Category Archives: Books

“Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages” by Ammon Shea

It has been silent here for a while as I was enjoying some time relaxing on the seaside. My holiday gave me a bit of time to catch up on couple of books which were on my reading list way too long. I managed to complete “Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages” by Ammon Shea and “Show Stopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft” by G. Pascal Zachary. This blog post about first one.

Looking on the title “Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages” you may get quite good idea about story line/contents of this book. It is indeed about a man who sat down for one year with paper set of OED volumes and read them all from A to Z. Are you intrigued already? Or like most of the normal people wondering “Why ?”… Essentially it is a book for vocabulary/dictionary geeks by dictionary geek. Author just sharing with you his experience as he goes through OED, paying deserved homage to masterful book of that class which is being judged by their completeness, yet never being read in their entirety.

I was really excited to read it as I have been well prepared/fascinated by OED thanks to books of Simon Winchester – “The Meaning of Everything” and “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary“. Also in the course of learning English ESOL-way and prepping to FCE/CAE/CPE exams I acquired great love/annoying habit of paying attention to advanced vocabulary and completeness of my English vocabulary to the extent that I can’t resist temptation to learn that new/old obscure/sesquipedalian word whenever I bump into one. I guess it is high time for me to order this mug:

sesquipidalian

What is interesting about this book is that its author is vocabulary/dictionaries geek, who complains in the book that even on the conference of professional linguists where he had a lot of fun his pursuit of reading OED from cover to cover were poorly understood, but still he wears vocabulary skeptic hat 🙂 Meaning that unlike some other authors of books about words/vocabularies (especially book like “Verbal Advantage”) he gives you a disclaimer right of the bat that big/advanced vocabulary or even worse knowledge of huge amount of really obscure words won’t bring you any tangible benefits. Rather, he warns us, after reading a lot of OED you may lose ability to communicate in normal language understood by people. But nonetheless there are a lot of fun in knowing a word which means specific thing an idea which you don’t know existed till you find it. It’s like “I always thought there should be a word for this and lo and behold – I found it finally!” 🙂

Another funny thing that despite being geek spending tons of time in library he is conscious enough to observe strange “library people” around him and even pause to reflect a bit whether he becomes one of them 🙂

So most of the people will decide whether to read this book or not after single glimpse to its title, which for me was enough to put this book on my reading list – really liked it.

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Books: Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington

I’ve recently completed “Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington” by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. I bought 3 analogue books (hardcover, i.e. not eBooks) of these authors translated to Russian more than year ago and only now managed to read one of them 🙂 The fact that these books were lying around for such a long time made me think that I should fully switch to eBooks – it at least saves some free space at home 🙂

In this book wrapped into humor, satire and anecdotes about US political arena you may find quite a few ideas/concepts from formal logic and epistemology which is quite in line with book’s subtitle “Understanding Political Doublespeak through Philosophy and Jokes”. Book actually touches a bit on epistemology, definition of truth, formal logic and quite thoroughly covers common argument fallacies but it is written in a way that you can consume it as an easy read without noticing this.

I especially liked the following in this book:

Chapter with tiny recap of definitions of truth. Book does not discuss in details classical account of knowledge spoiled by Edmund Gettier who introduced cases where classical account of knowledge fails, but it covers correspondence theory of truth (Bertrand Russell), coherence theory of truth (Hilary Putnam) and pragmatic theory of truth (Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, John Dewey). Book also suggest that it seems that former French president Jacques Chirac introduced his own theory according to which words which were said to journalist true if, and only if, they can be “recorded and published in press” 🙂 .

Comprehensive overview of formal and informal argument fallacies covered by this book, which includes: appeal to authority, force argument or appeal to the stick (argumentum ad baculum), thesis replacement or irrelevant conclusion (ignoratio elenchi), appeal to hatred or appeal to spite (argumentum ad odium), argument from ignorance/appeal to ignorance (argumentum as ignoratiam), weak analogy, slippery slope argument, appeal to nature, appeal to human (argumentum ad hominem), appeal to hypocrisy or “you too!” (tu quokue!), mind projection fallacy, quoting out of context (aka contextomy/quote mining), equivocation, appeal to authority (argumentum ad verecundiam), accepting blame with condition, idea of kairos from classical rhetoric (eukairos and kakakairos). who is speaking? (qui dicit?), with this hence because of this (cum hoc ergo propter hoc aka “correlation does not imply causation“), after this hence because of this (post hoc ergo propter hoc) and so on.

