Category Archives: Books

Signed first edition of Seveneves

Last friday I received my copy of signed first edition of Neal Stephenson’s latest book Seveneves, delivered from Barns and Noble. I was almost in the middle with my reading of it on Kindle as I obviously get ebook faster (both things were preordered before release). Pleasure was somewhat spoiled by the fact that nice paper book was damaged in transit – looks like package was exposed to water and book I got is not in perfect condition to say the least 🙁

Package

Some pictures can be found below.

Front cover:

Seveneves 01 Front cover

Neal’s signature:Seveneves 02 Neal's Signature

Picture of Izzy on the back of front cover:\nSeveneves 03 Picture behind the front cover

SIDE NOTE/IRRELEVANT DETAILS: By the way once I reached above picture I spend some time pondering what is the word which describes this part of the book, and end up referring to this as “pictures on the back of the book cover”, posting a question on english.stackexchange.com – “Which word can I use to refer to pictures on the backside of the book covers?”  in parallel. Question was answered and it seems that proper word here is “endpaper” 🙂 Though this term doesn’t imply that this part of bock has an illustration on it so it is necessary to use of something like “front endpaper illustration” and “back endpaper illustration”.

Picture of something else on the back of back cover:Seveneves 04 Picture behind the back cover

Book spine:\nSeveneves 05 book spine

I will refrain from any comment on the book itself until I done with my reading, but definitely write something afterwards.

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The Art of Conflict Management by Professor Michael Dues

I recently finished listening to  (at least first pass done, maybe revisit it later – most of Great Courses titles worth revisiting/more than one listen) of 24 lectures series from The Great Courses on conflict management – “The Art of Conflict Management: Achieving Solutions for Life, Work, and Beyond” by Professor Michael Dues from University of Arizona.The Art of Conflict Management

This course uses dramatizations to illustrate conflict situations and ways of handling them, and tries to emphasize practical side (some assignments suggested in the end of each lecture) which is as usual by far more difficult than any theory.

My takeaways from this course is number of interesting models and shortcuts to think about conflicts (triangulation, defunct conflict strategies etc.), then science and history behind widespread buzz-word “win-win”. It was interesting to know ideas behind the word which is being thrown around sometimes mindlessly nowadays. We can trace back almost any concept or technology to the initial (in hindsight sometimes plain and simple) idea or scientific paper. For Kerberos technology it was project Athena, based in turn on a paper published in 1978 by Needham and Schroeder (Needham–Schroeder protocol), for win-win idea it was 1948 Morton Deutsch’s PhD paper about win-win solutions. Basically he distinguished 2 types of conflicts: competitive conflict, a situation that requires one party to lose in order for the other to win, and pure conflict, a situation in which both parties can fully win. This is important distinction and gives you different point of view on possibilities for conflict resolutions, in addition to point of view which is formed by long standing idea of  adversary system which comes from Ancient Greece.

There also was a nice overview lecture on overarching managerial theories – really good summary on each and overview of transition from one to another. I also liked  the story mentioned at some point there on etymology of the word bureaucracy (which is French in origin, and combines the French word bureau – desk or office – with the Greek word κράτος kratos – rule or political power).

Next I going to start listening to my first audio book in French which is surprisingly enough “Le journal d’un fou” by Nicolas Gogol 🙂 And I also got another title from The Great Courses – “Building a Better Vocabulary” by Professor Kevin Flanigan.

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Nietzsche & Bodybuilding :)

Not so long ago I discovered very good blog about serious literature where the author tries to give his own interpretations to the great works of literary classics, posts there are dense and try to uncover main ideas contained in literary works and what was possible meant by their authors. And more over each post accompanied with short YouTube video (on average 5 mins) where blog’s author speaks about the book in question with some presentation/graphic material. Here is the link to this blog: The Great Conversation

I should admit that the amount and quality of content in this blog is amazing, and personally I’m going to follow it 🙂 Also if you a bit into great literature and on look out for thoughts and ideas which literature contains in abundance, you may be interested in this blog too.

Now to the topic of this post of mine. 🙂 “Nietzsche & Bodybuilding”, where is connection you may ask? 🙂 Well in the analysis of Nietzsche’s “On suffering”  which you may find on aforementioned blog author draws some parallels between Nietzsche views on suffering and bodybuilding. Though it is a bit unclear to which particular work/works of Nietzsche this blog post corresponds to (looks like it is about Nietzsche views on suffering in general) I enjoyed it anyway.

Let me quote a bit from this post:

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Nietzsche claims that man is composed of two parts – a creative part and a part that is created – in other words, mind and body. According to him, the body is meant to suffer, and the mind is meant to fashion something beautiful out of the suffering of the body. “In man creature and creator are united: in man there is material, fragment, excess, clay, dirt, nonsense, chaos; but there is also the creator, the sculptor, the hardness of the hammer, the divinity of the spectator, and the seventh day – do you understand this contrast? The body must be fashioned, bruised, forged, stretched, roasted, and refined – it is meant to suffer.”

