|Ken Shirriff -> Book reviews|
I give a thumbs-up to Turn of the Century. This witty novel follows the life of a media mogul creating a fiction-based news show, his wife's battles against Microsoft (and Bill Gates' faked death), and provides cutting insight into fin-de-siecle America with a cast of wacky characters. The book may be a little long, and only near the end do the numerous threads converge into a plot, but the hilarious parts along the way make up for it.
The Modern Library has released their list of the top 100 nonfiction books of the century. I have comments on some of the books.
In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff made the convincing argument that metaphor isn't just something "poetic", but a key to how we reason about the world. Now, in Moral Politics : What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don't, he applies this theory to politics, arguing that conservatives reason through the "Government as a strict father" metaphor, while liberals use the "Government as a nurturing parent" metaphor. For instance, the strict father metaphor implies self-discipline is fundamental to success and thus the poor shouldn't be coddled, while the nurturing parent metaphor implies that the more successful should emphasize with the less successful and help them overcome their difficulties. Despite some flaws, this book explains why conservatives and liberals believe what they do, and resolves political puzzles about why conservative beliefs may seem contradictory to liberals and vice versa.
I saw On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, by Dave Grossman, in an airport, and it turned out to be a very interesting book despite the title. To summarize the book: most people have a strong resistance to killing, and even in World War II only 15% of the people on the front lines would actually shoot at the enemy. The military has since figured out how to train soldiers, and got the figure up to 90% for Vietnam, although the soldiers paid through high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. Interestingly, the military's conditioning to get soliders to shoot and kill is very similar to the experience of violent first-person video games, and the author speculates that we may thus be inadvertently training children to kill, leading to America's high murder rate.
I highly recommend A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America by David K. Shipler. This fascinating look at America's racial troubles is based on interviews with people across America.
The Word on the Street: Fact and Fable about American English is a very interesting book by a friend of mine about the history and future of English. It goes into the Oakland "Ebonics" controversy in detail, describes the grammar of the Black English dialect, discusses creoles, why Shakespeare is hard to understand, and why many grammar "rules" are hoaxes from a linguistic perspective.
I'm also reading Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy, which is a guide to how businesses should deal with information goods: how to price and sell information, dealing with lock-in, network effects. The book is grounded in economics and has a historical perspective on technological changes in the past. This puts it in strong contrast to the viewpoint that the information economy fundamentally changes the rules, as expressed in Wired's New Rules for the New Economy. (The original rules are online at Wired.)
I finished Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full. If you liked Bonfire of the Vanities, you'll like this book too, as it's almost the same story. This time, the master of the universe whose life is falling apart is a real estate mogul in Atlanta. Look for racial tensions, political manipulation, trophy wives, someone swallowed up by the legal system, and many detailed characters. Midway through, the book turns into "Zeus and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and then it ends rather suddenly.
I'm currently reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. This thick (1200 page) Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography describes how Robert Moses (whom most people probably haven't heard of) became the most powerful man in New York, changing the face of the city by designing and building its parks, bridges, expressways, and major buildings while ruling a public works empire and political machine. This book is interesting both from the perspective of how one person can attain and wield massive power, and from the urban planning perspective of how the large-scale projects that reshape a city happen.
I've started on Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon, but it's a book that once I put it down, it's hard to pick back up again. (Check back later to see if I've made any progress :-).
My favorite place to buy books is amazon.com. My book reviews are linked to the corresponding pages at amazon.com. The "Most popular" list shows the most popular books at amazon.com for visitors to my site.
I've found amazon.com's used book service to be useless, but many of the obscure out-of-print books I've been searching for have turned up at BookFinder.com.
Some other books and music that friends of mine have been interested in:
The New New Thing : A Silicon Valley Story, by Michael Lewis
Aspects Of The King And I, The Sound Of Music, South Pacific, Orchestra Of The Americas.
Aspects Of My Fair Lady, Camelot, Gigi, Brigadoon, Orchestra Of The Americas,
Copyright 2000 Ken Shirriff. Last updated 12/23/2003.