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The Fallout: How a guilty liberal lost his innocence
The Fallout: How a guilty liberal lost his innocence

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The zeal of the recently converted, January 23, 2010
The subtitle of the book ("how a guilty liberal lost his innocence") gives the impression this is another of those "how liberals are destroying America" books you see in the best seller list on Amazon. The book is in fact the story of a mild mannered Englishman's journey from young idealistic socialist to middle aged, middle class pragmatist. The book also purports to be a serious look at race politics, culture politics, the politics of religion and the politics of left vs right. The writer is a journalist who writes for English newspapers.

The chapters dealing with the author's journey from left wing revolutionary to middle class respectability are written with honesty and humour and I found them immensely entertaining.

The book is written from a very English perspective about England. The problems and issues raised do not necessarily apply to other countries. Nevertheless I found the book interesting as an insight into the problems facing modern England. The author does not pretend to be a dispassionate observer, but writes as a participant with a strong interest in the issues discussed.

As a study of social issues the book is mostly well written pulp. The cynic in me wonders if the topics of the book were cherry picked by the author to drive book sales. Let's see... political correctness, 9/11, Islam. It's all there.

The book largely consists of a long series of straw man arguments. The author will present an example of liberals doing or saying something horrendously stupid (although one wonders if there is another side to each of these anecdotes) and presents this as proof that all liberals are well meaning idiots. Unfortunately it takes more than a series of cleverly chosen anecdotes to destroy a whole ideology. Especially one as vaguely defined as "liberalism".

Basically the author has swapped one set of black and white beliefs ("America is the greatest threat to world peace") for another ("Muslims and the political correctness that allows it to thrive is the greatest threat to Britain)". As always, the truth is somewhere in between, but you wouldn't sell many books by saying that would you?
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 29, 2010 5:24 PM PST

The World Without Us
The World Without Us
by Alan Weisman
Edition: Hardcover
493 used & new from $0.01

150 of 170 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been better, November 13, 2007
This review is from: The World Without Us (Hardcover)
I've always found this topic interesting, so when I heard that this book was coming out I rang the bookshop straight away and reserved a copy. Finding old ruins or remains in the bush fascinates me; an old fence running straight through thick scrub, or an abandoned railway cutting with trees growing through it. "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" After finishing the book though, I can't say I would go out of my way to recommend it. It's not bad.. just disappointing. The topic holds a lot of promise; this book just doesn't deliver.

The foundations are all there; the topic is novel and the amount of research the author has done and the creative thinking used should have provided more than enough material for an interesting book.

I think the problem is with the writing. The approach taken is very similar to that seen in Jared Diamond's books; in each chapter, introduce a different place in the world, discuss it's specific situation or history, then draw out a more general conclusion from the more specific situation. It's worked for Jared Diamond, but it doesn't work here. The problem is that in many chapters the author does too good a job of concealing what general point he is trying to make; several times I found myself thinking "This is a moderately interesting story... but what does it have to do with the topic of the book?" After finishing some chapters I found I still wasn't sure!

The writing style also grates. He uses a kind of journalistic, "reporter on the scene" approach. "Jim swivelled clockwise in his chair, as he revealed the true reason behind the drop in pH in the pacific's coral atolls!". There is a perplexing amount of fluff regarding scientist's hairstyles, what they're wearing, where they went to school and other filler. I guess the idea is to do the "popular science" "let's make science relevant to the common man" thing; by fleshing out the otherwise faceless scientists with details of their lives and personalities. Boring. If the science itself isn't interesting, don't expect the scientists to make up for it!

I also thought there could have been a lot more science in this book. There is a fair bit, but it's often just mentioned in passing and not explained in any detail. With the general style of the book, I guess maybe they didn't want to make it too "technical". The end result is that unless you have a fairly broad scientific education (I do) you are going to struggle to understand any of the brief explanations for phenomena described in the book. I often found myself wishing for a whole extra paragraph of explanation on the scientific aspects.

Instead we get more of a focus on philosophy, big picture musings and what I would call "poetic" writing. It didn't work for me.

There is also two quite different themes dealt with by this book: what will happen to our civilisation's artefacts (buildings, monuments, waste etc) after we are gone, and what will happen to the natural world after we are gone. Switching between the two gives a lack of focus.

