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Ecletic Reader

I'll read just about anything that might be interesting and love to learn about new things.

The Path of Daggers

The Path of Daggers - Robert Jordan I'm conflicted about this book. I am truly enjoying the series and this is a solid entry that does provide significant character development, especially for Rand and Egwene. I've certainly started to like Egwene much more than I have leading up to this point. That being said, there is almost know actual plot development in terms of actual events. This book is a perfect example of what makes this series unnecessarily long. It should be condensable with several of the books surrounding it, allowing some of the character development without skimping on the actual events, though I admit that this would be difficult. All told I think this book is strong entry that is difficult to understand without an understanding of the rest of the series.

A Crown of Swords

A Crown of Swords  - Robert Jordan Overall it was a quality follow-up to Lord of Chaos. It moved a bit slow at times, and the sections in Ebou Dar felt like they were a unnecessarily long, but there seemed to be a good bit of character development for all characters, which was a pleasant surprise.

The Art of Peace: Balance Over Conflict in Sun-Tzu's The Art of War

The Art of Peace: Balance Over Conflict in Sun-Tzu's The Art of War - Philip Dunn The introduction and first section almost put me off of this book completely. During the introduction, the stated purpose of the book sounded like the epitome of new age spiritual appropriation. A white European learns from a Tibetan monk and decides to translate an ancient Chinese text in a way that advances Zen principles. The example that he used to discuss the variability that exists in translating Chinese seemed to be quite a stretch. He notes that the generally accepted translation deals with using deception to fool your enemy into misjudging you, while he translates that same passage to read as statement on the necessity of honesty and acceptance. These don't seem like linked statements or even ones that could share some similar substance. They are complete polar opposites. Add to this that the first few pages from the actual text are essentially copy-pasted from the introduction, and I was expecting a disappointing and probably frustrating read. The only saving grace was that the book was short, with brief chapters and small pages.

After the first 50 pages I started to, not really enjoy the book, but at least view it as a more philosophical text than I had originally believed it would be. It was an interesting project and I believe that some of the translations really were close to what the original intent of The Art of War was. However, I feel like the stated goals of the adaptation led to a very forced effort. Some sutras in the Art of War may lend themselves to the authors goal, but not all. Trying to force a text on the nature of conflict between forces into a text on the nature of inner peace and balance is a difficult task to perform well. I don't think it succeeded in this instance. While the author definitely recites good tidbits of Eastern spirituality, there was no reason to use the frame of The Art of War. Honestly, there was no reason to draft this book. I am not a scholar of Eastern philosophy, though I have read a few texts. Despite my lack of any real knowledge or understanding, this text added no new information. It was no more enlightening than your average pop New Age book and seemed more interested in the conceit of adapting The Art of War into The Art of Peace than in actually providing useful information. If you are interested in Eastern philosophy and spirituality there are far better texts, including The Art of War.

Lord of Chaos

Lord of Chaos  - Robert Jordan Overall a worthwhile read and an enjoying continuation of the series. Despite the overall quality of the book, it does suffer from some serious deficiencies that have seemed to mark the whole series. While I did like Elayne, Nyneave, and Egwene in the first book, and through a good part of the second, they have plummeted to be some of the least likable characters in my mind. Nyneave continues to essentially a one dimensional character almost completely defined by her anger and stubbornness. She is frequently in the wrong, and even when she admits it to herself she does everything possible to refuse to admit it to others. She seems to fluctuate between fear, anxiety, rage, and annoyance with almost unimaginable speed. The biggest problem is that, despite how much she has had to rely on Mat, Thom, and Juilin, she still seems to believe that every man in the world is worthless and inept. She has needed to be saved on more than one occasion and then blames the rescuer for rescuing her.

Elayne is similar, but turned up to 11. She is completely and utterly rude to every man and seems almost completely unstable in all things dealing with Rand. While Egwene is slightly better, I cannot for the life of me figure out why Egwene looks down on Rand and Mat so much despite knowing how capable they are at actually implementing their plans.

On the other hand, Rand, Mat, and Perrin had very interesting chapters that kept me engaged. I wish there were more to the Mat, Rand, and Perrin storylines and that some of the chapters related specifically to Egwene, Elayne, and Nyneave would be cut from future books. Their storylines are aggravating and slow. On top of all of this, the Aes Sedai are apparently so incompetent that they think that manipulating, holding secrets, intimidation, and potentially kidnapping are the appropriate way to go about making an ally of Rand. I'm not sure what is going on in Robert Jordan's mind, but for some reason he seems intent on making the vast majority of the women in the series into one dimensional shrews without even a modicum of strategic ability despite their belief in themself. It is a testament to the rest of the story that he is largely successful in spite of the weaknesses in his female characters.

