Book Reviews 2010, Part 2

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Continuing from the last post, here’s the remainder of the highlights from my second-half-of-2010 reading list:

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

“Nice! Shirky pulls together great social media anecdotes and research and assembles them into a very clear description of where we’re at and where we may be heading… It’s a must-read for anyone in the industry and a should-probably-read for any avid Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media service user.” ✭✭✭✭✭

The Scott Pilgrim Series by Bryan Lee O’Malley

“A cute little story about indie rocker kids, but with a weird sort of Japanese superhero challenge twist. Fun, but a *really* fast read. Which makes the entire series kind of expensive if you can go through all six $12 volumes in an hour or so apiece. (This desperately needs to be available in cheaper form on a digital book service — Amazon Kindle or Comixology or something.)” ✭✭✭✭

The Invention of Air by Steven Berlin Johnson

“I don’t believe I’d ever heard of Joseph Priestly previous to reading this. Which kind of shocks me. Johnson portrays him as an integral part of both the founding of the United States and the founding of modern chemistry and environmental science. The first 2/3rds of the book, describing his “hot hand” decade as an “electrician” in the company of Ben Franklin and then during his research into plant respiration and isolating oxygen are exciting and placed very nicely into historical context. Johnson doesn’t just tell the story of Priestly, here, or even just the story of the science — he places it in the full cultural context of the huge shift in the worldview of people in general that occurred during this time. The book lost some energy in the final third, but I liked the optimistic tone that is struck at the very end.

“The one flaw of the book, I think, is that Johnson touches on a few deeper questions that could’ve used a bit of a lengthier treatment. Maybe a minor quibble. At any rate: It’s got plenty of starting points for further investigation.” ✭✭✭✭

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

(I didn’t review this right after I read it, but it warrants a mention. It’s great. It stars the eponymous Oscar, a Domincan kid growing up New Jersey. It mixes his story with that of his family and finds a great tone that’s a mix of Dominican culture and nerd culture — Lord of the Rings and other fantasy and sci-fi language litters the book. But it really comes together nicely.) ✭✭✭✭✭

1776 by David McCullough

(Another great one I didn’t review at the time. But very much worth reading. Watching the John Adams miniseries kind of kicked off a little American history jaunt for me last fall. The miniseries left me lukewarm, but it led to me picking up this book which was a very interesting look at the first year of the American Revolution from an on-the-ground perspective. And it’s somewhat different from the grade school depiction of the Revolution: McCullough very clearly depicts the ambiguities, the difficulties, and real sort of mess, for lack of a better term, that constituted that first year of revolt. It humanizes it. Makes some of the achievements that might seem mundane seem much more heroic when you think of them in light of the fact that real humans not unlike ourselves were doing them, not Superhero George Washington from textbooks and Tea Party rallies.) ✭✭✭✭✭

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

“Excellent! Worth reading just to get to know Longstreet and Chamberlain.” ✭✭✭✭✭

Final Thoughts

I just didn’t have enough reading time during the second half of 2010. And I think it impacted my thinking, there, especially towards the end. My brain just requires frequent “loosening up” via books like this, I guess…

At any rate, a couple of months into 2011 I’ve already read about half of the total number of books I read in 2010. A very good sign. Feels healthy.