This, and many more reviews I’ve been posting lately originally appeared in 2007 on a now defunct livejournal.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City
This is exactly what a journalistic history book should be. Fast, fun, and informative, as the book reviewers would say. Plus, it’s about baseball, riots, tabloid journalism, politicians and serial killers all in New York in the 1970s. What’s not to like?
Its kind of hard to remember now, but New York in 1977 was a city on the verge of total and utter collapse. We’re talking bankruptcy, massive civil unrest, serial killers. Oh, and Reggie Jackson. If you give a shit about baseball and New York, or just really good writing, you should read this book.
One of many reviews I wrote for an old livejournal account. Now archived here.
Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions
Trashy trash. Not only trashy – horrible. I am embarrassed to say I read it and if you’ve been paying attention around here, you know that’s saying something.The worst money-porn elite bro bullshit I’ve ever read. If you want the better of Mezrich’s trashy tell all jack –ass Ivy kids doing stupid shit routine, check out Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. Its much better.
One of many reviews I wrote for an old livejournal account. Now archives here.
Cairo: The City Victorious
It is close by at first, starting with the intimate pock of the microphone and discreet , would not need to be all hearing to hear it. An electric cloud of sound accumulates and holds, suspended over the city for a full minute by the loudspeakers of some 15,000 mosques, before dissolving piecemeal into the twitter of the waking birds.
Cairo A City Victorious is a great book. In 267 pages it takes the reader from Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs up to the age of Mubarak. Its honest in its telling, reminding the reader that this is Cairo as seen by a westerner who speaks Arabic, and though the author has lived here for twenty something years, there are parts of the city he is unable to explain or even see. When I lived in Cairo I saw the things he talks about everywhere – the insane traffic, the mosques lit in green at night, the pyramids peaking out from behind the city high rises.
This was the first book I read about Cairo (actually on the plan on my way there) but it was a really great place to start to get an orientation on this city.
Moneyball is among the top couple of books Michael Lewi. Its on one level a story of the Oakland As and how they do well with almost no money by capitalizing on a new way of looking at baseball that was developed by Bill James, one of the great baseball statisticians of all time.* Its also about larger trends in sports (and the world) toward analytics. If baseball, or stats, is you kind of thing, you’ve read it. If it isn’t, this review isn’t going to convince you to do so.
Like all of Lewis’s books its fun and well written, and really that is reason enough to read this, but I just want to flag that I also think there is a mini-trend happening of books that make a fetish out of numbers and statistical models and I kind of wonder what it says (if it says anything) that some of these books (Freakanomics, Moneyball, Signal to Noise) have been huge best sellers. Are people becoming more interested in the analysis that numbers offer, is it just a fad in mathlite, or does it not mean anything at all?
I’m not sure, but this one is recommended.
This and the many more reviews I’ve been posting lately originally appeared in a now long defunct livejournal.
The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business andTransformed Our Cultu re
This book is two things – first, it is a detailed and interesting look at how searching online has changed over the last ten years, and how the refinement of the process has made the internet the usable tool it is today. It’s a pretty basic idea, really, if you can’t find shit, the internet is basically useless.
Secondly, the book is a look at what makes Google* so special. If Batelle is to believed what makes Google different is: (a) a belief in the ability of science to fix any problem and (b) a healthy culture of renewal and change that comes out of the conflicts and developments that happen when you have a no fucking around business plan coupled with a supposed mission to “not be evil” while being willing to be pragmatic (i.e. making a deals with China). I guess its an interesting book if you’re in internet companies, but I cannot for the life of me remember why I thought I had to read this.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
* Huh, word doesn’t recognize google as a word? Interesting.
This and so many more reviews I’ve been posting lately originally appeared in a now long defunct livejournal.
On Art, Religion, and the History of Philosophy: Introductory Lectures (Hackett Classics)
I read a pretty big chunk of Hegel in my first undergrad philosophy class. He scared the living shit out of me. I thought I was a reasonably smart dude (and didn’t go to college until I was in my mid-twenties), but when my professor would say “and here Hegel is saying blah blah blah” I would reread the text and think “I have no fucking idea how she is getting that out of this”.
Then, in a latter philosophy class, we read this. I think it’s a good place to dip into the impenetrable German. The writing is clearer than Phenomenology and the subjects areconcrete (by Hegelian standards). Though it doesn’t deal directly with any of Hegel’s major contributions to philosophy, I think in the hands of a good philosophy teacher, it allows you to get a sense of Big H’s major themes.
If you were going to read one book by Hegel, I guess it would have to be Phenomenology of the Spirit. But I don’t know how anyone could read that outside of a school or study group session and get all the lessons from it. If you were going to study Hegel (which I still really need to do in much more detail) I’d say this would be a good place to start. It gets you inside his writings in a introductory way and paves the way for being able to read his denser work.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
One of many, many book reviews I wrote for a livejournal account long, long ago.
The Secret History of the CIA
If you want a trashy, gossipy, book full of stories of drunks and mistresses and bat-shit crazy people in charge of our nation’s espionage, then this is your book. It’s a one sided tale, for sure, and that side is of those with nothing good to say about the C.I.A.. It trashes the famous “Berlin Base” CIA operation, defends James Angelton and makes a case for the CIA being a basically inept organization that lost out big to the Russians during the Cold War. It is also not the most reliable book I have ever read.
Trento spends a bunch of time hinting that the Agency was involved in the assassination of JFK and a bunch more time questioning the apparent suicides of a number of agents. I find these segments of the books more than a little doubtful. The book is basically a diversion and should be taken with a couple of grains of salt, and is not a particularly reliable history of the CIA. Still, it’s a fast read, and nicely diverting if espionage is your thing (and it is among my many things). Not to be taken too seriously and really, in hind sight, not recommended.