Books Reviews 2020

Garner's Modern English Usage

by Bryan Garner

Finishing this book on New Years Eve felt like a good way to close out the decade. David Foster Wallace's review "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage" convinced me that reading a dictionary was a good idea. For most of the last year, I have been reading it five pages at a time.

This is a descriptivist dictionary, not a prescriptivist dictionary. In its 983 pages (excluding appendices), Garner lists not every word but nearly every problematic word. Interspersed within are essays on topics of interest to English users. Garner's prescriptions are both easy to understand and to implement. His prose is perfect and he is, at times, quite funny. His selection of words seemed appropriate and the long-form articles on grammar were brilliant condensation's of linguistic principles. Garner is rarely judgmental, more than anything, this book conveys his love for the English language and his desire to treat it with compassion.

Whenever this comes up, I'm asked if I now know every word. I do not. Any improvement in my vocabulary was marginal. However, I believe spending this much time with one of the finest linguists of our time has improved my writing.

On a final note, I want it noted that I found a mistake. On page 544, a kilometer is defined as 10,000 meters. A kilometer is 1,000 meters.

I give this book 7/7 (It is, without a doubt, the finest dictionary I have ever read).

Nineteen Eighty-Four

by George Orwell

In middle school and high school this book was foisted upon me several times. I confess until now I've never finished it. Sometimes, I'm just not ready to receive knowledge. This time, it clicked and I burned through it.

A lot of Orwell's ideas have become so popular that they have lost some of their punching power. Anyone with a bit of cynicism already knows what doublespeak is. Still, Orwell's ideas are so cleanly presented. His protagonist, Winston, is eminently relatable, and the all-powerful Oceana remains terrifying. Nearly 70 years after its publication, this book's reputation is well earned.

I give this book 6/7

The Wraith of the Bloodeye

by Joseph Delaney

Recently I started using the app Libby. Libby permits you to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from your local library. Some subconscious connection inspired me pick up a book from The Last Apprentice series — books I had enjoyed in middle school.

Serendipitously, I discovered I still loved this series. The blend of horror and adventure hit the spot. I loved the English highland setting and the mythology surrounding the Spooks.

I give this book 5/7.


by Yuval Noah Harari

Recommended by both Colin and Devon, this book purports a brief history of humanity with a special emphasis on our cognitive development. Harari makes some interesting points but does not deliver on his ultimate promise. More than anything, I think this book explains Harari's worldview, not a history of humanity. Admittedly, Harair possesses a strongly coherent and well-researched world view.

My problems with Sapiens are illustrated by a particularly irksome section that "translates" the Declaration of Independence into biological terms. Harari claims to show its obvious falsity by converting the famous passage from a legal and philosophical text into a biological text. But this is the equivalent of translating a Shakespeare sonnet into German and showing that it doesn't rhyme.

Overall this book is a very readable mix of interesting ideas and overconfident explanations.

I give this book 5/7.

The Body Keeps the Score

by Bessel van der Kolk

Recommended by my friend Sarah, this book explores the strange world of mental health. It places special emphasis on the prevalence of trauma, the relationship between mind and body, and the available variety of traditional and non-traditional treatments.

The first section thoroughly convinced me that trauma is far more common that I imagined. I now believe trauma is present in some extent within most people. The second section of the book taught me the symptoms of trauma thereby helping me to identify traumatized individuals and to recognize the effects of trauma within myself.

The third section, the one dealing with treatment, was most interesting. While I doubted the efficacy of some treatments discussed by the book, it didn't really matter. Van der Kolk advanced a theory that the role of the doctor is to heal the patient; a scholarly understanding of the treatment is secondary. Therefore treatments, even mysterious ones, that heal some people but not others are perfectly valid.

I give this book 7/7.

The Dispatcher

by John Scalzi

Recommended by my friend Chase, this was a quick murder mystery in a world where most, but not all, people revive after being murdered. The premise was interesting but not overly complicated. More of a novella than a novel, this made for a pleasant commute read.

