The Electric Commentary

Friday, June 17, 2005

The 50 Book Challenge

The 50 Book Challenge

#18 Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

One of the most interesting things about Ender’s Game is actually a subplot about Ender’s brother Peter attempting to take over the world by means of what is essentially the blogosphere. I kid you not.

As for the main plot, Ender Wiggin has been selected since birth to be trained as a military commander. Earth has twice been invaded by aliens knows as “Buggers.” The first time they almost wiped out humanity, but the second time Earth managed to score a close victory. It is believed that a third invasion will commence shortly.

Ender is hauled off to Battle School, a space station where the troops of the future are trained to fight in zero gravity environments. While there are many students at the school Ender has clearly been singled out by the staff. They make his life more and more miserable over the years but he still succeeds at every turn.

The book is compelling because the motives of those in charge remain secret for most of the book. The buggers seem to be a real threat, but no film of Earth’s successful defense of the second invasion seems to exist. Meanwhile, the members of the Warsaw Pact seem to be gearing up for an invasion of their own. And why did the Buggers attack in the first place?

Ender is placed in an environment where these concerns must become secondary to surviving. As a result, Ender’s decisions always seem perfectly rational. And scary.

#19 The Men Who Stare At Goats, by Jon Ronson

A friend lent me this book, and I had no idea what it was about. I spent the first 75 pages or so thinking that I was reading a fiction book. It became clear over the course of the rest of the book that I was not. I went through several different stages:

1. This can’t be true.
2. I hope that this is not true.
3. Some of this is probably true.
4. Most of this is probably true.
5. The only things in this book that are not true are the claims of the psychics and other supernatural weirdoes. Everything else is true.
6. How depressing.

This book is about the US Military’s use of pseudoscientific bullshit, the money it costs us, and the problems that come with it. The title refers to a martial artist hired to train troops who could allegedly cause animals to die by looking at them. The evidence is underwhelming.

It is a recent book and it covers Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, and the techniques used there. Ronson talks with a general that used a task force of psychics to battle Noriega (who responded in kind), a scientist who designed subliminal records for the government (during Waco Charlton Heston was allegedly supposed to play the voice of God on such a recording), and Uri Geller, who claims that he was employed by the government as a psychic spy.

My only problem is that for most of the book Ronson isn’t skeptical enough. As the end approaches he lets his skepticism seep through more often, but by this point I realized that it was not Ronson that I was upset with. It was everyone else in the book.

On deck:
Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon (on page 250).
Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond.
Interface, by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George


  • It's june and you're only on 19. You better pick it up or you won't reach 50 by 12/31/05.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:00 PM  

  • I know, but I can catch up any time just by reading smaller books. My problem is I've been impulsive about my choices and picked huge books.

    I'll make it with time to spare. Especially since I usually read 5-6 just over Christmas time.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 3:02 PM  

  • Planning to read five or six around Christmas seems like cutting it awfully close. Kind of like me in every single class I ever took from kindergarten through college. (And I never failed one!)

    The reason I'm not taking the 50 book challenge is exactly that problem, though, that I think I'd be too tempted to read short books just for the sake of getting another one finished. I have just started Peddling Prosperity at the urging of our host here, and I'm enjoying it.

    By Blogger MDS, at 4:34 PM  

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