Books / Year 2006
Date: 2006-12-31 (permlink)
Author: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
Name: Good Omens
Rating: Reread

I can't believe how much my opinion of this book has changed. I last read it 8 years ago (for the second time, I think) and thought it was still excellent. But this time the magic was gone, and while the book is still slightly humorous in places, it's not enough. The plot is nonexistent, there are too many characters to keep track of and very few of them are memorable, and even the end of the world is disappointing.

Date: 2006-12-27 (permlink)
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Name: Friday
Rating: 3.5 stars

Surprisingly good, but that's because my expectations were low. Mixed in with the soft-porn are some pretty realistic predictions of the future, though the depicted world seems inconsistent to me. Given that they have this amazing energy storage technology, it is never explained why they go around in horse-drawn carriages.

Date: 2006-12-17 (permlink)
Author: Various
Name: Raamattu (The Bible)
Rating: 0.5 stars

I originally planned to read the bible so I would have more ammunition to attack religious people with, but I didn't know it would be so boring that I'd waste almost 2 months of my reading time on it. Had I known it was going to take so long I wouldn't have bothered.

Also, I was going to write this review in one of two ways: either in that "hilarious" style where I'd treat it as a normal fiction book and rate it badly for incoherent plot etc, or else list all the contradictions, errors, sadistic acts, and just plain weird parts, and say "See how fucked up your precious bible really is? How can you take it seriously? Are you brain damaged?".

But in the end after reading it through completely, I wasn't left feeling in a humorous mood. Maybe it's no wonder the world is full of religious freaks doing idiotic things; if someone was brought up and led to believe all through his childhood that all of this stuff was for real I can see how a large majority of them would be unable to shake off those falsehoods.

I also saw the film "United 93" yesterday, and the only difference between the fanatics in that film and the fanatics in other religions is that they grew up idolizing different books. The infection vector and the outcome is the same, i.e., persons not capable of independent thought. And there's not much of an effort needed to convince such people to do whatever you want.

Date: 2006-11-29 (permlink)
Author: Jack London
Name: The Sea Wolf
Rating: 3 stars

The first half or so is a gripping adventure tale and Wolf Larsen is a fascinating character, but starting with the introduction of Maud Brewster the tone, setting, and action change entirely, all for the worse.

Date: 2006-10-28 (permlink)
Author: Robert Kurson
Name: Shadow Divers
Rating: 3 stars

I heard about this book two years ago when it first came out, but wasn't interested as I didn't see how you could fill a whole book about two divers exploring a single submarine. Things remained so, until a few months ago my Amazon order was a little light, and I figured what the hell, let's take a chance on it.

The good news is that my intuitition was correct: you can't fill a book with just the diving stuff. The bad news is that to disguise that fact, Kurson spends a lot of pages on filler material that has nothing to do with the subject.

Another problem with the book is Kurson's writing, which is embarrassingly bad in places. He uses asinine metaphors, embellishes facts, and adds drama where none is needed.

Many Internet sources claim the book is full of errors but for some reason these sources never list the errors, so I wasn't able to judge whether these claims are true or not. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if Kurson had taken some liberties with his story, however.

One good thing about the book is that the accuracy of the diving stuff is exemplary. I didn't notice a single error (well, maybe trimix wasn't quite as new as he claims, but it certainly wasn't mainstream), and he also didn't waste too much time trying to explain things to the general populace, which would have been futile in any case.

Date: 2006-10-14 (permlink)
Author: Robert Cowley (editor)
Name: What If?
Rating: 3.5 stars

Better than its sequel, probably because they used up all the good situations the first time around. Also, the predictions go much further this time.

Date: 2006-10-10 (permlink)
Author: Friedrich Nietzsche
Name: Näin Puhui Zarathustra (Also Sprach Zarathustra)
Rating: 1.5 stars

Nietzsche is not a mere philosopher, he's an iconic concept, and I have read lots of quotes from him that I've liked, so I had high hopes for this book.

What I expected was a treatise on the superiority of rationality over superstitions with some fun überman ideas thrown in. Instead I got 460 pages of incoherent "fiction" from which I was supposed to extract his philosophies. Also, I don't know how the German original reads, but the Finnish translation is practically unreadable as the words and sentence structures are so archaic.

