The Con-fusion

I’m probably the last blogger still reading Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, and chances are good that I won’t take on the third part, The System of the World, immediately after finishing the second, The Confusion. Not because the books aren’t good, just that it is a lot to read consecutively.

The good news is that the main characters, Jack Shaftoe and Eliza the Improbable Welshwoman, are much more interesting than they were in Quicksilver.
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Two on Turkey

With Turkish accession one of the most important issues facing the European Union, people interested in the question could do much worse than read these two recent, and reasonably short, books that focus on the country: Crescent and Star, by Stephen Kinzer, and The Turks Today, by Andrew Mango. Both illustrate and explain contemporary Turkey, and both have accession as a theme throughout their books.
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Immigration: Evidence and Opinion

Following-up on my extensive post last week, some more evidence of the ongoing ‘reappraisal’ of the positive growth consequences of immigration that is taking place among economists: Immigration, Jobs and Wages Theory, Evidence and Opinion by Christian Dustmann and Albrecht Glitz.
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Echelon Back Story

The British edition of Body of Secrets, James Bamford’s second book about the US National Security Agency, gives equal billing to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the subtitle, but that’s just marketing, making the home audience feel good. The same subtitle also alludes to Echelon, an eavesdropping program that was on its way to being notorious, particularly in Internet circles, when the book was first published in 2001.

Both get their due, of course, but the book is really a history of the NSA, the agency that does the lion’s share of America’s electronic intercepts, cryptology, cryptanalysis, signals intelligence and so forth.

I haven’t finished the book, but there’s a lot in it. Factually, it’s dense, with very precise details that show how thoroughly Bamford had done his homework.

Lessons abound. First, how little is new in the fraught world of spying and democratic decision-making. Korea and the early Cold War period produced examples of leaders who did not want to hear what people on the ground were reporting. Resources were allocated to the wrong places; the country was caught flat-footed by events that shouldn’t have been unexpected; there was a critical shortage of personnel who could speak crucial languages. In the early 1950s, it was Korean; half a century later it’s Urdu or Pashtu or various branches of Arabic.
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Halfway There

This spring, the German newspaper whose web site isn?t quite as bad as another?s began publishing a series of 50 Great Novels from the Twentieth Century. It?s an admirable project in many ways — not least a cover price of EUR 4.90 per hardback. Thirty-seven books have been published so far, and I?ve now read about half of the whole list. Which is as good a point as any for taking stock.

I haven?t quite read 25 of the 50, but let?s face it, with Deutschstunde (German Hour, Siegfried Lenz, no. 28) clocking in at nearly 800 pages, and hefty volumes such as Jorge Semprun?s What a Beautiful Sunday! (Was f?r einen sch?nen Sonntag, no. 17) and Juan C. Onetti?s The Short Life (Das kurze Leben, no. 11), it?s going to be quite a while before I manage all of them.
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Google Book Search

Whilst speculation abounds in the weblog world that Google is about to launch its own browser tchnology, more traditional media seem to be enthusing about the possibility of Google book search:

Google, beset by a growing number of competitors in the internet search business, will shortly unveil a number of new features to its own search engine, according to one of the company’s directors.

It has also started testing a service that lets users read book excerpts online, echoing the popular ?Search Inside the Book? service created by Amazon.com.

The book excerpt service, called Google Print, aims to give users links to relevant books among the other search results they receive. Clicking on the link will then lead to the book excerpt, where users can read two pages forward or back from the relevant page and also click on another link to an online store to buy the book.
Source: Financial Times

Obviously the internet war is hotting up. Meantime I’m having fun playing round with Amazon’s A9.