Posts Tagged ‘Book Review’

Book Briefs: On the Middle East, and urban cultural scenes

Sun Feb 15, 2009 at 08:00:05 AM PST

I’m trying to play catch-up with a wide variety of books landing on my doorstep these days, so let me do a couple of quick overviews of two unrelated but intriguing books published in the last couple of months. Excellent reads, both of them:

What Every American Should Know About the Middle East
By Melissa Rossi
Plume, New York: December 2008
Paperback, 512 pages, $16.00

Author Rossi, who’s made something of a cottage industry of explaining the world–and even, yes, America–to provincial Americans (see What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World, What Every American Should Know About Who’s Really Running the World, What Every American Should Know About Who’s Really Running America), takes on the daunting task of explaining the Middle East and its complexity in her most recent outing.

Think of it as a book version of a zip file — compressed history, geography and political backgrounder on each country in the region. As an introductory overview of the area, it’s informative, engaging and snappy, with bright writing and witty observations. Each country makes up its own chapter, and while she’s clearly a liberal at heart (unconditionally condemning the Iraq invasion, for example), she maintains a solid tone of objective political fact-reporting on the more tricky points (think I/P) of the current situation. Luckily, this is a very small part of the book, for she’s chosen (smartly) to lead the reader through ancient history, to the modern era, incorporating quick sketches of art, culture, tradition and artifacts along the way, before winding up explaining as the current economic climate and financial resources of each of the countries and how this feeds into the complicated political alliances and enmities of the individual countries.

She wisely breaks things down into small bite-sized visual reads, providing little sidebars she calls “History in a Box,” or “Hot Spots” or “Fast Facts” that get some of the more weedy or mundane topics out of the way so she can move a narrative forward chronologically about each country. And thankfully, she refers back and forth to previous material throughout the book, reminding the reader that we learned a bit about the Coptics a hundred pages ago; this sort of helpful nudging is rare and welcome in an author. Too often writers assume you’re reading a work in one long read with an idealized attention span and with perfect recall for what went before.

A small taste of the larger whole:

Take a stunning land of Roman ruins, biblical artifacts, and geological wonders. Deprive it of water and oil. Stick it in the middle of the world’s two hottest flash points, fill it with unhappy refugees from every Middle Eastern war in the past sixty years, pump unemployment to the 30 percent mark, amke it dependent on the whims of foreigners, and there you have it: Jordon–the right place in a bizarre time.

The work–part travelogue, part history–also can serve as a worthy reference book as well, with a detailed index, extensive notes and an in-depth bibliography with both print and online resources.

Original Article


The Power of Charm: How to Win Anyone Over in Any Situation

by Brian Tracy, Ron Arden
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“This is a good book to read if you enjoy business books and like to learn quickly. Brian Tracy’s books fall into two groups for me: The first is detailed business books packed with information and the second is training books written for easy assimilation. The Power of Charm fits the second category. It has 39 chapters and 145 pages but I can write an outline of the core of the text that fits on two sides of a standard sheet of paper. The book obviously defines charm, according to Brian Tracy, and convinces you of its significance for business persons. But the bulk of its effort is on breaking down the profile of a successfully charming businessperson into simple action steps to follow. Some of the chapters are one page printed front and back. The value of such custom-written book is in its ease-of-adoption by diverse groups of learners. If you have ever done any group training, you know from experience how some of your best efforts and approaches will fail and disappoint utterly. In that context, a text written in this format becomes invaluable. For example, you can use Brian Tracy’s Advanced Selling Guide and will need lots of luck to get results from the massive amount of information packed into it. However, anyone can use the Power of Charm and follow the easy direction to succeed at being charming. I strongly recommend the Power of Charm if you have the time to practice the steps.”

Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions

by Christian Lander
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“The American popular culture may not be shallower than we hope but this does not translate into being simple to understand. Every generation has its own unique slang, clothing, music, hobbies and so on. The state of the world and the people during an era has a great deal to do with the makeup of the pop culture. Since the computers have entered our daily lives and the speed of change has accelerated, many of the changes are not detected until long after they have arrived. The present generation of young American was born and raised in the world of internet and fast communication. And the popular American culture follows the changes of the rest of the society. The Definitive Guide to Stuff White People Like is a paperback of 150 topics unique to the young white Americans of Generation Y. The middle age white Americans are part of Generation X and share some pop culture but a great deal is unknown to most Americans unless they are young and raised white. The book is printed based on a website of the same name and is great reading for popular taste. It is also perfect as reading for business marketing purposes. However, the most unique application may be to understand the idiosyncrasies of the minds of millions of Americans. The description of how younger Americans relate and react to each topic may be entertaining but what is written and more valuable is the rationale behind their thought process. This gives one insights to understand the influences in the thinking of this generation. Obviously, the book will become dated quickly but since the website is dynamic we can follow updates easily. I recommend the book if you are interested in popular culture or need to deal with the new generation but don’t quite understand it.”

Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines

by Linda Johnson-Bell
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“The debate over the proper matching of wine and food is far from being settled in Pairing Wine and Food. The efforts to write useful books on this subject are not many but neither rare. If you are enthusiastic about wine to the extent of desiring more through a good match, you will have difficulty putting together a library of books on the subject. In my personal view, since matching is more of an art than science, it has done its best experientially rather than methodically. Pairing Wine and Food is not a definitive text nor does it claim to be. Linda Johnson-Bell writes as comprehensive a matching book as possible within the limits of her personal experiences. The backbone of the text is her effort to accentuate what knowledge of wine and food he possesses toward the end of great matching. She explores viniculture, viticulture and food with a keen eye for characteristics if one is to match wine with food. The book may have no photographs but has there is no shortage of tables. A great many interesting topics are organized in tables for definition or matching. Some may find that to be her strength while others notice that half of the text is made up of these tables including a 63 page long matching table at the end. Are the matching tables definitive or are they merely useful and more than just interesting? I would settle for the latter. In conclusion, the non-matching writing is comprehensive though far from definitive and the matching information is only a way to explore since vintages come and go. I recommend reading once since good matching books are few but better books are in print.”

How to Do Everything with Google Tools (How to Do Everything)

by Donna Baker
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“Online software can be extremely dynamic and never stop changing. This perpetual improvement makes the average user limited in ability to make the most of the software. may be a very often-used search engine for basic internet use but has incredible advanced features that range from just interesting to extremely useful. The problem for a large percentage of the casual-users remains they may never come across some of the tools or be able to utilize them without a little training. The Everything Tools manual, though 438 pages long, is basically a reference text doubling as a learning manual. As a reference, it belongs within reach in your quick reference books stack. And it may help you someday. On the other hand, a clever internet user will read through the text quickly exposing oneself to its many tools. That many not teach a great deal but brings the tools out to attention. If the user has even minute experience with, this quick read elevates one to the advanced: After the reading, the user will be able to play with the software, having some idea what the features are, and go deeper. The text has great inherent value and only needs a Google user who puts it into good use. If one finds a useful tool, one can master it in a short time. If nothing useful is found, the user can go back in short time and read through again but stop for any sections of value to apply them online. I recommend it greatly though it will be outdated in a few months.”

Photography & The Art of Seeing

by Freeman Patterson
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“Art of Seeing is a great book to read if you have the time to slowly experiment with the numerous exercises. The text is written for the experienced photographer who goes beyond the ordinary vision. It is comprehensive and well-organized. The instructions of each chapter follow with a group of exercises to practice. My problem was my own developed means of alternate-seeing and found it annoying to follow the instructions. I was to avoid the regular seeing ways and my own expanded vision to experience his way. I basically settled for reading through the instructions and trying to adopt the new ideas but not getting involved in the exercises. All in all, this is a great book for a technically competent photographer seeking to express beyond the traditional. If one absorbs the exercises which take at least a few weeks to follow, the outcome will be a very individualized way of seeing as a photographer. I recommend it if you seek to experiment. “

40 Digital Photography Techniques, 3rd Edition (Photography Techniques)

by John Kim
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“Having read dozens, basic photography books hardly interest me anymore: The approach, the content and the ideas are too similar. A good basic how-to photography book includes the camera user manual, in a more understandable form, and hopefully supplements it with related and useful information. Since enough of these books succeed at both objectives, it is justified to purchase any indiscriminately and get the same results. The 40 Digital Techniques is in its 3rd edition for good reasons: Apart from doing an outstanding job of being a superb user manual for a digital camera, it has great chapters that actually teach photography at above intermediate level. The organization and the graduation of the materials make it an easy and effective book to read. The text is flooded with appropriate photographs and the hundreds of tips included are very easy to understand and apply. I fully recommend this book for general digital photography and also learning to take much better than average photographs.”