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The Book review thread


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I think there may be an older version of this thread somewhere, but if so it's buried.


Post short reviews of books you've read recently, along with any particular points of interest that may be pertinent to the other denizens of this forum.

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Kicking off; I've been on a dead tree media binge the last few months, as I've given up on kindle.


My current bedside table book list is:

  • The great leveller (Walter Scheidel)
  • Utopia of Rules (David Graeber)
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (Peter Godfrey-Smith)
  • Ring of steel (Alexander Watson)
  • 1177 BC: the year civilization collapsed  (Eric H Cline)
  • Oathbringer (Brandon Sanderson)
  • War and peace and war - Peter Turchin
  • Egg & Spoon (Gregory Maguire)
  • Grace of Kings (Ken Liu)

So far I've read up to Oathbringer (which is good, but has the typical issue of needing to have read all the books before it to get all the value out).


Edit: I'll post little reviews of the above more or less at random going forwards.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Right, first up:


Ring of Steel (Alexander Watson)


This book barely needs a review. It's great; the writing is solid, the level of historical research is good, the subject is interesting and under-served and it's won a bazillion awards.

The only thing I can really add is that seeing and comparng the German and Austro-hungarian experiences of the first world war graphically illustrates the difference on every level between a rising and falling power. Even when the Austro-hungarians are doing exactly what the Germans are doing, they seem to end up mired in factional squabbling and waste.


I give it one nail-coated statue of Hindenburg out of ten and demand that you get it, read it, add it to your 'understanding WW1 as the cause of the 20th century' collection.

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Grace of Kings (Ken Liu)


This is an interesting one. I quite liked it despite the fact that the prose is rather flat, that significant plot points revolve around technical things (man-powered ornithopters, manually rowed battle blimps etc.) that are usually guaranteed to set of my gigantic pedant sense, that it involves lots of up-front made-up cosmology and gods (which unfailingly bores me) and that the author indulges in ass-pulls on the regular to resolve plot issues. I guess this just goes to show that well-written, memorable characters and decent, personal conflict-driven plot really can salve any wound.


 I give it one intricately-carved jade statue of a fantasy whale out of ten, and you should buy it and read it before the author is up to book 3 and you're having to jump in late. 

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1177 BC: the year civilization collapsed (Eric H Cline)


This one was a bit of a disappointment. I bought it after watching a very good lecure on YouTube by the author on the same subject, and was hoping for the book to be an expanded, more detailed version of the same. And it is. But it's also rather badly written, has a terrible habit of stating the same point at least three times per chapter, and continuously gets in its own way by trying to link everything to a trite analogy to the turmoil in the middle east circa 2015.


I give it a sunken ship full of treasures from across the mediterranean out of ten, and recommend that you look for the YouTube video instead. I also recommend that you get someone to laser-cut the Medinet Habu relief depicting the battle against the sea peoples onto a massive basalt slab and put it up in the massive sitting room of your Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired modernist mansion, but that's beside the point.

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The great leveller (Walter Scheidel)


This book represents something of a catch-22, in that I think it needed the impetus of the last decade's worth of economic misery to become immediately important to the reader, but also that if it had come out in 2007 instead of 2017 it would be much more well known than it is at present. Which is funny, because the book is about the catch-22 of inescapably-increasing inequality only being solved by massive structural violence. As it stands, this is the book that should have become the "Guns, Germs and Steel" of our time but will instead be remembered more like "Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches".


I give it a 30 years war our of ten, and think everyone should read it just so that they can feel as hopeless and sad about the state of the world as me.

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Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (Peter Godfrey-Smith)


This book is part into-to-evolutionary-theory-and-cladistics, part discussion of octopus evolution and biology, part intro to philosophy and part memoirs of a dude's diving trips. Aside from the first part (which I found trite due to my background), all of the parts were competently executed and well-written. But then I really like cephalopods, so I'm an easy lay for this sort of thing.


I give the book a diffuse central nervous system where the limbs have more neurons than the brain out of ten, and ask that everyone just love octopus, cuttlefish and squid for keeping it together in their short, frantic lives. 

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Utopia of Rules (David Graeber)


This is one of those books that I think will be loved for the wrong reasons, and hated by people who could find surprising value in it. The author is a caricature of a very specific type of lefty academic but writes fantastically, and the book is slim enough so that it doesn't wear its welcome out too much even if you can't stand the use of the interpretive turn and other critical theory concepts.


I give it a well-written analysis turning on the idea that frankenstein represents the idea of absolution of responsibility and so innoculates the male reader into accepting their role as patriarch out of ten, and suggest giving it as a gift to someone to create an unspoken debt obligation which will eventually result in them sharing half of their meagre rations with you during the aching-winter of 2051.

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Oathbringer (Brandon Sanderson)


This is another one for which there really isn't much to say. If you've read all the books so far you're going to read this one. If you haven't, then trying to pick this up will be baffling as you work through the effects of two doorstoppers-worth of backstory, character development, worldbuilding etc. It's the familiar problem of long-running fantasy series, for which not much can be done. In any case, I read it so obviously I'm on board with this series and am hungrily waiting for the next book to come out so that I can tear through it and see if my favourite character developed any more wonky superpowers and/or stopped moping for five fucking seconds.


I give it a cremling crawling into a crack (its tiny gemheart fluttering) to hide from the everstorm, as a nearby radiant uses the powers of stormlight to surgebind out of ten, and have no advice for you in regards to your purchasing choices.

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