Book Reviews

The purpose of this page is to provide pointers to books the reader might want to futher investigate. In other words, I'm not trying to provide full book reviews, just provide enough information to choose books you might want to go to and check out the reviews for and read excerpts from. For what it's worth I have found the best book prices on An Excel spreadsheet of these reviews is available here.

Book Name Author Type Rating Description Date
Natasha David Bezmozgis Fiction 3 – Great A series of I suspect semi-autobiographical short stories about the author growing up as a Russian immigrant in Canada. I normally don't like short stories, I'd rather dig into a long work. But the author really shows what a short story can do, how it can bring a single theme or event into very clear focus. 07/2004
December 6 Martin Cruz Smith Fiction/Historical 3 – Great A powerfully written story of a westerner growing up in Pre-WWII Japan and his experiences just before Pearl Harbor, a tilted story from a tilted time. 1/2003
Hyperion Dan Simmons Fiction/SF 3 – Great Set in a future in which the earth is gone, faster than light travel is possible & AIs help run the universe this is a grim vision of a politically twisted universe and the different people who end up getting involved with one particular world. The book starts off rather slow and I admit to being bored but once it got going it turned into a beautiful piece of literature that really breathed life into its characters and made you care. 12/2003
MORE than human Theodore Sturgeon Fiction/SF 3 – Great Wow. Although technically science fiction I would characterize it as closer to paranormal but regardless it is an amazing piece of literature. The story is almost secondary to the exploration of people, their motivations and their relationships. The story centers around a group of people who are becoming 'more than human'. I did feel that the ending was a bit pat but it was a small price to pay for this outstanding piece of true literature. 06/2004
I Dare Sharon Lee & Steve Miller Fiction/SF/Space Opera 3 – Great This is the best space opera series I have seen, even better than the Vorkosigan series. Just start at the beginning and enjoy! 3/2003
A Random Walk Down Wall Street – 2002 Edition Burton G. Malkiel Financial 3 – Great I suspect most investors would do well if this was the first book they ever read about investing. It explains all the basics of how the markets work and what techniques are likely to lead to success. An absolute must read. 11/2003
The Intelligent Asset Allocator William Bernstein Financial 3 – Great I just read through this book for the second time and it is an amazing piece of work. Although written several years before "The Four Pillars of Investing", it is really more a sequel to that work since it pretty much assumes that you know all the information in Four Pillars. Neither Four Pillars nor Asset Allocator are complete on their own but together they make a powerful force that will help you figure out a lot of hard issues around investing. Once you have finished "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" I strongly recommend you read "The Four Pillars of Investing" and then this book. 12/2003
The Four Pillars of Investing William Bernstein Financial 3 – Great The body of the book is the best summary of investment classes, investment theory and the realities of financial journalism I have seen in a single place. Highly recommended. The last section on implementing an investment strategy is unfortunately difficult to follow and appears incomplete. 5/2003
The Company – A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge History 3 – Great It is indeed short but nevertheless it is an excellent exploration of the history of the corporation in western history. It is interesting and engaging, I had a ball reading it. 06/2004
Secrets – A memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers Daniel Ellsberg History/Modern 3 – Great A compelling story of how and why America murdered hundreds of thousands of people during the Vietnam War for political convenience, a must read for every educated citizen. 12/2002
War Against The Weak – Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race Edwin Black History/Modern 3 – Great It started in my own country, the United States of America. The concepts, ideas, research and work that provided the pseduo-scientific foundation for Nazi Germany started right here. I knew something of America's Eugenics past, forced sterilizations and such, but I never understood just how far it went, just how much evil was done right here in the US and just how far it infected the rest of the world. Mr. Black has done us all a service in turning over some very ugly stones in American history. If you want to understand how Eugenics started and grew and how America made it all possible this is the book to read. 06/2005
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy Greg Palast History/Modern 3 – Great Palast in a muckraker in the grand tradition of the press as the guarantor of our freedoms. In the latest edition of his book he explains in detail, amongst other things, how the 2000 presidential election were stolen (hint: it had nothing to do with pregnant chads) and why the Exxon Valdez had nothing to do with drunk skippers and everything to do with outright fraud. This isn't conspiracy theory, this is cold hard fact. While I think his conclusions sometimes go too far and his tone could use some toning down this is a must read book for anyone who would call themselves 'citizen'. 5/2003
The Sword and the Olive – A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force Martin Van Creveld History/Modern 3 – Great The truth can be both inspiring and awful, it is usually both and that is certainly the case with this history of the IDF. I actually studied under Professor Van Creveld when I lived in Israel and can attest personally to his mastery of things military. This book puts his mastery on full display. If you want to understand what the IDF really did, both the good and the bad, this is the book to read. 8/2003
The JPS Torah Commentary – Genesis Nahum M. Sarna Religion 3 – Great This beautifully written commentary tries to give the reader sufficient historical, philosophical and stylistic background to be able to understand Genesis the same way that someone from the early Jewish community would have understood it. The commentary is extensive without being oppressive. The clear prose also manages to simultaneously be readable as a book but also referenceable so one can jump to a specific section and understand what is being said without having to have read everything before it. 08/2004
