Monday, 3 January 2005

Book review: Time Lord

I picked up an autographed copy of Clark Blaise’s Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time a while back at Square Books in Oxford, and just got around to reading it. While I have no doubt that the Scottish-born Sandford Fleming was an interesting individual—in addition to being a driving force between the adoption of standard time zones, he was one of the architects of the unification of Canada and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway—Blaise’s book almost makes him seem boring.

The narrative flow of the book is horrible, employing no discernable organizational approach, and the book seems semi-randomly to leap into discussions of the use of time in literature—which may be one of Blaise’s scholarly interests, but has little to do with Fleming. Except for details of the 1884 Prime Meridian Conference in Washington and some confused recounting of Fleming’s role in surveying and building the CP, little of Fleming’s exploits get much attention. Blaise’s lament is that Fleming is being lost to history, but if he was such an important figure in Canadian and world history, his book does little to solidify his reputation, except as a crumudgeon who was annoyed that politics intruded on his efforts to create a “universal” reckoning of time.

Wednesday, 5 January 2005

The Big Five-0

Via Will Baude and Amber Taylor, I see that bloggers are being challenged to read and review 50 books this year. This may be a bit of a daunting challenge—even for those of us expected to read (and write, not to mention teach) for a living—but since I’m currently ahead of the curve, I might as well participate.

Book the First: Time Lord. Reviewed (somewhat unfavorably) here.

Book the Second: The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. Mini-review: a brilliant, accessible, non-scholarly look at the contemporary political right (broadly defined) in America. Minor faults: the book is sometimes confused over which left-right axis it’s talking about (for example, it sometimes refers to the political left in Europe as “liberals,” a mistake I wouldn’t expect Britons to make), and it underemphasizes the role of political institutions (aside from the Senate, which is overemphasized) in making the United States a generally more conservative nation than other industrialized democracies—the role of federalism and the Constitution gets about a page of treatment in nearly 400 pages of body text. I strongly recommend this book for either the general reader, or as a supplemental text in an undergraduate course in either political parties or American political culture (if such a beast exists).

Book the Third: The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the 20th Century. Just bought it; the book got a favorable review by Simon Jackman in The Political Methodologist a year or so ago.

Friday, 14 January 2005

The begining of the A380 and the end of the DC-9

This week’s Economist looks at the public introduction of Airbus’ new A380 super-jumbo and the efforts of rival Boeing to come up with a different strategy based on its 7E7 Dreamliner. My gut feeling is that Airbus is banking on the continued success of legacy-style long-haul “hub-and-spoke” travel, which makes sense in developing markets, while Boeing is expecting the 7E7 to succeed in the transatlantic market between smaller destinations.

Meanwhile, the European Union and United States have agreed to keep the subsidies dispute outside the WTO process, at least for the time being. And, in other Boeing news, the airline is ending production of the Boeing 717, the latest (and last) incarnation of the DC-9/MD-80 series of aircraft; Stephen Karlson has some brief thoughts on the matter.

Update (from RKP):A quick expansion on Chris's point: if you want to read about the emergence of air taxis and point-to-point air travel, I highly recommend Free Flight by James Fallows. I'm not an aviation enthusiast, but just a guy that spent WAY too many hours on airplanes for a few years. The possibility of being able to fly out of an airport near the house with minimal fuss, and in an Eclipse 500 jet, has a lot of appeal.

Monday, 21 February 2005

Book review: Free Flight

Well, I’m massively behind on the 50 Book Challenge, but I did finish reading the copy of James Fallows’ Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Air Travel that I threw in for $6 with an order for “work” books. As Robert mentioned last month, it’s a pretty interesting look at some of the new innovations in small planes (or “general aviation”). The book slightly suffers from being dated—in particular, I think there’s a good chapter that needs to be added on the last two years of the Eclipse 500 saga.

It’s also not entirely clear how Fallows sees “air taxis” fitting in the larger aviation system; he talks a lot about the threat they pose to what most transportation folks call “legacy carriers” (e.g. American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways) but not so much about how the air taxis would affect the regional jet networks associated with the legacy carriers or the “no-frills” carriers like Southwest and airTran. I suspect that, by further drying up the pool of high-revenue customers that the legacy carriers depend on to stay in business, the “hub and spoke” system will fall apart and two classes of travel will emerge in the aviation hinterlands of flyover country: on-demand “air taxi” travel for the rich (or those who can convince their company that an extra $200 in airfare is worth saving a night in the hotel) and increased once-a-day point-to-point travel to popular destinations. Of course, like any other predictions, these may be completely wrong.

Nonetheless, it’s a very interesting book and I recommend it highly for anyone with an interest in general aviation.

Sunday, 27 February 2005

Book review: Give Me a Break

Book four in the Fifty Book Challenge is Give Me a Break, by 20/20 co-anchor John Stossel, who’s arguably the most well-known libertarian in America. As you’d probably expect from a book by a TV journalist, it’s not a hard read and largely autobiographical in nature. If you’re looking for a book to gently introduce someone to libertarian ideas, Stossel’s book may be ideal: less doctrinaire than Boaz’s Libertarianism: A Primer and lacking the serious liability of What It Means to be a Libertarian—Charles Murray’s public reputation. If you’re already familiar with libertarian ideas and Stossel’s journalistic career, there’ll be little new for you here, but it’s an entertaining read nonetheless.