close menu

Book Reviews: It’s Been A While!

All right, it’s been a while, I know. Call it a sabbatical! Or holiday? (Or brief period of ennui in which I managed to question everything and do nothing.) Anyway! I’ve returned to the world of books and nerds and there was much rejoicing. I hope.

These are a few of the books you may have overlooked after the shopping rush died off. Since we’re in the most depressing stretch of the year, books will help! Get away from it all IN YOUR MIND! Imagination, kids, it’s what happened before video games.

How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish
Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. Stanley Fish appreciates fine sentences. The New York Times columnist and world-class professor has long been an aficionado of language: “I am always on the lookout for sentences that take your breath away, for sentences that make you say, ‘Isn’t that something?’ or ‘What a sentence!'” Like a seasoned sportscaster, Fish marvels at the adeptness of finely crafted sentences and breaks them down into digestible morsels, giving readers an instant play-by-play.

In this entertaining and erudite gem, Fish offers both sentence craft and sentence pleasure, skills invaluable to any writer (or reader). His vibrant analysis takes us on a literary tour of great writers throughout history—from William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Henry James to Martin Luther King Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Elmore Leonard. Indeed, How to Write a Sentence is both a spirited love letter to the written word and a key to understanding how great writing works; it is a book that will stand the test of time.

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene
From the best-selling author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos comes his most expansive and accessible book to date—a book that takes on the grandest question: Is ours the only universe?

There was a time when “universe” meant all there is. Everything. Yet, in recent years discoveries in physics and cosmology have led a number of scientists to conclude that our universe may be one among many. With crystal-clear prose and inspired use of analogy, Brian Greene shows how a range of different “multiverse” proposals emerges from theories developed to explain the most refined observations of both subatomic particles and the dark depths of space: a multiverse in which you have an infinite number of doppelgängers, each reading this sentence in a distant universe; a multiverse comprising a vast ocean of bubble universes, of which ours is but one; a multiverse that endlessly cycles through time, or one that might be hovering millimeters away yet remains invisible; another in which every possibility allowed by quantum physics is brought to life. Or, perhaps strangest of all, a multiverse made purely of math.

Greene, one of our foremost physicists and science writers, takes us on a captivating exploration of these parallel worlds and reveals how much of reality’s true nature may be deeply hidden within them. And, with his unrivaled ability to make the most challenging of material accessible and entertaining, Greene tackles the core question: How can fundamental science progress if great swaths of reality lie beyond our reach?

Sparked by Greene’s trademark wit and precision, The Hidden Reality is at once a far-reaching survey of cutting-edge physics and a remarkable journey to the very edge of reality—a journey grounded firmly in science and limited only by our imagination.

Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall by Frank Brady
Endgame is acclaimed biographer Frank Brady’s decades-in-the-making tracing of the meteoric ascent—and confounding descent—of enigmatic genius Bobby Fischer.  Only Brady, who met Fischer when the prodigy was only 10 and shared with him some of his most dramatic triumphs, could have written this book, which has much to say about the nature of American celebrity and the distorting effects of fame.  Drawing from Fischer family archives, recently released FBI files, and Bobby’s own emails, this account is unique in that it limns Fischer’s entire life—an odyssey that took the Brooklyn-raised chess champion from an impoverished childhood to the covers of Time, Life and Newsweek to recognition as “the most famous man in the world” to notorious recluse.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
A note from the Book Nerdist: I used the review here from Mari Malcolm because it’s a much better explanation than the actual book description. Who knew! And no, this is not the behind-the-scenes-story of the wizard band. (Nerd points if you get it!)

The Weird Sisters in Eleanor Brown’s delightful debut could have been weirder, considering their upbringing. Their professor father spoke primarily in Shakespearean verse, and while other kids in the bucolic Midwestern college town of Barnwell checked the TV lineup, the Andreas girls lined up their library books. They buried themselves in books so completely that while they loved each other, they never learned to like each other much. And when adulthood arrived and they pursued separate destinies, each felt out of step with the world. When news of their mother’s cancer makes a terribly convenient excuse for attention-hog Bean (Bianca) and Cordy (Cordelia), the “baby” who always got off easy, to boomerang back to Barnwell from New York and New Mexico, respectively, they return bearing the guilt (and consequences) of embezzlement and pregnancy-by-random-painter. They’re most terrified of admitting these failures to Rose (Rosalind), the responsible eldest, who stayed in Barnwell to teach Math and cling to her caretaker-martyr role. With lively dialogue and witty collective narration, the sisters’ untangling of their identities and relationships feels honest and wise, and the questions they raise about how we carry our childhood roles into our adult lives will resonate with all readers, especially those with their own weird sisters. –Mari Malcolm

