Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Review: The Rise of Athens: The Story of the World's Greatest Civilization

The Rise of Athens: The Story of the World's Greatest CivilizationThe Rise of Athens: The Story of the World's Greatest Civilization by Anthony Everitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweeping history of Athens. I enjoyed it, though it was not as good as I was expecting. Everitt's book on Cicero was amazing, so I was expecting something on par. In part this may be the nature of the subject: it is too epic and sweeping, and Everitt was trying to cover too much in too little space. Another weakness was that the focus of the narrative was too often on battles and military campaigns. No doubt these are essential to understanding the rise of Athens: you cannot (and should not) separate the history of Athens from its battles with Sparta and Persia. But it seemed to take up too much of the space, pushing other elements to the side.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Review: F. A. Hayek and the Epistemology of Politics: The Curious Task of Economics

F. A. Hayek and the Epistemology of Politics: The Curious Task of EconomicsF. A. Hayek and the Epistemology of Politics: The Curious Task of Economics by Scott Scheall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An important work of scholarship on Hayek and his ideas. The depth of research into Hayek's ideas on psychology, epistemology, and economics, as well as the history of Austrian economics more broadly, is evident through out this readable and approachable work. Scheall pulls these ideas together to formulate a novel approach to understanding and developing political thought, one that focuses on political epistemology and the limits of what any one, especially policymakers, can know. This is not just a book for Hayek scholars though, I highly recommend for anyone interested in economics, political philosophy, or policy.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Review: Thrawn: Treason

Thrawn: Treason Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this third book in the new Thrawn trilogy was much better than the second entry in this series. The story is tighter and better plotted. I enjoyed it; it was a fun read.

Where the book was weakest was in character development. There is little we learn about Thrawn and some of the other returning characters. They are who they are and do not develop beyond that. There are several new characters -- but not a lot is done with them. We do, though, learn more about the Chiss and the Chiss navigators. There is still a lot of untapped potential here that I hope Zahn explores in future books.

Thrawn is a great character -- one of the best in the Star Wars universe. Though he orchestrates a lot of it, he was not as directly involved as one would expect in a lot of the action of the story.

Even with these criticisms, it was fun and engaging read. One most fans of Thrawn and Star Wars will enjoy.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Review: The Concrete Blonde

The Concrete Blonde (Harry Bosch, #3; Harry Bosch Universe, #3)The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic balance of courtroom drama and detective thriller. Connelly's plotting is masterful.

It was a bit strange to read this after not having read a Bosch novel in a while but recently watching season 1 on Amazon. Titus Welliver just is Bosch now. Interestingly, there are a lot of elements and characters from this book that worked their way into the first season of Bosch -- though their roles in the plot and their outcomes are quite different.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Review: The Age of Pericles

The Age of PericlesThe Age of Pericles by Jeremy McInerney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful sweep through the history of ancient Athens. McInerney is a great lecturer, a pleasure to listen to. He covers the political and economic history of Athens, and also its cultural innovations and importance from drama to philosophy. The title might throw some people: it's much less about Pericles than it is about the Athens into which Pericles lived. (Hence The Age of ...)

View all my reviews

Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Haidt is a wonderfully clear and effective writer. He is able to condense scientific and technical ideas and evidence and make them accessible and understandable. Part of his appeal is, I think, that he comes across as intellectually honest and diligent.

This book put Haidt on the public intellectual map—or at least it seemed that way to me. I recall the book creating quite a stir when it came out in 2012. Reading it now in 2020, many of the ideas already strike me as quite familiar. This is a huge complement to Haidt: what seemed at first novel is now commonplace. After almost a decade of this kind of social psychological thinking (not just Haidt, but others such as Daniel Kahneman) working its way into the discourse, it doesn’t quite come across as ground-breaking any more.

That said, it is still an important book. It examines important questions about how our moral ideas and foundations are formed and how that affects how we think about all kinds of things in our world: but most importantly religion and politics. As contentious as these issues might have been back in 2012, they only seem to have gotten worse. And even though there is in his arguments much I am not ultimately persuaded by, the perspective he offers can still help each of us better understand each other.