What’s important this overview is easy to read. Whether they are fallacies or tricks to use depends on your vantage point 🙂

Selected biographies of some talkers and demagogues in the end of the book. They are funny and reminded me the same historical writing style you can find in “An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge)” by John O’Farrell.

Tiny bit of critique of “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” for bad use of statistics. Book hints that some of brilliant and unexpected conclusions which made this book bestseller do not seem to be justified, but sometimes we accept something like that just because it unusual and so on, without examining author arguments deeply enough. Actually “Freakonomics” was used to illustrate post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. But stories from that book so appealing to re-tell to others with a bit of suspense before you present conclusions that it is no wonder that this book sales exceeded 4 million copies.

I guess I will move on and finally start reading two other books I bought earlier along with this one – “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes” and “Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between.”

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The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

As I’m trying to cultivate a habit of reflecting on whatever information I consume I’m trying to write a blog post on each book I read. Recently I completed “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair which I started to read with no knowledge about the author or plot apart from phrase that “this book propelled author’s political career” or something like this.

I allowed myself a bit of Wikipedia reading once I done with the book and it is interesting to see that there was a “Federal response” to the book by President Theodore Roosevelt who described this book as a “crackpot” because of the writer’s socialist positions. And to quote author of the book on socialism, he said in 1951:

“The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label.”

Upton Sinclair, Letter to Norman Thomas (25 September 1951)

Irrespectively on whether you think socialism is a crackpot or not the book is worth reading unless you are that type of “oversimplify it” person who would never read anything like “Das Kapital” and employ the joke that “this book would have better to be burnt before it had seen the light as it had produced too many bloodshed, revolutions and couple of evil empires” as an excuse to not reading what that bearded guy meant to say to begin with.

First quarter or even half of this book is amazingly vivid description of squalor and hardships of wage worker at the time where wage slavery was a commonplace. But book take you through couple of cycles and unexpected turns through the eyes of naive Lithuanian immigrant to US who hoped to find his happiness doing decent work in The Yards.

1280px-Livestock_chicago_1947

Union Stock Yards, Chicago, 1947 (source)

My initial impression was that it you lack enthusiasm or excitement about your current job or workplace you should read this book it with switch your perception a little bit I’m sure. But as the story goes on and book elaborates on unscrupulous practices of business owners and world of politics you gradually will be returning back to reality thinking that in a way world does not changed as much as our shiny media channels present it to us (and given the fact that you have an ability to select your media channel you may end up living in “echo chamber” of reality of your choice where your view of the world supported by media and evidence which you selected just because it supports your view). Anyhow I had a chance to work on production line just a little bit at some point in my life and thanks god it was not meat production (but there was a chance to end up there at one point of my life 🙂 ) and yes conditions are better but not radically as essentially the model is the same and with overwhelming win of consumerism and demonstrative consumption in society you may feel divide between wage worker and office staff even sharper: I still remember interesting feeling when while signing off from short stitch as a worker on production line I had to get some sign off from person responsible for personal’s food and on that occasion I had to visit administrative personnel canteen donned in my dirty working suit causing glances from neatly dressed administrative personnel. This is one thing to know that some people have separate canteen and sitting in clean office while you doing your shift in the noisy and and dusty environment of production line, and completely another to be exposed to such contrast – I kind of felt the divide and that type of “you don’t belong there” attitude back then. In short working conditions definitely way better nowadays but not as radically different as some dreamers or careless optimists never caring to look around them may think.

After author almost reaches the peak of his depiction of how poor life conditions may destroy one’s optimism, health and even system of values in life book takes unexpected turn. And here I can quote the book I guess:

“They were trying to save their souls—and who but a fool could fail to see that all that was the matter with their souls was that they had not been able to get a decent existence for their bodies?”

The first turn is towards showing dirty politics and defunct society system which I guess would be amazing read for somebody who takes for granted American hyper efficient image of dream state of freedom and equal opportunities which it projects masterfully with barrage of Hollywood movies and what not else. I guess I can recommend “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff for those who need more up to date reality check to contrast image with reality.

