Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Review: Spencer & Locke

Spencer & Locke Spencer & Locke by David Pepose
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This graphic novel blew my mind. I adore Calvin And Hobbes. Easily my favorite all time comic strip; it is not even close. Watterson's strip was beautiful, poignant, and brilliant.

But imagine the darker timeline. What if Calvin's world was not a loving, middle-class upbringing? What would Calvin have been like? And what if he became a cop and still had Hobbes around? That's what you get in this amazingly creative noir graphic novel.

You don't need to been as big a C&H fan as I am to appreciate what the authors have done in their retelling and re-conceptualization of C&H. It certainly helps to get some of the background, but it's an intriguing story on its own.

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Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This a great book. It's a refreshing fantasy story; exciting and well-written. The characters are interesting and the story new. While there are elements/motifs from other fantasy novels (be it Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter), Rothfuss isn't rehashing these. There is magic and there are dragons and demons. There is a boy turning into a man while at school where he is an outsider and causing all kinds of trouble. But Rothfuss creates a new tale out of these many of these classic elements. The world creation is subtle but deep. There is mystery and intrigue in the story Rothfuss tells us. And he shows us this world in a beautiful and detailed way (without ever being pretentious). Highly recommend it to anyone who loves the fantasy genre.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Review: Mojave Crossing

Mojave Crossing Mojave Crossing by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sackett novels are such fun. L'Amour is wonderful at depicting the southwest: its beauty, its danger, its allure. They do get a little formulaic at times, but L'Amour is such a master it doesn't matter.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Review: State of the Union

State of the Union State of the Union by Brad Thor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thor writes a fun, entertaining thriller. But it's boiler-plate, formulaic. Harvath is no different than any other character in this genre. There is little character development, growth, or exploration. The plot is straight-forward--even if somewhat preposterous. It's basically the standard-issue, indistinguishable summer action flick but on the page.

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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Review: Democracy and Political Ignorance

Democracy and Political Ignorance Democracy and Political Ignorance by Ilya Somin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In many ways, this is a frightening book. Somin goes into careful detail on the arguments and evidence for widespread and persistent political ignorance. Then he discusses the harm such ignorance has on policy and good governance. And then he shows that most solutions are likely to fail to significantly reduce the problem. Some of the solutions discussed wouldn’t likely work even if they were feasible or likely to be implemented. Many of the other solutions—including Somin’s own suggestion: limiting the scope and power of government—suffer from the paradox that to implement them means first overcoming the problem of political ignorance.

Thought there is some technical detail; Somin has an exceptionally clear style. He’s careful and thorough in his research, and makes great effort to be balanced and intellectually honest.

The case Somin makes for limiting the scope (what government can do) and power (decentralizing power) of government is persuasive – though I am predisposed towards his conclusions to start with. Nevertheless, Somin’s discussion of the contrasting efficacy between ballot voting and voting with one’s feet does a lot to make a relatively ideologically neutral argument for limiting the power and scope of government.

There is one persistent sticking point for me. So the long-standing evidence shows that most voters lack political knowledge. This is explained by the theory of rational ignorance: where since (1) gaining more political knowledge takes resources (time, effort) and (2) any individual vote has almost no chance of having an impact (no payoff), it is rational to remain ignorant: there is no payoff for the resources invested. A potential problem here is that one thing that voters are ignorant of is (2). Most voters think their vote matters and has an important impact (and this why they vote). So it seems that by their own standards, they should be investing the resources to gain more political knowledge. But they don’t. This makes it seem that their ignorance is not, by their own lights, rational. Maybe the literature on rational ignorance has an answer to this, but the ones I’ve come across don’t seem to explain it to my satisfaction. Somin’s response seems to be that this falls into a sort of sweet spot: voters overestimate their impact (so they go to vote) but not enough to give them an incentive to get more political knowledge. This may be the case, but I still don’t find it satisfying. It might explain the paradox of voting, but I’m not sure it explains the apparent irrationality of thinking your vote has an impact while remaining ignorant.

This is an important book that any one interested in social knowledge, political philosophy, or political science ought to read.

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Monday, October 09, 2017

Review: One False Move

One False Move One False Move by Harlan Coben
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoy the Bolitar series. Coben has created an interesting set of characters. They are not all original or novel for the genre, but the admixture is unique and works well.

This installment was very good. The set up and mystery were well crafted. And we get some character growth and development with Myron, Win, and Esperanza. The ending was even a bit of surprise.