I think I'll skip on reading any more Nietzsche; I can find better ways to use my time than this.

Date: 2006-09-27 (permlink)
Author: Nick Hornby (editor)
Name: Speaking With The Angel
Rating: Reread

I only planned to reread the first story, but somehow got suckered into reading the whole thing again.

Date: 2006-09-23 (permlink)
Author: George R. Stewart
Name: Earth Abides
Rating: 4.5 stars

Rarely has a book started faster, or better. By page 8, our protagonist is roaming across the USA as one of the very few survivors of a plague that has almost wiped out mankind. This is a situation that I've often fantasized about, and that Douglas Coupland has even invented a term for: survivulousness.

The next 330 pages don't disappoint either. The author doesn't indulge himself in masturbatory philosophizing but concentrates on a realistic portrayal of how life could go on in such a world.

Date: 2006-09-20 (permlink)
Author: Nevil Shute
Name: On The Beach
Rating: 2.5 stars

I've always had a fascination for detailed end-of-the-world predictions, so when I became aware of this book I immediately ordered it from Amazon. All of humanity dying from global nuclear warfare? Sign me up!

The premise is great, but the execution is flawed. Even if you give generous allowances for the fact that the book was written in 1957, the science in the book is maddeningly idiotic. The depicted slow and steady encroachment of radiation southwards and the 100% fatality rate all over the globe just does not match with reality.

If the rest of the book was great, the above could be forgiven. But sadly it is not. As someone else pointed out, people in the book have exactly two reactions to their impending doom: either they are incredibly stoic about it and go on as before, or they refuse to believe it and go on as before. It defies explanation why someone would write a book about the world ending and spend almost all of the book describing banal household chores.

This is especially true since for a couple of pages Shute provides a magnificent example of what I was hoping to find throughout the whole book, when he describes a chaotic car race where people race as if their lives were meaningless, which they are since they'd rather die now than from radiation sickness in a week's time. This is the kind of thing that his setting enables him to write about that could never be duplicated in any other place, and I wish he had extended that approach to the rest of the book.

For example, take sex. All of the characters in the book are unbelievably chaste, even the one the author clearly intends to be risqué. There is not a single sexual event in the book, or a hint that one takes place off-screen. It does not take great imagination to guess that if everyone knew they were going to die in the very near future, sexual behavior would take some extreme forms. Birth control, sexual diseases, and possible harm to one's image would all become meaningless. Also, there wouldn't be any real consequences from raping someone, or lots of someones for that matter. Civilization would degrade into anarchy as no one would have any leverage to force anyone else to behave in a normal manner.

It's entirely possible such a book is impossible to write without it degenerating into a random series of violent acts. I would still like to read it someday, however.

Date: 2006-09-13 (permlink)
Author: Jack London
Name: To Build A Fire And Other Stories
Rating: Reread

When I think of Jack London, the first thing that comes to mind is not his novels. Though I've read The Call Of The Wild and White Fang, and liked them, what London excelled at were his short stories.

In modern literature, short stories have become almost extinct. After reading some of London's finest output in this book, I can pinpoint at least one reason for the decline in their popularity. Modern stories mostly focus on people, their inner feelings and their relationships with other people, and how those relationships change.

London wrote about much more visceral matters, such as struggles not to freeze to death, starve to death, or endure years of slavery. Or about the risks men are willing to take to make their fortune, or otherwise chase their chosen future.

The key difference from these to modern stories is the amount at stake. It's hard to become excited if the worst that can happen to the main character is that he must find a new girlfriend. It's almost impossible not to get excited if the main character is fighting for his life in an interesting manner and the story is well-written.

I sometimes wish I was born in the 19th century. It certainly was much easier to lead an interesting life back then. Consider this introduction of Jack London from this book: "He spent his adolescence as an oyster pirate, a seaman, a Yukon prospector and a tramp".

For example, while the travel time to move to a new country back then was far more than today, everything else about it was easier. Consider some of the things you wouldn't have had to worry about back then: mobile phone service plans, Internet access, incompatible electrical standards and sockets, taxes (I doubt any state back then was capable of collecting left-over taxes from someone who moved to the other side of the world), unemployment/retirement benefits and health insurance (there weren't any), staying in contact with the people you left behind (not an option), immigration visas, discontinuities in your favorite TV programs, and who knows what else.

