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algo41 "algo41" RSS Feed (philadelphia, pa United States)

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by Susanna Kaysen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.23
81 used & new from $8.84

4.0 out of 5 stars section entitled “Greece” could stand alone as a five star novella., July 9, 2014
This review is from: Cambridge (Hardcover)
“Cambridge” is a semi-autobiographical novel covering Kaysen’s childhood years of 7-11. It foreshadows the teenage years when Kaysen was institutionalized for 2 years, but does not make those years seem inevitable. Kaysen’s mother and to a lesser extent her father are important characters; Susanna herself is marked by her aesthetic sensitivities, and her humanity. While her mother could have been more empathetic, and her father more involved, they still come across as very good parents. Both parents are interesting as are various secondary characters - this was a family which led an interesting life. I increasingly enjoyed the book as Susanna aged; the section entitled “Greece” could stand alone as a five star novella.

The following passage from “Greece” is a wonderful appreciation of what ruins can mean to travelers; it refers to the Acropolis and specifically the Parthenon just after a hot climb to the top. “A moment when the world unfolds: few of those, in life. Everything peeled back. I could hear it rolling away. This was the skeleton of humanity I was seeing, this colonnaded marble spine. And after the hiss of the shivering unrolling there was silence. It was an uncanny silence, indifferent and detached. Thousands of years of quiet floated in the hot, bright air.” Remember, this was 1955, not what the Acropolis may be like now.

Frog Music: A Novel
Frog Music: A Novel
by Emma Donoghue
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.30
110 used & new from $6.09

3.0 out of 5 stars I have to question the story she built the novel around, July 3, 2014
This review is from: Frog Music: A Novel (Hardcover)
I respect the amount of research Donoghue did for this novel, and more importantly her ability to make her novel interesting enough to keep the reader involved. I have to question the story she built the novel around, which is not very rewarding. Most of the energy in the novel comes from Jenny Bonett, but Donoghue chose not to focus more of the action on her, or to even probe too deeply and imaginatively into her personality. Instead, Donoghue employs such literary devices as shifting back in forth in time, and slowly allowing the facts about Jenny's life to emerge. These devices supplement her literary talents: Donoghue is particularly good at constructing scenes and dialogue; looking her up on Amazon I see that she also writes plays. In the end, though, this is not a very compelling piece of historical fiction.

One sentence I enjoyed: "The heat's a rug hanging in Blanche's face, and with each loud breath, she pushes it away."

The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law
The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law
by Ward Farnsworth
Edition: Paperback
Price: $23.32
68 used & new from $13.24

4.0 out of 5 stars Not totally satisfactory, but that is primarily due to the law, not the author, June 27, 2014
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Farnsworth is very bright, with an active inquiring mind. In "The Legal Analyst" he explains legal principles, both as they are and as they might ideally be. He uses a discursive style, but organized by devoting each chapter to a different principle. The law is difficult and principles are inconsistently applied, not to mention that law varies by state. Often, the principles Farnsworth discusses are not used explicitly, but may underlay the decision making of judges even if they do not realize it. This all makes for a not totally satisfactory read, although if you love logical arguments you will love this book. I found that I most enjoyed the concrete cases, and discussion of the more widely and explicitly accepted legal principles. I had already been exposed to the psychological basis of decision making, such as anchoring and framing, but if you have not those chapters might be of particular interest.

Consider the case where a cow manages to reach a road, causing an auto accident. One legal ideal is maxium efficiency; i.e. reducing the burden on the legal system including the resources of litigants as well as judges. The idea of efficiency is one basis for statutes of limitations, even when their application can lead to injustice in the colloquial meaning of the word. One might therefore conclude that the rancher should always be held liable for the cow/car accident. However, there is another principle that a person like the rancher is not liable if he/she takes all the precautions that are reasonable, so the accident apparently still can go to trial on that basis. An interesting example of statute of limitations, not cited in the book, is a recent decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court that a group of homeowners in North Carolina can't sue a company that contaminated their drinking water because a state deadline has lapsed - even if residents did not realize their water was polluted until years later.

Suppose a piece of art is stolen. No matter how many times it is resold, the original owner can still claim ownership. Now suppose the original owner loses the art work due to fraud instead of outright theft. If a subsequent buyer purchases the item in good faith, and not at some huge bargain price, the purchaser maintains ownership. The justification is that the original owner should have been more careful but he/she cannot try to prove due diligence as a basis of reclaiming the painting. This is the type of concrete, consistent decision making I found most satisfactory.

