#BookReview: Cobalt Red by Siddarth Kara

Shocking. In the West, we’re somewhat aware of the horrible conditions African diamond miners face. We’ve at least heard of this, including the trivia fact of the deepest mine in the world being a diamond mine somewhere on the continent there. And despite diamonds’ wide spread use (well beyond the bling so many associate with them, by some stats that is actually one of the more *rare* uses for them, apparently). many don’t really think of this too much.

But our cellphones? Our tablets? Our state of the art electric vehicles? Our “commitment to zero carbon by [insert year]” climate activism? Our ESG corporate policies?

All of these are impacted by the travails Kara uncovers in this biting expose of the Congolese Cobalt mining operations and specifically just how horrid and unsafe the conditions therein are, including the rampant and untracked use of child labor. Here, Kara takes us on an undercover journey from one of the of the region to the other, while protecting his sources as much as possible. It is an alarming look, one that the heads and other decision makers in many of the world’s largest corporations and manufacturers need to read and examine the issues it raises in further detail based on this reporting. Even if Elon Musk (Tesla), Akio Toyoda (Toyota), Mary Barra (GM), and Oliver Blume (Volkswagen) won’t look into this, perhaps global banking, as part of its own ESG and Zero Carbon initiatives, could look into it from their end and begin to influence the car manufacturers from that side.

In a book full of unimaginable pain and sorrow, a few tales stick out. One of them in particular is that of a man who was injured in the mine, and thus his teenage son was forced to work in the mine for the family’s subsistence. Just a week before this father could go back to work, word came from the mine of a collapse. His son died in that collapse and the body remains buried within the mine. Prepare yourself, reader. As illuminating as this text is, stories at least that bad pepper this text like sand on a beach.

The only reason for the single star deduction? Possibly due to the text being primarily Kara’s own investigations, the bibliography here is quite scant indeed, clocking in at barely 8% of the overall text when 20-30% is much more common in my experience with other nonfiction advance reader copies.

Overall this is absolutely a book that needs to be read as widely as possible, and one that needs as much attention brought to its issues as possible. Very much recommended.

This review of Cobalt Red by Siddarth Kara was originally written on December 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Bourbon by Fred Minnick

Seemingly Great History, At Least In Audible Form. Yes, I read the Audible of this – mostly on my commute to and from work over the month of October 2022, though I finished it after work on Halloween day itself. So I can’t speak to all the pictures and such that some complained about in the text version of this tale. And I also can’t speak to how well documented it is – the Audible version doesn’t exactly have footnotes. ๐Ÿ™‚

With the above caveats though, I found the actual history presented here to be interesting and informative, though as others noted, perhaps a bit tedious in some spots (“bonded” is used long before it is clear exactly what this term means) and perhaps with some hand waving in other spots (the Whiskey Rebellion, and even Prohibition outside of its particular application to whiskey generally and bourbon specifically). It even manages to cover some of the more modern issues in the liquor business, at least through the mid-2010s when the book was originally published, including the GenX / Millenial shift away from whiskey and dark liquors to more vodkas and lighter liquors.

Thus, overall this truly is a strong history that anyone remotely interested in the subject (and not already well-versed in its history) will likely find informative and interesting. Very much recommended.

This review of Bourbon by Fred Minnick was originally written on November 2, 2022.

#BookReview: In Their Names by Lenore Anderson

Timely Conversation Needs Even Better Documentation. The timing of this book, releasing just a week before Election Day in the United States, could perhaps be *slightly* better – a month earlier would have allowed it and its ideas to be discussed more during the final days of the campaign. And to be clear, this book does in fact present a mostly compelling argument and certainly a wrinkle on the American justice system that needs to be more openly examined and more critically debated by those who can actually change things – the various elected officials and bureaucrats who create and implement the very rules in question. The only truly noticeable objective-ish problem with the text here is that while the documentation provided is on the low-ish side of average in my experience (23%, compared to 20-33% being average), there is a *lot* of hand-waving, undocumented claims, that could have used much better documentation. These claims may in fact be accurate – but they needed sources rather than just claims, and for those more ardently opposed to the proposals here, the added documentation to these claims could be crucial in defense of Anderson’s points and proposals. Thus, the one star deduction here. Still, this book truly does add yet another necessary wrinkle into an already truly complicated discussion, and for that reason it is very much recommended.

This review of In Their Names by Lenore Anderson was originally written on October 2, 2022.

