Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book review: Double Deuce by Robert B. Parker

Year published: Double Deuce was published in 1992
Date I finished reading:  December 5, 2016
Genre: Mystery
Rating: A
Review:  Double Deuce is the 19th novel in the Spenser series and it's one of my favorites.  When residents of the "double deuce" a notorious housing project in Boston that got its name from its address of 22 Hobart Street ask Hawk to rid the project of gangs, he brings Spenser in for assistance.

There are the usual complications and violence, but the reason it's one of my favorite of the Spenser novels is because we learn a lot about the main characters and, in particular, about Hawk and how he became who he is and the price he paid for doing so.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Book review: Pastime by Robert B. Parker

Year published: 1991
Date I finished: Reread finished on December 3, 2016
Genre: Mystery
Rating:A

Review:  I am back to my plan of rereading the whole Spenser series. Pastime is the 18th in the series and its one of my favorites so far.

10 years (and quite a few books) ago, Spenser rescued Paul Giacomin from neglectful parents.  Paul is now a man.  His mother is missing and he comes to Spenser to find her. This starts off simply enough - she has apparently run off with her latest boyfriend.  But things get complex because the boyfriend is connected to criminals - in particular, to Joe Broz. 

This lets Parker add a lot of the regular characters to Pastime.  Of course we have Hawk and Susan, but also Vinnie Morris and Joe Broz. 

And, as often, Parker uses the mystery as an opportunity to muse on bigger topics.  Here, his focus is on relationships between parents and children.  We learn about Spenser's own relationship with his father and uncles; about Joe Broz' relationship with his son and about Paul's relationship with his mother. The first relationship is a healthy one, the latter two are not.

Recommended.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What are you reading? December 3, 2016

Books 

  • The Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois.  A good annual "best of" book. On p.181  (no pages read).
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 138 (no pages read this week).
  • Watson's Play of the Hand at Bridge, the classic book on play. On p. 113 (no pages read this week).
  • A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek, it's a combination of physics, philosophy and art. The question is whether the world can be regarded as a work of art. On p. 70 (5 pages read this week).
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 32 (no pages read).
  • How to Reassess your Chess Workbook also by Silman and the companion to the above. On p. 45 (2 pages read). 
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  This is a really good survey, I think. Gottlieb writes very clearly and uses analogy and humor to help. page 374 (44 pages read this week).
  • I finished John Quincy Adams by James Traub.  A bio of our 6th president, an unjustly neglected figure.(Link goes to my review)
  • I started and finished Winner Take All by Barry Eisler.  The third book in the John Rain series.  Spies, assassins, fun stuf.
  • I started Pastime by Robert B. Parker, another in the Spenser series, which I am rereading in order.  Now on p. 44
  • I also started A Wicked Company which is about the radicals of the Enlightenment - especially Diderot and Holbach.  Fascinating.  On p. 77.

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Book review: Winner take all by Barry Eisler

Year published: Winner Take All  was originally published as Rain Storm in 2004.
Date I finished reading: December 2, 2016
Genre: Thriller
Rating: A

Review:  Winner Take All is the third novel in the John Rain series.

John Rain is a Japanese-American.  He likes whiskey and jazz and Tokyo.  He's got an unusual profession: Assassin. At the start of Winner Take All he has moved to Brazil and retired.  But the CIA wants to hire him again, to kill a middle eastern arms merchant.  He takes the job.  But it turns out to be more complicated than he thought, and involves (as usual in these novels) a beautiful woman, treacherous CIA agents, Rain's friend Dox (a sniper who he met in Afghanistan) and more twists than a corkscrew.

Good stuff!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Book review: John Quincy Adams: Militant spirit by James Traub

Year published: 2016

Date I finished reading: December 1, 2016

Genre: Biography/history

Rating: A-

Review: John Qunicy Adams is relatively little known.  This is a shame, as he was a remarkable man, as this biography by Traub demonstrates.  He was an easy man to admire but a hard man to love; in one sentence Traub describes him:

Nothing could be more characteristic of Adams than this combination of erudition, ingenuity, hyperbole and spleen.
Adams was stern with everyone, most of all himself.  He was a pessimist and a man who often said that he was not built for happiness and well-suited to drudgery. He endured many tragedies including the death of two children (one as an adult) and a sister.  Several times people he trusted betrayed him.  And he persevered. And when he left the White House, his best years were ahead of him because he made his mark when he became a congressman (yes, after being president) and fought the slaveocracy that ruled the House at the time.

Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Interesting words: Redux

Redux is an interesting word.  I read about it in The Word Detective.  It sounds like it means "reduced" or perhaps summarized or something like that.  But it doesn't. Redux means "brought back" or "revived".  According to Wikipedia, it is mostly used in literature, film and video game titles, and was made much more popular when John Updike published Rabbit Redux in 1970.  Google's ngram viewer shows that the use of redux has had a lot of peaks and valleys, peaking in 1806-1808, then again in 1904, then there was a long decline in use and, indeed, a resurgence after 1970 that, so far, shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, one could say "redux redux". But it's never been really popular - the peaks are at about 0.0000045% of all words, or about 1 in every 22 million words.

One unusual thing about redux is that (unlike nearly all adjectives in English) it is used only after the noun it modifies. Another unusual thing is that it has no comparative or superlative form (the -er and -est of most adjectives). It comes from Latin reducere "to lead back or bring back" - the same root as reduce, which changed its meaning later on.




Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Balloon Joke

This is a joke I made up  when I heard that people with nonverbal learning disabilities (which I have) do not have a sense of humor.


A guy is flying in a hot air balloon, and he's lost. He lowers himself over a field and calls to a guy "Can you tell me where I am and where I'm headed?"

