Archive for the ‘Social Science’ Category


Staff Review: American Savage – Dan Savage

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Dan Savage: Bane of the Hypocrites

Reviewed by Steven

Two thoughts kept running through my mind as I was reading Dan Savage’s book of essays called American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics. They were: ‘Preaching to the choir!’ and ‘God, am I glad that I do not live in America.’ Savage does an excellent job of poking holes in the rhetoric of right-wing, hypocritical and generally religious zealots (of which there seem to be a lot in the US) with regards to social issues. This seems like a frustrating and thankless job to me, as they are not the kind of people to come up with rational arguments based on impartial research. Instead, they excel at circular, emotive reasoning and pointing at Holy Books, insisting that some sections should be followed to the letter by all – even by non-believers – while ignoring parts of the text that are inconvenient to them and parts that are obviously morally reprehensible by current standards. A detailed and reasonable counter-argument likely won’t yield more reaction than them putting their fingers in their ears and the continued insistence that everyone blindly live by their hand-picked moral absolutes. Even if they themselves don’t actually adhere to them. Reality be damned!

I admire Savage because he actually takes the time and effort to fight stupidity. Even though he is unlikely to get through to the enemy, it’s good for the left-wing to see their opinions clearly verbalized. Savage’s rallying of liberal troops and pushing people into action is necessary. Zealots have more righteous fight in them than moderates, and are better at wrangling their followers, putting them into action. People need to keep pushing back, to expose hypocritical, immoral extremists for what they are and to keep them from fooling the sometimes sheepish mainstream. I have to non-religiously confess that I am someone who believes in an absolute separation of church and state. So I ironically count my blessings that I live in the relatively relaxed Netherlands, where people generally believe what they want and don’t try to impose their religious beliefs on others by law.

As always, Savage’s writing is funny and smooth, the flow only broken by a few overly long footnotes. The topics and opinions will be familiar to anyone who reads his columns and/or listens to his podcasts. He does indeed cover faith, sex, love and politics – as the subtitle of the book suggests – and talks about gun control, healthcare and euthanasia, among other things. There is a touching piece about the death of his mother and a sneak peek behind the curtain of a debate he had with a zealot he invited over to his house for dinner (a long and entertaining story). A lot of the specifics for these essays are very America-centric, as the title already suggests. If you don’t care about American politics, you may not care about some of the content. But if you do care even a little bit about the messy ways in which politics and religion are colliding in the US of A, it is a fascinating and entertaining read. Though it may leave you angry.

Steven is one of the Espresso Book Machine operators in Amsterdam, and a large part of our Special Order department there, too.  He is the author of Gay and Happy: The International Guide for Gay Men.  More of Steven’s reviews can be found on his blog, PopCultJunk.

Store Bits: Staff Choices

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

A new round of Staff Choices of both new and old books.  Enjoy!

A History of Future Cities -Daniel Brook
Recommended by Sigrid

“A pioneering exploration of four cities where East meets West and past becomes future: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai. The cities share an important characteristic: they were planned as cities of the future. The premise of the city of tomorrow is a fascinating one, and this book is a wealth of information.”

Redeployment – Phil Klay (ebook here)
Recommended by Renate & Reinoud

“Honest and brutal and moving stories about war and coming home and
life as you knew it”

The Gone-Away World – Nick Harkaway (ebook)
Recommended by Sophie

“What a debut!
A post-apocalyptic world gone mad, featuring Heroes, mimes, kung-fu, Stuff, and a massive plot twist that throws the entire story on its head.
I loved it.”

The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
Recommended by Tiemen

“Warning, do not read this book. You will read it in one go and then curse the author because you do not want the story to end.
This is one of those stories where everything just works. A well thought out world: elves, goblins, airships and a incredibly detailed and intriguing Byzantine-like imperial court. An very likeable protagonist who you can’t help but root for. And a smart story about politics, doing the right thing and deadly court intrigue.
All I hope is that Katherine Addison will write a second novel soon.
In the meantime I’ll be rereading The Goblin Emperor again.”

Hyperion – Dan Simmons (ebook)
Recommended by JeroenW

“Don’t let the cover fool you into thinking this is a fantasy novel. In fact, it’s a love letter to science fiction. It’s a frame story about six travellers who are going to meet the The Shrike, a supernatural being covered in razorsharp blades.
During their travels the companions each tell their reason for doing so, and each of their stories is representative of a science fiction sub-genre (military SF, cyberpunk etc.).
A great introduction to SF, and a great read.”

