Cool Reading 2017

A reading journal by Stephen Balbach

In 2017, I read 62 books (19,595 pages).
Favorites of 2017:
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World
Out in the Open
The Albert N'Yanza: The Great Basin of the Nile
Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate
Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon's Relentless Madre de Dios
African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918
Narcissus and Goldmund
The Lost City of the Monkey God
Gettysburg: The Last Invasion
Reading journals from other years:
2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013,
2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018

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Back Over There: One American Time-Traveler, 100 Years Since the Great War, 500 Miles of Battle-Scarred French Countryside, and Too Many Trenches, Shells, Legends and Ghosts to Count

Richard Rubin (2017)
December 2017
Audio P8
Back Over There is written for an American audience and will appeal depending on your level of interest in WWI. For a serious buff, who might actually visit Europe for the express purpose of seeing WWI sites, it will be a five-star the same way Confederates in the Attic was for Civil War reenacting. It's largely a tour of battlefield sites in north-eastern France and the local culture that has developed. There is some history of American battles, but the strength is in Rubin's travels, sights and the people he meets. His writing is often funny and descriptions evocative. I wish there were more maps but I was able to explore more on Google Maps.

The scale of WWI dwarfs the American Civil War, and thus artifacts litter the countryside from the Atlantic to Switzerland. It's too big for any one person to take in so there are local "experts" who have discovered where the interesting sites are to be found. A sort of culture of unofficial experts has arisen, each a master of his local fief. And most of the locations are remote and unvisited, one needs to bushwhack through woods to discover overgrown bunkers. Surprisingly the rural French of some of these regions love Americans, at least a romanticized version of America (big cars, Indians etc). Yet few Americans visit there - it's off the tourist track because no one speaks English (the rural French dislike the English), accommodations rustic and the sites mostly odd things only a war nerd would enjoy.
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Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Ron Chernow (1998)
December 2017
Audio P8
This is the long life of Rockefeller who lived to be nearly 100 and saw some of the most dramatic changes in lifestyle of any single human being in history, going from a poor early 19th C farmer to richest man in the world in the 1930s. Chernow wrote it in 1998 at the height of the dot-com go-go years, when being a "Titan" was cool. Today we are in a different era and it takes on a bit sinister shade in light of income inequality and rapid global warming.

Rockefeller got into the oil business in 1865, and by the early 1880s - a mere 15 years or so later - he owned 90% of the industry. The book rightly spends extra time on this early period, and on 1905-1911 when he retired and was the subject of the Ida Tarbell muck racking, and family dramas. These are the two most interesting parts because they were the great storms of his life - professional and personal - through which he steered a passage and transformation.

Rockefeller had a single-minded drive to make money, which lasts until the 1920s when he begins to loosen up suggesting an inner character development that saw beyond competition. Interestingly in the 1870s, his upright religious persona bolstered his credibility with bankers allowing him to borrow cash to consolidate the industry rapidly; at the same time he was gaming (cheating) the system to his advantage. Put kindly, the mark of a great man is the ability to hold contradicting ideas at the same time. Not so kindly, he was more greedy and hypocritical then the rest but was clever enough to get away with it.

I knew little about Rockefeller, and am glad to have learned so much. In balance, most of the money was put to good use - parks, health care, arts - that is the best we can hope for. Near the end, Chernow describes a scene with Rockefeller weeping over the beauty of a rainstorm. Chernow didn't intend the poignancy but climate change -- among other things it causes increased heavy rainstorms -- will be Rockefeller's legacy for millions of years.
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The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire

Kyle Harper (2017)
December 2017
Audio P8
The Fate of Rome (2017) is an innovative history of the fall of the Roman Empire (defined here as from the 3rd into the 7th centuries). Harper emphasizes a perspective often neglected, namely the role of nature in shaping Roman history through pandemics, natural climate variability and volcanoes. It's in the tradition of Peter Brown's classic The World of Late Antiquity, AD 150-750 and Big History. Harper says history is like the deck of a ship, a human-made artifact solid to stand on but ceaselessly roiled by external forces of nature. Those big-scale hidden forces act upon history - they don't determine it - but can push it. The book is on the cutting edge of research, for example there is significant discussion of the Late Antique Little Ice Age which was only proposed as a theory as recently as 2015. And Harper's own research into the Plague of Cyprian, normally overlooked and even ignored by historians, Harper makes a compelling case this was a key moment from which the Empire barely recovered.
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Annihilation

Jeff VanderMeer (2014)
November 2017
Audio P8
Annihilation is a rich but strange literary book. Here are some insights on what it is about (spoiler):

The theme of our present era is environmental destruction. Global warming, species extinction, etc.. the end of humanity is nigh. What if instead of humans destroying the world, it is the world (nature) destroying humans? It turns the perspective upside down - like the building buried upside down (hint). Humans transform into trees and fungus and dolphins. A unique vision of nature taking over humans, instead of humans destroying nature. Something else to consider: there are four characters named Psychologist, Architect, Linguist and Biologist. The story is tellingly told from the Biologist viewpoint. But why these four professions? Because they are literally the four allegorical methods used to tell the story with. Architecture is the allegory of the building upside down (and the Lighthouse but will leave that to the reader to decode). Linguist is the text spelled out by the fungus. Biology is the key to understanding the message.

