I like these little how to books usually. They’re small, fun and I generally learn things. This book was spotty. It’s 100 short essays with how-to advice on a lot of common sense topics. Some of the advice was great like how to write a thank you note, how to make tea, or how to house train a puppy. Other advice was all over the map, from the unhelpful to the downright inaccurate. The how to relax article was basically about how to meditate. The how to tell a joke article was in and of itself a good joke [by Howie Mandel] but didn’t really add much to the topic except for how not to screw it up. The how to wash your hands article strongly implies that hand-washing is a good way to keep from getting meningitis which may be true in an abstract sense, but seemed like a pretty oogy-boogy way to kick off 200 words on hand washing. In any case, some articles were great and some were not. Some topics seemed well covered and some did not. All of these articles were written by “experts” but I didn’t know a lot of them. This doesn’t mean much in terms of their expertness, but each little about the author blurb seemed like an advertisement for the author’s business or product.
This book was fun and I learned stuff from it. Bryson has an incredible knack for explaining fairly complicated topics using metaphors that make sense but at the same time don’t talk down to you. He’s also a master at doing this without trotting out too many cliches. So, you learn new things, or you even learn about thing you may have already known about, but in new ways and with new and interesting trivia. He’s well read. He doesn’t just rely on secondary sources to flesh out his tales of astronomy and biology, he talks to scientists, he reads books about them, he goes to archives and looks through papers.
Above all, he’s funny. You wouldn’t think this was a necessary part of learning about DNA, approaching it with a sense of humor, but it helps. He has a tendency to anthropomorphize his subjects, so he gives feelings to the DNA and insight into the black holes he discusses. Bryson starts by talking about the beginning of everything with the Big Bang and the solar system and winds up talking about the end of everything with cautionary tales about extinction and the survival of our species. He’s good at scale. He has a tendency to explain large amounts of time or very tiny things by lining them up against something you already know about. He’s very fond of clock metaphors, so that when he’s talking about the evolution of the species that eventually became homo sapiens you get a real sense of just how long things like that took. The only thing that is bad about this book is that I am done reading it. For even the mildly curious or the slightly scientifically interested: go, get this book, you will not be disappointed.
This story starts out with a smart rich guy who is in a new apartment because he’s just broken up with his smart rich girlfriend. He works in high end bio-computing work and runs his own company of smarties. But he has a secret past, and a troubled future because of the messages that keep being left on his ansering machine. Long story short, things get weird and then they get weirder. This book was a fast read but not a dumb one. The main character is a likable enough fellow who doesn’t make all the traditional “duh” mistakes right off the bat as he’s trying to unravel the mystery he is wrapped up in. The ending isn’t too foreshadowed and there are some fun twists to the story and not much of a mushy “save the girlfriend!” subplot. It’s worth checking out and not expecting too terribly much from and being pleasantly suprised.
I rarely do this, but I finished this book in its entirely only because I could not believe how terrible it was and I held out hope that it would have some redeeming characteristic by the end of it. It did not. It was a muddled mess. You could say that I should have known this by the jacket text which stated that it was based on a video game. In any case it was supposed to be about computers and technology but it basically wasn’t. It was a complicated international plot involving a lot of two dimensional characters, the top two of whom were involved in some sort of takeover bid fight with each other. One is the bad guy, one is the good guy, but both of them are in need of some serious personalities.
The writing in this book was quite possibly the worst I’ve read since I started keeping this list with lots of injected adjectives where they aren’t helpful and lots of clumsy foreshadowing and wretched dialogue. It reads like someone gave a plot outline to either a) a computer or b) a freshman composition student and said “make this into a book” I can’t say I was disappointed because I didn’t expect much, but I have enjoyed Tom Clancy’s earlier books -- it’s unclear who even wrote this one actually -- but I won’t be going near them again. The Amazon reviewer summed it up best “All-in-all a total waste of time. It should have been called mindless.com. ”