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Posts Tagged ‘2020 Book Review’

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
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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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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:
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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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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:
2019 Better To Do
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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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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.
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On This Day In:
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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…
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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

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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.
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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

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Circles” (2000©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for one of the many books written by James Burke, who’s claim to fame is his ability to popularize science / technology with history and biography to “create” linkages which make the world (and history) appear to be interconnected.  I believe his most well known work is the book and the BBC series “Connections“.  At least this is how I first came to know Burke (and enjoy his work).
Circles” is sub-titled “50 Round Trips through History, Technology, Science, Culture“.  The book is a collection of essays which have been gathered into this form.  Each “essay” / “trip” is about four pages and they are each fairly self-contained, so there is no inherent requirement to read them in order – or all of them for that matter.  Each starts with some action in his life: a trip to the library, beach, coffee shop, etc; winds through the “circle” of people / history / discovery he is hi-lighting and then gets wrapped up with another reference to the initial action / place.
The stories are mildly interesting.  The links are tenuous.  The author occasionally breaks the fourth wall.  But, most frequently, the author writes in a peculiar conversational form which struck me as not using full sentences or proper sentence structure.  I found it hard to discern if this was more conversational, breaking of the fourth wall or simply lazy writing.  In the end, I just found it frustrating to try to figure out the subject of a sentence by having to re-read sentences (or paragraphs).
Final recommendation: poor to moderate recommendation.  I admit to being pretty disappointed.  I was a big fan of his “Connections” series and watched it on my local Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) many years ago.  I think I also read the book (way back when), but I can’t swear to it.  I was, therefore, looking forward to more of the same.  This book mostly was “just” the same, but (surprisingly) much less interesting or amusing.  Now I think I have to go back and find the original book (“Connections“) to see if the author has changed or if it’s the reader (me) who has changed.
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On This Day In:
2019 Eureka!
2018 Learning About My Humanity
2017 Laugh Or Shake Your Head
2016 The Expected Cure
2015 Of Two Minds
2014 Pride And Remembrance
2013 Repeating Bad Memories
2012 No Sooner
2011 Just Cheesy!
Are You Illin’?

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The Mask Of Command — book review
Today’s book review is for “The Mask Of Command” (1987©), written by John Keegan.  Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE (Order of the British Empire) and FRSL (Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature) was an English military historian, lecturer (at Sandhurst – the English equivalent of West Point) and writer.  Keegan is considered (in my opinion) one of the “modern” expert military historians. I understand his basic premise to be that conflict in general and war in specific is cultural and not necessarily an extension of political governance.  This is in contrast with Clausewitz who stated that war is politics by other means.  Keegan is criticized for “disagreement” with Clausewitz.
As a secondary aside, I started reading about military theory (“strategy”) back in my early 20’s when I began reading about generals (mostly Patton) and the works of B. H. Liddell Hart were recommended to me by a roommate.  I read Liddell Hart’s book: “Strategy: The Indirect Approach“, which I must say greatly influenced my life by profoundly changing my view of the world.  My hope was to learn about leadership by studying the great generals.  Instead, what I found was that leadership is not the same thing as strategy and is, instead, founded on the person and the time in history the person lives, whereas strategy tends to be principled and more timeless.
This realization pretty much ties into the basis for this book, which is a study of four “great” commanders / leaders and looks at what made three succeed and one (ultimately) fail terribly.  The three successful commanders are: Alexander the Great, Wellington, and U.S. Grant.  The failure is: Hitler.
Keegan’s proposal in this book is based on “heroic” aspects (“title”) of military leadership: heroic, anti-heroic, non-heroic, and fake heroic.  To do this, Keegan establishes the cultural climate of each commander and then tries to explain it’s (the culture’s) effect on the military leader via their proximity to combat and personal exposure to danger.  Essentially, for most of man’s history, muscle and physical courage were the requirement of military leadership.  As the age of gunpowder emerged, the risk to the commander increased and they were forced to withdrawal from danger and thus “military” leadership changed.  Alexander had to fight hand-to-hand to prove his courage while leading from the front; Wellington could stay within sight of his forces, but had to stay a minimal distance from accurate musket range; Grant could not frequently approach the front lines; and, Hitler never exposed himself to physical danger (with the exception of possible assassination) and used propaganda to convince his forces that he was a soldier battling at their side.
The book has five main chapters (one for each leader / type) and the last is about leadership in the age of nuclear weapons.  I found this the most fascinating (timely?) chapter of the book as it proposes a “new” type of post-heroic military / political leader and attempts to posit President Kennedy as this “ideal” leader.
While I found the book to be an interesting (sometimes fascinating) read, it was not an easy read.  Keegan loves his erudite words and his complicated phrasing of sentences.  The punctuation is “British” (I guess), and I found many times I had to go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph to figure out what the heck he was talking about.  Frequently, his sentences appeared to be declarative, but were, in fact, interrogatory (questions), or vice-versa, and you (“I”) couldn’t tell until you (“I”) hit the question mark or period at the end of the sentence.  Occasionally, even though I was aware of this writing style, Keegan still caught me off guard and I had to go back and try to figure out what he was on about.  Which means I knew it was happening, and anticipating it, but continued to find it distracting.
Other than this (quibble), I found the book to be quite enjoyable.  Keegan has a keen method of describing battles and you can sometimes feel yourself seeing the carnage and tasting the spent gunpowder in the air.  At less than 400 pages, it seems also to be a quick read, but I suggest not rushing head-long through it in one or two sittings as the book is widely considered to be a classic and deserves a bit of contemplation as well as enjoyment.
Final recommendation: highly recommended! This book is a classic for a reason…  The battlefield descriptions are superb and Keegan’s argument is well presented – even if not wholly convincing (to me, anyway).  Still, regardless if you are new to military history or a veteran of any military genre, I think you’ll enjoy this book.  There will, of course, be a few quotes from this book appearing on my blog in the coming weeks / months.
Two final thoughts: 1) I was not (am not) convinced President Kennedy is THE model for the post-heroic commander.  I found Keegan’s reporting on / analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis a bit simplistic.  And, 2) even if I had read this book on first printing, I doubt it would have influenced my world-view the way Liddell Hart’s book did.  Both are classics for any military reader, just different.  Just sayin’…
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On This Day In:
2019 #ContinueToResist
Except Willful Ignorance And Prideful Stupidity
2018 More Executive Time For #DumbDonald
2017 Watched The Inauguration
Two Geniuses
2016 Come Dance And Laugh With Me
2015 Looks Good To Me
2014 Desire For The Sea
2013 The Fierce Urgency Of NOW
Happy Inauguration Day!
2012 One Path
Sorrow And Joy
The Seven Year View
2011 Emergent Practicality

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