Non-fiction: May 2008 Archives

I love a good history book that explains the origins of something mundane and common-place. Kurlansky's Salt is a perfect example. This book is about mirrors, which is another great topic. And sure enough, the book starts well by describing the history of mirror-making. It's an interesting story, if a bit French-centric, and features suspense and the makings of an agent novel when France and Venice competed against each other.

However, from there on the book gets downright boring. The author forgets the concrete objects and focuses on literature, sociology, philosophy and metaphysics. Perhaps the rest of the book works for a reader who is interested in the effects of mirrors in the psyche of a French nobleman in the 17th century, but that's not me. I would love to hear more about making mirrors, really.

There's no doubt that the author is French, so extensive is her use of French sources and her focus on French life. The book could be titled The Mirror - A French History. I did read through the whole book, but skipped along rather briskly in the end. Only occasionally I found something worth a deeper look.

So, I'm recommending this book with some reservations. The first part is interesting and definitely worth reading, but if the beginning of the second part doesn't please you, read no further: it doesn't get any better. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ The Mirror: A History at ]The Mirror at LibraryThing ]

Other blogs writing about the book:
Syaffolee: Zzzzz

Allen's Getting Things Done is something of a legend in the field of productivity consulting. The book is a major best-seller that has sold an obscene amount of copies in several languages. And why not? The book is definitely a reasonable guide to being more productive in work and life in general. Modern information workers have problems with the boundaries of work: instead of concrete objects, they deal with neverending projects and information flows. Too much energy is spent to figuring out what needs to be done and when. Inboxes flood with things to deal with.

Allen offers a solution. His method is simple, but efficient. It involves creating a simple organisation system and using it to resolve matters as soon as they arrive: as soon as something hits your desk, you file it to the correct place in your organisation system or get rid of it. Large projects are looked at from the point of view of next action. The purpose of the system is to free the mind to focus on creative thinking instead of worrying about missing things.

The system seems sound. The book convinced me enough to give a reduced version of the system a go: I now have a bunch of lists on my computer to keep me up to date with all of my projects - hopefully! Getting Things Done is an inspiring and pleasantly concrete book that avoids the philosophical meanderings and focuses on simple and easy-to-implement devices and methods. If you're in trouble managing your projects, read this book! (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity at ]Getting Things Done at LibraryThing ]

The God Delusion was both entertaining and illustrating. I suppose you can guess my religious views now? Dawkins hits a full barrage against religion and the results are hit and miss. At times he's just ranting crazy, at times he's right at the mark. The result is, indeed, entertaining, but best if not taken too seriously.

Still, Dawkins has good points and at least parts of the book would be worth reading to some people - perhaps that would help those people understand the atheist's view of the world. Of course, reading some other parts would make those same people tremble in divine anger, so perhaps it would be best to just distribute the best parts... [ The God Delusion at ]The God Delusion at LibraryThing ]

Other blogs writing about the book:
One Good Thing: The God Delusion.
David Takes on the World: David Takes On: The God Delusion and The Conservative Right
Notes in Samsara: Book Review: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

This book promises to teach all the necessary tricks and tips so that the readers can achieve the desired status of a cool dad. There's party games, outdoor fun, magic tricks, urban legends, funny facts, all sorts of stuff.

It is rather entertaining collection. The illustrations could be better and some of the material is less inspiring, but for a small book, it's reasonably packed with neat stuff. Oh, and mothers can use it just as well! [ Be the Coolest Dad on the Block: All of the Tricks, Games, Puzzles and Jokes You Need to Impress Your Kids (and Keep Them Entertained for Years to Come at ]Be the Coolest Dad on the Block at LibraryThing ]

Other blogs writing about the book:
Boing Boing: Be the Coolest Dad on the Block -- book pick

Do you want to sell something with a web site, but aren't satisfied with your sales? You know your copy could use some editing, but aren't sure how to proceed. Worry not! Writing killer web copy is easy when you know the secrets of doing it right. In this book, Maria Veloso reveals the secret of writing web copy that sells, and all you need to do is to buy this book and you too can sell like a pro.

If this book works, that should motivate you all to go buy this book. Well, I don't know how effective the teachings of this book are, but Veloso certainly appears qualified (it's hard to find anything non-commercial about her in the web) and presents a clear, easy-to-follow formula of writing web copy. The ideas seem effective and Veloso's writing is enthusiastic - though at least to my eyes the book seems a tad pushy and aggressive in selling it's ideas, but perhaps I'm not just to used to the American style of direct marketing (I have a feeling that marketing in Finland is considerably less aggressive).

So, if you have web copy to write, reading this book won't hurt and will likely improve your copy, especially if you're interested in the advertorial style of copywriting and write for a web site that's purely dedicated to selling something. [ Web Copy That Sells - The Revolutionary Formula for Creating Killer Copy Every Time at ] [Web Copy That Sells at LibraryThing ]

Other blogs writing about this book:
Magnetic Messages: Web Copy That Sells, by Maria Veloso

Shogi is the Japanese version of Chess. It has some rather curious features, but perhaps the most shocking of them for players familiar with the Western Chess is the drops: a captured piece may enter play owned by the captor. That alone makes sure endgames are not boring wars of attrition!

The game can be fairly hard to learn, though, and not the least because of the pieces which are identified by Japanese calligraphy symbols. The same learning curve issue affects this book as well, because Fairbairn uses the Japanese symbols in his diagrams. That's the way to do it, I suppose, as everybody has to learn the symbols anyway to play the game, but it sure makes the book hard to read.

If one is willing to overcome that obstacle, Shogi for Beginners is a fairly thorough introduction to an interesting game. Fairbairn explains the rules in a (mostly) clear way and then continues to basic strategy: castles, openings, middle game, endgame and so on. Shogi isn't easy to learn, but if you're willing to put some effort to it, this book will certainly help. [ Shogi for Beginners at ]Shogi for Beginners at LibraryThing ]

Chinese Chess or Xiangqi is an interesting, fast-paced variant of Chess: similar enough to be fairly easy to learn, yet different enough to be interesting even to those thoroughly bored by Western Chess. It's clearly a game worth exploring, but books on the game are rather rare and hard to come by. Sloan's book is from 1980s and slightly dated, but the game hasn't changed, of course, so the lessons contained are still valid.

To be honest, the book could certainly be better. It does cover everything necessary: it introduces the pieces, explains the rules, explains strategy, has sample games... All good and well, yet the presentation could be clearer, the text a tad more captivating and I would really prefer if the sample games were included in their entirety. Still, it works, and to those who prefer reading books to reading web pages, this is still worth considering. The prices currently asked for the book in UK Amazon are way too much, however. It's not that good... [ Chinese Chess for Beginners at ]Chinese Chess for Beginners at LibraryThing ]

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