Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

2034: A Novel of the Next World War”  (2021©)  —  book review
The book subject to today’s review was written by Elliot Ackerman, James Stavridis Admiral USN (ret.).  Ackerman is a former White House Fellow and decorated Marine veteran.  Stavridis is, of course, best known as a four-star Admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.  Ackerman is a working journalist / opinion writer and both are authors of multiple books.  That’s pretty much their bonafides for writing a “future – history” about world war / combat.
This novel is set thirteen years in the future.  Putin is still in charge of Russia.  The U.S. has a female President from an Independent party.  And, we don’t really know much about anyone else in charge around the world.  We know China is pushing its claims in the northern Pacific, yet Taiwan remains an independent “nation” state.  India has somehow “resolved” the Pakistan issue in its favor, but we don’t know what that means for either India or Pakistan.  NATO is in disarray without strong U.S. leadership.  And, finally, Iran has had some success against Israel.  What isn’t exactly made clear, except Iran has somehow “freed” the Golan Heights.
Background:  The first third of this book was published as a special “full dedicated issue” recently in Wired magazine, which I subscribe to.  I have read EVERY issue of the magazine since inception back in 1993.  The company I worked for back in 2000 had all of the back issues on a shelf and I would “borrow” them one at a time, read cover to cover and then bring them back.  As far as I know, no one else EVER read any of them, as once I was hired, I kept the current ones on my desk and no one ever asked for them.  Shortly before leaving the company, I got a personal subscription and have continued reading them for the last 20 years.  Anyway, Wired‘s issue left you hanging with the promise of a future novel publication in March 2021.  My review is of the full publication.  This book was one of two I received as a birthday present from my wife.
And,…  This book is about a military conflict between China and the United States.  Supposedly, China is an ascending world power and the U.S. is a descending / failing world power.  China stages a confrontation in order to demonstrate its military superiority – and the world slips into war.
Is the book interesting?  Informative?  Entertaining?  Accurate – technologically, politically or militarily?  Is it worth the time to read it?  To be honest, the magazine promised more than the book delivered.  The answer to all five of those questions is mostly so-so…
It is a fast read at barely over 300 pages.  The problem is there isn’t much there – there.  I don’t know how much (if any) current military capability Ackerman has access to.  It is a given (to me) that Stavridis would have had nearly unlimited access (pre-retirement anyway).  The problem is, of course, the book would have had to be submitted to and cleared through State and DOD before it was published and neither agencies (nor the authors) would have been inclined to offer much useful information in a novel.
With nothing but the most general capabilities described we get a lot of implausible “magic” technology under the guise of “AI” (Artificial Intelligence) which seems to work perfectly and then not at all.  We get very poor strategic decisions / action by the U.S.; we get some oversimplification of other technologies (overseas internet cabling);  side tracks by Russia and Iran, which seem to have been added to make the conflict global rather than China vs. U.S.;  and then we get a couple of miracles at the end by India to conclude the novel / war.  That pretty much covers the “informative and accuracy” portion of this review.
What about interesting and entertaining?  Again, so-so…  There are five main characters: female American Admiral, male American fighter pilot, male American (Indian immigrant) NSC advisor, male Iranian officer (he ends up with various ranks), and the main Chinese (half-American) Admiral.  The story is told from each of their viewpoints.  (Yes, there are also another handful of secondary but important characters, but this is really about the big five.)
The problem I had was the number of characters made for a long, deep story which developed each character to the point where you cared about them without giving away too much plot / ending.  Unfortunately, this book is neither long nor deep, which meant you almost cared, but not quite.  And, again unfortunately, it was almost entirely predictable and therefore, while I finished feeling entertained, I didn’t feel satisfied – emotionally or intellectually.
Then is it worth your time, then?  Yes!  It raises the interesting question if military technology is useful if it is subject to (can be negated by) a less expensive counter-measure.  In this case, the apparent answer is that if the elephant is blinded, it is still an elephant and not easily overwhelmed.
Final recommendation: moderate to strong.  This is not Tom Clancy or Sir John Hackett level political, military or strategy writing, but I did find it entertaining even if not informative or militarily consistent.  I’m grateful to have received it as a present, because I’d have waited for the paperback or a very reduced price before buying it myself.  So I got to read something almost literally hot off the presses…
Final disclaimer:  I purchased this book at normal / sale price and no compensation has been provided to me by anyone for my opinions in this review.
.
On This Day In:
2020 First Buds
To Fly
2019 What If Nobody Believes Them Either
2018 It’s About Heart Not Skill
2017 Winning So Much I’m Already Tired Of It (Not)
2016 Punishing Red Binge
2015 Bits In The Soup
2014 More Beef, Less Bull
2013 Where Are Your Mountains
2012 Spherical Knowledge Of Hamsters
2011 Taking Stock Over Time

Read Full Post »

House Of M” — (2012©) book review
This review is for the soft bound edition of “House Of M” which was originally published in 2005.  The “book” consists of eight issues of X-men and Avengers comics collected in this packaging. The storyline was written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Olivier Coipel.  The story “seems” to happen in an alternate universe and is about the creation of an alternate reality created by one of the X-men / mutants / Avengers – Wanda Maximoff aka: the Scarlet Witch.
I read this book because it came recommended by one of the blogs I follow ( “the !n(tro)verted yogi” located at: https://berniegourley.com/).  It sounded interesting from his review and I thought my son might have a copy so I contacted him (my son) and the rest is history.
Background:  I used to read comics (mostly Marvel comics) when I was young.  I collected both the X-men and the Avengers series (along with many others), so I have some background in the basic teams and characters.  I therefore recognized most of the super-heroes in the book.  Not all, but most.  Additionally, I have watched most of the Marvel movies over the last 10+ years.
Anyway, it appears Marvel has run out of super-villains for their major teams to fight, so they’ve gone off the deep end and created “alternate universes” and alternate timelines so they can rehash old battles or struggle with the philosophical issues of dealing with “alternates”.
In this story Wanda has created an alternate world where all of her friends are supposed to be happy.  There’s a problem though.  She misses a couple of them and they, in turn, “free the minds” of others until there are a sufficient number to go battle her for reality.
The story is okay, if a bit overly dramatic, but the characters are true to my (distant) memories of them.  The art is very good.  It’s more in the “full-figured” “Jack Kirby” muscular style which I prefer to the (I guess) more current anime style.  The paper is super-glossy which allows for much better color than the old paper stock I used to buy as a lad.  The only comment / complaint I have is there is a tendency to go across pages and then down pages without providing dinosaurs (me) with a visual clue of which way I’m supposed to read the panels on the facing pages.  They seem to go sideways (across two pages) then down on one page and the next, all on the same two pages.  This is a fairly minor comment though.
Bottom line:  I liked the story, the drawings and the colorings so I would recommend (moderate to strong) this book to anyone interested in either or both groups.  A couple of final comments:  I just checked the price on the back cover and it is $25!!!  I don’t know how Marvel expects children to buy these as even over eight original issues that’s $3 a pop!  To put this in perspective, I was buying comics at $.10 per issue.  I guess at some point since then a comet hit the earth and all of us dinosaurs moved on to books – I mean went extinct…  And, this collection is one in a series, so once you’re in for a penny, you’re probably in for a pound (of flesh).
Oh, and by the way, the link to Bernie’s specific review of this book is: https://berniegourley.com/2021/02/25/book-review-house-of-m-by-brian-bendis/
If you have a few minutes to visit his site, I recommend it, too.
.
On This Day In:
2020 When?
2019 Two Guides
2018 A Call For You
2017 Because I Read
2016 On What Matters…
2015 Social Security
2014 Bewitching
2013 Visiting Joy
2012 Dedication To Today
2011 Project Second Chance – Adult Literacy
Turning Coal Into Diamonds

