Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

burn Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.
mock This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.
don't Don't read this book.
desert If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.
fan If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.
worth This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.
strongly I strongly recommend this book
amazing OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.

Post date:

Midnight Sun

Book Notes

This book was slightly confusing at first, as it is the second book of the Blood on Snow series, but the protagonist of the first book died, but did he? The first book had two divergent endings, one of which was clearly delusional, but this second book initially has the reader (well, this reader) pondering the truth of that conclusion.

Eventually, I figured out, this book is the same world, but a different character set in that world, name change be damned, and then I was back into the tale.

We have Ulf, who is fleeing the Fisherman, after, quelle surprise, screwing the Fisherman in some small way. That the contract killer didn't and couldn't actually kill played a large part of that screwing and fleeing. The plot is your basic boy flees crime boss, boy visits small town, boy meets up with down-on-luck girl with issues and a kid, boy and girl like each other, crime boss' henchman shows up in small town, henchman is thwarted by small town's population, boy and girl live happily ever after plot, the same one that a dozen action movie plots use.

I enjoyed the book. It was a fast, mildly engaging read. it'll make more sense with the previous book read first. Worth reading if you're a Nesbø fan.

I sold hash and saved up for that bastard miracle cure I forced myself to believe in because the alternative was unbearable, because my fear that the little girl with the blue light in her eyes would die was even stronger than my own fear of death. Because we take comfort where we can find it: in a German medical journal, in a syringe full of heroin, in a shiny new book promising eternal life as long as you subordinate yourself to whatever new saviour they’ve just come up with.
Location: 1,173

“Thanks for taking care of Knut after the funeral.”

“Don’t mention it. How is he taking it?”

“Well, really.”

“And you?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Women always find a way of coping.”
Location: 1,411

“I’ve changed my mind. I want to know what you’re running from.”

“Your original decision was probably more sensible.”

“Tell me.”

“What for?”

“Because I believe you’re a good person. And good people’s sins can always be forgiven.”

“What if you’re wrong, what if I’m not a good person? Does that mean I’d end up burning in that hell of yours?” It came out more bitterly than I intended.
Location: 1,413

“Why are you still calling me Ulf?”

“That’s what you told me your name was, so that’s the name I use. Until you want to be called something different. Everyone should be allowed to change their name every so often.”
Location: 1,462

“Well, congratulations. You’re Futa…Futa…”

“…bayama. And Futabayama salutes you, courageous Haguroyama.” He raised his head. He had sand stuck to his wet face.

“Who’s that?”

“Futabayama’s apprentice. Haguroyama also went on to be a master.” “Did he? He beat Futabayama?”

“Oh, yes. Toyed with him. He just had to learn a few things first. Such as how to lose.” Knut sat up. He squinted at me.

“Does losing make you better, Ulf?”

I nodded slowly. I saw that Lea was paying attention too.

“You get better”—I squashed a midge that had landed on my arm—“at losing.”

“Better at losing? Is there any point in being good at that?”

“Life is mostly about trying things you can’t do,” I said. “You end up losing more often than you win. Even Futabayama kept on losing before he started to win. And it’s important to be good at something you’re going to do more often, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so.” He thought about it. “But what does being good at losing actually mean?”

I met Lea’s gaze over the boy’s shoulder. “Daring to lose again,” I said.
Location: 1,539

I didn’t remember much of my wasted years at university, but I did remember William Blackstone, the eighteenth-century legal philosopher who occupied much the same territory as Mattis, at the crossroads of justice and faith in God. I remembered him because Grandfather had used him, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei and Søren Kierkegaard as examples of the fact that even the very sharpest minds are prepared to believe in the stuff and nonsense of Christianity if they think it offers a chance to escape death.
Location: 2,342

The Math of Life and Death

Book Notes

Oh, I enjoyed this book so much. I am on a roll with choosing non-fiction books that delight me. I strongly recommend this book for its exploration of various ways different areas of mathematics can help us understand the world around us. This book also delivers a whole bunch of (previously unknown to me) biases, all dealing with math, giving me even more joy.

In a very approachable way giving many examples from the real world and history (none of these "two trains are on tracks going in opposite directions at forty kilometers an hour" problems), the various chapters discuss exponential growth and decay (Chapter 1), sensitivity and specificity specifically in medicine (Chapter 2), how math (statistics, in particular) is used in legal matters (Chapters 3 and 4), different numbering systems (Chapter 5), algorithms in general and how they can apply to one's life (the 37% rule is a very common algorithm used to illustrate how algorithms can make our lives better, see also Algorithms to Live By), and the most relevant topic of 2020: mathematical epidemiology, or the topic of epidemics, pandemics, and the spread of disease.

I mean, discussions of false positives and false negatives, how one can intimidate jurors with numbers, how to interpret stats you read in the news (hint: context matters a LOT), an overview of virus transmission (asshat anti-vaxers not understanding that vaccines don't cause autism, a leaky intestinal system causes autism, but that's another line of research that didn't get earlier funding because Jenny McCarthy decided murdering thousands of children was a better "mother feeling," leaving scientists to debunk her shit first for public health before finding the true cause of autism, but here we are), and ideas that can help people live better lives.

One of the good things, for some people anyway, about the book is that there are very few equations in the book, making the book approachable to anyone who doesn't like, or thinks he can't do, math.

Strongly recommended. Fun, informative read.

The application of the God Equation can be seen as an attempt to take difficult life and death decisions out of our subjective hands and place them under the control of an objective mathematical formula. This point of view plays on the seeming impartiality and objectivity of mathematics, but neglects to recognize that the subjective decisions are simply being diverted out of sight in the form of judgments on quality of life and cost effectiveness thresholds at earlier stages of the decision making process.
Chapter 2, English version, not in the American version of the book

Mathematics, at its most fundamental, is pattern. Every time you look at the world you are building your own model of the patterns you observe.
Location: 89

Refusing to believe reports of the core’s explosion, Akimov relayed incorrect information about the reactor’s state, delaying vital containment efforts. Upon eventually realizing the full extent of the destruction, he worked, unprotected, with his crew to pump water into the shattered reactor.
Location: 347

The greater our acquaintance with the routines of everyday life, the quicker we perceive time to pass, and generally, as we age, this familiarity increases. This theory suggests that, to make our time last longer, we should fill our lives with new and varied experiences, eschewing the time-sapping routine of the everyday. Neither of the above ideas explains the almost perfectly regular rate at which our perception of time seems to accelerate. That the length of a fixed period of time appears to reduce continually as we age suggests an “exponential scale” to time.
Location: 570

Today, more people in the world die from being overweight than from being underweight.
Location: 744

The main problem with BMI is that it can’t distinguish between muscle and fat. This is important because excess body fat is a good predictor of cardiometabolic risk. BMI is not. If the definition of obesity were instead based on high-percentage body fat, between 15 and 35 percent of men with non-obese BMIs would be reclassified as obese. For example, “skinny-fat” individuals, with low muscle but high levels of body fat and consequently normal BMI, fall into the undetected “normal-weight obesity” category. A recent cross-population study of forty thousand individuals found that 30 percent of people with BMI in the normal range were cardiometabolically unhealthy. The obesity crisis may be much worse than our BMI-based figures suggest. However, BMI both under- and over-diagnoses obesity. The same study found that up to half of the individuals that BMI classified as overweight and over a quarter of BMI-obese individuals were metabolically healthy.
Location: 761

Alternatively, by blowing as much air as you can into an empty airtight bag and then sealing and submersing it in water, you can use Archimedes’s principle to estimate your lung capacity a few weeks into your new exercise program.
Location: 796

Using this idea, all Archimedes needed to do was to take a pan balance with the crown on one side and an equal mass of pure gold on the other. In air, the pans would balance. However, when the scales were placed underwater, a fake crown (which would be larger in volume than the same mass of denser gold) would experience a larger buoyant force as it displaced more water, and its pan would consequently rise. This principle from Archimedes is used to accurately calculate body fat percentage. A subject is first weighed in normal conditions, then reweighed while sitting completely submerged on an underwater chair attached to a set of scales. The differences in the dry and underwater weight measurements can be used to calculate the buoyant force acting on the individual while underwater, which can in turn be used to determine the person’s volume, given the known density of water. This volume, in conjunction with figures for the density of fat and lean components of the human body, can be used to estimate the body fat percentage and provide more accurate assessments of health risks.
Location: 807

False alarms typically refer to an alarm triggered by something other than the expected stimulus. A staggering 98 percent of all burglar-alarm activations in the United States are thought to be false alarms. This prompts the question, Why have an alarm at all? As we get used to incorrect alerts, we become more reluctant to investigate their causes. Burglar alarms are by no means the only warnings with which we have become overfamiliar. When the smoke detector goes off, we are usually already opening a window and scraping the soot off our toast. When we hear a car alarm outside, very few of us will even get off the sofa and stick our heads outside to investigate. When alarms become an inconvenience rather than an aid, and when we no longer trust their output, we are said to be suffering alarm fatigue. This is a problem because situations in which alarms become so routine that we ignore them, or disable them completely, can be less sensible than not having the alarm in the first place,
Location: 819

This trade-off exists because we are typically testing for proxies rather than the phenomena themselves. The test that misdiagnosed Mark Stern as HIV positive does not test for the HIV virus. Rather, it tests for antibodies that the body’s immune system raises in an attempt to fight off the virus. However, high HIV-associated antibody loads can be raised by something as innocuous as the flu vaccination. Similarly, most home pregnancy tests do not look for the presence of a viable embryo implanted in the woman’s womb. Typically, these tests look for elevated levels of the hormone HCG, produced after implantation of the embryo. Such proxy indicators are often called surrogate markers. Tests can be wrong because markers similar to the surrogate can trigger a positive result.
Location: 1,048

For some tests, a more accurate version is not available. In these cases, we should remember that even a second run of the same test can dramatically improve the precision of its results. We should never be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Clearly, even doctors—the perceived experts—don’t always have the firmest grasp of the figures, despite the illusion of confidence they exude. Before you start to worry yourself unduly based on assertions of a single test, find out its sensitivity and specificity and work out the likelihood of an incorrect result. Question the illusion of certainty and take the power of interpretation back into your own hands.
Location: 1,125

Two events are dependent if knowledge of one event influences the probability of the other. Otherwise they are independent. When presented with the probabilities of individual events, common practice is to multiply these probabilities together to find the probability of the combination of the events occurring.
Location: 1,242

A suspect is found whose license plate matches the five digits remembered by the witness. If the suspect is innocent, then only ninety-nine other cars are out there, out of the 10 million cars on the road, whose plates match the first five digits. Therefore, the probability that the witness observed such a license plate if the suspect is innocent is 99/10,000,000, less than one in one hundred thousand (1/100,000). This tiny probability of seeing the evidence if the suspect is innocent seems to overwhelmingly indicate the suspect’s guilt. However, to assume so is to commit the prosecutor’s fallacy. The probability of seeing the evidence if the suspect is innocent is not the same as the probability of the suspect being innocent, once that piece of evidence has been observed. Recall that ninety-nine of the hundred cars that match the witness’s description do not belong to the suspect. The suspect is just one of a hundred people who drive such a car. The probability of the suspect’s guilt given their license plate, therefore, is just one in a hundred—exceedingly unlikely. Other evidence tying the suspect to the area of the crime or eliminating the other cars from being in the area would increase the probability of the suspect’s guilt. However, based on the single piece of evidence, the overwhelmingly likely conclusion should be that the suspect is innocent. The prosecutor’s fallacy is only truly effective when the chance of the innocent explanation is extremely small, otherwise it is too easy to see through the fallacious argument.
Location: 1,418

than ever. Simultaneously, there is a concomitant increase in the numerical skills required to interpret their findings. In many cases there is no hidden agenda, the statistics are just difficult to interpret. However, for many reasons it might benefit one party or another to put a spin on a particular finding.
Location: 1,683

Small, unrepresentative, or biased samples, in conjunction with leading questions and selective reporting, can all make for unreliable statistics. More subtle still are the statistics used out of context so that we have no way to judge whether, for example, a 300 percent increase in cases of a disease represents an increase from one patient to four or from half a million patients to 2 million. Context is important. It’s not that these different interpretations of numbers are lies—each one is a small piece of the true story on which someone has shone a light from a preferred direction—it’s just that they are not the whole truth. We are left to try to piece together the true story behind the hyperbole.
Location: 1,697

Advertisers know that numbers are widely perceived as being indisputable facts. Adding a figure to an ad can be extremely persuasive and lend power to the promoter’s argument.
Location: 1,797

The apparent objectivity of statistics seems to say, “Don’t just trust what we’re saying, trust this piece of indisputable evidence.”
Location: 1,799

A more appropriate question for Liddle to ask might have been, “If a black US citizen comes across someone while out walking alone, who should they be more scared will kill them: another black person, or a law enforcement officer?” To find out the answer we need to compare the per capita rates of black-victim killings perpetrated by black people and by police officers. We find the per capita rates, as presented in table 11, by dividing the total number of black victims killed by a particular group (black people or police officers) by the size of the group. Black people were responsible for 2,380 killings of other black people in 2015, but with over 40.2 million black US citizens, the per capita rate is relatively small—around one in seventeen thousand. Police officers were “rightly or wrongly” responsible for killing 307 black people in 2015. With 635,781 police officers, this amounts to a per capita killing rate that is just below one killing per two thousand police officers—over eight times higher than the rate for black US citizens. It seems that a black person walking down the street should be more alarmed to see a police officer approaching than another black person.
Location: 1,937

Of course we have not accounted for the fact that encounters with the police are often confrontational, and US police are typically armed. It’s perhaps not surprising that those authorized to wield lethal force do so more frequently than the general population at large. By exactly the same mathematics, we can show that white people should also be more scared of law enforcement officers (per capita white killing rate of one per thousand officers) than other white people (per capita white killing rate of one per ninety thousand white people), despite more white people killing other white people than police officers killing white people. That police officers have twice as high a per capita rate of killing white people than black people is because the country has more white people.
Location: 1,949

a statistic that is at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement: that the 12.6 percent of the population who are black account for 26.8 percent of police killings, while the 73.6 percent who are white account for just 51.0 percent.
Location: 1,957

Other subtle signs can indicate a manipulated statistic. If presenters are confident of the veracity of their figures, then they won’t be afraid to give the context and the source for others to check. As with Gorka’s terrorism tweet, a contextual vacuum is a red flag when it comes to believability. Lack of details on survey results, including the sample size, the questions asked, and the source of the sample—as we saw in L’Oréal’s advertising campaign—is another warning sign. Mismatched framing, percentages, indexes, and relative figures without the absolutes, as in the NCI’s Breast Cancer Risk Tool, should set alarm bells ringing. The spurious inferences of a causative effect from uncontrolled studies or subsampled data—as often seen in the conclusions drawn from trials of alternative medicine—are yet more tricks to watch out for. If an initially extreme statistic suddenly rises or falls—as with gun crime in the United States—be on the lookout for regression to the mean. More generally, when a statistic is pushed your way, ask yourself the questions “What’s the comparison?” “What’s the motivation?” and “Is this the whole story?” Finding the answers to these three questions should take you a long way toward determining the veracity of the figures. Not being able to find the answers tells its own story.
Location: 2,166

When you arrive at the cinema and need to pay to park at the meter, the ticket machine probably won’t provide change. If you have enough coins in your pocket, you probably want to make up the exact price as quickly as possible. In one greedy algorithm, which many of us will reach for intuitively, we insert coins sequentially, each time adding the largest-value coin that is less than the remaining total.
Location: 2,894

For all the 1-2-5 currencies, as well as the US coinage system, the greedy algorithm described
Location: 2,902

above does make up the total using the smallest number of coins.
Location: 2,903

Any currency for which each coin or note is at least twice as valuable as the next smallest denomination will satisfy the greedy property.
Location: 2,905

Measures implemented to reduce employee absence, including reducing paid sick leave, are causing a marked rise in people coming to work regardless of how bad they might be feeling, leading unintentionally to more illness and overall lowered rates of efficiency. Presenteeism is particularly prevalent in health care and teaching. Ironically, nurses, doctors, and teachers feel so obligated to the large numbers of people they safeguard that they often put them at risk by coming in to work while under the weather.
Location: 3,341

Perhaps surprisingly, diseases with high case fatality rates tend to be less infectious. If a disease kills too many of its victims too quickly, then it reduces its chances of being passed on. Diseases that kill most of the people they infect and also spread efficiently are very rare and are usually confined to disaster movies. Although a high case fatality rate significantly raises the fear associated with an outbreak, diseases with high R0 but lower case fatality may end up killing more people by virtue of the larger numbers they infect.
Location: 3,556

