Thursday, September 30, 2021

Compilation of Goodreads Reviews — August 2021

Review of The Horror at Red Hook by H.P. Lovecraft

Although in many respects this tale rightfully violates our modern sensibilities, The Horror at Red Hook remains a worthwhile, splendid read. Lovecraft's meticulous use of rhythm and visuals; his exploitation of mankind's natural fear of the unknown; the research he conducted in advance; the lovely impersonal, archaic style which gives the prose an academic feel—all of what makes the author one of the greatest creatives in recent memory one will find in here. While the racism present perverts an otherwise perfect plot and thus cannot procure five stars, I would still recommend anybody with free time study it. 

Review of "Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts" by W.H. Pugmire

I read this collection December of 2020. I spent several weeks studying the stories & it did not disappoint. Pugmire established himself over the years as an ingenious creator, learning from masters like Poe, Lovecraft, & Blackwood. Every syllable, every word, & every detail contributes to the final effect without fail. He employs poetic devices (even contractions to enforce a rhythm) & appeals to the reader's senses with lifelike imagery & smartly-written, sometimes voluptuous descriptions of smells, taste, & touch. Pugmire tells tales that stay trapped in the mind—best read at night. It is a must read worth every penny. And may the genius behind these stories and poems rest in peace. 

Review of "Saving Freedom" by Joe Scarborough

Mr. Scarborough has penned a splendid book. President Truman, in my view, is disturbingly underappreciated. Mr. Scarborough succicently explores President Truman's exciting White House career. (Such as preserving the balance of power with the USSR through Greece, drama with the United Nations, and legitimizing Israel.) He explains how President Truman's upbringing, military experience, political experience, & morality guided his methods as a statesman.

However, I cannot give it five stars. Mr. Scorbourgh felt the need to insert irrelevant present-day politics into an otherwise objective text. See his opening to Ch. 6 where he references Donald Trump's criticisms of the media (not by name). It is my view that if somebody is writing a historical piece, they should stick to the facts unless something in the present is relevant.

Other than this criticism, this is a great book I took immense pleasure in reading. I would certainly recommend it for anybody interested in the Truman presidency.

Review of "Against Intellectual Property" by N. Stephen Kinsella

This text does faithfully refute the metaphysical and policy arguments in favor of copyrights & patents, including the long-term harms of these de facto monopolies & how absurd the ethical arguments are if taken to their extreme. That said, the libertarian bias of Mr. Kinsella—though it's the Mises Institute so what should one expect?—meant concentrating on those from his side; and a poor, superficial "debunking" of utilitarian arguments for intellectual property. Indeed, there are utilitarian arguments against IP and non-utilitarian arguments for IP I wish Mr. Kinsella addressed. That aside, this is a must read.

Review of "Strengths Finders 2.0" by Tom Rath

I was able to secure a cheap used copy of this text recently. While the first part is an exercise in inspiration & reason, once you're prompted to take a test it becomes worthless until you pay upwards of $50 to take it online; and the text merely describes which traits said examination gives you. Unless this is a mandatory reading for college, spend your pennies elsewhere.

Review of "Food Police" by Jayson Lusk

The problem with this text is it mostly addresses certain policies—like the prohibition of "big gulps" in Michael Bloomberg's New York or the imposition of sin taxes on various foods and beverages for their unhealthy qualities—on the notion they violate liberty; namely the liberty of consumers to choose, without state-sanctioned artificial barriers or coercion, that which satisfies their preferences. Yet liberty is the pursuit of virtue. What virtue is there in gluttony; in the distribution and sale of addictive substances which produce a sluggish, hopeless existence? Research consistently shews our unhealthy diets have hideous outcomes—higher rates of depression, higher rates of certain diseases, higher medical costs, physical weakness, etc. And the harms of this affect everyone. Making sugar more expensive to consume and healthier foods cheaper to purchase is just one of many ways to promote the long-term well-being of the soul; for what we have beheld is half the population being enslaved to the vice of gluttony, in the same way a drunk is enslaved to alcohol.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

"Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez" — A Review

Imagine a scandalous legal predicament that combined: the public outrage of the O.J. Simpson trial; the desperate, racist scapegoating of the Central Park Five case; and the similar psychological and criminal circumstances of the Chris Benoit tragedy. This combination would create the Aaron Hernandez trials. And the book I put forward today, dear reader, deals with that subject—”Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez” by Jose Baez and George Willis; and it deals with, as the title suggests, the disgraced football player’s struggle for freedom and justice and survival, all from the perspective of his attorney Baez.

