Archive for the Book Reviews Category

Quotes Every Man Should Know

Posted in Book Reviews on June 18, 2013 by Bradley Hall

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“Over the past few years,” I thought while typing this review. “I have reviewed many books. One thing I have never reviewed, though, is a book of quotations.”

“How do you review a book of quotations?” I asked myself. “Even if there’s two or three quotations you don’t care about, there’s bound to be many more that you do.”

Well, as Bruce Lee says on page 42, “Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”

“That gave me an idea, how about using quotes to review a book of quotes? As Julio Cortázar said, ‘In quoting others, we cite ourselves.’”

“A good day is one where I can not just read a book, but write a review of it. Maybe today I’ll be able to do that. I get for some reason somewhat stronger when the sun starts to go down. Dusk is a good time for me. I’m crepuscular.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

“Two thumbs up.” ~ Roger Ebert

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” ~ Ray Bradbury

“Books of quotations are always a fun read. Old quotes are like tweets before Twitter. ~ Bradley Hall

http://quirkbooks.com/book/quotes-every-man-should-know

Back To Work

Posted in Book Reviews with tags on June 14, 2013 by Bradley Hall

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I recently went to a massive book sale. Over the course of the Summer, the books I obtained that day (and a few others) will be reviewed here.

The first book to be reviewed is this book, Back to Work by former US President, Bill Clinton.

It’s pretty short at around 200 pages.

Inside, Mr. Clinton talks about how great the country was when he was President and that we were on track to pay off the national debt in the foreseeable future.

Then during the eight years after he left office, something happened, and that isn’t going to happen anymore. He’s not blaming anyone, things happen. But, he’s got a plan.

Mr. Clinton has a few items that, if the country does them, will come out of the recession and be back on top soon. Of course, Mr. Clinton is a realist. He knows that the country isn’t going to do everything he’s asking, and he can’t run for a third term. But, just putting the ideas out there he calls on the citizens of this nation to help get these programs and other ideas started. Whether by fronting the money for an XPRIZE-like thing, or possibly talking to your senator or congressman or governor (or President).

All of the ideas he lists are feasible and could quickly put people back to work, which is one thing sorely needed in this country. Quite a few of his ideas are about clean energy initiatives. Whether you believe in global warming or not, clean energy would definitely be a good thing for the planet. If we can build sustainable hydro-electric plants, wind power turbines, and solar panels, and figure out a way to power cars and things with them, we could cut our dependence on foreign oil.

In the end, this was a great book. I liked Mr. Clinton more after reading it.

One plan I’ve always thought that would increase jobs would be to digitize the national archives. It would put many people to work in nearly every state, and, because digital archives are easily saved and copied, we could have a safety net against fire, which is paper’s greatest enemy. Even if one archives place burned down, as long as we have those archives saved digitally, we’d still have those archives.

The Resurrectionist

Posted in Book Reviews on April 25, 2013 by Bradley Hall

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The Resurrectionist, by E.B. Hudspeth, is a false document. That is, a story claims to be a biography of fictional character. In this case, Dr. Spencer Black.

Dr. Black’s father was a famous resurrectionist, that is, grave robber. He and his sons would venture to fresh graves and dig up corpses for use in anatomy lessons and such.

With time, the young Spencer Black would engage on his own medical career in the late 1800s. At first he became famous for fixing anomalies and birth defects. But, soon, he started thinking that some of these abnormalities were latent genetical traits trying to come back to the surface. For example, the doctor believed that a person that was born without arms was made that way because their body was trying to grow wings.

He then tries to create fantastical creatures by grafting pieces of existing creatures together and shows them off in an entirely macbre travelling show.

While fiction, this book totally seems plausible as the late 1800s was the time when strange touring shows tested the public’s imagination and sense of propriety. The book even pays homage to the famous Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in mentioning that Dr. Black came across an obviously faked specimen of a monkey’s head grafted to a fish’s body, purported to be some kind of tropical mermaid.