I give this book 4/7.


by Mark Manson

Every single man should read this book. It is a self improvement guide that goes beyond cliched tricks and encourages real growth. Absent is all the pick-up-artistry nonsense (e.g. negging and frame control). Instead the book contains simple morally-viable advice on how to improve yourself so that you will be more attractive. The main thesis of the book is that rather than trick women into loving you, you should focus on becoming a more lovable person; do not change who you are but become the best version of yourself. There are are also general tips about universal attractors, like appearance and conversation, but this does not undermine the books central thesis. It presents a coherent view that does not involve trickery. Additionally, this book outlines the interplay of independence and vulnerability at different points in a relationship, and discusses how attraction varies by group. With this book's advice you can not attract every woman, but maybe you can attract the right one.

I give this book 7/7.

Why Nations Fail

by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson.

Laura recommended this non-fiction book. It advances a theory on the relative disparity between nations: inclusive political and economic institutions work together to build prosperity. Extractive institutions can generate some wealth and benefits a minority of the population, but in the long run such institutions will lead to stagnation. The theory is illustrated with historical anecdotes.

Generally, this book fits very neatly into my worldview and it did not really persuade me of anything because I already agree with its main premises. However, it expressed its ideas clearly, if repetitively, and entertained with interesting anecdotes. I might phrase some of the conclusions differently, and I could nitpick some of its details, but overall this was a great read.

I give this book 6/7.

The Once and Future King

by T.H. White

The Once and Future King is a five book collection consisting of The Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill Made Knight, The Candle in the Wind, and The Book of Merlyn. I read this collection in two thrusts: the first two books years ago and the last three recently.

This is a beautiful telling of the Arthurian legend. The first book and last book are substantially different in character from the other three.

The Sword in the Stone is in many ways a children's book. It tells of Arthur's upbringing and education. I do not mean to belittle; some of my favorite books are children's books.

The second through fourth books deal with more adult themes. The second, the influences of parents, sexuality, and adventure on children. The third, the attainment of perfection. And the fourth, the failure of noble ideas. Throughout all three of these books, King Arthur's battle to establish a notion of justice.

The final book is a strangely political novel. Where T.H. White attacks communism and the modern political order and advocates for anarcho-liberalism. Strangely, it pairs nicely with the first book and creates a bookending harmony. The first book's irregularities can probably be attributed to "early season weirdness" while the last book was published post-humorously. However these differences might also mirror a human's life cycle. Childhood and old-age are strange.

T.H. White's narration is unique: he doesn't seem so much like a narrator as a professor. This both lends his mythos some credence and distances the reader from the action.

I give this series 6/7.

The Last Policeman

by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman it is a neo-noir murder mystery set in pre-apocalyptic world. The protagonist, Hank Palace, is a Concord, New Hampshire detective investigating an apparent suicide. In the novel's world, suicides have become quite common because a planetoid will slam into the Earth in six months and end most life. Despite the apathy and confusion of the general population, Palace dutifully investigates the death, concludes it is murder, and uncovers a criminal conspiracy.

Overall, I think the book is trying to answer a very human question: why do anything? In Palace's world, the imminence of death is drawn into sharp focus because the world is ending in a few months. Framed as such, it is easy to relate to the general apathy of Concord's residents: what good does solving one murder do when we are all dying? In our own world its not as acute, but everyone is dying (slowly). So the question remains, why do anything?

I had previously encountered Winters through his book Underground Airlines, an alternate history exploring slavery's legacy within the United States. The Last Policeman is a slightly easier read because it is not so unsettling (which is odd because its world is ending). Perhaps this is because an unpreventable civilization-ending catastrophe seems far fetched but repressing minorities is a historical and modern reality. Both books featured grounded characters in dark but fascinating worlds, however The Last Policeman's central plot was more interesting than Underground Airlines.

