (Mankiw)

Rating: A

Jan 24 – A Canticle for Leibowitz (Miller)

Rating: A

Man, good long streak of As here.

Jan 26 – The Violinist’s Thumb (Kean)

Rating: A

Jan 27 – Guest of Honor (Davis)

Rating: A/B

Jan 28 – The Rough Riders (Roosevelt)

Rating: B

God what a fascinating pompous ass he was.

Feb 1 – Benjamin Franklin (Isaacson)

Rating: A

Wonderful biography.

Feb 2 – Twentysomething (Henig)

Rating: N

Feb 3 – The Psychopath Test (Ronson)

Rating: N

Story Collider Trip

 

Feb 7 – The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Douglass)

Rating: A

Feb 8 – Lost at Sea (Ronson)

Rating: N

Feb 10 – Them (Ronson)

Rating: N

Feb 10 – The Law (Bastiat)

Rating: A/B

Feb 11 – Flatland (Abbott)

Rating: A/B

Feb 12 – Men Who Stare at Goats (Ronson)

Rating: N

Feb 16 – Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone (Thompson)

Rating: A

Feb 17 – Rocket Boys (Hickam)

Rating: A

Goddamn, what a good book. Like a science dork version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Feb 19 – The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Ed. Braxton)

Rating: A

The minstrel shit grates, but there are a lot of pearls in there.

Feb 20 – South Sea Tales (London)

Rating: B

Feb 21 – The End of Eternity (Asimov)

Rating: B

Sorry. Asimov doesn’t float my boat, but his short stories are usually great.

Feb 26 – Hell’s Angels (Thompson)

Rating: A

But holy shit.

Feb 27 – Roughing It (Twain)

Rating: A/B

Twain, so good. But, not his best.

Mar 1 – An Honest President (Jeffers)

Rating: A/B

It’s a shame honest presidents are less interesting.

Mar 3 – Hello My Big Big Honey (Walker)

Rating: A/B

Randy Milholland recommended this. It’s just a somewhat cheaply made collection of the letters to and from Thai sex workers. But there’s a lot of insight there. Fascinating.

Mar 4 – Failure is Not an Option (Kranz)

Rating: A

Shit. Now I wanna be an astronaut.

Mar 5 – Peace on Earth (Lem)

Rating: L

Mar 7 – The Trouble with Physics (Smolin)

Rating: A

Enjoyed the academic part. Somewhat dubious of the science part, though the general notion that science could do with a bit more philosophy appeals strongly to my biases.

Mar 10 – Roots (Haley)

Rating: A

Damn. So very good.

Mar 11 – Euclid’s Window (Mlodinow)

Rating: B

Mar 11 – Sun-dials and Roses of Yesterday (Earle)

Rating: A

Found an old copy of this in a bookstore in MA. Wonderful stuff. Wish I could get more of her books, but there a little hard to lay hands on.

Mar 13 – A Beautiful Mind (Nasser)

Rating: A

Mar 13 – Isaac Newton (Gleick)

Rating: C

Mar 14 – Mortality (Hitchens)

Rating: A

Mar 14 – Letters to a Young Contrarian (Hitchens)

Rating: A

Mar 16 – The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzche (Mencken)

Rating: B/C

Mar 19 – The Genome War (Shreeve)

Rating: A/B

Mar 21 – The Great Persuasion (Shetterly)

Rating: ?

Mar 23 – The Darwin Economy (Frank)

Rating: B

Interesting thoughts, but I’m not certain a lot of the claims either require or benefit from the hypothesis.

Mar 24 – In Defense of Women (Mencken)

Rating: B/C

Mar 27 – Rocket Men (Nelson)

Rating: A

Mar 28 – Between Man and Beast (Reel)

Rating: A/B

But, I have a soft spot for the subject matter.

April 3 – The Wise Men (Isaacson)

Rating: B

April 4 – Gulp (Roach)

Rating: A

 

Skeptech

 

April 7 – Selfish Reasons to Have More Children (Caplan)

Rating: N

April 10 – The Coming of the Third Reich (Evans)

Rating: A

April 11 – Microcosmographia Academica (Cornford)

Rating: A

Lovely!

April 11 – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson)

Rating: B

Maybe I just already knew the twist, but it didn’t quite ring my bell, and I love Stevenson.

April 17 – Washington (Chernow)

Rating: A

April 19 – Turing’s Cathedral (Dyson)

Rating: A/B

 

Honeymoon

 

Papa Hemingway (Hotchner)

Rating: A

May 5 – Speak, Memory (Nabokov)

Rating: A

Beautiful.

May 7 – The Selfish Gene (Dawkins)

Rating: A

(But what an asshole!)

May 9 – Green Mansions (Hudson)

Rating: C

Good god what trifling Edwardian melodrama.

May 10 – Brothers, Rivals, Victors (Hughes)

Rating: B

May 11 – Is College Worth it (Bennett)

Rating: A/C

What a shit sandwich. Awesome stats and arguments, then here and there “also, fuck liberals.” It’s like a good analyst had Rush Limbaugh as a conjoined twin.

May 12 – East of Eden (Steinbeck)

Rating: A

May 13 – The Alchemy of Air (Verner)

Rating: A/B

May 17 – Beyond the Horizon (Heinlein)

Rating: B

Though, amazingly current-sounding for a book on genetics written in the 40s.

May 20 – Andrew Carnegie (Nasaw)

Rating: A

May 21 – Randomness in Evolution (Bonner)

Rating: A/B

Not sure I buy it as a general framework, but it made me think!

May 22 – Way Station (Simak)

Rating: A

Corny, but good.

May 23 – Travels with Charley (Steinbeck)

Rating: A

May 24 – The Winter of Our Discontent (Steinbeck)

Rating: A/B

May 27 – Pudd’nhead Wilson (Twain)

Rating: A

Glorious.

June 1 – Robert Oppenheimer (Monk)

Rating: A

June 2 – King of Hearts (Miller)

Rating: B

Though, fascinating.

June 2 – Obsessive Genius (Goldsmith)

Rating: B

June 6 – How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa (Stanley)

Rating: B

Terribly written and needlessly aloof and ornamented even by Victorian standards. Interesting as a document, though.

June 8 – Foundations of Astronomy 11th Ed (Seeds/Backman)

Rating: A

Wonderful intro to astro.

June 10 – Dirty Wars (Scahill)

Rating: A

Prepare to be depressed.

June 14 – Life on the Mississippi (Twain)

Rating: A

Truly fantastic.

June 14 – The Doors of Perception (Huxley)

Rating: A/B

June 17 – The Last Founding Father (Unger)

Rating: B

June 18 – Darkness at Noon (Koestler)

Rating: A

What is truly amazing about this book is the portrayal of an old revolutionary whose government has turned evil, but who still can’t let go of his philosophy. Great great book.

June 18 – The Seven Percent Solution (Mayer)

Rating: B/C

I really wanted to like this. And, it’s not bad, but based on its reputation I expected more. As fan fic, I give it an A. As a book, meh. It’s two separate stories, the first of which is dull, the second of which is uninspired compared to early Doyle.

June 20 – Twilight of Authority (Nesbit)

Rating: B

Learned a lot, but also very outdated and gets some facts wrong.

June 22 – The Story of Earth (Hazen)

Rating: A/B

Good, but beware, it’s secretly a book of geology!

June 24 – The Log from the Sea of Cortez (Steinbeck)

Rating: A

Maybe the best book this year.

 

 

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