What do you Read?

Just how does a person share a book these days?  It used to be that you put your name on the inside of the cover and then lent the book to a close friend with the adomonition to “Please get it back to me when you are finished with it” or you might just say “Pass it on when you are done.”  The ‘get it back to me’ rarely worked.  If it did come back the cover would have gained water ripples from being left out all night on the patio table.  Then there was always the “I loaned it out to Tim…ask him what he did with it.”  As it stands now I have thrown out or donated a large part of my personal library.  It was getting to the point that I needed to build new bookcases each year.  My reliance on the local public library thus increased greatly.  Read the book and return it – simple!  Unfortunately our library also had a book donation corner near the front door.

“Hardcovers $1, paperbacks 3/$1, magazines 10 cents each”

Who could resist such a temptation?  My library grew way faster than the lawn (unfortunately the house did not increase in size).  Many books I purchased would later return to the library as second time donations.

Enter the Electronic Age (e-This and i-That).  Our state library system now provides books as files available over the Internet.  You ‘take out’ a book and three weeks later it self-destructs.  Actually it does not self-destruct; it just becomes impossible to open the file anymore.  You can read these books on your electronic device, be it a computer, Kindle, iPad, Nook, or other such modern marvel.  I now regularly download books and read them on the Kindle.  I know, they say it’s not possible to do that because Amazon will only allow you to read .txt, .pdf (barely), or .azw files that do not have DRM protection as most all library loaners do.  That little problem can be overcome with a couple Python routines and file transfers by USB cable.  Unfortunately the most common file format at our state library web site is something called EPUB.  A Kindle can not deal with that.  Enter the iPad.  It reads the EPUB files just fine with the assistance of an app called Bluefire Reader.  The nice thing is that all the latest best sellers are in this format! 

Then of course there are the thousands of public domain titles that are freely available all over the Internet (including at Amazon and Apple).  There are classics and obscure works both.  Of course you can actually purchase a book and have it delivered to your device in seconds.  I have done that on a few occasions too, especially when the price was a bit low or I just could not wait to get it from the library.  The Devil in the White City, reviewed below, is one such title that I just had to have.

So, without further rambling I invite you to look through some of the titles that I have recently read.  You may just find something that intrigues you as much as it did me.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

This book was an ideal choice for me. It mixes my love for radio with my interest in murder mysteries. This is the kind of book that gives a very personal insight on what Marconi was like. It also provides plenty of history on the development of radio and the attendant political fights that ensued. The murder part of the book, which ties in with the newest technology of the times (radio) also covers the newly emerging field of forensic science. The case this book brings to light is the first big crime solved by Bernard Spilsbury, considered the father of modern crime investigation. I raced through this book.
Reviews:

NPR’s All Things Considered did an article on this book.

Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz

It’s the 1970’s and two Yale coeds decide to make a cross-country bike trek. When their tent is run over by a truck and the girls are brutally attacked with a hatchet, nobody is arrested for the crime. 15 years later Terri Jentz returns to the scene of the outrage in Oregon and tries to track down the man who tried to kill her and her friend. This is an absolutely fascinating account of real people and unbelievable situations. Although a long book, the reading is riveting. This is the real thing and it makes fiction pale by comparison.
Reviews:
Google has made available printed excerpts of the book.
Powell’s.com has reviews of the book and an actual video made by the author, Terri Jentz.

The Father of Forensics by Colin Evans

Imagine a television show or movie about CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) with a timeframe of 1920-1950. This is what you get with this book about Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the very first forensic investigator worthy of the title. His exploits easily put his fictional contemporary, Sherlock Holmes, to shame. This book will convince you that evil men have always been with us but were usually never caught. Not until Bernard Spilsbury arrived on the scene. Turn off the TV and read this book.
Reviews:

Empires of Light by Jill Jonnes

It is the late 1880’s in America and technology is exploding. The genesis for this explosion is our newfound understanding of electricity. The great motivators are three giants: Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse. This is the story of how the world became electrified. The book gives a realistic and well researched view of a time that was very different from now. It also deals with the personalities of the men responsible for bringing electricity, light, and motorized industry to the world. This is just one more creative work that fills the gaps in your appreciation of invention in America.

Reviews:
Jill Jonnes has her own web site where you can learn more about this book and others she has written.

Paul’s Down-Home Page has a nicely done review that gives a good flavor of the book.

Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority by John McWhorter

“Black America today is permeated by a new kind of double consciousness that has strayed far beyond the one Du Bois examined in 1903…” so begins this book that says what so many people refuse to say. John McWhorter is a successful university professor and linguist. He is also black and very tired of the excuses some black people give for their lack of achievement. He claims that many blacks have two selves, one private and one public. The private persona is the authentic person and this is reserved for interaction with friends and family. The public persona is one of a persecuted individual who deserves special treatment to make up for the racial prejudice that he is subjected to. McWhorter’s book is a call to all black Americans to have pride in their intellectual achievement and to make heroes of black Americans who pursue excellence. A must read book.

Reviews:

Amazon.com has a section called “Books to help Black America WAKE UP”. This book and others are highlighted there.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research has a page dedicated to the writings of John McWhorter. You can read many of his essays right there. Check it out.

The Culture of Disbelief by Stephen Carter

Have you noticed a trend in the culture of America that makes it popular to move away from religious belief and to mock those who do believe in God? Stephen Carter exposes this trend and explains the dangers associated with it. As one reviewer expressed it, Carter will upset liberals and conservatives alike. His book is about honesty in everyday life and the role that belief in God plays. This book will make you question your belief system, no matter what you already believe. I wrote an e-mail to Mr. Carter and complemented him on this compelling book. I mentioned that reading his book was a very gratifying experience even though there were things he mentioned that I could not agree with. His response was “As to disagreeing, I am less concerned about whether people find what I say persuasive, than about whether they have found it worth their while to think about. Generally, as in your note, they can then give me much to think about in return.” Stephen Carter is a professor of law at Yale University. Read his book. It will make you think.

