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Posts Tagged ‘2014 Book Review’

Book Review:
Last week I finished reading “Skin Game” (2014©), written by Jim Butcher.  This is the fifteenth book in the Dresden Files fantasy / horror / detective / adventure series.  The series traces the life of Harry Dresden, who is a practicing wizard, working in Chicago as a private detective / investigator.  In this volume, Harry joins up with a band of bad guys to try to steal some holy relics from a safe in Hades.
If you are not familiar with the series, it is quite formulaic: good guy (Harry) is placed in an awkward position and must overcome a series of bad guys in order to resolve the novel’s main story, while devoting about 10% of the book to furthering the main arc of the series – Harry’s continuing process of discovering the hero in himself while fighting to overcome evil.  Like all volumes in the series, it mostly stands on its own, but will be a lot more enjoyable if you’ve read all the preceding volumes.
Obviously, as I’ve now read fifteen of them, I’m a fan of the series and the author.  Are these “great” novels?  No.  Are they (is it) well written and enjoyable reads?  Yes!  So, highly recommended…  Again, as stated in reviews of the prior volumes, while the series is intended for the “young adult” reader, it (the series and this volume) contain graphically described violence and are probably not appropriate for most young teens and definitely not pre-teens.  This series is NOT Harry Potter for slightly older children.
As an additional mention, two things I learned from reading this book are: Hades is the name for the Greek god who rules “the underworld” and it has also come to be the name used for the “underworld” and precedes the Christian term “Hell”.  (I guess I already knew these things, but they never really settled into my conscious mind.)  The second thing I learned is that the Greek god Hades is not the equivalent of the Christian devil (“Satan”).  Hades is, in fact, more closer to a final judge of souls than a promoter of “evil” on Earth.
Movie Review:
Today I had my initial viewing of the movie (on DVD) “Ip Man: The Legend Is Born“.   Dennis To stars in the title role.  The movie came out in 2010 and is the third in the series of four, although it is fourth in my viewing order simply because that’s the order I was able to purchase them.  “Series” is a bit misleading, as the movies are not really chronological or meant to be viewed in any particular order.  They’ve simply been very popular and therefore additional portions of Mr. Ip’s life have been dramatized.  The movie comes with English language translation, so you don’t have to read sub-titles.
If the movies were an actual series, this movie would be the prequel to the first movie as this covers his life from childhood through early manhood, roughly up to the Sino-Japanese War.
So, is it any good and how does it rank vis-à-vis the others in the series?  I think it is number two, after only the original (Ip Man).  The fights are energetic, well choreographed and well filmed without too much wire-work, which is popular in China, but detracts from a movie’s realism (IMHO).
All in all, I rate this movie as highly recommended both as a movie and as a pure martial arts film.
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On This Day In:
2013 Real Honor
Catching Up
2012 Thoughts And Communications
2011 But How Does Peter Feel?
2010 Name That Regret

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Book Review:
Last night I completed the book:  “Genius – The Life and Science of Richard Feynman“, (1992©) written by James Gleick.  As I had already read four of Dr. Feynman’s anecdotal books, most of the main content was already known to me.  What was “new” and interesting was the placing of Dr. Feynman’s work in context with the rest of the world (in general) and physics (in particular).  This is not a particularly “scientific” book.  There are no formulas and what nuclear physics which is discussed is not explained in any great detail.  Lots of things – quarks, spin, muans, top, tensor, scalar, photons, etc – are named, but very little is “explained”.  Probably because to do so would require math skills which so much of the general reading public lacks (myself included).  Or it could just be that the words naming things don’t translate into other words which explain them clearly.  I feel the latter is just as likely as the former.
Essentially, Feynman made his name by working on the creation of the “bomb” (the Manhattan Project), while he was in his early twenties.  He received his Nobel Prize (for physics) in 1965 and then achieved “popular” fame when he was on the commission to review the Challenger Shuttle disaster in the 1980’s.  There, he famously demonstrated how / why the “O-rings” failed by taking a piece of a ring and placing it in ice water during one of the televised sessions.  He then pressed on the chilled rubber and when it failed to return to “normal” shape, he explained this was the cause for the subsequent catastrophic failure (“explosion”) of the shuttle.
The good Dr. is “humanized” by repeatedly reporting on his sexual escapades and his other personal peccadilloes.  One is left with the impression that although brilliant, he was not necessarily a good / nice person.  Having said that, my experience is that focused and driven individuals rarely are – good or nice.  They rarely have the time or feel the need to make the effort to be “normal” in everyday society.
Anyone interested in seeing Dr. Feynman can look him up on YouTube and his world famous “red book” series are still widely available as references for Physics.  I’m told (actually I’ve read) you can practically hear the joy of science in Dr. Feynman’s lecture notes.  You can also find the books on-line for free, if you care to download them.
Final Recommendation:  Gleick is a very good writer and this is a fascinating (if deep) book.  If you are looking to try to understand the role of Physics in the 20th century, this is an excellent primer.  It is also an interesting biography of a true scientific iconoclast.  As mentioned, it is not for the faint of heart, but I’d say anyone with a deep (loving) curiosity of the world would get something out of this book.  Highly recommended.  And, of course, a good number of quotes will follow in the coming days…
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On This Day In:
2013 Serve The World
2012 Acquaintance, n.
2011 On Why His Father Was A Great Teacher
A Baker’s Dozen

