EppsNet Archive: Book Reviews

What Happened?

13 Sep 2017 /

According to this review by Piers Morgan, Hillary has narrowed down the list of people and entities responsible for her 2016 election defeat to James Comey, Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and his supporters, Mitch McConnell, the mainstream media, the New York Times, Matt Lauer, Fox News, Jill Stein, men, women, white people, black people, Joe Biden, Anthony Weiner, and the Electoral College.

Notably absent from the list: Hillary Clinton.


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch

31 Jul 2017 /

The Sleepwalkers is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read, very close to the edge of what can be accomplished with the written word.

I had never heard of either the book or the author — neither seems to have any following here in the States — but Amazon for some reason started recommending me post-WWI Austrian modernists.

(I also read Robert Musil’s A Man Without Qualities, which was extremely tedious.)

I don’t know who to compare Broch with, in terms of language, wit, psychological and historical insight — maybe Nietzsche, if Nietzsche had decided to write historical fiction.

The book chronicles, via multiple overlapping narratives, the moral history of Germany in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the disintegration of values that led to fascism.

And in his fear of the voice of judgment that threatens to issue from the darkness, there awakens within him a doubly strong yearning for a Leader to take him tenderly and lightly by the hand, to set things in order and show him the way; a Leader who is no one’s follower and who will precede him on the untrodden path of the closed circle and lead him on to ever-higher reaches, to an ever-brighter revelation; the Leader who will build the house anew that the dead may come to life again, and who himself has risen again from the multitude of the dead; the Healer who by his own actions will give a meaning to the incomprehensible events of the age, so that Time can begin anew.

Rating: 5 stars


EppsNet Book Reviews: Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

22 Dec 2015 /

Carol Dweck’s research is part of a tradition in psychology that shows the power of people’s beliefs. These may be beliefs that we’re aware of or unaware of but they strongly affect what we want and whether we succeed in getting it. This tradition also shows how changing people’s beliefs can have profound effects.

Dweck’s insight into fixed mindset (bad) vs. growth mindset (good) is powerful but there’s really not enough to it to sustain a book-length exposition without a lot of repetition and illustrational anecdotes, the problem with which is 1) they tend to be overly simple tales of triumph and failure with clearly identified causes; and 2) they ignore the inevitability of regression.

For example, two of the people Dweck identifies as exemplars of the growth mindset are Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez. Mindset was published in 2006, after which Woods’s career imploded in the wake of extramarital affairs with 100 or so women, and Rodriguez was suspended from baseball for cheating.

Among the companies singled out as possessing a growth mindset is Circuit City, which announced in January 2009 that it was going out of business.

Don’t get me wrong here, I think Dweck’s work is insightful and illuminating, I just don’t think it works well as a book. For a shorter introduction, try, for example, “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids,” recently published in Scientific American.

Rating: 3-stars


EppsNet Book Reviews: Humans of New York: Stories

26 Nov 2015 /

I can’t say enough good things about this book. If you’re not one of the 16 million people following the Humans of New York Facebook page, take a look there to see what the concept is all about.

This book would make a great gift for anyone on your holiday gift list who knows how to read. If you’re on my holiday gift list, you’re getting this book. I wish I could give a copy to every person on Earth.

Rating: 5-stars


EppsNet Book Reviews: Hotel World by Ali Smith

18 Mar 2015 /

Happy is what you realize you are a fraction of a second before it’s too late.

Hotel World takes place in and around a hotel in London, hence the title, but Hotel World is also a metaphor for life: people check in and people check out.

It’s about remembering to live, remembering that you won’t live forever . . . it’s about love, not romantic love, but a mother’s love for her daughter, sisters’ love for each other . . . and it’s about how close people come to really understanding one another, which is not very close at all.

Rating: 5-stars


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

18 Feb 2015 /

Kudos to Francis Ford Coppola for making one of the most renowned films of all time out of this pedestrian soap opera.

Rating: 2 stars


EppsNet Book Reviews: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

29 Mar 2014 /

Richard Yates poses the question of how much reality people can stand, and the answer he comes up with is “not very much.” Alternatives to facing reality head-on are explored in Revolutionary Road: avoidance, denial, alcoholism, insanity and death.