This is a fascinating allegorical tale, and can see why it won the Nebula. But also a difficult book that might be trying to do too much and yet not enough to entrap readers like the way nature entraps humans.
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Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win

Luke Harding (2017)
November 2017
Audio Audible
Collusion is about a rapidly changing current event and the book might be dated in 6 months. Nevertheless it can be seen as an intelligence briefing providing a comprehensive narrative of what we know so far. It's fairly complicated given all the players involved, and deserving of a book-length treatment because it's difficult to see the big picture by following news stories only. As such I think it's essential reading for anyone who wants to know about the biggest intelligence operation success story in history. It's off the charts in terms of how massive the operation was, and how successful. Russia has been working towards this day since the 1970s. Although it involved the Internet and hacking, at the core they used old school intelligence techniques known to work. And work it did, probably beyond expectations. This book and allegations of Russian involvement are not partisan paranoia, it is very real and still ongoing.
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Out in the Open

Jesús Carrasco (2013)
November 2017
Audio Audible
Out in the Open is a Spanish novel from 2013. It reminds me of The Road but better. To appreciate, one has to know of Spain's environmental problems with water. There are dry regions that once had villages and farms that have been abandoned to desert. This is due to water mismanagement by coastal resort cities and global warming, rivers dry up, vegetation dies. None of this is discussed in the novel, but anyone from Spain will understand the context and visuals described, not unlike an Old West movie. The setting is vaguely in the future, after the rule of law has collapsed, but with a foot in the Middle Ages. If the age had a historical parallel it might be Late Antiquity when pagan culture was dying off and the Dark Ages beginning. The writing is spare and action oriented with a sinister sense of being hunted - at some point I became so attached to the main characters it left me afraid to keep reading. Carrasco has that power, it is immersive and believable. Highly recommend.
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The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England

Marc Morris (2012)
November 2017
Audio P8
This is probably the best book I've read on the period of the Norman Conquest, from about 1000 to Williams death in 1087. It turns out there is very little sourcing available from this time, so historians debate things like the emotion expressed on the face of an image on the Bayeux Tapestry. Combine this with the complexity of events and most histories tend to gloss the big picture. Morris is not afraid to go into details and controversy, but does so with clarity and presents what seem like sound conclusions and rationales. These layers of detail add texture and bring the age into three dimension.

It is not a military history despite the title, it's political and social. For example Morris shows how the process of civilization took small steps forward - the rise of Chivalry coincided with a decline in slavery and increased Catholic piety. It was the tentative beginnings of the 12th Century Renaissance.

Other works I've read on the Conquest have either been superficial or narrowly focused on the battle itself. With that said I don't think this would be a satisfying first read, for that I recommend 1066: The Year of the Conquest which is easier to follow but lacks the broad view and details needed to understand context and significance, but makes up for it with drama.
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Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World

Christopher De Hamel (2016)
November 2017
Audio Audible
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts is a wondrous discovery. Christopher de Hamel is one of the world’s leading experts on mediaeval manuscript and in 12 chapters he takes us on a tour of 12 manuscripts in 12 libraries. There is far more to it then I ever imagined but the more one learns the more interesting it becomes. Who made it, when, why, who owned it, how did it arrive, etc.. the questions are endless and often involve sleuthing and best guesses. Manuscripts combine the study of medieval history with art in a physical sense that is unusual outside numismatics (coins) and archaeology. De Hamel tells us there are over 1 million in existence around the world and with a little excuse it may be possible to request a meeting with one yourself. This is a wonderful book that is intellectually uplifting and makes you feel smarter for having spent time in De Hamel's august company.
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The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World

Jeff Goodell (2017)
October 2017
Audio Audible
Most of the big stories here will be familiar to anyone already following the greatest story of our time, but what makes it worthwhile is Goodell's interviews with individuals in power, like Miami politicians and real-estate developers. I only wish he could have spoken with the hot-house lizards at Heartland or the Koch brothers. But as Goodell says up-front if you don't believe in climate change the book is not for you. Goodell sees the coastlines diverging into wealthy zones who can afford to pay for mitigation (dams, pumps etc) and the rest which is left to the sea. Sounds about right. The only question is how long the Federal government will foot the bill. This is a worthwhile look at the latest developments and thinking on sea level rise by a journalist who has been covering it for years.
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Across Islands and Oceans: A Journey Alone Around the World By Sail and By Foot

James Baldwin (2012)
October 2017
Audio Audible
TBD
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Why Dinosaurs Matter (TED Books)

Kenneth Lacovara (2017)
October 2017
Audio P8
In Why Dinosaurs Matter Kenneth Lacovara has an infectious boyish enthusiasm combined with veteran professional knowledge. One wonders how he arrived so late in his career without becoming, well, a dinosaur as so often happens with age. In this brief TED book he addresses someone who maybe hasn't thought much about dinosaurs lately and tells us some cool new things that make dinosaurs seem fresh again. He also communicates big concepts like geological time which requires a nimble imagination and guide to really appreciate - try as I might I still have trouble with holistically understanding anything beyond a few thousand years.

Some things I learned include most if not all dinosaurs have been discovered in lowland areas since that is where sedimentary rock formed, a requirement for fossil creation. Thus alpine dinosaurs are completely unknown but which surely existed. One of the most common types was the duck-billed dinosaur, a grazing herbivore with teeth able to grind any vegetation into pulp, they was everywhere. And dinosaurs are differentiated from other lizard-like animals (crocodiles, turtles) by an ability to rapidly propel forward - thus birds are dinosaurian because they can quickly take flight and dart about, or run like the Ostrich.
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Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth

Hermann Hesse (1919)
October 2017
Audio P8
Although an early work Hesse was 42 at time of publication and no youth. Overall I think he tried to do too much and the novel doesn't come together dissolving into a morass of symbols. The ideas are complex requiring external reading and in the end unless you are religious it won't be terribly profound, except as an intellectual exercise. It was perfect for the post-FIrst World War generation in Germany who questioned authority and God in the face of defeat. And I might have liked it as a younger person in the 1960s counter-culture environment. Hesse is a godfather of counter-culture, though not by design, he was 40 years ahead of his time and couldn't have predicted beats and hippies. But there is a connection worth exploring. Germany's collapse created a new culture that spread westward, not unlike what is happening with new Russian culture spreading in the decades after its collapse. Sadly the Russians do it through a different form of art then prestige literature.
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The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
October 2017
Audio P8
The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro's most beloved novel, according to LibraryThing ratings stats it ranks highest of his oeuvre. Having just won the Nobel I gave it a try, nearly 30 years after publication it's becoming something of a classic. Ishiguro's prose is precise and dignified like the character he portrays. There are multiple layers of meaning behind "remains of the day". I think what will stick with me is Stevens' voice and demeanor because Ishiguro found a way to make a wooden butler into a real person. Ishiguro owns the butler space.
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Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone

Richard Lloyd Parry (2017)
October 2017
Audio P8
Ghosts of the Tsunami is a tragic story beautifully told. It centers mainly on the Ishinomaki Okawa Elementary School (大川小学校), which lost 70 of 108 students and nine of 13 teachers and staff. It's a multi-genre work with elements of reporting about the tsunami, stories of personal loss and grief, revelations about Japanese culture and even some magical realism as suggested in the title. It's well done and a little different, it would be appealing to anyone who normally reads fiction but is also reliable factually. It's one of the first titles of a new imprint called MCD by Farrar, Straus & Giroux for experimental works (for FSG that is).
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The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

Toby Wilkinson (2010)
October 2017
Audio P8
As the title suggest, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt covers over 3000 years of history and like the Nile river runs shallow and long. Be prepared for a pageant of royal names which all sound alike, or are exactly the same, followed by a small bit of their reign before moving onto the next exulted king. Like the names, events seem to repeat as well. It lacks some texture of the period being mostly a plain political history. I found the authors style to be a little grating at times, at the beginning he informs us Egypt is the history of 2-bit despots. Great. That may be true but his lack of enthusiasm for the subject wears off on the reader. It seems to try and be a counter-weight to popular culture romanticization. That's OK but c'mon, Egypt really was pretty fascinating and always will be. Anyway this book has slightly turned me off from Ancient Egypt but I'm not convinced there isn't more to be found of interest.
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Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology

Ellen Ullman (2017)
September 2017
Audio P8
Life in Code (2017) is by Ellen Ullman, a self-taught programmer with an undergrad degree in English literature. She was mostly active in the 80s and 90s as a C and Cobol programmer in the San Francisco area and is best known for a 1997 book at the height of the dot-com boom called Close to the Machine which some call a masterpiece (I have not read it). Life in Code is a collection of essays written over the period of her career - they deal with the specifics of technology and places and people at the time, but is still relevant and of interest today, and to anyone - this is a book for generalists. Ullman brings a unique perspective and literary quality to technology. Not to sound pretensions but it's like a programmers version of Michel de Montaigne, it's of that quality. Her writing is humane, honest, timeless and poetic. It's one of the first tittles of a new imprint called MCD by Farrar, Straus & Giroux for experimental works (for FSG that is). It's my second MCD title and both have been winners.
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Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution

Marcus Eriksen (2017)
September 2017
Audio P8
Too much about plastics policy and not enough about the voyage. I get it, the voyage is the sweetener in order to impart information about marine plastic pollution. While I already knew a lot about marine plastic from news reports, I did learn some new things. But the voyage itself was so broken up it seems like a distant afterthought. I think Eriksen is doing good work but fundamentally changing the system seems impossible the more he describes it. I wish him luck, for us all.
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The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger

Greg Steinmetz (2015)
September 2017
Audio P8
TBD
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Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

Mark Lawrence Schrad (2014)
September 2017
Audio P8
Vodka Politics by its name promises to be fun and delivers with stories of hard drinking Ruskies. But it's also a well written work of history with a thesis: vodka has been used for political purposes in Russia since at least the 16th century as a means of raising money by debauching the population with alcohol. In short, the state has been a drug pusher. Vodka is not merely a Russian folk tradition it's central to authoritarian control of the population, keeping the people poor and addicted.

The consequences have been severe creating an ongoing publoc health crisis. The average Russian man drinks half a liter of vodka a day, more than twice what the WHO considers dangerous. The population is in decline, the average height is shrinking, domestic abuse, crime, highway accidents, etc.. vodka is behind it all. Despite the evidence the Russian state takes no measures. Until recently, vodka bottles didn't come with screw on tops because the whole bottle would be drunk once opened. It's widely said by state officials that beer and wine is more dangerous than vodka, because most of those are imported and would infringe on vodka revenue. So beer is taxed 200% and vodka taxed very little. Previous attempts to reduce vodka consumption by raising prices have not gone well due to bootleg moonshine. But there are proven methods in other countries that would work to ween Russians off the bottle, but it seems unlikely Putin will do so because he needs the revenue and to keep the population comfortably sloshed.
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The Drug Hunters: The Improbable Quest to Discover New Medicines

Donald R. Kirsch (2017)
September 2017
Audio P8
Donald R. Kirsch is a retired drug hunter and in this readable history he tells many interesting stories of how drugs were discovered. He separates the age of plants from the age of chemistry when it was possible to create drugs. One of the first such creations was the use of a clothing dye that happened to be effective against some diseases. This is why many German drug companies are located on the Rhine river where the textile mills were located. There is the story of aspirin, penicillin, heroin (originally a medicinal drug), insulin and "the pill", among others. One gets a sense of how haphazard and lucky finding a new drug is, even to this day. Since we all take drugs at some point, this is a good introduction of how they came to be.
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The Retreat of Western Liberalism

Edward Luce (2017)
August 2017
Audio Audible
The Retreat of Western Liberalism (2017) is more of a long essay. The page count is over 200 but probably due to font or margins, it's really about a 125-150 page book. It makes a good case that what we're seeing with Trump and elsewhere is part of a bigger trend and there is probably worse to come. Nothing new there but insightful.
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The Albert N'Yanza: The Great Basin of the Nile

Samuel White Baker (1866)
August 2017
Audio T2S
The Albert N'Yanza (1866) is a lost classic of African exploration. While other books by Burton and Livingstone are better known, they contain lengthy digressions about geography and other details that are boring and outdated. Baker on the other hand is a natural storyteller and four years in search of the source of the Nile resulted in many interesting incidents. The book has everything one might expect and hope for in an account of a Victorian explorer heading into unknown Africa with trains of porters; duplicitous and restive natives; uprisings and rebellions; cannibalism; dangerous animals; discoveries of new countries, lakes and wildlife; malaria; swamps and deserts and through it all runs the Nile. Baker himself is a heroic and likeable figure, as his wife who accompanied him. He is tough but also fair and honorable. It is of course not politically correct and contains outdated ideas about race and evolution - this is early 1860s - but not terribly so, Baker is a humanitarian who is anti-slavery.