"Sure. You're at 41 degrees 2 minutes and 14 seconds North, 144 degrees 4 minutes and 19 seconds East; you're at an altitude of 762 meters above sea level, and right now you're hovering, but you were on a vector of 234 degrees at 12 meters per second"

"Amazing! Thanks! By the way, do you have Asperger's Syndrome?"

"I do! How did you know that?"

"Because everything you said is true, it's much more detail than I need, and you told me in a way that's no use to me at all."

"Huh. Are you a clinical psychologist?"

"I am, but how the heck did you know that???!!??"

"You don't know where you are. You don't know where you're going. You got where you are by blowing hot air. You put labels on people after asking a few questions, and you're in exactly the same spot you were 5 minutes ago, but now, somehow, it's my fault!

Intersting words: Acnestis: The parts you can't reach

Does your back ever itch?  Mine does.  And, sometimes, it's in the part I can't scratch!  That's so annoying.  Sometimes I will rub against a chair or something like that.  And they even sell back scratchers to let you reach those parts.

But ... what are those parts?  Not only is it annoying to be unable to scratch where it itches, it's annoying to have to say "where I can't reach".  And now, you don't have to.  Because English has a word for those parts: Acnestis.

Can you scratch my acnestis?

Do cats even have an acnestis? 

Where is your acnestis?

When I was younger, my shoulders were so flexible that I had no acnestis, but now I do.

And do you know of any animal that has an acnestis that is not on its back?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

What are you reading? November 26, 2016

(Sorry I missed last week)
Here is what I am reading this week.  Use the comments to tell us what you are reading.

Books 

  • The Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois.  A good annual "best of" book. On p.181  (12 pages read).
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 138 (no pages read this week).
  • Watson's Play of the Hand at Bridge, the classic book on play. On p. 113 (no pages read this week).
  • A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek, it's a combination of physics, philosophy and art. The question is whether the world can be regarded as a work of art. On p. 65 (8 pages read this week).
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 32 (no pages read).
  • How to Reassess your Chess Workbook also by Silman and the companion to the above. On p. 43 (no pages read). 
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  This is a really good survey, I think. Gottlieb writes very clearly and uses analogy and humor to help. page 330 (24 pages read this week).
  • John Quincy Adams by James Traub.  A bio of our 6th president, an unjustly neglected figure. On page 379 (100 pages read).  
  • I finished A Clean Killing in Tokyo by Barry Eisler.  The first book in the John Rain series.  Spies, assassins, fun stuf.. My review
  • I also finished The Word Detective by Paul Simpson.My review.

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it.

Book review: The Word Detective by John Simpson

Year published: 2016
Date I finished reading: November 26, 2016
Genre: History, memoir, English
Rating: B
Review: The Word Detective is the story of John Simpson's time working at the Oxford English Dictionary.  He applied for a job in 1976 after his girlfriend (and later his wife) saw an ad and thought it might suit him.  He stayed for 35 years, rising to become the chief editor of the  famous dictionary.

The Word Detective is partly about words.  Simpson looks at various words in depth, showing their etymology and how their meaning changed over time.  It's partly about Simpson's personal life - marriage, children and so on. It's partly about what it takes to be a lexicographer (one note: You shouldn't love words).  But mostly it's about moving the Oxford Dictionary into the 21st century, putting it first on CD-ROM and then on the Internet, updating words, finding editors and all the parts of editing the massive dictionary.

I found it quite interesting, but it's a bit repetitive (how many times do we need to be told that the OED was behind the times?).  Except for this, Simpson writes with a nice style. He has a very dry English sense of humor, and his love of his former job comes through quite clearly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book review: A Bomb Built in Hell: Wesley's Story by Andrew Vachss

Year published:  2012

Date I finished reading: November 22, 2016

Genre: Crime/thriller

Rating: C
 
Review: I picked this up because I am a fan of Vachss' Burke series, especially the earlier volumes, and, in the forward, Vachss notes that, although A Bomb Built in Hell was published in 2012, it was written much earlier.  Fans of the Burke series will recognize Wesley's name as one of the deadliest and coldest assassins.

 But the subtitle to this book could better be "Watch Wesley Kill".  There's a tremendous amount of killing - killing by gun, knife, poison gas, killing for revenge, killing for money, killing at random.  But the book doesn't really tell Wesley's story.  It doesn't cover his childhood (how the bomb got built) and there's a minimum of plot and character development.

Fans of the Burke series will like Vachss' prose and may want to read this to add to their knowledge of Wesley, but I found it rather disapponting.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Great quotations: Israel Salanter on morality

The quote:
Most people worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls, when we all ought to worry about our own souls and other people's bellies

Who  said it:  Israel Salanter
 
Source:

Thoughts on the quote: 

 Why do I, an atheist who doesn't even believe in souls, like this quote? I think we can take "soul" as a metaphor.  Salanter is saying that we should help others in material ways, and worry about ourselves in spiritual ways. This is,  as the quotation notes, too often the reverse of what people do. Many people seem concerned with how much stuff they have and how evil other people are being.
 
This quote and modern politics
To me, this quote could be the foundation of liberalism and progressivism. I think that the current definition of "conservative" often fits the "most people" and the current definition of "liberal" fits the "ought".  Conservatives are very worried about gay marriage, abortion, drug use, and all sorts of things that are really "other people's souls", while liberals tend to be more worried with making sure that other people have enough to eat and so on.

About the author: 
Israel Salanter (ne Lipkin) was a rabbi in Lithuania. He was born on November 3, 1810,
in  Zhagory and died on February 2, 1883 in Konigsberg. Israel Salanter was a noted Torah scholar and talmudist. A devoutly orthodox Jew, Salanter's views were, nevertheless,  outside the mainstream, and he stressed ethical and moral teachings, and also wrote about the role of the subconcious.

