Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012)

behindBehind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-fiction tale of how over population and a booming economy can easily overlook or victimize the poor. The story focuses on the infected and starving children who have to dig through trash dumps to salvage enough material in trade for money or food. The schools are treated like non-profit get rich quick schemes which provide an education that will most likely never get used. The police and doctors only work after they have extorted enough money from the parents. Despite all the corruption and bullying, it’s hard to blame any of the characters because everyone in these slums are victims. In fact, there’s a scene where the doctor tries to justify extorting the children because his family is also starving. There’s another scene which shows a little girl eating rat poison with milk so she doesn’t throw it up. Other girls argue against self-immolation because it’s too sloppy of a death. While a little boy is getting beat mercilessly by his mother, he comes to terms with his fate. He decides it doesn’t matter if he lives like a dog because at least he lives. A street vender also comes to an introspective conclusion. He notices that the differences between people are like the differences between ice and water. One is perceived to be worth more but they are both made out of the same thing. However, a father notices that the western belief is built on certainty while people in India believe that each day can bring chaos. Therefore, this forces these poor people to be quick-witted survivors. Although this book is full of bleak fates, it still shows the power of hope and the will to survive and better themselves no matter the odds.

Cyber War (2010)

cyber warClarke and his colleague do an excellent job of explaining online technology and how it could fail. It goes over how much of the United States system still relies on networking created forty or fifty years ago for a handful of college students to talk to each other. That infrastructure wasn’t created for security as much as it was created for the exchange of information. Today, that unsecure system is being used by millions of people, and the Chinese and North Korean governments have already exploited and attacked the system. However, as Clarke points out, these attacks are only known because they were able to be detected although good cyber-attacks are able to erase their intrusion and there could be many more attacks or leaks of information that the US doesn’t know about. Although this book speaks in hypotheticals, the warning is quite alarming simply due to the lack of interest by the United States government. After reading this book, it seems juvenile for the NSA to hack into social networks when there are more important digital security risks that need to be addressed. If the reader is interested in how cyber terrorism or cyber-attacks are a threat, this book is a good place to start. For example, it explains how anybody with a working knowledge of networking, machine code and software programing could take down this very site.

Dune Messiah (1969)

dune messiahDune Messiah is set up to be the antithesis of Dune. This story is set 15 years after Paul became emperor and it reveals what happens when a messiah rules with religious dogma and wields the fear of a jihad. Naturally, there is an undertow of rebellion formed out of dissidents who became slighted during Paul’s transition to power. Because this book was released a few years after the original Dune, it’s safe to assume that the original epic was only written for Frank Herbert to intellectually deconstruct. Although this book is heavy with political philosophy, Frank Herbert wrapped his musings around very thin plot lines. One consists of Paul’s women conceiving an heir, and the other focuses on sister Alia’s love life. Also, because there was a deep tonal shift in the protagonist and his cohorts, there are many characters from the first book who are unrecognizable or completely absent in this story. Overall, it’s an interesting quick read, and it ends with a set up for the next installment, Children of Dune.

How to Make Love Like a Pornstar (2004)

jennaThis is not an instructional book. This is a coming of age story about a young outcast who grew up to be one the most famous models in entertainment. I have read other books that Rolling Stone’s Neil Strauss had help write and publish such as Motley Crue’s The Dirt, Marilyn Manson’s Long Hard Road Out of Hell, and Dave Navarro’s Don’t Try this at Home. However, I will say this one was very intelligently crafted, and Jameson’s journal entries show it was her hand that had crafted most of this story. Also, although many people may scoff at this, but unlike Neil Strauss’s other books, this book actually didn’t objectify women. This book starts off as a story about a teen girl who wanted to be a pretty thing exploited by her man to becoming a story about a woman who took control of her own destiny. Although sometimes these choices were self-destructive, it was her self-management and self-promotion that gave her the wealth, company ownership, and celebrity status. This isn’t a literary achievement but I suggest not passing her story up.

Heavier Than Heaven (2001)

HeavierThanHeavenBeing a fan of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, it was a little hard to digest a lot of the stuff that this book went over in detail. Looking at other reviews, I can see how this also affected others. However, Charles Cross made sure to back up each chapter with evidence found in interviews, journals, and anything else he could get his hands on. The appendix actually lists the sources for each chapter to help substantiate that this man did his homework. However, it doesn’t read like a collage of interview snippets that have been cut and paste in chronological order. This book flows effortlessly and the only difficult parts were actually the snippets from Cobain’s journals that contained mostly a list of words being recited by a crazy little boy, yet Cobain’s unset letters were interesting introspections that shed more light on this disillusioned youth. This book sheds the Generation X idol of his status and left this dirty, poor, but highly talented junky who had dreams of becoming something more. Not only does this book humbly humanize the teen idol, but also it shows the dangerous and self-destructive slope of chemical induced depression. It’s a tragic and cautionary tale.

