Tag Archives: book review

The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution by Alfred Cobban – Book Review

The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution is an analysis of the social background of the French Revolution by English historian Alfred Cobban.

If nothing else, I found the title of this book to be amusing, since Cobban spends the entire length of the work refuting the idea that the French Revolution was a social revolution at all. Cobban writes in direct opposition to renowned French historian George Lefebvre’s theory of a social revolution of the people of France against the institutions of feudalism. Cobban, on the other hand, challenges most of Lefebvre’s points and asserts that the revolution was predominantly political.

History, Cobban argues, is far too complex to be broken down into single, overarching themes (such as the theory that the revolution was a rebellion against feudalism). He makes compelling arguments, and I found myself agreeing with him more often than not.

The readability, it must be said, is extremely dry.

“Wait,” you say. “Isn’t that true of all history books?”

Not necessarily.

Of course, I may be a bit biased, because I love history and reading history books. That being said, there are many history studies out there that are both enjoyable to read and easy to grasp. While Cobban’s concepts must not be simplified, it would have been a relief if he would have used more…compelling language – or less stuffy wording, at the very least. Also, he often goes off on one or two sentence tangents that are made up wholly of French. As much as I would love to be fluent in French (and many other languages), I’m afraid I’m not – and likely the majority of his readers are not, since it’s a book written for English-speaking readers.

The points that Cobban makes are solid. It’s the presentation that is lacking. I’d recommend The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution to any serious history student, but anyone looking for general information should probably look for an easier read…or at least a fluid one.

Digital Book Editing by Cate Baum

I picked up Digital Book Editing because I, as a self-publishing author, often need assistance when it comes to the more technical parts of my job. Also, Cate happens to be my employer at SPR. In my time as an employee at the Self-Publishing Review, I have, through personal experience, found Mrs. Baum to be an incredibly knowledgeable woman who is good at what she does. So, I had it on good authority (my own) that this self-help book would actually, you know, help.

And that is exactly what this book does. Restructuring my manuscripts has never been easier. Cate lays step-by-step instructions out for easy consumption. Even I, a notorious technical invalid, was able to follow her directions. The end result? I now have converted e-book files for my books that look far more professional than I would ever have managed to create on my own. Cate is a professional editor, and her advice is just that – professional.

There are, of course, other helpful hints in Digital Book Editing, such as useful information on spelling, grammar, and characterization. All of these portions deliver information vital to publishing and commercial success. She does get a bit snarky with some of her examples, but I’m certainly not going to blame her for that. As an editor for self-published authors, she gets to see both the best and worst that publishing has to offer. (By that, of course, I mean that she gets to see some good writing and a LOT of truly terrible writing. She deserves to get a bit snippy about certain criminal writing offenses that she is forced to see over and over and over…)

In summary, this is a resource I wish I’d had when I published my first manuscript. It would have saved me a lot of trouble down the road. If you’re looking for a way to better your writing, formatting, and editing skills, this is the book for you. Don’t waste your time poring over the internet for spotty information – pick up Digital Book Editing and find it all in one convenient place. You’ll get facts, advice, and non-negotiable instructions on how to become the best author you can be.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – Book Review

It is surprising, perhaps, that I have just now read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, considering that it is one of those rare, modern-day classics.  I’ve never read any books by Neil Gaiman before either, which is possibly even more surprising, since he both writes in my favorite genres and can claim to be one of the most successful writers alive.  But both counts are true.  I’ve finally gotten around to reading this science fiction/fantasy/horror classic (no one can seem to decide in which category it is best suited), and I’ve never before read a word by Gaiman before picking up this novel.

I find myself…slightly disappointed.

Perhaps it was the buildup.  Hugo winner, Nebula winner, almost-every-award-you-can-imagine winner, contemporary classic – I mean, what accolade hasn’t been thrown at this book’s spine? In the end, the reality didn’t match the hype.

