antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

germline by t c mcarthy

As promised when I finished Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, I did read Germline by T C McCarthy.

I wasn’t able to get into the second book of the trilogy (Exogene), and haven’t attempted the last (Chimera) – but Germline was amazing.

A quick disclaimer first – this book is most certainly NOT for the faint of stomach, or those who cannot ignore vulgarity.

Taking place in a not-too-distant future, T C McCarthy takes us into the on-again-off-again underground hot war being fought somewhere in Kazakhstan. We find our main character, Oscar, a journalist for Stars and Stripes, spinning out of control in a drug-induced stupor but getting that “one last chance” to earn his place as a journalist. Oscar hasn’t paid his dues, but has managed to make friends among the “important” players on the US side of the war.

This book reminded me of a novel I read years ago that took place in the Vietnam War, written by a vet of that arena – it’s visceral, gritty, and the words seem to fly off the page into your eyes, converting your mind into the exact place and time Oscar is in when he’s in it. You are there with Oscar as he suits up, plugs-in, shoots-up, crawls through the subterrene with the Marines unit he’s assigned to.

This is perhaps the single best future scifi I’ve ever read that doesn’t require an entirely alternate universe to exist.

kingmakers by karl ernest meyer and shareen blair brysac

Karl Ernest Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac present what should be a fascinating history of the modern Middle East in their recent book Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East.

I have been interested in Middle Eastern history (ancient and modern) for many years, and so was excited to see this book as I was browsing my local library recently. A couple years ago I read Gideon’s Spies. And I have read various articles, books, and treatises that either focus on the Middle East, or reference it in less-than-passing ways over the years.

Sadly, like so many other books I’ve read in the recent past, Kingmakers stays too academic to read comfortably. I couldn’t get through more than a couple chapters before deciding I would learn more about Middle Eastern history from Al Jazeera and Wikipedia than from this book.

why nations fail by daron acemoglu and james a robinson

I first came across Why Nations Fail at my local Half Price Books. After seeing it on the shelves a couple times, but still being unsure about whether I really wanted to read it or not, I reserved it at my local library.

Now I wish I had bought it (and likely will) – Daron Acemoglu & James A Robinson, while sometimes slipping into an academic, journalistic tone, present a fantastic historical, economic, cultural, and international view into the similarities, and differences, of “national” failures around the world over the last several centuries.

They spend a great deal of time expounding on the differences of countries that succeed and those that don’t – and offer insights into how failing nations could, potentially, turn themselves around.

Interestingly, the factors that play-into national success and failure are similar throughout history – critical junctures, inclusive/pluralistic political and economic environments vs extractive/exclusive political and economic structures, empowered citizenries, overbearing rulers, literacy, economic incentives (positive and negative), etc.

The Iron Law of Oligarchy:

the overthrow of a regime presiding over extractive institutions heralds the arrival of a new set of masters to exploit the same set of pernicious extractive institutions (p366)

My recommendation? Buy it. Read it. Share it. The background and conclusions this book presents and reaches should be required reading for anyone who wants to see their nation “do better” – politicians, businessmen, citizens, NGOs: all would benefit from applying what is demonstrated in this excellent work.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Quality of content: 4.5/5
  • Historicity: 5/5
  • Educational value 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

the seven stages of expertise

I recently found The Seven Stages of Expertise in Software Engineering.

  • Stage 1: Innocent
    • barely knowledgeable if at all
  • Stage 2: Exposed
    • seeking knowledge
  • Stage 3: Apprentice
    • has read case studies and tries to apply those techniques
  • Stage 4: Practitioner
    • can actually apply concepts learned in one context to a not-identical context
  • Stage 5: Journeyman
    • professional understanding and application of the field; can mentor
  • Stage 6: Master
    • moved from “whats” and “hows” to “whys”; can mentor very effectively
  • Stage 7: Researcher
    • the teacher, presenter, mentor, speaker, evangelist, writer, authority

Presented firstly in the humorous guise of The Seven Stages of Expertise in Bear Hunting, Meilir Page-Jones makes a highly-compelling case for progressive advancement in [nearly] any field.

Some of the ideas seem similar to what Malcolm Gladwell brings in Outliers (review) or Robert Greene does in Mastery (review). Which seems to only lend more credence to those other works, given that this article is © 1998.

to engineer is human by henry petroski

I’ve ogled To Engineer is Human by Henry Petroski for several years. So when I saw it at a local used book store for just a couple dollars, I snagged a copy.

Along with some of his other works, such as The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, I’ve found the titles interesting, and the back covers alluring.

Sadly, while the book isn’t bad in and of itself, Petroski’s writing sounds like that of his profession – a professor. His style, while informative, carries the dryness associated with being in academia far too long.

Henry obviously knows a lot about engineering – but his delivery is too formal. Compared to works such as 1421 by Gavin Menzies (review), To Engineer is Human sounds like a graduate thesis. Maybe that was the author’s goal – if it was, he accomplished it.

If it was to make something normal folks would like and want to read, I think he failed miserably.

pmp project management professional certification exam preparation course in a book for passing the pmp project management professional exam by william manning

New record for longest blog title I’ve ever had. I think.

First, the pros: it’s concise, finishing at a mere 91 numbered pages, including sample questions and the index.

Second, the cons: it’s 63 pages of bullet points with little-to-no explanation of terms, examples, etc.

William Manning appears to have done an admirable job of summing the salient terms and processes from the PMBOK in this absurdly-long-titled bookette.

I picked this book up recently to give an overview of the PMP exam, as I’ve been considering something of a career shift/growth move into project/product management from technical architecture and delivery. I now know that I know the vast majority of what is required for the exam, but not necessarily with the official terminology. That means I need to learn definitions and applications of terms.

I also need a “real” prep guide – one of those tomes that weighs-in closer to 500 or 800 pages, and not the mini guidette Manning has provided.

Is this a good book to get as a last-minute review of the PMP exam? I think so. Is it worth getting if you’ve never seen/done any form of PM-related work before? Absolutely not.

PMP Project Management Professional Exam Preparation Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Project Management Professional Exam. Now there’s a title.

blackout by mira grant

I finished the Newsflesh trilogy this week, which culminated in Mira Grant’s book Blackout.

The basic storyline and character development continued apace, and the story does end admirably.

If you’ve read the first two, you should finish the trilogy. This one adds human cloning as a core plot point, and does it well.

However, I have a couple things to complain about:

  • Grant upped the vulgarity in the last book over the second which was more than the first; most of the vulgarity seems like it was put in just because she could
  • The relationship between the two primary characters gets, well, uncomfortable; debatable as to the morality of it, but suffice to say it could have been done without

People you want offed don’t get it, people you want saved aren’t, and overall the character list changes in ways that would allow further writing in the Newsfleshiverse, but I doubt Grant will do any more therein. She didn’t approach the stories the way Tom Clancy did with his Ryanverse. It’s nice that you won’t feel compelled to read more of her writing if you really enjoyed these characters, but it’s sad, too, that she chose to only do a trilogy (though there is an eBook-only prequel previewed at the end of Blackout).

Trilogies seem the be de rigueur in writing these days (The Hunger Games, Newsflesh, and many more come to mind). Personally, I’d prefer that an author write as much as they have to write that is a good story – if it’s one book, awesome (authors like Alistair MacLean and Michael Crichton come to mind); but if it’s multiple, then keep going as long as you have good stories to tell.

Now that this series is over, looks like I need a new one.

Next on my reading list is Germline.