One of the most effective options for reducing disease spread is vaccination. By taking people directly from susceptible to removed, bypassing the infective state, it effectively reduces the size of the susceptible population. Vaccination, however, is typically a precautionary measure applied in an attempt to reduce the probability of outbreaks. Once
Location: 3,564

outbreaks are in full swing, it is often impractical to develop and test an effective vaccine in time.
Location: 3,566

Similarly, it’s impractical in the real world to quarantine a high proportion of the population for a long time. Running a mathematical model presents no such concerns. We can test models in which everyone is quarantined or no one, or anywhere in between, in an attempt to balance the economic impact of this enforced isolation with the effect it has on the progression of the disease. This is the real beauty of mathematical epidemiology—the ability to test out scenarios that are infeasible in the real world, sometimes with surprising and counterintuitive results. Math has, for example, shown that for diseases such as chicken pox (varicella) isolation and quarantine may be the wrong strategy. Trying to segregate children with and without the disease will undoubtedly lead to numerous missed schooldays and workdays to avoid what is widely considered to be a relatively mild disease. Perhaps more significant, though, mathematical models prove that quarantining healthy children can defer their catching the disease until they are older, when the complications from chicken pox can be far more serious. Such counterintuitive effects of a seemingly sensible strategy such as isolation might never have been fully understood if not for mathematical interventions.
Location: 3,585

Childhood diseases show these typical periodic outbreak patterns because the effective reproduction number varies over time with the population of susceptible individuals. After a big outbreak has affected large swathes of the unprotected-child population, a disease such as scarlet fever doesn’t just disappear. It persists in the population, but with an effective reproduction number that hovers around 1. The disease only just sustains itself. As time goes by, the population ages, and new, unprotected children are born. As the unguarded fraction of the population grows, the effective reproduction number becomes higher and higher, making new outbreaks increasingly likely. When an outbreak finally takes off, the victims to whom the disease spreads are usually at the unprotected younger end of the demographic, because most of the older populace are already immune through experiencing the disease. Those people who didn’t get the disease as children are typically afforded some protection because they fraternize with fewer of the infected age group.
Location: 3,617

The most effective way to reduce the size of the susceptible population is through vaccination. The question of how many to vaccinate to achieve herd immunity relies on reducing the effective reproduction number to below 1.
Location: 3,644

In general we can only afford to leave 1/R0 of the population unvaccinated and must protect the remaining fraction (1−1/R0 of the population) if we are to achieve the herd immunity threshold.
Location: 3,649

Blood on Snow

Book Notes

This is book one of the Blood on Snow series.

So, I rather liken this book to The Cleaner in the sense that the main character is a killer, and we are, somehow, I do not know how, we are supposed to feel sorry for the guy when things don't work out well. I am not a fan. I rather like Nesbø's Harry Hole series, so I thought I'd give this one a try.


We have Olav Johansen, who is a fixer. He fixes the problems of, read: murders people for, the local top pimp and heroin kingpin, who is in a turf war with another heroin kingpin, I mean crime boss.

The crime boss Daniel Hoffmann contracts Olav to kill his wife, Corina, whom Hoffmann suspects of adultery. Turns out, Corina's lover does exist, and is more than a bit of an asshole. So, Olav kills the lover instead.

Apparently, fixers aren't supposed to think. Instead, they are supposed to just follow through on orders.

What makes the tale interesting is that the narrator, Olav, is actually thoroughly delusional. The story we read might be the his story, but might not be, we don't know. That not knowing is what makes this book more interesting than seen at first view.

That said, while I like the writing, I'm not a fan of the premise.

If you're a fan of Nesbø, sure, read the book. If not, eh, skip.

The way Maria was in love with her junkie boyfriend. Some women don’t know what’s best for them, they just leak love without demanding anything in return. It’s almost as if the very lack of any reciprocation just makes them worse. I suppose they’re hoping they’ll be rewarded one day, poor things. Hopeful, hopeless infatuation. Someone ought to tell them that isn’t how the world works.
Page: 43

“What do you want to do, Olav?”

I got up from the kitchen chair. “See if I can find you a blanket.”

“I mean, what are we going to do?”

She was okay. You know someone’s okay if they can ignore things they can’t do anything about and move on. Wish I was like that.
Page: 58

“You haven’t asked,” she said in the darkness.

“No,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I suppose I’m just not a very inquisitive person.”

“But you must be wondering. Father and son…”

“I assumed you’d tell me whatever you felt like telling me when you felt like it.”

The bed creaked as Corina turned towards me. “What if I never said anything?”

“Then I’d never find out.”
Page: 126

I was walking across the frozen path with short, quick steps, my knees slightly bent. That’s something you learn as a child in Norway.
Page: 167

And Canada.

She helped me off with it, then ran her fingers over the bruises left by the Dane’s bullets. Loving. Fascinated. Kissed them. And as I lay in bed and felt the shakes come, and she wrapped the duvet around me, I felt just like before when I lay in Mum’s bed. It almost didn’t hurt any more. And it felt as if I could escape it all, but it wasn’t up to me; I was a boat on a river, and the river was in charge. My fate, my destination was already determined. Which just left the journey, the time it took and the things you saw and experienced along the way. Life seems simple when you’re sufficiently ill.
Page: 178

Half-Resurrection Blues

Book Notes

This is the first book of the "A Bone Street Rumba" series. I picked up the book after a second recommendation for it, one from Claire and one from the XOXO slack. One of the strong recommendations from both was, "listen to this book." The book is read by the author, whose voice caresses the listener as it takes the listener on a wild ride.

So, I listened to this book more than I read it. The audio version recommendation? Totally worth it.

In this book, we are introduced to Carlos Delacruz, an in-betweener who is half-alive, half-dead. He worked as an agent for the New York Council of the Dead, a vague power group who directs its people to reap souls to keep the dead in the underworld, and the living out of the underworld. We learn about Carlos as he vaguely recalls things. He doesn't recall his life before his resurrection. He follows the rules of the Council. He leads the dead back to the underworld, or reaps their soul for the second death or some such.

At the beginning of the tale, Carlos meets up with another inbetweener, wait what, there are others? and kills him, per the order of the Council. Turns out, on his dying breath, the guy Carlos kills asks Carlos to watch over his sister, Sasha. Another wait what? She is also an inbetweener. And apparently very very hot. Of course they hook up. But what is this pull and what are all these ngks? Well, the ngks are tiny, exercise bike riding spirits with a hive mind contracted to kill an old spirit in order to open the entrance between the Underworld and the real world. They're kinda mean, too.

So, Carlos uncovers his past, Sasha's past, what the ngks are, who is orchestrating the opening of the Underworld, and just how meh the Council is. The book is a fun read, worth reading / listening to.

"At first? Chaos. The hungry dead will pour through the gate, scatter out into the world in their vast multitudes. The living will wander in. There is always a painful period of absolute crisis at the pinnacle of any great change.”
Page: 257

The Cello Suites

Book Notes

The Cello Suites is such a lovely book, a good, fun, wholesome read. The book tells three stories: Johann Sebastian Bach's biography, Pablo Casals' modern discovery of the previously unknown Cello Suites by said Bach, and the author's journey from meeting the Cello Suites for the first time, and learning about Casals's discovery and Bach's history, to researching and writing the book. The tale in three parts is woven together delightfully, given insights into all three main characters: Bach, Casals, and Siblin.

Gosh, this is such a lovely weaving of three lives bound together by the puzzle of the book-titled music, I strongly recommend it.

My discovery of this book was from an XOXO recommendation for the Song Exploder podcast, from which I found the Yo-Yo Ma episode and references to this book. I recommend that podcast, too (at least, that episode).

Beyond all these concerns was Bach’s restless nature, his tendency to become dissatisfied with a job after a spell, to feel constrained by limitations, musical and otherwise, and not to be content with the status quo, but to move forward once he’d mastered the musical possibilities offered by any given situation.
Page: 101

At the concert, which was broadcast on radio, Casals appealed to the democratic countries (which had just let Hitler walk all over them in Czechoslovakia) not to abandon Spain. “Do not commit the crime of letting the Spanish Republic be murdered,” he pleaded. “If you allow Hitler to win in Spain, you will be the next victims of his madness. The war will spread to all Europe, to the whole world. Come to the aid of our people.
Page: 111

By this time Bach had little in the way of expectations from those in power, whether they were town councillors, church authorities, university rectors, or enlightened monarchs. He had made his peace with the fact that Leipzig was disappointing in many professional respects.
Page: 229

Network Effect

Book Notes

Finished this one in two days and, unsurprisingly, adored it as much as I enjoyed the previous four books. I picked it up when my frustration with The Making of a Manager grew too large, and Ginsberg's My Own Words would not sooth the agitation of the previous book. Sometimes you need an adventure to cleanse your palette of the crap that is incompetence and surveillance, and even RBG can't do it. Enter Wells and Murderbot.

Following Exit Strategy, Murderbot is in the employ of The Preservation, and is off on a full-length adventure that lasts more than one short mystery (read: novella) solution. He (It?) is tasked with taking care of Mensah's daughter on her first expedition, which goes sideways (because Murderbot).

This book is just so delightful. We have mystery. We have emotions (shock, even from Murderbot)! We have a plot that just doesn't stop, absurd situations that are, as ART says, "unreal," and laugh-out-loud deadpan humor that I love.

Basic plot: Murderbot is on an expedition with Amena, who didn't originally like Murderbot because said SecUnit interfered with a tryst that was going to go bad, but Amena being young didn't realize was a con by a Corporate spy. Of course, bonds forged by trial, aliens, spaceship attack, and all, and Amena and Murderbot like each other. Along the way, that asshole research transport returns, we go off to find its crew, a few more Preservation crew show up, along with a few grey men, and hilarity ensues. No, really, the hilarity in the writing of the Murderbot dialog and thoughts is fantastic. None of the quotes I pull out are amusing when isolated, and hysterical in context.

I enjoyed these books so much. I'm glad there's another book following.

The Space Between Worlds

Book Notes

I very much enjoyed this book. It was recommended on the XOXO slack, and worth the recommendation.

The premise is that the multidimensional universe exists, which means resources on one universe instance can be harvested for the prime planet, the first planet to develop the technology to traverse between worlds. The catch in this traversing is that only one instance of a person can exist in a universe. If a traverser, a walker between universes, arrives in a universe where their counterpart is still alive, then both die. Which is to say, the most valuable traversers are those who are alive on the prime Earth, and dead in all the other universes.

The story is told from the point of view of Cara, a traverser who doesn't quite belong on the Prime.

Yes, all sorts of spoilers:

The original Cara went to the narrator Cara's world and died, because duplicates can't exist (see above). Cara, being the survivor that she is, assumed Prime Cara's identity, and travelled back to Prime. So, now we have Cara figuring out what is going one, an uncomfortable longing, a world of comparable riches, new social dynamics to learn even as the universes are quite parallel, and a confrontation to power. The ending is not the typical happy ending, but isn't isn't an unhappy ending, more of a "yeah, that's the right ending."

The book, similar to Dread Nation in its character and voice, is engrossing the whole way through. Recommended. Good science fiction and worth the read.

Because no traverser has ever made a report to enforcement or asked questions, they think they’ve pulled this elaborate ruse on lower-level employees. But really, we just don’t care. A job’s a job, and people edging out other people to make money buying and selling something invisible just sounds like rich-people problems.
Location: 152

He leans forward, setting down a steaming cup, and adjusts his glasses to look at my progress screen. “Am I witnessing company theft in my name? My wounded heart.”

“Come now, old man. It can’t really be theft if I’m just reading. You can’t steal something that’s still there when you’ve taken it.”

“You’ll find a large portion of the judicial system here disagrees with you.”
Location: 178

People who don’t believe in taking up more space, air, or attention than strictly necessary are unsurprisingly opposed to claiming whole new worlds. They see it as new colonialism, and they’re not wrong.
Location: 514

I know what I would do if I were her. What I did when I was her. The House tried its best by me, but I failed as a sex provider. Don’t let anyone ever tell you it doesn’t take skill, because it does, and I didn’t have it.
Location: 618

The clothes I have to wear today are monochromatic and androgynous. Subconsciously or deliberately, the people in this section of 238 have rebelled against their government’s surveillance by refusing to stand out.
Location: 713

Why have I survived? Because I am a creature more devious than all the other mes put together. Because I saw myself bleeding out and instead of checking for a pulse, I began collecting her things. I survive the desert like a coyote survives, like all tricksters do.
Location: 738

“Luck, I guess,” I say, because the first thing a monster learns is when to lie.
Location: 740

Maybe there’s something to classism. Maybe eating caviar growing up gives you a bigger brain. Maybe eating dirt poisons your memory. Or maybe it’s just easier to think something is impossible than to try.
Location: 776

She takes it as an insult, which I take as an insult. We can’t ever really talk. I want to take her hands and tell her that, yes, she is better than me but that is because she is better than me. Not because Wileyites are better than Ashtowners, but because she is driven without being manipulative, she is ambitious but only until it edges over into cruelty.
Location: 980

What they don’t tell you about getting everything you ever wanted is the cold-sweat panic when you think about losing it. For someone who’d never had anything to lose, it’s like drowning, all the time.
Location: 1,016

I set about the problem like I set about all problems. I made lists.
Location: 1,018

I don’t know why it feels like I can do this, correct him. It’s never felt possible before. I was never one of the women who believed she could change her abusive partner. I was just one who believed she could survive it.
Location: 1,283

I don’t realize how many years I’ve been alone until I warm under a gift as simple as someone’s undivided attention.
Location: 1,378

Even my Nik Nik knew exactly how, when he wanted, to make me feel special. Just as he knew exactly how to make me feel like dirt. And I reveled in that tainted affection, like a plant settles for drinking dew because it knows it’s never going to get real rain.
Location: 1,379

THERE ARE SLIGHT advantages to being so often treated as prey. For instance, you tend to watch others more than others watch you. You tend, also, to only ever be minimally disoriented by a sudden loss of safety. But the most important benefit to being so often hunted is that you always know when it’s happening.
Location: 1,423

So when the men come into the room somewhere after midnight, I am sitting in a chair facing them. I’d heard the footsteps gathering about half an hour after the pod had beeped to tell me I was as healed as I was going to be, and I thought briefly of escaping. But the boots had gathered at each end of the hall, and I’d rather be dragged out than give them the satisfaction by stepping into a trap. Eventually my patience outlasted theirs, and four runners entered my room.
Location: 1,426

“Sounds like fun,” I say, standing. I can be remarkably compliant when I don’t have a choice.
Location: 1,432

Sometimes, focusing on survival is necessary. Sometimes, it is just an excuse for selfishness.
Location: 1,716

He nods, though he still must not expect to survive this. “May your life be long and easy.” It’s a common blessing out here, but I’ve never dissected it before. Why are we, who are so unhappy, fixated on long lives? What is the point? An easy life isn’t a blessing. Easy doesn’t mean happy. Alive doesn’t mean anything at all. Sometimes the path to an easy life makes you miserable.
Location: 2,316

Esther turns her back to us, and says the second part of the prayer to the dead. “Nelline, I am commending you into the arms of the earth, the preserver of all mercy. I am returning you to everlasting peace, and to the denser reality of the creator of all. Don’t be scared. Don’t regret. Whatever time you had, it was enough. Whatever you accomplished, it was enough. We will remember your good deeds for the rest of our lives. We will forget your wrongdoings forever. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for spending your time in the dirt with us.”
Location: 2,860

“Some things are inevitable.”

“Nothing is inevitable,” I say. Nik Nik is the tide I’ve been kicking against for the better part of a decade, and I have to keep kicking because I’ll drown in him as surely as a tar pit.
Location: 2,968

I should have known to let the powerful man kill whomever he wants, just like I always have.

“When you came to Wiley City, didn’t you want it to be better?”