Read Full Post »

The Lessons Of History”  (1968©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for a summation / distillation book written by Will and Ariel Durant (a married couple) which culminates a series of eleven volumes popularly titled: “The Story of Civilization“.  This book (“Lessons“) actually was written and published between volumes 10 and 11 of that main work.  The book attempts to provide extremely brief points about twelve topics: geography, biology, race, character, morals, religion, economics, socialism, government, war, growth / decay, and progress.  There is also a preface and a first chapter detailing the authors “hesitations” in presenting such a précis.  The book is barely 117 pages while the typical main volume is 900-1100 pages (over 10,000 pages in total).  Obviously, their task was daunting and, generally speaking, they only compare / contrast the two main tensions (positions) for each topic (i.e. religion vs secularism) in this slim book.  This book, like the main series, is an attempt to bring “history” to the masses (in simple, if flowery, language).
If you are a lover of words, you will enjoy the authors’ writing style.  I found the imagery almost poetic at many points.  If, however, you are a person grounded in ideas, you may be less taken by this work.  The chapters tend to be limited to the “compare and contrast” formula of only two main concepts each per topic.  Another issue: the book is dealing with racism and culture, character and morals, etc., and many times we see these topics through the prism of our modern perspective, while the authors view them over the course of human history.  Racism and slavery, for example, seem almost excused because that’s the way it (humanity) has been for the vast majority of the last 5,000 years.  It is NOT excused (by the authors), but it is detailed and in most sections comes across as “the white-man’s destiny”, until suddenly – sometimes in only a single brief paragraph, it isn’t.  And the “suddenly” paragraph represents the last 150 years which some of us have lived through a fair chunk of – in my case 65 of them, anyway.  I am not trying to be critical of the couple’s monumental work (over five decades in the writing for the main series), however, this book seems to suffer from the same European / Northern Mediterranean perspective (i.e. bias) which the main series is always criticized for.  I did not personally find this overly objectionable, but then I am a “melting-pot” American (product of the 1960’s).
Is this a good book?  Is it thought provoking?  Is it entertaining?  Yes.  Yes.  And, yes.  There is a well known expression that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  The authors opine this is not necessarily as true as is the subtle appearance of time, leadership, government and civilization being caught up in great interweaving cycles – like a pendulum we swing back and forth between anarchy and tyranny with only brief periods of democratic liberties and freedoms.  And, they attempt to illustrate this series of cycles for each of the twelve chapters opposing extremes.  Please note:  the authors imagery is circular.  Mine is the pendulum.
Final recommendation: highly recommended!  I bought the full twelve volumes several years ago and promised myself I’d read them “eventually”.  I’m glad I’ve finally dipped my toe in the ocean.  I guess the next step is to begin the real swim…
.
On This Day In:
2019 Dodgers Choke AGAIN
He Wasn’t “Just Kidding The Press”
2018 Thinking About My Hil
Remember Your Duty In November
2017 Play Well With Others
2016 Surviving And Challenging
2015 On Destroying Historic / Archaeological Sites
2014 Magical Power
2013 How Awesome Would That Be
2012 Two Views
2011 Still Looking For Examples
2010 Giants Win Away 3 – 2!!

Read Full Post »

Too Much and Never Enough” (2020©)  — book review
Today’s review is for the recently released family psychoanalysis / gossip tale concerning “Uncle Donald” aka: President Donald Trump, the Trump family and the “House”.  The full title is: “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man“, and is written by Mary Trump, PhD., (the President’s niece) who happens to be a trained psychologist.  Mary is the daughter of Donald’s older brother Fred Trump, Jr. With Fred Sr being their father.
According to this story, Trump Sr. wasn’t happy with Trump Jr., feeling Jr. was too weak.  Sr. felt like he was a tough guy and he wanted his heir apparent to be tough, too.  From the sound of it, Sr.’s father was a jerk (a$$hole is a better description), and he passed it down to Sr. who tried to pass it down to all of his children.  It sounds as if Sr. was mostly successful with all of his children (with the possible exception of Jr.), but since the story is being told by Jr.’s daughter, we can’t really be sure.  After all, Jr. threatens his wife repeatedly – at least once with a firearm – and he dies young from alcohol abuse.  Anyway, as near as we can tell from this book, Sr. passed down the coward, liar, cheat, con man, gene to all of his children.  And, by the by, Sr.’s wife was no saint either.  The result of all this is that Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Tiffany all seem to be cut from the same poor cloth.  It’s too early to say anything about Barron (the President’s youngest son).  Perhaps his mother has saved him, but it doesn’t seem likely as she is not spoken of well in the book (or in the news) either.
Is this book any good?  Does it shed like on the President, i.e. does it help explain his actions?  Is it worth the time and money to read?  Yes.  No.  And, so-so.
This book is a surprisingly good read.  I fully expected the author to be as incompetent as the rest of the family is presented.  She is not!  Her writing style is excellent and the reader (me) feels like you are right there with her as scenes play out.
Does the book “explain” Donald Trump.  NO!  I started the book knowing (as much as you can “know” anything about a person you’ve never met) that Donald Trump is (in no particular order): a liar, a con artist, a terrible business man, a coward, a cheat – taxes, business and personal, and (IMHO) a narcissistic sociopath with delusions of grandeur.  Basically, he is unmatched as a “LOSER” and the fact he happened to become President and arguably the most powerful person on the planet will never change the BIG “L” which will ultimately be assigned to him by history.  In a very strange way, he has proven himself to be the “greatest of all time”, after all.  I’m just not sure you want to be the GOAT for losers.
At a certain level, reading this book “almost” creates a sense of sympathy for the family.  BUT, then one realizes that lots of perfectly normal people grew up and out of similar familial issues.  To quote my old Drill Sergeant: “I will listen to your reasons, but I will not accept your excuses.”  He is what he is and his upbringing neither excuses his current actions nor does it absolve him of his past ones.  With all the wealth and opportunities he was granted by birth, he has chosen his path(s) and they have always been those of the lazy, the ignorant and the corrupt.
Is this book worth the time and money to read?  If you don’t know anything about the President and his family history, I guess it will have some limited value.  There are lots of particular details about the older brother (Fred Jr.) which I didn’t know.  I also didn’t know the President’s mother was as bad as she is presented.  Other than that, though, most everything has been on the news (especially since the book’s release).  If you don’t watch the news, I guess you may learn something.
Final recommendation: moderate.  This is a surprisingly well written book, a very fast read, but I’m glad I didn’t buy it.  I hope the author wins her suit against Donald and his sister, who both appear to be crooks (based on the book).  This book IS a good gossip read – if that’s what you’re into.  (And, sometimes I am, too.)
.
On This Day In:
2019 Love And Leave
2018 Smiling If Not Laughing
2017 Chilled And Smooth
2016 But Sometimes You Have To Stand In Front
2015 The Key Shift
2014 Remember ISIS / ISIL?
2013 What Have You Done Lately?
2012 B8
2011 I’m Definitely Not In Control

