Mstation Book Reviews
Valid RSS pre Dec 04 reviews are here

Fri, 30 Jan 2009


G.T. Heineman, G. Pollice, S. Selkow, Algorithms in a Nutshell, O'Reilly

Most of O'Reilly's Nutshell series is hardcore and meant as references for people doing actual work rather than being for a little geeky reading. This book is no exception and we think you'd be quickly lost if you didn't have the basics of algorithms already under your belt. They recommend Knuth's volumes for just this task.

Still and all, there are sections that could actually serve as a heavyweight introduction in that, right at the start, you're made aware of all sorts of potential issues, whether it be in sorting time, facility of the algorithm, or the eternal memory leak problem (why not use something other than C then? some discussion of other languages might have been helpful.).

The book is meant to be a desktop reference and could be quite good for that purpose but some sort of familiarty with the order of the book would be needed first, but we guess they didn't say "Quick Desktop Reference".

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Julie Kavanagh, Nureyev: a life, Vintage

When I was a child Nureyev was one of the emblems of being absolutely fabulous - always seen in photos with gorgeous and glamourous women, always looking fabulous himself, and then, of course, he was a fabulous ballet dancer.

Julie Kavanagh also does a fabulous job of tracing his career from Russia's deep wilderness to the heights of society in the West and the heights of artistic creation. She also manages to reveal some of his least lovable characteristics without seeming judgemental or prurient.

He was of course extremely Gay, which wasn't known to many in the general world at the time. It was AIDS that killed him prematurely and this world of extreme promiscuity is also covered with some grace as is his decline and death.

In the end, this book is an affectionate and admiring tribute that nevertheless manages to look its subject full in the face. It is a must for ballet fans I should say. (Baron K)

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Dog Murder and the Geek

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the
dog in the night-time, Vintage

Let us start by saying that we're using the word 'geek' in rather an affectionate sort of way. The outline of the story is this: a 15yo boy who has Asperger's Syndrome discovers a murdered dog (the pitchfork through his body was a clue) and decides to find out whodunnit.

But wait, there's more! The story is told by the boy from inside his world - likes rule-based systems such as maths and physics, hates to be touched, doesn't have a clue what people are about unless everything is carefully explained and he doesn't get physical clues such as people's expressions, at all. He is also very keen on Prime Numbers, and that's how the chapters are numbered. He also can't tell lies.

And so one gets a strikingly simple view of the world, endearing even if one didn't get the suspicion that this sort of reasoning - without fuzziness - is how we came to be in so many fixes at once. Admitting to almost unknowable complexity and making rational decisions on that basis is the way forward: certainly not binary-minded luddism - not if we care to live in heated houses anyway.

But in the context of the story and the storyteller this isn't likely to get under anyone's skin. Instead, perhaps they'll let their hidden geek out to play. And, to be fair, the boy shows he's alive to complexity but the religious references are, one suspects, the author's problem - in that assertions one way or another are unprovable.

The mystery of the dog is cleared up half way through but then we set off on an heartrending adventure which we won't talk about except to say that some people have more than their fair share of contact with adults who suck.

Is it really just a Whitbread award winning children's book? No, no, it's much more than that.

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