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book review: A Clean Kill in Tokyo by Barry Eisler

Title:  A Clean Kill in Tokyo

Author:  Barry Eisler

Year published: 2002

Date finished:  November 16, 2016

Genre: Thriller

Rating:  B+

Review:  John Rain is a Japanese American man living in Tokyo.  He loves the city, whiskey and jazz.  And ... he has an unusual profession: He's an assassin.  And his specialty is making his killings look like they were of natural causes.

In A Clean Kill in Tokyo (originally published as Rain Fall), the first in the John Rain series, he is hired to kill a man, which he does by stopping the guy's pacemaker.That would be that, but ... complications ensue. First, he meets a beautiful jazz pianist who turns out to be the daughter of the man he killed. Then it turns out that the reason for the killing is that the guy had a computer disk with information that would compromise the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan.  And a lot of people want that disk.

Lots of violence, lots of twists in the plot and it kept me turning the pages and that's what a thriller should do.


About the author:  Barry Eisler is an American author and lawyer. He worked at the CIA and at startups in Japan and America before going into full time writing.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Great Quotations: Curly Howard on thinking

The quote:
I'm trying to think, but nothing happens
or, in dialect, "I'm tryin' ta tink, but nuttin' happens"

Who said it: Curly Howard of the Three Stooges. 

Source: Personal memory and the episode is available in many web sites

Thoughts (ahem) on the Quote:  This is just perfect so often.  I especially like it when I am doing badly at bridge in which game you often have to consider a great many different things at once, but it is useful in other situations as well.   

Saturday, November 12, 2016

What are you reading? Nov. 12 2016

Here is what I am reading this week.  Use the comments to tell us what you are reading.

Books 

  • The Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois.  A good annual "best of" book. On p.169  (No pages read).
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 138 (no pages read this week).
  • Watson's Play of the Hand at Bridge, the classic book on play. On p. 113 (15 pages read this week).
  • A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek, it's a combination of physics, philosophy and art. The question is whether the world can be regarded as a work of art. On p. 56 (8 pages read this week).
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 32 (no pages read).
  • How to Reassess your Chess Workbook also by Silman and the companion to the above. On p. 43 (no pages read). 
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  This is a really good survey, I think. Gottlieb writes very clearly and uses analogy and humor to help. page 306 (28 pages read this week).
  • John Quincy Adams by James Traub.  A bio of our 6th president, an unjustly neglected figure. On page 279 (45 pages read).  
  • I finished The Detachment by Barry Eisler.  Spies and hit men and stuff.  Good fun. Link goes to my review.
  • I started A Clean Killing in Tokyo by Barry Eisler.  The first book in the John Rain series.  Spies, assassins, fun stuf.. On p. 133. 
  • I also started The Word Detective by Evan Morris.  Morris had a career at the Oxford English Dictionary, rising through the ranks to the top. Interesting!  On page 56

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Interesting words: Paskudnyak

The word: Paskudnyak






Pronunciation:  rhymes with pass could we yak

Definition: A paskudnyak is a vile, rotten, nasty person. The adjectival form (rarely heard, in my experience with Yinglish) is "paskudne".







Origin: Paskudnyak is Yiddish, and earlier from Polish and Ukranian (Yiddish started as mostly German but amalgamated words from lots of languages).

Notes: It is difficult to distinguish this word from other terms of contempt such as schmuck or putz. Paskudnyak is, at least, not vulgar. Looking through Rosten's Joys of Yiddish, I think that paskudnyak is more like "sleazy", "mean" and "disgusting"; schmuck is more fully evil, and putz is more idiotic. Both putz and shmuck are obscene. Also, paskudnyak is much less known, which can be good.

Source: The Joys of Yiddish.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Book review: The Detachment by Barry Eisler

The Detachment is the 7th book in the John Rain series.  I usually like to read series books in order, but I got this one for a low price so I started in the middle.

John Rain is a professional assassin. In this book, he is hired to kill two people who, purportedly, are plotting a coup against the government of the USA. His employer is Scott Horton, a colonel who specializes in "black ops".  But ... there are twists and twists and more twists. 

Although Rain usually works alone, this time he is leading a team of four - and there are lots of interpersonal problems.  And it's soon unclear whether the coup attempt is real.  Then there are terrorist attacks.

I won't say it's great literature, but it kept me turning the pages, which a thriller should do.  I'll be looking for the earlier books in the series.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

What are you reading? November 5, 2016

Here is what I am reading this week.  Use the comments to tell us what you are reading.

Books 

  • The Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois.  A good annual "best of" book. On p.169  (6 pages read).
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 138 (no pages read this week).
  • I finished Anathem by Neal Stephenson. My review from my first read is here
  • Watson's Play of the Hand at Bridge, the classic book on play. On p. 98 (no pages read this week).
  • A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek, it's a combination of physics, philosophy and art. The question is whether the world can be regarded as a work of art. On p. 48 (16 pages read this week).
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 32 (no pages read).
  • How to Reassess your Chess Workbook also by Silman and the companion to the above. On p. 43 (no pages read). 
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  This is a really good survey, I think. Gottlieb writes very clearly and uses analogy and humor to help. page 278 (5 pages read this week).
  • John Quincy Adams by James Traub.  A bio of our 6th president, an unjustly neglected figure. On page 232 (73 pages read).  
  • I started The Detachment by Barry Eisler.  Spies and hit men and stuff.  Good fun. On p 108.
  • I also started The First Tycoon by T. J. Stiles.  A bio of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Well done. On p. 78

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Great quotations: Isaac Asimov on discovery

The quotation:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny …”

Who said it:  The quotation is widely attributed to Isaac Asimov, but no direct evidence of him saying it or writing it seems to exist.  Nevertheless, it does seem like he said it, according to the invaluable Quote Investigator.


Source:  See link above.

