Summer Book Reviews

I’ve been doing some summer reading recently. Here are a few books I’ve read:

Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell. Bazell introduces us to Peter Brown, an overworked doctor at a Manhattan hospital. A patient at the hospital sees Peter and believes him to be a hit man who disappeared into the witness protection program. This is a taut thriller soaked in adrenaline, especially during the second half of the book. You’ll learn more about medicine than the mob, but you won’t mind soaking up the knowledge. Plenty of action (even some gore). Beat the Reaper isn’t as shallow as some summer thrillers, but it isn’t remarkably deep either.

Gone Tomorrow, by Lee Child. If you like Jack Reacher books, this is one of the better examples. Jack Reacher is a loner, a former military policeman with a knack for stumbling across trouble. Reacher watches a woman kill herself on the subway and digs at the truth until he uncovers much more than he expected. Lee Child’s Reacher series pretty much defines the summer suspense book. In Gone Tomorrow, Child’s pacing is excellent–you may stay up until 4 a.m. to finish the book. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend time by the pool or in the airport, this book delivers.

Dog On It, by Spencer Quinn. This is a detective story told from the perspective of the detective’s dog, Chet. I think most people would like this book. I’ve enjoyed the recent spate of detective stories from unusual perspectives (The Little Sleep describes a narcoleptic detective, while The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has an autistic narrator). And books told from the perspective of an animal can be fun (I enjoyed Cats in Cyberspace, by Beth Hilgartner).

Dog On It follows Chet and his owner Bernie as they try to solve a kidnapping. Overall the book is entertaining and even pulls strongly at your heart in a couple places. The relationship between the detective and his dog is a touchstone that carries the book well. A couple minor points did mar the story for me. First, the book had coincidences that strained my suspension of disbelief three or four times. The other sticking point is that in conveying Chet’s emotional state, the author tells us any time that Chet is happy–which happens a lot. The fifth or sixth time that Chet is overjoyed by sticking his head out the window or getting a treat, it gets a little stale. Then again, dogs are happy most of the time. These issues are minor though; if you like a little bit of hardboiled detective work told with a twist, you should enjoy Dog On it.

The Unincorporated Man, by Dani and Eytan Kollin. This book started extremely strongly. The premise is that Justin Cord, a multibillionaire in his own time, is woken up from cryonic suspension after 300 years. In the future, when a person is born they are incorporated. Parents own 20% of the corporation and the government gets 5%. Many people end up owning only a minority stake in themselves and spend decades pursuing majority control of their personal corporations so that they can decide what to do with their own lives.

The Unincorporated Man is really a bit of philosophy and economics pretending to be science fiction. I love books that postulate a slightly changed world and then examine the consequences of that change in detail. For example, the book The Truth Machine asks how society would be affected by an infallible lie detector. The Truth Machine is one of my favorite books, and for a while I thought that The Unincorporated Man would be even better. But the book goes on a bit long and veers away from its beginning into standard science fiction by the end. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the ending felt like the authors were setting up a sequel instead of wrapping up all the loose ends. Would I still recommend this book? Yes. The “idea density” of this book is high, and most of the book is entertaining. But The Unincorporated Man may drag for a few people.

Emergency, by Neil Strauss. If you’ve read Strauss’ most famous book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists then you might be under the mistaken impression that Strauss is, well, a jerk. The Game was very entertaining, but it helped spawn a whole generation of wannabe pickup artists who believe that “negging” (insulting someone in the guise of a compliment to exert emotional power over them) is a good idea. Strauss’ new book makes it clear that his previous book was documenting a scene, not his identity.

Strauss’ new book is titled Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life, but that’s really not an accurate title. After Y2K, 9/11, and Katrina, Strauss describes the feeling that the United States was in a downward spiral and confesses “if the system ever did break down, the only useful skill I really had was the ability to write about it.” The book doesn’t teach *you* survival skills; instead it follows Strauss as *he* learns survival skills. At times the book is scattershot: the first place Strauss talks about is a cryonic suspension facility, and some of the adventures sound like “Crazy Things I Did So I Could Write About Them.”

But the book has two especially interesting threads. One explores Strauss’ attempts to obtain dual-citizenship in case the United States goes belly-up (Strauss decides to pursue citizenship from Saint Kitts). Along the way, Strauss bumps into the Sovereign Society, which offers “experts in the world of offshore finance.” He also discovers the idea of the PT, short for permanent traveler or perpetual tourist:

The idea of PT is that, just as we shop at different stores in a mall to find various items we want, we can also shop in different countries to find the lifestyles, governments, careers, people, tax rates, and cultures that best suit us.

