Saturday, June 09, 2007

Books I Have Recently Read

Right after the move to a new part of the country, I did not have furniture, a tv, a wife, and countless other things of luxury for 30 days. In that time, I had to rely on books for my entertainment. I happen to read very quickly, and within 3 days had cruised through the 4 books I had brought with me for the month. This begat cycles of buying books at the nearby store, cranking through them, and then buying more books. My nights were spent like this: get home from work and change, go to gym, eat dinner, read, talk to wife on the phone, and lastly, sleep. Weekends were spent exploring my new surroundings and then reading. Needless to say, I had read over a dozen books by the end of my month without furniture. Here's a breakdown of my reading.....

The Painful
1. Moby Dick - This book was painful because I did not know that it was instructional on whaling and a novel. Some of it was highly entertaining and wonderful, but full chapters were horribly boring. These lame chapters were full of descriptions of how the whaling ship works to get to the whale's oil, what a whale's skull is like and other whaling theories. It was not what I was expecting and was not appreciated.
2. Confessions of an Economic Hitman - Great idea of a tell all book by a guy who worked for an American corporation with foreign countries to get them to take loans to pay US companies to put in huge construction projects. He rails against a lot in US foreign policy, and this could have been an amazing book. Unfortunately, he wrote it himself. He does not go into detail as I would have loved to have read, and he preaching seems pretty weak when he knew what he was doing was 'wrong' but he still worked for that company.
3. The Mote in God's Eye - This is a sci-fi book about first contact of a human space empire with an intelligent alien species. The aliens are incredibly interesting in their psychology, physiology, and history. I loved the aliens. The humans were pretty lame, made stupid decisions for the most part, and were not sympathetic. There were a couple of human characters I enjoyed following, but most were complete stereotypes and idiotic. Read it at your own risk because you might become really frustrated by the humans' actions.

The Good
1. Rant - This is the first book by this author (the author of Fight Club) that I did not love. It is an interesting concept of interviews with people about one particular person or events. Great concept. It also is set in a near future dystopia that was an interesting frame for the story. Only knowing the protagonist through the words of others creates limits with how much you can identify with a character. It adds mystery, and I like that, but it sets up a wall.
2. Starship Troopers - This book is amazingly different and better than the so bad it is good movie. This is a good satire of fascism, and I loved the frame story of the soldier who looks back on boot camp and enlisting. Some of the technology described reminded me of Halo or other future soldier shoot 'em up games. It is a fun read.
3. The Martian Chronicles - This is an awesome collection of short stories that are loosely tied together because of the subject (Mars, threat of nuclear war on Earth) and the author. Some of the stories are haunting and imaginative. Bradbury uses Mars as a blank sheet to draw up history, conflicts, first contact, you name it. While not every story is excellent, most are good and make you imagine or think.
4. Jennifer Government - Good novel set in a dystopian society where the government has little power and corporations run things. Kind of a slap at libertarianism, and it is pretty wicked in its commentary on consumer culture. I found it very entertaining, and it is a world that I would gladly read about more if the author chose to write more titles set in that universe (highly doubtful).
5. Busting Vegas - This is the 2nd Ben Mezrich Vegas book on MIT students who take millions from casinos through exotic blackjack card counting and other schemes. I enjoyed this story more because it tackled the darker side of Vegas than in Bringing Down the House, and the team of players in this book were much more sympathetic. This is borderline excellent.
6. Bringing Down the House - I liked the main guy in the book, I enjoyed the topic. I just found most of the card counters to be greedy, lazy bastards. You don't want to go to class? No way! Neither did I, but I did not go down to card counting and sneaking around levels of risk for a fortune. What shocked me and ticked me off was that some of the card counters did not think they would get caught at all or harmed. They kept pushing and pushing more and more. So stupid for such bright kids.
7. Positively Fifth Street - This is the Vegas book about the Binion murder trial, the history of Poker, the rise of the World Series of Poker tournament, and how the author won his way into the tourney and found himself sitting at the final table. A fun read, and with less personal history from the author, I would have moved this to excellent. Sadly, for 20 pages at a time I would be reading about his family history/life (like a Bill Simmons column). I do not care.
8. American Psycho - This book is much better than the movie. I wish I had a first edition of it, because supposedly, the editions in circulation now are tamed down. Scary book to read because of how I saw myself in the book. We all have a darker side, and some of us may not contain it as well as others. Because of the deliberate moves of the author, you are left wondering if any of the murders ever happened.
9. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - This is the children's classic we all know from the movie. Book are excellent for their own merits. I enjoyed the book because of the back stories, the history, the detail the book could give us the readers about the land of Oz. This is a quick read as it was designed to be about a child and for children to read.
10. Into the Wild - This book is about a young soul who went into the wild and lived as a bum/wanderer for years. He met a grisly death, and this book details that and the stories of other wild souls.

The Excellent
1. The Cryptonomicon - This is a 1000+ page novel on code breaking in WW2, a treasure hunt in modern times, corporate battles, and much more. The detail on code breaking was good for a novel that can be read by anyone. Many of the characters are 3 dimensional, and pages fly by.
2. The Devil in the White City - This book is about the World's Fair of 1893 and the serial killer who lived in Chicago at the same time. He was the first US urban serial killer, and the World's Fair was a gigantic undertaking by the city of Chicago. There are a number of details in the book which will interest readers.
3. Manhunt: The 12 Day Search for Lincoln's Killers - This book is about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and the others involved. It was amazing how killing Lincoln came about, and how it was such a dynamic time for the nation. The fear of the nation slipping into anarchy or Civil War again was extremely high. The number of primary sources used and how the author tells the story is top notch.
4. Fahrenheit 451 - This is a classic about a society where they burn books sure, but where, if you read the details, they didn't need to burn books in mass burnings as fewer and fewer people even wanted to read them. It's a society that has gone mad. It's horrifying to read at times because you can see how modern society in the USA could go down that path (extremely unlikely, but still a possibility). Bradbury has one of my favorite quotes about the Internet ever. He commented about the wonder and positives about young children using computers by saying "what good is a computer to a kid if he cannot read".
5. Love me, Hate me - This book on Barry Bonds' life is rich in details, tries to be fair, and really strikes a nerve. He is an amazing talent and an unbelievable asshole.
6. State of Fear - Michael Crichton's take on science being tainted by political motives. The book is about the "state of fear" that is constantly pushed on people in modern society. This is lost in most reviews because they focus on how anti-global warming the book is. There is a ton of action in it, and some interesting science discussions in it. I do think the Earth has become warmer. I do think humans have a part in it. I do also think that scare tactics like Cosmo magazine telling women that NYC will be underwater in 15 years are ridiculous. How were we doing good with the environment and really making a difference 10 years ago to suddenly facing Armageddon now?

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