2020 Book “Reviews” – Part Three

Extra credit time!

Lying – Sam Harris
First, I’m not sure if this is a book or just an essay as it is rather short. Like Jordan Peterson’s book, I couldn’t help but reading this in Sam Harris’ voice in my head. That aside, this is a quick rundown, but deeper dive, of why lying is bad and how to identify lies, even when they don’t seem like a lie. The main point, I feel, is that lying is bad in just about every single case. I guess that explains why it is so short. There isn’t much more to say than “avoid lying at all costs”. Something I agree with. Insert something witty about truth here.

In Praise of Shadows – Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
I don’t remember where I had heard the recommendation for this essay, and checking my Amazon order history, I bought it 3 years ago today. What a coincidence. Anyway, at the surface this seems like a grumpy old man reminiscing about the “good ol’ days” in a very polite way. I feel like common theme among these complaints and grumblings is that there is beauty in contrast, though not directly stated. Gold leaf on black lacquer, white face paint/makeup and dark clothing, bright extravagant clothing in darkness, pictures capturing important reminders in a dark corner of a room. An interesting short read that I want to read again after having some time to think about it.

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
I have started this book three times and quit twice, but this time I finished it. I feel that it starts off strong, but then slowly spins wildly out of control into one hormonal teenage boy sex “dream” after another. I thought I would just get that out of the way. Every named female character in this book sleeps with the main character, Toru. It vaguely reminds me of the first track from Pinkerton, in a way. Towards the end of the book, the climax of the story just sends things into a seemingly rushed mess. I’m not sure if that was intentional, or the author just getting bored of writing and just wanted to be done. Maybe this is a cultural thing I just don’t get, I’m not sure. I really wanted to enjoy this book and did for a while, but once it was over, I don’t know if I want to read any more of Murakami’s work.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
It has been a while since I read this last. This time around, it was more apparent to me that the “utopia” portrayed here is the product of apathy and distraction. More and more in the real world, I see signs of how distracted or preoccupied a large portion of people really are. While 1984 painted a terrifying world of oppression, I feel like the Brave New World is much more achievable and likely. If everyone is happy, there would be less push back. It is an interesting thing to think about. I felt previously that there were two protagonists throughout the story. However, this time, it just felt as though a story was being told and almost everyone was kind of a “bad guy.” Maybe not Helmholtz.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
After reading this again for the first time in a long while, I will say this is still one of my favorite books. I’m impressed at the amount of story packed into the short read, which I’m sure has added to its legacy. For the first time, what was going on in the “elevator scene” really stood out to me and made me laugh a little. I don’t think anything I can say will do this book justice. It is still just as great as it was the first time I read it.

Kafka on the ShoreHaruki Murakami
While I wasn’t impressed with Norwegian Wood, I wanted to give Murakami another try. This was a little better to read, but it was significantly longer. Again, the main character, this time a 15 year old boy (who is not written as anyone under the age of 20), sleeps with every named female. At this point, I’m sure all of Murakami’s books include this theme, if you will. There are two story lines throughout this book, and I will say one, the “B” story, is way more interesting to read. There are even a couple good one-liners in there. Overall, another “eh”. I probably won’t be giving Murakami another try.

The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester
While I never have really been interested in the history of the dictionary, it was brought to my attention that this story was more strange than one would have initially thought. I enjoyed the retelling of the decades of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and the, at times, mysterious William C Minor. The writing, however, seemed to very fluffy, if that word is appropriate. I think there was a goal of using as many different and uncommon words as possible, no doubt in theme with the subject, but it made it longer than it probably needed to be.

Party Monster – James St. James
This was so much fun to read. I have watched both the “Party Monster” movie and documentary prior to reading this, so maybe that added to the enjoyment. I feel like someone coming into this without any previous exposure to the whole story of Micheal Alig or the Club Kids may be confused at times. James St. James is all over the place and sometimes gets distracted with the story he is trying to tell, but it is part of the charm. It seems to be written incredibly well, no offense intended. I enjoyed ever minute spent reading this.