“Warlord, emperor, CEO…” Jean shrugs. “No difference. You can’t save the people he killed. You can only damn yourself. Unless you think some trial, some murder sentence, will please the dead?”
Location: 3,254

“I can’t use that as a reason to ignore this. It’s your reason, but it can’t be mine.”
Location: 3,706

I’m not even sure if I’m talking, if I’m coherent, but I feel Exlee saying, I know. We all know. We understand. As they stroke my back and gently massage my neck, I realize it is touch I want, touch that is making me feel a little bit whole again, and it is touch from a person who is part castle, someone I cannot destroy and who will always be safe.
Location: 3,867

As I leave Exlee reminds me to say Jean’s name each morning and each night until the burial, because our dead are only weights on our backs when we won’t let them walk beside us, when we try to pretend they are not ours or they are not dead.
Location: 3,878

Blood is the only answer for blood in the desert. Thinking this way is dangerous. Murder has a cycle just like water. In the same way water becomes a cloud, then becomes water again, when blood calls for vengeance the blood from that vengeance calls too. If you plan to give death, it will always return to you.
Location: 3,986

She’s staring at me, her face unreadable in the same way a star chart is unreadable when there are no lines to mark the constellations. It’s not that you can’t make out a shape, it’s that you can make out so many shapes you’ll never know which one is right. If I wanted to, I could read longing in her distance. But if I’m honest, it’s probably just my own reflected back by her indifference.
Location: 4,058

“What?” I ask, because even lovely puzzles get tiring if they’re unsolvable.
Location: 4,061

“Blowing up a thing that wants to blow up? That’s a party."
Location: 4,186

Lovecraft Country

Book Notes

While sitting at the dining table at Chez Oliphant, Claire and I started talking books. I suspect we started talking about books because I was lamenting not having any good road trip books, and I was about to start a four day road trip. Well, for solo road trip books, Claire has some great recommendations. This one came out because I had recommended the Dread Nation sequel (zombies!), and Claire countered with Lovecraft, or rather Jim Crow South with Cthulhu. Go on...

Turns out, while there are elements of Lovecraft in the book, the book is more an homage to Lovecraft than a Lovecraftian fan-fic. It reads like a serial, with eight separate stories, each tangentially related to the others, told in sequential order, each with different characters as the focus. There is an over-arching plot, which works very well with the satisfying ending (good guys win! rah!). The Jim Crow parts were uncomfortable reading and that is likely the point. One of the stories didn't interest me at all, but the uncomfortable parts relating to abuse of power were worth sticking with.

I think Claire's review sums up the book well: "White people were all, 'Gasp! Ghosts???' and the black people were all, shrug 'Ghosts. Sure, okay.'" The Wikipedia article sums up the individual stories well. If you like urban fiction with a hint of Lovecraft, and want to sit with racial difficulties (yes, you do), this is a great book to pick up. So great that it is a mini-series. I suspect the book is better, but haven't seen the show, so don't know.

[Burroughs ...] whose protagonist John Carter had been a captain in the Army of Northern Virginia before becoming a Martian warlord. “A Confederate officer?” Atticus’s father had said, appalled. “That’s the hero?” When Atticus tried to suggest it wasn’t that bad since technically John Carter was an ex-Confederate, his father scoffed: “Ex-Confederate? What’s that, like an ex-Nazi? The man fought for slavery! You don’t get to put an ‘ex-’ in front of that!”
Page: 12

Atticus’s shared devotion to these mostly white-authored genres had been a source of ongoing struggle with his father. George, as Montrose’s older brother, was largely immune to his scorn and could always tell him to keep his opinions to himself. Atticus didn’t have that privilege.
Montrose could have simply forbidden him to read such things. Atticus knew other sons whose fathers had done that, who’d thrown their comic books and Amazing Stories collections into the trash. But Montrose, with limited exceptions, didn’t believe in book-banning. He always insisted he just wanted Atticus to think about what he read, rather than imbibing it mindlessly, and Atticus, if he were being honest, had to admit that was a reasonable goal.

But if it was fair to acknowledge his father’s good intentions, it also seemed fair to point out that his father was a belligerent man who enjoyed having cause to pick on him.

Uncle George wasn’t much help. “It’s not as if your father’s wrong,” he said one time when Atticus was complaining.

“But you love these stories!” Atticus said. “You love them as much as I do!”

“I do love them,” George agreed. “But stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though.”

“But you don’t get mad. Not like Pop does.”

“No, that’s true, I don’t get mad. Not at stories. They do disappoint me sometimes.” He looked at the shelves. “Sometimes, they stab me in the heart.”
Page: 12

“You hope,” said Abdullah. “What if he sees through you? Or what if he buys it, but decides to hang on to your great-grandma’s book until you find the real secret room?”

“That’s like six bridges ahead,” George said. “I’ll cross it when I come to it.”
Page: 157

“Better to resist temptation by avoiding it altogether,” Abdullah suggested.
Page: 157

It was nothing Ruby hadn’t heard, or overheard, a million times before. But there was a difference between having people talk about you, or at you, and having them talk to you, believing you were one of them and expecting you to think as they did.
Page: 249

“But you’re right, we are going to need a leader. I won’t insult you by pretending I don’t have an idea who that leader should be. And if there were a living descendant of Titus Braithwhite, and if I thought by trotting him out I could sway some of you to my point of view, well, I’d be tempted. But the problem with appeals to authority is that they’re ultimately subjective. One man’s honored tradition is another’s superstition—and that’s where the knives come out."
Page: 257

It keeps me safe. So he knew his Bible, at least. Ruby recalled another white boy she’d been with briefly, Danny Young, who one day had begun expounding on a theory he had, that the mark God put on Cain was actually dark skin and that everything bad that had befallen the Negroes—slavery, lynching, Jim Crow—was a result of their being Cain’s descendants. You’d be a better Christian if you learned how to read, Ruby had told him. Cain’s mark was a protection; if the mark was his skin color, then God must have turned him white, not black.
Page: 260

“How’d Narrow react?” Montrose asked.

“He thanked me for the warning,” said Landsdowne. “The way men do, when they don’t intend to heed it."
Page: 281

The Great Influenza

Book Notes

Rob Whiteley recommended this book to me, Ryan Holiday recommended this book to his reading list, and I strongly recommend this book to pretty much anyone who will listen. The Great Influenza was written over ten years ago and tells us ALL ABOUT the (no longer) upcoming pandemic. The parallels between the 1918 Spanish Flu and the 2019 CoVid19 pandemic are disheartening, making this book both a history book and a playbook on how NOT to handle a pandemic.

The Great Influenza tells us the history of The Spanish flu, which probably should have been called the Kansas Flu, which went from February 1918 to around April 1920, infecting about 500 million people (or about a third of the world's population). Somewhere between 20 million and 50 million died during that pandemic, even as people said "it's just the flu." Up to 60000 people die in the US from the flu even today, but hey, "it's just the flu" seems to be the dismissive way we ignored the warnings 100 years ago, and today.

The book is also an exploration of science, broad strokes on how we discover new ideas, hypothesize and test those ideas, and form theories of phenomena and solutions to problems. Discovery is rarely a straight line, yet we see only the end result, often ignoring all the hard work that goes into that end. There are many, many failures for every success, in science and pretty much everywhere. Barry explores some of these failures and shows how they lead to our successes.

Of note, we still don't have a cure for influenza, 100 years later. We have yearly vaccinations to prime our bodies to fight off the influenza viruses, but that's not the same as having rid the world of small pox.

I have to say, I had more than a little laugh at the Arizona "You can't tell me what to do" reaction during the 1918 Influenza. I mean, hello, viruses don't care. They didn't wear masks or isolate 100 years ago, and Arizona doesn't (didn't) wear masks or isolate these days (for the most part), because "you can't tell me what to do" says Arizona. How much stays the same. How much death happens because of ignorant beliefs. Frustrating and sad for the people in Arizona who are not idiots.

But here we are.

I strongly recommend this book, but maybe not 6 months into a pandemic. Might be too depressing if you have pandemic or isolation fatigue. That said, knowledge is power and knowing what NOT to do, which you can learn from this book, might be worth the chance.

If a society does set Goethe’s “Word . . . supremely high,” if it believes that it knows the truth and that it need not question its beliefs, then that society is more likely to enforce rigid decrees, and less likely to change. If it leaves room for doubt about the truth, it is more likely to be free and open. In the narrower context of science, the answer determines how individuals explore nature—how one does science. And the way one goes about answering a question, one’s methodology, matters as much as the question itself. For the method of inquiry underlies knowledge and often determines what one discovers: how one pursues a question often dictates, or at least limits, the answer.
Page 15

According to Kuhn, the prevailing paradigm tends to freeze progress, indirectly by creating a mental obstacle to creative ideas and directly by, for example, blocking research funds from going to truly new ideas, especially if they conflict with the paradigm. He argues that nonetheless researchers eventually find what he calls “anomalies” that do not fit the paradigm. Each one erodes the foundation of the paradigm, and when enough accrue to undermine it, the paradigm collapses. Scientists then cast about for a new paradigm that explains both the old and the new facts.
Page 15

A theory must make a prediction to be useful or scientific—ultimately it must say, If this, then that—and testing that prediction is the single most important element of modern methodology. Once that prediction is tested, it must advance another one for testing. It can never stand still.
Page 17

Those who wrote the Hippocratic texts, however, observed passively and reasoned actively.
Page 17

In fact, biology is chaos. Biological systems are the product not of logic but of evolution, an inelegant process. Life does not choose the logically best design to meet a new situation. It adapts what already exists. Much of the human genome includes genes which are “conserved”; i.e., which are essentially the same as those in much simpler species. Evolution has built upon what already exists.
Page 24

Welch confessed to his stepmother, “Such great things are expected of the faculty at the Johns Hopkins in the way of achievement and of reform of medical education in this country that I feel oppressed by the weight of responsibility. A reputation there will not be so cheaply earned as at Bellevue.” Yet precisely for that reason the Hopkins offered, he wrote, “undoubtedly the best opportunity in this country.” Declining would reveal him as a hypocrite and a coward.
Page 55

Welch accepted the Hopkins offer. Dennis was furious. His friendship with Welch had been, at least on Dennis’s side, of great emotional depth and intensity. Now Dennis felt betrayed. Welch confided to his stepmother, “I grieve that a life-long friendship should thus come to an end, but . . . [i] t looks almost as if Dr. Dennis thought he had a lien upon my whole future life. When he appealed to what he had done for me I told him that was a subject which I would in no way discuss with him.”
Page 55

The greatest challenge of science, its art, lies in asking an important question and framing it in a way that allows it to be broken into manageable pieces, into experiments that can be conducted that ultimately lead to answers. To do this requires a certain kind of genius, one that probes vertically and sees horizontally. Horizontal vision allows someone to assimilate and weave together seemingly unconnected bits of information. It allows an investigator to see what others do not see, and to make leaps of connectivity and creativity. Probing vertically, going deeper and deeper into something, creates new information. Sometimes what one finds will shine brilliantly enough to illuminate the whole world. At least one question connects the vertical and the horizontal. That question is “So what?” Like a word on a Scrabble board, this question can connect with and prompt movement in many directions. It can eliminate a piece of information as unimportant or, at least to the investigator asking the question, irrelevant. It can push an investigator to probe more deeply to understand a piece of information. It can also force an investigator to step back and see how to fit a finding into a broader context. To see questions in these ways requires a wonder, a deep wonder focused by discipline, like a lens focusing the sun’s rays on a spot of paper until it bursts into flame. It requires a kind of conjury.
Page 60

Welch had a vital and wide curiosity, but he did not have this deeper wonder. The large aroused him. But he could not see the large in the small. No question ever aroused a great passion in him, no question ever became a compulsion, no question ever forced him to pursue it until it was either exhausted or led him to new questions. Instead he examined a problem, then moved on.
Page 61

Judge Learned Hand, one of Simon Flexner’s closest friends, later observed, “That community is already in the process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where nonconformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, becomes a mark of disaffection; where denunciation, without specification or backing, takes the place of evidence; where orthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent.”
Page 125

Bullard had written from Europe about the war for Outlook, Century, and Harper’s Weekly. He pointed out that Britain was censoring the press and had misled the British people, undermining trust in the government and support for the war. He urged using facts only. But he had no particular affection for truth per se, only for effectiveness: “Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms. . . . There is nothing in experience to tell us that one is always preferable to the other. . . . There are lifeless truths and vital lies. . . . The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false.”
Page 126

The research mattered, Avery was saying, not the life. And the life of research, like that of any art, lay within. As Einstein once said, “One of the strongest motives that lead persons to art or science is a flight from the everyday life. . . . With this negative motive goes a positive one. Man seeks to form for himself, in whatever manner is suitable for him, a simplified and lucid image of the world, and so to overcome the world of experience by striving to replace it to some extent by this image.
Page 158

Man might be defined as “modern” largely to the extent that he attempts to control, as opposed to adjust himself to, nature. In this relationship with nature, modern humanity has generally been the aggressor, and a daring one at that, altering the flow of rivers, building upon geological faults, and, today, even engineering the genes of existing species. Nature has generally been languid in its response, although contentious once aroused and occasionally displaying a flair for violence. By 1918 humankind was fully modern, and fully scientific, but too busy fighting itself to aggress against nature. Nature, however, chooses its own moments. It chose this moment to aggress against man, and it did not do so prodding languidly. For the first time, modern humanity, a humanity practicing the modern scientific method, would confront nature in its fullest rage.
Page 166

At the Grove Park Inn, one of the most elegant settings in the city, they listened to a concert. Welch lit a cigar. A bellboy promptly told him smoking was not allowed. He and Cole withdrew to the veranda and began talking. Another bellboy asked them to please be quiet during the concert. Welch left in disgust.
Page 188

He had already achieved much, and he held the promise of much more. He also knew his own worth, not in the sense that it made him smug but in that it gave him responsibility, making his promise at least as much burden as ambition.
Page 200

Even if Lewis succeeded in making a vaccine, it would take weeks to produce in sufficient quantities. Thus, only drastic action could prevent the spread of influenza throughout the city. Banning public meetings, closing businesses and schools, imposing an absolute quarantine on the Navy Yard and on civilian cases—all these things made sense. A recent precedent existed. Only three years earlier Krusen’s predecessor—during the single term of the reform mayor—had imposed and enforced a strict quarantine when a polio epidemic had erupted, a disease Lewis knew more about than anyone in the world. Lewis certainly wanted a quarantine.
Page 203

But Plummer was Lewis’s commanding officer. He and Krusen wanted to wait. Both feared that taking any such steps might cause panic and interfere with the war effort. Keeping the public calm was their goal. Those polio restrictions had been imposed when the country wasn’t fighting a war.
Page 203

Advertising was about to emerge as an industry; J. Walter Thompson—his advertising agency was already national, and his deputy became a senior Creel aide—was theorizing that it could engineer behavior; after the war the industry would claim the ability to “sway the ideas of whole populations,” while Herbert Hoover said, “The world lives by phrases” and called public relations “an exact science.”
Page 205

Total war requires sacrifice and good morale makes sacrifices acceptable, and therefore possible. The sacrifices included inconveniences in daily life. To contribute to the war effort, citizens across the country
Page 205

endured the “meatless days” during the week, the one “wheatless meal” every day. All these sacrifices were of course voluntary, completely voluntary—although Hoover’s Food Administration could effectively close businesses that did not “voluntarily” cooperate. And if someone chose to go for a drive in the country on a “gasless Sunday,” when people were “voluntarily” refraining from driving, that someone was pulled over by hostile police.
Page 205

But Hagadorn believed that disease could be controlled.
Page 213

And this was only influenza.
Page 213

Those pockets of air leaking through ruptured lungs made patients crackle when they were rolled onto their sides. One navy nurse later compared the sound to a bowl of Rice Krispies, and the memory of that sound was so vivid to her that for the rest of her life she could not tolerate being around anyone who was eating Rice Krispies.
Page 235

Extreme earaches were common.
Page 235

The headaches throbbed deep in the skull, victims feeling as if their heads would literally split open, as if a sledgehammer were driving a wedge not into the head but from inside the head out. The pain seemed to locate particularly behind the eye orbit and could be nearly unbearable when patients moved their eyes.
Page 236

The ability to smell was affected, sometimes for weeks.
Page 236

This was influenza, only influenza. Yet to a layperson at home, to a wife caring for a husband, to a father caring for a child, to a brother caring for a sister, symptoms unlike anything they had seen terrified. And
Page 236

The immune system begins its defense far in advance of the lungs, with enzymes in saliva that destroy some pathogens
Page 246

Then it raises physical obstacles, such as nasal hairs that filter out large particles and sharp turns in the throat that force inhaled air to collide with the sides of breathing passageways.
Page 246

Mucus lines these passageways and traps organisms and irritants. Underneath the layer of mucus lies a blanket of “epithelial cells,” and from their surfaces extend “cilia,” akin to tiny hairs which, like tiny oars, sweep upward continuously at from 1,000 to 1,500 beats a minute. This sweeping motion moves foreign organisms away from places they can lodge and launch an infection, and up to the larynx. If something does gain a foothold in the upper respiratory tract, the body first tries to flush
Page 246

it out with more fluid—hence the typical runny nose—and then expel it with coughs and sneezes.
Page 246

