The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
This was decent read, if perhaps a bit long. I appreciate how the author broke down food into a number of larger ideals such as industrialized, farm/natural, and hunted/gathered. I learned a few knew things about food sources and processing but I could probably have done so just as easily in less pages.
The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World by Edward Dolnick
This was a very fast read (I’m a very slow reader) and entertaining. The book covers many well known (and perhaps lesser known) philosophers (today: scientists) from the 1500s and 1600s such as Newton and Leibniz. Sprinkle in some Pepys, history, and easy-to-understand explanations of core principles in physics and astronomy and it felt like a lighter, more enjoyable version of Neal Stephenson’s ‘Baroque Cycle’.
The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways by Earl Swift
I borrowed this book from a hotel lobby… This was an interesting read about the history of improved roads starting just before the turn of the 20th century and following through to the Interstate Highway system of today. The author covers a number of intertwined topics such as the development of the automobile and various features, key figures (engineers and politicians) in the development of improved roads, and the social impact of highways in urban areas. Though the subject could be fairly dry, I enjoyed it because I’m always curious about the history, contexts, and decisions that lead to the various bits of infrastructure we take for
Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Millan
I’ve always been a fan of Cesar’s. Having rescued a dog recently I thought it might be useful to read this book in case their were any new nuggets. For me, there were none. I enjoyed learning more about Cesar and his philosophy but I think most folks will learn as much in chapters 7 and 8 as they will in the entire book.
The Rainbow Goblins by Ul De Rico
This is a beautifully illustrated story!
What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter by Jeffrey O. Bennett
I really enjoyed this book. Even as an introductory text, I felt I learned a lot about special and general relativity. To be honest, I realized how much I didn’t know about what I didn’t know. This book has whetted my appetite to learn more about relativity, spacetime, and quantum mechanics.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Baldwin is a compelling, stirring writer. This couple of essays distinctly pointed out the folks (primarily white folks) need to practice real love, giving, and to be firmly planted within reality in order to face and fully address injustice. I’m still digesting the book.
About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang by Adam Frank
This was a good book to follow the intro to the theory of relativity I previously read. It helped reinforce some concepts and exposed me to even more, specifically around time, as expected. The author’s main thrust is that how we experience, define, and measure time has changed throughout history as our engagement with the material world has changed. Most interesting are the later chapters where the topic of the Bing Bang’s beginning, string theory, brane-worlds, and more are discussed. We don’t currently know what kicked off the Big Bang but there certainly doesn’t appear to be a dearth of ideas. This book has given me even more to dig
Rodrick Rules (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #2) by Jeff Kinney
I read this while on vacation with the family (the kids brought 4 of the series). I really enjoyed it and now I’m seeing where some of their ideas and antics are sourced!
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
There is so much to digest from this book I don’t think I can currently write a decent review. I can say that I don’t remember the last time I dog-eared a book so hard, leaving myself breadcrumbs to follow and ideas to consider more deeply. Perhaps I’ll write up a blog post on this book in the near future but I’ll summarize this much: the ways in which humans reason (or think they do) about the world is very complex. We have developed shorthands and stereotypes that may be useful in some, but not all situations. We have the capacity to think hard on subjects but rarely do. Even when presented with hard facts, statistically significant data, and the glaring truths of our misconceptions we still hold on to ideas that should be given up. There is a malleable boundary between trusting one’s instincts and trusting data; what makes us human is believing we can always know which is appropriate.
The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
This book felt a bit like a documentary: it told the stories of a number of people whose lives eventually coalesced and it was compelling, but there didn’t seem to be much conflict. In fact, the book seemed to pick up pace only in the last 30 pages. It also left me wanting. We don’t know what became of the protagonists after they all met up, nor do we know if any of the larger forces in the story succeeded or failed to meet their goals. On the upside, as with all Stephenson novels, I added a few new, mostly esoteric, words to my vocabulary.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I loved this book. Written decades ago, it holds up really well. It’s great science fiction with a compelling heroine and endearing cast.
Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea by Jang Jin-sung
Jang Jin-sung’s memoir of escape from North Korea was compelling and provided interesting insights about life in his home country. It is also a sad story about his efforts to be free. He is humble throughout the tale but determined, much like he seems determined to make a positive difference in the lives of the people he left behind. This book was barely a peek in a crack; there is so much more to be learned about the North Korean experience. My interest is piqued.
Way of the Scout by Tom Brown Jr.
Over a decade ago, a current neighbor handed me this book. The way he made a living was always unclear but I had a strong impression he was involved in clandestine operations. So when I read this book I could understand its appeal to him. Indeed I even found myself absorbed in the stories about raids on a local factory and even an army base. I was intrigued at how one might be able to become invisible, even in plain sight; how one could track and stalk all manner of wild, savvy creatures; how much time, effort, and dedication would be required top learn and master all the necessary skills. That having been said, as I read, I became more and more dubious about the authenticity of the author’s stories. They could be true, but I can’t be certain. Tom Brown, sensing the reader’s caution, even states that part of the scout’s way is to sow doubt in his targets (referred to as psychological tactics). I enjoyed this book but mostly because I did not suspend my disbelief, treating it more as light fiction.
Shadow Enemies: Hitler’s Secret Terrorist Plot Against the United States by Alex Abella
This was a look at a piece of history I’d not known: teams of Nazi soldiers landing in American soil with money and materiel ready to clandestinely create havoc and panic. The book read fast, describing the events that unfolded from the time of the soldiers’ landing through their capture and trial via military tribunal. It touches on a bit of legal theory, pointing out some bits that were tenuous along with those that we slam dunk.
The Last Council (Amulet, #4) by Kazu Kibuishi
I read this over my son’s shoulder. It was lots of fun and the illustrations are beautiful.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
After the first few chapters I thought this book was a bit light in the details, giving simple-sounding solutions to large change problems while ignoring the reality that what happens in the middle, between trying to change a thing and seeing any results. As I read further I was pleased the authors spent some time calling out what they saw as being required to sustain momentum. In all, for such a shoer book, I think the content does a decent job of describing a set of recommendations for effecting real change. I appreciated the Rider/Elephant dichotomy as it lined up neatly with Kahneman’s System I/System II idea. And, yes, I know not everything can be categorized in such a tidy model, but we humans like it simple!
The Spider Network: The Wild Story of a Math Genius, a Gang of Backstabbing Bankers, and One of the Greatest Scams in Financial History by David Enrich
This was an interesting look into a part of the late aughts’ financial crisis that I was not familiar with. Having a mortgage, I was vaguely familiar with Libor as a means to determine interest rates, but I had no idea how extensive an instrument it was. The author does a decent job covering a lot of ground and developing (really, describing) the characters, including the protagonist, Tom Hayes. One catches a whiff of sympathy for Tom on the part of Mr. Enrich while trying to remain objective about the material. Sometimes the content seemed to meander but overall, I felt I got a better sense of how a large, complex system of people and policies coalesced into such a far-reaching scam.
An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise by John Robinson Pierce
This was a bit of a tough read for me. I appreciated the author’s conversational tone, but some of the writing was difficult to parse. And when it came to the maths, I am woefully unprepared to ingest it. However, there were a few morsels I was able to extract, such as information theory’s variation on the idea of entropy, that will lead me to explore other books on this topic that I hope are more approachable for me. I may even brush up on my maths so I stand a chance of interpreting future texts’ use of it to explain these theories.