Friday, March 31, 2017

The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

The Traveler (Fourth Realm, #1)The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The writing was not good, but it's full of interesting ideas and I think it might make a great movie.

I enjoyed the exploration of dataism versus living off the grid. And I'm always a fan of anticonsumerism. The author introduced me to some interesting ideas about quantum computers.

I wasn't into the fantasy element of the travelers. I didn't see the benefit of it or the tie into the other concepts.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus: A Brief History of TomorrowHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating and intricate. Harari builds a spiderweb, starting with the history of human thought, building and building until you understand how plausible his predictions of the future are.

This was the first time I had encountered this particular explanation of why we should study history- not just to avoid repeating it, but to understand that the actions that we take as a given are actually options. (See his section on lawns.)

This was the first time I had considered humanism in the particular way he explains it, and the first I even heard of dataism. Strongly recommend this book for its intellectual content, but it's worth mentioning that it was also so fun to read that I could not stop.

If you want the super short summary, Harari wrote this article for the Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/50bb4830-6...

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking, Fast and SlowThinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While there are many great concepts in this book, for me it suffered from the following:

1) A lot of this research- even Kahneman's personal - research has been widely cited in more recent books which I read first.
2) Some of it is an explanation of basics statistics such as regression to the mean. While most of the population might not be familiar with basic stats, if you are this part might be a bit belabored. (And for people that aren't familiar with basic stats, this book might be basically unreadable because I'm not convinced that the author did a good job of explaining it.)
3) It was too long. It covered too many "biases" and there were too many many examples of the each kind of bias. I almost gave up on the book because I was going insane from the length and repetition.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being A WallflowerThe Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is more of a split score. I think I would have given it 4 stars if I'd read it when I was in highschool, and it's more of 3, maybe 3.5 for me now. The main character is a freshman in high school dealing with a lot of pain while trying not to be super awkward.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I reread this as part of my "Bannon-Trump-resist" reading list. I only read it before it in middle school and I'm not sure what I got from it at the time except maybe that tyranny, and tyranny of ideas, is dangerous.

It has a peculiar effect on me this time around. I've been reading fast and furiously for about a year, trying to make up for lost time (all the time I spent not reading very much while I was working a lot). The more I read, the more I become aware of all the books that are necessary to read; the books I have yet to read. And in this frame of mind, the single scariest sentence in the book is: "Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it's a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line."

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

March: Book Two by John Lewis

March: Book Two (March, #2)March: Book Two by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Better than March 1. It's an extremely powerful account of the Freedom Rides and goes all the way to the March on Washington. It works well as a stand-alone book. It should definitely be required reading in American History classes.

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My Escape from Slavery by Frederick Douglass

My Escape from SlaveryMy Escape from Slavery by Frederick Douglass
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a follow-up to Douglass's autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and fills in the missing information about how he escaped from slavery.

Frederick Douglass is one of the best writers of all time. His subject matter is captivating, but his skill as a writer is both technically perfect and extremely moving.

Some favorite sentences:
"This contest was now ended; my chains were broken, and the victory brought me unspeakable joy."
"I was without home, without acquaintance, without money, without credit, without work, and without any definite knowledge as to what course to take, or where to look for succor."

And this! I love this: "While in this situation I had little time for mental improvement. Hard work, night and day, over a furnace hot enough to keep the metal running like water, was more favorable to action than thought; yet here I often nailed a newspaper to the post near my bellows, and read while I was performing the up and down motion of the heavy beam by which the bellows was inflated and discharged."

Available free here: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/doug...

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, I have a lot of thoughts and I'm going to let them settle for a long time. I cried a few times here. Saunders captured personal grief as well as it can be captured.

I didn't find it as difficult to follow as some reviewers said but it did take a while to get the hang of the structure.

At the same time, this novel was deeply weird. This is what you might expect to happen if Tim Burton and Claudia Rankine did a production of Our Town.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Beasts of Tarzan (Tarzan, #3)The Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There are so many things wrong with this third book in the series. The racism everyone knows about. Though I continue to think that it's also generalized misanthropy because while the author's language is racist, the human characters are mostly all the same regardless of race. The animals are the noblest and most moral characters. Unfortunately, the animals might also be the most interesting character as all the other characters appear to be extremely one-dimensional. Also, the story dragged on so much. It could have ended several chapters before it did, but instead, the author created additional one-dimensional bad guys to oppose.

So what did I like? I liked the crazy troupe of animals. This is probably the book in the series that most inspired the cartoon Disney version of Tarzan (along with book #1). I liked that Jane gets the opportunity to be kind of bad ass in this one. I liked that there were additional good guys in this story, and I enjoyed their contributions. As for the action has everything- fighting, animals, ships, explosions.

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The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because this is part of the trilogy, the conflict was pretty much resolved about 60% of the way through the book. I actually really enjoyed that. The rest of the book was just about the things that mattered to the characters and their relationships. Solidly good.

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into ValuesZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ever want to experience the mental illness/breakdown of a philosopher? Also need a few motorcycle maintenance tips? This is the book for you. Some talk about mindfulness and zen as well but not the main topic in my opinion.

Spoiler alert. My hard copy is an original copy. My digital loan from the library had a 10-year anniversary edition Afterword that totally devastated me.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Salome by Oscar Wilde

SalomeSalome by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was a disturbing reimagining of the Bible story. It was fine.

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Enemies: A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner

Enemies: A History of the FBIEnemies: A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Starts out a little slowly but then becomes progressively more interesting. I did not have a good grasp of what the FBI has been doing since its creation- if anything I had an incorrect idea of what it does. I was particularly disturbed by the section on the FBI spying on Civil Rights leaders.

