Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet

Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant who has an emotional response to numbers. Daniel has mathematical and language abilities similar to those as Rainman. Unlike most other savants, Daniel has the rare ability to discuss his abilities and how he performs them. This book, written by Daniel, tells his life story (it is pretty short because Daniel is only in his 20s).

I originally heard about this book from Ryan Peterson and got further interested after seeing a BBC documentary on him. (Watch the documentary here). The documentary blew my mind. This young man can do math without having to think! After watching the documentary, I instantly went out and bought his book. After reading his book, I'm going to do something rather unusual: I recommend seeing the movie over the book.

The book focuses more on his personal life and his struggles while the documentary is more focused on his rare abilities. Though a good story which really raised my awareness to autism. However, I was looking more for some jaw dropping stories on amazing feats of the mind. Still a good book but not what I was looking for.

Completed: End of August

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Dawkins is a renowned evolutionary biologist who is also widely known as a militant atheist. As a militant atheist, Dawkins not only does not believe in the supernatural, but he also believes that religion is bad and that we should militantly oppose religion. To prove his point, Dawkins takes a very logical and scientific approach and deeply references his biological knowledge. I am familiar with many arguments for and against the existence of a god, but Dawkins examples related to evolutionary biology were fresh (to me) and thought provoking. He also discussed topics which I 100% agree with but was able to link them to evolution and biology (we do not get our morals from the bible, children are not religious...). I have always loved science, but have never had much interest in Biology. Despite this, by the end of his book not only did I have an intense desire to read some of Dawkins' evolutionary biology books (such as the Selfish Gene), but I had also formulated a list of moral questions which will require some serious thought.

Completed mid-August

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Augusten Burroughs had a pretty typical childhood. He hated school, he loved McDonalds, he dreamed of being a hairdresser, he lived with his mom's shrink, and he fucked men 3 times his age. If that is all it takes to write a best-selling memoir, sign me up. I had a really tough childhood: my mother outlawed sex and running by the grandfather clock. Fortunately I'm out of the house and now spend all day running by clocks.

This is a very quick read and quite entertaining. If you don't have the four hours to read the book, I hear it is now out on DVD and Blueray.

Completed: August

King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild

We've all heard of many of the large genocides that have occurred in human history, but I must admit that I was ignorant of the mass killings that occurred in Belgian Congo in the late 19th and early 20th century. As many as 6 million Africans fell dead due to the actions of Belgium's King Leopold. This book tells the real life story of Heart of Darkness (earlier in the year I read Heart of Darkness but I need to reread it after this).

It seems like all European countries were enamored with imperialism 100 years ago, but I never knew that small little Belgium could cause so much harm. Before reading this book, the name Belgium conjured up images of waffles; now, unfortunately, I'll just think of lies and slavery. Apparently, King Leopold was rather pissed off that he was the king of such a small country. To compensate for his size, he decided to take over a huge chunk of Africa, many times larger than his home country. He then used the local population to exploit the land for all it had, including the lives of the people. This slavery and murder went on for a number of years, but the rest of the world didn't swat an eye because the King did a brilliant job as marketing his exploitation as a humanitarian mission where Belgium wasn't even benefiting. Belgium did benefit, but most of the money went directly to Leopold where he squandered it on teenage hookers. Towards the end of his life he started getting some harsh criticism, but largely because of his little girl fetish, not the killing spree going on in his name.

I'd recommend this book to anyone, especially those fascinated by the horrors of imperialism and the heroism of the few individuals who were willing to take on a King.

Completed: Sometime in August

Trading Up by Silverstein and Fiske

This was another free book from the Target corporate library. It has been sitting on my shelf for the past year, and I only read it because I wanted to be able to say I've read all the books in my library. Despite my hesitancy to read it, I found it a quick, enjoyable read; however, I don't know if I'd choose to read it unless I had some motivation such as reading everything in my library.

The book was published in 2003 by some guys from the Boston Consulting Group. It talks about how people will pay a premium for certain higher priced products. The book comes to its point through a number of case studies. It gives the history of such companies as Panera, Chipotle, Samuel Adams, BMW, Callaway, and Victoria's Secrets and discusses how these companies were able to be successful selling in mass higher priced items. If anything, it was fascinating to read about the histories of these companies. I especially am excited to have more knowledge on Victoria's Secret. I never thought the business of women's underwear could be so fascinating. I even now have a desire to go to one of their stores to get a better understanding, but I don't want to be labeled as a pervert.

Completed: Sometime in July
(If you haven't noticed, instead of publishing an entry the day I finish the book, I'm now waiting many weeks and not only am having trouble remembering the high points of some of these books but I'm not sure if I'm even remembering all the books I have read)