Well, I forgot to post this in 2020. So, here we are a few days into 2021. I guess Party Monster was a good way to end the insanity of the year. I’m going to keep up on my reading for 2021 and I’ll be back with thoughts on those books as well.

2020 Book “Reviews” – Part Two

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife – Mary Roach
I was going into this expecting Mary to rip apart all the famous (or infamous) “ghost photos” and whatnot with some behind-the-scene knowledge and a little common sense. Instead it covers a select few “paranormal” and unknown scientific-ish topics, sighting research, and covering some anecdotes and research of the authors own. All this is done with smile-inducing witty comments and a constant sense of “get a load of this guy”. I’m looking forward to reading more of Mary Roach’s books.

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground – Kevin Poulsen
This was a deep dive into Max Ray Butler’s life in the cybercrime world of carding. I really enjoyed this over Brian Kreb’s Spam Nation, which covered a similar topic. Kevin Poulsen focused on the subject at hand, not really getting into morality or any personal anecdotes about the story, like a real journalist. It is an interesting story of the early days of the carding scene and the ease of cybercrime in the days after the dotcom bubble. A very good read if you are interested in infosec.

The One-Straw Revolution – Masanobu Fukuoka
I want to start off with saying I know very little about farming. However, this book is just as much about philosophy as it is about farming. As much as I enjoyed this, I do feel that while the farming technique explained in this book (a natural way to farm a handful of grains), it is extremely specific to the authors location. Regardless, there is a lot of thought provoking ideas in this book.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex – Mary Roach
Where to start with this one. I guess the first thing to get out of the way is that it is all about penises and vaginas, for the most part. Following the style of the previous Mary Roach book I read, it digs into the history of the science and research of sex, sprinkling in humor here and there. I enjoy the structure of the two I have read so far, so I think I’ll end up reading the rest of this authors library.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now – Jaron Lanier
The first thing I want to say is, this is what I expected of “How to Do Nothing”. In comparison, this book is a much faster read and has actual content, not just anecdotes and excessive depth into unrelated topics. Jaron touches on the effects of social media on himself and others, the business model behind social media companies, and the potential dangers of allowing them to continue to operate how they currently do. His view and perspective due to his history in “tech” makes a lot of these concerns and points a bit more impactful to me personally. I look forward to reading more from him.

The Coddling of the American Mind – Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
First and foremost, parents of non-adult children, read this book now. Read the whole thing. This book covers some pretty big issues still going on in 2020. It covers some pretty scary-when-you-think-about-it patterns arising in the past 5-8 years in schools/children and how they are impacting society as a whole. Additionally, it offers resources for further reading and potential solutions for these issues.

1984 – George Orwell
So, this is a re-read. I am going to make this an “every five year” read, I think. There isn’t much to say about this book that hasn’t been said or thought already. I feel that it is still just as important to read today as it was the last time I read it, which was maybe 10 years ago. If you haven’t read this, read it. Then read Brave New World and Animal Farm.

Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World – Joseph Menn
This was a really fun read into the history of the cDc and other associated groups of the time. While there was a lot of cool stories and information to read, I felt it was really scattered. I often asked myself “wait, when is this happening?” while reading through it. If you exclude the first and last parts of the book, it feels like a solid retelling of history. With those two parts taken into account, it somewhat feels like a “coming out” story for Beto O’Rourke. I’m not sure if I’m reading an advertisement or not. Regardless, if you have any interest in the cDc, it is worth the read.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth – John Marco Allegro
Preface: I know nothing about Christianity or much about religion in general. To me, this book points out that the bible is made up of several games of telephone, a bit of bad translation, and a sprinkle of tweaks to control the populous. I did have a hard time deciphering some of the language used in excerpts of various religious texts, mostly due to lack of motivation to reread them. The commentary by the author is much more the focus of my purpose for reading this. I am impressed by the work put into the translations of the scrolls/texts the author had access to and the analysis and comparison of all the religious texts cited. I feel that it is a net positive for the world to have someone who will put the effort into working with artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and actually publish his work.

