Nonfiction

Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood book jacket
Author: 
Noah, Trevor
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

Not bad. I was expecting more on his move to Los Angeles and the establishment of his career and time on the Daily Show but the memoir doesn't cover that. I guess I should have known that judging by the title. There was a little bit of jumping around and muddling of incidents in his life, but overall it was educational and entertaining.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: Pandora's Lab

Pandora's Lab book jacket
Author: 
Offit, Paul A.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry.

Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by using science can create worse problems than the ones that were initially there. Scientific rigor is also of utmost importance. Even if many of these horrific discoveries received Nobel prizes, hindsight showed skewed results from the start. Every new and fantastic technology created from scientific research should be scrutinized with a heaping of salt to ensure it can’t be abused.

On the flip side, ignoring sound scientific facts or not considering the full, worldwide implications of a discovery is just as dangerous. Ignorance is bliss, as long as the consequences don’t directly impact you. While we do have the benefit of hindsight, it’s essential to use the lessons presented in this book. We need to examine the science and technology being developed today and do our due diligence to make sure that they don’t inspire genocide or doom all of humanity to an unsustainable new way of life.

A grave lesson about the consequences of bad science, I give Pandora’s Lab 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. W.

Book Review: Bomb

Bomb book jacket
Author: 
Shienken, Steve
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

This book is perfect for young history enthusiasts, around the age of middle school. It's all about how the world's deadliest weapon was created, researched, spied on, and used. Explaining the race and allies of America to win the Cold War and beat Russia and Japan in creating the very first atomic bomb, this real-life story includes many famous scientists and new scientific discoveries. If you love action, science, and history, then I promise you'll love this book. It is super unpredictable and has a pretty sad ending when one of the countries wins. But who wins? Guess you're going to have to read to find out. Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: 
Jaime P

Book Review: The Sun Does Shine

Book Review: The Sun Does Shine
Author: 
Hinton, Anthony Ray
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Wow. I didn't think there is still rampant racism in America but boy was I proven wrong. In 1985, Ray Hinton was unjustly incarcerated in Alabama and will held in Death Row for 30 years. The prosecutor, police, jury, and judge were all white and despite his clear alibi he was found guilty. The police officer who arrested him said he believed Hinton was innocent but was still going to arrest him because if it's not him, it's someone 'like him.'
Throughout his heinous unjust incarceration on death row, Hinton never lost hope that he would be exonerated. His spirit helped the most hardened criminals shoulder their last days.
Eventually Hinton was exonerated, but not before the prime of his life had been stolen from him. He dedicates his life now to abolishing the death penalty, calling it a broken system. According to statistics, 1 in 10 inmates on death row are innocent.
This is a powerful memoir about survival, hope, and resilience. I highly recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking book jacket
Author: 
Cain, Susan
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

While it’s taken me a long time to finally get around to reading this book, most of what Quiet presented was what I had already known by living my life as an introvert. I will applaud this book’s ability to help society realize how ubiquitous the introverts that comprise the population are. Quiet also helps show what our needs are in this world that prizes the traits of extroversion over anything else. Even if there are many times where I have to put on my “extrovert suit,” it helps to know that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert.

Perhaps my only qualm with this book is how anecdotal the evidence is. Whether it’s stories about famous introverts (which can be inspiring) or younger introverts who are being brought up by parents who don’t quite understand the strengths of the introvert type, Quiet uses a lot of case studies to show how out of place introverts are, especially in the United States. I understand it can be challenging to study a personality type that’s so broad, but a few more references to scientific studies would have been helpful.

What struck me in Quiet was the background it provided on why society evolved to value the extroverts and deem the introverts as “problems.” I still see the effects of this emphasis today. Sure, I put up with being an introvert in an extrovert’s world, and I have made adaptations in my life to survive and thrive in it. I can empathize with the introverts who cannot cope, though, and hopefully, this book can continue to help introverts claim this personality type and own it as I have over the years. Even if we’re different from the perceived norm, we still provide value to a world that insists that louder is better.

