Microreviews

Microreview n. A one-sentence synopsis.

Getting to the point is an under-rated skill; doing so in one sentence is a daunting challenge. These reviews, all of which originally featured in the sidebar at right, summarise the coverage, achievements and limitations of some of the publications I read.

Each image links to further information on the publication, be it at Amazon, on the publisher’s website, the author’s homepage or, less frequently, at Wikipedia.


Amazing Spider-Man

Maybe, But . . .

Amazing Spider-Man

Marvel Comics, Amazing Spider-Man, No. 456- (Brand New Day arc), 2008.

Recently Spider-Man has died, arisen, defected and had his marriage erased from human memory — the punchline had better be good or Marvel will lose its mainstream audience.



Bad Samaritans

Recommended

Bad SamaritansHa-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: Rich Nations, Poor Policies and the Threat to the Developing World, Random House, London, 2007.

Offering a well-reasoned and credibly researched defence of state intervention, Chang gives us the low-down on globalisation that John Ralston Saul thought he was writing.


Blogging Heroes

Maybe, But . . .

Blogging Heroes, by Michael A. BanksMichael A. Banks, Blogging Heroes: Interviews with 30 of the Word’s Top Bloggers, Wiley Publishers, New York, 2008.

Banks’ interviewees offer timely insights into the difficulties and triumphs of blogging, but pointless repetition between near verbatim interviews and an almost term-paper style layout mute their voices.


Bottom Billion, The

Recommended

Bottom Billion Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What can be Done About It, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007.

Economist Collier looks at the plight of the world’s poorest countries and offers tentative policy solutions, some of which might surprise you.


Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction

No! No! No!

A Short IntroductionJames Fulcher, Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004.

Fulcher sets out to provide a brief account of capitalism in context, a short history if you will, but delivers an unsubstantiated tirade against it.


Common Sense

Maybe, But . . .

Common SenseThomas Paine, Common Sense, Penguin, London, 2004 (includes ‘Agrarian Justice’).

Paine’s defence of the American Revolution is a classic of political discourse, but it’s difficult to find the substance amidst his rhetoric.



Complete Idiot’s Guide to Forensics

Recommended

Complete Idiot’s Guide to ForensicsAlan Alxelrod and Guy Antinozzi, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Forensics (Second Edition), Alpha, New York, 2007.

For those wanting to know more about forensic techniques than television or the popular imagination can offer, Axelrod and Antinozzi respond with an informative account as the basis for further investigation.


Cultures Merging

Maybe, But . . .

Cultures MergingEric Jones, Cultures Merging, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2006.

Jones cuts through the babble that cultures exist immutable in perpetuity, but stumbles in areas such as immigration in Australia and minority language use, where he’s slave to an inflexible theme.


Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Recommended

Down and OutCory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Tor Books, New York, 2003.

Doctorow weaves pop culture, human relations and a grab-bag of computer analogies into convincing proof that dystopic science fiction doesn’t have to be gloomy.


Dispatches from Blogistan

Recommended

Dispatches from Blogistan

Suzanne Stefanac, Dispatches from Blogistan: A Travel Guide for the Modern Blogger, New Riders, Berkeley, 2007.

Stefanac presents blogging as discourse in historical and technological context, with tips on mastering the intricacies of the form along the way.



Ex Machina

Recommended

Ex Machina 35, copyright Brian K. Vaughan and Tony HarrisBrian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris, Ex Machina, Wildstorm, New York, 2004-2008

Now in its thirty-fifth issue, writer Vaughan’s Ex Machina continues to excel at interpreting the frontier between technology and humanity, all the while questioning the politics of everyday life.


Fooled by Randomness

Maybe, But . . .

Fooled by RandomnessNassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2nd Edition), Penguin, London, 2007.

Taleb cleverly probes the limits of skill in this world of chance, but strains to address lesser intellects – like ours.


Forgotten Man, The

Recommended

Forgotten Man Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, HarperCollins, New York, 2007.

You might not agree with this version of the Great Depression, but it should make you question old certainties.




Ho Chi Minh: A Life

Recommended

A Life William J. Duiker, Ho Chi Minh: A Life, Hyperion, New York, 2000.

