Category Archives: Books

World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks is ostensibly about zombies but it could be interpreted in many different ways. One could say it is a book about environmental collapse, globalization or terrorism.

Your call. But really it is about the human response to a truly global and transnational crisis. First it demonstrates how modern systems and technology have the possibility of catastrophic failure in the face overwhelming odds, and then goes on to show the strong survival instincts of mankind in a sort of “Lord of the Flies” style anarchy. And then how humanity can adapt.

It is a series of oral histories, all connected via the central thread of a worldwide zombie plague(I know…I was skeptical at first since I never understood the current fascination with zombies), which threatens the entire world population with gruesome, anonymous death.

The reason why I read this book in the first place is because I wanted to read a speculative history of the 21st century. Not like something about high technology, but more about how human beings would behave in the future. And how a major disruption to the world system could change the geopolitical landscape: for instance, Cuba becomes the world’s foremost economy.

It’s a good book, and a fast read and I recommend it.

Books To Keep In Your Car This Summer

I am always looking for something new to do around Southern California, and while there are a great number of blogs chock full of ideas, I often find myself needing a solid set of reference. Not just for ideas – but how to get there, and what to expect once you have arrived. Or where to go if the original plan falls through.

So, I will begin a list of books that I always keep in the van – all related to Southern California – which are invaluable when looking for things to do.

  • Lonely Planet California – I admit that I felt like a tourist when I bought this. But that’s OK. It’s a useful book that give a nice, broad view of California as a whole. I always default to Lonely Planet when traveling, so I trust them on my home turf as well.
  • DeLorme Atlas Southern and Central California – This has become my de facto road map. It is an easy to read map that shows all major roads, dirt roads, trails, wells, elevations, landmarks, dry lake-beds and other terrain features. Also, camp sites, and boating sites. It’s fun to be able to name everything you are passing on road trips.
  • California Coastal Commission Coastal Access Guide – I mentioned it already, but here it is again because it is so good. It is a guide to all of the beaches on the California coast. Shows what services and amenities are available at each location along with a brief description. It also includes unnamed beaches – usually listed as “Stairs to Beach” or something like that – if you are looking to go more off the beaten track.
  • Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County – OK, so it is a little too hot for most hikes in this book, but if the weather cools a little bit, you might want to pick it up. Everything from short hikes in Griffith Park to grueling 22 mile jaunts in the San Gabriel Mountains. Indispensable.

I am sure there are plenty more books like these, but with this set in the car I can usually hit the road and start reading(not at the same time) and find somewhere good to end up. I have not been going out to the desert this summer(unlike some people, much hardier than myself) so I did not really put any desert books – although the Lonely Planet guide does have some general info on the desert.

Anyone else have more suggestions?

Macedonia Was Really, Really Boring

I mean it was really boring. I picked up Harvey Pekar’s new graphic novel, “Macedonia” because I am interesting in international affairs and things of that nature. Thought it would be engaging.

Well, I was wrong. Although I did finish it, it was by far the most boring graphic novel I have ever read. Sure I am fascinated by the complexities of foreign policy(I even get the magazine – which, by the way is great. I like the blog, too. It’s got a sense of humor I can relate to.), but 100 pages of comics describing meetings between Heather Roberson, a UC Berkeley Peace and Conflict Studies student and various Macedonian officials is not exactly compelling reading.

If it was a magazine article, I would read it. But I just don’t get the logic of devoting so much artistic energy to what is essentially amounts to panel after panel of Roberson talking to people.

I am going to sue them all for the time I wasted reading this.

Overrated Amateurs

I just discovered the work of Andrew Keen. He is coming out with a book called the Cult of the Amateur, or “How today’s Internet is killing our culture”.

Which is interesting since just the other day I was just discussing this topic with some friends while dining on fine pizza and beer at Shakey’s. I was attempting – in a somewhat roundabout way – to say that I am unhappy with the quality of information and discourse on the Internet.

I feel like many people(and I am certainly guilty here too) are not able to evaluate information and arguments they receive. So much so, that I really have no desire to participate in any sort of comment thread or discussion online and watch as it tangents out of control, or watch as someone twists some piece of minutia or thinks that forming an argument means giving an ironic one-liner.

If Keen’s basic tenet is that the amateur is overvalued, then I would have to agree. I find that experts – people who have focused on an area, and have invested thought, time and energy – will tend to have deeper and more valuable insights.

Those are the people I want to hear from, those are the people whose “content” I want to see.

And I do realize that this post is somewhat hypocritical. But I will probably read the book.

Foucault’s Pendulum

It’s been a while since I have read a novel – I read mostly nonfiction – so I had to get back in the swing of things by finding a really good one. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco seems to fit the bill. It feeds my growing interest in obscure histories(stoked in no small part by recent visits to Europe) and occult symbolism.

The story itself is engaging; even though I just started and I am only 150 pages into it I am completely engrossed by the intricate detail of the writing and the intellectual dexterity displayed by Mssr. Eco. I also like the fact that there are plenty of words in this book that I am not familiar with – I am always interested in expanding my vocab.

I also wonder what portion of the people, books, events and such mentioned in this book are real. They all seem plausible, if not likely, but in some cases they may be hard to verify, such as the existence of certain rare texts.