Jewish Literacy Rabbi Joseph Telushkin Religion 3 – Great A delightful journey through the history and theology of Jews and Judaism. It consists of 348 articles, each one or two pages long, organized thematically, that are witty, interesting and accessible. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and it made me hungry for more. 12/2003
The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Second Edition Benjamin Franklin Autobiography 2 – Good I read the second edition published by Yale and it was great! The writing is lucid, the story engaging. The footnotes were very often enlightening. I enjoyed the tale and devoured it quickly. Like all good literature its lessons hold as much relevance today as when they were written. 8/2003
catch me if you can Frank W. Abagnale Autobiography 2 – Good While I don't trust tall tales from criminals it still makes for good reading. 3/2003
Winston Churchill John Keegan Biography 2 – Good More an appetizer than a meal, well written but it leaves you feeling unsatisfied 3/2003
Tea Basics – A Quick and Easy Guide Wendy Rasmussen and Ric Rhinehart Cooking 2 – Good More an oversized pamphlet than a book this is a quick introduction to the history, business, processing and preparation of fine quality whole leaf tea. The authors are more practical than anything else. I enjoyed the read and learned a few new things. 09/2003
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix J.K. Rowling Fiction/Fantasy 2 – Good The story of the 'boy who lived' continues as he grows up, discovers girls, improves his magic and generally gets more interesting. Although the book is massive I mostly found myself really sad at the prospect that it must eventually end. My only real complaint is that the ending is so painfully predictable. But after having delivered hundreds of pages of thrilling fun it seems a minor point. 9/2003
Lord Demon Roger Zelazny & Jane Lindskold Fiction/Fantasy 2 – Good A story about a demon, humanity and the nature of love and loyalty. Set in a fantasy world that intersects our own this was a great read that fed into many of my favorite themes. I heartily recommend it. 11/2003
Summer Knight Jim Butcher Fiction/Gothic 2 – Good Mr. Butcher's books to date have been fun but nothing special. This book about modern day wizard Harry Dresden finally gets really interesting. With signifigantly more textured characters and situations I really enjoyed reading this book and especially enjoyed seeing a marked improvement in Mr. Butcher's writing. 05/2005
Bitten Kelley Armstrong Fiction/Gothic 2 – Good The story, set in modern day Canada and America, is about a woman who is turned into a werewolf. Ms. Armstrong knows how to write a page turner but once it's all over, besides some tepid light porn (think Laurell K. Hamilton) the reader isn't really left with anything. The book felt like the author wanted to write something that was more literature than popcorn but the popcorn won. Still, a good page turner is an enjoyable thing and I will certainly evaluate the next book in the series. 09/2003
A Conspiracy of Paper David Liss Fiction/Historical 2 – Good The book is about a Jewish ex-boxer who becomes is the 18th century equivalent of a private eye and ends up deeply involved in the machinations of the stock market before the crash of the South Sea Bubble. The book is well written and fun to read but I must admit that the ending seemed a little too pat and some of hooks the story hangs itself on seemed to small for the weight they were asked to bear. Regardless, this was a fun read. Perhaps more of a 1.5 than 2, I will buy other books by the same author. 02/2005
War Trash Ha Jin Fiction/Historical 2 – Good The story of a Chinese solider sent to fight in the Korean war the book's main interest, besides the vivid writing, is its revelations of how life goes on during the period. The character development felt weak but the 'you are there' and 'behind the scenes' feel of the writing made this a rewarding book. 02/2005
Remembrance Day Henry Porter Fiction/Historical 2 – Good An o.k. thriller about terrorists with their own agenda, a not so innocent and a lot of complications. The story felt a bit thin and lots of events seemed to be forced together. It was a find airplane read but his next book (which I actually read first), A Spy's Life, was better. 04/2004
Gorky Park Martin Cruz Smith Fiction/Historical 2 – Good A solid detective novel that gives you a real feeling for what the Soviet Union was like circa 1980. Well worth a read. 2/2003
Red Square Martin Cruz Smith Fiction/Historical 2 – Good Renko's story continues. Smith has a fairly predictable story structure but the real reason to read this book is to get a taste of what Russia was like immediately after the fall of communism. 10/2003
Polar Star Martin Cruz Smith Fiction/Historical 2 – Good A solid sequel to Gorky Park about our favorite Soviet detective now outcast to the very edges of Soviet society where he is required to solve a crime. 4/2003
The Nutmeg of Consolation Patrick O'Brian Fiction/Historical 2 – Good Time to spend more time with some old friends, this chapter of the series wasn't quite as thrilling or gripping as others but still a great read. 11/2003
The Thirteen Gun Salute Patrick O'Brian Fiction/Historical 2 – Good Some more quality time spent with Aubrey and Maturin, oh come on, if you've read this far you are going to keep reading no matter what so what's the point of a review? It's engaging, it's rich, it's textured, all you've come to expect. 7/2003
The Wine-Dark Sea Patrick O'Brian Fiction/Historical 2 – Good This particular tale isn't notable in my mind in any specific aspect but then again Reading Mr. O'Brian's books is more of an immersive experience than anything else. For the period of time needed to read the book one gets to go back in time and live in another era. 08/2005
The Truelove Patrick O'Brian Fiction/Historical 2 – Good It's the O'Brian you know and love with deeply textured characters, vivid imagery and a 'you are there' feeling. 02/2004
The Deceivers Alfred Bester Fiction/SF 2 – Good The quirky strangeness that is Alfred Bester makes for good, if not in this case great, reading. The story focuses on a man born of an accident and able to sense the synergies of the universe. The story itself is something like space opera but much more like Bester. If you enjoyed his earlier (and alas, better works) then I think this will be a good read. 01/2005
The Stars My Destination Alfred Bester Fiction/SF 2 – Good The story of the birth of a man from hate to insight to love, sure the 'future' is a 50s esque version but who gives a damn? With great writing and compelling characters you just want to read. This is as good as good gets without quite being great but still an absolutely worthwhile read. 11/2003