Once the biography is done, the rest of the book is Dr. Black’s unpublished master work, The Codex Extinct Animalia, which is an anatomical guide to various taxonomies of legendary creatures with commentary, such as stating that the minotaur is a creature with the worst possible traits of two animals, with none of gifts that the full bodies of those animals would provide. It has a human body with the head of a bull. It does not have a human mind to use the human body, and it doesn’t have a bull’s body to make use of its ability to charge or its strength.

It’s an awesomely macabre story as told via biography. Quite often I found myself wanting to hit up Wikipedia and read more about Dr. Black.

http://quirkbooks.com/TheResurrectionist

The Casual Vacancy

Posted in Book Reviews on January 19, 2013 by Bradley Hall

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The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s most looked-forward-to book, aside from books 2 through 7 of the Harry Potter series, and is her first book to have absolutely nothing to do with Harry Potter, or that universe.

On page two, the incident that sparks the casual vacancy happens: A councilor of a small British town dies.

This sparks a gigantic grab for the now-vacated seat. One group wants someone who is “Pro-Fields” to get it, while another group wants someone that is against the Fields to get it.

Just what is the Fields and why should anyone care?

The Fields is the “rough part of town” where just about everyone is an addict of some type, or will most likely be one in the future. Barry, the late councilor was from the Fields and therefore a Pro-Fields kind of guy.

There’s a bit of political back and forth over which township the Fields actually belongs to. It was created by a town near Pagford, but was pretty much given to Pagford over the years.

The story bounces between the happenings of the adults and the happenings of the kids. As to which group is the main group, that’s up to the reader’s speculation. For me, it seems as though the kids are the main characters, though the amount of characterization found in the adults and the children is breathtakingly marvelous. You really feel for their plights. Well, most of their plights.

One thing I thought was a bit off was Barry’s family, the ones hit the hardest by his death are the characters that are mentioned the least. It’s as if no one cares what happens to them. They pop up here and there, but they aren’t even minor characters.

This is as far from Harry Potter as you can get. I’m sure that Rowling couldn’t wait until she could write something that wasn’t “magical” to show people that she could write as well as anyone else could. In my opinion, she suffers from Kingitis, that is, an inflammation of words. On one hand, wordiness makes the world more alive, but it also makes the reading a bit of a chore.

After reading this the first thought that came to mind was, I wonder what Harry, Hermione, and Ron were up to when they weren’t actively being written about. 

Some Remarks

Posted in Book Reviews on November 5, 2012 by Bradley Hall

I recently read Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson, the guy who wrote Snow Crash and Reamde, both reviewed elsewhere in this website.

Some Remarks is, like William Gibson’s recent Distrust That Particular Flavor, a collection of short fiction and articles written for Wired and other publications.

One article is a crazy piece of writing. A one hundred page article for Wired about laying fiber optic cables from the UK to Japan and all the crazy international hurdles and boundaries and laws that had to be observed in order for this to be done.

While the fiber optic wires are probably a thing of the past, the amount of technological know-how to be able to put thousands of miles of cable into the ocean deep enough to not get damaged and into the ground and skirted around a country’s infrastructure, is amazing to behold. It must have cost Wired thousands of dollars for this article to be written.

The rest of the articles and short stories are awesome crazy stories about the kind of thing we all like Neal for already so if you’re Neal fan, you’ll dig it. If you’re not, check it out, it’s a great starting place, once you read this you can dive into his other books, which usually exceed a thousand pages.

The Last Policeman

Posted in Book Reviews on July 12, 2012 by Bradley Hall

There are many stories that feature a race against the clock. If the killer isn’t found by the stroke of midnight, he’ll never be caught, or he’ll strike again, or any other number of endings that result in the killer never being brought to justice.

In The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters, there’s a time limit. If the killer isn’t caught in six months, the world will end. Of course, the world will end anyway.

Scientists have discovered a gigantic meteor in space, several kilometers across that is on a collision course with Earth. There’s mass rioting, looting, panic, mayhem, and suicides, many suicides.