Strauss’ exploration into this shadowy world is fascinating. If you enjoy that sort of thing, you might also enjoy How to Be Invisible, which is another book dedicated to similar ideas.

The other thread in the book starts with Strauss deciding to game the system by joining it:

Not only would I get the experience I was looking for, not only would I get a uniform and badge that would get me past roadblocks when escaping the city, not only would I get keys to the back fire roads, not only would I be exposed to life-and-death situations, but I’d have the best, strongest network available: the system itself.

But as Strauss burrows deeper into the system for his personal gain, he finds that it burrows deeper into him as well. When before he thought of fleeing danger, he ends the book more likely to run toward it to help people. Along the way I think you’ll have a good time.

The Little Sleep, by Paul Tremblay. Tremblay writes about a Mark, a Boston private investigator. Mark suffers from narcolepsy and hallucinations, which make cracking a case much harder. I liked the book aight, but the main character isn’t especially sympathetic. If you like hard-boiled detective fiction with a twist, you’ll like this book. Otherwise, it’s probably not your best bet.

Bad Cop, by Paul Bacon. I’m a sucker for books that teach you something along the way. This non-fiction book provides solid glimpse of what it might be like to be a Manhattan cop. After reading the book, I might not want to want to hang out with Paul Bacon, but I do appreciate him describing what life is like as a police officer. Bacon discovers that moving violations provide easy “collars,” so he quickly becomes an expert on vehicle traffic law. Eventually Bacon lands in precinct 28 in South Harlem, where he suffers through several misadventures before he realizes he’s not a great cop and resigns. If you’re interested in the police, I think you will enjoy this book.

Breathers, by S.G. Browne. It’s a zombie romance. Really, what more do you need to hear after that? The book isn’t scary or a thriller, but just a quick “slice of life” tale from a zombie perspective. Andy Warner falls asleep at the wheel and wakes up dead. His wife has for-real died and zombies have no legal rights, so Andy ends up moving in with his parents and eventually meets and falls in love with Rita, a fellow zombie. I read this book all in one sitting. It has a good plot and a biting sense of humor. If you’re a Chuck Palahniuk fan, you’ll love this book. Breathers has a very Palahniuk style, right down to repeating a few key phrases (“you probably wouldn’t understand”).

Monster, by A. Lee Martinez. The idea of Monster is that strange creatures roam our world. Monster is a man who does (for lack of a better word) pest control. Then things go sideways. This book had a nice dash of whimsy (the first creature we encounter is a Yeti eating ice cream at a convenience mart) and a fair amount of humor. If you squint your eyes just right, this could almost be a Terry Pratchett book. But where Pratchett dangled the end of the world in front of readers with a smile, as if to say “don’t worry, every thing will be fine,” Martinez’s book loses its footing toward the end when it tackles such weighty matters. Despite not liking the ending quite as much as the beginning, I still enjoyed the book overall.

51 Responses to Summer Book Reviews (Leave a comment)

  1. Matt, ever read Digital Fortress (By Dan Brown) or Timeline (By Michael Crichton)? Good books.

    I am definitely gonna check out The Unincorporated Man…sounds quite interesting.

  2. Tom

    The Unincorporated Man sounds incredibly awesome. Thanks for the hint, I just placed my Amazon order ;-)

  3. Nice list Matt. I have just ordered Emergency. Sounds like an interesting read. Also, I forwarded this to my wife who is choosing the next book for her book club. You never know, you could have just influenced the reading matter for twenty or so women!

  4. Nice list Matt. Finally something that is not involved only in your business (Google). :)

  5. That’s a lot of good reading, alas I wish I could be that dedicated to reading as well as get all the work in a day done…discipline I suspect :) Anyhow thanks for the tip on the new Strauss book, “The Game” was quite interesting for sure. Will look to pick up his new one.

  6. thanks Matt – looks like we have a similar taste in books.

    I just finished Dog Gone it – not bad. Have a couple of these on my bedside table to get into already but might pick up some of the others too.

  7. re Ptery
    Not sure that all Ptery’s books could bet said to ” dangle the end of the world in front of readers with a smile” check out Small Gods and if a “propper” Author had written Thud – hw would be in hiding protected by special branch

  8. Wang

    Hey Matt, noticed that you liked mysteries told from the perspective of animals – have you read Three Bags Full? It’s a story about a flock of sheep trying to solve the mystery of their owner dying – thought you might be interested in it. Thanks for the reviews, I’ll browse through a few of these books because I could do with some reading over the summer.