And with that, I finished my previously posted list of books, as well as an additional few. Since it is early October as I’m writing this, I guess there will be a part three to this series. Extra credit, so to speak.

2020 Book “Reviews” – Part One

As I had mentioned in my “2020 Reading List” post, I wanted to try to write some small reviews or thoughts about the books I’ve read throughout the year.

UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record – Leslie Kean
A collection of interesting stories/events/etc from reliable witnesses. It was written with a lot of passion and dedication to the truth with no reliance on “little green men” being the answer. I recommend this for anyone interested in the topic of UFOs or maybe those who still think they are a thing of science fiction.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy – Jenny Odell
To be straight forward, I felt like this was a waste of time to read. It feels more like the author’s journal over the course of her discovering how to deal with the “Attention Economy” rather than a guide or tutorial. Reading it to completion is one way to “do nothing”.

Woke: A Guide to Social Justice – Titania McGrath
It may not need to be said, but this is 100% satire. While it can be hilarious at times, providing tons of good “lines”, some of the “filler” is just ridiculous statements lacking a lot of thought. It is very short and worth hour or two read.

Animal Farm – George Orwell
I really should have read this a long time ago, as it was an assigned reading in high school. I didn’t want to read, what I thought, was a children’s book and just read the Sparknotes on it. Well, I’m making up for it now. It was an interesting quick read but felt lacking in effort or quality compared to the other George Orwell works I’ve read. I feel that it is one of the important books, alongside books like “1984”, “Lord of the Flies”, and “Fahrenheit 451”.

The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
My first thought when I finished this was “What did I just read?” It felt like someone’s anxiety ridden fever dream. That someone, in this story, is Gregor. A man who is overworking himself to near death in attempt to keep his “poor” family financially stable. However, in this book, death comes in the form of being transformed into a beetle. While that, in any other story, could be a spoiler, this is page one stuff. It is clear that the author is very familiar with anxious thoughts, as this story is example after example of over-analyzing each situation and Gregor’s constant concern with his family’s financial well being. While this is a short read, I think there are plenty of other books that tell the story just as well and in a much more interesting, modern, and realistic way.

Notes from Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Well, this is a roller coaster. A roller coaster that makes you feel like you learned something afterward. I am impressed with the perspective (that may not be the right word) that this story is told from, which I think is what I am supposed to get out of it. I do feel like I need to read it again. With how short it is, I don’t see that being a problem.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos – Jordan Peterson
I enjoyed this book. While reading it, my internal “voice” would somehow slip into the authors voice, which was hilarious and great at the same time. If you haven’t heard Jordan Peterson talk, do listen to a talk or two of his and I’m sure you will experience the same thing. While parts of it get a little heavy on religious subjects, it never feels preachy or like someone is trying to convert me. Although some chapters feel like they are meandering far away from the “topic” of the chapter, they find its way back once you finally see the bigger picture. Overall, its really good.

Count Zero – William Gibson
I LOVED IT. I loved it just like I loved Neuromancer. William Gibson is great world-weaver. Although there are three distinct stories told through this book, they feel more like tools used to flesh out an amazing cyberpunk world. This is the second of three books in the Sprawl trilogy and it saddens me that I am almost done with them. Mona Lisa Overdrive is next and the reading that will be bittersweet.

The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware – bunnie
An interesting collection of adventures in the world of electronics manufacturing and the supply chain involved. It sometimes feels like a a collections of blog posts, but that is because it sort of is. Regardless, it gives a very good view inside the world of producing electronics via Chinese factories and everything related to that process. I would recommend this to anyone who has interest in PCB/electronics manufacturing or anyone who know who bunnie is.