And if one experiment shows a hint of a result, the slightest bump on a flat line of information, then a scientist designs the next experiment to focus on that bump, to create conditions more likely to get more bumps until they either become consistent and meaningful or demonstrate that the initial bump was mere random variation without meaning. There are limits to such manipulation. Even under torture, nature will not lie, will not yield a consistent, reproducible result, unless it is true. But if tortured enough, nature will mislead; it will confess to something that is true only under special conditions—the conditions the investigator created in the laboratory. Its truth is then artificial, an experimental artifact. One key to science is that work be reproducible. Someone in another laboratory doing the same experiment will get the same result. The result
Page 263

then is reliable enough that someone else can build upon it. The most damning condemnation is to dismiss a finding as “not reproducible.” That can call into question not only ability but on occasion ethics. If a reproducible finding comes from torturing nature, however, it is not useful. To be useful, a result must be not only reproducible but . . . perhaps one should call it expandable. One must be able to enlarge it, explore it, learn more from it, use it as a foundation to build structures upon. These things become easy to discern in hindsight. But how does one know when to persist, when to continue to try to make an experiment work, when to make adjustments—and when finally to abandon a line of thought as mistaken or incapable of solution with present techniques? How does one know when to do either? The question is one of judgment. For the distinguishing element in science is not intelligence but judgment. Or perhaps it is simply luck.
Page 263

Judgment is so difficult because a negative result does not mean that a hypothesis is wrong. Nor do ten negative results, nor do one hundred negative results. Ehrlich
Page 264

How does one know when one knows? When one is on the edge, one cannot know. One can only test.
Page 264

LABORATORIES EVERYWHERE had turned to influenza. Pasteur’s protégé Émile Roux, one of those who had raced German competitors for a diphtheria antitoxin, directed the work at the Pasteur Institute. In Britain virtually everyone in Almroth Wright’s laboratory worked on it, including Alexander Fleming, whose later discovery of penicillin he first applied to research on Pfeiffer’s so-called influenza bacillus. In Germany, in Italy, even in revolution-torn Russia, desperate investigators searched for an answer.
Page 266

Institutions are a strange mix of the mass and the individual. They abstract. They behave according to a set of rules that substitute both for individual judgments and for the emotional responses that occur whenever individuals interact. The act of creating an institution dehumanizes it, creates an arbitrary barrier between individuals. Yet institutions are human as well. They reflect the cumulative personalities of those within them, especially their leadership. They tend, unfortunately, to mirror less admirable human traits, developing and protecting self-interest and even ambition. Institutions almost never sacrifice. Since they live by rules, they lack spontaneity. They try to order chaos not in the way an artist or scientist does, through a defining vision that creates structure and discipline, but by closing off and isolating themselves from that which does not fit. They become bureaucratic.
Page 299

the coroner—Vare’s man—blamed the increasing death toll on the ban by the state public health commissioner on liquor sales, claiming alcohol was the best treatment for influenza.
Page 328

In virtually every home, someone was ill. People were already avoiding each other, turning their heads away if they had to talk, isolating themselves. The telephone company increased the isolation: with eighteen hundred telephone company employees out, the phone company allowed only emergency calls; operators listened to calls randomly and cut off phone service of those who made routine calls. And the isolation increased the fear. Clifford Adams recalled, “They stopped people from communicating, from going to churches, closed the schools, . . . closed all the saloons. . . . Everything was quiet.”
Page 328

The attrition rate even where volunteers did not come into contact with the sick—in the kitchens, for example—was little better. Finally Mrs. Martin turned bitter and contemptuous: “Hundreds of women who are content to sit back . . . had delightful dreams of themselves in the roles of angels of mercy, had the unfathomable vanity to imagine that they were capable of great spirit of sacrifice. Nothing seems to rouse them now.
Page 331

They have been told that there are families in which every member is ill, in which the children are actually starving because there is no one to give them food. The death rate is so high and they still hold back.”
Page 331

In 1918 fear moved ahead of the virus like the bow wave before a ship. Fear drove the people, and the government and the press could not control it. They could not control it because every true report had been diluted with lies. And the more the officials and newspapers reassured, the more they said, There is no cause for alarm if proper precautions are taken, or Influenza is nothing more or less than old-fashioned grippe, the more people believed themselves cast adrift, adrift with no one to trust, adrift on an ocean of death.
Page 340

But as Camus knew, evil and crises do not make all men rise above themselves. Crises only make them discover themselves. And some discover a less inspiring humanity.
Page 343

Monument and Ignacio, Colorado, went further than banning all public gatherings. They banned customers from stores; the stores remained open, but customers shouted orders through doors, then waited outside for packages.
Page 348

Despite that effort, whoever held power, whether a city government or some private gathering of the locals, they generally failed to keep the community together. They failed because they lost trust. They lost trust because they lied. (San Francisco was a rare exception; its leaders told the truth, and the city responded heroically.) And they lied for the war effort, for the propaganda machine that Wilson had created.
Page 396

Paul Lewis was a romantic, and a lover. He wanted. He wanted more and loved more passionately than Park or Avery. But as is true of many romantics, it was the idea of the thing as much or more than the thing itself that he loved. He loved science, and he loved the laboratory. But it did not yield to him. The deepest secrets of the laboratory showed themselves to Lewis when he was guided by others, when others opened a crack for him. But when he came alone to the laboratory, that crack closed. He could not find the right loose thread to tug at, the way to ask the question. To him the laboratory presented a stone face, unyielding to his pleadings.
Page 447

Peace Talks

Book Notes

This is book 16 of The Dresden Files, and we all know that I will read this book. While I didn't read it immediately when I received it, I did read it all in one day (I know, I know, quelle surprise).

To say I am disappointed in this book is an understatement. To say I am not the only person who feels this way is to scream the truth. This book is, after some consideration, the worst book of the series, and that's lower than the first two books. So let's talk about them, because they are clearly good enough to hook me on the series, yet I'm less of a fan of them than when I originally read them. In the first two books, Butcher hadn't quite found his writing style, found Dresden's voice. As such, the first two books read less well, are more cheesy. Which isn't to say they are bad, they are not, but they are at the bottom of good. The first two books are the Nickelback of Urban Fantasy, the crap of the cream.

So, how could this book be worse than those books? Well...

This book is entirely setup for the next book, Battle Ground, book 17 of The Dresden Files. The plot lacks tension. The characters lack development, no one matures, ponders, overcomes, questions, or decides really to do anything. The one big plot point, an assassination attempt, is so out of character than the first question ANYONE would ask should be, "Why?" Start there, figure out why, and work backwards. But no, no one bothers to ask, let's just blow straight through the thinking part into the panic rescue, and how clever to figure out how to do this without blowing shit up. -ish.

And what the f--- is up with Ebenezer? Hint, hint, hint, rage, rage, rage. Oh, look, this does appear to be Dresden's first rodeo. I mean, come on, no, you don't become the Black Staff by being unable to control your rage. Just doesn't happen.

Yeah, again, this book is all setup. It is unexciting, uneventful, uninspiring. It is the first half of the "oops, I wrote too much, better split the book in half" book, which has the second half arriving at the end of September. If you're reading the Dresden Files, wait until the next book is out before reading this one, and read them both in one go. Don't read this one if you're not reading the series. And if you're listening to the audiobook, forgive Marster's his Mab voice. It is awful.

He shook his head. "Humans are scared of just about everything. Problem is, their first reaction to being scared—"

“Is to kill it,” I said, nodding. I considered my super-nice suit and decided that I didn’t much like suits anyway. I sat down on the ground next to River. “I’m familiar with the problem.”
Location: 3,121

“Old woman,” Corb taunted. “I remember you as a bawling brat. I remember your pimply face when you rode with the Conqueror. I remember how you wept when Merlin cast you out."
“Tell me,” Corb purred. “If he was yet among the living, do you think he would still love you? Would he be so proud of what you’ve become?”
Location: 4,251


Book Notes

Okay, when your tribe recommends a book, and an Internet Personality™ who has not failed in his book recommendations for you recommends the same book, well, you kinda have to read said recommendation. This book is that recommendation. This book is worth that recommendation.

Here's the thing, when you are the odd one out, when you are the weird one, your life is more difficult than the lives of those who fit in, who make friends easily, who aren't teased for being who they are, who don't stand out. Khazan understands, having been the weird one. She goes through how it feels to be weird, retells her journey, reviews many others' journeys with being weird, tells us there is strength in our weirdness, and lets us know it gets better. It does.

There's a cadence to this book that is welcoming, like sitting with a friend you've known for decades at a quiet cafe in a small European city and talking for hours. It's a nice feeling. During that conversation, Khazan tells us about the inverse correlations between societies' conformity and freedoms, about how different opinions lead to better decisions, about how being outside is a strength, and about how you have the choice to confirm or stay weird.

I enjoyed this book, and likely would have devoured this when I was 11 years old and crying that I just wanted to be normal, why wasn't I normal? I've found peace in my gracelessness, in my dorkitude, in my being the only girl in a group of "hey guys!" but it took a long, long time to find that peace. I would argue this book many years ago might have helped me accept myself faster. For that, I recommend this book to anyone who is even just a little bit weird. I'd tell them, "It's okay. Here, read this one, and Grit and let's talk."

When you’re locked outside something, it’s hard to know whether it’s because of something about you.
Chapter 1: Weird

One researcher found that lacking social connections is as harmful as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Loneliness is deadlier than obesity, and it increases the risk of dementia.
Chapter 1: Weird

I realized that sometimes my weirdness was someone else’s fault, but sometimes it was actually mine. Sometimes it was no one’s fault, but the wound from all the previous times was still so raw that I reacted three or four or forty times as strongly as I needed to. Later, experts would tell me this is called “inflammation.”
Chapter 1: Weird

There are systemic, horrific problems in our society that the tools of psychology are not equipped to address. The fact that marginalized people have learned to cope with some of them does not mean the fight for equality should ebb.
Chapter 1: Weird

Before the 1800s, weird was more likely to mean supernatural, or fantastical. Shakespeare, for instance, called the witches in Macbeth the “weyard sisters.” Wyrd is the Old English word for “fate,” and by the eighth century, a form of it, wyrde, was used to refer to the three Roman mythical, goddess-like Fates. The first one, Nona, spun the thread of life; the second, Decima, measured it; and the third, Morta, cut it as she saw fit. The three Fates represented the idea that our futures are determined, in part, by our circumstances. In that case, wyrde—weird—could be considered a kind of prediction, a destiny. Much like what psychology suggests, your unusualness is a fabric woven from the thread of your life. Your identity, your environment, and your experiences all combine to make you who you are. But your weirdness is also a hint at what you might live to see and do, at what hidden powers you possess. “Weird,” then, is your potential.
Chapter 1: Weird

All these findings point to roughly the same conclusion: we like to fit in with the group; we like people who fit in with the group; we dislike those who don’t. These norms, or unwritten rules about what we “ought” to be doing, determine what’s weird or isn’t.
Chapter 2: The Realization

In a 2014 study, the psychologist Shinobu Kitayama found the degree to which we uphold cultural norms is related to the type of variation we have on one gene, the dopamine D4 receptor gene. The gene doesn’t change how we behave; instead, it influences how much we endorse the prevailing norms of our environments.
Chapter 2: The Realization

People with borderline personality disorder and certain other conditions, such as autism, have trouble comprehending social norms. People with borderline, or BPD, as it’s abbreviated, struggle with mentalizing, or guessing what other people are thinking. They tend to be hypermentalizers—they interpret people’s intentions in the worst way possible, and they don’t react, well, normally.
Chapter 2: The Realization

social norms can change without people changing their actual attitudes—toward naked butts, in this case. It’s enough simply to plant the idea that something is normal and suggest that it’s the right thing to do. How you, personally, feel about it doesn’t matter; you’ll do it anyway.
Chapter 2: The Realization

Research has consistently shown that instead, in both friendships and romantic relationships, people seek out people who are almost exactly like themselves. Spouses and friends may very well become more similar to each other over time, but they start out resembling each other, too.
Chapter 2: The Realization

Russia’s anti-gay law is an interesting example of the psychological phenomenon in which, when our self-esteem is threatened, we start to desire surroundings that are more homogeneous. The idea is that when all else fails to give us a self-esteem boost, we can shore up our identity through sameness. (In fact, just doing the opposite, reminding people of their own self-worth, can make them more tolerant toward difference. One study found that after people wrote essays about their own positive traits, they were more likely to offer concessions to people who disagreed with them about abortion.)
Chapter 2: The Realization

Within each country, tightness can vary depending on the situation. Privacy is an important value in the U.S., so the normally loose Americans tighten up in that realm—they don’t drop by each other’s homes unannounced. Meanwhile, in the more culturally tight Japan, people crowd into bars after work to let loose—literally.
Chapter 2: The Realization

In psychology, “wanting things to be the way they’ve always been” is called “system justification,”
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

Norms trap us in the status quo, even when the status quo is irrational.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

“Most of the time that people do that kind of thing, it’s because they’re afraid, because they don’t understand, they don’t know me, and I’m different, and different scares people,” she told me.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

When the extent of the Nazis’ atrocities was revealed, it was thought that it would take a nation of very disturbed personalities to commit such violence.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

Seeing our group win matters, even if the group itself doesn’t matter at all.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

So if this was our past, when did we become so hateful toward outsiders? How did we get from whale party to fascism? Apparently, it was when we started farming, about ten thousand years ago. Farming involved settling on patches of land and interacting less with outside groups
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

Women, in particular, were expected to mold themselves to fit their husbands’ expectations, and those who had marriage trouble were asked by therapists if they were keeping themselves attractive enough.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

“Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego,” Edward Podolsky advises wives in his 1943 book, Sex Today in Wedded Life. “Don’t bother your husband with petty troubles and complaints when he comes home from work…Be a good listener. Let him tell you his troubles; yours will seem trivial in comparison.”
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

Multiple studies and surveys have now shown that it was a fear of losing status to other groups—like immigrants and people of color—that motivated many white Americans’ support for Trump.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

It’s commonly thought that the main reason behind opposition to immigration is a fear that immigrants will take Americans’ jobs, but research on anti-immigrant sentiment suggests that’s not quite true. Instead, what seems most important is how culturally different the immigrants are from the native population. Specifically, what matters is if the immigrants speak English. To wit: more than 90 percent of Americans believe a person “must speak English” to be an American.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

It turns out we don’t want to safeguard our jobs so much as our norms.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

The reason a heavy disease burden dampened the kind of creative thinking required to win a Nobel, Murray found, was because worrying about biological threats made people in those nations more conformist. A history of infectious diseases didn’t make people in those nations dim-witted. But, according to this theory, it helped make them more traditional and avoidant of other people, and thus, less likely to come up with new and interesting ideas.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

Our behavioral immune systems predispose us to avoid people who break our social norms because we, subconsciously, fear they might harbor illnesses we are not equipped to fight off.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

Several studies have now shown that when people are more worried about disease, they react more negatively toward foreigners and norm violators.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

One study found that states and countries that are more plagued by infectious diseases tend to have stronger family ties and greater levels of religiosity; the authors interpreted these measures as indicating a preference for sticking with your own kind of people.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

People who are more careful about germs—who, say, open the bathroom door with a paper towel—have less inflammation, which is the way our body typically protects us from pathogens. When you’re taking pains to avoid germs—when your behavioral immune system is revved up—your body realizes there’s less of a need for it to fight infections below the skin, so it turns down the inflammatory activity.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion

“All this freedom” is something we heard a lot. Aren’t you enjoying all this freedom? Texans felt they had given us something that was so dear to them—freedom—and seemed hurt it was not more transformational for us,
Chapter 4: The Sting

But more often than not, people who are expected to feel persistently grateful instead wind up feeling subtly inferior.
Chapter 4: The Sting

Loneliness is not simply introversion. It isn’t the same as preferring to be alone. Rather, it’s a gap between the amount of social interaction a person would like to have and the amount they experience.
Chapter 4: The Sting

But that’s easier said than done: lonely humans have an overactive sense of social threat—a fear that they’ll be rejected if they try to reach out and socialize. Lonely people want to be around others, but they are afraid that if they try, they will be rejected.
Chapter 4: The Sting

People who are chronically lonely tend to withdraw socially because they start to feel like other people aren’t trustworthy. Socially isolated people view their interactions with others more negatively, so they keep their distance, perpetuating a cycle of loneliness.
Chapter 4: The Sting