Thoughts on the quotation: 

When we notice something odd, something unexplained, we can ignore it.  Or we can attribute it to mysterious forces. Or we can say it's a miracle.  Or .... we can investigate.  And maybe discover something.  As my favorite professor in graduate school used to say:

If you're not surprised, you haven't learned anything
So, we should welcome the unexplained.  It might lead somewhere. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Book review: A Mathematician's Lament by Paul Lockhart

Summary of review of A Mathematician's Lament by Paul Lockhart

If you teach math, if you like math, if you know a kid who gets  subjected to what the schools call math, if you write books about math,  if you plan math curricula - in short, if you are in ANY way connected  to both kids and math, GO GET THIS BOOK. It is absolutely fantastic.


Summary of A Mathematician's Lament

This is an impassioned plea for the rescue of mathematics education.  More precisely, it is a plea for the creation of math education,  because, at present, we aren't doing any - at least, not in grade school  or high school, in the vast majority of schools in the USA.

The author of A Mathematician's Lament

Paul Lockhart has a PhD in mathematics, and was a professor of  mathematics at Brown University and UC Santa Cruz. In 2000, he gave that  up, to teach math to K-12 students at St. Ann's school in NYC.

Contents of A Mathematician's Lament

This is a short book - only 140 pages, and they aren't very big  pages, or small type. It's in two parts: Lamentation and Exultation.  Lamentation describes what we currently do to kids in what we call math  class. Exultation delights in describing what math really is.
Lamentation has 4 chapters:
1. Mathematics and culture
2. Mathematics in school
3. The mathematics curriculum
4. High school geometry: Instrument of the devil

Exultation is one chapter

Review of A Mathematician's Lament

Let me ask you some questions. They are very easy.

  • If a woman had never read a novel or written anything since college, would she be a good English teacher?
  • If a man had never gone to a concert, played an instrument, or sang, would he be a good music teacher?
  • If a woman had never gone to a museum, painted a picture, played with clay, or drawn, would she be be a good art teacher?


I told you they were easy!

Here are some more:

  • If you were forced to take 12 years of music theory before you were permitted to pick up an instrument, would you do so?
  • If you were not allowed to paint until you could name 100 types of brushes and distinguish 200 pigments, would you paint?
  • If you had to learn all about iambic pentameter before you were permitted to write a poem, would you write one?

OF COURSE NOT!

But this is precisely what we are doing with math. I've been saying  this for years, but, in a A Mathematician's Lament, Paul Lockhart says  it more eloquently, with greater authority, and at slightly greater  length than I have.

Math is not about rules, it's not about arithmetic, it's not about  notation. Math is about the search for beauty. Here are some quotes from  the book:

Mathematics is an art, and it should be taught by working artists,  or if not, at least by people who appreciate the art form and can  recognize it when they see it
Mathematics is not a language, it's an adventure

A proof should be an epiphany from the gods, not a coded message from the Pentagon

 In A Mathematician's Lament,  Paul Lockhart shows that he actually IS  a mathematician; he's got the chops. We know this not only because of  his formal credentials, but because of the way he talks. Good math is  "elegant", "beautiful", "charming". And he's right. And if you can't see  that he's right, it's because you have never had a mathematics  education - you've been to school, instead.

Book review: Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Far from the Tree is a book by Andrew Solomon. It is subtitled "parents, children and the search for identity" and it will change the way you think about people, particularly people who are different.

The title comes from the phrase "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree", referring to the idea that children are not that dissimilar from their parents. But some children are quite dissimilar from their parents and this book is about some of them. Far from the Tree got amazing reviews and it grabbed me from the opening:

There is no such thing as reproduction. When two people decide to have a baby, they engage in an act of production, and the widespread use of the word reproduction for this activity, with its implication that two people are but braiding themselves together, is at best a euphemism to comfort prospective parents before they get in over their heads

The first chapter is titled "Son" and the last is "Father". Each of the others is about a particular kind of difference:
  • Deaf
  • Dwarfs
  • Down Syndrome
  • Autism
  • Schizophrenia
  • Disability
  • Prodigies
  • Rape (which is about children whose mothers were raped)
  • Crime
  • Transgender
Each chapter mixes personal stories of parents and children that fit the chapter's title with more general information about the condition and, in most cases, communities that have sprung up around each condition. The only thing that all these conditions have in common is that the child is, in some way, far from the tree (at least in most cases - some of these conditions do have a genetic component).

I don't agree with all that Solomon says; you probably won't either. But that is not the point. This is not a polemic designed to change your opinion in a certain direction, rather, it is a book to open your eyes to things you might not have seen before. It is a book about the nature of humanity. Far from the Tree changed the way I think about people and I daresay it will change the way you think, as well.

Andrew Solomon is a writer and lecturer on psychology, politics and the arts. He is a winner of the National Book Award and an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. He is also the author of The Noonday Demon which is about depression.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Great quotations: Terry Pratchett on evil

The quotation
 Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things
Who said it

Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld series of comic fantasy novels.

Source

I Shall Wear Midnight 

Thoughts on the quote 

Is there a universal morality?  Many people think not.  I think there is.  For example, the Golden Rule and the Silver Rule have been around for 2,000 years, and there are variations in most other religions and philosophies.

In I Shall Wear Midnight (one of the great Tiffany Aching novels), Pratchett gives a definition of evil that could also be universal; it's another variation on the same theme as the two rules. But it is, in some ways, more explicit because it avoids the problems that different people like to be treated (or not treated) differently.  But no one should be treated as a thing.

Treating people as things is also what a lot of evil people get fundamentally wrong.  All people are people, all people deserve respect.  No one should be treated as an object.

In addition, learning that other people are people like you is one of the landmarks in growing up.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

What are you reading, Oct 29, 2016

What are you reading? Oct 22, 2016

Here is what I am reading this week.  Use the comments to tell us what you are reading.

