I’m a bit overdue for this one. I’m afraid I got somewhat behind on my reading recently, but managed to keep up an okay pace. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down the dates for a few books, so they will be omitted. Here goes:
Nov 4 – “Salt” (Kurlansky)
Review: 3/5; There were a lot of interesting facts in here (like the profound importance of Cod in shifting power from the Mediterranean), but I like my science non-fiction to have a thread of an argument. This read like a laundry list of fun facts about salt, followed by the occasional surfacing of the author to proclaim “SEE! SALT IS A BIG DEAL!” It would’ve benefited from a central argument and a bit more focus.
Nov 9 – Allan and the Holy Flower
Review: 3.5/5; Not much to say here. Another fun romp through Africa as scene through Victorian eyes. I enjoyed it, but can’t help but wondering… is every single Allan Quatermain book about searching Africa for hidden white people?
Nov 9 – The Infinite Book
Review: 4/5; This book was a little long on speculation and short on facts for my taste, but to some degree that was a good thing. It contained profound thoughts in every chapter and was pleasently sprinkled with Borges quotes (he seems to bridge scientists and artists fairly well). Definitely fun and gave me more than a few ideas for comics.
Nov 13 – My Man, Jeeves
Review: 4.5/5; Clever stuff. My first exposure to Wooster and Jeeves. It’s remarkable how much the character of Jeeves (whence the ubiquitous Butler-named-Jeeves trope) is still with us. You see him in all sorts of stories, from Batman, to The Fresh Prince, to Scott Kurtz’s PvP. It’s interesting to think that there are authors out there using this trope without even knowing its source! Fascinating stuff. It’s a shame Wodehouse is so out of fashion with English teachers. He’d be great for high schoolers, though perhaps bad for high school teachers since light comedy isn’t easily subjected to analysis.
Nov 15 – The Stranger (Camus)
Review: 5/5; Great book. This is the first Camus I’ve read since high school, and I certainly appreciate it more fully now. The story itself has the structure of a very clever joke or a sad tragedy depending on how you look at it. I’d elaborate, but it’d ruin the book. Go read it!
Custer’s Last Stand (Philbrick)
Review: 4/5; A good history of Custer’s Last Stand. As usual, Philbrick knows his stuff. That said, I didn’t find the prose exactly enthralling in the way I found his tale of the Essex. But, I think I can chalk that up to my love for sea stories more than any fault of the author’s.
Fermat’s Last Theorem
Review: 3.5/5; Fun, but a little slim. The one fun fact I did take away was that apparently there are bookies who will accept bets on whether someone will prove a theorem at a certain time or not.
The Man who was Thursday
Review: 5/5; Fantastic. Truly great stuff. It’s a mystery thriller, so I can’t go into it, but seriously read this thing. Chesterton is as clever as Oscar Wilde, and the story is fantastic. Why this isn’t a modern series or comic book or SOMETHING is beyond me.
Dec 8 – The Vertical Farm
Review: 3/5; I enjoyed reading this in the same way I like reading NextBigFuture. I have fun, but well… as Hemingway said, “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”
The Blank Slate
Review: 5/5; Dammit Pinker, you convinced me that aptitude is more genetically based than I’d like to admit. And, that it’s probable there are meaningful male-female differences in aggregate at certain skills. Bah!
Dec 17 – From Eternity to Here
Review: I won’t give a grade, since I know and am CYBER-FRIENDS with the author. That said, I enjoyed the book, and like “The Infinite Book,” it gave me plenty of ideas for comics. It also answered a longstanding question of mine. Digression time!
Entropy tends to increase in a closed system. True. However, we know that probabilistically it occasionally decreases. So, I thought, how do we know the universe doesn’t just cycle from entropy back to order. Well, Sean answered that question. If that were the case, we’d expect to be in a pocket of order surrounded by disorder. Empirically, this just isn’t the case. Dang!
Dec 17 – Outliers
Review: 3.5/5; A fun light read with a lot of interesting ideas. But, although I agreed with its overall stance, it mainly fortified its arguments with stories, not statistics.
Dec 27 – Allan’s Wife
Review: 3/5; This felt like a sort of bonus adventure for loyal H Rider Haggard readers. It was fun enough, but short and without much difference to any of the other stories. But, it did provide some interesting character background. This is the 4th Allan Quatermain story of read, and the 4th in which he was searching Africa for white people. Hopefully some of the other stories branch out a bit. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Haggard’s “She.” Maybe I’ll read that soon.
Dec 27 – The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Review: 4/5; Short, but fun and eye-opening. Douglass is eloquent, but doesn’t mince words when it comes to describing the cruelty in the lives of American slaves. Particularly interesting was an entire section in which he talks about how religious slavemasters were the biggest abusers. Even more interesting, he found it necessary to add an appendix on this topic. Although ostensibly to add some nuance and temper his stance against these religious people, it comes off as doing the opposite. I was lead to wonder if Douglass was in fact anti-Christian or even agnostic/atheist, but too prudent to say so at the time.
Dec 29 – The Grand Design
Review: 3/5; Although I enjoyed the read, I couldn’t help but think this was like a short version of an older Hawking book, plus a section on how there is no God. It was fun, but if you want an atheist argument, you’re better off with Christopher Hitchens, and if you want to know pop cosmology, read some older Hawking.
Jan 1 – Genome (Ridley)
Review: 4/5; I really enjoy Ridley’s stuff, since he doesn’t shy away from facts and he uses analogies sparingly, and only to add to clarity. Some authors, even good ones, use analogies just to be cute or sound clever. I didn’t realize until about halfway through that it was a ten year old book on genetics, so it wasn’t the most fruitful read for me. Still, some interesting stuff.
Jan 2 – Why We Make Mistakes
Review: 3.5/5; Fun, but mostly cute stories about the nature of mistakes. But, it gave me some ideas on how to improve my workflow, so I gave it a passing grade.
That’s all for now! I’m also learning some math stuff, but that doesn’t fit well in the “book club.” Hopefully I’ll read at a bit of a faster pace in 2011.