Oct 12

[Review] Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

There’s a phrase that is used quite often to promote television movies or special episodes of “Law and Order.” The phrase is “ripped from the headlines.”

This phrase could almost apply to the book I just read. It’s a book about a world ravaged by a deadly disease. The disease spreads so quickly because the world is essentially smaller than it used to be. With air travel and car travel, the ability of a disease to spread around the world is made much easier.

The survivors of this world must ban together and make due with what they have. They must figure out a way to survive and live off what’s left. They must deal with the loss of electricity and running water, as well as cars that don’t function and streets that are blocked by falling trees and decaying infrastructure.

With the Swine Flu in the news and various apocalyptic scenarios being discussed because of the financial markets, this novel is very appropriate to the times. However,  I said the phrase “ripped from the headlines” could “almost” apply to the book I just read.

The reason it could not be applied to this book, is because it was written in 1949.

The Blurb from the back

The planet has been overwhelmed. A new and unknown disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of civlization, overrunning all attempts to quarantine, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he, who will ultimately become the last America, will discover will be far more — and far more astonishing — than anything he’d either dreaded or hoped for.

Not Just Science Fiction

The thing that struck me most about Earth Abides is the fact that, while most people will pigeonhole into the science fiction genre, it’s really just a good story about people. Yes, it’s kind of fantastic in it’s scope, and we really hope this kind of thing never happens, but it’s genuine and realistic in its portrayal of how this kind of event might play out. While there are some people who are a little “off” after the end of the world, there aren’t any strange mutant creatures created by the aftermath of the atomic weapons — just people who really can’t deal with the fact that everyone they know is dead. Kind of an understandable reaction, really.

In fact, even the event that causes the world to come crashing down is down to earth and not too unexpected. The main character of the story is saved, not by anything too mysterious — just a fortunately timed rattlesnake bite. (Before you get too worried about a spoiler, there, this is explained early on in the story.)

Character Abounds

What drives this epic story is the main character, Isherwood Williams. Now, having been reading Moby Dick, I don’t think I could deny that shortening his name to Ish and allowing us to think of Ishmael was by no means a mistake. Ishmael of Moby Dick was, for a large part, a spectator. Isherwood Williams is also that spectator, and gives us the ring side seat to this strange event and the events that follow it.

However, while Ishmael of Moby Dick really does just spectate, Isherwood Williams takes a direct part in most everything, creating his tribe and attempting to rebuild society. It’s the way he goes about this, with a strange kind of arrogance brought about by his education, that is very entertaining to the reader. In some ways, Isherwood is a genius, but in other ways, he doesn’t seem to have a clue. He takes great care of his library (book smarts), but has a very hard time dealing with people and their disagreements (street smarts).

Isherwood also develops a great sense of guilt and personal responsibility for the survival of the human race. It’s these feelings that really drive the story forward and create the major conflict.

Don’t Call Me Old

While this book was written in 1949, I was struck by the fact that never, during the whole time I read it, did it feel dated. References to items such as automobiles and appliances were vague enough that it could have been cars and appliances of modern day as easily as it could have been those of the 40s and 50s. One thing I notice now that I look back, is the absence of computers. Since electricity was gone pretty early on, though, they wouldn’t have been very helpful, anyway.

Overall, I was very impressed by Earth Abides. What starts as an almost cliche end-of-the-world story, turns very quickly into an impressive commentary on the human condition. Highly recommended, even if the only copy you can find is one with browned, dog-eared pages.

Grade: A
Who would like this book: People who enjoy a good character-driven story
Who would not like this book: People who are a bit squeamish and don’t want to think of a world that’s missing most of it’s people

Oct 05

[Review] Trust Me by Peter Leonard

There’s a wise warning I’ve heard before: “If someone asks you to trust them — don’t.” It’s one of those expressions that sits in the back of my head, and hopefully makes me a bit more savvy in dealing with others.

It appears that most of the characters in Peter Leonard’s Trust Me never heard of this expression. The two words “Trust me” are used multiple times throughout the book, and each time they are, we (as the all-knowing reader) get to chuckle a bit at the naive people who go along with it.