And quite unexpectedly (for me, as I don’t read anything neither about author or about the book), our fallen and corrupt by the life on the bottom of Chicago’s society protagonist, which it seems about to die because of his miserable life conditions within a few pages or so, discovers new wonder and purpose and hope – socialism. And this is what is being uncovered in the last quarter of the book giving it a sort of almost happy end if you can call it so giving what had happened to our hero in the first half of the book.

And apart from socialism last jump or twist is on public healthcare in general and eating meat in particular – quite an interesting to see a passage arguing that meat producing industry is largely profit-driven attempt to earn on poor species whose brains not only programmed to be “pattern recognition machines” but, alas, also “pleasure seeking machines” and in more healthy “socialist” society moving away from meat consumption would be sort of natural and unavoidable.

Anyhow this was a strong book which worth reading and to conclude just one more quote from the book to spark your interest maybe:

“And now in the union Jurgis met men who explained all this mystery to him; and he learned that America differed from Russia in that its government existed under the form of a democracy. The officials who ruled it, and got all the graft, had to be elected first; and so there were two rival sets of grafters, known as political parties, and the one got the office which bought the most votes.”

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A Little Book of Language by David Crystal

A Little Book of LanguageA Little Book of Language by David Crystal

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just done listening audio edition of this book and this is just a little comment/review about it.

Initially because of the word “little” in the title and number of opening chapters talking about how children develop their language abilities I was slightly concerned that I picked a wrong buck which going to talk exclusively about children speech development 🙂 But it turn out that this “little” book give all encompassing overview of all things language starting from children speech development and touching on all possible things language related: applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, forensic linguistics, etymology, dictionaries, endangered languages and languages revival, dialects and regionalisms, speech therapy so it is really Little book of Language.

In case you are not linguistics/language geek who wants to know everything about language you may find such book useful for example if you need what facet/aspect of language/linguistics you are interested to learn more about.

I guess I’m going to add more David Crystal‘s books on my ever growing to read/to listen list, and I think it is high time to finally read/listen something by Naom Chomsky as his books were on my to do list way too long 🙂

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Signed first edition of Seveneves

Last friday I received my copy of signed first edition of Neal Stephenson’s latest book Seveneves, delivered from Barns and Noble. I was almost in the middle with my reading of it on Kindle as I obviously get ebook faster (both things were preordered before release). Pleasure was somewhat spoiled by the fact that nice paper book was damaged in transit – looks like package was exposed to water and book I got is not in perfect condition to say the least 🙁

Package

Some pictures can be found below.

Front cover:

Seveneves 01 Front cover

Neal’s signature:Seveneves 02 Neal's Signature

Picture of Izzy on the back of front cover:\nSeveneves 03 Picture behind the front cover

SIDE NOTE/IRRELEVANT DETAILS: By the way once I reached above picture I spend some time pondering what is the word which describes this part of the book, and end up referring to this as “pictures on the back of the book cover”, posting a question on english.stackexchange.com – “Which word can I use to refer to pictures on the backside of the book covers?”  in parallel. Question was answered and it seems that proper word here is “endpaper” 🙂 Though this term doesn’t imply that this part of bock has an illustration on it so it is necessary to use of something like “front endpaper illustration” and “back endpaper illustration”.

Picture of something else on the back of back cover:Seveneves 04 Picture behind the back cover

Book spine:\nSeveneves 05 book spine

I will refrain from any comment on the book itself until I done with my reading, but definitely write something afterwards.

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The Art of Conflict Management by Professor Michael Dues

I recently finished listening to  (at least first pass done, maybe revisit it later – most of Great Courses titles worth revisiting/more than one listen) of 24 lectures series from The Great Courses on conflict management – “The Art of Conflict Management: Achieving Solutions for Life, Work, and Beyond” by Professor Michael Dues from University of Arizona.The Art of Conflict Management

This course uses dramatizations to illustrate conflict situations and ways of handling them, and tries to emphasize practical side (some assignments suggested in the end of each lecture) which is as usual by far more difficult than any theory.