The only thing that bothered me was how dated it felt. It was only published 1998 but it feels like an alien world. Every time one of the character said "cellular phone" I cringed a little. Myron even uses microfiche machine to search newspapers. Microfiche! Might as well be talking about gramophones and talkies. Obviously this is not Coben's fault but it's somewhat weird that a book not even 20 years old could feel so out of date technology-wise. This doesn't bother me as much with novels from the 70s or novels that are intentional set in another time. I think it stands out here because these books are contemporary.

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Review: Words on the Move: Why English Won't - And Can't - Sit Still

Words on the Move: Why English Won't - And Can't - Sit Still Words on the Move: Why English Won't - And Can't - Sit Still by John McWhorter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

McWhorter's approach to language and linguistics is refreshing and enlightening. As a trade book, I am sure the ruffles and edges of more scholarly approaches are smoothed out, but McWhorter does a good job of making it simple without being simplistic.

In this work, McWhorter discusses how languages are constantly adapting and changing. He explains how the ceaseless shifts in sounds, usages, and meanings change the language and our understanding of it.

For the purists out there (and I have a lot of sympathy for this group) some of what McWhorter says might not fit comfortably. He makes, however, a persuasive case for his point of view and he is frank about the counterarguments.

Most of all, McWhorter is funny and engaging, a pleasure to read regardless (or irregardless) of your agreement with his view.

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Review: Words on the Move: Why English Won't - And Can't - Sit Still

Words on the Move: Why English Won't - And Can't - Sit Still Words on the Move: Why English Won't - And Can't - Sit Still by John McWhorter
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

McWhorter's approach to language and linguistics is refreshing and enlightening. As a trade book, I am sure the ruffles and edges of more scholarly approaches are smoothed out, but McWhorter does a good job of making it simple without being simplistic.

In this work, McWhorter discusses how languages are constantly adapting and changing. He explains how the ceaseless shifts in sounds, usages, and meanings change the language and our understanding of it.

For the purists out there (and I have a lot of sympathy for this group) some of what McWhorter says might not fit comfortably. He makes, however, a persuasive case for his point of view and he is frank about the counterarguments.

Most of all, McWhorter is funny and engaging, a pleasure to read regardless (or irregardless) of your agreement with his view.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Empire's End

Empire's End Empire's End by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this conclusion to the Aftermath trilogy, we see the story lines of the main characters get wrapped up. [Spoiler Warning: some of what I write might be spoiler-ish]
Overall, I liked the book and the trilogy. It introduces some great characters into the Star Wars universe while also staying grounded in the Star Wars with which many are most familiar. The story is put together well and it authentically feels like Star Wars (with one exception) That said, I didn’t love the ending. I’m not sure why, maybe it just felt a little anti-climatic. Don’t get me wrong, there is a definitely an exciting climax and it is handled well. But I was expecting something more with Rax and Jakku. The set up for whatever is coming next is there and that’s good. So maybe I’m just being picky, but emotionally there was something of a minor let down.

The one exception to the authentic feel was Han Solo. Maybe because Han is my favorite character, the Han character here just didn’t seem right. It seemed more like someone else playing Han.

The foreshadowing for the new trilogy movies is there—especially for Kylo Ren. I’m sure there were some hints about Rey (Especially since it takes place a lot on Jakku) and Finn, but if there were, I missed them.

I don’t think we’ll see movies of this trilogy, but I do hope they pick up Sloan’s story in some way.

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Review: Vanishing Act

Vanishing Act Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A compelling thriller that takes you through northern New York, Canada, and LA; from big cities to deep into the mountain and lakes of northern New York. It is not unpredictable, but the how and the particulars are gripping. Whether driving, running, or flying, the story never sits still. The protagonist is refreshing. She is capable, smart, and tough. Her Native American heritage adds a layer of depth and complexity to both her character and the story. Definitely a series worth checking out.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a child of the eighties, this book is chock full of nostalgia. As fun as that is, the novel is much more than that. It's not necessarily particularly original, but the way Cline puts the parts together is creative and entertaining. He creates a believable dystopic future that doesn't feel that far off. There are some good twists in the plot that keep it from becoming too predictable or simplistic. The main characters are relatable and interesting, but not all that complex and don't grow or develop much. This is one of its weaknesses. Another weakness is that it ends up being a bit too heavy on the theme of OASIS as too escapist. That's part of the characters' stories, and that's fine. But there is a lot of value that is being created in this VR world too. The characters recognize this, but it gets a little undermined by the escapism theme at times. I would have also liked a little more world building in OASIS--if only to experience it more.

