Eating Animals Book Review
Nonfiction , Sociology / December 15, 2016

  Title: Eating Animals Author: Jonathan Safran Foer Published: September 1, 2010 Genre: Nonfiction Length: 368 pages Eating Animals is a nonfiction book written in a journalistic style that discusses the morality and practicality behind eating meat. Jonathan Safran Foer takes aim at the factory-farming and fishing industries and exposes the many dark truths about the meat that our society consumes in record numbers. Family farms are not given a free pass, however. Eating Animals is a full investigation of meat-eating from every angle. Before I go any further, let me state that I am a vegetarian. My wife and I became vegetarians this past July and we have not strayed from that path ever since. While my wife decided to become a vegetarian at the beginning of the month, I held off for another couple of weeks. Eating Animals is what finally pushed me over the edge. It is one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Jonathan Safran Foer claims, rather disingenuously in my opinion, that Eating Animals is not meant to turn the reader into a vegetarian. While this might technically be true, as he never directly tells the reader what to do, all of his evidence points in favor of abandoning meat-eating. Interestingly enough,…

The Salem Witch Trials: Book Review
History , Psychology , Religion , Sociology / October 14, 2016

The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, by Marilynne K. Roach is the ultimate guide to the most famous case of mass hysteria in American history. This tome, weighing in at an impressive 690 pages, contains anything worth knowing about Salem. I already owned several books about the witch trials before I bought The Salem Witch Trials, but this is probably the only book about Salem that I need to own. I imagine that my obsession with Salem probably began in elementary school when my class read a book called The Witch of Blackbird Pond. The idea of witchcraft, rather real or imagined, right in the only outpost of civilization in the dark and dangerous American wilderness simply fascinated me.  I am addicted to the TV show Salem and desperately want to travel there some day to experience Salem in person. The Salem Witch Trials chronicles essentially every word and action that scholars are aware of from the time before, during, and after the trials in one convenient (although heavy) resource. The book is written in a diary form, in which all of the news that pertains to each day is listed and quoted, often directly from primary sources. It is absolutely fascinating to be reading the words…

North Korea Confidential: Book Review
History , Sociology , Travel / October 12, 2016

North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors, written by Daniel Tudor & James Pearson, is a recently released, informative peek into the modern day Hermit Kingdom. This is the most unique book that I remember reading about North Korea because it focuses on the reality of life in modern North Korea instead of the state sponsored narrative of which most people are familiar. North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors, as the short and sweet title makes quite clear, focuses on a wide range of activities and situations in the lives of North Korean citizens.  The authors attempt to dispel the myth that all North Korean people are simply puppets who blindly believe all of the lies that the Kim government propagates.  Some of the most fascinating sections shed light on the illegal (yet tolerated out of necessity) capitalist markets run by North Korean women and the inevitable infiltration of outside influences into the country via USB drives.  The traditional notions of a male run society and the Kim family’s claim that North Korea is a paradise compared to the rest of the world have been shattered by these changes. The authors indicate that the famine in…

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War: Book Review
History , Sociology / October 12, 2016

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard is a nonfiction book that exposes the suffering endured by the victims of the atomic bomb. Nagasaki is a hard-hitting book that delivers the facts about the atomic bombing regardless of how uncomfortable the truth may be. Susan Southard follows several Japanese victims of the atomic bomb (known as hibakusha) in order to personalize the story of Nagasaki’s destruction. While it is heart-breaking to read about the mangled bodies, third-degree burns, and doomed “survivors” of the initial bombing, Nagasaki hits the hardest when Southard details the suffering of the most prominently featured hibakusha and their families.  It is an odd phenomena of human nature that reading about the horrific deaths of one hibakusha’s brother and sister is more emotionally disturbing than any list of casualty numbers ever could be. In addition to the stories of individual hibakusha, Nagasaki is also full of cold facts and meticulously researched historical information relating to both Japan and America’s response to the atomic bombings. Southard suggests that the Nagasaki bombing was unnecessary even in regard to ending the war because the Japanese government was still considering surrender after the first bombing at Hiroshima.  It makes the Nagasaki bombing all the more tragic in that Hiroshima alone might have brought about a surrender.  The treatment…

