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Bruce’s Book Reviews

A collection of my past and current book reviews.

Review: Leader’s Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat LastLeaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The very first vignette enthralled me as a service member. Showcasing the values in the military and applied to a combat scenario with lives on the line. After that it was very enjoyable.

Leaders eat last comes from the Military custom that the Commander eats after all his Soldiers eat. Make sure your people are taken care of and in turn you will be taken care of. Being a leader is earned…continually.

Sinek uses this baseline to then evaluate why some teams thrive and others don’t. He falls back heavily on the four basic chemicals in all humans and ties most interactions to the rise and fall of these chemicals. Why biologically it makes sense to reward teamwork.

I personally enjoyed his comparison about earning the rewards. He said something to the effect of, no one would bat an eye at someone giving a million dollars to Mother Theresa, but a million dollar payout to a CEO…maybe it wasn’t well earned.

Altogether, I enjoyed this book, more so than Start With Why. A couple vignettes overlap between the two. If you are interested in a leadership book with good examples, I would strongly recommend this one.

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Review: Red Rising

Red Rising (Red Rising, #1)Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quite enjoyable affair. This book reads like a typical dystopian, young adult novel…and it is, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. I finished this rather quickly and part was due to the ease it was to read it, the other being I wanted to know what happened next. The whole premise is all different types of people are put into castes. Reds are the lowest of the low, the janitors, the miners…the slaves. There are those in the middles like Pinks are brothel types and I think it was Green was the Artists. Above them all are the Golds. They are rich and have rich blood. The highest of the Golds are the Peerless, which requires attending and surviving an unknown academy.

This story follows that of Darrow, a young red that is very agile. Stuff happens and he gets launched into this academy as one of the Golds. Obviously he must keep it secret. Obviously he is at ends with his overall goal versus his current needs. This book takes Darrow up and through the academy. The main action is a Roman Gods inspired faction versus faction war. Deaths are sort of allowed, hunger, thirst are ever present and who rises to be the leader in this situation. Obviously Darrow does, but INTRIGUE, backstabbing, lying, are all there. It makes for a fun ride.

I will read the next one, I anticipate it will be a bit more of the same. I wonder if it will bigger (space battles) or smaller (politics scheming) or both? Either way, this book was a very good read and I had a great time.

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Review: The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When you like an author and you like a narrator it is usually a no brainer to buy the book (audiobook in this case). This really was no different, with the exception of it ending rather shortly. Scalzi is up there with Gaiman and Stephenson in my authors that I will buy whatever they produce. Wil Wheaton usually teams up to narrate Scalzi’s novels. Wheaton was on point for his narration. Albeit the protagonists start to all blend together, not sure if that is fully attributed to Wheaton or Scalzi’s writing style and protagonist choice. Altogether 4.5 stars for Wheaton.

There is a lot to like about the book. A creation of an entire universe, with an interesting subset of features that come into jeopardy. An entire caste system, a futuristic monarchy/caste system held together by sanctioned monopolies. Strong female casts, although the Lagos female was quite vulgar, and altough came off as acceptable for the setting of the novel, was still jarring for no apparent reason in the modern day. One certain female was killed off rather quickly, and I rather well liked her. Science, intrugue, pirates, smuggling, spaceship exposed to a vacuum…

But back to my main gripe. The novel ended too soon. Sure it had the hero’s journey, mission accomplished. Sure it had a antagonist that is revealed and punished in the end. There just was a lot left ready to be explained. It sort of felt like we got to the second to last crescendo in a skrillex beat before the bass is dropped. The epilogue sort of fixes some stuff, but was rather bland and should have been left out. As you can see this is called the Interdependency 1, so it does seem to be a grab to create a series and continue to cash in. Maybe there was some information about the arch of the series, book 1 – Intro and the start of the collapse, book 2 – the collapse, book 3 – recovery and Earth?!?. I say that last bit because the writing rather strong handedily foretells that the initial collapse that prevented travel back to Earth is likely to show up again later in the series. Time will tell in that regard.

By no means did I not thouroughly enjoy the novel, I just felt it could have been self contained in one. I will pretty much be required to read the second one, which may have been the point in the first place…

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Review: The Wise Man’s Fear

The Wise Man's Fear
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you read the Name of the Wind, then you need to read the Wise Man’s Fear. If you haven’t read the Name of the Wind, you need to.

I didn’t get to write this review hot off reading the book, but it still left a lasting impression that it took some time before I could even read another fiction novel. If you aren’t familiar, this follows the tale of Kvothe. An almost mystical adventuring mage, as he recounts his life story to the Chronicler, a scribe of note. The novel bounces back and forth from present day, tavern telling Kvothe and the past.