I call this a lost classic because in its day it was very popular but its been long out of print. It was mentioned favorably in both Alan Moorehead's The White Nile and Tim Jeal's The Explorers of the Nile so it's not unknown but only to specialists.
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The White Nile

Alan Moorehead (1960)
August 2017
Audio P8
The White Nile has been a popular book since its release in 1960 but it's now of a different age and eclipsed by better books. Tim Jeal's Explorers of the Nile makes this seem a light and amateur effort. If I had not already read Jeals book I would have been confused by Moorehead's telling. With that said, Moorehead's writing is colorful and it has some wonderful poetic sentences.
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A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier

David Welky (2016)
August 2017
Audio Audible
This is the most pathetic polar expedition I've ever read about. The characters are portrayed as foolish or incompetent, there are so many false starts it's hard to keep track of what's happening, the amount of time spent exploring is minimal and not particularly interesting, and there is a mass of tangential and trivial information like a kitchen sink the author includes it all. Needless to say, I did not enjoy this book. There are some interesting if dark side-stories, such as Green's crime and Perry's lie, but they didn't discover anything noteworthy in the Arctic and it's one stupid mistake after the next, but without the heroics and literary art of another contemporary bumbler, Scott. The book is sufficient as a history and unsurprisingly the only modern account of this forgettable expedition, which even the participants wished had never happened.
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Lust for Life

Irving Stone (1934)
August 2017
Audio P8
Prior to Irving Stone's debut novel Lust for Life (1934), most Americans had never heard of Vincent van Gogh, and in Europe he was known mainly in the art world. Stone was also unknown, writing about an obscure European painter - there was little reason to believe the manuscript would succeed. After rejections a publisher decided to take a chance and the novel became a surprise best-seller. Stone and Van Gogh rose to fame together. It remains the most popular book about Van Gogh and it's how most people know his story (along with the movie adaption). Van Gogh is the prototypical starving artist who sacrifices everything for art, including life, and goes unrecognized in his lifetime but then becomes famous after death.
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A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains

Isabella L. Bird (1879)
July 2017
Audio LibriVox
Isabella L. Bird was a famous 19th century English travel writer. The setting for this memoir is 1873, mostly in and around Estes Park, CO which at the time was a remote outpost. Life revolved around food - wild game which was rare even by this time, or cattle, or dairy and flour. Despite being in the so-called "wild west", Isabella maintains she never slept outdoors, an idea she found repellent, because there were plenty of homesteads around, The rule of the land was any house was available to travelers so long as you either paid or provided some sort of help. On her scramble to Long Peak she says there was snow-pack year-round at the top, but a recent Google Maps view shows it very snow-less. At one point she travels on the road that is now I-70, the main east-west highway through CO. Later authors surmised Isabella had a romance with "Mountain Jim" Nugent whom she found attractive (but not a man for marriage she says) and this is the part of the narrative with the most life. Overall the writing is evocative of the place and time and still fresh after 140 years.
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Dr. No

Ian Fleming (1958)
July 2017
Audio P8
Dr. No is my first bond novel, chosen because it was rated one the top four in Goldeneye, an excellent biography of Flemming. And because Flemming wrote the novels in Jamaica where he had a home and where the novel is set. And because it was the first Bond film. His wife called the Bond novels "pornography" and I can see why she might due to the mix of the high and low class, art and vulgarity, which in a way is one definition of porn. The saving grace is it doesn't take itself too seriously - the bad guy makes his lair a literal mountain of shit. Yeah sure it's a little racist but Jamaica was still a British colony in 1958 and the expats were in fact a race apart just like in every other colony - that was the reality but I think Fleming is making fun of it all on a certain level.
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Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica

Matthew Parker (2015)
July 2017
Audio P8
Jamaica was a British colony in the 1950s. It was also one of the world's hot spots for the rich and famous, before mass tourism arrived. It's been compared to Happy Valley in Kenya with British expatriates letting lose. In this setting Ian Fleming owned a reclusive bungalow where, when not swimming naked on his private beach and drinking copious amounts of gin and vodka, he wrote the Bond novels. Matthew Parker weaves this story around other local characters such as Noel Coward and the partying jet set who are continually coming and going, and Flemming's affairs and rocky marriage.

Not sure how I much I admire Flemming as a person, but he is an interesting subject and there is enough humor in his books to be forgivable and not taken too seriously. As a useful bit of information the author recommends the best four: Dr. No, Thunderball and two others. I once tried reading the first one published Casino Royal, but it's not his best while he was still working out the formula, the other four are more canonical.

The author Matthew Parker is fantastic, maybe even too good for this topic. He reminds me of William Dalrymple able to weave a deft story around a British colony. This is not a book full of trivia about Bond and Flemming, it tells a bigger story. Come for Bond but stay for the story of Jamaica and colonialism. Look forward to reading Parker's history of sugar barons in the same region which takes the history of Jamaica further back.
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The Zoo

Christopher Wilson (2017)
July 2017
Audio P8
The Zoo is by an author with a Ph.D. on the psychology of humour from The London School of Economics. This short but entertaining comeuppance on the last days of Stalin is seen through the eyes of an innocent 12-year old whose family runs a zoo. There are some parallels with Life of Pi including a twist ending. Well done, clever and multiple kinds of humor. My only thoughts are that given the weight of the underlying historical matter it feels a lightly treated. Uncle Joe is too uncle-ish for comfort. The Zoo-theme has an "ahh now I get it" moment, but it's simple and isn't explored much.
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Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How A Lone American Star Defeated the Soviet Chess Machine

David Edmonds (2004)
July 2017
Audio P8
Bobby Fischer Goes to War (2004) is fairly boring. Bobby Fischer is an unsympathetic main character and the chess match wasn't hugely exciting. The amount of detail is over the top, most of dealing with Bobby's strange requests and the chaos it creates to the point of being funny. Ultimately the raw material the author had to work with didn't really interest. It did remind me of playing chess long ago, when it was fashionable, before computers ruined everything.
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Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean

Morten Stroksnes (2015)
July 2017
Audio Audible
Shark Drunk is by a Norwegian author that won some awards in 2015 including the prestigious Brage Prize. Translations are now appearing in Spanish, German and English. It uses modern techniques of creative non-fiction with the mystery element being the elusive Greenland shark which the author is attempting to catch in the Fjords of Norway, specifically the Lofoten region which is remote and traditional. It takes place over a few seasons, and along the way we learn about the history, fauna and culture of Lofoten with plenty of place names to follow on Google Maps. It's generous, occasionally artistic, occasionally funny, appealing to anyone who reads outdoor literature wanting to "sail about a little and see the watery part of the world". The English title `Shark Drunk` makes it sound campy and the in-artistic greenish-blue cover looks like a galley copy but ignore those potential faults as they give the wrong impression. The Norwegian title is "Havboka" which means "Sea Book" or "Book of the Sea" which is a better title and the Norwegian cover art is awesome. This is a great book and glad to have discovered it.
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The Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy

Lorien Foote (2016)
July 2017
Audio P8
During the last 18 months or so of the Civil War, the Confederacy as a state began to break down. One consequence is it didn't have enough resource to guard Union captives. As a result many of them got loose and wondered around North and South Carolina. Add to this slaves who helped them, union sympathizers, and citizen vigilantes and it was something of a free for all. Lorien Foote interweaves a number of stories in a somewhat chaotic manner perhaps reflecting the chaos of the times. Many curious incidents abound. There are few things more reliably interesting than the "escape narrative", be it frontier settlers escaping from Indians, slaves escaping to freedom or escaped soldiers during war. Foote gives a taste of a number of these accounts showing how widespread and consequential the problem was for the Confederate war effort.
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The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions

Peter Brannen (2017)
June 2017
Audio Audible
A fantastic journey through worlds wonderful, strange -- and dead. Like the universe itself, deep geological time is vastly difficult to imagine so it's a gift when a writer can offer glimpses. Even when the focus is on mass extinctions. One is left with something of an existential crisis - what is the meaning of life? What is all for? We like to think of ourselves as the end product advancing forward the ultimate expression of consciousness standing on the shoulders of those who came before. Bur this is untrue. We are the product of an accidental disaster that happens ever couple hundred million years. Every mass extinction was largely caused by the same thing: CO2 released by super volcanoes. Even the asteroid dinosaur extinction was probably caused by the subsequent volcanoes not the immediate impact event. This is a really great book, detailed and accessible with the latest science, but be prepared to battle your inner nihilism.
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Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon's Relentless Madre de Dios

Holly Fitzgerald (2017)
June 2017
Audio Audible
Ruthless River is pure Amazonian adventure survival goodness. FitzGerald recounts the events of her youth 45 years ago. It is completely transportive, that magic ability to submerge into a place and re-live events. She writes in hyper-detail that is unusual for books like this but highly effective. It's a great book and could easily stand on its own in the National Geographic canon of best outdoor literature. I would also make a great movie. Unlike Cheryl Strayed's Wild, another outdoor adventure book written by a woman recently, Fitzgerald doesn't have an inner journey of demons to overcome. She is actually delightfully innocent, which contrasts with the horror, the horror of the river.
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The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World

Peter Wohlleben (2015)
June 2017
Audio P8
The Hidden Life of Trees is a fantastic little big book. It's little in length but big on new perspective and ideas. Originally published in German, Peter Wohlleben is an ex-forestry manager who decided to look beyond the typical knowledge of trees. He is a lifetime close observer who sees trees as a form of animal with memory, sensory input, paternal instincts. His basis is recent science.The other great thing is Wohlleben projects a sense of mystery about trees, he's like a Gandalf character speaking about the Ents, but always remaining grounded in the facts. Great stuff and great book.
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Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

Kory Stamper (2017)
June 2017
Audio P8
In Word by Word we learn about the people and craft of dictionaries, at least Merriam Webster. Kory Stamper is super smart and funny, a perfect combination of entertainment and educational.
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The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

Michael Finkel (2017)
June 2017
Audio P8
Christopher Knight was complicit in wanting his story told, so we should not feel guilty about peering into the world of an extreme introvert. Indeed it's a story of superlatives - during his 27 years of self-imposed solitude he spoke a handful of words to other humans, and most of those just weeks before he was arrested. One struggles to think of any case like this in history, even religious hermits had occasional human contact. It's truly remarkable and Michael Finkel has done a fantastic job telling the course of events, but also trying to understand Knight's motivations and condition, something doctors never fully diagnosed. It turns out there may be a genetic component and some entire families are naturally hermit-like which means there are areas of the country populated with these sorts of reclusive people, though not to the extreme of Knight. This is a short book but one that will stay with you, a very unusual story well-told.
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Seeing in the Dark: How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe

Timothy Ferris (2002)
June 2017
Audio P8
TBD
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Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die

Garrett M. Graff (2017)
May 2017
Audio Audible
Raven Rock is an exhaustive history/survey of the procedures and facilities for saving the US Federal government from a nuclear attack. Today we call it "prepping" but the government has been doing it large-scale since the 1950s. The book centers on two hardened bunkers, one near Camp David Maryland called Raven Rock; and Mount Weather in Virginia. Places where everyone in DC -- with the right pass -- would supposedly bug-out in the event of incoming ICBMs. There are many other hardened bunkers around the US, 100s of them. The program, known as Continuity of Government, costs over 2 billion a year. It has evolved over the years with each President as the book goes into great detail.

A book on this topic could easily stray into conspiracy woowoo but it stays grounded in the facts. While most of it is new to me, I didn't find much surprising but am glad to put all these things into context and remove some of the secrecy surrounding the program which just shows it to be weird and fragile in the end. If we did have a nuclear war it would be a failure of the government and better off starting over from scratch. The bunkers create a false sense of security, ironically heightening the danger of creating the thing it seeks to avoid.
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A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin's War with the West

Luke Harding (2016)
May 2017
Audio Audible
Luke Harding is a reporter for The Guardian who has lived in and reported from Russia and written about the Litvinenko murder since it happened in 2006. This is an in-depth retelling of events, up to nearly the present.

