Book reviews

These book reviews may have been posted on Amazon.com, BN.com, or elsewhere, but here’s a handy compilation. I’ve written reviews of other items, of course, but these are most of the book reviews.

In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome! by Ann Coulter

Must read before you cast your ballot November 2016 (October 15, 2016)

in-trump-we-trust

I wish everyone in America would read this book before election day. Unlike some of Coulter’s other books where she recounts facts that make you so mad you have to put down the book in self-preservation, this book is a magical combination of fury over the way things have been in this country and hope for the future with Trump at the helm.

Coulter both explains the Trump phenomenon and shows where his critics go off the rails. Coulter seems to be able to come up with one quotable passage after another: With the facts at hand and the ability to put everything into context, Coulter may have written the best book of her career (so far, at least).

In case you hadn’t guessed, Coulter is firmly in Trump’s corner, but she presents her subject so adroitly that I’d like to think that anyone — even the most bitter Trump opponent — could read this and gain thereby.

To put it another way, if you hate Trump based on what his opponents (including the media) say, you have made a decision based on a small and misleading fraction of the available data. Trust in Ann Coulter — and this book — to show you sides of Trump his opponents don’t want you to know.

If you want more, follow @AnnCoulter on Twitter for up-to-the-minute insights.

Noble Beginnings: A Jack Noble Thriller, by L. T. Ryan

Not Jack Reacher … not even close (October 15, 2016)

noble-beginnings

If you’re looking for more in the Jack Reacher genre, this ain’t it. The set-up is kinda similar, but Jack Noble is on the run where Reacher is just out for a stroll. Not that Reacher makes the right decision every time, but Noble seems never to play the smart move, so the action is artificially prolonged. The plots have some twists, but almost never for the better.

My recommendation would be to go re-read your Lee Child books, or go re-read your Michael Connelly books, or go re-read your Robert Crais books, and then re-read your Lee Child books. You’ll be a lot happier.

The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech, by Kirsten Powers

Great topic, well handled (June 14, 2015)

The Silencing

Kirsten Powers writes with great authority and knowledge on this important topic, providing excellent examples of the thousands of instances of the authoritarian nature of progressives (she calls them the illiberal left). I was particularly pleased that she touched on the progressive meme that disagreement is violence, as I have noted this myself in several progressive writings and utterances over the decades. She doesn’t go so far as to compare actual violence (which is OK, especially when it’s committed by a progressive) to the unexcusible disagreement, but she provides one great example, and the intelligent reader will be able to come to the obvious and logical conclusion.

The only thing missing is a solution to the problem, but maybe none exists. Maybe we’ll just have to wait until the pendulum swings the other way in another couple of decades, or the system just augers in and we lose all our freedoms.

Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs, by Michelle Malkin

Not the book I was expecting (June 14, 2015)

who-built-that

This is not the book I was expecting it to be. I was expecting a clear, hard-hitting rebuttal to the idiotic Elizabeth Warren / Barry Soetoro position that if you are successful in America, it’s not because you had a better idea, worked hard, or took risks. Rather, it’s because wonderful super-humans in the government created your success, so that all you had to do was go out and get it, usually taking advantage of white privilege or some other cheat along the way.

Instead, this is a book about remarkable people who became successful in America. I guess that’s my fault for assuming what the book would be about, but it would have been nice if Malkin instead had highlighted achievements such as the Lincoln Highway, which was built largely by private concerns. There must be thousands of other stories like that, too, which could have been the focus for this book.

Malkin could have pointed out that even when government does build something, it uses assets from the private sector, as government doesn’t create anything; it only converts from private to public (usually with huge inefficiencies).

Malkin could also have delved into the manifold situations in which government wants to do something, but has to hire private-sector companies and individuals to get the job done.

Oh, well.

Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog, by Grant Petersen

Just add water (January 18, 2015)

eat-bacon

You’ve heard of the low-carb diet: This is the no-carb diet. Instead of recommending a diet based on protein, though, author Petersen (of Rivendell Bicycle Works fame) pushes beyond puny paleo diets into a realm few even dared to imagine: A diet based on eating fat. Yum.

In establishing the reasoning behind his dietary recommendations, Petersen looks at human history and evolution, and punctures the whole grains and fresh fruits myths, among others. The results, according to Petersen, are weight loss (you still have to do some physical activity, of course), avoiding (or healing yourself from) diabetes, safeguarding yourself from cancer, and possibly protecting yourself from Alzheimer’s.

The catch is you have to go on a diet that’s not just gluten free, but carb-free, to the extent that this is possible. Once you can imagine a diet with zero grains or sugars, you’re about half-way there. The goal is to get your body into a state of ketosis, where it burns fat for energy and not carbohydrates. It’s not a starvation diet, though. Petersen makes numerous recommendations, offers some recipes in the back, and provides a list of sources for further study.

Far from being a kookie fad diet, Petersen seems accurately to describe what so many of us go through. You exercise to lose weight, but the more you exercise, the hungrier you get. So, you eat more, thinking you can just exercise it off. The problem — in addition to the fact that you’ve created a vicious cycle for yourself — is that many people will never get ahead of the curve on this regime because the very nature of the foods they eat makes it impossible to lose weight.