Books 

  • The Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois.  A good annual "best of" book. On p.163  (76 pages read).
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 138 (3 pages read this week).
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson. My review from my first read is here.  I am now 84% through (no page numbers on Kindle, 18% read this week).
  • Watson's Play of the Hand at Bridge, the classic book on play. On p. 98 (30 pages read this week).
  • A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek, it's a combination of physics, philosophy and art. The question is whether the world can be regarded as a work of art. On p. 32 (24 pages read this week).
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 32 (no pages read).
  • How to Reassess your Chess Workbook also by Silman and the companion to the above. On p. 43 (3 pages read). 
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  This is a really good survey, I think. Gottlieb writes very clearly and uses analogy and humor to help. page 273 (14 pages read this week).
  • John Quincy Adams by James Traub.  A bio of our 6th president, an unjustly neglected figure. On page 159 (71 pages read). 

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Great quotations: Thomas Jefferson on freedom of (and from) religion

Tbe quotation:

It does me no harm for my neighbor to believe in many Gods or no God. It neither robs my pocket nor breaks my leg.



Who said it:  Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and principal author of the Declaration of Independence

Source:

Jefferson wrote this in Notes on the State of Virginia

Thoughts on the quote:
 
Many people, these days, accept religious freedom as the freedom to believe or not. But some do not accept it. This lack of acceptance comes from people of all faiths and no faith. To those of us who believe in freedom of religion, this belief may come naturally. If we are drawn into argument with those who do not agree, we need a reason for our belief in religious freedom. This quote from Thomas Jefferson supplies it.

In addition, it shows the limit of this acceptance: Harm. Physical or economic limits this acceptance. So, if fanatics have beliefs which require them to harm you (examples abound, from the Inquisition to 9/11) then you do have a right to limit those beliefs, but only to the extent that they actually harm you.

This Thomas Jefferson quote reminds me of a story my rabbi, S. Michael Gelber used to tell. It seems a guy was walking down the street, swinging his arms. Hie hits another fellow in the nose. The injured man says "What are you doing? You hit me in the nose!" The arm-swinger replies "It's a free country! I can swing my arms if I want!" To which the injured man replies: "Yes, but your freedom stops where my nose begins."

The Thomas Jefferson quote may then be thought of as a way of judging the lengths of people's noses (metaphorically speaking). Your "nose" includes physical and economic harm. Of course, this is not a full set of criteria, because it can sometimes be hard to judge what economic and physical harm are, and what causes them. But it is a good start.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What are you reading? Oct 22, 2016

Here is what I am reading this week.  Use the comments to tell us what you are reading.

Books 

  • The Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois.  A good annual "best of" book. On p.79 (but only about 10 pages read this week, I skipped some stories).
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 135 (4 pages read this week).
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson. My review from my first read is here.  I am now 66% through (no page numbers on Kindle, 24% read this week).
  • Watson's Play of the Hand at Bridge, the classic book on play. On p. 68 (4 pages read this week).
  • A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek, it's a combination of physics, philosophy and art. The question is whether the world can be regarded as a work of art. On p. 8 (4 pages read this week).
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 32 (no pages read).
  • How to Reassess your Chess Workbook also by Silman and the companion to the above. On p. 32 (8 pages read). 
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  This is a really good survey, I think. Gottlieb writes very clearly and uses analogy and humor to help. page 259 (37 pages read this week).
  • John Quincy Adams by James Traub.  A bio of our 6th president, an unjustly neglected figure. On page 88 (38 pages read). 

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book review: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

What Cryptonomicon is:
  • Big - Cryptonomicon is 1100 pages long
  • Complicated - Cryptonomicon has 3 plot lines, set in two different time periods (late 20th century and World War II). It has a dozen major characters and scores of minor characters (including some historical people. There's a brief but hysterical cameo appearance by a very young Ronald Reagan; a not at all funny cameo by Herman Goering and several mentions of Winston Churchill and Admiral Yamamoto. But the main historical person in Cryptonomicon is Alan Turing
  • Funny - there are a lot of humorous bits in Cryptonomicon. Stephenson includes, for example, a long passage on the correct way to eat Captain Crunch cereal (including where the milk should be stored in the refrigerator and what size spoon should be used). Stephenson's portrayal of certain aspects of modernist academic thought is also hysterical.
  • Geeky - One of the main foci of Cryptonomicon is codes. Another is the early development of computers These are geeky subjects. Many of the main characters are brilliant mathematicians or computer programmers.
  • Deep - Stephenson has thoughts on some big subjects, and they are laced throughout Cryptonomicon. Subjects such as the Holocaust (and how to prevent genocide), the nature of love, war, peace, secrecy, how families work and the relationship of individual values to different cultures.

 What Cryptonomicon is not
  • Boring - Neal Stephenson manages to keep Cryptonomicon zipping right along. Reading it is like being on three express trains at once, all headed to the same station.
  • Easy - OK, you probably got that already. Cryptonomicon is not an easy novel. It requires some attention.
  • Science fiction - Although Cryptonomicon is usually shelved with science fiction novels, it really isn't one. Part of it is set in the present day and part in the past; none in the future. None of it involves aliens. And, although science and (especially) technology is certainly a big part of Cryptonomicon it doesn't dominate the book.
Why Cryptonomiconis my favorite novel (or one of them, anyway):
  • I like all the subjects that Cryptonomicon focuses on.
  • I like the way Neal Stephenson keeps things going with the three plotlines.
  • I like the asides and digressions - these may bother some readers of Cryptonomicon, but I think it's just Stephenson having fun. He's incredibly erudite, and it shows, but it never seems like showing off. I think he captures a lot of the nature of his geeky characters,
  • I really like how many of the characters are complex. There are a few truly irredeemable people in Cryptonomicon, and properly so. But most of the characters are complicated - with good points and bad. Like real people.
 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What are you reading? Oct 15, 2016

Here is what I am reading this week.  Use the comments to tell us what you are reading.

