Now that classes are over, what intellectual stimulation I get comes from books and jigsaw puzzles. A few books I have been reading.
John Grisham, The Reckoning: A murder/tragedy in three acts. The main character walks into a church and guns down the popular preacher. The central character is a war hero whose travails as soldier, prisoner of war, and guerilla fighter in the Philippines after the Japanese invasion form the core part one. A why done it.
Isaac Asimov, Foundation: I found this science fiction classic pretty boring. The hard science is either magic or overcome by events, character development is nil, and tense standoffs resolved by Deux Ex Machina.
Dan Simmons, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion: Two self-contained volumes of a four volume series. The reference to Keats in the titles of the book is not incidental. Keats and his poetry are prominently mentioned. The first volume is structured as a series of Cantos, pilgrims’ stories modeled after the Canterbury Tales. The pilgrims in this case are off to confront a horrible menace known as the Shrike. The tales themselves vary from gripping to tedious. The author has a nice inventive flair in world conjuring, which sometimes is just distracting.
The second volume has a strong cyberpunk flavor which I tend to find tedious.
William Gibson, Neuromancer: The original cyberpunk novel. A punk superhacker battles an oligarchic conspiracy. Has its moments, but not really my cup of tea. My computer tech’s favorite book.
William Gibson, Agency: I guess I like Neuro enough to go back for more. The theme here is an artificial intelligence with agency as background to the adventures of more conventional humans operating in linked world lines.
Phillip Armitage, The Astrophysics of Planet Formation, 2nd ed: OK, this is a textbook, but if you ever want a detailed discussion of the surprisingly intricate story of how quintillions of micron sized particles come together to make a planet, this is it. Thanks to spacecraft explorations of asteroids, comets and planets, the discovery of thousands of exoplanets and protoplanetary nebulae, and generations of careful analysis of meteorites, we now know a great deal about this process, though important mysteries remain. Lots of stability analysis of the Navier-Stokes equations and discussion of numerical simulations. You should have a nodding acquaintance with partial differential equations to fully appreciate, but there is also lots of plain text explanation of what is going on.
(To be continued)
Popular posts from this blog
I am arguing with Connolley again. The occasion is his review ( http://mustelid.blogspot.com/2021/02/the-tyranny-of-merit.html ) of a book called the Tyranny of Merit. It's not likely to be a book I would read, because I'm a lot more concerned about the tyranny of folly. Dr. Connolley, and perhaps the author, manage to wander into the thorny philosophical territory of the meaning of value, justice, and merit. Can we say anything about these except that opinions differ? Connolley: " The assertion (p 136) that Hayek doesn't understand that things other than market value, have value, is drivel. So what we get is a fatal problem for his theory: market value isn't moral worth. His answer (again, p 136) is to take market value as a proxy for social contribution, which is lying worthy of Plato. In his version, free-market liberalism differs from meritocracy. In mine, it doesn't." Dr. C tends to get a bit vituperative, which tends to have a bad effect on me,
The US spent a trillion dollars fighting the Taliban and equipping a large Afghan government force with modern weapons and training. The government troops are far more numerous than the Taliban and much better equipped, and they are melting before the Taliban like a July snow. Why? The great Arab Historian and polymath Ibn Khaldun figured this out eight centuries ago. He called it asibiyah, the social glue that holds a nation or a fighting force together. The asibiyah of the Taliban is a fanatic devotion to a religion that promises paradise to martyrs. The government forces have no equivalent. Bush and his idiot advisors often and proudly announced that they were not into nation building. When they said that, I thought “then you will surely fail.” After World War II, the US and allies spent vast sums and many decades in building Germany and Japan into modern democratic nations. That effort has proved immensely successful. Any similar efforts in the targets of B
Book Pre-Review: War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires by Peter Turchin Peter Turchin styles himself as a latter day Hari Selden – he is looking for theories of Cliodynamics - general principles of history. Two big principles animate his War and Peace and War. One is due to the great Arab historian and polymath Ibn Khaldun. Khaldun identified the crucial role of asabiya – the fundamental social glue that unites a people – in the stability of nations and empires. The second is the role of Malthusian cycles in the instability of empires. The basic idea of the Malthusian cycle is that peace and prosperity lead to growth in the numbers of the peasant class. This leads to competition for land, increases in rents, decreases in pay for landless laborers and increased prosperity for the nobles and other rentiers, which, in turn, leads to an expansion of the Noble class. The peasants and laborers suffer starvation, plague, and the other apocalyptic catastroph