Some excerpts:

“You want to play house you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, you got to have a job you don’t like. Great. This is the way ninety-eight-point-nine per cent of the people work things out, so believe me buddy you’ve got nothing to apologize for. Anybody comes along and says ‘Whaddya do it for?’ you can be pretty sure he’s on a four-hour pass from the State funny-farm; all agreed.”

 

And all because, in a sentimentally lonely time long ago, she had found it easy and agreeable to believe whatever this one particular boy felt like saying, and to repay him for that pleasure by telling easy, agreeable lies of her own, until each was saying what the other most wanted to hear — until he was saying “I love you” and she was saying “Really, I mean it; you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”

People’s inability to absorb large, unfiltered doses of reality probably explains why New Yorker fiction editor Roger Angell wrote to Yates’s agent in 1981, “It seems clearer and clearer that his kind of fiction is not what we’re looking for. I wonder if it wouldn’t save a lot of time and disappointment in the end if you and he could come to the same conclusion.”

And why at the time of his death in 1992, all of Yates’ books were out of print.

Rating: 5 stars


EppsNet Book Reviews: My Antonia by Willa Cather

5 Mar 2014 /

Woulda, coulda, shoulda . . .

Rating: 5 stars


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Known World by Edward P. Jones

23 Feb 2014 /

I bought this book and read it because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. See, it says so right there on the cover: “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.”

Did you know there was a time in our country’s history when black people were bought and sold as property, sometimes by other black people? And did you also know that 15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance?

Human slavery is deplorable, yes, but at this late date, can it be deplored any more than it has been already? If you have new depths of insight into the hearts and minds of the participants, by all means offer them, but Jones doesn’t have them. Reading The Known World is like reading a history book, albeit with a little more authorial contempt for some of the characters.

It’s customary in book reviews to mention authors whose work is called to mind by the volume at hand. The reviews included in my copy of The Known World cite

If you want to say something nice about a black author writing about the American South, you can’t go wrong with a Morrison or Faulkner comparison, although comparing an author writing his second book to Faulkner (or García Márquez) makes as much sense as comparing a young composer to Beethoven or Mozart. (I can’t comment on the Toni Morrison comparison as I have to admit I haven’t read her work.)

The author that Jones most reminded me of is Kurt Vonnegut, who once wrote

I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, which I think I have done.

Jones follows the Vonnegut model of introducing a lot of characters of equal importance and weaving their lives together via seemingly insignificant details. Vonnegut has written better books than The Known World — most notably, in my opinion, Breakfast of Champions, although many people prefer Slaughterhouse-Five — but he did not win, nor was he ever a finalist for, a Pulitzer Prize.

So it goes.

Rating: 3 stars


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

10 Nov 2013 /

I worked in the information technology department of a mortgage bank in the run-up to the 2007 implosion of the subprime mortgage market . . .

Given that it was fairly evident at the time that complicated financial instruments were being dreamed up for the sole purpose of lending money to people who could never repay it, it’s remarkable that very few people foresaw the catastrophe and that even fewer actually had the nerve to bet on it to happen.

Long story short, the major rating agencies — Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s — were incompetent in their rating of subprime mortgage bonds, giving investment-grade and, in some cases, triple-A ratings to high-risk instruments. A lot of people took the ratings — which implied that subprime mortgage derivatives were no riskier than U.S. Treasury bonds — at face value and acted accordingly.

But there were also some interesting psychological factors in play, not specific to the investment arena:

  1. Nothing really bad had ever happened in the subprime mortgage market. Every tiny panic was followed by a robust boom. Since nothing really bad had ever happened (albeit over a short and statistically insignificant period of time), nothing really bad ever would happen.
  2. The collapse of the subprime mortgage market would be a national catastrophe, and was unlikely precisely because it would be such a catastrophe. Nothing that bad could ever actually happen.

EppsNet Book Reviews: The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

9 Mar 2013 /

“Did you ever hear what J. Edgar Hoover said about justice?” she asked.

“He probably said a lot, but I don’t recall any of it offhand.”

“He said that justice is incidental to law and order.”

— Michael Connelly, The Black Echo

I love detective fiction — especially L.A. detective fiction — but like every other kind of niche fiction, it’s almost all rubbish. The Black Echo is an exception to the rule.

I have just a couple of things to take exception to:

  1. Detectives should NEVER have a love interest. They should always be loners (cf. Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe).
  2. [SPOILER ALERT] It is absolutely impossible that Rourke wouldn’t know who Eleanor Wish is. He works for the FBI. The Federal Bureau of INVESTIGATION. He’s an INVESTIGATOR. And he knows nothing about this woman? Not even her maiden name?

