Tag: book reviews

Book Review: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

Better Angels of our NatureIf you are one of those people constantly watching news and worrying about the sorry state of the world. Read this book. It’ll convince you with data, instead of baseless sensationalism, that life has never been more peaceful, safer and better than right now.

I procrastinated on starting reading this book because I already fully buy Steven Pinker’s proposition that we are living the most peaceful time in human kind, but I’m glad I’m reading it now. This book is full of well researched nuggets of information that are very interesting.

I’m fascinated by the explanation of why USA is so violent compared to all other developed countries (having murder rates similar to third world countries). I’m not sure I buy all of it, but it’s interesting to see how things were different there compared to western Europe, Canada, etc.

Having been raised in one of the dysfunctional governments he describes as promoting violence through corruption and negligence, I was thrilled when he called them crappy governments, because that’s the category they have in my mind. I was a little bit miffed by him using the word “negro”. He used it to refer to groups of people back when those groups of people were referred to as negros and in the context of their class struggle, but it was still weird.

Another interesting aspect was how people that live in crappy governments do differently in some psychological tests showing how deep a dysfunctional authority can affect people and why countries that are at the top remain at the top and countries that are at the bottom, remain at the bottom.

This book is long, and in a good way. It feels it covers everything there’s to cover about the subject, so, it would be impossible for me to do a full review. All I’m going to say is this: read it. It’ll surprise you in at least one way. It may change how you see the world entirely.

★★★★★

Buy The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined in USA

Buy The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined in UK

Advertisements

Book Review: Kettlebell – Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline

51Loz+pS70LThis book is almost like a graphic novel, lot’s of pictures (expected) and a big font with lots of padding (not so much). It’s very non-PC, so, if you are easily offended, move on. My review here is of the book and not the program. I still have reasons to believe the program is sound and this book might even be good at teaching how to do the program.

The reason why I’m giving it only one star, is because there’s a lot of pseudo-science and a fair amount of bullshit in this book. Some things are clearly scientifically wrong, others, it’s just some anecdata or something someone said as justification for something.

For example, on page 69, he compares a challenge between a body builder and a marathon runner. First he says the body builder wins, with no data to back it up. Was this experiment run? who participated? what were the results? But what’s even worse, it continues to modify the experiment citing that someone said they would bet on the bodybuilder. I’m probably nitpicking once of the worst offenders and it’s also possible that this story-telling style works well for most people and the data is sound. I understand how story-telling is important, but I also want the data.

★☆☆☆☆

Buy Kettlebell – Simple & Sinister in USA
Buy Kettlebell – Simple & Sinister in UK

Book Review: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

leonardo-da-vinci-9781501139154_hrThis book was fascinating. I always thought of Leonardo Da Vinci as an artist who did other things aside from painting. This book changed my mind. Leonardo saw himself as a philosopher/scientist/engineer (those were sort of one and the same back then) who also paints; and after reading this book, I have to agree.

I think if it wasn’t for the fact that he didn’t publish his findings, he would be the father of modern science. His science/engineering was strongly empirical. He even disregarded religious explanations for things. I am in awe at many of his findings and discoveries. I’m also amaze at his acceptance of his sexuality, even when part of the world was claiming it was evil (to be fair, Florence in that time was sort-of like the liberal capital of the world).

I’m also glad he wasn’t a tortured soul. Yeah, he had his problems, but he seemed to have lived a long good life and that’s rare for people as exceptional as him. Another rare ocurence is that he seemed to have been appreciated in his time (not as much as later, but at least he was no Van Gohg).

I’m listening to the audio book and there’s a PDF companion that you can use to look at the paintings and drawings being described. I rarely find myself in a position to look at them as I listen to audio books while doing chores, driving, running, etc. Nevertheless the descriptions are good enough to appreciate the techniques but not the art obviously.