The murder takes place early on in the book and it feels like a thriller, not surprising since Arthurt Conan Doyle is a favorite author of one of the Russian killers. The poison used is the rare periodic element polonium (atomic number 84) estimated to have cost over 15 million dollars to manufacture for a few grams. It was enough to kill 50 million people. Because it gives off alpha instead of beta radiation only the military has detectors and it might have been the perfect crime. However British sleuths finally figured it out and the whole evil plot exposed with all evidence pointing back to Putin. This was the legal finding by the top British court.

Litvinenko was killed because he had information linking Putin to organized crime. He was a threat to the Russian mafia state. The Litvinenko story is something of a classic in modern espionage and this is probably as good a book you will find on it. It's also damned unsettling the Putin regime can kill anyone, anywhere, anytime and get away with it.
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Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life beyond Our Solar System

Michael Summers (2017)
May 2017
Audio P8
Michael Summers is an astronomer at George Mason and here he provides a fairly accessible survey of the hunt for exoplanets and current developments. This field is changing rapidly it helps to have an occasional short book to highlight the most important discoveries. He also discusses the probability of finding life and the Drake Equation etc.. which is now standard in books like this and repetitive. I was hoping for more details about planet discoveries .. names, descriptions etc.. but it was only a handful discussed. Probably the most important sticky fact I learned was that "rouge planets" (planets without a star roaming space unattached) are likely more common than orbital planets, perhaps 10s of thousands times more common. And these dark worlds could harbor life in ice-covered oceans warmed by internal hot cores, thus further increasing the chances of life existing in the galaxy.
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All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life

Jon Willis (2016)
May 2017
Audio P8
"All These Worlds Are Yours. Except Europa Attempt No Landings There" (Arthur C. Clarke, 2010). This is a breezy survey by Yale University Press about the field of astrobiology. Most of it takes place in the Solar System focused on Mars and the couple watery moons of the gas giants. Dr. Jon Willis is a real scientist, an astronomer, but writes for a popular audience. At times he sounds too casual; at other times like a TED speech. But it's informative and easy going. He has a swaggering confident style which must serve him well given alien life has never been found. That's the problem with any book of this topic, every chapter must end with "we really don't know" and at the same time truly "anything is possible" -- its seductive and frustrating.

Willis compares the Milky Way to a city and the wider universe to lands beyond. Given the vast scales we will probably be exploring the block or two outside our door for 100s of years. It will take the Voyager probes 90,000 years to reach the next nearest star. He also discusses planet hunting, describing how the Kepler space observatory was not given priority for years, but turned into one of the most successful space missions in history. It only scans about 5% of the sky so much remains to be found. I also learned the human eye can see about 3000 stars in the sky but there are millions, billions if you look deep (and long) enough. Each one represents on average one exoplanet. Indeed, all these worlds are yours, in the imagination -- Willis named the book from a science-fiction novel.
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The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science

Richard Holmes (2008)
April 2017
Audio P8
The Age of Wonder (2008) is a smart, well-written and well-structured group biography of British scientists from about the 1780s to the 1820s. This 40 year period is best known for Romantic literature but as Holmes shows there was also remarkable science being done and they were often close friends, indeed informing each others works. The main characters are Sir Joseph Banks, the brother-sister astronomers William and Caroline Herschel, and chemist Humphry Davy. There is large cast of supporting characters.

Generally I found the book to be mixed. When it good it is very good. The early chapters shine in particular the history of ballooning, Mungo Park's explorations in Africa, and Caroline Herschel's domestic journey from servant to "queen" of the heavens. The later chapters are necessary for a biography but mostly forgettable. What Holme's captures is a sense of discovery, of an immediacy and excitement and most of all humanizing science. They were people with faults and quirks which makes it more approachable and not an ivory tower subjects for specialists.

Despite some reservations I think the book is a success and while deserving accolades the establishment went bonkers for it in 2009.
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A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham

Steve Kemper (2017)
April 2017
Audio P8
A Splendid Savage is a biography of Frederick Russell Burnham. He did so much in so many places between the mid 1870s and 1910 it's almost unbelievable. It was a period of rapid change and Burnham was on the front lines of history, the spear point of colonization. If the history of the United States is a parade of rugged individuals and hardy pioneers then Burnham might be its last man because during this period the frontiers shut down, the pioneering way of life came to an end and colonial empires turned on themselves. But not before Burnham had an opportunity take take part in some of its last and greatest hurrahs. He fought against Apache Indians led by Geronimo, fought in the famous Pleasant Valley War, was a well known shooter and smuggler in Tombstone. Then he went to Africa and became famous for his daring exploits taking part in the First and Second Matabele Wars to colonize Rhodesia, and the Boer War. He took part in the Klondike Gold Rush. Along the way he came close friends with the likes of Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt and Baden-Powell (and many other famous people of his day). One might suspect he was a self-promoter but Burnham was the real deal, he was a master marksman and "scout", a word that has lost meaning today but like an Eagle Scout it's someone with endless skills in the outdoors. Indeed Burnham was the inspiration for the Boy Scouts, he is called the "Father" of the scouting movement.

