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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

The Real Frank Zappa Book” (1989©)   —   book review
Today’s review is for the autobiography:  “The Real Frank Zappa Book“;  written by:  Frank Zappa and co-written by / with:  Peter Occhiogrosso.
Background:  a network system admin colleague was listening to some music when I approached him for assistance.  I asked about what he was listening to and he said it was Frank Zappa and the “Mother’s of Invention”.  He then proceeded to tell me how great Zappa was and that he listened to a Zappa show on the radio every Friday night where this little station ran a two hour program on Zappa’s music.  My friend said there was nothing more relaxing than sitting in an easy chair with a tumbler of Jägermeister and listening to Zappa to kick off a weekend.  I was familiar with the “name” but (honestly) could not recall a single song or album, but I said I’d check it out based on his (my friend’s) recommendation.
Well, I still haven’t gotten around to listening to the radio and I don’t know if the broadcast is still happening every Friday evening, but I was in the used book store (several years ago) and I saw this book and picked it up to add to my reading list.  I keep seeing Zappa’s name referred to in my guitar studies, so I finally made a point of opening (and reading) it.
Who is Frank Zappa and why should we care about him or his views (on anything)?  Zappa is / was (died 1993) an American musician, singer, composer, songwriter and bandleader.  He self-produced over 50 albums and his estate had published another 30+ albums of “new” material since his death.  He was a self-taught musician and composer.  He claims to not be a very great guitarist, but that is the only instrument I ever knew him to play and he’s said to be one of the top 100 guitarists in history.  His book says he originally learned music on a drum set and picked up guitar later.  He was also reasonably well known for his libertarian political views particularly about free speech and the separation of church and state.  Zappa is in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has an album in the Library of Congress preserved for its historical significance.  Zappa’s music is a blend of rock, jazz, fusion, concert / symphonic music with a heavy dose of political / social satire – comedy.  He poked fun at both the left and the right.
What’s in this book and is it any good?  The book is really several parts:  1)  a personal biography;  2)  a discussion of his career and production thoughts about the music industry;  and,  3)  Zappa’s views on various political and social / societal trends.  I didn’t find his biography interesting.  I thought his comments on music and the industry were very insightful.  I was only mildly amused by his political stances and societal observations.  While I might personally agree with much of his stances and observations, I found his sarcasm / humor tiring long before the end of the book.
Part 1)  I grew up poor and we moved around a lot.  My escape was music.  I learned about it on my own by listening to an unfiltered variety of sound(s).  I got ripped off constantly by almost everyone else in the music business.  (Pgs 1 – 137)
Part 2)  Everybody is out to screw the composer / artist.  Including, but not limited to:  all production companies, all music unions, all venue owners, all governments (local and national), most fellow musicians, and, most hangers-on / groupies.  (Pgs 139 – 209)
Part 3)  Small, efficient government is the best.  Taxation should be limited to sales and should not include income – to have some hope of charging taxes on the wealthy as well as the workers.  All organized religion(s) and “church” institutions are corrupt (themselves) and corrupting to governments which allow them to have political influence.  There should be a full separation of Church and State.  Public education is a “mostly” a waste of money.  Education post-high school should be paid for by the individual only.  Special interest groups (guns and religion lobbies) have too much influence in America.  You cannot legislate morality and you should not be allowed to use morality to limit freedom of speech (particularly in the arts and music industries).  (Pgs 211 – 352 / end)
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  As stated previously, I didn’t find Zappa’s personal life (growing up or music performing) very interesting.  I found his thoughts about the concept of music (and art in general) VERY interesting.  This section was the strength of the book.  I would have been over the moon if he had devoted the rest of the book to elaborating on his theories of sound / art / artistry / and music production.  Unfortunately, he didn’t.  The final chunk of the book was “really” only moderately interesting.  My impression was:  “this is filler to add 80 extra pages”.  Again, just because I agree with an authors’ statements, doesn’t mean I like / enjoy how they choose to express the statements.  The book was worth the time invested in reading it , if only to gain an appreciation of a historic music figure.  I will be offering up some quotes from it in the future.  – BUT – except for the discussion on music / art, I can’t say the book inspired much after-thought / reflection.  (Actually, I’ve already posted a few of Zappa’s quotes, but didn’t know they were from this book.  I will probably get around to updating those prior posts at some point.)
Afterwords:  I have made an effort to go to YouTube and sample some of Zappa’s performances.  I’ve yet to be impressed.  Mostly, what I’ve heard has been ok.  JUST ok.  They remind me of what you’d hear at a county / state fair.  If anyone reading this can provide specific suggestions, I’d be more than happy to check them out.  I will say, I have found the video’s of his interviews to be much more interesting than the music I’ve listened to.
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On This Day In:
2021 Every Time It Gets Better
Distant!
2020 I’m Persuaded
2019 Hungry For Trust
2018 Mutual Assistance
2017 The Toughest Job
2016 Congratulations!!
Better Yet, Read!
2015 Even If It Kills Us Slowly
2014 Fun To Play God
Of Anything
2013 Legal (Almost)
2012 Great Scots!
2011 The GI Bill – A Simple History Lesson
Breaking Even