If you are looking for an easy crime read with a twist, give this a try.

I give this book 5/7.

Hillbilly Elegy

J. D. Vance

Jeff recommended Hillbilly Elegy to me. A quick read, this book is an autobiography of — by his own admission — an ordinary man. Vance like two hundred others individuals every year, graduated form Yale Law. However, unlike many of his classmates, Vance is a self proclaimed hillbilly. He grew up in the rust belt with a family out of the Kentucky backwoods. Vance's time at Yale is not the focus, really its an examination of hillbilly culture from a man who transcended it.

Vance's first claim, that he is ordinary, is a lie: he plainly is unusually intelligent, hard working, and introspective. His is a narrative of success in a failing world; the hillbillies are facing a crisis. By many metrics, especially optimism, they are among the worst-off groups in America. Yet, they are not without their virtues, loyalty first among them. Unlike most accounts, especially academic accounts, Vance can give a first hand perspective of rust belt living. He often addresses the failures of well-meaning elite activism. The rich and the poor live in different worlds and neither understands the other. For instance, Vance is remarkable appreciative of pay-day loans. Conversely, he had no knowledge of networking before reaching Yale.

Vance writes in a plain and accessible style and has lived an interesting life. For anyone interested in an unflinching but optimistic story of the American dream, this is for you.

I give this book 6/7.

After Virtue

by Alasdair MacIntyre

Professor Tuttle recommended this book — an assessment of the state of western moral philosophy — during a conversation about theology. After Virtue takes a position that I have rarely considered: western civilization has made a colossal mistake, not just in the past ten, twenty, or even one hundred years, but since the enlightenment. The book asserts that most of philosophy's heavy hitters — Kant, Nietzsche, Hume, Kierergaard, and others — have failed and that only the Aristotelian tradition is salvageable.

This was a tough read. I am glad I read Sophie's World earlier this year so that I had some introduction to the western philosophical tradition but MacIntyre is engaging with philosophical ideas at a deep level. Some of his claims require a microscopic examination of various philosophies. I can give this book a lot of credit for addressing the question of conflicting moral principles but I struggle to evaluate some of its contents, especially those pertaining to the strength of Aristotelian ethics. Also, MacIntryre's writing style is almost cartoonishly professorial. His style may impresses the illiterate but it alienates a wider audience. Still, this book made me thing and think hard.

I give this book 6/7.

Furious Hours

by Casey Cep

The books was recommended by Mary P. The full title is Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee. True to its name, it chronicles the collision of a small town serial killer, Reverend Willie Maxwell; a country lawyer, Tom Radney; and the legendary author, Harper Lee. There was no part of it which was not interesting; Casey dives into topics ranging from Vodoo to Democratic Politics, from the history of insurance to Truman Capote. Casey simultaneously examines the genre of true crime while creating an excellent true crime novel. Like The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, at times this felt like a long form article, but it did manage to work in a narrative. The homages to To Kill A Mockingbird are heavy but well done. The ultimate ending is a little unsatisfying but perhaps mirrors the disappointment of those waiting for Harper Lee's final writeup.

I give this book 5/7.

City of Thieves

by David Benioff

This book was recommended by my housemates, Tom. I only know Benioff from his work as the show runner for Game of Thrones. I was pleasantly surprised by this book; it follows a teenage protagonist on a strange quest to find a dozen eggs amid the siege of Leningrad. Alternating between charming and tragic, this book was a quick read that paints a vivid picture of the brutal conditions on the eastern front while somehow staying optimistic.

I give this book 6/7.

On a side note, between The Children's House of Belsen, Catch 22, Ordinary Men, With the Old Breed, and City of Thieves, I've done a fair bit of World War II read in the past year.