The ending is really interesting and hopeful because of all the positive changes in the Bureau.

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

An Ideal HusbandAn Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hilarious comedy of errors full of thoughtfulness about ethics, politics, love, and marriage. I recommend it.

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very fun short read. It's a bit spoiled by the fact that everyone knows the surprise before reading the book, but I still enjoyed the story. My other issues are that we never get to hear the juicy bad fun Mr. Hyde is up to and that Mr. Hyde seems to help Dr. Jekyll suppress him which makes no sense since Mr. Hyde is pure evil.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ghost Wars by Steve Coll

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There was a lot of really interesting information in this book that I was excited to read about. However, it was buried in a ton of information that while it did add a little color here and there, it largely bogged down my overall understanding of the topic. The main players in this narrative are the CIA, Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Massoud, President Reagan, the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, Bin Laden, Pakistan, President Clinton, the Taliban, and arguably the drones. However, there are thousands of individuals in this book with all sorts of personal details about them such as what sports their children played. I think an abridged version of this book would be great, but the full version was just too much. I finished it out of sheer stubbornness.

Having recently read The Black Swan and the related series of books, the thing that stands out about this narrative to me it how impossible it was to predict the long-term consequences of US action in Afghanistan during the Cold War. So if you're looking for answers or the ability to assign blame, there might be none to be found. The most likely cause as far as I can determine is fanatical religion itself.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Antifragile: Things That Gain from DisorderAntifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In many ways this book is more interesting than The Black Swan, and I agree with a lot of what Taleb writes about in the book. I especially enjoyed and agreed with his thoughts on diet. (Really!) But there are also more things in this book that can be picked apart, either because he is wrong or flippantly unclear about them. Maybe that just makes the book more interesting to discuss in a book club or seminar.

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This has everything: moral conscience, adventure, family, romance, feminism, politics, and religion. It's literary fiction and it has an element of fantasy. Some of it reads like a poetry. Worth reading.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Human Acts by Han Kang

Human ActsHuman Acts by Han Kang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is heavy. It doesn't sneak up on you as the novel opens on a room full of corpses, but it does grow steadily more emotional.

This is a reminder to people who grow lazy and ignorant in comfortable democracies what the loss of democracy is really like. The right to peaceably assemble- protesting- is a right in free countries because when it is not, nothing else is free.

But this novel is also a general condemnation of humanity, and it stings.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is very disturbing in that there's violence, rape, and racism-- and to credit Angelou- the racism is the most painful somehow. The scene with the dentist is so heartbreaking. But the book is also full of love and humor. A classic.

Side note: I don't know if I this is the first time I read this autobiography or not. I had it on my shelf for ages, and its title is so familiar to everyone. Also, this is Angelou's first autobiography and earlier this year I read Mom & Me & Mom, her seventh autobiography, and the books are mostly the same, except this stops while she's still quite young, and Mom & Me & Mom is shorter. Also, Mom & Me & Mom seems more like a refocus on her mother because she mostly left her mother out of this one because her grandmother raised her until she was in her teens.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical AphorismsThe Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not like Taleb's other three "Incerto" books. This is a book of aphorisms. Initially, I had a negative reaction to this because I was expecting a book like Taleb's other books about predictions and random events. I think I also had a negative reaction because I'm mostly familiar with Buddhist aphorisms (and not with the classical Greek ones Taleb cites), and Taleb's attempt to write a book of aphorisms seemed arrogant.

But then I actually read them, and they're pretty good, and they fill the need for aphorisms for the modern increasingly complex world. It's a really short book so you can read it quickly, but more likely you need to think about most of the sentences for longer than you otherwise would. This might even require a rereading.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly ImprobableThe Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a good expenditure of my time. Taleb makes a coherent argument about things I've previously thought about but vaguely dismissed both because of my desire to be normal and my fear of potential "black swans." I say "vaguely dismissed" because I can't actually dismiss my fears by just telling myself they are irrational; I can only avoid taking action to prevent the consequences.

I didn't totally understand all the writing about models in Part 3, but this doesn't seem totally necessary to understanding his larger points.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Big U by Neal Stephenson

The Big UThe Big U by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is like a futuristic Lord of the Flies inside a big city university and dorm. The book is not good. It took me two months of slogging through it to finish it. I gave it two stars instead of one because I liked the idea (kind of) and the characters, but not the insane execution.

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Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Tao Te ChingTao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some parts of this are very good and reminded me of guided meditations about mindfulness. However, there are a lot of parts about politics and about not traveling that I just can't get behind.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the MarketsFooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This had a lot of interesting ideas, some new to me. However, the author's hatred of outlines and organizations was apparent well before he confessed it. Taleb seems to appreciate randomness in life, but also in his writing. The central point of his book is that we fail to appreciate how much is attributable to randomness and not to causality or personal ability. He seemed to jump around between examples in various different fields (medicine, journalism, markets), ancient literature, and logic. I would have appreciated this book more if it had a tight structure.

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Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman ArchetypeWomen Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this because Emma Watson's (United Nations Women) feminist book club chose it for this month's selection. I love the book club, but I did not love this book. I could see how some women might find it valuable, but it just wasn't my jam.

It told some scary fairytales and then asserted that these were a feminist balm for your sexist wounds. But I don't actually think so. For example, "La Llorona" seems to be about not being evil just because you're wounded or sad.

Also, the author blatantly overused the word "moist." Just unnecessary.

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