P.S. Don’t tell me about Linda Loring in the last two Marlowe books. She was a terrible decision by Raymond Chandler but I blame the fact that he was cracking up at the time over the illness and death of his wife.


The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

9 Sep 2012 /

The author, a Russian, displays great heart and insight in this philosophical novel, but at 900+ pages, he needs to learn how to get to the point.

I look forward to his next project, perhaps with a better editor.


The Big Short

10 Jan 2012 /

What is amazing is not just that people are greedy and prone to engage in ethically questionable activities; the big lesson is how people can reach unimaginable positions of power and essentially be (a) incompetent, and (b) not willing to do even the most mundane and trivial parts of their job.

— Jeffrey Pfeffer, reviewing The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis (quoted on WSJ.com)

HW’s Book Reviews: Go the Fuck to Sleep

12 May 2011 /

If you think saying “fuck” to a toddler is the funniest thing ever, and evidently a lot of people do judging from the rave reviews on Facebook, then you’ll love this book.

SPOILER ALERT: The joke is that infants don’t have the same sleep patterns as grownups — ha ha — which is breaking news to this hapless unfit shithead of a parent, who spews page after page of rhymed obscenities at his child.

I didn’t say “fuck” to my kid until he was a teenager, and even then it wasn’t to be funny.

Seriously: Children are a gift from God and I don’t even believe in God. I love the time that my son and I were boys together more than I love anything.

If you think there’s anything clever or funny about this book, please stay away from me . . .


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Odyssey by Homer

16 Apr 2011 /

The author displays a lively imagination. The cast of characters includes both gods and mortals, and the story builds to a thrilling climax.

I can’t wait to see what this promising young writer comes up with next.


Lightning’s Book Reviews: Don’t Know Much About History

26 Aug 2009 /
Don't Know Much About History book cover
Lightning Epps

Hi everybody! It’s me, Lightning!

My owner’s son has this book for his AP U.S. History class. You should read it! The title — Don’t Know Much About History — makes you think of the famous song by Sam Cooke, so right away you want to know more about it!

History is fascinating! For example, did you know that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had ELEVEN pugs?! The Duke used to be the King of England but he had to “adbdicate” (that means quit) so he’d have enough time to walk all of his dogs.

I hope that fact is in the book!

Duke and Duchess of Windsor with pugs

— Lightning paw


HW ‘s Book Reviews: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

24 Aug 2009 /
In Cold Blood book cover

Gayest. Crime Story. Ever.


EppsNet Book Review: Dig Your Job

7 Jan 2009 /

Full disclosure: I got a free advance copy of this book because I know the author, G.L. Hoffman.

Dig Your Job book cover

The books I’ve read on business and career advice fall into three main categories:

  1. Academic theory
  2. (Quoting Dogbert) A bunch of obvious advice packaged with quotes from famous dead people
  3. A person who’s actually done something talks about what worked for them and what didn’t.

Dig Your Job is in Category 3, like every other book I can think of to recommend to people.

It’s a high-density book. Hoffman has done startups for 25 years and shares hundreds of ideas and observations about the workplace in blog-sized chunks.

The style is conversational, easy to read — like having a career mentor you can consult whenever you want to.

Hoffman is currently running excerpts from the book on his blog, so you can click over there for a free preview.

Highly recommended!


EppsNet Book Review: The Elegant Solution

12 Apr 2008 /
The Elegant Solution

Unreadable . . . unbelievably bad. Ironically, for a book about innovation, the concepts are trite and the prose consists of one lazy cliche after another.

Watch — I’m going to open the book to a random page and list the cliches: “secret sauce,” “blow the doors off,” “boil the ocean,” “where the action is,” “ivory tower,” “marching instructions.”

The book is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who might conceivably want to read it.


HW’s Book Reviews

18 May 2003 /

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki with Sharon L. Lechter C.P.A.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad cover

And I know a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he’d done
He came a long way just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and he headed home again

— Paul Simon, “Slip Sliding Away”
 

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.

— John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

You might get the idea from reading this book that being rich is synonymous with being happy. I’ve never seen any indication that that’s true.

Continue reading HW’s Book Reviews