You won't find reviews of Hike Your Own Hike or The Hidden Europe here (that's a lie: there's one review for The Hidden Europe). Instead, this section is for my review other books, although I may occasionally review a movie or even a gadget.
I've put my best reviews here, but if it's not enough, then you'll find hundreds of reviews on Amazon.
Lyubov Fadeeva, Professor of Politics in Perm, Russia, wrote this review of The Hidden Europe in Russian. It's translated below in English (the translation is imperfect). And now Dr. Fadeeva's....
The book by Francis Tapon book The Hidden Europe. What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us is estimated by reviewers as an excellent travelogue or travel book. In my opinion, it is a travelogue only in form; in content it is a profound cross-national socio-cultural study. It offers a comparative analysis of 25 countries based on sociological and statistical data, numerous interviews with both common people and intellectuals, inclusive observation, etc. I will strongly recommend it to my students in Comparative Politics.
Tapon warns: "I am not a historian. I am an explorer". He seems to be a real discoverer of "the hidden Europe".
The author pretends to be simple in his explanation: Eastern Europe is the territory situated to the East of Western Europe. But he warns that "Eastern Europe" as a term has a lot of complications and not very pleasant connotations for the people: "Because the world had such a low opinion of Eastern Europeans" as "losers who were on the wrong side of Iron Curtain nowadays nobody wants to admit that they live there" (P.13).
And Eastern Europe (25 countries) is still hidden not only for Americans, but for most Europeans too. From the beginning Francis Tapon allows himself a sharp jokes like "the only people who don't seem to care are the Moldovans. They are just happy that Moldova exists" ( P.15).
Most reviewers note the author's brilliant humor. I totally agree: I had a great laugh while reading the book, and I tried to pass on Tapon's humor to my friends and colleagues and to my students. His humor is hot and spicy but not offensive. On the other hand, his book is not entertaining fiction. I would estimate his humor as a research tool because it helps him to analyze, to compare different cultures and customs including offences and prejudices. "The main purpose of this book is positive – to learn the best things about Eastern Europeans; nevertheless, we'll also learn about the stupid and idiotic things in Eastern Europe" (P.16).
Hike Your Own Hike and The Hidden Europe are book 1 and 2 of the WanderLearn Series, respectively. Although they're part of the same series and have some common themes, they have significant differences. For example:
Math geniuses will note that when compared to HYOH, The Hidden Europe has twice the page length, but four times the word count, yet costs just $1 more!
As you can guess, HYOH has a big font and healthy margins, while The Hidden Europe has a normal-sized font and small margins. It's the old college trick that we all did - play with the fonts and margins to make the page count where you want it. Anamarija Mišmaš did the layout and did a fantastic job!
What does this mean to you? The Hidden Europe is a bargain! Four times more information, for practically the same price! It's a bad deal for me: I had to work four times as much for the same wage. It's like getting paid a fourth of what you got before. You win.
Moreover, there's no fluff or filler in my writing. It's tight, thanks to my awesome editors, Melissa Finley and Andreja Nastasja Terbos. As one reviewer wrote: "Francis is able to weave humor, history, and himself in such a way throughout the pages that you don’t realize just how much information you’re absorbing." Read more reviews of The Hidden Europe.
The Arrivals documentary is dead on arrival. The opening scene doesn't inspire much confidence. It steals scenes from The Lord of the Rings (as it does throughout this seven hour video), integrating them with Islamic doomsday prophecy. This conspiracy filled movie attempts to be serious, but ends up being comical. It's a documentary that feels more like a mockumentary.
Why did I torture myself for seven hours? I have degree in Religion and specialized in Islam. My thesis was on eschatology. Thus, an Islamic documentary about the end of days naturally interested me. However, the more I watched, the more I giggled.
The "arrivals" refers to the beings who will arrive at the end of the time: Satan, the anti-Christ, and God's army. This video attempts to show that these "arrivals" are due any moment. Don't hold your breath.
I've never drunken alcohol in my life, but I'm drunk all the time. That, at least, is the conclusion I draw after reading The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives.
The book argues that we vastly underestimate how our lives (and most things around us) are a product of chance. Although we know that luck is important, we don't realize just how important it is. By the end of this book, you may end up believing that randomness is the most important factor in life.
Leonard Mlodinow's Drunkard's Walk gets a bit heavy at times, which may turn off people who don't want to hear about the math details or about the obscure history of randomness.
All highly accomplished people ought to read this book for an ego-check. Successful people (and their fans) think they're brilliance made them successful. Reality: luck played a much larger role than you realize. That's a humbling thought.
The book's biggest weakness is that it's a bit short on solutions. Mlodinow advises us to "be aware" and "conscious" of how important randomness is.
That's nice, but should I even try writing a brilliant review for his damn book? Is it pointless to try to write such an insightful review that it will land on Obama's desk? Then Obama learns about me, buys my book, and puts me on Oprah. Or not. So why bother trying if life is so random?
He does give one bit of useful advice in the end: "Have more at-bats." In other words, since randomness is so important, those who eventually do well often just rolled the dice more often. If you keep pulling the proverbial gambling lever, you will hit a jackpot eventually. If you keep swinging at baseballs, you'll eventually score a base-hit. Even untalented people will get lucky if they try enough. So step up to the plate today and swing away. Keep doing that and even a drunk guy will hit a homerun.
BOTTOM LINE: 4 out 5 stars.
P.S. Although I've never purposely drunken an alcoholic drink in my life, I did get drunk when I was eight years old. My mom put rum on strawberries and I secretly ate them all. How's that for random?
This article was first published as Book Review: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow on Blogcritics. I've expanded it slightly for the WanderLearn readers.