Monday, May 31, 2010

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Another clever dick from Wall Street?

Rating 4 out of 10.

This book has some intersting points. For example then it recounts an example which tells that a crowd of laymens collective assesments of the weight of an ox at a county fair is actually more accurate than the experts assesment. And thus Surowiecki means to tell that a crowd of independent people are actually more smart than an expert. The text of the book is around 270 pages, but in my opinion Surowiecki stops being interesting already around page 60. The rest of the book seems to be material he has just amassed because he had to fill out the pages of the book. Yeah actually he could have made a much thiner pamphlet to get his message across! And also the message that crowds can be intelligent, is that something new? After all a substantial part of the evolution of human culture and knowhow is a result of the wisdom of crowds - isn't it? So one get this sneaking feeling that James Surowiecki is yet another of these clever dicks from Wall Street, trying to give foolish people the impression that he has found the key to how they really can start to make money in big scale.

Den gule trøje i de høje bjerge by Jørgen Leth

Tour de France affectionardo par exellence

Rating 4 out of 10

In this book Jørgen Leth recounts all the great moment of Tour de France which he have been following all his life. A problem with the book is that Leth wants to recount all the great moments, and thereby he drowns the great moments in other great moments. It becomes tirering to again and again be told that what this and that rider did was so brave and so brilliant! The effect is of course that you stop paying attention to him. One memorable scene in the book is from Jørgens childhood in Århus, Denmark. After Jørgen has watched bike races he becomes quite obsessed. He stands in the garden at his home and reenacts the bike race inside his head. He comes in a trancelike state and afterwards he has a headache. Later he projects his enactment of the bike race outside of himself. He arranges bike races with the local kids. Jørgen lives around Vestre Ringgade in Århus. The infant Jørgen is an almost comical character, he appear as an extraordinary clumsy and awkvard character, kind of like a fool. The local bike mecanic calls him "Jørgen Tung" (Jørgen Heavy). He never wins any of the bike races he arrange himself, his mother make flower bouquets for the 1., 2. and 3. place winners in Jørgens bike races. All in all Jørgen himself seems really miserable at sports, his friend Henning Andersen from Fjordsgade school (living on Søndre Ringgade) easily beats him in table tennis 21-2. Later Henning and Jørgen starts to arrange jazz events, Henning is quite succesfull arranging main stream jazz events and becomes rich. Jørgen on the other hand is drawn to arranging events for a more select crowd. He arranges bebob events, and when he arranges avantgarde jazz events, maybe only 1 person turns up. Also when he starts producing films actually no people really goes to see them in the cinema.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is like an animal

Rating 6 out of 10

This book from Toni Morrison is not too bad, it's actually OK. What I like about Toni Morrison is that she is a no-nonsense writer. She perceives the world in an animal like way. She has a total natural acceptance of the bodily processes of being human, white people often have a much more schizophrenic relation to their bodily processes, where they feel ashamed and they are not natural with their body in the same way that Toni Morrisons characters are. Reading Toni Morrisons book one gets a sense that violence is an integrated trait of Afro American culture, virtually all her characters are violent and it seems like violence is an accepted way to solve problems instead of talking about them. In Toni Morrisons universe the shadow of slavery still exists, the characters have relatives which have been killed by white people in racist attacks down south.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Det er derfor de knepper så meget i dette land by Jørgen Leth and Morten Sabroe

Not really interesting

Rating 5 out of 10

This book is made up of the email correspondance of two Danish writers: Jørgen Leth and Morten Sabroe. Jørgen Leth is definitely the best of the two. I must admit that I find Morten Sabroe's writings quite tiring at times. Apparently the guy is a part of the litterary establishment in Copenhagen, one gets an almost claustrophobic impression of this milieu where everybody knows everybody. Morten Sabroe starts the book in December 2009, this was a time when Denmark witnessed and unprecedented flood of moslem immigrant related shootings with guns, I think it was more than 100 shooting episodes in 1 year. It's quite amazing that Morten Sabroe doesn't bring this subject up in any of his emails to Jørgen Leth who is on Haiti. It could have been interesting if these two literati would have had an in depth correspondance about this quite important subject. But the book is too political correct and in that way Morten Sabroe embodies the political correctness of the Danish literary establishment. Instead the two, quite old, men talk about wine, food and women, young women! Jørgen Leth made a bit of noise with his 2005 book "Det Uperfekte Menneske" where he was decribing sex scenes with with a minor Haitian woman, this cost him his job as Danish honorary consul in Haiti and made a huge scandal in Danish media. So Morten Sabroe is inquiring into how it felt for Jørgen Leth to go through this media storm. Apparently it didn't disturb Jørgen Leth too much. Well the book fails to ever get really interesting. They two writers never really find something interesting to really get into. They play safe and stay in their writer roles, saturated with themselves.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ringworld by Larry Niven