Combine all that, and you realize it was far easier to simply pick up your things and move to somewhere else, try a new profession, or whatever. Nike's slogan "Just Do It" was more apt then; nowadays it's more like "Plan For Six Months And Then Maybe Do It".

Date: 2006-09-02 (permlink)
Author: Ben Carson (with Cecil Murphey)
Name: Gifted Hands
Rating: 1.5 stars

On some level, Carson's story is inspirational. From a disadvantaged childhood to director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins at age 33 is certainly an achievement. However, his stories of how "God" gave him the answers to pass his chemistry course, and other religious nonsense, litter the book and damage his trustworthiness. Also, I found an interview of his where he goes on at length how evolution does not exist and claims as evidence that the eye could not evolve. For a man who claims to value knowledge as much as he does, he certainly could be expected to pick up a book or two that explain in as much detail as he wants exactly how eyes can evolve. Personally, I would recommed some of Dawkins' books.

Date: 2006-09-01 (permlink)
Author: Steven Johnson
Name: Everything Bad Is Good For You
Rating: 2.5 stars

Johnson validates an opinion I've held for a long time: TV programming hasn't decreased in quality in recent decades, but actually increased dramatically. How anyone can claim otherwise is beyond belief. Can you actually imagine watching popular TV shows from 50, 40, or even 30 years ago without being bored to death? Nowadays, you find much more interesting storylines on TV shows than on movies, due to the length restrictions on movies. Another viewpoint of mine that Johnson writes about is that a lot of reality TV's popularity comes from the simple fact that it's one of the few places where you can see real humans having real emotions. It may not be much, but it's still infinitely better than watching a soap opera where nothing is real.

Date: 2006-08-30 (permlink)
Author: Matthew R. Simmons
Name: Twilight In The Desert
Rating: 4 stars

I've known of this book for over a year now. I resisted for a long time buying it, thinking that I'd read enough about oil, its history, and predictions of peak oil, to trouble myself with 400 pages of speculation about a single country's future oil production.

I don't remember anymore what finally made me put the book in my Amazon shopping cart. It was probably the fact that mentions of the book didn't die down soon after it was published, but instead kept becoming more and more common, and I was at a disadvantage since I didn't have firsthand knowledge about the book's contents.

I've now read the book and can say I was entirely wrong when I thought I already knew what it was going to say. I shared the condition very common in people, according to Simmons, of having the following assumptions about Saudi Arabia: oil was produced from a multitude of fields, new fields were being constantly found, fields were being kept in reserve, oil was cheap and easy to produce, and finally, that Saudi Arabia was one of those rich Arab countries with wealthy playboys as the primary citizens.

Simmons proves every one of those assumptions wrong. The vast majority of oil is actually produced from very few giant oilfields that have been producing for 40-50 years, they haven't found any new giant fields in the last 30 years, nor do they have such fields in reserve. The production methods they use to squeeze oil out of these old, old fields would make no sense unless the fields were nearing their end.

In the last 30 years Saudi Arabia has transformed from an obscenely wealthy nation with just a few million people to a country with 6 times the population and one-third the GDP per capita. Their electricity and water desalination infrastructure is straining under the enormous growth, and what's worse, the natural gas that they planned to power them has not been found in the quantities they assumed it would.

I have little doubt we're either at or very near the global oil producing peak. The forecasters who blithely draw graphs how the world's oil consumption will grow to 130 million barrels would be laughable if not for the fact that most nations seem to be basing their behavior on the assumption that those forecasts are actually correct, without giving any thought to where those 50 million additional barrels per day are going to come from.

It's actually a lot more than 50 million barrels, since pretty much every non-OPEC country has publicly admitted that their oil output has peaked, so you also have to factor in the extra barrels needed to replace lost production from the current numbers, as oil production fades.

The forecasters, when confronted with this, usually just shrug or say something to the effect that the Middle East can double or even triple their production if needed, and keep that up for 50+ years.

Simmons gives an enlightening treatment on the magical oil reserve inflation wave that swept through Middle East 15-20 years ago and resulted in huge reserves, that even more magically have stayed exactly the same since then despite the countries producing gigantic amounts of oil during that period.