Read Full Post »

Introducing The Universe”  (1993©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “Introducing The Universe“, written by Felix Pirani (writer) and Christine Roche (illustrator).  While copyrighted in 1993, my version is a re-publication from 1999.  (Dear Readers, I apologize in advance for the length of this review, which may seem longer than the book.)
I have a reasonably long history (ten to twenty years) of reading these “Introduction / Introducing” series of books about a host of different topics.  The benefit of the series is you (generally) get a very quick (under 200 pages filled with mostly comics illustrations) and very general overview of whatever the specific topic is for the book.  The negatives are reduced a number of important sub-topics, lack of breadth and depth for a specific sub-topic, and (occasionally) even I find the illustrations tedious (if not demeaning).  Be that as it may…
This book is about cosmology (the science and study of the universe).  Obviously, theories about the universe and creation pre-date “civilization”, and certainly pre-date reading and writing, let alone the start of modern science.  This book covers all of this… up to publication date.
So, the two main theories of the universe are:  1) it has always existed pretty much as it is now;  and, 2) the universe sprang into being at some point.  The first theory is known as the “Steady-State” theory.  The second is more popularly known as the “Big Bang” theory.  Pre-1960(-ish), 1965 to be precise, the Steady-State theory held the reigns because there was no physical evidence to believe otherwise and it let scientists avoid the chicken-n-egg question of: “If the universe was created, that implies there was both reason for creation and a creator / intelligent designer.  So, who was it?”  This moves from the “hard” science which scientists like to think about, to the practice to philosophy – which may be logical, but is rarely scientific (from my experience anyway).
I call theory #2, “The God Theory“, because creation implies creator and it pre-dates modern science (as we know it).  I call theory #1, “The Science Theory“, because not only do we not know what happened, it seems unlikely we will ever know.  If you are comfortable with doubt and dealing with the unknowable, you can be comfortable with science.
Well, in 1965, a couple of radio guys at Bell Labs were looking at space and they found some background noise (aka “Cosmic Microwave Background” or CMB) which could not be easily explained.  It seemed to fall under the predictions for residue background radiation from a terrific explosion.  Hence: “The Big Bang“.  With this data, and a corresponding space-race to the moon between the United States and the U.S.S.R., a lot of money was being poured into the coffers of universities (and companies) which would study these phenomena.  (Note:  the theory pre-dates the CMB evidence.  The CMB, however, serves as the primary evidence supporting the theory.  When I was a child and first learning about all of this, the Steady-State was THE primary theory for cosmology and the Big Bang was just beginning its ascendancy.  It was a paradigm shift in cosmology based on new data, post theory.)
The problem is for pretty much all of the last 60 years, more and more study has produced more and more confusing results, and, in turn, more and more convoluted twists in the Big Bang theory to explain the exceptions to the predicted data.  For example: we believe the universe is expanding, but we can’t identify a point of origin.  All points seem to be moving away from each other at the same rate.
And, another: the stuff of the universe, which we can see, behaves in a way which predicts there should be a LOT more stuff.  The mathematics works out that for the universe to function the way the theory says it should, there’s probably 90% or more of the stuff in the universe which is, as yet, unseen.  Nobody knows what it is or where it is or why we can’t see (detect) it.  And it’s not just “stuff”.  The same seems to be true for “energy” which we also cannot detect.  The scientists have named these two unseeable and unmeasureable things: “Dark Matter” and “Dark Energy” (cause they’re original that way).
Basically, the real and measurable data we’ve been gathering seem to contradict the Big Bang theory, but we’ve yet to come up with a theory to explain the data which the data could support (some theory other than the Big Bang theory and / or the Steady-State theory).  The result is we are stumbling along with the philosopher Thomas Kuhn’s “normal science” while awaiting a new theory or “paradigm” which explains the evidence in terms of supporting the Steady-State theory.  (Hence, String Theory / Super-String Theory and multi-dimensions and multiple universes.)
So, is this book any good?  Is it interesting?  Before I answer those two questions I must state:  I am NOT a scientist and I entered the book with only the most high-school level knowledge of cosmology (let alone math / physics).  Having said this:  Yes, and YES!  This is not a book which most physicists, math folks or cosmologists will find useful.  Between the non-linear / non-chronological presentation and the use of mostly comic-book style illustrations, I imagine they would find it trivial if not insulting.  I don’t know enough about the subject to find it such.
Final recommendation:  strong!  I am sure the target audience, the format and the length of the book precluded the author and illustrator’s ability to present as much as they might have liked to.  Never the less, as a novice seeking a general overview which could be gained in a couple of hours of light reading, I felt the book covered the topic and reading it was a useful experience.
.
On This Day In:
2019 The Right Questions
Day 3: Still Difficult
2018 A Thought For Those Continuing To Support President Trump
Day 36: Pushing On
2017 Imagining Humor
2016 So Go On And Deal With It
2015 From A Letter To A Friend
2014 Your Part (Here)
2013 Complements
2012 Sound And Light
2011 Two Politicians Visit A Farm…
2010 Labor Day And Honorable Men

Read Full Post »

