What I’ve been reading

Been a while since one of these.  And wow – looking back on what I’ve read that I haven’t written up, it’s hard to believe it’s been quite so long.  This list is not chronological: I couldn’t recall the order I read these if I tried.  And there might be some in here that I mentioned before – my record keeping leaves much to be desired.

Ebooks on the iPad:

- The Longest War by Peter Bergen.  A history of the War on Terror.  Bergen’s got an interesting point of view.  He believes that both sides on the War on Terror misplayed it terribly.  Al Qaeda made a terrible mistake when they thought that 9/11 would cause us to pull out of the Middle East, and further made even more mistakes when they used terror tactics against other Arabs.  We, on the other hand, did terribly when we responded to 9/11 by going into Iraq and torturing, etc.  In any event, this is an excellent history of the war which, curious, was published about a week before bin Laden was killed.  If only there were a follow-up…

- Man Hunt by Peter Bergen.  And here it is!  Bergen’s history of the hunt for bin Laden, covering where bin Laden went after 9/11, how we found him, and the raid that killed him.  Also excellent.  (Bergen, by the way, is one of the only western journalists who met bin Laden, having interviewed him for CNN in the late 90’s.)

- For the Win by Cory Doctorow.  What would happen if all the gold farmers in all the online RPG’s went on strike?  A fascinating book aimed at young adults in which Doctorow teaches a lot about globalization and economics in a terrific story.  Also, an interesting companion piece to Stephenson’s Reamde, which covers much of the same ground.

- Epigenetics by Richard Francis.  Epigenetics is the science that studies how one goes from a genetic code represented by DNA to create us.  Lots of interesting things in this book, much of which has personal relevance as it covers the ways in which twins can be vastly different in spite of sharing the same DNA.  Plus, some things about epigenetics made me think about the abortion issue in a new way.

- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  I first came across the science of cognitive biases, which studies the ways in which we typically make mistakes in our thinking, when I worked for a short while at a lab at George Washington University in the early 90’s.  That field was founded by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two psych researchers.  I found their work fascinating.  Now Kahneman, who since won a Nobel Prize for the work (Tversky did not share the prize as he had died some years before), has written a book about it.  It’s one of those books that is likely to change my life.  It covers how we often act irrationally, and is full of fascinating and disturbing facts.  For example: judges are more likely to give more lenient sentences and grant parole to prisoners whose cases they review soon after eating.  Which seems just wrong.  Anyway, strongly recommended.

- The Righeous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics, by Jonathan Haidt.  My son Andy recommended this one.  He knows Haidt, a psych professor at UVA.  It was a good recommendation.  This makes an interesting companion piece to the Kahneman book.  It covers the field of moral psychology, or how our minds determine what is right and wrong.  As such, it covers much of the same ground as Kahneman, discussing how irrationality affects our moral judgments.  Haidt’s view is that there are differences between how conservatives and liberals make moral choices, but both approaches have valid aspects and are valuable.  An interesting read.

- End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman.  I’ve been reading Krugman’s articles and blog posts on the economy for several years now, and I’m generally convinced by his point of view.  I enjoyed this book, but it does seem to be a bit over-simplified at some points, and a bit lacking in specifics of what our policies should be.

- Redshirts by John Scalzi.  An excellent idea – it looks at life on a ship much like the USS Enterprise from the perspective of the redshirted minions whose only purpose seems to be to die showing what the monsters do.  In execution, not as good.  The characters are largely cardboard, the plot not quite involved and twisty enough.  But fun anyway.

The Hunger Games Trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) by Suzanne Collins.  I really loved these.  The central character is fascinating both in her strengths and her flaws, the anti-war message is well presented, and the story itself is compelling.  These books have been a huge success, and they did not disappoint me.  (Note: while usually I use the iBooks interface on the iPad, I read these with the Kindle interface as they were not available for iBooks.  I much prefer the iBooks interface, which I find to be much more elegant.)

And Audiobooks:

- Bring up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel.  I loved Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which I listened to on Audibook a few years ago.  This is the sequel, and I loved it as much.  It’s the story of the trial of Anne Boleyn, from the perspective of her major persecutor, Thomas Cromwell.  Cromwell is a fascinating character as presented by Mantel, and her prose is a delight.  I can’t recommend these enough.

- Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.  Steampunk with zombies set in the Seattle underground.  Need I say more?  Fun stuff, not terribly profound, a nice way to while away the commuting hours.

–  Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff.  What a fascinating person was the Queen of the Nile!  A nice biography.  Special bonus for me: when Cleopatra took Julius Caesar on a tour of Egypt, they visited many of the sites that Julie and I visited last year.  It was exceedingly cool to see these sites from the perspective of Cleopatra.

D-Day by Antony Beevor.  A history of the D-Day invasion, the Normandy Campaign, and the liberation of Paris, all in WWII.  Good stuff.

- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.  Somehow I managed to never read this before.  I absolutely do not believe Card’s depiction of small children – had Ender started the book at 12 and not 6, I might have bought it, but not as it is.  Other than that, I enjoyed the book.

- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  Another one that I managed to not read before.  I liked it with a whole lot of caveats.  The violence against women did not make for good reading, and having a prickly young girl drop into bed with the first author-surrogate that she encounters was a bit much.

- Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  Yeah, I read this one before.  Nice little audio-book experience, though.

- 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  A nice little love story wrapped up in a time travel yarn.  The time travel stuff and the stalking of Lee Harvey Oswald droned on a bit, but the love story was nice.


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