You Review: How to Make a Human Being – Christopher Potter

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Reviewed by David Young

How to Make a Human Being has to be the most interesting and challenging book I’ve ever reviewed. No information about the author (I discover he is a publisher with a well-received “pop science” book to his name) or an introduction explaining the purpose of the book – no, the reader is plunged straight into the famous 18th century “Materialism” versus “Idealism” controversy stimulated by Bishop Berkeley. And it doesn’t get less challenging….

The book is divided into 3 sections: the first covers our physical environment (cosmology, physics, mathematics, philosophy), the second where we come from (genetics, psychology, more philosophy) and the third how we relate to the world around us (psychology, neurology, sociology). The author is an amazingly well-read polymath, but he wears his learning very lightly and is capable of explaining highly complex topics in a very comprehensible fashion – this is the nearest I’ve ever come to understanding Quantum Mechanics, for instance.

I recommend reading this book in small chunks, as every chapter is really full of meaty stuff which needs some absorbing. On the plus side the author occasionally drops in a delightful insight of his own which will certainly make you think, and there are some nuggets with which you can impress your dinner party guests (did you know that humans share 50% of their genes with bananas?).

Overall Christopher Potter has succeeded in presenting a remarkably comprehensive summary of the Human Condition, one from which I learnt a great deal and will return to in the future with enormous pleasure.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

You Review a Local Author: Ready, Steady, Go Dutch – Dutch News & Access

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Reviewed by Patricia Kooyman

Ready, Steady, Go Dutch is not really a book but rather a collection of snippets from a survey among expats living in The Netherlands.

I like the idea of gathering experiences of people with very different backgrounds going through the same experiences, but if you publish such a collection and ask to be paid for it I would have expected you to do some work on it. As it is, it is really only that – a collection of snippets. Very few editorial comments, hardly any synthesis, and the main conclusion? “How you react to the peculiarities of the Dutch way of doing things reflects your own origins”. Now THAT’s an eye-opener!

Yes, some people love a certain fact of life in The Netherlands while others hate that same fact. That would hold for ANY country.

I find some snippets have been formulated rather judgmentally, and I don’t think that’s due to my being Dutch. There are quite a few things in the way ‘we’ run our society that annoy ME on a daily basis, and most of those are indeed addressed in this book.

If you search hard you can find a few useful practical tips hidden in between lots of rather incoherent and not always very logically arranged snippets. Fortunately these are not completely anonymised, so you quickly realise that Victoria thought life would be the same all over the world (and maybe would have done better not to relocate instead of whining about differences between her childhood paradise and real life) whereas French is really trying to give some helpful tips and to enjoy life in a different country. But if you’re looking for practical information you will easily find many websites and forums that offer up-to-date info with useful ‘live’ answers to your particular personal questions. Some of those are listed at the end of the book. And if you’re looking for a relaxed and fun introduction to all that is different to foreigners coming to The Netherlands buy The Undutchables instead. Which fortunately is also in the list of recommended books.

Reviewed by Linda Radwan

Ready, Steady, Go Dutch was a fun book to read. I was amazed at the various experiences of people coming to the Netherlands and their view on the Dutch world. I have to say, being a foreigner myself in the Netherlands makes it easier to relate to some subjects. Yet with most of the subjects I could not relate at all. I think it also depends from which country you originally came from. If you came from the U.S., for example, it is normal to think that the Dutch customer service is low while my experience is that the Dutch customer service is quite high but that is in comparison to my own country. Also the idea of Dutch people being more laid-back in work is strange to me, having experienced nothing more than a truly hardworking, sometimes harsh mentality and exaggerated eagerness to stay late and finish one’s own work. But, once again, it depends from which country you came from.

So in conclusion, I liked the book.  It was fun to read but I could not relate to most of the quotes. Perhaps that is not necessary but I would have liked more similarities that could have made me nod eagerly or make me laugh and think ‘Yes, that is exactly what I thought as well!’. I would have liked to identify myself more with the rest.