If there is a core theme to take away from the book: it is that most people are not evil or out to destroy everything you hold sacred; so try to understand where they are coming from and why. You might find that although you still disagree with them, you can understand why they think the way they do (as well as better understand why you think the way you do). This opens the door to the possibility of communication and less divisiveness.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Review: Storm of Locusts

Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2)Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love what Roanhorse does with the characters: the five-fingers and gods. But especially the gods! The world she has created is fascinating--I wouldn't want to live there, but I enjoy reading about it. She creates great tension, a little horror, and well-placed humor. I like the first book a little better--it was a bit more focused. We get several new characters here and since we go outside of the Dinetah this time, we see more and learn more about what else is going on. So that spreads the story out a bit. (I would still love a map.) But these additions are still on the whole improvements; there is just more to track. Looking forward to the next book in the series!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review: The First Rule

The First Rule (Joe Pike, #2)The First Rule by Robert Crais
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well-plotted and kept you on your toes. I love how Crais explores Pike's personality and character by bringing him into the foreground. I like Cole and the early novels a lot, but through Pike, Crais seems to be finding more of his own voice in the genre.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Review: Ahsoka

Ahsoka (Star Wars)Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first started watching Clone Wars, Ahsoka was whiny and annoying. Now she is easily one of my favorite Star Wars characters. Her arcs in Clone Wars ( especially in the final season) are some of the best in Star Wars. So it is a tall order to follow, but Johnston's book does not disappoint. It adds to and reinforces the character we know, while showing her growth and adaption to life in the new Empire. It also provides a great bridge from Clone Wars to Rebels.

That it is a YA novel doesn't really show except in a few places where more 'adult' elements might have been explored. It's not at all juvenile or simplistic.

There are a few minor differences between the last few episodes of the Clone Wars and this, but nothing serious. Plus, if abide by Obi-Wan's maxim regarding Star Wars: it is always 'from a certain point of view'.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Review: Why Not Socialism?

Why Not Socialism?Why Not Socialism? by G.A. Cohen
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It's shocking that any thinker takes this famous book at all seriously. While I didn't expect to agree with Cohen or find his arguments ultimately persuasive, I did expect at least to find an argument. But this is how I would summarize the book: "Let’s assume markets produce unjust results. Let’s assume socialist equality is ideal. Therefore, socialism--even though I admit it is not feasible. " The camping trip thought experiment is utterly unconvincing and not realistic. It baldy confuses cooperation with collectively. His extension of this to his claims about socialism is a spectacular non-sequitur.

Cohen may deserve his philosophical reputation for his other work, but this book is just embarrassing.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Review: Talking God

Talking God (Leaphorn & Chee, #9)Talking God by Tony Hillerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chee and Leaphorn are each working on their own mystery that ultimately ties together into one. It takes a while for these two threads to become one, but it's worth it. I like the way Chee and Leaphorn work together. It plays against expectations a bit: Chee is younger, but he's not a protege or sidekick to Leaphorn. They are characters different, with different ways of going about solving their cases. But they respect each other and work well together.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1)Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Expanse had been recommended to me several times, from several different people. I'm glad I finally listened! This is great sci-fi, but with elements of horror and noir. It has touches of 2001 and elements reminiscent of Asimov. It's not hard sci-fi in so far as there isn't a lot of technical nit and gritty (though there is some); but it does work at being seeming plausible and accurately extrapolated.

The world-building of humanity spread across the solar system, and in particular the asteroid belt, is very cool. The plot itself is intriguing and nicely integrated across the 500+ pages. The two main characters are really interesting-and make for great foils. The authors do a great job of pitting two 'good guys' against each other as the main conflict. This is not a manichean story/dark vs light story-- though there definitely are good guys and bad guys here; it's that the main conflict that pushes the story forward is between two protagonists and their conflicting visions of how to act.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review: Sporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes

Sporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex AthletesSporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes by Joanna Harper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the most contentious issues in sport is that of transgender and intersex athletes. It is an extraordinarily complex and fraught mix that often seems like it pits two important values against each other: opportunity and fairness. Sport should be open to all those who wish to complete and to compete at the highest levels they can. Sport, at its best, also seeks to create fair and meaningful competitions. So, on one hand, sport should be open to all athletes able to complete: it would be wrong to limit the opportunities of transgender and intersex athletes. But, on the other hand, there is a concern that if those opportunities aren’t limited in some way, specifically that if trans and intersex women compete without limitations against cisgender women, it could undermine the fairness of such competitions.

I don’t think there is a straightforward or obvious answer on these issues: and there are good, reasonable arguments (and many bad arguments too) for many different positions on all the various aspects of these issues. That said, my default position is towards the liberty of athletes to compete in the sport of their choice. I don’t mean to say that is the answer: but only that it is my starting point. It is the presumptive position that I think any argument to limit this liberty and opportunity needs to overcome.