Vivid Imagination

Rating 5 out of 10.

Larry Niven is not that good a writer, but its anyway slightly fascinating to read about his sci-fi universe. In this book we visit the Ringworld, it's a massive artificial construction meant to support life in space. It's shaped like a massive ring around a star, this ring has got kind of the size that a planet would traverse in an orbit, so it's very big! In Niven's universe humans are just one part of the intelligent species in the universe, other species are pupeteers (a specie superior to humans in intelligence) and kzins (an animal like species, inferior to humans). The most interesting thing of the novel is that it proposes that luck is a genetic property, quite interesting.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Goddag Mælkevej by Leif Ahm

A very thin cup of tea!

Rating 1 out of 10

I had to discipline myself to read through this book, it was not exactly painful but quite boring. I am the kind of person who always finnish reading a book I have started on. I wonder why? Anyway this book is written in the early 60's. A time when the greatest curse in second half century litterature arose. That is magical realism! So the book is about a young man and wimen. The book changes between passages which are described realistically, they are just ordinary scenes from his life, like riding the train, going to an examination at the highschool, meeting a girl at a bar, etc. Interspersed in this plain reality is then magical realism scenes, for example the young man is sailing in a boat on a lake, then he jumps into the water and it turns out to be milk. His girlfriend becomes a moviestar, he meets the president of the milkyway and so on. The book is poetic in nature, it has some beauty, lightness and innocense about it. It's written in a time, 1962, when everything was breaking up in northern Europe, the youth revolt was soon to sweep the western world. So in the young litterature at the time they wanted to do something new, so it became fashion to blow out some magical realism, trying to sophisticate their stale accounts. Also the book desribes sex, masturbation and even a visit to the toilet, things which must have appeared a little chocking to the elder generation at the time. But it is not a good read, it seems like the book is lacking a spine, a plot.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

ASP.NET MVC Framework Unleashed by Stephen Walther

OK intro to ASP.NET MVC

Rating 7 out of 10.

This is an OK ASP.NET MVC book. The structure of the book is that first Stephen describes various features of the ASP.NET MVC framework with shorter code examples and then in the later 6 chapters of the book we are building a larger blog application. I think the idea of first decribing the ASP.NET MVC features in shorter code examples and then later employing them in a larger app is good. It makes it easier to understand. All the way through the book Stephen is consistently testing his code with Visual Studio Unit Testing, so it's cool that you also get an introduction to this practice. When we are building the blog app in the second part of the book, Stephen is practicing Test Driven Development. He start each chapter with some user stories (Use cases) which he wants to implement. The initial tests he then also generates from the user stories. So it's also cool to get an introduction to TDD. Stephen is an OK teacher. I think it's cool how he ties use cases, to tests to coding. The picture Stephen is painting is simple and clear. One drawback to the book is that Stephen is using some projects (RouteDebugger and MvcFakes) for test and debugging, which he don't explain the code of. It maybe falls outside the scope of the book, but I think I would have liked to understand how the codes of these projects worked. The book is a rather quick and light read. If you pick this book up to get introduced to the ASP.NET MVC framework you will be OK.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Undisturbed humanity