The problem is that loneliness is not an actual, physical wound, so this inflammatory response is pointless. You could be lonely for days, weeks, months. The entire time, the immune system is gearing up to fight off bacteria that aren’t really there, pumping you full of inflammatory chemicals in the process.
Chapter 4: The Sting

Feeling excluded can be so painful, in fact, that people will turn to terrible alternatives to avoid it. Researchers are increasingly finding that the roots of various kinds of terrorism and radicalization lie in the rather banal sensation of feeling cut off from your social circle.
Chapter 4: The Sting

Exclusion is one of the things that can trigger what the psychologist Arie Kruglanski calls a “significance quest”—a plot to restore your place in society by becoming “somebody” again. You can restore your significance constructively—by, say, volunteering at your mosque, or destructively, by volunteering for ISIS. It all depends on what paths you see available to you, and who your friends are.
Chapter 4: The Sting

This is how social exclusion can become so perverse: it can insert ideas into your head that you don’t even possess. You might not be unusually hateful, but you’re lonely, and that can be enough.
Chapter 4: The Sting

I wanted a past that when I explained it to people, no one asked “why?” about any part of it.
Chapter 5: Creativity

There are a million little signals we get that suggest difference is inherently bad. “Living in interesting times” is supposed to be a curse. Interestingness, according to this bit of apocrypha, is inferior to normalcy. Boringness is tranquility, and divergence will inevitably hurt. For people who are considered interesting, that is often the case. But probe a little deeper, and you find that being weird isn’t always difficult. Even when it is, there are moments of glory amid the turmoil.
Chapter 5: Creativity

But believing that your weirdness is your superpower can also be hugely beneficial. There is evidence that thinking about your circumstances in a different way—a process called cognitive reappraisal—can help you cope with challenges. Perceiving what makes you weird as being what gives you strength can, ultimately, make you happier.
Chapter 5: Creativity

It occurred to me that the rest of my life hinged on performing well the following day. I didn’t have time to be depressed
Chapter 5: Creativity

So there was a relationship between rejection and creativity. But this advantage was only seen among the participants who considered themselves unique—who had an “independent self-concept.” Those who felt like they already weren’t part of any particular group were more creative when they were rejected by an arbitrary collective. There appears to be something about being a weirdo that uncorks your mind and allows new ideas to flow.
Chapter 5: Creativity

Creativity is defined scientifically as a process that results in a “new and useful” product. It doesn’t have to be art—a new assembly-line procedure can be as creative as a painting. And its usefulness doesn’t have to be physical—joy can be as useful as productivity.
Chapter 5: Creativity

people who are on the periphery of all sorts of groups are often freer to innovate and change social norms.
Chapter 5: Creativity

Outsiders are already not concerned with what the in-crowd thinks of them, so they have more leeway to experiment and come up with the next iThing or bestseller.
Chapter 5: Creativity

“The idea behind this is that once you’ve experienced things that violate norms and rules and expectations, you’re more open to more things like that,” Damian told me. “You experienced that the world doesn’t have to work by your rules, so you can break the rules.”
Chapter 5: Creativity

If something too jarring or traumatizing happens to you, just coping with it might use up all your mental capacity.
Chapter 5: Creativity

Your weirdness is attached to you. But rather than a millstone around your neck, it can be a jet pack.
Chapter 5: Creativity

Being unusual doesn’t just make you, yourself, more creative. Dissenting voices can also boost the creativity and decision-making power of the broader group you’re a part of.
Chapter 5: Creativity

Among the more democratic teams, in which all the workers took part in the decisions, the teams that had dissenting opinions in their midst came up with more innovative solutions than the teams in which everyone agreed.
Chapter 5: Creativity

The presence of a person who voices a competing perspective to the predominant one of the group has also been found to reduce our tendency to throw good money after bad. In a phenomenon called the sunk-cost fallacy, people are tempted to see a terrible idea through to the end once they’ve committed to doing it, even if it seems less and less brilliant as the problems pile up. (Those who have stuck with a terrible TV show or relationship because of the time they’ve already invested know this phenomenon well.)
Chapter 5: Creativity

This liberating element of alternate viewpoints has been replicated in other studies, and it underscores the value of having a diverse array of people around to poke holes in the prevailing idea.
Chapter 5: Creativity

The reason why minority views are so potent, according to research on persuasion, is that in certain circumstances, people tend to scrutinize a minority viewpoint more carefully. When we hear a dissenting view, we think more critically about what we’re hearing. Listening to a minority viewpoint prompts, in the listener, a consideration of information about different sides of an issue. Majorities, meanwhile, spur us to think only about data that supports the majority perspective.
Chapter 5: Creativity

Unfortunately, though, when people stop being weird, these benefits go away. When people who were once in the minority become the majority, research shows they become more closed-minded.
Chapter 5: Creativity

The idea was pioneered by the psychologist Edwin Hollander in the 1950s. By studying the way people interact in groups, Hollander theorized that newcomers to a group are better accepted if they first pay homage to its established values and goals, then start to deviate in small ways. At first, conform; then innovate.
Chapter 8: Comfort with Discomfort

Another way my interviewees combated the social anxiety that can arise from standing out was, frankly, by simply not giving a hoot what people thought of them.
Chapter 8: Comfort with Discomfort

As much as research tells us that it’s painful not to conform, some studies also hint at a way out: you can, like Asma has, change the way you think about your own nonconformity.
Chapter 8: Comfort with Discomfort

“People’s discomfort is theirs and not mine,” she said. The way she sees it, if someone judges you for your choices, it implies they’re the ones who aren’t okay.
Chapter 8: Comfort with Discomfort

Impostor syndrome can manifest in a variety of ways, including procrastination or an inability to accept compliments
Chapter 9: Better Than the Rest

The more Daniel learned about the theories behind societal stereotypes, the easier it seemed to be for him to process people’s mistrust of him. When a suspicious mom treats him unfairly, he could chalk it up to psychological phenomena, rather than making it about himself.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture

Daniel has stumbled on a technique psychologists commonly employ to help people maneuver through painful situations: they advise people to view their problems from an outside perspective. It’s a theory called Solomon’s Paradox, after the biblical king of Israel.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture

Other studies show it can be beneficial, when thinking about our problems, to refer to ourselves in the third person, rather than using “I.”
Chapter 10: The Big Picture

A major trait that helps in such grueling circumstances, Barrett and Martin write, is “hardiness,” which they define as a commitment to seeing life as meaningful and interesting; a belief that you can influence events; and a tendency to view even negative events as an opportunity to grow.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture

Research shows that greater well-being and self-confidence tend to come with these so-called “redemptive” narratives, which are a way of telling yourself more edifying stories about what’s happening to you.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture

the kinds of stories you tell yourself matter. There are narratives about yourself in which your life can still get better, and there are those in which it will keep getting worse.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture

Many researchers have now found that adults can change the five traits that make up personality: extroversion, openness to experience, emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Changing a trait primarily requires acting in ways that embody that trait, just as Curt did, rather than simply thinking about it.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself

He thinks it might be that when a person reaches their nadir and realizes they want to change, there’s something beneficial about having a warm, comforting presence there to support them.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself

One way to revamp your social life is to simply make more friends.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself

“Dunbar’s number” is the amount of individuals that can realistically make up a social group—about 150, in the view of its namesake, the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. That’s roughly how many casual friends, whom you see at least once a year, a person can maintain. But within that are concentric circles of bros, homies, and confidants. The innermost circle is a pack of three to five very best friends and family members. Then there’s a “sympathy group” of about twelve to fifteen, who wouldn’t necessarily give you a kidney, but would give you a lift to the airport.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself

For example, if you invited someone to do something one time, and they don’t invite you back for a while, it’s okay to invite them again. In other words, just because you don’t alternate the role of initiator doesn’t mean you aren’t really friends.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself

But friendship can be so difficult, and so time-consuming, that maybe this is just what the initial stage looks like: admitting human connection is something you need, like vegetables and water, because it’s good for you. Eventually, you come to like it. Or maybe even to crave it.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself

This entire process is codified in what Joyable calls the “three Cs”—catch the thought that’s making you anxious, check that thought, and change the thought to something that’s “more accurate,” which is likely to be something less anxiety-inducing.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself

I told Chloe that my boyfriend naturally takes criticism in the Joyable-approved way. “When you criticize him, he seems to say, ‘That’s interesting! I’ll assess your viewpoint along with all the other evidence,’” I said. She laughed again. “That’s rare, though,” she said.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself

Little Secrets

Book Notes

This book is on the Best Books of 2020 so far, which is how it came into my awareness. Usually, I shrug off these lists, but this one caught my attention, I don't know why. I do know that it was available at the library and, despite being 7th on my to-read list, I read it over the following two days, zipping through it faster than even I expected.

The Book Riot description is: "Marin Machado had the kind of life other people envied…right up until it became a nightmare. While shopping at Pike Place Market, her son was abducted in the mere seconds it took for her to accept a phone call. A year later, a private investigator rocks Marin’s world with a devastating blow, but it’s not the one she expected: her husband has been cheating. Willing to do whatever it takes to salvage what’s left of her family, Marin goes to dark lengths she never realized she was capable of. Along the way, she discovers her husband might be keeping a bigger secret than his mistress: He might know what happened to their son."

What the description doesn't convey very well is just how well the anguish of losing a child is conveyed. Also not conveyed very well is just how well Hillier demonstrates the slippery slope any of us can slide down when we are in pain, when we are blinded by our biases, when each step isn't that much different than the last until you turn around and see just how far you've fallen.

The book is a fast, good read with a twist that makes you think, "Oh! Didn't see that coming." I was expecting a twist (that (spoiler) J.R. is Justin, he is not (sorry if you're reading this in an RSS feed and that spoiler displayed)), and was amused I was wrong, but delighted about the actual plot twist.

If you like psychological thrillers, this qualifies and is recommended. The suspension wasn't so bad that I skipped to the end, but it was close. If you want a beach book, grab this one. If you want some deep philosophical manifest, look elsewhere, this is brain candy.

“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I can even get angry. We haven’t had sex in two years. Shit, maybe three, I can’t even remember the last time. If I bring it up, he’s gonna deny it. And we’re gonna fight. God, I am so sick of fighting.” “You’re married,” Frances says sharply. “Sex with someone else is never part of the deal, I don’t care how long it’s been.” “Men do have needs, though,” Simon says. “Don’t be a douche.” Frances reaches over and smacks him on the thigh. Marin’s glad she did, because she would have punched him.
Location: 390

Hope lasts only so long, can carry you only so far. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it’s all you have. It keeps you going when there’s nothing else to hold on to. But hope can also be terrible. It keeps you wanting, waiting, wishing for something that might never happen. It’s like a glass wall between where you are and where you want to be. You can see the life you want, but you can’t have it. You’re a fish in a bowl.
Location: 479

Marin is not going to die today, no matter what this feels like.
Location: 659

Who would have thought that who you love and who you feel safe with might not be the same person?
Location: 1,227

In the beginning, Kenzie found it exciting. Affairs always are at first.
Location: 1,970

Married men are exhausting. They have a way of sucking all the oxygen out of the room when you’re with them. You’re always on their schedule, on guard for changes in locations and times to meet. There are only specific places you can go, and only for so long before there’s somewhere else they have to be. Their families are their priorities. And you’re not family. You’re the side piece. You’re the one who’s there to fill in the holes. Your voice is less than.
Location: 1,972

He understands better than any guy she’s ever known how to apologize properly, and that a good apology involves an acknowledgment of the shitty thing he did, along with a clear understanding of how said shitty thing affected the other person.
Location: 2,072

This is part of their pattern. He’s insensitive, which makes her feel bad, which then makes him feel bad, which then makes her feel worse, and then she’ll do anything to make him feel better. This is what they do, but she doesn’t know how not to do this with him.
Location: 2,083


Book Notes

This book has an excerpt from it published a couple months ago about what what really happened when six boys were shipwrecked on a crappy island for years, in the way of The Lord of the Flies. Spoiler alert: they were not the horrible fictional characters of that book, rather, they adapted and were incredibly "civilized," a term that, after reading this book, I'm more than a bit put-off with. Maybe "advanced" or "cultured" would work better? Cultivated? Sophisticated! There we go.

Another spoiler alert: you should read this book.

When I started reading this book, I was somewhat rolling my eyes, thinking it was going to be a remake of Enlightenment Now, which was WAAAAY better than the actively-disliked Rational Optimist, but still a "yeah, yeah, I already read this" book. Except Bregman actively talks about Pinker's earlier work that says humans are awful beings, and then says, "welllllllllll, about that."

Which sets the stage for just about every major study you've heard about that tells us humans are awful creatures. I mean, we are, but.... welllllll, actually....

Take the death of Kitty Genovese in New York City in March of 1964, everyone says it is the abdication of responsibility, that when surrounded by a crowd doing nothing as you're being murdered, call upon one person to take action. Except, the whole story about how 37 neighbors ignored her death wasn't accurate: they didn't hear her. And the one who did actually did his best, and she died in a friend's arms. The newspapers reported the made-up news of uncaring neighbors, because it sold more newspapers.

Take the most famous Stanford Prison Experiment. Turns out, Zimbardo egged on the students. He actually worked to create the results he wanted to have. He set up the whole experiment.

Take Stanley Milgram's shock machine which tells us that people will blindly follow authority. Turns out, the participants who "blindly followed authority" were either bullied, or misled into believing they were doing Good™.

Take the destruction of Easter Island (didn't happen by the war claimed). Take the Lord of the Flies (totally fiction, people actually behave and share in said island tragedies). Take the killer instinct (most soldiers won't fire unless there's 1. serious training or 2. distance).

A couple parts of this book had me near tears, not of relief, but of hope. What if people really are good, and we've been blinded by what sells to believe otherwise? Oh, wait, that is exactly what happened.

Gosh, I want to believe that humans are good. With all the shit in the world right now, this is a book of hope. I strongly recommend this book. If you can't afford a copy, let me know, I will buy you a copy.

True, the disaster in New Orleans was an extreme case. But the dynamic during disasters is almost always the same: adversity strikes and there’s a wave of spontaneous cooperation in response, then the authorities panic and unleash a second disaster.
page 26

If you believe something enough, it can become real. If there’s one lesson to be drawn from the nocebo effect, it’s that ideas are never merely ideas. We are what we believe. We find what we go looking for. And what we predict, comes to pass.
page 30

Imagine for a moment that a new drug comes on the market. It’s super-addictive, and in no time everyone’s hooked. Scientists investigate and soon conclude that the drug causes, I quote, ‘a misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, [and] desensitization’
page 34

That drug is the news.
page 35

Because the news is about the exceptional, and the more exceptional an event is – be it a terrorist attack, violent uprising, or natural disaster – the bigger its newsworthiness.
page 36

Second, to stand up for human goodness is to take a stand against the powers that be. For the powerful, a hopeful view of human nature is downright threatening. Subversive. Seditious. It implies that we’re not selfish beasts that need to be reined in, restrained and regulated. It implies that we need a different kind of leadership. A company with intrinsically motivated employees has no need of managers; a democracy with engaged citizens has no need of career politicians.
page 44

Bryan Gibson demonstrated that watching Lord of the Flies-type television can make people more aggressive.25 In children, the correlation between seeing violent images and aggression in adulthood is stronger than the correlation between asbestos and cancer, or between calcium intake and bone mass.2
page 67

Cynical stories have an even more marked effect on the way we look at the world
page 67

The latest generation of friendly foxes was not only remarkably astute, but also much smarter than their aggressive counterparts.
page 105

Up until then the assumption had always been that domestication diminishes brainpower, literally reducing grey matter and in the process sacrificing skills needed to survive in the wild. We all know the clichés. Sly as a fox. Dumb as an ox. But Brian came to a completely different conclusion. ‘If you want a clever fox,’ he says, ‘you don’t select for cleverness. You select for friendliness.’
page 105

hunter-gatherers travelled light. They didn’t have much and they didn’t leave much behind. Fortunately for us, there’s an important exception. Cave paintings. If our state of nature was a ‘war of all against all’ à la Hobbes, then you’d expect that someone, at some point in this period, would have painted a picture of it. But that’s never been found. While there are thousands of cave paintings from this time about hunting bison, horses and gazelles, there’s not a single depiction of war.45
page 136

Take the following account recorded in 1492 by a traveller on coming ashore in the Bahamas. He was astonished at how peaceful the inhabitants were. ‘They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword … and [they] cut themselves out of ignorance.’ This gave him an idea. ‘They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.’1 Christopher Columbus – the traveller in question – lost no time putting his plan into action
page 137

you need to know something about prehistoric politics. Basically, our ancestors were allergic to inequality. Decisions were group affairs requiring long deliberation in which everybody got to have their say. ‘Nomadic foragers,’ established one American anthropologist on the basis of a formidable 339 fieldwork studies, ‘are universally – and all but obsessively – concerned with being free from the authority of others.’3
page 139

