What I’ve been reading

This post is modeled after Tyler Cowen’s similar posts on his blog Marginal Revolution. (Sample post). I’m a big fan of these posts because a very short, opinionated description of a book is a great way to find out whether or not I’d like to read it.

  1. The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream, by Thomas L. Dyja. A history/lamentation of Chicago from 1945-60. Very uneven. Some chapters mention so many non-famous people without any explanation that it’s like reading a phone book. Other chapters are like a good college course called “Chicago 201”, if you’re already familiar with the basic events of that time and place and subject. If you’re only reading one book about Chicago, don’t read this one. One better book is American Pharaoh, a biography of the first Mayor Daley, whom Dyja dislikes strongly but benefits from a detailed biography.
  2. A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin. For the second time, I read all five published books and the released chapters from Book Six, The Winds of Winter. I don’t like fantasy novels but I couldn’t stop reading this. The second read-through is very rewarding because you already know the main plot and characters and can focus on secondary events, and try to puzzle out what happens next. Enjoyed quite a bit but not inspired to read any more fantasy, although I will finish the series when new books are released.
  3. Fluent Forever, by Gabriel Wyner. Considering how many languages he speaks, it is surprising how wordy and convoluted Wyner’s writing is in his native tongue. This book doesn’t know if it’s a beginners guide to modern language study techniques or a lengthy defense of Wyner’s ideas and techniques that aren’t widely accepted. Some chapters should definitely be skimmed, not read.
  4. Imperium, by Ryszard Kapuscinski. The author is more famous for The Soccer War. As a travel writer he has no peers. He wrote in Polish, but the translations are excellent. When I read this book I’m either laughing out loud, or eagerly soaking up his stories. Would have been an amazing person to meet. This book is about his travels in the former USSR at various times in history, including 1989-91.
  5. The Martian: A Novel, by Andy Weir. Weir published this book chapter by chapter on his blog. The book is half non-fictional detailed science about a Mars mission he created for the book, half sci-fi story. The writing shines bright when writing about physics, chemistry, and other technical subjects. The hero aside, the characters feel wooden and amateurishly done, but it really doesn’t matter. This is one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve ever read.

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