  9. Thanks for the recommendations. Will definitely check out Bad Cop, Beat the Reaper and The Truth Machine.

  10. does anyone know a good (anti) money laundering book for the holidays? based on Matt’s book selection here, i think this crime, combined with the need to police it, the law, organised mafia-style networks, then combined with the effect on the global economy, might make for a fascinating read, study etc…

    mark.

  11. Currently reading Freakonomics and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Both good.

  12. Wow, Matt. You sure do read a lot. And I mistakenly thought there would be some good tech books in the list. I guess everyone needs a break from the computer every once in a while, even engineers, huh?

  13. Matt,

    I’m alternating between George Meridith and Frank R. Stockton this summer. Great fun if you have a library with good stacks in town aince there were excellent collected works published after their deaths (though you may get stuck cutting a lot of pages).

    Down with modern literature!

    Morris

  14. Pretty good summer reading… I would also recommend “A Thousand Splendid Suns” from Khaled Hosseini — it’s a story about a ‘harami’ (bastard), the daughter of a wealthy men in Kabul who send her mother to live in a poor side of town and lives the rest of her life in anger. Mariam, the daughter, decides one day to meet her father’s ‘legitimate family,’ and after being rejected, she goes back to her troubled mother and finds her dead. This book evokes the relevant situation of life in the that region. If you enjoy interweaving stories, than you’ll probably like this novel.

  15. Tracee Keyes

    Reading The Answer by John Assaraff & Murray Smith – nice and easy way to move into the total success package. Thanks for the list.

  16. Chuck

    “The War Within” isn’t that new, but it is a great read and documentation of “The Decider’s” decision making, the politics of the administration, and how the U.S. ended up with the surge strategy (tactic?) in Iraq.

  17. A little summer reading? Where do you find the time to work, blog, have a life, and read all these books?

  18. @Bonnie : Amazing :)
    I become a lazy reader and especially in summer :(

    Cool ! all theses Books are making nice websites or blogs like movies and events !

  19. I just took a trop to Korea with a flight time about the same as the time difference of 13 hours. The number of readers was pitiful given the time available and level of sheer boredom. I was reading The Wealth of Networks. Just finished Collins’ Sociology of Philosophies but cheated on the first few chapters. :-p

    I love the Nicholas Castang stories by Freeling. Amazon search:
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/nqusvf

    Matt: Given the huge number of simple searches distinguished by total cluelessness, do you think that the Marketing community (as opposed to programmer/optimizer) injures itself by relying on simple trends heavily? Do you think it’s good or bad for the geek community to have money and effort dumped into the Internet economy as a result?

  20. “Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov. Where to begin… a love story set across insane asylums and witch infested netherworld, gigantic talking cats all done with a sense of humor and it sends up the early Soviet regime at the same time. This book is a great work by a lesser known Russian genius. The Wikipedia entry does justice to him and his book.

  21. Chris

    I think that the brand updates have been so effective that Matt has more time to read and recommend books.

  22. What sort of non-fiction do you read, Matt?

  23. Matt, Thank for sharing.
    I will not have the time to read all the books recommanded, I just purchased Dog in it from the Amazon.

  24. The only one on the list I’ve read was Emergency. I read this book on my flight to Sydney, only realizing part of the way through that it was mildly ironic to be reading it while leaving the country.

  25. Sridhar visvanath

    Nice list…I am going to try reading “Emergency”…recently I am trying a lot of movies (“Crash” is a old (2007?) movie that I liked)…It is good to go back to books…thanks matt for the list…

  26. Found this interesting site accidentally, the author is so kind to spend his time to list down all books he read.
    I have a book “dog in it” a couple of months back, but have not finished reading till now. I think I am a lazy guy.. No. In fact I like only technologyl related books. Well, my wife said I am an “Iron Man”..

  27. I loved Dog on It. The characters Chet (a dog) and Bernie were awesome and the author did a great job making the reader feel connected to them, especially the dog. It was funny to read how a dog feels about things around him – How the author was able get across experiencing things from a dog’s perspective was perhaps the best overall part of the book. If you’re a dog lover like me your emotions get tugged on (especially when Chet is the dog pound and may be put down.)

    The story of the book is also good. It’s essetntially a good old fashioned detective, solve the case book with good suspenseful plots. All in all one of the better books I read this year.

    Thanks, Bill

  28. Interesting take on Emergency, and it got the longest write up!

    Personally I feel it was weaker than his last book “The Game” although still entertaining, however I do feel that there is a split of people who read these style of books such as “The Game”, and indeed the split seems apparent with the people who read the info on this blog.

    Some who apply everything litrally, word for word and seem to have no imagination for themselfs, cannot adjust things to fit for them and need instructing step by step and end up just copying. Then there are some that adjust things “organically” to work best for them and make it work in context of what they need – Just like in SEO.

