December 31, 2006

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, December 2006

David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Readable, sympathetic and highly detailed biography of Pittsburgh's most famous and important citizen. (Like most biographies, it seems to me at least twice as long as necessary.) The sympathy does not prevent Nasaw from being quite blunt about Carnegie's dishonesties (on, e.g., the great Homestead Strike of 1892, or union-busting generally, or avoiding financial speculation) and self-delusions. For all that, Carnegie still emerges as a truly remarkable man, and, if we must allow the concentration of great wealth into private hands, far better that it be used the way Carnegie did than the common alternatives. Interestingly, the idea that he somehow deserved his fortune, or earned it through special efforts, was not among his self-delusions. (In fact, some of what Nasaw quotes him as saying is not unlike this by Herbert Simon.) This strikes me as one of the most remarkable things about him.
On a local note, it was a bit disconcerting to learn that the Carnegie Mellon University at which I teach (an expensive research university, emphasizing the graduate education of students from around the world) is so thoroughly not what "our founder and benefactor" had in mind (a vocational-technical school for the children of the local working class). It is hard for me to wish this change undone, but...
Stanislaw Lem, Solaris
See: On First Looking Into Lem's Solaris.
David King, The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia
A sermon, in pictures, on the text "The state is the coldest of all cold monsters ... and whatever it says, it lies." With abundant thanks to John "reprieved" Burke for lending this book to my brother.
Max Décharné, Straight from the Fridge, Dad: A Dictionary of Hipster Slang
Of course, he could have made four fifths of this up, for all I can tell, but at least he gives sources for almost everything, and, well, se non è vero, è ben trovato.
C. J. Box, Savage Run
Enjoyable mystery novel in contemporary Wyoming, centering on conflicts between environmentalists and ranchers, with a likeable, and only-too-familiarly-imperfect, game warden caught in the middle. Second book in a series, but I read this without having read the first one.
Cecilia Dart-Thornton, The Ill-Made Mute
Brain-candy fantasy. Clear influences of Tolkien, Vance, Celtic folklore, and Australian natural history (also pretty clearly a first novel). I read it with enjoyment while doped up with cold medicine, but think it would have been fun regardless. First in a trilogy; I'll be getting the others out of the library.
P. C. Hodgell, To Ride a Rathorn
Latest (fourth) installment in Hodgell's long-running, and remarkable, fantasy series. Probably incomprehensible if you haven't read the previous volumes. (The first two — Godstalk and Dark of the Moon — are so long out of print I won't even bother to give them links; a two-in-one reprint, Dark of the Gods, is only recently out of print. Seeker's Mask, the third, is still available.) For instance, I one am not about to try explaining why Our Heroine has earned the undying hatred of the titular creature, a sort of carnivorous, unicorn by rendering his mother a profound service. But, if you like fantasy, you owe it to yourself to read them: for Hodgell manages, by seamless turns, to convey wonder, humor, intrigue, profound creepiness, and the resolve to struggle against fate which comes close to the heart of epic.
Steven Hamilton, A Cold Day in Paradise
Reasonably good detective novel, somewhat hard-boiled (e.g., the Beautiful Woman Who Is Trouble For The Narrator), but not, you should forgive the expression, inedibly hard-boiled. Won multiple awards when it came out, which I don't get at all.
Andrea Camilleri, The Terra-cotta Dog
A modern campaign against the Mafia intersecting oddly with WWII-era secrets; very different from Forbes's Waking Raphael, despite these thematic similarities, and even the shared obsession with food. Very fun. However, the cover has nothing to do with the book. (Previous Camilleri plugs, June '05 and July '06; Forbes, January '06.)
E. J. G. Pitman, Some Basic Theory for Statistical Inference
Review: Intermediate Statistics from an Advanced Point of View.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Heard About Pittsburgh, PA; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; Enigmas of Chance

Posted at December 31, 2006 23:59 | permanent link

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