Rising Sun review

Rising SunRising Sun by Michael Crichton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Michael Crichton was a good writer, and this is a pretty good mystery.

However, all the stuff about how Japan is going to take over the US was hilariously badly timed as the book was published right around the start of Japan’s Lost Decade. So it’s pretty hard to take that seriously today.

Also, not for nothing, there’s a scene where a professor brags on how attractive one of his grad students is and then the main character tells her she should be a model – none of this has any relevance to anything, by the way – and was this an OK thing in the ’90s? Comes off as real creepy today.

But if you’re up at night because you’re coughing/the baby’s fussing/the baby’s also coughing, you can do a lot worse than this book.

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Red Mars review

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you like world-building scifi, you will probably like this book. I usually like world-building scifi, but the book is so long, and I was so sleep-deprived that I didn’t super get into it.

But the characters are interesting, and the plot is kinda bland and straightforward until it wasn’t, so I think it’s a good book!

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Fear: Trump in the White House review

Fear: Trump in the White HouseFear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was interesting, but in a very busy few weeks for news (moreso than usual, I think?) I didn’t want to read more about politics.

One of the problems with a book like this is that it relies on a few sources that have their own agendas (usually including making themselves look good) so it’s hard to know how much to trust it. I didn’t read Michael Wolff’s book or Omarosa’s book because I don’t trust the authors; here I do trust the author, but there’s only so much fact-checking that can be done about conversations where only two or three people were present.

A lot of the interesting parts I read about elsewhere, but a few things:
– It’s chilling how easily Trump lies about stuff. (and clearly knows that he’s lying) This is not a huge surprise having observed his presidency, but…still.
– Reince Priebus comments that Trump has “zero psychological ability to recognize empathy or pity in any way”, which also seems true.
– During the whole escalation with North Korea over Twitter, Trump wanted to send out a tweet ordering all US military families out of South Korea, which North Korea probably would have seen as preparations for war. Luckily it didn’t happen! (the book is vague about why, whether someone talked him out of it or he just forgot about it)

Aaaaanyway I like reading nonfiction books but I need a little escapism so I’m going to stop reading about politics for a bit.

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Now Say This: The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma review

Now Say This: The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting DilemmaNow Say This: The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma by Heather Turgeon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has the same ideas as How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Which is OK – I’d rather have books saying the same thing then say that it’s good to yell at your kids or whatever. (FWIW it’s not good; don’t yell at your kids!)

Where this book stands out is that it lays out a ton of scenarios that really helped me internalize the lessons. So I’m going to try to remember to go back to this book every once in a while and browse through it again.

(one new part is the stuff about screen time, which: maaaaaan am I not looking forward to those fights…)

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The Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball Thinking review

The Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball ThinkingThe Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball Thinking by Russell A. Carleton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(should be 4.5 stars)

What an interesting book! The author, who got a PhD in psychology before living the dream of writing about baseball analytics (yeah, it sounds pretty great) looks at a series of topics. Each chapter begins with a seemingly random section about something non-baseball related, then transitions to a baseball topic (that turns out to be related).

Probably my favorite chapter was when he talked about parenting; the mechanics of parenting aren’t hard (we trust 14-year-olds to babysit, after all), it’s the fact that you rarely get to leave “parent mode” and don’t have autonomy over your own schedule. (this is so true!) Then he talks about “the grind” of a 162-game season, and how managers have to try to keep their team fresh, deal with player conflicts that may or may not be baseball-related, and so on. These are things that fans rarely have to think about, since it’s much easier to focus on tactical decisions. (“why did he bunt there?”, “why did he leave the starting pitcher in?”, etc.) It turns out the tactical decisions that a manager makes do have an impact on how many games a team wins, but not as many as you think. Conversely, there’s a noticeable effect over the course of a season where hitters get a little worse at deciding what pitches to swing at – it’s small (on the order of 0.25% when you get 180 days away from Opening Day), but it has a bigger impact than you’d think because it affects every single pitch. And some managers seem to be better at keeping their hitters from getting worse over the course of a season, and this effect is almost as big as the tactical decisions!

Another interesting chapter was the effects of the shift and why players don’t just bunt against it, which dives into game theory and leverage and whatnot.

Anyway, the book is quite good and unlike a few other baseball books I’ve read recently, it talks about stuff I hadn’t thought about/read before. The writing is also good; it was a joy to read!

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The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery review

The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer MysteryThe Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(probably closer to 3.5 stars)

I picked this up because I’m a big fan of Bill James’s Popular Crime. This was fairly different – it’s about retroactively tracing a serial killer and figuring out who he was.

About halfway through the book I thought “man, is this whole book just going to be describing a series of murders that are all pretty similar?”, because it was getting kind of boring even though I do enjoy Bill James’s writing style. But some of the crimes got more interesting, and the end where he looks back at all of them and proposes a solution is also fascinating. (and convincing!) I did have trouble getting to that point, though – there are so many crimes and so many people introduced and dispatched quickly that it all can blur together.

But there were definitely some interesting bits about the nature of “police work” in the early 1900s!
– Newspapers from that era were happy to opine about who had done it. Here’s an excerpt from the Trenton Times in 1900:

Robert Hensen, a Trenton colored man with an unsavory reputation, is the one suspected of having done the shocking dead. […] the civil authorities are at work collecting evidence which, it is expected, will fasten on him, beyond a doubt, the monstrous crime, and send him to the gallows […]

So basically “he’s obviously guilty, now we just need some evidence!”
– Especially in rural areas, for tough crimes the victim’s family would try to raise a “reward fund” of donations from the townspeople, then use that money to hire a private detective. Back then private detectives would mostly just try to infiltrate gangs of criminals and see if someone would admit to committing the crime.
– In Cottonwood, Alabama, a private detective became convinced that that a man he hired to bring him meals knew something about the case, so he hired a ventriloquist to come with him and secretly throw his voice to the man’s mule and ask him questions! This kinda worked, as the man said who he thought had committed the crime, which was enough for the police to arrest that person(!) but he wasn’t convicted, thankfully, because there was no evidence.
– What happened in the aftermath of the Villisca, Iowa killings was probably the most interesting part of the book. (these are the most famous murders, although I hadn’t heard of them before this) The detective investigating the crime and the sheriff both believed the murders had been committed by a serial killer from out-of-town; however, J. N. Wilkerson (a private detective) came on to the scene two years later and decided to pin the murders on Frank Jones, who was a successful businessman and politician in the small town. The author compares him to Harold Hill, the con man from the movie “The Music Man”, which happens to be set in a small city in Iowa around the same time. Wilkerson was charismatic and essentially tried to blackmail Jones by getting a compatriot to claim that there was a report that had evidence that Jones had committed the murders, and for $25,000 (a lot of money back in 1915!) the report would never see the light of day. The idea was that if Jones showed interest this would be evidence against him. Jones didn’t bite, but Wilkerson started spreading rumors and raising money from townspeople who thought that Jones was guilty. This started to work, and Jones lost a primary, then started to fight back by hiring his own private detective. Then Wilkerson hatched a plot to break in to Jones’s store to try to “gather evidence”, but Jones knew about it because of his private detective (i.e. spy) and foiled it. It continues on from there; the story is pretty incredible, but eventually Wilkerson got banned from practicing law in the state, ran for county attorney(!), and basically lost.

The book is impressively researched, and I enjoyed it once I got past the first half or so.

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