Books 

  • I started The Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois.  A good annual "best of" book. On p. 37
  • I finished Frederick the Great: King of Prussia by Tim Blanning; my review.
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 131 (22 pages read this week, but some skipping).
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson. My review from my first read is here.  I am now 42% through (no page numbers on Kindle, 25% read this week).
  • I started Watson's Play of the Hand at Bridge, the classic book on play. On p. 64.
  • I started A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek, it's a combination of physics, philosophy and art. The question is whether the world can be regarded as a work of art. On p. 4.
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 32 (no pages read).
  • I started the How to Reassess your Chess Workbook also by Silman and the companion to the above. On p. 24. 
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  This is a really good survey, I think. Gottlieb writes very clearly and uses analogy and humor to help. page 222 (67 pages read this week).
  • And I started John Quincy Adams by James Traub.  A bio of our 6th president, an unjustly neglected figure. On page 46. 

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book review: Frederick the Great by Tim Blanning

Publication date: 2016
Date I finished reading: October 13, 2016
Genre: Biography
Rating: A
Review: This is the biography to get if you want a balanced view of the remarkable Frederick the Great, King of Prussia.  He was a remarkable man.  Born in 1701, he was abused by his tyrannical father who tried to make him into a sort of clone.  Instead, he rebelled.  Certainly an atheist, probably gay, he came to power in 1740 when Prussia was a 3rd rate power and left it a 1st rate one.

He had many good qualities - military brilliance, a reformer (to a degree), a devotee of the arts - and many negative ones - he was a bully, a misogynist and left no clear message for his successors.  He was also a micromanager to an incredible degree.

This is a great biography.

Tim Blanning is a retired professor of history. In addition to writing many books, he also won a prize for teaching at Cambridge.

Interesting words: Zetetic

Definition: Zetetic as an adjective means "proceeding by inquiry"; as a noun, it means "skeptic".
Pronunciation: Zeh, teh, tick
Origin: Zetetic comes from Greek zeeteetikos (ζητητικός ) meaning "seeking".

Why use it? The adjectival sense of zetetic is a one word synonym for a three word phrase. One can use it to contrast, say, dogmatic religions and other things: "Fundamentalism usually is accepted on faith, but science and philosophy are both zetetic".

Examples:  I read this word in Modernity and its Discontents
 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Book review: Widows' Walk by Robert Parker

Year published: 2002
Date I finished reading: Oct 10, 2016
Genre: Mystery
Rating: B-

Review: Widows' Walk is the 29th book in the Spenser series.  When Nathan Smith is shot to death, his widow, Mary, is suspect number 1.  They were alone in the house together. They fought earlier in the day. He's insured for $10,000,000.  But .... Spenser is hired by her lawyer to investigate.  And, very quickly, things get very complicated and very violent.Too complicated for me.  I got lost.

Widows' Walk  is among my least favorite in the series. Not only is the plot too complex, but there are uncomfortable scenes of Spenser and others not quite disapproving of police brutality and there are some unfortunate confusions about the nature of homosexuality.  I expect better of Mr. Parker and, ususally, I get it.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Annoying words and phrases: "Free gift"

Some words and phrases are interesting.  Some are annoying.  One phrase I find annoying is "free gift".  A gift is free.  That's what "gift" means.  Here's the dictionary definition for "gift":

a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.
So, "free gift" is like "wet water".

But even worse is "free gift with purchase".  No. Sorry.  If you have to buy something then anything else you  get is not free because you paid!  This manages to be redundant and contradictory at the same time.

Yet, "free gift" is used quite a lot. Google ngram viewer lets us track its use in books and, after a long decline, it seems to be making a comeback.  But "free gift" is mostly not used in books.  Simply Googling "free gift" (on October 9, 2016 at 9:30 Eastern) came up with 29,700,000 hits! Some of them were not really uses of the phrase (e.g. "free gift cards").  And "free gift with purchase" came up with 1,480,000 hits!

What words and phrases annoy you?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

My favorite Discworld books


What is Discworld?
  It's a series of comic fantasy books by Terry Pratchett, who has said that
  Writing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on
If you write the way he did, maybe so! But for the 99.9999% of us who don't write that way, reading him is almost as good!


Discworld is a world, shaped like a disc (duh) that rides on the back of four elephants, who stand on the shell of A'Tuin, the great sky turtle.

Discworld is a publishing phenomenon, with about 50 million books in print. And it's terrific. 

My favorite Discworld books:

Small Gods - Brutha just wants to tend his melon patch. But then a god appears to him. A small god, desperate for believers, so he doesn't disappear altogether. A god in the shape of a turtle. Marvelous. One of my favorite Discworld novels, and, I think, the first of the series that shows that Pratchett is more than a good and very funny writer, but that he has profound things to say. Spoofs religion and belief and the inquisition and mysticism.


Monstrous Regiment - War has come to Discworld, and it centers on the fundamentalist nation of Borogravia. Polly Perks' brother has enlisted, and she is determined to look for him. So she cuts off her hair and enlists. Spoofs war, fundamentalism and sex roles, while celebrating the power of love and faith.

Going Postal - Moist von Lipwig is a confidence man who has been caught. He's 'rescued' by Lord Vetinari and made Postmaster of Ankh Morpork. Spoofs government service, hacker culture, greed, technology.

Thud - Long ago, the trolls fought the dwarfs in Koom Valley. Now, trouble is brewing again, and it's up to Sam Vimes to fix it, and still get home in time to read "Where's my Cow?" to Sam Jr.


