Saturday, May 24, 2014

2014 Books, Part VI

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman - This neuroscience book really messed with my head. Imagine thinking about how you are thinking while you are thinking. Meta-level conundrum aside, this is a great book, at least for the layman. Mind-blowing, pun intended. 5 stars

VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave by Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn with Gavin Edwards - I watched MTV a lot during the 1980s when the original VJs were on the air (and very rarely after they left). This oral history tells where each VJ came from and what went on behind the scenes. I Want My MTV is a more thorough history of the network and music videos, but VJ is great for learning about the people who kept me company for so many teenage hours. 4 stars

Steel Rainbow: The Legendary Underground Guide to Becoming an '80s Rock Star by Jordan Hart - I guess I was on a bit of a 1980s nostalgia trip. This book tells how to achieve stardom by emulating Van Halen like so many "hair bands" did. I liked this book, but my wife loved it. Fun and funny, especially for those who lived through that era. 4 stars

Present at the Future: From Evolution to Nanotechnology, Candid and Controversial Conversations on Science and Nature by Ira Flatow - This book bounces from topic to topic in the vast realm of current science. It's fairly interesting but spread too thin. I'm tempted to give it three stars for lacking cohesion, but Flatow's discussion of science and religion is worth an extra one. 4 stars


Friday, May 16, 2014

Maybe You Should Just Turn Around...

I found this while going through my photos from 20-25 years ago. I did not record the location.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

2014 Books, Part V

Sandbag Training for Athletes, Weekend Warriors & Fitness Enthusiasts by Josh Henkin - I've been using Henkin's Ultimate Sandbags for many years and lately for 90% of my weight training. He offers loads of useful info online for free, but I thought I may as well pick up this book. Big mistake. I've read some poorly proofread books, but this may be the worst. Plus it's only 85 pages, and there are too few photos to demonstrate many of the exercises. Henkin recently put out a new book with Dragon Door that is much better (review to come). 2 stars

Sandbag Fitness: The Complete Guide to Sandbag Training by Matthew Palfrey - Having mostly followed Henkin's guidance, I wanted to broaden my horizons with this book. Palfrey has a different perspective, and he illustrates the exercises well. This book is better than the one above, and very good for the average devoted but not obsessive exerciser (for obsessives like me, Henkin's new book is the best). 4 stars

Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better by Dan Gardner - Faking It made books of rock criticism less appealing to me, and Future Babble has done the same for books about the road ahead.* The most interesting takeaway: the more certain people are about their predictions, the more likely they are to be wrong. 4 stars

Official Book Club Selection by Kathy Griffin - I bought this four years ago when I felt only lukewarm about her. Late last year we watched four seasons of My Life on the D List (the last two seasons haven't come out on DVD) and this moved to the top of the stack. I've read a lot of books by comedians, and this one is pretty good. I could have done without the chapters about her messed-up brother and Woz, though (Woz is interesting, but the e-mail conversation is a dreadful literary device). 4 stars


* This is a reference to Bill Gates' 1995 book, The Road Ahead. I bought it circa 1998, never got around to reading it, and got rid of it a few years ago. I figured there was no point reading about the future 15 years later.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

2014 Books, Part IV

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach - I have purchased several of Roach's books over the past eight years because they looked interesting, but this is the first I've read. Why did I wait so long? 5 stars

Shooting for the Moon: The Strange History of Human Spaceflight by Bob Berman - The actual subject is much narrower than the subtitle implies; this is a history of U.S. spaceflight ending with the Apollo missions. It's interesting because, holy shit, it's about putting people on the moon, for goodness' sake—an incredible feat that is taken for granted nowadays— but it's only an average telling of the tale. 3 stars

The End of Discovery: Are We Approaching the Boundaries of the Knowable? by Russell Stannard - This is a survey of the current knowledge of science with reasoned conjecture about what sort of things we'll never be able to figure out. Examples: Do we have free will? Are there universes other than ours? What happened before the Big Bang? Stannard writes clearly about complex concepts. 4 stars

The Meaning of Hitler by Sebastian Haffner - I had to take a break from science books, and having studied World War II intensely many years ago, I find it easy to return to the subject. Haffner evaluates Hitler's actions and categorizes them as successes, mistakes, crimes, etc., providing a revealing portrait of the man. I haven't read a bunch of books solely about Hitler, but this must be one of the best. 5 stars


Saturday, May 10, 2014

2014 Books, Part III

Note: Looking at the books I've blogged so far this year, I realize there are a lot of 5-star ratings. My first thought was that I've been too generous, but there is another explanation. Last year, I read books with a different theme each month. Because of that restriction, I started 2014 with a pile of great books that hadn't fit those themes. The ratings should even out later in the year. And if they don't, then I'll just say it's because I don't choose lousy books in the first place.