That’s one of the funnest parts of reading this book. Every time the words “trust me” appear on the page, we know that no one should, but we also know they will, and it’s that irony that creates the environment for a fast shuffle-game of money that is an enjoyable, albeit shallow, read. Continue reading

Jul 26

[Review] Get Off Your “But”

I must admit that I’m intrigued by the whole “Self Help” book genre. I can’t say that I’ve read a huge number of them, but I’ve sampled some. I’ve always been a firm believer that you can learn just about anything from a book, and it’s definitely the first place I go when I’m trying to become familiar with a new concept.

There’s something about self help books, though, that have always given me the feeling that I was somehow cheating.  The real big “lessons of life” need to be figured out on your own. They’re like mistakes — someone else can’t make them for you.

Having said that, I was intrigued by the title of Sean Stephenson’s book, Get Off Your “But.” It had a good sound to it, and I’ve always been a proponent of getting up and doing something when you want to solve a problem.

While Get Off Your “But” was a good title, the book itself lacked real meat, and I didn’t feel that it added much original content to the subjects that it presented.

Continue reading

Jun 01

[Review] Predictably Irrational

I’ve talked a couple of times on this site about how I go about picking the next book I’m going to read. The book in this review came to me through a somewhat different route.

I listen to a podcast about technology called This Week In Tech (or TWIT for short). It allows me to keep up on all things tech and is quite entertaining. If you’re like me, and are interested in technology, it’s certainly worth checking out. Not to mention, quite often they talk about books.

In this case, the book was Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, and I’m guessing I would not have picked this book up if not for the discussion on the TWIT podcast. However, I’m very glad I did.

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Mar 23

[Review] The Silent Man by Alex Berenson

My friends and I enjoy going to movies quite a bit. I’ve always been a big fan of them, and always made friends with people who like movies. We see them, we talk about them, we quote them incessantly to the annoyance of our girlfriends and wives.

One of the terms that we use, and I’m sure it’s not unique to us, is the term “Popcorn Movie.” A Popcorn Movie is a movie that isn’t going to change your life or have you walking out of the theater a different person. A Popcorn Movie is an enjoyable action movie. It’s high on special effects, but it’s got enough plot and dialogue that you don’t feel like you’re watching a series of explosions tied together with nothing. Popcorn Movies are good movies, and ones that are worth seeing at the theater so you take advantage of all the sound and spectacle that they carry with them.

Alex Berenson’s The Silent Man is the book equivalent of a Popcorn Movie. It’s not going to redefine a genre or change the way you think about the world, but it will take you on an enjoyable, fast-paced ride through international intrigue.

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Feb 10

[Review] The Tale of Desperaux

I may have said it before in earlier articles, but one of the challenges of reading to a child frequently is finding books that are entertaining to you as well was your child. It’s similar to what makes the Pixar movies so popular; movies like Cars or Toy Story. On one level, they are fantastic for kids and are great adventure stories, but on another level they are great for the parents, too.

The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo is one such book. It had me encouraging my daughter to pick it for the read of the night, just so I could find out what happened next.

The Story

As the subtitle of the book states: “Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread.” The Tale of Desperaux is a story of a mouse and princess. As with any great love story, they meet at the beginning of the book, are separated, and must find one another once again. Along the way our brave mouse faces dangers, including rats, dungeons and a cook. To find out the rest, you’ll have to read it yourself.

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Jan 18

[Review] Ralphina the Roly-Poly

I’ll start this review with a bit of a disclaimer. Ralphina, the Roly-poly by Claudia Chandler is the first real children’s book that I’ve reviewed, so it will probably take a bit of a different approach as intricate discussions of the plot line and character development won’t really come into play.

Also, I must disclose that this review, while not being written by her, was heavily influenced by the reactions of my 5-1/2 year old daughter, Amanda. She has helped out by giving me full access to her own critical reactions to the work.

So we’ll start with overall critical reaction: “I really liked it, Daddy.” Continue reading

Jan 03

[Review] Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is one of those authors that has made enough of a name for himself that he scares people away. I’ve encountered many people who have never read Vonnegut because they thought he was too “heavy” and “literary” to read.

The funny thing about this, is that Vonnegut generally writes books that are very readable. Granted, there is a depth to his work and usually some kind of humanitarian message, but it’s usually presented in a very readable, and oftentimes humorous, fashion.

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut is one of those eminently readable books, and in my opinion, one of the best of Vonnegut’s works.

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