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[Another LONG post…  You’ve been warned!  (LoL)    —    KMAB]
The Third World War:  August 1985  (1978©)   —   book review
This review is for the fictional portrayal (as a “future history”) of a “realistic” invasion of NATO allied European countries by the Warsaw Pact in August of 1985.  The book was “written” primarily (et al) by (Ret.) British General John W. Hackett in consultation with a number of experts gathered to discuss how such an invasion might occur, what might lead up to it and what might be the end-of-war results.  The “advisors” were listed as:  John Barraclough (Air Chief Marshal), Kenneth Hunt (Brigadier), Ian McGeoch (Vice-Admiral), Norman Macrae (a deputy editor at “The Economist“), John Strawson (Major-General), and, Bernard Burrows (British Diplomatic Service).
The book was a best-seller in England back in 1978.  It was published in the U.S. in early 1979 as a hardback and then released as a paperback in 1980.  I initially read the paperback version.  I believe it was shortly after I was released from the Active Reserves, but my memory isn’t that precise anymore.  In any case, this review is of a re-reading of the book after my reading of “2034: A Novel of the Next World War” earlier this year.  (review here:  A Novel War).  The author of that book, (ret) Admiral James Stavridis, cited this book as a primary inspiration for his work.  This prompted my re-interest in the original…
During my (almost) two years in the Reserves I was assigned to a unit which tested and evaluated the readiness of National Guard units from California, Arizona and New Mexico.  The officers would establish “war-game” scenarios for the Guard officers and I (as an NCO) would embed with the line units to evaluate actual field performance.  We were artillery evaluators, so I watched Guard batteries fire cannons / howitzers, but I gained an understanding of scenario development and large scale tactical war-gaming.  This led to a post-service interest in military style board games which carried on for most of the ’80s.  I lost interest when gaming shifted to computers and became “mostly” shoot-em-up’s instead of (IMHO) about strategy.
Basically, the plot of this book is the leaders of the USSR feel their position as a superpower is being threatened by political and economic factors which are worsening (for them).  They feel there has been a significant / progressive decrease in NATO’s readiness over the last decade and this may be their last / best opportunity to remove a potential military threat (NATO) and further subjugate the buffer countries of Eastern Europe who are members of the Warsaw Pact.  The plan is a crushing invasion of Western Europe (West Germany and the low-lands) which leaves the USSR in command up to the border of France.  The invasion fails because in the years between the book’s publishing (1978) and the date of the “future-history” event (August 1985), Europe (specifically Great Britain) comes to its senses and reverses the general military decline of the late ’60s to ’70s.  The NATO forces are able to slow the advance of invasion (without the use of tactical nuclear weapons) and allows reinforcements to arrive from the U.S. just in the nick of time.
In a striking foreboding of the current (2022) invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the invasion portrayed fails because of (in no particular order of importance):
1)  an inability to dominate the air despite superior numerical assets;
2)  a failure of logistics (fuel and ammunition) by the Warsaw Pact, (it is believed the invasion will take less than two weeks AND there will not be enough time for the U.S. to resupply NATO forces);
3)  resistance by the native forces (in this case, the West German army / reserves) is surprisingly effective;  and,
4)  the centralized command and control characteristic of authoritarian political systems, does not promote the flexibility / initiative of junior officers (and NCOs) to seize military opportunities when they arise, so opportunities for significant breakouts are lost.
