The Comic Book Story of Video Games | review

The gaming industry produced over $100 billion in revenue this past year, and that number is only going to go up. Within any of our lifetimes, whether your first game was Angry Birds or Pong, the progression of video games has been astounding. The Comic Book Story of Video Games is an incredibly informative graphic novel that tells the incredible story of the electronic gaming revolution.

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This graphic novel starts with the history of video, which is the actual logical place to start the history of video games! Don’t be deceived by the fun drawings and the inclusion of video game characters through this history (it’s a fun Easter egg to spot them!), but this was actually a fairly technical background on the technology behind video and gaming! I loved learning so, so much about the technological innovation that went into bringing video games to life.

I also really loved learning about the context of some of the biggest games in history. What was the historical context for Pong and Pac-man and Pokemon? What technological advances were necessary for each of those games to come out? What made Microsoft come out with XBox? What is the highest-selling console of all time? How did console gaming finally take off to begin with?

These questions and more are answered in this fun read, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a tiny bit of interest in video games and technology.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

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The New York Times: Footsteps

If you enjoy dreaming of visiting the places whose beauty and spirits inspire some of literature’s great authors, you may love The New York Times‘s “Footsteps” column. Their newest book is a collection of a few of these columns, if you want to keep a physical copy of these little bursts of literary travel to flip through. After all, it makes sense that someone who wants to see the physical spaces that inspired stories we have only lived in our imaginations might relish the physicality of flipping the pages of this book.

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I’ll admit that The New York Times: Footsteps was not the best book for me to read during my subway ride. Normally, I think anthologies of short stories are good for my commute, as I only get about 15 minutes each way (20-25 minutes if I decide to read while I walk!) and it can be very frustrating to have to break up my reading time if I’m reading a very addictive book. (You don’t want to put it down!)

Additionally, I found that this wasn’t as enjoyable for me to read because:

  1. I wasn’t familiar with all of the authors referenced throughout.
  2. I wasn’t familiar with all of the destinations referenced throughout.
  3. The differences in writing style sometimes felt a bit disjointed.

The columns I enjoyed most were, of course, about authors whose work I am familiar with and/or with travel destinations I am familiar with. Columns about a place I haven’t heard of that inspired a poem I’ve never read were difficult for me to feel any connection to. That being said, some of the columnists used their words to craft a beautiful image of a destination that drew me in, and/or they were able to describe a piece of literature in such a compelling way that I want to read an author for the first time.

I’d recommend having a look at the list of authors and destinations and seeing if any are of interest to you. I love the idea of retracing the footsteps that inspired a piece of literature or an entire body of work and looking at that destination through this lens.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

The Inkblots (2017)

I enrolled in college as a psychology major, not because it was a way to be undecided without bring actually undecided but because I really enjoyed psychology. While I didn’t take psychology in high school, I self-studied for the AP Psychology exam and got a 5 because I absolutely devoured the material. My dad works in psychology and is the person who exposed me to the field. As a result, I’ve long had a deep interest in the workings of the human mind and the rigorous scientific study of it. (The scientific method is your best friend, folks!)

The Rorschach test is pretty famous. You probably know it as the symmetrical ink blot that shrinks show to people, drawing conclusions about their mental state based on what these crazies see in the amorphous shapes. You may even know the name from the character in The Watchmen, whose mask shows a symmetrical, always-changing pattern of black shapes.

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This guy right here.

Author Damion Searls set out to write The Inkblots:Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing because there was no definitive Rorschach biography, despite the huge impact that his inkblots have had on psychology and pop culture. I’ve known about the Rorschach for a long time, primarily as a pop psych test that is fun to do and fun to get results from, but ultimately not that reliable. I learned that this perception of the inkblot test comes not from the original test that Hermann Rorschach spent his life developing but from generations of people not giving the test correctly and letting politics get in the way of psychology.

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The first half of the book is a great biography of Hermann Rorschach. First of all, look at him: he looks like a combination of Karl Urban and Brad Pitt and he lived during the golden age of psychology. His contemporaries were Freud and Jung, two of the biggest names in psychology to this day, and wrote letters to Tolstoy. He was just this extraordinarily brilliant mind who placed high value on art and the human part of the human mind. While many psychologists and psychiatrists of the time saw patients as just patients, Rorschach never lost sight of the humanity of his work. Born into a family of artists, he was extremely in tune with how art affected people and how perceptions reflected the condition of the mind.

Honestly, it was really inspiring to read about this man who was likely a genius and definitely ahead of his time with his approaches to the study of the mind, interacting with patients, and using art for therapy. Searls paints a very flattering portrait of Rorschach as a man who was raised at the juncture of an artistic family and Russian thought, a man whose brilliance was only magnified by his great compassion for the minds who needed his help the most, a man who was able to see patterns and draw conclusions that would not be confirmed until decades later when science was able to catch up.

