It's been a while since I've posted book reviews. Unfortunately, I haven't found the time to write in-depth reviews worthy of the good books I've been reading. Maybe one day. In the meantime, I'll have to make do with brief summaries/impressions of books, starting with those I've read in the past month. 1. "After the Quake" by Haruki Murakami <http://www.amazon.com/After-Quake-Murakami/dp/0375713271> A collection of short stories by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The six stories share the theme of how various people respond to the major earthquake that hit Kobe in 1995. There's a surreal element to some of the stories, which is part of the author's style. Back in March I read a full-length novel by Murakami, "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle". That was a very interesting and enjoyable read, and a novel I'd like to write a proper review for. Murakami creates intriguing characters, and writes about aspects of Japanese society: alienation in the modern era, honour and duty, and the influence of the West. I look forward to reading more of Murakami's work in the future. 2. "Lustrum" by Robert Harris <http://www.amazon.com/Lustrum-Harris/dp/0099522691> A dramatisation of the life of the great ancient Roman orator Cicero, and sequel to "Imperium". In particular, this book covers a five year period (the literal "lustrum" of the title) starting with Cicero's year as Roman Consul (equivalent to a co-President of the Republic). As in the first novel of the series, the reader learns a lot about government and politics of the Roman Republic, before it became an empire. The novel shows Cicero often using pragmatism while wrestling his principles during the corrupt and brutal times he lived in. One could argue that the modern era is just as corrupt, it's just that some of those wielding power today resort to more subtle and sophisticated techniques. My earlier review of "Imperium" can be found at: <http://b-list.blogspot.com/2007/03/imperium-under-jaguar-sun-and-software.html> 3. "What the Dog Saw, and Other Adventures" by Malcolm Gladwell <http://www.amazon.com/What-Dog-Saw-Gladwell/dp/0316075841> A collection of articles written for The New Yorker magazine over the past decade or so. Like Gladwell's other books I've found some of the topics more thought-provoking and well-argued than others. Topics covered include: what makes products or people successful, the problem with information overload, why some people panic and others choke, the importance (or otherwise) of talent, and the problems with traditional job interviews. A couple of articles stood out for me: why dogs behave the way around certain people; and Gladwell's argument that, despite the recent prominence of profiling in criminal cases, the practice is not much better than the work of psychics. There's also a chapter about Nassim Taleb's ideas about managing risk. I've read and recommend both of Taleb's books, "Fooled By Randomness" and "The Black Swan". I've also read Gladwell's other books: "The Tipping Point", "Blink" and "Outliers". I wasn't that convinced with "Blink", but I found the core arguments of the other two quite plausible. My reviews of Gladwell's "Outliers" and Taleb's "Fooled By Randomness": <http://b-list.blogspot.com/2009/02/outliers-long-tail-fooled-by-randomness.html> 4. "Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour" by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman <http://www.amazon.com/Sway-Brafman/dp/0385530609> This book looks at how humans can often make irrational decisions in their everyday lives. The authors cite many examples across various situations and studies, and identify how and why we are "swayed" from being logical or rational. The authors argue that by better under- standing these psychological factors, we can learn to avoid making bad decisions. The book covers some of the same turf as Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational", which I've also reviewed and recommend: <http://b-list.blogspot.com/2009/03/predictably-irrational-nudge.html> 5. "The Wonder of Whiffling: And other extraordinary words in the English language" by Adam Jacot de Boinod <http://www.amazon.com/Wonder-Whiffling/dp/0140515852> By the author of "The Meaning of Tingo", this book focusses on obscure and strange words in the English language. For example, an "anecdotard" is an old man given to telling stories. Phrases are organised by topic, and sometimes cite the era and source. For example, P.G. Wodehouse came up with "whiffled", meaning drunk, in a 1927 story. There's a (small) section on workplace buzzwords, which probably deserved greater coverage. I guess that's one of the failings of this book and the rest of the series: it can only scrape the surface and sometimes leaves you wanting more. Also, the lack of indexes and pointers to other reference materials mean the books aren't as useful as they could be for research purposes. My review of "The Meaning of Tingo": <http://b-list.blogspot.com/2007/05/tingo-metamorphosis-sette-racconti.html> The author also compiled a follow-up to the original Tingo book, "Toujours Tingo". 6. "The Twenty-three Days of the City of Alba: Stories" by Beppe Fenoglio <http://www.amazon.com/Twenty-three-Days-City-Alba/dp/1586420402> A collection of short stories by Italian author, Beppe Fenoglio. Most of the stories relate to the author's experience as a member of the partisan anti-fascist resistance at the end of WW2. Fenoglio does not attempt to glorify the partisans, but rather to portray them as ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations by the war. Earlier this year I read one of Fenoglio's novels, "A Private Affair". It's about a partisan's quest, against the backdrop of a guerilla war, to seek out an old friend so that he an ask him about a private matter. Overall, I found the novel even more satisfying than the short stories, and worthy of a review in its own right. I was prompted to read Fenoglio's work after seeing a mention by my favourite author, Italo Calvino. According to Calvino, Fenoglio's stories best capture the everyday lives, struggles and motivations of the partisans.