#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: Tremors In The Blood by Amit Katwala

Evocative Evisceration Of Everyday “Evidence”. In this text, Katwala shows the origins and history of the polygraph “lie detector” device that has been banned from many courtrooms due to its unreliability yet which lives on in the American zeitgeist. Katwala tells the tale via narrative nonfiction that places the reader in the center of the action and cases in question, then follows the principle players throughout their lifetimes as they try to justify their life’s work. In the process, Katwala does a tremendous job of showing how truly unreliable these devices are, and even includes a brief discussion of more modern successor technologies such as brain wave scanners. Anyone interested in the American justice system absolutely needs to read this history of this long-debunked zombie junk science. Indeed, the only negative here is that the bibliography is scant at just 12% or so of the narrative, compared to a more common 20-30% in my experience, and thus the single star deduction. Very much recommended.

This review of Tremors In The Blood by Amit Katwala was originally written on December 6, 2022.

#BookReview: The View From Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior

Interesting Yet Oblivious To Own Criticisms. This is an interesting collection of essays written between 2012 and 2014, with an epilogue in 2017 after the election of Donald Trump to the White House. It presents a stark view of Middle America, but one that many, even on the coasts, will identify with. Kendzior even accurately identifies that the problems she notes had existed for quite some time and were proving little if any better after several years of “Hope and Change”… but then decries the efforts of Trump to even pay lip service (which is all he ever did) to these issues and people. Still, as a time capsule of what at least one writer was thinking of various developments of the era, this is an interesting book and a worthy read. But if you’re listening to the Audible, speed it up to around 1.5x to make it less of a lullaby. Recommended.

This review of The View From Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior was originally written on December 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Beautiful Union by Joshua Ryan Butler

Proposing A New View Of Sexual Ethics. This book is remarkably well written and remarkably well balanced, one that no matter your views on any sex or gender related topic, at some point here you’re most likely going to fall into the classic preacher joke of “Woah, woah, woah, preacher! You’re stepping on my toes!” “I apologize, my [brother/ sister] in Christ. I was aiming for your heart.” (and/ or, in this case, the brain as well) ๐Ÿ˜€ In other words, no matter your views on these topics coming into this book, there are more than likely going to be things you’re wholeheartedly agreeing with… and others that are likely going to make you want to throw the book out of the nearest window. For those who have routinely been condemned by existing Christian ethics, know that there is no condemnation here – indeed, Butler spends a fair amount of time examining exactly what Paul was doing in Romans, one of the oft-cited condemnation passages, and explains how it doesn’t really directly apply to sexual issues, but to *all* issues. And yet, at the very same time, Butler does not shy away from the idea that homosexuality is a perversion of God’s perfect design and intention, and explains a new view of exactly why he still holds to this position. Ignoring Frank Viola’s Parable Of Marvin Snurdley, Butler does a truly remarkable and seemingly thorough job of looking at all issues surrounding sex and gender and shows that traditional views are the closest to being correct… though not always the closest in actual reasoning or in explaining *why* they are correct, which is something he seeks to change here. Oh, and those who have read Ted Dekker’s Circle Series are likely to notice some similar language. Indeed, while it is unknown to me if Butler had ever read this particular (somewhat famous in Christian circles) series, Butler here truly elevates and grounds some of the concepts Dekker explores particularly early in that series.

The single star deduction is for prooftexting, which while not *as* prevalent here and while Butler *mostly* explains the full contexts of the passages he spends extended time with (such as the creation account in Genesis and the aforementioned passage of Romans, among a few others), he *does* still engage in citing Biblical verses out of context at times in “support” of some point or another, and I am on a one-man-war to eradicate this practice everywhere I see it. In book reviews, my only weapon is the single star deduction, and thus I apply it in all cases where I notice the problem.

Ultimately this is a book that will prove highly controversial, and yet it is also a book that truly everyone, particularly those who consider themselves “thinkers” or “educated” or “learned” or some such, will need to at least read and consider. Very much recommended.

This review of Beautiful Union by Joshua Ryan Butler was originally written on December 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Walkable City by Jeff Speck

Interesting Yet Myopic. This is one of those books that has a lot of interesting points and is presented well, with a decent amount of humor even… and yet is also *incredibly* myopic at best, and could readily even be classified as elitist and condescending, possibly even racist. As someone who was actively running for small town rural City Council around the time this book was originally being written a decade ago, there are a lot of good points here – but there are also even more points that I could have quite easily shot down with barely any effort at all. Such is the level of the holes in Speck’s “reasoning”, such as it is. Read this book. But study the *entirety* of the implications of Speck’s suggestions. Recomended.

This review of Walkable City by Jeff Speck was originally written on November 29, 2022.

#BookReview: Never Out Of Season by Rob Dunn

Interesting Yet Only Tangentially Related To Title. This is a book primarily about plant pathogens and the history of the study of plants and specifically their pathogens, mostly centering on the roughly 200 ish years between the beginnings of the Irish Potato Famine in the mid 19th century to the bleeding edge research being done by Dunn and other scientists in the later early 21st century. Dunn bemoans the fact that the food supply of the world basically comes down to a dozen or so key varieties of key species in the beginning… while later backdoor praising that very same thing as saving the world from certain pathogens, at least – as Dunn claims- “temporarily”. Overall the book, at least in the Audible form I consumed it in, was engaging and thought provoking, and despite being vaguely familiar with farming due to where and when I grew up, Dunn highlights quite a bit here that I was never aware of. Things that adventure authors like David Wood, Rick Chesler, or Matt Williams could use as inspiration for some of their stories – but also other real world events that could serve as inspiration to Soraya M. Lane and other WWII era historical fiction authors. Ultimately the book becomes quite a bit self-serving, highlighting work done by Dunn and his colleagues and friends in the years preceding writing the books. And yet, again at least in Audible form, there was nothing truly objective-ish wrong here to hang a star deduction on, and thus it maintains its 5* rating. Recommended.

