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Posts about book-reviews (old posts, page 71)

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold

Stephen Fry

2017


Billed as "Greek myths for the 21st century", which I think is an accurate description, both good and bad. This is clear, humorous, erudite take on the key stories without giving way to too much modernising, and with the thoughtful and witty asides one would expect from Stephen Fry.

The style does occasionally drift too far into the casual for my tastes, I have to say, but that's a minor criticism: I certainly intend to read the other books in this series, dealing with heroic myths and the Trojan War.

4/5. Finished 02 December 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks

The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks

Joshua Cooper Ramo

2016


It was all going so well. A book about how networks change the relationships between objects, processes, and people, to the extent that we have to regard a connected object as a fundamentally different beast to its unconnected counterpart. It's easy to see this for, for example, books, where an e-book has access to hyperlinks, can be networked with other readers, and so forth. It's also easy to see for connected houses or utilities, exposed to new security threats by virtue of being networked. And it's easy to see for companies, where network effects rapidly produce winner-takes-all situations simply because increased participation increases the benefits of further participation. The "seventh sense", although not really ever got to grips with, is the ability to perceive these effects and adapt strategy to them.

But then the argument falls apart. The solution to this networked issue: the US must create the best networks, attracting others to use them but not shrinking from pre-emptively attacking – both by cyber and physical means – any other country who disagrees with the premises established from the start (or changed over time) for use of those networks. Networks must have hard gates to keep out the undesirables. Disconnect from other networks to avoid being caught in a web to others' advantage. The owner makes the rules.

Does this sound like a familiar line of politics? – maybe it wouldn't have done in 2016, but now it's all too familiar. There's no real discussion about how networks emerge other than by the force of specific developments and goals, which clearly isn't the case for natural systems and isn't really so for a lot of human-centred ones. So this isn't a book that works for me: it doesn't get to the heart of what networked systems could do for society. But a useful addition nonetheless.

2/5. Finished 23 November 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Our Man In Havana

Our Man In Havana

Graham Greene

1958


A study of the dangers and absurdities of intelligence work, in which by definition it's hard to tell if information was made up or is just really, really hard to find.

The book starts off quite slowly and only really gathers pace when the Wormold's inventions start to come out – at which point things get very interesting indeed. It's interesting to compare the slow and rather plodding protagonist to the racier Bond – or even Ashenden, for that matter. Greene almost certainly captures reality more closely.

3/5. Finished 30 October 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Beauty and the Terror: An Alternative History of the Italian Renaissance

The Beauty and the Terror: An Alternative History of the Italian Renaissance

Catherine Fletcher

2020


An excellent tour through the Renaissance that doesn't steer away from the bits that don;t fit the usual narrative. Whether I'd agree with the subtitle of "alternative" history I'm less certain: it certainly mentions the role of women and the prevalence of slavery more than other books, and also explores the relationship between Italians and Spaniards in the conquest of the New World in interesting ways, though.

5/5. Finished 28 October 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

What Is Life?: Understand Biology In Five Steps

What Is Life?: Understand Biology In Five Steps

Paul Nurse

2020


A quick and clear introduction to all the main currents in modern biology, especially cell and molecular biology, explained with a fantastic clarity.

The five main chapters and the conclusion all address the core idea of approaching the question of "what is life?" from multiple perspectives. But there's also an additional chapter on how science and scientists need to engage with the wider world, with decision-makers and popular culture, that deserves more prominence than as what is, essentially, an essay sitting slightly uncomfortably with the thrust of the rest of the book.

5/5. Finished 23 October 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)