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If it seems as if you haven’t read any book reviews here lately – you haven’t.  And it’s because I’ve hardly done any reading (book reading).
Today I completed “Don’t Know Much About The Bible“, by Kenneth C. Davis (1998©).  I picked this book up last summer with the view of learning more about the basis of my Christian faith.  I got it the same day I bought “This Is My God“, which is a book summarizing / explaining the Jewish faith (see that review here).  The latter book was a “highly recommended” book in my review, and this current one is as well.  I can’t recall if I have ever read two books about religion which were as well written and fair handed in both their treatment of faith and of history.
This book, “Don’t Know Much…”, does contain some attempts at “wit” which might put some folks off, but generally, this is an excellent overview of the Bible as historical and cultural documentation.  By “historical” I mean the author attempts to put the historical errors in the Bible in their “actual” or “reasonable” time frame.  By “cultural” I mean, the author also tries to explain why a given writer of a portion of the Bible may have written what he (they) did.  The author does not attempt to explain the miracles described in the Bible, nor does he attempt to explain them away.  Mostly, he simply ignores them.  When that is not possible, he frequently simply states (or implies) that it (the event) probably just never happened that way.  The author uses a question and answer format to try to answer fundamental questions like when were the various books of the Bible written, by whom, and what were they hoping to explain (pass on to others in the faith).
If you are a Biblical Fundamentalist, this book will challenge your fundamental understanding of the universe and that is probably more than the average fundamentalist can stand.  Save your money and your sanity and don’t buy or read this book.  It is not for you.  If, on the other hand, you are an atheist or agnostic, a person of non-Christian faith, or a Christian of confident faith, you will have no problem with reading this book.  Indeed, you will put it down with a MUCH greater understanding of the Bible as a “loose” history book and an appreciation of man’s on-going efforts to try to understand his place in the universe.  In my own case, this understanding is grounded in religious faith and this book did nothing what-so-ever to shake that faith.
Early last year, I made an effort to try to read the Bible front to back.  I didn’t succeed.  Mostly, because I was spending time thinking about what I was reading and trying to figure out whether it made sense – particularly when compared to what I “thought” I’d been taught and / or believed about my Roman Catholic faith.  Concurrently, I was trying to read Isaac Asimov’s “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible“, but struggled with it as well.  As a juxtaposition, Asimov’s “Guide” was useful, but again, requires time for digestion.  Between the two books, and all the thinking, it was relatively easy to find other interests to pursue for more immediate intellectual gratification.
The bottom line is that having read (and having available for reference) these two books, I now feel in a much better position to go back and pick up where I left off in the Bible and Asimov’s work.
Conclusion, if you want to know all (well, maybe only quite a few) of the contradictions and errors of time, place and personage in the Bible, this is the book for you.  If you have faith and want to understand the historical context of the old and new testaments, this work is equally valuable.  This is not because the Bible is historically and scientifically accurate in and of itself.  It isn’t – nor should we expect it to be.  The “point” of the Bible is to explain God’s relationship with man as we have come to understand this relationship over the last 5,000 years.  That, in itself, is quite a challenge and this book makes a reasonable effort to cover this changing understanding / relationship.  Highly recommended!
And, of course, a number of quotes will find their way onto this site in the future…
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On This Day In:
2013 Execution Not Intensity
2012 Charles Carroll Of Carrollton (The Only Catholic Founder)
2011 Life Works
Pay Like Hell
Prosperity Finds Its Way Up

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