It is these numbers, backed with absolutely no facts, and probably pulled out of thin air, that leads to forecasts with Middle East as the dominant producer in the future.

As much as I hate seeing the price of my scuba diving vacations go up, it may be worth it just to get the Middle East nations returned to their proper relevance level in international politics, which will happen when their oil output drops enough.

I read some critiques of this book to see if Simmons was provably wrong about something, but the critiques only increased my trust in his results. For example, one party said "The 1979 Senate hearings predicted Ghawar's output would drop in the early nineties; this didn't happen, so Simmons is wrong!", completely ignoring the fact that Ghawar was mostly resting through the entire 1980s as Saudi Arabia throttled their output.

I'll end with the scariest thing from the book: Ghawar actually peaked in 1981, 25 years ago. Only the rest during the 1980s and the development of the southern parts of the field in the 1990s have allowed its output to still remain as high as it is today.

Date: 2006-08-24 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Quiet American
Rating: 4.5 stars

Once again an excellent Greene novel. It even game me reason to brush up on my history as I was a bit confused why a French officer would be leading German troops in Indochina.

Date: 2006-08-18 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Comedians
Rating: 4.5 stars

It's too bad I had to wade through so many bad Greenes before getting to the good ones. This one is even better than the last one I read, which I already hailed as the best so far.

Date: 2006-08-13 (permlink)
Author: Douglas R. Hofstadter
Name: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Rating: 1 stars

A worthless piece of crap. The book is nothing more than a jumbled mess of random elements from math, computer science, philosophy, biology, and who knows what else, that do not come together into a coherent whole. I have no idea why Hofstadter wrote the book, what point he is trying to make to the readers, and I certainly didn't learn anything from it. Reading this book was one of the biggest wastes of my time ever, so it was with a certain glee that I found out Hofstadter has accomplished absolutely nothing in the almost 30 years since the publication of this book; seems others share my viewpoint.

Date: 2006-08-04 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Heart Of The Matter
Rating: 4.5 stars

Probably the best "serious" Greene I've read so far. The description of a unique time and place is fascinating, and while the moral problems the characters labor under seem contrived from today's viewpoint, they're enough to hold the story together.

Date: 2006-07-30 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Ministry Of Fear
Rating: 3.5 stars

One of his better books. The first half goes slowly, but the latter half picks up speed and by the end it's the most intriguing Greene I remember reading.

Date: 2006-07-24 (permlink)
Author: Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
Name: Two Years Before The Mast
Rating: 3.5 stars

The book is both fascinating and boring at the same time. Fascinating, because it gives us a glimpse of an empty California a few years before the gold rush, back when it belonged to Mexico. Boring, because it's chock-full of obsolete sailor terms that make no sense to a modern reader, and even though it's easy enough to skim over such parts, there are just too many of them and they bloat the book to a much longer length than is necessary.

Date: 2006-07-04 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Power and the Glory
Rating: 2 stars

So much hype, so little content. Maybe you have to be religious to enjoy this book, I don't know; I only know I suffered through every page of it, moaning about the idiotic behavior of every single one of the characters, and entirely failing to feel any kind of uplifting message through their self-sacrifice.

Date: 2006-07-02 (permlink)
Author: Scott Turow
Name: Ultimate Punishment
Rating: 4 stars

A thought-provoking treatise on the death penalty. I wasn't aware of all the problems in the system that Turow points out, but the improvements he suggests would seem to fix most of them. So, in the end, my stance on the issue remains unchanged: some people have committed acts so heinous, and the evidence against them is so strong, that the right thing to do is to kill them.

Date: 2006-06-18 (permlink)
Author: Scott Turow
Name: Reversible Errors
Rating: 5 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

Probably the best book by Turow I've read so far. This is now the sixth book set in Kindle County, and it's a real pleasure to read about the latest happenings in the lives of characters from the other books.

This book combines an irresistible plot with unforgettable characters, and the ending doesn't disappoint. I also liked the two romances, similar in many ways, yet different, and the final outcome of each kept in suspense until the last possible moment.