A consequential reason as to why I found this book so immensely pleasing is Baez’s personality, for he exhibits traits that imply a profoundly decent, likable man. He is, first of all, abjectly charming and fiercely honest, managing to find a balance. Throughout the text he criticizes and shews the hideous flaws within our broken, corrupt criminal justice system, without fail or political correctness. On page 107, for instance, he describes how rats—those who snitch on others in hopes of extracting rewards fair or unfair—may be one’s undoing; for they create conflicts of interest, get innocents arrested for crimes they never committed (echoing Michelle Alexander), and allow dangerous criminals to roam liberally. Someone who has to operate and make a living in this system would profit from putting these things mildly. But he demonstrates courage with his bluntness.

But he balances this with charm. He gives his rivals, for lack of superior phrasing, credit whenever is due. On page 128, he compliments the prosecution for accurately displaying the timeline, relationships, and evidence for what transpired when the murder occurred. He even describes their presentation as “airtight.” At one point, he compliments the integrity and fashion-sense of the prosecution. On another note, Baez depicts Aaron as a humble, albeit flawed personality that deserved respect and dignity throughout the book, despite public perception to the contrary; he sticks to his client even after death—’till the bitter end! And I have no reason to doubt him.

Secondly, he reveals much of his personality through his prose style. He, with the perhaps invaluable assistance of Mr. Willis, employed a style that is simple, straight-forward, and, most importantly, intelligent. This style is possibly what kept me going, for he wants to, on one hand, present himself as an everyday gentleman, and, on the other, a principled intellectual; and such a balance is necessary when lawyers are frowned upon by society, so appealing to the lowest common denominator without oversimplification becomes paramount. (Especially defence attorneys handling controversial cases; and I’m still waiting for a memoir by Shannon Smith, who defended a loathsome monster who shall not be named.) There were parts, however, where this style faltered. He doesn’t use proper dialogue formatting (e.g. page 241) and employs synonymous, thus redundant, adjectives (page 138). But I don’t believe such nitpicking is warranted for an otherwise decent book.

Thirdly, I adore Baez’s sense of humour. On page 201, he tries to provoke Alexander Bradley—a backstabbing criminal testifying on the prosecution's behalf—using sarcasm and imitation. I bursted out laughing at this part. Again, this is another effort to appeal to general audiences, which is most respectable.

Finally, I feel Baez managed to convince me of Aaron’s innocence. Throughout the book he pokes holes in the prosecution’s case—such as a street sweeper potentially interfering in the crime scene, thus rendering the evidence procured thereof useless (pg. 71)—which helped convince the jury there existed reasonable doubt. (And if I were the jury, I would have voted not to convict because of the arguments presented here.) But he also explains why the police can be unreliable. Did you know, dear reader, that in only a few states, like Florida, officers are required to endure depositions under oath (pg. 60)? I feel his arguments and professional insight are without flaw.

This book, however, is not perfect. An embarrassing contradiction in the novel became a singular pet peeve. On page 2, Baez writes the following:

Aaron would often describe how he’d sit down on his bunk and rub his temples. His friends knew of his frequent migraines that began with a dull ache in his head. They had become more frequent of late. He would lie down and throw a T-shirt over his eyes to block the light shining through the small, barred window about eighteen inches wide and three feet long.
He continues on page 3:
One moment he is lost in love and thankfulness, looking forward to a future as a free man again. Then the depression and the pain must have come back.
In other words, the symptoms of CTE were obvious from the start, and Baez implies he was aware of this information around the time he agreed to take the case. Yet in Ch. 22, he claims he beheld zero evidence his client had CTE. He makes a similar contradiction shortly after on page 251, claiming he did notice CTE symptoms in Aaron. How did the editor(s) not notice this?

