Educate Yourself With These Geek-tastic Non-Fiction Titles

Despite how many books I manage to read and review for Nerdophiles I feel like the vast majority of what I read on a day-to-day basis is actually what most people would classify as ‘Non-Fiction.’ Well, if you consider textbooks non-fiction, anyway, which considering I am in law school right now I certainly would. Most of what I read tends to come from hulking casebooks weighing in at around 1000+ pages with text so small you really need a magnifying glass to decipher any of it.

So, most of the books I try to read and review are fiction. I need an escape sometimes, okay? I stick to fantastic worlds and incredible situations because otherwise I’d probably be bored to tears after reading eighty pages of Business Organizations cases.

I do, however, sometimes decide to leave my fictional worlds behind and get down with my curious, geeky self. Instead of putting together a series of awesome new young adult book reviews or indie books you should check out I decided that today I wanted to give credit where credit was due and acknowledge some really awesome non-fiction books that I have had the opportunity to read recently.  The topics range from comic books and eBooks to Hello Kitty, Dungeons & Dragons, and the emerging Maker movement.

If you’re looking for a break from fiction, too, I highly recommend these books.

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Burning the Page

17408411Author: Jason Merkoski
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Source: NetGalley DRC
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Personal Account, Technology

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Spoilers:  Low
GoodReads | Amazon

No matter what you’re personal preferences may be it is impossible to deny the ever growing relevance of eBooks. Me? I think eBooks are fantastic. I absolutely love my Kindle and when my first one died I had a second one ordered as soon as I forced myself to admit that it was gone. I mean, they are absolutely fantastic in my opinion. Plus I got a real kick reading about eBooks on my Kindle when reading through Burning the Page. Add in the fact that Burning the Page is largely based around the author’s experiences developing the Kindle in the early days of eBooks, I just sort of felt validated in my efforts.

Putting that all aside, the book itself is a very interesting look at the inner workings of Amazon’s eBook  sort of revolution. It’s definitely a one-sided and very biased look at the rise of eBooks but that’s to be expected from an insider writing a book about his own experiences. For the most part I think the author does a really good job at explaining the history, his own efforts, and his own opinions about the future of books, eBooks, DRM, and other related issues. Sometimes the author’s opinions seemed frustratingly limited and his explanations of things even more so. He admits his own shortcomings but if you can’t really explain the technology you’re talking about maybe call up a buddy in design and ask them? The lack of any real research or backing up of his opinions was a bit annoying at times. But he also does a good job of explaining the processes he understands – like adapting books into digital formats and such.

Overall, it’s a pretty decent read and I enjoyed what the author had to say about eBooks and how he said it. I think he’s a really good author, actually. But I was at times lost as to what the book was really supposed to be doing or saying. It wasn’t entirely an insiders look at the Kindle and it’s development – that was just part of it. Often times there were little side stories that the author told that just sort of seemed out of place even when they were kind of funny. I can appreciate the humor but I still need some sort of purpose behind them! Still, it didn’t bother me too much. And sometimes it really added some character to everything.

So, while I don’t agree with his predictions that eBooks are the way to go and print will soon disappear, I do think the book was a decent read.

Final Thoughts: 
Burning the Page is an interesting look at the eBook revolution – though it’s probably not the primer you’re looking for if you want a full history of the progression of the technology. However, if you’re looking for one early eBook pioneer’s story and opinions you’ll definitely get that. And you’ll get some decent insight into the logistics of creating eBooks, the processes that go into adapting books into digital format and more. Definitely worth a read for those interested in eBooks and Amazon’s contributions to the digital revolution.

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Pink Globalization

16033311Author: Christine R. Yano
Release Date: April 29, 2013
Publisher: Duke University Press
Source: NetGalley DRC
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Globalization, History, Culture, Hello Kitty

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Spoilers:  Low
GoodReads | Amazon

Okay, so, I own absolutely nothing Hello Kitty at all. I don’t even think that my sisters did when I they were growing up, either. But just because my family was immune to the Hello Kitty craze doesn’t mean that the people we knew were. No, I hung out with a lot of the anime kids back in high school and Hello Kitty was still pretty much the Japanese thing that people could actually find and get access to in the United States. And, as an international relations major the idea of ‘Pink Globalization‘ appealed to me so of course I had to read this book.

Now, keep in mind that this isn’t really necessarily a book for Hello Kitty fans. There are some really great moments that I think fans will enjoy. The author goes through and does a lot of interviews with people who love the iconic cat and her friends but the book also really tracks the rise of the Sanrio company and the way it approached the market. I’m not sure that Sanrio fans are really going to be that interested in the more technical business-related and cultural aspects of the book. But who knows! I could be wrong and they could love it.

