Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
My Rating: Put it on your list
Level: Quick and easy read, fairly short.
Summary
Away in the dark near future, there is a still a profession called ‘fireman’, but they don’t save houses from burning (houses are fireproof now), but now they start fires. Not for houses, but for books. The book follows the story of one of these firemen as he starts to question why they are doing what they do, and instead starts saving and hiding books. After he is found out, he becomes the victim of the system he used to be a part of.
My Thoughts
This is a classic of dystopian fiction. The scary thing is, though some elements are over the top, much is too accurate. Bradburry rightly predicts (originally published in 1951) that books won’t be banned by the government or people in the majority for challenging the status quo, but instead, books will be questioned or banned for offending some group or another. We see this happening today, especially with elements of history that people do not like. He also predicted the heavy use of what are basically headphones. I went for a walk this morning and noticed every one of the dozen or so people I saw had headphones in.
As a big book-reader and someone who isn’t paranoid about the government, I see Bradburry’s vision as much more accurate than something like 1984. He was even wrong that the government would actively burn books by the will/request of the people. We don’t have to worry about that now, people just stopped reading them. Hell, people buy digital books, so you can’t even burn them anyway. But it doesn’t matter, in the most recent Pew study (2014) 23% of people hadn’t read a book in the past year. That’s up from 8% in 1978, the first year they asked. The median number of books read a year by American adults is 4. We don’t need to burn book, and the government doesn’t need to ban them. We are doing this to ourselves. We have 100 of channel showing pointless shit on TV and endless ways to stalk people we don’t even like on facebook and twitter, who needs books?
Maybe his most accurate portrayal was related to this. One of the characters in the book, whom the police watch due to being ‘peculiar’, lives in the only house that doesn’t glow blue at night. The family has their lights on and can be seen through the window sitting around talking, everyone else has their lights off and is watching TV, so that only a low, flickering blue color can be seen from the street. Where he is wrong is that no one thinks it odd now, but most people likely never think about it. I know I never did, but now if I walk around at night, I notice all the windows from the back of the houses and some of the bedrooms are dark and flickering blue. It becomes kind of eerie if you look or think about it too much.
 Anyway, over all, the book is a bit over-dramatic at times, well not being dramatic enough in others, due to un-imagined technological change. The concepts are great and the portrayal of why life could be like in this dystopian future is frighteningly accurate at times. I as I said above, it is a classic in the genre, and a book to put on your reading list.

Book Review: Trade Up

Trade Up: How to Move from Just Making Money to Making a Difference

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Easy read, very short

Summary
I’m not entirely sure how to summarize this book, as I’m still not entirely sure what it is supposed to be. It is broken into three parts – My Journey, Your Journey, and The Destination. The first section is a brief autobiography, the second honestly just seems like some marketing points for his organization (Halftime Institute), and the last chapter has some interesting ‘actionable’ steps related to people who are looking at a life change. Well, I should say, some specific people, those that are rich and successful and whom are looking for what to do with the ‘second half’ of their life/career.

My Thoughts
I’m probably far too cynical than the publisher’s target audience for me to like this book. For one thing, I’m not rich or successful but instead a government (the worst kind) paper-pusher and part-time, pretend, internet theologian. I’m not an influence, nor are my circles large and powerful. I don’t know CEOs or professional athletes/musicians (though it has been said that Mrs. MMT has the voice of an angel). So, to be fair to the Niewolny/Baker Books, I was probably not going to get much from this anyway.

Neiwolny’s biography was almost too short and superficial to be of much value. Though, his passion for his organization and what they do is obvious, and that is always good to see. The middle section of the book seemed like some expounded talking points, or maybe a collection of speeches he’s made in his role as CEO of Halftime. For me, it was too motivational speaker-y, but I could see how it could get some people pumped.