Introducing Science”  —  book review
Today’s review is for the graphic introductory book:  “Introducing Science” (2001©) written by Ziauddin Sardar and Borin Van Loon.  This book is apparently a recovered (as in published with a new cover) book which was previously titled:  “Introducing Science Studies“.  The original title is FAR more accurate and the title I purchased is misleading, if not completely false.  This is not a book about “Science”.  It starts off as a history of science and jumps into being a criticism of the philosophy of science and an overview of the history of the social epistemology of science during the later half of the 20th century.
What’s the difference?  Well, to me, science is the study of what we can measure and quantify with the goal of better understanding the universe as we experience it.  Basically, you observe; you propose an explanation; you come up with a test of your proposal;  you execute the test and accurately record the results;  you evaluate the results for significance; and, then you publish your results and conclusions for peer review.  If the review shows the test flawed or the data is not significant or not repeatable, then your results —  and specifically your conclusions are unproven “scientifically”.   You then have to go back to the drawing board to come up with a new test or a better theory.  Ultimately, the final goal of “understanding” is to have a theory with predictive value.
This book deals with none of these issues.
What this book DOES do is make claims about science being “Western” and “male” dominated as well as offering statements about the value of science(s) from other cultures without providing any support for the statements.  I don’t doubt that some “medicine man” (person) in some non-Western country may have observed the medicinal value of some root or herb and used it in their healings.  That doesn’t make it scientific pharmacology.  And the authors keep making these types of statements as if simply making them makes them valid criticisms of “Western”.
So, if I didn’t think much of this book as an “introduction” to science, is it of any value?  Interestingly, yes.  I found the book to be a pretty good introduction / overview of the sociological criticisms of science.   The main criticism of the book is really about how “normal” science has become “BIG science” and is funded by business and government without apparent ethical review by society.  The book doesn’t say why this is so.  Simply that it is.  And, I mostly agree with the authors even without supporting evidence.  Private profit drives most scientific development these days.  That’s just the way it is.  The authors do say that since the end of the Cold War, big science as shifted from government funding of physics to corporate funding of biology / pharmacology.  And I agree with that, too.
Final recommendation:  poor to moderate.  If you are looking for an introduction to “science” or the history of science – forget it.  This book is “almost” worthless.  The only value I see is in the “Further Reading” notes at the end of the book.  If you are looking for an overview of the politics of science, the philosophy of science, the sociology of science, feminist criticism, colonial criticism, and post-“normal” criticism – then this is the book for you (and I’d say the recommendation becomes “strong to highly”).
One final comment:  I recently read and reviewedThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn.  Kuhn’s book is the work that “created” the conceptual split between “revolutionary” science and “normal” science.  In the past, science was thought to progress like a river.  Kuhn’s book proposes that it more like a river with a random occurrence of waterfalls.  “Normal” science is what most scientists do every day.  The “waterfalls” are Newton, Einstein, etc. who come along with brilliant insights.  I found it amusing to see a work I’d so recently read reported as a “classic” work from the last century.  It made me appreciate Kuhn’s work even more…
.
On This Day In:
2019 I Wish This Were More True
2018 Used To Rejection
Day 16: Looking Ahead (Just A Little)
2017 Tonight
I Rejoice
2016 Conscientious Courage
Speaking Of Which…
2015 The Beautiful Snow
2014 Nurtured By The Voices
2013 Précis
2012 Fear And Understanding
2011 Just Being Human

Read Full Post »

Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy And Its Consequences” (1988©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for: “Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy And Its Consequences“, written by John Allen Paulos.  The book is an overview of what the author believes are some of the symptoms (and solutions) of “innumeracy” (the math equivalent of illiteracy) in America.  Paulos is a Professor of maths at Temple University (or was at the time of the publication).  He is a bit of a math prodigy (at the very least precocious) and is kind of a cross between Richard Feynman, Malcolm Gladwell and Levitt & Dubner.  Feynman – as a teacher – in converting technical (math) concepts into relatable images, Gladwell in writing for “the general public” consumption, and Levitt & Dubner (of “Freakonomics” fame) in both of the above plus quirky examples to illustrate his point.
This book is a quick (fast read) and short (135 pages) overview of some main concepts in math and how they are poorly taught / translated / communicated to the general public and, hence, the general distaste for maths during school and its avoidance post-formal education whenever possible.
Paulos’ proposition is that because maths are poorly taught, the general public grows up with a fear (and avoidance) of math for the rest of lives.  One of his proposals is to take retired advanced math users (mathematicians, engineers, scientists) and have them teach in schools because the current maths teachers aren’t very good (for a number of reasons) – pun intended.
The author also reviews math concepts: scale (big and little), fractions, ratios, statistics, probabilities and pseudo-sciences.  This overview / review is the strength of the book as it reminded me of many of the areas of math I’ve long since forgotten (for lack of use).
So, is this book any good?  Does it make you feel numerate or innumerate?  Does it help with the issue raised (innumeracy)?  Yes.  Both.  And, no, or at least I don’t think so.  Once I could get past the author’s ego / superiority complex, I actually quite enjoyed the book.  It is a fast read and he does use his examples in a clear and sometimes humorous fashion.  The text made me feel numerate.  The work through examples innumerate.  A few of the paragraphs had to be re-read to make sure I followed the explanations for why he was doing a particular calculation.  For example, how many days is a million seconds?  The author says eleven-ish.  So, then how long is a billion seconds?  Again, thirty something years.  Now, the author actually worked out the numbers and provided the answers.  The problem?  Well, for me, the answer is 11(-ish) thousand days.  I would never arbitrarily convert days to years.  Not that I couldn’t; just that I wouldn’t.  Why would I, unless specifically asked?  And, for most purposes, I would have ball-parked it (1,000 days is almost 3 years, times 11 is “about” 33 years).  It would not be entirely accurate, but even then, the author didn’t state he was accounting for leap years in his own calculations.  His point was we “all” know how much a second is.  What we don’t know (have a feeling for) is how big a number is a billion (or a million).  My point is I’m not sure if my reaction means I’m personally numerate or innumerate.  And, finally, simply pointing out a problem isn’t the same as offering a viable solution.  I don’t think placing retired math users in schools is a workable solution.  Teaching (across all of the non-adult years) is an art as much as it is a skill.  Yes, you must be grounded in the material, but you must also be enthusiastic (about the subject and teaching) and relatable.  I’m not convinced there is a vast pool of retired engineers and scientists just dying to teach grammar, middle and high school students (and each group has different requirements).
Final recommendation:  Strong to highly recommended.  As an overview of maths topics for the general public, I think this is a very valuable book.  It is brief and has interesting examples.  It is probably too simple for folks with college level math skills.  It is probably too difficult for the truly innumerate.  But, I think there is a wide, flat(ish) bell shaped curve of folks out there (probably 2 standard deviations on either side of the mean) who would gain from reading this book.  Those below the mean because the writing and examples are clear and can be followed along with.  Those above the curve, because the book will remind you how much you’ve forgotten since leaving school.  I just wish the author had been a bit less patronizing of us non-math prodigies.
.
On This Day In:
2019 Don’t Forget: Fire Burns
2018 Especially In The Middle East
2017 A Good Local
2016 Life Unlimited
2015 Still Trying
2014 Destiny, n.
2013 No Apologies
2012 Utterly Convinced
2011 A Key To Effectiveness

Read Full Post »