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties – Tom O’Neill
Tin foil hat time. The author starts this book with solid facts indicating some shady stuff happened during the Charles Manson/Manson Family trials. It slowly turns into some almost unbelievable theories on secret CIA projects and how they could be the “cause” of (or at least a major contributor to) the insanity that was the Manson Family. I really enjoyed this book, even if some may see it as crazy conspiracy theories. The facts that are revealed about what the CIA used to do (and probably still do) is where the “crazy” is. The information that Tom finds about how the Manson Family story was twisted to fit one lawyer’s narrative is eye opening. Just because someone ends up with the right answer, it doesn’t mean they got there the right way.

Mona Lisa Overdrive – William Gibson
Just as I predicted, bittersweet. I loved it, as I knew I would. This wraps up the Sprawl Trilogy, connecting many dots from the second book (Count Zero) with a few appearances from the first book’s (Neuromancer) cast. As with all of the Trilogy, the multiple story lines all come together at the end. However, while randomly thinking about what I read, I start to realize small connected details I missed when reading. Without spoiling much, the overarching story of the trilogy, with each story line being orchestrated to achieve one major goal, is awesome. I am going to miss this trilogy.

A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
At first, this seemed like a it was going to be somewhat of a “film noir” kind of cop story. However, it slowly turned into a drug-crazed recalling of the life of a group of addicts, including all the delusion and paranoia you can imagine. A little over halfway through the book, I honestly started to get somewhat confused with what was going on. Then, without trying to spoil much, a scene in which a cop reviews some surveillance footage came to the same conclusion as I did cleared that up. “WHAT is happening here?” I felt a little better then. It spirals into a bit more chaos from that point and ends with an all too real “well damn, that sucks” kind of ending. Some of the lingo/slang makes it feel somewhat dated. We have changed a lot since the 70s. But, the story is all too relatable. Don’t do drugs kids.

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
I felt like I should have read this in high-school. Judging by the depth and length of the Wikipedia article, I think I am right in feeling that way. Even though it was probably not intended to be, it seems to be a book used for teaching literature classes. While there is humor in the commentary of the stories told throughout the book, I don’t know if it hasn’t aged well or I am just not into it. I’m glad I have read it finally, but I feel like its potential impact didn’t land.

LSD My Problem Child – Albert Hofmann
This was an extremely interesting read. Albert Hofmann walks the reader through his discoveries of some of the most powerful psychedelics, some of which I was not aware of him finding, his view on the usefulness of them, and hand picked anecdotes of the positive and negative impacts they have made. While his passion and respect for the substances is made clear, it is done in a very modest way, which I’m sure is testament to his personality and intelligence. I was ready for a little more of a chaotic story, but I’m glad it wasn’t.

I’ve been writing these throughout the year as I finish reading each book. I decided that I would finally post this since it is about half way through the year. I’ll do another post at the end of the year with the rest of what I have read. I realized that I was making a pretty big dent in my list early on, so I have been adding more and just reading new things that I stumble upon.

2020 Reading List

To hold my self a bit more accountable to finish my reading list for 2020, I thought I would post it publicly. Maybe I’ll post a little review of each book at the end of the year or maybe as I go. A few of these are going to be a re-read, as I feel its time to remind myself how important they are. These aren’t in any specific order and I may add a few more throughout the year.

  • UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record – Leslie Kean
  • How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy – Jenny Odell
  • Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World – Joseph Menn
  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • Animal Farm – George Orwell
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth – John Allegro
  • The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
  • The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware – bunnie
  • 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos – Jordan Peterson
  • LSD My Problem Child: Reflections on Sacred Drugs, Mysticism and Science – Albert Hoffman
  • Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife – Mary Roach
  • Woke: A Guide to Social Justice – Titania McGrath
  • Notes from Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
  • Count Zero – William Gibson
  • The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming – Masanobu Fukuoka