It's not a novel that likely will be a classic sci-fi; but it is great fun to read.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Review: Play Matters

Play Matters Play Matters by Miguel Sicart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The account of play in Play Matters is quite interesting, though too unsystematic and too rooted in postmodern ideas. The account also suffers somewhat from “Huizinga-Syndrome”— that is, finding “play under nearly every rock in the social landscape” (Suits, “Words on Play”). One of the central aspects of Sicart’s account is that play is appropriative: it takes over other parts of our lives and experiences. This tends to assimilate everything as play. Seeing play as carnivalesque, as Sicart presents it, also tends to bring too much under the concept: everything from vandalism to political activism gets swept into play.

I liked his conception of play as a way of experiencing and being in the world and that it is not mere frivolity or childish. Sicart discusses play as a way of expressing and experience ourselves in the world. It is a way of seeing the world and a way of relating to the things and people around us. In these ways, play can, importantly, be productive of certain kinds of values, experiences, and community.

Another really interesting part of the book is Sicart’s distinction between play and playfulness. Playfulness is the application of aspects of play to contexts that are not play. So one might be playful in a book review or wedding ceremony without subverting the actual ends of those activities and subsuming them into play itself. Play as such has a logic all its own and wouldn’t be appropriate for all contexts. But one could still be playful in those contexts. Some of my criticism of his Huizinga-Syndrome might be resolved if instead of seeing all the things he presents as play, these are just a certain kind of playfulness.

The first two chapters, where Sicart discusses his account of play and then playfulness, are the most philosophically worthwhile parts of the book. As Sicart extends his account into other areas, the postmodern roots show themselves more and the philosophical content dips. The discussion becomes overly broad, ambiguous, and sweeping as postmodern influenced writing characteristically gets. But, then, maybe Sicart is just being playful.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Review: Lando

Lando Lando by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like the other Sacketts, this book combines beautiful, lovingly described landscapes with the grittiness of life on the trail and in the rugged west. Orlando himself is something of a different kind of Sackett: he carries on the traditional Sackett virtues, but largely comes to adulthood on his own. His father is not around and he has no brothers. There is a lot of action from gun battles to fisttocuffs to races. And the book ranges from the mountains of Tennessee to Texas and also to the Gulf in Mexico. It's great fun.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Review: The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides

The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides by Arnold Kling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this short book (essay really), Kling presents a structure to help you understand the nature of political discussions. We are always talking past each other, misunderstanding and misconstruing each other. Kling shows us that this is because we are in many ways speaking different languages. Kling calls these axes: Conservatives tend to speak in a barbarian/civilization axis; Progressives in a oppressor/oppressed axis, and Libertarians in a coercion/liberty axis. These axis tend to frame the way members of these political tribes look at and describe the world.

So, for example, a libertarian tends to view political discussions and topics as existing on an axis from coercion (bad) to liberty (good). So when libertarians talk about politics, they frame it in those terms. Meanwhile, a progressive looks at thinks in terms of oppression (bad) and liberating/supporting the oppressed (good) and frame things in those terms. But since these categories are not picking out the same sets, we don't understand each other when one side says some policy is good. (e.g. "It's a good policy because it is meant to help poor workers." But "That can't be good its coercive".) And so the discussion goes nowhere; each side frustrated by the apparent obstinance or stupidity of the other side.

Kling discusses why we tend to fall into these tribes and axes as well as the pernicious affect these have on rational, truth seeking discussions. In part, due to this framing, we tend to see the other tribes as evil and irrational hellbent on destroying our deepest values. These other tribes are either stupid or conniving, manipulative conspirators. If they were smart or honest, they would, of course, recognize the truth and agree with one's own tribe. But, of course, the other tribes say the same about you and your tribe.

The ultimate take away, and Kling's hope, is that by being more aware of your own axis and language, as well as the other axes and languages, you can be less susceptible to your own biases and less likely to be dismissive of those with you disagree. You can better understand why they are wrong (and if they are wrong) when you don't just dismiss them as stupid or irrational. You will be better able and open to discover problems or weaknesses in your view as well. This might actually lead to more fruitful and reasonable political discussions.

