Category Archives: Reading

Epicurean financial readability

The Epicurean DealmakerThe Epicurean Dealmaker is one of my favorite blogs – witty, learned, topical, writing anonymously and eruditely on topics financial and others. That someone can profess to be an epicurean and at the same time an investment banker may seem like a contradiction in terms, but from his/her writings, the worthy blogger seems to pull it off. May he never be found out – or worse, may he not be found to be an out-of-work high school dropout with a Unix box, a Greek library and CTS.

Anyway, his latest missive on the continuing counterparty risk caused by investment banking consolidation and market monopolization is definitely worth your time and not inconsiderable effort. The causes of the last financial crisis are a alive and well, thank you very much. Lest you think the worthy Epicurean is an insider with an ax to grind, let me offer his elegant, is snarky, caveat emptor defense of the industry as well.

Investment banking and the whole “structured products” industry is so complicated that anyone can get lost – and most politicians and economists seem to avoid discussing it, much like most executives avoid discussing technological and network externalities. It simply is too hard, too complicated, and lacking in easy, sellable solutions. Better to not talk about it, at least not in detail.

By the way, he blames the lawyers for much of the complication of financial regulation. Hard to disagree.

When MUDs turn real

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

REAMDE is a techno-thriller in the traditional sense, i.e., technology plays a part, but so does gunfights, teamwork and hardship. Not one of Stephenson’s strongest (that would be Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle), it has some of the nomadic quality of Anathem but, since it is not a science fiction book (the events take place in modern times, the only technological stretch maybe the quality of the T’Rain World of Warcraft-like multiuser game, which differs from WoW primarily in that it is designed with a working economy (again, one of Stephenson’s fascinations – who do you establish a currency in a virtual world.) This means that a lot of what happens stretches the limits of what is possible – you get a bit of the feeling that you get in a run-of-the-mill detective show or war fil, that the bad guys can never shoot straight unless they are aiming for one of the less central characters, preferably those with already life-curtailing afflictions.

The plot is convoluted and centers first on the hunt for some hackers holding important documents hostage (through cryptography), but an inadvertent stumble on a bomb factory in China turns it into a fight between a Jihadist band of terrorists and a collection of technologically astute, well balanced (in terms of gender, ethnicity and geographical starting point) group of hackers, mercenaries and survivalists. Fun, but if you are looking for Stephenson’s best stuff, start with the other books here. Or just relax and treat this as a bit of a diversion, not to be taken too seriously.

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Orotund oracularity

Oracle NightOracle Night by Paul Auster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lent to me by my daughter, and like her, I admired the writing and story-within-story interconnectedness, but was left with a nagging wonder – what was really the point? Siri Hustvedt, Paul Auster’s wife, has written What she loved, and that is really a better book for this kind of intertwined, dramatic New York story, where violence and mystery happens in a chamber play of mysterious and sometimes amoral characters. But by all means, a good read.

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Optimistic rationality – relief from the doomsayers

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity EvolvesThe Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matt Ridley, science writer and commentator, delivers a blistering attack on the pessimists of the world, who extrapolate their way to doom and gloom, whether it be a new Ice Age, overpopulation, markets rather than hierarchies, energy crises, food scares and epidemics. He shows, with a wealth of examples (not always well referenced – especially the statistics) that the human race, due to its unique in its ability to trade goods, services and ideas with people outside the family or other small group, will succeed in overcoming challenges – including global warming.

For someone who grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation (I remember thinking, as an 18-year old, that there would be little point in getting an education because we were all going to die in an atomic blast anyway) this is another of those books (Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, Dan Dennett’s Consciousness Explained and David S. Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations being others) that convincingly reinforces by trust in science, innovation and knowledge’s worth and ability to create the future – a future we have not chance of extrapolating ourselves into.

Enjoyable – a simple premise, well argued and organized. Recommended.

