More miscellaneous nonfiction books


book review score+5

Is It Really Too Much To Ask?
The World According to Clarkson, Volume 5
Jeremy Clarkson
Penguin, 2013, 464 pages

Reviewed by T. J. Nelson

You might not think that Jeremy Clarkson, the guy from BBC's Top Gear who specializes in not knowing anything about mechanical things, would know how to write. But this collection of his articles in the Sunday Times of London shows that he does, and he's witty as hell. Some of his stuff is laugh out loud funny, although much of it is so British I had no idea what he was on about. In fact, I'm not even 100% sure what “being on about” means.

In England Clarkson is considered right-wing—maybe a Tory, but more likely whatever the British equivalent is of libertarian. If his articles are any indication, he's very patriotic. Clarkson even likes America, a little ... I think. He's mostly non-political, but he has an independent mind, so his opinions mean something, and he loathes political correctness.

The feeling is mutual, and the British left-wingers are as nasty as our own, trying at every opportunity to nail him for saying this or that. But when you're the star of a multi-million pound TV show, and hilariously witty, that's water off a duck's back. You can even comment on Fiona Bruce's appearance and still be on good terms with her (although I'm still pissed about the time he said my car looked like a smashed buttock).

One time he was criticized for tying a dead cow on the roof of his Chevrolet Camaro. Another time he was criticized for cruelty to nature for hitting a tree with a Toyota Hilux pickup truck. He has reportedly said the words ‘slope’ and ‘pink ties.’ People wrote in to the BBC claiming that these were racist and homophobic terms and that they were offended.

That left-wingers hate him this much only makes him more entertaining. One never knows what will come out of his mouth; but if you hold this book up to your ear while his show is on, you can hear Guardianistas' TV sets getting dented up.

Some of his other books are highly amusing, too, in places. His earlier books, like How Hard Can It Be?, are not as thoughtful, but still very funny. And Another Thing (Vol. 2; 2007) is also very amusing. The Top Gear episode where he drives a Renaultsport Twingo 133 off the end of a pier trying to catch a ferry with Ross Kemp locked in the trunk is probably the funniest thing ever shown on TV.

If Jeremy Clarkson likes a car, it's usually because it has has trouble staying on the road. But he's a skillful entertainer. These books will never be confused with deep philosophical tomes, but I suspect he knows more than he lets on. Even if not, if you punch out Piers Morgan you can be forgiven for a lot. I don't know if Top Gear is still on, but if it is I have just one request: put him on the show and slug him again, just for old times' sake.

aug 28, 2014; updated dec 26, 2014

book review score+5

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism

Kevin D. Williamson
Regnery, 2011, 304 pages

Reviewed by T. J. Nelson

In this book Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review gives us a clearly argued and thoughtful discussion of socialism and its flaws, based in part on the pioneering work of economist Ludwig von Mises.

Socialism, says Williamson, is the public provision of non-public goods along with economic central planning. That is to say: “using political agencies to provide goods and services that would otherwise be provided privately in the marketplace.” As an economic system socialism cannot succeed, says Williamson, because it ignores prices. In socialism prices are set by dictate, not by the marketplace. As F.A. Hayek wrote, prices are information, and without information it's impossible, even in principle, to allocate resources effectively.

Williamson adds that socialism doesn't just mean Soviet-style communism. Nazi Germany practiced socialism, as did India under Nehru and Indira Gandhi. India got off lucky, with just a half-century of poverty. Over 100 million people were killed by socialism in the 20th century. If you count National Socialism as a type of socialism, that number rises to 150 million. However you measure it, the humanitarian costs of socialism are damning.

He also explains how the American educational system and Obamacare are both examples of socialism, and fail for the same reason. This was Williamson's first book, and his writing style changes dramatically from beginning to end. It has changed even more since. This guy loves to write.

sep 06, 2014

book review score+4

Puttin' Cologne on the Rickshaw:
A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and The Evil Workplace Environments They Create
William Bouffard
2011, 383 pages

Reviewed by T. J. Nelson

The typical environment for corporate employees, says William Bouffard, is one of back-stabbing competition, deep dishonesty, abuse, and pervasive mistrust. Corporate managers are, for the most part, sociopaths, which makes the so-called nine-to-five workday exhausting and unfulfilling. This is not just the result of a few evil sociopaths who somehow ascended to power; it is a natural result of how companies and similar institutions are organized.

He's right. To ignore this reality, as free-market conservatives often do, is to fail to understand why big corporations are so universally despised. It's as big a mistake as the Left's failure to understand that the evils of communism are not the result of the occasional psychopathic leader but are baked into communism itself. If we fail to address these problems, hatred of companies will grow and legislation will surely follow.

That's one reason why books like this self-published popular-style book, and more academic books like Corporate Failure By Design, are so important. How much more productive would our economy be if we could improve the lives of the corporate worker?

Bouffard doesn't sugar-coat corporate life. “If by some dumb luck you do score in the battle against a sociopath,” he writes, “start marking your days because they're numbered.” [p.121] He cites Robert Lindner as saying, “It is a characteristic of all movements and crusades that the psychopathic element will always rise to the top.” As organizations get bigger, communication inevitably breaks down and is replaced by blind dictatorship.

It's not a self-help book, either. Bouffard hints that there's not always a good solution: if you find yourself in a toxic work environment, the only solution is to quit. Most organizations, Bouffard says, rationalize bully behavior, and continue to allow their people to be abused and do nothing about it. Often they encourage it. Because it's really true: corporations—indeed, all institutions—are economic in nature, and the only thing they care about is money.

There's not very much insightful sociology here. It's based entirely on the author's personal experience, and there are no statistics, so it would be easy for a boss to dismiss it as a rant by a disgruntled employee.

But this book isn't written for bosses. The goal is to tell fellow employees that they're not alone, that they really are bullying you, and to give them affirmation that, yes, the corporate world really does suck and here's how to deal with it. Just knowing why your boss uses tactics like gaslighting and bullying, and why he/she sets up subordinates to take the blame for his failures, creates a phony sense of urgency, sets impossible deadlines, manipulates you psychologically, lies, pressures you to work long hours, and withholds the information you need to do your job will help keep you from going postal. And that's a good thing.

In my observation, those who survive the corporate world are the ones who treat it like the stock market: ignore all the f***ing shit, make as much money as you can, and then get the hell out before it all crashes around you. Geez, I'm starting to sound like Gordon Ramsay.

sep 01, 2014

book review

Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell

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