The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements” (1951©)  —  book review
Today’s review if for the “quasi”-political science book: “The True Believer“, written by Eric Hoffer.  I stumbled on this book on a list of “books which changed my life” article.  Unfortunately, I didn’t bother to record the author or site where I found the recommendation.  I’ve had this book on my waiting list for only a few months and it was kicked to the front because it was so positively reviewed and because I wanted a change of pace (something social / political) to read.
Eric Hoffer is a self-educated philosopher.  He spent a good chunk of his life living rather rough as a field-hand / farm worker in California’s central valley and then as a docker in San Francisco (after WWII).  Hoffer is kind of a “working man’s philosopher”. He ultimately wrote ten books on social philosophy and won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.  This book, is is most famous and is considered to be a “classic”.
My version of this book is 168 pages of text and another nine pages of footnotes / citations.  This book is not a “formal” analysis of politics, society or political movements.  It is, to me anyway, a proposal based on observation by the author and by the sources he cites in the “Notes” section.  As far as I can tell, the sources are purely anecdotal, too.  If you are a “popularized” science (“science for the masses”) reader, this book will be enticing, if not affirming.  If you are a person who prefers evidence to anecdote, you will probably not find much in this book.
So, what is the book about?  Hoffer believes there are main types of mass movements: revolutionary (American, French, Communist), nationalistic (Fascist, Nazi) and religious (Christian, Islamic).  Hoffer proposes there are three main types of people: the man of words, the fanatical and the men of action.  The man of words is the thinker / philosophizer who sees “wrong” and argues to change it.  The fanatic is the person who adopts the idea of change with a “religious” fervor – that is, an absolute belief that will overcome all obstacles because it is fated to do so.  And, lastly, the man of action is the group (or individual) who must bend the circumstance of the changed world into a functional society (after the movement has succeed in toppling the old regime).  The books main target for analysis is the man in the middle – the fanatic – who has lost himself and then found himself again in the movement.  This is very much shades of Saul (the Christian persecutor) on the road to Damascus, who, upon seeing a vision of Christ, is converted into the fanatical Saint Paul who seeks to pass on the new faith’s teachings not only to the Jewish community, but to the entire world.  Hoffer believes the “movement” itself is fairly irrelevant to the conversion.  It is the personal frustration and then the societal release which matters to the fanatic and which justifies all actions – no matter how barbaric the action or the movement.
So, is this book any good?  Did it convince me to agree with Hoffer about the nature of “True Believers“?  And, I guess, did this book change my life?  In order, so-so to yes; so-so to no; and, lastly, no – not really even a little.  If you like soft analysis and you want to believe the author’s stories, you will LOVE this book.  The book is kind of a cross between John Dean’s “Conservative Trilogy” philosophy and Malcolm Gladwell’s pleasant story telling.  I honestly liked the book and found over thirty quotes to post on this blog (eventually, but no hurry).  They (the quotes) are just things which made me pause and think.  If you can get that many ideas from only 168 pages, the author is doing something right.
Final recommendation: strong but not highly recommended.  I really enjoyed reading this short book and it made me repeatedly stop and think, but there wasn’t enough underlying / provable material for me to feel like this was a “life-changing” book.  That’s not to say light / soft books can’t be life-changers, but for me, this wasn’t one of those books.  I can see why this book is considered a “significant work” and even a “classic”, but I think it’s because I am predisposed to agree with author’s observations, not because I think he has proven his argument.
.
On This Day In:
2019 I Struggle With One At A Time
2018 An Infectious Political Cancer
Site Update / Poems Page Evolution
2017 Our Thirst
2016 History Favors The Victor
2015 This We’ll Leave Them
2014 Sounds Like Faux News To Me
2013 Reasons
2012 American Libertarianism
2011 The Goal

Read Full Post »

A Classical Primer” (2012©)  —  book review
This review is for the book: “A Classical Primer: Ancient Knowledge For Modern Minds“, written by Dan Crompton.  Crompton studied Classics and Linguistics while attending Cambridge in England.  This book (or an earlier version) seems to be part of a series of books loosely titled:  “I Used to Know That .. Book Series“.  This book is #19 of #28.  I guess they are things you should have been taught in grammar or high school and either you weren’t paying attention or you’ve dumped the extraneous information from you primary memory core.  For me, it’s probably a bit of both.
Apparently, a “classic” (in western sensibilities) has to do with either Greek or Roman history.  The first chapter is the longest and to me the least interesting.  The book is 194 pages and the first 58 are specifically about the languages – letters, words, cases, tenses, prefixes and suffixes – and how much of this is carried forward today into English (American and British).  Like I said, mostly not particularly interesting…
After that, come chapters on history, literature (Greek, then Roman), philosophy, architecture and finally science / technology.  The author is casual in tone and entertaining.  I felt I was actually getting information which was interesting and (maybe) useful.  As an aside, I was watching a news clip today and they flashed by a building and I thought, “Wow! Ionic / Corinthian mixed columns!”  I never recognized the differences before, so seeing them never meant anything to me before.
As mentioned, this is a short (and small) book with relatively large print and, therefore, a very fast read.  Final recommendation:  Strong to highly.  If you know little to nothing about “Classics”, this book will be a useful and enjoyable introduction.  I don’t remember EVER getting taught ANY of this stuff in school (other than the geometry portion), but then I never went out of my way to delve into any of this stuff.  If it was taught, it certainly wasn’t emphasized.
Anyway, I find it interesting to get reminded how much I don’t know about the world (and history).  My greatest fear (well, one of them anyway) is that I might die uneducated.  Reading this “primer” type of book reminds me how far I have to go to avoid that fate, but the author taps you on the forehead in a fun way and I think that’s among the best ways of getting your eyes opened to the world around you.   Slowly, slowly…
.
On This Day In:
2019 I Don’t Think We’ll Be Serving Them Cake
2018 New And Old
2017 Ever
2016 At The Center
2015 True Value In Life
2014 A Potential To Be Concerned
2013 Fine No More
2012 Have You Checked Your Height Lately?
2011 Are You Convinced?

Read Full Post »

