#BookReview: Arriving Today by Christopher Mims

Sweeping Revelations And Generalities Need Better Documentation. As narrative nonfiction where facts are presented without documentation in favor of a more stylized, narrative based approach, this book works. And it does pretty well exactly what its description promises- shows the entire logistics industry from the time a product is assembled overseas through its travel to the port of origin to loading onto a ship to being offloaded from said ship onto trains and trucks into the very heart of fulfillment centers and delivery services all the way to your door. It uses a blended reality approach of the emerging COVID crisis, wherein Mims claims to have actually been in Vietnam as it was beginning to a more hypothetical “this is where this item was on this date”… right as global shipping began its “holiday everyday” levels of the early lockdown period in particular, and this approach serves it well as a narrative structure.

That noted, it also uses its less-documented, more-editorial nature to have constant political remarks, where YMMV on the editorial pieces and the documentation checks in at just 13% of the overall text. (More common range for bibliography sections in nonfiction ARCs tends to be in the 20-30% range in my own experience.) It is also questionable in its facts at times, for example when it claims that the US military’s efforts in Vietnam were the drivers of ship-based containerization… which Bruce Jones’ To Rule The Waves, to be released on exactly the same day as this book, shows in a much more documented fashion isn’t exactly the case. For a reader such as myself that was growing interested in logistics and related issues even before the insanities erupted and who, in fact, read an ARC of Emily Guendelsberger’s On The Clock (2019)– cited extensively when this text looks to Amazon and their fulfillment centers directly, among many other similar works such as Alex MacGillis’ Fulfillment (2020), the aforementioned Jones text (2021), Plastic Free by Rebecca Prinz-Ruiz (2020), Driven by Alex Davies (2021), Unraveled by Maxine Bedat (2021), and even What’s The Use by Ian Stewart (2021)… this book touched on a lot of issues I was already familiar with, mostly from more fully documented texts, but placed them in a comprehensive narrative structure that indeed flows quite well.

Read this book. It really is utterly fascinating, and many of the books referenced above face similar issues regarding their politics, to this one is hardly alone in that regard. But also read those other books to see their particular pieces in quite a bit more detail. Still, in the end this one was quite readable and is sure to generate much conversation among those who do read it. Very much recommended.

This review of Arriving Today by Christopher Mims was originally written on July 27, 2021.

#BookReview: What’s The Use by Ian Stewart

Beware The Mathivores. And Stewart’s Myopia. Ok, so the title of this review is a bit of a spoiler, as a “Mathivore” is a creature Stewart describes in the final chapter while summarizing the book. But it doesn’t *actually* give anything away, and it makes for an interesting title to the review. (One suspects it wouldn’t have worked as well for the title of the book, though I think it would have been awesome. :D) Beyond that, I also find it interesting that the only other review on Goodreads for this book at the time I am writing this one is from a historian with a bare knowledge of mathematics, and I am actually a mathematician (though nowhere near as degreed as Stewart, having just a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and lacking a handful of classes for separate Bachelor’s degrees in both Mathematics and Secondary Mathematics Education) with a fair knowledge of history. More than a “normal” person, likely much less – at least in some areas – than the other reviewer. ANYWAY, y’all care about what this book is about, not about me. ๐Ÿ˜€ But my background does play a bit into my own experience with the book, so I thought a brief summary was warranted.

With this book, Stewart *mostly* does a truly remarkable job of showing the history and current uses of math, in many ways many may not be aware of or at minimum fully aware of. With my background, I knew that there was *some* form of math in the background of most of the techs and issues Stewart discusses, but Stewart goes full-bore on the details, yes, quite often showing samples of the actual equations – or at least types of the actual equations – involved. And these are far beyond E=MC^2, y’all. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But still, Stewart’s explanations, at least to my own mathematically inclined brain, were straightforward enough, and there is enough humor (of the British variety) sprinkled throughout to make the overall text much more palatable to the average reader.

But there *are* a couple of weaknesses even from my own perspective, and they combined to knock the book down a star – neither by themselves was quite enough, but combined they are.

