Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria

The Post-American WorldThe Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is basically about the end of American hegemony. According to the author, this was partly caused by America ruining worldwide trust with the second Iraq war, buy mostly caused by China and India's quiet economic development, and Russia's increased aggression while we were busy with the Middle East. Most of the book is a description of the politics and economics can of America, China, and India. Then there are some warnings and hopeful statements about how this might all lead to greater security. But this was back in 2008. I'm having a hard time imagining how our precarious position in the world is going to work out okay with Trump at the helm.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

The Moon is a Harsh MistressThe Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this as a kid, but my rating is the same as then. There are many interesting things to consider in this novel: a conscious computer, consciousness versus having a conscience, the principles of freedom and rebellion, the dangers of a crowded dystopian Earth, and some fun guesses at utopian futures: racial integration, varying family structures, tax-free government etc. All of this, plus the tricky revolution plots, make for a very fun book. But large chunks of the book drag, especially in the second half.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Tao of Bill Murray by Gavin Edwards

The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party CrashingThe Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing by Gavin Edwards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Half the book is a fun autobiography and the second half is an overview of all of Murray's movie. The autobiography part is itself part autobiography and part collection of stories of weird Bill Murray antics.

The book is as good as the reader is a hardcore fan. Because I am a big fan but haven't seen all the movies, I think the book is 4 stars. Someone who isn't that big a fan might think fewer stars, someone who is more hardcore might say 5 stars.

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1)The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'd heard good things, and it's really short. I read it as "research" for what to read to James, but not really, I just wanted to read it. Haha. It's definitely a children's book for children, and not so much for adults. It teaches kids vocabulary which is nice, but it's pretty dark so I'm not sure the appropriate age for it. Probably it's for middle school students.

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Friday, December 23, 2016

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

The House of the SpiritsThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The novel starts out with a One Hundred Years of Solitude-vibe, with the history of a Chilean family through four generations. You're lulled into a weird tropical stupor where one of the main character's many rapes seem tolerable. (My Goodreads "sexual assault" shelf overflowth.) Little by little, the novel takes a darker political tone, until you're sitting in a pit of Pinochet-inspired torture. Magical realism to horror book basically.

Isabel Allende's father was a cousin of Salvador Allende, who was democratically elected president of Chile from 1970-1973. Because Salvador Allende was a Marxist/socialist the US supported Augusto Pinochet coup d'état in September 1973. Pinochet then proved to be a totalitarian dictator who violented oppressed his opposition. So that's why this novel goes the way it goes. If you want to read more about Isabel Allende's life versus House of Spirits:

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

CryptonomiconCryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meh. Maybe I would have liked it better if it weren't so unrewardingly long. In a strange way, it reminds me of Gravity's Rainbow, if GR were readable and even a tiny but enjoyable- which it is not.

I enjoyed the fun little math sketches in the book and the characters were good. The plot veered between boring and stressful with only small sections in the beginning and middle that I really enjoyed. I'm sad I didn't like it more. I see a lot of enthusiasm for the book in the other reviews and I want to share in that. I loved Anathem, and I'm not giving up on Stephenson. I might need to try for a shorter Stephenson novel next time though.

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The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria

The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and AbroadThe Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is excellent, and I strongly recommend it to everyone. Its thesis is that there's a significant difference between freedom (constitutional liberalism) and democracy and that if wielded poorly, democracy can be the foil of freedom. There is so much more to this book, though. Almost every page gave me something important to ponder. It could function as a starter guide to democracy.

Frequently when I read, I feel like the same thing could have been said in a much shorter more tightly edited text, but this time, I felt quite the opposite. This book is very tight and won't waste any of your time. In fact, I wanted to read more about some of the issues he raised at the end of the book. I'm eager to going to read another Zakaria book next, The Post-American World.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of LifeI Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is about all the fascinating things bacteria do and are responsible for. It's very well-researched. I wanted to give it more stars but I didn't find it enjoyable to read despite already being very interested in the topic.