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Close-hauled on a bowline

image …or something like that. The effects of reading Patrick O’Brian‘s Aubrey-Maturin novels (which I bought about five years ago and have now read for the second time) is that of slowly sinking into another world altogether, a world where communication may take months and even years, where a shipment may not even get out of harbor for want of wind, where bread has parasites (teaching one to learn to choose the lesser of two weevils) and meat has to be softened by towing it alongside the ship before it is even close to edible.

image Despite the success of the Master and Commander movie, these books are unlikely ever to be made into more movies or a TV series – for one thing, it would be prohibitively expensive, for another, much of the excitement and readability of the books lie in their historical accuracy, their wealth of detail, their quiet humor, and most of all in the wonderful language. I love the the descriptions of political intrigues, the reflections on medical and other science of the times as experienced by Stephen Maturin, and the intricate and confusing legal details of Jack Aubrey‘s fighting commons inclosure and other (usually unsuccessful) adventures.

image As the novels progress (and they are all good, by the way, no reduction in quality over time, in fact, they get better), you gradually learn to appreciate the main protagonists as people – initially cardboard figures, they gradually, through what they do and what they say, emerging as more complete personalities. Much more believable than Hornblower and Bush or Holmes and Watson, Aubrey and Maturin emerge as multifaceted and complex characters with personalities, flaws and qualities understood and appreciated not just by the reader, but by the vivid and rich set of characters met throughout the series.

I thoroughly enjoyed these books the first time I read them, and they improve upon the second acquaintance. Above all, the language is a delight. Like Frans Bengtsson’s incongruously titled The Long Ships (best enjoyed in its original Swedish version, Röde Orm) the novels are held in a language close to that of the times – close enough that I find my own English growing increasingly orotund with each page. Oh fie, O’Brian, for inciting me to top it the knob and engage in idle prating…

Highly recommended!

image(Incidentally, should you decide to buy the series, make sure you buy the paperback versions from Norton, either individually or all at once, with the original paintings by Geoff Hunt. The boxed complete set from 2004 has, unfortunately, been scanned and then poorly copy-edited, introducing many irritating errors (or, rather, vexing imperfections.) And by all means, get the companion volume Sea of Words, which will explain bowlines and capstans and gratings and tompions and weather-gage and other essential terms.)

Book nerd challenge

I normally don’t like blog challenges – distinctly 2006 – but this one is from daughter Julie, so I guess I am kind of obliged to…

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Instructions: Copy this into your notes. Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety, italicise the ones you started but didn’t finish or read an excerpt. Tag other book nerds.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan (on the night stand – never seem to get around to it)
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel (yeah – good book!)
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zifon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Sum total: 51 read, didn’t count the halfways… Hmmm. Wonder if that is good and bad. And why in the world is the Da Vinci garbage on the list?

Oh well, feel free to do your own. Or not.

(Incidentally, here is a much better list.)

A Hitch-reader’s guide to a mindful galaxy

Hitch 22: Confessions and ContradictionsHitch 22: Confessions and Contradictions by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The (almost) definitive word on Christopher Hitchens? No – more of a set of quickly and deftly executed watercolors of a life that, at least in the mind, defies any attempt at categorization.

It is rather ironic, but perfectly in script, that Hitchens spends quite a bit in the book discussing impending death and ever-present knowledge that "the party will continue without me", and then, virtually on the day of the book’s publications, discovers that he has contracted, if that is the word, cancer of the esophagus and will be "a very lucky man" if he lives another five years.

Anyway, read this, as much for the language and argument as for the story itself. It puts you in the presence of a mind that is not encyclopaedic (that would be rather boring) but uses literature, history, language and personal connections and experiences as an arsenal for painting the most multicolored, yet consistent canvases you can imagine.

(Incidentally, this is the first new book I bought for Kindle for PC, and the software works admirably, though I wish it was possible to clip out some text for citations.)

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The economically ideal society

David S. Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations is my favorite book on economic evolution and economic history up to and including the industrial revolution. Its main question is “Why did England win world domination?” There were plenty of contenders – The Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal all had colonies, military power and trade, for instance. But in the end it was the comparatively small island nation that won out and dominated until the first world war. Landes explores this in riveting detail, attributing the ascendancy of England to it being closer to an ideal growth-and-development state than the competition.

The central chapter, chapter 5, Landes lays out the ideal case on pages 217-218 – and quoting that is reason enough for a blog post (not to mention obligatory reading for anyone concerned with economic policy.):

Let us begin by delineating the ideal case, the society theoretically best suited to pursue material progress and general enrichment. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a “better” or a “superior” society (words to be avoided), simply one fitter to produce goods and services. This ideal growth-and-development society would be one that

  1. Knew how to operate, manage, and build the instruments of production and to create, adapt and master new techniques on the technological frontier.
  2. Was able to impart this knowledge and know-how to the young, whether by formal education or apprenticeship training.
  3. Chose people for jobs by competence and relative merit; promoted and demoted on the basis of performance.
  4. Afforded opportunity to individual or collective enterprise; encouraged initiative, competition, and emulation.
  5. Allowed people to enjoy and employ the fruits of their labor and enterprise.