My last complaint: I wish more time would have been spent on the friendship between Baez and Hernandez. Despite this being a work of non-fiction, I believe the rules of character development apply here. While the last few chapters were strong, and even I felt saddened by some of the details, it would have been even stronger, as in more convincing, had he spent more time on their friendship; instead we get only some brief glimpses of Baez and Hernandez’s discussions and the latter’s time in prison. Certainly fixing this would have made the book longer—perhaps exceedingly so—but in a necessary manner.

I think Unnecessary Roughness is a good book. I enjoyed every page. And I would recommend it to everyone who wants: to find an in-depth analysis of the Hernandez scandal, to gather arguments or quotes in favor of criminal justice reform, and to seek discussions about football—its legacy, its players both famous and infamous, and its ethical problems.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

"The Room Where It Happened" by John Bolton — A Review

John Bolton's book before us is truly a warning for those sitting on the fence over the 2020 election. The text, however, suffers because, apart from the few cases that provoke contemplation or cringe in readers, it lacks a soul. By this I mean one could reduce this book to a series of short op-eds; and the effect would have been greater. To a political science junkie, most of the information is not new, and what little new John Bolton shewed did not warrant a 494-page book. A hideous temptation to skim about one-fifth of the text clouded my mind. Furthermore, I question if Simon & Schuster has any proofreaders among their editorial staff, for many errors prove humiliating. On page 312 the author writes:

"Stunningly, HongKongpeople voted in unprecedented numbers..."

This error is laughable. He meant to say "the Hong Kong people" but the editors did not deduce that. Ironically, this typo could have been their mistake. Please, Jonathan Karp, hire people to proof the works you wish to publish.

But there is one aspect of the book I did like: John Bolton's honesty. He does not dumb down or moderate his views for the sake of accommodating left-wing (or left-leaning) readers. Instead, he chooses to be frank, even if that means alienating a chunk of his audience, for he explicitly tells the world how Trump should handle foreign policy. (Hint: Trump's policy is not realistic—not radical enough.) That—plus the 46 pages of notes, shewing the research he depended upon for many claims, and his insider knowledge—makes him a credible source.

But unless you are someone who loves consuming data about the Trump administration, a political science junkie, or someone on the fence about the 2020 election and not too familiar with contemporary issues, I recommend either getting this via your local library or skipping it altogether.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

"Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future" — A Review

Much came to pass in 2011 within the realm of book writing and publication. But one example of acute interest, the subject of this review, is “Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future” by Steve Hallett and John Wright. This book features solid arguments—which the authors affirm with research and intelligent musings—but much of the text suffers from flaws they should have addressed before publication. But ‘tis an enjoyable read that one must consume with skepticism.

Provision of context is justified. Dr. Hallett teaches horticulture and landscape architecture at Purdue University. Between 2002 and 2014 he accumulated many academic awards and honors. Last year, he contributed to the Illinois Agrinews. Mr. Wright is a journalist with a solid portfolio (and past worthy of an autobiography). Before this book, he wrote "The Obama Haters," and more recently "History is Watching: How Do We Respond to Trump?" These distinguished backgrounds led me to develop a theory: that Dr. Hallett conducted the research while Mr. Wright handled the writing. But I do not have sufficient evidence for this.

In summa, Dr. Hallett and Mr. Wright presented before their readership a thesis: peak oil—that the black substance is scarce (who would have guessed?) and, eventually, cannot be extracted, meaning supply will not meet demand—shall bring harrowing devastation to global markets and international political stability. Perhaps not of Biblical proportions, but close enough.

They justify their predictions with patterns and data. They note, for illustration, how ancient civilisations—from the Easter Island inhabitants to Medieval Europe—contributed to extreme environmental decay, namely deforestation, to secure short-term economic success. Dr. Hallett and Mr. Wright also noted other human predicaments. Tying subsidised fishing to the tragedy of the commons. Or the Soviet Union, depending upon petroleum to compete with America, collapsing even after the humiliating de facto colonisation of a resource-rich country like Afghanistan.