Part of the reason I didn't enjoy it was its organization. Another part of why I didn't like reading it was its focus on animals and insects. I know animal and insect research is necessary to lay the groundwork for human research. However, I preferred the small and largely split up sections about humans and human environments. To get to these human sections, I'd have to read through a long section about insects that eat their prey alive from the inside ... this caused me a spiritual crisis. Kidding, but only a little.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn

Nine Minutes (Nine Minutes, #1)Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to read this because it was free to download on Amazon and some reviewers on Goodreads were going crazy for it. If you want to read something very different, go for it. It reads like a memoir. It has romance, but it's not successful in that genre. It is good at horror, and I kept mentally screaming GET OUT!!! GET OUT!!! I think it's mostly about Stockholm's Syndrome while denying to be about Stockholm's Syndrome.

The ending is just weird enough that I'm a little tempted to read the sequel. Again, the book is definitely different.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, WitchGood Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and  
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Can a book be bad and pointless, and still kind of cute? If so, this is that book. It's a cross between The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Screwtape Letters with a lot of British humor and snarkiness. It's not very three-dimensional though. The only somewhat developed characters were the demon Crowley, the angel Aziraphale, and the Adam and his friends. I enjoyed them. The other characters were extremely flat and pointless. The ending went on and on. I don't recommend the book but if they ever make a holiday movie of this, I'll definitely go. Haha.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter PanPeter Pan by J.M. Barrie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think that as children's books go, this one is exceptionally charming. (Another one I'd consider "exceptionally charming" is Matilda.) I've read a lot of children's books this year because I read some with James and I read some to decide whether or not to read them with James, and many of them are just annoying if you're an adult. Not this one. I love the writing. It's a beautiful love letter to good mothers.

One thing that dates the book in an unfortunate way is that addition to the kids, the lost boys, pirates, and mermaids, the book also has Native Americans called "redskins."

"Peter Pan" was originally the third book in a series called "Peter and Wendy." The first book is "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" and the second is "the Little White Bird" and I haven't read them though they're both available as free ebooks.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this book was super fun to read. That's why I gave it a full 5 stars. Yes, it was a little formulaic and the love interest wasn't well-executed. I'm not a big 80s film, music, or video fan, but the author was pretty clear about what the references meant and made it fun to follow the progress of the hero. Actually, I'd like to watch some of the movies mentioned because the movies interested me the most. If I had to prepare someone for what reading this book is like I'd say: a significantly less sad Hunger Games.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Super interesting read. I have so many thoughts about this memoir, but it's like an avalanche of thought, and I can't get my bearings.

As a native of rural Kentucky and Ohio, Vance is an excellent tour guide into the world of Appalachia, without being condescending. More people should have read this before the 2016 election, as it is clear now that the dynamics he discusses are at play all around the country in many different types of communities.

Even though I grew up speaking Spanish in New Jersey, I can relate to a lot of the class-based issues he discusses. Especially when I went to law school. I didn't have as big a culture gap as Vance did by the time I entered law school, but it was still a substantial culture gap. Many of my fellow classmates came from families with lawyers and had a lot of individualized help from family and family friends. I'm sure many professors or administrators would have helped, but I didn't even know I should get help in making career preparations and choices. Honestly, I didn't even know what questions to ask. A lot of what I learned about the business and practice of law and networks came in the "too little too late" variety. I also had to sit through conversations where fellow law students discussed the "poor" like they might hypothesize about the plight of pandas in China. Hi! I'm sitting right here, you guys! But one thing I did pick up on quickly was that, in a world where most people don't pay for their own tuition, it's déclassé to discuss money.

This book doesn't directly address something I've noticed has become a problem. More and more, some liberals declare that because a person is "white" and male that he is automatically privileged and can't understand any hardship or injustice. This is ridiculous to me. Privilege and disadvantage come in many different colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors. The book illustrates how wrong this conception of privilege is, without engaging in a (likely unsympathetic) comparison of disadvantaged groups.

The book is a little tricky and a little challenging on how to deal with these complex issues. The author is conservative and possibly planning a run for office one day? But as a liberal, I respect his measured consideration of the issues. I felt challenged to see things in a somewhat different light than I had before, and this is exactly what I seek to do when I invest time in reading a book. I'm pretty sure this book will be a good use of time for others as well.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

Jennifer GovernmentJennifer Government by Max Barry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A slightly silly but a fun dystopian action book. Also, this book is a fun liberal revenge on allegorical books by Ayn Rand. It is certainly more enjoyable than Ayn Rand.

On the other hand, now that there are daily news stories about the President-elect mixing his business interests with his government duties, are we plummeting more quickly toward the Jennifer Government world?