I do hope Weisman writes more books. Writing style can always be improved (just write more books!), but imagination and insight can't be fashioned so easily. The author is an imaginative thinker, and reading more from him would be interesting.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2013 7:46 AM PST

PalmOne Treo 650 Unlocked Phone with MP3/Video Player, and SD/MMC--U.S. Version with Warranty (Silver)
PalmOne Treo 650 Unlocked Phone with MP3/Video Player, and SD/MMC--U.S. Version with Warranty (Silver)

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! But not out of the box., March 14, 2007
I wanted a device that could be used as a

PDA (TODOs, Calendar, Note Taker)

Music Player while commuting


roughly in that order of importance. I've used this device every day for 2 months now, and after a bit of tweaking, I've found the Treo to be a brilliant device that does all of these things and more.

One word of warning. The Treo 650 is *not* a usable device out of the box. It requires configuration changes and installation of 3rd party applications before it becomes usable. Add $50 to the cost of the phone for the extra software and gadgetry you will need to buy to make this thing work.

Phone: Works great after you 1) Buy "VolumeCare" so you can actually hear the person you are talking to and 2) Switch off the touchscreen while using the phone so you don't keep hanging up the phone with your ear! I only use the phone a few times a day and am not a power user but I actually find it a better phone than the Nokia I used to have.

Music Player: The Treo 650 is a good, but not a *great* music player. It's OK, but if you are a music freak who listens to music everywhere they go you will want something better than this. For me it's great for listening for 5 minutes while I'm waiting for the bus or whatever.

You will need to buy an application called "pTunes"; the music player that comes with the Treo is *very* basic. The headphone jack is the wrong size, so you will need to buy a convertor. There is some kind of problem with the jack that makes it crackel every now and then. Little annoyances like that. You will also have to buy an SD card to store your music.

PDA: The first PDA I've owned, and it works great for me. It's also great for GTD (Getting Things Done). I'm much more on the ball now my calendar and next actions are in my pocket everywhere I go.

As you can see, the Treo 650 requires some effort on the part of the user. If you are looking for something that "just works", or you are ultra busy and can't afford the time to sit down and get it working, then this is not the phone for you.

On the flip side, this is also the strength of the Treo. *Every* problem you encounter has been fixed by someone somewhere. Don't like the calendar that comes with the Treo? Download and install a different one. Music player no good? Install a better one. It's awesome. Every other gadget I have has flaws I wish could be fixed, but the only way is to buy a new device. Not so with the Treo.

One more thing. My Treo is extremely stable and I've never had a problem with it crashing (except for some 3rd party apps I've tried). The newer firmware has fixed all the previous problems with stability.

If you use Linux (like I do), you'll find it integrates seamlessly with the Treo. Using KPilot, all my contacts and calendar are now available on my laptop as well as the Treo. Handy.

The Treo is bigger than your usual mobile phone, but is still small enough to easily carry around in your pocket (it's about half the size of my wallet for example).

Highly recommended.

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why
by Laurence Gonzales
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.25
300 used & new from $0.01

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very good, February 7, 2007
I bought this book without hesitation; it sounded so interesting! I found after several attempts I just couldn't read it, it was that irritating. A typical page consists of various quotes from other writers (just to show the author knows what he is talking about) and then another reminder (in case we'd missed it the first few hundred times) of what separates "survivors" from the rest of us. Apparently it's psychology.

The author also likes to inject himself straight into the centre of the story. Which can be risky if you aren't particularly likable. Other writers (e.g. Krakauer, who this guy is presumably striving to emulate) know when to stay in the background and let the stories do the talking.

Not recommended.

The Wages of Destruction The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy
The Wages of Destruction The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy
by Adam Tooze
Edition: Hardcover
11 used & new from $14.13

82 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, November 10, 2006
I studied this exact topic (Veimar Germany, the rise of Hitler and then WWII) in high school and have since read extensively on WWII. I would have said I knew most of what there was to know about the subject. Very soon into this book, I realised I was mistaken. "Wages of Destruction" is a real eye opener, and makes for a far more coherent story than you may have seen in TV documentaries or been taught in school.

One thing that bothered me in the usual telling of the WWII story is the motivation behind Germany's aggressive actions, which in the traditional telling of the story begins and ends with "because Hitler was insane". This is a great attempt to look at the 20th century from a German perspective and to explain the strategic logic behind many of Germany's actions during the period; the invasion of France, the treaty with the Soviets, Barbarossa, the concentration camps. All take on a different light when viewed through the lense of grand economic strategy.

The writing is absolutely top notch; fluid and imminently readable. And despite the often dry subject matter, I found I truly couldn't put this book down. There are some dull passages on fiscal policy, and on the personal politics of some of the Nazis, but these often lead on to a hard hitting conclusion.