Rating 8 out of 10

This is a nice book. It decribes the adventures of the narrator (an intellectual) and Zorbas who is an utterly uneintellectual man, apparently original a Macedonian, Zorbas background is very modest, somewhat working class or peasant. Zorbas is a quite fascinating figure and becomes quite much alive. Zorbas has travelled around the Balkans living from day to day, from the hand to the mouth. He has seen many things, (and in the Balkans around the beginning of the 20th century - there was also bad things to see!) so Zorbas very well knows that life is not perfect. Yet a cardinal trait of Zorbas character is that he seems to rest in life and apparently he finds it worthwile. Zorbas seemingly is "home" in life. There execudes from the novel a Joie de vivre, it's like the characters often simply are in a state where life is ok. There is a feeling in the novel which reminded me a bit about the novel "Mister God, This Is Anna" by Fynn (Sydney Hopkins). It's this thing about that despite life is terrible imperfect then you can live in a place where you are "home" and it's ok.
Zorba the Greek also offers a substantial critique on religion, which are impersonated by various monks and church people which Zorba and the narrator encounters. Zorba breathes life. Zorba is by no means a saint, he is also quite imperfect himself and a bit of a devil sometimes.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad

Very good introduction to middleclass moslem culture in Kabul, Afghanistan

Rating 8 out of 10

It's a quite impressive book that Åsne Seierstad has managed to produce. The story behind the book is that Åsne Seierstad entered Kabul together with the Northern Alliance (Various Afghan troops and military groups who was fighting Taliban) two weeks after 9/11. In Kabul she met the bookseller and lived for some months with his family. She has transformed interviews with the family and her own experiences into the fictional account which the book is. The book is lovely political incorrect and it's my sense that it gives a quite truthful picture of middleclass moslem life in Kabul. The central character of the book is the bookseller Sultan Khan, he is an entrepreneuristic individual and runs several bookshops around Kabul. Khan is described as a quite liberal man, but still he is to a significant extend still a traditional Afghan man. For example during the account he takes a 2. wife, I think she is around 16 and he is 40 something. In his house he is the supreme lord, his word is law. Still Sultan give me a sympathetic impression, and I definitely think that a developing Afghanistan could be build upon individuals like Sultan. The book provides a whole host of insights into Afghan middleclass culture, which I before was absolutely ignorant about. A thread running through the book, one feels, is the authors resentment to the very substantial supression of women, which is cardinal trait of Afghan culture.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Tale of the Rose by Consuelo de Saint Exupéry

The marriage of two lunatics

Rating 5 out of 10

In this book Consuelo de Saint Exupéry tells the story about her stormy marriage to the famous Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. My God! What a mess! Antoine is a womanizer of the first degree, but at the same time he apparently wants to maintain his marriage to Consuelo. Antoine is a total chaotic, he all the time fly around, crashes and gets seriously wounded, move around all over the world and have innumerable affairs with other woman, especially after he becomes a global household name. But he must have been a great man because he has an electricising effect on other people. He seems like a funny mixture of something really lovingly and tender and at other times appear like a sheer psykopat. There is definitely an heroic air about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He is a warrior and his flights are really dangerous, atleast time after time he crashes. Consuelo and Antoine live in a circle of famous friends: Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Greta Garbo, Marcel Duchamp, etc. And Antoine is a celebrity. Consuelo spend much of the time waiting for Antoine who is always go somewhere else, she is always filled with her love towards him and often frustration, she seems a bit hysteric and at times she is also at a sanatorium in Switzerland. A cool thing I will remember from the book is when Consuelo wants to paint her and Antoines new apartment in Paris. Consuelo wants the color of the walls to be exactly like the color of water in a bathtub. So they invite their artist friends to come and find just the right color. And who finds the right color? Well - Marcel Duchamp of course!

My Star: Memoirs of a Holocaust Survivor by Felicja Nowak

Interesting moving story
Rating 5 out of 10

I was actually slightly pleasantly surprised by this book. It's written by a Polish/Jewish woman who spent some of the time during WW2 in the Jewish ghetto (organized by the Nazis) in the Polish town Bialystok. I am a kind of person who have always felt quite immune to having a terrified emotional response to Holocaust. But reading Felicja Nowak's account I actually felt it was too bad that she lost both her parrents on account of the Nazis killings of Jews. The best part of the novel I think is when she describes life in the ghetto, the struggle to survive. It's also liberating that she gives a more nuanced picture of the Germans. For example she works in a factory in the ghetto, and in the daytime the Germans walk around and scream at the Jews to keep them to work. But after work the Germans and the Jews are forced to also spend the time together and there they just talk together like normal people. Eventually it is actually also a German who help Felicja to flee from the ghetto! Also it was moving when Felicja describe her parting with her mother when she flee the ghetto, shortly after her mother, like her father was killed by the Nazis.