Settled life exacted an especially heavy toll on women. The rise of private property and farming brought the age of proto-feminism to an end. Sons stayed on the paternal plot to tend the land and livestock, which meant brides now had to be fetched for the family farm. Over centuries, marriageable daughters were reduced to little more than commodities, to be bartered like cows or sheep.29 In their new families, these brides were viewed with suspicion, and only after presenting them with a son did women gain a measure of acceptance. A legitimate son, that is. It’s no accident that female virginity turned into an obsession. Where in prehistory women had been free to come and go as they pleased, now they were being covered up and tethered down. The patriarchy was born.
page 150

The very things we hold up today as ‘milestones of civilization’, such as the invention of money, the development of writing, or the birth of legal institutions, started out as instruments of oppression. Take the first coins: we didn’t begin minting money because we thought it would make life easier, but because rulers wanted an efficient way to levy taxes.42 Or think about the earliest written texts: these weren’t books of romantic poetry, but long lists of outstanding debts.
page 157

So why is our perception of ‘barbarians’ so negative? Why do we automatically equate a lack of ‘civilisation’ with dark times? History, as we know, is written by the victors. The earliest texts abound with propaganda for states and sovereigns, put out by oppressors seeking to elevate themselves while looking down on everybody else. The word ‘barbarian’ was itself coined as a catch-all for anyone who didn’t speak ancient Greek. That’s how our sense of history gets flipped upside down. Civilisation has become synonymous with peace and progress, and wilderness with war and decline. In reality, for most of human existence, it was the other way around.
page 159

Too many environmental activists underestimate the resilience of humankind. My fear is that their cynicism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy – a nocebo that paralyses us with despair, while temperatures climb unabated.
page 192

‘There’s a failure to recognise that not only problems but also solutions can grow exponentially,’ Professor Boersema told me. ‘There’s no guarantee they will. But they can.’
page 192

Painstaking analyses of the hundreds of sessions at Milgram’s shock machine furthermore reveal that subjects grew more disobedient the more overbearing the man in the grey coat became. Put differently: Homo puppy did not brainlessly follow the authority’s orders. Turns out we have a downright aversion to bossy behaviour.
page 232

When psychologist Don Mixon repeated Milgram’s experiment in the seventies, he arrived at the same conclusion. He later noted, ‘In fact, people go to great lengths, will suffer great distress, to be good. People got caught up in trying to be good …’24 In other words, if you push people hard enough, if you poke and prod, bait and manipulate, many of us are indeed capable of doing evil. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. But evil doesn’t live just beneath the surface; it takes immense effort to draw it out. And most importantly, evil has to be disguised as doing good.
page 234

The subjects who managed to halt the experiment used three tactics: 1. Talk to the victim. 2. Remind the man in the grey lab coat of his responsibility. 3. Repeatedly refuse to continue. Communication and confrontation, compassion and resistance.
page 241

The good news is: these are trainable skills. Resistance just takes practice. ‘What distinguishes Milgram’s heroes,’ Hollander observes, ‘is largely a teachable competency at resisting questionable authority.
page 241

Where mighty Germany was doped up on years of racist propaganda, modest Denmark was steeped in humanist spirit. Danish leaders had always insisted on the sanctity of the democratic rule of law. Anybody who sought to pit people against each other was not considered worthy to be called a Dane. There could be no such thing as a ‘Jewish question’. There were only countrymen.
page 244

Over the course of history, weaponry has got ever better at overcoming the central problem of all warfare: our fundamental aversion to violence. It’s practically impossible for us to kill someone while looking them in the eyes. Just as most of us would instantly go vegetarian if forced to butcher a cow, most soldiers become conscientious objectors when the enemy gets too close.
page 294

Keltner eventually realised what it reminded him of. The medical term is ‘acquired sociopathy’: a non-hereditary antisocial personality disorder, first diagnosed by psychologists in the nineteenth century. It arises after a blow to the head that damages key regions of the brain and can turn the nicest people into the worst kind of Machiavellian. It transpires that people in power display the same tendencies.10 They literally act like someone with brain damage. Not only are they more impulsive, self-centred, reckless, arrogant and rude than average, they are more likely to cheat on their spouses, are less attentive to other people and less interested in others’ perspectives.
page 301

In reality, bonobos are an altogether different creature. In Chapter 4 we saw that these apes have domesticated themselves, just like Homo puppy. The female of the species seem to have been key to this process, because, while not as strong as the males, they close ranks any time one of their own gets harassed by the opposite sex. If necessary, they bite his penis in half.19 Thanks to this balance of power, bonobo females can pick and choose their own mates, and the nicest guys usually finish first.
page 306

Leadership was temporary among hunter-gatherers and decisions were made as a group. Anyone foolish enough to act as Machiavelli later prescribed was risking their life. The selfish and the greedy would get booted out of the tribe and faced likely starvation. After all, nobody wanted to share food with those who were full of themselves.
page 307

We’re fine with a little inequality, psychologists emphasise, if we think it’s justified. As long as things seem fair. If you can convince the masses that you’re smarter or better or holier, then it makes sense that you’re in charge and you won’t have to fear opposition.
page 308

With the advent of the first settlements and growth in inequality, chieftains and kings had to start legitimising why they enjoyed more privileges than their subjects. In other words, they began engaging in propaganda.
page 308

Just consider: why would people hole up in cages we know as ‘offices’ for forty hours a week in exchange for some bits of metal and paper or a few digits added to their bank account? Is it because
page 314

The reason is self-evident. If you ignore a bill or don’t pay your taxes, you’ll be fined or locked up. If you don’t willingly comply, the authorities will come after you. Money may be a fiction, but it’s enforced by the threat of very real violence.
page 315

Most revolutions ultimately fail, though. No sooner is one despot brought down than a new leader stands up and develops an insatiable lust for power. After the French Revolution it was Napoleon. After the Russian Revolution it was Lenin and Stalin.
page 316

Rousseau already observed that this form of government is more accurately an ‘elective aristocracy’ because in practice the people are not in power at all. Instead we’re allowed to decide who holds power over us. It’s also important to realise this model was originally designed to exclude society’s rank and file.
page 317

Take the American Constitution: historians agree it ‘was intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period’.35 It was never the American Founding Fathers’ intention for the general populace to play an active role in politics.
page 317

Time and again we hope for better leaders, but all too often those hopes are dashed. The reason, says Professor Keltner, is that power causes people to lose the kindness and modesty that got them elected, or they never possessed those sterling qualities in the first place.
page 317

In 1959, the BBC asked Russell what advice he would give future generations. He answered: When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only and solely at what are the facts.
page 332

But from then on I would be haunted by Russell’s warning: ‘Never let yourself be diverted by what you wish to believe.’
page 332

Beliefs we’re devoted to – whether they’re true or imagined – can likewise come to life, effecting very real change in the world. The Pygmalion Effect resembles the placebo effect (which I discussed in Chapter 1), except, instead of benefiting oneself, these are expectations that benefit others.
page 336

What’s fascinating is that the two major ideologies of the twentieth century – capitalism and communism – both shared this view of humanity. Both the capitalist and the communist would tell you that there are only two ways to propel people into action: carrots and sticks. The capitalists relied on carrots (read: money), whereas the communists
page 346

For all their differences, there was one basic premise on which both sides could agree: People don’t motivate themselves. Now you may be thinking: Oh, it’s not as bad as that. I, for one, am plenty motivated. I’m not going to argue. In fact, I’m sure you’re right. My point is that we tend to think those other people lack motivation. Professor Chip Heath of Stanford University refers to this as our extrinsic incentives bias. That is, we go around assuming other people can be motivated solely by money.
page 346

Edward Deci was a young psychologist working on his PhD at a time when the field was in a thrall to behaviourism. This theory held – like Frederick Taylor’s – that people are shiftless creatures. The only thing powerful enough to spur us to action is the promise of a reward or the fear of punishment. Yet Deci had a nagging sense that this theory didn’t stack up. After all, people go around doing all kinds of nutty things that don’t fit the behaviourist view. Like climbing mountains (hard!), volunteering (free!) and having babies (intense!). In fact, we’re continually engaging in activities – of our own free will – that don’t earn us a penny and are downright exhausting. Why?
page 348


A few years ago, researchers at the University of Massachusetts analysed fifty-one studies on the effects of economic incentives in the workplace. They found ‘overwhelming evidence’ that bonuses can blunt the intrinsic motivation and moral compass of employees.12 And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they also discovered that bonuses and targets can erode creativity. Extrinsic incentives will generally pay out in kind. Pay by the hour and you get more hours. Pay by the publication and you get more publications. Pay by the surgical procedure and you get more surgical procedures.
page 350

People do what they are incentivized to do.

Time and again, we assume that others care only about themselves. That, unless there’s a reward in the offing, people much prefer to lounge around. A British study recently found that a vast majority of the population (74 per cent) identify more closely with values such as helpfulness, honesty and justice than with wealth, status and power. But just about as large a share (78 per cent) think others are more self-interested than they really are.
page 352

De Blok sums up his philosophy like this: ‘It’s easy to make things hard, but hard to make them easy.’ The record clearly shows that managers prefer the complicated. ‘Because that makes your job more interesting,’ de Blok explains. ‘That lets you say: See, you need me to master that complexity.’ Could it be that’s also driving a big part of our so-called ‘knowledge economy’? That pedigree managers and consultants make simple things as complicated as possible so we will need them to steer us through all the complexity?
page 358

Not until the late nineteenth century did children once again have more time to play. Historians call this period the ‘golden age’ of unstructured play, when child labour was banned and parents increasingly left kids to themselves.21 In many neighbourhoods in Europe and North America no one even bothered to keep an eye on them, and kids simply roamed free most of the day. These golden days were short-lived, however, as from the 1980s onward life grew progressively busier, in the workplace and the classroom. Individualism and the culture of achievement gained precedence. Families grew smaller and parents began to worry whether their progeny would make the grade.
page 370

Turns out, I keep catching the edge of a lot of good things.

So maybe there’s an even bigger question we should be asking: What’s the purpose of education?
page 382

‘The opposite of play is not work,’ the psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith once said. ‘The opposite of play is depression.’41

These days, the way many of us work – with no freedom, no play, no intrinsic motivation – is fuelling an epidemic of depression.
page 383

Many citizens of democracies are, at best, permitted to choose their own aristocracy.
page 391

On the whole, voters tend to take a fairly dim view of politicians, and vice versa.
page 392

Among the most notable findings to come out of contact science is that prejudices can be eliminated only if we retain our own identity.40 We need to realise it’s okay that we’re all different – there’s nothing wrong with that. We can build strong houses for our identities, with sturdy foundations. Then we can throw open the doors.
page 464

Having faith in others is as much a rational decision as an emotional one. Of course, seeing where someone else is coming from doesn’t mean you need to see eye to eye. You can understand the mindset of a fascist, a terrorist, or a fan of Love Actually without jumping on the fascist, terrorist, or lover-of-sappy-movies bandwagon. (I have to say, I’m a proud member of that last group.) Understanding the other at a rational level is a skill. It’s a muscle you can train.
page 495

Where we need our capacity for reason most of all is to suppress, from time to time, our desire to be nice. Sometimes our sociable instinct gets in the way of truth and of equity. Because consider: haven’t we all seen someone treated unfairly yet kept silent to avoid being disagreeable? Haven’t we all swallowed our words just to keep the peace? Haven’t we all accused those who fight for their rights of rocking the boat?
page 496

The Last Emperox

Book Notes

This is book three of Scalzi's Interdepency and much like the first one in the series, I picked up the book and pretty much read it straight through, with a couple pauses to, oh, you know, work and sleep. In reality, after reading Redshirts, I wanted to keep reading Scalzi, despite having several books going already. That's the way it is sometimes.

So, a few things about this book.

1. Scalzi is taking notes from George R. R. Martin, and I don't like it. I had to read that Martin-esque part over again three, maybe four times, skip to the end, come back, read it again, and, did I mention I don't like it because I'm sure I did. Sure, yes, good plot point, nice foreshadowing, interesting twist, and I don't like it.

2. There is likely a reason the name Kiva and the name Kitt are so fucking similar that you can't fucking help but fucking notice the fucking similarity. You can guess which character's storyline I enjoyed reading the fucking most. And no, my mother does not fucking talk that way, thankfully.

3. I absolutely love how many times in this book in particular, a character would stop and, while being upset at something another character said, recognize that the shit thing that came from the other character (words, gestures, advice, the like) was actually fair. Authors often have verbal tics, words or phrases repeated so frequently in a book that they stand out. I don't recall any of Scalzi's other tics offhand, but this one stood out. I liked it. I rather wish more people were able to separate the message from the messenger and appreciate the feedback being given.

So, basic plot: recognition of the end of the current implementation of human civilization, some political maneuvering, many assassinations, a few foreshadowings, a broken heart, and the good guys win in the end.

The series is a fun read and worth reading, a good science-fiction recommendation. Be unsurprised if you throw this book across the room at some point about 3/4 of the way through, then scurry over to pick it back up so that you can finish it.

Senia Fundapellonan was not wrong about Kiva; Kiva was extremely self-interested. Senia thought that was neither good nor bad, but Kiva was of a different mind about that. She thought it was pretty much the only way to be in a universe that didn’t care about anyone’s life one way or another, and in a civilization that was designed to keep the rich as rich as possible and the poor from actively starving so they wouldn’t think to rise up and behead the rich. An uncaring universe and a fundamentally static civilization would smother anyone who didn’t keep themselves and their own concerns front and center.
Page 42

Rules are rules, Robinette said, and dubbed her “Karen.”
Page 61

Marce did not flatter himself into thinking this advantage was a result of his own native ability. There were dozens if not hundreds of Flow physicists more naturally talented than he was,
Page 76

“What I feel is that there is a pattern,” Marce said. “Not a pattern, exactly. But something not random about it, either.”
Page 79

Because people love their patterns.

“I’m not suggesting anything,” Rachela said. “I will note that humans are not great at thinking over the long term, and we were no exception to that. Neither are you, for that matter.”
Page 90

“The families who aren’t here are … sympathetic to your aims. They just want to see which way the wind blows before they commit.”

Nadashe snorted at this. “In other words, they’re cowards.”

“They might say they’re hedging sensibly,” Proster suggested.
Page 93

The second reason was that the ruling class of the Interdependency, favoring financial and social stability over having the lumpenproletariat trying to rip their heads from their necks at every opportunity, opted to have the Interdependency’s baseline standard of living one where no one starved, or was without shelter, or died of easily preventable diseases or went bankrupt if they had a heart attack or lost a job, or both.
Page 103

Everyone knew what was coming. Some even prepared and planned. But at the end of it, everyone assumed that something or someone would come along to save the civilization that they lived in and could not conceive of actually disappearing. Something or someone would come along to save them. They would be saved, along with everyone else. It was a nice thought. It wasn’t true. At the very least, not yet.
Page 112

They both came away from the meeting feeling like they had manipulated the other precisely, which meant it was a good meeting.
Page 141

"I will say it was a disaster of my own making, which is why I could see it coming from a long way off.”

“If you could see it coming, why couldn’t you avoid it?”

“Because some choices you make, you can’t come back from,” Chenevert said. “And very early on in my reign, when I was pompous and foolish, I made several of those sorts of choices. In rapid succession. Everything proceeded from there."
Page 147

“Looking back on your life and knowing how much better you could have been is never a great feeling."
Page 148

“It’s not a great idea to be too in love with your own cleverness.”

“What are you, my mother?”

“If I were your mother, I’d use the word ‘fuck’ more often.”

“It’s a perfectly good word.”

“Sure,” Senia said. “Maybe not as every other word that comes out of your mouth, though.”

“I don’t even hear myself saying it, half the fucking time.”
Page 159

“Did lying ever backfire for you?”

“Personally or as emperox?”

“Either. Both.”

“Of course,” Rachela said.

“Telling the truth also backfired for me at times as well, in the times where it might have been kinder, easier or more politic to lie. Lies do not in themselves lead to poor outcomes, nor does truth in every circumstance lead to good ones. As with so many things, context matters.”
Page 174

"Do you know what I plan to do with my body once I am dead?”

“I do not, Countess.”

