Reviewing books I haven’t read as yet: Part 2

(Continued from my post yesterday, where I was listing the books I have stashed away to read during the Christmas break, giving reasons where appropriate or relevant).

8. Halting State: Charles Stross. Recommended to me by Kevin Marks as we wandered around Borders on Union Square with Chris Messina, before having dinner at Asia de Cuba with Tara Hunt, Dave Morin, Brittany Bohnet et al a few weeks ago. I’d enjoyed Glasshouse, so I took up Kevin’s recommendation. Unusually, it was also recommended by BT colleague Bruce Schneier, something I don’t see that often. Reader Chris Swan has now recommended Accelerando on the back of my previous post, so I have a few more books to find and devour.

9. The Scientist As Rebel: Freeman Dyson. I’ve dabbled into Freeman Dyson’s writings for quite a while; if anything, I became even more of a fan when I met him at Esther’s inaugural Flight School some years ago, I think it was 2005. [An aside. I haven’t missed a Flight School yet, and don’t intend to miss one either. Fascinating conference.] More recently, having read A Many-Colored Glass, I decided to read the rest of his oeuvre. The Scientist As Rebel is the start of that process. It is a collection of essays, some that I’ve read, some that I haven’t even heard of. The eponymous Scientist As A Rebel is always worth another read. I’m also looking forward to reading Can Science Be Ethical? and the “Bernal” essay The World, The Flesh, And the Devil. When I riffled through the book before buying it (yes I do buy many books the old-fashioned way, loitering with intent in a bookshop), I found this quotation quite uplifting:

What does labour want?

We want more schoolhouses and less jails,

More books and less guns,

More learning and less vice,

More leisure and less greed,

More justice and less revenge,

We want more opportunities to cultivate our better nature.

Samuel Gompers, founder, AFL

10. Eating India: Chitrita Banerji: I’d first come across Chitrita in a Granta issue on Food over a decade ago. I liked what I saw, resolved to look out for her books, and then……nothing. I just plain forgot. One of those things. It should have been a no-brainer for me: she’s from Calcutta, writes about Bengali food, writes well. And then, when I was lazily walking around the MIT Coop a few months ago, I saw this book, bought it immediately, and then set it aside for Christmas. It’s unusual to be able to salivate while looking forward to reading a book.

11. The Center Cannot Hold: Elyn R. Saks When I was younger I would have refused to pick this book up, on the basis that “center” was misspelt and that Yeats would not have liked it. More fool me, the folly of youth. I’m a sucker for books that have to do with that strange space where intelligence and wisdom meet (and conquer) repeated adversity, where persistence and patience are called for in vast quantities in order to overcome great odds. Professor Saks’ book promises all this and more, so I’m really looking forward to it. Andrew Solomon, one of the reviewers quoted on the back cover, has this to say:

In The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks describes with precision and passion the tribulations of living with schizophrenia, and conjures up in explicit detail a world that has gone unseen for far too long. In narrating her own capacity for success in the face of the illness, she holds out a beacon of hope for those who suffer with psychosis.

12. Scared to Death: Booker and North I can’t remember who recommended this book to me, it was very recent and I ordered it straightaway.

I quote from the Amazon synopsis: This book for the first time tells the inside story of each of the major scares of the past two decades, showing how they have followed a remarkably consistent pattern.It analyses the crucial role played in each case by scientists who have misread or manipulated the evidence; by the media and lobbyists who eagerly promote the scare without regard to the facts; and finally by the politicians and officials who come up with an absurdly disproportionate response, leaving us all to pay a colossal price, which may run into billions or even hundreds of billions of pounds.

Individually, it is possible for us to take extreme “sides” on many of these debates over the years; not surprisingly, we have done so; in most cases, it is no longer possible for us to debate the issues dispassionately. As a result, I guess I’ve withdrawn from taking part in such debates; instead, I concentrate on trying to figure out how the “system” works, how information can be corrupted, how that corrupt information is used to acquire funding, how the whole Emperor’s New Clothes thing is then played out, how the media is manipulated and manipulates, how it all ends with unheard whimpers.

You know what? The system described above is not just about world-changing causes, it exists in many large organisations. For issue or cause read project, for media read powerpoint, for scientist read consultant. So of course I am interested in understanding the system.

13. The Transparent Society: David Brin. I’ve read quite a lot of Brin over the years; for some reason I’d never read his nonfiction. The book may be a decade old, but the theme remains very current to me: as information technology evolves, will we be faced with an increasing need for trading away privacy for freedom? What does that trade-off really mean for people who have neither privacy nor freedom? That to me is the real question, and I am told Brin tries to answer it. So I look forward to finding out.

Well, there you have it. I’ve wanted to try something like this for a long time, write a book review with a difference. Review what I intend to read rather than what I have read. Share the rationale behind that intent. Look for opinion and comment as a result.

I’ve no idea how I’ve done with it, this is just a two-part experiment. Your comments will let me know if I should venture forth with shared intent again.

5 thoughts on “Reviewing books I haven’t read as yet: Part 2”

  1. I’ve made a bit of progress on Brin’s Transparent Society and highly recommend it. Some of the issues are blasé now, but were obviously pretty forward looking during the time of writing.

    This stuff is only going to get more urgent, and I really don’t think we have yet discovered the words or means of expressing what’s coming — and how to best prepare people for literal total information awareness….

  2. Thanks for the observations, Chris. I am fascinated by the issue, and, like you, believe that it is already getting more and more demanding.

  3. Well, you’ve taken a more book-by-book approach to your reading list whereas I’ve attempted to group mine by major categories

    I think your way conveys more of the pleasant anticipation of a book unread, whereas mine makes it look like a chore, a list to plough through.

    There’s no overlap between our lists – maybe when I’ve got through all the books I should have read then I can turn to books I personally want to read and it will be a more meaningful comparison.

  4. :-) interesting observation. I never did like “reading lists”, whether at school or at university. I would cherry-pick what I wanted out of the list and play chicken with the examiners. While I love reading, I just could not be forced to read a book.

    There are many things that are wrong with my approach, particularly as it has now infected every type of reading I do, including web-based, powerpoint and word. I am far too selective, I get put off by writing styles, I fail to achieve my goal of “filter on the way out, not the way in”.

    But there is one good thing: I never think of reading as a chore.

  5. Thanks for this list JP. Being slightly behind my relaxing Christmas reading will consist of three other recommendations I picked up from you recently. These are Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices by Paul R. Lawrence & Nitin Nohria, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman and finally The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business by Clayton M. Christensen.

    Will keep a note of this list for my next rest!


Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.