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

by Eugene Sledge

This book is a brutally honest look at the Pacific War from the perspective of an American marine. The book was initially not written for publication but as a way for Sledge to explain his wartime experience to his family. This unusual development shows: Sledge is not a professional writer and writes in a plain and often repetitive style. However, this is made palatable by the honest, raw, and truthful narrative. Sledge is clearly a patriot and a proud marine, but he does not hid his fear or disgust, nor does he shy away from discussing American and Japanese misdeeds.

I give this book 6/7.

Stories of Your Life and Others

by Ted Chiang

This book was recommended by my friend Diogo. It is a collection of stories that deal with themes of mathematics, linguistics, and the nature of God. The author, Ted Chiang, has become extremely popular since the titular "Story of Your Life" was made into the blockbuster film Arrival.

Chiang's stories, both the scientific and religious, frequently feature the eerily calm exploration of mysterious phenomena. In this way the sublime is made mundane. To my surprise, I preferred the religious stories to the science fiction ones. Chiang's religious stories read a lot like science fiction but deal with the divine, subverting some of the tropes I had come to expect. For example, in my favorite story from this collection, "Hell is the Absence of God" angels behave like natural disasters that indisputable prove God's existence. The plot of the story involves ordinary people dealing with the implications of these angelic visits. Some of his stories seemed weak because they have been done better by other people. For instance, having already read Slaughterhouse Five, I was unimpressed by "Story of Your Life." However, the collection as a whole is strong.

I give this book 5/7.

Native Son

by Richard Wright

This books was recommended by a Miami bar patron. This ranks — alongside To Kill a Mockingbird and A Lesson Before Dying — as one of the finest books on race relations I've encountered. This book was an apt read because of the recent death of George Floyd.

The protagonist, Bigger Thomas commits heinous acts. He's not an innocent black man falsely accused by a judicial system, but a fatalistic man created by an alienating society: he believes it's only a matter of time before he does something and white America kills him for it. Throughout the first part of the book, we follow Bigger as irrationally responds to white kindness with the murder of innocents. Yet somehow, through Wright's brilliant prose and characterization, we are sympathetic towards Bigger. Even as Bigger compounds his crimes, flees from justice, and is imprisoned, we understand him.

In the book's conclusion, Max, the jewish communist lawyer, squares off against the the malicious state prosecutor. Everything prior to this was good reading but the final sequence was outstanding. Max's cross examination of Mr. Dalton is a perspicuous explanation of a good man participating in systematic racism. And Max's sentencing monologue is a painful, succinct summarization of black America. Even the state's prosecutor, arguing for Bigger's death, delivers a persuasive speech on the nature and necessity of harsh justice. It is from this judicial contest that Bigger finally, beautifully, tragically understands himself and the world.

I give this book 7/7.

The Gunslinger

by Stephen King

An old friend once told me that Stephen King is a wonderful author: if you had all his books, you'd never run out of toilet paper. I respectfully disagree. While I have not come close to reading King's entire corpus, The Gunslinger had a fascinating, if simple, story set in a unique world. Some elements, like Jake Chambers backstory, felt out of place (perhaps because this is a fix-up novel). But, the world building around the Gunslingers is top notch.

I give this book 5/7.

A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

This book was recommended by my friend Erin. It tells a story of an encounter gone wrong in colonial India, the subsequent criminal trial, and the later fallout. It deals with themes of classism, racism, and Indian Independence. In some respects, it is similar to the later published To Kill a Mocking Bird. Overall, I thought the story was predictable, but the prose was excellent, and many details of Indian Society were new to me. I know relatively little about Indian Society but between this book and last year's reading of Shantaram, I am becoming curious.

I give this book 6/7.

Ordinary Men

by Christopher Browning

Ordinary Men is an in depth study of Reserve Police Battalion 101, a group of paramilitary Germans stationed in Poland during the second World War. Like many elements of German Society, they participated — directly and indirectly — in the extermination of the so-called lesser races, principally the Jews. Browning chose this group because they were not military volunteers, but rather a representative cross section of German society. In the authors own words, he sets out to explain, but not excuse their actions.

