Monday, July 10, 2006
Gene O'Kelly, the 53 yr-old CEO of KPMG, was a highly successful, type-A workaholic - until he went for a checkup and was told he had advanced brain cancer and maybe 3 months to live. In the ~100 days between that diagnosis and his death, Kelly wrote this book - about being present, enjoying "perfect moments", about balance and about acceptance. Not particularly well written and pretty disjointed at times, but definitely worth reading.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Fantastic true account of Israel’s 1981 audacious and successful bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. This was the first mission of Israel’s new F-16s, and the required distance to fly and the weights of the planes were way beyond design specs – yet the mission was a total success and the reactor was completely destroyed. We can all be thankful that this mission destroyed Saddam Hussein’s ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium in 1981. Written with the cooperation of the Israeli Air Force, including interviews with the pilots who flew the mission, this reads like fiction. Great story.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
About day-to-day life at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, told from the perspective of Dorothy McKibben, the woman who ran the "front office" for Los Alamos in a storefront in Santa Fe. Despite the seriousness of the work being done, the absurdities of life in this remote and highly secret campus were often funny. Eg, a wedding in which only the first names of the bride and groom could be used in the vows because of the required secrecy surrounding the project (Well-known scientists had aliases to use in Santa Fe or when traveling); or the 12 feet of mattresses that were piled under the first nuclear bomb as it was raised up to the platform for the test at Trinity (in case the hoist broke and the bomb fell, it would have a "soft landing".) Though the author is often somewhat overly-reverential about Oppenheimer, that doesn't diminish the nightmare she describes Oppenheimer going through as a result of McCarthy's witch hunt after the war. An interesting and light perspective on the Manhattan Project. (For a fantastic book on the scientists and science of the Manhattan Project, read Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb. See my blurb in 2002.)
Sunday, July 02, 2006
I really enjoyed his first 3 “Cliff Janeway” (main character) books (Booked to Die, Bookman’s Wake, & The Sign of the Book). They had interesting plots revolving around the world of collectible books. The subsequent 2 “Janeway” books were mundane and predictable, this last one being the worst.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
First third is about the Culinary Institute of America’s ‘master chef’ exam (which sounds like one of those cooking reality shows), and the other two-thirds about two top chefs – one running a restaurant called Lola’s in Cleveland and Thomas Keller, the chef at French Laundry in Napa. Interesting and entertaining.
The author adventure-traveled the world to create what became an award-winning PBS series about women who are literally changing the world – in Cuba, Iran, New Zealand and India. In between trips for the Adventure Diva series, to make some money, she takes jobs with Lonely Planet & other documentaries to hunt headhunters in Borneo, climb the Matterhorn, and cross the Sahara. Fun, funny and fascinating.
A wonderful coming-of-age novel about a scholarship kid in a New England prep school with a very strong literary tradition. In the writing contest in which the students compete to win a meeting with visiting authors (eg Frost, Ayn Rand), the protagonist is obsessed with winning the opportunity to meet Hemingway – and finds his voice in a way that has long-term repercussions.
Subtitled “A hilarious and true account of one man’s struggle with the monthly tide of the books he’s bought and the books he’s been meaning to read.” (Know what he means?) This is a collection of 14 of his monthly columns/reviews. Be forewarned that this book will add to your list of books to read.
About the 36 years McCourt spent as a public school teacher in NYC. McCourt’s writing style and gentle humor are wonderful. Though the third in McCourt’s trilogy, this was the first of McCourt’s book I read and I liked it so much, I immediately read Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis.
Like anyone not living under a rock for the last few years, I’d heard the rave reviews about Angela’s Ashes (pulitzer prize winner in 1997) – but wasn’t particularly interested in reading about what McCourt calls in the third line of the book a “miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” But despite what was absolutely a miserable childhood (abject poverty, constant hunger, alcoholic father, etc.), McCourt tells the story through his eyes as a child, and his spirit and humor shine through. Everything the rave reviews said about this book are true. This is an amazing book that McCourt didn’t write till he was 66 years old(!)
Angela’s Ashes ends and ‘Tis starts when McCourt is 19, and emmigrates from Ireland to New York. As tough as his childhood was, I felt worse for him after he arrives in NY and he feels so completely out of place – but he eventually goes to college and finds his place (as a teacher). Another great memoir from McCourt.
Offers a great explanation of cutting-edge cosmology for non-physicists. Greene goes through the history of cosmology and quantum physics as background for his explanation of string-theory/M-theory, 10-dimensional space, etc. Excellent use of analogies and unexpectedly sprinkled with humor and fun pop-culture references. I already have his other book (The Elegant Universe) in my pile of books to read.