The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies by Edward Jay Epstein - Considering I'm not much of a movie person, it's surprising I would read a book like this, but the money side interests me. The Hollywood Economist explains how money is raised, how it is spent, and how it is recouped. Overall this book is pretty interesting, but sometimes it gets a bit repetitive like a collection of overlapping magazine articles. Note: I read the first edition (2010); version 2.0 (2012) is shown below. 4 stars

Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped by Dean Budnick & Josh Baron - This information-packed book (wish it had an index!) is a history of the live performance side of the popular music business—ticket vendors, promoters, venue owners, etc.—since the 1960s. It's a must-read for someone really interested in the topic (as I am), but it's probably too much for most concertgoers. 5 stars

Backstage Past by Barry Fey - This book is so much fun! Fey is a legendary concert promoter who worked out of Denver starting in the late 1960s. He tells great stories about the business and especially the performers he worked with. Any rock music fan should love this book. 5 stars

I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman - I love everything I've read by Klosterman (though I haven't read his fiction yet). Here he muses about "bad guys"—what makes them bad and why we hate them. Speaking of hate, I hate when the paperback edition contains new material that those who paid more for the hardcover (like me) don't get. This isn't the first time Scribner and Klosterman have done this. 5 stars


Sunday, May 04, 2014

2014 Books, Part II

The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman - This book got me on a science kick that has lasted for months (also spurred by Cosmos). Arbesman studies scientometrics—measuring and analyzing scientific research—and The Half-Life of Facts is about the endless march of science and how knowledge changes over time. Interesting stuff. 5 stars

Agorafabulous! Dispatches from my Bedroom by Sara Benincasa - The catchy title and lovely cover photo drew my attention to this book. I think it's funny that someone with her name was once housebound ("been in casa", get it?). Overall it's a pretty enjoyable memoir about a topic that isn't overdone (drug addiction memoirists, I'm looking at you). Funny and thoughtful. 5 stars

The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson - I read this during the pre-Cosmos media rush when Tyson seemed to be everywhere. This book is a clear and entertaining history of the former planet and the uproar surrounding its reclassification (FWIW I agree with Tyson about Pluto's demoted status). Now that Cosmos is on, I have a huge man-crush on this guy. 5 stars

Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception by Charles Seife - This book is about the power, misuse, and abuse of numerical data. I think there's too much about elections, clearly a personal interest of the author, but otherwise it's a good book. 4 stars


2014 Books, Part I

I haven't been motivated to blog since I officially gave up my half-assed writing career last fall. There are other factors, but that's the biggest. After a few months thinking about what the point of The Hum of Desperation is, I haven't come up with a good answer. But when in doubt, it's easiest to keep on keeping on. In that spirit, I shall plow through this huge stack of books I've read thus far in 2014. I will be brief, both because I lack the motivation to write more and because after a few months I've forgotten a lot about what I've read. In lieu of verbosity, I am going to add Amazon-style ratings. Dumbing it down is always in style. Anyway, I'll post by fours from the start of this year:

Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Music by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor - This book is incredible. My drummer friend Jeff recommended it, saying it changed how he looks at music. Later he added that it ruined rock criticism for him. I agree with both sentiments. Faking It looks at how artists and fans perceive authenticity, and whether it really matters. 5 stars

The Authenticity Hoax: Why the "Real" Things We Seek Don't Make Us Happy by Andrew Potter - This book talks about authenticity in many fields, and the bottom line is that authenticity is bullshit. This set off an existential crisis for me as a blogger, and it's another reason I haven't written much this year. 4 stars

Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein - I never took a philosophy class, so the subject is one of my weak areas. I found this book entertaining, but a few months later I haven't retained much from it. The jokes are more illustrative than hilarious. 4 stars

Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything by David Sirota - I liked listening to Sirota talk politics on Al Franken's Air America radio show a decade ago (complete with a theme song parodying the Knack, "My Sirota"), so I was inclined to like this book. The premise of Back to Our Future is okay, but I don't think Sirota was the guy to write it—he's too young, born in 1975. When he talks about the 1970s and 1980s, you know it's just stuff he read about, not stuff he lived through as an adult. 3 stars


Perhaps you wondered why I chose to write about four books per post instead of five. It's purely aesthetic: as you can see, the Amazon links only fit four to a row.