My takeaways from this course is number of interesting models and shortcuts to think about conflicts (triangulation, defunct conflict strategies etc.), then science and history behind widespread buzz-word “win-win”. It was interesting to know ideas behind the word which is being thrown around sometimes mindlessly nowadays. We can trace back almost any concept or technology to the initial (in hindsight sometimes plain and simple) idea or scientific paper. For Kerberos technology it was project Athena, based in turn on a paper published in 1978 by Needham and Schroeder (Needham–Schroeder protocol), for win-win idea it was 1948 Morton Deutsch’s PhD paper about win-win solutions. Basically he distinguished 2 types of conflicts: competitive conflict, a situation that requires one party to lose in order for the other to win, and pure conflict, a situation in which both parties can fully win. This is important distinction and gives you different point of view on possibilities for conflict resolutions, in addition to point of view which is formed by long standing idea of  adversary system which comes from Ancient Greece.

There also was a nice overview lecture on overarching managerial theories – really good summary on each and overview of transition from one to another. I also liked  the story mentioned at some point there on etymology of the word bureaucracy (which is French in origin, and combines the French word bureau – desk or office – with the Greek word κράτος kratos – rule or political power).

Next I going to start listening to my first audio book in French which is surprisingly enough “Le journal d’un fou” by Nicolas Gogol 🙂 And I also got another title from The Great Courses – “Building a Better Vocabulary” by Professor Kevin Flanigan.

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Nietzsche & Bodybuilding :)

Not so long ago I discovered very good blog about serious literature where the author tries to give his own interpretations to the great works of literary classics, posts there are dense and try to uncover main ideas contained in literary works and what was possible meant by their authors. And more over each post accompanied with short YouTube video (on average 5 mins) where blog’s author speaks about the book in question with some presentation/graphic material. Here is the link to this blog: The Great Conversation

I should admit that the amount and quality of content in this blog is amazing, and personally I’m going to follow it 🙂 Also if you a bit into great literature and on look out for thoughts and ideas which literature contains in abundance, you may be interested in this blog too.

Now to the topic of this post of mine. 🙂 “Nietzsche & Bodybuilding”, where is connection you may ask? 🙂 Well in the analysis of Nietzsche’s “On suffering”  which you may find on aforementioned blog author draws some parallels between Nietzsche views on suffering and bodybuilding. Though it is a bit unclear to which particular work/works of Nietzsche this blog post corresponds to (looks like it is about Nietzsche views on suffering in general) I enjoyed it anyway.

Let me quote a bit from this post:

\n\n

Nietzsche claims that man is composed of two parts – a creative part and a part that is created – in other words, mind and body. According to him, the body is meant to suffer, and the mind is meant to fashion something beautiful out of the suffering of the body. “In man creature and creator are united: in man there is material, fragment, excess, clay, dirt, nonsense, chaos; but there is also the creator, the sculptor, the hardness of the hammer, the divinity of the spectator, and the seventh day – do you understand this contrast? The body must be fashioned, bruised, forged, stretched, roasted, and refined – it is meant to suffer.”

An athlete, such as a bodybuilder, is the epitome of this idea. A bodybuilder subjects his body to the pain and suffering of training in order to create a physique that is aesthetically pleasing. The weightlifting adage, “No pain, no gain,” is an echo of Nietzsche’s ideas.

It is also somehow reminded me about one of the best essays on working with weights I read so far – Iron and the Soul by Henry Rollins. This one may interest you if you are avid gym goer or just thinking about what it gives or may give you.

As a person interested both in literature/ideas and sport I found these parallels interesting. Another interesting thing I learnt for this blog so far is the fact that Einstein once said that “Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist” (this is from the post  DOSTOEVSKY: The Brothers Karamazov)

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Shortly before the end of 2014 I finished listening to “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. This was unabridged version of classic piece of British literature in audio book format narrated by Michael York.

Brave_New_World_Audible_Cover

I first discover this book some time ago when listening to recordings of “Science-Fiction and Politics” class by Courtney Brown which he did at  Emory University, which is available in iTunes Podcasts if you interested to listen it too. This is amazing class where they took a list of some good science fiction books as a reading assignments for a class and during the classes trying to look at these books from the angle of politics, changes in society and how those may be relevant to real world politics and changes. At the end of the day most of good science-fiction books depict very different societies, where world either changed by technology or globally changed in some other way and this gives a lot of space for questions such as how big changes are brought about and executed, how people react and adapt to them etc. Very interesting approach. Another book from that class which made it to my “To read list” is a 1977 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle “Lucifer’s Hammer”, though it was just briefly mentioned in this course if I’m not mistaken.

