Book Report

While compiling the statistics for my look back at year three, I noticed I hadn’t posted anything in the Books category during the previous year. That’s strange, because I don’t think I have ever been reading as much as I do now. I even started reading fiction, imagine that. Anyway, so here is a rundown of the most interesting books I have been reading as of late.

The book I am currently reading is Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power by David E. Sanger. It’s a fantastic book that provides valuable insights into U.S. foreign policy. While you hear about those policies everyday on the news, the book provides you with information from the inside explaining how those policies came about and why certain things were done the way they were and not differently. One great line from the book describes each foreign policy decision as a “balancing act between Americas values and its interests”. Often times, this means there isn’t an option that is the right thing to do, but only the lesser of two evils.

Also kind of on the topic of foreign policy is Trojan Horse by Mark Russinovich. It paints a very bleak picture of the current situation concerning Iran getting a nuclear weapon and the Chinese involvement in that. While it is inspired by current events, this book is of course a work of fiction and I surely hope that those parts were written with some artistic freedom.

Another related title is Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P. W. Singer. It discusses the technical capabilities the U.S. military has developed with its drone programs. A capability that has increased dramatically over the past ten years. For all the technical advanced and the resulting ability to use force more accurately and limit civilian casualties, the book also leaves a lot of room to discuss the implications of this new technology. What it means in legal terms that the soldiers operating these weapons are on U.S. soil with little thread to their lives while civilian contractors are deployed in the war zones to maintain the drones where they are at much greater risk; let alone in a legal gray-area as to whether they are actually civilians or combatants.

The final technology title on my list is Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. I have been following McAfee’s blog for many years now love his work non Enterprise 2.0. In this book, he and hos co-author take a look how advances in technology are changing the economy and labor market forever. For instance, with computers as advanced as Watson, many knowledge worker jobs may be done by computers in the not too distant future. One interesting line from the book: a knowledge worker’s job is more likely to be taken by a computer than a hair dresser’s job, because people will not tolerate robots operating with blades near their heads. So true. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care is supposedly a similar story specifically about health care. I haven’t read it yet, but is already only my wish list.

Then there is Spies Among Us: How to Stop the Spies, Terrorists, Hackers, and Criminals You Don’t Even Know You Encounter Every Day by Ira Winkler. When you are done reading this book, you cannot help but wonder why there aren’t more high-profile cases of espionage or terrorism every day. The techniques described just seem too easy. It has certainly made me be more careful when I get into work or how a respond to requests to information over the phone from people I don’t know.

I am kind of surprised how much I have been reading about technology and current affairs, but the final non-fiction book I wanted to mention has nothing to do with either of those things. It’s The Smart Growth Manual by Andres Duany, Jeff Speck and Mike Lydon. It’s one of the books for the Smart Growth approach to urban planning. It describes recipes for designing an ideal urban environment that is pleasant for people to live in and is environmentally friendly at the same time. What I found most interesting about it, is that even though it describes ideal scenarios, the city that I am living in Düsseldorf, Germany, does come very close to what is described there. Because I have spent the majority of my life here, it often don’t realize it, but life here is actually pretty good :)

The first real fiction-book is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have always been upset that I haven’t read more of the American classics that are traditionally read in High School. Because whenever these are referenced in American media (because they are assumed to be common knowledge) I don’t really get what they are talking about. So when I saw the trailer to that new movie based on the book, I decided to read the original. And I am glad I did, because it was a wonderful weekend I had reading it.

The next one is a bit strange: The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe. I had first encountered this book as a radio drama in 2000 or so when my father was working in Berlin and we were visiting him there. We were there for a couple of days and the play was broadcast in several parts that were on the radio during breakfast. I am not sure why, but I didn’t remember the title, but only fragments of the story: Paris, a murder, a gorilla, leaping out of the window. With the help of Google I was able to find the book and get it on Kindle. I must say, though, it was much better in my imagination.

Finally, there is The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, a set of three stories in a book I had bought as reading material for my Norway trip after M recommended it. She had also gotten it at the same time, so as we were reading at roughly the same speed, we could talk about the book and its many weird turns and connections between the three stories. It was a fun way to approach a book. Also based on her recommendation, I have bought Sunset Park by the same author, but haven’t yet had a chance to read it.

Semi-interesting Side Story

While I was looking up the books mentioned above on Amazon, I noticed that for several of them there were multiple Kindle editions available. I understand that for regular books there are always different versions (hardcover, paperback, maybe one with different cover art or an additional intro). But how different can two eBooks possibly be? In most cases one doesn’t even see the cover art and at least I just read the main part of the book front to back with little regard for any other material. From what I can see, the various Kindle versions have no discernable differences, except, and this is funny, their prices. For instance, when I bought Trojan Horse, there were two versions: one for around 10 EUR, and one for 2 EUR. I have no idea why anyone would buy the former.

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