Monday, July 24, 2023

Review: The Collector: A Novel

The Collector: A NovelThe Collector: A Novel by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyed the newest Gabriel Allon novel. There are many things I love about these novels. One, though, is the way Silva tells stories. I love the sort of quasi-past tense: the way he sets up a scene from some future perspective, but also has it unfolding for the reader in the present time sequence of the book. The second thing I love is the quick-witted dialogue and repartee of the characters. Lastly, the intricate plotting and the way in which Silva always manages to work into the story art restoration as well as character restoration.

That said, as much I loved the book, it is not without some flaws. There are some plot elements that I thought were a bit rushed. The story too quickly moves away from the art element into the spy operation, and only briefly comes back to it. While several members of Allon's team are part of the story, they are not all that integral to the story. And the new characters introduced are not as developed as is usually the case. Personally I would like stories with more of an Israel flavor to them--although the focus here is quite timely and engaging.

I wonder if Silva might consider doing some spin-off novels, one's that take a secondary character and give it primary billing. A Mikhail focus novel or a Christopher and Sarah adventure. I think that could help breathe some fresh air into the series.

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Sunday, July 23, 2023

Review: A Damn Near Perfect Game: Reclaiming America's Pastime

A Damn Near Perfect Game: Reclaiming America's PastimeA Damn Near Perfect Game: Reclaiming America's Pastime by Joe Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this cool little book from Joe Kelly and Rob Bradford. While nothing terribly insightful or groundbreaking, it is an authentic love letter to the game of baseball. Partly a memoir of Kelly's life in baseball, from t-ball to pro ball, it includes Kelly's reflections on the state of the game today and what he thinks it needs, as the title claims, to reclaim it's honored place as America's pastime. He discusses his run-ins with MLB brass and surprisingly productive meetings with commissioner, Rob Manfred. The last third of the book includes contributions from many other ball players and managers. From Mookie Betts and JD Martinez to Terry Francona and David Ross, and many more, we get a first hand perspective from those that have played the game on why they love the game. This book will speak to anyone who loves baseball.

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Thursday, July 20, 2023

Review: The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work

The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern WorkThe Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work by Joanne B. Ciulla
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was disappointed in and at times frustrated with this book. While there is a lot interesting and useful – Ciulla traces the history of the meaning of work through time as well as laying out various theories of work and management ideas – I found it somewhat one-sided, platitudinous, and over-generalized. (Though obviously not the author's fault, it is is a bit of date as well.)

While Ciulla is by no means anti-work, anti-business, or anti-markets, there is an ideological flavor, shall we say, in much of the book. There are few philosophers or economists referenced that offer heterodox views of the sociological, economic, or moral claims asserted. In this way, the book is rather uncritical of its own claims, even as the author does catalog a range of views of work and life.

The paradox of a study like this is that it tries to draw from a wide range of views and takes on ‘work’, across time, but in so doing it tends to become somewhat superficial. There is this view, and there is that view, and then this other view. As the author acknowledges, “work” covers a lot of different activities and comes with a multitude of attitudes and views about it. Many of these are contradictory. And so in trying to something about ‘work’ it tends towards the superficial. Work is important, work is unimportant. Work is primary, work is secondary. Work is a source of meaning, work is destructive of meaning.

At its best, the book does challenge one to think more about the concept of work, the meaning of work in our lives, and the role it plays (or ought to play) in our lives. It’s just that it wasn’t often at its best.

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Sunday, July 16, 2023

Review: Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World

Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean WorldReligion in the Ancient Mediterranean World by Glenn S. Holland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is sweeping overview of the various religious traditions and ideas of the ancient Mediterranean. Holland covers Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Israelite, Greek and Roman religions, and then early Christianity. For each area, Holland sets up the various historical, archeological, and political contexts. Holland also finds ways to connect each of these periods/areas to each other, but without overdoing it either (he doesn't try to create some grand narrative, he's more or less pointing out similarities and differences and possible points of influence).

The course is quite useful as a general survey. Anyone looking for in-depth analysis, dissection, or critical analysis will be disappointed. But this is generally the case with Teaching Company courses. They are great surveys, giving you the context of knowledge to then dive deeper on your own. This course is the same: Holland's course provides the basis for one to pursue further research in any of these areas. But it is also good for someone who is just looking for the 10000 foot view.

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Sunday, July 09, 2023

Review: Tiamat's Wrath

Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8)Tiamat's Wrath by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The penultimate book in this nine book series is action packed. Many of the earlier ones took a little bit to get going, but this felt like it jumped right back into the action of Book 7 and just kept running. I liked the POV changes between chapters that overlapped, giving the book a bit more frenetic pace while also signaling the simultaneity of various elements of the story.

One of the interesting leitmotifs of this book is the question of how to resist tyranny both ethically and authentically. What strategies are most appropriate and how do you go about these without losing who you are?

I can't wait to read Book 9, but I am sad to come to the end. These characters are so vivid and so well drawn, they live in my head for a long time after I finish the books.

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