The first is that while Stewart does a remarkable job of showing how math is integral to so many fields from elections to medical scanning to photography to fingerprinting, he doesn’t do so well in showing how it shapes everyday life outside of the tech people use and the things going on around them. He doesn’t show how people actually *use* math every day, from calculating how much a trip will take to estimating their grocery bill or restaurant tab to deciding any of the numerous factors related to personal finance and building or maintaining any form of home. Perhaps a follow-on book could explain how these maths shape even more people’s lives.

The second is Stewart’s Myopia. By this, I mean those issues where the Professor. At several key points – likely not caught by someone less familiar with the mathematics of the fields – Stewart dismisses advances in mathematics that oppose his positions. In one, while there is indeed still much work to be done, Stewart’s disdain for autonomous cars belies the stunning advances made in mathematics related to the field. In the other big one, Stewart seems completely ignorant of the emerging mathematics showing the many varying holes in the current “Climate Change” “science” – including some written by a man who quite literally wrote one of the first textbooks on climate modeling with computers. Another, more obscure one, was where Stewart mentions numeracy and Bayesian statistics, but seems ignorant of Bernoulli’s Fallacy (or at minimum dismissive of those who pursue that line of mathematical thinking).

Overall, this *is* a strong book with quite a bit to be commended. It could simply have been a bit stronger. Very much recommended.

This review of What’s The Use by Ian Stewart was originally written on July 26, 2021.

#BookReview: The End Of Trauma by George A Bonanno

Remarkable Examination of Trauma And Its Permanence. This is a truly eye opening book about the remarkable resilience of many, perhaps most, people – and how the science of trauma often gets the permanence of trauma wrong. Bonanno has spent his career researching these topics, and this is a solid look at his best findings to date. Told using some long-term case studies as a bit of a narrative structure (and certainly a recurrent theme), this book does a great job of showing how intensely personal trauma and resilience are, yet also using facts and studies to back up the case studies and show larger findings and trends. The bibliography here comes in at about 23% of the total text, which is within normal range – and would likely have been a bit more, without the focus on the case studies. Of note, the case studies are from an accidental spine injury – from a traffic accident – and from survivors of the 9/11 attacks, which helps to show the wide range of trauma. Though also of note, sexual traumas are not examined directly. While Bonanno makes the case for general applicability to all traumas for his findings of resilience and the factors that lead to it, one wonders whether more directly studying various types of traumas using Bonanno’s framework would truly show true general applicability? Still, that question would be an intriguing premise for a follow up book – but this book itself does in fact make a strong case for its premise and adds quite a bit to the overall discussion of trauma, PTSD, and resilience. Very much recommended.

This review of The End of Trauma by George A Bonanno was originally written on July 12, 2021.

#BookReview: Unnatural Disasters by Gonzalo Lizarralde

Excellent Within Scope, Ignores Alternative Explanations. This one was a bit weird. About halfway into the narrative, I was thinking this was going to be a three star at best, because it was *so* hyper “woke” / “progressive”. But then I read the description – I had picked up the ARC on the strength of the title alone – and saw that most all of the problems I had with the book were *exactly what the description said the book would have*. Well, crap. Ok, *within that scope*, this book is a true 5* narrative. Maybe a touch light on the bibliography at just 17% or so of the overall length of the book (more normal range is 20-30% in my experience), but not too terrible there. But ultimately I had to ding a star because it *does* lean too much into the author’s own biases and refuses to consider – and at times even outright dismisses – alternative explanations such as risky geography and geology, among others, in many of the disasters it covers. Still, the book has a lot of solid points about the modern “green” / “sustainable” / “resilient” building movements, if solidly from the “woke” / “progressive” side. Enough that even if you are one that normally can’t stomach such tripe (I myself am largely among this camp), this text really does have enough good material that you need to wade through it to see the arguments from even that perspective. Recommended.

This review of Unnatural Disasters by Gonzalo Lizarralde was originally written on July 3, 2021.

#BookReview: A Brief History of Motion by Tom Standage

Interesting Overview. Needs Bibliography. It is actually somewhat interesting to me that of five reviews on Goodreads prior to this one, one of the reviewers specifically notes a lack of footnotes as a *good* thing… and this very thing is actually pretty well the only thing I could find to *ding* this text on. But I’m fairly consistent in that – no matter what, I expect a fact-based (vs more memoir-based) nonfiction title to include and reference a decent sized bibliography.