In the explanations of why Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings were so good I find myself in awe of the techniques he developed for his art. Specially if we consider that just perspective was something not understood very well long before his lifetime. I guess the renaissance was an important time for the development of art (I know, doh!). Something that annoys me is when the author makes subjective comparisons of the art as if they were objective (best painting, best technique, etc). Thankfully, this is not very common in the book.

★★★★☆

Buy Leonardo da Vinci in USA
Buy Leonardo da Vinci in UK

Book Review: Advance! The Full Licence Book by Alan Betts, Steve Hartley

51Go0CzjPlL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_This book felt of much lower quality than the previous two. There are many typos and editing errors and I noticed a few technical errors as well. I guess it makes sense the advanced saw less scrutiny than the beginner one as fewer people will ever get to this point. Or maybe it’s my bias because this is the first time I really need to learn from the book (the previous two were, mostly, revision of stuff I already knew).

What really annoyed me is that there were many explanations that felt it was missing definitions of terms of explanations of the most basic parts so, aside from memorizing the concepts, it was hard to learn from it.

I’m obviously still grateful that there’s a book that covers the syllabus of the test for the Full License. At the same time, I wish we, in the UK, had more and better material like in the US, where you have the Extra Class License Manual, a thick 496-pages long nice book, and the excellent Gordon West’s Extra Class 2012-2016, as well as one or two video courses on YouTube covering all the material.

Giving the the physics is the same for the US and the UK, and that the ham radio hobby is having trouble with not having enough people and resources, it would be nice to share more things across countries. I understand the regulations are different and complex, but still, the actual radio stuff could be exactly the same in the US, UK and many other countries.

★★☆☆☆

Buy Advance! The Full Licence Book

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

omnivores_dilemma_by_michael_pollan1So far the tone of this book is disgustingly hippish. I think it presents some interesting data, but the way it presents it is so annoying:

– everything modern is bad
– everything mainstream is bad
– the only good alternative is primitive farms
– food and nature is a mystery that we cannot grasp so all efforts to synthesize fertilizers, pesticides, etc are doom to fail
– the natural cycle of chickens, cows, pigs, etc is perfect and shouldn’t be tampered with (mind you, these animals are almost as artificial as computers these days).

The part that annoys me the most is how it attributes negative connotations to the term agrobusiness. The definition of that word is “the businesses collectively associated with the production, processing, and distribution of agricultural products”, so, his idyllic small farms are as much agrobusinesses as the Monsatos he criticizes.

Another example I found ridiculous is when a farmer would refuse to ship him some food because burning fossil fuels to deliver his product was against his principles and instead told him: “If you want to try it, you’ll have to drive here”. Guess what! Driving to a location burns more fossil fuels than shipping a small package through highly efficient delivery companies (unless you drive an electric car and even then, I’m not sure).

I understand if the recommendations of the author were for an individual but he often talks about society as a whole without exploring the economic implications of using much more manual labor to produce food: can we actually feed the world with traditional farms? I don’t know and I have an inkling that the answer is probably very complex and not explored a lot in this book that advocates everybody to eat from those traditional farms.

★☆☆☆☆

Buy The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals in USA
Buy The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals in UK
Buy The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals in Canada

Book Review: Intermediate Licence – Building On The Foundation by Steve Hartley

s-l640I’m not a good person to judge this book because I not only have a technical background in electronics, I also got my American Extra-level license (AC1DM) before this one, so, I had to study all this material a few months ago. This feel like a revision.

Something that really surprises me about the book is that it says the ionosphere reflects radio waves. I understand we use that word in casual speech but I believe a book on ham radio should be more strict and use the correct term: refraction.

For whatever it matters, I passed the exam with a 43 out of 45 questions answered correctly.

★★★☆☆

Buy Intermediate Licence – Building On The Foundation

Book Review: American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin

80571For this review I’m considering, without any fact checking or cross referencing, that this biography is factual and true to the events although clearly some of the statements in the book would be hard to evaluate as they describe the feelings of large groups of people.

I knew a bit about The Manhattan Project and it was fun to have another take on those years of science, innovation and destruction. What I didn’t know is what happened before and after in the life of Oppenheimer.