The second of Wendell Berry’s books I’ve read and, like Jayber Crow (see my 2004-5 or all fiction lists), this is also about the community of Port William and the intertwined lives of the people who live there. This book has several main characters, and by the end, I felt like I knew them all well. Like Jayber Crow, this book meanders along at the pace of life in a small, rural town, and it seems appropriate to read it slowly and to savor the fantastic writing.
This book is the amazing story of the people who actually made Apollo happen. While most books about Apollo focus on the astronauts and high-level figures at NASA, this book (based on interviews and documents,) tells the story of the managers and engineers who achieved fantastic feats of systems engineering and technological development and integration to make Apollo possible. Fantastic book.
The first line of this book (“How do we become who we are?”) caught my eye, and I really enjoyed this very well-written memoir by a pulitzer prize winning book critic for the Boston Globe. She grew up in Amarillo in the 1950’s and 60’s, and writes about how her family, her love of literature, and the politics of the time shaped her.
After hearing that trucks are threatening extinction of the 1,000 year-old camel-driven “caravan of white gold” (referring to rock salt) in the Sahara desert, the author goes on a 40-day trip with a camel caravan from Timbuktu to the salt mines at Taoudenni. Interesting, quick reading and very entertaining.
This one should be in its own “total trash” category, but it’s hilariously funny (particularly the first half) and extremely well-written. The soap-operatic plot twists and characters get a bit old in the second half, but it’s fun reading regardless. The author was a long-time writer for Frasier and this book is filled with that sharp, smart wit. Great summer reading.
Fick graduated from Dartmouth (classics major) and joined the Marines in search of adventure, since “there was no longer a place in the world for a young man who wanted to wear armor and slay dragons.” Fascinating account of his training as a Marine officer, deployment in Afghanistan and then to Iraq, where his reconnaissance battalion helped spearhead the invasion. Well-written and insightful.
Part history, part memoir and part fiction about the plains of southern Saskatchewan, where Stegner grew up. As always, Stegner’s writing is amazing and his descriptions of this harsh frontier are beautiful. And as much as I like almost everything of Stegner's I've read, this is one of my favorites. A couple of paragraphs that particularly struck me – from The Whitemud River Range, a story about cowboys rounding up cattle during the brutal winter of 1906-07:
On those miraculously beautiful and murderously cold nights glittering with the green and blue darts from a sky like polished dark metal, when the moon had gone down, leaving the hollow heaven to the stars and the overflowing cold light of the Aurora, he thought he had moments of the clearest vision and saw himself plain in a universe simple, callous, and magnificent. In every direction from their pallid soapbubble of shelter the snow spread; here and there the implacable plain glinted back a spark – the beam of a cold star reflected in a crystal of ice.” (p.163)
Nothing between them and the stars, nothing between them and the North Pole, nothing between them and the wolves, except a twelve by sixteen house of cloth so thin that every wind moved it and light showed through it and the shadows of men hulked angling along its slope, its roof so peppered with spark holes that lying in their beds they caught squinting glimpses of the stars. The silence gulped their little disturbances, their little tinklings and snorings and sighs and the muffled noises of discomfort and weariness. The earth and the sky gaped for them like opened jaws; they lay there like lozenges on a tongue, ready to be swallowed. (p.165)
After co-writing The Art of the Deal with Donald Trump and reaching the top of the best-seller lists, Schwartz was trying to figure out why he wasn’t feeling on top of the world. He started meditating and spent the next 4 years experiencing various aspects of the “consciousness movement” including psychadelics, Esalen, biofeedback, Enneagrams, etc.
Mercer was a journalist who published the name of a source who subsequently threatened his life, so he went to Paris for a while and ended up living and working at the legendary bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., with some very colorful characters.
This is an incredibly disturbing book - but the writing is absolutely fantastic! The writing and the insight into Humbert Humbert are so good that by the end of the book, I didn’t hate him (as I’d fully expected to do); I just felt sorry for him. This writing is even more amazing given that English was Nabokov’s third (!) language. Gotta read more of his.
Interesting account of a trip by Teddy Roosevelt down the River of Doubt, a previously unexplored tributary of the Amazon. Has to be one of the worst-planned trips ever (who leaves their lightweight canoes behind when they’re planning to travel down an unexplored river???) While this trip almost killed Roosevelt, he’d been looking for an adventure – and he found one.
eg, Burglars Can’t be Choosers, The Burglar who Studied Spinoza, The Burglar who Liked to Quote Kipling, The Burglar in the Rye, etc. The main character is a bookseller by day, burglar by night and, of course, something always goes awry involving him in a mystery, which he solves with a whimsical, dry sense of humor.