Saturday, April 23, 2016

Review: Shadow of the Hegemon

Shadow of the Hegemon Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a stand-alone book, this is an exciting, fast-paced, and eye opening story. I wouldn't judge it on the same standards as Ender's Game because it deals with the conflict between the military and political world whereas EG is mainly focused on the military world and the survival between two disparate civilizations. I need to read up on history to judge how accurately Card portrayed the world stage, but I think he presents some intriguing possibilities for how the mechanisms work. For example, there's Peter's rise to power through manipulating social media and you actually do see people in real life shaping legislation through online campaigns. Card also makes good use of the saying "History repeats" through the various alliances and betrayals the nations make as they vie for power.
I like learning more about characters such as Bean, Petra, and especially Peter. Peter is really interesting because he's the most morally ambiguous person in the book. It's nice to see that he lost some of his psychopathic tendencies from EG, but he is still egomaniacal in his ambition to rule the world by bringing world peace. He's a good reflection a world leader because even the ones who believe they are out to do good have to be a little sociopathic or narcissistic to strive for all that power. I agree with what Card seems to be communicating: this type of leader isn't always a bad thing, and might even be what the world needs. However, there's always the question of whether a Peter is as competent as he believes himself to be and does his interests align with Bean's.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Review: Civilization and Its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title seems like a misnomer, and a more fitting one could be "Civilized Man and his Discontents". The book doesn't focus on the usual grievances of civilization as a whole: war, political turmoil, inequality, etc. Instead, it looks at how the structure of society influences the individual. Freud's psychological outlook puts a unique perspective on the question "Why does society cause so much suffering?". He does a lot of rambling, armchair philosophizing, and changing his stances. But in the end, he does come up with an interesting and plausible theory as to why we can feel so miserable when our society provides us with safety and prosperity. He delivers his message bluntly and ironically, with a lot of dark humor. A lot of the book comes off as pessimistic, but he does hold out hope that we can alleviate some problems of society as long as we don't fall into the traps that come with believing that we can achieve utopia. He does a good job of outlining the pros and cons of each major strategy towards happiness. I also like how balanced he is when assessing human civilization. His perspective seems to be that we can amend some injustices, but the suffering caused by society is the price we pay for cohesion and security. It's a shame that he left out plausible solutions based on his theory. He might not have wanted to seem presumptuous for claiming to be able to solve millenniums-old problems. However, he claimed to be scientifically-minded so he should have to put forward solutions that can be used to test his theory.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Review: Applied Minds: How Engineers Think

Applied Minds: How Engineers Think Applied Minds: How Engineers Think by Guru Madhavan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My reason for reading this book was because it was recommended to me by ASCE's "Civil Engineering" magazine. In this book, the Madhaven explains how the engineering mindset works by using a concept that he calls "modular systems thinking". It is understanding the relationships between parts and how the parts form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In addition, he specifies three key components of the engineering mind: seeing structure where there is none, designing under constraints, and understanding trade-offs. To demonstrate this mindset, Madhaven presents a series of biographical portraits of engineers throughout history. I like the concept of the book, but the execution fell short of my hopes. I'm a fan of Robert Greene and Malcolm Gladwell, so I tend to have high expectations for any author who communicate their message through biographical portraits. Madhaven chose the personalities well. The engineers portrayed showed how diverse people in this profession could be. There was a lieutenant general, a politician, a Hindu priest, and a director. People like these defy society's impression that engineers are narrow-minded, cloistered, and rigid. I think the book does a good job of expressing the extent of engineers' impact on civilization and society's impact on engineering. My problem with the book is that it switches between the different stories too often. It's disorienting and confusing to go from supermarkets to ATMS to Thomas Edison and so on in one chapter. There is a unifying theme between these topics, but it's explained more towards the end of the chapter. There's some links, but not much transition in chapters with multiple stories. However, some of the chapters were done very well. The "Crossing Over and Adapting" chapter is one of my favorites because it gets into some real life drama, and it makes the engineer of the story a moving character.

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