Reviews:

Leadership University, a biblical study organization, did an insightful and complete review of this book.

Amazon.com allows you to read a random page from the book.

The publisher of the book, Random House, has a nice page with references to several reviews. It is worth a look.

This is Paradise! by Hyok Kang.

This is the autobiography of a young man from North Korea. He and his family escaped from North Korea into China and eventually made their way to South Korea where they now live. Since the early 1990’s millions of people in North Korea have died of starvation. The situation became critical around 1994. It continues today. The root cause is not famine or natural disasters as the government would have the world believe. It is, as usual, the politics of communism. Hyok’s story paints a bleak picture of a people that live regimented and wretched lives under a cruel and deceitful dictator Kim Jong-Il. If you want to know what North Korea is really like, this is the book to read. If you want to understand why communism is so hated and feared by democratic societies, you must read this book. Of course, if you were a North Korean and this book or any other not sanctioned by the government was found in your possession you would be arrested and shot to death.

Reviews:

Lotus Reads is a blog site that does book reviews. You will find a review and comments there.

The author wrote an article for the London Times. It also contains excerpts from his book. This will give you a good understanding of what his autobiography is like.

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris

I have read a number of books on astronomy. None of them could even come close to this one. It is a concise history of astronomy from pre-history times to the modern era (1988 when this book was written). The author knows how to tell an interesting story. This is not a textbook. The explanations are so clear that even I was able to understand concepts that I once thought beyond my grasp. If you always wanted to know how scientists were able to figure out how the universe works this book is for you. It becomes easy and enjoyable when someone who knows how to write is telling the story.

Reviews:

The New York Times has an extensive review of this book (you must register for access). Check it out. If you need to borrow a copy I have one on the shelf for interested family members.

The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island by Linda Greenlaw

This is one of my favorites. I originally purchased the book for my daughter Melanie (who now has the book) and ended up reading it myself. You may recall in the movie A Perfect Storm that there was a woman lobster boat captain. Linda is that person. This is her story. It tells how she became the captain of a lobster boat out of Maine for 17 years. She is actually a journalism graduate of Colby College who decided that fishing was her true love in life. The stories in this book are incredible! I read this book very quickly and then went on to read two other books by her. Linda is a delightful writer who will educate and entertain you.

Amazon.com actually has several good reviews of this book and others by Linda. Please check it out.

Busting Vegas, The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the CASINOS TO THEIR KNEES, by Ben Mezrich

A lot of people have heard about them but few know the complete story. This story is about a group of MIT students who became part of a group that learned to beat the casinos. It was organized by a MIT grad student, Victor Cassius. He started with a group of about 50 willing students. Only about 8 of them made it to the first small team that hit the casinos. They spent their weekends gambling and winning. They also got in a lot of trouble, some of it life threatening. They were not card counting but were using a series of three very specific techniques that required months of practice. The star of the team and the focus of this true story is Semyon Dukach, the student who was eventually known as the Darling of Las Vegas.

Read the book and you will actually get the details on how to do it. More importantly you will get a glimpse of what legal gambling is really all about. This book just solidified my aversion to gambling casinos. I dare you to read just the first chapter and then put the book down.

A web page titled “Meet The Author” has a short video done by Ben Mezrich discussing his book.

The Sea Captain’s Wife by Martha Hodes

This book will present you with a truly unique view of our country during the time of the civil war. It is the story of a poor white woman , Eunice Connolly, who lived in Massachusetts and worked in the mills. Her financial situation was never any good and it got worse when she was married. Her husband was not successful and eventually took his family south to Atlanta looking for work. He ended up being in the Confederate Army fighting against his own brothers in law. Eunice’s life went from bad to worse after the war and it only turned around when she met a black sea captain from the Grand Caymans. Against all convention of the time she married him and her life finally saw some light.

This book was just incredible. The research that went into it was top notch. Read it.

Go to the author’s web page and read some of the book and reviews. It also lists times and places where she will appear for book signings.

Witnessing History, One Chinese Woman’s Fight for Freedom by Jennifer Zeng

Jennifer Zeng was a successful college graduate and mother who lived in China. Her career was interrupted by a very serious virus infection that left her with no energy and unable to leave home for work. Then she heard about Falun Gong. It was a mix of public exercise, meditation, and personal development. Also known as Falun Dafa, the precepts of this philosophy are Truthfulness, Benevolence, and Forbearance. It is said to promote mental and physical health. She took up the practice and soon found that all traces of her disease disappeared. She then entered a new career in the emerging Chinese stock investment field. Jennifer was very successful and became one of the most valued employees at the firm where she worked. All went well until the Chinese government decided that the Falun Gong movement was a threat to the nation. They began arresting anyone who practiced Falun Gong in public. People were usually released once they promised to never again practice Falun Gong. Jennifer was arrested several times and kept for longer stays with each successive arrest. She refused to refute the teachings of Falun Gong and was subsequently placed in a hard labor camp (re-education camp) for over a year. She and others were subjected to torture, deprivation, and beatings. Thousands were arrested and many died in prison. This is the story of one of the most repressive communist governments in history. The situation is unchanged to this day. If a Chinese citizen were to unfurl a Falun Gong banner in Tiananmen Square today, they would be arrested within 5 minutes and go directly to jail (there are hundreds of cameras covering the square at all times).

Jennifer eventually escaped China after her release from prison and is presently living in Australia. Read her book so you will know who we are really dealing with when you hear about the favorable trade status the USA confers on China.

To learn about Falun Dafa, go to their organization web site. There are readings, books, and general information available. If you have forgotten what Tiananmen Square was all about back in 1989, check out the recent headlines about its anniversary. There is a review at Amazon.com. Soho Press has a review also. Also check out the Epoch Times. You can read the actual book online at Questia.com .

Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals

The year is 1957. I was in the third grade at Conimicut Elementary School in Warwick, RI. Melba Pattillo, a black girl living in Little Rock, AR, was ready to enter the 11th grade in high school. She and 8 other black teens were enlisted to attend Little Rock Central High, an all white high school of over 2,000 students. On the first day of classes she was met by a crowd of 2,000 jeering segregationists ready for a fight. The governor himself had the National Guard ring the school (two blocks long and 7 stories high) to prevent any of the “niggers” from entering. They did not make it in that day but they returned a couple weeks later with the 101st Airborne Division sent by President Eisenhower to protect them. They entered and a year of misery began for the Little Rock Nine. Melba Patillo was one of those nine students and she finally was able to write this recollection in 1994. We now take it for granted that students of different races all deserve to go to the same schools. It was not always so. Read this book to get a real feel for the horror of segregation and the bigotry associated with it. It is now 50 years later (2007) and racial prejudice is still with us, but we can be thankful to these 9 students and others like them that it will never again be as bad as it was. Look carefully at the photograph below. That shows Elizabeth Eckford trying to ignore the mob and enter the school through the line of Arkansas National Guards. She did not make it in that day.

There is a short review and several links on Amazon.com.

Melba has her own web page which discusses this book and others.

My City Was Gone by Dennis Love

Have you ever heard of Anniston, Alabama? It was once touted as the best city in America to live in. It seems that is not so. The only thing I ever knew about Anniston was that there was an Army base there. I know this because I sometimes respond to DOD solicitations for bids on the machining of various parts the Army needs. It seems that the Anniston base is also the largest storehouse for chemical weapons in the USA. It is also the home of a very large Monsanto Chemical plant. Can you see where this is going? This is the story of a town that was systematically poisoned and endangered over a 50-year period by these two culprits. Something was finally done several years ago when local citizens and lawyers banded together to set things straight. This book tells the story of how a town in the U.S.A. can be allowed to become so badly polluted for so long with nobody doing anything about it. You will never trust a major corporation again after reading this. This was an eye-opener. I was not too fond of the writing style and had to push myself through much of it that seemed a bit drawn out, but the message did get through.

Reviews:

China Live, Two Decades in the Heart of the Dragon by Mike Chinoy

Mike Chinoy presents a very unique and balanced view on China in this book published in 1997. He started out as a 1970’s college student at Yale who was invited to visit China with other students as a result of his pro-Mao views. Mike was politically on the radical fringe, believing that Chairman Mao was doing it right and the US (then fighting a China-supported war in Vietnam) had it all wrong. Mike described his initial visit to China and his subsequent dedication to becoming a student of China and its language. He eventually landed the job he wanted, Beijing bureau chief for CNN. This was after working for other networks where he was not getting the freedom and positions he wanted. Mike was in China during the amazing years of ferment when China began to open up to the world and grant its people incremental improvements in freedom. This book documents the turmoil in China from the early ’70’s through 1994, including the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989. It also documents Chinoy’s maturing and his enlightened world view. You get a real feel for living in China when you read this book…. all the repression, fear, and desire for freedom is evident. The book also covers several other hotspots such as Ireland and North Korea. Read this and you will have a better understanding of current world events and you will have increased respect for CNN, the new kid on the block.

Reviews:

Mike Chinoy was interviewed about the book when it was released and you can read the interview.

Barnes and Noble has a review.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to ISLAM (AND THE CRUSADES), by Robert Spencer

This is a truly scary book. One of the cover credits titled “praise for the author on RevivingIslam.com” reads as follows: “May Allah rip out his spine from his back and split his brains in two, and then put them both back, and then do it over and over again. Amen.” The biography on the back cover tells a little about the author, Robert Spencer, and when it gets to the part where it usually tells you about his family it reads “He (Spencer) lives in a Secure, Undisclosed Location.” This book has truly pissed off a bunch of Muslims. The reason? Spencer tells it like it is and lays bare their unadulterated desire for world domination and the subjugation or elimination of all unbelievers. Unless you faithfully practice the Islam faith, you are an infidel and according to Mohamed as written in the Qur’an you have three choices: (1) Convert, (2) Subjugate yourself to Islamic rule by paying a tax to the Muslims and withstanding their demining treatment of you (called dhimmi) or (3) you must be killed. These instructions are repeated over and over again in the Qur’an and in other writing by and about Muhammad. Spencer easily demonstrates that this is not extremist Islam but mainstream Islam. In most Islamic countries nearly one half of all the population, or more, believe in these precepts. And yes, Spencer cites the studies and polls that this information is gleaned from. Throughout the book there are separate panels where the words of Jesus are contrasted with those of Muhammad. The contrast between the man of peace and the warrior who slaughtered his own townspeople when they refused to accept him as a prophet is shocking. Spencer also gives the politically incorrect version of why the crusades happened (they were a delayed reaction to centuries of cruel Muslim wars that killed and enslaved much of the Near East, Asia, and eastern Europe) and what they actually accomplished. They held off the advancing Islamic invaders just long enough for them to finally pull back as a result of their own internal politics. The problem is that they are advancing again. They are infiltrating European and Asian and North American countries with the intention of eventually imposing their religion and religious law (Sharia Law) on everyone they allow to live. Spencer does not claim that this is the goal of all Muslims, but he does show that an alarming number of them support these precepts and the terrorist groups that promote them. Many Muslims are not even aware of the violence preached by the Qur’an (Koran) since they are not familiar with the book. Others ignore it or embrace it. This book speaks up and tells us that we have been warned and that it is time for the tolerant and democratic governments of this world to protect themselves. Read this book and any of the numerous references it cites in asides as “A Book You’re Not Supposed to Read” and you will have your eyes opened.

