31 January, 2012

Spencer Wells

This turned out to be a little different from what i had expected or thought that i was reading but, to be fair, Wells completely fulfils his title and the expectation i ought to have had raised, so points to him, not to me. I had, somehow, got it into my head that the book was going to be purely about the cost of the change in lifestyle in the Neolithic age, the agricultural revolution when men stopped being hunter-gatherers and started being farmers. In fact the scope of Wells’ vision is greater than that, as he covers all sorts of consequences stemming from actions other than that revolution (though, in the end, i suppose, it is fair to say that the whole of civilisation stems from that change ~ perhaps that’s how i got my mistaken impression of the book’s scope to begin with), up to the latest, climate change. Overall, i found the book very enjoyable, in scope, style, and content, though i could, perhaps, have done with a little less of Wells travelling to far-flung places at the beginning of each chapter (particularly with regard to his concentration on anthropogenic climate change!). A fascinating subject, and one that probably could (and likely will) be the focus of more books as other writers decide to mine it.

18 January, 2012

Not so happy

Patricia Cornwell

I have to admit that i have been sorely disappointed by this book: Without having gone back to look at their reviews, i seem to remember having enjoyed the (i think) two of Cornwell’s previous works about Kay Scarpetta, a forensic pathologist (is that the term?) who is Cornwell’s primary detective. That ought to bode well for Predator, same author, same characters, same concept.

This time, though, it is completely different. I was at least a hundred pages in before it was even clear that i would continue reading, and more than a hundred and fifty before i began to understand enough to even begin to care about any of the characters (any! even the ones i’d encountered in the previous books) and whether they lived or died. That’s not a good result for an author! I think that a good portion of my disappointment is with the style or writing Cornwell uses here; she changes perspective, plot, and characters very frequently, and i found it difficult to understand what was happening where to whom, much of the time.

In addition, many of the characters, even the positive ones, are ~ or appear to be ~ unlikeable, and i didn’t like them. Furthermore, and this can be an issue with many authors who have written a number of series books, it may be that too much links to previous books, too much is assumed to be understood by the reader, when the first time (or close to it) reader even of a book well into a series still needs to be brought in and helped to understand. That did not happen here. All in all, unsatisfying and, i’m afraid, by my criterion, not a success: I won’t read another Cornwell based simply on her name and mine experience here; to be sure, i may well read another of her books, but such an action would be based on the success of others of her works i’ve read, not this one. Sad.

09 January, 2012

Up & Down

Jeff Stewart

I’m torn by this book. 

I would really like to have liked it a lot; i’m not certain, however, that i can report that i did. Also find i’m torn in deciding who the target audience is; i cannot tell if it is really, as i assumed upon beginning, intended for the intelligent adult with little particular physical knowledge but a sufficiency to understand the complex concepts presented, or if it should be read by children ~ teenagers, perhaps ~ who are learning science for the first time. Both seem to be possible interpretations. 

To go back to my first point:  Though i would have liked to have liked it, there were several issues that i found interrupting mine enjoyment of Why Balloons Rise. For example, though he generally did a good job of building on the previous concepts he had introduced, i found at least a couple of occasions when Stewart seemed to bring something in that i ought to have known (and probably actually do) but that he had no reason to assume i knew based on his apparent assumptions about his readers. In the end, the pleasure i get from reading about things i don’t know or don’t fully understand, attempting to further my knowledge a little, outweighs the annoyance (it didn’t really rise to the level of aggravation) i found in the writing style and lack of focus. A near run thing, however, and i’m not certain i’d pick up another book based purely on the name of the author; it would have to depend partly, as well, on the subject matter, if it looked interesting, a subject i wanted to learn more about.

02 January, 2012

Language lists!

False Friends; Faux Amis
Ellie Malet Spradbery

Whoops, i wrote this a few days ago and never got around to posting it.  No time like the present to correct that error!
A curious review to write, as it is a little contrary to mine usual practice in that i have not fully read the book; this is acceptable, however, as it is a reference book, and thus not really subject to a complete reading such as i usually give the books i review. In fact, the only reason for this writing is that i received the thing from the publisher via the Early Reviewers programme of Library Thing, and am therefore morally bound to write and post a review. Nevertheless, i give it my best, as if i’d actually read every word.
The purpose of this little tome is to guide the visitor to France ~ or at least the infrequent speaker of the language ~ into not making embarrassing slips, led astray by similar words & phrases with different meanings. As i am not likely to visit France, or need to speak that language, at any time in the close future, it is a little purposeless for me, yet full of fascination anyway.
I am reminded as i look at the book of one i used to own (possibly still do, in New York State, among those i fear i shall never again see) which was similar in concept, and because of the situation in which i acquired that one, this one gives me happy feelings. It was as we were getting ready to move to Rome that i bought a book also called, if i am right, False Friends; it aimed to help the learner of Italian not be caught out by words which are similar in sound and spelling ~ etymologically related words ~ yet with differences in either meaning or precise structure. The catch, however, was that this was written for people who already spoke French and were likely to be caught out by Italian’s resemblances to that language. The one pair i remember with glee was formaggio, with the same meaning but a subtly different spelling from fromage. The difference here, of course, is the target audience, the English speaker speaking French.
Lists, in and of themselves, are innately interesting (that’s mine opinion, and i’m sticking to it!); lists of words and, perhaps even better, phrases, are more so, clearly. Where this book possibly fails is not in its structure, but in the fact that, as betrayed by the subtitle Book Two, there has been a previous book, in which probably Spradbery mined most of the more obvious false friends, so here she is left with some which i cannot really see people confusing (entraĆ®ner/to train, armoire/armoury), which rather defeats the purpose, i fear. She has filled out the book with several other sections, giving French expressions and their English equivalent and vice versa, and nice series of lists of various types of word (insects, football, diseases).
All in all, a worth-while book, though perhaps a little less useful than i imagine Book One to have been; the back cover blurb talks about “this series” which leads me to wonder if there is a Book Three in the works, and if it also will be a shorter list, with more padding. The problem is that despite their partially common ancestry, English and French are not really that similar; my French/Italian book makes perfect sense because, seen in the broad picture, the two languages are almost just different dialects, so share a huge number of potential pitfalls. One could imagine a smiliar series of books between German and Dutch, or Danish and Swedish. Unless one goes down the English/North American English route, our language doesn’t lend itself hugely to this, because of its highly eclectic history.