Conversely, suppose a photo processor promises to take your old photos, which mean a lot to you, and make them computer readable, but loses the photos instead. Regardless of efficiency, and disclaimers in the processor's literature, you can claim compensation above the minimal value of what it costs to produce a photo; but how much should you be compensated? There are various ideas that Farnsworth puts forward for computing the value, but in fact there may be great discrepancy in what is awarded and only ambiguous guidance; in one case the award was $7,500. For maximum efficiency, I would have though the customer should have been given the opportunity to purchase insurance against loss and that would be the only recourse.

The Sleeping Dictionary
The Sleeping Dictionary
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $11.66

4.0 out of 5 stars well told historical novel, June 24, 2014
“The Sleeping Dictionary” is a well told historical novel. Sujata is no prose stylist, but she does not attempt to be. It takes a combination of great luck as well as great personal abilities for the narrator to progress from peasant child to successful woman, but no single instance of luck is implausible. The characters are realistic, and there is no false romanticism, although at times it seems like that is where the novel is heading. Important political events are reflected in the lives of the characters, but more important is the social fabric of India from the 1920’s until independence.

Lucky Us
Lucky Us
Price: $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars My appreciation of this novel varied greatly from chapter to chapter, June 15, 2014
This review is from: Lucky Us (Kindle Edition)
My appreciation of this novel varied greatly from chapter to chapter. At times I got tired of Elisa’s accounts of her sex life, thinking to myself I’d rather re-read Jay McInerney’s “Story of My Life”, which was enlivened by its humor. Gabe’s account of his life as a drug dealer was readable, but I found it uninspired and perhaps even contrived. Having said all that, “Lucky Us” is a moving love story and Gabe and Elisa are characters who resonate. Elisa’s ability to see herself honestly, and her sort of self confidence win the reader over. How can you not enjoy a character such as Gabe who gets so much out of reading, and serving in a soup kitchen? It is a love story of two people whose relationship would probably have not survived if not for circumstances, yet who have a deep connection never-the-less.

by Tom Drury
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.20
42 used & new from $6.62

3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as Drury's "End of Vandalism", June 9, 2014
This review is from: Pacific (Paperback)
“Pacific” is the 3rd book in a trilogy (will there be a fourth?). I read the first, “End of Vandalism”, and I did not like “Pacific” nearly so much. “Pacific” relies more on subplots than on character to maintain interest, and Drury had to go to greater lengths to make the subplots interesting. “End of Vandalism” was a quieter, more satisfying novel. I did appreciate a sentence on “Pacific’s” book jacket: Drury’s characters “reveal our infinite capacity to get in and out of trouble in unexpected ways and still find a semblance of peace at the end.” In “Pacific” the characters go to even greater lengths than in “End of Vandalism” to get into trouble.

Jerusalem the Golden
Jerusalem the Golden
by Margaret Drabble
Edition: Paperback
91 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not very enjoyable, June 4, 2014
This review is from: Jerusalem the Golden (Paperback)
This is not a very enjoyable novel. It is almost entirely focused on a character, Clara, who says “there is no love in me”. Nor does she feel any joy until the penultimate chapter. At first she is sympathetic as she tries to escape a loveless home, but as things start to go well for her and there is no change in her dour outlook, I began to lose patience. Not only is there no love in her, there is not much warmth. She attracts the friendship of a very warm, gifted woman, Clelia, and I have to wonder how; presumably Clelia is responding to the hunger in Clara for what she represents. Clelia and her family are an almost idealized counterpoint to Clara’s own family as regards culture and taste as well as warmth. It was interesting that, in a book written back in 1967, Clelia’s brother speculates that all “this affectionate, uncritical encouragement …..can’t be right”.

There are passages in this novel that did not make sense to me. SPOILER ALERT. In particular, when Clara leaves Gabriel oversleeping in their hotel room, “I am not leaving him because I don’t want him, but because I do…..For to renounce is to value.” For a different character this might make sense, but in fact Clara is ready to move on, and their relationship, on BOTH sides, is built on attraction, but not love. Clara says he will know why she left and leaves no note, but in fact he turns out to be completely confused.

The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic
The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic
Price: $12.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been even shorter, May 28, 2014
My feeling is that Rottenberg could have said what he had to say in an even shorter book, but perhaps the repetition and the criticism of the "defect models" helps get the points across to some audiences. The evolutionary emphasis, cf. the subtitle, while of some limited value, and interesting, seems more a marketing hook than anything else as it leads to no conclusions that could not be obtained without it.