The Complete Maus” (2011©) — book review
This review is for the comic book style graphic novel “The Complete Maus” by Art Spiegelman.  The version I read was published as the 25th anniversary edition.  The “complete” portion of the title comes from the fact that the work was actually originally published as: “Maus – A survivor’s Tale“, which included Book I: “My Father Bleeds History” and Book II: “And Here My Troubles Began“.
The basis of both books is a son’s attempt to understand a father he doesn’t get along with by getting his father to tell him about the father’s World War II experience in Poland.  Specifically, how the father came to and ultimately survived his time in a concentration camp (mainly Auschwitz).  The story is related via a series of flashbacks.
My first reaction on picking up the book was the primitiveness of the artwork.  It is black and white and initially crude.  On closer review as I was reading the story, I came to realize, this is only appearance.  In fact there is an incredible amount of detail depicted in the “simple” drawings and there is also extensive use of grey-shading used to convey visual depth and emotional content.
The author uses animal “heads / faces” to characterize the various groups in the story: Jews are mice (hence the title); Germans are cats; French are frogs; non-Jewish Polish are pigs and Americans are dogs (with African-Americans being black dogs).  To clarify a bit, the body forms are humanoid (mostly).  It is only the face and head which is “animalized” (reverse anthropromorphism).  This isn’t “zoomorphism” (as I understand the term), like the Peter Rabbit stories, because the rest of the body (as mentioned above) is humanoid.  The one exception is when a cat’s hand (normally) is depicted as a cat’s claw.  But, this is an exception which makes it noticeable.
As to the story…  Well, it is horrifying and completely captivating.  If you haven’t seen the films made at the end of WWII by the U.S. military to document the Holocaust and release of the Jewish prisoners from the camps, you might not believe the factual basis for this story was actually possible.  I viewed the films back in high school, in a history class, and there were portions where you could feel nothing pure emotional hatred for the Nazis and any Germans who could participate in the atrocities.  You have to understand, our instructor repeatedly pointed out this was not “only” six-million Jews, it was also, millions of others (Slavs, Gypsies, Communists and Catholics) whom the Reich felt were inferior / sub-human and therefore subject to “the Final Solution”.
So, the survival story is the bulk of the book.  The “binding” story – the family relationship – is actually every bit as interesting.  The father is notoriously “thrifty” (cheap) for items he is paying for and yet oblivious to the societal costs of things he isn’t paying directly for.  He doesn’t want his son to use wooden matches because the father pays for those, yet he doesn’t care how many paper matches are used because the father gets those for “free”.  The father insists the son does not know the value of anything, because his life has been too easy.
Curiously, there is no resolution to this portion of the book.  The son never does gain an insight into his father.  He (the father) simply is who he is and the son loves him, but never comes around to liking him.  Throughout the book, the son (author) expresses his insecurity and on the last page we finally get the “Citizen Kane” “Rosebud” moment.  As the father lays in bed falling asleep, he addresses the son using his first son’s name.  The first son died in the camps during the war.
Is this book good?  Is it great?  Is it satisfying?  Yes!  YES!  And, ultimately no…
Final recommendation:  Highly recommended!  This book is an extremely fast read.  Duh, it’s a comic book!  It’s almost three hundred pages, but I read it in two quick spurts.  It enthralled and then horrified.  I felt like I was back in high school watching the films again.  There were moments where I had to pause and just breathe because there was no other emotional release.  And that makes it a great book in my opinion.
But, it was also troubling for (at least) three reasons: the author goes to a shrink to understand his own need to get this story.  The side-story is brief and unfulfilling, but it does indicate there is some “story” there left to be told.  Second, the father never explains why he destroys the wife’s diaries.  The wife commits suicide when the author is mostly grown up.  It’s not clear to me from the book when this happens or why she does it.  There is no note.  The father is so distraught he destroys a great deal of their background information (nothing of monetary value).  Third, and I found this hinted at, but never developed.  The father’s second wife is a substantial character throughout the present day portion of the story.  She was also a survivor of the camps, but the son never asks her for her history / story.  It’s not clear if she was in the same camp(s) as the mother, but it’s never asked.  Yes, she’s not the author’s biological mother, but there is still a significant missed opportunity.
In conclusion, this is a powerfully emotional story which moved me.  I would caution that despite it’s format (comic book / graphic novel), it is far to difficult for any readers below senior high school level (young adults, but NOT young teens).
.
On This Day In:
2019 A State With No Business
2018 Reflections
2017 Opposites Attract
2016 Completely Unreasonable
Starting To Be A Reacher
2015 Avengers Assemble II
But If I Had To Perish Twice…
2014 Turning Pages
2013 We Are All Accountable
2012 American Sign Language
2011 Happy Disproof
2010 Book Review – Managing Your Government Career

Read Full Post »

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”  —   book review
This book review is for the historical / philosophical science book: “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962©), written by Thomas S. Kuhn.  Kuhn was a PhD in physics, but, I gather, considered himself more of a science historian than a “working” physicist.  Kuhn is most famous for this book and it is considered one of the most significant science books of the 20th century.
As I understand it, Kuhn believes there are two types of “science”: the “normal” science and the “revolutionary” science.  Normal science is what 99% of all scientist do: gathering data, analyzing data, creating and refining instruments and tests to gather data.  Revolutionary science is what a small group of scientists do.  Unsatisfied with the anomalous data which doesn’t fit the current understanding (“paradigm”) of a science topic, this group thinks about and generates new ways of looking at the data which just doesn’t fit the “old science” standard.  The ideas which come out of this small group become the “paradigm-shifts” of science.
The historical view of the development of science is analogous to a river: you start somewhere in the past and over time, you pick up more and more water (data, theories, tests, rules, formulas) until you have a full blown river (science classification system, like Chemistry, Biology, Physics or whatever).
Upon review of the history of significant scientific break-throughs, Kuhn found that instead a river, the flow of science was more like a rapids which develops into a water fall.  The rapids are the problems which the current state of science cannot explain or explain away the data supporting.  At a certain point, the problems become too obvious and then “someone” comes along and proposes an alternative explanation for nature which explains the problems.  Like a waterfall, this fully disrupts the rivers steady stream and there is turbulence (“revolution”) until the water can re-stabilize.  Kuhn proposes this is when most, if not all, of the old guard from the prior paradigm have died off.  Then the cycle starts again…
Is this a “great” book?  Did it change my world view (paradigm) of science?  Is it a “good” read?  My answers would be:  Yes!  Not really.  And, no!
I have seen multiple sites and reviewers hail this book as a GREAT book and one which everyone should read in their lifetime.  Who am I to disagree with others more learned than I?  I did find it to be a powerful argument for its case / proposition.
Did it change my view of science?  Not really.  Why not?  Because the ideas in this book are now (after 50+ years) considered to be fairly standard in many fields, not just in science.  The proposition is considered almost human nature: most folks just work to work and every once in a while someone comes along who shakes every thing up.
The issue I have with the book is that it is not a very good read.  I found it EXTREMELY academic AND pedantic.  I am not a historian, a trained scientist, nor a philosopher. I found myself forced to stop at least every few pages to look up a word to make sure I understood what was being said.  Worse, on substituting the definitions I found the sentences made more sense (to me).  I normally don’t mind a specific academic word being used if there is a very specific thing being said which doesn’t lend itself to a simpler word (or phrase).  But, when there is an easier word (or phrase), you (the writer) are not impressing me when you cloud your message with academic erudition.  (See, I can do it, too!)
Also, while the book is reasonably short at just over 200 pages, it is about 150 pages longer than it needs to be – because it is so specific and repetitive.  I felt as if I were reading a dissertation and the author was trying to overwhelm me with proof he’d done his research.  I wasn’t overwhelmed, just bored through most of it.
Final recommendation: strong.  It is easy to see why this is considered a “classic” for its day, but that day was fifty-years ago.  The book (and proposal) has won the day and I believe is fairly widely accepted in both science and in many other fields.  While I recommend this as a classic, it is not an easy or quick read if you want to gain any appreciation of the concept of revolutionary paradigm shifts and how they differ from normal progress in any field (not just science).  Therefore, I doubt the average person will bother to work their way through what is already societal background knowledge.  In any case, the concepts of the book are more simply explained in Wikipedia and with far fewer words.
I am better for having read this book, but I would have preferred a gentle tooth cleaning to a root canal.
.
On This Day In:
2019 Better To Do
News: Drunken Party Girl Saves Seoul
2018 Keep Moving
2017 Fighting Good
2016 Size Matters
2015 Maybe The Best Thing
2014 Ready To Be Fried?
2013 A Real Lover
2012 Winning Wars
2011 A Different Lesson

