The Books Biz Borrowed: Top 10 of 2005

I’m Biz and I’ll be submitting book reviews on a fairly regular basis on tdaxp. These won’t all be new books, just books that I happen to read and enjoy. I’m making this first post on tdaxp my year in review for the best books I read in 2005.

10. Amber & Ashes – Margaret Weis
This book isn’t what I normally read, but I couldn’t help but like it. I loved the Dragonlance series when I was younger and this book made me want to get back into the series again. It helps that it was written by Margaret Weis, one of the three Dragonlance authors that doesn’t just write random weird crap.

9. The Best Recipes in the World – Mark Bittman
This was the best cookbook that I read all year. As the title states, these are the best recipes from all over the world in a form that makes them accessible. It mainly focuses on Italian and Asian cuisines, with a bit of French thrown in for good measure. Lots of helpful sections on varients of cooking methods that are aided by a world perspective.

8. The Agony and the Ecstasy – Irving Stone
I read this at the beginning of the year and although it was a bit of a struggle, I’m very happy that I got through it. The movie starring Charlton Heston and Rex Morgan didn’t do this book any justice. This is a biographical novel of the artist Michelangelo, fictionalized but still exhaustively researched. The rich world of the 15th century portrayed by the author also helped me understand the Medici family that I had seen referenced in other texts. I really enjoyed this book.

7. Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home – Rupert Sheldrake
A camera crew recorded a dog that had a proclivity for waiting for his owner going about his daily business of scratching and sleeping and at the same time they had a seperate camera crew following his owner. At a random time it was communicated to the owner by a third party that it was time to go home. At the exact moment she was told this, the dog perked up his ears and went to wait for her in his usual place at the window. No one in the home with the dog had any way of knowing when the owner was coming home. This story is only the beginning of a great book about the animals we share our lives with.

6. Made in America – Bill Bryson
An Informal History of the English Language in the United States
I read a lot of Brysons work this summer and this was the best. As a lover of books, I’m also a lover of language and this gives a history of the English language as it evolved in the United States. This side of the Atlantic has contributed more than “asshat” and “light skinded” to the way we speak.

5. Global Brain – Howard Bloom
The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century
Blooms followup to The Lucifer Principle is just as insightful. Howard Bloom has to be the hardest working writer in the science field. All of his books are researched like crazy. The bibliography of this book was about 40 pages long and filled with journals and books in several different languages. The thesis in this book is that the idea of a global culture isn’t new, but something that has been in the works since the dawn of time. Excellent stuff.

4. 1491 : New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus – Charles C. Mann
In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety One the Indians had lots of fun, In Hundred and Ninety Two Columbus gave them smallpox flu. This unexpected history of the Americas before Columbus uses archaeological, biological, and linguistics evidence to support theories that have never been previously collected. I love this type of book.

3. A Feast For Crows – George RR Martin
I love epic fantasy books. If it weren’t for this series I would be saying that I used to love them. The epic fantasy genre is big business. All you have to do is hook people on the first book and you’ve hooked them for life. Jordan, Goodkind, and Martin are the giants of this genre and only with Martin do I enjoy the series more and more with every book. This book is actually half of what was intended to be the 4th volume. The final draft of Crows was 1800 pages in length, so it was issued as two volumes, with the second to be released in 2006. I can’t wait.

2. Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
In keeping this short, this book is everything tdaxp says it is. It is the smartest book that I’ve read in a very long time.

1. Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maugham
This book was first published in 1915 and I think it is the “On the Road” of its time. It’s simply about a man coming of age in the late 1800s and realizing that he doesn’t have to grow up to be a rich asshole like all of the other ‘gentlemen’ of his time. The protaganist is very easy to identify with, and I liked him immediately, despite his faults, of which there are many. This writer also wrote “The Razors Edge” which was made into the best Bill Murray movie ever. Maybe it’s the fact that I live with a bohemian hippie chick, but I love this stuff.

"Introduction" – Example Political Science Literature Review and Research Design

Note: This is part of an example political science literature review and research design. An abstract and table of contents are also available.

