Monday, December 20, 2010

Naive. Super by Erlend Loe

This is a sweet book that is misleadingly simple. With easy to read language, the character ruminates on such topics as space, time, bouncing a ball on a wall, love, toys, travel and what makes some friends good and others bad. An enjoyable novel that is perfect for a weekend on the cottage or during a trip.

3 out of 5 stars

How to Read Wittgenstein (How to Read) by Ray Monk

This is a brief introduction to the philosophical work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. In just over 100 pages, the reader is provided with a selected group of passages of Wittgenstein’s written work, with accompanying commentary. Though I still have countless questions about Wittgenstein’s philosophy, this book does provide a good starting point to understand the complicated work of this famous philosopher.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Emerging Democratic Majority by John B. Judis

Contemporary politics in the United States is obsessed with the short-term. That is why this excellent book, which was written in 2002, is such a fresh of breath air. Written at a time when George W. Bush seemed invincible, this prescient work boldly predicted that, by decades end, the Democrats would emerge with a new majority that would replace the Reagan coalition.

With great detail, Judis and Teixeira clearly explain the deep cultural and demographic changes that are taking place in the U.S., and why they are leading to a Democratic majority. With a long-view of history, this work provides a fascinating description of the foundation that ultimately led to the election of President Obama.

4 out of 5 stars

Transmetropolitan Vol. 01: Back on the Street by Warren Ellis

Despite having stunning illustrations, I found this comic to be incredibly stupid. For reasons I don’t quite understand, it has been praised by some writers that I highly respect. But don’t be fooled, this story is as sanctimonious and insufferable as a Fox News program.

A basic description of our protagonist Spider Jerusalem would go like this: imagine Hunter S. Thompson in the far future living in self-imposed exile in the mountains. After being threatened with a lawsuit by a book publisher, he returns to the city to restart his journalism career. Soon after arriving in the throbbing metropolis, he uses threats to land a reporting job, and then puts his drug-addled energy and schizoid mind to expose, among other things, the utter rot of religion and the brutality of a government crackdown on human-alien hybrids.

Sound interesting? It most certainly does. Does it deliver? Unfortunately not, for instead of an intriguing character, Spider turns out to be a boring collection of gonzo clich├ęs and juvenile behaviour. In short, this is a disappointing story with spectucular drawings.

2 out of 5 stars

The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity by Fred Adams

I couldn't stop reading this remarkable book. In just over 200 pages, the authors provide a description of the evolution of the universe, (as predicted by our current understanding of physics), from the big bang to the far distant future, when stars, planet, galaxies and even black holes no longer exist. By the end of the book, Adams and Laughlin are describing a universe that is 10 to the power of 100 years old (that's 1 followed by 100 zeros). A time span this large is almost incomprehensible for humans to contemplate.

As I turned the pages, I was repeatedly awed by a slew of brilliant ideas. Among some of the more fascinating thoughts: Whether a cosmic computer made of black holes could result in conscious life; if other universes can be created – as many physicist believe – then is it possible that universes are born, die and evolve in a manner similar to Darwin’s theory of evolution; and is it possible to travel to the distant future, given what Einstein’s theory of relativity tells us about space and time.

This is a wonderful book that left me in a constant state of wonder, and which has inspired me to read further about astrophysics.

5 out of 5 stars

40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation by James Carville

The U.S.-pundit class is filled with half-crazed ideologues that prefer to rant rather than think. Whether it’s the obnoxious jerks of the “right” (e.g. O’Reilly, Limbaugh, Coulter and Hannity) or the blowhards of the “left” (e.g. Ed Shultz and Keith Olbermann), political discourse in the U.S. has been hijacked by poseurs who would rather yell than exchange ideas.

James Carville – the famed strategist who helped elect President Bill Clinton – is a card carrying member of the screaming punditocracy. As this book demonstrates, Carville is very good at insulting Republicans, but not that good at engaging his political opponents in order to find solutions for the problems facing the United States.

That being said, this book does contain some thoughtful analysis. After ploughing through more than 100 pages of insults, Carville provides a convincing argument for why Democrats are better managers of the economy than Republicans. He also has an interesting chapter on young voters, and how Barack Obama's ability to capture the youth vote in 2008 could translate into long-term electoral victories for the Democrats. Besides these hidden gems, however, this book is just another addition to the sad canon of political temper tantrums.

1 out of 5 stars