Depression is difficult to combat, and all of the treatment modalities have had some but inconsistent success: drugs, cognitive therapy of several kinds, change in lifestyle to incorporate better diet and more exercise, even more natural light. Not mentioned is electric shock treatment in its modern form, but I have a friend for whom it has done quite a lot without apparently bad side effects (initially it affected short term memory). For some people some degree of depression may be necessary before they can let go of unobtainable goals. Certainly it is important to destigmatize depression.

Animals can suffer from depression, and benefit from anti-depressants. Rottenberg accepts that depression has a genetic component, and I trust his scholarship as well as scientific insight. To the extent that people more subject to bad moods, caution and pessimism can survive better in some situations one can understand the evolutionary basis. Optimism and good spirits can sometimes be dangerous! In a famine, depression like suppression of activity may prolong life, but here Rottenberg may be reaching, as in his suggestion that a bear giving up on a poor fishing spot relates in any way to depression.

Loss of one kind or another is a major trigger for depression, and bereavement is a prime example, with the resulting depression not clinically distinguishable from depression due to other types of loss. Mood is complex, and when humans try to understand their moods they may over analyze and fall into the rumination trap where the analysis becomes counter-productive. It is good to "listen to mood", but not to obsess over it - the corollary is that happiness can be a guide (Rottenberg does not make this point), but too much concern with it can also be counter-productive.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2014 6:55 PM PDT

The Garrick Year
The Garrick Year
Price: $9.39

4.0 out of 5 stars the novel has its humor, May 25, 2014
This review is from: The Garrick Year (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed “The Garrick Year”, but there were sentences and paragraphs in this novel that made no sense to me, even after careful rereading and occasional Googling of English definitions. I did not have this experience in reading Drabble’s “Radiant Way” trilogy. Some of the scenes did not make much sense to me either. In one Emma is nibbling on David’s fingers, she tells him he is “the best”, and his response is to tighten his grasp on her knuckles until it hurts, and says he only gets anywhere (physical) with her by force, he has had “two children by force”. There is no intimation of physical abuse between the couple anywhere else in the novel.

If this were an American novel, I would say Emma was more a woman of the fifties than the sixties. She is a risk taker, competent and self confident, bright and creative in her own way, but does not identify women with careers, although she is upset about having to give up a job as a newscaster which she gets through connections. The novel at the end is a paean to motherhood, but it is hardly Emma’s goal in life to be a homemaker. Style and excitement is what inspire her.

The novel has its humor. There is the 2 year old carefully eating her peas one at a time. There is Emma and David’s marriage, in which they each secretly read all the other’s mail, but are not particularly jealous. There is the scene between Emma and Wyndham(SPOILER ALERT): Emma bewails that she can’t go through with the affair, but what else is there in her life; Wyndham says she can start having affairs in 15 years when the children are grown; Emma responds “But I’ll be so old.”

Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius
Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius
by Sylvia Nasar
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.18
127 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly interesting, May 23, 2014
There are some beautifully written, informative chapters in this book: the introduction, the chapter on Marshall and the chapter on the Webbs. At her best, Nasar integrates developments in economic thought with their social and political contexts and with biographical information. Most of the time "Grand Pursuit" is interesting even when it is not as clear or well organized as it might be. There was too much detail about Keyne's personal frustrations in trying to shape the post WWI peace; I am not sure why Joan Robinson was included, given how badly she comes off, or why Stalinist suborning of Western intellectuals is important for the story of economics.

Economics seems to lie somewhere between history and psychology in terms of what kind of science it is. Nasar quotes Robert Solow, a Nobel Prize winner: "The questions keep changing and the answers to even old questions keep changing as society evolves. That doesn't mean we don't know quite a bit that is useful, at any given moment". Had Nasar built her narration more explicitly around this idea, I think things would have been clearer.

One of the important developments in economics was the justification for deficit spending developed by Keynes and others in the 1930's (cf. "A General theory of Employment, Interest and Money"). Surprisingly, prior to the 1930's, Keynes was a monetarist. Lloyd George campaigned on deficit spending in 1929, and earlier Winston Churchill and Beatrice Webb had been advocates, but there was no rigorous defense of the idea before the Keynsians.

Nasar makes two questionable statements: "that democracy and well being go hand in hand is now conventional wisdom", but in fact to date China is far outpacing India; "between 1940 and 1941 consumer prices jumped 5 percent .....While hardly scary by present standards....." - it would be quite scary for many people if that happened in the US or Europe today.

I found the biographical detail on the post WWII economists to be lacking in color. I recently heard Anatya Sen speak, and he is a man with a good sense of humor who was proud that he planned a long journey to his village in India to vote (in the election Modi won), eat lunch, and immediately journey home again.

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