Reviews:

The author is the director of Jihad Watch and an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation

Read a few customer reviews on Amazon.

The Middle East Forum also provides a short review.

Panama Fever, The Building of the Panama Canal by Matthew Parker

I have a special interest the history of technology as it unfolded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Matthew Parker’s book Panama Fever is a wonderful story about one event of that period. Most of us know that the canal was begun by the French and completed by the Americans and that is as far as it goes. This book goes much deeper into the politics, geography, finances, and human cost of the canal. We learn that the real momentum behind the original doomed attempt was a Frenchman named Ferdinand de Lesseps who was a man of unlimited energy, patriotism, and imagination. We also discover the role of the US president Teddy Roosevelt and the superb staff of medical researchers who helped to finally free Panama of insect-borne disease. This is also the story of immigrants from all over the world who came to build the most ambitious engineering structure ever known to man. Parker does not leave anything out, especially his documenting of the cruel and unfair treatment of the people from Caribbean nations such as Jamaica and Barbados, the people who sacrificed the most and gained the least.

This is a book you will read straight through…fascinating!

Reviews:

Matthew Parker has his own website where you can learn more about Panama Fever and see a video of the canal in action.

Barnes and Noble has a good descriptive review. Also, the Los Angeles Times has a very comprehensive review.

Rose, by Martin Cruz Smith

I will read anything written by Martin Cruz Smith. Unfortunately he just does not seem to write often enough. I got started with Smith by reading his earlier works such as Gorky Park (also a popular movie), Polar Star, and Red Square. That popular series followed the exploits of a put-upon Russian police investigator, Arkady Renko, who got in trouble for doing his job too well. The most recent book in the series that I have read was Havana Bay, a wonderful story of crime in the modern communist Cuba.

Rose is in some ways very similar to earlier Smith novels. Once again there is the imperfect investigator who refuses to back down, no matter how much it hurts. The twist is that the hero, Jonathan Blair, is a Victorian age man, not a modern one. The scene is the coal mines of England of the 1870’s. Like all of Smith’s novels, you get the feeling that he researched his subject thoroughly. You actually learn what an 18th century coal mine is like. You get to know the people who work the mine and develop a real feel for the community. Like many good mysteries this book has plenty of twists and keeps you turning those pages as quickly as possible. If you like this one you will want to read everything else Martin Cruz Smith has written. Give it a try….you’ll like it.

Reviews:

Darwin and the Barnacle, The Story of One Tiny Creature and History’s Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough, by Rebecca Stott

A story about investigating barnacles? I must be kidding, right?

Actually, no. This book was absolutely awesome. I was a biology teacher for 31 years and in all that time I never read anything that did a better job of explaining what the pursuit of science is all about. This is a truly personal biography of Charles Darwin, a giant of biological research. This book is much more than a study of how Darwin derived his great theory of evolution through the use of exacting study of barnacles and other creatures. This is the story of the real man and his family. This is the man who spent much of his life in terrific pain due to a gout-like disorder that he took equally painful “water treatments” to cure. It is also the tale of a family man who endured the loss of his children to disease. Scientists are people just like everyone else. This is something that rarely penetrates a science course. This book makes the scientist, Darwin especially, real.

Note: A movie called Creation has been released.  It chronicles the same period in Darwin’s life as this book does.

The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter

Could this be the same Stephen L. Carter who wrote the scholarly The Culture of Disbelief (see above)? It sure is! I couldn’t believe it when I saw this book. It is fiction and I just don’t expect a superb and serious nonfiction author to write fiction. I had to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Carter is equally at home with a good mystery as he is with serious writing. This book follows the exploits of a law professor, Talcott Garland, who investigates his father’s death. At first he is reluctant to investigate at all, thinking that nothing was amiss. Then he is prompted by several people, including a gangster friend of the family and his own sister, to look more deeply into his father’s life and death. It’s nearly impossible to figure out what the big family secret is until you get to the very end of the book….Carter makes you work for every small bit of information that is revealed. But, in the process, he paints a grand story that constantly pulls you along an engrossing 654 pages. You might ask what Carter knows about teaching law….that’s easy…for his day job he is a professor of law at Yale University.

Reviews:

Berlin Games by Guy Walters (read on Amazon Kindle)

If you have any sense of history at all you have heard about the 1936 Olympic Games. They were held in Germany. That’s right, the same fascist Germany that had already been persecuting Jews and other undesirables for some time. Jews were usually denied access to athletic clubs ….their memberships were eliminated without any reason. Jews were not allowed to attend many sporting events…and so on…the list goes on. Hitler was on the rise and he ran things the way he wanted to. Most people just followed along. The German members of the International Olympics Committee had been lobbying for some time to have the 1936 Olympics in Germany. There were protests in France, England, and the USA. What was the result? All three participated after much discussion and investigation of the Germans. Most individual participants, regardless of what country they came from, were just kids who had no political sense of what was going on. They just wanted to compete. There were exceptions, though and they make the most intriguing stories in this book. Jesse Owens was the black competitor from the USA. He beat the hell out of the Germans. Read about Hitler’s reaction to this unthinkable event…. read, learn, and remember!

This book describes the politics and the sport of the Olympics. There are plenty of case studies of individuals from various countries who had to make their own decisions about whether to compete or not. You will read all about the political intrigue in each country, especially the goings on in Germany where special visits for Olympic committee members were arranged. Germany finally got the nod…after agreeing to take down the “Jews not allowed” signs from the walls of the Olympic stadium, among other small concessions. The Olympic contestants were warmly welcomed by the crowds in Germany….anyone who did not turn up to cheer in the streets or hang banners and swastika flags from their windows would have to answer to local officials. It’s all here in this book. All the time I was reading this I was thinking China, China, China. When the Olympic torch went through London there were many Chinese students there cheering the torch-bearer. Spontaneous? No. They had coaches (older men in black trench coats) passing out flags and instructing them how to behave. Just click on China to see what I mean. Look at the entire group of pictures at this Flickr site and read the comments….amazing…real. Note: It is no longer possible to see the photographs I mentioned above.  The owner has changed their access code to PRIVATE.  I can only speculate why.