Anyway I just wanted to write a few words about Brave New World, not in support of “need to share culture” (one which replaced “need to know culture” these days), but rather in support of habit to reflect on what you consume (read, watch, listened to) 🙂 To my non professional view this book written in 1931 very acutely reflects on fear of two things: consumerism and prosperity brought about by technological revolution plus dictatorship/total control, probably loss of soul and awareness that technology only will never solve humanity problems also. These two things (consumerism plus total control over society) paired together in this book to present us scary picture of society which offers perfect stability at expense of such things as art, freedom and even true science, by conditioning people into perfect crank of consumer society. Non consumption and everything non generating new demand are enemies of the new society. Sex and Soma (drug which keeps people happy) are built in into depicted society as things to be consumed massively and in an unrestrained way and necessary to maintain stability of the system. By the way the drug’s name soma is an allusion to a ritualistic drink of the same name consumed by ancient Indo-Aryans which is described as being prepared by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain plant. In both Hindu and Zoroastrian tradition, the name of the drink and the plant are the same, and also personified as a divinity, the three forming a religious or mythological unity.

This is a strong book about somewhat scary things, but as it presents us with very big picture (edifice of new system/society), this somewhat offset scariness of the picture. In a way books about real, commonplace bad things of everyday life produce stronger feeling of fear/gloom as they don’t hide this “everyday/commonplace dark side of our lives” behind any grand things or ideas showing that bad things just there without any particular reason and justification. It seems that we live in a world much closer to one depicted by this book, but do not think that it is scary. Author who lived in a moment of transition and early days of consumerism culture, in the presence of some totalitarian regimes was capable to draw a more vivid picture of these two things paired together and went wrong. As we somewhat moving in the similar direction embracing consumerism and giving up on religion, search of meaning and some other things as a society, we, at the same time, became less aware about dangers of this direction. The questions such as: “How bad the deceiving shine and prosperity may be upon a closer look? Do we really need just stability and prosperity no matter the price? How much of personal freedom could be sacrificed for prosperity and stability?” are still relevant anyway, since the time of Hobbes “Leviathan” we still trying to figure out how the state and society should be arranged and how the way we organize things on a large scale may be reconciled with the way individual man wants or tries to organize his life.

Anyway “Brave New World” is a book which most likely make you think about interesting questions which written masterfully, and it means that it meet main criteria of a good book.

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Review: Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing

Some Remarks: Essays and Other WritingSome Remarks: Essays and Other Writing by Neal Stephenson\nMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a good mix of (mostly short-form) writing: from a little bit unexpected (like introductory piece about perils of sedentary lifestyle) to proper “Neal’s style” things. By “Neal’s style” I mean “extremely rich in details, festooned with brilliant and simply explanations of difficult things/ideas and really thought provoking”. I especially liked “Mother Board Mother Earth” (fascinating introduction to the world of submarine cabling which provides foundations for our modern communication systems) and rocket-science/big project execution related pieces “Locked In” & “Innovation Starvation”. And if you are fan of Baroque Cycle there are some related interviews in this book too.

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Review: Oracle 12c For Dummies (For Dummies

Oracle 12c For Dummies (For DummiesOracle 12c For Dummies (For Dummies by Chris Ruel\nMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

For Dummies series does amazing job in explaining everything in plain language without dramatic loss of depth or excessive oversimplification. They are very good to get you started with the subject.\nMy first tech book long time ago was Networking for Dummies (in Russian), and it was both fun to read and informative, all my tech knowledge prior that was based upon trial and error approach 🙂 Probably should re-read latest edition of Networking for Dummies for the sake of knowledge refresh and very good memories of 1st experience of for Dummies series :)\nAs for Oracle 12c book: I preordered digital edition from Amazon, and overall it nicely covers quite a wide array of things you need to know to approach Oracle 12c RDBMS. It seems that Oracle 12c system far more sophisticated/feature-rich platform than MS SQL Server – though probably I just don’t know MS SQL Server well enough (need to go through respective for Dummies book?). To some extent there is more to learn here platform wise as it can run both on top of Linux and Windows – so there are far more options and ramifications for deployment and configuring it.\nThe only bad thing about this edition is amount of very obvious typos/editing errors – didn’t expect that from respective brand/publisher. When language errors obvious even for non-native speaker it’s not what you want to allow as respective publisher I guess.

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