Hogfather - It's Hogswatchnight, the eve of the most joyous holiday of the year, and the Hogfather is missing. It's up to Susan, Death's granddaughter, to sort out the problem, while taking care of her young charges (she's a nanny).


The Truth - The free press is coming to Ankh Morpork, and it's hungry. Spoofs the media, newspapers, photographers (in this one, the photographer is a vampire who crumbles to dust with each flash).

Night Watch - Sam Vimes gets sent back in time to the eve of a street rebellion in Ankh Morpork. Now, the older and wiser Vimes can do some things he couldn't do then, but that might change his own future, or eliminate it.

Guards! Guards! - All the dragons in Ankh-Morpork have been locked away. But there's a key. And someone's opening the door.... Sam Vimes has to get help from his wonderful wife who is an expert on dragons. 
 Men at Arms - Corporal Carrot Ironfoundperson has been promoted. Now, he's got to deal with some mysterious deaths that have something to do with a new weapon called a 'gonne', and a pack of wild dogs is on the loose (led by Big Fido, a mad poodle); at the same time, Edeward d'Eath discovers that Carrot may be the descendant of the last king. Luckily, Carrot has the Ankh Morpork's other watchmen to help him


 Pratchett also wrote the Tiffany Aching novels, also set on Discworld, but sort of separate.  They are "young adult" novels but mostly, I think, young means "not dead yet".  I loved them. 

  1. The Wee Free Men
  2. A Hat Full of Sky
  3. Wintersmith
  4. I Shall Wear Midnight
  5. The Shepherd's Crown

All tell the story of Tiffany Aching. She goes from girlhood to womanhood with many adventures along the way.  Tiffany is a heroine for the ages and for all ages. In the first book, she wants to become a witch because an old woman who lived nearby was killed for being one.  Tiffany is sure that was wrong and wants to stop things like that from happening.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Book review: Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale

Year published: 2015
Date I finished reading: Jan 15, 2016
Genre: Science fiction
Rating:  A
Review: What if Rome never fell?  And what if Rome "discovered" the new world? Those are the premises behind Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale.

It's about the year 1200 in the calendar of the "Christ risen" (one of several calendars in use in Imperial Rome) and the Romans have sent a legion across the great ocean to Nova Hesperia. to explore and, most of all to find gold. They meet (and fight) with several tribes, and their leader becomes part of the Cahokia, who live in the middle ranges of the Mizipi river.




I don't usually like alternative history that much, but this was intriguing and enthralling from the first page. Great stuff.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Book review: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell



Year Published: 1998
Genre: Science fiction
Rating: A+  

Review: Yesterday I reviewed The Sparrow Children of God is the sequel, and it's just as good, but you should definitely read the earlier book first.
 
Children of God starts off with Emilio Sandoz back on Earth, broken in both body and spirit; it follows him back to Rakhat and then back to Earth, and back to spiritual and physical health. Along the way there are plenty of plot twists to keep the story moving, but what is most remarkable about both The Sparrow and Children of God is not so much the plot, as the character development and the way Mary Doria Russell manages to incorporate a great deal of spiritual wisdom without either sounding "preachy" or slowing the plot down.
 
Even the alien characters (of both alien species) are sympathetic, even when they do utterly alien things.

And the human characters are each fully drawn; they jump from the page into your heart and mind. These are real people, with warts, but also with numerous redeeming qualities. It is relatively easy for an author to make us feel sympathy for people who are similar to us - Mary Doria Russell pulls off the much harder feat of making us sympathetic to people(and aliens) who are very different from us.
 
In terms of spiritual wisdom, perhaps Russell is able to do this because of her own history:  She was raised Catholic, became an atheist, and then converted to Judaism.  She certainly shows sympathy for people in all three groups. Many of the characters are Jesuits;  Sandoz himself goes from being a Jesuit (in The Sparrow to atheism, and back to faith.


Another main character (Sofia Mendez) is Jewish.The aliens have their own religions, as well.
 
Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Book review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Year published: 1996
Genre: Science fiction
Rating: A+
Review: 

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, is a science fiction novel, of the "first contact" genre - that is, it tells what happens when we meet aliens for the first time.

This is a fairly common theme in SF, but usually the aliens are poorly drawn; even when well drawn, they tend to be either vastly superior to us (see e.g. Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End) or else either so totally alien that they are incomprehensible, or stereotyped versions of us (e.g. in Larry Niven's excellent novels, the Kzinti are like humans, but much much more aggressive, and the Puppeteers like humans, only much more timid).

In The Sparrow, the aliens are at approximately the same level as we humans, but are different in some very interesting ways; since discovering those ways is a large part of the novel, I will not go further here.In addition, the novel is about the nature of faith, the nature of love, and what it means to be civilized.

One caveat - do not read the last 50 pages while eating.

In all, strongly recommended.
 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Interesting words: Exoteric

Definition:  Exoteric means "Intended to be understood by the general public"; it is more or less the antonym of the much more common word esoteric.  Ironically, exoteric itself is not very exoteric, since few people know what it means!

Origin: Exoteric comes from the Latin exotericus meaning "external, belonging to the outside world" which in turn comes from Greek exoterikus with the same meaning.

Pronunciation: Ex oh tehr eh kus

Why use it? It's a good descriptive word for popularized science and other technical fields.  Exoteric can also be used sarcastically.

Examples: "Neil deGrasse Tyson is well known for his exoteric talks on astronomy and other subjects".

"Although she intended her talk to be exoteric, in reality, almost no one understood her".

"Shakespeare's plays were originally exoteric, but changes in the language have rendered them less so over time".

Sunday, October 2, 2016

What are you reading? Oct 2, 2016

Here is what I am reading this week.  Use the comments to tell us what you are reading.