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Ah-Choo! by Jennifer Ackerman

Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common ColdAh-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold by Jennifer Ackerman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The structure of this book is to discuss particular topics or studies by using the interviews with different researchers and recording what they say. However, the researchers don't agree on a number of things. Also, there is a lot that's just general uncertain or nuanced in viral research. (Although this book was written 6 years ago, there's not a lot of new science on this yet.) The effect of this book structure is that it feels disorganized and not very informative.

But the appendix is actually pretty well organized and succinct. You could read the book backwards- read the appendix first for the most important and more certain evidence. Then you could either stop or go back and read the book to see where this evidence came from- the history and research that provided the information in the appendix. The author failed to discuss how antibacterial lotions can be very harmful, but possibly that's newer research.

My take-away is: wash your hands thoroughly with soap, mostly to avoid things that are worse than colds (because colds are actually pretty good for you in the scheme of things); if you get a cold, hydrate and eat chicken soup because it actually helps with the symptoms of a cold; over-the-counter stuff will only mask symptoms sometimes but do nothing to help shorten or avoid the cold; many medications are too dangerous for children, as is the risk of overdose to children from using more than one medication. If you're an adult go ahead and enjoy a hot toddy. Yum.

However, I have kids, and I feel like this failed to address my main issues: (1) How to know if the kids have a cold, a flu, or even something else? (2) How to keep a minor cold or flu from turning into some kind of infection in my kids that ends up requiring antibiotics (sinus or ear infection)? (3) How much to let them cough or try to suppress an excessive or nighttime cough with things such as honey?

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and FlavorThe Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Surprisingly good thesis about the cause of the obesity epidemic. The premise is that human (and animals) recognize and crave the nutrients they need by recognizing the appropriate flavors. So for example, strawberries have countless things we need. Therefore, they taste delicious to us. Many plants also have toxins that we tolerate well in low doses, but once we start to consume too much of the toxins our bodies tell us we're full or we stop desiring to eat that particular plant.

However, in the modern era, healthy foods have been bred for mass production and these foods have become less and less tasty. This is an accurate sign that they are also less nutritious now. We mask the lack of flavor with artificial flavors. Sometimes we add vitamins or minerals to things but it's not in the efficient balance nature provides such as in low-calorie nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, and meats.

So on the one hand, we wrecked the healthy foods- making them less healthy and less tasty. On the other hand, we made delicious unhealthy foods like the book's namesake Doritos. Our instincts tell us tasty = healthy. But now our instinct are wrong. Since our nutritional needs are not properly or completely being met we eat more and more delicious things to fill this nutritional void. But it doesn't work because the tasty things (junk food) don't contain nutrition- in fact, they make us feel worse. Also, they don't contain any of the chemicals or toxins that other foods do that signal our bodies to stop eating.

Most of this is backed up with animal and plant studies, though the author frequently states the need for more research into the science of the link between flavor and nutrition. I especially found this argument interesting because it's a partial rejection of the pure calories theory of weight gain and obesity.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Tenth of December by George Saunders

Tenth of DecemberTenth of December by George Saunders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This short story collection is so amazing, there are no words for how great it is. Three of the stories made me cry, and not out of sadness, but because of how beautiful they were. Saunders is funny, inspiring, and turns pure goodness into stories. What a gift to read a book like this.

My favorites were: "Victory Lap," "Puppy," "Escape from Spiderhead," "My Chivalric Disaster," and "Tenth of December." Also really like "Exhortation." "Sticks" is cool in a weird artsy way.

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Payoff by Dan Ariely

Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations (Ted Books)Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very short book about what motivates us at work, in our families, in our search for a meaning in life. Most of the results are based on actual research in behavioral economics.

In short: control over our lives, creativity, the hard work we put into things, personalizing our work, being personally appreciated at work, love and sacrifice for those we're committed to, and having a sense of legacy in our work or family life.

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The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace

The Broom of the SystemThe Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not the most valuable use of my life. Basically a fiction book about linguistics defining us? I don't even know. It started out really well, carefully developing an interesting character, Leonore and her childhood and adult relationships. Then it just went catastrophically downhill with more and more fantastical elements.

The ending was, as a bit character in the book would have characterized, "the sucks."

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel like this is the part where I have to defend why I liked this so much. But no. It was a very enjoyable book. It was bad ass. It was feminist. I might even read it again one day. I liked the journey itself, I liked her writing, I liked the people she met, I liked all of it.

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