That noted, the substance of this text was well-written, approachable, at times amusing, and full of facts from a wide range of eras that this reader had not previously known. Even in the chapter on the development of driverless cars – much more thoroughly documented in DRIVEN by Alex Davies – there were a few facts that even having read that book and being a professional software developer (and thus more generally aware of tech than some), I genuinely didn’t know before reading this book. Preceding chapters tracing the development of transportation during the 19th and early 20th centuries in particular were utterly fascinating, as was later coverage of the potential future for a car-less society. Remarkably well balanced, the text tends to steer clear – pun absolutely intended – of various relevant controversies (climate change, Peak Oil, Peak Car, autonomous vehicles, car-less society, etc) even while discussing said controversies’ impact on society and future developments. Truly a solid examination of its topic, and very much recommended.

This review of A Brief History Of Motion by Tom Standage was originally written on July 1, 2021.

#BookReview: Trejo by Danny Trejo

A Hell Of A Life. Danny Trejo didn’t start acting – professionally – until he was almost 40 years old. Mostly because a large part of the rest of that time, he was high and/ or in prison, including some of California’s most notorious. Today, Trejo is known as one of the more prolific and high profile actors out there, with over 400 acting credits to his name + his line of Trejo’s Tacos restaurants.

Here, we see at least pieces of pretty much all of his 70+ years, from his early childhood as the only male in a house full of women and girls to his first time using various substances to his first robbery and the time he was worried he was about to face capital charges after a prison riot. Much of the front half of the story in particular focuses on his times in and around prisons during the first 2-3 decades of his life, and we see how he gained his “tough guy” persona. He lived it. It was either be tough or be dead.

Which actually makes the discussions of his confrontations with none other than (then *recent*) Oscar nominee Edward James Olmos over the movie American Me even more epic.

And yes, the back quarter ish is primarily about Trejo’s life in Hollywood and how that impacted him and his family. It is here that we see some of the things that will cause many of us to go “I remember that movie!” and “Oh Trejo was [insert opinion here] in that one!”.

In between, we get to see what Trejo was doing in between – which aside from a lot of personal mistakes, was saving a lot of lives and helping a lot of people recover from drug addiction – a passion he pursues to this day.

Serious yet hilarious throughout, this book doesn’t pull any punches. Trejo, an ex-con, openly admits to many things in this book that many would probably try to hide, including things that weren’t known world wide before now (at least to casual observers). And yet we also get to see behind the scenes of just how much good Trejo has been able to accomplish throughout his life.

Truly a remarkable man, and a memoir well written and told. Very much recommended.

This review of Trejo by Danny Trejo was originally written on June 30, 2021.

PS: Special thank you to the publicist at Simon & Schuster – they know who they are – who sent me the *hardback* version of this book! First one of those I’ve read in at *least* 2-3 years!

#BookReview: Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond

Read The DTE (Dead Tree Edition). This was an interesting one, in more ways than one. I had seen it on NetGalley and forgot to request it there… and then the publisher out of the blue sends me the paperback (DTE) version thinking I might like it. And y’all, the book itself really is excellent. More detailed in the childhood/ teen years than the more adult period, which is perhaps more understandable as someone trying to maintain *some* sense of privacy over newer relationships.

But this book is also very disturbed. The is one truly dysfunctional family whose particular dysfunctions actually led to quite a few rare experiences that combine to make a truly unique life. For example, Diamond and her family were at the 15th Maccabiah Games in 1997 when the bridge collapsed – the very bridge her brother Frank was supposed to be marching across. But the reasons they were there, and the events in later years… they’re so sensational the reader almost can’t accept them as nonfiction!

And then there is the reason you need to read the DTE. If you look at the DTE side-on, you will notice that the front third (ish) of the pages are pure white while the back two thirds (ish) of the pages are more of a cream color. I noticed this about halfway into the book, and when I went back to look… yep. The colors change exactly at the point of a particularly devastating event – and any description would be a spoiler, so I’m only noting the overall position. This is just one of those minor print details that actually makes a *genuine* case to read the DTE over my (far preferred) eReader edition, as on the eReader edition this detail couldn’t happen. ๐Ÿ™‚

Overall an interesting and compelling story, if truly disturbed. Very much recommended.