It's a quick read, concisely and clearly written. It's nothing ground breaking, Kling is building on the work of many others (and he has a nice appendix that discusses the work he is building on.) But it is definitely worth reading for anyone frustrated by the seemingly lack of actual or reasonable discussion in politics.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: 1984

1984 1984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. Okay, I didn’t openly weep like I did in Where the Red Fern Grows , but it made me very sad. Does one need spoiler alerts for a nearly 70-year-old book? Just in case…spoilers ahead.

Winston’s welcomed acceptance and outright love of his defeat is what is so sad. In the end, he utterly betrays himself and all his values – and is glad to do so. If he was just defeated, it would be merely tragic; the hero fallen. In mere defeat, there can at least be a kind of grace or honor of having fought the good fight. But his almost ecstatic joy at being finally and fully defeated makes it so much worse. There is no dignity, no hope, no self, no human being left. And, of course, that’s the point.

Orwell’s insight into the psychology of totalitarian control as well as the motivations of those in control and those subjugated goes deep. O’Brien and Winston’s conversations in the last third of the book are worth much reflection.

1984 is heralded as a prescient and cautionary book about the dangers of the surveillance state. And it is, and the surveillance state is a real concern. However, I think most miss the real and more important warning of 1984: the dangers of the renunciation of individualism and reason. As much as Orwell was a socialist, he decried the evils of collectivism in much of his work (never mind how he squares the circle of an individualistic socialism—doublethink?). He was a fierce and early critic of both the Soviets and the Nazis: recognizing that the danger they posed was the same: collectivism. Both devoured the individual and subjected the mind to the state. Reason was their greatest enemy; hence the constant resort to violence, often random. This was not merely to get rid of explicit enemies, but to stultify the reasoning mind. 1984 takes these “ideals” to their full logical consequence. It is terrifying and depressing: it is a book without hope. And that’s what makes it so sad.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: House of Spies

House of Spies House of Spies by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This picks up the story from The Black Widow, but it has a very different feel and tone. Silva was certainly having fun with this one: the settings are more exotic: from Saint-Tropez in Southern France to the edges of the Sahara desert in Morocco; from London to Casablanca. Whereas The Black Widow was intriguing and thrilling because it takes us into heart and mind of ISIS, The House of Spies is intriguing and thrilling because of the glamour and glitz of the long con that Gabriel and his team are engaged into to catch Saladin. It has all the elements that make Gabriel Allon such a great series: the characters we fans love are all here doing their thing.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: How You Play the Game: A Philosopher Plays Minecraft

How You Play the Game: A Philosopher Plays Minecraft How You Play the Game: A Philosopher Plays Minecraft by Charlie Huenemann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As both a father of die-hard Minecrafter and a player myself, there was much to enjoy about this little book. It was at its best when Huenemann used Steve’s perspective to explore some of the philosophic ideas and questions inherent in the game and in playing it. Steve, as a narrator in the book, engages in his own philosophic musings and meditations much like a Minecraftian Descartes. It was in these passages that book was the most intriguing and innovating; giving a new perspective on the game. The book was weaker (note: not bad, just less interesting for me) when Huenemann takes over the narration. Partly this is because of my own training as a philosopher. It’s less novel for me when he draws out, for the example, the Humean ideas in Steve’s musing. I think for a non-philosopher interested in learning more about philosophy these parts might be helpful and interesting. But for me, they were kind of old hat. I wanted more of Socratic Steve.

It’s a quick, fun read. It raises some interesting questions and does a nice job of covering many of the traditional and conventional questions and thinkers in philosophy. It could even be a nice supplement to an intro course.

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Sunday, July 09, 2017

Review: Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct Killer Instinct by Zoƫ Sharp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found a new series! Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox is smart and tough. She is a throwback to classic protagonists of the genre. She's got a sharp tongue, kicks butt, and solves the crime without much help from the police. She is self-contained and competent without being superheroish.

Sharp weaves a thrill ride of story--though a bit gruesome at times. It isn't all that unpredictable, but there are enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes. I enjoy her style and the way she uses the language. She took cliches and made them fresh. There is a lot of British slang that add to the tone and setting. I could almost hear the text in British accent.

Definitely recommend this for fans of the genre and the likes of Lee Child, Robert Parker, etc.,

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Review: The Black Widow

The Black Widow The Black Widow by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Silva is at his disturbing and prescient best here. Allon is preparing to take over the Office but first he has to send an agent to infiltrate ISIS and prevent a major attack. Allon and his team (with an interesting new member) are back in action from Syria and Iraq to Paris and Washington. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I won’t say more. Although I will say that I am thankful (and hopeful) that ISIS is not as capable as Silva presents them here.

