<<< Previous | Main | Tags | Next >>>

Recently read

[Originally published at the now defunct group blog explananda.com]

Posted on October 16, 2010
Tags: book_reviews

Arthur Conan Doyle. A Study in Scarlet This was the first Sherlock Holmes mystery to be published and the second I’ve read, after The Hound of the Baskervilles. Although not as good as The Hound of the Baskervilles, this was still very entertaining, and I think I’ll keep going.

Like many fans of the mysteries, I find myself delighting in Holmes’ intuitive leaps. Doyle’s presentation of these leaps, as filtered through Watson’s incredulous resistance, is extremely rhetorically effective. When Watson finally relents and accepts some chain of reasoning of Holmes’s as inevitable, it’s easy to feel that we should too. But if you stop and think about it, Holmes’s entire philosophy and approach is built on a totally loopy idea of induction.

P.G. Wodehouse. The Inimitable Jeeves

Of the eight or so books by Wodehouse I’ve read, this is among the very best. In fact, it gives The Code of the Woosters a run for its money.

If you like Wodehouse, read this hilarious book immediately. If you haven’t read Wodehouse, either this book or The Code of the Woosters is a good place to start. Wodehouse was best known for his the Jeeves and Wooster stories, featuring the hapless, dim-witted Bertie Wooster, always getting himself into trouble, and Jeeves, his brilliant butler, who always figures some way out of the mess. It’s mindless fun, but Wodehouse can turn a hell of a sentence and there is always satisfaction in getting to see one of his convoluted plots sort itself out, just as you knew it would, at the very last minute.

P.G. Wodehouse. Much Obliged, Jeeves

Also deliciously silly fun.

A.B. Bosworth. Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great

An excellent scholarly account of Alexander’s career, along with a number of peripheral subjects. Bosworth’s is a scholarly and not a popular account, in the sense not just that he wrestles with other scholars from time to time, but that his account of what happened is usually embedded in careful discussions of the source texts. This is exactly the way I like my history; others might find it tedious. The peripheral subjects alluded to above include, e.g,. the finer points of satrapal administration in Alexander’s Persian territories. YMMV, as the saying goes.

Cory Doctorow. Little Brother

A novel about a 17 year old hacker who is arbitrarily detained in a round-up after a terrorist attack in San Francisco, and who decides to fight back against the authorities using all his hacker-fu. At times it seems a bit like Doctorow is trying to jam every thing in the world that he finds cool into the narrative—mainly through the mouthpiece of his seriously precocious protagonist. The good news for me was that there’s a significant overlap between what I find cool and what Doctorow does: programming, cryptography, civil liberties, etc. The book, while not high literature, is also just a satisfying, well-paced read. I sort of wish I could go back in time and give a copy to my 17 year old self.

Cory Doctorow. Content

Little Brother has the distinction of being the first book I’ve ever read on a phone (while commuting on the subway). I downloaded it for free, along with a few other books whose copyright had expired, setting them into the public domain. Doctorow releases all his books under a Creative Commons license, which permits people to download and redistribute his work without paying him a royalty fee. Content, which I also downloaded and read on my phone for free, is a book of essays by Doctorow explaining, among other things, how he manages to pay the rent as a professional writer who lets people read his writing for free. The answer is, in part, just that it costs him nothing to let people download his books, that it often results in free publicity (e.g., blog posts) and buzz, and that many people who could download his books for free end up buying physical copies too (from which he does make money).

But Content is about more than how Doctorow makes a living. It’s about legal restrictions on content, like copyright, DRM (digital rights management, the technology that is supposed to stop you from giving the mp3 you bought on itunes to your friend), and the technologies, policies and trade-offs relevant to these legal restrictions. Although marred a bit by repetition, this is a good, thought-provoking collection. I especially enjoyed re-reading Doctorow’s talk, collected here, but long available free on his site, at Microsoft about DRM technology.