Date: 2006-06-13 (permlink)
Author: Scott Turow
Name: Personal Injuries
Rating: 4.5 stars

Second-best Turow that I've read so far. The plot moves like a freight train, the characters are a nicely varying bunch, and the twist at the end is unexpected. Not much more you can ask for.

Date: 2006-06-07 (permlink)
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Name: Strip Tease
Rating: Reread

The movie was recently shown on TV and that inspired me to reread the book. I shouldn't have bothered: Hiaasen's books can't be reread, apparently. I'm not sure of the exact reasons; it's not like I remembered any details, the exact opposite in fact, but somehow it all seemed too familiar. Seems like novelty is a needed ingredient for enjoying Hiaasen.

Date: 2006-05-30 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: Brighton Rock
Rating: 2.5 stars

Some interesting characterization, but overall reading this book now 68 years ago after its publication is mostly a waste of time.

Date: 2006-05-23 (permlink)
Author: John Steinbeck
Name: In Dubious Battle
Rating: 3.5 stars

Better than I expected, but still, no one's life is going to be ruined if they skip reading this.

Date: 2006-05-16 (permlink)
Author: Ayn Rand
Name: The Fountainhead
Rating: 4.5 stars

I knew this was a special book when within 10 minutes of starting to read it I had to get out my marker pen to highlight passages I knew I wanted to quote at some time in the future. I normally never mark my books in any way, but this time the quotes were just too good to pass up. The start of the book is unparalleled in its impact, as Roark demonstrates a way of living that I have not encountered before in anything that I've read or experienced.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Roark doesn't really change throughout the book, and so there's not really that much to write about him, thus forcing Rand to spend most of the book on less interesting characters like Keating and Toohey. I also found the romance between Roark and Dominique bizarre, frankly.

Still, this is a book that forces you to really think about your values and how you're living your life, which is not something that can be said for most fiction books. I'll have to put at least Atlas Shrugged and probably more of Rand's writings on my todo-list.

Date: 2006-05-11 (permlink)
Author: Isaac Bashevis Singer
Name: Enemies, A Love Story
Rating: 3 stars

It's fast reading, and not boring, but entirely superficial. I'm not saying it's shallow on the level of a Grisham novel; I'm saying the characters behaved arbitrarily and the only one acting remotely realistic was the illiterate Polish peasant Yadwiga.

Date: 2006-05-07 (permlink)
Author: Scott Turow
Name: The Laws Of Our Fathers
Rating: 4 stars

Certainly larger in scope than his other books, but that's not entirely a positive thing. A certain lack of focus results from the constant jumping between characters and decades. I didn't particularly like the ending, either; it left a "That's it? That's what I've waited 700 pages for?" feeling.

Date: 2006-05-03 (permlink)
Author: Bernhard Roetzel
Name: Gentleman - A Timeless Fashion (Der Gentleman)
Rating: 4 stars

I've never had any knowledge of clothes, and I felt it was time to learn about them. This was the best book on the subject based on my limited research on Amazon, so I ordered it. The cheap price was a surprise, it's a big book full of color photos on glossy paper, and it's under 20 euros.

Having now waded my way through the book I've gained at least some semblance of understanding of the various types of clothing available. It's also fascinating how I immediately started noticing things I was never aware of before on TV shows and movies. For example, on an unnamed show's latest episode, there were two men both wearing good suits. Before, that would have been all that I would have noticed. Now, I noticed how the show's stylist used their shirt and tie selections to portray the different positions the men had. One was the underling and had very conservative colors, while the superior one had bright, almost eccentric colors, to show that he was not bound by the standards of others.

I also just watched the movie 'For The Love Of The Game' again, and couldn't help noticing how Kevin Costner's character, a multi-millionaire baseball star, wears button-down shirts with ties for the entire movie. Now, opinion is divided on this issue, but my newly acquired style sense thought it looked tacky.

Date: 2006-04-25 (permlink)
Author: Michael Bane
Name: Over The Edge
Rating: 3 stars

Partially interesting book about one middle aged man's quest to try 13 extreme sports. What's bad is that he doesn't say anything about himself, making it hard to get a correct reading on some things. He doesn't even say what his job is, which leaves you wondering what exactly is it that he does that sends him on works trips around the world and still leaves enough time to wander off and do crazy things while there.