Given the way this ended, the story line in Black Widow continues into the next one. I can’t wait for the next volume (out this summer).

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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Review: John Adams

John Adams John Adams by David McCullough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m in the minority here, I know, but I was quite underwhelmed by McCullough’s biography of John Adams. Now maybe it was the audio version, but I had trouble getting through it. I’ve listened to Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton biographies and they all captured the spirit, intensity, and drama of the age far more than McCullough’s book. McCullough seemed much more intent on capturing the daily ebb and flow of Adams’ day-to-day life. There were tedious sections of back and forth correspondence, filled with the likes of the minutiae of his daily walks or the shopping necessary to outfit the house in France. Some of this is to good end: his relationship with Abigail, for example, comes out in their correspondence quite clearly.

When McCullough does get to the more historical elements, the book picks up pace and can be quite good. McCullough shows the reader the tremendously important impact that Adams had on the birth of this nation: his role in the early revolution, the drafting of the Declaration, the securing of financing for the revolution, and his presidency (which was not nearly as successful as the former items).

McCullough does a good job of balancing the pros and cons of Adams’ character. His pride and vanity is clear as day, but so too is his honesty and integrity. He could be overbearing and pedantic, but he is a man of deep principle and commitment to the liberty of the republic and it citizens.

One of the interesting things about reading the biographies of the Founders is getting the different points of view of the other Founders. In McCullough’s Adams, the main antagonist, so to speak, is Jefferson. Jefferson comes off, as he does in other places, as incredibly intelligent but hypocritical. His relationship with Adams is complex and helps to draw out the character of each man. Hamilton makes some brief appearances and predictably is dismissed as a dangerous power-hunger intriguer. Washington is distant: his presence is felt, but he doesn’t seem to be much of a direct player here.

Adams is an important figure who helped shape his age and ours, largely for the better. It is worth knowing more about him and I’m glad I slogged my way through until the end. McCullough’s style might be more suited to the eye than the eye, so this might have been a book I should have read, rather than listened to.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Review: The Dark Wind

The Dark Wind The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everything that fans of Hillerman would want: Beautiful descriptions of the Arizona and New Mexico landscape; the intrigue of mystery; and the intricacies of Navajo and Hopi traditions. Hillerman's books show us how the world looks through, at least in this case, Jimmy Chee's eyes. I love Chee's curiosity about the world and his need to find the pattern and reason behind the happenings of the world.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review: Like Dreamers: The Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, and the Divided Israel They Created

Like Dreamers: The Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, and the Divided Israel They Created Like Dreamers: The Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, and the Divided Israel They Created by Yossi Klein Halevi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like Dreamers is not a definitive history of the Six Day War, of Israel, or the Arab-Israeli conflicts, but instead is a deeply personal exploration of the lives of individuals connected by this history. It is a wonderful book, worth reading by anyone interested in Israel and connected topics.

This is one of the several things I liked about how Halevi tells this story. While the major, famous names: Ben-Gurion, Rabin, Sharon, Begin, etc., are part of it, they are never the focus, never the movers of the story. The focus is always on the lives of the paratroopers. This gives it the feel of bottom-up history, rather than a history of ‘great men.’ And that provides a more authentic and personal connection to the events and lives of those affected by the events.

The narrative is at once exhilarating, aspirational, sad, poignant, funny, and thought-provoking. The first half tracks the lives of several of the individuals of the paratrooper brigade that helped to capture Jerusalem during the Six Day War. From their childhood to the 67 war, the narrative builds towards the capture and reunification of Jerusalem. This is presented as the apex of Israeli unity. The jubilation, the exhilaration, the joy of the moment: the overnight shift from facing annihilation to redeeming the 2,000-year-old dream of Jewish history.

The second half of the book, though, walks through how this vision of unity quickly fades—both between these individuals and within the nation. In this way, the author captures the diverse and divergent visions of the Israeli left and right, the Peace Now-ers and Greater Israel-ers, the kibbtuzniks and the settlers, the secular and the religious. And by focusing on particular individuals, Halevi shows how these divisions and categories break down and intertwine. Individuals—and their nations—are far more complex and complicated then a set of abstract ideological views. By showing us, through the lives of individuals, how their ideas and views developed, changed, and morphed in the face of a changing world, it gives a depth and humanity to the competing narratives of Israel (within Israel). It shows an abounding respect for these different ways to be Israeli, to be Zionist, to be Jewish.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New Podcast: Examined Sport

My old Sports Ethics Show podcast has been on hiatus for far too long. Instead of just starting that back up again, I am relaunching it with a new name, Examined Sport, and a new concept.

