Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, May 2011
Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.
- K. A. Stewart, A Devil in the Details
- Merline Lovelace, Now You See Her and Catch Her if You Can
- Mind-candy, assorted. I imagine that having worked on a DARPA grant for
several years probably made the Lovelace books more amusing to me.
- Stephen King, The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three
- "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed..." I do not care for the revisions — I see why King made them, but I think they are nonetheless mistakes — but I think the sory is still there, and still great.
- Laura Bickle, Embers and Sparks
- Mind-candy. Protecting Detroit from supernatural menaces, whether it wants
it or not. (Arson investigation has long been a particularly thankless task in
- Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth, Stumptown: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)
- Mind-candy: a love-letter to Portland, in the form of a comic-book detective story, which does not insult the reader's intelligence.
R. Rochon, Culture
Moves: Ideas, Activism, and Changing Values [official blurb, with some previews]
- A book about how intellectuals develop new values and social movements
spread and entrench them, explicitly inspired by the great moral regeneration
of this country in the second half of the twentieth century, at the hands of
the civil rights movement, feminism and environmentalism, but also looking at
other, more or less successful, progressive movements. (Various right-wing
movement actually fit his schema fairly well, but are only mentioned in
passing.) The basic idea is that "critical communities come" up with new ideas
about values (mostly by changing the application of old values, sometimes by
bringing new areas under the domain of valuation in the first place, as the
environmentalists did), but that then these get taken up and spread by social
movements, which transform their participants in the process.
- The book is interesting, decently written for sociology, and reasonably
convincing. I suspect that the scheme is too tidy --- it seems overly
influenced by the French Enlightenment, and the idea of a vanguard party, and
to give insufficient weight to how activists themselves develop and change
ideas through struggling to realize them --- but not at all absurd.
- The data analysis, however, annoys me. Why oh why do people insist on
taking (Pearson) correlation coefficients among categorical variables? The one
which killed me is when Rochon used what sounds like a fantastic longitudinal
data set to show that participating in protests in the 1960s and 1970s had
long-term impacts on the values and attitudes of then-young adults. The
problem is that those who participated in the protests began as
detectably different from non-protestors, so seeing that protestors and
non-protestors later diverged doesn't get at the impact of being in the
movement --- we could just be seeing two developmental trajectories, one
more common among the protestors, the other less. The right comparison (for
once) would be to match
protestors with those who were similar before the protest, but did not, as it
turned out, join the movement, and look at how they diverged. This may not
make a big difference in the end, but it wouldn't've killed him to do it right,
- Noel Maurer and Carlos
Big Ditch: How America Took, Built, Ran, and Ultimately Gave Away the Panama
- An economic history of the construction and operation of the Canal,
centering on how much it was worth to the US, and how much we paid for it.
"Worth" here is evaluated by asking how much more it would have cost to move
the same flows of goods by the next-cheapest alternative, which for the earlier
part of the story meant a combination of trans-continental railroads, and
sailing around South America. Initially, the Canal was a great deal for the US
--- and, unsurprisingly, an even better deal on the terms we extracted from our
puppet state of Panama than we could have gotten from Colombia. By the
post-WWII era, however, it was no longer so important for us, in no small part
because of the creation of the Interstate highway system. Giving it back made
sense, but was hampered by the lobbying of the rent-capturing, and solidly
reactionary, American "Zonians", as well as a wide-spread distate for
abandoning an imperial possession. As they put it in a nice phrase (which I
cannot re-find right now for exact quotation), the Canal went from being a tool
of American national defense, to a symbol of defensive American nationalism.
America never really operated the Canal on a profit-maximizing basis, at first
deliberately (the un-extracted surplus for users went into the American
economy), and then by default (institutional capture by the Zonians). Panama,
not being so constrained, has done very well on this score, at least
- No technical knowledge of economics is needed to read this book;
- Disclaimer: Carlos is an on-line acquaintance, but I bought by own copy of the book and have no stake in its success.
- David Easley and Jon Kleinberg, Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World
- I'm reviewing this for American Scientist, so I can't write
much here now (but will update when the review comes out). I will just say
that this is at once a very impressive achievement, and marred by the
economist's uncontrollable urge
to tell lies to
children (and undergraduates, and lay-people...) about economics, without
admitting that they are lies-told-to-children.
- Update: and the review is out.
- Scott Westerfeld, Leviathan
- World War I re-imagined as a young adult fantasy epic, complete with a
trans-continental quest, a Lost Heir and a plucky heroine disguised as a boy.
— That sounds more dismissive than is really fair; it was a perfectly
enjoyable distraction from exercise, and after a century (if not less), every
tragedy drifts into
background... The conceit here is that Darwin discovered DNA ("life
chains") and genetic engineering, so that the technology of the "Darwinist"
powers (Britain, France and Russia) is based on genetically modified organisms,
or purpose-built ecosystems, while the "klanker" central powers (Germany,
Austria-Hungary, the Ottomans) all use machinery. To descend to the level of
geekish nit-picking, while Westerfeld clearly enjoys his "fabricated beasties",
I don't think he's adequately thought through the premise. Metal's advantage
over flesh and bone is that it is much harder, much sharper, and can tolerate
much higher temperatures. This means metal plus combustion (or even batteries)
can deliver much more power (energy per unit time) --- more acceleration,
higher velocities, more firepower. A fabricated animal couldn't out-run or
out-gun even an actual WWI-vintage tank, so if it was to have a comparative
advantage, it would have to lie in being self-replicating; Darwinist tactics
would have to rely completely on swarms, rather than huge hydrogen-breathing
airships. But while I personally think that hybridizing
Glass Bees and Daedalus
makes an awesome premise for a young-adult novel, I suspect that's very much a minority taste.
- Lois McMaster
- Theological fantasy, with historical settings based on late-medieval Spain
(the first two) and post-Carolingian Germany (the third). Re-read to celebrate
the end of classes. Intensely satisfying, as Bujold almost always is. On
re-reading, I particularly admire the way she handles a middle aged heroine
in Paladin, though the romantic sub-plot feels less convincing
than the rest.
- Jack Campbell, The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontiers: Dreadnaught
- Having wrapped up the Anabasis plot nicely with the last
volume, I am not sure where this is headed, but happy to enjoy the ride.
Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur;
Scientifiction and Fantastica;
Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime;
The Dismal Science;
Writing for Antiquity;
The Beloved Republic
Commit a Social Science;
The Progressive Forces;
The Collective Use and Evolution of Concepts
Posted at May 31, 2011 23:59 | permanent link