Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Book Review: Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World by Rene Girard

So, over the past few years I kept hearing about Girard, but until I read The Girard Reader this summer, I didn't really have a beachhead into his thinking. Now I've read what some consider to be his central work and, yeah, there's something here. I don't take back what I said before about the fact that Girard thinks like Darwin thought. The same powerful bottom-up mechanism is here, just on the level of human society rather than on the level of biological diversity. I'm still troubled by all the times Girard has to say "this has been hidden but now I'm revealing it to you" -- but the fact is that if you go back to the texts, there it is. This is an illuminating way to read the texts before you. This book isn't tailored to my interests -- I'd prefer more on human origins and less on Freud -- but Girard is one of those thinkers who will be haunting my thoughts for a very long time. Again, stay tuned.

Book Review: Energy by Richard Rhodes

Energy is written at a good level of detail and zips along nicely with an important focus: how do we turn the world around us into motion and light? Energy is really a chemistry topic, and I enjoyed this book as "chem lit." Rhodes opts for an engineering level of explanation at points where I think a chemistry level of explanation would be more unifying, and the focus on personalities rather than techniques leads to several sections feeling more like vignettes than a connected plot. My favorite section was on the discovery of electricity, and the sections at the end on current energy tech misses a few opportunities to take stands more clearly. But overall, the historical sweep of this book connects a lot of dots.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider is a cut above the previous detective novels that it's related to for a few reasons: The shape of the plot is more surprising, as first as horrific but contradictory evidence accumulates and then as a major event sends things in a slightly different-than-expected direction. Also, the sci-fi/horror elements are more vivid than in Mr. Mercedes, and they contrast well with police and legal details. There's just more going on. The best parts of this book are in the middle, with the exponentially spiraling nature of evil and the deep empathic stab of guilt and grief. King does these feelings as well as anyone, and it makes up for the occasional gratuitous gross-out or stereotype. The ending is atmospheric but ultimately superficial compared with the emotional depth of the middle act. Near the end it's just too obvious where this is all going, and it could come together and pay off more satisfyingly. Still, the moments that remind me why I read anything new by King, they're all here and this was a fitting Halloween read.