Petersen’s diet provides a way of breaking the cycle while eating healthy foods. Best of all, he promises that once your body adopts your new diet, maintaining your new lower weight will be easy because you will be eating less and having fewer food cravings.

Petersen offers some suggestions on the exercise front, as well, including body-weight exercises for those who don’t want to buy exercise equipment, and kettle-ball exercises for those who do.

For self-monitoring, Petersen recommends testing one’s blood, as opposed to measuring body fat percentages, or referring to standardized charts of height and weight.

There are two puzzling things about this diet, however.

First, where sweetener is called for, Petersen recommends using one of the many artificial (synthetic or hyper-processed) sweeteners on the market, which seems a disconnect. He doesn’t even mention honey or molasses, either as being tolerable or awful.

Second, there is no mention of fluid intake. My guess is that Petersen is in the drink when you’re thirsty camp, but there are some people who don’t feel thirsty even though their lips are cracked and peeling and their backs are in agony because their intervertebral discs are dehydrated and compressed.

Triple Tap and Killer Kink, by Fred Reed

Great Reed (December 15, 2013)

Triple Tap

Reed’s mysteries are pretty well written as mysteries, but in many ways the journey is just as rewarding as the destination. Reed has an immediately-identifiable style, but even when you correctly guess how he’s going to say something, it’s still enjoyable to read. And then, there are the wonderfully delightful turns of phrase, at which Reed is particularly good.

The only downsides are that formatting is virtually non-existent, and it appears that no one proofread the copy before turning it into an e-book.

Even so, the occasional missing or misspelled word barely detracts from the pleasure of an otherwise well-written yarn.

The Used 911 Story, 8th Edition, by Peter M. Zimmerman

Doesn’t seem up-to-date (February 4, 2014)

used-911-story

I have previous versions of this book, and found each to be fairly complete in terms of what to look for when purchasing a used 911. I used to be a Porsche/Audi mechanic, and I never felt there was much I would have added to what Pete had written.

This latest edition, though, seems pretty cursory on the newer models. If you’re on a budget and looking for a newer 911, this book doesn’t go much into the reliability, differences in the engine rebuild procedures with the water-cooled engines, etc. There are plenty of late-model air-cooled 911s out there with 200,000 miles on them. I’ve even seen early water-cooled 911s with 200,000 miles. This book seems not to have much to say about the wisdom of buying one of these high-mileage cars, what fails, what’s good, or what to look for. In fact, the books seems to have been written by someone who’s not really servicing Porsches any longer, so the detailed information is just not there.

Obviously, if you’re looking at buying an early-70s 911, you’ll have different expectations about the condition of the car, and this book continues to be a good guide there.

For the newer ones, though, you’ll need to augment the information in this book with pre-purchase inspections by a knowledgeable and trustworthy Porsche mechanic.

What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life, by Tim Conway

Not funny (December 6, 2013)

What's So Funny?

If you want to know about Tim Conway, this book may be for you. If you’re looking for a funny book by Tim Conway, this isn’t it. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a single funny line anywhere in this book. The overall writing style is pretty pedestrian, too, so don’t get your hopes up on that front.

I gave it two stars because it’s not offensive. Informative, but not entertaining.

Melting Down, by Harvey Stone

Unbelievably bad (July 12, 2013)

melting-down

A friend sent this to me after making me promise to read it. Well, I did. However, this may be the worse published book I’ve ever read.

It’s difficult to know where to begin to dissect this utter waste of paper, ink, time, and money. Harvey Stone’s writing style is that of a dull normal 8th grader. I’ll admit there’s an outside possibility that Stone got his inspiration from the Bad Hemingway Contest, and decided to see if people would buy and read similar offal in book form, no matter how poorly he wrote it, but it is so effortlessly and relentlessly miserable that this is as far fetched as the plot itself.

If you’re a fan of good thriller authors such as Crais, Child, MacDonald, and others, you will detect not the faintest echo of their craft here. If the definition of a novel includes the author fleshing out scenes and making you feel involved in the characters and story, then this is no novel. Stone’s tone is clinical, not literary. There seems to be no aspect of novel writing that he hasn’t bludgeoned to death in this book, in terms of nearly-absent scene-setting, short-hand descriptions, moronically terse dialogue, etc. Worse, when he does attempt to describe something using a metaphor or simile, he blunders so badly you have to wonder if perhaps English is not his first language. Add to this a smattering of typographical and spelling errors, and what you’re left with is a book that, if it is not self-published, should have been.

Stone acknowledges that the characters and plot are fictional, but states that the facts are correct. Yet, he repeatedly mentions that the polar bear population is dwindling when in the real world it is doing no such thing. Thus, the reader is left with a book where nothing can be taken at face value. Unfortunately, this type of writing is common among ideologically-motivated authors, which may be one of Stone’s biggest stumbling blocks: He’s so certain that his distorted world view is faultless that he simply can’t be bothered either with the facts or with anything resembling a balanced approach.

