Monthly Archives: July 2013

Book: Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

Giant newspaper column.
209 pages, ★★★

Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a feisty, comical account of how punctuation can completely change the meaning of a text. It contains some historic examples of punctuation disasters, such as a love letter (which, when punctuated differently, becomes nasty); and an unpunctuated telegram, which could signal either distress or “everything’s okay” depending on how the receiver chooses to punctuate it.

This book’s thesis is that we should show everyone the importance of punctuation. The author asks us to bring black marker pens and correction fluid when we go out so that we can correct mistakes on menus, advertisements and billboards. She even jokingly asks us to take “a gun” in the event that we start to care too much.

This book reads like an extended newspaper column. Its humorous tone and light subject matter render it palatable enough to read on a pleasant Sunday morning. Also, just like a Sunday newspaper column, this book provokes conversation in places, usually through jokes and trivia, and takes a strongly-opinionated stance on inoffensive and irrelevant topics. Jeremy Clarkson’s column plays a similar role in society to this book.

The fact that I proofread part-time helped me to enjoy Eats, Shoots & Leaves more than most people would. How much can punctuation really influence our lives? Does good punctuation enrich our human existence? Does punctuation even make an interesting topic of conversation? No! Three stars is the most I can give to a non-academic book on this topic. ★★★

Book: Choose Life

Choose Life

A vision of utopia shared by East and West
375 pages, ★★★★★

This book entered my reading list via a DVD called Let Harmony Redeem (和谐拯救危机). The DVD is a dialogue between Buddhist monk Ven. Master Chin Kung and renowned Buddhist Dahui Chen. This approximately 12-hour dialogue has had massive influence in Asian countries and in overseas Asian communities by revitalising traditional Chinese culture.

The DVD was modelled on a book called Choose Life. Choose Life is a dialogue between Daisaku Ikeda and the renowned British historian, Arnold J. Toynbee. Their conversations cover all aspects of life and culture and are organised by theme. Like the DVD, Let Harmony Redeem, the authors reach a consensus on all the topics despite their very different cultural perspectives. The result is calming and utopian.

Topics in Choose Life range from subconscious thought process to the social role of literature; from our animal instincts to the ideal property market. Most interesting was the dialogue on the purpose of a school education. The authors agreed that the primary aim of education should be to teach children how to live, and practical benefit should be relegated to just a secondary aim. I agree completely.

Choose Life reminds me of The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang (reviewed here). These two books describe a meaningful life at large and small scales.

I recommend Choose Life particularly for non-Asians who want to explore East Asian culture in more depth (like me!) ★★★★★

Book: Questioning Collapse

Macanany Yoffee Questioning Collapse

Grandiose, obsessive, delusional criticisms of Jared Diamond.
390 pages, ★★

Questioning Collapse is a direct rebuttal to Jared Diamond’s epic anthropological book titled Collapse (I reviewed that book here). In the preface, Questioning Collapse aims to improve on Collapse by being optimistic and easy-to-read, while at the same time retaining academic credibility. It also claims to correct some of Jared Diamond’s professional “mistakes”.

Unfortunately, Questioning Collapse didn’t need to be written. Collapse was a rare display of academic content written in very readable prose, and absolutely no improvement was needed. Jared Diamond also made it explicitly clear when he was making speculations, and there was therefore no need to “correct his mistakes”! These authors tried too hard to overstep the legendary Jared Diamond and failed.

Questioning Collapse is an edited book (i.e. each auth). Like most edited books, the chapters don’t quite fit together. There’s no consistency from beginning to end and the different authors sometimes repeat each other unnecessarily. Questioning Collapse isn’t even a pleasure to read. Despite its wanting to be ‘optimistic’, it spends more time deriding Jared Diamond than building on Collapse.

I’d like to see this book re-written in a positive tone and re-titled, “Collapse: a follow-up study” or “Collapse: recent developments”.

What bothers me most is that the authors of Questioning Collapse put lengthy, illustrated biographies in highlighted boxes at the end of each chapter. Why? It seems that this book isn’t about improving on Collapse at all—it was just a platform for a dozen or so scientists less successful than Jared Diamond to try and boost their careers. ★★

Essay: A Comparison of the High-School Chemistry Curricula of China and Wales

This essay received an HD (high distinction) from my tutors at Monash.

1. Introduction

I have chosen to compare the high-school Chemistry curricula of China and Wales.

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