Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Portage into the Past by Arnold Bolz

Yes, I couldn't go long without reading another Minnesota History book, and when I saw this at Lien's books, I couldn't pass. I already a good book on the natural history of the BWCA, but I still needed to find a good book about the human history. This book--for at least now--fills that gap in my library. This book tells the story of the original voyageurs to Northern MN, years before it became a state. The story is told through Arnold who with his wife and buddy travel part of the old, standard voyageur route from Grand Portage to Rainy Lake. As they travel the route, they stop and read the journals of the original voyageurs, writing about the same lakes they are traversing. This book would be great just with the many old voyageur tales; however, I could have done without hearing about Arnold's trip. With him and his wife spending all this time camping, I thought there would be some pretty intense sex. Instead, they would read each other stories about centuries' old trade routes and then go to bed....not the normal couple in my mind. I, honestly, get so excited by hearing the old Indian tales, I don't know how I could be calm enough to just go to bed. Apparently that is what happens when you get old. Other then the weak side story of Arnold and his wife, it was very informative.

Completed July 2007

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

I need to thank Abdi for this one; I enjoyed it. I admit that at first I was a bit skeptical. Based on the title, I was worried that I was going to be reading some self-help book, telling me to stay positive. This book is nothing like that. It does talk about being happy, but not with the purpose of changing your life. Instead, Gilbert talks about how our brain (mis)interprets our past, present, and especially future, causing us to have skewed pictures of our happiness...among other things. I really didn't take much away besides that my brain only sees and remembers what I want it to matter how accurately that portrays reality and that I might as well not imagine my future--and I think that is all Gilbert expects you to get from the book. That may not sound like much, but it is fun a book full of interesting studies that show how bad we imagine the future.

Completed July 2007

Monday, July 2, 2007

GMAT Books

If you noticed, my reading output greatly diminished in the month of May and June. This is because I spent those months studying hard for the GMAT, the standardized test required for business school. During that time, I went through 3 major GMAT books. I wasn't going to write about them, but because they are very large books that I spent significant time on, I thought I better give my feedback:

Kaplan GMAT Premium Edition 2007: Worst book ever. I would never recommend this book. I paid $40+ this book, expecting it to teach me the ins and outs of the GMAT. Unfortunately, the book was filled with typos and foolish editing mistakes. It is hard to trust a book for teaching you grammar when it isn't properly edited. Additionally, the book repeated questions. If you pay $40+, you should get recycled questions one chapter from the next. Lastly, the practice tests that came with the book did not produce any scores close to my actual GMAT scores. The other materials I used did mimic my scores. Don't waste your time with this book.

Kaplan 800: Even though the first Kaplan book sucked, I bought a second one which was focused just on the hardest questions. I only bought this because the other companies didn't have equivalent books that just focused on difficult questions. This was a decent book. Obviously, a different bunch of people edited the book.

Princeton Review Cracking the GMAT: I didn't buy this book but borrowed it from a friend. This was the Princeton Review's equivalent of the Kaplan book that sucked. Fortunately, this book was much better. Not only did I trust the material, but the book gave better explanations on the answers. DISCLAIMER: I was previously employed by the Princeton Review.

Completed June 28, 2007

The 3M Story by Virginia Huck

I was in Omaha for a wedding and naturally found myself at used book store. The store was going out of business and for some reason the owners had greatly reduced all MN themed books. I couldn't pass on the opportunity to expand my MN history library, so I purchased this book on the history of 3M. The book was written in 1955 causing it to be a bit out of date. Despite that, it gave a good background on the beginnings of the company. 3M started out as a sandpaper manufacturer. The initial investors thought they could make great sandpaper from some corrundum in Two Harbors, MN. Being quite intelligent, these founders never thought of testing to see if the rocks would work for making sandpaper. Instead, they built a very expensive plant and got greatly in debt. When they finally started producing sandpaper, they realized all their rock was useless. For the first decade or two of its existence, 3M was one of the worst managed companies of all kind. It didn't go into bankruptcy because the initial investors were too embarassed to admit their stupidity. They would lie to other investors and sell just about the worst quality products to its customers. 3M finally made it when they learned to make sandpaper waterproof. Since that day, they've done a pretty good job at being innovative. Because I'm addicted to MN history, I obviously liked this book. It does get a little dry at times when the author talks about different sandpapers or rocks used to make shingles, but if you are a geologist, give it a shot.

Completed June 2007

Soy un Escritor Frustrado by Jose Angel Manas

I recently purchased a ticket to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I will be going for two weeks at the end of the summer and am obviously very excited. To get prepared for the trip, I figured I better brush up on my Spanish skills. I haven't had a need to speak Spanish in over two years and am now realizing the importance of staying fresh with a language. My first major effort to reinvigorate my Spanish language skills was reading this book. Hands down, this was the most fucked up book I've ever read. I found myself checking a Spanish dictionary just to verify that what I thought I was reading was true. Here is the synopsis: A struggling author who works as a English professor has extreme writer's block; it is destroying his life. Then one day one of his students asks him to proofread a novel she just wrote. He loves the novel and decides to publish it under his own name. To prevent her from exposing his fraud, he kidnaps her and burns down her house. The book does end happily though because even though she is dead and mutilated from all the sex he had with her dead body, his writer block lifts and he can write again. Those Spanish authors, they write good ones.

Completed: May 2007