The concept is ten to fifteen minute podcasts that focus on arguments or concepts from the philosophy of sport and analyze or explain them in simple and direct ways. I will look at classic, discipline-defining articles, exciting newly published works, and dig deep to rediscover important but not as well-known papers.

 Examined Sport mission:
  1. Extend the reach of the philosophy of sport literature.
  2. Be a resource for students to learn more about philosophy of sport.
  3. Highlight essential themes of the literature.
  4. Rediscover important and interesting papers.
  5. Spur new thought and research in the philosophy of sport.
The first episode is, logically, on Bernard Suits classic article: “What is a Game?”

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
You can also watch each episode on The Sports Ethicist YouTube channel. (Archives of the old show are also available on iTunes and YouTube.)

Review: Aftermath: Life Debt

Aftermath: Life Debt Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a little bit longer to get into Life Debt than Aftermath, but by the half way point the book gets cooking. I know many people were critical of Aftermath and praised Life Debt more, but I liked Aftermath a lot. I also like Life Debt. There's more Han and Chewie, enough said. Admiral Sloane is a really interesting character and I'm curious to see what happens with her.

The first two books feel very much like a Star Wars story; Wendig does a great job of capturing the feel and the characters. It has to be daunting to write characters we know so well, like Han or Leia, but he does a believable job of portraying them. And the new characters he develops are quite good: Sinjir, Jas, and Mr. Bones are my favorites. Mr. Bones has some of the best lines: "A HUG IS LIKE VIOLENCE MADE OF LOVE" and "I ENJOY EVISCERATION."

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Robert B. Parker's Little White Lies

Robert B. Parker's Little White Lies Robert B. Parker's Little White Lies by Ace Atkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first Atkins' Spenser that I was a little disappointed in. Atkins still does a good job of capturing Spenser, but the story here didn't quite come off. It meandered somewhat and engaged in a little too much nostalgia by trotting out too many characters from previous books. Individually, I like Atkins bringing this or that character back, but there were too many in this book.

That said, I like that Atkins is playing a bit with the characters and exploring them more. Spenser shows more vulnerability. Hawk is still mysterious but we get more of the contours of who he is.

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Friday, May 05, 2017

Review: Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story starts a bit slow, but as the pieces start to come together, it hooks you. Gaiman uses Caribbean and African myths as a backdrop to tell a story that is ultimately about finding yourself in the world. It is about coming to grips with where you came from (your parents, your ancestry), but at the same time being you and not letting that stuff either keep you down or define who you are.

Gaiman has a knack for writing stories that blend the mundane and the fantastical. Anansi Boys is no different: the fantastical world of the myths and stories fit naturally into the life of a rather boring bookkeeper’s life. Still, as the stories are told, this mundane boring life changes, evolves into something new and compelling.

Some might not like the tidiness of the ending or the predictability of various plot-lines; but the story captures the imagination and you want to ride out what you know is coming: (1) to make sure that is indeed what will happen and (2) because you want to watch it happen.

FWIW: I haven't read American Gods (yet)

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Against Democracy

Against Democracy Against Democracy by Jason Brennan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Against Democracy, as the name suggests, is a devastating critique of democracy both in terms of the efficacy of real-world democracies to provide competent government and the moral justifications for democracy (more precisely, universal suffrage as a moral right). It is at its best when it challenges and debunks our cherished assumptions about and views of democracy.

I find the book less convincing when it comes to Brennan’s proposed alternative: epistocracy. This is the rule of the knowers; or more precisely, the idea that in some way voting or governing is restricted by some kind of test of knowledge. For example, you only get to vote if you can pass an exam like the citizenship test or everyone gets a vote, but people who can pass such an exam get extra votes. Brennan briefly discusses several possible ways epistocracy might work (and there are many), but without any actual full-blown epistocracies to look at, it is hard to get a feel for just what such a system would really look like and how such a system would actually work. This is hardly Brennan’s fault; there just aren’t any real-world examples to present.

He does discuss some of the epistocratic elements already in place (e.g. Supreme Court) and this helps make things clearer. Nevertheless, I think he might have spent more time fleshing out a few of the more promising alternatives in greater detail. After all, the discussion of epistocracy proper is only one chapter (I would assume Brennan is saving this for his next book.)

Without the more fleshed out alternatives, it is harder to evaluate them and compare them to democracy (which is what Brennan wants us to do). It also makes it harder to determine whether some of the objections raised against epistocracy are answered adequately. For example, I am not sure the demographic objection is satisfactorily met. This is the concern that epistocracy would, given the current demographic realities, disenfranchise individuals that are part of already disadvantaged groups. Brennan’s response boils down to the claim that since epistocracy should yield better policies (especially for such groups, who have been ill served by democracy), these individuals will be better off under epistocracy. This might be true but it sure doesn't seem like it would convince someone deeply concerned about this issue. Of course, that doesn’t show that Brennan is wrong, but it tugs at how deep the perceived value of voting is and that at least from a rhetorical point of view more work needs to be done.

Another practical concern is that Brennan never addresses how we get there from here. What is the realistic path to adopting his vision? If democracies are as incompetent as he convincingly argues, then how do we get democracies to change and implement epistocracy (peacefully)?

Another concern I have, and this runs through a lot of Brennan’s work that I have read, is that he has way more confidence in empirical social science than I tend to think is warranted. I am not denying the value of this science or its importance in making these kinds of arguments. Nevertheless, I think more humility and caution is needed when using it. The empirical data seems to me to be more limited in terms of scope and generalizability than Brennan seems to treat it. That said, he is explicitly cautious at times, just not as much as I think he needs to be.

I am sympathetic to Brennan’s arguments against democracy and for epistocracy. But I worry that's because I am not part of the groups that are disenfranchised by Brennan's proposals: my position in society is not likely to be affected. Would someone in those groups find the view as appealing? Probably not. But, then, such people aren't reading books like these I (and maybe that’s part of the problem).

As a realistic alternative, I don’t think epistocracy will win the day anytime soon. But I think the book has important value in the present forcing us to rethink the way see democracy and by making the case that more epistocratic elements need to be added or strengthened in our republic.

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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Review: Sackett

Sackett Sackett by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel introduces Tell, the older brother of Orrin and Tyrel Sackett from the previous novel The Daybreakers. The story arc is similar to other Sackett stories: the wandering, the run-ins with unwise ruffians, and the beautiful woman the Sackett falls in love with. The story is great fun, if a bit formulaic. Like the other Sackett stories, L'Amour paints beautiful pictures of the Western landscape while weaving together (and sometimes creating) the idioms, tropes, and mythos of "The West."

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Friday, April 07, 2017

Review: Memorial Day

Memorial Day Memorial Day by Vince Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Flynn explores a frightening possibility; one that seems all too realistic. The hero Rapp is able, of course, to thwart the attack and save the world yet again--all in thrilling fashion.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review: Aftermath

Aftermath Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was great! It both introduces you to new aspects of the Star Wars universe but at the same time staying in the world fans of the movie will recognize. It mostly focuses on new characters, though a few of the main movie characters have cameos. I liked the structure with the interludes that focused on what was going on elsewhere in the galaxy: it gave you a feel for the whole universe here, more than just the main plot and characters. they also felt like they were setting up for future characters and events later on. It was also interesting to get the Imperials point of view as well--something you don't get in the movies. There is very little in terms of the Force and so it feels more like a straight up sci-fi novel. The characters introduced are interesting: refreshing but also fitting the forms typical of Star Wars. I can't wait to read book 2.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meacham's biography and history is not bad, but it could meander a bit. He weaves in many little stories and anecdotes about aspects of Jefferson's personal, daily life that I found less interesting. I get why Meacham does this: he wants to show Jefferson as a complete human being, but I found it distracting. The book is at its best when it focuses on the more historical aspects of Jefferson's life.

While Meacham's expressed goal was not to lionize Jefferson -- and this book is not a hagiography -- there are times that I think he glosses over the more problematic, partisan, or inconsistent Jefferson to focus on the grander Jefferson. He covers the former elements, but they are down played maybe a bit too much. This might just be a factor of having recently also listened to Chernow's bio of Hamilton where Jefferson doesn't come off grand at all. Speaking of Hamilton, it was surprising how little a role Hamilton has in Meacham's biography. Adams is Jefferson's antagonist here, not Hamilton.

Edward Hermann was a fantastic reader: I could listen to him read the phone book.

