Saturday, March 17, 2018

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and ProgressEnlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this because Bill Gates said we should all read it (here's his review: I thought this book was pretty interesting and engaging even if at times I found it unpersuasive. the concept is basically that things have gotten better throughout history (I believe this) and that they will continue to get better. Furthermore, a belief that they will get better is inspirational to people to make it so, whereas a belief that everything is on the decline is discouraging and causes people to give up. So far so good.

I also agree with some of his cultural complaints about the left. I am a liberal so I'm not being snarky but vitriolic reactions from the left seem to be getting more common among regular people (as opposed to leaders of movements, politicians, and celebrities).

But there were some issues with his ideas and facts better explained by some angry environmentalists: To be fair, he definitely does NOT deny global warming/climate change or the potential of a human calamity, he just thinks we're going to pull it with an informed increasingly progressive populace and new technologies.

And just more generally, you can't dismiss "black swans" based on statistics. That's the whole point of black swans! So yeah, I'm not convinced that something catastrophic won't suddenly smite us, whether it's an unexpected consequence of advancing climate change or something totally unanticipated.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf

Jacob's RoomJacob's Room by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I love Virginia Woolf but this one is not my jam. I don’t care about Jacob or any of the other characters. The concept is interesting: understanding the main character through his life primarily through the eyes of other characters. But for me, it just didn’t work.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump by Bandy X. Lee, Craig Malkin

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a PresidentThe Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Bandy X. Lee, Craig Malkin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of 27 essays by mostly experts in psychiatric medicine. I was surprised and interested that many of the essays examined a different angle.

First, the authors discuss the ethics of this book. The author-psychiatrists have not personally met Donald Trump to diagnose him, so the American Psychiatric Association's Goldwater Rule states it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures they have not examined in person. They note that they disagree with association rule where public safety is at great risk as they believe it is, that members of the APA did not vote on the rule, that if they had met with him as a client they would be forbidden to give a public opinion based on confidentiality, that no other profession is barred from expressing an opinion regarding the mental health of the president except the people who are actually experts on mental health.

Also, they briefly mentioned the Tarasoff Rule, which is a legal standard in American. I'll quote in its entirety here: "When a therapist determines, or pursuant to the standards of his profession, should determine, that his patient presents a serious danger of violence to another, he incurs an obligation to use reasonable care to protect the intended victim against such danger."

The essays present different points of view regarding the president's mental health both as a general idea that Democracy needs to address, and as it specifically relates to Donald Trump. Despite the different angles of the essays a few themes emerge.

1) Donald Trump is likely mentally ill in that his behavior is not beneficial to himself, is harmful to individuals he attacks- which he does frequently, and is harmful to the country generally. In addition to the harm that he has already caused, he might present additional dangers to the country and world.

2) Whether or not he is mentally ill, the more important question is whether he is dangerous, which he definitely is according to his own statements and actions. No psychiatric expertise necessary to understand this point.

As an aside, I often read reviews that disagree with my views in order to find points which I should concede. In this case, the one-star and two-star reviews make no sense to me and seem to be more emotional than logical.

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Understanding the Koran by Mateen Elass

Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide to the Muslim Holy BookUnderstanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide to the Muslim Holy Book by Mateen Elass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pluses and minuses here. This book is a short guide to the Koran/ Quran for people trying to get an overview. I read it at the same time as I read the Koran itself. This is probably most helpful for Christians. The author was raised Islamic and converted to Christianity so he's mostly respectful towards Islam.

I found the author to be biased at times though because of his strong Christian affiliation. Rather than cite historical or academic arguments, the author typically relied on Christian evidence, so I didn't think it was a good book if you're trying to understand the greater history. Still, it was a concise overview of the actual book of the Koran, some Islamic religious beliefs, with some cultural context from a reliable ex-practitioner.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Quran / القرآن الكريم by Anonymous

Quran / القرآن الكريمQuran / القرآن الكريم by Anonymous

I don't rate religious or holy books. There was a lot in the Quran/ Koran which sounded familiar to me from the Jewish Old Testament, but there was less of a narrative regarding the events and persons. There were also some things from the New Testament such as Jesus, hell, and the end of days. The middle of the book seemed largely devoted to fighting the Infidel and the end was a discussion and assurance that would punishments inflicted on the infidel in the afterlife.

I'm trying to read a few books about the Quran to get a better understanding of the history and current practice as well.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño

By Night in ChileBy Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As far I can tell, the surface of this story of a jerky priest who has literary interest and regrets his complicity with the Pinochet regime at the end of his life. Overall, it seems a condemnation of intellectuals who just go along with repressive regimes even if they are opposed to them. This also appears to be written in a way in which only an intellectual could stomach reading so... maybe Bolaño didn't want to openly critique intellectualism, perhaps because it is not the problem on its own.

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Monday, March 5, 2018

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

The Demon King (Seven Realms, #1)The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this! It's solidly YA genre fantasy and there's nothing especially new here but it was fun. I like the main characters a lot: Raisa ana'Marianna, princess heir of the Fellsmarch, and "reformed thief" Han Alister. It has a lot of the stuff that makes Game of Thrones fun without all the painful stuff that bogs it down. Royalty, soldiers, and wizards vying for power.

I love the world building. The world has a specific though somewhat unclear history. Hanalea was a legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world, except maybe that's not what happened at all. My favorite part of the world building is the lifestyle of the clan. The clan characters are also particularly interesting especially Han's clan friend, Dancer, and his mother the potions maker. Raisa's father and grandmother are also from the clan and add a lot to the story once they appear.

A lot of it is predictable, and it's a bit slow at the beginning but it's just really fun. I'm excited to read the next book and see what happens now that all the characters are finally in motion.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti (Binti, #1)Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here are the things I liked: the writing, the main character, the world-building, the main character's culture, and her mathematical skills, interests, and basically magic. What I didn't like: the plot and the simplistic resolution thereof. Given the level of violence in the story, the resolution is just impossible for me to move past.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild PossibilitiesHope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read an updated version. This was a pretty good pep talk to participate in and continue with social and political activism even when we are discouraged. There were some tips regarding activism and some history regarding the long-term success of activism. Overall, it felt kind of disjointed though, so I wasn't able to really sink my teeth in. But again, a happy, hopeful, and simultaneously realistic pep talk. We certainly need that right now.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau

Cape Cod: Illustrated Edition of the American ClassicCape Cod: Illustrated Edition of the American Classic by Henry David Thoreau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some interesting parts but mostly really boring even for me, who really cares about and regularly visits Cape Cod. Highlights included the mentions of the sea animals, and everything and everyone who washes ashore- though I don't hear about treasure washing up anymore.

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