While some people quit work to go do the things they want to do with their last few months, others go on about their day-to-day existence.

One of the day-to-dayers is newly promoted detective Henry Palace. Palace is one of the last few cops who still shows up to work every day.

He’s tackling a case that everyone is telling him he’s crazy to even pursue. Everyone’s going to die in six months, so why take the time and effort to solve a murder? A murder that everyone else believes is just another suicide here in Hanger Town.

Winters expertly describes a world that just doesn’t care anymore. People kill themselves left and right, every crime is punishable by death, if only because the suspect will be locked up when the meteor crashes.

The first book in a trilogy, The Last Policeman drops hints about the future of this doomed world and its end. I can’t wait to see where this series goes.

Over the four days it took me to read this book, I never put it down. Whenever I had to go somewhere, TLP went with me. The last day I read it, I clocked over a hundred pages, most of it in a single hour.

http://quirkbooks.com/thelastpoliceman

Digital Vertigo

Posted in Book Reviews with tags , , , on May 22, 2012 by Bradley Hall

I just finished reading Digital Vertigo, the latest book by Andrew Keen. If I recall, it has been nearly five years since his last book, The Cult of the Amateur.

His target in his first book was Web 2.0 which was the user generated content of blogs, Wikipedia, YouTube, and the like. For this new book, he targets the Web 3.0 universe of social media. He lists more social media sites and apps and things than I have ever heard of.

MySpace, Facebook, Google+, SocialEyes, Twitter, Klout, Kred, LiveJournal, Blippy, BeKnown, BeWithMe, Flavor.Me, Nextdoor.com, and a whole host of other widely and lesser known social media things that offer a social solution for everything.

Keen focuses the narrative around the 19th century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, who he happened to “meet” in London’s University College over 170 years after Bentham’s death. How? Bentham bequeathed his body to the college and that it always be on display in a wooden and glass case he called an “Auto-Icon” which he translated as “A man that is his own image.”

While ruminating on this dead man, Keen began thinking that everyone is now their own Auto-Icon as they keep up their public image on Facebook, Twitter, and every other Web 3.0 site and app and whatever else there is.

The Internet has become, what Bentham called, an Inspection House, a panopticon. Essentially a prison constructed in such a way that an observer is able to see all of the inmates, yet none of the inmates know they are being watched.

Keen applied this idea of being always watched, but not knowing it to Web 3.0, except, that’s not the case at all. Everyone on Facebook, etc know that they’re being watched, that the all important Like button is the thing they crave attention from. The funnier, goofier, most Kony2012-like thing they can come up with will generate more likes, more shares, and a higher Klout score, as well as more people who want to read what you say.

In this way, Facebook, Twitter, and company have become everyone’s personal echo chamber, one person says something or posts a picture, and then it gets shot halfway around the world in several seconds as people keep liking and sharing and commenting on it.

Many of these websites are supported with advertising dollars. Facebook displays ads, other sites do too. One thing I have always wondered about this is there’s a finite number of dollars in the world. Every time someone creates a new site or thing that needs advertising to support it, that’s less money used to advertise on something else. Eventually there’s going to be a stopping point where there is no one left who can spare the money to advertise on every new venture.

Actually, that might be happening now. GM recently announced that it will be stopping its online advertising in Facebook, as they have found it does not motivate people to go buy a new Chevrolet or Cadillac.

One thing I am interested in seeing is what will happen when people from today’s connected age start running for public office, or even the presidency? Their every Tweet, forum post, Facebook update, possibly even every meal they ate will be available for public scrutiny online on some corner of the Internet.

If you really want to protect your privacy online, then the best thing to do is to not post anything online at all.

The Internet does not forgive and it does not forget.

In all, I really enjoyed this book and had been looking forward to it for quite a while. We all live in public now. All of us. Several times each year, the news reminds us of that fact as members of the nameless, faceless masses make a post or a video or do something online that for better or worse gains them a little bit of notoriety. The world is watching.

http://us.macmillan.com/digitalvertigo/AndrewKeen