#BookReview: The Battle For Your Brain by Nita A Farahany

Well Documented Examination And Discussion. This book is, quite simply, one of the best documented books I’ve ever come across – 48% of the text of the ARC I read months before publication was documentation. Within the narrative itself, Farahany does a great job of using the principles espoused in John Stuart Mill’s 1859 book On Liberty as a recurring touch point on the need for liberty of the mind and brain – the last bastion of true privacy left in this increasingly interconnected world of multiple overlapping surveillance systems. Farahany does an excellent job of showing both the biological and the social side of what is happening when, and the various implications it can have for everything from criminal prosecution to employment, and many other topics as well. Written from a decidedly libertarian, pro-freedom perspective, this is absolutely a book that everyone will need to read and contemplate. Very much recommended.

This review of The Battle For Your Brain by Nita A. Farahany was originally written on October 1, 2022.

#BookReview: Nation Of Victims by Vivek Ramaswamy

Stacey Abrams == Donald Trump. And The Way Back Is To Ignore Both. Ok, so the title here was a bit intentionally inflammatory – but Ramaswamy *does* essentially make this very point late in the book, pointing to how both Abrams and Trump see themselves as victims of election fraud rather than candidates who lost elections because more voters legitimately sided with their opponents. But to get there, and to get from there to how we can truly come back, Ramaswamy dives through American history, legal theory, and even his Hindu religion to show how both progressives and conservatives have largely adopted a victimhood mentality. Interestingly, he never once cites Ayn Rand’s examinations of this same idea in Atlas Shrugged. Overall an interesting book worthy of consideration, and with a fairly normal bibliography at about 21% of the overall text here. Very much recommended.

This review of Nation of Victims by Vivek Ramaswamy was originally written on July 17, 2022.

#BookReview: Tech Panic by Robby Soave

Solid Examination Of The Issues. I’ve read some of the author’s work over the last year in particular on his primary employer’s website (Reason.com), and that is actually how I found out about this book. So I knew roughly what to expect here, and that is pretty well what I got: a fairly solid look at the issues surrounding tech, elections, privacy, free speech, and other related issues from a moderate libertarian (small “L”, to be clear, since these things matter in circles that will likely be most open to reading this book) perspective that is mostly well-reasoned from that particular mindset. As more of an avowed Anarchist (and former Libertarian Party official and candidate, though I myself was more moderate in that era) and software development professional, eh, Soave allows government a bit too much intervention into tech companies than I’m personally comfortable with. Even here, however, most who are more aligned with the left/ right divide in the US are going to be hit fairly equally and largely find various arguments here that they will (and sometimes do) champion and others that they will (and often do) despise. Which in the age of hyperpartisanship and barely-there “reasoning”, is generally a sign of someone who *has* actually seriously and critically thought about the issues he is speaking of. An excellent work that really should be read by anyone trying to urge government action regarding technology companies, and thus one that quite a few should consider as we begin the march into the mid-term elections of 2022 in just a few more months. Very much recommended.

PS: The reason for the star deduction? Light bibliography, at least potentially corrected in a non-Advance Reader Copy version of the book. The ARC, however, had a bibliography that clocked in at just 9% of the text, vs a “more normal” range of 25-33% in my experience across almost 650 books since Jan 1, 2019 alone.

This review of Tech Panic by Robby Soave was originally written on September 14, 2021.

#BookReview: The Generation Myth by Bobby Duffy

Interesting And Well Documented Read. In this book, Duffy shows that what the media so often (and so lazily) proclaims to be “generational” divides… usually aren’t really. Yes, there is a generational component to at least some things, but time period (specifically for that “coming of age” period but also more generally throughout the individual’s life) and life progression play equally critical roles, and in many cases *more* critical roles, in showing how a particular group of people generally feel about a given issue. One of the things that makes the book a bit interesting is that even while presenting this much more balanced view of this particular field, Duffy exposes himself as a “climate” alarmist/ extremist, either not knowing about or outright denying similar work to his own in that particular field. (Ie, work showing that even though media lazily points to one thing, there are actually several different things at play and in some cases far more critical to the issue at hand. One work here on that topic similar to Duffy’s on this one is Unsettled by Stephen Koonin, released just 6 months or so prior to this book’s publication).

Still, this book is truly a remarkable work in its field (at least to someone who is *not* a fellow academic or in that field at all) and seems to be fairly comprehensive in its focus, even as its primary and secondary national emphases are the UK and the US, respectively. It looks at many, many issues from the social to the political and even to the personal, from housing to gender identity and sexual activity to political leanings and many, many more. This is also a fairly well documented text, with its bibliography clocking in at about 32% of the overall text – while not the *highest* I’ve noted in my work with advanced review copies, easily among the higher echelons there. Very much recommended.

