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Economics

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh

In 1989, Sudhir Venkatesh, a first-year sociology grad student, wanders into the projects wondering if he might be able to get a glimpse of what life is like for the underserved and unserved populations of Chicago. He manages to get in good with a leader of the "Black Kings" (the gang's name was changed for the book) and winds up spending the next seven years grappling with the political and economic structure within the Robert Taylor homes.

Gang Leader for a Day introduces readers to the complexity of urban poverty, a multifaceted institution that leaves more gray area than black-and-white. Venkatesh's naivete throughout his studies allowed him a certain level of intimacy that journalists often don't find, though it also frequently compromised the well-being of the residents as well as Venkatesh himself. Recommended for a gritty, eye-opening read.

Number of Pages: 
302

The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition by Stephen King

The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition by Stephen King

A virus developed by the US Government accidentally gets released and kills off 99.4% of the the world's population. Soon, the survivors find themselves being drawn by strange dreams to one of two people: a little old lady or a strange 'dark man.'

Slowly, two new societies form and begin a march people a showdown of good and evil.

While, this is a long and somewhat slow novel, it is full of interesting characters that keep you chugging through it. My favorite was Tom Cullen.

Number of Pages: 
1,153

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This story could be considered a romance novel in that the many intertwined tales over the fifty-year period end with a degree of happy-ever-after (possibly excepting Liz and Dick, that glorious, famously incompatible couple with their spectacular, non-romantic meltdowns).  Alcohol abuse and cancer play a major role as well. However tragic the miscommunications and events could be perceived, this is primarily an inventive and charming sequence of happy endings, described with flashbacks, humor, dry wit and a thorough knowledge of human frailty and goodness.  Set mostly on the west coast and in post-WWII Italy, the love stories span generations and offer one of the most engaging portraits of Richard Burton ever presented. If the portrait is not accurate it nevertheless offers a credible explanation for his enduring charm with no excuses for his failures. Cleopatra (the movie) plays a role, too. 

This novel is nothing short of an old-style Hollywood epic (the large print version has a page count that should not deter the reader—it is a very quick read) with the potential for a current-style Hollywood straight-to-video.  The "beautiful ruins" oxymoron is apt for many reasons; see how many you can identify (Hint: Ruins are people, too!).  Enjoy!

Number of Pages: 
509

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert

Before I start this review I want to say that I really wanted to like this novel. It is considered a classic of  the sci-fi genre and I was eager to read it. I mean there are giant sandworms on the cover! Awesome.

This is the story of Paul, whose father is sent by the Emporer to be the Govenor of a desert planet whose only value is for the "spice" which is a drug that provides longer life among other psychic effects. Paul may be the people-who-live-there's messiah who will bring them to freedom.

Like I said I really wanted to I just found a lot of problems with it. I particularly had trouble suspending my disbelief with several of the concepts of the book. One of the first things I had trouble with was the idea that pure training could give someone special mental powers and that using a certain tone of voice can control people. These just seemed silly concepts to me. If it had reference by the practioners about it being magic I would have been fine with it... but no it seems to just be a tone of voice.

There were also good portions of the plot that seemed silly and there must be easier ways to get rid of your political enemies...

But, I digress...

Of this 507 page edition I read I was able to get through about 75% before finally deciding to give up.

Number of Pages: 
368

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Lemual Gulliver is a surgeon from 18th Century England who decides to become a ship's surgeon and travel the world.  Unfortunately, on all four of his voayges he is either shipwrecked or abadoned on various islands where he sees amazing sights and meets extremely unusual societies.

Some of the things he encounters are the Lilliputians, a race of men no more than six inches high, giants of about seventy-two feet high, a flying city, people so lost in thought that they need servants to keep them from walking into things or to speak, ghosts, and a society of horses.  He makes obersvations about everything he sees and compares it to his native England.

While most of the book is interesting and its comparisons to England are enjoyable, having brought many I think it suffers in the final quarter when it discusses how great the Houyhnhnms are and how horrible humans are.  Recommended if you enjoy political satire.

Number of Pages: 
333

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

A man gathers his friends to tell them about an extraordinary adventure he has had through the fourth dimesion (time).  He explains to them how he traveled to the year 802,701 A.D.  There he finds the human race has spilit into the Eloi, a race of small child-like humans who seem to have everything handed to them with no need to work, and the Morlocks, a people who live underground are covered in hair and come out of their caves only at night...

Did the Time Traveler really travel into the far future and see these things?  Or is he just delusional?  That's what his friends are trying to figure out.

This is a great book that brought the idea of time travel into the public mindset.  I highly recommend it to any science-fiction fan.

Number of Pages: 
118

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Stiva Oblonsky has torn his upper-class family apart by having an affair with his children's governess, soon Anna Karenina (Stiva's sister) arrives and is able to reconcile the husband and wife.  Meanwhile, her brother's wife (Dolly)'s sister is being courted by two men; Konstantin Levin and Alexei Vronsky.  However, when Vronsky meets Anna he soon falls in love with her and the two enter into an affair that will have consequences not just for them, but everyone around them.

Needless to say this is a long book, and sadly like most long books I have read it is also very slow.  And that didn't bother me for most of the book. I was fully enjoying knowing so much about the characters and their motivations.  It is an interesting story, but somewhere around the six-hundred page mark, I started to wonder if it would ever end.

If you are not into long slow books but are interested in the story I would recommend finding an abridged version.

Number of Pages: 
963