The Computer Connection Alfred Bester Fiction/SF 2 – Good Everyone seems to agree that this isn't Bester's best book but as everyone is then quick to point out – Bester on a bad day is better than more authors on a fantastic one. The story is, to be honest, irrelevant. It involves immortals, time travelers, computers and an alternate future but whatever. The real reason to read this book is to get a chance to run around a Bester world with Bester characters. It's a bit harder in tone then his earlier (and better) books but regardless this is a solid piece of story telling and well worth reading. 10/2004
The Demolished Man Alfred Bester Fiction/SF 2 – Good This is a classic story of man versus man and man versus himself. It is also a Sci-Fi story from the 1950s and Sci-Fi doesn't age well. But Sci-Fi is first about story telling and good stories are good even if the details are anachronistic. Unfortunately the whole story hinges on a trick I was too slow to pick up on and an ending that I didn't quite see coming but wasn't very surprising either. Still, it's a good read. 8/2003
Psycho Shop Alfred Bester & Roger Zelazny Fiction/SF 2 – Good Fun, silly, a bit dark at times but with Bester's trademark optimism this is a good read. The set piece of the story is a shop where one can trade parts of one's personality. Throw in time travel, erudite references and the nature of existence and you get a "Rat Pack" style 'cooler than thou' story. 06/2004
The Rise of Endymion Dan Simmons Fiction/SF 2 – Good All the threads come together in the final book of the Hyperion series. Unfortunately the book is more lecture than story and the final ending felt forced. If you read the previous three books this finale will be well worth the time spent reading it. 09/2003
Endymion Dan Simmons Fiction/SF 2 – Good The 3rd book in the Hyperion series. By this point the author's favorite story tricks are a bit warn but the writing is good, the characters are interesting and the story is still fun to read. I'm glad I read it and will definitely get the next book in the series. 02/2004
The Fall of Hyperion Dan Simmons Fiction/SF 2 – Good A worthy sequel to Hyperion this edition takes the story from where it left off and wraps it up into a nice, neat ending. I didn't feel the quality of the story telling was as good as in the original but it still made for a great read. 1/2004
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams Fiction/SF 2 – Good The tale of poor Arthur Dent who shortly after finding out that his house is to be destroyed finds out that his planet is going with it, thankfully one of his friends turns out to be from another planet and manages to save him. Of course, it's just dumb luck (highly improbably dumb luck) that his friend knows the president (or really ex-president) of the galaxy. And so it goes. A fun comic read. 11/2004
Life, The Universe and Everything Douglas Adams Fiction/SF 2 – Good The ever strange adventures of one of the universe's last original humans, Arthur Dent, continue in their improbable turn. Of the first three books I think this one is, by far, the best. Mostly because the book focuses more on being a novel than feeling like a translated radio play. 01/2005
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe Douglas Adams Fiction/SF 2 – Good The second book in the Hitchhiker's Trilogy this shows just how hard it is to get a decent diner. The book is mostly silly but still a ton of fun to read. Sure there are multi-headed people, improbable space ships, time travel and psychiatrists, but hey, nobody's perfect. 12/2004
Lost in a Good Book Jasper Fforde Fiction/SF 2 – Good The good news is that Mr. Fforde has written another book. The even better news is that it's a Thursday Next book and it makes her world even more interesting. The bad news is that it didn't make Thursday more interesting and over all I didn't feel this adventure was quite up to the standard set by the Eyre Affair. 06/2005
The Eyre Affair Jasper Fforde Fiction/SF 2 – Good It's the 1980s, but not our 1980s. In a world with time travel and serious literature our hero, Tuesday Next, defends the purity of literature from desperados who would sully it with fake volumes and bogus sequels. Until things get even more interesting. This book was a complete blast. The writing is excellent, the characterizations vivid, and the world created fascinating. I fully expect the author to eventually produce a '3' quality book. 02/2005
Replay Ken Grimwood Fiction/SF 2 – Good In Replay the main character dies in 1988 and wakes up as a teenager in college in 1963. Grimwood has a wonderful mastery of emotional language and thus draws the reader into feeling exactly what the characters are feeling. Grimwood also handles the passage of long periods of time beautifully. This was a good novel but where Grimwood really feel short is in character development. As powerful as he is at capturing emotions he has real problems capturing the nature of people's character and how powerful events change them. That's really unfortunate as the climax of the story depends on how the main character's experiences have changed him yet that is the weakest part of the book. Still, this is a really solid story and well worth reading. 11/2004
Bureau 13 – Judgment Night Nick Pollotta Fiction/SF 2 – Good The premise of the book (and subsequent series) is what happens if vampires and werewolves and magic and the rest were real? This novel predates Laurell K. Hamilton and her semi-pornographic ilk by three years and (perhaps more importantly) was written entirely for laughs. If you are looking for rich character development with a side of existential angst, look elsewhere. If you want a fun, silly and thoroughly enjoyable good time then I recommend this fun romp. 01/2005
Lilith's Brood Octavia E. Butler Fiction/SF 2 – Good What if mankind mostly wiped itself out and an alien species came to clean up the pieces? That's the premise of this well written book. The author's talent as a story teller unfortunately only makes the lack of real character development that much more obvious. This is a well written story but it could have been so very much more. 07/2004
Altered Carbon Richard K. Morgan Fiction/SF 2 – Good This is a book about a world in which people can be recorded in tiny chips implanted in their heads. This makes death a lot harder to achieve and bodies just become 'sleeves' that people slip in and out of. The characters tend to be more archetypal than nuanced and don't stare too closely at the technological logic or the whole thing will fall apart but otherwise enjoy the ride of this engaging Sci-Fi detective novel. 9/2003
Broken Angels – A Takeshi Kovacs Novel Richard K. Morgan Fiction/SF 2 – Good Morgan writes yummy popcorn literature. Takeshi, his hero from the previous novel "Altered Carbon" is back and his attitude hasn't improved much. This time he is following a mystery surrounding alien artifacts. The book is a satisfying mystery novel with lots of interesting twists and turns. No, it's not great literature and don't look too closely at the tech but the final result is a satisfying bit of escapist fantasy. 10/2003