  29. Hey Matt,

    We totally have like tastes in books. Love Lee Child and the books he did with Douglas Preston. If you haven’t read any of the “Pendergast” novels, they’re great!

    Fun stuff to get us away from all the serious Internet jazz. :-)

    Recently been reading Terry Prachett, too. He’s a hoot!

    Thanks for the reviews!

    – Pat

  30. Wow Matt you are great…!, that’s my dream to have enough time to read a lot. Thank you for recomendation

  31. Quite a list. I am trying to find the one that explains whether or not rel=me and rel=bookmark actually have any do follow benefit, or if just another no follow code made to look neutral.

    That would be a hell of a book!

  32. Looks like some good reads! The Truth Machine and The Unincorporated Man sound especially intriguing; I’m a sucker for scary futurist stories.

  33. Hey,

    Very nice blog post. What caught my eye about this post was your reference to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I was under the implication that you had appreciated the unique narrative style. I disagree; I found the narration to be a hindrance. However, I would have to disagree. You and your viewers may see my post- which is a full review of the book- here:

    http://astheworldchanges.blogspot.com/2009/02/absolutely-worst-book-ever-curious.html

    Thank you.

  34. EDIT: I’m sorry, I had messed up the grammar on my other post by restating an idea when it was not necessary. Please ignore the sentence “However, I…to disagree.”

  35. I must admit Matt, your eclectic mix has certainly startled me! I thought you’d be an Asimov man all over! I’m sure he’d be asking Is Google the new multivac? Good to see you’re well read!

  36. I have been a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series since the very first “Killing Floor”. Those early tales such as “The Visitor”, “Die Trying” and “Tripwire” were by far his best. From “Persuader” onwards, the stories all got a little predictable and hammy. Shame.

  37. Matt,

    thanks for all the book tips. Excellent stuff.
    But why don’t you supply us the Amazon links? You could get your share while lazy guys like me could easily get their books orderd… :-)

    Cheers,
    Christoph

  38. I heard Lee Martinez is a pretty witty writer and has come out with some riveting books. Thanks for the suggestion!

  39. anonymous

    OFFTOPIC: Matt seriously when you people at Google change your logo for those special days do link the logo to a google query so that everyone could know what the heck it’s supposed to be

  40. Hahaha.. You are such a nerd….

  41. Hey Matt

    Thanks for those informations, i personally like “The Unincorporated Man”
    by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin, is simply amazing and awesome.

  42. Just finished both Beat the Reaper and Gone Tommorrow. Loved them both. Beat the Reaper has quite a bit of sarcasm and dry humor – always a good combination. Gone Tomorrow got a little slow at the end, but still very good.

    Highly recommend The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is a good one those who want a glimpse into what the Indians think about being entrepreneurs and running America by manning the call/help lines for our businesses.

  43. Hi. Id like to hear your opinion about tool called “Tube Extractor” which might be found here: http://tykhon-ua.com

    I would really appreciate any kind of feedback on this.

    Cause i believe that this is pretty usefull and powerfull tool for SEO professionals.

  44. Wendy

    Here are some quickies:
    Flash Back by Gary Braver
    Through Black Spruce
    Lush Life, Richard Price,
    Dogtown/Soultown Mercedes Lambert

  45. AA

    The Truth Machine and The Unincorporated Man sound especially intriguing; I’m a sucker for scary futurist stories.

  46. Nice list of books, Matt. Some of them got transferred to my Amazon wish list. :)
    You might like “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi: http://tinyurl.com/nolp3r
    Reminded me in some places of “Ender’s Game” (http://tinyurl.com/mmqcre). It’s about a human society far in the future fighting several alien races for survival (which boils down to number of planets each race can colonize), and the fighting army is formed of old people (who get recycled into new bodies fit to fight with) – of course their motivation being exactly that – regaining their lost youth.

  47. My stat from Argentina:

    IE 58%
    FF 33%
    Chrome 4.5%
    Safari 2%

    Regards

  48. strauss got a bad rap for ‘The Game’ – but if you read it, and many other accounts of that scene – he was an angel compared to the guys he was working with. Glad to see he has a new book in a different area, though.

  49. In my humble opinion the best book of alltimes is: “A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson. best regards from Germany

  50. my favourite book is “The Tipping Point” from Malcolm Gladwell. How small things can make a big difference.I can highly recommend this book. Regards

  51. I find it is very difficult to find books that are not the same book you have read already – just the characters have different names. There are creative writers out there, you need to dig around and find them. Personally I buy many books at auctions and flea markets in the hope of trying new authors you’ve never heard of before. If you don’t like them, go on to the next one!

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