This biography is straightforward and I wish it provided more historical context. For example when he goes to the Klondike there is little background. One might need to visit Wikipedia to fill out some details if you're not already familiar. There's also little in the way of analysis or commentary on Burnhams life, other than a few paragraphs at the end. A really great book about Burnham could still be written (probably multi-volume) but this is a reliable and straightforward account.
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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
April 2017
Audio P8
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) is the first book-length collection of Holmes short stories, they were originally published in The Strand Magazine 1891-92. Most of them have small references to other stories so there is a sense of coherence and world-building. It includes "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" which Doyle considered his all-time favorite Holmes story. It's gaslight entertainment that evokes an age. The spooky mansions with the evil mastermind, brutish henchmen and the locked room with a mystery. Well, it's better than Saturday morning cartoons.
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African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918

Robert Gaudi (2017)
April 2017
Audio Audible
African Kaiser is probably the best book about one of the most fascinating and overlooked episodes of WWI, the German East Africa campaign. The war on this tropical front didn't bog down into trenches but was characterized by continual maneuver and sabotage in exotic settings with famous African big-game hunters and romantic stories one finds in The African Queen. Such it was with General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck who remained undefeated despite overwhelming odds. The stories are wonderful the stuff of legend, but hardly known in the English speaking world, probably because Lettow emerges the hero, morally and otherwise, while the British are the bumbling fools and abusers. Robert Gaudi has written an absorbing and transporting account of this amazing time and place. Gaudi's writing is first rate, I would read anything by him again, he is at the top of the form in creative non-fiction. My only complaint it isn't a longer book.
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Zama

Antonio Di Benedetto (1956)
April 2017
Audio Audible
Zama a well regarded work of Latin American literary fiction from 1956. My background in this area is limited but it reminded me of J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians -- there are so many similarities I wonder if it was influenced by Zama. Both concern a middle level official of the Empire in a remote outpost with themes of colonialism and .. waiting... with promises of action that never quite materialize. I enjoy reading history of true life action. Stories about people who seek adventures but then fail at it are best done through fiction - true stories of that type are not very interesting but in this telling Diego de Zama's failures are to our delight.
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The Forgotten Soldier

Guy Sajer (1965)
March 2017
Audio Audible
The Forgotten Soldier is a stunning book, which is to say one leaves feeling traumatized after a long nightmare. Sajer leaves no bones unturned in describing the horrors of the Eastern Front. Of course it's visceral, mutilated corpses. But it runs deeper, Sajer's voice has an innocence and normality in contrast to the insanity of the situation. We tend to think of the Germans as "supermen" but Sajer is a normal person stressed to the utmost degree. No wonder Germany collapsed it's soldiers were abused and when they complained hung up from a tree. This part of the story is not often told.

The writing is dense with incident. It's easy to question if he remembered everything so clearly and with novelistic description but it's not too important because it rings true. My favorite part was as he wondered around the steppes of western Ukraine with no front line and troops randomly encountered one another in the dark and snow. The lonely outpost of a single tank buried in the earth surrounded by open plains "like Africa".
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The Sign of Four

Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)
March 2017
Audio P8
The Sign of Four is the second published work with Sherlock Holmes which cemented his popularity. While not as good as the first novel IMO there's little to complain about. Much of it feels cliche like watching Scooby Doo or Jonny Quest but only because Doyle helped create the cliches to begin with, he has been copied endlessly to the point he seems like a copy of himself. I particularly liked the speed-boat race with steam-powered boats, the sleuth-hound, magnifying glass. I wonder how many Victorian kids dug in the muck of the Thames looking for gems. Sherlock Holme's intravenous drug habit was surprising and gave it a dark twist.
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No Wall Too High: One Man's Daring Escape from Mao's Darkest Prison

Xu Hongci (2017)
March 2017
Audio P8
No Wall Too High is riveting true adventure and provides insights into a laogai (“labor reform”) camp, the Chinese version of the Gulag ca. 1960s and 70s. It's based on a rough manuscript that had a regional audience in China. The translator, Erling Hoh, found it by accident in a small Hong Kong bookstore and realized its wider potential. This is a fantastic book. It starts slowly but keeps getting better right through to the end. It's believed Xu Hongci was the only person to successfully escape a laogai. I particularly like how it is not written for a Western audience - the translator occasionally provides notes or commentary to explain - it has an authentic feel of Chinese literature for Chinese readers, but is accessible and universally interesting. It's worth taking a step off the beaten track.
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A Study in Scarlet

Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)
March 2017
Audio P8
A Study in Scarlet was the first Sherlock Holmes story published. Given its age (1886) it reads surprisingly well with crisp non-florid prose, almost like a novel written in 2017 by someone pretending to be from the 1800s. This is the first Sherlock Holmes I've read. It gives a sense that, while you may be confused, someone else understands the world and answers can be had. That is comforting, like a parent reassuring an anxious child. This is echoed in the name "Sure" as in assurance or confidence; "Lock" as in holding the key to the mystery; and "Holmes" which sounds like "Home", a reassuring feeling. The clues to the mystery are somewhat beside the point, contrived and making sense only after the explanation. Regardless, I really enjoyed it and look forward to dipping into more in a sequential fashion as they were published. Giving 5 stars as the origin story of Sherlock Holmes.

For modern readers the Mormon sub-plot is weird and maybe a little offensive. However in the 1880s, they were indeed a novel, strange and exotic people who engaged in massacres and "harems". In the story they come to London, to the homes of the readers. It's a classic "invasion novel" popular at the time, similar to Dracula which saw Eastern Europeans as the invaders. The invasion of London by secretive sub-cultures is a common theme Holmes stories.
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Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia

Peter Pomerantsev (2014)
March 2017
Audio P8
Surreal, entertaining, cynical and insightful look at the world's first post-modern nation. Russia went through a jarring reset in 1990, creative destruction on a nation-scale. It was able to remake itself using the latest political technologies. They are one step ahead of everyone else having arrived at the state of despair and collapse before the rest. It's no accident Trump successfully channeled the Russian theme, we can all sense Russia ascending. But as this book makes clean, look beyond the smoke and mirrors and Russia has no future except for prostitutes, gangsters and TV producers.
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The Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond

Stephen O'Shea (2017)
March 2017
Audio Audible
The Alps has an unfortunately boring title but I took a chance. It's an old fashioned travel book, one person driving alone around the Alps describing the places and peoples he meets along with historical asides kept in a handwritten notebook at sidewalk cafes. O'Shea is a trained journalist and published historian so he has the perfect combination of skills for the job. He's also very funny at times which may seem like a small thing but makes the book IMO. It might be comparable to a Bill Bryson travelogue. I've actually done the same thing, though only for a few days, in the Rhone Valley region, and I thought he did an excellent job conveying what it's like to drive around the Alps. The Alps are of course extremely well known, there are no discoveries, but they are terribly interesting and worth learning about either in person or paper - a key to understanding Europe. I listened to the audiobook and followed along with Google Earth and its pictures which gave an immersive and memorable experience.
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The Lost City of the Monkey God

