Posted by: Matt | June 24, 2008

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
John le Carre
212 pgs

I’d been meaning to read this novel for some time and finally got around to it.  I’m glad I did.  I was a little skeptical going in after reading The Honourable Schoolboy by le Carre (not his real name by the way) which I didn’t particularly enjoy.  But this was a completely different experience.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is about Alec Leamas, the lead agent for the East German operation for MI6 (the British equivalent of the CIA).  After every agent Leamas has placed in East Germany is killed, Alec returns to England thinking he will be put on the shelf.  However, he is offered a chance to lead an operation against Mundt, the East German agent who destroyed Leamas’ network.  What follows is an intricately plotted mission to take down England’s most feared opponent in the intelligence world.

This is a very good entry in the spy genre, some have called it the best.  John le Carre knows a little about what he’s written having served in the British secret service.  The book is excellently paced coming in at just over 200 pages and keeps the reader on edge.  I for one had no idea how things would turn out until the last page.  There are times when the plot is a bit difficult to follow, le Carre is not one for holding the reader’s hand, but The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is definitely recommended, particularly if you have any interest in spy novels.

Rating: 8.25

Posted by: Matt | June 23, 2008

Today’s Acquisitions

Sorry for the lack of posts last week, we had some family business to take care of which kept me quite busy and not in a mood to write.

Anyway, we’re back in business today with some new books that found their way to my house this afternoon.  I received a package from good old with The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.  I’ve read two Rushdie books and particularly enjoyed one of them so I’ve been looking forward to getting some more exposure.  I should begin this book in the next couple of days.

An ARC was also delivered to my doorstep.  This one is Moscow Rules by spy novelist Daniel Silva.  I have been meaning to read one of his books and I was offered his newest which comes out next month so I took the chance.  It’s from the nice folks over at FSB Associates.

I’ve really been cutting down on my book purchases recently so this was quite a haul for one day.

Posted by: Matt | June 16, 2008

The Confusion

The Confusion
Neal Stephenson
815 pgs

The Confusion is the second book in Neal Stephenson’s excellent Baroque Cycle. Beginning with Quicksilver, this series relates the stories of several historical figures like Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, as well as fictional characters Daniel Waterhouse, Eliza and Jack Shaftoe. This is a massive work spanning almost 3000 pages. It also requires a bit of hard work to read but it’s definitely worth it.

Snow Crash was my introduction to Neal Stephenson. After reading that I knew I had to read more. Now that I have read two-thirds of The Baroque Cycle he has become one of my favorite authors. There are a few reasons for this, all of which are evident in The Confusion. Stephenson is brilliant, knows how to write, and is one of the wittier authors I’ve read. My only complaint about this novel is that some of the storyline following Eliza is a bit tedious at times, however as I’ve mentioned, every word is worth it.

If you want to know what this series is about you’re better off reading the synopses on Amazon or Wikipedia rather than my describing the plot. It is much too grand and sprawling for me to do justice. But let me say this, you owe it to yourself to read Neal Stephenson.

Rating: 9.5

Posted by: Matt | June 14, 2008

Author Matt Ruff

Matt Ruff is an author you may not have heard of. He’s written a few books, but I don’t know that any of them have been terrifically popular. He also happens to live in Seattle, which you may know I am kind of partial to. I recently began reading one of his books, Set This House in Order, which so far has been fascinating. I picked the book up in a used bookstore in Tacoma and realized the other day that it’s signed!

Set This House in Order is a love story, but definitely not ordinary. It’s about two people with Multiple Personality Disorder (or as it’s called now, Dissociative Identity Disorder) one of whom has been able to put his life back together and one of whom is a wreck. I’ve never thought much about this disorder before, but in the hands of Matt Ruff it makes for an incredibly interesting story.

Ruff has also written Bad Monkeys, Fool on the Hill, and Sewer, Gas and Electric. You might want to check him out, if Set This House in Order continues to be as good as it’s been so far I know I’ll be reading more of his work.

Posted by: Matt | June 12, 2008

The Blank Slate

The Blank Slate
Steven Pinker
439 pgs

I’ve been wanting to read a Steven Pinker book for a few years now and I’ve finally gotten around to doing so. I chose The Blank Slate thinking it was something completely different than it was. Oh well, it was still interesting, after I got over the confusion I had caused myself.

The Blank Slate is basically a refutation of the classic theory that humans are born with no traits or characteristics. What we become, our personality, behavior, attitudes, everything is a reaction to our surroundings, our family, friends and environment. Pinker basically tears this idea apart. It reads more like a lengthy article in a layman’s science journal than a book. While he destroys the theory of the blank slate he discusses the role of genetics in who we are. According to the research he cites, the variation in our traits is 50% due to genetics.

The strange and confusing thing about this book is that he never really lets on what he believes turns us into who we are. He discusses genetics as I mentioned but beyond that he avoids giving a good explanation on what shapes human minds. In addition, the first section of the book which discusses the blank slate theory in depth is at times difficult to understand. Or at least it was for me.

Despite these weaknesses The Blank Slate is a good read. There are some fascinating ideas about culture and the mind which might leave you questioning things you’ve always believed about why we are the way we are.

Rating: 7.5

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