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6 in 1 Book Review!

Posted by phduffy on 2004-01-25 21:39:19
8 forum posts
For those of you missing the book of the week, and I know that you're legion, here comes a summary/review of 6 books I've read over the past couple weeks. I'm not quite sure which I liked best, so I am just going to put them in random order.

We'll start with:
Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Baseball's Oakland A's do things differently than most of the other teams. Their payroll is low, and they win. They don't steal bases or bunt. Why not? Michael Lewis spent the summer of 2002 with the Oakland A's, and specifically with GM Billy Beane.

Basically, somewhere along the line Oakland's management decided that traditional ways of evaluating players are not that great. RBI's and batting average are useless if you want to see how many runs you're going to score. Errors don't tell you how good a fielder is. We don't care how tall your pitcher is: can he throw strikes?
This is an interesting read. The most important thing to get out of this is how much people will cling to their beliefs, no matter how mistaken they are. People had been questioning the way baseball teams evaluate talent since the late 70's, but it wasn't until the late 90's that someone started to implement these ideas. After all, someone that plays baseball must know more than someone that watches it, right? What about the intangibles? This book shows how people can start to believe their own hype, when in reality the Emperor has no clothes. And Oakland has an advantage because teams still refuse to believe the reasons they're successful. Another reason to read this book is because the Jay's current GM was trained in Oakland, and is pretty much doing everything that Oakland does.

2.
The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson
Wilson was born in California, but raised in Canada. This novel is set about 20 years in the future. In Thailand and giant Crystalline structure appears in the ground. There's an inscription on it that commemorates a military victory 20 years in the future. What the **** is going on?
This book examines the consequences of the Chronoliths showing up all over the world. It also looks at whether or not these victories are inevitable, and have we created a self fulfilling prophecy here?
I found the ending of this book slightly disappointing, but it was interesting until that point. Also, I think that the ending dealt with distortions in time pretty much the only way you can, but it still seemed under whelming.

3.
My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable!
By David Rees.
A bunch of clip art from PowerPoint with words about people in a Karate Temple. They fight and fuck up motherfuckers. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense, but it's all the more funny for having Karate Snoopy bring it to some motherfucker.
www.mnftiu.com

4. Liar's Poker By Michael Lewis
This is the book that made Michael Lewis famous. He started out at Salomon Brothers in London in the mid 80's, and tells his tale of the insanity that went on there. He was a bond trader. This sounds quite boring. It is actually one of the most interesting books I have ever read. Lewis shows just how screwed up the bond industry, and Salomon Brothers in particular were.
For example, when interviewing students, they would do things like just not talk to the interviewee. Completely ignore him/her and see what happens. Or ask someone who played sports at University how much they got laid. If they objected, they were told that they were to answer any question, so, shithead, how often did you get laid?
Once Lewis got the job, we see all the backstabbing and insanity that went on there. Including an almost complete disregard for the Customer. We also see 23 yr olds getting bonuses of 50 grand American, and other managers getting bonuses in the hundreds of thousands.
You don't have to be familiar with Savings and Loans or Junk Bonds to understand what's going on here. Lewis does a great job of conveying the absolute craziness that he lived in while he worked for Solomon Brothers. He also manages to detail the top-level struggles between departments and between different firms. I give this my highest recommendation (for non fiction).

5. Use of Weapons
By Iain M Banks
Cheraldine Zewalke is a free lance agent of the Culture. The Culture is the futuristic society in which no one goes hungry, there's no war, etc. However, not everyone is in the Culture. So Cheraldine goes to planets that are thinking of joining and helps out in Wars and other messiness. At one point he leaves, and is then re-recruited. Some elements of the Culture think he's washed out, but none of them know what haunts him or why.
This is a fantastic and strange book. There are two stories. The first is the story of Cheraldine being recruited again and his newest mission for the Culture. The second is the story of how Cheraldine became the man he is today. The first story is told in sequential order through alternating chapters. The second story is told in reverse in alternating chapters. So chapter 1 happens immediately after chapter 2, while as we go further into the book we get further separation between chapters. It also leaves the Epilogue and the Prologue next to each other at the end of the book.
While this can at times be confusing, it's a great technique. Just why does Cheraldine work for the Culture? What did he do that changed him? What happened in his past?
When the truth is revealed it's somewhat of a shocker. Typically of a Banks novel, things do not always go well for our Heroes.
This gets my highest recommendation for someone that's familiar with the Culture. If not, I don't know that this is the ideal book to begin with, as there isn't much backstory about them.

6.
True Names - and the opening of the cyberspace frontier.
By Vernor Vinge

Okay. So in the mid 80's William Gibson writes Neuromancer, which creates the cyberpunk genre. Except that Vinge wrote this story a few years earlier. The difference is that he didn't call what he was doing Cyberpunk. This book contains essays by lots of smart people that you've never heard of (the first Disney fellow, the cofounder of the artificial intelligence lab at MIT, the cocreateor of VRML, the founder of the Free Software movement, etc) where they discuss the influence that Vinge and this story had on them, fiction, and technology. They also discuss how surprisingly accurate his story is for a story written in the early 80's.
The story is True Names. The idea is that there's a bunch of hackers living in a cyberpunk world, messing things up. Their biggest fear is that the government will find out their True Names, and then it will be over.
It's hard to rate this story. It's only about 75 pages, and Vinge has done much better. There have also been many better cyberpunk stories (from Neuromancer to Snow Crash and even to the Matrix). If you love Vinge (which I do) or you're interested in the history of the cyberpunk genre (which would bring you to a heretofore unheard of level of geekness) give this a shot. Otherwise pass, and read his collection of short stories, or A Fire Upon the Deep or A Deepness in the Sky.


Later folks.
  8 forum posts