To Marry Medusa Theodore Sturgeon Fiction/SF 2 – Good Describing a Sturgeon novel is always challenging. His rich characterizations, deep insight into humanity, vivid descriptions and powerful, usually slightly off center, story telling are hard to capture without giving away too much of the story. But let's just say that a hive minded alien species has decided to take over the Earth but the Earth has its own ideas. Just read the book. 11/2004
Marooned In Realtime Vernon Vinge Fiction/SF 2 – Good This is a sequel of sorts to "The Peace War" and as is the case with anything by Vinge is very nicely written and plotted. The story revolves around the disappearance of the bulk of humanity with the only survivors being those who happened to have traveled forward in time past the disappearance point. Vinge isn't exactly subtle in his message of why mankind disappeared but the story still makes for a very nice ride. 10/2004
Triplanetary – A Tale of Cosmic Adventure Edward E. Smith, Ph.D. Fiction/SF/Space Opera 2 – Good This is space opera 1950's Buck Rodgers style by one of the great masters of the genre, E. E. "Doc" Smith. Paper thin characters, cliches by the pound and dated science fiction which I bet was silly even when it was written. By any measure I should have hated this book and yet I was enthralled by it. Perhaps it's the outrageous story line which involves a billion year battle between two multi-universe spanning forces or perhaps it's just the good story telling. But this is a damn good book and I will be reading the next in the series. 10/2004
Memory Lois McMaster Bujold Fiction/SF/Space Opera 2 – Good The first 1/2 of the book was slow but the second 1/2 showed Bujold in her space opera best form. Still, the plot felt forced onto the characters. 4/2003
A Civil Campaign Lois McMaster Bujold Fiction/SF/Space Opera 2 – Good This is the story of Miles attempt to woo his love. Unfortunately some of the key events in the story feel too forced but this is another fun bit of warm adventure where love and logic conquer all. 11/2003
Diplomatic Immunity Lois McMaster Bujold Fiction/SF/Space Opera 2 – Good Another Vorkosigan book this one is much more tightly written than some of her more recent books. It was definitely a lot of fun. 01/2004
Komarr Lois McMaster Bujold Fiction/SF/Space Opera 2 – Good She's back, mostly anyway. This book focuses on characters and yes it is all standard Vorkosigan space opera but that's why you read these books in the first place. If you liked the earlier books then you will probably like this one although it doesn't quite have the level of action and intrigue in her earlier efforts. Still, a solid outing. 8/2003
Borders of Infinity Lois McMaster Bujold Fiction/SF/Space Opera 2 – Good A nice bit of popcorn that rather slavishly follows the Vorkosigan formula. I get the impression that Ms. Bujold is running out of ideas and so is upping the weird factor in compensation. 2/2003
Balance of Trade Sharon Lee & Steve Miller Fiction/SF/Space Opera 2 – Good A Liaden story that is based on a previous Liaden short story. It tells the tale of Jethri Gobelyn, Human apprentice to a Liaden master trader. The bulk of the book was excellent, a really fun soap opera style adventure. But the authors start a lot of threads and then at the end they rush to tie them up. Better to have just left them untied and written a second volume. They left themselves some outs but still, the rushed ending detracted from the book. 06/2004
The Tomorrow Log Sharon Lee & Steve Miller Fiction/SF/Space Opera 2 – Good No where near as good quality as their Liaden novels, this is still a better than O.K. book about a thief in trouble in a typical space opera style setting. I'll buy the next novel in the series but I really hope they kick it up a notch. 4/2003
Adventures in the Liaden Universe 1 – 8 Sharon Lee and Steve Miller Fiction/SF/Space Opera 2 – Good These chapbooks (50 or 60 page little booklets) consist of short stories providing background to the Liaden universe. They are extremely expensive on a per page basis but if you are addicted to the Liaden universe then just pay your money and enjoy. If you haven't read the Liaden universe books yet then read them first before buying these books. 6/2003
The Coming Generational Storm – What You Need to Know about America's Economic Future Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns Financial 2 – Good Rating this book is a bit of a torture because I think the data it contains deserves a 3 but the presentation really left me wanting. The book often slips into a tyraid which robs it of credibility. Which is a shame because the book actually does a great job in some parts of presenting some fairly complex economic concepts like generational accounting in an extremely accessible framework. There are some important ideas in this book but they couldn't fully escape the gravity well of the authors' anger. 03/2005
Asset Allocation Roger C. Gibson Financial 2 – Good A rock solid introduction to the nitty gritty of building a financial portfolio, although geared toward financial advisers it doesn't assume much of a background (which is actually kinda scary) and patiently and thoroughly walks you through the details. 5/2003
The Birth of Plenty – How the Prosperity of the Modern World Was Created William J. Bernstein Financial 2 – Good Bernstein provides his own theory of the four characteristics a society must have before it can become wealthy. He then provides historical overviews of a variety of countries and how these characteristics occurred in them and what it meant for their financial success. Unfortunately his book is largely argument by anecdote. As such I suspect that anyone who doesn't already subscribe to a Bernstein view of the world (which I largely do) won't be convinced by this book. I also wish Bernstein had spent more time looking toward the future than trying to explain the past. 09/2003
Law in American – A Short History Lawrence M. Friedman History 2 – Good More like a sampler than a book, really an essay, explores various aspects of the development of the legal culture of the U.S. 2/2003
Terrorism and the Constitution David Cole and James X. Dempsey History/Modern 2 – Good Highlights how the FBI has grossly violated the rights of the American people over the last four decades and how the Patriot Act and other panicked legislation will only make those abuses worse – Unfortunately the writing is not as compelling as it needs to be to sell its points to anyone who doesn't already believe. 12/2002
The Joker's Wild Greg Palast and Robert Grossman History/Modern 2 – Good This is a deck of cards ala Bush's Iraq deck that identifies the heroes and villains of the Bush administration. The deck is really just preaching to the choir but it is funny and I'm always happy to support Palast's work. 08/2004