What is the greatest strength of this book? Well, dear reader, it is the research and deduction. For the authors justified their points with credible sources and logic. All of which you can verify with their thirty-one pages of notes at the end. They also draw upon many fields like economics, ecology, history, politics, and psychology; ‘tis fitting, because the concept of peak oil intertwines them all by nature. Had they not shewn us their references (like some people. Why am I coughing?) then I would question the reliability of "Life Without Oil." We must, after all, reject assertions made without reasoning or evidence.

The second positive, however, stems from the smooth writing style. Though sporadically passive, the book balances academic verbosity with conversational brevity. The style, therefore, is dynamic, which is a nice touch. But while the authors confess to a pessimistic outlook, despite reasonable solutions like nuclear energy. (Well, not reasonable to the commons.) But they balance out the melancholy with cheesy humour. Even I admit to laughing at the absurd descriptions of real-life events. (Their depiction of the “war” over fisheries between Iceland and Britain is comically poetic.) Dear reader, you shall be glued to that chair upon reading this.

But while I admire how well-researched this text is, there are humiliating o’ersights that should not have survived the editorial processes. (If there were any beyond the final draft.) You can find my favourite example on pages 189-90, where Dr. Hallett and Mr. Wright penned:
Fritz Haber was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1920 for the invention of an industrial process for fixing nitrogen—which must surely qualify as an evolutionary-level invention. The first major application of the Haber process was not in agriculture, however, but in warfare, and Fritz Haber has a very nasty legacy. Cut off from dwindling supplies of Chilean guano when war broke out in 1914, the German Empire used the Haber process for the production of nitrate for bombs and then for the synthesis of chemical weapons in the trenches. Later, Haber would participate in the manufacture of Zyklon B, the poison used to murder millions in Nazi concentration camps. When the Haber process became the mainstay of the fertilizer industry, however, we conveniently overlooked his contributions to genocide and lobbed a tainted Nobel Prize at him.
How should I begin? First, per The Nobel Prize organisation, Fritz Haber earned his award for his process in 1918 (picking it up in 1919) not 1920. If you see this as nitpicking, fine, but, by attacking his character, the authors make notable fallacies. While ‘tis true Zyklon B was his doing, he perished in 1934, eight years before the Nazis used it in concentration camps. And he did seek to shew his patriotism for Germany by developing chemical weapons, yes, during a war with Britain, which implemented analogous measures. What genocide did he knowingly contribute to? I am aware they despise how industrial agriculture exploits his discoveries. However, Haber is not responsible for how entities, private or political, abuse his inventions.

This book scatters comparable factual, fallacious mistakes. I will give them the benefit of a doubt, but readers already skeptical of environmentalist claims shall not. For it seems like an unwarranted, arbitrary attack made by biased individuals. How the hell did they mess this up? And speaking of bias, I wish they spent more time addressing counterarguments. In a post-truth era—where, as Pew Research notes, millions deny man-made global warming, and therefore likely reject the solutions Dr. Hallett and Mr. Wright proposed (which align with climate activism)—'tis an imperative, necessary endeavour.

This book shall convince, or empower, those already in agreement, inclined to accept environmentalist claims like myself, and certain fence sitters, but even they must read this with caution because of the errors. Otherwise, find another book.


Bowlby, Chris. Fritz Haber: Jewish chemist whose work led to Zyklon B. British Broadcasting Corporation.

Fagan, Moira, and Christine Huang. A look at how people around the world view climate change. Pew Research Center.

Fritz Haber – Biographical. Nobel Media AB 2020.

Gassing Operations. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia.

John Wright’s official website:

Rebuttal Sections. Purdue University.