This book has been out for a while, but it’s FUNNY so I’m including it.
You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News from
You’re going to wish you never picked up this book.  Some facts are too terrifying to teach in school. Unfortunately, is more than happy to fill you in:
– A zombie apocalypse? It could happen. 50% of humans are infected with a parasite that can take over your brain.
– The FDA wouldn’t let you eat bugs, right? Actually, you might want to put down those jelly beans. And that apple. And that strawberry yogurt.
– Think dolphins are our friends? Then these sex-crazed thrill killers of the sea have you right where they want you.
– The most important discovery in the history of genetics? Francis Crick came up with it while on LSD.
– Think you’re going to choose whether or not to buy this book? Scientists say your brain secretly makes all your decisions 10 seconds before you even know what they are.

This has also been out for a while but in case you missed it, I figured I’d be nice and clue you in.
Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland: A Book by Patton Oswalt
Prepare yourself for a journey through the world of Patton Oswalt, one of the most creative, insightful, and hysterical voices on the entertain­ment scene today. Widely known for his roles in the films Big Fan and Ratatouille, as well as the television hit The King of Queens, Patton Oswalt—a staple of Comedy Central—has been amusing audiences for decades. Now, with Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, he offers a fascinating look into his most unusual, and lovable, mindscape.

Oswalt combines memoir with uproarious humor, from snow forts to Dungeons & Dragons to gifts from Grandma that had to be explained. He remem­bers his teen summers spent working in a movie cineplex and his early years doing stand-up. Readers are also treated to several graphic elements, includ­ing a vampire tale for the rest of us and some greeting cards with a special touch. Then there’s the book’s centerpiece, which posits that before all young creative minds have anything to write about, they will home in on one of three story lines: zom­bies, spaceships, or wastelands.

Oswalt chose wastelands, and ever since he has been mining our society’s wasteland for perversion and excess, pop culture and fatty foods, indie rock and single-malt scotch. Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is an inventive account of the evolution of Patton Oswalt’s wildly insightful worldview, sure to indulge his legion of fans and lure many new admirers to his very entertaining “wasteland.”

So, those are the titles — a very small sliver of the many in January, of course — and if there’s anything else of note that you need to see listed? COMMENT! That’s what makes this wonderful site so wonderful, people sharing their vast knowledge with one another. (That and learning that you can snort bath salts.) Until next time, nerdlings! You can follow me on the twitters or email me at [email protected] if you have anything else to say.

Images: Scribner, Plume, Penguin Adult, Crown, Harper

What Animal Would Your HIS DARK MATERIALS Dæmon Be?

What Animal Would Your HIS DARK MATERIALS Dæmon Be?

How Much Turkey Would You Need to Eat to Get Knocked Out by Tryptophan Alone?

How Much Turkey Would You Need to Eat to Get Knocked Out by Tryptophan Alone?

Peter Jackson Filmed Part of RETURN OF THE KING on a Mine Field

Peter Jackson Filmed Part of RETURN OF THE KING on a Mine Field



  1. Jason says:

    Loved Patton’s book, would have loved it more at twice the length. Thought it was too light on standup stuff (there’s a long story about a week long gig in Canada that’s worth the whole book by itself), but far be it from me to tell the man what to write about. Felt more like a short collection of blog posts, but in a good way.

  2. .

    … and more importantly?

    To buy the book. 😀


  3. .

    ARRRRG. Where were you when it was freezing outside and we were all huddled underneath the blankets chattering?

    Thank you for the reviews. Looking forward to reading the book by Stanley Fish.


    You’ve solved my ” what to give the son for his birthday” problem with the review.

    PS Of course it’s a book review. The best reviews are the ones that get a reader to read the book.


  4. Katie says:

    Might I suggest Machine of Death for the next book round up? It’s the “little independent anthology that could,” that took over the number one spot at Amazon for a few days running.

    The full story of how the Internet came together and made something awesome is here:

    (full disclosure: I was an illustrator for the book)

  5. Daniel says:

    I enjoy these, but can I suggest not calling them “reviews”? On the first one of these it took me a while to realize that you didn’t write them but rather that they were the publisher’s blurbs (i.e. promotional material rather than critical). How about something like “new book roundup”, or “book previews”?