Read Full Post »

Push-hands: The Handbook For Non-Competitive Tai Chi Practice With A Partner”  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “Push-hands: The Handbook For Non-Competitive Tai Chi Practice With A Partner” (1997©), written by Herman Kauz.  This is one of those learn martial arts by pictures books.  Having said that, which makes my review sound disparaging – this is a valuable / useful book.
This is a very short book.  It is 128 pages (in my hard-bound edition), and the second half of the book has images on almost every page (at least a hundred images over the 50 pages).  If you are reading this book straight through, you can easily complete it in a day.  Unfortunately, you will get almost nothing from the book if you do this.  To borrow from Francis Bacon: this is a book to be “chewed and digested”.
I first became “aware” of push-hands as a teenager, when my uncle (who was taking Kung-fu lessons) demonstrated it to my brother and me.  Unfortunately, if you don’t have a partner close at hand for a LONG period, it is (IMHO) very difficult to get the prolonged experience necessary to learn from this practice.  I’ve never had such a partner.  At any rate, I have been a life-long dabbler / dilettante in several martial arts: boxing, wrestling, Hapkido, Judo, and Aikido.  I spent the most time playing Aikido, but even with almost a decade of intermittent practice, I was never very advanced.  With advancing age, I recently have become interested in Tai Chi as a form of exercise. I primarily wish to strengthen my ligaments and improve my balance.  “Push-hands” is one of the “forms” of practice which helps improve the Tai Chi students awareness of self and of others.
The author states early in the book, that one must have practiced the Tai Chi “first form” for a minimum of six months before attempting push-hands.  This is to establish the sense of self which will serve as your foundation for sensing others and establishing balance. I found this assertion to be very much in accordance with my own Aikido experience and from then on the book (author) had me “hooked”.  One note here.  The “balance” which I was seeking is not the same “balance” being used by the author.  I don’t want to fall down.  He wants more.  The author wants the reader (practitioner) to balance their personality and life – as well as – understand “balance” for martial purposes.
If the second half of the book is a picture-book tutorial of a martial art technique, what is the first half about?  History, philosophy, society and economics.  Huh??  Yup!  There are chapters on society, economics and history, the positive and negative aspects of competing, how we change what we think and why we should want to, the difficulty of doing so, seeing the world differently and then (finally) how we can use push-hands to develop ourselves as responsible / caring beings.
So, is this a good training / instructional manual?  Yes.  I believe it will be if you can find a partner to work with.  Is it interesting and / or well written?  Yes.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find it much better than (the many) martial art picture tutorials / books I’ve read in the past.  Final recommendation: highly recommended.  Of course, I do have qualifications, but they are mainly about trying to learn any physical activity by reading about it.  Having said this, I think most anyone who is willing to do the pre-training (the six months on the first form) will find this a valuable addition to their library and a source of material for deep thought about society and about Tai Chi tactics as a martial art – beyond it’s calisthenics / health usefulness.
.
On This Day In:
2019 I’m Still Struggling To Rise
2018 Once Suddenly Free
2017 What Is Childlike
2016 The Latter A Lot Quicker Than The Former
2015 Notes On My Nightstand
2014 Generations
2013 Two For One
2012 Seen And Heard
2011 The Hazards And Vicissitudes Of Life

Read Full Post »

Sharpe’s Eagle” — book review
Today’s review is for “Sharpe’s Eagle” (1981©) written by Bernard Cornwell.  This book was the first in the “Sharpe” book series which became (in the 1990’s) the Sharpe television series.  I became aware of the character via this TV series while living in Liverpool and was reminded of them when they came up as a suggestion in YouTube.
Richard Sharpe is a sergeant in the British army in Spain fighting against Napoleon Bonaparte and his French army.  Sharpe saves the life of the commanding general who then gives Sharpe a field promotion to Lieutenant.  The series tracks Sharpe’s rise through the officer ranks.  This book jumps in with Sharpe as a Captain and then begins dropping bits about how he got that far.
The book revolves around two main battles.  The first where his regiment loses the “King’s colors” (the British Flag) and Sharpe personally recovers his Regimental colors.  The two flags are normally kept fairly close together on a battlefield and if you lose one, you generally lose both.  The second battle is to win a Regimental Eagle, which is the French equivalent of the British Regimental colors.  The first battle is purely fictional, while the second is dramatized history – so, basically fictionalized history.  The battle occurred, the eagle capture did not.
So, is the book any good?  Entertaining?  Interesting?  Yes.  Yes.  And, yes.  I can easily see why this book became both a book series and a TV series.  Of course, I like historical fiction, military stories (and fiction), and good old action novels (and movies).  It is not “very” realistic that Sharpe survives the battles, let alone the book or series, but setting that aside, the book is actually much better at explaining the battles than the TV series.  The TV series was significantly scaled back, but it still retained the flavor of the book.  For example, in the battle where the flag (King’s color) is lost, the book’s battle is a battalion size engagement.  In the TV show, it’s a company fight.
One other point.  The author (Cornwell) is a serious military historical expert on the Napoléonic period and the book is full of details which high-lights his expertise in period tactics, weapons, social classes, food and geography.
Final recommendation: highly recommended!!  As I said, I saw some of the various series back in the 1990’s, so I jumped in with the YouTube offering.  I then read the book and re-watched this particular episode in the TV series again.  The episode was even better after reading the book.  I will add there were “somewhat” significant differences in the two versions, but (again), perfectly understandable given the time and space a book gives you and the cost limitations a TV adaptation does not allow.  And, yes, I bought a number of books in the series, so you’ll be seeing posts on those as I get through them.
.
On This Day In:
2019 #45: Who Lost By Three Million Votes
2018 Torn Between Two Loves
A Girl And A Boy
2017 I Think They Are Starting To…
2016 Living There
2015 Bookin’ West
Beyond My Reach
You Never Call Anymore…
2014 Winning?
2013 Still Inventing
2012 Motivated
2011 Waiting In Line At Starbuck’s

Read Full Post »

