Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

This one of many books I'm reading on my Kindle

This is the first book to sell a million copies on the Kindle. That's a good hint about the kind of book this is: if you like gadgets like the Kindle, there is a good chance you'll like this book.

This book is the first of a series. It's a prequel for the real story that takes place in the next two books. By the way, the protagonist is a journalist (modeled on Stieg Larsson himself), the "girl" in question is the subject of the stories.

I know a number of people who have tried to read this book, but given up. They describe the book as "dense". That's a good description. There is a lot of stuff going on in each and every page, most of which doesn't move the story forward. The author died before the stories were published. Therefore, they lack a good editor who tells the author to go back and clean up crap.

On the other hand, this might be the reason the stories so popular. They contain what the author wanted for himself, not what an editor wanted for the public. As a result, the story and the style is a lot more original than mass-market novels.

I am a "hacker" (well, a computer security professional), and the girl that is the subject of the story is a "hacker". That means everyone like me has probably read this story. Don't worry, though, the technical aspects of hacking are almost non-existent, so they don't disturb the flow of the story. Why I find interesting about this is the way outsiders (those not in the hacking community) view hackers.

There are a lot of themes in these three books. Stieg Larsson is not just trying to tell a story, but convince readers of his views on a number of topics, ranging from the state of journalism today to the problems in the Swedish government. (These are the sorts of things an editor would fix).

The most interesting aspect of the stories is the "Swedishisms". The books are so very, very Swedish. For example, every time one character offers another character money, they suggest "…and I can give you cash so you don't have to report it to the government". That's because income taxes in Sweden are the highest in the western world. Everybody looks for ways to avoid paying taxes. Nobody thinks twice about it. In much the way we don't think it's immoral to speed in the car, Swedes don't think it's particular immoral to avoid taxes.

As you read the books, look for odd things like the characters not driving cars. That's a Swedishism, derived from the weird tax laws on automobiles. In contrast, our government largely subsidizes automobiles.

As a journalist, Larsson hates what journalism has become. Rather than focusing on the "truth", it instead focuses on sensationalist stories that sell papers. Rather than challenging those in power, it too often becomes their tool. Actually, it's the same here in America.


I read the books for the same reason I read The Da Vinci Code: I saw so many other people reading the books (such as on airplanes), I had to read it too.

If you can get past the fact that they really aren't well crafted books (they need editing), I think you'll enjoy the total originality of them. They are chock full of interesting themes that the author was interested in -- but which a good editor would have told him to remove.

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