These standards imply corollaries: gender equality (thereby doubling the pool of talent); no discrimination on the basis of irrelevant criteria (race, sex, religion, etc.); also a preference for scientific (means-end) rationality over magic and superstition (irrationality).*

Such a society would also possess the kind of political and social institutions that favor the achievement of these larger goals; that would, for example,

  1. Secure rights of private property, the better to encourage saving and investment.
  2. Secure rights of personal liberty – secure them against both the abuse of tyranny and private disorder (crime and corruption).
  3. Enforce rights of contract, explicit and implicit.
  4. Provide stable government, not necessarily democratic, but itself governed by publicly known rules (a government of laws rather than men). If democratic, that is, based on periodic elections, the majority wins but does not violate the rights of the losers; while the losers accept their loss and look forward to another turn at the polls.
  5. Provide responsive government, one that will hear complaint and make redress.
  6. Provide honest government, such that economic actors are not moved to seek advantage and privilege inside or outside the marketplace. In economic jargon, there should be no rents to favor and position.
  7. Provide moderate, efficient, ungreedy government. The effect should be to hold taxes down, reduce the government’s claim on the social surplus, and avoid privilege.

This ideal society would also be honest. Such honesty would be enforced by law, but ideally, the law would not be needed. People would believe that honesty is right (also that it pays) and would live and act accordingly.

More corollaries: this society would be marked by geographical and social mobility. People would move about as they sought opportunity, and would rise and fall as they made something or nothing of themselves. This society would value new against old, youth as against experience, change and risk as against safety. It would not be a society of equal shares, because talents are not equal; but it would tend to a more even distribution of income than is found with privilege and favor. It would have a relatively large middle class. This greater equality would show in more homogeneous dress and easier manners across class lines.

No society on earth has ever matched this ideal. […]

————–

*The tenacity of superstition in an age of science and rationalism may surprise at first, bur insofar as it aims at controlling fate, it beats fatalism.  It is a resort of the hapless and incapable in the pursuit of good fortune and the avoidance of bad; also a psychological support for the insecure.  Hence persistent recourse to horoscopic readings and fortune telling, even in our day. […]

Sorry, I couldn’t resist including the footnote – direct language and linguistic surgical strikes abound – go get it! (And incidentally, the concluding paragraphs are highly quotable as well.)

Desperately seeking Black

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heartbreaking and funny about nine year old (or so) Oscar, a precocious Upper East Side boy trying to find a secret of his father (who died in the 9/11 attack), interwoven with the history of his grandfather and grandmother, who survived the Dresden bombings.

Inventive and funny – I don’t normally like books that try to be creative with typography and pictures to tell a story, but it works here. And Oscar is a hoot, vaguely related to the protagonist in The curious incident with the dog in nighttime, with his idiosyncratic messages "José!" and convoluted, yet strangely logical thinking. My favorite sentence: "More people are live today than ever lived. That means that if they all wanted to play Hamlet at once, there wouldn’t be enough skulls."

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Winding through magical realism

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the back of this edition, there is a quote from a New York Times review: "Critics have variously likened him to Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Arthur C. Clarke, Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Bret Easton Ellis and Thomas Pynchon — a roster so ill assorted as to suggest that Murakami may in fact be an original."

I had to laugh at that, for I wanted to add another writher – Gabriel Garcia Marques, the originator of magical realism. Like Marques, Murakami’s stories are long and disjointed, with many characters, inhabiting a world where magic is present but never referred to. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is long and rambling, the main theme being a young suburbanite’s search for his wife (where he is aided or opposed by many characters, each with their own reality – or lack of it – to deal with.)

Sometimes the stories feel underdeveloped, and there is little attempt at closure, which at times can feel rather cloying (though not as bad as, say, Peter Høeg.) The overarching theme, if any, is the fight between good and bad, between "defilers" and "defiled", which is most visible in some of the stories, told in letters and found computer files, about soldiers in the little-known war between Japan and the Soviet Union before and at the end of WWII.

The saving grace of this book is the language, which can only be described as "poetic", and the individual stories, of which some are brilliant (such as the story of a group of Japanese soldiers trying to kill zoo animals and botching the job). I thought some of the evil characters – the protagonist’s brother-in-law politician, a Soviet camp commander, a creepy and threatening mafia enforcer – were underdeveloped. All the characters seem rather distanced from what is happening around them, which gives the novel a dream-like mode, as if they are all narrators seeing the world through a video camera while adding their own commentary and interpretation.

It works, and the narrative moves along sufficiently to make this an enjoyable read – but once, methinks, is enough.