Thus Spoke Zarathustra” — book review
Today’s review is for the book: “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and for No One” (1883-1885), written by: Friedrich Nietzsche (this version (2012 ©) is a translation to English by: Thomas Common and was originally published in 1909).  Nietzsche was a trained “philogist”.  Basically, he studied classic languages (Greek and Latin) and in particular their literature.  Nietzsche became a philosopher and is considered one of the “great” philosophers of the 19th century.  He considered this work to be his greatest achievement.  The book was written in four main pieces and published over several years.
The main character (Zarathustra) is based on a semi-mythological Indo-Iranian religious figure named Zoroaster, who started his own religion and which “may have” influenced some current day including Islam and the Bahá’í Faith.  Anyway, in the story, Zarathustra is a hermit who lives in a cave for some period of years and then goes down from his mountain home to visit and teach the natives.
The book appears to be both a work of philosophy and a story book. Kind of like the Bible (allegory and parables), but with philosophy overlaid where “god” would normally appear.  As near as I can tell, the main gist of the work is that the traditional “god” is dead and that mankind is merely a bridge between the animals and a future superior species (Übermensch) which I believe translates to “over-man”, but which generally translated as “superman”.  We regular humans will recognize these coming supermen by their differing (self-created and self-benefiting) “values” which Nietzsche calls their “will to power”.
What did I think? BORING!!  A few good bits, but mostly just boring.
I think I may be too hard on the work because Nietzsche was a poet / philogist / and philosopher.  I am none of those and therefore am certainly not qualified to provide an in-depth analysis / critique of the ideas or how they are expressed.  My reaction is to the mixed styles of writing, the verbose language, the poorly explained (mostly unexplained) allegories / metaphors.  So, “God” is a creation of primitive man.  Man is no longer primitive, and so, no longer needs the “God” we created.  Man, in raising himself above the baser creatures should shrug off the superstition and create himself in the image of a new and superior man without the values imposed by prior civilization.  We should create our own value system and impose it on lesser men who will want to retain their older values.
Or, as near as I can tell: “Thus spoke Zarathustra”…
Seriously, this work is considered one of the classics of Western (European) philosophy and it was on my “bucket-list” of books to read to consider myself “educated”.  Am I now better educated?  NO.  Wider read, but not better educated.
Final recommendation: weak to moderate recommendation.  I read this in chunks of 10 to 20 pages at a time over the course of almost a month.  Perhaps I should have ploughed through it more quickly and decisively…  Perhaps I should read a different version – maybe something with more annotations.  Maybe it’s far better in the original German…  I don’t know.  I do know I’m not going to learn German just to try to get more out of this work.  Anyway, if it’s on your personal bucket list, read this translation as I’m informed it is one of the “better” ones.  If it’s not on your list, I think you’ll get more out of reading about this book, the author and Zoroaster on Wikipedia.  In fairness, there were some interesting bits and some flowery prose.  I just don’t know if they (the good bits) were from the original or from the translation / translator.  I already have multiple Nietzsche quotes on my blog and I’m sure I add some from this book…  Perhaps they will pique my readers’ interests and you’ll find a copy to read.  Hopefully, you’ll gain more insight than I have.
Midnight has passed and there is no new day.  Thus passed Zarathustra…
.
On This Day In:
2019 Enjoy!
2018 Happy Birthday, Bro!
2017 Love Can Change The World In A Minute
2016 60, Little Bro!
2015 Vision and Courage
2014 58 – Little Bro
2013 New Adventures And Old Hopes
Caving In
2012 Bits And Bobs And Birthdays
Always Hope
2011 Wet Snow And Long Hills

Read Full Post »

The Science of Yoga”  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “The Science of Yoga” (2012©), written by William J. Broad.  Broad is a science reporter for the New York Times newspaper.  He has received multiple awards in his career including two Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting.  Broad is also a yoga practitioner for over three decades.  Broad’s basic job is explaining science to the masses.  As such, he writes in a “friendly” style without any actual references to formulas or analysis of data.  When he uses “hard” numbers at all, it’s of the “two studies” with “about half” or “mostly women / men” variety.  This is not a criticism, per se, as this is pretty much the deepest level of science / math one can reasonably expect in a “science” report for the masses.
I am not a “serious” or even moderately proficient yoga practitioner.  I have had an interest in yoga since my early teens and have gone through the normal flexibility phases most athletes and wanna-be athletes go through every decade or so of my life.  I have also been interested in yoga for breathing and meditation and, so, also had (brief) periods where I “practiced” yoga for those purposes.  My point being, I am neither a devotee nor a complete novice in my understanding of yoga.  I picked up the book at a steep discount purely by serendipity when my local “Half Price” bookstore closed to relocate.  I paid $10 for a bag you could load with as much as it could hold.  I managed to get over 30 books – which I considered to be exceptional value.  This book was one of those.
Anyway, the book is broken down as you would expect for an academic report rather than popular reporting.  There’s a prologue, seven chapters, and an epilogue.  There are also a number (4) of introductory sections (lists of illustrations, main characters, styles of yoga and chronology of yoga) and a similar (5) number of end sections (further reading, notes, bibliography, acknowledgements and index).  The chapters deal with health, fitness, moods, healing, sex and “muse” (stimulating creativity).  Not counting the before and after, the book (my hardbound copy) is 222 pages in length and it is a quick read.
The book is sub-titled: “The Risks and the Rewards“.  The “risks” are that you can hurt yourself if you don’t know what you are doing, go to an instructor who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and / or if you push yourself too hard – too fast.  So far, that’s all pretty much common sense…  By hurt yourself, the author means, have a stroke or a serious muscle / tendon tear, etc.  The rewards are “perhaps” a longer life span, a extended period of healthier life, increased flexibility / mobility, relief from depression, less stress, faster healing, better (longer and more) sex, and you may also end up being more creative in work and in your personal life.
Is Broad convincing?  No.  Not really.  There have been some studies done on yoga.  Are they scientific?  Some.  And, kind of.  Better than nothing and better than purely anecdotal.  Broad ends the book asking which direction is likely for yoga: will it be religious and mysterious, or will it be examined under scientific conditions and thereby aid in the general health and welfare of society.  He clearly favors the second option.
Final recommendation: strong.  If you are interested in the history of yoga and “some” of the risks and rewards, this book is a FAR better introduction than most of the “Illustrated” and “For Dummies” books you’ll find at your bookstore.  It will help you manage your expectations of what you may get out of yoga practice.  It is, however, not a “starter” book at all as there are very few illustrations or explanations of postures / poses.  If that is what you are looking for, this book is definitely NOT for you.  Having said all that, I really did enjoy reading this book.  The topic (yoga) is of interest to me and it was interesting to have someone else to the work of researching the history, styles and players in the field.  It was also interesting to find yoga described with common sense supported by a lack of contradictory evidence, i.e. no levitation, no stopping your heart and still living, no surviving indefinitely without food or water (or breathing).  There is a saying that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  This is a refrain which struck me over and over as I read this book.  Broad doesn’t flat out say none of the yoga “miracles” are impossible; he just states that on review of the available literature, there is no proof.  At the edges of yoga accomplishments, that is the science of yoga.
.
On This Day In:
2019 #LyingDonald’s Problem With The News And Truth
2018 Oh, Hell
2017 No Welcome Mat Here
2016 Making It Up
A Missed Beat
2015 We Are All Explorers
2014 Still Trying To Cope
2013 Dear Diary (A good chuckle!)
2012 Conveniently Sequential
2011 King’s Speech Number Four
Rational Probability

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: