Book Review: Datacylsm Who We Are

Dataclysm Paperback Cover

Dataclysm: Who We Are explores how we interact online through data. It’s about who we are, at a macro scale.

Christian Rudder is a co-founder of OKcupid, but he uses data from the online giants – Facebook, Twitter, Google, and yes OKCupid – to share how we behave online. The good, the bad, the ugly.

Flipping through this book, the red data, charts, and graphs stand out immediately. This book is for all the Tufte nerds out there (myself included)!

Dataclysm Example Graphs

Rudder delves into the better sides of ourselves, and the not so pretty sides. Race, politics, love, it’s all exposed here.

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Book Review: Far & Away

“Travellers venture forth because they want to experience a place, not just see it.”

In Far & Away, Andrew Solomon collects his essays and reporting from seven continents and 24 countries, over the period of 25 years. He tends to travel to countries when they are going through dramatic change, upheaval, or modernization.

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Solomon visits South Africa after apartheid, Russia before and after the breakup of the USSR, China over the period of a decade, Rio in the years leading up the Olympics, Mongolia as nomads try to keep their way of life, and Myanmar after limited democratic elections.

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Freedom

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is on the surface just a story about an ordinary family; a man and a woman fall in love in college, they move to their suburb home, have two children and build a career and a life. Of course, it’s much, much more than that.
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Telling a story from the other perspective

I love reading a well-known story, such a classic myth or fairy tale, but told from a new perspective. When I was a kid I remember reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears told from the perspective the bears – can you imagine preparing for such a picky house guest? Reading these kinds of tales allows you to imagine different sides, and remember that every situation has different dimensions.

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Book Review: Raj Quartet

The Raj Quartet is a series of four books that is a fascinating look at India before and after independence from Britain.

Paul Scott does a great job of weaving a plot into the complexities between the military, government, and the ordinary people who are affected by the British raj. The novels all center around an alleged case of rape between an Indian man who grew up in England, Harry Coomer (AKA Hari Kumar), and a British woman. It is not a simple case however, and the decisions made by the police and leaders at the time, specifically Ronald Merrick, are the dilemma many characters have to face.

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Book review: The Book of Negroes

Recently, I hit a dry spell for good books. The last few books I’ve read have been less than memorable, and frankly, tough to get through. However, The Book of Negroes completely reversed the trend – could even be my favourite book of the year!

This book blew me away. It’s pace, plot and characters matched each other perfectly. The book is fiction, but based on the black slave history in the US and Canada. It is a story of one woman’s forced exodus from Africa to the slave camps of America. Aminata is the main character who somehow survives by learning skills such as midwifery, reading and writing.

This book humbled my feelings about Canada’s past. In school, we are taught one part of the black history in Canada – the history of the underground railroad. The Book of Negroes, which is an actual book that recorded ‘slaves’ who entered into Nova Scotia from New York, was clearly omitted from my history classes. We all know that history has two sides, and I’m so glad I got a chance to see the other, darker side of history from this book.

Besides the historical aspect though, this book also has a message about looking for ‘paradise.’ We never know that we are in paradise when we are there, but when it is taken away, it hits hard. Looking for it afterward will never be the same. In some ways, paradise is never just ‘out-there’, it is what you make of the present.

There are many layers of messages in this book, and not only is it a gripping story, you learn tons about history along the way. All I have to say is – if you read nothing else this year, read this book!

Interesting side note: in the US, this book is under a different title – “Someone Knows My Name.” Original title too controversial maybe?