This book also has excruciating detail of individual events…just like you hear and see on TV….sports fans would like this part (not me). But, that is not the main thrust of the book. This well researched text gives you a history lesson that we need to experience. Will Nazi Germany or a similar state ever return? It already exists in many places throughout this world and anyone who dares think ‘it can’t happen again’ is walking around with blinders on (my editorial, not from the book). Read this and make up your own mind.

Reviews:

Read the description of this work by Harper Collins, the publisher.

Guy Walters has his own web page that is full of details and praise for this book.

James Inniss also provides an interesting review.

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin (read on Amazon Kindle)

How can someone make a book about weather interesting? It’s a good question that has been answered many times by some superlative authors. One of the best I have read is The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. Maybe you saw the movie? I read the book….amazing! But then, Sebastian Junger had all sorts of reference information, recordings, and personal histories from survivors to help him write that book (and he did a wonderful job!).

What if you were to write about a storm that took place in 1888? The technology of the day was primitive compared to now. I refer to both the meteorology and other technologies such as wireless communication (not yet in existence). There were newspapers and personal letters. There were records maintained by the U.S. Army Signal Corps (they were in charge of weather prediction). These are the sources that Laskin mined so as to develop a minute-by-minute analysis of what happened in this awful storm that hit most of the USA, but nowhere did it hit as hard as in the Midwest (Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota).

Laskin tells a compelling story … yes one of those ‘impossible to put down books … that will fill the reader with horror and dread of the coming storm. The stories about all the children who were caught in one-room schoolhouses just as the storm hit are the most moving. The teacher had a decision to make: send the children home or keep them in the school? The school usually had only enough wood for a few hours more of heat and the temperature outside was quickly dropping, eventually ending in temperatures around 40 degrees F. below zero! The decision made by a single teacher, often someone still in their teens or early 20’s, would eventually make the difference between life or death for hundreds of students across several states. Likewise there were decisions made by weather forecasters ….good and bad….some that may have helped save lives and some that may have caused death. I don’t want to give away too much about this book…I just want you to read it…it won’t be difficult…and you will gain a new respect for our present technology which is not often given its due.

Book Browse gives a good descriptive review of this book.

Google Books will let you read some of the book.

mean and lowly things by Kate Jackson

Look at the cover of this book and you see a photo of a slight girl with dark hair and glasses…and a live snake in her hands…. in front of Lake Ontario. This is the story of Kate Jackson, a young herpetologist (she studies reptiles and amphibians) from Toronto who does her doctoral research in the flooded jungles of the Northern Congo. This woman learned how to do field research by just jumping in and doing her best. Her training (including study at Harvard and the Smithsonian) was mostly academic. She knew just about everything there is to know about the anatomy and physiology of snakes. Her experience with camping in the jungle was wanting.

I have spent many years camping with the Boy Scouts. Camping for me is usually an experience in misery…I just want the weekend to end so I can get home and use a real toilet and shower. Multiply my misery by about 100 and you have a good description of what Kate endured for the sake of science. She would allow snakes to bite her in front of a crowd just to prove that it was not venomous. She would be attacked by ants, wasps, and tsetse flies by day and mosquitoes and termites at night. At one point she had the unique experience (for a North American girl) of having maggots growing under her skin. She also managed to land in the middle of a civil war, learn an obscure African language, and become quite adept at tribal politics. All this and she repeatedly reminds the reader that this was heaven for her compared to living in an apartment in Toronto…unbelievable dedication to science…and that is what makes her story so enticing. I raced through this one. Kate has a knack for telling it like it is. She does not pull any punches. The result is that her experience becomes your experience. This is a must read for anyone who already understands the motivation for scientific study as well as those who just don’t get it. Kate may make you get it.

Read some reviews and blog updates by Kate at Amazon.com.

You can listen to Kate giving an interview to NPR.

The Secret Adversary; 450 From Paddington; Caribbean Mystery, all by Agatha Christie (all 3 read on Amazon Kindle)

I enjoy a good mystery now and then. I recently rediscovered the writings of Agatha Christie. Her works move right along and don’t spend excess time developing the scene. You have to fill in a bit yourself….it’s the mystery that counts, not the pretty details. Christie wrote for many decades and her work is still popular and easier than ever to access. Her most well known investigator was Mr. Hercule Poirot (none of the above titles happens to be a Poirot novel) but he was not her only sleuth. There were also Tommy and Tuppence (sweetheart investigators who got together right after WWI). The Secret Adversary is their first adventure. Another Christie favorite was Miss Marple and 450 From Paddington and Caribbean Mystery are both Miss Marple stories. These are fun books and it is almost always impossible to guess who the real foe is until the last pages. Give Christie a try, you may like her.

On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau (read on Amazon Kindle)

The nice thing about having an electronic book reader is that it opens up a world of literature that you might otherwise never have looked at. I read On Walden Pond many years ago and was much impressed by Thoreau’s love of nature and his wonderful descriptions of it. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience was always one of those “I’ll read it someday” books. Then I got an Amazon Kindle. With this little electronic device I can easily download almost all classic works of the past directly into my Kindle reader. As a result I have been reading all sorts of classic and obscure works that had previously escaped me. Civil Disobedience is a short but important work. Thoreau was an honest and thoughtful man who tackled the most difficult issues of his day, such as legalized slavery. He was not afraid to express his opinion and to make a reasoned intellectual argument in support of it. All Americans should read this one….it’s worth the small investment in time.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by Francis Scott Fitzgerald (read on Amazon Kindle)

There was a new movie out, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. What a strange name for a movie. That’s all the thought I gave to it until one day when I was looking through the latest books available for free download at Feedbooks.com . There was a book by the same name as the movie. How could this be? Feedbooks only makes available books that are no longer in copyright, so this must be a book who’s author died over 50 years ago. Sure enough, the movie was based on this short novella written in 1923 by Francis Scott Fitzgerald. I decided to click on the title and it was immediately delivered wirelessly through a special Sprint system (Whispernet) directly into my Kindle (at no charge). The story was indeed a strange one. I don’t want to tell you anything about it just in case you have not seen the movie or the trailers. This is a story that is best ‘discovered’ by the reader. This story left more questions than answers…I’m still trying to figure out what it all meant….and therin lies much of its value ….Button will make you think. (NOTE: 10 other Fitzgerald works are also available on Feedbooks, already formatted to be read directly by your Kindle).