When the war quickly (the “war” lasts weeks) devolves into a war of attrition, failure is viewed as inevitable and hard-liners in the Politburo decide to consolidate their gains for future armistice negotiations by the use of a limited (against only one city) nuclear strike.  The result, however, is not fear and negotiation, but instead, fury and retaliation via a similar limited nuclear strike by Great Britain and the U.S. against a Russian city;  (and like falling dominoes) the Warsaw Pact allies turn on the USSR to avoid nuclear annihilation;  the Soviet military / security services stage a coup, over-throw the hardliners, and cease further combat;  the non-Russian border states (the “-stans”) declare independence from the USSR;  and, the rest of the world struggles with the effects of a new world order.  The “war” is barely a month old before it is over.  Because the book is written as a “recent” history of past events, it does not attempt to forecast / describe long term results of the war except to relate the world has to deal with unaccounted for Soviet nuclear weapons / warheads and large stocks of conventional weapons scattered around the global (mainly Africa).
Is this a “good” book?  Is it realistic as a predictor of future conflict (lethality, if not participants)?  Is it entertaining or interesting?  Do I recommend this book?  With the exception of the final question, the answer to all of these is (are):  yes to so-so…
The book is not a “good” novel.  There are no specified individual characters driving the action, so you cannot (as a reader) identify and grow with anyone.  In this sense, although fictional, the book is written with more of an academic or journalistic feel.  It is very much an military style “after-action” report.  If you are comfortable with this writing style, you will enjoy the writing / book.  If you are not, you will not.  I did.  Was the book able to realistically describe combat and the results (devastation) of war?  Yes!  Although, saying this, there was an obvious Western bias of vivid description of the destruction of the British city and virtually nothing about the similar (or much worse) destruction of the Russian city.  (Very much:  “Yeah, we took out one of theirs as payback…”)  Is the book entertaining or interesting?  This is the toughest question because every reader’s tastes varies so much… I was not “entertained”;  but, I did find the book interesting.  I particularly “enjoyed” the parts the authors get terribly wrong, because as a reader I (we) have 40+ years of hind-sight.  There is no China – Japan alliance;  the Shah is no longer in charge of Iran (or, rather, wasn’t in 1985);  South Africa did not fall to external forces;  and, East Germany did not resist consolidation with West Germany after the fall of the USSR.
Final recommendation:  strong recommendation.  I think most veterans (particularly my age group) will find this book relatable.  I think most civilian “military” readers / historians – and quite a few regular historians – will, too.  For political science readers, the “states” interests, goals, and stances will seem Machiavellian / Kissinger-ian (is that a real word?).  Yet, they ring true – even 40 years later.  It is entirely obvious why this book could seem as an inspiration for a future – updated version (a la “2034“), and I believe (I read) this book served as a similar inspiration for several of Tom Clancy’s works which followed.  At any rate, I do remember “enjoying” the initial read from “way-back-when”, and don’t feel the re-read was less so.  My reaction to “2034” was reinforced:  this version is much better than the more recent book.  If you have read “2034“, I recommend you read “WW3:1985” for the comparison value, if nothing else.
Final disclaimer:  I purchased this book at normal / sale price (for an old / used book) and no compensation has been provided to me by anyone for my opinions in this review.
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On This Day In:
2021 I’m An Optimist
Talent Is A Ticket To Ride
2020 Works For Me
Rivers Versus Waterfalls
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