This review of The Generation Myth by Bobby Duffy was originally written on September 14, 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: The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell

Before You Talk About The Student Loan Problem, Read This Book. Here, Mitchell does a phenomenal job of going from the very beginning – before World War I even – and showing just how the student loan problem grew from a well-intentioned idea into the massive debt bomb that we are now struggling with at all levels. Other than one short, couple of pages – if that – section near the end, Mitchell keeps all personal ideas and politics out of the narrative, instead focusing on as objective a reporting of the events as they unfolded as I’ve ever seen. Indeed, there are only two things that I can think to ding him on at all here, and neither one quite warrants a star reduction:

1) Throughout the narrative, particularly once his timeline gets into the 1990s and 2000s eras, Mitchell doesn’t account for the rise of State-sponsored lottery-funded scholarship programs. Though upon a bit of research, it seems that these only exist primarily in the Southeast: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia. Though I’ve lived in three of those States and had my college funded by Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship – it is at least plausible that anyone living outside of those States, or without close friends or family in them, has never heard of these programs. (And yet even with HOPE, I still managed to amass a $20K student debt load that had ballooned to nearly $40K before I began actively repaying it – upon threat of legal action – largely due to exactly the forces Mitchell describes in this text, but mostly because I was an idiotic 18yo and it was “free money”. Though I’m proud to note that as of this moment, I have less than the various forgiveness amounts that are being bandied about in DC – which Mitchell also covers, in a near up-to-the-minute fashion, even 2 months before publication of this book. An amount that I *will* pay off before the current suspension of interest – signed by President Trump and extended by President Biden – expires, currently slated for less than two months after this book is published.)

2) The Bibliography is a bit scant at only about 15% of the text, though there is a decent portion of the book – focusing on a singular case study in recurring episodes throughout the narrative – where Mitchell conducted extensive interviews and examinations of the relevant documents personally.

Overall truly an excellent, objective look at the history and many factors that have created today’s student loan problem. And as GI Joe once said, “knowing is half the battle”. Very much recommended.

This review of The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell was originally written on June 12, 2021.

#BookReview: Haven Point by Virginia Hume

Excellent Debut. First off, I have to thank a very particular PR person at St Martin’s – they know who they are, I’m not going to publicly name them in this review. I had requested this book on NetGalley around the time I first saw it there, and after several weeks languishing in my “Pending Requests” queue there, I finally contacted a contact at SMP I’ve worked with on various other ARCs and Blog Tours in the past, and that person was able to approve my request for this book, and viola. I’m reading it. ๐Ÿ˜€ So while I normally don’t even mention this level of activity in reviews, this effort was unusual and therefore it deserves this unusual step of thanking the person involved directly in the review.

Having told (vaguely) the story of how I obtained this ARC, let me now note what I actually thought about the book, shall I? ๐Ÿ˜€

As I said in the title, this really was an excellent debut. There are a lot of various plot threads weaving themselves in and out of focus over the course of 60 or so years, and anyone of a few particular generations, particularly those from small towns, will be able to identify readily with many of these threads. In 2008, we get a grandmother waiting to reveal some secrets to her twentysomething/ thirtysomething grand daughter – this actually opens the book. Then we get both the grandmother’s life story – up to a particular pivotal summer – interspersed with the granddaughter’s life story – mostly focused on two summers in particular, but with some updates in between. The jumps in time are sequential, but not always evenly spaced, so for example we start the grandmother’s tale during WWII when she is serving as a nurse and is courted – in the rushed manner of the era – by a charming doctor. When we come back to her tale after spending some time in the granddaughter’s life, we may be days later or we may be years later, depending on how deep in the story we are at this point. Similarly, when we leave the granddaughter in 1994, we may come back to later that summer or we may come back to 1999. (Or even, more commonly for the granddaughter’s tale, back to 2008.) 2008 serves as “now”, and the histories of the two women remain sequential throughout the tale. The editing, at the beginning of the chapter, always makes clear where we are in the timeline, and yet this style of storytelling *can* be jarring for some. So just be aware of this going in.

But as a tale of generational ideas, aspirations, and difficulties… this tale completely works on so very many levels. Perhaps because I find myself of a similar age as the granddaughter, and thus much of what she lives, I’ve also lived – particularly as it relates to a small town home town and its divisions.

And, for me, Hume actually has a line near the end of the tale (beyond the 90% mark) that truly struck a chord: “Haven Point has its flaws, of course it does. But while it might not be the magic that some pretend, there was never really the rot she claimed either.” Perhaps the same could be said of my own “small town” (it now has a population north of 100K) home town.

Ultimately, this was a phenomenal work that many will identify with but some may struggle with. I will dare compare it to The Great Gatsby in that regard and in this one: keep with the struggle. It is worth it. Very much recommended.

This review of Haven Point by Virginia Hume was originally written on June 5, 2021.