The Impossible State: Book Review
History , Sociology / October 12, 2016

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future is Victor Cha’s analysis of the most mysterious country in the world today.  The book contains insights into the history, culture, and politics of North Korea and is primarily focused on the time since the Kim family took control of the country. It is really difficult to imagine that North Korea even exists in modern times. Thanks to the Lil’ Kim family, the country is so backwards that it makes the first world look like something out of Star Trek.  I knew a bit about North Korea’s situation when I started reading, but Victor Cha does an excellent job of providing an in-depth look into the causes behind North Korea’s abysmal economy, human rights, and freedoms.  His assertions are always well supported and thoroughly explained in a language that should be accessible to thoughtful adult readers. Indeed, Cha’s writing style is generally very fluid.  Some sections of the book, especially those relating to more detailed economic and political analysis can be a bit dry, but that is to be expected.  Some sections may be a bit more difficult to get through, but the whole picture is important in understanding the Hermit Kingdom.  Some of the most…

One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair: Book Review
Comedy , History , Sociology / October 12, 2016

One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair by Allan Peterkin is a historical/sociological/psychological study of facial hair throughout the ages.  As a man who proudly sports a full beard and mustache combo, I feel a certain camaraderie with my bearded brothers.  I think that in recent years, beards are becoming more socially acceptable but it still feels like I am part of a club with other facial hair connoisseurs. Whether you are bearded, mustachioed, or a full out, Victorian mutton-chops kind of guy, One Thousand Beards is a must read. Roughly the first third of the book is dedicated to the history of facial hair and even the history of shaving.  After this point, the next third of the book examines different types of beards such as “The Medical Beard,” “The Feminine Beard,” and “The Gay Beard.”  One Thousand Beards finishes up with a return to a more historical and sociological approach that focuses on the twentieth century and the evolution of facial hair in recent times. The book was published in 2001 so there is no information about beards since that time.  The book would benefit from an updated edition with an extra chapter to bring One Thousand Beards up to the present day.  Regardless,…

I Wear the Black Hat: Book Review
Comedy , Sociology / October 10, 2016

I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) is essentially a series of essays by Chuck Klosterman.  Klosterman’s unifying theme is that he tries to investigate the appeal and motivations of various “villains” in a sociological framework.  While the cover of the book is awesome, I Wear the Black Hat is ultimately a wasted opportunity. When I realized that this book existed, I immediately picked up a copy.  Even from a young age, I always felt that villains were far more compelling than heroes.  As far as I was concerned, the Joker stole every scene in episodes of Batman.  That is not to say that I want the villains to succeed but that they are simply far more interesting.  Although in all honesty, I always wanted (still want) a legion of generically nameless thugs to do my bidding. Klosterman’s essays are rather scatter-brained in the sense that I did not always feel that his essays helped to prove his assertions regarding villains.  He refers to himself far too often and does not rely on factual arguments as much as would be appropriate in a book of this type.  Whether the individuals that he writes about are even perceived as villains or not…

A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony: Book Review
Sociology , Travel / October 9, 2016

Before I get into this review, I have to admit something that other nerds might find to be a bit disconcerting. It is only in the past several years that, aside from video games, I have truly appreciated the nerdtasticity of Japanese culture.  However, I recently have experienced the crazy awesome shows Fist of the North Star (quite literally mind-blowing) and Ranma 1/2.  As with all of my hobbies/obsessions, I wanted to dig deeper and find a book to tell me as much as possible about the mysterious land that produced such brilliant artistic content. Hector Garcia’s book is excellent on the whole, although the short title A Geek in Japan is a bit misleading.  A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony covers all different aspects of Japanese culture; this book is not entirely about manga, anime, video games, and other geek related hobbies. However, I am actually glad that it covers a broader view of the country because it provides a more complete picture of Japanese culture.  There are chapters dedicated to just about everything, including history, arts, workplace culture, daily life, travel destinations, and everything in between. Garcia manages to survey Japan to an impressive degree in a relatively brief work.  I am…