Steve G Hallet's bio:

Sunday, May 31, 2020

"President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination" — A Review

Richard Reeves wrote the biography “President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination,” having it published in 2005. The book itself is informative, gripping, with a straight-to-the-point but eloquent writing style, emphasis on the humanity of the Gipper, and the domestic and international politics of the 80’s. Indeed, the topics explored by Mr. Reeves include how America dealt with the Israeli occupation of Lebanon; the Shakespearean drama in Congress over budgeting; the relationship between Gorbachev and the U.S. President; and the internal struggles among the cabinet. Riveting information packs each page. In this regard, the book is a masterpiece worthy of those interested in political science, history, and the Reagan presidency itself. This book, however, is not perfect.

Although the author claims to “reconstruct a President’s world from his own perspective” (page xiii), he reveals his personal biases throughout the book. Two pages after this quote, Mr. Reeves pens, “President Reagan did not win the Cold War and end communism, but he knew it was going to happen.” This passage should invoke cringe and nausea in historians. Dear reader, you are aware of the current occupation in Afghanistan, yes? During the Reagan presidency, the Soviet Union attempted a comparable occupation. WorldAtlas reports the natural resources of Afghanistan includes: copper, natural gas, and petroleum; and “Other minerals include lithium, marble (which brings in about $15 million through exports every year), rare-earth elements (whose value is not yet known), uranium, and others.” Picture a world where the Soviets obtained unlimited access to these resources, and the labour of Afghanistan, like they did in Eastern Europe. They could’ve revived their economy with ease, which means they could still be here. By stopping the Soviet invasion, Reagan gave assurance to the world the Soviet Empire would collapse. One of many examples.

Another complaint includes the over reliance upon the same sources, many biased. Funnily enough, he does this after confessing to and denying bias.

I might release an article that explores how to write a proper biography; if I do so, I shall elaborate upon the notion that biographers must, even if they have a personal agenda against the person they are writing about, avoid bias if they wish for serious reactions.

Overall, Mr. Reeves wrote a decent book. I enjoyed it. But it is not completely reliable, for it is informative yet biased.


Bada, Ferdinand. "Natural Resources Of Afghanistan." WorldAtlas, Apr. 15, 2019,

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration" — A Review

Today I finished the book “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Edward Catmull, the President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Amy Wallace co-authored the book. I find this text admirable, for Catmull put together a piece that combines charm, history, and management to entertain, inform, and inspire readers.

I shall begin, dear reader, with the writing style. Mr. Catmull balances, with near perfection, elegance and simplicity. With American authors, this accomplishment is a rarity. Intelligent writing, without pretentiousness or bombast, is desirable. And this is best done via variety in sentence length, structure, and vocabulary. Allow me to provide some examples:
"I walked away from [the University of] Utah with a clearer sense of my goal, and I was prepared to devote my life to it: making the first computer-animated film. But getting to that point would not be easy. There were, I guessed, another ten years of development needed to figure out how to model and animate characters and render them in complex environments before we could even begin to conceive of making a short—let alone a feature—film." (Page 20)
"This is the puzzle of trying to understand randomness: Real patterns are mixed in with random events, so it is extraordinarily difficult to differentiate chance and skill. Did you arrive early to work because you left on time, planned ahead, and drove carefully? Or were you just in the right place at the right time?" (Page 156)
"Typically, people imagine consciousness to be something that is achieved inside our brains. Alva Noe, a professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley who focuses on theories of perception, has suggested another way of thinking about consciousness—as something we do, or enact, or perform in our dynamic involvement with the world around us. Consciousness, in other words, happens within a context." (Page 180)
Catmull, in certain ways, demonstrates his genius temperament and education—but he bears in mind his actual audience: the like-minded among the commons. Arthur Amis and comparable British authors achieved this balance. And I wish American authors—like Mr. Catmull and Mr. Stack have—did as well.