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A cruel and incomprehensive war

My War Gone By, I Miss It So My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Anthony Loyd goes to the war in the former Yugoslavia as an observer – well, let’s be honest, a tourist – and then gradually succumbs to the fascination, tinged with shame, of observing something surreal, dangerous, and yet so central to Europe. The complex and cruel war between Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Muslims and other overlapping and changing factions was a gruesome continuation of centuries of internecine fighting that was only temporarily halted by the Tito regime – close to a quarter million people dead, yet curiously disregarded by the European press.

Loyd gradually becomes a war correspondent, seemingly more for financial reasons – and to have a proper reason to be where he was – than because of an interest in a career. He turns out to be good at it, yet maintains his distance, and his heroin addiction. In the end you are left with painfully memorable descriptions of individual and mass tragedies – and you still don’t know much about the person doing the reporting.

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Towards a theory of technology evolution

The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves by W. Brian Arthur

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arthur sets out to articulate a theory of technology, and to a certain extend succeeds, at least in articulating the importance of technology and the layered, self-referencing and self-creating nature of its evolution.

The two main concepts I took away were the layered nature of technology, consisting of these three points:

  1. Technology is a combination of components.
  2. Each component is itself a technology.
  3. Each technology exploits an effect or phenomenon (and usually several)

Secondly, Arthur lays out, in four separate chapters, the four different ways technology evolves, as summarized on page 163 (my italics added):

There is no single mechanism, instead there are four more or less separate ones. Innovation consists in novel solutions being arrived at in standard engineering – the thousands of small advancements and fixes that cumulate to move practice forward. It consists in radically novel technologies being brought into being by the process of invention. It consists in these novel technologies developing by changing their internal parts or adding to them in the process of structural deepening. And it consists in whole bodies of technology emerging, building out over time, and creatively transforming the industries that encounter them. Each of these types of innovation is important. And each is perfectly tangible. Innovation is not something mysterious. Certainly it is not a matter of vaguely invoking something called “creativity.” Innovation is simply the accomplishing of the tasks of the economy by other means.”

I liked the book for its ambition, view of technology as something that evolves, and clear-headed way of thinking about and expressing a beginning grand theory. The concepts are intuitive and beguiling, but I did miss references to – and attempts to build on, or differentiate itself from – other valuable concepts of technology, such as sustaining vs. disruptive, competence-enhancing vs. competence-destroying, architectural vs. procedural, and so on. There is a lot of research going on in this area – we are about to break up the formerly black and mysterious box called innovation and show that it really comes down to subcategories and the interplay of quite understandable drivers. Arthur’s contribution here is significant – but it is, at least the way I read it, the way of the independent thinker who would have a lot more influence if some of the language and some of the categories were a bit closer to, or at least distinctively positioned in relation to, what others think and say.

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A case of case teaching

One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School by Scott Turow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Describes the trials and tribulations of going through the first year of Harvard Law School – and stands up well despite the year in question being 1975. I teach by the Socratic method myself – with variations – and the tensions in the classrooms and the reactions to teachers are very well taken. (This book is not the basis for the movie "Paper Chase", which I first thought – though it could have been.) View all my reviews >>

Cold War of the Rings

John Le Carré : Three Complete Novels ( Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy / The Honourable Schoolboy / Smiley's People ) John Le Carré : Three Complete Novels by John le Carré

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just spent the Christmas vacation under the covers with a flu, rereading this collection of three of the "Smiley" novels (in a Norwegian translation, which isn’t quite the same thing, though the translator is good).

The arena John le Carré creates here (or, rather, reports from, since he was a part of the real thing for a while) is the stealthy and paranoid world of Cold War espionage and counter-espionage, with the physically unimpressive spy-hunter George Smiley as the absent-minded and socially inept anti-hero.

The three books follow each other, not unlike the three main parts of "The Lord of the Rings" (come to think of it, it shouldn’t surprise me if le Carré structured it this way on purpose): The first book (Thinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) concerns the hunt for a "mole" inside Circus, an thinly veiled version of MI6, defectors and all. The second has Smiley as a less central character, instead giving an operational agent named Jerry Westerby (the "Honourable Schoolboy" of the title) first billing, as he tries to locate and then secure an important Chinese defector through investigations during the final weeks of the Vietnam War. The third ("Smiley’s People") concerns Smiley’s attempt to penetrate the Soviet intelligence organization in a final battle with his nemesis, a the shady and very competent spymaster Karla.