The last part of the book is really what makes it worth it. It is short and reading is almost always worth it, but it is also practical. He lays out how to think/what to do if you are one of these people. However, I think it could actually be expanded. This section would be useful to retirees or some kind of second career empty-nester. I don’t think you have to be rich, but obviously being financially stable or even independent makes it easier to implement most of his steps. One of which, to his credit, he points out may be for you to stay at work. I think this is an often missed step for Christians, especially newer ones. Now, if you are big deal, Christian, and looking for a change, you should read this book and contact the Halftime people. Others, this could just be one of the many books/websites you check out. Overall, I recommend this book only if you are look for it.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Sex, Death, & Fly-Fishing

Sex, Death, and Fly-Fishing

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy

Summary
Another collection of musings from John Gierach. Topics include bass fishing, private ponds, walking sticks, British Columbia, and of course the title chapter – ‘Sex, Death, & Fly-Fishing’. I’d say spoiler alert, but the book was published almost 30 years ago, so that seems unnecessary. The title comes from the first chapter, and honestly, it is surprising poetic. It comes from the Mayfly hatch. The midge, a little bug at the bottom of the river, emerge out all at roughly the same time to mate, then eggs are laid and then all die. All of the bugs emerging and all the Mayflies dying/falling back to the water, leads to a feeding frenzy for the fish. This in turn leads to a great time for fly-fishing. Get it?

My Thoughts
Geirach is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I wouldn’t call it love/hate, because I don’t dislike him, just endlessly envious of his style and ability to write. I’m almost annoyed that he isn’t more famous, he isn’t even on twitter or the fishing blogosphere (interestingly/ironically, wordpress say that isn’t a word). I’m sure a guy who has written 15 books, including one called Trout Bum (my review), isn’t worried about the opinion of a guy born after he was already publishing books.

His books really are something like proto-blogs. Imagine a successful outdoor blogger who writes a number of interesting series of posts, then picks the best few series over a number of years, pulls them out, and cleans them up, his books are what you’d get. His writing is narrative and personal, but can also be surprisingly informative. He is a master story-teller in a first person, short-story style. For anyone even remotely interested in fishing, this book is another must read from Gierach.

Book Review: God Among Sages

God among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Easy read, moderate length (a little repetitive)

Summary
Samples has put a book together that looks at Christ and historic Christianity, and compares Him to the leaders or representatives of four other major religions. The book is broken into three parts – a historicity of Christ, both as a man and God; a short intro to representatives of four other religions and how they compare to Christ; a few thoughts on plurality in the world and the Biblical view of other religions.

The first part of the book is broken into four sections, but overall it is a basic apologetic for the Christ of traditional Christianity. Samples goes through Christ claims of divinity, the reliability of the Bible, and then a few points on the fact that Christ, the man, a person in history, actually existed.

The second part of the book is really the meat and what you’d expect based on the title. It is also broken into four parts and Samples hits on Krishna as representative of Hinduism, Gautama (the Buddha’s birth name) for (obviously)  Buddhism, Confucius, and finally Muhammad for Islam. In each section he outlines the life of the person, the basics of their teachings/beliefs, and then how they compare to Christ.

The final part of the book is broken into three sections, plurality in our world, Biblical view of other religions, and finally a concluding summary of Christ’s claims verses the other four.

My Thoughts
I wasn’t really sure how to rate this book. I liked a good bit of it, but found other parts annoying. I guess it will depend on the perspective from which you come to this book. It is a little too apologetics 101 for me, especially the first part of the book. I understand, that almost by definition, if you are trying to substantiate the claims of Christianity, you have to use apologetics, but what bothers me is really more of the tone. There is a just an attitude and style of argument from those in the philosophical (especially Ontological) and presuppositional  apologetic framework seem to have. It just rubs me the wrong way. If you like it, or are new to apologetcs, the you will probably really enjoy the first section of the book. All that being said, he does a good job summarizing arguments for the reliability of the Bible and Christ’s claims of divinity that all Christians should know pretty well.

The section about the other leaders was a well written introduction. Some of it was new to me and others a good reminder from my high school world religions class. As Christianity declines and more people arrive from different parts of the world, it is becoming more and more important to know the basis of other beliefs. This book could be a good start (Sample pack? sorry) into the study of world religions. He cites other works at the end of each chapter if you want to go deeper. The only part I really didn’t like about the section of the book is that he repeats his arguments (stated in the first part of the book) about Christ again and again in each chapter. Maybe it is a pet peeve of mine, I just dislike redundancy and repetitiveness.