“Neither do I. I’ll be dead and I won’t give a shit.
Page 206

Marce and Cardenia might perhaps one day mess up their relationship—people did that, and Marce didn’t delude himself that just because he loved Cardenia it didn’t mean he wouldn’t aggravate the crap out of her sometimes—but they would do it from a state that would encourage constancy and reconciliation as a baseline. Marce was pretty sure he could work with that: every day a new day to start again, building a life together.
Page 266

“Here it is: I want your support. I want your house’s support.”

“I’m not my house. You’ll have to talk to my mother about that.”

“I did. One of my representatives did, anyway.”

“Yeah? How did that go?”

“She said that we could all fuck ourselves with a rented dick. The same rented dick.”

“That’s my mom,” Kiva said.
Page 277

Laughed out loud on that one.


Book Notes

Okay, yes, I know that I have said, on numerous occasions, if Scalzi writes it, I will read it. That is just the way it is, no arguing.

Except I hadn't read this book. I had actively chosen not to read this book. Why? Because the reviews said it diverged from the classic science fiction that Scalzi is known for, and if I wanted to read not-science-fiction Scalzi, I'll read his blog. So, I skipped it.

All the way until Rob commented that it was the perfect brain candy and he hadn't laughed this hard in a while (who knows if that while is more than I day, I don't, because getting Rob to laugh is a goal of every conversation), and I have already read it wait I haven't well I should. So, as soon as I was done with The Gates of Fire (which I recommended to Rob), I started Redshirts.

Is not classic Scalzi science fiction.

Is amusing.

Yes, the Redshirt phenomenon from Star Trek is the title of the book, and yes, the characters figure this out, but there are more absurdities in the plot, resulting in an internally-consistent and thoroughly-absurd plot twist (time travel back to the authors) that is the cause for the original fanboy uproar that kept me from reading the book. It wasn't so bad. I enjoyed how all the pieced tied up nicely at the end.

Worth reading if you're a Scalzi fan, or a quirky science-fiction fan.

Dahl paused a moment before answering. “Do you know how the rich are different than you or me?” he asked Duvall.

“You mean, besides having more money,” Duvall said.

“Yeah,” Dahl said.

“No,” Duvall said.

“What makes them different—the smart ones, anyway—is that they have a very good sense of why people want to be near them. Whether it’s because they want to be friends, which is not about proximity to money and access and power, or if they want to be part of an entourage, which is. Make sense?”
Page 14

Hester looked at Hanson admiringly. “I didn’t think you were that cynical,” Hester said.

Hanson shrugged again. “When you’re the heir to the third largest fortune in the history of the universe, you learn to question people’s motivations,” he said.
Page 62

“Sure, I’ll baby-sit him until he passes out,” Dahl said.

“Man, I owe you a blowjob,” Duvall said.

“What?” Dahl said.

“What?” Hester said.

“Sorry,” Duvall said. “In ground forces, when someone does you a favor you tell them you owe them a sex act. If it’s a little thing, it’s a handjob. Medium, blowjob. Big favor, you owe them a fuck. Force of habit. It’s just an expression.”

“Got it,” Dahl said.

“No actual blowjob forthcoming,” Duvall said. “To be clear.”

“It’s the thought that counts,” Dahl said.
Page 68

I read this and, yes, starting laughing out loud. I'm sure this isn't Caltech specific, but this is an actual conversation I have had.

"But they don’t know why. You do.”

“Maybe I do,” Jenkins said. “But why would it matter?”

“Because if you don’t know why something is the way it is, then you don’t know anything about it at all,” Dahl said. “All the tricks and superstitions aren’t going to do a damn bit of good if you don’t know the reason for them. The conditions could change and then you’re screwed.”
Page 87

Hanson said. “When you’re nuts, your reasoning is consistent with your own internal logic, but it’s internal logic, which doesn’t make any sort of sense outside your own head.” He pointed at Jenkins. “His logic is external and reasonable enough.”
Page 96

“In retrospect, the plan has significant logistical issues,” Finn admitted. “On the other hand, it worked. You can’t argue with success.”

“Sure you can,” Dahl said, “when it’s based on stupidity.”
Page 120

Also known as a Bold Play™ in ultimate.

“Yes, and I have training dealing with deep, existential questions,” Dahl said. “The way I’m dealing with it right now is this: I don’t care whether I really exist or don’t, whether I’m real or fictional. What I want right now is to be the person who decides my own fate. That’s something I can work on. It’s what I’m working on now.”
Page 159

I never understood writer’s block before this. You’re a writer and you suddenly can’t write because your girlfriend broke up with you? Shit, dude, that’s the perfect time to write. It’s not like you’re doing anything else with your nights. Having a hard time coming up with the next scene? Have something explode. You’re done.
Page 228

You don’t win by getting through all your life not having done anything.
Page 284

“E, don’t you ever wonder about how your life could have been different?” Samantha asks, changing the subject slightly. “Don’t you ever wonder, if things just happened a little differently, you might have a different job, or different husband, or different children? Do you think you would have been happier? And if you could see that other life, how would it make you feel?”
Page 292

“Did you want to make a confession?” Father Neil asks. Samantha giggles despite herself.

“I don’t think I could confess to you with a straight face,” she says.

“This is the problem of coming to a priest you used to date in high school,” Father Neil says.

“You weren’t a priest then,” Samantha notes.
Page 299


Gates of Fire

Book Notes

This book was recommended in a recent Ryan Holiday's book-reading newsletter. He had read the book 14 years ago, recently reread it, and was impressed with all the nuances of the book. Along with The Road, I picked up the book from the library. Related: I'm pretty sure that I read the Reading List emails faster than most people on the list, as the books Holiday recommends are usually available when I look for them, and have a backlog of holds about a week later. Is amusing to me.

The book is the telling of the Battle of Thermopylae, more commonly known in today's culture as the battle that the 300 Spartans held off thousands of Persian invaders. Now, I am REALLY not a fan of historical fiction, to the point where I might say the movie is better I dislike historical fiction so much, but, well, this causes me to reconsider my stance. The book is written in third person, and not third person omniscient, which means we see the characters' actions, but don't hear their thoughts. I suspect this is why I enjoyed it, it was a story that didn't go too far.

The basic plot of the book is, well, the Battle of Thermopylae. That story has been told many times, in many mediums. I found the surrounding elements of the book engaging. Pressfield gives us many lessons of Stoicism in the book, while wrapping them into the story, without the dryness of a textbook or the boredom of a lecture. He gives us

The parts that I appreciated the most were the elements of reality in the book. The Spartans were well trained, seeming superhuman, but they were still human. They felt despair. They felt misery. They felt heartache and pain. Pressfield gives us these, tells us about them, and shows us how habits and training and acknowledgement and acceptance all work towards becoming the people we want to be. He shows us that being a warrior was a job, and that includes embracing the suck, as Rob told me was a Marine saying. We also read about the camaraderie of the warriors, how adversity binds us, and how there a moments when we become more than just ourselves.

I also appreciated the campfire philosophy sessions, and, well, let's be real, all the shit talk.

As much as Holiday recommended this book, I strongly recommend it, too. Great book. Way worth reading.

She was trying to dispatch the child that might be growing inside her. “She thinks she has given offense to the god Hymen,” Bruxieus explained to me when I broke in upon her one day and she chased me with curses and a hail of stones. “She fears that she may never be a man’s wife now but only a slave or a whore. I have tried to tell her this is foolishness, but she will not hear it, coming from a man.”
Page: 54

This was the first and only time I saw Bruxieus truly, physically angry. He seized me by both shoulders and shook me violently, commanding me to face him. “Listen to me, boy. Only gods and heroes can be brave in isolation. A man may call upon courage only one way, in the ranks with his brothers-in-arms, the line of his tribe and his city. Most piteous of all states under heaven is that of a man alone, bereft of the gods of his home and his polis. A man without a city is not a man. He is a shadow, a shell, a joke and a mockery. That is what you have become now, my poor Xeo. No one may expect valor from one cast out alone, cut off from the gods of his home.”
Page: 69

I curled contorted in Diomache’s arms, with Bruxieus’ bulk enwrapping us both for warmth. I called out again and again to the gods but received no whisper in reply. They had abandoned us, it was clear, now that we no longer possessed ourselves or were possessed by our polis.
Page: 70

The roar multiplied threefold, then five, and ten, as the enemy rear ranks and flankers picked the clamor up and contributed their own bluster and bronze-banging. Soon the entire fifty-four hundred were bellowing the war cry. Their commander thrust his spear forward and the mass surged behind him into the advance. The Spartans had neither moved nor made a sound. They waited patiently in their scarlet-cloaked ranks, neither grim nor rigid, but speaking quietly to each other words of encouragement and cheer, securing the final preparation for actions they had rehearsed hundreds of times in training and performed dozens and scores more in battle.
Page: 154

Once, at home when I was a child, Bruxieus and I had helped our neighbor Pierion relocate three of his stacked wooden beehives. As we jockeyed the stack into place upon its new stand, someone’s foot slipped. The stacked hives dropped. From within those stoppered confines yet clutched in our hands arose such an alarum, neither shriek nor cry, growl nor roar, but a thrum from the netherworld, a vibration of rage and murder that ascended not from brain or heart, but from the cells, the atoms of the massed poleis within the hives.
Page: 159

They did not strip the bodies of the slain, as the soldiers of any other city would eagerly and gloatingly do, nor did they erect trophies of vainglory and conceit from the arms of the vanquished. Their austere thank-offering was a single cock, worth less than an obol, not because they disrespected the gods, but because they held them in awe and deemed it dishonorable to overexpress their mortal joy in this triumph that heaven had granted them.
Page: 168

“Let those we spared this day stand beside us in line of battle on that day when we teach the Persian once and for all what valor free men can bring to bear against slaves, no matter how vast their numbers or how fiercely they are driven on by their child-king’s whip.”
Page: 178

Dekton was the first person I had ever met, man or boy, who had absolutely no fear of the gods. He didn’t hate them as some do, or mock their antics as I had heard the impious freethinkers did in Athens and Corinth. Dekton didn’t grant their existence at all. There were no gods, it was as simple as that. This struck me with a kind of awe. I kept watch, waiting for him to be felled by some hideous blow of heaven.
Page: 187

“I saw Dienekes first from behind. Just his bare shoulders and the back of his head. I knew in an instant that I would love him and only him all my life.”
Page: 289

“At last he turned. He was wrestling another boy. Even then, Xeo, Dienekes was unhandsome. You could hardly believe he was his brother’s brother. But to my eyes he appeared eueidestatos, the soul of beauty. The gods could not have crafted a face more open or touching to my heart.
Page: 289

“The gods make us love whom we will not,” the lady declared, “and disrequite whom we will. They slay those who should live and spare those who deserve to die. They give with one hand and take with the other, answerable only to their own unknowable laws.”
Page: 291

“Men’s pain is lightly borne and swiftly over. Our wounds are of the flesh, which is nothing; women’s is of the heart—sorrow unending, far more bitter to bear.”
Page: 294

Nothing fires the warrior’s heart more with courage than to find himself and his comrades at the point of annihilation, at the brink of being routed and overrun, and then to dredge not
Page: 359

merely from one’s own bowels or guts but from one’s own discipline and training the presence of mind not to panic, not to yield to the possession of despair, but instead to complete those homely acts of order which Dienekes had ever declared the supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from-commonplace conditions. Not only to achieve this for oneself alone, as Achilles or the solo champions of yore, but to do it as part of a unit, to feel about oneself one’s brothers-in-arms, in an instance like this of chaos and disorder, comrades whom one doesn’t even know, with whom one has never trained; to feel them filling the spaces alongside him, from spear side and shield side, fore and rear, to behold one’s comrades likewise rallying, not in a frenzy of mad possession-driven abandon, but with order and self-composure, each man knowing his role and rising to it, drawing strength from him as he draws it from them; the warrior in these moments finds himself lifted as if by the hand of a god. He cannot tell where his being leaves off and that of the comrade beside him begins. In that moment the phalanx forms a unity so dense and all-divining that it performs not merely at the level of a machine or engine of war but, surpassing that, to the state of a single organism, a beast of one blood and heart.
Page: 359

His Majesty, cognizant of the catastrophic consequence for the Greeks of this betrayal, may marvel at their response in assembly to the timely and fortuitous warning delivered by the noble Tyrrhastiadas. They didn’t believe him. They thought it was a trick. Such an irrational and self-deluding response may be understood only in the light not alone of the exhaustion and despair which had by that hour overwhelmed the allies’ hearts but by the corresponding exaltation and contempt of death, which are, like the mated faces of a coin, their obverse and concomitant.
Page: 419

There is a secret all warriors share, so private that none dare give it voice, save only to those mates drawn dearer than brothers by the shared ordeal of arms. This is the knowledge of the hundred acts of his own cowardice. The little things that no one sees. The comrade who fell and cried for aid. Did I pass him by? Choose my skin over his? That was my crime, of which I accuse myself in the tribunal of my heart and there condemn myself as guilty. All a man wants is to live. This before all: to cling to breath. To survive. Yet even this most primal of instincts, self-preservation, even this necessity of the blood shared by all beneath heaven, beasts as well as man, even this may be worn down by fatigue and excess of horror. A form of courage enters the heart which is not courage but despair and not despair but exaltation.
Page: 423

“When I first came to Lakedaemon and they called me ‘Suicide,’ I hated it. But in time I came to see its wisdom, unintentional as it was. For what can be more noble than to slay oneself? Not literally. Not with a blade in the guts. But to extinguish the selfish self within, that part which looks only to its own preservation, to save its own skin. That, I saw, was the victory you Spartans had gained over yourselves. That was the glue. It was what you had learned and it made me stay, to learn it too.
Page: 456

The Road

Book Notes

This book was recommended by Ryan Holiday in his June reading list. It sounded interesting, so I borrowed it from the library, read it, and here we are.

The struggle in this book is man against nature in a post-apocalyptic world which seems to be some sort of ecological disaster that blighted the world. Many scenes include ash and melted roads, along with the two main characters, a father and his son, covering their faces with masks so that they can breathe. The disaster is such that it appears there are very few people left, and the ability to grow crops or feed is pretty much gone. The remaining people are struggling to survive, which includes resorting to anything edible, including other people.

The journey of the father and son is to the ocean. They are moving along with a shopping cart, trying to survive. They appear to have been doing this together for six, eight, maybe ten years, since the boy was born, and the ocean is some level of salvation. Except it really isn't. It is more like "something to do that provides some level of meaning."

I can see where the book would be more emotional if, say, a parent is reading the book and is thinking of their child when reading it. I lack that perspective, so some aspects were perhaps lost on me. What wasn't lost on me was the portrayal of flowing empathy and refused kindness. The boy wants to help, the father knows they can't. The boy is angry the father refused to help some people, the father fears losing his son's love as the father chooses their survival. It's a hard choice, too willfully lose your humanity to keep a loved one alive.

The book is worth reading, but I'm not sure it would be one of my first books to recommend.

He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that. You forget some things, dont you? Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.
Page: 11

He mistrusted all of that. He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death.
Page: 17

No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. So, he whispered to the sleeping boy. I have you.
Page: 56

I cant help you. They say that women dream of danger to those in their care and men of danger to themselves. But I dont dream at all. You say you cant? Then dont do it. That’s all.
Page: 59

A person who had no one would be well advised to cobble together some passable ghost. Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love. Offer it each phantom crumb and shield it from harm with your body. As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart.
Page: 59

Across Five Aprils

Book Notes

Because I wasn't done reading books I should have read, but didn't, in junior high and high school, nor was I done reading historical war fiction, I picked up this book. Well, that, and because it was recommended as a book that illustrates different aspects of the Civil War (Abe's a babe!). The Killer Angels was also recommended, so both entered into my reading list in the fast track.

The five Aprils of the title are the five Aprils that the Civil War spans. The story opens with an introduction to Jethro Creighton, a white Southern Illinois 9 year old boy who farms a plot of land with his father, brother, three brothers (might have been a cousin in there), and sister. There had been several other siblings in the mix, but death came to at least four that I was paying attention to (illness for three, wagon accident for one). His mother, Ellen, couldn't read, but Jenny, his sister, could. The whole family works the farm in some fashion.

While reading the book, I was struck with how much the book smacks of Early American Stoicism: work needs doing, so do it; life sucks, you carry on; tragedies happen, appreciate the bounties. The book was published in 1964, which makes me wonder if this is more "This is how we think people thought back then," more than "people actually thought this way back then." I had the same question when reading The Little House on the Prairie. Was that really the prevailing mentality? Or are we fictionalizing it the same way Gone with the Wind fictionalized "It was about state's rights!"?