This review of Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond was originally written on June 27, 2021.

#BookReview: Love Lockdown by Elizabeth Greenwood

Making The Case For A More Systematic Examination Of Its Topic. This book does a *tremendous* job in looking at as many facets of love and relationships involving the United States’ millions – literally -of prisoners via multi-year case studies of five particular couples. And therein also lies its chief weakness – while the original research for the case studies themselves was conducted directly by the author, the author states many facts beyond the people she is directly interviewing… and then the text doesn’t provide any form of bibliography to back up these (sometimes alarming, shocking, or even dubious) claims. But even with this weakness noted, the text’s strengths via its case studies are truly remarkable, and show the pressing need for a more systematic – and documented – examination of this particular topic. This is a book that will shock you. It will pull at your heart strings. It will make you cheer and cry and scream out at the people involved “WTF ARE YOU DOING!!!!!!”. And in these regards, it truly is a phenomenal book. Very much recommended.

This review of Love Lockdown by Elizabeth Greenwood was originally written on June 22, 2021.

#BookReview: No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

Interesting Look At Business Practices Less Common Than Many Claim. Let me be clear here: I am a 14+ year professional software developer in my “day job”. I’ve worked for very small companies with barely 100 people and owned by a single person all the way to one of the largest companies on the planet (Fortune 50). And because I’ve had a 14 year career in this field as of 2021, that means this has all been done since NetFlix has been doing its thing.

And yet while I’ve heard that the Valley works a bit differently than the East Coast / Southern companies I’ve worked for, I’d never heard of several of the policies Hastings and Meyer discuss in this text. For this developer, most of them sound *phenomenal*, and I would *love* to work in environments that had them. Though there are others – “Adequate performance is given a generous severance” in particular – that would exacerbate issues I’ve already had at times in my career. Here, Hastings explains the reasons he adopted these policies at NetFlix and how they have grown over the company’s existence. Meyer provides a degree of “outsider feedback” going around interviewing people at all levels from Hastings to the janitors and examining the claims Hastings makes.

Overall, this is a solid business book explaining these policies, why NetFlix chose them, why other businesses should – or should not, in certain situations – and how they can begin to be implemented in any company. More for Executives than heads down coders or low level team leads, though there are some interesting points even at those levels. It is absolutely something business leaders should read and ponder, and it is a good primer for those who may want to push for similar changes in their own companies. Very much recommended.

This review of No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer was originally written on June 18, 2021.

#BookReview: Drug Use For Grownups by Carl Hart

Interesting Perspective Marred By Bias And Lack Of Scholarly Rigor. Let me state up front: I am a former Libertarian Party official at the State and local level, and an avowed anarchist to boot. I fully concur with Dr. Hart’s position that all drugs should be fully decriminalized. And it was this agreement that had me initially wanting to rate this book at a full 5*.

But considering the actual arguments and the actual text presented, I cannot claim to be an objective judge of the merits of the books I’m reading if I did that. Because there are definite problems with this book that I’ve called out in no uncertain terms when I *didn’t* agree with the author’s positions – and thus I cannot ignore them here, when I do largely agree with the author’s positions.

Specifically, there is quite a bit of anti-white “they’re all just a bunch of racist pieces of shit” strawmen commentary in this text. Numerous cases where Hart blames racism rather than applying Hanlon’s Razor or even looking for alternative, non-race based reasonings for his opponents’ positions. And having been on both sides of this debate at different times in my life, I can testify as a fellow Son of the South (rural exurbs outside Atlanta vs Hart’s coming of age in urban Miami) that there *are* several other rationales other than the racism Hart claims is at the heart of all anti-drug laws.

Further, barely 12% of this text is bibliography, despite Hart claiming numerous times “I know I’m going to have to present some evidence here since this is not a commonly held position”. More often than not, rather than actually examining studies showing various harms from various substances, Hart dismisses them with the hand wave of a professor more concerned with getting his own point across, “there is no basis for that claim, we’re moving on”.

I actually enjoyed the less formal tone of the presentation here, as it made the book overall far more readable than some academics make their narratives. I simply wish the narrative were more substantive.

Recommended.

This review of Drug Use For Grownups by Carl Hart was originally written on June 18, 2021.