I have three main takeaways from this book:

1. Given the proper setting, most people can commit atrocities. I have encountered this idea before, e.g. Milgram experiment, but never in such a visceral and explicit fashion.

2. People's ability to emphasis and sympathies rapidly diminishes with distance. While many members of the police battalion refused to directly execute Jews, all were willing to round them up on trains and ship them off to extermination camps.

3. For most people, It is far easier to commit an atrocity than to betray one's comrades. Even the most ardently anti-execution members of police battalion 101, those ridiculed for their cowardice hesitated to denounce their fellow soldiers.

Finally, the copy I read was the third edition. It included an interesting appendix which addressed another book Hitler's Willing Executers. That book is another study of the same data published later; It reached radically different and contradictory conclusions. While I have not read Hitler's Willing Executers, Browning's essay on the other book's faults outlines some of the major problems of social science.

I give this book 5/7.

Empire of the Summer Moon

by S. C. Gwynne

This book was recommended by my friend Josh. It chronicles the rise and fall of the Comanche Nation, a group of people indigenous to the area boardering present day Texas. The book pays special attention to the Quanah Parker, a half indian and half white Comanche chief, and Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, the U.S. Army man who finally defeated the Comanche Nation.

I have two main takeways from this book:

1. There is a modern tendency to treat the defeat of the Native Americans as inevitable. This is a mistake. Such thinking removes Indian agency, ignores historical reality, and is deeply Eurocentric. The Comanche handily defeated the Spanish and for decades crushed the Americans. It was only though innovation, adaptation, and brilliant leadership that the Americans were eventually able to defeat the Comanche.

2. The Comanche could be terrifying. The Indians are often viewed as peace-loving nature hippies. This homogenous view of Indians ignores the diversity present within pre-columbian cultures (see 1491) and is completely out of line with the culture of the Comanche. Considering the barbaric nature of the Comanche, their conquest was probably justified. The U.S. Army's methods and the post war fate of the Comanche were less justified.

I give this book a 6/7.


by Patricia Lockwood

This book was recommenced by my friend Laura O and independently by my sister Devon. It is an autobiographical tale centered on Lockwood's strange life as the legitimate daughter of a Catholic priest. This books is quite humorous and deals with themes of culture shock, conservatism, Catholicism, abuse, feminism, family, and poetry. Compared with the last book my sister recommenced to me, Her Body and Other Parties, this book was far more palatable. While I still find it difficult to connect with stories of female sexuality, I can connect with stories of growing up in a Catholic community and dealing with conflicting cultures. This is the best biography I've read in a long time.

I give this book 7/7.

The Alchemist

by Paulo Coelho

This book was recommended to me by my friend Olivia. I don't have too much to say about this book other than it was a delightful fairytale.

I give this book 6/7.

Tenth of December

by George Saunders

This is the second George Saunders book I have read this year (after CivilWarLand in Bad Decline). Like the previous one, this books was a collection of short stories. Reading Saunders makes me feel terrible: his heroes are so pathetic and the worlds they inhabit are morally bankrupt. The stories were sometimes funny but the humor was so dark it only increases my neuroticism. Unlike a tragedy, I don't think the end goal of this collection was catharsis because each story ends with a modicum of hope. I didn't enjoy reading Tenth of December, but I still think it was a good book.

I give this book 5/7.

The Foundation Trilogy

by Issac Asimov

This trio of books looms large over the science fiction genre. I am an avid science fiction reader and was looking forward to this trilogy. It's reputation is sterling and Asimov is one of my favorite authors. Unfortunately, I do not think the Foundation trilogy has aged well.

Perhaps a lot of my trouble comes from a lack of wonder at Asimov's vision. When these books came out in the '50s, a lot of its ideas were novel, but, many of the ideas pioneered in Foundation have become cliches. They have been done better elsewhere. The world thousands of years in the future looks a lot like mid century America: the domain of women is the household, smoking is prevalent, and computers are little more than toys. Inherent in any sufficiently detailed prediction of the future is the possibility of getting things radically wrong.