Probably inadvertently, Stone’s main character (Tex Cassidy) himself is a victim of his flawed ideological certainty. Cassidy is portrayed as a former Ranger and ace reporter who sees connections (connects the dots) where others see disassociated events. Yet, environmental-protector Cassidy lives a lifestyle that would destroy the planet faster than the Chicago Climate Exchange, if everyone else were to attempt to follow it. Furthermore, even though Cassidy’s wife died as a result of the unintended consequences of Cassidy’s own home improvement projects, Cassidy never once pauses to consider that other of his observations and conclusions might also have unintended consequences that could spell the deaths of millions or billions. One thing Stone did nail was the current fashion of making the protagonist half two-fisted he-man, and half a quivering puddle of metrosexuality, a la Robert Parker’s Jesse Stone (no relation, as far as I know).

The bottom line is that this is a book with a message, and that message is For the love of all that’s holy, avoid any and all contact with this book.

Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog, by Thord Daniel Hedengren

Great content, lousy editing (February 18, 2012)

smashing-wordpress

There’s nothing I hate worse than books in this genre that merely repeat what any intelligent person could learn by looking at the product and/or using it for an hour or two. That’s why this book is so valuable. It assumes you have a couple of brain cells to rub together, and for the most part covers how to aspects of WordPress beyond the basics. I personally also found the author’s writing style to be well suited for the subject matter.

That said, this book must have been rushed to print, because it’s difficult to see how there could have been more typographical errors without some sort of diabolical compact between the author and publisher. Some of the typos are simply aggravating, but some are in the code examples, too. Fortunately, the author’s writing style is clear enough that you can sense when something isn’t right, and correct examples later in the book will usually confirm your suspicions. Still, the lack of proofreading detracts from the professional presentation of the book.

Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, by Paul M. Barrett

Not for fanboys (January 22, 2012)

glock-americas-gun

If you are a fan of Glock pistols, you probably won’t like this book, for the same reason that if you like sausage you shouldn’t watch it being made.

First, most of the positive information about Glock design and Glock history found in this book is widely available elsewhere.

Second, there is a ton of negative information about Glock (the man and the company), little of it leavened by objectivity.

Third, the author has clear anti-gun biases, and rarely misses an opportunity to express them.

Also, unlike The Gun, where C. J. Chivers lards up the book with longish digressions to make up for a paucity of source material, in Glock, Paul Barrett delves into just about everything but the actual design and innovation of the Glock pistol, about which there is a lot to say. Considering the break that the Glock design represents from past pistol designs, this could have been a chapter all by itself. Instead, there are a couple of allusions to Glock innovations, and a hint that maybe Gaston Glock was not really the inventor of the Glock pistol.

Other than that, if you want to read about how unsafe Glock pistols are, from a guy who took three days to learn how to present from a holster under the personal tutelage of the Ayoobs, go for it.

Zero History, by William Gibson

Who’s writing Gibson’s books? (February 5, 2011)

zero-history

A friend handed me a copy of the then-new Neuromancer as I got on a plane at Heathrow. I’d never heard of William Gibson or cyberpunk. I was almost the last person to deplane at LAX because I could not put it down until I finished reading it.

Sadly, Gibson’s latest works have abandoned both cyberpunk and any sense of being compelling. Gibson still can craft a sentence and capture a mood, but his last few books have been so bad story-wise that I never would have purchased Zero History; I’d given up on Gibson.

Zero History confirms my decision. Gibson’s current approach is to replace storytelling with smatterings of current trends viewed from a relentlessly metrosexual viewpoint. Where Neuromancer and Count Zero take place in a future that is at once unimaginable and inevitable, Zero History (and others) take place in a boring present, where unappealingly eccentric characters pursue absurd and trivial goals.

State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, by Patrick J. Buchanan

Buchanan has finally seen the light (August 31, 2006)

state-of-emergency

If I remember correctly, the last time Buchanan ran for President, he seemed to welcome the hordes of Mexican invaders to this country because they were good Catholics (which they are not). In this book, however, Buchanan demonstrates that he now gets it. Not only are his facts straight, but his writing is crisp and persuasive. Only someone ideologically motivated to hate America could possibly take issue with the points he raises.

My only beef is that he has missed the bigger issue: Bush and his cronies are trying to merge the U.S., Canada, and Mexico into one country, and they can’t do that without unrestricted immigration. Thus, immigration isn’t the issue, per se, it’s merely the means to an illegal and traitorous end.

I’m not saying we can continue to ignore the immigration issue, but in trying to reintroduce rational thinking into our immigration policies, we can’t divert our gaze from the larger treachery that fuels the Bush administration’s insane drive to subsume the U.S.

Technical Tennis: Racquets, Strings, Balls, Courts, Spin, and Bounce

Technical but accessible (September 8, 2005)

technical-tennis

The previous version of this book — The Physics and Technology of Tennis — is a daunting read for all but a few. In Technical Tennis, the authors cover many of the most important technical aspects relating to the interactions among racquets, strings, balls, and court surfaces, but the information is much more accessible (and portable). The writing style is smoother, too, than Physics, so one could actually read through this entire volume in an evening.

This book represents a great effort to render a complex subject in such a way that the concepts and principles are within the grasp of the interested lay-person, without being condescending or patronizing.