The fall of the Soviet Union and of Communism generally created many post-Communist states, from the Mediterranean Sea to across Asia. These states now range from liberal democracies, to authoritarian dictatorships, to “Communist” countries that have abandoned the socialist economic model. Some have experienced strong economic growth and democratic normalization, while others are mired in poverty and autarchy. One approach is to look at a state’s access to the sea as a factor in economic and democratic development. A study will be devised to examine the possibility that post-Communist states which do not have access to the sea, which are “landlocked,” will have less economic and democratic development than other post-Communist states. This is the literature review for that study.

Geography as an important factor in economic and political development has an old history. As far back as 1938 Spykman examined geography as a “conditioning factor” in foreign policy, and later Dahlberg noted that a land’s ultimate carrying capacity is important (1983). While even earlier Williams looks at the geography of Nicaragua as a cause of political corruption and repression around Bluefields, an eastern coastal region of that country (1927). Literature of this kind steadily expanded leading Lewthwaite to survey many interpretations of geographic determinism that had since developed (1966). While geographic determinism is not universally accepted — Sprout (1963) emphasized technology as far more important, it should be considered an important part of analysis.

Likewise, a large if more recent body of work exists on development in post-Communist states. Most relevant to this study are prior examinations of the post-Communist economic-political nexus, whether generalized through a region (Mishler and Rose 1994, Duch 1995) or limited to specific countries (Powers and Cox 1997, Bartlett and Seleny 1998). Even economically transformed but nominally communist states such as China are examined (Huang 1995, Jennings 1997). The field has been widely developed even beyond these, to questions of the fate of the Communist political parties (Ishiyama 1995) to smaller sub-regions (King 1997) to more strictly political concerns during the transition from Communism (Janos 1991).

A rare synthesis on democratic and geographic factors is provided by Midlarsky (1995). Heavily relying on Wittfogel’s writings on hydraulic governments, Midlarsky examined how democracy, rainfall, and seaborders intertwined as factors in warfare. While this study will not be as broad as Midlarsky’s — it examines only post-Communist states and excludes rainfall — it also looks at geographic or “environmental” influences on development. However, while this study does not go into details such as rainfall, it looks at both the political and economic dimensions of development.

Both of these research fields, geographical and post-Communist effects on development, will be surveyed in this literature review. Specific attention will be paid to the geography and the environment because less has been written in this area, and so the material is likely to be less familiar than the effects of Communism.

Adolescent Psychology for January 9, 2006

Three quick links, and then an introduction to a new tdaxp feature.

Links: Long-time tdaxp reader Catholicgauze starts a geography blog. Biz of Trumpy Productions begins blogging at tdaxp.And Phatic Communion‘s Curtis helped me find photos of Mexico.

Tease: Blogspirit now allows extended posts, so for the first time I can get a complete class’s notes without messing up the front page. I’ve already tested this with the introduction to my example political science literature review and research design. So above the fold will be the class’s agenda and a problem, and below the fold will be the rest of the notes and the solution.


  • Introduction
  • Discussion on Adolescence
  • Teaching Philosophy (and rules for discussion)
  • Administrivia (course syllabus, expectations)
  • Psychological v. Physical Development
  • Identity
The Game: Connect All Dots in four straight non-overlapping lines


Books (in sequence)

Discussion on Adolescence

What is adolescence (brainstorming)

  • Time is revolutionary change generally, comprised of
  • Time of cognitive reorientation and
  • Time of physical change

If I could learn one thing, it would be how one can change the distribution of networks, hierarchies and rhizomes, that adolescents join

R: Teachers must challenge and support students

Example of “Thinking Outside the Box” game

connect 9 dots (3 square) in just four lines without retracting and without lifting pencil


(R: only 3% of test takers get this right the first time)

Education helps us compartmentalize, to rapidly solve problems, but this prevents us from seeing solutions

(email or virtual office 7-8 on Wednesdays on stereotypes, equal justice of death penalty, Hegelian dialectics)

Teaching Philosophy
Importance of ill-structured problems

“Mutual Exploration & Support”
should lead to “Discovery”
should lead to “Synthesis”
which is the result of “reflection,” “peer interaction,” and “coordination”
(coordination — multiple perspectives)

General Rules of Discussion
– encourage disagreement, but with rationale
– civility (mutual respect)

Discussion of Hegel’s Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis

– course syllabus
– expectations

Psychological v. Physical Development

Compare and Contrast types of development.

Development is change. Psychological and physical development are two intertwined concepts. Physical development largely influences psychological


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