It's also possible he is crazy, or very stupid, himself; certainly his escapades in scuba diving are cringe-worthy, and his diving partners should be ashamed of themselves for letting him dive totally unprepared. For that matter, how exactly is a deep air dive in some cave going to help him to prepare for tri-mix diving in the ocean? I fail to see the connection.

Another thing is the, not unique to this book, need to make all the characters larger than life. From personal experience, I can say that there are plenty of people doing some variant of "extreme" sports professionally (usually for very little money) for no other reason than that it's the only thing that they know how to do, or they were bored in their normal job.

Date: 2006-04-22 (permlink)
Author: Dean Karnazes
Name: Ultramarathon Man
Rating: 3.5 stars

Possibly the fastest 300 pages I've ever read, but that's no wonder since the content is mostly fluff. Interesting fluff, for sure, but still fluff.

Date: 2006-04-21 (permlink)
Author: Scott Turow
Name: Pleading Guilty
Rating: 3 stars

Not as good as his two previous books. The main character, Malloy, remains somewhat fuzzy throughout the book, and the focus on his amateurish investigations is less interesting than the high-powered world of lawyers and politicians featured in his previous books.

Date: 2006-04-16 (permlink)
Author: Scott Turow
Name: The Burden Of Proof
Rating: 4 stars

Excellent, with the only slight minus being the anti-climactic ending. And what was the meaning of that wooden end table?

Date: 2006-04-14 (permlink)
Author: Hubert Selby Jr.
Name: Requiem For A Dream
Rating: 4 stars

Better than the movie. I don't think it's possible to look at Jennifer Connelly and not get the impression that doing drugs is cool, no matter what she's doing on the screen. In book form, there's much less chance of things being glamorized just because a beautiful Hollywood star is doing them.

Date: 2006-04-09 (permlink)
Author: Edward R. Tufte
Name: The Visual Display Of Quantitative Information
Rating: 2.5 stars

Nowhere near the quality I was expecting. Tufte has mainly one point, "eliminate as much non-data ink as possible", and he keeps repeating this in various ways and going to extremes like eliminating axis lines. When it comes to practical advice on how to create effective graphs, this book comes up short.

Date: 2006-04-08 (permlink)
Author: Blake Snyder
Name: Save The Cat!
Rating: 3 stars

Didn't really contain anything I didn't already know.

Date: 2006-03-23 (permlink)
Author: J. M. Coetzee
Name: Disgrace
Rating: 2 stars

I have no idea what this book is about, or why it is so highly rated. The plot makes no sense and the people behave absurdly. I can only guess that this is yet another case of The Emperor's New Clothes: a "literary" author writes a "serious" novel that uses absurd "symbolism" to comment on some critical issue; who has the courage to be the first to say that it doesn't make any sense?

Oh, and what the hell was that Byron business all about?

Date: 2006-03-18 (permlink)
Author: Scott Turow
Name: Presumed Innocent
Rating: 4.5 stars

I expected something John Grisham-y, and in some ways it is, but on an entirely different level. The characters actually have depth and the plotting is much more dense. I especially liked the twist at the end, didn't see that one coming.

Date: 2006-03-11 (permlink)
Author: Anthony Swofford
Name: Jarhead
Rating: 3 stars

I preferred the movie, since at least it contained memorable characters. I couldn't remember any character in the book outside of Swofford himself, since they're not really represented as individuals at any point. Even Anthony remains an enigma, acting in surprising and confusing ways right to the end.

Date: 2006-03-07 (permlink)
Author: George Orwell
Name: Burmese Days
Rating: 4 stars

I was (why, I have no idea) expecting something high-brow, literary, and frankly, boring, but instead I get this marvelous book whose unflinching handling of sexual matters, for example, seems refreshingly honest even today. I cannot imagine how shocking it must have been in 1934.

Date: 2006-02-23 (permlink)
Author: Armand Marie Leroi
Name: Mutants
Rating: 3.5 stars

If the book is about human development, why is its name "Mutants"? I could've used a lot more details about the various mutants described, and a lot less speculation about human development, since that is basically what it mostly is at this point in time, speculation.