The Brothers Bulger, How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century. by Howie Carr (read on CD audio book)

I used to listen to Howie Carr on the radio for many years. His radio program was based in Boston and I was able to easily receive the show here in Rhode Island. Then somewhere along the line he changed stations or the station reduced power…either way, I could not get his show anymore. Then sometime last year I saw him on Book TV giving a presentation about his new book (The Brothers Bulger). I had previously read about this corrupt family from south Boston and their connection with the FBI. It sounded interesting, so I picked up the audio CD set (8 long CD’s) at my local library. Good move! Howie did an awesome job of exposing the criminal network run by Whitey (James) Bulger and the corrupt political activities of his brother Billy, a senator in the Massachusetts state senate. These two and their numerous associates (many of whom were murdered by Whitey) represent the scum of the earth. They also demonstrate what is allowed to happen when people from all walks of life are greedy for wealth and power. You have to understand that these two were acting independently and at the same time as the mob (Cosa Nostra) was a heavy influence here in the Northeast. Whitey would actually set mobsters up to take the fall for murders that he performed! He was able to do this because of the FBI agents that he had in his pocket. If you ever get to thinking that the state you live in is one of the most corrupt around, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Your home probably can’t hold a candle to Boston, Massachusetts. Read (or listen to) this book. Then let me know who you trust – I’m betting it will be a short list.

Go to the website dedicated to this book to get the full story, including all the threats that Mr. Carr has had to endure for writing the book.

The Amazon.com site has numerous reviews by readers. Check it out. Also, if you own an Amazon Kindle you can download a sample of the book to your Kindle and be reading it in minutes.

Smart Kids, Bad Schools, by Brian Crosby (part of my personal collection and available for loan to friends & family)

Brian Crosby is a radical. He is also a high school English teacher with over 20 years of experience. This book lays out in 38 steps his plan for improving the public schools of the U.S.A. It does not include massive state testing (teach to test), homework, or teacher unions. All three, according to Crosby, should be done away with. In his preface he asks the reader to give him a chance and to read the book before criticizing his ideas. I must confess that I agree with many of his ideas, especially the one that recommends that kids who let it be known that they don’t want to be in school anymore be allowed to leave for good. Education has to be treated as a privilege, not a right – that’s my opinion – before anyone really values it or the teachers who try so hard to work magic within the present system. This book and others that are strongly critical of the present education system need to be read by all those folks who make the decisions about our educational system. We need to make real changes, not just feel good efforts like No Child Left Behind. Read the book and then get a discussion going! Read this book by a National Board Certified teacher and then make up your own mind about education in America.

A short description and excerpt of the book is to be found on the publisher’s site.

The Amazon Reviews by readers, although few, do quite a good job of hitting the high and low points of this book.

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson (read on Amazon Kindle)

I know what you are saying. There’s no way I am going to read this book. It’s an outdated kid’s story….besides, I saw the movie! I say “not fair”. I decided to give this one a chance and found that it was a delightful piece of period fiction that can be enjoyed by young people and adults. Stevenson has a wonderful style that just pulls you along and makes you want to pick the book up at all odd times. He writes the kind of story that you just have to finish. Read this and you will find out how much you missed by just watching movies. Our classic American authors were popular because they were good writers — Stevenson was one of the best.

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville (read on Amazon Kindle)

This book got terrible reviews when Melville (1819-1891) when it first came out. By the 20th century it was considered to be one of the best American novels ever written. I have to agree!

I once tried to read this book many years ago when I was much younger. I did not get past the first chapter that began with the infamous line “Call me Ishmael.” It was just too deep into the romantic style of writing for me to stick with it. Now I have the patience and respect for this style and enjoy it very much. This book is not what you might expect. It was not written by someone who interviewed a couple of whalers and then decided he could write a book about whaling. Melville had many jobs in his youth and one of them was to work on a whaling vessel. He learned plenty! This narrative will take you back to exactly how it was in New Bedford and Nantucket just before the end of the 19th century. You will learn the details of whaling and develop a respect for the men who chose this dangerous way of life. They were highly skilled seekers of fortune who often did not return from their 3-year cruises around the world. Moby Dick gets really deep into the technology, biology, and geography of whaling while presenting a fascinating story that has every aspect of truth to it. Read this book and you will relive the history of our country while enjoying a writing style that is gone forever.

Under the Andes, by Rex Stout (read on Amazon Kindle)

Rex Stout? Didn’t he write the Nero Wolfe detective series? Yes, he did…and I have read and enjoyed almost all of them. This book (short novel) is something totally different. I suspect it may have been a serial in a magazine. It’s about two brothers and a beautiful girl who go out for an adventurous walk in a cave and end up with far more than they expected. Stout introduces you to a fast paced science fiction romp through the subterranean habitat of a lost tribe of Incas. Believable? No. Well written? Not really. Easy to put down and walk away from? No! This is an early oddball effort by Stout…one of the few works by him that are in the public domain…that will keep you entertained and glad you read it.

