Before I started with the WordPress format, I wrote some older pages. The musings moved over; these are 5 old book reviews. -raano is Luhya for 5, from Kenya. Thanks, Internet numbers page. To adjust to the new format, I made slight edits to provide notes on time. For instance, because I played cards from 2002-2005, I noted that. I also added numeric ratings. As a reminder, score 0: waste of time, 1: below average, 2: average, 3: above average, 4: recommended, 5: fantastic.
[This was transferred in October 2009, from a page originally dated September 2005.]
- Positively Fifth Street, James McManus: This was one of the first books about poker, and back then (by back then I mean 2003) editors felt that a book needed something more. That’s what Mr. McManus tries, weaving in the murder of Ted Binion. The poker description is quite good, including the qualifying tournaments, the main event, and current player interviews. The murder stuff is distracting, but not annoying. What is annoying is “Bad Jim”. Apparently, the author felt it necessary to pad his book with continual updates on his finances, and European trips with his wife, and Richard Nixon, and Girolamo Cardano, and way too many other things. Instead of a narrative, we get the introspections of an old unlikable man. This makes the book far less enjoyable than it could have been. Given the many other options available today, I can’t recommend this poker book. 1 out of 5.
- Word Freak, Stefan Fatsis: Like Positively Fifth Street, this was another of my travel fun books, a book I would get for a plane or train ride. I read this on the train home in 2002. Like the poker book, Mr. Fatsis chronicles his journey through a strange and different world, in this case competitive Scrabble. But it’s a lot better, because this author knows enough to minimize his neuroses, and stick to the games and colorful players. It’s amazing, and scary, to see how competitive he becomes. And it somehow feels better when the result matches his true skill, which he takes in the proper perspective. This book has the right tone, the closest to the world (trading card games) that I inhabited. 3 out of 5.
- Crying, the Natural and Cultural History of Tears, Tom Lutz: This is a very comprehensive book, which is commendable. It includes biology, history, anthropology, and sociology, including lots of things I didn’t know. The disappointing part was the sociology, his consideration of the social aspects of crying. That’s why I read the book, and Professor Lutz is wrong. He vastly overestimates the effect of a few male examples and “metrosexual” culture. (He did in 2004, and he still does in 2009.) It might be misreading from his position, but he didn’t research typical American response as much as he did tear ducts. There still is strong American stigma against crying, and he doesn’t answer why, and for that I felt less than full at the end of this text. 2 out of 5.
- The Mythical Man Month, Frederick Brooks, Jr: Highly recommended. I think all bosses should be forced to read and understand the lessons in this book. For one, he admits where he’s wrong, with information hiding; that’s a strong lesson in itself. The other basics – favor small teams, provide administrative support, maintain conceptual integrity, assign people to communication and organization – apply to all products, not just computer systems. There are too many fads of management. This book is not one of them. In my limited experience, I’ve tried to follow Brooks’ principles, and I don’t seem to be disappointing. 4 out of 5.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Book 6, J. K. Rowling: It’s not like this book needs another review, but one of my friends posted some thoughts. That she could cry and need ice cream is one of her truly wonderful qualities. As literature, book 6 does not suffer from the excess of book 5; someone edited it to a reasonable level. This is particularly evident in the climactic scene, where unlike last time, things progress in an order that doesn’t require a flowchart. On the negative side, it seems that Hogwarts had a major outbreak of love potions. I’m not against teenage romance; for most people, it’s a part of life. The strange thing is how students across several grades all seem to have caught the bug at once, that it moved from barely discussed to topic number one. At least we get romanticism from it: “Harry looked around; there was Ginny running toward him; she had a hard, blazing look in her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her. After several long moments – or it might have been half an hour – or possibly several sunlit days – they broke apart.”
Killing Dumbledore was an inspired thing to do, for it takes away Harry’s most parental figure. Yes, that’s the typical pattern for a fantasy world, but the tried and true become tried and true because they work. I wasn’t sure it would happen until it did, so that’s good suspense. Having Malfoy stutter, but Snape finish the job, is also well planned. We now know that Snape is not all good, but the exact level of his deceit is unknown. Is he fully evil or conflicted between promises? There’s one book left, and the table is set. The amount of Hogwarts in Book 7 is debatable, and I think it should be small – we have a climactic battle to fight! I won’t say Book 6 is the best of the series (Book 4 and especially Book 3 are better) but this is a substantial improvement over the last one, and a good read. 3 out of 5.