Archive for the ‘non-fiction’ Category

The Element by Sir Ken Robinson

August 5, 2010 Comments off

This is not a book about finding yourself. It’s a book about finding what you’re good at, and doing just that, as often as you can. Ken shares with us the stories of many remarkable people who seemed to drift through life until they found their element, at which point they took off. These include people such as Richard Branson, the entrepreneur who did not take to school, or Paolo Coelho the writer, whose parents so wanted him to be a lawyer that they had him committed when he kept writing.

The tragedy, as Ken writes, is that so many people never find or express their Element. He sets his sights plainly on the outdated western education system, something that is broken, yet fixable. If you haven’t seen his TED talks on the subject, you should.


The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History by Colin McEveedy

October 22, 2009 Comments off

I agree; not the most inspiring book title in the world. However this one is on my list of recommendations with good reason.

Well told, and well laid out, this book follows a format of a one-page map opposite a one-page explanation of what was going on at the time. The maps show shifting borders and empires and nations rise and fall, and new migrations give rise to new nationalities.

This is no dry list of kings and battles. The social and political systems get their airing, and the maps also show trade routes and resources, population centres, and the boundaries of religion.

In describing the book I feel like I am doing it a disservice. If you’ve ever wondered where things came from, why certain things are so, or why some countries have a mixed religion and others just one, many of the answers lie in this book. So much useful and engaging information packed into one compact package.

Mental Models

September 10, 2008 Comments off

Another interesting talk at Ted, and this is a short one, for time-poor individuals. However, you’ll still be thinking about it long after it finishes!

Jonathan Driori asks his audience four ‘simple’ questions. For the record, I got two right.

Jonathan then talks about the persistence of mental models, how we form those models in our chilhood, and keep using them way into adulthood. He criticies certain aspects of education and praises others, especially activites ofcused on hands-on exploration.

Mental models are critical, many of our reactions to things we see, hear, or read, are based on the foundations of our mental models. If these are warped or flawed, how much more difficult it is to arrive at a shared understanding.

Categories: non-fiction Tags: ,

Urban Shift

September 8, 2008 Comments off

Societies have been experiencing it for decades. People moving from the country to the city, where life is better.

Fantasy is going through its own urban shift. Increasingly, the fantasy worth reading is being set in the clustered innards of cities instead of the wide open spaces of the countryside. This all hit me today, reading The Lies of Locke Lamora (more on that when I finish it).

I find it difficult to internally classify Steampunk books like Perdido Street Station or Veniss Underground as fantasy, that’s my issue. Steampunk is fantasy that grew up and got a job.

It was inevitable, with the benefit of hindsight that this shift would happen, and it’s has opened up great creative vistas for writers to explore, much to the relief of readers like me who were getting heartily sick of reading yet another attempt at writing Lord of the Rings. One aspect of urban societies is a romanticisation of country life but hey, Romance novels are over in another section. Urban fantasy is where it’s happening.

Only One…

September 1, 2008 2 comments

As a mental exercise, I’ve been thinking about what book I would choose, if I could only have one to read. If I were stranded on that eponymous desert island with one book, what would I like that book to be?

Books such as Quicksilver or A Game of Thrones are out, not matter how good I don’t want the first book in a series if I can’t read the next.

The shortlist I came up with was:

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. This book is good, and best of all benefits from a good slow read. There’s a lot of information here and while it is well written and readily digestible, a nice slow read gives you time to digest what you’re being fed.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. This one is a modern classic. If I had to read one book over and over, I could do a lot worse than this one.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. A short book, but a filling one. This work of 20th century philosophy rewards a patient reader.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Another 20th century novel I would recommend to anyone. Though now I think on it, maybe it’s a little too full of despair for the situaiton. It does end on a positive note though, a chance of freedom.

Once I’d considered this list though, I realised that what I really wanted was reams of blank paper and a mountian of pencils. With all that time on my hands, I’d rather use it to create then consume.

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Style of the Times

August 25, 2008 Comments off

The book has been around for centuries in its currently recognisable form. Whether cranked out of the printer by a print-on-demand publisher five minutes ago, or carefully illustrated by monks 900 years ago, the book is recognisable to all who are familiar with it.

Technology has crept in to change many aspects of books and writing, but the act of reading words printed on paper has not changed. We may have books on tape and e-books, but the book is still the common form of story transmission device.

I think the book as physical media is here to stay. Its form size and decoration will change according to the demands of the time, but as a physical objects books will remain. Only nanotechnology threatens the book. Readers of Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age may be thinking of the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer here, but I am thinking of something more mundane.

An object the shape and weight of a book, with pages you turn, but those pages can display one of many thousands of books stored within the device. Wirelessly connected, you can update the stories contained within as often as you wish. That kind of device doesn’t yet exist. Current rudimentary e-book readers don’t fulfil their task very well. Who likes reading with a light shone in their eyes?

I’m imagining a device that is more like the books we buy today, with pages you turn, but one that can be set to display whatever text you wish. Pages that don’t need battery-chugging backlights, because the material itself mimics paper so well.

If nanotechnology can give us not a replacement for books, but a new type of book, one with the form and physicality of books we enjoy today, but with added functionality of a networked book, then long may technology march on.

Until then, hands off my dead tree publishing.

Categories: non-fiction Tags: ,

Collecting Stories

July 29, 2008 Comments off

Giving those top 5 lists a break, here’s another TED video for you all.

Jonathan Harris collects stories. Stories that run across all media, and only non-fiction stories. Objects are an integral part of the story collection. It’s a fascinating process, check it out.