PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)Eric Berger, senior space editor at the Ars Technica website, does a fine job of telling the white-knuckle story of how SpaceX was created in 2002 and came close to collapse several times. Although Liftoff recounts the experiences of many of SpaceX’s brilliant engineers, the near-maniacal Musk is almost always at the heart of the story.
MixedFinancial Times (UK)... colourful and readable ... Metz’s book draws on extensive access and meticulous research. Over the course of eight years, he interviewed more than 400 people. Yet, though discussed, some of the most contentious issues are hardly explored to the depth they deserve ... Metz does not fully spell out the consequences of [the] \'sea of dudes\' problem ... Nor does he sufficiently interrogate the top researchers about the limitations and voracious energy consumption of their models. Their stated ambition of achieving artificial general intelligence (when machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence across every domain) that scares the wits out of many observers is also largely unchallenged. Genius Makers is a good read, as far as it goes, but the reader is left with the wish that Metz had displayed deeper learning.
PositiveFinancial TimesDaringly, in what is only his second novel, Alexander Starritt climbs into the skin of one of the most appalling archetypes of the 20th century: a Nazi soldier as he marauds across eastern Europe during the second world war ... Starritt’s slim, taut novel takes the form of a letter written by an elderly German war veteran to his British grandson, Callum. At times the book clanks against the sides of this somewhat contrived structure, but it does permit an indirect dialogue to develop as Callum adds his own notes to the story ... Starritt’s descriptions of conflict are shocking. But he becomes less sure-footed when the two characters start moralising about war ... But, as Meissner recalls, the war always remained buried within him, only to resurface in unexpected and traumatising ways. Blue-black plums, dangling from a branch, remind him of hanged civilians in wartime villages. Just one of many haunting images from Starritt to pierce the semi-romantic mythology that, in Britain and the US at least, now enshrouds the war.
PositiveFinancial Times...elegant ... War is not a historical aberration best forgotten but a clear and ever-present danger for humanity. It merits continuing historical inquiry and political discussion. War is as good a place as any from which to start ... War captures the excitement and allure that battle has long exercised for many men keen to escape the dull routine of their lives and prove their virility ... Wisely, perhaps, MacMillan resists the temptation to speculate about the nature of future warfare.
Leonardo Padura, trans. by Anna Kushner
RaveThe Financial Times...a stunning novel ... Spanning wide tracts of the globe, sweeping through some of the most tumultuous events of the 20th century and interweaving the lives of three wildly different characters, this monumental, intricately structured work recounts the events that lay behind the assassination of Lev Davidovich Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940 ... It is a measure of Padura’s humanity and skill as a novelist that the reader can at times empathise with all three characters despite their cruel actions and manifest flaws. In Padura’s telling, to know is to love, or at least to understand. Judgment is suspended as they grapple with their consciences and become reconciled to their fates ... One of the novel’s most striking features is the harsh depiction of Castro’s Cuba, as a final, dismal coda to the revolutionary hopes of 1917 ... There can be few more insightful explorations of the ways in which communism corroded the human spirit and justified the most monstrous of crimes.
PositiveFinancial TimesAlexandra Popoff’s biography is crisp and comprehensive, deftly interweaving Grossman’s personal life with the momentous events he experienced. The portrait she paints in Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century is of a highly intelligent and surprisingly cheerful man, who viewed the world with a kind and quizzical gaze and defended his friends and principles with near-reckless courage ... Although Grossman’s reputation has only grown over the years in the west, Popoff laments the fact that his influence has already faded in Russia, which has been afflicted by a kind of \'historical amnesia\'. As Popoff writes, it is easier to believe in a glorious Soviet past than to accept that Stalinism and Nazism were mirror images of each other.
MixedThe Financial TimesOne of his most intriguing arguments compares the power of the US tech giants today and the motor industry in the 1950s ... As its title suggests, How to Fix the Future claims to be a 'solutions book'...However, Keen’s book contains a lot of loose characterisation and some massive ladles of wishful thinking ... Perhaps the biggest gap in Keen’s book, though, is his cursory coverage of China. Sheltered behind its Great Firewall, China is creating an astonishingly vibrant digital economy with hair-raising disregard for the belief in individual agency that Keen holds dear.
RaveThe Financial TimesAlthough it runs to more than 900 pages of dense text, it is the most gripping of reads, packed with epoch-shaking events and human tragedy. This volume sweeps through the collectivisation of agriculture and the mass famine of the early 1930s, the Great Terror of 1936-38, the outbreak of the second world war, the disastrous winter war against Finland, and the macabre diplomatic dance between Stalin and Hitler ahead of the Nazi invasion of June 1941. This is, as close as it is possible to imagine, the definitive biography of Stalin … The portrait that emerges is of a phenomenally hard-working, ruthless, ideologically driven and coldly calculating tyrant. His most singular feature was his extreme willpower supercharged by his conviction that he was the historic instrument of Marxist-Leninist revolution.
Garry Kasparov with Mig Greengard
RaveThe Financial TimesThe raw emotion of that encounter in New York bursts out of the pages of Kasparov’s gripping story, which he fully recounts for the first time in Deep Thinking. It is almost as if Kasparov is describing a death when he writes about his defeat ... What is striking, and reassuring, is that far from raging against the machine, Kasparov marvels at the capabilities of computers and is excited by the possibilities for future collaboration ... reads at times like a fast-paced psychological thriller ... Chess fans will be engrossed by Kasparov’s tale but the book deserves a far broader readership. The concluding chapters contain one of the most reasoned explanations of how humanity can benefit from working with its computational creations.