Exceptionalism: It’s Always Dangerous, Except This Time

We've mentioned logical fallacies on the site before. It turns out that the human brain is not the most reliable machine, at least when it comes to being rational/logical. After all, our brains evolved to help us find better food sources and communicate about the dangers (and discomforts) of eating poison ivy or being attacked by saber-toothed tigers, not to help us analyze the finer points of morality or the inner workings of the cosmos. Functionally, they are just constructions of chemical and electrical signals that react to various stimuli.

Bloodline Review

Perhaps the most interesting facet of the writing of Iggulden's Wars of the Roses historical fiction series is how, while the POV character switches frequently within each book, each novel seems to focus on a different character for its primary storyline, the character with whom the reader is meant to sympathize. In the first book, it was Margaret of Anjou. In the second book, it transitioned to York, particularly King Edward. With the third book, the series began to transition its focus to Earl Warwick, Richard Neville.

Margaret of Anjou Review

As I was reading this book, I was wrestling with a confusion that had nothing to do with its contents, and which I should seek to clarify. This book, sold in the US as Margaret of Anjou, is the same book as Trinity, the title under which it is sold in the UK. And now that we have that exceedingly minor point of confusion cleared up, we can get on with the rest of the review.

Stormbird Review

What is the modern fantasy genre may arguably be said to have been derived from historical fiction. After all, much of classical fantasy was derived from the myths and legends of times gone by, and for a long time (arguably to this day), fantasy was significantly stuck in twelfth century Europe. The genre has since expanded far beyond those historical beginnings, with subgenres like alternative world fantasy that are set in completely different universes, with their own laws of physics, and with characters that sometimes aren't human at all. However, given that heritage, it perhaps should not be terribly surprising that a historical fiction novel about the Wars of the Roses would read more like fantasy than anything else.

Rocket Men Review

There was more than just discussion of Apollo in Rocket Men. Kurson sought to place the mission in its historical and geopolitical context. Although 1969 and Apollo 11 is what most people remember today, Apollo 8 and the events of 1968 were perhaps the true "moon shot" part of the entire program. Considering the events of this year, the inclusion of that context made for a more meaningful story. In 1968, America was torn by riots, deep political divisions, repeated tragedy, and a flu epidemic. Sound familiar? We do not today live in unprecedented times. History may not repeat itself, but as Mark Twain said, it does rhyme.

Great State: China and the World Review

Unlike many other history books, which look at grand, sweeping ideas and focus on facts, dates, statistics, and artifacts, Brook presents major portions of Chinese history through the lens of narratives, sort of like miniature biographies. Each chapter focuses on a different individual of whom we have a record and who can be used to explain and demonstrate the evolution of China in that time period. This format helps keep the book from falling into the trap of many other nonfiction works I have read recently, where the first 1/3rd to 1/2 of the book is interesting, and the remainder is repetitive.

Understanding Belief

It is absolutely essential that we keep our minds open to alternative explanations for the universe in which we live and with which we interact. Just because one explanation is the accepted explanation doesn't mean it is "right" - there may not even be a truly "right" answer to a lot of the deep, probing questions about the universe. If we hew too strongly to a single explanation simply because it is the one that is commonly accepted, then we will inevitably be scoffed at by our ancestors the same way we scoff so readily at those who did not accept Copernicus's teachings.

A Splendid Exchange Review

Or, as I wanted to title this post: A Splendid Review. Unfortunately, I wouldn't go so far as to call this a splendid book. You might be starting to think that I'm just biased against nonfiction, considering that I think the majority of the nonfiction books I've reviewed on the site have all been described as something along the lines of "mediocre," but I promise there are some that I would call excellent. Chernow's biographies of Washington and Hamilton, for instance, or another splendid biography on Lincoln, or several books on theoretical astrophysics...unfortunately, I read those before I started doing book reviews on the site, and it just so happens that the nonfiction books that I've read since I started have been somewhat disappointing.

The Lymond Chronicles Review

At this point, I'm going to assume that you've already read my reviews for Checkmate and The Ringed Castle, so you should know that this review is going to talk about things like how beautiful Dorothy Dunnett's writing is, how fascinating her tragic antihero is, and how seamlessly the historical context and geopolitical maneuvering is blended with the fictional story of Sir Francis Crawford comte de Lymond and Seveigny, because those characteristics were not unique to the final two books; they were the defining traits of the entire series. One day, I'll have been doing this site long enough that I won't have to shoehorn in reviews of the previous books in the series that I read before the site was up when I do these series reviews, but that isn't today.

The Ringed Castle Review

Honestly, I'm not even quite sure where to begin reviewing this book (it probably doesn't help that I started reading this series years ago, long before I started consistently reviewing books on this website). I will do a full series review after reviewing Checkmate, but let's focus for now on The Ringed Castle. To put it in as few of words as possible, I loved everything about this book, and not just because my fiancee bought the series for me. It's sort of like what would happen if you took a highly educated Jack Sparrow, and plopped him into the middle of Lord of the Rings level writing, and set the entire thing to the beat of 16th century Russia, but that doesn't even begin to do it justice.