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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yes, It's Another Blog (Sort Of)

So yes, I'm starting another blog here. Some of you may wonder why. Some of you may not care.

Really, it's pretty simple.

I read a lot of books, and I enjoy reviewing them. For a long time, I did most of my reviewing on a livejournal account. But that account slowly started to morph into something that was half book review site, half random thinking about my life. With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and my own business, I find that I'm not really using livejournal the way I used to.

I also am, frankly, one of those OCD sort of people that very much likes to organize things. When my girlfriend and I moved into our current place, her first priority was the kitchen. Mine was unpacking and organizing the books--it took me the better part of a day. Yes, I am a bit OCD about these things.

So, here I am. Reviewing books. Whatever ones I happen to read. Yes, there will be some overlap with my other blog (An Honest Philosophy), but not a lot. Much of what I read doesn't belong over there, and much of what I post there doesn't belong here. You should feel free to read them both, however.

I make no promises to update this on any kind of regular basis. It'll happen when I finish reading stuff. Until then, I've migrated over some of my old reviews, and will be bringing more over as I go. I'll probably also be updating the amazon store to cover some of the things I read and think are worth buying.

Comments, thoughts, and whatever are welcome.


Book Review: Inside the Criminal Mind

Inside the Criminal Mind: Revised and Updated Edition
Inside the Criminal Mind was one of the books that I pulled off of Rory Miller’s recommended reading lists. I think I found it on his website, but I’m honestly not sure. Wherever I found it, I’m glad I did.

Inside the Criminal Mind is a very interesting book, though I confess, it’s not entirely what I expected. While Samenow does get very deep into criminal psychology, he does so from a very…global…perspective.

Global is not the right adjective there. I’m having trouble finding one.

Samenow is concerned with explaining the criminal mind, not just as a way of clarifying it for the average citizen, but in a way that will help psychologists, policy makers, and society in general rethink the way that society deals with those criminals. Despite Samenow’s claims that his work is apolitical, there is clearly a political message within it: that society needs to change the way it deals with its criminals.

Not being much for politics myself (they raise my blood pressure), I’m going to ignore the political implications of Samenow’s work for this review. My purpose in reading this book was to gain a better insight into criminal psychology, so that I could be better educated, and could better educate my students about the nature of crime and violence prevention.

From that perspective, this book is excellent. Samenow presents his observations in a clear, concise manner that it is easily accessible, even to a non-psychologist. There are numerous case studies, stories, and other examples that Samenow uses to help reinforce his points, which make most of his basic tenets a lot more memorable. He reinforces his basic premise sufficiently that the reader can finish with a few simple, clear, easily remembered ideas, without turning the book into a dull, repetitious screed.

For those interested in self-defense, criminal psychology, or criminal law, even, this book is definitely worth a read.

Children of Hurin (Audio Book)

Having read and reviewed Children of Hurin once already, I’m not sure I’ve discovered a lot new to say about it by listening to it on audio. It was awesome in one format, and it’s awesome in another.

Okay, one way it’s awesome in this format is that when I read it to myself, I don’t sound like Christopher Lee. The man who gave us the Voice of Saruman (with good reason), gives us the voice of everyone else in this tale, including a fantastic performance as Glaurang, the great wyrm.

So I take it back. There is a difference; because as much as I recognized it was a tragedy while reading it, listening to Lee read it made the book somehow that much more depressing. That’s a compliment, for the record.

Children of Hurin is a damn fine piece of literature, no matter what format you experience it in, but Lee’s performance makes the audio version especially worthwhile.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

One of the side benefits to traveling to the PDR is that I got to catch up on some of my reading. In particular, I got to finally finish off 1491, which I had been working on for some time now.

1491 is essentially a survey of (relatively) recent archaeological research as seen through the eyes of a journalist. Charles Mann sets out to debunk the "high school" view of what the Americas were like before the arrival of Western Europeans. Along the way, he travels through parts of Central and South America, nearly crashes when his plane runs out of fuel, and eats a variety of sometimes tasty, sometimes odd, local cuisines.

There's a lot that's good about this book, though I confess that I didn't find a lot of it revelatory. That may have more to do with the five years I spent dating an aspiring archaeologist than anything wrong with the content of the book--a lot of it does seem fairly accurate, and even I learned a few new things.

I did find the structure of the book a little confusing; if Mann had a pattern that he was following in his outline of the material, I never caught onto it. He seems to meander from topic to topic, rather than focusing on either a regional or chronological view of the Americas. The latter, as I think about it, would be difficult, but the former might have worked better. Some of the chapters have explicit themes that connect the various subsections, but some of them seem a little random.

A lot of the book is focused on Central and South America; I don't know if that's because that is where the majority of the archaeological data exists, or if it's a personal bias on Mann's part. Personally, I've always been curious about the Northeastern US (or what became the Northeastern US), mostly because I grew up in a town surrounded by Indian Reservations. I was hoping to learn more than what Mann had here.

Mann's writing is clean, crisp, and flows well. His descriptions are vivid without being overwrought, and the information he provides is clear enough to be accessible without feeling as though it was "dumbed down".

Overall, the book is good, if not perfect. Definitely worth the read, for those interested in this sort of thing.