That’s not to say it was a bad book.  It was decent.  I enjoyed it.  Would I pick up another novel by Gaiman based on what I read here?  Meh.  Probably not – but it was certainly worth reading once.  The concept behind American Gods was cool, the writing is excellent, the scenery and settings were vivid – but it was missing that special something to make it a great book.

Maybe it was Shadow.  Is it strange that I agree with his wife, Laura, on this one? He’s…empty.  He doesn’t want things.  He’s flat and uninspiring.  He’s a shell.  Maybe Gaiman meant to write him that way.  He named his character Shadow, after all, and a more apt name can scarcely be imagined.  If Gaiman intentionally meant to write Shadow that way, he certainly succeeded.  Maybe some people find a character written as such to be mysteriously compelling – it just didn’t work for me.  Shadow stirred nothing that allowed me to identify with him or get particularly attached.  He walks and talks and does things, but rarely out of any desire or curiosity or love.  If Wednesday tells him to do something, he does it.  And if Wednesday has nothing for him to do, he sits around numbly and twiddles his thumbs or plays with a coin.

But the concept behind American GodsEasily the most exciting topic.  I’d say it’s more than enough reason to pick up Gaiman’s most famous work.  I’ll recommend this novel for the foundational idea alone.  I’d try to describe it, but, honestly, I don’t know if I’m up to the task.

Final verdict?  Great idea, decent book, and not nearly as good as it has been made out to be.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson – Critical Book Review

I’ve read three books by Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and, now, Cryptonomicon – and after finishing this 1130 page monstrosity, I can easily say that Cryptonomicon is by far my favorite. Snow Crash and The Diamond Age were decent reads – and I’m sure there’s not a Stephenson novel in existence that won’t leave you slack-jawed – but Cryptonomicon outstripped the other two in every way.

Cryptonomicon is a glorious mash-up of spy thriller, war epic, cryptography manual, treasure hunting tale, action/adventure story, and impressive creation of historical conspiracy theory. It follows a multitude of unique and engrossing characters, from a hard-bitten World War II Marine to an eccentric cryptanalyst to modern-day code-writers/harried businessmen, to even a priest/secret society member.

As with any Stephenson novel, you should prepare to have your mind blown at least once per chapter. Stephenson dishes out incredible ideas, witty metaphors, and extensive technical knowledge like normal people hand out candy on Halloween. Perhaps it’s because Cryptonomicon deals with events that have already taken place and technology that currently exists (mostly), but I found myself able to identify with (or at least vaguely comprehend) the technological concepts, historical nods, and cultural insinuations in Cryptonomicon far better than in the previous two Stephenson novels I’ve read. (Snow Crash and The Diamond Age take place at various points in the future and deal with Stephenson’s extrapolations on where technology and societal leanings will lead us.) Cryptonomicon also has a largely satisfactory conclusion (finally!), unlike other Stephenson finales, which usually leave me frustrated and grasping for something even dimly appearing like closure. Thankfully, I can say that Cryptonomicon won’t leave you with the same incomplete feeling that seems to be a trademark of Stephenson’s endings.

Stephenson’s research into history deserves special note. He does such a good job of mixing historical fact with speculative conspiracy that I had a tough time picking out the fact from the fiction. (This is no mean feat. It is not humble of me, perhaps, to say that I am something of a historical scholar, but it is true, nonetheless.) Stephenson should unquestionably be commended for both his dedicated research and his deft handling of historical fact into a compelling fictional novel.

As a special note, I thought I’d mention the sheer hilarity of the humor in this volume, because I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed so much in my life while reading a book. Stephenson’s insights into people, countries, organizations, and institutions are enviable, and the tongue-in-cheek approach he uses to gleefully nip at everyone’s respective heels is uproariously entertaining. Everyone is fair game, and the result is side-splitting amusement.

What I’m trying to say is this: If you’re going to pick up a Neal Stephenson novel – and I highly encourage you to do so, if for no other reason than to expand your mind with some incredible ideas – then make that novel Cryptonomicon. By all means, read his other works – they are certainly worth the time and effort – but Cryptonomicon is a must-read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for any adult.