redbyrd_sgfic (redbyrd_sgfic) wrote,

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Books and more books, part 1 (the rest of 2007)

At the beginning of last year, I resolved to review all the books I read.  And I think I did reasonably well (there might have been one or two that got lost, but not more than that).   I totaled 105 for the year, which was more than I expected given my class and work schedules.   What I really wanted for this post is nested LJ-cuts, because even with just titles, it's kind of long.  But here goes: 

At Knit's End by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

This is a humorous look at knitters and knitting. As my mother pointed out, change out refereneces to yarn and knitting for any other craft and hobbyists of all types will recognize themselves easily. Comprised of a quote, a short story and a moral for each item, this will be fun for any knitter, and quite a number of others besides.

Patrimony by Alan Dean Foster

I was braced for the worst when I read this latest entry in Foster's long running Flinx series. (As I've said previously, I started this at age 16 and have a morbid curiosity as to how it all turns out.) The good thing about low expectations is that it doesn't take much to give you a pleasant surprise. While still rehashing old well-trodden material, Foster did return to his formula of taking you to an intriguing new planet and introducing new aliens. Actions actually had causes, even vaguely plausible ones in the context of the story. While the ultimate climax was still fairly predictable, it was considerably better than the last one.

More Sex is Safer Sex by Steven E. Landsburg

Landsburg's provocative title introduces an essay illustrating concepts of risk and probabilty. (Yes, it's a book about economics, not actually sex.) Some were more provocative than plausible, but all provided interesting thought exercises, however I found Levitt's Freakonomics (a prior book on economic analysis of social trends) more persuasive.

The Sharing Knife: Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold

Better paced than its predecessor, this still had too much romance and not enough plot for my taste. The ending was very weak, possibly leaving it open-ended for further books in the world.

Redshift Rendezvous by John Stith

This was a reread, one of my three favorites of Stith's books. In it, he makes one assumption, and then
builds a science fiction thriller around it. It's not his most polished characterization, nor is he the most gifted writer around. But it has a classic flavor to it, and I've always been very fond of it. (I've read all his books and liked them all, but my other two favorites are Memory Blank and Return to Neverend.)

Knitting Lessons by Lela Nargi

This was a collection of interviews with knitters talking about knitting. An interesting collection- from beginners to experienced knitters, from designers to people who wouldn't dream of knitting without a pattern. I thought it skewed toward the people who approach knitting as art (while I tend to think of it more as craft), but was still an interesting overview.

And yet it didn't really answer the question that intrigued me enough to pick it up - why do we knit? On the face of it, knitting ought to be boring- just pulling loop through loop thousands upon thousands of times. And yet it exercises an enduring fascination and satisfaction to millions of people.

A curious knitter might find this book interesting, probably others will not.

Agincourt by Juliet Barker

This was a fabulous book- a history of the Battle of Agincourt. The author does an exceptionally good job of making the personalities distinct, and capturing the issues of the times. Henry V comes out of it looking quite admirable, as do many others. But you also get a real sense of the tragedy of the battle, which killed most of the fighting men of France of an entire generation and dispossessed thousands of their homes and property. Highly recommended.

Bejewelled Death by Marion Babson

This was another reread, a light fast=moving and rather dated little mystery. I've always liked it for its over-the-top humor. It isn't a very good mystery per se, but the humor carries it. (It was a lot less dated when I first read it, twenty years ago...)

Dead Heat by Dick and Felix Francis

This latest book by Dick Francis was a fast and reasonably entertaining read, but isn't in the same class with many of his prior books.

Day of Infamy  and Incredible Victory by Walter Lord

These two are deserved classics- Day of Infamy tells the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, while Incredible Victory tells the battle of Midway, the stories compiled through hundreds of hours of interviews with people who were there. Compelling reads both.

Making Money by Terry Pratchett

The hero of 'Going Postal', the redoubtable Moist von Lipwig makes a return appearance here, this time taking on the Royal Mint and inventing paper money. This was enjoyable as Pratchett always is, but it's not as strong a book as Going Postal- the various elements of the plot were often disconnected, and the ultimate resolution of the conflict depended more on circumstance than on the actions of the main character. Not bad, but also not his best work.

Super-Crunchers by Ian Ayres

This one is subtitled, 'why thinking-by-the-numbers is the new way to be smart'. Funny, I'd have said thinking by the numbers was always the way to be smart. However Ayres is specifically talking about a new way to think by the numbers- analyzing massively large databases in real-time to guide decision-making.

It wasn't surprising to me that the analyses tended to do better than human experts- what was surprising was that often quite simple analytical models did better than human experts. And some of the uses of these analyses are quite scary in their implications for privacy. But Ayres makes a good case for the benefits, and provides some fascinating anecdotes about the successes of these systems.

Vertical Run by Joseph R. Garber

I plucked this from the unread pile and was very pleasantly surprised. It's a classic thriller with several clever twists. Our protagonist goes to the office like any other day- only to find that dozens of people- starting with his boss- are out to kill him. The writing was occasionally clumsy, but it turned out to be well paced and entertaining. It would have made a good action movie.

The Other Side of Time by Keith Laumer
Another story from the classic age (not to mention the deep piles of unread books). One of the alternate-worlds themed stories, the main character discovers that there are not one but two other universe-traversing races. Only problem- one of them is bent on eradicating his timeline from history.

This was clever and well plotted, though it suffered slightly from the common tendency of books of that era to be thin on detail.

Action Philosophers 1&2 by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlevy
Okay, philosophy comics- what's not to like? This is an informative and frequently very silly look at major philosophers. I suspect it would be even funnier if I knew more, but it was quite amusing even to one with my superficial knowledge. The first book is somewhat better, as they used most of their best material there. Plato smash!

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
This was an interesting juxtaposition of the stories of two men- Daniel Burnham, architect and director of works for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the Dr. Henry Holmes, a serial killer who used the fair as a cover for hideous crimes.

Larson does a marvelous job of evoking the era and representing the magnetic attraction of the fair, along with some fascinating historical trivia. And in Holmes' story he shows the darker side of the new freedom and modernity that the Fair brought to Chicago.

Generally, I thought this was a much stronger work than his Marconi/Crippen book.

Tags: books, reviews
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