Douglas Preston (2017)
February 2017
Audio P8
TBD
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Anne of Green Gables

L. M. Montgomery (1908)
February 2017
Audio P8
Anne of Green Gables has become a cultural phenomenon. In the last few years alone there have been TV series, plays and movies. On Prince Edward Island "it anchors the island’s multimillion-dollar tourist industry, with summer musical performances, gift shops, house museums, horse-drawn carriage rides, a mock village and more — all devoted to scenes and characters from the book and its seven sequels." (NYT) There is some justification, Mark Twain said she was “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.” A novel for 13 year old girls is not my normal fare but I gave it a try to find out what it's about. The verdict: Anne has aged well.
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Narcissus and Goldmund

Hermann Hesse (1930)
February 2017
Audio P8
The power of beauty of this novel blew me away. It's like a perfectly cut diamond whose many facets and perspectives dazzle the more it is examined. What one gets from it (or not) will depend on the viewer as much as the viewed. I wish I had read it earlier in life.
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A Man Called Ove

Fredrik Backman (2015)
February 2017
Audio P8
Reminiscent of Louis Begley's About Schmidt (1996). It's a simple idea but executed well enough. Should do well as a movie.
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Notes from a Dead House

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1860)
February 2017
Audio Audible
I recently read The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars an excellent general history of the 19th C exile system in Russia. Notes from a Dead House is a more personal and sustained account by someone who experienced it first-hand (and was not yet famous). The two books make a perfect pair, the first provides needed historical context and is fleshed out with memorable scenes and excellent writing in the second. It's not as dark or heavy as one might expect, rather the inmates have dynamic ranges of human potential. Much of the book is character portraits of the inmates and guards, plus various incidents.

The corporal punishment of Exiles was as severe as anything done to American slaves, brutal beatings to within an inch of their lives (or to death). By the 1860s, popular resentment towards the exile system was growing and in response reforms were being made. Dostoevsky's book was part of that movement, sort of like how The Jungle introduced Americans to the meat packing industry, House of the Dead gave many Russians their first look at the Exile system, which by 1860 was already being seen as backwards and beyond it's time. But it would last until 1917, and then recreated under the Soviets with the even more brutal and industrial-scale Gulag system.
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The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars

Daniel Beer (2017)
February 2017
Audio Audible
The Russian "Exile System" during the 19th century was a fraction of the size of the more famous Gulag system under the Soviets in th 20th. They were not exactly the same but both systems solved two problems: how to deal with "sedition" (political agitators) and criminals; and how to obtain labor for resource extraction (mines and lumber). For the Tsar's in the early 19th century the solution was simple and obvious - send the rabble to Siberia to be forgotten. It worked for a while but by the 1860s the contradictions and public outrage began to undermine its legitimacy. What started as a good idea lasted far longer than it should have at huge human cost and arguably was an accelerant of the Russian Revolution.

Many famous books have been written by Exiles in the 19th century including Dostoevsky's The House of the Dead (1860). Lenin spent three years in an exile camp. Checkhov wrote a series of articles later published as a book Sakhalin Island. The thread of exile runs long and deep in Russian history.

What this history teaches is how a fundamentally inhumane system that almost everyone agrees is wrong can still become self-reinforcing and impossible to dismantle for economic and political reasons, a problem that continues to this day in many forms and places. A modern example of this is described in the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.
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Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

Cathy O'Neil (2016)
January 2017
Audio P8
Excellent repudiation of the prevailing ideology/religion of dataism. Its limitations and dangers. The stories presented here are not anecdotal or edge-case, they are central and impact nearly all of us. Dataism is seductive and the fault is usually not with the mathematicians or programmers, but management who wields them in ways they don't understand. The solution is to have a balance of algorithm and humans, with semi-automated systems helping decision makers. This is already happening with some robo-trader products that are a mix of algo and human. Regardless this issue will continue to grow and likely lead to a backlash at some point in the future as we continue to work out how to integrate computers safely into society.
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The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria

Janine Di Giovanni (2016)
January 2017
Audio P8
A short and brutal montage of first-person accounts about life in Syria from both sides by a brave journalist who traveled there, mostly during 2012-2014. She interviews torture victims, rape victims, soldiers, civilians, bakers, doctors, etc.. It mostly predates Russian intervention so it's out of date with current events, but it's not a history of war rather the words of those she interviews carries great impact.
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Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

Allen Guelzo (2014)
January 2017
Audio P8
Highly readable yet detailed history of the events leading up to the battle and its aftermath. Guelzo assumes the reader is not conversant with 19th century warfare, and he describes what it's like. How bodies disappear from the line, like magic, raining down body parts. The effects of so much firepower on the wildlife. Flocks of birds dropped out of the sky. There was so much smoke that "aiming" was merely pointing in the general direction of the enemy. In some battles they looked for feet underneath the smoke cloud and shot at them, mere yards away. It took on average over 300 musket shots to kill a person, most shots wildly missed.

I learned that Little Round Top (and the Maine regiment's famous charge there) was not so important as is often portrayed. It was more of a remote outpost and not the key to breaking the line. That Confederate commanders made a number of serious mistakes of failed initiative and coordination, while Union forces fought tenaciously. Among the Confederates there was no fundamental "cause" to invade the north, it was purely Lee's grand political strategy to force peace negotiations, but it lacked significance with the troops who ultimately didn't have the same righteous spirit Unionists had defending home ground.
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The Killer Angels

Micharl Shaara (1974)
January 2017
Audio P8
The best thing about The Killer Angels is it re-ignited my latent interest in the Civil War which had burned out in the 1990s, after a few stints as a reenactor. I've been to Gettysburg many times but oddly never really studied the battle in depth. This novel, along with some online resources, helped me to better understand the general course of the battle. It's a fantastic gateway to Gettysburg geekdom.


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