If you want to have an idea of what it’s like to live and work in the Netherlands then this book can be confusing because of the different opinions. But if you would like to know what people from different nations and cultures have experienced while living in the Netherlands then this book, thought up by Robin Pascoe and Deborah Valentine, is perfect.

You Review a Local Author: Books with an orange connection, reviewed by ABC customers.

Robin Pascoe is the founder of DutchNews.nl and presented her book at the first Meet My Book! event this past January.

A large part of the profit from Ready, Steady, Go Dutch will go to volunteer organisation ACCESS to help it continue providing information and advice to expats in the Netherlands.

You Review a Local Author: Ritual: The Magical Perspective – Luc Sala

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

In January, we started with a new event series: Meet My Book! These events give local authors a chance to present their book to a live audience. Each Meet My Book! author provides 2 review copies that are reviewed by a group of ABC customers who signed up for the You Review a Local Author program.

This inaugural post combines two reviews of Ritual: The Magical Perspective by Luc Sala, who was one of the authors at the very first Meet My Book! in January.  Ritual: The Magical Perspective is self-published and printed at ABC on our Espresso Book Machines.

Reviewed by Catarina Queiroz

In Ritual, the Magical Perspective, Luc Sala defends that rituals are basically practical and effective magic, present everywhere even if we don’t acknowledge them. Through extensive explanations with reference to a large number of different sources that range from philosophers to magicians, Sala addresses the basics of rituals according to his research and personal experience with the spiritual realm.

The first volume points out that, regarding rituals, our focus should be on the magical, the spiritual world, which can be reached once we learn how to let go of our ego and access our true self or inner child. According to Sala, rituals existed before language, myth or religion. They were a decisive factor in the creation of cultural identity and helped prehistoric men build a structured society, thus enabling progress and modern civilization as we know it. The author also attempts to make a connection between rituals and the notion of information, raising some good questions about rituals in virtual environments, cyberspace ethics and information freedom. The second volume is practical and aims to elucidate the theories presented with the study of rituals related to fire.

This is an interesting book if you’re into the theme and are keen to find arguments in favor of the effectiveness of magic. On the other hand, it’s kind of overwhelming in terms of size and references to different thinkers, perspectives and historical moments. The approach is also very personal (the author makes a point of saying so) and I think that without a background on the various references that Sala mentions it’s difficult to have a clear understanding or position about the book. Nevertheless, the author’s intention is clear: it’s urgent that we embrace the magical aspect of life, accepting ritual as a bridge between the material and spiritual worlds.

Reviewed by Richard Metcalf

This is an audacious and thought-provoking work by a fascinating author. In this self-published volume Luc Sala – entrepreneur, would-be politician, psychonaut, and writer – sets out his views on ritual, and examines its role in just about every aspect of the known (and unknown) universe.

Sala claims that – in contrast to a “ceremony”, which has a merely social and psychological function – a proper “ritual” involves a conscious attempt to change the world (both future and past) through an intangible connection to “the otherworld”, and argues that contemporary science (quantum brain, string theory) offers a possible explanation for how this back door to the universe works.

In over 500 large, two-column pages, Sala presents his personal views and theories, together with a survey of other perspectives in an impassioned, rambling style which make it sometimes hard to find the thread of his arguments. There is something rather dubious about such passionate advocacy of the power of the magical arts, and there’s a hint of frustration at an inability to change the world through more conventional means (the author seemingly believes that the “thought police” behind the “Wikipedia website” have it in for him). If rituals can effect real change through magical means, why bother to argue the point? Surely it’s better to spend your time performing those powerful rituals? True enough, in Sala’s definition, the publication of a book could clearly qualify as a series of rituals, but this one might have more impact after a hefty spell of “Wielding the Magical Red Pen”.

Despite these misgivings, there is a huge amount of interesting information here (Timothy Leary, Burning Man, Roger Penrose, Aleister Crowley and Rudolf Steiner all get a mention or three), accompanied by striking illustrations, and it’s certainly worth giving Sala’s multi-faceted perspective some degree of consideration.

Ritual: The Magical Perspective is a relatively long and somewhat frustrating read; but it’s also highly entertaining, and in a way, curiously compelling. (Hmmm… Who knows, perhaps there is some strange magic at work here after all?)

You Review a Local Author: Books with an orange connection, reviewed by ABC customers.