Books! (History and Alternates Edition)

doc savage
Creating the Twentieth Century (Vaclav Smil, 2014/#56): A very good book on a very important and understudied period of our recent history; his thesis that the last generation or two before WWI saw a technological leap still unmatched is quite convincing.

What If? (Randall Munroe, 2014/#57): If you've read xkcd, you need no other enticement.

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Books! (More Poetry Edition)

doc savage
The Figured Wheel (Robert Pinsky, 2014/#55): I didn't like most of the poems (except a couple I just posted) but Pinsky has nice turns of phrase and a keen eye for the moment (then what is missing? maybe what Linda Pastan described in Dickinson: the sheer sanity of vision, the serious mischief of language, the economy of pain; maybe it's just a matter of my idiosyncratic preference for density and conciseness). Perhaps my favorite part of the book was his short story in prose, Jesus and Isolt which I think is very good.

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doc savage
Essential Dickinson (Emily Dickinson, 2014/#54): A frequent reread. I cried, which doesn't happen to me often while reading.

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Woot!

doc savage
Fresh from the metaphorical presses, Echopraxia, another Peter Watts book in the Blindsight universe. I haven't gotten my hands on a copy yet, but I'm full of anticipatory reading squee.

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doc savage
The Vertigo of Lists (Umberto Eco, 2014/#51): A disappointment; it anthologizes interesting texts and images, but there's far from enough or interesting enough connective tissue between them. It feels lazy.

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Books! (Rereads Edition)

doc savage
The Anatomy of Influence (Harold Bloom, 2014/#49): A reread.

A Man Without a Country (Kurt Vonnegut, 2014/#50): A reread.

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Books! (How the 2010s Work Edition)

doc savage
Cities Under Siege (Steve Graham, 2014/#48): I'd argue that it's an important book, insofar as it provides a very good, integrated summary of certain common threads running through the contemporary world (e.g., "big data", urban warfare, changes in government priorities, militarization of police work, etc). As a caveat, I gave a talk a few weeks before reading the book on some of the same topics and with a very similar thesis (although less centered on the urban experience), so I'm not necessarily an unbiased reviewer.

For what it's worth, this also matches my experience as a freelance data analyst for (generally small) companies. The mythology of data-driven prediction as a form of power is very, very widespread (it seldom works very well, as is the case of all mythologies, but, also as is always the case with mythologies, this doesn't make it any less powerful).

Some of the later chapters on oil seem a bit outdated, and I believe the recommendations for "countergeographical" activism is probably not going to be at all efficient, but this does little to detract from the overall value of the book.

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Books! (Rushed Reviews Edition)

doc savage
The Squares of the City (John Brunner, 2014/#46): Not bad. The psychology feels more outdated than the technology, considering.

The Cassini Division (Ken MacLeod 2014/#47): Very good. Banks-style in a number of ways.

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doc savage
Steampunk Prime (Ed. Mike Ashley, 2014/#45): Steampunk stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All of the problematic issues you'd expect, but also a certain freshness.

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Books! (Global Networks Edition)

doc savage
Salvation and Globalization in the Early Jesuit Missions (Luke Clossey, 2014/#44): A not uninteresting look at the Jesuit missions, with emphasis on their global nature (e.g., it makes the interesting choice of looking at the relationships between German, Mexican, and Chinese missions, although of course the core of Jesuit strength was in neither area) and on the ways in which the psychology and assumptions of the age can be deceptively different from us (the Jesuits did some rather secular-looking things, but for very non-secular reasons). I found all the causal mentions of Matteo Ricci very amusing (he was one of the first Jesuits in China) as I knew him first as one of the earliest post-Renaissance practitioners of the classic Art of Memory (which he used to learn Chinese/attempt to impress the locals).

There's one remark of the author I want to note: once there was regular travels between China and the New World (technically, the Philippine missions were under the control of the Mexican province), the practical topology of the world changed from a disk (or a rectangle) into a flat torus, making the concept of a center much more untenable.

Also, I hadn't known that there had been toying with the idea of making the base meridian pass through Jerusalem instead of Greenwich. It's a minor thing, but I find the choice a fascinatingly symbolic one.

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