Category Archives: Reviews

Monthly book roundup – 2018 March

Books finished in March:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials (2017) by Malcolm Harris. Argues that today’s adolescents and young adults spend too much time and effort on homework and building a resumé in order to get into college and get a job, and then only obtain precarious employment when eventually in the labor market. These are valid concerns for at least some young people today, however, the book’s hysterical tone, over-generalizations and lack of nuance do not do the author, nor the understanding of and thinking about solutions for these challenges any favors. Not recommended.

Ratings and previous books are in the library.

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Monthly book roundup – 2018 February

Books finished in February:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

The Years of Rice and Salt (2015) by Kim Stanley Robinson. People being reincarnated between different “realms” in an alternate history novel. Perhaps I could have worked more on this book, but I am not such a fan of these things, so I put it down quite quickly.

Nutshell (2016) by Ian McEwan. Love triangle. I did not relate to the characters, who could have done with a more even distribution of sympathetic traits. The plot with a fetus as storyteller was mostly weird. Did not finish.

Ratings and previous books are in the library.

Monthly book roundup – 2018 January

Books finished in January:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: A Novel (2017) by Nicole Galland and Neal Stephenson. It takes a lot to get stories of time travels to work, and this book does not make it. Too much that is not realistic and indeed fantasylike in my opinion. I quit it about halfway through. Not one of Stephenson’s best.

Ratings and previous books are in the library.

Monthly book roundup – 2017 December

Books finished in December:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Tenth of December: Stories (2013) by George Saunders. Short stories. The most memorable one is The Semplica-Girl Diaries, a tragicomic story of a short-sighted couple making a mess of things also published in the New Yorker. Key ingredients of that story are the eponymous (human) Semplica-girls. Funny and serious. Recommended.

Ratings and previous books are in the library.

Monthly book roundup – 2017 November

Books finished in November:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Beast: Blood, Struggle, and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts (2015) by Doug Merlino. We follow the training and fights of four mixed martial artists from American Top Team, an elite  MMA gym, for two years. The four athletes are from different backgrounds and at different stages in their careers: “Mirsad Bektic, a young Bosnian refugee who started in karate as a boy in Nebraska, dreams of stardom. Jeff Monson, a battered veteran at forty-one, is an outspoken, tattooed anarchist enjoying a bizarre burst of celebrity in Russia. Steve Mocco is a newcomer–a former Olympic wrestler from a close-knit intellectual family. Finally there’s Daniel Straus, who, from a life short on opportunity, fights his way up to title contention.” They also embody different training and general lifestyles, with the veteran Monson being the most colorful character. He is also a tragic one, continually taking new fights and not accepting that his body, at 41, has started to decline. The book gives a good view of how varying the MMA scene and its practitioners are, and of the dangers of their profession. It is also clear on how demanding, like many other sports at the elite level, this profession is, something that is underlined by the title, where the word “Beast” is probably used somewhat ironically, ref. this paragraph towards the end: “The fighters, the good ones, knew that for all the strength they might have one day, the advantage may shift to their opponent the next time. These were men who trained six days a week, for years, to reach where they were. They had family and friends behind them, a team, a coaching staff-even, in the case of American Top Team, a financial benefactor. No one was really a beast. There were no superhuman powers. Everything was training, preparation, will, discipline, controlled aggression at the right moment. And ultimately, the making of champions happened in the quieter moments. It wasn’t just how hard you could punch, kick, or strangle someone, but how much you could sit with your fear and uncertainty and still keep going.” Recommended.

Ratings and previous books are in the library.

Monthly book roundup – 2017 October

Books finished in October:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro. Very good about nontraditional forms of humans from the recent Nobel prize recipient. Ishiguro treats abstract questions about the human condition and what should count as humans in this appealing novel mostly set in the English boarding school Hailsham. Recommended.

Part Reptile: UFC, MMA and Me (2017) by Dan Hardy. For die-hard Dan Hardy or UFC fans, this book is a must-read. For others it is more mixed. It offers a fine portrait of a hard-working mixed martial artist with a varied upbringing and background not afraid to speak his mind, and a view into the mma scene in the UK and the US. However, for someone without a special interest, the material is probably not rich enough for the book to avoid becoming repetitious and too long. Recommended for the fans.

iGen: The 10 Trends Shaping Today’s Young People – and the Nation (2017) by Jean M. Twenge. Twenge, a psychologist, has written an exemplary social science book – mainly based on large amounts of quantitative (survey) data, and illustrated by and supplemented with information from interviews. (So she could be forgiven the occasional reference to Roy Baumeister, who made a fool of himself in the debate around the replication crisis in psychology.) She is also commendably careful when discussing causality, something that is very far from the norm in popular social science writing. Recommended.

The book is about iGen – the generation born after 1995, who is the first to have had access to smartphones their whole adolescence. Twenge thinks that has been mostly negative, leading to time away from in-person socializing, intense social comparisons via social media, too much weight on appearance and an unhealthy focus on sexy or even nude pictures from a very young age, and sleep loss and mental health issues. It is hard to disagree. Other characteristics of iGen is that they seem to grow up slower than before, reaching several adult milestones like having a job, getting a driver’s license, sex, alcohol, marrying, getting children, years later than earlier generations; a perverse occupation with safety and not offending anyone, leading to extreme willingness to censor unpopular views; concerns about economic insecurity; very high tolerance with regards to LGBT, gender and race issues.

Ratings and previous books are in the library.

Monthly book roundup – 2017 September

Books finished in September:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We like to Watch (2015) by Jonathan Gottschall. Unfit professor of literature in his late 30’s starts MMA training, goes a proper fight in the end. A very simple plot, but it works. Gottschall is prone to overgeneralizations, but that does not concern the essence of the book. The book is a good introduction to MMA for people who do not know much about it. Recommended.

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (2017) by Ben Sasse. Sasse, a Republican Senator in the US, is concerned about the state of the nation’s young. Especially that they are not driven and independent enough, but expect everything handed to them. He recognizes that people have always had such concerns, and emphasizes that today is different. I am not so sure it is, but that is not important, as any time needs to find its own answers anyway. He advocates for the important role parents have in fostering a work ethic and a broad intellectual outlook in their offspring – with which it is hard to disagree – but ducks the question of what to do for all those whose parents shirk this responsibility. Overall the book has too much generalization, e.g. about “the young” or “the past,” idolizes the past too much, and places far too much weight on old institutions like religion and marriage. Overall, this review ended up sounding more negative than I intended, perhaps because it gets worse towards the end, so let me be clear that there is good material there as well, and even if the virtues he writes about at times feel like motherhood and apple pie, it may be that they are worth re-emphasizing today.
Ratings and previous books are in the library.