The Chinese In America – A Narrative History Iris Chang History/Modern 2 – Good More or less a hagiography of Chinese Americans, I recognize the literature style from the many similar style of books turned out by the Jewish community, nevertheless it is a fascinating vision into how Chinese Americans see themselves and their history. Ms. Chang writes well and tells a good story ranging from the earliest days of Chinese immigration to America right up to the present day. Her mixture of Chinese and American history plays particularly well. 6/2003
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man John Perkins History/Modern 2 – Good This is the supposed story of a man who in all but name worked for the U.S. government with the mission of convincing countries around the world to take loans from the likes of the World Bank and the IMF for projects they didn't need. The trick being that all the loaned money had to be spent on American companies and that as the countries went into deeper debt they would become more beholden to the world bank or IMF, organizations run by the U.S. for the U.S.'s purposes. All the previous allegations sound more or less correct but Mr. Perkins goes beyond these allegations and draws a picture of himself as one of the pivitol players in the economics of the last 30 years. Perhaps his story is true but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and that proof is wanting. Besides, the idealized portraits of plucky locals fighting the evil American Empire and a cameo by Jesus (which, to be fair, was in a dream) really robs the book of credibility. Still, I suspect the basic arguments the book makes about the nature of American empire are largely true and worth reading on that basis. 03/2005
Can Asians Think? Understanding the divide between east and west Kishore Mahbubani History/Modern 2 – Good This is a collection of articles written for various publications by the author, a UN ambassador and career diplomat from Singapore. The author has a keen understanding of both Western and Asian cultures that allows him to act as a translator between the two. He has some interesting insights and he is an excellent writer but I wish he spent more time trying to explain what Asians feel about themselves and how they view the west. 01/2004
Free Culture – How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law To Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity Lawrence Lessig History/Modern 2 – Good An extremely enlightening explanation of the history of copyright and why patents and copyrights historically have not and should not last forever. I think this book is required reading for everybody it explains how our freedom to create our own culture is being destroyed by Disney, Hollywood and the music industry and why we need to fight back. 12/2004
The Economist's Tale – A consultant encounters Hunger and the World Bank Peter Griffiths History/Modern 2 – Good This is the book John Perkins should have written. Unlike Mr. Perkins "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" this book provides copious facts and explanations to show exactly who, what, when, where, why and how in a completely believable way. Anyone interested in how international development aid really works should read this book. 07/2005
The Secret War Against Hanoi Richard H. Shultz, Jr. History/Modern 2 – Good A dense and somewhat dry account of the gory details of counter-intelligence work in Vietnam during the Vietnam war, the details are fascinating but it reads too much like an attempt by the rank and file to place the blame on their commanders. 12/2002
Indonesian Destinies Theodore Friend History/Modern 2 – Good This is the history of the last 50 years of Indonesia. What makes this such a fascinating read is that the author not only describes what happened but also gives insight into why. The author is a long standing Indonesia hand who knows most of the players personally. My main complaint is that the book really needed a good editor. The text takes too long to make its points, the glossary is insufficient and there is no glossary of main people which in a book this long and complex is really a necessity. The author also lost major brownie points for his summation which more or less clubs the reader over the head with his erudition. Still, I found the book a fascinating read and would recommend it for anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of the world's fourth most populous country, third largest democracy and largest Muslim population. 9/2003
What Management Is Joan Magretta Management 2 – Good The first 1/2 of the book was a solid 3 but the second half was a low 2. Overall this is a solid overview of what managers do and goes way beyond just people management to the full picture. 3/2003
Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Management 2 – Good The book discusses the strategies Gerstner used in turning IBM around, the majority of what he says is just good old fashioned common sense, the kind that is almost routinely ignored. I suspect most CEOs would do themselves a favor were they to benchmark themselves against the metrics Gerstener suggests. I also suspect most would miserably fail. 7/2003
The JPS Torah Commentary – Exodus Nahum M. Sarna Religion 2 – Good The commentary on Exodus was less interesting than the commentary on Genesis. Partly this is because the material itself is dry. It's hard to get too excited about the agonizing details of how the mobile temple was to be built. Still, the commentary opens up the text, exactly as it should and the translation is excellent. But I think the commentary could have provided more insight on the story of Moses than it did. The story itself, although relatively brief, is rich in themes and ideas that have proven an endless mine of commentary literally for millennia. I'm really surprised the commentary wasn't more interesting given the precedent set by the first volume. 10/2004
A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson Science 2 – Good Reading the introduction I had hoped this book would be more science than history. Although it throws in some nice explanations of various scientific principles this is really a series of potted biographies of various folks who were important to the history of science, specifically physics, human sciences and earth sciences. The book tends to confuse fear with wonder but otherwise was a good read. 02/2005
The Power of Persuasion – how we're bought and sold Robert Levine Science 2 – Good This is more a series of stories of modern day examples of insideous sales techniques than a treaties on the deeper theory of human gullability. Still, the stories are both useful and compelling. Well worth reading to see how everyone from Madison avenue to the Moonies tries to manipulate and control us. 03/2005