It was a bit of a shock when he passed away halfway through the book, to say the least. By that point, I had become so attached to Hermann Rorschach, his loving family, his patients and his colleagues, and of course, the inkblots that were the culmination of all the experiences of his life (as highlighted by the book). Turning the page and finding that Dr. Rorschach had suddenly died hit hard, and as a reader, I was left scrambling to pick up the pieces while the inkblot test remained in motion, just as the world was left trying to figure out what to make of the inkblots before Rorschach was able to publish about them.

If you thought Rorschach’s biography was fascinating, the timeline of the Rorschach inkblots as they relate to psychology over the decades was incredible. I have been really enjoying these non-fiction books where I can explore a field over time, like cellular biology and quantum physics, and The Inkblots is no exception. Learning about how the Rorschach test became a test, was changed in execution and perception as it traveled from one practitioner to another, from one clinic to another, from lecture hall to student, and back around again… The politics that surrounded the 10 inkblots as different camps emerged in the attempt to uncover the best way to utilize the Rorschach, how best to help patients, how best to get accurate results.

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Card I of the Rorschach inkblots. What do you see?

I closed this book with an enormous newfound respect for Hermann Rorschach, whose brilliant mind was tragically taken from the world with his early death at a time when he was poised to change it drastically. I also took away a new respect for the Rorschach inkblots in their design and original intent and execution. The inkblots seem very random, but in fact, Rorschach agonized over perfecting their abstract forms. And he got incredible results showing those inkblots to patients and to other clinicians, who were seeing the same amazing results. It’s just that, over time, as people were not trained properly in how to administer the inkblots, the reliability of the test went way down, and so did the esteem of these humble inkblots.

I highly, highly recommend this book if you are a lover of science, psychology, art, and the nexus of the 3.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Weapons of Math Destruction (2016)

If you enjoyed Freakonomics, I think you’ll really enjoy Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. This book is crucial as we become an increasingly data-driven, automated world.

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Weapons of Math Destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy

While it’s very exciting that we have machine learning and big data, O’Neil highlights how important it is to realize that the algorithms that we allow to run our lives in an attempt to avoid human biases are, in fact, developed by biased humans. Or they run in a biased context. And it’s important to think about this, especially in the wake of things like social media algorithms that keep us in echo chambers of people repeating shared opinions back at us and with more and more tasks becoming automated to the point where we don’t know why things happen anymore – we can only point to the computers and say “the algorithm did it”. Although the book came out before the 2016 US presidential election, she touches on the danger of our News Feeds and the fake news that can circulate in these echo chambers, which has become a huge topic of late. She also touches on how Weapons of Math Destruction were involved with the 2008 housing crisis, which was why she left the hedge fund she previously worked at.

O’Neil is not afraid to name names, either. She calls out specific companies that enable and encourage data-based biases, like police predictive software and teacher evaluations. This book really opens your eyes to the kinds of injustices that we are no longer able to say is the fault of people and, instead, just shrug and say, “Well, the numbers don’t lie.”

And it’s true, numbers don’t lie. But the thing with the Weapons of Math Destruction, which are carried out at a huge scale, is they often don’t receive feedback as to whether or not they’re working. Unlike sports statistics, which O’Neil thinks is an ideal use of data because they are constantly calibrated based on whether or not the predictions were correct, these WMDs plow forward with no regard to whether or not the predictions are correct. This is all the more dangerous if they are written with biases in them or designed as self-fulfilling prophecies.

This was one of my favorite reads this year because I am fascinated but apprehensive about the role that big data is taking in our world. While I was busy worrying about what companies can do with my data (still a valid concern!), it’s so important to understand the the lack of transparency with how some of these big data predictions and decisions are made have very serious consequences.

I highly highly recommend you pick up this book and learn about how companies are using data to perpetuate biases and to learn ways that we can start critically thinking of solutions to avoid just that.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

The Snow Queen

Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tales are well-known to many of us for their place in our collective fairy tale storybook and for their Disney adaptations.

Yes, The Snow Queen is the story that inspired Disney’s Frozen. But I’m not going to talk about Frozen. I want to talk about this gorgeous print edition of this classic winter fairy tale.

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What a lovely way to share this classic fairy tale. If you only know the “Let It Go” version of this story, then I recommend visiting the original Hans Christian Andersen tale of Kay and Gerda and the Snow Queen.

The illustrations by Sanna Annukka are really beautiful.

If you have a friend who is a fan of fairy tales, illustrated books, or Hans Christian Andersen, or are looking for a classic book to read with a child in your life, I’d recommend this one and the others in this series.

(Ironically enough, yesterday was almost 80 degrees outside. But the winter will be here before we know it…)

In the middle of the vast, empty hall of snow was a frozen lake. It was cracked into a thousand pieces, but each piece was shaped so exactly like the others that it seemed a work of wonderful craftsmanship…


Back cover excerpt

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.