Book Review: ‘A Better World’ by Marcus Sakey

a better

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 / 5

A Better World is the follow up to Brilliance (my review of it here), and it hits the ground running.  I don’t know how well A Better World is as a stand alone, but I highly suggest reading Brilliance before diving into this installment, as much of the groundwork is laid out in the first book.  In the late 1980s, it was discovered that 1% of the children born were abnormal in that they had special abilities.  Although the abilities are non-violent, a chasm was slowly created between the “abnorms” or brilliants, and the normals.  As a result of the tension, the world’s richest man, Erik Epstein, also a brilliant, founded a settlement, the New Canaan Holdfast, in Wyoming, where abnorms could live amongst each other.  Not much is known about why some people are born normal and some are born as brilliants, but a measure to implant a chip in the necks of all abnorms has been gaining traction.  In response, a small terrorist group, the Children of Darwin, has literally shut down three American cities.  America’s best bet in brokering a deal between normals and brilliants is Nick Cooper.  Cooper is weary, though, since the last time he tried to help he didn’t realize he was being used as a pawn in someone else’s ulterior motives.

A Better World is action-packed, which makes reviewing it difficult without giving away spoilers.  What I can say is that A Better World picks up where Brilliance left off, and is equally as compelling and engaging as Brilliance.  I was a bit skeptical with Sakey’s ability to continue to storyline, as so much happened in Brilliance, but A Better World perseveres, with more character development and more action without the “been there, done that” feeling.

It is so easy to classify the Brilliance series as a thriller since on the surface it is a book that moves quickly, with war, fighting, government, and politics.  But dig just a little deeper, and it’s a book that will get you thinking about the broader implications of the “us versus them” mentality, and treating people differently based on disparities rather than working together to embrace their differences.

A Better World is a continuation of the thrill ride that began with Brilliance, and I honestly cannot wait for the third book.

Book Review: ‘The Unpersuadables’ by Will Storr

Unpersuadables

Rating: 4 / 5

In The Unpersuadables, investigative journalist Will Storr sets out to find out why certain people hold on to their beliefs, even in the face of contrary evidence.  He interviews various people and various beliefs, from people who firmly believe in homeopathic cures to creationists to Holocaust deniers.  These people are intelligent, and Storr wants to find out what makes them tick.  These people are endlessly fascinating, and while I am bewildered, I found it amusing that they all staunchly held onto their beliefs even when Storr challenged their views.

The most interesting exposes for me were the following:

-interviews with Holocaust deniers

-yoga and the guru Swami Ramdev

-people who claim to suffer from Morgellons, a disease which does not exist

 The interviews and observations are interesting, but Storr goes further, researching why people form their convictions and refused to be persuaded.  I was shocked to learn that much of what we think we see is really our brain making assumptions.  Also, much of our beliefs have neurological and physiological impacts.  In general, humans have solidified their belief system by their late 20s, and new information that does not conform with the belief system will be rejected.  While this happens on a subconscious level, the person will immediately make up a reason to explain the decision, and, studies have shown, the stories are completely arbitrary.  It is shocking to learn that what we know and what we believe are frequently incorrect, but the brain will create reasons and explanations as to why our opinions are correct.  On a personal level, it makes me wonder if reading opinions which are contrary to mine are even worthwhile since my brain will automatically reject such opinions and create valid reasons to support the rejections.

The only aspect of this book that I thought was weak was how some information was presented.  The Unpersuadables is jam packed with information but I felt lost at the beginning of many of the chapters.  Introductions at the beginning would have helped immensely in giving the reader context in what was being presented.  For example, it took me a few pages before I realized that Storr was going on a tour of concentration camps with people who did not believe that the Holocaust occurred.  It felt like I randomly started in the middle of a chapter.

The Bottom Line: The Unpersuadables is a book that will really make you think.  When you first read about the various minority opinions you’ll be baffled at why people believe some things.  Then you’ll read about Storr’s quest to understand how opinions and convictions are formed, and you’ll start questioning your own.  The Unpersuadables is definitely eye-opening.

Book Review: ‘The Intern’s Handbook’ by Shane Kuhn

intern

Rating: 4.5 / 5

John Lago is an assassin.  Though he is only 25, he is on his last assignment, since the company he works for, HR, Inc. specializes in placing assassins in companies as interns.  This is based on the premise that interns are so low on the professional totem pole that they have the ability to do work that will get them close to executives without being memorable.  John has taken it upon himself to write a handbook (which ends up becoming partly a confessional) for the next wave of assassins, filled with tips and tricks, along with journal-like entries documenting his final assignment. (more…)

Book Review: ‘Kill Fee’ by Owen Laukkanen

fee

Rating: 4 / 5

In downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, a billionaire is killed by a sniper.  FBI special agent Carla Windemere and state investigator Kirk Stevens are witnesses, and soon brought on to help solve the case.  While in pursuit, they realize that other random acts of violence across state lines are linked to this, and the killer has multiple identities. When they discover that there is a website where people can pay to have someone eliminated, Stevens and Windemere are pressed for time to prevent the next murder from happening.  Going against them are the fact that they don’t know who the sniper is, where he is from, and who he is working with. (more…)

Book Review: ‘Under A Silent Moon’ by Elizabeth Haynes

Under

Rating:  3 /5

Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Smith has been tasked with investigating two deaths that occurred in the same night in the same village.  Polly has been found murdered on a farm where she works as a groom.  Polly was stunningly beautiful, but had a reputation for being sexually uninhibited, carefree, and wanton.  Barbara Fletcher-Norman lived on the neighboring farm, and the same night as Polly’s death, she is also killed when her car plunges into the quarry.  As DCI Lou Smith investigates, it becomes readily apparent that things are not what they seem, and while no one knows who would kill Polly, many residents of Morden would have motive. (more…)

Book Review: ‘Flash Boys’ by Michael Lewis

flash

Rating: 4 / 5

Flash Boys is a detailed look at high frequency trading, and the lack of transparency and sense of fairness that is at the heart of the Wall Street vs Main Street debate.  Some keen institutional investors have wondered why they are unable to fill client orders at prices that appear on their screens, but instead of just abstractly thinking about it, RBC’s Brad Katsuyama actually made it his mission to figure out the root cause of the discrepancy and how to fix it.  What he discovers is that flash traders have used speed to muddy the proverbial investing waters, skimming hundredths of a penny here and there.  But those hundredths of a penny has added up to millions upon millions of dollars.  Flash traders have built a system to see what orders are coming in, buy them on another exchange, increase the price, and then sell it back to the original buyer.  This front-running has undermined the markets, but has also generated millions of dollars for high frequency traders, and these traders are not even providing a service. (more…)

Book Review: ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ by Anthony Marra

constellation

Rating: 4 / 5

In the sleepy village of Eldar, Akhmed has tasked himself with Havaa’s safety, after he finds Havaa hiding in the forest, her father abruptly abducted by Russian soldiers and the house set on fire.  Knowing that the soldiers are looking for Havaa, he takes her to the only place he knows where she has a chance of survival, an abandoned hospital run by the only remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina.   (more…)