An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood – Having Faith Sandra Steingraber Science 2 – Good The book is primarily about the science of environmental poisons and how it affects pregnancy but it is told in the context of Steingraber's pregnancy It is well written and manages to avoid histrionics. Her main point is that the top of the food chain isn't man, it's our babies and we are putting their lives in danger. 6/2003
Eat, Drink, & Be Healthy – The Harvard Medical School Guide To Healthy Eating Walter C. Willett Self-Help 2 – Good This book has tons of useful data but it left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I suspect I will read it again and take notes. 06/2004
Eat To Live Joel Fuhrman, M.D. Self-Help/Fitness 2 – Good Dr. Fuhrman presents his ideal diet in which one is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, little or no meat, etc. Although Fuhrman marshals a lot of material to back up his arguments the presentation is so hopelessly biased that the arguments just can't quite convince. Still, the instructions are easy to follow both in the reading and the execution. I'm modifying my own diet to more closely following his prescriptions and have already seen positive results. 10/2003
Born to Buy Juliet B. Schor Social Sciences 2 – Good I read this book, about advertising to Children, some weeks ago and in thinking through what I learned my main take away is "Yes, TV can be bad and yes you can control it." Which I suppose isn't anything new. The first part of the book was mostly anecdotal and the same anecdotes kept coming up. But where I felt the book really shined was in the last 1/2 where Ms. Schor discusses her own research. That is the only part of the book that felt at all balanced and it was certainly intriguing 07/2005
A Lawyer's Journey – The Morris Dees Story Morris Dees with Steve Fiffer Autobiography 1 – O.K. The autobiography of the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center who has used the law to take down some of the worst racist organizations in the country. Unfortunately one never really gets to know Dees, he almost reads like a comic book superhero and is so self conscious about his image that it's hard to peek underneath. I suspect there is a richer tale here but it will have to wait until his biography is written. For all of that, this is a good story, it is good story telling and is worth reading on that basis alone. 6/2003
The Art of the Steal Frank W. Abagnale Business 1 – O.K. Often fascinating insights into the mechanics of fraud. But if you are looking for help in protecting yourself against fraud I'm not sure how useful this book would really be. Still, it made for an interesting read. 10/2003
The TEA Companion – A Connoisseur's Guide Jane Pettigrew Cooking 1 – O.K. A rather dry recitation of facts about Tea, where it comes from, how its made, some of its history, along with a listing of some of the world's most famous teas and a description of their characteristics. The book is physically very pretty and I am interesting in the topic but somehow the book never managed to fully engage my interest. 01/2005
Lonely Planet – World Food INDIA Martin Hughes with Sheema Mookherjee and Richard Delacy Cooking 1 – O.K. The book provides an overview of the types of food eaten all over India. The focus is on educating the reader about the customs, ingredients and techniques used to make and consume the foods. This is not a cookbook per say, rather, it's meant as a general education on food in India. I find the topic fascinating but somehow the book left me a bit flat. The light writing style felt appropriate and the information covered was interesting but I didn't feel the book held together as a unit. Reading the book was more like flipping channels on TV. than reading a coherent tale. 12/2004
amsterdam Ian McEwan Fiction 1 – O.K. This is the mercifully short story of the intersecting lives of two men in modern Europe. I never could bring myself to really care about any of the characters in the book so I mostly just floated through the story until it ended. 06/2005
Revelation Carol Berg Fiction/Fantasy 1 – O.K. Continuation of a story about a former slave and his destiny in a fantasy world. While no literary classic this was a gripping book, better than the previous entry in the series Transformation. I really enjoyed the characters and story. Well worth checking out. 2/2003
Restoration Carol Berg Fiction/Fantasy 1 – O.K. The slave's story in a fantasy world continues. The book is a fun read but it doesn't really have anything to say that wasn't fully covered in the previous two novels (Transformation and Revelation). 4/2003
Transformation Carol Berg Fiction/Fantasy 1 – O.K. The story of a slave to an emperor and the magic and mayhem that surrounds him – A tasty bit of popcorn, standard story elements with some satisfying twists 12/2002
Death masks Jim Butcher Fiction/Gothic 1 – O.K. Book five of the Dresden Files doesn't really have much new to say but it still has fun saying it. If you liked the other books (as I have) then you'll like this one too. 08/2005
Fool Moon Jim Butcher Fiction/Gothic 1 – O.K. This is book two in the "Dresden Files". The book is a Laurell K. Hamilton style world with wizards and demons running around the modern world. This story focuses on the hero, Harry a wizard and his encounters with werewolves. This isn't great literature and some parts of the story (such as the amount of physical damage Harry sustains) are so silly as to rather ruin the mood but overall this is a decent piece of popcorn literature. It makes for a quick relaxing read. 12/2004
Grave Peril – Book Three of the Dresden Files Jim Butcher Fiction/Gothic 1 – O.K. I really shouldn't like this series as much as I do. The hero seems to be killed at least twice per novel and take levels of damage that anyone human, magical or otherwise, couldn't possibly sustain. But if one is willing to just go along for the ride then this is a pleasant enough piece of popcorn literature to read on a nice beach someplace. 02/2005
Storm Front – Book One of the Dresden Files Jim Butcher Fiction/Gothic 1 – O.K. Spinning on the Laurell K. Hamilton theme of monsters and magic in the real world a poor but powerful wizard tries to make a living as a sort of private investigator. Any attempt to look to deeply into the story shows up more flaws than I care to think about but the characters are fun and the reading light. A nice place to step out of reality for a little while. I'll give the second book in the series a try. 10/2004
Cerulean Sins Laurell K. Hamilton Fiction/Gothic 1 – O.K. What's an author to do when they have a massively successful series but have run out of interesting things to do with their characters? The answer is apparently to include lots of gratuitous sex scenes with some gore on the side. The story line is coherent but not gripping and the characters just don't seem to have anything new to say. 8/2003