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Monday, March 06, 2017

Review: Echo Burning

Echo Burning Echo Burning by Lee Child
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A skillfully crafted thriller that is full of twists. It's implausible and ridiculous in the way that such thrillers are -- but that's the point and part of the charm. Reacher's reluctant heroism driven by his sense of justice and compassion for Ellie saves the day in this racist, backwater Texas town. The portraits of the different characters from Carmen to Ellie to Alice to Hack to Rusty provide the foundation for the plot and the action.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: The Free Market Existentialist: Capitalism without Consumerism

The Free Market Existentialist: Capitalism without Consumerism The Free Market Existentialist: Capitalism without Consumerism by William Irwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

William Irwin’s The Free Market Existentialist is a clear and concise exploration of the compatibility of three views not often united under one heading: existentialism, a defense of free markets, and moral anti-realism.

Irwin is explicit that he doesn’t expect existentialists to turn into limited government libertarians, nor libertarians to become existentialists. His goal is more modest: showing that there is nothing incompatible about the conjoining of these views and there might even be ways in which they fit better than other more conventional pairings. In this regard, I think Irwin achieves his goals. One might not walk away from this book a free market existentialist himself, but one will, I think, see how that’s not some crazy oxymoron either.

In terms of the existentialism, Irwin’s focus is primarily on Sartre and his work. First, Sartre is possibly the best-known existentialist and second, he was a Marxist. Irwin makes a convincing case against Sartrean Marxism and then explains how many of Sartre’s themes might be a better fit with free market capitalism. He also suggests how one’s understanding of free markets and one’s self within free markets can be improved by taking an existentialist perspective.

The last two chapters of the book focus on explaining Irwin’s vision of free markets. It is not his goal here to be exhaustive or to provide the philosophical foundations and justifications for free markets (there are footnotes directly to such sources). The vision presented is standard classical liberal/libertarian fare and I have little to quibble with here.

The part of the book I found the most wanting was the focus on moral anti-realism. Irwin describes moral anti-realism as the rejection of the view that morality exists independently of anyone’s beliefs about it. I think that is probably too broad—though that depends on what we mean by morality existing and existing independently. The meta-ethical issues about the existence of morality are complex, and I think, largely muddled. (To be clear: the issues themselves are muddled, not Irwin’s discussion). While the bridges between moral anti-realism and existentialism were easier to grasp, the relation of moral anti-realism to free markets was less persuasive—thought not without some interesting and worthwhile points.

I think the choice of title is telling. Irwin is the eponymous Free Market Existentialist; he is not providing us with an ‘ism’ to take up. There may be others who share his view (I admit to be sympathetic: I used to describe Rand’s Objectivism as Existentialism on Prozac) but, as he says in the conclusion, he’s not trying to start a new orthodoxy. It’s about starting a conversation and I think Irwin’s book does just that.

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Review: Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Different and far darker than I expected--though I didn't really know what to expect. The noir artwork and themes drew me too it (and the guy at the comic book store highly recommended it). I hadn't even heard of the original novels by Richard Stark.

Parker is the protagonist - but he's certainly no hero. He does, though, have that inner code that noir protagonists have. He's a completely self-sufficient and supremely competently man. You do not want to cross this guy--as he is makes crystal clear in the course of the book. As Spenser said of Hawk: "He's not a good man, but he's good."

I haven't read many graphic novels, so I don't have much to compare this to. But the art fit the story very well. It helped set the mood and tone.

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Review: Live by Night

Live by Night Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had this book on my shelf for a bit but when I saw it was being made into a movie, I decided it was time to read it. It's a great book; Lehane at the top of his game. It should make a great movie.

It's precursor The Given Day was really good, but was a bit unwieldy. There were too many story lines going at once. Live by Night is much more focused on just Joe Coughlin's life. This allowed the reader to get much more inside of Joe's life than Danny's and the other characters from The Given Day. We get a much more introspective novel.

It didn't strike me until reading this how existential Lehane's novels are. All of his novels seem to be about characters thrown into a violent and absurd world, facing hard choices, trying to make the best of their lives. Nevertheless, Lehane's characters are far more constrained by their past and their environments than a Sartrean Existentialist would have them (radical freedom and all). This is evident with Coughlin as well--and in part is one of themes of the book: one's past will catch up to you and reaps its 'rewards.'

The one thing I am still not sure about is the ending. I won't spoil it, but it didn't sit quite right with me. That said, I am not sure any other ending would have been better.

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Monday, January 02, 2017

Defining Sport Published

I'm proud to announce the publication of my newest book: Defining Sport: Conceptions and Borderlines.

This is the first book in Lexington Books series: Studies in Philosophy of Sport. (FYI: let me know if you have an idea for a book in this series.)

More information on the book here.