I like these books for their accurate depiction of the fear underlying much of the cold war, the way "little people" become pawns in a game they (and, many times, not their bosses either) understand. Aside from the gloriously tragic figure of Jerry Westerby, the spy game is one of meticulous investigations, bureaucratic frustrations, occasional high hopes with correspondingly deep disappointments. How far can you go in order to win – can you sacrifice people, sometimes with their consent, for an uncertain victory in a cause you are no longer sure about? I think these three books are the best John le Carré wrote, with the possible exception of "The Little Drummer Girl". Reading them again brought back the haunting specter of the dictatorship next door, the nagging fear most people of my generation grew up with, the uncertain enemy with powerful weapons, fought by vicarious means with a realization that the individuals involved had very little to say in the big decisions.

The question remains – who, if anyone, had?

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A not very likeable character

Henrik Ibsen Henrik Ibsen by Robert Ferguson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Found this in my bookshelf when looking for Ibsen’s collected for one of my daughters. Good, mostly based on correspondence, traditional chronological discussion, underscores Ibsen’s very secluded nature and tendency to write himself into every play. Not to mention his love-hate relationship with his home country, keen eye on sales figures, vanity, callousness towards his family and monomanical focus on his work. Not a very pleasant man – all his humanity came out in his plays, apparently. (Based on the Norwegian version of the book.) View all my reviews >>

Yet another argument for CC books

IMG_3019 I bought Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother sometime this Spring, don’t quite remember where (think it was Amazon). When I read it, I discovered that half of page 198 was torn out. This is rather irritating, especially when you are into the book and would like to continue. Previously, my two solutions would have been: Skip the missing page(s) and continue reading; or exchange the book for a new one (which entails taking a break until the new book is back.)

This time, I just found Cory’s full text on craphound.com and printed those pages out on my printer. Then I left them in the book. I saved time and kept the continuity, the bookseller saved time and money not having to exchange my book, and the publisher saved the cost of another copy.

Simple, isn’t it?

Quote of the day

Downstairs in a kind of cave is the kitchen, where an Army cook is baking square apple pies by the quarteracre. The floor is so deeply worn that he has to step over some of the high places. His coal stove is roaring, and he has arrived at that quiet hopelessness that cooks get on finally realizing that their work is never going to be finished, that there is no way of feeding a man once and for all.

John Steinbeck, Once there was a war p. 70

D-Day from the middle

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars After having read a number of Steven Ambrose’s books on the battle for Normandy, Anthony Beevor’s version is a relief in that it has much cooler analysis, more maps (which every book on warfare should have more of) and manages to include the German, Canadian, Polish and French side of the equation to a much larger extent. (for instance, he points out that more French civilians died as a result of the war in Normandy, particularly the bombing and shelling, than died during the blitz in London).

Beevor is somewhere between Ambrose (who provides much more detail on the experience of the individual soldiers, particularly infantry) and Liddell Hart and Keegan, who take a more professional, tactical and strategic view. The balance is good. However, the book adds little new knowledge, as far as I can tell, aside from more detail on the rivalry between the various commanders, as well as a good account of the liberation of Paris, with all the political machinations and posturing that went on before it.

Beevor is sharply critical of Montgomery, seeing his egocentric posturing and lack of imagination as a diplomatic and political failure as well as tactically costly. He does point out, however, that Montgomery was facing a more heavily defended part of the front, except at the beachhead. Beevor is also critical of the use of bombers as infantry support, and points out numerous tactical and strategic errors which cost lives and time. In all, most generals seem to make more errors than good decisions – which, I suppose, is primarily an effect of having to take decisions all the time, with imperfect knowledge.

The book manages to give an impression of both the large and the small view of war, and points out how the slaughter in Normandy spared the rest of France a protracted war. For that reason, if you are going to read just one book on D-Day, this is probably it.

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Ode to joy, in a poetic way

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Anything Stephen Fry writes is bound to be a joyous experience, but this one has to rank among his best (possibly only beaten by his autobiography and "The Hippopotamus", my absolute favorite.)

In this peon to poetry, Stephen Fry shows the rules and rhythms of how to construct a poem, allowing you to see the many intriguing details and quite possibly get on with writing some yourself. I knew about trochees and jambs and so on, but had no idea about the villanelle, for instance – an intriguing and rhythmic poetic form.

Stephen Fry has a loving relationship to language, and manages to convey both his feelings and knowledge about it. Highly recommended if you like to read already and would like to read or possible write some poetry with a likable, humorous and extremely knowledgeable advisor at your side.

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