The author seems a bit too keen to "shatter myths", which grates after a while. Sometimes it felt like you were intruding into a private argument between the author and some other history professor. Struggle on through these passages and you will find a thrilling story.

There are few books I would call essential reading on WWII. This book is one of them. "The Forgotten Soldier" is perhaps another.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2007 9:48 AM PDT

Fatal Storm: The Inside Story of the Tragic Sydney-Hobart Race
Fatal Storm: The Inside Story of the Tragic Sydney-Hobart Race
by Robert Mundle
Edition: Paperback
133 used & new from $0.01

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read, July 4, 2006
This is such a riveting story that it would be hard to write a bad book about it. Mundle is a fine writer, and the book is easy to read and a real page turner.

As a story teller though, he could use some improvement. For example, one of the yachts is capsized by a giant wave and a man thrown overboard. What happens to him? Will he drown in the stormy waters of Bass Straight? Or is he rescued? We turn the page to find... a quote from the man in question describing what was going through his head as he fell from the yacht. So he lives! Full marks for thorough research, zero for sustaining the tension of the story.

Another caveat for non boating readers. Mundle makes no attempt to explain any of the yachting jargon used throughout the book, so if you are a non boating person like myself, I would recommend reading with a copy of Wikipedia or the full Oxford dictionary by your side so you can understand terms like storm sail, jib, cockpit and many others that are used throughout the book. This will enhance your enjoyment of the book no end.

All in all a great read.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
by Jon Krakauer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.27
1025 used & new from $0.01

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended, June 15, 2006
Another gripping and thought provoking pageturner from Krakauer. This book is as well written and thoroughly researched as his previous classics "Into Thin Air" and "Into the Wild". Krakauer has become one of my all time favourite writers.

The War with Japan: The Period of Balance, May 1942-October 1943 (Total War Series No. 1)
The War with Japan: The Period of Balance, May 1942-October 1943 (Total War Series No. 1)
by H. P. Willmott
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.95
42 used & new from $10.46

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Badly needs editing., February 6, 2006
I am new to this subject (the Pacific War) and as far as I can tell Willmot knows his stuff. If you already know the story of the pacific war and are looking for some intelligent analysis then this is the book for you. The details of tactics and individual battles are largely skipped over in favour of strategic analysis. If you are new to the subject and just want a recounting of the basic story then I am sure there are many better books out there.

The problem with this book is the writing; Willmot is NOT a good writer and really could have used a ghost writer or at least an editor to make this a more enjoyable read. Sentences are long and disjointed, the story is hard to follow and jumps all over the place and I found myself reading entire paragraphs over and over again. And if you want to read exciting accounts of pivotal battles, go elsewhere: the author has an annoying habit of spoiling the suspense by telling you the *outcome* of each battle *before* the actual story! It doesn't lead to rivetting reading.

Having said that I did battle through and read the whole book. The strategic story is told very well, and the discussions about the strategy and the "bigger picture" are very interesting. It would be great to read a second edition of this book, with the writing improved.

Java¿ Platform Performance: Strategies and Tactics
Java¿ Platform Performance: Strategies and Tactics
by Steve Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $36.27
60 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Saved me a couple of times, October 19, 2005
OK, so my initial impression of this book was similar to many others. It seemed thin and only provided a shallow treatment of the topic. After reading it I put it back on the shelf.

Having said that, the couple of times I have hit a brick wall with performance problems that I couldn't solve with my own experience and skill, I have reached for this book and found an immediate and effective solution. You can't ask for more than that.

If you are rewriting the Quake engine in Java, you will definitely need a book that covers the subject in more depth. If you are like me and only have the occasional need for performance tuning,this book may be all you need.

War in 2080: The Future of Military Technology
War in 2080: The Future of Military Technology
by David Langford
Edition: Hardcover
14 used & new from $4.71

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poorly written, September 28, 2005
The Pros:

The author is a physicist, and so provides a solid analysis of the physical possibilities of tomorrow's wars.

The cons:

The author is a physicist, and can't write his way out of a paper bag.

There is some interesting material in here, but the painful writing style makes it hardly worth the effort. Frequent digressions and asides (like this one!) make the text difficult to follow. Key points are skipped over while others that to me seem obvious are covered in excessive detail.

Worse, I think, is that the analysis is just not very imaginative or insightful. The technological possibilities are explored adequately, but the political consequences of those possibilites are handled clumsily, if at all.

I found this book frustrating. The author obviously knows his stuff, and I kept thinking "this SHOULD be interesting".

But it's not.

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