Since I was a small child, I have read science fiction, and lots of it. For decades, I’ve read all types, from H.G. Wells through 1930s pulp through 1950s “golden age” through 1970s trippy through modern (the latter in all its broad range from “hard” to “socially conscious”, i.e., culturally leftist stories lacking the “science” in “science fiction”). I suspect science fiction has materially shaped my own world view. I don’t know why I like science fiction, particularly—perhaps just taste, like some people like Westerns or detective stories, or maybe it’s the wide-open possibilities that science fiction tends to envision.
“Curzon” is one of those typically British biographies of dead political figures. Such biographies tend to go into great detail not just about the protagonist, but about long-forgotten political issues fought among long-forgotten men. If you are interested in the protagonist, or the period, this can be excellent, as long as the writing is good, and Gilmour’s is good. But if you’re looking for an objectively thrilling read, you should stay away.
This is a book written on two levels. It works on one, and not on the other. As political polemic and call to action, it is quite good. As a novel, it is not very good.
“The Diversity Myth” is a twenty-year-old book that nobody would remember, despite its many virtues, were it not for that its authors (and many of the young figures in its pages) have since then become highly-visible billionaires, and, in the case of Peter Thiel, prominent public intellectuals. None of them knew that then, though (presumably!), which makes the book even more interesting.
“Appetite For America” is that rare book that combines the best of a history book and a business book. It’s the story of Fred Harvey, a sickly but iron-willed Englishman who built the first retail empire in America, and the story of the company he founded, also called Fred Harvey (not Fred Harvey, Inc.—just plain Fred Harvey). It’s all fascinating, and offers the reader many accurate business insights as well (although they are not billed as business insights—this is not a navel-gazing self-help “business book”).
Holy crap, this is a bad book. I like the Koch brothers. I agree with them politically, both philosophically and in their desire to actually punch back at liberals and change the status quo, rather than simply feeding money into the rathole of establishment politicians and tasseled-loafer conservative consultants. Their demonization by the Left is emblematic of much that is wrong with America. But this is a business book, not a book on politics. And, holy crap, this is a bad book.
“Miles Gone By” is a good, but somewhat disorienting, book. It’s disorienting, first, because it’s disjointed—while divided into chapters covering different topics, it’s actually composed entirely of previously published pieces, without any attempt to knit them together coherently, in time or theme, as would be usual in an autobiography. The result isn’t bad, it’s just different, and that’s disorienting.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book is compelling. But too frequently it relies on unsupported, and in fact unvoiced, assumptions. And like a stick figure with one leg, the result is instability.
“Dreamland” is about opiate addition, and about an America most of us don’t see. Those most affected by the explosion in opiate use chronicled in “Dreamland” are members of the white underclass, a group with no champions and no power, and therefore little focus on its problems. To the extent it affects those not in the white underclass, the addiction is frequently hidden. Either way, we see little of it. Quinones forces this America forward and explains it. And he simultaneously shows how this America is the bastard child of unfettered welfare and private greed, midwifed by the decayed culture of our time.
This is just not a very good book. It’s not a dreadful book. Just not very good. True, it’s better than most modern apocalyptic fiction, but that’s a low bar. And true, it has to compete with Fortschen’s previous book, “One Second After,” which was fantastic. But nonetheless, it’s not a very good book.