A Natural History of Human Morality (2016) by Michael Tomasello

Categories: 2016, Books, and Non-Fiction.

For the vast majority of recorded human history, we humans have believed that morality comes from somewhere outside of us; from “above,” from the ether, from some kind of benevolent creator, etc. Even as we have learned more and more about how humans evolved from apes who evolved from “lower” animals who evolved from “lower” lifeforms who evolved from, essentially, “ooze” we have still maintained that human morality comes from outside of human beings. The idea is that morality has been bestowed on us by something, or existed before we did, and we access it. When I was growing up Read More

The Westing Game (1978) by Ellen Raskin

Categories: 1978, Books, and Fiction.

This is the kind of novel all kids should read. I am far too old for this type of book now but, as a child or tween, this would have been great. It feels like a legitimate game (it’s basically a far more complicated version of Clue with character development) and its humour is rooted in character and well-known stereotypes (in the sense of debunking them). It’s a crime this book wasn’t turned into a kid’s adventure film in the 80s, ala Goonies. Read More

Jung: A Very Short Introduction (1994) by Anthony Stevens

Categories: 1994, Books, and Non-Fiction.

When I was a teenager, some adult told me about Jung’s collective unconscious. I didn’t read a thing about it, but took whatever they told me and created my own elaborate theory about our thoughts influencing others (which has nothing to do with Jung). Ultimately, that theory was a responsible for a lot of mental stress on my part. Years later, it feels like a lot of wasted energy. Read More

The Ambassadors (1903) by Henry James

Categories: 1903, Books, and Fiction.

I hate giving up on a book – I just hate it. I have a really strong completist streak in me that has helped me endure through things I’ve really disliked. Since I graduated university I can count the number of books I’ve given up on, on one hand. Usually, it’s non-fiction (such as The Creature from Jekyll Island) when I recognize huge flaws in an argument that will not be corrected by the end. But with fiction I always hold out hope that the ending will redeem the book (same thing with films). I don’t know if it’s because Read More

In the Dark (2016)

Categories: 2016, Non-Fiction, and Podcasts.

I forgot to review this when I finished listening to it (and I presume I have forgotten to review a bunch of other podcasts I finished). This is a frustrating, devastating and infuriating portrait of a child kidnapping in the 80s, the near-absolute power of country Sheriffs in the US (and their general incompetence) and how badly things can go when something seizes national attention in a democracy. Read More

A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) by Khaled Hosseini

Categories: 2007, Books, and Fiction.

This is, for the most part, a compelling, affecting and, at times, devastating novel of what it was like to live as a woman in Afghanistan for the last quarter century or so of the 20th century. It is particularly effective of giving insight into men who hate women – into a whole society that hates women. Fortunate as I am to have been born in Toronto, and raised by a strong, intelligent career woman, it continues to boggle my mind that there are so many men in the world who blame and punish women for their own faults, failings Read More

Fast Food Nation (2022) by Eric Schlosser

Categories: 2002, Books, and Non-Fiction.

Much of what Schlosser covers in this boo I was already familiar with, thanks to things like Food, Inc. But I’ve never read a book about the industrialization of food before and, as books are wont to do, Schlosser covers this in much more detail than any documentary you’re going to watch. For the most part, this is an engaging and even darkly amusing read, full of tragic but humourous depictions the kind of hypocrisy we’ve come to expect from American champions of “the free market” who take advantage of government subsidies and regulations, but who think nobody else should Read More

The Dilettantes (2013) by Michael Hingston

Categories: 2013, Books, and Fiction.

Full Disclosure: This novel was written by a friend of my brother. When I was younger, I reviewed everything without regard to who created it and so wrote some reviews of music made by friends that I didn’t love (though I couldn’t tell them this to their faces because I’m a coward). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that personal relationships are more important to me than the supposed “integrity” of a review I’ve written and that, if I don’t have anything nice to say about something a friend or colleague has created, I shouldn’t say it unless I’m asked Read More

The 15-Minute Mathematician (2015) by Anne Rooney

Categories: 2015, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I took math through university, being so silly as to think I could minor in it (I couldn’t…not quite). But since I graduated I have forgotten so much of the more advanced math that I did understand, and everything I partially understood has utterly vanished – over a decade later, it’s as if I didn’t take 10 university level math courses. I recognize that I shouldn’t be the audience of this book, but I am, given that I have forgotten most of what I learned. Thought his book is written for a UK audience, it’s easily decipherable to a North Read More

Demian (1919) by Hermann Hesse

Categories: 1919, Books, and Fiction.

This is the kind of book I’d have eaten up when I was in my early 20s, I think. It’s one of those novels of ideas, and the ideas are vague enough that one can project one’s own feelings on them. That’s one reason it would have appealed to me. Also, I was a young man struggling with what I thought/knew and what I wanted to be, like most young men. So I think I could see reading this 10+ years ago and thinking it was pretty decent. I liked Steppenwolf back then too. (And I wonder how I’d feel now.) Read More

The Storyteller (2000) by Anna Porter

Categories: 2000, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a memoir by a Hungarian-Canadian about her Grandfather and her early life in Hungary. Her Grandfather was full of stories about their family and Hungary. Though these stories are probably quite compelling for some people, particularly Hungarians but also anyone who enjoys a good yarn, I had trouble caring. I am somebody who is much more interested in truthful history than in imagined history. I understand why people would prefer the latter, but I do not. And so I struggled with the first 100 or so pages of this book. Read More

Turning Pro (2012) by Steven Pressfield

Categories: 2012, Books, Non-Fiction, and Personal.