I won’t recount all the tales, or the plot, but we find Kvothe fighting against another magician using blood magic, calling the name of the wind, helping a high powered lord, working with a certain type of mercenary and learning their finger language, helping fight bandits and finding one of the demons that killed his family, falling into the Fae realm, recounting his stories, and learning and fighting to become well trained in the path and earning a right normally not given to outsiders.

As mentioned in my previous book review, the language and writing is magnificent. It falls so easily off the tongue, yet is so pleasant to the ears. While Kvothe has so many crazy abilities, it might not make the journey fun, it some how is. And more so than you realize.

This book was nearly twice the length of the Name of the Wind, and I think I finished it within 4 days. It was voraciously devoured as my craving for the completed stories of Kvothe needed to be fulfilled.

I am anxiously awaiting Rothfuss’ third novel in this series; and hope this gets picked up similar by MTV (Shannara Chronicles), Netflix, AMC (Walking Dead/Into the Badalands) or HBO (Game of Thrones).

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Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Name of the Wind is so highly recommended it is a wonder it took me this long to read it. The Name of the Wind follows Kvoth (pronounced Quoth) later in life as he retells the story of his childhood and first years at the university. In this way, it sounds a little lame. However, Kvoth is regarded as highly reputably or even thought of as a myth like something from a fairy tale. This retelling is the simple facts of the matter laid out. For example, Kvoth is known as the Bloodless. This came about because he was whipped in school and didn’t bleed because he took some medicine. But isn’t that name terrifying to a foe? Not everything is revealed to be such a low level scheme. He truly lives up to all his names and is great at so many, but he has humanity. Something many other protagonists lack.

The world weaved is interesting, a medieval swords and mystical and engimatic sorcery. Most are poor. War toils the folks. Bandits roam the roads. The sorcery is explained as Kvoth learns it…quickly and expertly.

If the general plot doesn’t sound interesting, the writing is beautiful. I felt it was a mix of Le Guin, Wizard of Earthsea, and the Lord Foul’s Bane chronicles. An example: “Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.” Read the inside summary as well. I was drawn into both the tale and the beauty of the words and tried to listen and savor it. The audible version was performed admirably.

High recommend if you have the time. 5 of 5 stars, absolutely loved it.

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Review: Heir to the Empire

Heir to the Empire
Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last year after watching the latest Star Wars I wanted more. I researched and found that the Thrawn trilogy is awesome and people wished Episode VII mirrored it a bit more.

All the primary characters are there, Chewie, Leia, Lando, Luke, R2D2 and even Ackbar. But what about the enemy — Enter Grand Admiral Thrawn. The only Alien Admiral, blue skinned and master strategist. During the Battle of Endor he was on the other side of the galaxy and so couldn’t help. The Empire is broken, but he maintains the last vestiges, building power and conquering fringe planets.

This takes place about 5 to 10 years, I’m sure it said, but it was fairly recent after Return of the Jedi. Leia is pregnant with twins and training to be a Jedi. They are doing research about the enemy threat and think there is a traitor amongst the Rebel Alliance. You may have heard about a character named Mara Jade, a possible Force user, and she is introduced in this novel.

I listened to the audiobook and it was very enjoyable. Lightsaber noises, R2D2 beep boops and explosion sounds accompanied the varied voices. Definately a delight.

If you like Star Wars, you will likely like this novel. Some things were cheesey, but you get over it quick. I won’t read the next one right away, but its going on the reading list.

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Review: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman is an authobiography on none other than Richard Feynman. If you haven’t heard of him, he is a Physicist, professor, integral member of the Manhattan project, and nobel prize winner. In this book he also professes he is an artist (specifically drawing nudes), drum player, linguist and safecracker.

Feynman has a real knack for writing which made this entire book quite interesting. His childhood fixing radios and solving problems was very cool and a gentlemen proclaiming “He fixes radios by thinkin!” made by chuckle.

He also has some good ideas about teaching. How we teach towards the test instead of understand the significance or application. “I couldn’t see how anyone wcould be educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything.” I have found many times I don’t take the time to understand the underlying principles very often, because the requirement is to know what you need to know for the test. Without a test or exam, it is the exact opposite…

This was also my first book about the manhattan project and Feynman was among Oppenheimer and Von Neumann in the development of nuclear power. Getting a behind the scenes look was very informative and worth the price of admission alone.

I give this book a high 3 stars and think any logically thinking or scientific minded person may really enjoy it.  You can purchase the kindle version from Amazon here.

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Review: How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times
How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw this on a Lifehacker article and thought it sounded interesting and gave it a quick read. This book showcases tons of different ways to look at short pieces of writing. At the end of every chapter it has essentially homework assignments. I think if someone sticks to those assignments, their writing would definately improve. It utilizes everything from the gettysburg address to twitter jokes to get the point across that short writing is impactful. As well as, the better you are at short writing, the better writer you could become.

I went into it wanting to walk away with some tips I could use in my work. I came across a few, but not nearly as many as I wanted to. I enjoyed the book and likely worth a read. Probably more of a 3.5 stars, but on the lower side, so I give it 3.