The Fires of Heaven

The Fires of Heaven  - Robert Jordan Less enjoyable than the previous installment, though still exciting. Rand's development is interesting to watch unfold. I believe that the slow development is somewhat realistic as he comes to grips with his power and responsibility. Mat's story line seems a little repetitive at this point. He's wanted to leave and just gamble and carouse since the third book in the series. I find his storyline to be among the most interesting at times, but it will be frustrating if all we ever hear is whining about how he'd like to find a woman and a dice game. I'm not sure what is up with the author's perspective, but he certainly is doing almost everything he can to make the female leads insufferable. Conflict without context between all the women. Insane arrogance and self-righteousness. I hope that he can make the women relatable instead of framing them as a bunch of nagging shrews who help out when needed. They have so many positives but they keep being used for cheap interpersonal conflict. I am starting to feel like the series itself could probably have cut a few books out if they trimmed the repetitive story lines concerning Mat's whining and the Nyneave-Elayne-Egwene huff fest.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine - Michael Lewis Michael Lewis has a way of making the most complicated financial actions seem simple and straightforward. This is the second book of his that I've read and the narrative touch that he brings really helps to make the true chaos of Wall Street understandable. This was no easy task, as the derivatives that led to the subprime meltdown were so complex that few of the actual bond traders understood what was happening. Seeing that some individuals could see the problems long before the regulators and the investment bankers themselves shines a light on just how flawed our financial system is. If I hadn't already thought so, Michael Lewis would easily convince me that our financial system is deeply corrupted.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong - James W. Loewen Enlightening and interesting at the same time. I did not enjoy high school history despite having an interest in the Civil War. Since high school I've read a number of exceptional works of history (including Battle Cry of Freedom, Antietam, and A People's History of the United States). I had also read The Last Full Measure while in middle school, but until reading this book I could never put my finger on the reason that I enjoyed learning history on my own but despised it in school. I knew a number of the distortions, omissions, and outright lies that Loewen mentions, but I definitely did not know all of the ones he brought forth. I think this is an essential book that should be assigned, or at least encouraged, as a companion to any other high school history text. At the very least, it should be required during orientation at every college to let students know that about the areas of our ignorance.

The Shadow Rising

The Shadow Rising  - Robert Jordan A great follow-up to The Dragon Reborn. This book should be viewed as a set-up to the larger story. The first two books in series are largely background and general set-up, while the third book should be viewed more as the culmination of pre-story. Quite a bit occurs during the story, though there is not much in the way closure to any minor story line. It's clear that the events of this book are going to be important later on and the large amount of background information truly makes the series richer.

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City - Alice Goffman Very interesting and enlightening. We don't often think that separate cultures exist within urban and sub-urban areas, but a book like this helps demonstrate that what we might think of as an objective issue is truly subjective and multi-faceted. Everyone should read this book or one related to it at some point in their life.

The Dragon Reborn

The Dragon Reborn - Robert Jordan I think the story overall is engaging and interesting. It follows nicely from the two previous books in the series and provides for solid growth for the majority of the characters. Despite all the good things that I have to say about this book, I could not give it 5 stars because of several issues that undermined my enjoyment of the book.

First, there were some glaring errors in a number of places that rendered whole sentences almost unintelligible. I'm not sure if it is merely this edition, but the editor missed multiple significant errors that changed the meanings of some statements, making it difficult to follow a few conversations and pulling me out of the moment. One or two errors is forgivable, but I counted at least 10 pretty significant errors.

Second, the lack of story line filled with Rand was disappointing. He has been one of the main characters up to this point and is one of the most important characters in the book. I understand that the separation of Mat, Perrin, Egwene, and Nyneave means that each gets a bit less time devoted them, but I would really like to see Rand's development into the Dragon Reborn. Catching small glimpses during his trek to Tear and getting nothing substantial until his fight with Be'lal was frustrating.

This was made more frustrating by the plodding nature of some of the other story lines. Perrin's story was interesting, showed some growth and introduced a new character. Overall it was worthwhile and introduced some interesting elements. Mat's story was likewise interesting. I missed Thom and was glad to see him back in the story. Seeing Mat deal with the issues that come up with his luck and the old Manetheren blood was enjoyable. His story could probably have done with a little less time spent on him eating and contemplating leaving Tar Valon, but overall it was a useful and interesting story.

