It’s one of those books that you get recommendations on from many sources, but for one very important reason you never start it: it’s over 900 pages long. However, once you begin, you somehow finish it in a week.
Australian bad boy’s overseas adventure
Melbourne’s own Gregory David Roberts is a criminal, but a writer first. This is what allows the first paragraph to draw you in, and the first page to engage you with his story. And what an amazing story it is.
It falls into the genre of “fictional biography”. I guess this means that you can’t take everything he writes seriously, but this does detract from the power of the biography. I found myself wondering whether particular elements could possibly be true – a question you would not ask if it was either “fiction” or “biography”.
Certainly, Roberts seems to have more adventure in the few years he was in India that any one person deserves to have, and probably more than several people put together could even manage. And when you consider how many languages he learns, how many deep philosophers he encounters, and how he is somehow still alive, it stretches incredible towards incredulity.
I choose to believe that he really did do it all, or at least close enough to it. Others may not. But, it makes it easier to seriously consider the ethical positions he raises, analyses and resolves. I like that sort of thing.
Another thing I liked was how it gave me a bit of an insight into the life of someone like Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks. There are a couple of things that are common to them both, and Hicks is such a thinly represented character in Australian media that it can be hard to understand the motivations of such a person. This book provides a glimpse into the background required.
I think someone once said that the best literature is something like a shaggy dog story. I’m not sure this is the best literature, but it’s one of the best shaggy dog stories I’ve read.
My rating: 4.0 stars
It turns out that Roberts has now gone back to India. According to his book’s website, he’s now doing charitable work in Mombay.
I first heard about Steven D. Levitt on Triple J, when he was in the country promoting his book. Somehow I managed to miss reading it, despite most of my numerate friends raving about it. Finally I borrowed it (although the owner doesn’t know I’ve got it) and now I can rave about it myself.
A book to warm the hearts of statistics lovers everywhere
Steven D. Levitt has co-written this non-fiction book with Stephen J. Dubner, which is probably a good thing, as Levitt is an academic and Dubner is a journalist. However, this book revolves around Levitt and is rather admiring of him, with Dubner in the background. The hero-worship is slightly disturbing until you realise that Dubner’s previous book was called Confessions of a Hero Worshipper.
But once you get over that, there are plenty of interesting facts to enjoy. Some of the best non-fiction books are just interesting facts strung together, and this is that type of book. You really do come away with a feeling of knowing more about the world, and this book should be very useful to anyone who’s a parent, a politician, or a crack cocaine dealer.
It’s also funny. With the new-found knowledge Levitt provides, it’s easy to laugh at the illuminating history of the KKK and at the kids who have really, really stupid names. (Luckily, I’ve got a boring name).
One thing I was expecting was more economics. It doesn’t really go into the process of the research behind the facts, and instead jumps straight to the conclusions. So, it’s really more about statistics than economics. True, Spackistics doesn’t have quite the same ring.
My rating: 4.0 stars
I’ve been digging into the history of the dot-com boom recently and a colleague recommended this book to me. It sounded really interesting, so it wasn’t long before I’d got myself a copy …
An informative read, but sometimes too awestruck by Google
John Battelle has subtitled this book “How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture”, and if you accept that premise then you’ll probably enjoy reading it. Or maybe that’s a little harsh.
Battelle does a great job of digging into the history of the search engine battles in the mid-1990s, and how advertising took off online and then within search results. I already knew much of the historical material, but it may be an eye-opener for those who weren’t around or paying attention at the time.
He also provides a detailed account of the origins and evolution of Google, warts and all. Since it is quite the media darling at the moment, this was fascinating, particularly the comparisons with Yahoo!’s internal culture.
Towards the end, I was getting a bit irritated by the continual praising of Google’s innovations and claims that everything comes down to searching. However, if you take that with a pinch of salt, then it’s still a well-researched, well-written historical analysis of the web search industry.
My rating: 3.5 stars
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