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Posts about book-reviews (old posts, page 27)

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks

Keith Houston

2013


An interesting romp through the lesser-known areas of typography, literature, and language. The author manages to touch on an impressive breadth of content in a book ostensibly about punctuation, perhaps illustrating how language really does affect more of human activity than we might think.

I especially enjoyed the digressions into the emergence of pounds, shillings, and pence (as well as the pound sign). Many characters are treated in enormous detail: the history of the ampersand, for example, which walks the reader through a couple of millennia of language evolution. The hash sign and the interrobang also get star treatment, while the humble dash turns out to have more complexity than even this dedicated LaTeX user was expecting.

4/5. Finished 26 January 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Outsider

The Outsider

Chris Culver

2013


The blurb on the cover describes the protagonist as "the most fascinating detective in the history of crime fiction," which is itself an overstatement of almost criminal proportions.

The story revolves around a criminal case with problematic evidence. So far, so ordinary. The characters however are without exception stereotypes. Even though the main character, Ash Rashid, is given colour by being a Muslim in the American mid-West, he's a stereotypical Muslim: struggling with drink, worrying about missed prayers, staunchly supported by a more observant wife, and so forth. Along the way we meet the decent-but-too-hard prosecutor, the scheming crime boss who helps justice while pursuing his own agenda, the self-interested politician -- should I go on?

1/5. Finished 26 January 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men and Women Who Worked There

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men and Women Who Worked There

Sinclair McKay

2010


I may be being a bit harsh on this book, which makes a decent attempt at filling in the social history of one of the greatest contributors to wartime victory: but it felt like it missed almost all the excitement and significance of Bletchley Park and failed to really dig into the characters of those involved, despite extensive interviews. At the very least it might motivate one to read Alan Turing: The Enigma or one of the other histories or memoires that have come out in the past few years.

2/5. Finished 12 January 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Ascent of Man

The Ascent of Man

Jacob Bronowski

1973


Often described as one of the classics of our times, this is a book of essays charting the various stages in the author's conception of the intellectual evolution of humanity. In a sense it should be compared to Civilisation, Kenneth Clarke's history of art: a personal selection of important events.

Bronowski's is a selection few would argue with, but he adds interest through his own personal acquaintanceship with some of the characters involved: Einstein, Born, and (most interestingly) von Neumann. His take on early history had probably been overtaken by some of modern anthropology, but his analysis of the industrial revolution is fascinating, as is his central thesis that the main agent of progress is simply the desire of the craftsman to improve his craft, beyond any real pressure for improvement coming from outside.

3/5. Finished 05 January 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)