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Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

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My one problem with this book is that it is all to repetitive. This is not a fault on the part of the authors, but rather on the part of their subject matter.It is truly disturbing that throughout the second half of the 20th Century, the same people kept turning up using the same tactics to discredit the "Inconvenient Truths" of scientific discovery. From the link of smoking to cancer, to second hand smoke, to the agricultural overuse of pesticides, to nuclear winter, to climate change, to ozone depletion, to the fantasy of SDI, the same, small group of pro-industry science advisers have cropped up again and again to push a political (and business) agenda in defiance of overwhelming evidence.It's not just a laundry list of fallacious arguments, either. Each of the historical cases is given in context, and the counters to the "Merchants" are explained.I'm not sure how well this book will do in convincing people one way or another, I suspect that most people reading it will already have made up their minds.
Anathem

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I like Neal Stephenson, but I have to admit I've been reading the Baroque Cycle for a few years now. I'm currently most of the way through System of the World, but the long discussions of Restoration Economics kind of bog me down a bit. I was OK with the Natural Philosophy, but Economics just bores me.Anyway, there is no Economics in Anathem, which, despite it's intimidating size, is quite a boppy read. As with the Baroque Cycle, the central theme of the book is somewhat pedagogic, but the topic in this instance is Philosophy, particularly Philosophy of Science, with some Metaphysics and Epistemology thrown in. This I find much more interesting than Economics, so I was able to get through it much more quickly.Stephenson knows his stuff, and clearly with this, as with the Baroque Cycle, he has carefully researched the topics his characters discuss (and then renamed many of the basic principles since this story does not take place on Earth). His enthusiasm for the subjects shows through his prose.With this book, he has also created a fascinating societal structure (which is clearly an exaggeration of the Town/Gown dichotomy). Some have complained that too much of the early parts of the novel are devoted to the day to day life of the avout, but I found it fascinating, and the detail which he has given the structure of the society made it an absorbing read.
Reamde: A Novel

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I seem to be a bit odd when it comes to Stephenson. I liked "Anathem" when it was about the cloistered life of the monastic academic, and less so when it got into the action plot. I think "Zodiac" is one of his best, and certainly his funniest, books, while others I spoke to about it didn't especially enjoy it.With "Reamde", I was less interested in the virtual world of T'Rain than in how it came to be, but felt that this was also unsatisfying somehow. The huge cast of characters who are introduced in relation to it, and the epic backstory just seemed a lot of unnecessary detail for something that ultimately had such little impact on the book. It's really nothing more than a MacGuffin for the main plot involving the Russian mob, Chinese hackers, and Welsh Islamic terrorists.A lot of Stephenson's hallmarks are here. A lot of violence which the central characters take to a bit more easily than perhaps they should. Detailed research on the background. Well-developed characters who are suddenly killed.One thing that is, thankfully, missing is his problem with compressing time. I've often felt that he wrenches from on scene to the next without really paying attention to the fact that time has passed in between. This problem is less evident here, largely because it all takes space in about a week. There's a lot of backtracking, and overlapping timelines, a style he developed in the Baroque Cycle.I would be curious to know about the editing process for this book. I have a theory that as authors get better known, and more successful, publishers are less inclined to edit them as heavily as they need to be. I think "Reamde" needed a bit of tightening in places, although it's not as bad as many.Overall, it's an enjoyable book, but not really his best. Still, at his worst, he's better than a lot of the dreck that gets published these days.
Jurassic Park: A Novel

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Michael Crichton wrote and directed the classic Science Fiction film Westworld in the 1960s. In the 80s he reworked the plot using the trendy topics of genetic engineering and chaos theory, and came up with Jurassic Park.Unfortunately, his understanding of the possibilities of both subjects was weak, and the plot rapidly descended into a car crash of outrageous coincidence. People familiar with Crichton's other early novel The Andromeda Strain will recognise this as a flaw in his writing.
Hal Spacejock 4: No Free Lunch

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I have to admit, I had not read any of the previous books in this series, and so was curious. From the way they are displayed in local bookshops, they look like another in a long line of Hitchhikers' or Discworld hopefuls, with the deliberately silly name of the protagonist suggesting a cartoonish world of exaggerated buffoonery. However, on starting to read, it became clear that it wasn't.Sadly, I can't say I was pleasantly surprised. There was not much in the way of subtle humour, and far too many gags about androids inserting data ports into sockets. (OK, two or three, but still too many.) If it weren't for some of the smuttier jokes, I'd have thought this was a moderately competent Juvenile, but some of the gags, while they will appeal to juveniles, don't seem appropriate. (And the website proclaims that it's not written for children. One would think if you felt the need to state that, you might want to assess what you're doing.)The plot is straightforward enough, hero arrives on planet, gets caught up with local law enforcement officer, and then gets dragged along on her latest (be honest, first) investigation. The relationship that develops between the titular character and his newfound lady friend is rather adolescent in its coyness, which in some ways might be seen as charming, but it does spoil the ending somewhat, particularly as we know this is meant to be an ongoing series. (The author has apparently committed to 15 books, and we're only at number 4...)I'm also sad to report there were very few surprises in store. Subtlety is not a strong point. Not that it has to be, but it can help with a mystery. I suppose it's not meant to be Agatha Christie, but there is no misdirection, and very little suspense.Despite what I say above, I don't hate this book. I don't like it, either, but I didn't want to throw it across the room at any point. (That alone puts it ahead of the Honor Harrington novels.) I just don't find it very satisfying, for a number of reasons. As a result, I don't feel particularly inclined to pick up the next in the series when it comes out.
Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything

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The term “monoculture” comes from agriculture. It is the practice of growing a single crop on a farm (or in an area) to the exclusion of all others. While this can have economic benefits, it is also a high risk strategy – since a single pest infestation or virus can destroy the entire output, and ultimately damaging – as the soil becomes depleted in the nutrients required for the single crop to grow. The term has been adapted to other areas, its wider use in biology refers to populations or ecosystems with poor genetic or bio-diversity. In Information Technology, it refers to a site running the same hardware and/or software (as is becoming increasingly common) which raises the risk of attack from malware or even security penetration.In this book, “monoculture” means the practice of free market capitalism. Michaels’ thesis is that the universal application of the “story” of the free market (and thus focus on profits,and economic value to the exclusion of other values) is bad for society. It’s hard to disagree with her, certainly it seems that the free market is being applied to things it ought not to be.Not content with this assertion that public utilities and social needs are being driven into market based models despite their unsuitability, Michaels spends the first half of the book listing examples (one per chapter) in great detail. This gives the book a somewhat repetitive feel, and runs the risk of scaring away the less determined reader from the book’s conclusions.And what are the book’s conclusions? That this is not the only way, and that people are actively seeking to subvert the “monoculture” (more examples, this time of how groups are trying to “get back” to basics). The book offers no real answers other than the, rather strange, claim that the monoculture is “...not the whole story, no matter how much it tries to be.” (which kind of undermines its status as a monoculture).So, it is, in essence a self-help book for those yearning for the “good old days” when we didn’t just care about money for everything. “See, here are other people who agree with you, and you should do what they do in your own way.”To sum up, the book isn’t really about monoculture, it’s about caring for things other than money. It doesn’t really address how this is a political problem, and needs to be dealt with on a political scale, but just reassures the reader that it’s OK to think it’s wrong, and tells them to go and do their own thing.
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