Almayer's Folly by Joseph Conrad

Disappointing start from Conrad

Rating 3 out of 10

This is Joseph Conrads first novel. It deals with the conflicts between native people (Malayans) and Dutch tradesmen in the jungle of Borneo. It has some brilliant passages, but all in all it's a quite dull read.

Hjælp! by Hjalte Tin

Ordinary and not much new

Rating 4 out of 10

In this book Hjalte Tin takes us around to three destinations in the world where Denmark sponsors humanitarian relief: Somalia, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Having read the book I am for a large part left with the feeling that I haven't really got much new information, the writer never manages to penetrate beyond the well known picture of these places and people, so it's not really a fantastic read.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence

Rating 8 out of 10

A masterpiece!

Vauw! This is a great book! It tells the story about the gradual emergence of an artist in a rural coal miner community in England. D. H. Lawrence is all about nature and love. He depicts the coming and going of the different seasons in a simple but quite moving way. The main character Paul Morel is a romantic. He develops a very close relationship to his mother, but the relationship to his father becomes almost non existent. It's kind of scary to read that this buddening artist simply less and less find any point of reference with his coal miner father, who is just an ordinary hardworking bloke. There is a definite loneliness sorrounding Paul Morrel in his dealings with his peers. Although he spends time with them, he is always moving on and they are left alone behind. They simply don't match him. Paul Morrel has the ability to manipulate most of the people he meet, there is a touch of something cruel and human experiment about his dealings with people. He exerts a strong influence on people, but it's like he is seeing it from above. He is to some extent shaping other peoples destinies, but sometimes with no real concern for the consequences which they eventually will suffer. Sometimes his manipulations assumes a comical air, for example he starts a relationship with a married woman Clara, her husband Baxter hates Paul, but Paul latter seeks out Baxter and becomes his good friend. One gets the sense that Pauls friendship with Baxter is bound more on a kind of morbid curiosity than true affinity. Later Paul looses interest in Clara, he then manages to reunite wife and husband again and then he disappears. D. H. Lawrence's characters are skillfully modeled and very trustworthy. He has a stunning ability to x-ray his characters attitudes to each other and also their attitudes to important aspects of life, like love, death, etc. A thread during the whole novel is Paul Morrel's relationship to his mother, this relationship is a spine in Pauls life. The death of the mother in the end of the novel is a crucial turning point. It's quite moving how D. H. Lawrence desribes Paul Morrels perception of the world after the death of his mother, he experience an absolute implosion of all meaning. He sees the first snowdrops appear in early spring, but he simply don't see any point in them being there. He sees the trams run around in the city, but he can't understand why they take the trouble to move. When he talk with his friends, he is responding to their words, but in reality he is far away and their words just appear to him like strange sounds.

The Wreath by Sigrid Undset

Rating 3 out of 10

A perfect calming book if you wanna sleep!

Well this book is about a young girl coming of age in medieval christian Norway. The people still partly believe in the old hearthern beliefs. Somewhat this novel (written in 1920) is a forerunner of a genre which became very popular in the latter half of the century: The historic novel. The pace of the novel seemed a bit stale to me, but it has some beauty. The view point is seen from the main character, Kristin Lavransdatter, a daughter of a prominent nobleman.  The book is very womanish, so it's all about love, marriage, passion, children, pregnancy, fidelity - slightly boring! A problem about the novel is that it all the way through just proceeds in it's own tranquile pace, it lacks dynamics! If you are in a bathtub with hot water and just wanna read something calming, this is the perfect novel to read to fall asleep! The Kristin Lavransdatter character is quite strong and willful, she manages to oppose her father in the choise of marriage partner and also become pregnant 3 months before her marriage. I am not that well versed in medieval Norwegian history, but somewhat it seems that Undsets female character is a bit too free and selfwilled to be trustworthy in a medieval setting. One should think that women of nobility, in medieval christian Norway, was more suppressed and chaste!

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

Rating 2 out of 10

I am not a fan of Heinrich Böll

This novel has the form of a police report. As usual with Heinrich Böll the subject matter is a confused mixture of religion (Catholic christianity) and left wing politics. The novel is apparently inspired by the political terrorism of the Red Army Faction in the 1970's Western Germany.