Putting aside the world building, the overall plot is passable. The progression of civilizations through various stages of development and the idea of a life boat for civilization are interesting. The highpoint of the trilogy is probably the Mule and his disruption of the best laid plans of the Foundation. The Mule's plot arch is a good allegory for some of the ideas presented in The Black Swan.

As a trilogy, I give these books 4/7. If you are considering reading Asimov, try picking up The Last Question or I, Robot instead.

The Black Swan

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

My friend Diogo zealously advocated for this book. The Black Swan outlines Taleb's worldview. Taleb is especially concerned with the impact of improbable events, the false confidence of "experts," non-linear return structures, and minimizing risk. Reading this book during the worst pandemic in the past one hundred years felt appropriate.

Taleb's ideas are far from perfect, and his attitude is nearly insufferable. At times, he presents his ideas as more radical and out-of-line than they are, e.g. his barbell investment strategy. At other times he contradicts himself, e.g. he oscillates between glowing praise and harsh criticism of ancient medicine. Sometimes he completely misunderstands peoples motivation and objectives, e.g. his workout advice is laughable.

Despite these faults, he has firmly convinced me of a few things: First, rare events often has a disproportionate impact. Second, while some fields have experts who know what they are talking about, a lot of fields are full of phonies. Finally, society has not yet figured out how to reward non-linear returns.

On a closing note, I find it fascinating that this book is so often recommended in the finance and banking industry. The ability of people, including financiers, to compartmentalize and ignore relevant knowledge is stunning.

I give this book a 6/7.

Schild’s Ladder

by Greg Egan

This is book is not for everyone. Honestly, at times, I could barely understand it. I am rarely one to caution people against reading a book, but having some understanding of quantum physics, college level mathematics, and computer science is necessary (I want to flog myself for writing a sentence that pretentious). With the prerequisites out of the way, this is the best look at a transhuman society I have encountered. On the scale of science fiction hardness this is a diamond. Additionally, it features a terrifying, unique, and semi-plausible antagonist. This book blew my mind.

I give this book 7/7.


by Charles C. Mann

This book was recommended to me by a professor Tuttle. It describes the American continents prior to European contact. It make three main claim:

1. That America was far more densely populated than previously understood;

2. That American cultures were far more developed and diverse than previously understood; and

3. That American civilization was far older than previously understood.

Like most anthropology, some of the points are debatable but generally the book succeeds in defending its claims.

I give this books 6/7.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

by Chuck Barris

This books was terrible, pure 1980s male-fantasy. It was not educational, enjoyable, or well written; I really cannot think of any redeemable quality.

I give this book 2/7.

Her Body and Other Parties

by Carmen Maria Machado

This book was recommended to me by my sister Devon. It is a collection of short stories that I struggle to classify. If pressed, I'd call them queer feminist horror fantasy. I struggled to connect with this book. I suspect this was in part because of the queer and feminist nature of the book; I am a straight man. Despite this, I did enjoy this book. I found some of the stories generally terrifying and brilliant homages to horror classics.

I give this books 5/7.

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

George Saunders

This books was recommended in passing. It was my first encounter with the popular author George Saunders. The stories was a collection of short stories; all featured pathetic protagonists and most featured an amusement park. I struggled to connect with this book because I've rarely felt helpless, dejected, or downtrodden. However, each story had the slightest hint of optimism, and I am an optimistic person.

I give this books 4/7.

Into Thin Air

Jon Krakauer

This book was casually mentioned by my old wrestling coach Mike. I don't have much to say about it other than it convinced me that climbing Mount Everest is an incredibly stupid and selfish thing to do.

Unlike Into The Wild, another Krakauer book, Into Thin Air recounts Krakauer's own experiences. It suffers for this paradigm: Krakauer was too close to the action to objectively report on the situation. It's an interesting story and a half decent cautionary tale on the importance of risk management. But it didn't teach me much.