Eugenics, by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (read on Amazon Kindle)

Who was G.K. Chesterton? He was newspaper writer, poet, novelist, and essayist of the early 20th century. He is best known for his Father Brown detective series (The Wisdom of Father Brown, etc.) which consisted of numerous short stories revolving around murder mysteries that are solved by a Catholic priest. Chesterton was also a great critic of various philosophies, plays, books, and movements prevelent in the early 1900’s. He has a very strange style of writing that will take some getting used to but you will find it entertaining and challenging. This particular book, Eugenics, traces the origin of the eugenics movement and warns of the dire consequences that must come to all, except the rich and powerful. This is a masterful expose of a cruel social experiment that had its roots in the United Kingdom and the United States and really took hold in Germany. It took a long time for people to recognize the dangers of eugenics and Chesterton was one of the first to fully understand its devious nature. Eugenics is the movement that spawned the imprisonment of the ‘feeble minded’ in the USA and the extermination of millions of Jews in Germany. Today it still is among us in the guise of ‘abortion rights’, the National Organization of Women, the Hemlock Society, and other groups that always know what is best for everyone else. Read this and be warned.
Other books by Chesterton: Heretics, Orthodoxy, The Wisdom of Father Brown, The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Empires of the Sea
The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, by Roger Crowley (read on Amazon Kindle, downloaded on loan from RI state library network)

The following description is copied from the publisher. This is a must read book for anyone who wants a lucid and exciting description of the period just at the tail end of the crusades. This book helps to understand the ancient hatred between the cultures of the Near East and Europe. It is also a book that reads like no history book you have ever read. Nobody can fall asleep on this one!

“In 1521, Suleiman the Magnificent, Muslim ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power, dispatched an invasion fleet to the Christian island of Rhodes. This would prove to be the opening shot in an epic struggle between rival empires and faiths for control of the Mediterranean and the center of the world.

In Empires of the Sea, acclaimed historian Roger Crowley has written his most mesmerizing work to date–a thrilling account of this brutal decades-long battle between Christendom and Islam for the soul of Europe, a fast-paced tale of spiraling intensity that ranges from Istanbul to the Gates of Gibraltar and features a cast of extraordinary characters: Barbarossa, “The King of Evil,” the pirate who terrified Europe; the risk-taking Emperor Charles V; the Knights of St. John, the last crusading order after the passing of the Templars; the messianic Pope Pius V; and the brilliant Christian admiral Don Juan of Austria.

This struggle’s brutal climax came between 1565 and 1571, seven years that witnessed a fight to the finish decided in a series of bloody set pieces: the epic siege of Malta, in which a tiny band of Christian defenders defied the might of the Ottoman army; the savage battle for Cyprus; and the apocalyptic last-ditch defense of southern Europe at Lepanto–one of the single most shocking days in world history. At the close of this cataclysmic naval encounter, the carnage was so great that the victors could barely sail away “because of the countless corpses floating in the sea.” Lepanto fixed the frontiers of the Mediterranean world that we know today.

Roger Crowley conjures up a wild cast of pirates, crusaders, and religious warriors struggling for supremacy and survival in a tale of slavery and galley warfare, desperate bravery and utter brutality, technology and Inca gold. Empires of the Sea is page-turning narrative history at its best–a story of extraordinary color and incident, rich in detail, full of surprises, and backed by a wealth of eyewitness accounts. It provides a crucial context for our own clash of civilizations.”

The Blessing Way; Dance Hall of the Dead; The Dark Wind; Skinwalkers; Sacred Clowns, by Tony Hillerman (read on Amazon Kindle, downloaded on loan from RI state library network)

I have listed several books here that are all authored by Tony Hillerman. I just started reading his books and am now hooked. I intend to read all 18 of his Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Mysteries. Hillerman wrote about Navajo Tribal Police of the southwest states of the USA. Hillerman, who passed away in 2008, had a unique perspective on reservation life and Indian ritual. He lived among the Navajos when he was young and he developed a great respect for their culture and that of other tribes in the same area.

Hillerman’s novels are well crafted murder mysteries that pay great attention to the environmental and cultural details. He wrote quality literature that will entice you to read everything he wrote.

The Devil in the White City, Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson (read on Amazon Kindle)

Eric Larson has hit upon a unique storytelling style. He tells a tale with a dual storyline, one describing a technological hero and the other a horrible villain. This technique was successful in the earlier work called Thunderstruck (see review above) and once again triumphed in ‘Devil in the White City..” The hero of this true story is Daniel Burnham, master architect of numerous groundbreaking structures such as the Flatiron Building in New York. The villain is Dr. H. H. Holmes, a psychopathic serial killer who made his appearance before people even had a name for such a monster. The historical accuracy and the easy flowing narrative style of Larson will capture your interest right away. The images of the Gilded Age (1890-1895 in this book) and prominent characters of the time are as big and fantastic as the fair itself. This book was an absolute joy to read!

For a nice article on World Fairs and an historical listing of all sanctioned fairs, please see the WordPress blog hosted by Tammie Evans, a fellow ham radio operator from the UK.

2BRO2B, by Kurt Vonnegut, Junior (read on Amazon Kindle, downloaded from Feedbooks )

This is a very early short story by Vonnegut. I don’t want to give too much away but the main focus of the story is a future society that has a quirky rule. It seems that zero population growth is easily achieved by assuring that for each person born one must die. Very well done and one of the few Vonnegut stories that is in the public domain.

Operation Terror, by Murray Leinster (pseud.) (read on Amazon Kindle, downloaded from Feedbooks )

Murray Leinster was the nom de plume of William Fitzgerald Jenkins (1896-1975). He is one of the writers responsible for an entire genre of science fiction that led to numerous alien movies of the ’50’s and ’60’s. He is also credited with the development of the parallel universe stories. Operation Terror, written in 1962, is a classic example of the alien from outerspace stories so common in the late 1950’s. This one moves at an astounding pace. Although the style is a bit dated by modern standards I enjoyed it greatly.