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The Circle Of Fifths For Guitarists” (2017©)   —   book review
This review is for the first guitar book (non-song book category) which I have finished reading.  Hopefully, there will be many more in the future…
The book is written by:  Joseph Alexander and is part of a series of learning about music / guitar titled:  “Fundamental Changes“.  There is an associated website at:  www.fundamental-changes.com.  It also has associated Facebook and Instagram blah-blah-blah…
Background:
In January of this year (2021), I decided to teach myself to play guitar.  I’ve now purchased multiple guitars (acoustic and electric) and about a dozen books on learning music and learning how to play various genres of guitar.  I am trying to “find” my voice on both hardware and in music.  I am doing this (journey / vision-quest) “mostly” through YouTube, Wikipedia, Google and my local second hand bookstore.  I am averaging about one hour a day of hands-on practice and another couple of hours exploring genres, music theory, musicians / bands / songs, and hardware reviews.  Although I have (probably) over 300 hours of hands-on practice, I still consider myself to be a near complete-beginner guitarist.  I have watched multiple hours worth of videos on “The Circle of Fifths” and given this book is only a little over sixty pages of material, I’ve spent far more time watching videos than I actually spent reading this book.
Review:
Having said this, the questions remain:  is THIS a good book about the topic and would I recommend it to others?  The answer to both is:  “YES“.
First (good):  this is not a particularly easy topic to cover / explain.  I may feel this way simply because I’m such a beginner, but I’ve asked a few people who’ve “played” guitar in the past and they (mostly) said:  “Just learn some chords and play songs. Nobody is interested in theory.”  The problem is: I AM!!  Not only am I interested in guitar (as a physical instrument), I am also interested in it as a means of musical expression.  I seek to “Grok” guitar.  This means I have to learn the how’s and why’s of just about everything “guitar”.  Hence, my interest in the topic:  “The Circle of Fifths” (TCoF).
Alexander has written a very easy to read explanation of TCoF and I feel this book significantly increased the depth and breadth of my understanding of this music tool.  Obviously TCoF is a tool for all musicians and not limited to just use by guitarists.  Having said this, the author appropriately makes the effort to explain things from / for a guitarist’s point of view.  He defines words / terms when he first uses them, so ensuring the budding guitarist knows what he is talking about.  Alexander also takes the time to briefly explain some things beyond the scope of the book and cautions readers when a side topic is going to get deep.  Basically, he explains fundamental concepts clearly and then builds on the foundation to round out the reader’s understanding.
As mentioned earlier, there is an associated website with audio files which can be played to increase understanding by ear training and not simply expecting the reader to “understand” a point by reading about it.  This is a book about practical application of theory to music (sound).
Second (bad):  If that’s the good, what’s wrong?  Well, my copy came to me with every third page glued together.  Not consecutive pages, but facing pages and every other set:  two pages open, two pages glued, etc.  The glued spot was pretty uniform at about two inches in from the center / binding.  Most were only spots.  A few were lengths (a quarter inch to two inches) running from binding margin to the center of text.  A couple were the full height of the page as well as being over an inch in width.  Most could be pulled free.  Three of the sets completely shredded the opposite page – which meant you couldn’t read the back of that page either, even though it wasn’t glued.  Fortunately, the worst pages were at the extreme front and end of the book.  When contacted, the response was:  the books are printed and delivered by Amazon;  take it back to them and they’ll arrange to give you another.  If this was a hardbound book or more expensive, I would have done this.  Weighing the cost versus my time, I just decided to live with what I have.  And, after all, the book was still readable.  Although annoying in multiple locations, I could figure out the missing words from surrounding context.
Third (bad):  The book had a handful (less than five) of editing errors where either a word was dropped or an incorrect word was used.  Only one was so bad (impactful) that I had to go back and re-read adjoining text to ensure I knew what the author was saying instead of what it looked like he was saying.  I would add, I personally would NEVER buy this type of book in kindle format without having seen the complete book on whatever hardware version I owned.  There is too much valuable information easily accessible by laying out two pages and seeing them next to each other in a readable size / format.  In fairness, I am a “book” person, not an “ebook” person.  Of course, with kindle I wouldn’t have had the glue issue.
Final recommendation:  strong recommendation.  If you are interested in learning a bit about music theory, how chords and keys are built and how chords work together to create music, this is an excellent beginner’s resource.  Is it going to “vastly” improve MY music skills.  Not in the immediate future.  I’m not that good, yet.  But I’ll get there some day and I believe reading this book will have helped me get there sooner than if I’d not read it.  I will look for this author and series in my local used book stores where I can open and check the pages before I buy the book.
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On This Day In:
2020 Doctor’s Orders
Make That Seven Orders…
2019 Innocent
2018 Ripost
2017 Just Asking…
2016 And 4
How Tall Do You Stand?
2015 More Prejudice
2014 Say What?
2013 Daring Errors
2012 Are You Comfortable?
I Just Have To
In Flux
2011 True New
2010 A Job Well Started Is A Job Half Done
I See With My One Good Eye

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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.
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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

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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.
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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

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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…
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On This Day In:
2021 Chaos Theory
Too Few
2020 What About Blog Posts?
Listenin’ By Myself
A Short History
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!!

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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.)
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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

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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.
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On This Day In:
2021 Back To Paying Dues
Keep Rollin’
2020 Diets And Lifestyle Changes
Pay Attention
Just Not Sure, And That’s Okay
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

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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…
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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

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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.
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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

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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.
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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

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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…
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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?

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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).
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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

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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.
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On This Day In:
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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.
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On This Day In:
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