Books / Year 2012
Date: 2012-12-16 (permlink)
Author: Michael Caine
Name: The Elephant To Hollywood
Rating: 3 stars

Enjoyable enough of an autobiography. Most fun fact was that Caine fought in Korea, which makes the butler's comments in The Dark Knight about catching the bandit in Burma have some extra weight.

Date: 2012-11-23 (permlink)
Author: Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff
Name: This Time Is Different
Rating: 1.5 stars

Complete waste of time slogging through this book. 90% of its contents are common sense, 9% of the remaining can be summarized in a magazine article, and I really didn't need to read 300 pages to get the remaining 1% of information.

Date: 2012-10-30 (permlink)
Author: Various
Name: Wolverine Omnibus Vol. 1
Rating: 4.5 stars

Why do I consider Wolverine to be the best superhero? A few reasons:

Many superheroes, in an effort to make them more "human-like", are portrayed struggling with completely absurd problems. Spider-Man can't pay his rent, keep his job, or make it to dinner on time? Are you fucking kidding me? Any reasonably intelligent human being, blessed with Spider-Man's powers, could trivially make enough money in a few months to last a lifetime. Wolverine is never shown struggling with these kinds of absurd problems, because the entire concept of Wolverine is that he's an outsider, living by himself outside of society, completely self-sustaining in all possible ways. The mere idea of seeing a Wolverine comic in which he struggles with keeping a job is mind-boggling.

He is a realist, or as stupid people call realists, a cynic. Most other superheroes are idiot optimists, always going on and on about the inherent goodness of human beings that's just waiting to be unlocked, and other such nonsense. Wolverine knows people are greedy selfish bastards looking out for themselves, and deals with the world as it is, not as he thinks it should be.

No bullshit about "ooh despite being a superhero crimefighter I simply cannot kill the bad guys, EVER!". Somebody gets in Wolverine's way and refuses to back down, after plenty of warning? He gets killed, end of story.

Most superheroes are one-trick ponies. They get bitten by a spider, or get hit by radiation, or whatever, and that's it, that's all there is to them, the end. Wolverine is a hybrid: he was born with superhuman healing powers and other stuff, and later these enabled the adamantium bonding process to be used on him, enhancing his capabilities tenfold. So he is literally version 2.0 of Wolverine, a blend of nature and science, both working together to create the ultimate fighting machine that cannot be stopped.

I might have gone on to live in Japan for 3.5 years no matter what, who knows, but rereading some of these stories set in Japan reminded me what an impression they made on me as a youngster and shaped my views on Japan. And just like Wolverine, when I went to Japan it allowed me the chance to find facets of myself that I hadn't realized I had before.

Now that we've established why Wolverine is the best, what about this specific book? First of all, I don't normally list comic books / graphic novels, but this one has over a thousand pages and weighs 3.2kg, so an exception can and should be made.

There are plenty of classic stories in this collection, but also some weird inclusions, but I suppose that's always going to be the case. What was most surprising to me was the downright ugliness of the art in some of the comics: it is literally like looking at finger paintings of kids in some cases. The standards of comic drawing were in a completely different league a few decades ago compared to today; nobody would buy comics drawn that badly nowadays.

I hope they come out with a Volume 2 someday.

Date: 2012-10-16 (permlink)
Author: James Clavell
Name: Noble House
Rating: 3.5 stars

Continues the scope expansion that's been happening from Shogun to Tai-Pan. This time it's gone beyond the breaking point; there are just too many characters and too many plot points going on. In theory, Dunross is supposed to be the main character, but he's curiously passive: he doesn't do all that much throughout the book. Other characters scheme and conspire and have affairs and kill people and do all sorts of other stuff, but he doesn't.

Shogun was 100% about a reclusive island nation, Tai-Pan was 100% about the foundation of Hong Kong; what is the Noble House about? It tries to encompass more or less the entire planet and all that's going on in it: Hong Kong, United Kingdom, MI6, USA, CIA, FBI, Soviet Union, KGB, Japan, China, Taiwan, aircraft carriers, spies, Chinese revolutions, Canada, France, WWII, Vietnam, the role of women in 1960s business culture, banking crises, car racing, Australia, South Africa, the entire (and I do mean entire) backstory from Tai-Pan dragged into the modern day, etc etc etc.

In the end, it's all just too much. Even at 1,300 pages, too much stuff is covered superficially or just skipped completely. I kept waiting for all the different threads to be somehow unified but they never were.

Worst of all, just like Shogun, there's no real ending. It unbelievably reads instead like Clavell is attempting to set things up for a sequel. He never got around to writing one, because there's just no way to finish this thing. He dug himself into a hole and was unable to fill his way out of it.

Date: 2012-09-03 (permlink)
Author: Heinrich Harrer
Name: The White Spider
Rating: 1 stars

Four things spoil this book.

The first is Harrer's grating writing style, which for 300 pages goes on and on about the indomitable human spirit instead of talking about the actual climbing, or how it progressed during the 30 years he covers in his book.