Books 

  • Volume 10 of A History of Western Philosophy: The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre by W. T. Jones.  I haven't read the first 9 volumes; I found this one in a used book store.  But I like Jones approach and he makes things reasonably clear, although it's hard to write clearly about philosophy.  I may pick up the other volumes when I can.  Now on page 58. (2 pages read this week).
  • Frederick the Great: King of Prussia by Tim Blanning.  A very good bio of a remarkable ruler, but I wish there were more maps (I often wish this!) and the descriptions of battles could be more detailed.  p. 364 (18 pages read this week).
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 109 (2 pages read this week).
  • I started a reread of Anathem by Neal Stephenson. My review from my first read is here.  I am now 15% through (no page numbers on Kindle).
  • Perdido Street Station  by China Mievelle.  High level science fiction. This one is a bit on hold.  Page 22.
  • Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum by Lee Wilkinson.  Takes a cognitive behavioral approach.  Not my favorite approach, but it summarizes the method well.  16% through (no page numbers on my Kindle). 
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 32 (no pages read).
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  This is a really good survey, I think. Gottlieb writes very clearly and uses analogy and humor to help. page 155 (70 pages read this week).
  • I finished Powder Burn by Carl Hiaasen. Drugs and crime in Florida, with lots of humor as usual with Hiaasen, but this, his first novel, isn't as good as his later ones.  Full review

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it.

Book review: Powder Burn by Carl Hiaasen

Year published: 1981
Date finished: Sept. 29, 2016
Genre: Mystery, humor
Rating: B
Review:  Chris Matthews is living a good life in Miami where he is a successful architect.  But then he sees a former girlfriend and her daughter killed in a hit and run accident. As if that isn't bad enough, the driver is a cocaine dealer and he has seen Chris. 

Now Chris' life becomes a series of comic misadventures full of the sort of southern Florida zaniness that Hiaasen is famous for; but this novel, his first, has too much . darkness to allow the full insanity to reign. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Interesting words: Pareidolia

Definition:  Pareidolia is the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer. The adjectival form is pareidolic.

Pronunciation:  Rhymes with pair eye do lee uh

Origin: From ancient Greek: Para (alongside) + eidolon (image).

Why use it?  What a wonderful word to have!  This is a very common thing for people to do, much more common than we acknowledge. People see patterns, even in random data.  Psychologists have shown this by generating random sequences of digits and showing them to people - who then find patterns.  But we also do this in the "real world" with all sorts of vague stuff.

Examples:
Some people think that dreams have deep meaning while others think that the interpretation of dreams is pareidolia.  
or
On a summer afternoon it is pleasant to lie on the grass, gaze at the clouds and engage in pareidolia

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book review: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Year published: 2008
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: A+
Review:

Anathem is a novel by Neal Stephenson.

It is almost impossible to summarize Anathem - it's 930 pages, plus an extensive glossary, three appendices, and a web page full of acknowledgments and sources. So, what can I say about the novel?

I think Anathem is a great novel, but you may hate it.

It's a novel of ideas - very intensely so. It's science fiction, and it's a variant of a particular genre of science fiction called alternate history. But usually, in alternate history, a particular event is changed, and the author guesses as to how history would change - the South wins the Civil war, Adolf Hitler is stillborn, that sort of thing. You can recognize the names of people and places. In Anathem, this is not the case - although a lot of the characters are analogues of ancient Greeks. You can see Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and others, but not by those names, and there is no place called Greece.

Anathem, in fact, is almost an alternate history of philosophy novel.

One way to look at it, one that the author might have been playing with, is, "Suppose that the 'dark ages' came immediately after the classical Greek period" because, while there are analogues of the ancient Greeks, there are none of the Romans, and none of the Romans; there's no Jesus or Mohammed.

In Anathem, there are monasteries, called 'maths', that are quite similar to what we think of as monasteries - but the residents called 'avout' are not religious monks as we would think of them, they are mathematicians and philosophers. There's a long history to the planet "Arbre", detailed a bit in a chronology at the beginning of the book, including several 'sacks' where the secular power attacks the maths..

Of course, even a Neal Stephenson novel can't be just about ideas - there are characters and there is a plot. The protagonist is Fraa Erasmus - a young avout. During the course of the novel he falls in love, becomes a hero, loses some friends, makes some other friends, and grows up a lot. The plot is complex, and I won't spoil the novel for you by detailing it. But a writer of Stephenson's skill could tell this tale in many fewer pages. What he seems most into is the ideas behind the world, and the re-creation of the alternate history. As Anathem unfolds, he also shows interest in what constraints nature might place on the nature of intelligent beings.

If all of the above sounds like your cup of tea, then you will probably love Anathem. If not, not. I don't imagine many people will feel neutral about it.

About the author: Neal Stephenson is a writer of science fiction novels and other things. He was born in Maryland in 1959 and lives in Seattle. Exactly what genre he writes in is open to debate, but his books tend to feature highly abstract ideas and can include a lot of math and philosophy.

Book review: Stardust by Robert B. Parker

Year published: 1990
Date I finished: September 21, 2016
Genre:  Mystery
Rating: A-

Review:  This is the 17th in the Spenser series. In this one, Spenser is hired to protect TV star Jilly Joyce.  Joyce is beautiful and good at acting, but she is a nasty person, a nymphomaniac, a drunk, a cocaine addict and a self-entitled jerk.

But that doesn't mean someone should kill her.

Spenser enlists his usual helpers: Martin Quirk, Susan Silverman and Hawk.  But he's in a new world, not just of TV but of lost childhoods, abused children, delusional behavior and more.  As usual, Spenser keeps asking questions and annoying people - who sometimes respond with violence.

And, as usual, Parker uses the novel to muse on themes greater than those in the typical mystery, including the nature of need, the effects of abuse and so on.