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Posts Tagged ‘Moderate to Strong book Recommendation’

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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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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David And Goliath”  (2013©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for non-fiction “popularized science” / sociology genre book” “David And Goliath“, written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Gladwell, Steven Levy and James Gleick are my favorite three “modern” “pop”-science writers, so I have a natural inclination to review this book favorably.  (Of course, my “All-time” favorite for this genre is Isaac Asimov, who could explain almost anything to the common reader – and with over 500 books to his name, he certainly tried.)
Anyway, as stated, I was (am) predisposed to a favorable review.  And, I’m giving it that…
It’s not a “great” book and it didn’t make me feel like I just hit myself on the side of the head (“Wow!!).  But, with Gladwell, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you hand over your dosh.  One, two or three observations about human behavior, a bit of socio- / psychological support (a few facts to support the point and not much to contradict the point) to bolster the observations, and then a bit of storytelling to make Gladwell’s conclusion seem more palatable.  Generally, if you “want” to agree with Gladwell’s observations you won’t look too closely at the support, because, heck, you already agree.  Right?  And if you are not predisposed to agree, Gladwell offers almost twenty pages of “Notes” for further research.  But, if you’re going to all that trouble, you probably have some subject matter expertise and don’t need to read a “popularized science” book on this topic.   Do you?
Per his normal format, Gladwell breaks the book into three main sections:
1) The advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantages of advantages);
2) The theory of desirable difficulty; and,
3) The limits of power.
Amplifying the observations:
1)  Underdogs win more than we (the average reader) would expect – in some specific categories as much as 30%.  Why?  Because we see our disadvantages as their disadvantages, when they (the underdogs) don’t.  And, if they don’t see themselves as underdogs, they have no incentive to quit before they even try to succeed.
2)  Sometimes disadvantages turn out to be advantages and vice versa.  Great schools and small class sizes don’t necessarily produce the best employees or academics.  Gladwell introduces the idea of a inverted U shaped graph to explain this phenomena.
3)  People with challenges (dyslexia, early family tragedy, ADHD) can still become very successful.  Sometimes / somehow the “challenges” early in life prepare them better than their peers for challenges later in life, so they are “ready” when the real life test happens.  And,
4)  You can never “really” know how people will react when they are placed under pressure.  You generally, expect them to fold (because we believe we would, too), but sometimes they exceed your expectations.
My reaction to all of this?  Yes, it may all be true, but how do you build a society around the observation / hypothesis?  With no controls, you have observations, but you cannot test hypothesis.  And, if you could create similar situations, is it ethical to do so?  …For a hundred people, just so five or ten or thirty percent can overcome them?  What does society say to the others who don’t overcome and become super-achievers?  We’re sorry we ruined your life, but we wanted to see if you were “destined” to be elite.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  The book presents some interesting ideas and promotes thought by the reader.  (It certainly made me think!)  It successfully brings academic observations to the masses by means of popular writing.  However, in the end, I was left feeling neither individuals nor the government have the ability (or wisdom) to use power effectively in attempting to control the actions of others.  But for me, making me think is enough to prompt me to recommend the book.
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On This Day In:
2018 Still More Prejudice
A Well Trod Path Of Hopes, Expectations And Surprise
2017 …And With It Civilization
2016 Just Like My Mother
2015 All Omissions Are Mine
2014 Precise Order
2013 Uh, No. Not Really…
Deep Regions
2012 A Pre-Valentine’s Day Message
2011 Easy Like Sunday Morning
May I Have A Little More, Please…
2010 Valleys and Peaks

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The Essential Knuth”  (2013©)  —  book review
This book is an interview of Professor Donald E. Knuth by Edgar G. Daylight (and edited by Kurt De Grave).  The book is part of the “Conversations” series and covers topics like Knuth’s childhood / family, college life, and then more typical topics – ALGOL, structured programming, other software pioneers and finally the history of computer science history.  Basically, it’s a chance to record the thoughts of a pioneer in his field (computer science) about his life and views about his accomplishments and opinions of other greats in this field.
Is it earth-shattering?  No.  Is it interesting?  Yes.  Knuth appears to be a man who rather humbly acknowledges his own “greatness” in his field, but puts it down to both ability and the good fortune of being born at a time when his field of interest was new.  If you are interested in the thoughts of a giant in his field (and I am in this field), you should like this.
The book is very short: less than 90 pages and has practically no technical information.  It is, therefore, entirely accessible to the general public.  If reading isn’t your “thing”, I have subsequently found most of the book is also available on YouTube in short interviews.  Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  The book is so short and contains so little technical info, you will lose almost nothing for investing the couple of hours it will take to read this book.  And, it is interesting (even if in only a limited way).
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On This Day In:
2016 Hoping For The Best Come January
2015 Adaptive Security
2014 Wants
2013 Side Effects
2012 Just Trying To Earn A Living
2011 Productive Worry

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