Monday, April 30, 2012

Quick book reviews

In my blog last week I talked a lot about my view of books and reading.  This week, I wanted to spend some time on some books themselves.  Here are some short reviews of books I finished over the last month or two.  As I mentioned last week, I try to put my single-paragraph book reviews on Library Thing as a way of helping me remember what I've read.  Worth noting, I read all of these as Kindle ebooks.  

These reviews use a scale of 5 stars.  I am a tough grader--the only book that I’ve given 5 stars to in the years I’ve been grading books is Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan.  Obviously, that one is worth reading!  

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (3.5 stars)

This was one of the books I purchased based on his talk at TED this year (which is not yet available on  You may have heard about one of Ronson’s previous books, The Men Who Stare at Goats.  He seems to like examining people outside of the ordinary.  The Psychopath Test is an enjoyable read that definitely makes you question psychology.  I would recommend this book if you are interested in the meaning of psychosis or wonder about what it really means to be psychotic.

Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, & Life Together by Mark & Grace Driscoll (3.5 stars)

The Driscolls' book does not include much that I have not read before, but it does have lots of good stuff to say and does so in a brisk, easy-to-read manner.  The main thing that differentiates this book from other Christian marriage books is that the authors do a good job of openly discussing topics that other books shy away from.  Part of that is Grace Driscoll's life story including sexual abuse.  For many women (and men) this is an important dynamic that Christian marriage books are less willing to confront.  I recommend this book to anyone looking to improve their marriage or tackle issues in their marriage. 

No Going Back by Mark L. Van Name (4.0 stars assuming you read the previous Jon and Lobo books)

This is the latest entry in the John and Lobo series.  If you are a fan, you definitely need to read this one as there are plenty of revelations about the characters in the continuing saga.  It is a book that made me fall prey to just-one-more-chapter syndrome.  To me, it was a more fun read than the last couple of the books in the series.  Please note, I claim no objectivity whatsoever in this review as the author has been my business partner and friend for over 25 years.

In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy (3.0 stars)

Steven Levy is one of the leading chroniclers of the times and culture of the computer/Internet era.  He had unprecedented access to Google and its employees during his research for this book.  His portrayal is generally favorable, but far from fawning.  I liked the book since it gave me new pieces of data about the industry I in which I live and work.  As such, the book was fun for me, but probably will not be of great interest to folks outside the computer industry. 

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (4.0 stars)

James Garfield is a president about whom I knew next to nothing.  After reading this book, I wanted to know more, much more.  He was a president who was strong in his Christian faith and very much a man of the people.  The book weaves together the strands of Garfield and his times, his crazy assassin, and the state of the technology of medicine.  Suffice to say, you did not want to get shot in that day and age.  All-in-all, this was a fascinating piece of historical writing that I would recommend to anyone who likes history.

I also wanted to mention one lingering thought from my last blog.   I think the issue of how to show off books is one that the ebooks publishers need to tackle.  Book lovers like to show off their bookcases or browse through them.  There is a real need for a better Kindle app.  There currently is no good way to categorize books in the app.  I have over 100 books and looking through them is annoying.  If I open a book for any reason, it goes to the front of my reading list.  Being able to put the books in shelves with names like, “Finished reading” or “Economics,” would be very useful.  I would also love a sort of slideshow app that would allow me to have a screen on the wall that would show book covers and brief descriptions.  I could put an iPad (or a bigger screen version of one) on the wall and show off/browse my ebookshelves that way.  I could also even allow others to browse my ebooks remotely.  I have a few friends whose ebookshelves I would love to browse.

Here is some free advice for Amazon—buy Library Thing and incorporate its functionality (and my suggestions above) into the Kindle apps.  If they did this (and put a purchase button on it), I’m convinced it would sell more books. 

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