Date: 2006-02-16 (permlink)
Author: Clayton M. Christensen
Name: The Innovator's Dilemma
Rating: 3 stars

It seems to me business books are caught in a vicious circle: people don't bother reading them from cover to cover, so the writers duplicate all essential information endlessly, which leads to people not bothering to read the whole thing since it's mostly duplication, which leads to writers duplicating even more information, and so on.

This famous book is a victim of that war: a 20-page idea bloated to 280 pages. Chances are if you've heard of this book, you already know most of the contents. Some good insights but they suffer from the constant repetition.

Date: 2006-02-07 (permlink)
Author: Gerrie Lim
Name: Invisible Trade
Rating: 2.5 stars

This very slim book is basically an overview of the various different types of prostitution available in Singapore. Even at 200 pages, this book is stretching the limits of just how much there is to say about the subject, since sex, and selling it, is pretty universal, apart from some local differences. And those differences don't need 200 pages.

Date: 2006-02-07 (permlink)
Author: Toby Young
Name: How To Lose Friends & Alienate People
Rating: 2 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

I hate being misled as to what a book contains, and this one is guilty as hell. The title and the back cover would have you expect a real slide from success and friendship to desolation and loneliness, but that is not what actually happens. What Young actually does, according to the book (and, let's be clear, I have no trust whatsoever in that anything in this book is true), is have sex with one beautiful woman after another, and in the end marries one of them, who also happens to be 10 years younger than him. And far from being friendless, on every page there seems to pop up a new friend of his. And he certainly brags enough about his income to eliminate any possibily of his being broke.

Date: 2006-02-06 (permlink)
Author: John Steinbeck
Name: East Of Eden
Rating: 3 stars

I had no idea what to expect from this book, but I was still surprised. I was expecting some grand battle between two families, since that is what the backcover hints at, but instead there's hardly any conflict in the book that's not internal to the characters. It's readable and interesting, but most of the characters seem to be sleepwalking through life without the insight that if they don't like their life, they could actually do something about it.

Date: 2006-02-01 (permlink)
Author: Iain M. Banks
Name: The Algebraist
Rating: 6 stars

A superior science fiction novel if one ever existed. Plus it's not set in the Culture universe, which, while fun, can limit a story since basically everything is possible. In this book's more technology-limited universe things are on a different scale, which is refreshing. Oh, and Archimandrite Luseferous? Best supporting character, ever.

Date: 2006-01-23 (permlink)
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Name: Blink
Rating: 4 stars

Much better than his last book, mostly because he spends much less time on his own theories than on describing other people's theories, and those other people are actual scientists with facts to back them up.

Date: 2006-01-21 (permlink)
Author: Iain M. Banks
Name: Look To Windward
Rating: 4 stars

This is a good book that's kept from greatness by a single glaring flaw: the entire book consists of the backstory being told in bits and pieces. Even the epilogue does nothing else but fill in the backstory. This approach strips the book of any momentum as instead of wondering what will happen next you're constantly wondering what has already happened that I have not been told about.

Date: 2006-01-17 (permlink)
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Name: The Tipping Point
Rating: 3 stars

Fast reading, but ultimately almost pointless. Gladwell is a journalist, not a scientist, and this book is basically a very long magazine article, not a scientific text. There are no facts behind any of this theories, or even theories behind his statements, and worst of all, he confuses causality with correlation. This is most strikingly displayed when he authoritatively says that the reduction in crime in New York in the 1990's was due to changed police strategies. He even says "After all, there were not suddenly less criminals in the city". The previous book I read had an actual scientist with a much more convincing theory that explained the drop in the crime rate as being due to the legalization of abortion some 20 years before the crime rate dropped, which had the effect of dramatically lowering exactly those births most likely to lead to new criminals.

Date: 2006-01-14 (permlink)
Author: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Name: Freakonomics
Rating: 4 stars

Interesting information, but way too short. I'd also already heard of most of the things they mention.

Date: 2006-01-13 (permlink)
Author: Geoffrey Miller
Name: The Mating Mind
Rating: 3 stars

There's nothing spectacularly wrong with the book, and certainly I've been busy and haven't had much time to read, but still, any book that takes me a month to read has something wrong with it. I don't think I ever read more than 10 pages in a row; the text has that magical quality that makes you want to do something else instead of reading it. This is very strange since the content of the book is so interesting.