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« January, 2014 »
Give Me My Father’s Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo

This is, as you might expect, a totally depressing book about how terrible people in positions of power were (and likely still are in many respects) when attempting to interact with “native” folks of any stripe. This particular story concerns Peary’s expeditions to northern Greenland where he frequently stopped on his quest for the North Pole. On one occasion he brought some of the “Polar Eskimos” as they were then called, back to NYC with him. Several died and one, Minik, was a young boy and was one of the survivors. The NY Museum of Natural History treated him and his fellow Greenlanders shamefully, keeping Minik’s father’s body in their archives (even going so far as to stage a fake funeral for him to assuage the boy) along with other personal possessions belonging to him. This situation was not rectified until the last few decades. Appalling.

Harper has done a great deal of research tracking down what became of Minik and others whose lives Peary touched in the latter part of the 20th century and created a narrative that is Minik-centered, not the terrible explorer-centered tales of false bravado and accomplishments at the expense of other people. Very interesting read.

Ready Player One

A kid told me to read this and it was great! Sort of like Daemon but without the overarching awfulness and war of all against all. I really enjoyed this book about a near future world where most people spend their time interacting in an online space, and then the guy who builds the online space--a fan of all things 80s--dies and there is a contest to see who will win his vast fortune. Just futuristic enough to be interesting but with enough pop culture references to seem really here and now, maybe it’s just because the setting for the quest covered a lot of the same spaces that I used to populate when I was a kid but it all felt so fun and familiar. The quest is quest-y enough, the characters are believable, good at games but sometimes bad at life, and there’s a lot of low level hackery and back and forth action. Loved it. You should read it.

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground

The fascinating thing that I did not know about this book before I started reading it was that Poulsen, the author and now senior editor of Wired, is a former black-hat hacker who did some prison time. This explains, I think, some of the parts of this book that I liked the best: the really thorough and knowledgeable explanations of the hacks, the lengthy discussions he seems to have had with everyone involved in order to get a good story and the general understanding of how things like IRC and BBSes and other stuff like that worked. As a reader who knows how this stuff works who is often reading books written by people who don’t know, I was really excited to get to read a book written for people like me. Poulsen is a thorough researcher and turned the whole story of Max Vision (Butler) into a linear tale of one guy and the decisions that he makes that turn him into one of the most powerful guys in the online credit card data trading markets. Along the way you learn about these markets, the other players in them and some stuff about Silicon Valley back before the first bubble burst.

Thinking in Numbers

This is a collection of essays by Daniel Tammet, a mathematician and savant discussing things that are only tangentially mathematically related: the way he predicts his mother’s behavior, the things he talks about when he meets other mathematicians, what it’s like to recite pi to 25000+ places. Tammet does a good job bridging the gap between how his mind works and what he thinks other people who are not at that level of mathematical thinking would want to read about and does, to my mind, a very good job.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes

An excellent collection of essays that I’d somehow managed to miss entirely the first times they appeared in various places, mostly the New Yorker. The essays range from a real-life locked room murder mystery (by a Sherlock historian) to a look inside the communities that work deep under NYC digging tunnels for new water systems. Very readable and always leave you wanting to read more about the topics and/or tell people about them in detail.

The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time

Started reading this last year. Finished it this year. Enjoyed getting just a bit more Adams stuff that I hadn’t read even though some of it is a little loose-ended or seems written for a purpose that’s not “read this after I’ve been dead for a decade and the whole world of computers has changed” Even though, fun read, learned a bit more about Adams and got to read just a bit more fiction even if I’ll never know how that particular story ends.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

This was free in the ibook store so I bought it and read it at the gym. Fun. Reminiscent of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole but a bit more US-centric, and more of a comic book (with great drawings) and less of a journally thing. I liked it. I’ll go get the other ones from the library.