Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book duds

Ever get in a rut with your book reading? As you might know, I'm a lucky member of the Amazon Vine program where I get free advance copies to review. That's great, but it also means that as long as Vine's offering books that sound interesting I don't get around to all the books on my TBR (to-be-read) list. Unfortunately, just because a book sounds interesting doesn't guarantee it will be interesting. And, as (bad) luck would have it, I've picked a few duds lately. I normally don't blog about a book except to recommend it, but I'm buried in a couple of lengthy Vine books that so far aren't rating very high (although I'm hoping that will change). But in the meantime – and to avoid relying on books I read long ago or my favorite music for a post – I thought I'd share a few recent duds from Amazon Vine.

I've enjoyed several histories of medicine and disease and thought Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy looked good. It's a children's book similar to books on Dickens and WWI I've previously recommended. This one wasn't as good as those, however. In short, tuberculosis is a virus that has long bedeviled mankind. You'll hear it called "consumption" in many books, and it's the reason people went to sanatoriums, which were kind of like health retreats in the mountains. The book tells little of the actual disease, and the history of treatments is pretty thin (and panders somewhat to the racial disparities in treatment). It also fails to take advantage of profiling some of the many who died from the disease (like Thoreau) and just falls short on too many fronts.

When asked I always say my favorite sport is beach volleyball, but actually I've been a football fan since I was around 7. I don't watch much of it on television but the playoffs are always fun (better than the overhyped Stupor Bowl anyway). But A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation by Randy Roberts sounded like good football season reading. But Roberts doesn't even get around to that famous game until 200 pages into a 240 page book. Even then the game is covered in a half-dozen pages. Instead, he focuses on the making of the Army team: the recruiting, the players, the troubles of each season, the accomplishments, and the setbacks. He mixes in a little of the larger world history going on, but it's dragged down by a too-heavy emphasis on the humdrum business of the team than actual games and action.

And lastly, I've heard of (but not seen) the movie "Lawrence of Arabia," but it was a surprise to learn that Lawrence was a real person. Thomas Edward Lawrence was an archaeologist and British intelligence officer who helped organize a rag-tag Arab revolt into the successful overthrow of the Ottoman Turks in 1918. But Guerrilla Leader: T. E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt by James Schneider isn't a biography; instead it's kind of a lesson on Lawrence's principles of leadership, using numerous numbered-lists and relying heavily upon Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Mr. Schnieder is overly charmed with his subject and engages in too much 'hero-worship,' but even worse is the frequently overwrought text. If you're interested in the qualities of military leadership I'd suggest skipping this one and going straight to Lawrence’s book.

So, I'm trying to be pickier about the books I pick, but sometimes duds happen.

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