All posts filed under: Charles

Dangerous Visions (Harlan Ellison ed.)

“Dangerous Visions” is a semi-legendary compilation of science fiction stories, originally published in 1967, most of them written by legendary science fiction authors. The compilation features both the stories themselves, and for each an introduction and postscript by Harlan Ellison (himself legendary). There is also a longer set of introductions, forwards, etc., at the beginning of the book, including new ones written in 2002 to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of this tedious, silly book of stridently bad stories.

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (Francis Fukuyama)

Like Daniel Burnham, Francis Fukuyama makes no small plans. “The Origins of Political Order” aspires to be nothing less than an all-encompassing explanation of how human beings created political order. This book carries Fukuyama’s analysis up to the French Revolution; a second volume carries the story to the modern day. This volume is mostly taken up with creating and discussing a coherent framework that explains political order before the modern era. Much of what Fukuyama discusses here is non-Western societies, which makes it particularly interesting.

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm (Lewis Dartnell)

“The Knowledge” is meant as an assist to the human race. But to properly aid the human race, in a post-apocalypse future, two things are required. One is technical knowledge. The other is an understanding of the human race. Lewis Dartnell here offers technical knowledge, but he limits it to knowledge useful for “peaceful coexistence.” Given that violence is an inherent part of humans, which Dartnell seems to not understand, that limitation sharply diminishes the usefulness of his book.

Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan (Hugh Thomas)

“Rivers Of Gold” is not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a compact treatment of the early Spanish empire in the New World, this isn’t it. If you are looking for a book that bewails the fate of the indigenous inhabitants of the New World at the hands of the evil Spanish monsters, this isn’t it either. But if you are looking for a voluminous and detailed study of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, that treats the Spanish as they were, a combination of varying proportions within each man of hero and ruthless killer, this is the book for you.

Proof: The Science of Booze (Adam Rogers)

“Proof” is an outstanding book. Neither too short nor too long for its topic, it crisply discusses various elements of the production of (ingestible) alcohol. The author, Adam Rogers, an editor at Wired magazine, writes in a compelling, engaging fashion, including enough science to be interesting and not superficial, without putting in so much science that the average reader gets bored.

The Richest Man Who Ever Lived (Greg Steinmetz)

The Richest Man Who Ever Lived is pop history, designed to appeal to modern readers by putting a modern gloss on a medieval man. As to its central figure, the German banker Jacob Fugger, it may get the core of his story right. Or it may not, because in much of its ancillary history, it is grossly inaccurate—to the degree it makes the reader uncertain what in the core story is actually accurate.

The Devil’s Pleasure Palace (Michael Walsh)

I read this book because it seemed like it would be an interesting companion to James Burnham’s “Suicide of the West.” Burnham’s book explains and analyzes the ideology of American liberalism, circa 1960. “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” in a sense continues that story; it explains how that liberalism discovered the Critical Theory leftism of the Frankfurt School, and like Gollum discovering the One Ring, did not benefit from the discovery. “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” is, indeed, somewhat interesting. But it generally fails at explanation and analysis, instead being mostly a rambling diatribe preaching to the converted.

Lights Out (Ted Koppel)

“Lights Out” is an introductory work to the topic of US electrical grid vulnerability. It covers, in a brief and somewhat padded manner, the frailty of the grid; the confused and inept preparation of the government; and what some normal citizens themselves are doing in preparation for a temporary, but large-scale and possibly lengthy, failure of the grid.

The Bloody White Baron (James Palmer)

“The Bloody White Baron” is one of those fascinating short books about a nasty little corner of the world during a nasty time. The nasty little corner of the world is Mongolia; the nasty time is the Russian Civil War. The eponymous Baron is Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg, of Estonian/German extraction, who was called the last khan of Mongolia and waged a brutal, doomed minor campaign against the Chinese and the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s. Naturally, he came to a bad end.