State of War (2006)

state of warThe Department of Justice has been cracking down on informants and has recently overturned a first amendment ruling that protected James Risen from disclosing his sources in this book, State of War. Despite these recent developments, Mr. Risen has vowed to go to jail to protect his sources, and last Saturday he said in a statement, “I remain as resolved as ever to continue fighting”. These facts had compelled me to pick up the book and read what all the controversy is about.
This book was an interesting peak behind the war on terror’s curtain. It explained how the CIA went from being the spy’s of the cold war to becoming the modern day Inquisition used by the Pentagon. Seriously, the people who made a career out of cloak and dagger operations were reassigned the duty of establishing secret prisons for “interrogation”. It also reveals why it was so easy for the NSA to turn their listening devices such as ECHELON on its own people. The last third of the book moves away from the information gathering, and it instead focuses on how Rumsfield and Wolfowitz push for the Iraq war was a complete political failure. Not only did their war sever many diplomatic channels, but also it allowed Al Queda to slip through US hands, and the Taliban to become the producer of 80% of the world’s heroin. Now, the reason why this book made its way back into the headlines is because it disclosed information on how the United States botched a covert operation and handed blue prints for a nuclear bomb to Iranian scientists. At times, this book seems bias against the Bush administration but the information is all there to back up his position. Because many of the informants are left anonymous, there was a need to make sure that the eye opening claims were backed up by several different sources. Over all, this was a quick and informative tale of the Department of Defense’s hubris during the Bush years. I didn’t feel like it was anti American propaganda or belonged in the tin foil hat wearing section, but I can easily see why it is controversial and why many members of the Bush administration have been removed from the spotlight.

The Operators (2011)

michael-hastings-the-operatorsMichael Hasting’s does a very fine job of describing the disconnect in Afghanistan. Although this book is non-fiction, it reads like a fictional narrative, and I wouldn’t be surprised if HBO tries to adapt this into one of their movies. This is because Michael Hasting’s was actually there listening to General McCrystal and his advisers as well as the soldiers who were actually fighting the war. Michael Hasting’s writes with a style similar to fellow Rolling Stone’s Alumni Hunter S Thompson. In fact this book could easily snug up against Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.
Here we see that the war which the White House wanted, the war which the Pentagon pushed for, and the war which the generals and soldiers were actually fighting were all completely different types of wars. The Pentagon and the White House were making battle plans based off of old counterinsurgency strategies which have failed in application countless times, yet they continue to use these tired strategies at the cost of lives and nations. It was interesting how the Generals missions became more about propaganda than it was effectively securing Afghanistan. However, this was largely due to the White House. They didn’t want to hear any information that conflicted with their political promises or anything that would make this war seem like a failure on the politicians part. This includes both Bush and Obama’s offices. In fact, Obama didn’t want to listen to any strategies which suggest any sort of nation building. Like Michael Hasting’s pointed out the operators were more concerned with being a rock star and getting the cover photo of Rolling Stone than they were of making any real plans.
One of the saddest parts was when Hasting’s wrote down and compared what the soldiers thought of the Afghanistan police and military and what they thought about the United States Military.

The Eye In the Pyramid (1975)

ImageWe begin the story with an investigation into a random bombing of a pet store and the disappearance of their owners. However, what follows is a trail that reads like a greatest hits package of all conspiracy theories with heavy doses of Sex Magick. Although this sounds like a fun story to dig into, be warned that it can be difficult or a confusing read. It is written with beatnik stream of consciousness style which transitions from locations, perspectives, and narrators without warning or pause in addition to breaking the fourth wall. By the end, this style goes from seeming experimental to becoming cleverly tied up. This book is a great reflection if this era’s writing style and culture. It’s also fun to read how this series has influenced people like Dan Brown or Grant Morrison and Video games like Assassin’s Creed.

World War Z

ImageThis was Max Brooks first attempt at a full length fictional book, and it sadly shows. However, the fact that this book is composed of short interview narrations by many different characters in the World War Z world, the book reads very quickly. What Brooks lacks in his writing he more than makes up for in his detailed concepts of what would the human race do if they faced a zombie apocalypse. Brooks takes us behind the scenes and shows us the horrific reactions initiated by groups of people, different governments, and even pharmaceutical companies. This wasn’t a book that focused on the fear of oncoming zombie hordes rather it focused on the fear created by people making frightening decisions that had an effect on millions of people. My favorite section of the book would have to be Decimation.

Dune (1965)

ImageAlthough the book is heavy with political philosophy, the story is still a hero’s journey and flows wonderfully. Because each character has tremendous depth, it is often hard to figure out where their part in the story will lead them. Even if Frank Herbert tales you their fate, he still does a wonderful job of letting the character’s motives and inner turmoil twist around the emotions towards themselves and the people who fill their lives. Since I watched the movie and TV adaptations I was reluctant to finally read the book; however, because Herbert shows us multiple perspectives of the same scene, uses a unique take on prescience, and relies on inner monologues to push the characterization and plot, watching the story on the screen only revealed a sliver of the whole drama. It was also very interesting how the rising action, climax and the denouement were heavily Shakespearian influence, in particular Henry V and Hamlet. Overall, I found this to be one of my new favorite books and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the above comparisons.