Thursday, February 26, 2009

The rough guide to travel with babies and young children
(Fawzia Rasheed de Francisco, 224pp)
I found the first half of the book very basic, and so I stopped reading. It's adventurous to travel with young kids, and if you're up for the adventure, perhaps this bulky pamphlet covers all that can be generally conveyed in a book. After all, attitude is the crucial factor, and after you've packed the snacks and toys recommended here, you still have to keep a cheery face on all the curveballs that are glossed over in this summary. I contrast this generic book with the recent NYT article on family traveling to Venice. Only the latter makes me eager to tackle the challenges, rather than anxious about all that's been left unsaid.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It Came From Berkeley
(David Weinstein, 224 pp)
This book handily covers a lot of the history of Berkeley. There's plenty of surprises (e.g., the Jacuzzi family invented the hot tub here in 1915, & the first street curb cut to facilitate wheel chair accessibility was put in on Center & Shattuck in 1972). It's certainly a surprise to read that Berkeley was a heavily Republican town until after Eisenhower left office. Each chapter covers a slice of history. The only significant flaw with this book was the decision to title the chapters in a formula that generated some real klunkers: "How Berkeley Women Grew Uppity" is probably the worst chosen (about anti-pornography demonstrations in the 80s), but "How Berkeley Got Good Taste" is more typical and in its own way, annoying. I've also read Wollenberg's recent history of Berkeley, and I would rate this book as much pithier and generally more entertaining.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to see yourself as you really are
(Dalai Lama, 7 CDs, only listened to the first CDs)
I'm not very receptive to this, although it's amusing to hear someone counsel that since, in the vast number of rebirths, every being has at one time been a parent of mine, I should approach all with compassion and acceptance. I hesitate to point out that I don't even have an easy time being accepting of my actual (non-metempsychotic) parents.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lush Life
(Richard Price, 13 hours)
Dense, very interesting novel about a senseless murder on the lower east side in the early 21st century. Price packs so much street slang & police argot into each conversation that I had to slow the pace down to be able to process more of what was being encoded. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 16, 2009

See How It's Made
(DK Publishing, 96pp)
This was a fascinating little treatment of what goes into the manufacturing of items such as LEGOs, paint, glass, cheese. Each chapter is about 4 pages, treating a single production process. The rope chapter was particularly fascinating, as I've never been clear on how little strands can align to turn into an amazing length. The book didn't nail every particular, but talking about it with a knitter added the last little aspect (that wool, e.g., is directionally faceted, so that it grips when pulled in one direction, enabling different strands to link together across the entire twine).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lincoln through the lens : how photography revealed and shaped an extraordinary life
(Martin W. Sandler, 96pp)
Fun to look at, and although the book's targeted for grammar school kids, I found the text full of interesting and nuanced information.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Phaidon atlas of contemporary world architecture
(editors, 824pp)
Impressive, huge (16+ lbs), and of interest to page through. It's hard to make it through the book. Too many of the buildings look like streamlined boxes, and it would be better to see the funky and interesting curated out of this enormous collection. One chastening fact is how many of these houses were built for less than the cost of a middling home in Berkeley.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Merlin Mann's podcasts
(about 5:30)
Triggered by Merlin's decision to resurrect his podcast, I re-listened to all the old ones. The most piercing one remains The Perfect Apostrophe, but the whole ball of wax is worth the attention it took. (True confession: As with almost all of my listening, I multi-tasked shopping, child-caring, driving and eating).

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The World Without Us
(Alan Weisman, 12 hours)
A weird book, whose tone struggles to keep from cheering the extinction of the human race. Thought provoking discussions of the very small number of acres in Poland that remain virgin forest, the environmental resurgence in the DMZ between the 2 Koreas, and the strange ecology around Chernobyl (which means "wormwood" in Russian, by the way). Very stimulating, but also, quite disturbing. The one analytical flaw in the book is the assumption that the Earth's climate is in some sort of equilibrium which it would return to if only humans vanished. I recall listening to an Econtalk podcast which pointed out that there's no evidence the ecosystem is, or ever has been, in equilibrium. But it's also clear that entropy will ravage major technological marvels (oil refineries, nuclear waste storage sites, the Panama canal) that Weisman describes with great vividness.