Blood is Thicker Than Water – The Reilly Vampire Chronicles – Book One Wynette A. Hoffman Fiction/Gothic 1 – O.K. Sex (in just about every major variant), blood and vampires, what's more to want? Sure, real character development might have been nice but this romance novel masquerading as a Society for Creative Anachronism fantasy was a fun "Vampires in the modern day world" read. Exactly the sort of mindless popcorn one needs after a long day of meetings. I'll probably buy the sequel. 02/2005
The Coffee Trader David Liss Fiction/Historical 1 – O.K. After the joy of a Conspiracy of Paper I was really hoping to have a ball with the coffee Trader but unfortunately I found the book, about the Commodity Exchanges in Amsterdam in the 17th century, to be less than compelling. The topic and period were certainly compelling but the characters and story left me flat. 07/2005
As meat loves salt Maria McCann Fiction/Historical 1 – O.K. The story of two men and their homosexual relationship in England in the 1600s. The book desperately needed a firm editor to trim it down. The historical setting acts more like a two dimensional backdrop than a character in its own right. Patrick O'Brian does a much better job of making a historical period come alive. 5/2003
Havana Bay Martin Cruz Smith Fiction/Historical 1 – O.K. Yet another Renko novel and by this point the formula has grown threadbare, Smith still has an amazing ability to make a place feel alive but unfortunately he no longer seems able to do so for his characters. 12/2003
Ilium Dan Simmons Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. A dead human brought back to life, real Gods and godesses running around a world that looks like Troy playing out Homer's Illiad, a group of post modern humans that are herded like sheep and aliens, the children of Earth, sent on a mission. The story is classic Dan Simmons, a bunch of big ideals with a large cast. But I never really got into the story, I never really deeply cared and everything didn't really hold together. In the end I enjoyed the book for Mr. Simmons' technical skill as a writer but not for his skill as a story teller. 03/2005
Last Human – Red Dwarf Doug Naylor Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. If you are a Red Dwarf fan and have seen the episodes this book is based on then I think this will be a really fun read. The book certainly kept me laughing out loud. But those unfamiliar with the series will, I suspect, find the book deeply unrewarding. 02/2005
Bureau 13 – Doomsday Exam Nick Pollotta Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. I can't imagine anyone who isn't a current or former Role Playing Gamer (RPG) really enjoying this book. The book is really just a silly, fun and generally enjoyable romp through a typical RPG situation. 07/2005
That Darn Squid God Nick Pollotta and James Clay Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. A comedy of manners, well, actually it's more a spoof of 19th century England and Cthulhu novels. This is no great accomplishment of literature and some of the jokes do get old but somehow the story just kept on being fun to read. The core of the book feels like notes from a RPG session though. Still, it was a nice piece of popcorn. 02/2005
Market Forces Richard K. Morgan Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. I can't help but think that this novel, set just a few years into the future, is attempting to provide the type of warning against Capitalism that 1984 gave against Totalitarianism but unfortunately Mr. Morgan just isn't up to the job. Instead what comes out is an incoherent scream against various Capitalistic bug bears at about the level of sophistication of a typical teenager. Thankfully Mr. Morgan is a technically proficient writer so the book wasn't painful to read. 08/2005
Hominids Robert J. Sawyer Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. What if there was a parallel universe where Neanderthals survived instead of humans? This is the premise of this book which is set in modern day Canada. The book is extremely readable and a great example of popcorn literature but the story keeps getting bent in various directions in order to serve the author's moralizing. I will probably read the next book in the series but mostly for the escapist value. 02/2004
Crystal Soldier Sharon Lee & Steve Miller Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. This is a prequel to the Liaden stories but unfortunately this book is more soft sci-fi than space opera. None of the soap opera esque high drama of the previous books exists here. This book mostly reminds me of Star Wars Episode III which seemed to be more about filling in the gaps to set the stage for Episodes IV-VI than in telling a good story. Anyone who has read the Liaden stories will want to read this one to get answers about how the Liaden universe was (literally) made but I suspect anyone who isn't a Liaden fan can give this a pass. 07/2005
Low Port Sharon Lee & Steve Miller Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. This is an anthology of short stories by a number of different authors focusing on people who are barely making it in society, the bottom strata. I found most of the stories in the first half of the book to be minorly entertaining and the stories in the second half of the book to be o.k. But nothing all that smashing. 9/2003
The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge Vernon Vinge Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. I'm not a big fan of short stories but these stories are longer than most. Still, none of them really grabbed me. This is a rag tag collection of Vernor Vinge stories and they really don't show the genius of Fire Upon the Deep or Deepness in the Sky. 05/2005
The Peace War Vernon Vinge Fiction/SF 1 – O.K. In a world with nuclear and biological weapons a small group of people use an amazing technology to rob mankind's of its technological future in order to allow it to have any future at all. The story is decent but the characters are a bit thin and the deus ex machina is a bit heavy handed. Still, not bad and his later books are really good. 1/2004
First Lensman Edward E. Smith, Ph.D. Fiction/SF/Space Opera 1 – O.K. This is actually the second book in the Lensman series, one of the very first examples of space opera, and the 'difference' from modern space opera of the first book has worn off on me leaving behind a rather shallow, if grandiose tale, of space adventure filled with two dimensional characters and comically outdated science fiction. Still, there is something, earnest, in the text that keeps me coming back. 02/2005
