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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten

A Perfect Vacuum

A Perfect Vacuum - Stanisław Lem, Michael Kandel A delightful idea, that surely ought to appeal to habitués of this site - a collection of reviews for books that don't exist! My favorite was the one about the guy who thinks that there are three kinds of genius. Third-class geniuses do what everyone else does, but just get there quicker. They are very popular. Second class geniuses do stuff other people don't do yet - they are ignored for a while, but when the world catches up they also get their share of glory. But what about the first class geniuses, who are so brilliant that the world never catches up with them? The hero of the (fictitious) book sets out to find evidence of first-class geniuses. It's such a pity that no one has yet managed to write this novel; Lem gives a precis of the plot, which has a wonderfully satisfying ending.

Some of the other books would be distinctly harder to write. There's the one constructed with computer assistance, which takes buried allusions to their logical extreme, so that, for example, the commas used in Chapter 4 form a floor plan of Notre Dame cathedral. Another one I liked was the novel in which everything is negated. It starts, innocently enough, by saying that she was not on the train, and then gradually proceeds to reveal that the train didn't exist, and neither did she. In fact, nothing happens at all, and we only learn what didn't happen. Lem's reviewer comments that people often describe the book as pornographic, but that this is unfair. It would be impossible for a book to contain less sex; it's just unusually explicit about specifying which acts did not occur.

Some of the ideas don't work quite as well, but each chapter is self-contained, so it's easy to skip the few duds. This is a fun read!