Monthly Archives: November 2023

The Iliad by Homer (Jeff Harding reader)

The IliadThe Iliad by Homer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My rating applies only to the audiobook read by Jeff Harding. The idea of the massive classic was daunting, but I read that this new translation is very good and I thought I could enjoy it as oral poetry. The reader, Harding, has good pacing, slowed down for the modern reader who is unfamiliar with the classic language and subject matter. I was able to follow the convolutions for the first twenty minutes, but I did not like Harding’s voice. It had a smarmy quality that reminded me a great deal Johnny Carson’s voice as Art Fern. I knew I couldn’t take twenty hours of it, so I gave up. Maybe I’ll venture to start on the print version.

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How the World Really Works by Vaclav Smil

How the World Really Works: A Scientist's Guide to Our Past, Present and FutureHow the World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide to Our Past, Present and Future by Vaclav Smil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Smil sets forth a dizzying array of statistics backed up with extensive citations of sources. These range over many technical and scientific topics. He asserts that they show that human civilization as we know it depends on four “pillars”: steel, ammonia, cement, and plastics. He spends a great deal of time debunking the notion of decarbonization, i.e. the total cessation of using fossil fuels. That seems to me to be something of a straw man since I’ve never heard the term before this book, much less heard of anyone who advocated it. The reader could get the impression Smil opposes the green movement in general, although later in the book, that seems inaccurate. The book is almost written as a reference book rather than an opinion piece or textbook, although it has elements of all three.

Smil is no doubt an extremely well-read and competent scientist and writer, but the book isn’t going to fall into the pleasure reading category for many people. I read it because it was a book club choice. There were many interesting, even fascinating, tidbits of knowledge imparted among the drudgery of plowing through more statistics. I especially liked the chapter on assessing risk. Smil points out the degree to which people discount relatively risky, i.e. likely, dangers (like speeding in cars) while fearing things that are much less likely, e.g. terrorist attack. I knew this already, but it was interesting to see it quantified and exemplified. He concludes by saying, convincingly, that those crying apocalypse and those gushing over a new world order of health and plenty are wrong. He pretty much says everybody is wrong and things are just going to go on as they always have until something we can’t predict changes it. In the end the combination of tedium and the absence of any real useful guidance makes the book a disappointing read.

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This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

This Tender LandThis Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At the risk of sounding like a literature professor, this book is completely derivative. It’s set in the 1930s during the American Great Depression but other than that it is a copycat of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn except that instead of the warmth, wit, and almost plausibility of that classic work, this one substitutes child cruelty beyond imagination. In this way it also copies Dickens. I didn’t realize until I heard the author’s postscript that he actually intended to copy both. Why? Dickens was horrific. I finished this only out of duty to my book club, but by coincidence we had just finished reading Huckleberry Finn. The timing was unfortunate.

Another thing I didn’t like was the author’s need to insert 21st Century social issues into a 1930s story (e.g. LGBTQ). The anachronism was jarring and eye-rolling; it appeared the author was just trying to check all the liberal boxes. He must have been afraid to be as authentic as Twain. It resembled a fairy tale in that the children are pure and kind and generous, as are nearly all the poor people, while all the authorities and rich people are greedy and cruel. Real life doesn’t work that way. As if that wasn’t enough to spoil the read, towards the end one character appears to have supernatural powers. Gag me with a spoon. Still, it was readable to the end, so I’ll give it a second star.

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What3Words in the News – Netanyahu, Hunter Biden, Dr. Pepper

All right, I’ve discovered a few more W3W addresses that are remarkably appropriate.

blasted.rocket.shots land on the Beit Aghion, Benjamin Netanyahu’s current residence.

doctor.pepper.soda turns out to be in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The inspiration for the name of the actual drink is supposed to have been a Dr. Charles T. Pepper of Virginia, although he lived farther west.

never.prosecuted.hunter leads to Washington Court House, Ohio. That’s not a court house; it’s the name of a real town. The real Hunter Biden is being prosecuted in an actual court house in Washington, D.C.

Our Ignorant Newsmakers – under a Petri dish

I often post malapropisms that I hear news reporters or announcers make, but today it comes from a woman interviewed on the radio. She was talking about the tensions between Arabs and Jews over the Hamas-Israeli conflict. I don’t know her ethnicity or which side she was “on” but was apparently identifiable as being aligned with one or the other. She said she felt uncomfortable, like everyone was looking at her. She said she felt she was constantly “under a Petri dish.”

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

The Inner Circle (Culper Ring, #1)The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This schlocky potboiler is exactly what I expected it to be: full of conspiracy theories up to the highest levels of government, an unlikely hero, murder, contrived sexual tension, and writing dumbed down to the 8th grade level. I listened to the audiobook, which I hadn’t realized was read by Scott Brick, so you can add gross overacting. Brick can make the ingredients listed on a toothpaste tube sound like we’re all on the brink of an apocalypse. If this doesn’t sound like much praise, it isn’t, but I just wanted something droning in the background while I worked on my computer. I knew what Meltzer’s writing was like. Of course he also left the plot hanging which was telegraphed by the subtitle. This is the first in a series so he couldn’t resolve anything. I can’t recommend it, but I’m giving it three stars because it’s honest; it’s exactly as advertised. Think of it as a Hallmark movie equivalent in the mystery novel genre.

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