What gives this book extraordinary merit is the useful insight. Mr. Catmull, without a doubt, has profound, intriguing experiences. He discusses: his business relationship and friendship with Steve Jobs; computer programming in the 60’s and 70’s; and the challenges faced while creating films like The Incredibles. And this ties into the management aspect, where Catmull provides useful advice for business majors, inspiring entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers. A summary of his views—which the through, riveting tales and deductions scattered throughout compliment— follows:
"Candor, safety, research self-assessment, and protecting the new are all mechanisms we can use to confront the unknown and to keep the chaos and fear to a minimum." (Page 185)
I recommend this book for:
  • Business majors
  • Computer science majors
  • Inspiring entrepreneurs
  • Managers in training
  • Those pursuing creative fields

Sunday, March 29, 2020

"Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness" — A Review

 “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” is a book by professors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. Published in 2008, the professors argue for libertarian paternalism, defined on page 5 as a system that strengthens freedom of choice, but uses state and private sector incentives (nudges) to improve decision-making. They combine psychology and economics—behavioural economics—in doing so. Today, I effectuate the argument this book is spectacular, despite a few flaws.

Relying on a ravishing and formal yet simple writing style, the book is easy to understand, but it isn’t insulting (they don’t state the obvious regularly). The professors keep the reader engaged with thought experiments and good examples of their policies in action. When they propose solutions, they’re reasonable, for they’re rooted in skilled research. I will provide two examples.

On pages 19-22, the professors define the brain’s Automatic and Reflective systems that form much of the basis for their ideology. They challenge you to make their point stronger.
To see how intuitive thinking works, try the following little test… Begin by writing down the first answer that comes to your mind. Then pause to reflect.
1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? _____ cents
2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____ minutes
3. In lake, there is a patch of lily pads… the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake? _____ days...
… Most people say 10 cents, 100 minutes, and 24 days. But all these answers are wrong. The correct answers are 5 cents, 5 minutes, and 47 days, but you knew that, or at least your Reflective System did if you bothered to consult it.
The next example comes from page 60:
Consider Texas’s imaginative and stunningly successful effort to reduce littering on its highways. Texas officials were enormously frustrated by the failure of their well-funded and highly publicized advertising campaigns, which attempted to convince people that it was their civic duty to stop littering… Public officials decided that they needed a “tough-talking slogan that would also address the unique spirit of Texas pride. Explicitly targeting the unresponsive audience, the state enlisted popular Dallas Cowboys football players to participate in television ads in which they collected litter, smashed beer cans… and growled “Don’t mess with Texas!… 
About 95 percent of Texans now know this slogan… Within the first year… litter in the state had been reduced by a remarkable 29 percent.
I wouldn’t have used those ugly adverbs, but I digress.

These are just two examples of this brilliance. Many intriguing examples are everywhere in the book. And what would a book of this nature be without humour? They cite anecdotal, but hilarious, examples of their ideas in action. At some points, they use episodes of the Simpsons to drive the point home in a funny, but nostalgic (for many), manner.

But the professors avoid bias. They have an entire section for countering counterarguments: addressing criticisms, acknowledge flaws in their proposed system, and offer solutions.  They favour creating “rules of engagement that reduce fraud and other abuses, that promote healthy competition, that restrict interest-group power, and that create incentives to make it more likely that the architects will serve the public interest" (page 243). Additionally, they advocate for transparency (page 247). By being fair and honest, and dedicating time to researching their points, this book earns additional points.

However, the books has issues. First, let us address the faults that aren’t the fault of the professors. Their outdated approach to healthcare, and the defence of the unstable and predatory mortgage system of the late 2000’s, aged like expired milk (pg. 100-101, 136-137).

In the Afterword, they acknowledged the Great Recession, which made news after the book’s publication. They claim it was the worst recession since the Great Depression. (As I pen this, I find this hasn’t aged well either.)

There are some absurdities simple proofreading should’ve corrected. To illustrate this, on page 59 the professors write:
A dramatic example is communism in the former Soviet bloc, which lasted in part because people were unaware how many people despised the regime.
So, the Soviet regime survived because the people didn’t know how much they themselves despised the government? This is a contradiction. Occam’s razor suggests government brainwashing is the culprit. (Much like North Korea today.) Certain conditions in the 1980’s helped awaken the masses.

But the overall book is a splendid read. I recommend this book to copywriters who must nudge consumers to make a living. Those interested in psychology, economics, and/or marketing should read it, including students and teachers/instructors. What would I do if I taught a course related to these subjects? I’d be tempted into making this book a required reading. That is how much I recommend it.