The second is his lying. He flat-out lies about the Claudio Corti affair, and even after he had no excuses left once the bodies were found, he refused to update his book for over 40 years. If I hadn't consulted outside sources I would be left with a completely distorted picture of what actually happened, that is nothing less than a character assassination on Corti.

The third is his nationalistic views. Every German/Austrian climber is good in all ways, while almost all Italian/British climbers are insulted in a patronizing fashion, and explicitly told to stay away.

The fourth is again, his lying. He tries to pretend no climber is ambitious or climbs for any other reason than pure enjoyment, which is absolute bullshit. His own life is one big counterexample: without climbing, nobody would ever have heard of him.

Date: 2012-08-20 (permlink)
Author: Christopher Ryan And Cacilda Jethá
Name: Sex At Dawn
Rating: 3.5 stars

Interesting book. Some of the claims/theories seem like they must be accurate, some of them are possibly a bit overreaching, but in general, a worthwhile contribution to the field. Their takedown of some of Pinkers' statistics about violence in hunter/gatherer societies was especially enlightening.

Date: 2012-08-13 (permlink)
Author: Timothy Ferriss
Name: The 4-Hour Body
Rating: 4 stars

In the 550+ pages of this book there are interesting bits one can use to improve one's body (kettlebells, intermittent fasting, etc) and other bits one should just ignore, but throughout it's enjoyable reading, which is a huge change from most exercise/diet/whatever books that are boring as hell.

Compared to his last book which was hopelessly vague, this one is extremely specific, and for the most part is based on science which seems to make sense.

Date: 2012-06-26 (permlink)
Author: Upton Sinclair
Name: The Jungle
Rating: 3 stars

The first half of the book is gripping reading, but there is nothing left for the second half except endless preaching about the virtues of socialism.

The constant misery without the slightest break gets old after a while, as well.

Date: 2012-06-12 (permlink)
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Name: The Case-Book Of Sherlock Holmes
Rating: 3 stars

The stories are a bit more downcast than earlier ones, but the main feeling I have is finally having finished all the Sherlock Holmes books. Why I have a compulsion to finish something I don't particularly enjoy I have no idea.

Date: 2012-05-12 (permlink)
Author: Harry Turtledove, Martin H. Greenberg (editors)
Name: The Best Alternate History Stories Of The 20th Century
Rating: 1.5 stars

Possibly the worst short story collection I have ever read. Almost all of them lack any narrative drive and most of them are entirely predictable.

Date: 2012-05-10 (permlink)
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Name: His Last Bow
Rating: 3 stars

I can not find anything new to say in this, my seventh review of a Sherlock Holmes book by Doyle, so I won't.

Date: 2012-04-18 (permlink)
Author: Glen Duncan
Name: The Last Werewolf
Rating: 5 stars

The most fun book I've read in ages. Just like I think the dwarves in Tolkien are much more interesting than the elves and don't understand why the elves get all the attention, I've always thought werewolves are much more interesting than vampires and don't understand why vampires get all the attention.

So you can understand my elation about this book that elevates werewolves to the place they should have, and is written so beautifully that you find yourself stopping after reading just a few chapters at a time because you want time to just let it sink in instead of rushing on, even though you're desperate to know what happens next.

Just like science fiction can deal with some topics better than mainstream books can because of the larger canvas to paint on, this book gets a lot of mileage out of the protagonist being two hundred years old and having been around the block enough times to know how the world works. It doesn't hurt either that once a month he changes into a bloodthirsty animal and is ruled by forces beyond his control, thus making it impossible for him to pretend he lives in a world that's safe and controlled and predictable and sane and just and all those things, the way most people do.

Date: 2012-04-10 (permlink)
Author: Timothy Ferriss
Name: The 4-Hour Work Week
Rating: 2.5 stars

The goal (financial independence) is laudable, but his way of achieving it is a bit off. Either he found a way to sell stuff on the internet or he didn't (there are plenty of skeptical people on the internet wondering if he's exaggerating his claims of success), but either way, he's hopelessly mistaken if he thinks that's a realistic goal for most people to aim at.

I also find the lifestyle he promotes dreary and more of a nightmare than a dream. He hasn't seemed to consider that while it might be fun for a short while it will not work in the long run.

Date: 2012-03-14 (permlink)
Author: Jennifer Egan
Name: A Visit From The Goon Squad
Rating: 2 stars

Rarely does one come across a more hyped book. It begins well enough, and I'm curious to learn more about Sasha and Bennie, but no, the book turns out to consist of short stories about random other people who have no connection at all to each other. The stories are not believable and the quality of them goes downhill. The end the book is a farce with the slide presentation and the futuristic thing being ridiculously bad.

Date: 2012-01-19 (permlink)
Author: John Le Carré
Name: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Rating: 3 stars

For such a famous book, I was expecting more. If you really compress it down, the book comes down to a single man sitting in a hotel room reading documents. The entire happenings have a strange detached quality to them, as if everyone is simply playing parts they don't really believe in and don't much care what happens anyway.