Thursday, October 3, 2013

Quick book reviews (#6)

Here is another set of brief reviews of books I recently read. These reviews use a scale of one to five stars based on Library Thing (where I post these reviews as well). I am a tough grader and seldom give out the full five stars, so keep that in mind when looking at my ratings. 

A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—And Ourselves by Jane Gross (4.5 stars)

I wish I had read this book sooner. Jane Gross details her and her brother’s experiences with her aging mother. Their story is both sweet and bitter. Gross describes the tender moments and does not avoid the unpleasant ones. Somehow, she manages to do that while letting through the humor that her family shared during those years. Gross also manages to put in lots of details about things as varied as the intricacies of spending down money to become eligible for Medicaid, the legal issues of parents in another state, and the flaws in how our medical system treats disease. Gross is Jewish and notes that the Bible does not describe the long slow path to death that most elderly now experience. Much of what she writes was familiar to me such as the chapter on therapeutic fibs—the little lies we end up telling our parents to get through awkward situations. That might mean telling your parent that a drug helps enhance appetite rather than that it is an antidepressant because the parent is of an age that does not acknowledge the existence of depression. After all, they lived through the real Depression. I have lived, and am living, through much of what she describes with my father and now my mother. I really wish I had known in advance about more of what she relates in her book. I recommend this book to anyone who has aging parents, especially ones still in good health. That will change at some point and the farther in advance you can prepare for that change, the better.

And the Mountains Echoed: A Novel by Khaled Hosseini (3.5 stars)

The latest novel by Khaled Hosseini once again looks at the harsh life in Afghanistan. I don’t think this book matches the standard set by his excellent two previous works, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini tells the story of an intertwined group of people all linked by a single event. At the risk of giving away too much, that event is of a father giving away his daughter in order for the rest of his family to survive. The story is well told, the images are gripping, and I quite enjoyed the book, at least partially because I’m fascinated by Afghanistan. This novel was one of the few books of fiction that I allowed myself to read this year and as such I was a little disappointed. It is possible that my expectations for it were too high. I would recommend this book to folks that liked Hosseini’s previous novels. But if you have not read them yet, I think one of those two would be a better choice. 

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (3.5 stars) 

Wikipedia describes Wes Moore as an American author, businessman, and US Army veteran. He was a Rhodes Scholar and by most definitions is very successful. He grew up in Baltimore, just a few blocks away from another Wes Moore of similar age who currently is in prison serving a life sentence for murder. Moore spent a lot of time interviewing the “other” Wes Moore in prison as well as other members of both their families. His book looks at the similarities and differences between their lives based on that research. He examines what made one Wes Moore a success and the other a convicted murderer. The book is a fascinating and uncomfortable exploration. While I’m not sure of the conclusions (nor do I think that he is), the book is worth reading for anyone interested in the lives of children and young adults in the inner city. 

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson (3.5 stars)

In this book, Chris Anderson (the former editor of Wired, not the head of TED) gives an interesting account of the maker movement. Makers are people who are using the latest technology, such as 3D printers like the MakerBot Replicator 2, to create physical objects, both for themselves and to sell to others. Makers are both taking hobbies to a new level and creating businesses based on mass customization. He shows how the combination of the Web, software tools, and relatively low-priced devices like 3D printers and CNC machines are changing the shape of manufacturing. Anderson uses experiences such as his grandfather’s invention of improvements to lawn sprinkler equipment and his own personal DIY drones experience to explain the changes. He does most of this by looking at examples. Though little of the information in Anderson’s book was new to me, he does a good job of pulling it together. I came away from the book itching to try my hand at some sort of manufacturing business. I recommend this book to both those interested in participating as a maker or to those wanting to know about some important trends in the 21st Century. 

I have more books to finish reading and a few more to finish writing quick reviews on. Stay tuned!

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