Joanna Harper’s Sporting Gender is a good starting point for looking at many of the issues and arguments that might defeat or sustain this presumption. Harper’s book, as the subtitle indicates, takes you through the history, science, and stories of transgender and intersex athletes.
Starting in the early part of the twentieth century, she presents many stories of the individual trans and intersex women and their struggles to compete in sport. Many of these stories are tragic; too often rooted in ignorance and prejudice. For those that think these issues start and end with Castor Semenya, this history is essential.

Harper also discusses the science of sex and its impact on exercise and athletics. She details the many different ways that one might not fit neatly into either of the more familiar categories of male and female. Biological sex is nowhere near as simple as one might assume. (Not to even get into issues of gender.) There is some technical stuff to wade through, but the general gist should be digestible by those without much science background. This is summary, though; there are better places to look for more detailed discussions of the science (much of which can be found in the book’s endnotes).

Another important element of the book is Harper’s discussion of some of the legal cases that punctuate the history of trans and intersex athletes. The details and decisions of these cases are historically important and they had direct influence on the current regulations and guidelines of the major sport organizations like the IOC and IAAF.

Much of the latter half of the book focuses on two recent important Court of Arbitration cases involving intersex athletes (Chand and Semenya). Harper was involved in both cases as an expert witness. While I appreciated the inside look into these cases, this is where the book was at its weakest. I wasn’t all that interested in Harper’s evaluation of the various lawyers involved and whether their closing remarks were powerful or not. There was a lot of that sort of thing in these sections and that took away from the more important issue of rehearsing the arguments presented.
Harper is a trans woman and a runner, and she uses her own experiences to help frame parts of the book. This is both a blessing and a curse. It helps to contextualize and humanize much of the more abstract history and science. But it also means that the book is part memoir and so there are various tangents about her own life that were not part of my reasons for reading this book.

Harper’s ultimately position is that elite competitive sports needs to find the right balance of rules and methods to maximize “the possibility that all women can enjoy equitable and meaningful sport” (247). Furthermore, that there are good reasons to keep separating athletes in to male and female divisions and that the use of testosterone levels is the best current method to make this distinction (247). Though she does provide reasons for why this is her position, the book is not really set up to be a clear and cogent argument to support these claims. Its focus is more on presenting the history (both personal and legal) and the science. And on that front, I’d recommend it for those interested in this issue.

I don’t think the book deals enough with the philosophical and ethical aspects of trans and intersex athletes. What makes for fair and meaningful competition? Why are male/female divisions important? If there is a performance advantages by being trans or intersex, why should that matter and how is it different from other kinds of (non-doping) performance advantages? Harper broaches these questions to a degree, but she is not a philosopher and so the discussion is, in my view, too superficial and limited. There is also almost no engagement with the sport philosophy literature that discusses these issues. I still would recommend the book for the history and science angle, but it is not going to answer the meatier questions of philosophy or ethics.

View all my reviews

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Review: The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought

The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern ThoughtThe Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought by Dennis C. Rasmussen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An important work to help understand the relationship and mutual influence of Smith and Hume. Rasmussen explains how the men met, how their relationship developed over the years, and how they influenced each other. It dispels many of myths and half-truths on all these fronts. Rasmussen does such a great job, that by the end, as he discusses Hume's death, you really feel Smith's loss. The depth and poignancy of their friendship shines through.

The reader, Keith Sellon-Wright, was excellent.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Review: Star Wars Lost Stars, Vol. 1 (manga) (Star Wars Lost Stars

Star Wars Lost Stars, Vol. 1 (manga) (Star Wars Lost Stars (manga))Star Wars Lost Stars, Vol. 1 (manga) (Star Wars Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(covering all three volumes)

This is an enjoyable secondary Star Wars story. It doesn't expand on the universe or introduce anything new, but gives us a look into the how the rise and fall the Empire affected the lives and relationships of the main characters: Thane and Ciena. The story does a good job of integrating with the mainline Star Wars story without stepping on it.

I haven't read the Gray's original novel on which the manga is based, so I can't speak to the adaption, but the art in the manga captures the cinematic elements of Star Wars in away that helps bring the story to life. As young adult graphic novel, it has some juvenile aspects but not too many. I definitely enjoyed it (I devoured them in two days).

View all my reviews