Book Review: Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization by Meredith F. Small (three stars)

Book Review: Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization by Meredith F. Small (three stars)

‘Many of these Venetian firsts were still with us, part of the fundamentals of Western culture, how we think and how we operate.’

Disappointing. Want to like this book because I agree with its premise. Too much padding, too many opinions disguised as fact, awkward presentation.

‘Today we anthropologists call that cultural indoctrination a belief system.’

Belongs on the same shelf as How the Irish saved Civilization and How the Scots Invented the Modern World. Simply reading Wikipedia supports Small’s major argument. Much of the rest is hyperbole and fluff; entertaining but didactic.

‘According to Marx, capitalism contains within it the “seeds of its own destruction” as the rich overreach, consolidate their power and grip, and choke off their own economic growth. Venice was, in fact, a prime example of Marx’s philosophy.’

Cynical, socialist take on capitalism, innovation, and property rights. Skip the first chapter; you’ll read her opinions on creativity and humanism many more times. Uses statistics to inflate, not to inform.

‘Today there are 6.5 million people in Italy.’ (more like 65 million), ‘As imaginary, as we do today as we do with online transfers.’ (huh?), ‘This book is not just for Venetofiles.’ (ph, not f), ‘they perfected the thermometer” (invented), ‘When John Quincy Adams … as he helped give birth to the United States.” (John, not John Quincy, his son), ‘The city of Trieste, north of Venice’ (east), ‘Some doctors proscribed electrotherapy’ (prescribed?).

Needs another proof reading. Many errors of history, geography, and grammar. Reads as if translated from a foreign language. Awkward verb choices knock the reader out of the narrative trying to decipher the meaning. Many foreign phrases not translated.

‘Ironically, this city is the father of capitalism, yet it feels like end-stage capitalism now.’

Book Review: The Address Book by Deirdre Mask (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask (Three Stars)

“House numbers exist not to help you find your way, but rather to help the government find you.”

Entertaining book about the evolution and impact of house addresses. Unfortunately marred by several agendas which have little to do with the subject. Lots of emotion, suggestion, and fabrication.

“The employers’ blatant discrimination is based in part on mistaken views of who the homeless really are.”

Unfortunately, Mask often strays from facts into assumptions and opinion. Opinions are fine if presented as such.

“If they couldn’t number you, if they couldn’t conscript you, if they couldn’t see you, they didn’t own you—you really were a free man.”

How does it merit three stars? Lots of good, if trivial facts among the politics. Mostly because Mask’s concerns are well-founded, if not well presented.

“We don’t know what the near future is going to look like—technologically or politically. Change seems to come more outrageously every year. And the more things change, the more we feel the need to anchor ourselves to the past. Street addresses have become one way to remember.”

Book Review: Stranger Than We Can Imagine by John Higgs (Three Stars)


Book Review: Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century by John Higgs

(Three Stars)

“There’s a moment for every generation when memory turns into history. The twentieth century is receding into the distance, and coming into perspective.” Giving charlatans—oops, I mean historians the opportunity to revise and reinterpret with less fear of contradiction.

An ambitious attempt to bring order out of the chaos of the last hundred years. Spanning the gamut from astrophysics to po culture, Higgs finds patterns in the twentieth century which may help us understand how we got where we are, though little help in projecting what’s next.

“The future is already here. It is just not very evenly distributed.” William Gibson

Higgs is English, which will slow non-English readers, as his historic, political and cultural references center on England. Though non-North American English readers have dealt with the self-referential nature of Americans for years; it’ll be a new experience for Continue reading

Book Review: Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer Four Stars


Book Review: Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics by Charles Krauthammer

Four Stars

“The central axiom of partisan politics: conservatives think liberals are stupid; liberals thinks conservatives evil.”

An entertaining collection culled from thirty years of columns and speeches. Naturally, whether one agrees often or at all will reflect one’s personal orientation, but Krauthammer expresses his opinions well.

“Peace: noun, in international affairs a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” Ambrose Bierce

Krauthammer is a token conservative on the Washington Post and often a talking head on NPR and FoxNews.

“Deterrence doesn’t work against people who ache for heaven.”

Hard to respect anyone who thinks baseball–either played or watched–is anything other than a monumental waste of time.

“The trouble when people stop believing in God is not that they thereafter believe in nothing; it is that they thereafter believe in anything.” G. K. Chesterton

Book Review: Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin (Two Stars)


Book Review: Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week by Ursula K. Le Guin

Two Stars

“Listening is an act of community, which requires space, time, and silence. Reading is a means of listening.”

I wanted to like this book because I respect Le Guin as an author and a person, but two stars was a gift. This drivel seems tossed together to justify the selling price. It won awards perhaps because it says all the right things. Or it was her turn.

“There seems to be a firewall in my mind against ideas expressed in numbers and graphs rather than words, or in abstract words such as Sin and Gravity.”

She has opinions and states them well, but with precious few facts. She feels rather than thinks, and she’s proud of it. Yet she prefers “the fierce reality of true fiction” over “wishful thinking.”

“I’d rather follow a narrative than a thought, and the more abstract the thought the less I understand it. Philosophy inhabits my mind only as parables and logic never enters it at all.”

Le Guin admits she writes fantasy because she can’t do the math for real science fiction. That’s legitimate. Others should be as honest. But then she degrades hard science fiction as elitist and reactionary. That’s hardly fair. I like fantasy–her kind of fantasy–but I like science fiction that makes me think about velocity vectors and Hohmann transfer orbits.

“… the critics increasing restriction of literary fiction to social and psychological realism, all else being brushed aside as sub literary entertainment.”

Skip the reviews. They’re good but she both tells you too much and tells you how to think. Many folks like to be told how to think, but even when I agree with her I’d rather find my own way.

“The New York/East Coast literary scene is so inward-looking and provincial that I’ve always been glad not to be part of it.”

Her defense of abortion, whatever you may think on the topic, is among the best I’ve ever read. I wonder what her child would have thought.

“It’s hard to ask a child to find a way through all that [reproduced voices, images and words used for commercial and political profit] alone.”