#BookReview: The Last Monument by Michael C Grumley

Excellent Adventure Starter. For those who like their adventures to be Indiana Jones type – including both going into the jungle and facing down Nazis – well, have I got a book for you. This combines that basic style with Grumley’s usual science/ science fiction bent to produce much more nuanced characters who have much bigger personal stakes than his “breakthrough” series, to great effect in the closing moments. About the only negative is that the final confrontation… isn’t really there. At least not what could have been the *really* cool parts. Still, while I’m not as intrigued about this new series as I was in BREAKTHROUGH by the end of its first book, I definitely want to see where Grumley goes with this. Very much recommended.

This review of The Last Monument by Michael C Grumley was originally written on August 1, 2021.

#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.

Which Kindle Should I Buy?

I have them all. Seriously, every new model Amazon currently sells. 😃

And ultimately it comes down to personal preference and economics. 🙂

If you don’t mind the same glare/ eye strain you get from your phone and want something that can do… well, pretty much everything your phone can do without a cell connection… you want a Fire. Those come in 7, 8, and 10” sizes, with about a $100 price swing from smallest to biggest. They all pretty well do the same things in the same ways, and are pretty interchangeable.

On the eReader side, you get devices that are basically dedicated readers. They have Audible support via bluetooth, but the text to speech reader is horrible. (If you want a text to speech reader, go with Fire. Fire’s T2S capabilities are pretty damn awesome.) They all now have a front lighting capability that is different from the back lighting of your phone/ Fire and that is generally easier on the eyes.

The Kindle (base) is the cheapest option with the least features and no add on capabilities. You get a device that can hold a few hundred text based books or a few dozen Audible books at once, but you can swap on and off from your Cloud anywhere you can get a wifi connection. If economics are a prime concern, you’re really not going to get a bad device here, the next ones just have a few more bells and whistles. But again: this one is perfectly fine.

The Paperwhite adds splash proofing. (Amazon calls it waterproofing, but DO NOT SUBMERGE these devices. Learned that one the hard way. It also comes with about 4x more memory, and even in the base model Paperwhite (roughly 50% more expensive than the base model Kindle above) you’re going to be able to hold low 4 digit text based books on the device at once, or low triple digit Audible books on the device at once. This one has add on capabilities (up front, you can’t add these on later) to increase the memory to 16x that of the base model Kindle and to add “Free3G” capabilities (4G in most of the US) that allow you to swap from the cloud anywhere you can get a (AT&T) cell signal. Both of these add ons combined will raise the price of the Paperwhite by roughly double its base model, up to right at the price of an Oasis at $250.

The Oasis adds on to the Paperwhite base model a “warm light” feature that allows you to customize the lighting from the white/ blue light of the base model Kindle and Paperwhite to a brown/ orange hue – or anywhere in between. It also adds physical page turn buttons – the only device Amazon makes with this feature. And it adds an “ergonomic back” that basically means that one side of the device (away from the page turn buttons) is so thin it is little more than device casing and screen, while the “guts” of the device + the page turn buttons are on the other side. Note that some cases can negate this effect, so if you get this device be *very careful* of any cases you buy for it if this is a primary benefit for you. Oasis base model starts at about $250 and has the same add-on capabilities as the Paperwhite, but here those add ons will increase the price to around $375.

NOTE: As best I can tell, the Free3G upgrades are not currently available on either the Paperwhite or Oasis as of this writing on January 9, 2021. Due to notices on the Amazon site noting that they will be available in 6-9 months, my best guess – and it is purely a (somewhat educated) guess – is that this is due to supply chain/ manufacturing issues due to the COVID-19 debacle.

I have them all and regularly use them all. I don’t really have an actual preference, though I will note that my Fire 7 seems to drain battery faster than the others, even in similar usage conditions. Ultimately, it really does come down to personal preferences and economics, so just take the above and make the best decision for you. 🙂

#BookReview: Fulfillment by Alec MacGillis

Amazon’s Long Shadow. This book seeks to show the America that was, and the America that is in the Age of Amazon and how the former became the latter. And in that goal, it actually does remarkably well. Sprinkling case study after case study after case study with history, political science, and social science, this book truly does a remarkable job of showing the changing reality of living and working in an America that has gone from hyper local business to one of hyper global – and the giant blue smiley swoosh that has accompanied much of this transition over the last 2o years in particular. Very much a literary style work, this perhaps won’t work for those looking for a more in-depth attack on Amazon, nor will it really work for those looking for a true in-depth look at Amazon’s specific practices. But it does serve as a solid work of showing many of Amazon’s overall tactics and how they are both the result of change and the precipice of other change. Very much recommended.

This review of Fulfillment by Alec MacGillis was originally written on November 25, 2020.

#BookReview: On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger

Intriguing Premise Hurt By Lack of Evidence. This is one of those books that has an intriguing premise and brings some often overlooked aspects to the table and is thus worthy of and even needed in the national conversation, but that is ultimately tainted by the author’s own biases and lack of empirical evidence and lack of extensive bibliography. The author does a phenomenal job of showing what it is like to work in the environments she chose to work in – an Amazon Fulfillment Center, a call center, and a franchise McDonald’s – and the people who work there. But as she admits repeatedly, she could always leave at any time she wanted – while she rarely if ever mentions what her husband does for work, she does mention during one ordeal at the call center that her father in law is a doctor – and the entire point of getting these jobs was to “test the waters” to see what people who worked them were really like and what their concerns really were. Very well written, just with significant flaws in reasoning due to her own biases, particularly in her ultimate conclusions. Could have been far stronger, but still a recommended read.

This review of On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger was originally published on June 9, 2019.