Portfolio Building American Association of Individual Investors Financial 1 – O.K. This book won't help you pick the asset allocation for your portfolio but it does a good job of running you through the mechanics of measuring and updating your portfolio. The book is out of date, most of the data is from 1995. 5/2003
Investing Basics …and BEYOND American Association of Individual Investors Financial 1 – O.K. Provides a fairly gentle introduction to the concepts needed for building a financial portfolio, it's short & to the point but very out of date with most information dating from the mid 90s. 5/2003
Empires of Profit Daniel Litvin Financial 1 – O.K. The author's goal is a worthy one – to discuss the issues faced by multi-nationals when working in countries whose economies are less sophisticated then their native ones. The author's mechanism for exploring the idea, examining the history of various multi-nationals through the ages, is an interesting one. But over all I would have to say that the author failed in his goal. The book is really a set of shallow potted histories with equally shallow analysis. 11/2003
The Mind of Wall Street Leon Levy Financial 1 – O.K. I learned most of the really important lessons in this book from "Reminiscences of a Stock Operator" which I still think is a must read. In a sense this book shows how the lessons from Reminiscences play out in today's market. 2/2003
Worry-Free Investing Zvi Bodie & Michael J. Clowes Financial 1 – O.K. The book does have some compelling ideas about having a minimum and maximum savings goal for retirement but the suggested mechanism for getting to the minimum goal, TIPS and IBONDS, have a lot of problems. Especially as there are no longer 30 year TIPS and the after inflation return on TIPS is well below 3%. 12/2003
Nelson Love & Fame Edgar Vincent History 1 – O.K. If one is interested in the gory details of Lord Nelson's dysfunctional love life then this is the book for you. But if one wants to understand Nelson not just as a cuckolder but as a leader and a visionary then one will have to look elsewhere. 07/2004
John Paul Jones – Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy Evan Thomas History 1 – O.K. The story is an interesting one but the writing is a bit tepid. 01/2004
One Good Turn Witold Rybczynski History 1 – O.K. A petite four of a book, takes the small story of the screw driver and stretches it farther than the material would go, still it's very short and a nice quick read. 12/2002
The Iron Triangle Dan Briody History/Modern 1 – O.K. This book, on the machinations of the Carlyle Group, really makes me appreciate Greg Palast. Palast, harangues aside, focuses on the facts and doesn't stray into conjecture. The same cannot be said for Mr. Briody. My general impression is that Mr. Briody didn't feel he had enough bombshells in his story so he liberally sprinkles the book with his own conjectures in order to spice things up thus completely destroying his own credibility. While there are certainly some very damning facts in this book you are likely to already have picked up the key points if you read Palast's book. 10/2003
Smart Choices John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, Howard Raiffa Self-Help 1 – O.K. This is a step by step guide for how to make decisions about anything. In general I found the book to be hard to follow and rather vague. There is a lot of good material in here and I will be trying out their techniques but the authors fail to bring all of their material into sharp enough focus. My experience upon finishing the book was to feel more overwhelmed then ready to apply their ideas. 11/2003
The Diaries of Adam and Eve Mark Twain Fiction 0 – Don't Bother Mercifully it is very short but these trite insights into the nature of human relations in the form of two fictional diaries, one from Adam and another from Eve are not worthy of Mark Twain. 6/2003
Stolen Kelley Armstrong Fiction/Gothic 0 – Don't Bother Ms. Armstrong fully understands how to write a page turner and so her technique at least allowed me to finish the book but I have to admit that I really felt she was phoning it in. This is a sequel to Bitten and continues the story of a werewolf in the real world. But the characters were largely boring and the story line didn't have any very interesting turns. The ending in particular was flat. 10/2004
Virtual Unrealities – The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester Alfred Bester Fiction/SF 0 – Don't Bother It is the curse of the successful author that everything they publish, no matter how unworthy, will be dredged up and flogged to the world. This book is a good example. The vast majority of these stories aren't terribly interesting. They tend to have some simple insight or moderately tricky ending but otherwise are fairly boring. 12/2004
In Space No One Can Hear You Laugh Mike Resnick Fiction/SF 0 – Don't Bother This is a collection of mostly forgettable short stories. The writing is certainly professional but the short story form is a hard one and none of these examples really made an impression. This is unfortunate as I really enjoy comedy. 02/2004
Darwinia – A NOVEL OF A VERY DIFFERENT TWENTIETH CENTURY Robert Charles Wilson Fiction/SF 0 – Don't Bother The premise was intriguing, what would happen if one day early in the last century Europe just disappeared and was replaced by a new world with new species, none of which appeared sentient? The author did some interesting things with the premise and I was all revved up to see how the mystery would be solved right up until the point where about 1/2 way through everything is explained. Ouch! The explanation wasn't terribly interesting or satisfying and the remaining story, which clearly wanted to explore aspects of human identity, instead fell flat. 10/2003
Thieves in High Places – they've Stolen Our Country and It's Time to Take It Back Jim Hightower History/Modern 0 – Don't Bother This is a fairly uninformative screed against the conservative right. Screeds are fine in small amounts but this book goes on too long and has too little new or interesting to say to be worth reading. I got about a 1/3 through the book before I gave up. 06/2005
Parliament of Whores P.J. O'Rourke History/Modern 0 – Don't Bother P.J. O'Rourke is a quite famous libertarian humorist but the humor in this book is of the deeply mean spirited kind which gets old fast. The facts and theories expounded in the book should be well known to anyone who even pretends to do their duties as a citizen of a democracy. 4/2003
The Innocents Abroad or, the new pilgrims' progress Mark Twain Travel 0 – Don't Bother Given that it is written by Mark Twain the book is easy to read and well presented but the contents are almost without exception a never ending tide of vitriol. I made it 2/5ths the way through before I decided that with so many great books available there was no need for me to spend more time with this one. 8/2003

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