There’s little new detail in Duiker’s biography of Ho Chi Minh, yet he weaves what he has together skilfully to reveal the complex motivations of an otherwise mythologised figure.


Imprint of the Raj

Recommended

Imprint of the RajChandak Sengoopta, Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting was Born in Colonial India, Macmillan, London, 2004.

You might know a bit about fingerprinting, but Sengoopta will take you further into its pedigree, from the stuttering urge to categorise in colonial India to the precision of modern criminology.


Internet Imaginaire, The

Recommended

The Internet Imaginaire, by Patrice FlichyPatrice Flichy, The Internet Imaginaire, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2007.

Flichy portrays the social, technological, artistic and commercial actors who produced the collective vision we know as the Internet: recently translated from the 2001 French edition, this book is a perfect riposte to the techno-Cassandras.


Little Red Writing Book, The

No! No! No!

Little Red Writing BookBrandon Royal, The Little Red Writing Book: 20 Powerful Principles of Structure, Style & Readability, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, 2004.

Beware Brandon Royal, the Big Bad Writing Wolf; he’s in bed, mangling grammar.


Neverwhere

Recommended

Link to book details on Gaiman’s blogNeil Gaiman, Neverwhere, HarperCollins, New York, 1997.

This tale of London Above and Below captures Imaginings both gorgeous and grotesque; reality might never rate so highly again.


Nutshells: English Legal System

Maybe, But . . .

English Legal System

Penny Darbyshire, Nutshells: English Legal System (Seventh Edition), Sweet and Maxwell, London, 2007.

Darbyshire perceptively covers the structure, activities and reform of the English legal system, but students are her intended readers and others might baulk at the detail on professional rivalries.



Occidentalism

No! No! No!

OccidentalismIan Buruma and Avishai Margalit, Occidentalism, The Penguin Press, New York, 2004.

Buruma and Margalit produce a wooden take on representations of the West by its ‘enemies’ in the East; a more nuanced view would have considered the complex interplay of imagery between the two hemispheres.


People’s Tragedy, A

Recommended

A People’s TragedyOrlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, Pimlico, London, 1996.

With a grasp of detail few historians can muster, Figes sweeps through Russia, its Revolution and the aftermath, gathering in the decay, triumph, fear and ultimate failure.


Perfect Spy

Recommended

Perfect SpyLarry Berman, Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent, HarperCollins, New York, 2007.

Tracing the life and fractured times of South Vietnamese journalist-spy Pham Xuan An, Larry Berman captures well the enigma and pain of war.


Pobby and Dingan

No! No! No!

Pobby and DinganBen Rice, Pobby and Dingan, Random House, Sydney, 2000.

Rice spent a little time in Australia then wrote a novella about a mining community in outback New South Wales: he shouldn’t have.


Science of Sherlock Holmes, The

Recommended

The Science of Sherlock HolmesE.J. Wagner, The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics behind the Great Detective’s Greatest Cases, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 2006.

Wagner draws out the history of forensic investigation through the figure of Sherlock Holmes, ably shifting between fiction and experience to provide an engaging overview of the field.


Shakespeare

Recommended

Shakespeare Bill Bryson, Shakespeare: The World as a Stage, Harper Press, London, 2007.

Bryson captures the complexity of Shakespeare’s enigmatic life without the more common flights of fancy.


Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!

Recommended

Details at Penguin site Scott Adams, Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! Penguin, New York, 2007.

Scott Adams pushes Dilbert aside for a while to feature his own voice in a book at once sarcastic, insightful and very cleverly funny.


Tales of a Young Urban Failure

Maybe, But . . .

Tales of a Young Urban FailureErik Moe, Tales of a Young Urban Failure, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1996.

Moe’s cleverly narrated and sparingly drawn black and white comic novel is diminished by its inability to develop the loser theme beyond the usual trappings of slackerdom.


Wired

No! No! No!

Wired MagazineWired Magazine, Print Edition, Condé Nast Publications, San Francisco.

Wired‘s well reasoned and astute content is marred by its pointless and deeply irritating lad-magazine style layout, without the models: skip the technoporn and read it online.


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