Some favorite quotes in the book:
“He was a man too busy to flush toilets”
“A report might point you there, but a story puts you there.”
An interesting short story – “He was allergic. She pretended not to know.” (Camille Esses, ‘Peanut Butter’)
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

If this book intrigues you, you can buy the Kindle version from Amazon here.

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Review: The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Type: Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels

The Three-Body Problem is a piece of excellent science fiction. It takes place in China over the past 60 to 80 years. I don’t know enough of Chinese history to discern the difference between fact and fiction, but it seemed more factually based than not.

The book follows several characters, and all are wonderfully narrated by Luke Daniels. I couldn’t spell the names if I tried and they were a bit difficult to make sure whose name matched to which character, but the aide of Luke’s voice helped tremendously. The criminal detective was great and the daughter who leads the researchers was also great. I felt most of the characters were real and had real motives and drew real conclusions.

There are several premises the novels enjoys and intertwines. The main one, and titular, is the Three-Body problem. There exists a video game that is experienced through a VR-haptic feedback system that introduces the three body problem by showcasing it from the perspective of a civilization that observes the effects from the planet’s surface. The 3 bodies refer to 3 stars that are orbiting each other. The problem lies in that there should be a mathematical model that describes their motion, but has not been found yet. From the civilization’s perspective they experience chaotic and stable periods. Or periods where the sun or suns rise and fall regularly and at a safe distance, or a chaotic period where the planet melts or freezes or gets torn asunder.

The other premise was the impact of science on society. Is it worthwhile? Is it for the betterment of mankind? The book was heavy handed in these questions, but it did make you wonder.

The last was a first contact with an alien race. Things came into play such as the light difference, how long an attack fleet could reach each other, what technology could be advanced. The simplified example Liu Cixin uses in the novel is Alien Race A is at our technology level+300 years. Well, by the time the Alien Race sends a fleet and it takes 400 years, our technology may than surpass theirs. Well how do you fight technology? Which led to the next premise near the end and while a slightly spoiler, depicts visualizing a proton from its 11 dimensions and shown in smaller dimensions. That entire sequence was a really good read and worth the price of admission.

I also enjoyed how the ending while ominous, held out hope. This entire novel was great. The audio reading was great. The science seemed semi-plausible and included easy laymen examples. For this I give it a high 4 Stars, resulting in the 5 star I gave it.

If interested in this book, you can purchase the audiobook from Amazon here.
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Review: Seveneves

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is another of Neal Stephenson’s large books. I read Anathem seven years ago, then Reamde, Snowcrash, and going to try and work on Cryptonomicon. When you finish one of these books, you feel a bit smarter and you feel a large sense of achievement. I mean most people barely finish a 300 page book, well this one sits in at 865, so nearly 3 books in one. In a sense this was three books and I will review it as such.

Part 1 starts with the idea that the moon basically blew up into several large pieces. It flashes between Earth and the International Space Station as they figure out that the moon will eventually keep hitting each other and ejecting giant meteors to Earth caushing an extinction level event that would last 4 to 5 thousand years. Earth joins together and tries to save people by sending them to space. This was actually a really cool premise and went into ideas about how to make selections, ratios of genders, how to build onto the ISS, how to send up a bunch of folks, equipment packages and strategies for living for many thousand years. Most of the characters were pretty interesting. Very strong female presence, from a very smart engineer, the Commander of the ISS to the President of the United States. I also enjoyed Doc Dubois, who seemed to be a mix of Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Part 2 happens when the world begins to be destroyed. This goes into the politics of the ISS versus the swarm, how each could survive. It went into terribly amount of detail about orbital dynamics, but did so in a way that I want to learn how it all works better. Radiation, cannabilism, space piracy and more. Eventually ending in the essential title of this book.

Part 3 was set 5000 years after part 2. It starts with Kath 2 on Earth and her journey back into space. It used some really cool glider technology, some tethers and whips and a sort of space habitat ring. All of the explanations, while some were hard to understand completely without rereading a few times, made it all seem pretty plausible and really cool. I liked how they approached the idea that this culture tackled giant problems instead of making nice to do things slightly better. For example, they build basically a giant manhattan in the sky, while we rerelease a new iphone with only slightly better memory or storage. It then also talks about how each different breed of humans came about and only slightly went into their mindsets or skills. Then it goes into the journey about finding the possible subterranean humans that survived.

Part 1 was awesome. Part 2 was great. Part 3 was pretty good. So overall, I give the book 4 stars. I probably won’t read again, but enjoyed it and might recommend portions to people who might want to know more about a specific topic. At the very least I have some interesting thought experiments to let others think about. The book is largely based around several really cool technologies and then a story that is well put together wrapped around it.

If interested you can purchase Seveneves from Amazon here.
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