Monday, September 17, 2018

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone:
This is a biography of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, one of the first cryptoanalysts in the early 20th century. It's rare that a person's life is as interesting throughout as Elizebeth's, leading the biography to be a more comprehensive look at her place in history rather than a set of vignettes separated by long time jumps. There are also great, shallow looks at the world events going on at the same time, revealing some interesting stories such as J. Edgar Hoover's concerted efforts to steal credit for her work for the FBI.

Final Grade: B+

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward:
This is a fairly dry look at the Trump administration through the lens of various policy decisions (North Korea, trade agreements, DACA). The chapters meander along with abrupt transitions that make the content feel more like attention-deficit vignettes than an end-to-end narrative but also mimic how the administration lurched along in real life. The book does not paint a flattering portrait of Trump (depicting him as someone in way over his head who never actually expected to win, rather than an evil mastermind). It's sometimes clear who some of the deep background sources were, based on how sympathetically they're described in the text, and the way quotation marks are used on sourced dialogue but not on deep background dialogue can get confusing.

Final Grade: B-

The 100, Season Five:
The time jump freshens up the plot and perspectives nicely here, and the writers have finally gotten a little better at writing morally grey characters that change their minds for actual reasons (other than, "I'm a teenager in a love triangle"). The "main" main character, Clarke, is still generally unlikable and uninteresting but the rest of the plot and cast make up for it. I enjoyed this season although the shake-up in the finale may be one shake-up too far. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B+

The Good Place, Season Two:
The tagline on the box, "How long can they keep this up?", was my thought after finishing the great first season of this show. The show continues to evolve beyond its original conceit, with the germ for an entire network show season compressed into just the first few episodes (the first episode of season two is the weakest for exactly this reason). This remains a warm, absurd show where the plot really just functions as a backdrop for great jokes about pop culture and human nature. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B+

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