A great anthem for those introverts who feel out of place in a gregarious society, I give Quiet 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.
Genres: 

Book Review: The Crucible

The Crucible book jacket
Author: 
Miller, Arthur
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

Arthur Miller creates a horrifying and suspenseful narrative in his iconic play The Crucible with the intention of realistically depicting a terrible chapter in our country’s history. The play follows a group of young women, led by Abigail Parris, as they accuse hundreds of people of witchcraft, and cause a massive panic among the townspeople.
The Salem Witch trials is a topic that is mostly looked over in our history classes, so this book was extremely interesting in that it depicted an event that I only had surface level knowledge of. I was fascinated with the intense depth of all of the characters, and the almost rational actions of the villains. This book was perfect to read right before Halloween. Despite these things, the narrative can be somewhat slow at times, and while I enjoyed the historical anecdotes embedded in the book, they distracted me from the actual story. However, the rest of the book was great and I highly recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: 
Sophie L

Book Review: The Slave Across the Street

Book Review: The Slave Across the Street
Author: 
Flores, Theresa L.
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

This is a highly disturbing but about a teenager that gets caught up in a sex slave ring in the Detroit suburbs. It's a very graphic depiction about the trauma she endured for 2 years, trying to protect her family. It's hard to imagine that this could happen in the American suburbs, but it does. Leaning heavily on her faith, she overcame the trauma and terrifying memories, and starts working to help other girls like her.

Not expertly written and too preachy for my taste, I was riveted and disgusted by the graphic scenes of her repeated torture. It made me angry that her parents didn't notice something was wrong, and that teachers and security officers at her school who saw what was happening didn't do anything because they were afraid of her captors. Overall, a good but highly disturbing read.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State

The Last Girl book jacket
Author: 
Murad, Nadia
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Wow. Just wow. Nadia takes us through the miasma of Iraq sects and their competing values. She also talks about the Iraq war and the birth of ISIS from the rubble of the American occupation. However, in the most intimate way, she tells us about her sect, the Yazidis and their religion, persecution, and relationship with the Islamic State. And it's here that the real story begins.

In August of 2014, Nadia's village was occupied by ISIS, ending in the genocide of her people. She and other girls we sold into slavery and were considered less than human to their captors. Nadia pulls no punches about what she endured. It's brutal. In a series of fortunate events, Nadia embarks on a dangerous escape.

Told with honesty and forthrightness, this book kept me on the edge of my seat. I was highly disturbed by the sex slave recollections, which was her intention, and fascinated by her explanation of the regions, sects, and politics of Iraq, something I knew very little about. Despite the intense subject matter, I highly recommend this book. It was fantastic.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: Weapons of Math Destruction

Weapons of Math Destruction image
Author: 
O'Neil, Cathy
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I love data. I love what it can show us as individuals and what it can show as society changes from year to year. Being able to trend my spending is just as useful to me as knowing how many people are participating in my National Novel Writing Month region. Because I’m always interested in seeing what pure numbers can show me about the world, I was intrigued to find this book, Weapons of Math Destruction. While I had already heard many of this book’s conclusions, it was interesting to read about the algorithms that work silently behind the scenes of our society and how nobody can really control or change them.

I’ll agree that it’s terrifying to have decision-making boiled down to a number popped out of an algorithm that decision-makers just blindly trust without understanding the rules of causality or correlation. People are messy, so I understand how finding a single aggregating number to represent an individual is a simple solution. However, I agree with the author’s outrage that these numbers are putting the disenfranchised into a toxic and harmful feedback loop. It’s difficult enough to survive out there without an arbitrary number determining your fate and you having little to no ability to change it. Of course, this point is pounded home about one or two times too many in this book.

From personal experience, I have received a brief glimpse behind the curtain into how these algorithms work. When I got married, I moved from one zip code to another in the same town. At that point, my car insurance premiums suddenly went up. Why? Because I was in a zip code filled with people who were “bad drivers.” Despite nothing about me or my car changing, now I was suddenly a bad driver. I do think there are some substantial reforms needed in these algorithmic systems. Still, I don’t necessarily think the solutions provided by the author are the right answer (they seem mostly based on the author’s personal opinions and biases).

A repetitive look into the dangers of blindly trusting algorithms, I give Weapons of Math Destruction 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

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