's Mini Book Reviews

I give each title a rating on a scale of 1 to 5 stars and a few words as to subject and why I gave it that rating. There probably won't be too many 1 or 2 star ratings since, if I think it's that bad I probably won't finish reading it. :-P

Poker Without Cards: A Consciousness Thriller by Ben Mack Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible by Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau
40 Digital Photography Techniques by John Kim The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History by Howard Bloom
Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet by Dan Vogel Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace by Dan Margulis
5 Stars

Poker Without Cards
by Ben Mack

Poker Without Cards is a consciousness thriller presented as the transcript of psychiatrist Dr. William Fink's taped interviews with Howard Campbell, a friend of the doctor's patient, Richard Wilson who had been admitted to the doctor's hospital in a catatonic state.

Campbell talks to the doctor about the ideas of Buckminster Fuller, the nascent science of memetics, the media and advertising's pervasive influence on culture and behavior, the workings of world politics, religion, sanity and modern psychiatric treatment and more, swinging dizzily from one subject the another, dropping references to books and other sources at a non-stop pace.

Poker Without Cards works on multiple levels, and the curious reader will find many avenues for further exploration and investigation. PWC blurs the boundary between truth and fiction and the boundary between a novel and the real world with characters maintaining their own weblogs.

You can download an eBook (in PDF format) of Poker Without Cards for free from the book website. Or if you prefer a physical book, you can buy it from

4 1/2 Stars

Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible
by Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau

In Killing the Buddha Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau take a journey across the United States, looking at the way people relate to the spiritual and incorporate God into their lives today. Alternating with chapters describing the people they meet on their journey are 13 books of the Bible, as rewritten/interpreted/reimagined by modern day writers. The result is a thought provoking examination of the role of spirituality in a post-modern world and man's struggle to find God and come to grips with a seemingly uncaring universe.

The people the authors meet on their journey are a diverse lot with correspondingly diverse spiritual beliefs. Their stories are humorous and haunting, frightening and inspiring. Most of Killing the Buddha is made up of the "new" Bible books. Very different approaches are taken by the various writers involved. Consequently, I think this is both the most uneven part of the book as well as the most interesting. Some stories just didn't work for me, but others really resonated. These hits and misses will vary with the reader, but almost everyone can find it a rewarding read.

You can buy Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible at

4 Stars

40 Digital Photography Techniques
by John Kim

When I got my Canon A85 digital camera, I looked for a book that would help me get a handle on the camera's manual options so I could get the most out of them. I picked this one up since it was cheaper than most of the books in this category, but looked to be fairly comprehensive. Much of the information in 40 Digital Photography Techniques is applicable to film photography as much as digital photography.

The book concentrates on photography fundamentals, from holding the camera when shooting to how shutter speed and f-stop interact in the exposure of an image. The book is full of practical advice for shooting people, pets, landscapes as well as more diverse subject matter. Night scenes, focal blur and other specialty shots are explained clearly in short, easy-to-follow tips. The author also devotes quite a bit of space to photo composition and appreciating the details that will help set your photos apart from run-of-the-mill snapshots. Professionals and accomplished amateur photographers will probably not find much in 40 Digital Photography Techniques that they don't already know, but beginners and aspiring hobbyists will find the book useful and informative. The book comes with a CD containing some software for working with your images. I can't comment on it's utility as it was all Windows-only software.

You can buy 40 Digital Photography Techniques at

3 Stars

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History
by Harold Bloom

In The Lucifer Principle Harold Bloom presents a slight twist on the theory of evolution. He contends that evolution is largely driven by group behavior and adaptation rather than individuals of the species. He further contends that the relatively new scientific concept of memes plays a significant part in driving human evolution. Memes are concepts and ideas and the science of memetics studies how memes propagate from mind to mind and through groups and cultures.

Bloom chooses extreme and many times, violent examples from history to make his points and I found his style to be gratuitous and irritating which certainly affected my opinion of the book. Nevertheless, Bloom certainly raises some interesting points in this book and it is very readable. While I suspect there is some merit in his ideas I also find his thesis that evolution is largely driven by the violent displacment of competitors to be a bit narrow as well as somewhat cynical.

You can buy The Lucifer Principle at

2 1/2 Stars

Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel

Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet starts off promisingly, relating a well researched history of the Mormon prophet's life from his birth up to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. At this point though, as the story turns to the translation of the Book of Mormon, Vogel begins to intersperse a laborious examination of the BOM text with the events of the translation and Joseph Smith's life during this period.

Vogel's purpose in the intensive textual examination is to prove his thesis that the Book of Mormon was an autobiographical composition by Joseph Smith, written to deal with and resolve the religious conflict between his parents and by extension, throughout his family. Vogel's tedious examination of the Book of Mormon story attempts to tie every event in the book to his theory, with widely varying success. Many of the parallels and conclusions Vogel attempts to draw rest on a large number of assumptions and are very tenuous at best.

Despite its prodigious page count and the exhaustive research that went into it, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet ultimately disappoints, as the narrative bogs down in a struggle to fit evidence to theory rather than vice versa.


Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace
by Dan Margulis

With Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace Dan Margulis sets a new bar for color correction with Photoshop. Using curves and skillful layer blending in the LAB color space, Margulis achieves amazing results, from pulling sharp, colorful images out of hazy, dull originals to changing the color of specific items in an image without having to resort to creating and using masks.

Margulis' books take an advanced approach to color in Photoshop and can require real concentration to follow at times. He doesn't give simple formulas and recipes like many Photoshop books do. Instead, he goes through his thinking process as he appoaches and corrects a photo. This forces you learn to diagnose an image's problems yourself so you can determine the best way to correct it if you want to use Margulis' techniques. Therefore it's a bit unusual in that Margulis begins this book with a simple LAB "recipe" that can work wonders on a certain class of images.

The first few (the first 6 I believe) chapters in fact give fairly simple LAB techniques which anyone can use, followed by a more technical discussion of the how and why the technique works. After those first few chapters though, the book gets into more advanced techniques which novices and casual users may have a difficult time following but intermediate and advanced users will find well worth while.

Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace is that rare Photoshop book that truly introduces revolutionary approaches and techniques and is an essential addition to the library of serious students of color correction.

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This page was last modified on Sunday, June 10, 2007.