I appreciated how the plot mentioned many of the leaders for both sides in the Civil War. If one has no recollection of the battles fought or the duration of the war, this book is a fine introduction to some of the names. I can't say I recognized very many of the leaders for either side. This book and various animated maps of the troop movements of the American Civil War have helped greatly in reading other American Civil War books. One can appreciate how they all come together.

As the "gentle introduction to the American Civil War," this book is great. It presents, in an easily comprehensible way, the various arguments for the Southern Secession, and puts forth a number of the counter arguments, including the one that f'ing trumps them all: slavery is an abomination that should be wiped from the face of the Earth. The initial character conversations need to be read out loud to be comprehensible, with their being written phonetically instead of being spelled correctly. I argue that contributes to the charm.

Strongly recommended, even if you aren't in junior high school any more.

Of note, when I started reading the book, I couldn't figure out if the main character and his family was white or black. Eventually we learn of hair color, and the cover of the book distinctly shows a white boy. Until then, I was uncertain. I'm guessing I didn't recognize the era properly when I started reading the book.

Jethro was depressed by her somber mood, but not by the imminence of war. He had listened to his brother Tom and their cousin Eb, the two younger of the grown boys in the household, and their excitement had found its way into his blood. Dread of war was a womanly weakness, he had discovered, evidenced by his mother’s melancholy and the tears of Jenny and his brother John’s wife, Nancy.
Page: 7

She had a way of closing her eyes briefly when exasperated as if to reject for at least a second the existence of a folly that she was bound to recognize later.
Page: 7

War meant loud brass music and shining horses ridden by men wearing uniforms finer than any suit in the stores at Newton; it meant men riding like kings, looking neither to the right nor the left, while lesser men in perfect lines strode along with guns across their shoulders, their heads held high like horses with short reins. When the battle thundered and exploded on all sides—well, some men were killed, of course, but the stories of war that Jethro remembered were about the men who had managed to live through the thunder and explosion.
Page: 10

The shot that Travis Burdow fired over Rob Nelson’s team that night was a shot fired at a society that had kicked a boy from childhood on because he bore his grandfather’s name.
Page: 12

“He’s like a man standin’ where two roads meet, Jeth,” she said finally, “and one road is as dark and fearsome as the other; there ain’t a choice between the two, and yet a choice has to be made.” She shook her head. “May the Lord help him,” she whispered. “May the Lord guide his hand.”
Page: 13

Then Ellen’s voice was heard, timid and a little tremulous; farm women didn’t enter often into man-talk of politics or national affairs.
Page: 25

Wilse brought his hand down sharply on the table. “What the South wants is the right to live as it sees fit to live without interference. And it kin live! Do
Page: 25

What about the right and wrong of one man ownin’ the body—and sometimes it looks as if the soul, too—of another man?”
Page: 26

“I’ll say this to you, Cousin John,” he said finally. “I own a few slaves, and if I stood before my Maker alongside one of ’em, I’d hev no way to justify the fact that I was master and he was slave. But leavin’ that final reckonin’ fer the time, let me ask you this: ain’t there been slavery from the beginnin’ of history? Didn’t the men that we give honor to, the men that shaped up the Constitution of our country, didn’t they recognize slavery? Did they see it as a festerin’ hurt?”
Page: 26

“Well then, I’ll ask you this: if tomorrow every slave in the South had his freedom and come up North, would yore abolitionists git the crocodile tears sloshed out of their eyes so they could take the black man by the hand? Would they say, ‘We’ll see that you git good-payin’ work fitted to what you’re able to do—we’ll see that you’re well housed and clothed—we want you to come to our churches and yore children to come to our schools—why, we danged near fergit the difference in the colors of our skins because we air so almighty full of brotherly love!’ Would it be like that in yore northern cities, Cousin John?” “It ain’t like that fer the masses of white people in our northern cities—nor in the southern cities either. And yet, there ain’t a white man, lean-bellied and hopeless as so many of them are, that would change lots with a slave belongin’ to the kindest master in the South.”
Page: 26

“Slavery, I hate. But it is with us, and them that should suffer fer the evil they brought to our shores air long dead. What I want us to answer in this year of 1861 is this, John: does the trouble over slavery come because men’s hearts is purer above the Mason-Dixon line? Or does slavery throw a shadder over greed and keep that greed from showin’ up quite so bare and ugly?” Wilse Graham seemed to leap at Bill’s question. “You’re right, Cousin Bill. It’s greed, not slavery, that’s stirrin’ up this trouble. And as fer human goodness—men’s hearts is jest as black today as in the Roman times
Page: 27

Matt Creighton shook his head. “Human nature ain’t any better one side of a political line than on the
Page: 27

We’re from the South, John; would we want men of their kind tellin’ us how we must live?”
Page: 29

“There’s strong feeling throughout the country,” Shadrach continued. “To open fire because provisions are being brought to hungry men...” “Mister, I’d like to git a word in right here.” Wilse Graham’s voice was strident with anger. “This is exactly what Ol’ Abe’s bin waitin’ fer—jest exactly what he wanted. He’s worked it so the Confederates would fire the first round, and he’s fixed it so they fired on hungry men. Well, fine! Now he kin set back and look pious at the states that has been blowin’ hot and cold.”
Page: 32

“I don’t know if anybody ever ‘wins’ a war, Jeth. I think that the beginnin’s of this war has been fanned by hate till it’s a blaze now; and a blaze kin destroy him that makes it and him that the fire was set to hurt.
Page: 39

“But the South started it, didn’t they, Bill?” “The South and the North and the East and the West—we all started it. The old slavers of other days and the fact‘ry owners of today that need high tariffs to help ’em git rich, and the cotton growers that need slave labor to help ‘em git rich and the new territories and the wild talk—”
Page: 40

When one found comfort, he was grateful, but he was never such a fool as to expect a great deal of it.
Page: 54

“I’m not eager for it either, Jeth, not by a long way. I’ve got a lot of plans for the next forty or fifty years of my life, and being a soldier is not a part of any single one of them.”
Page: 56

“I think a lot of Mr. Lincoln,” he stated in quiet self-defense after a while. “I know you do, Jeth.” “Lots of people don’t. I could name you people in this neighborhood that hate him like poison.” “Not only in this neighborhood—not only in the South, either. It seems that people everywhere are criticizing him. The abolitionists hate him as much as the sympathizers of the South do. People blame him for the mistakes of his generals; and they’re just as bitter about his grammar, his appearance, his family.” Shadrach took a poker and stirred it thoughtfully among the red coals. “I’m not wise enough to measure Mr. Lincoln, Jeth; I just don’t know. But I have a feeling of confidence and faith in him that I can’t always justify. Sometimes I’m angered with him as others are; sometimes I can’t understand him. But somehow my faith in him always comes back.”
Page: 61

[H]e wished with all his heart that he had not meddled in the affairs of a country at war, that he had let Eb work out his own problems, that he, Jethro, were still a sheltered young boy who did the tasks his father set for him and shunned the idea that he dare think for himself.
Page: 160

“But they’re bein’ cheered on, Matt. Congress—the whole country—is happy with ‘em; these boys air goin’ to believe that they be heroes for lootin’ and burnin’, fer laughin’ at distress, fer smashin’ the helpless without pity.
Page: 196

“Don’t expect peace to be a perfect pearl, Jeth,” Ross Milton had warned. “This is a land lying in destruction, physical and spiritual. If the twisted railroads and the burned cities and the fields covered with the bones of dead men— if that were all, we could soon rise out of the destruction. But the hate that burns in old scars, and the thirst for revenge that has distorted men until they should be in straitjackets rather than in high office—these are the things that may make peace a sorry thing....”
Page: 198

Deathless Divide

Book Notes

While reading The Killer Angels, I found myself in a fit of "gosh, I want to read fiction right now." I had enjoyed reading Dread Nation, and recalled a sequel was coming out. That thought, along with the so f'ing long overdue recognition of racial inequality in this country, meant reading this book next was a no-brainer.

And it is so very much worth reading, recommended with delight.

Yes, there are zombies in it. Yes, there is heartbreak in it. No, there isn't a happy ending. Yes, there are many, many social commentary digs at both being a woman, and being black. And yes, there were black people in the Wild Wild West, which was a comment that Ireland makes in the author note at the end of the book, though you wouldn't know it from most of the other western fiction books out there.

This book follows immediately after Dread Nation, with Jane, Katherine, and a number of other Summerland residents fleeing the zombie hoard that broke out in town. What we learn in this tale, which alternates between Jane's and Katherine's perspectives (a style I enjoyed very much), is that Gideon Carr, the rich white boy from the previous book, has a significant part to play in this tale, and that one needs friendships (a lot).

As learned in The War for Kindness, fiction is a gateway drug into empathy. I feel this book does a gentle introduction into the crap a woman deals with as second class citizens, and barely starts to introduce the worse crap non-white people have dealt with in this country.

While I recommend this book more than I recommended Dread Nation, the first is needed to understand this one. Read them in order, if you decide to read them.

Adventure is only swell so long as a body is enjoying the trip. After that, it becomes an ordeal.
Location: 85

And even if I do not understand the pain she feels right now, it does not mean I cannot support her through it. That is what friends do.
Location: 377

“You can’t help but get involved in things, even when you know better. How can I depend on a woman who finds it appropriate to run off into the fire instead of away from it? It’s who you are, Jane, and I’ve always loved that about you. But while that may be admirable in a Miss Preston’s girl, it ain’t in a wife. I want someone I know is going to be there, day after day, not off running on some adventure.” “Why is that okay for you and not me? Why is it okay for a man to be out running around and not a woman?” Jackson shakes his head. “I ain’t saying it’s fair, but that’s the kind of woman I want.
Location: 545

He shakes his head, and I can’t help but feel that in all our time together I didn’t know him like I thought I did, not really. He doesn’t want a wife. He wants a doormat.
Location: 552

Hope is deadly,
Location: 782

move.” I force myself deep, deep down into the place in my mind where everything is quiet and cold and my heart ain’t breaking. Luckily it ain’t as hard as a body would think. How does one go on when they’ve lost their heart? By being heartless.
Location: 825

He gives me a polite smile, one that I suppose is meant to be reassuring. Men have been giving me that smile my entire life. I do not return it.
Location: 1,604

I take a deep breath and let it out. There is no use in yelling at a grown woman about her life choices, even if they are poor.
Location: 1,795

As Eve got to the part where the ghost led her through the dark woods and west to something like freedom, Aunt Aggie shook her head. “Sometimes, when the world doesn’t make sense, it’s easier to pretend like there are other forces at work. But there ain’t. That’s just life.”
Location: 1,938

“There ain’t any kind of inoculation against fear and false confidence.”
Location: 2,026

lap. I suppose when lines are drawn it is easier to go with what one knows than to forge new paths.
Location: 2,072

I’ve been living so long for the future that I haven’t been focusing on the now. And I ain’t sure I know how to change that.
Location: 2,294

I was scared, so I stayed.” He shakes his head. “I should have run like my friends, but I didn’t.” I nod, because I understand that feeling. Sometimes it can feel like the unknown is worse than the hardships you’re enduring.
Location: 2,320

“Betsy was a hero,” I say. “Exactly,” Redfern says, nodding. “Heroes die. But survivors live to tell the story. When the dead got to be too much for us to handle, most of those fools wanted to keep fighting, because that’s what we’d been taught. I was one of the first to cut and run. I knew what the score was. The things you’re taught are only useful if they keep you alive.”
Location: 2,344

“It’s the American way,” she would say, watching from the porch as another family took up residence at Rose Hill. “You help as much as you can—but no more. You don’t think those founding fathers wrote all those pretty words about independence just to help the poor, do you? The books are right there in the library, Jane. They did it because they didn’t want to pay taxes, to have some king tell them the price of tea. And for that, they went to war, and hundreds of people died.
Location: 2,353

In a world that is morally gray, I somehow still believe in right and wrong.
Location: 3,079

I laugh, because that is what you do when a man says something ridiculous.
Location: 3,090

An ache blossoms in my chest, and I pick up my untouched glass of whiskey and drain it. The liquid tastes as smoky as my memories and burns all the way down. It feels like penance. That is the real reason I do not drink too often: I am afraid that if I find my way to the bottle I will be lost forever.
Location: 3,101

I smile tightly, but say nothing. He is trying to protect me, in the simple way men are always trying to protect women: by stealing away their freedom.
Location: 3,125

Don’t let San Francisco fool you. It might seem pretty, but it’s been built on the same volatile mixture of greed and exclusion as the rest of this country.
Location: 3,411

But more important, it makes me wonder: How can we make the world a better place if we are always at odds with one another for every single kind of reason under the sun?
Location: 3,436

Unlike so much else in our lives, it felt . . . easy. I guess falling for someone always is. It’s the staying in love that’s hard.
Location: 3,599

I cannot help but remember the way she had never hesitated to call out some random bit of unfairness or chicanery. (As long as it was not her own, of course.) There is something admirable about being willing to stand up against injustice and name the devil true.
Location: 3,756

I consider telling them about the feelings between me and Callie, how close we’d grown over the past year, but I decide not to. Some things just ain’t for the telling, and even though Callie is gone, I want to keep the memory of our time together for myself.
Location: 4,528

face. I know this is a sin, but there are few things I enjoy more than being right.
Location: 5,274

And that is that. Sometimes the people we love fiercest leave the world like a whisper.
Location: 5,957

Nerve Damage

Book Notes

This book was a book-recommendation-week recommendation. Many of the recommended books were "hey look, my god is better than your god" books, which are less than remotely interesting to me, and I would say actively off-putting. This one was recommended by a reader who reads a lot and has thoughtful reviews (unlike my reviews here which more more "how I came upon this book and did I like it"), so I picked it up.

The blurb on the back of the book is pretty accurate. Roy Valois is an accomplished artist, finds out he has maybe four months to live, and seeks a peek at his obituary. Apparently obituaries are pre-written for sufficiently famous people (which lends momentum to the idea that maybe everyone should write their own obituaries, see how that works out), and, according to this (fiction) book, the New York Times is sufficiently easy enough to hack into that you can read them.

What follows is the death of a couple people, followed by the not-so-great investigating of said deaths, followed by twists and turns and a very strange ending (that fits, is just ... odd).

I can't tell if this book is an early book by Abrahams (there are three Peter Abrahams authors at quick count, pick one), but I'm not a fan. I didn't like the writing style. Didn't click. I was mostly annoyed at Roy's actions, like he was a little dumb and emotionally stunted. I don't know, maybe it was something else.

If you're trying to read all of Abrahams' works, sure, read this one. Maaaaybe it is desert island material, but not really. Skip it.

Instead he dragged the shiny cone to the center of the floor, not far from Delia, and just looked at it for a while. Sometimes he got ideas that way. Not now. The blurry image of a delicate, attenuated silence that had been in his mind refused to grow clearer. He pulled up a stool, got out his sketch pad and a soft pencil. Nothing happened at first. Roy was used to that, had learned patience in his work. No hurry: that was what he always told himself.
Page: 53

People died on the highway every day, passing from normal life, through terror, to nothing.
Page: 122

He’d always liked shoveling snow—the full-body rhythm, the squeak the blade sometimes made digging in, the shovel loads holding their shapes for brief moments in the air. Some guys did a sloppy job of it, moving just enough snow to free their cars, but not Roy—he always made sure there was no loose snow, left the ground hardpacked, the banks squared at their bases, all angles right angles.
Page: 125

This reminds me of Jonathan.

"And remember Picasso’s warning.”

“What warning was that?”

“Don’t become your own connoisseur.” Wisdom, the kind that actually shifted the mind around at one stroke, revealed what needed revealing: you didn’t come across it.
Page: 157

"You’re thinking Washington and Lincoln,” he said.

“Pretty clear that those days are long gone. We’re in a late Roman phase, just scratching and clawing to hold on.”

“Hold on to what?” Roy said.

“Why, global power, naturally,” said Truesdale. “And the wealth and influence that comes from it.”
Page: 185

At that moment, Roy stopped being afraid of what might happen next. It took no effort at all, simply happened, a sudden ascent into courage, or at least total fearlessness, probably not the same thing.
Page: 265

Roy closed his eyes. Turned out that death didn’t simplify your life. How many people had been in a position to learn that one?
Page: 312

He turned and nodded.

“Hey,” said Freddy.

“This could work.”

“Why not?” Turk said, his eyes full of moonlight. “It’s a classic.”

“How’s that?” said Freddy.

“From Homer,” Turk said.

Freddy shrugged. “Don’t have time for TV.”

Life could be sweet.
Page: 314

I laughed at this. They were going in Trojan Horse, and the not-so-clued-in one thought Homer meant Simpson.