This review of Never Out Of Season by Rob Dunn was originally written on November 28, 2022.

#BookReview: The Southern Way Of Life by Charles Reagan Wilson

Solid Exposition, Lacking Bibliography. This book is truly a phenomenal look at southern culture from the time the first Europeans came to the southern North American region through today and how various in and out groups have viewed and shaped that culture along the way. Divided into a few different eras, Reagan truly does an excellent job of showing just what Southern culture and Southern Civilization meant to the various peoples of the given eras and how those views would come to shape later generations. Indeed, the only issue I could find with this book (even given its 600+ page length!) was that its bibliography comprised just 10% or so of the text, when 20-30% is more normal for a nonfiction text in my experience across literally hundreds of Advance Review Copies over the last few years alone. Thus, the one star deduction – which even I admit may be debatable in this particular case, as 10% of a 600+ page book *is* 20-30% of a 200-300 page book. Still, I’ve seen similar length books still hit that 20-30% mark, so I’m sticking to my guns here even as I openly admit others may feel different. Very much recommended.

This review of The Southern Way of Life by Charles Reagan Wilson was originally written on November 22, 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: Meganets by David Auerbach

A Needed Conversation. As someone also in tech at a megacorporation (though to be clear, not the same ones Auerbach has worked for) that openly seeks to employ several of the technologies discussed in this book, and as someone who finished this book right as Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter was being completed and Facebook announced that it was open to colluding with Twitter regarding content moderation… this was an absolutely fascinating look at my field and where at least one part of it currently is. But it is also written in a very approachable manner, one such that anyone who so much as uses any social media even casually or who interacts with their government virtually at all (if you see what I did there ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) will be able to follow along with reasonably well. Fear not! No Discrete Modeling, Statistics, Calculus, or any other high level collegiate mathematics Computer Science majors are forced to endure will be required here. ๐Ÿ™‚

And yet, this is also a book that everyone *needs* to read and understand. Auerbach manages to boil his primary thesis of what meganets are and how they operate into three very simple yet utterly complex words: Volume. Velocity. Virality. And he repeats these words so *very* often that you *will* remember them long after you’ve read this text. (Though I note this writing this review just 24 hrs after finishing my read of it, and knowing I’ll read at least 30 more books before 2022 is done. So check back with me on that after this book actually publishes in about 4.5 months. :D)

Indeed, really the only problem here – potentially corrected before publication – is that at least in the copy I read, the bibliography only accounted for about 15% of the text, which is fairly light for a nonfiction book in my experience, where 20-30% is more normal and 50% is particularly well documented. Thus, the single star deduction.

Still, this truly is a book everyone, from casual readers uninterested in anything computer yet who are forced to use computers in modern life to the uber-techs actually working in and leading the fields in question to the politicians and activists seeking to understand and control these technologies, needs to read. Very much recommended.

This review of Meganets by David Auerbach was originally written on October 29, 2022.

#BookReview: Don’t Hold Back by David Platt

Far From Radical. This is a book that should be widely read because it does have some interesting and important things to say – and yet it was also far from a radical adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ that the description would lead one to believe. Even among the first three chapters, Chapter 2 openly counters the claims and arguments of Chapters 1 and 3, with Chapter 2 being a hyper-progressive/ leftist screed one would hardly expect from someone affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and whose arguments are never actually found in the words or actions of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The ubiquitous-but-heavier-later defense of the American government and American military is, again, far from radical and completely unBiblical, but will feed right into those very conservative SBC churches Platt has long been associated with. Thus showing that Platt doesn’t mind crossing current political boundaries – and yet, again, Platt never in this text does the truly radical thing of embracing a full-throated embrace of YAHWEH as declared in 1 Samuel 8 (which would require a full rejection of all earthly kings).

But on all of the above, ultimately your mileage will vary and there will be some points you agree with no matter your own political slants and others you disagree with, which is actually (to my own mind at least) the mark of a Christian preacher actually doing his job – because in Christ, there *are* no politics, and the things Christ does speak of and do do *not* align neatly with 21st century American politics.

No, ultimately the two star deductions come from two more basic and more technical errors here:

1) Prooftexting, which is citing Bible verses out of context. Platt is far from alone in this practice – most *every* Christian author does it, and even some non-Christian ones – and yet it is *wrong* on so many levels. Thus, I wage a one-man war against the practice any time I encounter it, and the only “weapon” I have in that war as a book reviewer is a star deduction.

2) Lack of Bibliography. Coming in at barely 15% of the overall text here, this is lighter than the 20-30% that is more typical in my experience, and far from the particularly-well-documented level of near 50%. For the amount of non-Biblical claims Platt makes and in particular how controversial at least some of them can be, there really needs to be *far* better documentation of them.

Ultimately this *is* a book that will challenge you to some degree or another virtually no matter what your thinking is on religion and/ or politics, and that alone makes it a worthy read for everyone. Very much recommended.

This review of Don’t Hold Back by David Platt was originally written on October 29, 2022.