Egwene and Nynaeve's story lines suffered significantly in this book and could have been much shorter. After their meeting with the Amyrlin it seems that all of their time is spent talking about how the Black Ajah is dangerous and how great it feels to touch the One Power. The Tel'aran'rhiod scenes do not seem to give us much more information than we obtain from Perrin's wolf dreams, and most of Egwene, Nyneave, and Elayne's time in Tar Valon is spent with pacing and exasperation. Once they finally leave they get captured twice, the first time for no discernible reason and the second time merely to move them out of the way of the battle and give Mat a goal. Overall I found this story line to be unnecessarily long and tedious. This was disappointing because I genuinely liked both Egwene and Nyneave in the first two books, but it seems that Nyneave is moving to become merely a caricature fluctuating between boiling anger and cold hatred while Egwene is going to become the petulant child character.

Related to this, the animosity between Nyneave and Egwene seems to be a sudden development. There isn't much in the way of slow building or of any foreshadowing that there will be conflict between them. One chapter they are working together and the next Egwene seems to want to needle Nyneave because of some tension between them. Maybe it was just me, but this conflict seems to be arbitrary and without any real consequence other than to make both Nyneave and Egwene, but especially Egwene, appear immature and hennish.

Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland

Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland - Bryan Sykes Enlightening both from a scientific perspective and from a social perspective. I enjoyed the detours away from the technical scientific aspects, though I was only marginally aware of the uses that DNA can provide in illuminating the lineage of people and a nation.

Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice

Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice - William H. McRaven Overall an interesting depiction of what special operations should mean and why it is important. I am not completely sold on the theory promulgated by Adm. McRaven, nor do I believe that the 8 case studies were the best to demonstrate it. He makes a claim that his theory cuts across times and wars, so that it is broadly applicable to warfare in general. However, he includes 6 case studies from World War II, 1 from Vietnam, and 1 hostage rescue from the 70s. This does not appear to be a very broad collection of actions from a variety of time frames. I am not really sure what the biography of the leader of each raid is meant to convey. If the theory is more important that who the individual leader is, then a biography of the operational leader is irrelevant to the review of the operation. If the leader is essential because he has certain characteristics, then it would be more helpful to explain how those characteristics were essential. Either way, a history of the operational leaders' military resume did not seem at all relevant to the operational review. More notably, it does not appear the Adm. McRaven has internalized all of the lessons from his own study. One of the first questions he uses to critique each action is "Was the objective worth the risk?" However, his own actions as a leader in the special operations in the Middle East demonstrate that he has either failed to ask this question concerning his own operations, or that he refuses to make the answer known to policy makers. Plenty of ink has been spilled on the counter-productivity of drone strikes (especially "signature" strikes) and raids based on incomplete or inaccurate intelligence. Yet, it does not appear that Adm. McRaven has made much effort to control the collateral damage which has helped fuel the recruitment efforts of our enemies. If Adm. McRaven cannot or will not put the critical lens of his own theory into practice with regard to the operations he oversees, then why should any one assume that it is a valid and useful theory?

Ready Player One

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline Amazing. Innovative story with a tried and true structure. The blend of epic fantasy with underlying idea that reality, despite the apparent realness of virtual reality, is still the only true reality makes this story complex and provides context to the central struggle. Highly entertaining, it kept me engaged and made it difficult to put the story down until I was done. I knew how the story would end, at least in broad strokes, because there was really only one ending that was possible to this story. Even so, I was on the edge of me seat and felt anxious for the safety of the main characters. I recommend this book to any person who enjoys videogames/80's nostalgia.

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield - Jeremy Scahill Truly chilling. The things that are done in our name without our knowledge are pretty serious. These issues really should be covered in school.

Renegade's Magic (The Soldier Son Trilogy, Book 3)

Renegade's Magic (The Soldier Son Trilogy, Book 3) - Robin Hobb The ending was worth the read, though barely. I still can't stand Nevare, though he becomes tolerable towards the last 200 or so pages of the book. All in all, this trilogy had an interesting story with a number of catching details that was, unfortunately, seen through the perspective of one of the most frustrating and static characters I've ever read. I think if all three books had been shortened by several hundred pages the resulting story would have been better. It would not have lacked in the key plot points but could have removed many of the pages devoted solely to describing Nevare's food/reaction to eating, as well as the "woe is me" sections. A number of these felt reminiscent of cartoon's reusing the same background, though more noticeable because there was nothing to distract.

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free - Charles P. Pierce This was a quick and interesting read. It was well written and well argued. It would have been better if it were more thoroughly evidenced, and hopefully the next edition will include the anti-GMO and the anti-vaccine movement on the left to demonstrate that the issues he brings up are not strictly partisan.