I mean, I certainly did. I thought it was a really great read. I’ve always sort of wondered when Sanrio first came to the United States and how they managed to make their place for themselves in the ‘kawaii’ markets – both in Japan and the United States. This book does a great job of explaining all of that. I have to give Sanrio a lot of credit. They are one smart company and they know how to play to their target audiences. Moving from children to adults and the domestic market to the international market took a lot of planning and effort and Sanrio really nailed it. The author does a great job of showing that and even takes things a bit further when she questions the motivations and the darker cultural effects of cutesy, pink, girly merchandising. Though, she doesn’t put a whole lot of time into that last bit.

Pink Globalization is a great insight into the ubiquitous Sanrio company and I like that we get to sort of look inside this global phenomenon in a way no one really may have thought to look before. I mean, I’m sure plenty people have wondered about Hello Kitty and her popularity but now you can get some actual answers!

Final Thoughts: 
Pink Globalization is a great read for people interested in globalization, international relations, and culture – and, of course, Hello Kitty. I recommend it if any of those topics or things appeal to you. If not, well, maybe pass on it. Not because it’s not a good book because obviously you’re not that interested in it!

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Super Boys

16044960Author: Brad Ricca
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Source: NetGalley DRC
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, History, Comic Books, Art, Biography

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Spoilers:  Low
GoodReads | Amazon

Everyone knows the origins of the character Superman. He’s an alien from a doomed planet called Krypton who crash landed in Kansas where he was raised by a childless couple who loved him as their own and protected him as he grew into his powers. As Clark Kent and Superman he would change the world. But what not too many people know is the origin of the of the comic book and how the character himself was created.

Now, some people might have a little bit of insight. Michael Cabon’s The Amazing Adventers of Kavalier and Clay titular characters were based on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – the real life creators of our beloved Superman. Sadly, more people know about the fictional versions than they do of the actual men who never quite managed to get the recognition they deserved for their famous creation. Really, the only thing most people know about them was that they sold the rights to Superman for less than $150 back in the 1930s and that they largely fell into obscurity afterward. Their story has gone untold for the most part but Brad Ricca decided to chance that. After a decade of research, he was able to put together a book that chronicles not only these men’s beginnings through their creation – and loss – of Superman but their lives afterward as well.

It’s very clearly a labor of love and Ricca believes very strongly in having these men’s stories told. He spins a very compelling narrative about two very ordinary people who should have known the fame and fortune that came with the Superman franchise but instead lived much different lives. The author walks us through each stage and shows us the heartbreak, tragedy, and personal troubles that these men faced as well as the legal battles that both them – and now their families on their behalf – have gone through to try and get some sort of creative and financial recognition for their efforts in creating Superman.

Final Thoughts:
A kind of heartbreaking story, you’ll find yourself enthralled by the lives of these two men whose stories have largely been lost until now. Others have shed light on their plight over the years but Ricca’s book really lets you go inside their lives and appreciate the men for what they did and the lives that they made for themselves. I personally enjoyed the legal battles that were described in later years but that’s because I’m a law student and we get into stuff like that. (Also, I read one of the cases about these guys for a class once so it was cool to sort of see things more from their perspective.) Definitely a book worth reading if only to acknowledge Siegel and Shuster’s work.

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The Maker Movement Manifesto

17718187Author: Mark Hatch
Release Date: September 4, 2013
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Source: NetGalley DRC
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Technology, Social Movement

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Spoilers:  Low
GoodReads | Amazon

The Maker movement is pretty incredible. Can I just say that? The sort of things that people manage to do and create with a little help from the Maker community are fantastic and I think it says a lot about people and their ingenuity. If we only give people a chance and give them the tools they need it’s clear that anyone – even the most unlikely among us – could really do great things. What I love about Mark Hatch’s book is that he recognizes that and instead going on about himself and his own contributions to the movement he takes the time to really look at the people and what they are doing.

Which says a lot about him, too, I think. Mark Hatch has been at the forefront of the Maker movement since it’s inception. The’s the CEO of TechShop which is a company that opens up high tech spaces for regular people to work in that are filled to the brill with high tech equipment. After paying a membership fee people are able to come in and use that equipment to make, build, and create the sort of items and products that would otherwise cost them a fortune to develop or just simply be impossible for them to ever realize.  Hatch breaks down the  basics of the Maker movement and his own motivations behind supporting it while at the same time encouraging the reader to consider the sort of things they could do if they only tried and joined the movement.

The book talks a lot about the people who have been a part of the movement and the sort of things they have created. I really liked that aspect of the book. And it encouraged me to look into TechShop myself. It turns out that in November – in conjunction with my university, Arizona State University – they are opening up a TechShop in Chandler, Arizona! Membership for the public is tenatively set at $125 while students will be charged $95. Anyone can come at any time to use the space and equipment with hours ranging from 9 AM to midnight. You know. For anyone who is interested in the actual logistics of joining TechSop and being awesome yourself!

Final Thoughts:
I don’t really think that the Maker Movement Manifesto is really any sort of manifesto. I figure the word just soudned good with the rest of the title. That said, the book itself is a very inspiring and uplifting read. Some people aren’t really the craftiest or the most engineering qualified. I certainly am not. But you know what? Plenty of people out there are and they just need the opportunity to get their hands dirty. I think this book does a really good job of outlining what it means to be a maker, the guiding influence behind the movement, and what it takes for a regular person to do something awesome.