During the earlier years, I was surprised by how active Oppenheimer and other people were in the projects of the communist party. It sounds as during those days, for many Americans, it wasn’t the enemy’s ideology but a potential solution to their ongoing socioeconomic problems. Some glorified the Soviet Union before they knew and understood how tyrannical it was. I can’t begin to fathom at the absurdity of the witch hunt that was McCarthyism and what a negative force it excreted on the American scientific society. I can’t help but notice the parallel with the trial against Alan Turing.

What surprised me the most about what I read in this book was Oppenheimer’s transformation. You could never guess that the boy and young man described in the early chapters could ever become a leader of scientists, a pragmatic that could put a practical goal above the intrinsic curiosity that pushes people into science and achieve so much. I guess the fear of a Nazi world was a great motivator.

★★★★☆

Buy American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer in USA
Buy American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer in the UK
Buy American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer in Canada

Book Review: Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents by Great Britain Home Office

81DKEZAB9NLThe only real way to judge this book is whether it helps you pass the Life in the United Kingdom test or not and I don’t yet know that. I’ve read the book (it actually took me one full day to go through all of it) and I’m probably going to re-read at least once, but for my actual study I’m using the mock tests at: https://lifeintheuktests.co.uk/life-i… I’ve found many sources of mock tests, but that one seems to have the hardest questions and I personally know someone that passed the test studying from there.

Judging the book by itself, I found it terrible. There’s two reasons for that:
– It’s written for the lowest level of English that would allow you to become a citizen, so, the prose is terse and simple.
– It’s designed to cover just the information you need to pass the test and nothing more, so, it’s almost a regurgitation of facts.

About the last point, for some bits of history that I know a bit about and that are super interesting (WWI, WWII, Scotland’s joining the UK, and a few more) I found the book super boring and skipping all the interesting bits just because it’s not in the exam. It makes sense for this book but it makes for a boring book. I have to admit that it made me curious about some things that I want to read more about and also some places I want to visit now.

★☆☆☆☆

Buy Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents in USA
Buy Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents in the UK
Buy Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents in Canada

Book Review: Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker

81xpnk+4DXLI was expecting a funny read of math curiosities and indeed there was plenty of humor and curiosities in this book in the style of Matt Parker (Google him and watch his videos, he’s great); but this book had much more than that.

Some parts of the book were not easy at all. I’m glad things were not dumbed down too much for us plebes. Some parts I couldn’t understand a lot and I just skipped them. Mind you, this was bed-time reading for me, so, I didn’t put a huge effort into it.

Something that surprised me when reading this book is how much we don’t know. From studying math in school and college it feels like we have most of it figured out, but I like how often Matt points to corners of the math world that don’t look, but probably are, too complex and they are not know or resolved at all. Similarly, how much of the math that we know is rather young, as in 20th century or second half of the 20th century.

I’m happy to recommend this book to everybody that enjoy maths but for people that don’t, they should read this book, as it might change your mind.

★★★★☆

Buy Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension in USA
Buy Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension in UK
Buy Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension in Canada

Book Review: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson

psychopathtest_custom-9fb3036a713639d308b67686c1b07ba6358eae8b-s6-c30I went into this book with the wrong expectation. When it says “A Journey” in the title, it really means it. The book is a journal. It almost feels like the making-of of The Psychopath Test, instead of the book itself. The whole book is written in first person, with no other order than time passing. It’s like a story.

There are some good nuggets of content every now and then but for my taste, they are too far apart. For most of the book the treatment of psychopathy is very prejudicial, but it’s impossible to pin-point examples because everything is either something that happened (so and so said), something the author felt or thought (you can feel something, like, tall people are evil, without claiming it to be true), or an open question (should all psychopaths be locked up?)

I wish for a more descriptive book that was neutral as to morality. If you are after that, look elsewhere, this is not it.

★☆☆☆☆

Buy The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry in USA
Buy The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry in UK
Buy The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry in Canada