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Category: Practical Skills

Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
(Matthew B. Crawford)

This is not a book about how you can make more money as a plumber than by going to law school.  It is, rather, a book of philosophy, revolving around thoughts on alienation, self-reliance, and what we owe to others.  I found it to be both a bit rambling and unexpectedly deep—it manages to connect the thoughts of Marx with those of Aristotle, and it combines practical thoughts on how one should earn one’s bread with advice for living a whole life.  The net effect is worthwhile, though not earthshattering.

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Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Jordan B. Peterson)

A friend of mine has been pushing me to look into Jordan Peterson for the past six months.  I thought, since my friend is conservative, that Peterson offered right-wing politics, and it is true that he has recently been in the news for his thoughts on certain charged topics.  However, Peterson does not, in fact, offer politics, which is refreshing in these days of rage.  Rather, 12 Rules For Life is a self-help book constructed like a Russian matryoshka doll, a nested construct.  It talks, and works, on multiple levels, some of which may have political implications, but if so, they are incidental to what the book offers to each human person, both the broken and the whole.

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Book Review: Cake: A Slice of History (Alysa Levene)

I’ve always liked food history—maybe because as a small child I spent quite a lot of time reading The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire, a Time-Life cookbook my mother had, and from it learned quite a bit of history.  Many, if not most, modern cookbooks contain large sections of history, and many food history books contain a lot of recipes, such as Anne Mendelson’s Milk.  So there is significant overlap between the two genres.  This book, Cake, by Alysa Levene, falls more into the history category and less into the cookbook category.  It offers a largely successful blend of well-written data dump and mild social commentary—satisfying, like a cake!

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Book Review: How We Got To Now (Steven Johnson)

How We Got To Now is competent enough, but it feels threadbare.  It feels like a narrative designed to punctuate a picture show that is missing its pictures.  It probably feels that way because it is that way—it was written to accompany a PBS television series (which is flacked on the cover of the book), and, unfortunately, without the moving pictures, the book doesn’t stand on its own very well.

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Book Review: Food City (Joy Santlofer)

Food City, by the late Joy Santlofer, shows us the amazing history of manufacturing, in this case food manufacturing, in New York City.  Nowadays we don’t associate New York with manufacturing, but as recently as 1950, it was one of the largest manufacturing centers in the country.  Reading about this lost past is a fascinating exercise, even if there is much less manufacturing in the city today.

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Book Review: Light Infantry Tactics: For Small Teams (Christopher Larsen)

In these latter days, many people in flyover country have been preparing for the Apocalypse. This is not the Apocalypse of St. John, depicted memorably, if flatly and with bad theology, in the “Left Behind” series of books. No, this is a secular apocalypse, driven by many different fears. These range from the semi-reasonable (pandemics leading to social breakdown) to the stupid (the magnetic poles flipping and leading to something or other). But in all cases, the fears drive a significant number of people, commonly known as “preppers,” to prepare, for something wicked this way comes. And of those preparations, some of the most common are military preparations.

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Book Review: Deep Survival
(Laurence Gonzales)

I read Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, And Why” as a counterpoint to Amanda Ripley’s “The Unthinkable.” Both are survivor books, very different in their approach, but with significant conclusions in common. Gonzales focuses more on accidents: unexpected twists that challenge people in stressful situations they chose to put themselves in, primarily wilderness and sporting recreational activities. Gonzales focuses little on true disasters, where our daily lives are suddenly interrupted by a wholly unexpected catastrophic and immediately life threatening event from which we must escape; Ripley focuses on true disasters. Gonzales focuses a lot on scientific, technical biological explanations; Ripley talks a lot about pseudo-scientific evolutionary biology. Gonzales is a more florid writer on a semi-autobiographical quest following a life of adventure; Ripley is a straightforward young writer trying to analyze what others do.

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Book Review: Wiring Simplified: Based on the 2014 National Electrical Code
(H.P. Richter et al.)

I have gradually come to realize the limitations of the Internet for providing information on technical subjects. Yes, a vast volume of information is available for free. But there is so much chaff that often it is hard to find accurate answers. When and if you do find accurate answers, they are surrounded by a cloud of invasive ads and other devices meant to distract you, which have the effect of making it difficult to view and comprehend the information as a whole (not to mention the constant temptation to lose focus and check out something else on the Internet). And searching online for something even moderately complex frequently creates a bias towards focusing on the easy answer, since that’s the answer that’s going to be simple to find, and find repeatedly. Maybe on page 20 of the results you’ll find a passing reference to a less easy answer—and then find that more details are behind a paywall.

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Book Review: Welder’s Handbook (Richard Finch)

“Welder’s Handbook” is a good introductory text to basic welding. Yes, it does not have an endless amount of detail on most welding processes. And yes, in order to actually weld, you’ll have to actually weld. But reading this book first, and then getting basic instruction from someone who knows how to perform the type of welding you’re interested in, will get you off the ground very effectively.

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Book Review: Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun (Paul Barrett)

“Glock” is that rarest of beasts—a mainstream writing in which the author makes zero errors about guns, and takes almost no political positions with respect to guns. This is the most neutral book on the topic I have ever seen, which is surprising given that the author, Paul Barrett, worked and works for the violently and maliciously anti-gun Michael Bloomberg. It is not true, as several other reviewers claim, that “Glock” is pro-gun control. It is a history book, not a book of politics, or, for that matter, a technical book on Glock handguns.

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