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Superman: The Unauthorized Biography

16116967Author: Glen Weldon
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Publisher: Wiley
Source: Edelweiss DRC
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Comic Books, Pop Culture

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Spoilers:  Low
GoodReads | Amazon

The second Superman-related book on this list, Superman: The Unauthorized Biography is an interesting book that does it’s best to sum up the history behind the Man of Steel. It’s certainly not the only Superman book out there but I do think that it’s a very good one. Of course, other than Super Boys, it’s the only Superman book I’ve ever read so take that with a grain of salt if you will. I am also not the biggest DC or Superman fan in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I like DC Comics and I like Superman. But I’m also twenty-five years old and only started reading comic books a few years ago. I love comics but I don’t know as much about them as I would like.

Which is probably one of the reasons I thought it was a good book. Superman: The Unauthorized Biography is written for people like me, I think. It’s written for people who like Superman, like comics, and want to know more about the origins of the character. It’s written for the newer comic book fans and the nerds who just haven’t had the sort of exposure others may have had to classic Superman but who want to make up for that lost time. It’s not for hardcore fans because I think most hardcore fans would probably already be aware of much of what Glen Weldon offers readers. And it’s obviously not for casual fans because casual Superman fans really just want a Superman t-shirt and Man of Steel on blu ray. They probably won’t really care.

I will say, though, that if they do care and want to find out more then this book is actually very well written and it reads very easily. Sometimes it seems a bit disjointed or rushed but for the most part it’s a very quick, easy read. I finished it in a couple of days while also reading another book. The chapter subsections are helpful even if they erroneously give it a sort of strange ‘Idiots Guide to Superman’ sort of feel at times. If you’re reading the book in snippets it is fairly useful.  They are especially helpful when you think about just how much history the author manages to cram into a book that’s under four hundred pages long. He really does cover a lot of ground and he does so linearly for the most part. If you’re looking to cram in a lot about Superman in a short period of time you really won’t do any better than this book.

Final Thoughts:
Nerds looking to supplement their knowledge of the classic origins of Superman, rejoice! This book will run you through pretty much everything you’d ever need to know about the Man of Steel. Sure, there’s probably some stuff missing but for four hundred pages and an easy to read guide, it’s got all the core information, history, and stories you need to know to impress your geeky overlords.

Also: this would have been way cooler if it were an actual unauthorized biography of Superman as Clark Kent written some time after his death or something. But that’s just me.

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Of Dice and Men

15803047Author: David M. Ewalt
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Publisher: Scribner
Source: Edelweiss DRC
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Pop Culture, Subculture, Board Games

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers:  Low
GoodReads | Amazon

Despite an impressive amount of geeky knowledge and a fairly nerdy childhood, I am new to the whole Dungeons & Dragons scene. Therese and I both started playing maybe a year and a half ago with some buddies of mine from law school who are all solid, grissled D&D veterans. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty bad at the game. But as long as someone tells me when to role and doesn’t expect me to actually do any math, we’re good! It’s fun. I really enjoy it and I really enjoy just hanging out with friends. Our DM was pretty much consistently frustrated with us but hey. What’s D&D without running your DM ragged?

Because I’m new to the game and never knew anyone who played growing up I don’t really know a lot about the game. So when I saw Of Dice and Men come up for review I knew I had to request it. NetGalley actually denied my request but Edelweiss came through for me and I was super happy about that because Of Dice and Men was basically everything I had hoped it would be and more. Not only does the book give you a pretty solid background on the game but it also gives you a very personal account from the author David Ewalt’s point of view about being a gamer falling in and out of love with tabletop games. I think that what I had really wanted was that personal connection to the game that I really sort of lack at this point and David Ewalt does that well without getting too bogged down in his own personal memoirs.

Of Dice and Men chronicles the development of the game and it’s history including shedding light on the falling out of the creators. They also sort of follow the progression of the game through the various versions and even spend some time talking about the evolution of LARP games and other aspects of being a geek. Ewalt is clearly one of us and the way he handles talking about the ostracizing of nerds in school, dating, etc. really hits home. But what I appreciate is that he’s never really bitter about it. He embraces it all in the same sort of way that I think I’ve accepted the nerdier aspects of my own life. He’s not a fanatic to the core; he’s just a fan. I see a lot of myself in David Ewalt and I think that if I had grown up the same way he had (and been a dude, of course) I think that I might have been able to write a very similar book myself.

Final Thoughts:
A quintessential book about nerd culture, I really cannot recommend this book enough. It was a great non-stereotypical look at what it means to be a nerd through the lens of someone who grew up playing one of the nerdiest games around. Of Dice and Men is a great book that every nerd should read if they get a chance.

One response to “Educate Yourself With These Geek-tastic Non-Fiction Titles

  1. Pingback: Nerdophiles Review | Brad Ricca·

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