At this point, Pressfield has made a second writing career out of inspiring others to write. This is the third book of his I’ve read, and they get less effective each time I read a new one. Why? Because basically they are all the same book. Pressfield is passionate about writing something that compels us to write, but he gives the same advice in each book, with only slight permutations (even quoting from The War of Art here). Your much better off buying War of Art (or something you find more effective) and just re-reading that one book. I don’t Read More

The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) by Steven Pinker

Categories: 2011, Books, and Non-Fiction.

If you watch the news today, you will be told the world is awful. Even if, like me, you do not have cable, you can still get enough news of the awfulness of the world from your antenna or the internet. The news is an endless barrage of controversy and tragedy; controversy over the supposedly awful things that people do to each other, and the tragedy of yet another series of deaths, caused by human beings or natural disasters. Even if you’re a bit of an optimist, as I am, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that the world is Read More

Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Mellville

Categories: 1851, Books, and Fiction.

I discovered there was a free audio version of Moby Dick online, as a podcast, so I started listening to it. However, 3/4s through it, the site went down. So I resumed with an audio book from the library. I think listening to it was a mistake. I distracted myself too many times and missed a lot of stuff over the course of the months I listened to it. I think I will have to read the novel. The good news is that now I am committed to reading it at some point. What I did get from it is Read More

The Good Soldier (1915) by Ford Madox Ford

Categories: 1915, Books, and Fiction.

Sometimes I can handle stories of the idle rich, sometimes I cannot. This is one of the latter, where I really struggled to care about any of the characters, their rich, bored lives and their endless emotional struggles. I can understand why this novel is so well regarded: it exposed the fraud of “keeping up appearances,” it is told in, what was, for the time, an extremely unconventional way, with what I assume is one of the earlier uses of an unreliable narrator. These things should be celebrated. But I have a really hard time relating to these rich, religious, Read More

Informing the News (2013) by Thomas E. Patterson

Categories: 2013, Books, Journalism, Non-Fiction, and Society.

This book was written to make the case for “knowledge-based” journalism. It was sponsored by an initiative that is trying to establish that kind of journalism. The author believes strongly in the cause ans has been a crucial part of the initiative that sponsored his work here. But despite the fact that this is very much a work of advocacy, it is a compelling and informative read, touching on the history of American journalism (print, radio, TV and internet) as it explores the issues that have arisen with the rise of “Infotainment” and “Citizen journalism.” Though I question the methodologies Read More

Less than Zero (1985) by Bret Easton Ellis

Categories: 1985, Books, and Fiction.

On some level, this feels like an ’80s LA Catcher in the Rye, albeit with richer and older kids, and drugs and prostitution. I feel like this may have been Ellis’ intent, I also think that the acclaim that greeted it upon its release likely was due, in part to that comparison, however misguided. Holden is a compelling character because so many of us can relate to him, if not his situation (I never went to boarding school). Clay is not as relatable – few of us are this rich and few of us are this world weary at 18. Read More

The Peep Diaries (2009) by Hal Niedzviecki

Categories: 2009, Books, Journalism, Non-Fiction, Psychology, and Society.

This is a relatively interesting and amusing book about how modern technology and modern culture have created a brave new world that we don’t really understand how to navigate (and which could have all sorts of unintended consequences for us. However, the book suffers from a number of problems which make it not among the best books to examine this particular moment in human history (and there are a lot of these books). First, Niedzviecki tries to give all the different things he covers one name: Peep. Obviously that didn’t stick. And the problem is that he comes off as Read More

Baudolino (2000) by Umberto Eco

Categories: 2000, Books, and Fiction.

This is a fairly uproarious comic novel about the fine line between truth and fiction, that also functions as a critique of medieval logic and reasoning and as a celebration/satire of the power of myth (and faith, and belief). But I felt a nagging sense of deja vu the entire time I was reading it. Because, though the story is drastically different than Foulcault’s Pendulum in terms of setting, characters and their goals, and the target of the critique – in this case the kind of backwards reasoning and reliance on belief over fact that gave us the ontological “argument” Read More

Thomas Paine (2006) by Craig Nelson

Categories: 2006, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I have only ever read The Rights of Man many years ago. I loved Paine’s wit (there are many classic one-liners, including my favourite anti-monarchist barb of all time: “a hereditary monarch makes as much sense as a hereditary poet laureate”) but found his philosophy superficial, probably because I had just left grad school. This biography makes a compelling case for Paine being one of the greats of the enlightenment – man able to combine philosophical ideas with prose that was intelligible to the masses and who wrote about any number of topics (and even designed bridges!). In this version, Read More