I give this book 3/7.


by Philip K. Dick

VALIS was recommended to me by my friend Cole. The book walks into the mouth of madness: a fictional version of Philip K. Dick recounting the experiences of his own alter ego, Horselover Fat who in 1974 encountered a godlike entity.

VALIS is far from a perfect book. The plot was inconsistent and muddling, and parts have not retained their cultural relevancy. All of this is made palpable by the profundity of Horselover's pontifications. Out of the strange soup that is his exegesis, Dick explores questions so fundamental only a madman could have asked them. The interplay between Horselover and Dick, while initially confusing, only strengthens these ponderings and proves one of the books great strengths.

I give this book 6/7.

The Education of Brett Kavanaugh

by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly

I decided to read this book after a strange spat of reporting in 2019. The New York Times, working from an advanced copy of this book, published an opinion piece extremely critical of (now justice) Kavanaugh including a new allegation of sexual impropriety. This opinion piece created bedlam, and several prominent Democratic presidential candidates called for a renewed investigation of Kavanaugh. Then there was some pushback by right wing figures and major publications who argued that the Time's piece misrepresented the book's arguments. The Times eventually apologized for portions of the opinion piece. In this context, I decided to give the book itself a read.

This book was a slow and fair examination of the allegations leveled against Kavanaugh. Unlike the salacious and partisan reporting that occurred during the confirmation processs, this book was measured, well researched, and fair. Because of these qualities, it managed to change my mind on important points of Kavanaugh's allegations. The book does not definitively answer any questions but implies that Kavanaugh committed the indiscretions he was accused of in high school and college, but in the thirty years since then has become an upstanding citizen. It makes no final judgement regarding his qualifications for the court. I think this book is what responsible journalism should look like.

After reading the whole book, I agree with the pushback against the New York Times: they misrepresented the book's findings. I note with some irony that one of the best researched pieces of the year inspired some of the worst researched journalism of the year.

I give this book 5/7.

One More Thing

B. J. Novak

This book was recommended to me while I was skiing. When I finally got ahold of a copy, I was surprised to see the author was B.J.Novak, a writer and actor on NBC's The Office. I admit, I went into this book hesitantly. I was shocked to find an insightful yet hilarious collection of short stories. B.J. Novak corpus is so varied it is tough to generalize. While some are simply silly, some deftly deal with difficult subjects like alcoholism, love, and politics. I was going to include a list of some of my favorite stories from this collection but the list grew too long: there are so many gems.

I give this book 6/7.

Talking to Strangers

Malcolm Gladwell

This book was recommended to me by my friend Bert. Like many of Gladwell's books, it draws connections between seemingly unrelated things and paints a grand picture. In this case it is examining the difficulty of inter-cultural dialogue with an emphasis on American race relations. My criticism is the same I have for most Gladwell works: he does an excellent job tearing exposing flawed systems but then throws up his own solutions as magic solutions with little evidence. Still, Gladwell is undoubtedly an excellent story teller and draws attention to some interesting ideas.

I give this book 5/7.

Sophie's World

by Jostein Gaarder

This book was recommended to me by friend Laura M. It tells the story of a young Norwegian girl as she learns about philosophy from a mysterious tutor Alberto Knox. This book was aimed at a young audience and this reflects in the main character Sophie, who at times is frustratingly naive. The lessons on philosophy are great introductory primers on philosophy. I was familiar with a lot of the big names e.g. The Naturalists, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant. But the book also introduced me to some whose philosophies I'd never explored, e.g. Spinoza, Hume, and Kierkegaard. Perhaps because I am an American, it was surprising to see Marx listed among the great philosophers. The book becomes fascinating when Alberto and Sophie realize they are inside a book trying to teach young people about philosophy. The concluding meta adventure is full of twists and turns. This book succeeds in introducing philosophy to the unenlightened.

I give this book 5/7.