The last section of the book was probably my favorite. Sometimes, I’m not sure I’d necessarily call them moments of doubt, I do wonder, what if all paths lead to God? That does change my view that this is the path Christ chose for me, but what if one day we get to heaven and we find out that everyone is there and they all came through different ways? Maybe that would be kind of neat. Samples summary of the issues with plurality point out that this isn’t really possible. For one thing, not all ‘paths’ even have a ‘god’. Many don’t have an afterlife, but reincarnation. Also, what about people who are on no path, so to speak? Even as you try to be kind and loving and accepting (to some extent) of all other beliefs, it is good to remember that plurality (in the sense of all beliefs being equally valid) is unworkable.

I think many people could learn something from this book. However, it may not be for everyone. It isn’t quite on the level of everyone should read it, but if you are looking for a good intro to either divinity of Christ, reliability of the Bible, any of the four religions covered, or Christianity in a pluralistic world, then you should put this book on your list.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. See more here.

Book Review: Misbehaving

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics

My Rating: Put it on your list

Level: Moderate to difficult, depending on your base knowledge of Economics and Psychology. Moderate in length, but reads quickly

Summary
Part Thaler autobiography, part time line of the development of the field, with plenty of humorous anecdotes and academic ‘anomalies’, this book does not read like a history of an academic discipline. The book is broken into eight broad chapter based around years in which Thaler worked through differing parts of the development of the field. The chronology starts with him as a graduate student, where he is just starting to look into ideas that would become the discipline, and proceeds up to the present, where he seems poised to hand over the reins to the next generation. Along the way are his stories of getting the discipline recognized by academic journals, struggles with the establishment, and gaining allies (across other disciplines, as well) and students that will become the next generation.

My Thoughts
This book, like the somewhat related book (Thinking, Fast & Slow) by his fellow collaborator, Daniel Kahneman, kind of annoyed me in how well it is written. Thaler has had a nearly five decade career as researcher and writer, so he should write well, but that is not what I mean. His book is funny and reads quickly like a narrative. As I said above, it it part autobiography, and lends itself tremendously to humorous narrative that leaves you interested in reading more. As a pretend internet researcher and writer, I am envious that someone with actual credentials writes so well.

All that being said, I think I missed the subtitle of this book when I first heard about it a few years ago. I heard Thaler on a interview, and knew he was related to behavioral economics, but didn’t quite realize this was book he was promoting. I must have searched his name on amazon and bought the first book I saw, without noticing the reference to ‘Nudge’ on the cover. Nudge was really the book I was looking for, which is more about the research out of Behavioral Economics as it relates to topics like money and health. ‘The Making of Behavioral Economics’ should have clued me in to this book being more of a history. Luckily, I enjoy history and biographies, and as I said above, he is a very talented writer.

One of the first things that stuck out to me was how long he as been in the field. His book starts in 1970, with him as a grad student. I wouldn’t be born for another decade and a half, and I don’t consider myself very young. I’ve heard that Millennials will have between seven and 17 careers over their lifetimes, so it amazes me to read of someone’s history in a field that is longer than my lifetime.

Reading history is always fascinating, because you, with the addition of hindsight, can read and say, ‘how did these people miss this?’ I couldn’t believe some of the resistance he and others would face as the argued against the efficient market hypothesis. I was in high school during pets.com (look it up kids) and the tech bubble and finished grad school a few months before the housing bubble popped, so I struggle to believe in any way the the market is efficient and that people are well informed. Thinking back to my undergrad economics courses, I believe I was taught the distinction between theory of economics (people who Thaler calls Econs) and actual behavior (called Humans). In grad school, the distinction was called that of theory and practice. So, it is interesting to see that a few decades before, saying things like this, which to me are clearly true, would get you laughed out of conferences and barred from academic journals.

This history was interesting, and the debates with other academics were amusing and insightful, but the book really shines with the anecdotes. I won’t go through all of them here, but the include an economist who refuses to sell his wine (for a gain) at the market price while also stating he would never buy it at the price and companies whose stock prices are lower than their subsidiaries (even when purchasing the larger company stock means getting the smaller companies stock included; this means the larger company is valued in negative dollars relative to market cap).

These types of stories are what I enjoy reading. They are amusing on their own, but also challenge your assumptions about certain areas, but even more, make you really question whether you actually know what you are doing. You may think you do everything rationally, but you probably don’t, and that is illustrated time and again in this book. If you are looking for just stories and research results, you are probably better off with Nudge or Thinking, Fast and Slow. However, if you are interesting in Behavioral Economics in general, this is definitely a book to put on your list.