Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Guns, Germs and Steel

Author: Jared Diamond
Genre: Non-fiction
Warnings: Nothing really
Pages: 512
Rating: 3.5/5

Wow, there is so much that is worthwhile in this book! Holy crap, there is just a LOT of information in this book! It covers several observed general trends in the development of human civilization across the majority of genetically modern human history. And when I say the majority, I mean before roughly the 1800's back to the first time humanity became genetically similar to us. It's inclusive, extensive and just detailed in every respect. Diamond's goal is to treat history more like a hard science by framing architectural evidence as uncontrolled experiments that can be used in conjuncture to identify independent variables, which is an admirable goal and resulted in a sweet book as far as I can tell.

More than just marking the trends of civilization from less to more complex hierarchies, this weighty-ass tome attempts to explain some of the many interrelated reasons why civilizations develop at different rates. Diamond identifies technology that resulted in one state dominating another multiple times in the archaeological record, and then creates a plausible chain of reasoning that connects them to the attributes of each state's locality. An example would be illustrating that the vast differences in sophistication between the tools in Europe and the Americas during the 1400's are a result in the disparities of domestic-able plants and animals on the two continents. I can not tell you how much I appreciate this attention to detail, and how valuable the documentation of Diamond's thought process is to me. I also think this book represents an important shift in what history means and I felt my world was enlarged by reading it.

One important warning to any potential readers: this book is really boring. The prose reads a lot like a textbook, and it makes this book difficult to get through. It's size and it's dryness it is a real deterrent to anyone outside of academia. However I cannot state strongly enough that if you're interested in the subject matter, you should check it out anyway. Just... remember to pick it back up after you've put it down.

Associated Website

Similar Books and Authors
"The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
"A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: And Then There Were None

Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Warnings: Brits, Murder (obviously)
Pages: 247
Rating: 4/5

This is a really great mystery novel. It's quick, fascinating and fun. I've never read any Agatha Christie novels before now, but her other works are on my to-do list now.

I liked that the characters reminded me a little of the secondary characters in Doyles "Sherlock Holmes" stories, possibly because Christie was also an upper-crust Brit, although from two generations later. However the break from a sleuth main character was excellent, because the first person perspective lent a sense of urgency to the wholw thing. I enjoyed the shifts in perspective, which happened often enough and were well-placed enough to keep the identify of the murderer a secret from me.

Like I said, this book was quick. I  finished it in one sitting, which is terrible for the sort of literary analysis more involved than "So who is killing everybody?" On the other hand, this novel didn't have to be ripe with flowery language to be interesting. This is common for mystery novels, but agonizing over the villain (or villains) is usually the only draw a good mystery novel uses, and the only one it needs. I found that to be the case here. As Christie herself pointed out, there's something truly impressive in a killer that manages to kill ten people in a way that keeps a casual reader interested.

Similar Books and Authors
"The Complete Sherlock Holmes" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle