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Jul 08

One paragraph book reviews

Books I’ve read in the first half of 2008 (in order of preference):

THE NEW NEW THING, Michael Lewis
Reviewed earlier.

SUNDIVER, David Brin
UPLIFT WAR, David Brin
The first of Brin’s Uplift trilogies, this is very good sci-fi with a novel approach to galactic politics where patron races “uplift” animals into sentience. Startide Rising was a dual Hugo and Nebula award winner and is easily the best out of the three novels. Each novel is unconnected with the other, but they all are set in the same universe. Recommended.

If you liked Freakonomics, The Logic of Life is similar. It covers some fascinating insights. I quite like behavioural economics books.

This book is an anthology of tales written by Asian-Australians – from fresh migrants to x-th generation Australians. It’s a good idea, but a bit hit and miss. The misses are the boringly predictable stories. For example, the opening story is about the writer growing up regretting not being able to speak in her mother tongue. There are some try hard stories in there too, which are best skipped. One which raised my suspicions was written by a Thai chap whose parents ran a Thai restaurant. There’s a line in there about him rolling his eyes at whites not being able to use chopsticks… but of course the Thai culture doesn’t use chopsticks! However, there are more than a few diamonds in the rough, though – especially the stories that are just written without the writer being self-conscious that they are Asian. I found the stories told by Eurasians and other mixed race Asians fantastic. There are also several stories written by gay Asians which are highly entertaining – they don’t sound like they have a chip on their shoulder. Also features a cool story by Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatrist who is better known as the Bingo Commissioner with the put-on Indian accent (“Nooooo bingo!”).

BANK, David Bledin
A fictional account of life as an analyst in the M&A division of an investment bank. Light, entertaining reading.

Jim Rogers co-founded the fabled Quantum Fund with George Soros and he’s bullish on commodities. He takes a look at how the forces of supply and demand – both at a global and local level – affect prices of various commodities around the world. It’s more interesting than it sounds, and Rogers has an easy-to-read writing style which is full of personal anecdotes. (I’m currently reading another of Rogers’ books, Adventure Capitalist, and it’s shaping up to be the best book I’ve read this year.)

RINGWORLD, Larry Niven
Ringworld is another winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Ringworld is pretty engrossing. The novel takes place on a ringworld so the setting is unique (if you’ve played Halo, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a ringworld). There are two more books in this quartet that I haven’t read yet.

Gittins writes about various aspects of Australian life and how economics factors into them. Good, but not as good as his columns in the Herald. The Logic of Life was a more interesting look at behavioural economics.

DEN OF THIEVES, James Stewart
Den of Thieves recounts the insider trading days of the 1980s, centering around people such as Drexel junk bond king, Mike Milken and arbitrageur Ivan Boesky. Long, but quite interesting.

Tiana Templeman won free accommodation at about a dozen really expensive hotels around the world. However, she didn’t have a lot of money so she went backpacking. Interesting concept with a lot of potential, but unfortunately the book isn’t very well written. There are some interesting bits, but for the most part, it’s a little too self-conscious and boring in places. And by the time she got to Hong Kong, she and her partner were so tired they didn’t even want to step out of the hotel. What the?

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