Rewriting History, by Dick Morris

Let’s start out by saying that I have seen Dick Morris many times on Fox News and he does not appear to be a nice guy. My impression is that it is all about Dick. He’s not the kind of guy you would share confidences with. So why did I read this book, one of the many he has authored? The fact that it appeared to be a hatchet job on Hillary Clinton was enough to get me interested. I have never been a Hillary fan and this book was an opportunity to learn more about her. This book came out in 2004. Hillary was already a senator and was considered a favorite for the democratic nomination for president in 2008. It appears that Dick Morris wrote this book as a sort of warning of what we would be getting if we elected Hillary. Much of the book was a careful examination of her beliefs and personal qualities. Morris is complementary when appropriate and at other times quite critical. The book achieves an interesting mix that trys to reveal the real Hillary Clinton from the perspective of someone who spent plenty of time working for her and Bill. Morris was their chief political adviser / hired gun for many years and really was in a position where he had an opportunity to know them. I found the book interesting and sometimes revealing; and yes, it did confirm my earlier opinions of Hillary and Bill.

My Grandfather’s Son, by Clarence Thomas

I have long had an interest in Justice Clarence Thomas. His nomination to the Supreme Court resulted in what was possibly the most contentious Senate nomination committee hearing in history. This book was an opportunity for Thomas to get the whole story in print, not just his response to the scandalous accusations he endured. The picture that emerged is that of a man who started life in the most underpriviliged of circumstances. His rise to one of the most respected positions in this country was mostly due to the very strong family life that was provided him by his grandparents. This biography has the ring of honesty throughout. Thomas tells it all and as a result he appears as a rather unlikable person at several stages of his life. He went through many maturing changes that finally led to the honorable man of today. The book is a revealing and honest portrait of a man who took the more difficult road and succeeded in America.

Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson

The year is 1900. The forecasting and tracking of weather in the US was no longer as secondary duty of the Army Signal Corps. There was a new U.S Weather Bureau devoted entirely to the one task of following and predicting the weather. The Weather Bureau and its staff were proud of their scientific ability in a scientific age. They were confident, overconfident. At this time Isaac Cline was the chief weather bureau man in Galveston, Texas. He took his job seriously and did it well. He also made a fatal mistake in September of 1900. He failed to properly read the warning signs of an impending hurricane. Galveston is a Gulf Coast island where the highest elevation is 8 feet. It had no seawall or effective breakwater. “Isaac’s Storm” is the detailed description of what happened to the inhabitants of Galveston when the hurricane of 1900 finally struck. This detailed account accurately describes the science, politics, and human failings that led to one of the worst storm-related disasters in the history of America. The total loss of life was estimated at 6,000 people. The city itself was almost totally destroyed. Eric Larson tells this tale like few others could. He has a knack for diligent research and engaging prose that will have you up until 3:00 AM reading this story (that’s what happened to me). Step back to the Gilded Age with Issac’s Storm and relive a nightmare.

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7 Responses to What do you Read?

  1. Phil Hamilton says:

    Nice blog and I’ve noted some books that I want to download (I use a Sony Reader). Interesting about your library’s donation corner. When I was a kid I made weekly trips to our public library, which also had a donation corner, magazines only and they were free for the taking. One day, I think I was about 12 or 13, this would have been around 1973-74, I noticed that someone had donated a bunch of old (1960’s) Elementary Electronics, Electronics Illustrated and Popular Electronics. I scooped them up, probably took me two or three trips on my bike and started reading about ham radio and short wave listening. This, more than any other single thing, propelled me into short wave listening and then ham radio, a hobby I’ve enjoyed for over 35 years.
    73, Phil W4KTL (aka rocknrun on Flickr)

    • Kenneth Carr says:

      Phil – I feel the the same way you do about the importance of a library! It’s the place that gave my love for science and eventually led to a career. My wife and I are still regular visitors to our local branch.
      Enjoy the Sony Reader (one of my daughters also has one) and thanks for the visit and great comment.

  2. Shannon says:

    Uncle Kenny,

    I didn’t read all the reviews (I’m procrastinating right now-I have Science homework I SHOULD be doing!) but the book about the Education System-after this summer I may want to read that! (I graduate in October it looks like if I double up all summer so no reading for fun for me!)
    However, and I know Dave disagrees with me since he is a Nook owner, I still can’t get into the E-Reader craze. There is something about holding the book that I can’t let go! Plus, some of my favorite books have been signed by the authors-I never could have done that with a Nook 🙂 I read so much I know I should get one-but I still can’t do it! 🙂

    • Kenneth Carr says:

      Real books are fine too, Shannon. Lately I have been trying to read a book on the iPad. It is not at all like the Kindle or Nook. The Kindle is way more like a book -very natural and light.
      If I can find that education book I will get it to you. Unfortunately I lost, donated, and tossed many books during the move and that one may have gone out. The library will have it, though.

      Thanks for checking in!

      • Shannon says:

        Of course I checked in! I like your writing!
        I’m on an anti-Nook kick, I had to write a elegy for my Poetry workshop so I wrote one for books:)
        I will look for that book!
        Shannon 🙂

  3. Tammie M3ENF says:

    Hi 🙂

    You’ve just added to my list of reading… all those books you mention look brilliant. I am in the process of selling a lot of my books (fiction, can’t bear to part with maps, atlases, radio books etc!) and/or donating them charity but am making a list of eBooks to buy when I have a little spare change.

    Will be checking out your blog again for sure, thank you for posting!

    73s/88s Tammie M3ENF 🙂

    • Kenneth Carr says:

      Tammie, thanks for checking the book list posting. I also donate lots of books with the exception of my technical and historical radio books. Maybe I’ll get around to discussing them one day.

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