An athlete, such as a bodybuilder, is the epitome of this idea. A bodybuilder subjects his body to the pain and suffering of training in order to create a physique that is aesthetically pleasing. The weightlifting adage, “No pain, no gain,” is an echo of Nietzsche’s ideas.

It is also somehow reminded me about one of the best essays on working with weights I read so far – Iron and the Soul by Henry Rollins. This one may interest you if you are avid gym goer or just thinking about what it gives or may give you.

As a person interested both in literature/ideas and sport I found these parallels interesting. Another interesting thing I learnt for this blog so far is the fact that Einstein once said that “Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist” (this is from the post  DOSTOEVSKY: The Brothers Karamazov)

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Shortly before the end of 2014 I finished listening to “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. This was unabridged version of classic piece of British literature in audio book format narrated by Michael York.

Brave_New_World_Audible_Cover

I first discover this book some time ago when listening to recordings of “Science-Fiction and Politics” class by Courtney Brown which he did at  Emory University, which is available in iTunes Podcasts if you interested to listen it too. This is amazing class where they took a list of some good science fiction books as a reading assignments for a class and during the classes trying to look at these books from the angle of politics, changes in society and how those may be relevant to real world politics and changes. At the end of the day most of good science-fiction books depict very different societies, where world either changed by technology or globally changed in some other way and this gives a lot of space for questions such as how big changes are brought about and executed, how people react and adapt to them etc. Very interesting approach. Another book from that class which made it to my “To read list” is a 1977 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle “Lucifer’s Hammer”, though it was just briefly mentioned in this course if I’m not mistaken.

Anyway I just wanted to write a few words about Brave New World, not in support of “need to share culture” (one which replaced “need to know culture” these days), but rather in support of habit to reflect on what you consume (read, watch, listened to) 🙂 To my non professional view this book written in 1931 very acutely reflects on fear of two things: consumerism and prosperity brought about by technological revolution plus dictatorship/total control, probably loss of soul and awareness that technology only will never solve humanity problems also. These two things (consumerism plus total control over society) paired together in this book to present us scary picture of society which offers perfect stability at expense of such things as art, freedom and even true science, by conditioning people into perfect crank of consumer society. Non consumption and everything non generating new demand are enemies of the new society. Sex and Soma (drug which keeps people happy) are built in into depicted society as things to be consumed massively and in an unrestrained way and necessary to maintain stability of the system. By the way the drug’s name soma is an allusion to a ritualistic drink of the same name consumed by ancient Indo-Aryans which is described as being prepared by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain plant. In both Hindu and Zoroastrian tradition, the name of the drink and the plant are the same, and also personified as a divinity, the three forming a religious or mythological unity.

This is a strong book about somewhat scary things, but as it presents us with very big picture (edifice of new system/society), this somewhat offset scariness of the picture. In a way books about real, commonplace bad things of everyday life produce stronger feeling of fear/gloom as they don’t hide this “everyday/commonplace dark side of our lives” behind any grand things or ideas showing that bad things just there without any particular reason and justification. It seems that we live in a world much closer to one depicted by this book, but do not think that it is scary. Author who lived in a moment of transition and early days of consumerism culture, in the presence of some totalitarian regimes was capable to draw a more vivid picture of these two things paired together and went wrong. As we somewhat moving in the similar direction embracing consumerism and giving up on religion, search of meaning and some other things as a society, we, at the same time, became less aware about dangers of this direction. The questions such as: “How bad the deceiving shine and prosperity may be upon a closer look? Do we really need just stability and prosperity no matter the price? How much of personal freedom could be sacrificed for prosperity and stability?” are still relevant anyway, since the time of Hobbes “Leviathan” we still trying to figure out how the state and society should be arranged and how the way we organize things on a large scale may be reconciled with the way individual man wants or tries to organize his life.

Anyway “Brave New World” is a book which most likely make you think about interesting questions which written masterfully, and it means that it meet main criteria of a good book.

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Review: Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing

Some Remarks: Essays and Other WritingSome Remarks: Essays and Other Writing by Neal Stephenson\nMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a good mix of (mostly short-form) writing: from a little bit unexpected (like introductory piece about perils of sedentary lifestyle) to proper “Neal’s style” things. By “Neal’s style” I mean “extremely rich in details, festooned with brilliant and simply explanations of difficult things/ideas and really thought provoking”. I especially liked “Mother Board Mother Earth” (fascinating introduction to the world of submarine cabling which provides foundations for our modern communication systems) and rocket-science/big project execution related pieces “Locked In” & “Innovation Starvation”. And if you are fan of Baroque Cycle there are some related interviews in this book too.

View all my reviews

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